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Led by Hall of Fame coaches, Gonzaga and Kansas took unique paths to second-round NCAA tournament matchup

Mar. 22—SALT LAKE CITY — Wearing Hawaiian shirts and kukui nut necklaces, Mark Few and Bill Self shared the same podium in Honolulu four months ago, acknowledging they were prepared to learn plenty about their respective teams, for better or worse, over the next 72 hours at the Maui Invitational.

The coaching giants and longtime friends would've been pleased, but probably not too surprised, to know their teams would still be playing meaningful basketball games in the third week of March.

Certainly not as surprised as they would've been to learn the paths their Gonzaga and Kansas teams would've taken to Saturday's highly anticipated Round of 32 NCAA Tournament matchup at the Delta Center (12:15 p.m. , CBS).

"We're not the same team as we were then, strictly from a personnel standpoint because, obviously, Kevin (McCullar Jr.) is not out there with us," Self said. "But we have had some guys get better. But it's not the same-looking team, nor is Gonzaga the same-looking team."

The Bulldogs overcame a series of low points — four losses over an eight-game stretch in December and January — before hitting their stride in late January and February, winning 14 of 16 games to close the regular season and West Coast Conference Tournament.

"I don't know when it was with Mark's group, but they were never playing poorly, in my eyes," Self said. "They played a really good schedule. And when you play a really good schedule and you don't play well certain nights, you may lose that game."

Gonzaga's turnaround was highlighted by an 89-85 road win at then No. 17 Kentucky. The Bulldogs' only losses since Jan. 11 have come against WCC rival Saint Mary's.

"Can you believe there was actually talk that they may not get in a month ago? It's ridiculous," Self said. "And now they're playing fantastic. But that's how good they've been in the last month. And I think they've tweaked some personnel changes and stuff like that, but the bottom line is they're just playing like Gonzaga is known to play this time of year.

Kansas took an inverse approach, partially due to circumstances outside the Jayhawks' control, stacking up high-profile nonconference wins over Tennessee, Kentucky and UConn before dropping six of its final 10 games, including four of five before the NCAA Tournament.Kansas Jayhawks at a glance

Gonzaga stayed healthy after losing Steele Venters to a preseason ACL tear while Kansas' misfortunes came at extremely inopportune times. The Jayhawks stomached the loss of McCullar , an AP All-American honorable mention guard, to a knee injury near the end of the regular season and have taken extra precaution with second-team All-American Hunter Dickinson after the 7-foot-2 center dislocated his shoulder against Houston.

The Jayhawks have used a razor-thin rotation without McCullar. Four of Self's five starters played at least 35 minutes in an opening-round win against Samford that required Kansas to convert late free throws after watching a 22-point lead vanish in the second half.

"You know, Samford is a tough, tough team to play, and they had to get through that," Few said. "But we're expecting a great battle from Kansas."

The Bulldogs were in cruise control at the same point of their 86-65 blowout of McNeese State — a game that saw Few's team lead by as many as 35 points and connect on 47% of its 3-pointers, making 10 of 21.

"Offensively, they probably won't shoot as many 3s (as Samford)," Dickinson said. "They're more similar to us where they really execute their plays, they try to play inside-out. They have skilled players and they kind of just let their players work within their offense."

Kansas' depth, and the wear and tear of Dickinson after playing 37 minutes against Samford, could be factors on Saturday, but the Jayhawks are still a talented group on paper, with a projected first-round NBA draft pick in versatile freshman Johnny Furphy (9.0 ppg, 4.8 rpg), and two other All-Big 12 honorable mention selections in forward KJ Adams Jr. (12.7 ppg, 4.5 rpg) and Dajuan Harris (8.5 ppg, 4.5 apg).

"I see a total Bill Self-type team in that they love to play high-low," Few said. "They love to feed the post. They have great posts. Obviously, KJ Adams is just — he's much like Anton Watson for us. He just does everything.

"So I totally, totally see he's kind of back to what I always envisioned Jayhawk basketball being like. And that's what, to me, shows such a great example of why he's such a great coach."