2013-14 RTC Class Schedule: Kansas JayhawksPosted by BHayes on September 16th, 2013
Bennet Hayes is an RTC columnist. He can be reached @HoopsTraveler. Periodically throughout the preseason, RTC will take an in-depth look at the schedules of some of the more prominent teams in college basketball.
We have seen rapid and successful overhauls in Lawrence before, but perhaps never on this scale. Kansas is short five starters from a year ago, and in their wake arrives a decorated freshman class headed by a once-in-a-generation talent. Commitments from top-50 recruits Joel Embiid, Wayne Selden, and Conner Francamp had Jayhawk fans believing a quick rebuild was possible, but it was the May signing of Andrew Wiggins, the top player in the high school class of 2013, that has turned hope into belief. Another Big 12 championship and a return to the Sweet 16 would no longer constitute a brilliant coaching job by Bill Self, a man who has crafted many of them. Wiggins’ presence on campus has not only turned those achievements into mere expectations, but also transports hope to Lawrence that the ultimate prize – a National Title – is again a realistic possibility.
- Team Outlook: Wiggins’ talent and projected impact has been well-documented, but even if he becomes the star he is expected to be, the Jayhawks will still need to develop the supporting cast around him. Perry Ellis (5.8 PPG, 3.9 RPG) is the one returnee that will almost definitely be a key part of that equation, but Nadiir Tharpe (5.5 PPG, 3.1 APG) and Jamari Traylor (2.1 PPG, 2.1 RPG) should also see minutes. We have seen Jayhawk role players emerge into key contributors after an offseason before, but no matter what happens with that trio, Bill Self will surely be relying on newcomers not named Wiggins to carry the load. Prime among them are freshmen Wayne Selden and Joel Embiid, who are expected to take over starting duties at shooting guard and center, respectively. Like Wiggins, both are projected as top-ten picks in next year’s NBA draft, so it’s a distinct possibility that this could be their lone rodeo in Lawrence. That being said, both need to add significant polish to their games, and despite the top-ten ranking recruiting gurus bestowed upon him, Embiid even drags the “project” title with him to Kansas. Freshmen guards Conner Frankamp and Brannen Greene are also consensus Top-100 recruits, and both will have the opportunity to compete with Tharpe and Selden for minutes in the Kansas backcourt. Rounding out the frontcourt rotation is Memphis transfer Tarik Black (8.1 PPG, 4.8 RPG) and redshirt freshman Landen Lucas. Black’s addition was another significant coup for Self this offseason, as he provides the Jayhawks with a player who has actually been through it all before at the college level. Black, like nearly every Jayhawk outside of Wiggins, could end up as a thirty-minute a game starter, a marginalized bit player, or nearly anything in between. There is tons of talent in Lawrence and a superstar to headline the show, but much of the onus for the destination of this Jayhawk campaign rests on Bill Self and how he fits all the pieces together – something Jayhawk fans should feel pretty good about.
- Non-Conference Schedule Rank (out of 10): 10. I can’t admit to having examined the schedule of every power conference team in the country, but I would be very surprised if there’s one tougher than the Jayhawks’ out there. Even with a young and unproven roster, Bill Self left no stone unturned in his quest to build a gauntlet for his team. Where do we start? A Champions Classic date on November 12 with Duke is a good place, as the Kansas youngsters will be immediately tested by one of the preseason title favorites. After a pair of home dates against better-than-you-think mid-majors Iona and Towson, Self will bring his bunch to the Bahamas to square off against a solid Battle 4 Atlantis field. If the Hawks’ can string together wins in Nassau, the caliber of competition should get progressively stronger, as a match-up with either Villanova or USC will follow the opener against Wake Forest, and then likely Tournament teams Tennessee, Xavier, and Iowa are all potential foes in Kansas’ Caribbean finale. Brutal November you say?! Life only gets tougher – and a lot tougher – in the season’s second month. True road games (we need more of these in the non-conference!) against Colorado and Florida, a pair of likely preseason top-25 squads, kick off the month, with home dates against New Mexico (technically a neutral site at the Sprint Center in Kansas City, but yeah, not really) and Georgetown immediately following those brutal trips. Forget non-conference slates; try finding a conference schedule with a four game stretch that difficult. Oh yeah, and before Kansas gets to Big 12 play, there is a January 5 visit from Mountain West power San Diego State to deal with. It’s easy to envision a scenario in which this loaded non-conference slate turns into a relative nightmare for the young Jayhawks, but no fan base gets excited over Novembers and Decembers loaded with guaranteed wins, so give Bill Self and his coaching staff a sincere nod of the cap for the fearless scheduling.
