November Non-Conference Guide

After a tough setback with Oral Roberts, the Jayhawks continue their quest for a berth in the Final Four and a national title. Here's what the 'Hawks have to look forward to this month.

KU’s 2006-2007 schedule is just what the Jayhawks need according to head coach Bill Self.

“I think the schedule is good. I think DePaul is going to be very good. South Carolina will be good there. USC, I think they’re going to be fine but they’ve got a couple of guys nicked up or not playing for a semester. But you look at Boston College and Florida – those are obviously two very good teams,” Self explained. “I think those will be great games for us."

Here's who remains on KU’s November slate.

November 19 – Towson University (Las Vegas Invitational)

The Towson Tigers might not be a team Kansas fans are familiar with but they’ll remember the man at the helm. Former Iona/Florida State/DePaul coach Pat Kennedy has brought change to the Towson program. Towson improved its win total by seven last year but that will be tough to top in 2006-07 with the Tigers facing the likes of Georgetown, Temple, and Kansas.

Kennedy does return six of his top seven scorers and features a three key returnees on offense in 6-4 senior Gary Neal, 6-8 senior forward Dennard Abraham, and sophomore point guard Tim Crossin.

Leading scorer Gary Neal averaged over 26 points a game last season and is the NATION’S top returning Division I scorer. The LaSalle transfer is the Tigers vaunted backcourt threat and is capable of taking a game over. The 6-4 guard scored 25 or more points 11 times and topped the 30-point plateau in seven games. Neal is physically imposing and an accurate three-point shooter (40 percent). He also returns to campus 22 pounds lighter after a strenuous summer workout program.

Dennard Abraham is another junior college product who’s an emerging physical force inside.  Abraham came to Towson via South Plains (Texas) junior college and anchors the middle for Kennedy’s squad. But he causes matchup problems with his ability to step away from the middle and hit the outside jumper. The last six games of the season Abraham averaged nearly 18 points and 8.7 rebounds.

6-2 point guard Tim Crossin led the team in assists and was a member of the CAA’s all-rookie team. Besides dishing the rock, Crossin has range and averaged 8.9 points in 28 starts. The sophomore also had 52 steals proving he plays both ends of the floor. That being said Crossin may have to battle for his job this season. CC Williams is a jet quick JUCO transfer from Brunswick (N.C.) Community College. There Williams became the schools leading scorer and was voted third team National Junior College Athletic Association All-American.

Two more newcomers will provide help on the interior. 6-6 chiseled senior Winston Tubbs and 6-9 junior Tommy Breaux, the Baltimore City Player of the Year in 2004-05, should both provide help in the lane. Breaux also played football for Towson this season.

Towson’s building something special but Kennedy’s team is not ready for the likes of Kansas. The frontcourt will not measure up. The Jayhawks will have to guard Neal and take him out of his game but this will be another lop-sided win at home. During the exhibition season the Tigers featured a variety of pressing defenses and they have the athletes to play that style. This should be the best Towson team since 1995.

November 21 – Tennessee State (Las Vegas Invitational)

Cy Alexander’s Tennessee State Tigers are not picked first in their league, but are picked to finish second and will provide another formidable test for KU.

Alexander has already received his fair share of bad news. 2004 OVC Freshman of the Year, Bruce Price may be lost for another season. Price averaged over 19 points in six games last season before suffering a season-ending knee injury. It appears Price has re-injured the knee and may be lost for another season. It’s a devastating blow for the Tigers. 5-10 Reily Ervin will again have to run the show for Alexander. The Memphis, TN native operated efficiently at the point last season with averages of 9.1 points, 4.9 assists, and 1.5 steals and enters the season with a year of experience under his belt. 6-3 junior Andrae Belton played in all 28 games in 2005-06 and averaged over 16 minutes. He is also the team’s best perimeter defender, provides valuable knowledge of the system, and depth in the backcourt. Belton and Mississippi State transfer Jerrell Houston, will have to sit for the first eight games of the season due to compliance issues.

The Tigers feature the best frontcourt in the OVC led by 6-7 senior Clarence Matthews. Matthews is the preseason conference’s player of the year in the Ohio Valley. He led the conference in rebounding (8.5 rpg), both offensive and defensive, and field goal percentage (.545) a year ago. Matthews was also a factor on the defensive end and was second in the conference in blocked shots (1.68 bpg). 6-10 center Larry Turner, a transfer from Oklahoma, is capable of putting up a double-double on any given night. The Tigers success this season really hinges on the production of Matthews and Turner.

