NCAA Basketball: Buckeyes, Spartans Headline Jayhawks' Non-Conference Schedule
The only returning Kansas basketball player in 2011 with significant experience as a starter was Tyshawn Taylor, with the others largely seeing spot duty as role players.
Despite the inexperienced, thin roster, the Jayhawks managed to nearly knock off Duke and compete with eventual national champion Kentucky in early season non-conference games. Those two opponents highlighted a strong non-conference schedule that also included tournament teams Long Beach State, Georgetown and Davidson.
Due to this heavy dose of tournament teams during November and December, the inexperienced Kansas roster quickly found their identity.
Bill Self's young 2012-13 roster showcases a whopping 10 freshmen but also welcomes back three starting seniors with proven track records in Jeff Withey, Elijah Johnson and Travis Releford.
Once again, the upcoming non-conference slate is packed with college basketball powers and another half dozen potential tournament teams.
While this week's trip to Switzerland and France will be sure to test the team against professional level players, the best development tool for Coach Self and his staff will come when they play Michigan State in mid-November's Champions Class and a month later during their visit to Columbus to face the Buckeyes.
Those elite Big Ten teams, along with two former Big 12 foes, headline a non-conference schedule that should reveal all we need to know about the 2012-13 Kansas Jayhawks basketball team.
The Champions Classic was instituted last year as an early-season event between four of the premier teams in the country: Kansas Jayhawks, Kentucky Wildcats, Duke Blue Devils and KU's 2012 opponent the Michigan State Spartans.
Kansas entered the 2011 edition at Madison Square Garden with dozens of roster questions and unclear expectations as they faced eventual national title-game foe Kentucky.
Suffocating defense and timely shooting kept KU in the game for much of the first half, but Doron Lamb and UK pulled away late for a 10-point victory.
Interestingly, Kansas faced a similar situation in 2008 when they faced a much more experienced and talented Michigan State team in East Lansing.
Entering that game with roster questions and unclear expectations, the Jayhawks were pummeled and left reeling prior to the Big 12 schedule. Five months later, a much-improved and battle-tested Kansas team lost in the final minutes to the Spartans in a Sweet 16 matchup, very similar to the improvement Jayhawk fans witnessed between their November 2011 loss to Kentucky and their subsequent NCAA Tournament performance.
While this year's game between Kansas and Michigan State will feature extraordinary young talent and savvy veteran coaches with loads of roster questions, it is difficult to envision a dominating performance from either team.
A matchup of freshmen talent between the Spartans' Gary Harris and Matt Costello and the Jayhawks' Ben McLemore and Perry Ellis will likely determine the outcome. Regardless, both teams will significantly benefit from this early-season meeting on a neutral court in Atlanta.
Last year's regular-season edition of this game in Lawrence lost a tremendous amount of its luster when then-sophomore forward Jared Sullinger was ruled out for the Buckeyes.
Sullinger eventually received his opportunity to avenge the 78-67 loss with a Final Four matchup in New Orleans, but once again he and Ohio State fell short.
Despite the blockbuster matchup of Thomas Robinson and Jared Sullinger receiving most of the billing, hot perimeter shooting from William Buford and timely jump shots from defensive specialist Travis Releford highlighted the Jayhawks' regular season victory.
The lights-out shooting continued for Ohio State in New Orleans, but costly turnovers and cold shooting down the stretch cost Thad Matta a second chance at a National Championship.
With vastly different rosters for the 2012-13 season, the third edition of this suddenly interesting rivalry will be more of a mid-season performance review than an indication of what's to come in their respecting conference schedules.
Former Jayhawk Tad Boyle made the jump from Northern Colorado to spearhead the Buffaloes' much-needed boost on the hardcourt two seasons ago and fans are certainly pleased with the immediate results.
Despite an agonizing Round of 32 loss to Baylor, an unexpected Pac 12 tournament title last season and 2nd Round upset of UNLV along with impressive recruiting efforts have the Buffs thinking bigger in 2012-13.
Following a one-year hiatus between former Big 12 conference foes, Colorado and Kansas will reunite for a two-year series this winter when the Buffaloes travel to Allen Fieldhouse on Dec. 8.
Kansas had little trouble dominating the annual series. Therefore it is less than a renewed rivalry of heated proportions.
But Boyle's KU ties and roster loaded with young talent certainly has its story lines. Newcomers on both sides—in particular matchups between Xaiver Johnson, Josh Scott and Travis Releford—Perry Ellis could steal the show.
An upset in Lawrence is unlikely but look for this year's edition to set the stage for a potentially huge game in Boulder come 2013.
The Temple Owls are coming off their fifth-straight NCAA Tournament appearance and will visit the Sprint Center to take on Kansas Nov. 30.
A game at the Sprint Center in Kansas City typically wields a sea of crimson and blue, making it essentially a home game for the Jayhawk despite being on a "neutral court."
Even with this supposed home-court advantage, KU struggled last season as they fell to Davidson just prior to Big 12 play and later bowed out of the Big 12 tournament to Baylor.
Last year's depressingly frustrating loss to Davidson had fans scratching their head and predicting a subsequent mediocre Big 12 season, similar to another odd Sprint Center loss in 2008 to Massachusetts.
Returning upperclassmen Juan Fernandez and Khalif Wyatt welcome incoming freshmen Daniel Dingle and Devontae Watson as they look to grab a couple early-season non-conference victories in hopes of boosting their tournament resume before entering the grueling schedule of Atlantic 10 play.
Other Notable Non-Conference Games
Washington State (CBE Classic)
The Cougars have dozens of roster questions, and with a suddenly improved Pac-12, an early-season CBE Classic game vs. Kansas could give the country an excellent idea of what to expect in Pullman.
Texas A&M or Saint Louis (CBE Classic)
It might have taken a few years longer than expected, but Rick Majerus has finally resurrected the Billikens' basketball program. There is reason for optimism following an impressive victory against Josh Pastner's talented Memphis team in last year's NCAA Tournament and an excruciatingly close loss to Michigan State.
Billy Kennedy found himself between a rock and a very, very hard place in his first season at the helm of the Aggies, and I cannot imagine watching his former team, Murray State, fly through a dream season, made things any easier.
Numerous injuries and roster changes left Kennedy with close to nothing but a nice recruiting effort in 2012. This could help Texas A&M be competitive, not only in the SEC, but during their non-conference slate as well.
Wait, Oregon State still has a basketball team?
Most college hoops fans have forgot about the state of Oregon's basketball programs, but a sudden offensive resurgence under Craig Robinson has the Beavers back in the conversation in the Pac-12.
They match up horribly with the uber-athletic Jayhawks, and an upset here seems far-fetched, but keeping it close could go a long way to boost the Beavers' confidence as they enter a significantly improved conference schedule.