Once again head coach Bill Self assembled a challenging schedule for his Jayhawks but KU won’t leave the friendly confines of Phog Allen Fieldhouse for the entire month of November.
The game everyone has circled is the November 25th date against Arizona in the newly created Big 12/Pac 10 Challenge. The last couple of years KU has suffered an unlikely upset at home during the regular season, Self and his squad hope to avoid that and cruise through November with a spotless record.
November 9 – Louisiana Monroe – 7pm
Louisiana Monroe plays out of the Sun Belt Conference where the coaches have chosen the Warhawks to finish first in the Western Division. Head coach Orlando Early, the SBC Coach of the Year, did a terrific job taking a team picked last in its division, all the way to the Western Division title. The Warhawks shared that title in 2006-2007 and return all five starters.
The guards are the key for this team but the most experienced player returning up front for Early is 6-7 junior Afam Nweke (5.1 ppg, 6.9 rpg). 6-7 Mitchell Hampton and 6-8 Raphelle Turner are two newcomers expected to bolster the frontcourt.
This is a team whose success is predicated on guard play and it all starts with leading scorer Tony Hooper. The junior is the Warhawks do-it-all guard and is picked to earn second team all-conference honors. Hooper was the team’s leading scorer (15.4 ppg) a season ago and will look to add to that. The Texas native just happens to also be the team’s best defensive player and average 1.66 steals per game last season in conference.
Senior wingman is one of a number of players who can fill it up from three. 6-3 senior Jonas Brown and 6-2 senior Lance Brasher, who actually plays the power forward slot for the Warhawks at times. Sophomore Brandon Roberts is returning from ACL surgery and it remains to be seen how effective he’ll be.
November 11 – UMKC – 7pm
UMKC head coach Matt Brown is not shying away from tough opposition in his first season with the likes of Kansas, Missouri, and Arizona on the schedule. Brown has worked for Billy Donovan and John Beilein and has taken a piece of each to his new job. On offense Brown will feature a lot of four out – one in like Beilein is famous for. Defensively the 1-3-1 zone will be a staple as Brown embarks on his first year in the Summit League.
Brown will not have last season’s top two scorers, but he will return 58 percent of the offense and 67 percent of the rebounding. He will also attempt to blend three newcomers into his new system which is not easy to prepare for or play against.
6-6 senior Brent Stephens, who can play guard or forward, is the only player on the Kangaroos roster who has competed in the postseason. Stephens does the dirty work inside but can also step out and shoot it. One of his goals will be to improve his shooting from long distance.
The middle is occupied by 7-1 New Zealander Alex Pledger. He will be the lone post presence and should have room to operate. Pledger attempted to add a hook shot to his offensive repertoire and is a shot-blocker on the defensive end.
6-10 Jakob Jurzak from Poland is another load up front, but he lacks experience. The junior missed all but five games due to injury last season.
Junior Dane Brumagin (9.6 ppg, 3.2 rpg) is the leading returning scorer. The 6-4 junior is a solid defender and can shoot the rock as well. A year ago Brumagin shot over 35 percent from three is likely a player who can flourish in Brown’s system.
Tim Blackwell, a 6-4 senior who transferred from Creighton is probably the best shooter on the team and one of the best in the Summit League. 6-0 junior Akeem Hemingway will get first dibs on the running the show for the Kangaroos. Hemingway redshirted last year but is a tenacious defender and a decent ball-handler.
November 15 – Washburn – 7pm
Division II Washburn coming off an 8-19 season begins the 2007-2008 season with nine newcomers on the roster. But after 29 seasons in at the helm, head coach Bob Chipman is ready to face the challenge.
Chipman’s team competes in the MIAA, which is also the same conference as Pittsburg State. But it’s never a good thing when you’re a D-II team picked to finish 9th in your conference and you have to face Kansas, one of the best teams in the nation.
The Ichabods return four frontcourt players and two of them are starters. 6-6 Kyle Snyder and 6-5 Paul Byars should anchor the frontcourt. Snyder was slowed last season by a nagging shoulder injury and only played 16 games despite leading the team in rebounding (7.8 rpg).
6-8 senior Brady Sisk spent most of his time coming off the bench last season but should see an extended role this season.
Andrew Meile, a senior guard, is the leading returning scorer at 9.2 points per game and was the only player to start all 27 games last season. Grant Hargett, another senior, returns and led the team in assists last season.
Angel Santiago and Mario Scott are two transfers Chipman hopes can contribute to the guard position.
November 21 – Northern Arizona – 7pm
Northern Arizona shared the Big Sky regular season title with Weber State last year but this season head coach Mike Adras has some work to do. The Lumberjacks top three scorers from a season ago -Ruben Boykin, Jr., Tyrone Bazy, and Stephen Sir - are all gone. That trio combined for over 47 points per game last season. With just two starters returning,
Adras’ roster is stocked with new faces including ten freshmen, junior college, walk ons, and Division I transfers.
Northern Arizona will undoubtedly need those JUCO players to make big contributions since KU defeated the Lumberjacks by 34 points last season. Only one Northern Arizona player reached double-digits against the Jayhawks in Lawrence last season (sophomore Deveric Taylor 12 pts).
