The road has not been kind to the 2013 Kansas Jayhawks basketball team. KU’s recent excursions to Colorado and Florida was anything but a vacation, ending with two losses in four days on the heels of a 2-1 performance in the Bahamas earlier this year.
Since climbing to No. 2 in the polls after beating then No. 4 Duke 94-83 in Chicago on Nov. 12, the Jayhawks could now be in danger of dropping out of the top-20, and perhaps out of the polls altogether on the heels of an 0-2 start to December.
KU is averaging 22.2 fewer points per game during its last four games compared with the first five, struggling against a tough schedule. The Jayhawks started the season 5-0, scoring at least 80 points in every game, but things aren’t going very well for this team lately and their head coach knows it.
“I’m leaving here knowing we are not very good right now.” KU coach Bill Self said to the media after a 67-61 loss to Florida on Tuesday in Gainesville. That said, Self was also the first to put this recent downturn into perspective. “I’m also leaving here believing we can be really good if we can just continue to try to grind it out and get better day to day.”
There are several reasons to believe he’s right. The Jayhawks’ ridiculously tough opening schedule is reason No. 1. The combined record of the nine teams Kansas has played so far is a daunting 60-18. Four of those opponents are currently ranked, two of which are in the Top 10.
And here’s the kicker: KU has now played five straight games, including three against ranked teams, away from the friendly confines of historic Allen Fieldhouse. In fact, none of the Jayhawks’ better opponents have had to contend with “The Phogg” this season, something Self pointed out.
Though Kansas dropped its second-straight game Tuesday at Florida, there is reason to believe the 67-61 result will give this young team some confidence moving forward. KU committed 16 turnovers in the first 20 minutes of play, endured a crushing 21-0 run by Florida and trailed 36-21 at the half. However, the Jayhawks showed some resilience and outscored the more experienced Gators 40-31 down the stretch.
KU clawed its way out of the huge hole and made it 60-55 on Andrew Wiggins‘ 3-pointer with 55.8 seconds remaining. The Gators closed it out from the free-throw line – but barely. Kansas was as close as 65-61 with 10.9 seconds left, but Florida’s Kasey Hill sunk the Jayhawks’ hopes by draining two free throws.
Still, it’s promising to see a young team fall behind big early on, only to fight its way back into the game. With that in mind, the Jayhawks leave Gainesville knowing they can beat the better teams in the country if they don’t self-destruct.
After a Dec. 14 matchup against New Mexico in Kansas City (essentially a home game), KU has three straight (true) home games against Georgetown, Toledo and No. 25 San Diego State before going on the road to open the Big 12 slate at Oklahoma. After that, four of the Jayhawks’ next six games will be played at Allen Fieldhouse.
Don’t be surprised if this young KU team is playing much better basketball by early January. A few big wins amidst swaying fans and chants of “Rock, Chalk, Jayhawk” will help this team hit its stride just in time to make a run at a 10th-straight league title.
Looking further down the road, the combination of this grueling early-season non-conference schedule and playing in a league with four teams ranked 17th or higher will have this KU team as battle-tested as any come NCAA Tournament time.