Here we are again the dog days of summer, the longest time of the basketball year. We can do our best to keep our interest up, but there are only so many ways we can dissect the failures of last season; so many times we can project starters, leading scorers, and benchwarmers. Even with the WUG giving us a feast of highlights when we’d normally only a bit to nibble from camp games, we’re still in a no man’s land as college basketball fans. Even on the recruiting front, with Self’s tendency to bring his classes together late, we’re going to be light on action in the coming months. So I thought I’d take advantage of the fact that we got our nonconference schedule out in a rather timely fashion this year and project how I think it’s all going to play out. Here’s my take on the overall schedule, as well as a breakdown of every game we play, what’s of note about the teams, and how I think we’ll fare.
Self made it clear that, after running his past two teams through a meat grinder in the nonconf in recent seasons (Kansas was the highest Big 5.5 team in NCSOS on Kenpom the past 2 seasons) that he made a mistake to do that to a young couple of teams, and wanted to let off the gas this time around. Myself, I’m a fan of the tougher scheduling, but I think UK, Duke, and UNC have been a little smarter about it, tending to schedule a few really big games with a lot more cupcakes in between. Self seems to have cribbed that plan. We’ve got several teams on the list that finished below 50% overall, in their conference, or both last season. We’ve got a NCAA upset capable mid-majors. We’ve got a couple of nice super heavyweights, and a solid field in Maui too. I see this schedule as giving us the right mix of truly challenging games and and opportunities to develop our bench and future stars. All in all, mission accomplished with this schedule.
University of Northern Colorado - AFH - Nov 13
UNCO finished 15-15 last season, going 10-8 in the Big Sky conference, and ranking 257th in Kenpom efficiency. They return only 2 of their top 5 scorers in juniors Jordan Wilson and Cameron Michael. They’ve added Juco (small) big Jamal Evans, but no one else that’s likely to be a major impact player. I’m expecting this outing to be a stroll in the park for KU, as UNCO looks like a team on the the way down, not up. We’ll probably run out to a big lead at the half, then let the B squad clean up in the final 10 minutes while UNCO cuts a 30pt deficit to 18.
Result: KU 82 - UNCO 64
Michigan State University - Champions Classic, Chicago, Ill. - Nov 17
When we last faced MSU in the Champions Classic, KU gave up a late lead when no one could prevent Keith Appling from repeatedly driving to the rim on the high screen and roll. Last season we got the better of them in a typical Big 10 style game that served as a bit of a break out for Svi, but sadly would serve as his highlight game of the year. That same team made a push to put MSU back in the Final Four for the first time in 5 years. Overall, the team that we beat last season was better than who we’re likely to face this time around. Although Izzo does return 4 of his top 6 scorers, the stats suggest that Tum-Tum Nairn, Izzo’s only true PG for the coming season, isn’t going to be able to step in and replace what Travis Trice gave him last year. Combo that with losing your top defensive player and rebounder in Branden Dawson, and I think MSU is a team that will be good, but one that we should be able to handle.
That’s not to say there’s no cause for concern. The Spartans should have considerable firepower from deep next season. Top 3pt shooters Denzel Valentine and Bryn Forbes are back for their final seasons and will be joined by WVU transfer Eron Harris, who torched us with 28pts on 5-7 from deep in our visit to Morgantown in 2014, and baby-faced freshman Matt McQuaid, a 4-star shooter from Texas. They’ve also upgraded in the frontcourt with McD’s AA Deyonta Davis, a player best described as a poor man’s Cheick Diallo. Although I expect the trio of Costello, Schilling and Davis to be a tough group, none of them is the proto-typical beef sheet/space eater type bigs that have typically defined Tom Izzo’s teams. Luckily that guy, Caleb Swanigan, decided to back out of his commitment in order to join the footers at Purdue, where he could play PF, not small C. I still see this as being very much a grind, but I don’t think Izzo has either the bigs nor the PG to keep up with what we’ll be fielding. KU will pull ahead in a game that will be close until the final TV timeout, when Izzo’s guns finally run out of ammo.
