The hype for the Kentucky game was enormous. Really, the Champions Classic game is anticipated year in and year out, but outside of Duke last year in Andrew Wiggins’ debut against big-time competition, I don’t remember being as excited for an early non-con game as I was for last month’s match up with Kentucky. Of course, we all know what happened in that one. While there are surely some folks out there that are as excited for this Friday’s game against Florida, the hype just isn’t there. Maybe it’s Florida’s unsexy 3-3 record that has diminished the glamour of this one, but here are five reasons why this game against an unranked Florida team is far more important to KU’s season and overall identity than the game against Kentucky.
Let’s all be honest for a second. Teams like KU and Florida do go head to head for blue chip prospects with the recruiting behemoth that Kentucky has become. KU even wins some of those battles. But the more important battles on the recruiting trail come against the consistent big-time programs like Florida, Michigan State (check), Duke, Ohio State, UNC, etc. Even if head to head wins are not the first thing on a recruit’s mind (and they most definitely are not) beating Florida would be a nice little tidbit for Coach Bill Self to mention if he happens to be recruiting a player with Florida on his list.
We all know that Kansas has the best coach in the country. But various media outlets seem to think that Billy Donovan is one tiny (large?) step ahead of Coach Self. While I will vehemently disagree and argue until I’m blue in the face with anyone that wants to argue, there are parts of that argument that have merit. After all, Donovan does have four Final Fours and two national Championships on his resume, and those types of credentials cannot be overlooked. But in the 18 years (2014-15 not included) that Donovan has led the Florida program, he has only won the SEC six times. One could argue that Kentucky is the dominant force in the conference and that conference titles are therefore hard to come by, but the argument in Bill Self’s favor is the depth of the Big 12 year in and year out. There are only a few guaranteed wins in the Big 12 each season while there are at least 5-8 (conservative estimate) every season in the SEC. Traveling to Manhattan, Stillwater, Norman, Waco, and Austin is far more daunting than heading out to LSU, Mississippi State, Alabama, Georgia, Vanderbilt and Missouri. Yet, KU has ten straight league titles in what has been a far more dominant league. Bill Self gets his fair share of praise from the media, but that streak is absolutely amazing and should be accessed as much as a deep run in a tournament where luck and hot shooting sometimes determine how deep a team goes or doesn’t go.
Kansas looked poor against Florida in Gainesville last season and if it wasn’t for a late game surge, the score would have been far more indicative of the thumping that the Gators gave the Jayhawks. This game is a revenge game for the Jayhawks. Sure, many of the same players are now gone, but many of the current crop of Jayhawks had poor outings last December. Perry Ellis had four points and three turnovers, while Frank Mason and Wayne Selden combined for nine turnovers and one assist. You don’t think those guys want to get after the Gators on Friday? If Perry keeps being Perry, Frank continues his ascension, and Wayne rebounds from a poor shooting night against the Spartans, I think we will all be happy with the result.
Don’t look now, but the schedule is about to get tough. KU has games at Georgetown and at the Sprint Center against the underrated Utah Utes directly following this game. A win against Florida would mark KU’s fourth consecutive win against a tournament caliber team and it will help build confidence as KU embarks on a tough portion of the schedule. With a team this young, just having the belief that you are good is sometimes not enough. Another win over another quality opponent should help these guys become mentally stronger and instill them with belief.
This is really KU’s final chance to showcase the electric atmosphere at Allen Fieldhouse during the non-con portion of the schedule. Everyone loves a juiced up Allen, and ESPN has brought Dick Vitale along for the ride. It’s Friday night in Lawrence and Allen Fieldhouse will be fired up.
It’s also another chance for Cliff Alexander to showcase his skill set in front of what promises to be a large contingent of NBA scouts as well as a large TV audience. And what better way for the country to get to know Sviatoslav Mykhailiuk than with a big performance on national television. He’s starting to get praise from just about everyone, and after this contest, perhaps the spotlight will be firmly shining in his direction. And then there’s Perry Ellis. Mr. Consistency. Basketball people around the country know how special he is, yet freshman keep stealing Perry’s limelight. A 25 point, 15 rebound affair against the likes of Dorian Finney-Smith and Jon Horford would put Ellis straight into the conversation concerning the best players in the country.
Is it Friday yet?