I have heard the rumblings and the comments – "Kansas hasn't played anyone yet".
While it is true at that at 8-0 the number one ranked Jayhawks have
rarely been tested during their spotless start, don't be so quick to
criticize head coach Bill Self's 2009-2010 schedule.
"I don't think we've gotten out of it what we hoped yet but I don't
know that for a fact because I don't know how good the teams are that
we've played yet. Let's wait and see when they get into their
conference play," said Self. "Maybe we played pretty well."
Right now Kansas is beating teams by over 34 points a game, an even
larger differential than number one North Carolina dismantled teams
during the same stretch last season.
"It's good for us because these early tests with these big guys will
set us up for those guys in the Big 12," said junior center Cole Aldrich who is averaging 11.0 ppg, 10.rpg, 3.4 bpg thus far.
When it comes to scheduling non-conference studs Radford, Oakland, and
Alcorn State are certainly not Duke, Kentucky, or North Carolina.
"I'm not going to apologize for our schedule so far because I think
Oakland's a good team that will probably win the Summitt," Self
explained. "And I also think Tennessee Tech is an ok game. And I think
Hofstra's a good game. But it will get tougher as we go."
When Self was questioned about the schedule at a press conference
earlier this month and after defending the layout, he joked and said,
"maybe I should just get (Senior Associate Athletic Director) Larry
Keating in here to discuss our schedule."
KU did play Memphis and UCLA away from home, but both teams are down
this season. However, the schedule when judged as a whole appears to be
a good mix.
"You play your non-conference, in my opinion, the way we've got it set
up, you either play five or six high major games. And I believe this
year we're playing 6," said Self sharing his scheduling philosophy.
"But then your guarantee games need to be against opponents that should
fare well in their own league – the majority of them. You're going to
have a couple obviously it's ok if they don't.
"You look at our games so far in five games four of them have been in
that little tournament. You had to find other teams that were committed
to playing four games in a tournament. A lot of times in those
situations the competition isn't always the stiffest."
Remember, when you play in a conference as tough as the Big 12 where
every night is a battle and very few games are sure victories, you have
to protect against over-scheduling too. In years past teams like
Michigan State and Temple have scheduled too tough. There is a science
to scheduling just ask Jim Boeheim of Syracuse. Boeheim has won over
800 games and is oft criticized for his early season non-conference
schedule that usually keeps the Orange undefeated and in New York.
But you can count on the ‘Cuse contending for a Big East title and
being a tough out in the NCAA Tournament nearly every season. Tough to
argue with the results Boeheim has produced over the years but when it
comes to the rough and tumble Big East his team always appears ready
Kansas scheduled the perfect non-conference mix with a couple of early
tests away from home against Memphis and a game at Pauley Pavilion
against UCLA – and down or not any win at UCLA is a quality win. It
gives the freshmen the chance to endure life on the road and an
understanding of how difficult it will be to perform outside the doors
of Phog Allen Fieldhouse.
"You go to Memphis on a neutral site, which was plenty for those guys
as we saw", Self said referring to the freshmen. "And I think Temple
will be a handful on their campus, and Tennessee will be a handful on
their campus. I don't see any reason why we need to play more than
three true road games and a good neutral game in a non-conference so I
think that's pretty good."
Three true road games and a neutral court game mixed with some
confidence-builders as I like to call them. The "blowouts" give the
younger players a chance to blend and Self the chance to mix and match
lineups. When younger guys enjoy success early it builds confidence in
them and allows them to perform with more poise later on. It also
reinforces Self's teachings and helps them understand the new system.
If the Jayhawks are to reach their ultimate goal in April they will
need contributions from the youngsters and role players on this roster.
There is no question KU is "building" up to the sternest tests. As the
calendar turned to December the agenda looks like this – Alcorn State,
Radford, LaSalle, Michigan, Cal, Belmont. Then just before Big 12 play
in January its Temple, Cornell, and Tennessee. The schedule is about to
beef up and KU prior to KU embarking on a tough Big 12. There are
plenty of potential roadblocks on the December tilt.
"I do know this – it is getting ready to get much more difficult real
fast. There won't be games on our schedule that you'll be able to point
to and say, ‘ok that's a game they won't be challenged'. I don't think
that's going to be the case," Self concluded.
"I think you get into the Radford's and the Cornells and the Belmonts
and the LaSalles, and of course you've still got Michigan and
you've got Cal. At Tennessee, at Temple… That's probably about from
this point forward, probably about the toughest non-conference schedule
anybody will have in the country I would think," Self said.
Right now the Jayhawks have passed every test. Some wins more dominant
than others but they are second in nation in scoring (90.4 ppg) and the
defense has been staunch giving up less than 57 points per game (56.8
ppg). So far they've done exactly what they were supposed to do –
dominate. KU put up 63 points in the second half vs. Radford and is
shooting nearly 44 percent from three as a team.
So how does the head coach truly evaluate his team's performance
against inferior opposition?
"I can watch plays afterward and say that against length or against big
guys were not going to score that basket. Or I can watch and say, ‘hey,
against teams that play traditional two big guys and three perimeter
players that will look a lot better. You can see it from both ways,"
Self also admitted that with the early season tilt going so smoothly
the Jayhawks don't' always run their best stuff saving some of the
trade "secrets" for when the competition and the games are even closer.
It is not likely that LaSalle will remove Kansas as one of the
country's 16 remaining undefeated teams on Saturday. The Explorers have
managed just one win in their last 27 games against ranked opponents
and they have lost 14 in a row vs. top 25 teams since 2001.
But not far away lurks the Michigan Wolverines. John Beilein's style
and 1-3-1 defense tends to give teams who don't see them with
regularity fits. And Cal which was among the nation's top 15 teams
earlier this season but has slipped a bit lately. Still Mike Montgomery's athletic squad presents a test. Road games at Temple and
Tennessee will leave KU fans with a good litmus test heading into Big
So if you're yawning and bored with 30-plus point wins, just wait. KU
will be tested often during the next month.
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