Result: KU 66 - MSU 58
Although the field has been set for the Maui Invitational, the brackets haven’t been released, so there’s no telling exactly who we’ll be slated to play. Nevertheless, I have my suspicions that the tournament organizers will want to see either a KU/IU final or a KU/UCLA final given the teams available, so I’m going to put us opposite those two schools. Likewise, a student vs master game is the sort of thing tournament organizers and television broadcasters love to engineer, so I’m putting Wake Forest on our side. I know when Duke plays in the invitational, K requests to be in the opposite bracket as D2 host Chaminade, as playing D2 teams is an RPI killer. In our last trip to the islands (one in which we faced Duke in the finals), we also avoided playing Chaminade despite being in their bracket, suggesting to me that RPI hawk Self is of like-mind to K. Thus, I’ll put Chaminade in the IU/UCLA bracket. St. John’s is a school that KU has some history with, but ancient and recent. Not only did we beat them out this past spring for the services of Cheick Diallo (after a heretofore unheard of hiring putsch), but they were also felled in KU’s first NCAA tournament triumph in 1952. Bigs coach and top recruiting assistant Norm Roberts also coached the team from 2004-10. For that, I’m guessing they’ll wind up in our bracket as our first opponent. As for UNLV or Vanderbilt, I think it’s a toss up, but I’ll go with UNLV being pitted against UCLA in the first round, so Vanderbilt will face off against Danny Manning’s squad in our bracket. Final projection:
Kansas vs St. John’s
Wake Forest vs Vanderbilt
IU vs Chaminade
UCLA vs UNLV
St. John’s - Lahaina Civic Center, HI - Nov 23
Despite having a good amount of talent, St. John’s went only 21-12, 10-8 in the Big East last season, which as enough to make the NCAA tournament, but not enough to save Steve Lavin’s job once school legend Chris Mullin became a possibility. Mullin’s transition to HC was far from smooth, however. With D’Angelo Harrison and Sir’Dominic Pointer both lost to graduation, Mullin was set to rebuild with his remaining stars. It was not to be, however, with the unexpected departure of two key cogs from the previous two seasons in PG Rysheed Jordan, who was forced out due to academic issues, and star C Chris Obekpa, who elected to transfer. He also lost the commitment of blue chip Brandon Sampson. That leaves Mullin’s squad without not only the top 6 players from last season, but no player that even averaged double digits in a previous season on the roster. What little help he’s getting will likely come form PG duo Marcus LoVett, Jr, a former KU target, and Frederico Mussini, a Nike Hoop’s Summit participant from Italy. Given a new HC and effectively a brand new roster with only a month of playing together under their respective belts, I have no idea how this game will play out, other than to say KU will prevail and it won’t be particularly close.
Result: KU 83 - St. John’s 59
Vanderbilt - Lahaina Civic Center, HI - Nov 24
As much as I would love for that Self/Manning face off to occur, given the bracket I’ve drawn up and the 13-19 finish the Deacs put up last season, I don’t see any way Manning’s boys would make it past a veteran Vandy team, especially one that returns all but one of their top six scorers and made it to 21 wins last year, good for a top 40 rating on Kenpom. Unfortunately for the Commodores, they don’t have half the talent of Lionel Ritchie, and all they’re gonna leave on the floor of the Lahaina Civc Center is a whole lot of funk.
Okay, it won’t be that easy. Between leading scorer and rebounder Damian Jones, Luke Kornet, and as well as the promising freshman footer, and former teammate of KU target Schnider Herard, Djery Baptiste, and stout Samir Sehic, Vanderbilt will be a brick house in the post. Likewise, they’ve got machine guns in Wade Baldwin IV and Matthew Fisher-Davis, both hitting over 40% from deep last season. Riley LaChance also shot a healthy 38% from 3 in his first year of college ball. For all that offensive prowess, however, Vandy is a fairly poor defensive team. Although they were decent FG% defenders and shot blockers, they rebound poorly, and their 4.9 steals per game makes our mediocre 6.5 look sterling. Baptiste should help their rebounding situation, as well as contributing a few blocks, but the guard core that failed to turn opponents over is likely to remain in place, and that should make the difference in the end.
