Scheduling Science

If you are salivating, waiting for one of those games that keeps you on the edge of your seats, just hold on…KU is about to be tested as it embarks on the tough portion of a decent non-conference tilt.

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 and energetic.  

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," said Self.

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 12 play.

So if you're yawning and bored with 30-plus point wins, just wait. KU will be tested often during the next month. Top Stories