Alexander welcomes six new faces to Nashville. Junior college transfer Moraye Ivy is expected to have an impact and will help provide depth in the backcourt. The 6-5 guard hails from Southwest Community College in Memphis where he averaged over 12 points, 5.8 rebounds, and 2.4 steals per game last season. Obina Hurt is a versatile 6-6 forward who was one of the top eight prep players from the state of Georgia last year.

This will be an undermanned Tennessee State team that has already endured quite a bit of adversity. Kansas should have no problem handling this Ohio Valley Conference foe.  

November 24 – Ball State (Las Vegas Invitational – Las Vegas, NV)

Kansas fans remember Ball State for the defeat it handed Kansas in the Maui Invitational back in 2003. But things have changed since then for the former MAC power. Head coach Tim Buckley is now an assistant at Iowa under Steve Alford, and this season marks the much-anticipated debut of Ronny Thompson, son of legendary Georgetown coach John Thompson. Thompson spent three seasons as an assistant at Arkansas under Stan Heath and is ready to invoke changes in Indiana.  

The Cards hope to improve several aspects of the game that went awry last season. Shooting the basketball was a decided issue for the Cards who finished last in the conference in free-throw shooting, eighth in field-goal percentage, and tenth in three-point shooting. Ball State also had problems closing games and was 4-7 in games decided in overtime or by five points or less.

With Thompson’s arrival came the departure of three sophomores including MAC Freshman of the Year, Maurice Acker, who transferred to Marquette. The cupboard is certainly not bare since seven letterwinners return. The new BSU head coach was also able to add six newcomers to his current roster.

Thompson inherits just three seniors which includes second-team All-MAC performer Julien “Skip” Mills. The 6-3 small forward is the conference’s leading returning scorer (18.6 ppg) and finished 2006 with 72 points in BSU’s final two games. Mills is also the Cards best defensive player. The two other seniors are D’Andre Peyton (9.9 ppg, 4.1 rpg), and Chris Ames. Peyton was the team’s second-leading scorer a year ago. The former JUCO third-team All-American averaged 11.9 ppg, and 3.7 rpg over his final ten games and shot over 50 percent from the floor. Ames was a key defensive stopper.  

The junior class has potential and unanswered questions. A lot of Thompson’s hopes rest on the shoulders of Peyton Stovall. The 6-1 combo guard tore his ACL TWICE last season. He was averaging nearly 17 ppg in 2005 when he tore his knee up in the season-ender vs. Bowling Green. He returned last season and it took only two games for him to do it again. It remains to be seen how effective he will be. The center position will be anchored by 6-10 Micah Rollin who is competing in only his second year of organized basketball. Rollin, Thompson’s first recruit, transferred from the College of Southern Idaho and was recruited by Ohio State and Fresno State before choosing the Cards. Steve Horton and Jarelle Reden round out the junior class.

The sophomore class is highlighted by Jalon Perryman who started 21 of 28 games and was one of best freshmen in the MAC last season. But Perryman needs to improve his assist-to-turnover ration and his shooting percentage.

Thompson needed help at point guard and went out and got two -- Ahmaad Cook, a 6-0 freshman from Los Angeles, and Steve Horton, a 5-9 junior from Cincinnati State Technical College. Cook is the younger brother of Georgetown of former Georgetown standout, Ashanti. Horton averaged 13.0 points and 8.0 assists last winter as a sophomore. He was recognized as the best player under six-foot at a national junior college tournament. His running mate from Cincinnati Tech, 6-2 junior Jarelle Redden is also on the roster.

Here comes the Kansas connection on this roster. Rashaun McLemore, a 6-4 swingman, comes to Muncie from Richmond, Va., via Mt. Zion Academy in Durham, N.C., where he was a teammate of current KU star Brandon Rush. He averaged 16 points, four rebounds, and five assists last year.

Thompson will make sure Ball State returns to its winning ways but it won’t be against Kansas. Too many question marks for the Cards and the Jayhawks will have too many answers.  

November 25 – Florida (Las Vegas Invitational – Las Vegas, NV)

KU fans and Florida fans both have this one circled. It’s been billed as the game of the year in college basketball. But will it live up to the hype?

“Coaches and fans, we are totally different thing. My thing is Florida is going to be a big game but we don’t need to hype it up and make it bigger than what it is which is just a regular season game against a quality opponent,” stated Self. “Our goal is to get better each and every day and if we do that in the end, we’ll be very happy with the result in the end.”

A matchup in November between two legit top four teams is exciting in November but it may not tell you much about who will be the more successful team in March.

“I think in football Ohio State-Texas is a legitimate game that you point to because the winner has a great chance to play for a national championship. In basketball, the winner of our game against Florida in November probably isn’t going to have a ton to do with what goes on in March,” said Self.