The frontcourt is anchored by 6-9 senior forward Ryan McCurdy and last season’s sixth man, 6-9 Kyle Landry. Landry was the team’s fourth-leading scorer (10.1 ppg, 6.5 rpg) off the bench and both players will need to take their play up a notch for the Lumberjacks to have any success this season.
6-6 Zarko Comagic is one of the JUCO transfers expected to contribute. He’s a swingman who averaged over 20 points at Central Arizona Community College last season.
Junior point guard Josh Wilson is one of two players to start all 30 games last season for Adras. Wilson also led the league in assists last season (6.0 apg) but will likely be asked to take on a bigger scoring role this season.
6-4 Nathan Geiser was a bench player last year that averaged just over five points and is going to be asked to do more for Adras.
Help comes in the way of three talented 6-3 freshmen guards, Matt Johnson, Zach Filzen and Cameron Jones who are expected to contribute also.
6-1 guard Jermaine Bishop came via the JUCO route and was expected to produce for the Lumberjacks but he will be sidelined with shoulder issues for the early part of the season.
November 25 – Arizona (Big 12/Pac 10 Challenge) – 7pm
The more things change, the more things stay the same in Tuscon and for the 20th time in the last 21 seasons Arizona opened the season with a national ranking.
The early season matchup that would the appetite of any KU fan is part of the Big 12/Pac 10 Challenge as the Wildcats visit Phog Allen Fieldhouse. Folks are still reeling in Tucson after Lute Olson announced his leave of absence. Whether he will return for a key clash against KU remains to be seen.
Former Northwestern Coach and NBA coach Kevin O’Neill was hired by Olson in the offseason in attempt to improve the Cats’ image especially at the defensive end of the floor.
Arizona is not the Pac 10 favorite likely due to the departure of Mustafa Shakur, Marcus Williams, and Ivan Radenovic. That trio accounted for 44 points a game last season but left Arizona after a disappointing first round NCAA Tournament loss to Purdue.
6-7 Chase Budinger could’ve bolted for the NBA but he is back for his second season in Tucson. That’s bad news for the opposition – good news for Coach Olson. This guy has so much talent you get the feeling that he could drive two hours north and put on a Phoenix Suns uniform right now. Budinger averaged over 15 points a game last season and was the Pac-10 Freshman of the Year. When there’s an important shot to be taken expect Chase to be the one to step up and want the ball this season.
6-11 Kirk Walters returns after a medical redshirt and is expected to start. He’ll be joined by 6-9 sophomore Jordan Hill. Hill has a ton of potential but would be considered more of a defensive stopper at the moment. He is a tremendous athlete with length and will be just looking to add consistency to his game. 7-1 junior Mohamed Tangara definitely has the size but how much he contributes is yet to be determined.
Stoudamire, Bibby, Arenas, Terry -- this year’s can’t-miss freshman is Jerryd Bayless who’s 6-3 and from Phoenix and is a light’s out shooter. The McDonald’s All-American will take over the point guard duties in Shakur’s absence and run the show for Arizona. Bayless was more of a combo guard in high school but will be asked to take the reigns for this Arizona team.
His backcourt mate will likely be Jawann McClellan, a senior who averaged close to 10 points per game last season. McClellan is a former McDonald’s All-American but was limited thanks to knee issues last season. He adds toughness to the Zona lineup and will likely be a leader for this squad.
In another attempt to help bolster their defensive image, Olson added freshman Laval Lucas-Perry who has a reputation as a defensive stopper.
November 28 – Florida Atlantic – 7pm
Florida Atlantic certainly brings an opponent in with a familiar face at the helm in former KU guard Rex Walters. After starting 0-4 last season, and at one point dressing only seven healthy players, the Owls clawed their way to a 10-8 record in the Sun Belt Conference. This was team that won eight of their last 12 to finish above .500. But the Owls are definitely looking for bigger and better things in Walters’ second season at the helm.
Walters lost leading scorer DeAndre Rice (20.5 ppg) to graduation but there is plenty of reason for optimism in Boca Raton.
Forward Carlos Monore (18.4 ppg, 9.4 rpg) returns to anchor the frontcourt. Monroe was the only Sun Belt player to rank among the top five in scoring and rebounding last season. Monroe shot nearly 60 percent from the field as a sophomore and is one of the league’s premier big men. He’ll be joined up front by 6-8 junior Jeff Parmer, a physical presence who averaged nearly 10 points a game last season.
6-5 forward Sammy Hernandez was the sixth man for George Mason during its Final Four run two years ago and he becomes eligible in the spring for Walters.
The versatile Paul Graham is a part of the backcourt picture. The solid 6-4 junior played all three guard spots for the Owls last season, nailed nearly 38 percent of his treys, and averaged over three assists.
JUCO transfer Carderro Nwoji stands at only 5-11 but the Wichita, KS native averaged nearly 10 points per game and 3.6 rebounds for Redlands (OK) Community College. Nwoji has a ton of speed and is definitely a pest on defense.