This year’s non-conference slate leaves some to be desired.
The schedule features 13 games, with eight home games, four at neutral sites and only one true road game, and that lack of strength was talked about in yesterday’s post.
While KU does have a relatively easy non-conference schedule, it does feature one very tough test, as well as a few other games that could prove more difficult than we initially thought when the schedule came out. Let’s take a look at their non-conference schedule, ranking the games from easiest to hardest.
12. Tennessee State
11. Texas Southern
The most interesting match-up of this group is Texas Southern. The Tigers should finish the year with another SWAC title, which would be the fourth in five years. However, all three of these home games should be all but over quickly into the second half, and should feature a heavy dose of walk-on playing time (I can hear the Chris Teahan chants now).
Cool Mascots (That’s About It)
10. South Dakota State
The Jackrabbits of South Dakota State feature the best player in the Summit League in Mike Daum and will likely be returning to the NCAA Tournament for a second straight year. The Rockets feature players with big-program talent, bringing in transfers from Colorado and Missouri. Allen Fieldhouse should swallow both teams up and the Jayhawks should roll to easy victories.
(Not So) Power Five
The Jayhawks will face Washington in their annual game at the Sprint Center. The game against Nebraska on the other hand will be KU’s only true road game until Big 12 play starts. Either of these games may be a trendy upset pick, but I expect the Jayhawks to win both with no issue.
Closer Than the Experts Think
5. Arizona State
Kansas will face Syracuse as part of the Hoophall Miami Invitational. Jim Boeheim’s team is the most inexperienced he’s ever coached, but that famous 2-3 zone is a tough matchup no matter who is on the floor. Arizona State is a likely bubble team come tournament time. The Sun Devils feature Shannon Evans and Tra Holder, a solid backcourt that can fill it up. The game against Oakland the day after Thanksgiving could wind up being the second toughest game of non-conference play. The team features three of the top five players from the Horizon league and is easily the best in the conference. This will likely end up being the annual “oh crap why is it this close” game for the Jayhawks.
2. Texas A&M
KU’s game against Stanford is in Sacramento in what should be a de-facto road game. The Cardinal have their best team since 2014 and return Reid Travis, the leading scorer in the PAC 12 from last year. This could be a trap game if Kansas is looking ahead to their Big !2 opener, but a win would be a great launching point into conference play. KU’s final non-conference matchup comes on January 27 when they face Texas A&M in the Big 12/SEC Challenge. The Aggies feature size and shooting and will compete for the SEC title. A win against A&M would be a great addition to KU’s tournament resume.
Blue Blood Battle
Kansas will face by far its most difficult non-conference opponent in the second game of the season when it plays Kentucky. And guess what? Kentucky is very young and has one of the best freshman classes in the nation. Weird, that never happens. However, there are question marks for the Wildcats in the backcourt, and once again, their youth could be an issue. The Jayhawks will need Devonte Graham and Malik Newman to have big games if they want to take down Kentucky and Coach Cal.