After a so-so schedule last year, this year’s non-conference slate for the Jayhawks features big-time games against several premier programs.
This is a return to form for the Bill-Self led Jayhawks. Kansas seems to have one of the best non-conference schedules year after year according to strength of schedule. It also usually has several games the immediately jump out based on the name of the opponent.
Last season’s schedule passed the strength of schedule test, but it had very few premier matchups that got fans excited at first glance. This year’s non-conference schedule exceeds in both regards.
This season’s non-conference schedule is as follows:
- November 6 vs. Michigan State (Champions Classic in Indianapolis)
- November 12 vs. Vermont
- November 15 vs. Louisiana
- November 21 vs. Marquette (In Brooklyn)
- November 23 vs. Louisville or Tennessee (In Brooklyn)
- December 1 vs. Stanford
- December 4 vs. Wofford
- December 8 vs. New Mexico State (Kansas City)
- December 15 vs. Villanova
- December 18 vs. South Dakota
- December 22 at Arizona State
- December 29 vs. Eastern Michigan
- January 26 at Kentucky (SEC/Big 12 Challenge)
That is a classic Bill Self non-conference schedule. It features several primetime matchups for fans and analysts to highlight (Kentucky, Villanova, Michigan State) while sneaking in games against smaller schools that should finish high in their respective conferences (Vermont, New Mexico State, South Dakota).
Those marquee games look great on paper, but the real value is in playing the top tier small schools. It’s games like those that can bolster a team’s end of season metrics, many of which are used by selection committee going into the NCAA Tournament.
Let’s quickly rank the three best non-conference games for the Jayhawks. Rankings are taken from the preseason AP Top 25, which was released yesterday.
3. November 23 vs. No. 6 Tennessee
The logical pick for this spot would’ve been Michigan State, but I’m going with Tennessee, and I’m banking on the Volunteers beating Louisville in the first round of the NIT Season Tip-Off in Brooklyn. Rick Barnes seems to be on the verge of something potentially great in Tennessee as he brings in a team that is ranked in the top 10 in most preseason polls. KU will have to focus on stopping reigning SEC Player of the Year Grant Williams if it wants to leave Brooklyn with a win.
2. January 26 at No. 2 Kentucky
This matchup of the two winningest programs of all time will take place once again during the annual Big 12/SEC Challenge. Its no surprise the Coach Cal’s team will feature a variety of talented freshman, but the best player on the team is probably grad transfer forward Reid Travis. The Kentucky offense will be at its best when it runs through Travis, so it’ll be up to the KU big men to keep Travis from getting the Wildcats rolling in Rupp Arena.
1. December 15 vs. No. 9 Villanova
This Kansas team will be looking for revenge after the Wildcats bombarded KU with threes in route to an easy win in last year’s Final Four. Jay Wright is sure to bring in a solid team that makes few mistakes, and it’ll be up to a young KU team to match their discipline and mental toughness. Allen Fieldhouse is sure to be rocking, as this is one of the most anticipated non-conference games Kansas has had in a while. If you don’t believe me, check the ticket prices.
Bonus Game that Scares Me: December 8 vs. New Mexico State
This is the game before the Villanova game, and KU will be primed for a letdown. The Jayhawks have struggled recently playing at their home away from home in Kansas City, including last year’s loss against Washington. New Mexico State is a solid program and is sure to bring in a good team that won’t be scared to play the Jayhawks.