The Kansas Jayhawks’ 2016 conference schedule was announced on Thursday, giving fans a first look at the path the Jayhawks have to a potential 12th straight Big 12 crown.
My initial reaction is that this is a favorable draw for the Jayhawks. Kansas opens and closes the year with home games, which is a huge advantage in a conference race as tight as the Big 12. I like how the league has adjusted its schedule so every team plays every team once before the rematches begin. In each of the last two seasons, Kansas and Iowa State matched up twice in the first half of conference play, which never made much sense to me. This year, Kansas’ first nine conference games will all be against different opponents. It’s a much more spread-out and sporadic schedule, and it should ultimately keep the league race tighter with more late-season games being impactful.
I’m also intrigued by why the Jayhawks play so many Tuesday games. KU hasn’t played more than two Tuesday games in Big 12 play in many years. In fact, eight of their nine weekday games are either on Monday or Tuesday, meaning that they’ll be more quick turnarounds after playing Saturday contests. Kansas plays just one Wednesday game all year, and as usual, is absent on all Thursdays and Fridays.
Tier I: Opportunity for a Quick Start
1) vs. Baylor (Saturday, January 2, 3:00 pm)
2) vs. Oklahoma (Monday, January 4, 8:00 pm)
3) at Texas Tech (Saturday, January 9, 8:00 pm)
4) at West Virginia (Tuesday, January 12, 6:00 pm)
5) vs. TCU (Saturday, January 16, 1:00 pm)
After opening Big 12 play on the road for the last two seasons, Kansas kicks off its conference slate with a duo of home games. Baylor has never defeated KU in Allen Fieldhouse, and Bill Self has never lost a home Big Monday game, which isn’t encouraging news for Oklahoma. KU’s first road game is against the worst team in the league, meaning that there is no reason for the Jayhawks to not be unscathed through the first three games.
A road game at West Virginia presents an tough test, but with a home contest against bottom-dweller TCU the next weekend, it would be unforeseen for Kansas to start conference play any worse than 4-1.
Way-too-early prediction: win vs. Baylor (1-0), win vs. Oklahoma (2-0), win at Texas Tech (3-0), loss at West Virginia (3-1), win vs. TCU (4-1).
Tier II: Brutal Late-January Stretch
6) at Oklahoma State (Tuesday, January 19, 6:00 pm)
7) vs. Texas (Saturday, January 23, 1:00 pm)
8) at Iowa State (Monday, January 25, 8:00 pm)
** vs. Kentucky, Big 12/SEC Challenge (Saturday, January 30, 8:00 pm)
This two-week stretch could ultimately prove to be huge in the final standings. In an 11-day stretch, the Jayhawks will take on three of the Big 12’s best teams, but the most anticipated game of the entire season is the January 30 showdown with Kentucky.
Kansas hasn’t won in Stillwater since 2013; Oklahoma State is the only Big 12 opponent that Bill Self has a losing record against on the road. After a home tilt with Texas, KU has a fast turnaround for a Big Monday contest against its biggest challenger to the Big 12 title in Iowa State. If the Jayhawks can get through that short three-game stretch at 2-1, they’ll likely be sitting atop the Big 12 standings when they take on Kentucky. As exciting as the Big 12/SEC Challenge may be, the game is ultimately rather meaningless in the standings. I wasn’t originally a fan of the random non-conference game in the middle of Big 12 play, but it may provide the Jayhawks with an opportunity to take a breather from the conference race.
Way-too-early prediction: win at Oklahoma State (5-1), win vs. Texas (6-1), loss at Iowa State (6-2), win vs. Kentucky.
Tier III: Chance to gain Seperation
9) vs. Kansas State (Wednesday, February 3, 8:00 pm)
10) at TCU (Saturday, February 6, 11:00 am)
11) vs. West Virginia (Tuesday, February 9, 6:00 pm)
12) at Oklahoma (Saturday, February 13, 1:00 pm)
13) vs. Oklahoma State (Monday, February 15, 8:00 pm)
The Big 12 has seven NCAA tournament teams, so there is never truly a “breathing period” in conference play. But this five-game stretch might be as close to one as the Jayhawks will get, beginning with a home contest against Kansas State, who hasn’t won in Lawrence in a decade. Game #10 is a road matchup with TCU on the three-year anniversary of the Horned Frogs’ upset over KU, so you’ll have the opportunity to play a drinking game every time ESPN mentions that loss.
From there, Kansas gets a home game with West Virginia, who gave KU quite a scare last year, before a tough road contest at Oklahoma. That should be the only one of these five games that KU stands a legitimate chance of losing, however, I’ll say that they rise to the occasion and steal a tough road win. Oklahoma State may be a surprise team in the league this year, but remember that Bill Self has never lost a Big Monday home game in his tenure at Kansas.
Way-too-early prediction: win vs. Kansas State (7-2), win at TCU (8-2), win vs. West Virginia (9-2), win at Oklahoma (10-2), win vs. Oklahoma State (11-2).
Tier IV: Difficult Late-Season Conclusion
14) at Kansas State (Saturday, February 20, 5:00 pm)
15) at Baylor (Tuesday, February 23, 7:00 pm)
16) Texas Tech (Saturday, February 27, 3:00 or 5:00 pm)
17) at Texas (Monday, February 29, 8:00 pm)
18) vs. Iowa State (Saturday, March 5, TBD)
Three of Kansas’ next four games will be on the road, beginning with a trip to Bramlage Colosseum for a showdown with its in-state rival. The Jayhawks haven’t won in Manhattan since 2013, but considering the nightmare offseason the Wildcats underwent, I think they buck the trend and sweep the series with K-State. Three days later is another tough road game at Baylor, but by this point in the year, the Jayhawks will be an experienced, polished team that should be able to handle that challenge.
After what should be an easy win against Texas Tech, the Jayhawks have a tough road game at Texas to conclude the Big Monday schedule. Just for kicks, I’ll say they lose this one; the league is way too good for even the best team not to have an occasional hiccup.
The last game of the season is a home contest against Iowa State, one that will likely be considered for ESPN’s College Gameday. Perry Ellis’ final game inside Allen Fieldhouse will be one of the best on-paper matchups of the year, and I’ll never pick the Jayhawks to lose at home.
Way-too-early prediction: win at Kansas State (12-2), win at Baylor (13-2), win vs. Texas Tech (14-2), loss at Texas (14-3), win vs. Iowa State (15-3)
Way-too-early final prediction: 15-3, good enough for a 12th consecutive Big 12 title.
The league will be as good as ever, but as long as Cheick Diallo checks out okay with the NCAA, the Jayhawks will put forth their best team since 2012. In the end, the best home-court advantage in the conference may prove to be a difference maker, as it’d be a major upset if Kansas loses even once at home.