December 2 – DePaul
Jerry Wainwright’s DePaul Blue Demons have yet to get it going this season (2-4) and they are looking for a signature win. Kansas would certainly fit that description. You can count on the Allstate Arena crowd to be charged up as the legendary Ray Meyer will be honored at halftime. It will only be the second home game of the season for the Blue Demons who face a rugged schedule for the second year in a row.
DePaul is fresh off a sixth place finish in Maui where sophomore Wilson Chandler led the team with 16 points in a losing effort against Purdue. Chandler is certainly the catalyst on offense and has led the team in scoring in four of the first six games. The 6-8 forward leads the team in scoring (15.0 ppg), rebounding (6.3 rpg), and blocks (9). Chandler was a preseason All-Big East selection as was senior Sammy Mejia who brings a wealth of experience (89 career starts) to the court. He is the only other Blue Demon to average double-figures for coach Wainwright. 6-1 Draelon Burns completes the trio that poses the biggest threat on offense. Burns leads the team in steals (8), but failed to produce from beyond the arc this season (8-23). Burns may be coming around and is just two games removed from a season-high 17 points against Chaminade. Cliff Clinkscales runs the show and is the assist man. He tied a career-high with 13 assists vs. Chaminade. 7-1 center Keith Butler, a transfer from Temple, gives the Blue Demons an imposing presence inside.
The Blue Demons bench is deep and nine players average over ten minutes a game.
December 4 – USC
Head coach Tim Floyd and his USC Trojans have had plenty to deal with in the offseason after the tragic shooting death of talented guard Ryan Francis. Then junior guard Gabe Pruitt was suspended for the first nine games. USC is still working on getting back to playing basketball.
The Trojans are 4-1 this season and coming off a year where they posted the most wins in the program since 2002. Floyd’s team is a year away from really turning heads and may not improve on that 17-13 record posted in 2005-06. Floyd’s Trojans were a force on defense last year going 11 games in a row without giving up 70 points or more. USC, still stingy on defense, is giving up just a shade over 60 points/game during this campaign.
USC’s first road trip of the season will be to Lawrence, KS – far from an easy trip.
On offense, USC returns three double-figurer scorers including two very explosive wing players. Nick Young leads the Trojans in scoring this season (16.3 ppg) and looks like he’ll again be a strong candidate for All-Pac-10 honors. The 6-6 junior forward is the conference’s leading returning scorer.
Another quality wing player in Floyd’s lineup is Loderick Stewart, brother of KU guard Roderick Stewart. Loderick has really picked up the slack for All-Pac-10 player Gabe Pruitt who is academically ineligible for the first nine games of the season.
6-9 freshman Taj Gibson is part of Floyd’s nationally recognized recruiting class and hasn’t disappointed. Gibson is a long and athletic presence in the paint and averages 13 points. The Brooklyn native’s impact can also be felt at the defensive end of the floor where he leads the team in blocks, rebounding, and minutes/game.
December 9 – Toledo (Kemper Arena)
Much like USC, head coach Stan Joplin had to deal with offseason tragedy when Haris Charalambous died just before a preseason conditioning workout. The Rockets haven’t exactly gotten off to a high-flying start. With the first seven games away from home, it’s easy to understand why the early going hasn’t been easy.
Toledo is picked to finish first in the Western Division of the MAC but 11th year head coach Stan Joplin knows his team does have some glaring weaknesses. The Rockets average over eight steals a game but they also turn it over at an alarming rate. So yes they taketh, but they also giveth. Toledo had 22 turnovers against Drexel and so far this season Joplin’s crew has turned it over 94 times to only 61 assists. This is a definite area Kansas can take advantage of.
Bench production and rebounding are two other areas of concern. The Rockets finished 10th in the MAC in rebounding last season and are being out-rebounded by nearly 4.5 per game thus far.
On offense Joplin relies on three senior leaders.
6-5 forward Keonta Howell and 6-3 senior Justin Ingram lead the team in scoring (17.4 ppg) and are the co-captains of this team. Howell is also the man to watch from behind the arc shooting over 47 percent. Ingram is a preseason MAC All-West Division selection and has been to the line more than any other Rocket on the roster.
Florentino Valencia is coming off the first double-double of his career and averages 13 points, and 6.2 rebounds – which leads the team. He led the conference in field goal percentage (65.9 percent) a year ago and he’s shooting over 68 percent from the field so far this season.
Toledo’s three seniors are the only players to score in double-figures for the Rockets this season.
December 19 - Winston-Salem State
Winston-Salem State is a program that won 10 CIAA Tournaments in 61 years but this is the year to make the jump to the next level.
All you need to know about the opposition in this one is that WSSU is enduring its first year of competition at the Division I level – so far it’s translated to a 1-9 start. First-year coach Bobby Collins arrives at very exciting, but tough time. After facing teams from 11 different conferences this season, the Rams will become a full-time member of the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference in 2007-08.
