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Purdue prepared to face hostile crowd against top seed Kansas

Fans look on during practice as Kansas takes

Fans look on during practice as Kansas takes the floor in Kansas City on Wednesday, March 22, 2017. Credit: Newsday / Neil Best

KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Kansas City hosted three of the first four NCAA basketball championship games and 10 overall — more than any other city — the first nine of them at old Municipal Auditorium, which still stands.

The nearby University of Kansas ranks second all-time in Division I victories, and its first coach was a young Canadian named James Naismith.

Strangely, despite all that and a spacious, 10-year-old arena in the Sprint Center, the city has not hosted a regional semifinal and final in the NCAAs since 1995. (It last hosted the Final Four in 1964.)

So it’s been a while. But the Sweet 16 at last has made its return, and Kansas happens to be playing in it, as the No. 1 seed in the Midwest and the current Las Vegas favorite to win it all, making for a tough ticket.

It also should make for a tough home court advantage when Kansas (30-4) meets No. 4 seed Purdue (27-7) on Thursday night.

Not that the Boilermakers have any choice, but on Wednesday they shrugged off that challenge.

“We’ve been in a lot of hostile environments playing in the Big Ten,” forward Dakota Mathias said. “We’ve been to Indiana, to Maryland, to Michigan State, so I think that prepped us really well for this.”

Said coach Matt Painter, “I think it’s the right thing. Any time that you’ve had the season that Kansas has had, you have earned the right to be as close to home as possible.”

Kansas fans provided a preview of things to come when they showed up by the thousands on Wednesday for the team’s open practice.

Adding to the intrigue Thursday: a meeting between two national Player of the Year candidates in Caleb Swanigan of Purdue and Frank Mason III of Kansas.

Swanigan, an old-school post-up force, could be a matchup challenge. As Kansas forward Josh Jackson said, “The thing that makes us a little bit worried is we’re not as big as them.”

But the Jayhawks fan base will be.

“We’re right in our backyard, 30 minutes from home,” Mason said. “We have to take advantage of it.”

Someone asked Jackson whether that will increase pressure on the top seed. “Pressure? No,” he said. “Just a lot more excited, I would say.”

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