By Rustin Dodd
One hundred and eighty-six days.
The unofficial countdown to Kansas’ regular-season opener began on Tuesday morning, when the school announced its nonconference basketball schedule for 2014-2015.
Plenty of time to analyze, of course. It’s May. But some early thoughts: This nonconference slate should allow for some early-season breathers — something that didn’t exist last fall.
Last season, the Jayhawks played the nation’s toughest nonconference schedule. And, yes, it came with a few benefits. A young Kansas team was battle-tested by the Big 12 season, and the Jayhawks added a 10th straight Big 12 title.
But by late February, Kansas coach Bill Self was lamenting the fact that the relentless early schedule provided few opportunities for some young players to gain some confidence and experience. One example: Conner Frankamp.
If Frankamp could have played more in November, Self wondered, would Kansas have looked different in March?
We’re still a summer away from the college football season. So no rush. But now that we know whom Kansas will be playing in November and December (and one game in January), let’s take a quick run through the nonconference schedule.
Kansas will also play home exhibitions against Washburn (Nov. 4) and Emporia State (Nov. 11).
Nov. 14, Friday, vs. UC Santa Barbara in Lawrence
Record last season: 21-9, no postseason
What you should know: Alan Williams, a 6-foot-8 center, is a statistical monster. Averaged 21.3 points and 11.5 rebounds last season. Shot 53 percent from the floor. Could be an NBA prospect. In short: It should be a solid early matchup for freshman forward Cliff Alexander.
Nov. 18, Tuesday, vs. Kentucky at Champions Classic in Indianapolis
Record last season: 29-11; National runner-up
What you should know: Kentucky should be No. 1 when the teams arrive in Indy; The Wildcats lost Julius Randle and James Young but return everyone else, including 7-foot center Willie Cauley-Stein, who played at Olathe Northwest.
The Harrison twins are back in the backcourt, Dakari Johnson is back in the middle, and John Calipari added four McDonald’s All-Americans. Kentucky has won its last two meetings against KU, both during the 2011-12 season: 75-65 in the Champions Classic in New York; and 67-59 in the NCAA Championship game in New Orleans.
Nov. 24, Monday, vs. Rider in Lawrence
Record last season: 14-17
What you should know: Rider coach Kevin Baggett is entering his third season. He led the school to a 19-15 record in 2012-13 before a step back last year. We know that.
Nov. 27-30, at Orlando Classic in Florida
What you should know: Last season, Kansas stumbled through a Thanksgiving trip to the Bahamas. This year, it is Orlando. KU will play three games in four days at the Orlando Classic — sponsor to be added later. The rest of the field: Georgia Tech, Marquette, Michigan State, Rhode Island, Rider, Santa Clara and Tennessee.
Dec. 5, Friday, vs. Florida at SEC/Big 12 Challenge in Lawrence
Record last season: 36-3, Final Four
What you should know: Rematch. The veteran Gators handled Kansas in Gainesville last season, but coach Billy Donovan lost four senior starters. Florida is reloading around former top recruit Chris Walker, a forward, and should be a top 20 team entering the season.
Dec. 10, Wednesday, at Georgetown in Washington, D.C.
Record last season: 18-15, NIT
What you should know: Kansas’ first-ever road game to Georgetown. The Jayhawks handled the Hoyas 86-64 last season at Allen Fieldhouse. Expect a sizable Kansas contingent in D.C.
Dec. 13, Saturday, vs. Utah at the Sprint Center
Record last season: 21-12, NIT
What you should know: A tricky little Sprint Center matchup. The Utes are coming off their first postseason appearance under coach Larry Krystkowiak. They should be expected to finish in the top half of the Pac-12.
Dec. 20, Saturday, vs. Lafayette in Lawrence
Record last season: 11-20; no postseason
What you should know: The first meeting between the two schools. The Leopards are in the Patriot League, the same conference as Bucknell and Lehigh.
Dec. 22, Monday, at Temple in Philadelphia
Record last season: 9-22, no postseason
What you should know: Last season was a rare Dumpster fire for coach Fran Dunphy, whose Owls finished 4-14 in the American Athletic Conference. It was the first time Temple had missed the NCAA tourney since 2007.
Dec. 30, Tuesday, vs. Kent State in Lawrence
Record last season: 16-16, no postseason
What you should know: Could be the final easy victory before Big 12 Conference play. Or one of the last chances to get guys on the fringe of the rotation some experience.
Jan. 4, Sunday, vs. UNLV in Lawrence
Record last season: 20-13, no postseason
What you should know: The Runnin’ Rebels were hit with a rash of departures after last season. Khem Birch, the two-time reigning defensive player of the year in the Mountain West, put his name in for the NBA Draft. So did Roscoe Smith. Bryce Dejean-Jones transferred to Iowa State. Nobody wanted to stay in Vegas, apparently.
UNLV coach Dave Rice did add Rashad Vaughn, a McDonald’s All-American shooting guard. But this is a young roster. Last year, Kansas finished off its nonconference schedule against a San Diego State team that advanced to the Sweet 16. This will be slightly easier.