Result: KU 77 - Vanderbilt 65
Indiana University - Lahaina Civic Center, HI - Nov 25
Although it’s perfectly conceivable that UCLA could emerge from our opposite bracket, I think we’ll be facing off against our 2nd Big 10 foe on the year. Crean’s team figures to return perhaps the best scoring backcourt in the country. Last season James Blackmon, Jr., Yogi Ferrell, and Troy Williams combined to score 45ppg on 46% FGP, 42% from deep, good for 20 wins, a top 10 Kenpom offense, and an NCAA berth. What held the Hoosiers back, aside from an injury to Blackmon, who is out for the summer after another injury, was a lackluster front court lead by the dismissed Hanner Mosquera-Perea, and the undersized Collin Hartman.
Post help has arrived in Bloomington, however, in the form of McD’s AA C Thomas Bryant (an AAU teammate of our own Cheick Diallo), and 4-Star PF Juwan Morgan. Bryant figures to bring the rebounding and shot blocking that Perea, who barely outrebounded the diminutive Ferrell, couldn’t, but I don’t expect he’ll do much else. He can certainly play on the block, but from what I saw of him on the AAU circuit, Noah Vonleh he is not. Morgan will probably time to make an impact, but he is long, athletic, and something of a putback artist. Max Biedtfeld has also joined the Hoosiers, leaving Ann Arbor behind, but at a stout 6’7", 250, I don’t see him making much of a dent, as he was barely effective for a depleted Michigan frontcourt. Given that, I think Crean will play small, which is just as well, as he prefers to play through his guards rather than his bigs. Expect a real shootout, but one where KU still wins due to overwhelming advantage down low. Should be a good game for Perry Ellis who excels against smaller front lines.
Result: KU 84 - IU 79
The rest of the field
Since this is just one possible bracket for the Maui Invitational, I wanted to add a brief synopsis of the other potential opponents:
If we wind up playing a D2 school in this thing, odds are something has gone horribly wrong. I don’t know too much about Chaminade, but even with plenty of upperclassmen on the roster, I don’t see them as a team that could challenge us much more than Chile did in the WUG. In fact, Chaminade hasn’t defeated a D1 school since the toppling of Ralph Sampson’s Cavs, the sole reason this tiny tournament exists. If this match up happens for some reason, we’ll be cruising past the century mark on the scoreboard.
Our next most likely final opponent should be a pretty good version of the team Steve Alford piloted to a Sweet 16 after a dubious call against SMU in their opening round. They’re losing major firepower with the departures of Norman Powell and Kevon Looney, but they return a solid core in Bryce Alford, Tony Parker, and Isaac Hamilton. Footer and paint patroller Thomas Welsh will have to become a much bigger impact player for them to reach their potential. Jonah Bolden, a top 40 RS freshman should also help fill some of the void left by Looney. The biggest potential impact, however, is the return of a true point guard to the team in Aaron Holiday, brother of alumn and NBA All-Star Jrue Holiday. They also add the freshman with my favorite name in this class, Prince Ali. With a little luck, UCLA can reach the finals in Maui, and they can certainly pose match up issues in the post, given Parker’s girth and Welsh’s size, but either way, I don’t think they’ve got the guard play to match us. Frank Mason will eat not only Holiday’s lunch, but his dinner and next day’s breakfast too.
Yet another team we played last season, that version of the Rebs was dismissed rather effectively after an 18pt outburst from Frank Mason. Although David Rice has done a good job of drawing talent in, as well as retaining local stars, such as the giraffe-necked footer Stephen Zimmerman, he has yet to demonstrate the coaching chops to do much with what he’s been given. With Christian Wood and Rashad Vaughn out, UNLV is unlikely to live up to anything near the legacy of the last true mid-major team to win a national title. At AFH, we beat them by 15. In Maui, we could do even more damage.
