Last year Kansas drew up maybe the perfect nonconference schedule: they went to Maui and got to see Georgetown and Duke, they hosted Ohio State and played Kentucky on a neutral floor. But beyond that they played a good group of tough mid major teams that I think were the key in them avoiding upsets in the round of 32 and sweet 16, even though they ironically did not face any in the NCAA tournament other than their first game.
This year Kansas has lined up another batch of marquee BCS conference opponents, but there are some intriguing matchups against mid majors as well, including:
1. vs. Belmont (12/15/12)
The Bruins have been statistical darlings for the past two seasons, but while this year's team should be NCAA tournament worthy, they will bring a lower quality offering to Allen Fieldhouse this year after losing three Seniors off last year's team.
Belmont still brings back a lot of talent though. Kerron Johnson will be a real test for Elijah Johnson, with the former shooting 60% from two and getting to the line seemingly at will to boot. He also had a 33.6% assist rate for the Bruins last year. Granted it was against Atlantic Sun competition and Allen Fieldhouse will be a different animal, but there is no doubt he has game and is the type of player who could lead an upset.
As a team Belmont's calling card is their offense, having the 9th best offensive efficiency in the country last year. It bodes well for them that they shot a ton of threes (40.1 3PA/FGA), but probably does not bode well that they also relied upon shooting 54.4% from two last year, 7th in the country. Kansas, on the other hand, was the 2nd best two point defense last year and I think a very real argument can be made that they will be even better defensively this year (more on that later).
2. vs. St. Louis (maybe)
This matchup only happens if they both win their CBE openers, but they should so I am putting it on the list. Although St. Louis won't have Rick Majerus patrolling the sidelines they still should give Kansas a unique test that will help them should they run into a similar team early in the NCAA tournament.
The Billikens, beyond having one of the coolest mascots, play among the toughest defense in the country and play more slowly than almost any team in the country. They were 307th in pace last year and they'll pack it in defensively and try to frustrate a young Kansas team. Elijah Johnson and Andrew White shooting the three should be important, as will the Jayhawks' ability to keep from being frustrated.
3. vs. Temple (1/6/13)
KU's first game of the new year (unless the Mayans get their way) pits them against a trendy top 25 pick. Temple lost three starters of last year's team, but they were a 5 seed for a reason. The Owls were the 11th best three point shooting team in the country and they'll need that when they come to Allen Fieldhouse.
What Temple brought in offense however they lacked defensively. Opponents shot over 47% from two and the Owls hardly forced any turnovers (19.4%). Assuming that trend continues this season (and Fran Dunphy's Temple teams have never forced turnovers) it could be a good chance for Kansas to get a good pressure free tuneup for conference play.
4. vs. Richmond (12/18/12)
The Spiders always seem to be a trendy mid major, but they struggled quite a bit last season. Their lack of height (75.8" average) hurt them big time on the boards, as they were worse than 280th on both the offensive and defensive glass. I actually have some questions as to how well Kansas will rebound this year (more on that later too perhaps) so this could be a good game for the young big men to sharpen their rebounding chops.
In the backcourt, Kendall Anthony took a lot of Richmond's shots when he played, despite being a 5'8" Freshman. I assume he will dial it down a bit this year (or else) but Richmond's biggest asset offensively is that they don't turn it over. That probably won't continue in Allen Fieldhouse.
5. vs. American (12/29/12)
I have always had a soft spot for the Patriot League, and the game happens to be on my birthday so I am taking editor's liberties here and putting American on the list.
Much like St. Louis, American (who really should be nicknamed the Americans) played incredibly slow last year (305th) and have every year of Jeff Jones's tenure at the school. On the back of the 35th best turnover rate and 14th best 3 point percentage in the country last year American finished 3rd in the Patriot League, and with three starters back they should be in the hunt again.
Kansas has usually held their own against mid major centers, but American features a nice test for Withey and company in the form of Tony Wroblicky. He played under 20 minutes per game last year as a Sophomore but had a 15.5% offensive rebounding rate (18th nationally) and a 23.6% defensive rebounding rate (53rd). He also was an astute shotblocker (9.9%), though obviously nothing compared to what he will be up against.
All five of these games should be wins for Kansas, but at least three of them should be good challenges, and those are exactly the types of games we need to prepare us for the tournament, regardless of the venue.