The Kansas Jayhawks are coming off a close 71-63 win over Eastern Illinois. The Jayhawks went into the matchup as a 38-point favorite, but they could never pull away in the second half. Could it have been a trap game, placed between the Maui Invitational and a game coming up this Friday against UCONN? Possibly.
Kansas has one of the toughest schedules in college basketball this season. It started out with the Champions Classic battle against Kentucky, who was a top 20 team at the time and is now knocking on the doors of the top 10. The Jayhawks overcame a slow start to take over the game late, and their experience won out in the end.
KU jumped right into the Maui Invitational after that game against Kentucky. In this tournament alone, there were six top 20 teams. An astounding five of those teams were ranked in the top 10. It doesn’t always happen where competition in these tournaments is at such a high level, but this year in Maui, it had like a Final Four-esque feel to it. Kansas was able to catch a break in their opening matchup against the host school, Chaminade. After that, the Jayhawks played in a late affair against Marquette, who was ranked #4 at the time. Marquette’s defensive pressure forced Kansas into a high number of turnovers that the Jayhawks were unable to overcome in a 73-59 loss.
The Jayhawks had to bounce back for an early morning game following their night matchup against Marquette. There was no rest for the weary as Kansas took on Tennessee, a team who was ranked #7 at the time and is currently ranked 10th. The Volunteers had won a recent early season tournament game against the Jayhawks in the Battle For Atlantis, so head coach Bill Self and Kansas knew they had a tough matchup in store against a Rick Barnes-led Tennessee team. The Jayhawks showed some toughness and resolve in a 69-60 win over the Volunteers.
Now after a rough home win over Eastern Illinois, the Jayhawks will host UCONN this Friday night. So far this season, the Huskies are 7-0 and just leap-frogged the Jayhawks into the #4 spot in the latest rankings while KU dropped to #5. It’s just another top-five opponent for the Jayhawks. The defending National Champs will be in Lawrence and a sold-out Allen Fieldhouse full of Jayhawk fans will be going absolutely bonkers for this one. This will be an 8:00 tip-off on ESPN2 and is undoubtedly the game of the week in college basketball.
Things won’t slow down much for the Jayhawks who will host Missouri, play on the road at Indiana, and close out the month of December with a neutral site game against Wichita State. All of this before playing a stacked Big 12 slate where there are currently six top 25 teams with four other teams receiving votes. Going through a non-conference slate like KU has set up and then through a tough conference like the Big 12, while tough, could be a huge benefit for Kansas as the season extends into March.
A Big 12 regular season championship is always the first goal for Self and the Jayhawks. Winning a Big 12 tournament title is the next goal. Getting a one seed with the possibility to have the best road to the Final Four is another yearly goal. Making it to the Final Four is another goal. Winning the whole tournament is the ultimate goal, and Kansas has what it takes to achieve each of these goals along the way. The tough schedule can help set the Jayhawks up for success at the end of the season and that’s just the way Self is hoping the season plays out. The tough road continues at home on Friday against UCONN, and the campus is already buzzing with excitement.