‘We want to make a run’: Northeastern draws Kansas in opening round

“Once I heard it was Kansas, I was ready to play right away."

Standout guard Vasa Pusica is focused on the TV screen awaiting Northeastern’s first-round draw during the NCAA Tournament selection show. –Nathan Klima/Globe Staff

It will be the Huskies against the Jayhawks in the first round of the NCAA Tournament.

The Northeastern men’s basketball team will travel to Salt Lake City to face off against Kansas on Thursday. The Huskies earned the 13th seed in the Midwest region, punching their ticket to the Big Dance by topping top-seeded Hofstra in the Colonial Athletic Association championship game last week.

“Once I heard it was Kansas, I was ready to play right away,” junior guard Shawn Occeus said Sunday evening at the Curry Student Center, where a crowd of students gathered to watch the selection show on CBS. “A team like that, you want to go up against them. You want to go up against the best to be the best. For me, I’m ready to play.”

Coach Bill Coen and the Huskies (23-10) will be up against an unfamiliar challenge in coach Bill Self and the Jayhawks (25-9), who came up short against Iowa State in the Big 12 championship on Saturday after seeing their streak of 14 consecutive regular-season conference titles end earlier this year.

Thursday will mark the first-ever meeting between the two teams.

While the Huskies say they have yet to take a deep dive into their opponent’s strengths and weaknesses, they certainly have a general idea of what they’re up against. Kansas, ranked 17th in the nation, was a No. 1 seed and advanced to the Elite Eight in each of the past three years. Self won his only — and the university’s third — national title in 2008.


“Obviously, they’re one of the most storied programs in the history of college basketball,” Coen said. “They have a Hall of Fame coach [and] play in an unbelievable conference.”

But the illustrious history of the Jayhawks doesn’t put a damper on the Huskies’ confidence.

“It’s your team versus their team,” Coen said. “You’re not playing against the history of the program. You’re playing against that team. Usually, the team that plays the best together, plays hard, [and] plays smart wins the game. We’re hoping that formula will hold true for us.”

“We want to win,” added Huskies senior guard Vasa Pusica, who confidently declared the team is playing its best basketball right now. “We want to make a run. We’re not satisfied with just making the tournament.”

This is Northeastern’s ninth NCAA appearance in program history. In the Huskies’ most recent trip in 2015, they nearly upset Notre Dame as a No. 14 seed, with a chance to tie the game in the final minute, but fell, 69-65. Northeastern has not won a tournament game since a preliminary round victory in 1984 and not advanced past the first round since 1982, when it upset Saint Joseph’s, 63-62.


According to the NCAA, No. 13 seeds upset No. 4 seeds about 21 percent of the time.

“We don’t really care if people write us off or pick us,” Occeus said. “We know we’re able to beat teams like [Kansas]. So when we do, I just hope they don’t try to run on the bandwagon. We’re a confident bunch, and we’re confident we can beat any team in this country.”

To mitigate any anxiety stemming from playing on a national stage, Coen said he wants his team to focus on the little things.

“Stay in the moment,” he said. “Do the job that’s right in front of you — that small task that seems really, really easy, like raising your hand above the ball or boxing out or making contact. Don’t think about how you’re going to climb this mountain. You do it one step at a time.”

A young fan plays with Paws, the mascot of Northeastern University. —Nathan Kilma for The Boston Globe