Filling in for Bill Self, who continues to recover from a recent heart procedure, Kansas assistant coach Norm Roberts led the Jayhawks to an easy first-round win over Howard in front of Vice President Kamala Harris in Des Moines on Thursday.
Jalen Wilson had 20 points and seven rebounds for No. 1 seed and defending national champion Jayhawks, who cruised to a 96-68 win.
Self is still recovering from a recent heart procedure. He traveled to Des Moines with the Jayhawks and led the team’s practice on Wednesday, but did not attend the team’s media availability. Roberts said Self had returned to the hotel to rest.
Self’s status for a possible second-round game Saturday was unknown.
‘I’m doing better,’ Self said in a pregame interview on the team’s radio network. ‘I’m feeling stronger and everything. I don’t think I’m at the point where I could be very good for our team if I was out there.’
Players of Kansas Jayhawks celebrate against the Howard Bison during the second half in the first round of the NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament at Wells Fargo Arena on Thursday
Kansas Jayhawks head coach Bill Self reacts after a play against the Howard Bison during the first half at Wells Fargo Arena
Self added that he has been watching as much video as he usually does to prepare for games and that Roberts and the rest of the staff have been doing their jobs well.
Gradey Dick had 19 points and 11 rebounds in the freshman’s first NCAA Tournament game. K.J. Adams Jr. scored 13 points and Dajuan Harris Jr. added 11 points for the Jayhawks (28-7), who will play the winner of the Arkansas against Illinois game in the second round on Saturday.
Kansas, which has won 16 consecutive first round games, is trying to become the first repeat NCAA winner in 16 years.
Shy Odom had 15 points and eight rebounds for the Bison (22-13), who were making the program’s first tournament appearance since 1992.
The Jayhawks started their NCAA-record 33rd consecutive tournament appearance with assistant coach Norm Roberts running the show — a strange sight without Self shouting orders from the bench. The 60-year-old Self, who’s in his 20th season at Kansas, underwent a standard heart procedure to treat blocked arteries in his heart last week that prevented him from coaching in the Big 12 Tournament.
He went to the emergency room the night of March 8, shortly after watching the Jayhawks hold a final shootaround ahead of their Big 12 Tournament quarterfinal. He was complaining of chest tightness and concerns with his balance.
Dr. Mark Wiley, the chief of cardiovascular medicine at the University of Kansas Health System, said the 60-year-old Self underwent a standard heart catheterization and had two stents placed to help treat the blocked arteries.
Kansas head coach Bill Self applauds his team’s play against Texas Tech during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game in Lawrence on February 28
Roberts coached the Jayhawks in the Big 12 Tournament. He also served as acting coach earlier in the season, while Self was serving a school-imposed four-game suspension.
The Jayhawks lost in the Big 12 title game to Texas, but their 15-6 record in Quad 1 games that the NCAA categorizes for selection criteria was unmatched in the country by a new-look team that lost most of its best players from last year’s championships squad.
Kansas is not that deep, but the Jayhawks move and share the ball at a dizzying pace that was ultimately too much for the Bison to keep up with.
Howard took the lead five times in the second half, but Kansas always snapped back — often with a well-placed hand in a passing lane for a steal and a fast-break finish. Then there were the alley-oops, with Harris and Kevin McCullar Jr. each delivering a textbook lob off the drive to Ernest Udeh Jr. for a rim-jarring dunk in the first half. Harris found Adams for one, too.
Kansas Jayhawks guard Gradey Dick (4) dribbles the ball against Howard Bison forward Jordan Wood (24) during the first half at Wells Fargo Arena
Howard’s rare appearance on the big stage came exactly five years after UMBC’s takedown of Virginia, the only time a No. 16 seed has ever beaten a No. 1. The Bison were the 149th team to try.
Wearing their Black History Month jerseys with green trim and a red script ‘The Mecca’ on the front — in reference to Howard’s nickname as the country’s most prominent historically Black university — the Bison took the court with plenty of confidence.
Elijah Hawkins hit an early 3-pointer and pointed a finger to his forearm to signal ice in his veins. Kobe Dickson flexed his right arm after muscling in a layup.
Coach Kenneth Blakeney, whose team went 4-29 in his first season in 2019-20, subbed hockey style in the first half with five-man units to keep his team fresh. The Bison’s game against Kentucky in November — a 95-63 loss — gave them a taste of this level of competition, but the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference champions weren’t able to match the speed and athleticism the Jayhawks boast.
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