As I mentioned, Manning went through a rough first year with Wake. Although he has most of the best parts of his roster back, as well as adding a quality recruiting class highlighted by athletic footer Doral Moore, for whose commitment he beat out UK, WF is unlikely to shape up much better in a brutal ACC than the team that went 13-19 on the year. They may not have been as bad as their record suggests, ranking 124th on Kenpom, but they certainly aren’t in much of a position to challenge anyone but perhaps St. John, and of course D2 host Chaminade, in this year’s field. If we do wind up playing them, it will be in the opening round, and there will be little doubt as to which HC is the student, and which is the master.
Loyola Maryland - AFH - Dec 1
The dubious honor of worst game on the schedule is a toss up between this bout with Loyola and the one with their Patriot League conference-mate Holy Cross. Both teams finished with not only losing records, but losing conference records in a bottom tier conference (independent schools finished five spots higher in RPI conference rankings). Still, Loyola finished only ahead of Army, so this distinction is about the only thing they’ll win next year.
As for the team, the Greyhound’s bus returns pretty much everything that was loaded on last year’s trek to langour. Far more likely to be run out of the gym than to lap the Jayhawks, this match up should be little more than a stat-stuffer for the team, and perhaps a popcorn worthy highlight reel for the fans, nothing more. Our exhibition games will probably be tougher.
Result: KU 92 - Loyola MD 45 Woof!
Harvard - AFH - Dec 5
The state of Kansas and the city of Lawrence have a lot of ties to the Commonwealth of Massachusetts and city of Boston (and it’s environs). Lawrence itself was founded with the help of the Massachusetts Emigrant Aid Company of Boston (which is why the main drag is Mass St). Wayne Selden, of course, is a native of Roxbury. The game Wayne had devoted his life to was invented in Springfield, Mass, the state’s second largest city, and the choice of his school’s colors was inspired in part by Harvard Crimson. Originally KU’s colors would have been a blue and gold similar to that of Marquette, however, as the main benefactor in founding the school, Amos Adams Lawrence, for whom the town is named, was a Harvard man, it was decided to add crimson to the school’s repertoire.
Despite all of these connections, I can neither recall nor realize a time when these two teams have actually met, so this may well be the first. And it’s just as well that it is as Harvard is currently riding atop the Ivy league and has their most successful coach in school history manning the helm. Tommy Amaker’s Crimson have a streak of NCAA tournament appearances going that dates back to 2012 (only the 2nd time they made the dance in school history), and even notched a couple wins in 2013 and 2014 respectively. Perhaps more important was the emergence of Jeremy Lin in the NBA. Whatever you attribute it to, Amaker has made Harvard not only a respectable destination for academics, but athletics as well.
2015-16 figures, however, to be something of a rebuilding year for Amaker. He’s lost all but 2 of his top 6 scorers and, as Ivy League schools don’t offer athletic scholarships, it’s not likely that his incoming class have much impact. Siyani Chambers, the team’s play maker, does return and Amaker can flat out coach, so I don’t expect this to be a rout. KU will outlast the Crimson in a surprisingly close game.
Result: KU 61 - Harvard 54
Holy Cross - AFH - Dec 9
You could basically copy and paste my analysis of Loyola here and you’d get about the same result. The Crusaders are a bit better than the Greyhounds, but are just as underwhelming and undersized. They have 4 or their top 6 guys back and actually put up a good number of blocks and steals per game (enough to rank top 40 in both). It won’t matter, though, as they’re offensively challenged to say the least. With no rebounding and very little scoring ability, but the ability to manufacture turnovers, we’re in for a decisive, if sloppy victory. This should come as no surprise as Holy Cross was the first step in each of back to back Final 4 runs in 02 and 03, and Kansas hasn’t lost to a Patriot league team since our bitter defeat to Bucknell the next year.
