Kansas’ 2015-16 nonconference basketball schedule was released on Tuesday, and once again, it will feature matchups against some of the best teams in the country. However, compared to the last couple of years, it’s not nearly as daunting. The Jayhawks played nonconference schedules that ranked top-five in terms of difficulty in both 2013 and 2014, and the Jayhawks lost a combined six games to non-Big 12 foes. This year, however, should present a perfect blend of balance, challenge, and breathers for a team that will look to establish an identity early on in the season.
The Jayhawks will open the year with two exhibition games against a pair of in-state schools, Pittsburg State on November 4 and Fort Hays State on November 10. Kansas’ regular season officially begins on Friday, November 13, when the Jayhawks will take on the Northern Colorado Bears.
KU’s first nationally-televised contest will come on Tuesday, November 17, when the Jayhawks match up with the Michigan State Spartans as part of the 2015 Champions Classic. The Spartans defeated Kansas when the two played in the 2012 event, but it was the Jayhawks who downed Michigan State last season in the Orlando Classic.
The next week, Kansas will take a trip to Maui on the week of Thanksgiving. The bracket for the tournament is yet to be released, but the field will feature KU, Indiana, St. John’s, UCLA, UNLV, Vanderbilt, Wake Forest, and the hosting Chaminade squad. The Jayhawks will likely enter the tournament as the favorite, but five-star recruits and returning talent will make the Maui Invitational one of the top early-season challenges for KU.
Kansas only plays six games in the month of November, but the Jayhawks waste no time getting things going in December when they host Loyola (Maryland), Harvard, and Holy Cross on Dec. 1, 5 and 9, all at Allen Fieldhouse. The matchup with Harvard is intriguing, as the Crimson have made four straight NCAA tournament appearances. While it’d be stunning if Kansas doesn’t sweep the three-game set, Harvard appears to be the most likely school to give the Jayhawks a stern test.
On December 12, the Jayhawks will head to the Sprint Center to participate in the 2015 Kansas City Shootout. Their opponent will be the Oregon State Beavers, and one week later, KU will return to Allen Fieldhouse to take on Montana on the Saturday before Christmas. Three days later, the Jayhawks will travel west for a matchup with a likely Top-25 opponent in San Diego State. The last home game that Jayhawks lost was to the Aztecs, back on January 5, 2013. Payback will be a storyline when KU takes part in its only road nonconference game.
The Jayhawks’ final game of 2015 will take place on Tuesday, December 29, when they play UC Irvine in Allen Fieldhouse. However, on Saturday, January 30, Kansas will get the opportunity to participate in the Big 12/SEC Challenge. While the matchups have yet to be set, there is growing speculation that it could be the Kentucky Wildcats making the trip to Lawrence for what would be a clash of college basketball powerhouses. It would be the most-anticipated nonconference game for Kansas in years, but we’ll have to wait a bit longer to find out for certain who the Jayhawks will draw for the challenge.
Kansas will play one of the more difficult nonconference schedules in the country, but it doesn’t appear to be nearly as taxing as the slates it faced the last two seasons. I’d be surprised if Kansas lost multiple games before the calendar is turned to 2016. Michigan State and San Diego State are the two toughest games from an on-paper perspective, and in college basketball, anything is possible. However, Kansas will return a blend of experience and talent that, when paired with the incoming freshman class, should open the season as a top-five team.
Now that the schedule has been released, what’s your opinion of the Jayhawks’ 2015 nonconference slate?