Collins knows a thing or two about upsets and was on the staff at Hampton when it knocked off second-seeded Iowa State in the first round of the NCAA Tournament. He has seven upperclassmen back but the Rams lost their leading scorer from a year ago. December 19th is not the night Collins will rekindle that upset magic.
6-6 sophomore forward Jamal Durham, is the only WSSU player that averages double-figures (10.6 ppg). 5-11 redshirt junior, Roy Peake has a 2:1 assist-to-turnover ratio, and is one of only three players to start all ten games thus far.
December 23 – Boston College
Like Kansas, BC endured a loss at home to a lesser opponent. The Eagles went down in shocking fashion in the season-opener against Vermont in Chestnut Hill. Al Skinner’s team has really struggled to a 3-2 start, though they’ve won their last two.
Despite the return of three starters, BC has learned it’s not that easy to replace the rugged Craig Smith or guard Louis Hinnant. Skinner’s team is led by preseason All-ACC selection Jared Dudley. The senior forward has produced a double-double in four of the first five games and is averaging 20.6 points. Dudley, who’s as tough as they come, is shooting over 55 percent from the field and is the team’s top-rebounder (9.8 rpg). How good has Dudley been on the glass? So far this season he is the ACC’s best offensive rebounder averaging 4.6/game. KU must keep him off the glass and he is a player who feeds on emotion. You must match his intensity.
Fellow swingman Sean Marshall is a 1,000 point-scorer and averages 12.0 points/game. The 6-6 Marshall, who is a co-captain along with Dudley, is looking for his shot more this season and has three-point range.
Sophomore Tyrese Rice (13.8 ppg), and freshman forward Shamari Spears (10.4 ppg) are the other two Eagles that average in double-figures. Rice has not shot well from three this season and is prone to turnovers. Spears, a Blair Academy product, gives added toughness in the frontcourt and is shooting over 69 percent from the floor.
6-10 junior forward Sean Williams is a legitimate shot-blocking force on the defensive end and is one of the ACC’s best defensive players. He blocked 12 shots against Providence earlier this year in a losing effort. Thanks to Marshall, BC averages 7.8 blocks per game.
BC runs a flex offense but hasn’t shot the ball well at all this year from the perimeter (26 percent from three as a team) and has as many turnovers as assists. Skinner’s teams are known for their stingy defense and three of the Eagles first five opponents have shot less than 40 percent from the floor.
Make no mistake about it -- by December 23rd the Eagles will be ready to play no matter their record. Marshall and Dudley thrive on these types of games in tough environments and Kansas must come ready in this one.
December 28 – Detroit
Long-time Detroit coach Perry Watson is not used to his teams playing .500-ball. Last season, hampered by injuries, the Titans finished 14-14 overall, and 8-8 in the Horizon League. Detroit has already suffered through a four-game losing skid during this young season.
6-0 senior Brandon Cotton, plays nearly 33 minutes a game and scores 17.3 ppg. The former McDonald’s All-American is a favorite to earn first team all-league honors after nursing a hand injury last season.
6-9 senior center Ryvon Covile, averages a double-double (15.2 ppg, 12.3 rpg) and he and Cotton are the only two players to have led the Titans in scoring this season. Covile is the only inside presence who’s been effective for Watson thus far and he leads the team in blocks with 11.
5-10 guard Jon Goode, who’s averaging 8.5 points/game, has not yet matched his average from last season when he netted over ten points.
Watson’s team has labored to score at times but has only given up more than 70 points on defense twice.
December 30 – Rhode Island
The Rams have adopted an uptempo style under Jim Baron in his sixth season and it’s led to a 4-3 start. In seven games, the Rams haven’t scored fewer than 68 points and they’ve topped the 90-point mark twice. Rhode Island currently leads the A-10 in scoring at 83.3 points per game after averaging only 65.1 points per game last season.
Another strength of this team has been rebounding. The Rams score over 21 points per game on the offensive glass and they outrebound opponents by 12.3 rebounds per game. Rhode Island is currently tops among the A-10 in rebounds and rebound margin.
Replacing five seniors and three starters is never easy but six newcomers have given the program a much-needed shot in the arm while several returnees have performed according to expectations.
All-Rookie selection Jimmy Baron, yes, he’s the coach’s son is a long-range threat and is shooting nearly 50 percent from three. Baron has raised his scoring average from 8.6 last season to 14.8 points this season. 6-8 junior forward, Will Daniels has scored in double-figures in all seven games thus far and is the team’s active career scoring leader. Versatile forward leads the Rams in scoring (17.0 ppg) and rebounding (10.3 rpg), and he does it accurately by shooting over 53 percent from the floor. 6-10 senior Darrell Harris is the team’s lone senior. 6-8 sophomore forward Kahiem Seawright is a beast on the boards and ranks second nationally in offensive rebounds at 4.7 per game. He averages 10.3 per game to go along with 13 points. 6-5 guard Jon Lucky runs the show and averages 4.0 assists per game.
Nine guys average over 12 minutes per game so Baron has a deep bench and he’ll likely need them all against KU.