KU's Second Season Begins

Now that the non-conference is complete KU heads to Big 12 play with an 11-4 record. Phog.net has everything you need to know about the Jayhawks quest for a fifth straight conference title.

Conference titles are almost routine in Lawrence afterall no other Division I team can boast 51 titles to its credit. 1992 was the last time Kansas lost a conference opener that’s 17 in a row for KU as the Jayhawks attempt to win their fifth straight conference title.  

Phog.net has a preview of Part I of the Big 12 schedule for KU.

Kansas State – 1/13 (home), 2/14 (away)

KU’s Big 12 tilt starts in Phog Allen Fieldhouse when rival Kansas State visits Lawrence and though the Hawks are a perfect in their last 17 conference openers, the only team since 1984 to spoil a conference home-opener? Kansas State shocked a young KU team back in 2006, 56-55.

Michael Beasley and Bill Walker won’t make the trip from Manhattan this year but even though the marquee names are gone from head coach Frank Martin’s roster it might make K-State even tougher to figure out this season. There is just one senior on the roster this season (Darren Kent) so just like KU’s Bill Self, Martin has a very young team that has been inconsistent so far and rarely tested in a somewhat soft schedule.  

But K-State comes into Tuesday’s game having won six of its last seven games with the lone loss a conference-opening loss to Oklahoma in Manhattan on Saturday.

Sophomore Jacob Pullen and junior Denis Clemente and are holdovers from a season ago are 1-2 in scoring on head coach Frank Martin’s squad. But this is not a one or two man team. Martin’s crew does it by committee with six different players averaging eight or more points on the season so far.

The Cats are scoring over 80 a game on offense and giving up a stingy 63.0 points on defense. K-State thrives on pressure and has scored 30 percent of its points off opponent’s turnovers. It will be important for Kansas to take care of the ball and match the intensity the Cats will bring to the court.

“Our first conference game is K-State at home and I think they play as hard as anybody in the country,” said Self. “That’s one thing we have to understand that we’re going to have to play even harder than we’ve been playing.”

Martin’s team has yet to post a signature win and would love to walk out of Lawrence with a “W” like they did in 2006.

Colorado – 1/17 (away), 1/31 (home)

Jeff Bzdelik is attempting to continue to rebuild the Colorado program with five freshmen and five sophomores which is no easy task in a rough and tumble Big 12. It’s not easy when you return just two starters from a team that went 3-13 in the conference last season.

This season Colorado made it through the non-conference portion of the schedule with an 8-6 record.

6-5 sophomore Cory Higgins is the most consistent Buff and the team’s leading scorer. Higgins just finished setting a Big 12 record by making 45 consecutive free throws. On five occasions this season Higgins has scored 20 or more and he will be a focal point in any scouting report and is also fourth in the conference in scoring.

Bzdelik insists that youth will be no excuse for the Buffs this season guard Dwight Thorne II is the only other player scoring in double-figures for Colorado (11.9 ppg). Thorne posted ten or more points in 10 of 14 games this season.

Bzdelik’s squad plays hard but at times quite frankly struggles to score and does not take care of the ball well enough. The Buffs will have to deal with youth and inconsistency and will be fighting to get near .500 in the conference and stay out of the league’s cellar.

Texas A&M – 1/19 (home)

Head coach Mark Turgeon began Big 12 play excited about his young team and a 14-2 record. During that fast start the Aggies notched quality wins against Arizona, Alabama, and LSU.

It is a reoccurring theme in the Big 12 this season but this is yet another young team with just one senior, 6-7 swingman Josh Carter. Point guard Donald Sloan has another year under his belt and is steadier with the basketball this year with his assists up and turnovers down. Sloan learned very quickly that replacing Acie Law was no easy task.

Turgeon cannot complain about the balance on this year’s team with four players averaging double-figures. However, scoring was a concern heading into the season and continues to be a lingering issue at time. Turgeon lamented the shot selection and stated too many missed open shots as one issue heading into Big 12 play.

“The most disappointing thing is that defensively we haven’t rebounded with the success we need in order to compete at the Big 12 level,” said Turgeon.

The Aggies dropped their first Big 12 contest at Stillwater but Turgeon believes his team can get better and be a factor in this league. Last season the Aggies were among the best in the country in defensive field-goal percentage (.395), scoring defense (61.6) and rebounding margin (plus-7.0). But all three of these areas are among the categories the head coach feels need to improve for the Aggies to succeed in conference play.

Iowa State – 1/24 (away), 2/18 (home)

The bad news for Iowa State is that the Cyclones have lost nine straight conference road games. The good news it that head coach Greg McDermott’s squad statistically ranks as one of the best on the defensive end in the nation.

Only four teams managed to shoot above 40 percent so far against the Cyclones this year. McDermott’s team also ranks second in the league and in the top 30 nationally in field goal percentage defense (38.0). But Texas blitzed the Cyclones for 55 percent shooting en route to ISU’s first conference loss.

6-10 sophomore Craig Brackins is the key to the Cyclones offense and ranks second in the Big 12 in scoring (18.4 ppg). Brackins is capable of exploding at any point and has put up 19 or more in a half on three separate occasions this season. Brackins has eight 20+ point games this season, six double-doubles, and has put up more than 30 twice this season. Brackins’ weakness is really his defense where he can be attacked off the dribble and tends to get into foul trouble at times.

Brackins gets help on the offensive end from sophomore guard Diante Garritt who has almost as many assists as he did last season and is the team’s second-leading scorer (10.8 ppg). Freshman Lucca Staiger leads the team in three-point percentage (42.4 percent). The Germany native has now made a three in ten consecutive games. As a team the cyclones average almost eight threes per game.

The Cyclones are yet another Big 12 team with a bunch of new faces – ISU has seven newcomers on its roster.

The struggles for the Cyclones once again begin on the glass where rebounding continues to be a weakness. Getting help for Brackins is another priority if this team wants to taste any conference success.

Nebraska 1/28 (away), 2/21 (home)

Nebraska has come out of the gates swinging this season off to an 11-3 start and already with a notable road win at home against Missouri.

Nebraska head coach Doc Sadler had 37 wins entering his third season at the helm in Lincoln matching the highest total in school history. Sadler is still trying to change the image of the Cornhuskers being a league doormat. The Cornhuskers were a tough bunch that gutted out 20 wins last season and Sadler returns five of his top six leading scorers. That one starter who’s M.I.A just happens to be Aleks Maric who was an all-conference performer at center. Maric’s loss has forced Sadler to utilize four-guard looks at times this season making rebounding a large liability against top competition.

But on the defensive end, the Huskers are tops in the Big 12. Nebraska gives up a stingy 55 points per game and leads the league in scoring defense. Only one team has managed more than 66 points vs. NU and Sadler’s defense ranks in the top ten nationally.

The Huskers have stellar guard play and also don’t turn it over much leading the league in fewest turnovers (11.7) but the big question is will that change as the competition gets stiffer?  On offense the Huskers do it with balance with eight players averaging over five points a game but no one averaging more than 12.6. Five different players have led the team in scoring on separate occasions this season.

Senior Paul Velander comes off the bench and is second in the Big 12 in three point percentage (48.1). Steve Harley and Ade Dagundoro combine for nearly 24 points a game and are the two biggest offensive threats for Sadler.

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