Previews/Predictions For Intriguing Jayhawks Conference Matchups


Last year’s hot start at the beginning of conference play proved to be the difference maker in KU grabbing their 10th-straight Big 12 regular season title. A few days after an ugly loss at home to San Diego State, the Jayhawks stormed into Norman and pulled out a huge win vs. the Sooners. After that victory, Kansas went on to win 6 consecutive games against practically ranked conference opponents (with the exception of TCU). They beat down Iowa State twice, Kansas State, Baylor, Oklahoma State, and TCU as stated previously. If the Jayhawks struggled during that stretch, then we certainly would not have entered the NCAA Tournament as a 2 seed. Heck, we might have found ourselves in the NIT.

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Unfortunately, after the impressive run in which it seemed the Jayhawks were past their early-season struggles, Kansas lost 5 conference matchups in a little over a month. One loss came from West Virginia in Morgantown where KU trailed by nearly 30 at one point. Thankfully, this year’s conference slate is much more spread-out and less compressed of tough opponents one after another. Let’s take a closer look at 3 games that hold significant value if KU wants to reach 11-straight…

Statement Game

Opponent: Baylor Bears

Date: January 7th, 2015 (9:00pm ET)

Location: Ferrell Center (Waco, Texas)

Analysis: For the 2nd-straight year, the Jayhawks will be on the road to begin the conference slate. Instead of in Norman, they will be in Waco to face a very feisty Baylor team. KU cannot afford to start off slow in this talented conference, so this game is practically a must win. The Bears will have their leaders in point guard Kenny Cherry and small forward Royce O’Neale returning for their senior seasons, in hopes to reach the NCAA Tournament once again. Cherry was a JUCO (junior college) commit last year who stepped in big-time for the Bears after the departure of Pierre Jackson to the NBA. A back-court of Cherry, Ishmail Wainwright (Soph.), and 2013 ESPN100 marksman Allerik Freeman could cause havoc for KU. As of late, Kansas has played soft perimeter defense, and unfortunately, that may not change.

Mar 23, 2014; San Antonio, TX, USA; Creighton Bluejays forward Ethan Wragge (34) defends against Baylor Bears forward Rico Gathers (2) in the second half of a men

In the front-court, the Bears are also bringing back juniors Rico Gathers and Taurean Prince alongside O’Neale. Gathers is one of the most physical power forwards in the conference, but then again, he is the tallest player on the team at 6’8. Look for KU to go to work down-low right off the bat by feeding Cliff Alexander and Hunter Mickelson vs. this small Baylor team. Perry Ellis will of course get his, but let’s not forget he is not the most physical Jayhawk out there. Expect Mason to dump the ball inside right away to keep the ball away from Cherry and into the hands of some of the strongest players on the team. If Wayne Selden and Kelly Oubre can get into a rhythm from the outside, along with Brannen Greene and Conner Frankamp, this could turn into a rout pretty quickly.

Prediction: Kansas 78-66

Toughest Game

Opponent: Iowa State Cyclones

Date: January 17th, 2015 (TBD)

Location: Hilton Coliseum (Ames, Iowa)

Analysis: Well, it’s obvious that this game is the toughest in the conference schedule. It might even be the toughest game on the entire schedule. Playing Iowa State is always tough due to how well they shoot the ball, but when you put them in that arena in front of that raucous crowd, then they become a very dangerous team.

Feb 3, 2014; Stillwater, OK, USA; Iowa State Cyclones forward Georges Niang (31) during the game against the Oklahoma State Cowboys at Gallagher-Iba Arena. Iowa State defeated Oklahoma State 98-97 in triple overtime. Mandatory Credit: Nelson Chenault-USA TODAY Sports

The Cyclones return a majority of their 2013-14 team, minus DeAndre Kane and Melvin Ejim to the NBA. They are bringing back star combo-forward Georges Niang (Jr.), seniors Dustin Hogue and Bryce Dejean-Jones, sophomore guards Monte Morris and Matt Thomas, and junior shooting guard Naz Long. They are also bringing in Oregon State transfer Hallice Cooke (Soph.). Cooke averaged 8.4 points in his freshman season in an average of 26.3 minutes per game shooting above 45% from beyond the arc. We have seen the other guys play. Just about all of them contributed to knocking us out of the Big 12 Tournament this past March. With that being said, this game is a near-nightmare matchup for KU due to their inept ability to defend the perimeter. Look for this game to be a shootout with Iowa State nailing threes and Kansas hammering the ball down-low to their beasts in Alexander and Ellis. If the Jayhawks can take care of the ball and take advantage of chances to push the ball in transition, they can pull one out like they did last year in Ames. But until I see Selden and Oubre defend the perimeter consistently, I have Iowa State edging KU in a thriller in what will most likely be a College Gameday setting.

Prediction: Iowa State 84-81

Most Important Game

Opponent: Texas Longhorns

Date: February 28th, 2015 (TBD)

Location: Allen Fieldhouse (Lawrence, Kansas)

Analysis: This game is without a doubt the most important game of the season. With a College Gameday setting very likely, along with an opportunity to potentially clinch 11-straight, KU cannot afford to lose at home to a team like Texas. I say this because Texas is going to be clawing at KU attempting to end their Big 12 regular season title streak all season long.

Mar 13, 2014; Kansas City, MO, USA; Texas Longhorns center Prince Ibeh (44) dunks the ball during the second half against the West Virginia Mountaineers in the second round of the Big 12 Conference college basketball tournament at Sprint Center. Texas won 66 – 49. Mandatory Credit: Denny Medley-USA TODAY Sports

The Longhorns have arguably the most talented front-court in the country. It starts obviously with 2014 McDonald’s All-American, 7-foot freak Myles Turner. The Longhorns also brought back Prince Ibeh and Cameron Ridley for their junior years. Those two, like Rico Gathers of Baylor, are amongst the most physical big men in the Big 12 conference. The Longhorns also bring back sophomore point-guard Isaiah Taylor and junior combo-guard Javan Felix. Both have given KU trouble in the past. Look for the Jayhawks to attack Myles Turner in the matchup down-low with Alexander throughout the game. Cliff will show no mercy in this matchup because many people still believe Turner is the better prospect of the two coming out of high school. If Ellis can show up as well and provide close to 20 points, the Jayhawks can put themselves in a position to bring the Longhorns back to reality and possibly clinch 11-straight in front of everyone on College Gameday. Overall, you can take your Turner and I’ll take my Alexander!

Prediction: Kansas 75-70