Could a national championship be found among the waves of wheat along the Lawrence horizon? Oh, pity the poor Kansas Jayhawks basketball fan, right? Few other programs can begin a season with their fans thinking anything less than a “Final Four” appearance will be a disappointment. It would be easy to let expectations get in the way of the unmatched fun of a college basketball season. And this year, the Jayhawks potential is frighteningly high, so prepare yourselves Rock Chalk nation, because this year will be no different for head coach Bill Self and his team on the hardwood inside Allen Fieldhouse.
Coming off a rebuilding year where Kansas was a couple of shots and breaks away from advancing to the NCAA tournament’s “Elite Eight,” the Jayhawks are ranked #1 through week 2 of the season, are loaded with talent in 2009, and ready for action. In addition to having whom some would name the nation’s best coach (to be explained below), the Jayhawks have pre-season All-Americans in point guard Sherron Collins and center Cole Aldrich, not to mention a one-and-done shooting guard named after a saint (Xavier Henry), a set of twins who add up to a really good player (Markieff and Marcus Morris), plus a supporting cast that will effectively be running the show in Lawrence in a year or two. What does that get you? You guessed it, high expectations. Unfortunately, with that, comes an inordinate amount of scrutiny. Here it goes:
Collins reports paunchy; cramps against Memphis.
This happens every year. It’s no biggie, but it would still be nice to see him a little more committed to the team by simply laying off the junk food and staying out of Gates, Zarda’s, and Arthur Bryants.
Kansas athletic director Lou Perkins had to chew some butts after the basketball and football teams got frisky.
This had the potential to be a big distraction, but the KU football team doesn’t have much to talk about these days, so fans can probably consider it a dead issue.
Chemistry isn’t easy.
Collins and Aldrich have it in spades, but Xavier is a question mark. Henry’s prepared to work on offense and defense, but is he ready to do what it takes when it comes to putting the team’s success first in a big game? The answer is probably. No matter what, as with any freshman phenom in their first year at a big name program, this has the potential to set the team back a few games.
The guiding light is Self.
This statement, along with the perspective that Self is the best basketball coach in the country, is arrogant. Despite his success, few Big 12 or nationwide readers would trade their beloved coach for Self’s services. For Texas fans, perhaps you’re blinded by your burnt orange vision. That’s a sad perspective for all those believers, actually. Take a step back, compare resumes, recruiting, total wins, game management and pure “X’s and O’s” savvy, and Self is and will remain the best coach in college basketball.
With a “Phog” of questions hanging around the Fieldhouse, Self has done a good job preparing for a deep run in March with several non-conference tests. The early season match-up with unranked Memphis was a test, and the Jayhawks barely passed. The team travels to Los Angeles in early December to play Pac-10 foe UCLA, and while it is a road test, the Jayhawks should be able to handle the Bruins in an off-year for Ben Howland’s squad. After that, the Jayhawks play host to California, Michigan and Tennessee, three teams currently ranked in the top 25. All of these are great tests, and (as much as any fan would hate to admit it) hopefully KU will lose one, just to keep ’em hungry.
As for the Big 12 Conference schedule, the biggest challenges will come by way of #17 oklahoma and at #3 Texas. Sure, other conference games could include drama, and Kansas may simply forget to show up against teams like Iowa State (forward Craig Brackins is a beast; don’t forget about this kid), but those two South division foes offer the biggest threat on the Jayhawks conference slate – let’s take a look.
Kansas Jayhawks v. oklahoma sooners
In this author’s opinion, the KU/ou game should be a dandy. oklahoma sophomore guard Willie Warren and Collins went at it last year, trading deep three’s and consistently lighting each up other throughout the second half. In the end, Collins and KU won the battle, but you better believe this is a big game for Warren’s ego – not to mention the fact that he’s on the pre-season Naismath Award watch list and has something to prove.
Kansas Jayhawks v. Texas Longhorns
And that brings us to the Texas game, probably the biggest game of the regular season for both teams – and it’s saved for March, as always, when the conference’s regular-season title will be on the line. As any good Jayhawk would say, “forget the Longhorns.” Chew on that, ‘Horns fans, while KU reads the paper.
Here’s to the beginning of what should be an outstanding season of college basketball season, especially in Lawrence. Rock Chalk.
Thanks to Pay Heeder for contributing his Kansas basketball preview for EyesOfTX. Personally, EyesOfTX hopes he’s wrong about Texas, although that could mean the end of a friendship.