- Cupcake City: When dinner is a nine-course meal of meat and potatoes, you aren’t left with much room for dessert. The November 8 opener against Louisiana-Monroe (4-23 a season ago) should pose no issues, but outside of the offensively-challenged Warhawks, there isn’t much to see here. Visits to Allen Fieldhouse by Iona, Towson and Toledo are the next best thing, but all three of those teams fit the “pesky mid-major” bill. We covered the meat of the Kansas schedule above, but equally impressive is the lack of fluff – Wiggins and friends will have little time to catch their breath.
- Toughest Early Season Test: So many great match-ups to choose from here, and while the Duke pedigree and Champions Classic spotlight make that November 12 tilt an appealing selection in the category, I’m thinking that a true road game in Gainesville will prove more telling. Let’s remember that the Duke game will be, for all intents and purposes, the opening act for a group who enters the season with ZERO established chemistry, so it’s a bit unfair to expect too much against an older Duke outfit. Eight games will have passed by the time Kansas visits the Swamp on December 10 – enough time to reasonably expect some sort of cohesion to develop. Throw in the hostile O’Connell Center atmosphere (and a talented Gator club) in just their second true road game of the season, and we should be offered a real glimpse of the potential of this Jayhawk team.
- Hardest Big 12 Stretch: While the brutality of the November-December slate should leave the Jayhawks craving a little respite in the New Year, their Big 12 schedule offers no such luxury. Their first week of Big 12 play includes trips to Oklahoma and Iowa State, as well as a visit from rival Kansas State. All three of those teams are prime candidates to finish in the top half of the league and earn NCAA Tournament tickets. The same could be said about the Jayhawks’ next two opponents, but Oklahoma State and Baylor both have aspirations that extend well beyond the province of the Big 12. The saving grace for the Jayhawks is that both those national powers will be visiting Allen Fieldhouse for their January match-ups, where Wiggins and company may need every ounce of support the Jayhawk faithful have to offer.
- Easiest Big 12 Stretch: It’ll take a few months, but the Kansas’ schedule will hit a real lull come mid-February. TCU visits Allen on February 15, then the Jayhawks go to Texas Tech three days later, and the Texas Longhorns, looking more hapless by the day, make their annual trip to Lawrence on February 22. Oklahoma should be better than that trio, but a February 24 home date versus the Sooners represents another winnable game on the end of the stretch.
- Best Individual Matchup: The potential of a Wiggins- Marcus Smart match-up tantalizes, but it’s hard to know exactly how much mano-a-mano combat will take place when Kansas and OK State meet. One team that we know will pose match-up problems for Wiggins is Baylor. Cory Jefferson, Isaiah Austin, and Rico Gathers form the core of an athletic front line that sports NBA-like length and can come at Wiggins in waves. The two tilts with the Bears should also serve as good progress reports for Ellis and Embiid, a pair of big men that Bill Self absolutely needs to be effective, especially by the time February swings around. The Baylor backcourt has questions marks and should be easily exploited, but the Bears’ front line is capable of causing nightmares – will the Kansas youngsters prove seasoned enough to match up?
- Most Challenging Road Test: With apologies to the December trips to Boulder and Gainesville, Kansas will face no stiffer road test than the one facing them on the first day of March. Gallagher-Iba arena has long given the Jayhawks fits, but it has been quite a while since Stillwater has seen an Oklahoma State as good as this one. The return of Smart makes the Pokes a potential top-five team, and this late season match-up could very well decide the Big 12 champion. Fans should get at least a small dose of a Smart-Wiggins match-up, but both superstars will need their supporting casts to emerge in the game of the season in the Big 12.
- Upset City: Keep an eye on the Jayhawks’ Big 12 opener in Norman. An Oklahoma victory wouldn’t constitute an upset of epic proportions, but the Sooners are expected to be the kind of middle-of-the-pack team in the conference that Bill Self will expect his team to handle. The non-conference portion of Oklahoma’s schedule is not nearly as grueling as Kansas’, and they could easily enter this one with just one or two losses. Deceptive non-conference records have long been the source of unrealistic January expectations, and a hot Sooner start to the season could have Sooner fans feeling bullish — which would make the Lloyd Noble Center a difficult place to play come January 8. After surviving the two months prior, a raucous road environment alone shouldn’t be enough to faze the Jayhawks, but any weariness from those trying months and Kansas could be staring down a loss in their conference opener.