Last season, Bill Self’s senior-laden Jayhawks spent a portion of the season as the RPI’s number one ranked team. KU finished the season tenth in the RPI, but boasted the toughest schedule in the nation. A portion of that can be attributed to playing in the Big 12, but KU’s non-conference foes were a worthy test. The Jayhawks went a perfect 11-0 against non-Big 12 teams and eight of those teams advanced to play in the NCAA Tournament. The other three teams played in the NIT -- South Carolina and St. Joseph’s, two of KU’s 2004-2005 opponents, met in the NIT Finals with the Gamecocks prevailing.
Self believes this year’s non-conference tilt could be just as strong.
“I think it’s obviously a tough schedule primarily because of Maui. You have a chance to play three elite teams over there. Then you throw in Nevada who’s rated-- Kentucky is obviously rated --on a neutral court against St. Joe’s –and California has the best team they’ve had in quite some time. On paper that’s pretty tough,” Self told Phog.net.
The Maui Invitational certainly carries a lot of weight, but so does playing a talented Kentucky team. Western Illinois, and Cal are on the upswing while St. Joseph’s and Nevada are always tough outs.
“Not too many people play that many high level Division I teams. In addition to that we play other games that people will say we’re favored because we’re playing at home but these are going to be tough ball games,” Self continued. “I think it’s a good schedule – it may not be the number one rated RPI schedule in America-- a lot depends on how it goes in Maui -- but certainly I think there’s more potential top-heavy opponents than there was even last year when we played the toughest schedule in America.”
Wins and losses are how we measure success but Self’s young squad is raw and untested. In order to be ready for the rigors of the Big 12 the non-conference tilt will provide much-needed experience.
“Obviously we want to win as many games as we possibly can. But even maybe even more importantly with the lack of experience that we have, is experience enough to prepare us for our league play. I think the schedule is plenty tough enough to do that. I’m excited to see how our young guys react to different situations,” said the third-year coach.
If the Jayhawks take care of the Bengals like they should on Friday night, there won’t be much time to celebrate the victory. In less than a week, Kansas will find out where it stands against some of college basketball’s elite teams in one of the strongest Maui fields ever assembled. There’s a lot to be excited about in Lawrence and but still plenty of unknowns.
"I think until you play other people you always do (have questions). I don't know how we'll react when teams play a zone. How are we going to react when people press? How are we going to react when we are down five with three minutes left? Or when we are up five, being able to protect the ball. It's one thing to do things in practice. But to do it under game conditions, there are a lot of things we don't know,” stated Self. “One thing about last year's team, regardless how we played the first 35 minutes, for the most part, those guys finished games. We won a lot of close games last year. I don't know how good we'll be. I don't think you can be a great team unless you are able to finish games. So we'll have to wait and see on that. All indications are to me is that we can be pretty good before it's said and done."