CU Men Face ‘Big Monday' Test Against Kansas

The University of Colorado men's basketball team begins its Big 12 conference season on the biggest of stages Monday, as the Buffaloes host the No. 13 Kansas Jayhawks in ESPN's primetime slot at the Coors Events Conference Center in Boulder. Here is a game preview.

Colorado saw its longest home winning streak in 32 years (15 games dating back to early last season) come to an end after an embarrassing loss to visiting Utah on Dec. 23, and then proceeded to drop its second consecutive and final non-conference game of the season, 75-62 on New Year's Eve.

While CU's been busy playing the worst ball of its season, the Jayhawks have won five of their last six righting itself after a relatively slow start, and are fresh off an impressive 86-79 victory over a feisty Villanova team Friday.

"It's a new season," CU head coach Ricardo Patton said this weekend. "Our guys understand that. It's a tough opener, but that's why they signed up at Colorado - to play in the Big 12."

The task in front of Patton's Buffs on Monday seems as daunting as ever. KU holds a commanding 105-39 all-time series lead dating back to 1931.

One of Colorado's rare wins came last season here in Boulder; a 60-59 upset of the then-Roy Williams led Jayhawks. The win broke a Colorado losing streak to Kansas lasting more than 10 years, and propelled the Buffaloes into an NCAA Tournament birth.

Not many of the Jayhawks, and certainly none of their fans, have forgotten last year's upset, and first year Kansas coach Bill Self realizes that no Big 12 conference game can be taken for granted.

"Life on the road in the Big 12 is no picnic," Self said. "You've got to be your best every night you play on the road. We've got to be better."

On the other side of the floor, Patton has no reason to take any part of his conference-opener lightly.

"They've always been good," Patton said Sunday. "Not only their starting five, but they come off the bench with guys that would be starting for a lot of teams in this league."

Four of the starters from Colorado's victory last year will be back on the floor for this season's rematch, including senior Michel Morandais. The teams' second-leading scorer has been reinserted into CU's starting lineup after a dubious one-game absence; thanks to what Patton has termed an "improved approach."

In addition to four veterans, the Jayhawks will be forced to contend with the speedy play and seemingly limitless range of true freshman guard Marcus Hall, who has seen heightened action since midway through his team's non-conference schedule.

With CU failing to net a single point in the first half of the Buffs' victory over Cal on Dec. 6, Hall took the reigns, dropping 14 of his game-high 22 points. While the rest of his team went cold, the 18-year-old thrust himself into the CU spotlight, and hasn't been the same player since. Hall has shot better than 52 percent from the field in better than 19 minutes per game for Patton's Buffs this season; a number which will undoubtedly elevate if Colorado finds itself minus Morandais midway through this month (academics).

Colorado center and pre-season All-American candidate David Harrison will return to the Colorado lineup Monday having nursed a sore shoulder over the past few weeks. He has practiced the last three days, and said Sunday he'll be ready for CU's Big 12 opener.

"This is definitely what you look forward to," Harrison said Sunday of his team's national television debut. "All season, you think about the guys you play against the most. Kansas is real beatable - but it's going to take a great effort to beat them."