Zach Hayes is a editor, contributor and bracketologist at Rush the Court. To see the entire group of 2010-11 Class Schedules, click here.
If you’ve been a visitor to RTC since last summer, you’ll remember our Class Schedule feature during the offseason, one in which we dissect and analyze the schedules of the most notable teams in the nation, from the easiest to the hardest stretch, the most intense rivalry to the early season tune-ups, upset watch to best individual matchup. If your team is lingering around the expected preseason top 25, their schedule will be scrutinized in the next couple of months. There’s no rhyme or reason to the madness, just a prominent school every few days as the releases begin to trickle out from the respective schools (up next is Texas).
Team Outlook: As we did last summer, let’s start with the Kansas Jayhawks (schedule here). Kansas saw another mass defection similar to the post-Chalmers shot version of Rock Chalk, but just as that team barely blinked on their way to a #3 seed in the NCAA Tournament, we don’t expect much rebuilding this winter in Lawrence, either. Marcus Morris returns as a candidate for Big 12 Player of the Year and one of the most skilled big men in the country. Josh Selby enters as one of the most heralded freshmen in the nation and could step in as starting point guard immediately. There’s plenty of talent around Morris and Selby that have the chance to make a leap forward, from enigmatic wing Tyshawn Taylor to athletic forward Thomas Robinson and Marcus’ brother, Markieff Morris. The reloading of this roster should be strong enough to maintain a spot in the polls wire to wire with a chance that Bill Self hoists his seventh consecutive conference crown next March.
Non-Conference Schedule Rank (ranked 1 thru 10, 10 being the most difficult): 6. Kansas’ non-conference games remind me of Notre Dame’s football schedule every fall- a slate chocked full of “name” programs that, well, shouldn’t be all that powerful when the dust clears. At first glance, one can’t help be impressed by the names: UCLA, Arizona, Michigan, California, USC, Memphis. And yet, in all likelihood only Memphis has a legitimate chance to sniff the Top 25 this season unless things come together for Ben Howland awfully quickly, and even the Tigers were just dealt a potentially devastating blow this past week. Give Self credit, though. He couldn’t have anticipated the Pac-10 would be mired in such a down spiral and he could have drawn top-15 Syracuse or top-five Michigan State in the Jimmy V Classic instead. As it stands right now, Kansas should be favored in every single non-conference game this year. Their only true road games are at California and at Michigan, two teams that are in the process of re-stocking their squads and could find themselves missing out on postseason play altogether in 2011.
Cupcake City: With six games against “name” schools and Colorado State thrown in, the frosting isn’t piled on too heavy for Kansas. Even two of their weaker non-conference games come against teams that played in last year’s NCAA Tournament- North Texas and Ohio. The Mean Green are expected to win the Sun Belt once again with three of their top four scorers returning, while the Bobcats have four double-digit scorers not named Armon Bassett back in Athens following their improbable blowout of Georgetown last March. Another team that could hang with a Kansas team still feeling each other out in mid-November is a talented Homer Drew coached Valparaiso squad. The teams that Kansas should run roughshod over in Lawrence include Longwood, Texas A&M-Corpus Christi, UT-Arlington and UMKC. Also: ask Kentucky if you should overlook Miami (OH).
Toughest Early Season Test: As we mentioned, California and Michigan are rebuilding, rendering those true road games a bit lower on the difficulty scale (although it wouldn’t be wise to overlook any true road game in college basketball). The stiffest challenge should come from Memphis in the first game of the Jimmy V Classic doubleheader on December 7. Memphis is one of the few teams that can match Kansas’ explosiveness and athleticism. Even factoring in the Will Barton fiasco, Josh Pastner brings in two other five-star recruits in small forward Jelan Kendrick and Memphis native point guard Joe Jackson. They’ll join forces with returnees Will Witherspoon, Will Coleman and sleeper Angel Garcia to reclaim what they believe is their rightful spot atop Conference USA. Remember last season when a less talented Tigers squad took the Jayhawks down to the wire in November?
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