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Kansas’ defense of NCAA title would come through Las Vegas

There have been only two teams to repeat as NCAA Tournament champions in the past five decades. Kansas will try to become the third.

If so, the Jayhawks will have to go through Las Vegas to earn such a shot.

Kansas was tabbed the No. 1 seed Sunday for the West Region, of which the Sweet 16 and Elite Eight will be played at T-Mobile Arena on March 23 and 25. Kansas was the third No. 1 overall seed.

The Jayhawks open their title defense Thursday against No. 16 seed Howard Bison out of the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference. This is the school’s first NCAA appearance in 31 years.

You can make this argument: The West might be the toughest region in the bracket.

It’s loaded with teams that could advance to the Final Four.

UCLA is the No. 2 seed and Gonzaga No. 3, setting up a potential Sweet 16 game in Las Vegas and rematch of the Zags’ classic Final Four win over the Bruins two years ago.

Connecticut, a popular pick to make a deep March run and at one time arguably the nation’s best team, is a 4 seed against No. 13 Iona and coach Rick Pitino. It’s the highest seed for UConn since 2011.

St. Mary’s out of the West Coast Conference is the region’s 5 seed and will open against a tough No. 12 in Virginia Commonwealth.

Two teams from the Mountain West reside in the region. Boise State is a 10 seed and plays No. 7 Northwestern, and UNR faces Arizona State in a first-four game. The winner as an 11 seed slides into the main bracket opposite No. 6 Texas Christian.

All have much to play for.

None more so than Kansas.

It won the Big 12 regular-season title before falling to Texas 76-56 in the conference tournament final Saturday without coach Bill Self.

Self was discharged from a hospital Sunday after having a “standard heart catheterization and had two stents placed for the treatment of blocked arteries,” according to a university statement. He’s expected to return to the sidelines for the tournament.

Should the Jayhawks do as expected and defeat the Bison, they would face the winner of a stellar 8-9 matchup between Arkansas and Illinois.

“I like Arkansas over Illinois,” former Villanova coach and now CBS analyst Jay Wright said. “Arkansas matches up with Kansas really well. Their length and speed … they could give Kansas a problem.”

If not, the Jayhawks would be Las Vegas bound.

With lots of history for which to play.

Review-Journal sports columnist Ed Graney can be reached at egraney@reviewjournal.com. Follow @edgraney on Twitter.

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