Death, taxes, and one of the toughest non-conference schedules in the country.
The Kansas Jayhawks having one of the most arduous non-conference schedules in college basketball has become an annual tradition. That trend played out last year, as KU finished the season ranking second in strength of schedule, per ESPN. This year looks no different.
Bill Self’s consistent efforts to have one of the most difficult schedules serve multiple purposes. The high-profile matchups (Duke, Villanova, Michigan State) bring national attention and serve as early season litmus tests.
The games that seem easier (Monmouth, Milwaukee, UNC Greensboro) come against solid programs that all have a shot at winning their league and boosting KU’s end-of-season metrics, which are used by the selection committee come tournament time. The schedule as a whole acts as a great test before the Big 12 gauntlet and gives younger players a chance to get their feet under them.
Let’s take a quick look at several of the biggest non-conference games for the Jayhawks, ranking the 3 toughest games from least to most difficult. Rankings for these teams were taken from the preseason AP Top 25 poll.
3. November 5 vs. No. 4 Duke
Of course, Duke features one of the best recruiting classes in the country, centered on big man Vernon Carey Jr. However, this rendition of the Champions Classic will hinge on the battle of the two experienced point guards. Devon Dotson will lead the Jayhawks against Tre Jones and the Blue Devils. Jones is one of the best guards in the country and probably the best on defense. Duke goes as he goes, and KU’s focus for shutting down Coach K’s squad will center on Jones if they want to get a win in their first game.
2. December 21 at No. 10 Villanova
KU vs. Villanova has become somewhat of a rivalry the past few years, and it’s great. Villanova brought in one of the best recruiting classes in the country, led by two top-20 recruits in Jeremiah Robinson-Earl and Bryan Antoine. Those five-stars alongside proven upperclassmen like Collin Gillespie make the Wildcats one of the best teams in the country. Jay Wright will surely have his guys ready to go, and they’ll be looking for revenge after Kansas bested Villanova in Lawrence last year. KU’s defense will have to step-up in this game, especially Marcus Garrett and Silvio De Sousa who should matchup with the freshman.
1. November 27 vs. No. 1 Michigan State
Although this game isn’t a sure thing, it’s close. These powerhouses will enter the Maui Invitational as far-and-away the two best teams and should meet in the championship game. Michigan State enters the season a man down after losing wing Joshua Langford with a foot injury. Langford’s injury occurred just recently, but this game being in late November gives Tom Izzo over a month to tinker his lineups and try to replace Langford’s production. The Spartans still have preseason player of the year favorite Cassius Winston, and Xavier Tillman is a load downlow. Expect this to be a back-and-forth battle and one of the games of the year in college basketball.
Bonus Game that Scares Me: December 29 at Stanford
This game is more about the setting than the opponent. The Jayhawks will have to travel two times zones for a 2 p.m. tip just a few days after Christmas. They’ll also enter what will surely be a raucous environment against a Stanford team with low expectations entering the season. They’ll be playing fast and loose going for the upset bid. Look to Dotson and other veterans to step up and pull this team to a win in what sets up as a classic trap game.
Here’s the full slate for this season’s non-conference schedule:
- November 5 vs. Duke (Champions Classic in New York City)
- November 8 vs. UNC Greensboro
- November 15 vs. Monmouth
- November 19 vs. East Tennessee State
- November 25 vs. Chaminade (Maui Invitational)
- November 26 vs. UCLA/BYU (Maui Invitational)
- November 27 vs. TBA (Maui Invitational)
- December 7 vs. Colorado
- December 10 vs. Milwaukee
- December 14 vs. UMKC (In Kansas City)
- December 21 at Villanova
- December 29 at Stanford
- January 25 vs. Tennessee (Big12/SEC Challenge)