A Banner Game

Kansas basketball has something big to celebrate tonight against Florida Gulf Coast in a second-round matchup in the O'Reilly Auto Parts CBE Classic. Tipoff is 8 p.m. (CST) on ESPNU.

At approximately 7:45 (the 12-minute mark), KU will have a ceremony unveiling the 2008 NCAA Championship banner in the north rafters.

KU coach Bill Self and his players will be on James Naismith Court to witness the event.

“I encourage all fans to get out there early,” Self said. “It should be pretty special.”

Self and his Jayhawks are indeed hyped about hanging another championship banner alongside the four other title banners: 1922 and 1923 Helms Foundation National Championships, and the 1952 and 1988 NCAA titles.

The rich tradition continues for the third-winningest program in college basketball history.

“If you look at it from an objective point of view, it would be hard to argue that we don’t have as much historical value in our game as anyone,” Self said. “The inventor of basketball (James Naismith) was our first coach, and the father of basketball coaching (Phog Allen) was our second coach. That’s pretty strong right there. And arguably the most dominant player (Wilt Chamberlain) ever played here. I think our program is as tradition-rich as any in the country.

“To hang another banner will be cool.”

ESPN will televise the pre-game banner ceremony. The KU game is part of the ESPN’s College Hoops Tip-Off Marathon, a 23-hour schedule of games and basketball coverage. The KU-Iowa women’s game at Allen Fieldhouse will also be featured on ESPN earlier that day at 11 a.m., the only women’s game included in the Tip-Off Marathon.

This will mark the first time Florida Gulf Coast has appeared on ESPN.

“Obviously, this is a huge thing for our kids, to be able to play the defending national champions to open their season,” said FGCU head coach Dave Balza. “We always talk about giving our fans something to watch and cheer for and give us a chance to play the best schedule we can play, so by the time conference time comes around, we’ll be well-prepared.”

Kansas is coming off a 71-56 victory over UMKC on Sunday night, while Florida Gulf Coast won its lone exhibition game against NAIA Ave Maria (89-58) on Nov. 4.  Senior guard Delvin Franklin led four Eagles in double figures with 16 points. Junior guard Ben Vega scored 14 points, while junior guard Kyle Marks and freshman guard Reggie Chambers added 12 and 11 points, respectively. Freshman forward Ed Rolax lead the Eagles with nine rebounds.

Florida Gulf Coast will have to play a near perfect game to to beat Kansas. FGCU lost four starters and 11 letterwinners from last season’s 10-21 team (6-10 in Atlantic Sun), its first year in Division I. The Eagles lost nine of their top 10 scorers and are one of the most inexperienced teams in the country with 12 newcomers.

On a positive note, FGCU features one of the most heralded recruiting classes in school history — including four junior college transfers — and also welcome three redshirts from last season: Marks, Rolax and Reed Baker. Their lone returning starter is the 6-2 Franklin, who averaged 9.2 points and 3.1 rebounds per game last year. He came on strong during the Atlantic Sun season, finishing among the league leaders in scoring (12.3 ppg), three-point field goals made (2.13) and minutes (33).

KU hopes to build on its second-half performance against UMKC, where the Jayhawks shot a sizzling 65.2 percent (only 32 percent in the first half) and held the Roos to just 21.9 percent shooting (29 percent for the game).

Junior point guard Sherron Collins led all scorers with 16 points, while sophomore center Cole Aldrich came up huge in the second half after picking up two fouls in the game’s opening three minutes. Aldrich finished with 13 points, five rebounds and one block.

KU struggled making shots in the first half and led just once early in the contest. Sophomore Tyrel Reed’s jumper at the 17:35 mark in the second half broke open a 35-all game as Aldrich and KU’s size took over.

“We actually didn’t play bad,” Self said. “We just didn’t make shots (1-of-13 from three-point range). There’s a difference between playing bad and not making shots. We got some good looks, we’ll make those.

“I think we’ll be excited (to play Florida Gulf Coast) and ready to go.”

After the pre-game banner ceremony, KU might be ready to beat the Los Angeles Lakers. Collins, for one, can’t wait to see the 2008 NCAA Championship banner unveiled.

“I think it’s going to be great,” Collins said. “Anytime something like that happens, it makes me think about the team last year (and) how appreciative I was to be on a team like that and to finally win one. It’s pretty sweet and that just shows the new guys that if you put in the hard work, it pays off.”

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