In one way, Austin Peay has already defied expectations. No one expected the Governors to get through the gauntlet that is the Ohio Valley Conferece Tournament, win four games in four days, beat the top two-seeds, and make it here as the lowest seed qualifying for the tournament.
In most one-bid conferences, that would undoubetely meant a trip to Dayton to play in the “Don’t-call-it-a-play-in-game” play-in-game.
But, that’s not the case for the Governors. In the year of the upset, Austin Peay’s unlikely romp through a conference tournament field was just one of many.
The result? A trip straight to the tournament proper, and a date with the overwhelming top-seeded Jayhawks.
The Austin Peay team that played in Nashville was not the same team that went 9-7 in conference play. Jared Savage became the explosive deep threat the Governors have been seeking, the move of Josh Robinson to the point aleviated many of their turnover issues, and tournament MVP Chris Horton played up to, and even maybe beyond his potential, or at least what we percieved his potential to be.
If that team shows up today — this isn’t a standard 16 vs 1 matchup.
If they don’t? This one could be over by the second media timeout.
If you listen to the national media every year, there’s always the question whether ‘this will be the year that a one-seed falls in the first round. But this year, those calls are more incessent than ever. Parity has been apparent throughout Division I, with more than a dozen teams reaching No. 1 this year. The top teams seems more vulnerable than ever.
The Jayhawks likely had their one-seed wrapped up before the Big 12 Tournament even began.
Kansas hasn’t lost since January 25th to former OVC coach Steve Prohm and Iowa State. Since then, Kansas has beaten the following teams:
- Kentucky (8th in KenPom Rankings)
- Kansas State (53rd) x 3
- West Virginia (6th) x 2
- Oklahoma (7th)
- Baylor (25th) x 2
- Texas Tech (45th)
- Texas (30th)
- Iowa (17th)
Austin Peay is ranked 209th in Ken Pom. Their best win all season? The OVC semifinal against Belmont. (138th)
But, as we’ve established, the Governors weren’t the same team in Nashville that they were all season, but this is still quite a tall ask. So, where is Kansas weak? (Relatively speaking…)
They’re surprising not a great rebounding team — Austin Peay isn’t either, mind you, but Horton inside should have some opportunies for second chances, as Kansas was just so-so in keeping opponents off the offensive glass. Kansas also had games where fouls became a problem; it wasn’t really a depth issue, but they did sent opponents to the free-throw line.
The biggest question is whether the Governors can provide any resistance on the inside. Kansas will certainly be aggressive offensively, and Austin Peay has struggled against teams that can get the ball inside.
Can 16 topple 1? It’s bound to happen one year. It may even happen this year.
Over four days in Nashville, Austin Peay provided one of the most magical, unexpected, and inspired tournament runs I’ve ever seen.
The story doesn’t have to end today.