It’s was tough to find a weakness in the Florida Gators last season and word is they’ve only gotten better. They’re stocked at every position and possess that all-important intangible – team chemistry. Last season the Gators led the nation in field goal percentage (50 percent), were second in the SEC in scoring (78.3 ppg), and scoring defense (63.5 ppg).

It’s difficult to come up with a reason why they shouldn’t repeat. They share the basketball, they play great team defense and all five starters are back along with two of their top three reserves. Here’s a scary number – Florida’s returning players scored a total of 2,843 points in 2005-2006. Oh and by the way, Donovan has added four talented freshmen to the roster.

Down low the Gators are nearly unstoppable. 6-10 Al Horford is super athletic and equally strong. Horford can finish in traffic with the best of them. There might not be a more complete player in the country than 6-11 Joakim Noah. Noah is yet to find an opponent that can match his combination of speed AND size. Coaches struggled to find the most effective way to combat his array of skills. His skill level matches the level of passion he brings to the court every night.

Corey Brewer stands 6-9 and is an effective slasher. He spent the offseason adding muscle making him even tougher to stop once he gets in the lane. Brewer is another nightmare matchup because he also possesses range. He’s one of Donovan’s best defensive players too.

Adrian Moss is gone but 6-7 freshman Dan Werner may be ready to fill his shoes. Werner is a versatile weapon who can function effectively inside, or step out and nail the three.

Freshman Marreese Spreights is a 6-10 forward who likes to play with his back to the basket. 6-7 forward Dan Werner is cut from the same mold as former Gator Matt Bonner. Werner has the size and outside shooting to be another nightmare matchup for any team.

In the backcourt, point guard Taurean Green returns after guiding the Gators to last season’s national championship. Green improved leaps and bounds during the season last year and has only gotten better, a scary proposition for opponents. Shooting guard Lee Humphrey showed all of college basketball the type of shooting he’s capable of during the Final Four in Indianapolis. Humphrey returns with a deadly perimeter shot and a new focus on passing and ball-handling. Sophomore Walter Hodge will be part of a three-guard offense and/or will spell Humphrey and Green.

Last season KU hit the skids around this time with a couple of devastating losses in the Maui Invitational. This game is big but it is just one game.

“It’s not one of those games like last year with Maui when you go over there and you don’t perform well you’re deflated and you lose two games after that because you’re deflated. We can’t have that,” Self continued. “It’s a big game that if you win – great. Obviously it’s something you can build off of. But more importantly than that it’s a game to let us know where we are and to address deficiencies and that kind of stuff. But I’m not sure a lot of those things wouldn’t have transpired in the games leading up to that. The coaches are looking at it like another game.”

Self will do his best to treat this one like any other game but to the fans it will be the most important regular season game. Both teams should be undefeated at this point and KU fans will be anxious to see how their squad matches up with the best team in the country. It could be a preview of Atlanta and it will take place on a neutral court in Vegas. Would’ve been even better if both teams would be at full strength but KU will still be without the services of Sasha Kaun. Minus their athletic big man the Jayhawks may struggle inside in this one, but I expect a close game that should be very entertaining to watch.

November 28 – Dartmouth

Back to the friendly confines of Phog Allen Fieldhouse where Kansas will face a Dartmouth team that had issues scoring last season. Dartmouth produced 75 or more points just three times and averaged only 60.4 ppg last season in the Ivy League.

Terry Dunn is back for his third season at the helm after a rough 2005-2006 season. The Big Green played 15 of their first 19 games on the road last season and did not perform well in Ivy League play (4-10). This season it’s only five of their first seven on the road.

Mike Lang is gone and was the team’s leading scorer (10.9 ppg) and top three-point threat. So is co-captain Calvin Arnold, a 6-9 forward with range and shot-blocking ability.

6-2 senior Leon Pattman is back as the team’s leading scorer (10.9 pph, 3.2 rpg). He was the Ivy League Rookie of the Year in 2004 but has endured injury issues the last two seasons. Pattman is still trying to regain the form shown his freshman season but was one of the few players on the Dartmouth roster who could create his own shot.

Johnathan Ball, a 6-4 junior needs to take his game to another level and Chuck Flynn, a 6-7 junior will have to step up and produce. 6-9 Elgin Fitzgerald is a freshman the Big Green will call upon to bolster play on the interior. Marlon Sanders missed all of last season but may take over the point guard duties as a sophomore.

This one may be the biggest mismatch on the schedule. Dartmouth is more experienced in this season after losing a lot of close games last year but the Big Green can’t compete with the likes of KU. This one won’t be close at all.


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