Result: KU 63 - Holy Cross 46
Oregon State - Kansas City, MO - Dec 12
Oregon State was listed among the programs trending up in ESPN’s preseason analysis of the Pac 12. Surely that has more to do with the hiring of HC Wayne Tinkle, who brought along with him his 4-star son Tres, than it does an 8-10 conference record on a team that loses very little. To their credit, the Beaver’s PG Gary Payton, Jr did lead the team in scoring and rebounds, as well as leading the nation in steals per possession, so it’s not as if they lack any star power. They’re also long on length. None of their 6 scholarship bigs is shorter than 6’10". Fortunately none of them are talented scorers, and only one is anything resembling a shot blocker, Daniel Goomis.
I was as surprised as anyone in 2012 when the Beavers gave us a legitimate run for our money at the Sprint Center, but I won’t be caught unawares twice. I’m expecting this one to go down very much like the last: Offensively challenged team causes a lot of turnovers, but can’t put up the numbers to fell the giant. Tinkle may have a team on it’s way up, but it ain’t there yet.
Result: KU 64 - OSU 55
Montana - AFH - Dec 19
The Montana Grizzlies are a bunch of big bears from a very tiny pond. The Big Sky conference from which Montana hails is one of the worst in the country, raking in at #27 out of 33 conferences in 2015. Although they finished with 20 wins and a 14-4 conference record, I doubt it will be any kind of wrestling match. They have 4 or their top 6 scorers back and were able to wrangle an NIT berth thank’s to a solid offense, but they were blown out by a mediocre Texas A&M team thanks to the Grizzlies poor D. Brandon Gfeller is their lone shooting threat, although Mario Dunn is capable. The size of the Grizzlies is also nothing special. Marin Breunig does score and rebound, but he’s a poor FT shooter and his D makes Perry Ellis look like Jeff Withey. No one of note is coming onto this team to replace leading scorer Jordan Gregory. Poor rebounding and a mediocre steal rate will make this one a solid win. Expect to see the 'hawks run away with this game in the 2nd half.
Result: KU 74 - Montana 60
San Diego State - San Diego, CA - Dec 22
In many ways, KU’s lone true road game in this nonconf schedule could be the hardest one of them all. Steve Fisher rose to fame after somehow guiding Big Blue to an NCAA title in his first 6 games as a head coach, and continued with the Fab Five in the early 90s. He hasn’t had the same resources nor the same success since he landed at San Diego State, but he’s almost always had tough and competitive teams in his 15 seasons there, leading them to a 27-9 record, 14-4 in the MWC. So it was hardly a shock that a coach with Fisher’s pedigree was able to come into Allen Fieldhouse and leave with a win. That narrow setback came before the emergence of Joel Embiid as the best C in the country, before Wiggins truly showed any ability to take over games, and with a not quite up to the task Naadir Tharpe running the show. Despite not having anyone likely to be drafted in the top 5 on the roster, the team we field this year should be
much better overall.
With that in mind, a W might seem academic, given that the Aztecs barely managed to hang on at AFH. Not so fast! Three things haven’t changed: San Diego is still a long and defensively strong team; team star Winston Shepherd is still on the roster; and Steve Fisher still heads the ship. Finishing 4th in defensive efficiency on Kenpom last season, but only 166th for O, this game figures very much to be one of contrasting styles. Kansas was certainly no stranger to good defense last season either, finishing 10th thanks largely to their FG% D and rebounding (plus surprisingly good shot blocking numbers), but scoring came far more naturally for us than it has to the Aztecs. What is likely to turn the tides is that half of the top scorers for Fisher’s squad have gone, specifically double digit contributors Aqeel Quinn and J.J. O’Brien. This has to be a devastating blow to an already anemic offensive team. Top scorer and player Winston Shepherd is still there to soften the hit, as is his soon to be partner in crime Malik Pope, who really started to come on late in the season. Redshirt Zylan Cheatham and new comer Jeremy Hemsley will mean no shortage of big bodies, but unless D’Erryl Williams can develop into a real point guard for this squad, I see defeat in the cards for a team lacking a floor general. Expect a real boxing match, though.
