Kansas' non-conference schedule for 2017-18 is a disappointing step down
The Jayhawks should compete for a national title next season, so why aren't they scheduling tougher opponents?
Kansas, a team we initially ranked No. 1 in our , has released its non-conference schedule for next season. For a team that's set up to probably be one of the five best in college basketball, the slate falls below being worthy of KU's elite status.
The Jayhawks' release touts: "Kansas men's basketball annually plays one of the toughest nonconference schedules in the nation and the 2017-18 slate is no exception."
Alas, it is.
I'll be clear here: This is not a bad schedule. It's ... acceptable. But I must point out that Kansas' non-con slate features only one road game (against a team that will probably struggle to make the NIT) and lacks midsize dosage of high-level competition.
"Six of KU's 12 non-league opponents advanced to postseason play in 2016-17," the release states.
The CBI, CIT and NIT all fall under postseason play, though. There are 351 Division I teams; 142 of them annually qualify for "postseason play." Not exactly clearing a high bar there, given that college basketball has less than 50 legitimately good teams in a given year. Of the six squads on KU's 2017-18 schedule that made last season's postseason, just three made the NCAA Tournament and only one of those postseason teams (Kentucky) came from a multi-bid conference. The other two, South Dakota State and Texas Southern, were 16 seeds.
KU will play 13 teams outside of Big 12 competition next season. Only two of those teams can be projected as probable NCAA Tournament clubs.
Playing in the Big 12 should embolden KU's strength of schedule yet again, but I'd still like to see top-10 programs schedule a bit more ambitiously than this. Kansas has fared well in recent years by rating highly in overall strength of schedule column of the RPI's metric. But instead of using the RPI, an outdated and flawed meter that is losing its influence by the year, let's check in on KenPom. Here's where KU has landed in non-con SOS over the past six seasons:
The Jayhawks are clearly trending down. I wonder if Bill Self'srelates to his tempered-down scheduling. Everybody knows Kansas can schedule basically whatever team it wants almost whenever it wants.
Enough of my lamenting. Let's get to the evidence. Here's what awaits Kansas in 2017-18:
Tennessee State (at home, Nov. 10): Tennessee State went 17-13 last season and could be a top-three team in the one-bid Ohio Valley next season.
Kentucky (in Chicago, Nov. 14): Neutral-court Champions Classic event. Obviously a terrific tilt. Kansas should be favored over the youngest Kentucky team in history.
South Dakota State (at home, Nov. 17): South Dakota State finished fifth in the Summit League last season, then rallied in the conference tourney to win the auto bid and get a 16 seed in the NCAAs.
Texas Southern (at home, Nov. 21): The SWAC champs from last season, and the best program in that league. Kansas will win this game by 30.
Oakland (at home, Nov. 24): The Texas Southern, Oakland, Toledo and Syracuse games are part of the Hoophall Miami Invitational that Kansas agreed to. Unfortunately, three of the four teams will likely keep Kansas' ratings level, at best, by the end of the year. Oakland is good often, though, having won 20 or more gams six of the past nine seasons.
Toledo (at home, Nov. 28): The Rockets went 17-17 in the MAC last season. Toledo coach Tod Kowalczyk is 119-110 with the program.
Syracuse (in Miami, Dec. 2): It's an appealing game, but the jury is out on how good, or not, Syracuse will be next season. The Orange didn't make the NCAAs last season, and they've since lost Tyler Lydon, Andrew White, John Gillon and Tyler Roberson -- arguably their four most important players. It will be Syracuse's youngest team in a generation.
Washington (in Kansas City, Dec. 6): Won nine games last season despite having the projected No. 1 pick in this year's draft, Markelle Fultz, and now start anew with first-year coach Mike Hopkins. Hopkins went cross-country after decades on the bench next to Jim Boeheim at Syracuse.
Arizona State (at home, Dec. 10): The Sun Devils went 15-18 last season and aren't projected as a top-half Pac-12 team next season.
Nebraska (on the road, Dec. 16): The sole road game for KU comes against a Nebraska team that went 12-19 last season and will struggle to be a top-eight Big Ten team in 2017-18.
Omaha (at home, Dec. 18): Omaha went 18-14 and finished third in the Summit League last season.
Stanford (in Sacramento, Dec. 21): It might seem small, but even agreeing to a true road game here would have strengthened Kansas' overall numbers. Instead, the Jayhawks will play an improved Stanford team in a sterile arena 125 miles from Palo Alto. I can be positive! Here: The Cardinal were 14-17 last season, but could be a sleeper pick out of the Pac-12 to make this year's NCAAs.
Texas A&M (at home, Jan. 27): This is the annual end-of-January Big 12/SEC Challenge. KU was up to have a home game here, after playing at Kentucky last season, so no faults for Self in this regard. The Jayhawks get a solid foe (A&M will be anywhere from a No. 4 to a No. 8 seed in next year's NCAAs, I'd bet), but it's not enough to make up for the average all over most of the other parts of the non-con slate.
The Jayhawks will have a possible preseason First Team All-American in senior Devonte' Graham, and will also bright back possible 2018 draft pick Sviatoslav Mykhailiuk in addition to athletic wing Lagerald Vick and big man Udoka Azubuike. Malik Newman, a redshirt sophomore, will debut for the Jayhawks. Billy Preston, a combo forward, is the star freshman.
There are going to be top-25 teams that pull off organizing more underwhelming non-con schedules. I have no doubt in that. It's just a bit surprising to see Self, who's almost always reliable for a truly commendable November/December slate, opt to settle for less. Given the Big 12 should be a top-three league next season, though, Kansas will almost certainly win the conference again (FOR THE 14TH YEAR IN A ROW) and wind up well-positioned come tournament time. Despite this, we should still ask more of the blue bloods in college hoops, because November and December rely upon high-level scheduling to uptick interest and develop storylines that pay off come February and March.
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