50 in 50 is a feature here at RCT counting down until the Jayhawks kick off the 2011 basketball season on November first. Got an idea for something you'd like to see featured here? tweet @rockchalktalk or @fetch9 or email me at fetch9 at gmail dot com.
Last week I took a look at our five most intriguing non-conference matchups vs. mid-majors, and I'm back to preview our five key games against high majors. Kansas has an interesting non-conference slate in that regard this year, playing more bigger names than in years past. It is a bit too bad that it seems this slate has come a year or two too late, but hopefully Bill Self continues to schedule aggressively in the near future.
In particular I am a big fan of the Champions Classic, which will pit us against Kentucky, Duke and Michigan State over the next three years (one of those sure seems different from the other three, but I digress). In my opinion, this event is all upside for Kansas. Even if we lose all three games, it puts the team in a marquee arena every year, against a marquee opponent, and with a lot of eyeballs on the team. Not that a program like Kansas is hurting for exposure, but playing in these things can only help recruiting. On to the games:
vs. Kentucky (11/15/11) in Madison Square Garden
As a part of the Champions Classic (and ESPN's 24 hour kickoff), Kansas takes on what surely will be a preseason top 5 team (they at this point will probably be my personal #2, but we'll see).
The Wildcats will have a ton of fresh faces, most notably Anthony Davis, who looks like the probable #1 pick in next summer's draft. But watch for Michael Gilchrist, this year's point guard du jour, who has an outside shot at national Freshman of the year.
Terrence Jones returns, and while he can score he also can dominate a game without having the ball. It will take a lot for Kansas to win this game, but perhaps two veteran guards will be able to take advantage of being able to play a bunch of youngsters early.
vs. Georgetown (11/21/11) in Maui
Like Kansas, Georgetown returns some talent; most notably Hollis Thompson, who had a 123.1 offensive rating and shot almost 46% from three. But like Kansas they lose their best player from last year, Austin Freeman. Losing three starters, and each team having to mesh young talent with experienced players, this game will likely come down to who has the most talent. I think Kansas does, so I think they'll move on in Maui (where they will likely take on UCLA).
vs. South Florida (12/03/11)
It could be a first look at a future conference opponent, but it's easily the least challenging of our BCS non-con foes. South Florida went just 3-15 in Big East play last year, and also lost to Florida Atlantic and James Madison. (though they somehow took BYU to 2 overtimes).
The Bulls have all five starters back, which is nice. The only problem is none of them is any good. Speaking of not being any good, South Florida finished 300th nationally or worse in 5 major categories. Their inability to force turnovers (16.5, 328th) will be music to Tyshawn Taylor's ears.
vs. Ohio State (12/10/11)
The Buckeyes are another likely preseason top 5 team. If there is one hope it is that as good as Aaron Craft and Jared Sullinger were last year, they will most certainly have a less easy time without David Lighty and Jon Diebler standing at the three point arc. It will allow defenses to put more attention on Sullinger and be able to guard Craft more closely as well. Speaking of Craft, his assist rate was off the charts, but he actually had a higher turnover rate.
Ohio State is definitely the best team, but Thomas Robinson is good enough to neutralize Sullinger (I don't know if I'd say he's a better player than Sullinger, but he is certainly more athletic and I think more talented) and with how Ohio State's offense went through the big fella last year, if he is off Kansas could steal a win (with help from Allen Fieldhouse of course).
at USC (12/22/11)
Our lone true road game of the non-conference slate gives us a rematch of last year, when Josh Selby hit a key three pointer late to win the game (remember when he was good?). This year's USC team is a shell of last year's 11 seed, as they lost 4 starters off last year's team, including Nikola Vucevic, who was the 21st best defensive rebounder in the country and also shot 35% from three. Not only do they have to replace a lot in terms of quality, they do in quantity as well, as three of those starters played over 32 minutes per game.
On paper this looks like a fairly easy Kansas win, though we have had some strange times in trips out west recently, so I'm not taking anything for granted.