Result: KU 57 - SDSU 53
University of California Irvine
It’s a great time to be an Anteater. A 21-13 finish and a very first NCAA tournament berth are high watermarks for a historically lack luster program. But the big story at UCI has to be Mamadou Ndiaye, the 7;6" 300lbs Senegalese pivot. He’s the top of the returning scorers along with gaurds Alex Young, Luke Nelson, and Jaron Martin. UCI neither stood out as a defensive team, nor defensively, but was still able to take an Elite 8 bound Louisville team to the wire in their lone March Madness game. The key to the win will be dealing with the massive middleman Ndiaye, but the load may not be as bad as it seems. Ndiaye is a lumbering foul machine, and Perry Ellis is adept at taking bigs off the dribble, as well as getting fouled on his way to the hoop. Get these things done, and our backcourt superiority will carry the day. My guess is Mamadou fouls out midway through the 2nd half and we never look back.
Result: KU 68 - UCI 52
University of Kentucky - AFH - Jan 30
The choice to have blue blood heavyweights KU and UK face off in this year’s edition of the Big12/SEC challenge was all but foregone. LSU and aTm have had successful recruiting seasons and are certainly intriguing teams, but nothing is going to put more butts in seats than these two historic programs go at it. Now much to our chagrin, KU has almost always been on the losing end of these meetings, owning a paltry 5 wins over UK throughout the years, and has suffered defeat in all 3 of our most recent meetings. That should make this bulletin board material, especially given the players we return from a team that was utterly humiliated 72-40 last season. This Jayhawker wants revenge too.
In addition to the intrigue, this game is also one of the most difficult to predict. None of UK’s top 7 scorers nor rebounders return. That’s hardly unfamiliar territory for Kentucky, though. They do have a very strong recruiting class, headlined by C Skal Labissiere, and recently bolstered by Canadian Jamal Murray, but this team doesn’t have the talent level nor the depth that Calipari has been privileged with in his time at UK. What has BBN on edge more than anything is waiting for Skal to be officially cleared to play. He wouldn’t be the first kid waived off for the season that Cal’s brought to Lexington (Enes Kanter), and between his OAD pedigree and UK’s meager post depth, that sort of loss could spell a season as low as 2013’s for a team that treats Final Fours like trips around the block. KU likewise has to get its star big man cleared, but if Diallo’s debut is delayed, we’ve got more tools to patch the hole. Tyler Ulis and Alex Poythress will mean UK has some key veterans to blend with the new comes, and Jamal Murray and Isaiah Briscoe are big, athletic play makers, much more in the mold of Derrick Rose or John Wall than the Harrison twins.
In the end, I think this is more likely to be a vintage Calipari team than a dud. And for that reason, I have to say KU’s revenge fantasy reaches fruition! After all, what Calipari teams seem to do more than anything is sort of sleepwalk through the regular season before using overwhelming waves of individual talent to make a run in the dance. This just figures to be a much bigger game for KU, and in our venue to boot. We won’t be taking UK to the woodshed, but that same fight that carried a dead-legged KUSA to a win against a game group of Deutchers in double OT will carry the day on Jan. 30th. UK probably has the overall backcourt edge, but wave after wave of big man bodies will wear down the thin Big Blue Line.
Result: KU 81 - UK 75
So you heard it here first, KU will sweep their nonconf opponents this season, a feat not repeated since the 2010-11 season. It’s going to take some luck, but the grit on display throughout the WUG is exactly what it will take to get through this fairly strong schedule. Good Wayne has to show up to all the big games. Perry has to keep attacking bigger post men. Svi needs to turn his great fundamentals into a good all around game. Chieck needs to qualify, then become this team’s pacemaker. But I see it all coming together. It’s going to be a very good year to be a Jayhawk.