Kansas basketball: Jayhawks eyeing first trophy of the year in Orlando

As the Kansas basketball team gears up for their yearly Thanksgiving tournament, this season’s warm weather destination is the ESPN Events Invitational in Orlando, Florida. The Jayhawks will kick off the three-day tournament with a game against North Texas on Thursday, Nov. 25.

The eight-team tournament will have no lack of talent as KU could face Dayton or Miami on Friday, and No. 10 Alabama in the final round on Sunday, assuming they win out.

To begin, the Jayhawks have their focus on the North Texas Mean Green out of Arlington, Texas. 

North Texas Mean Green Basketball
Kansas Jayhawks Basketball
Thursday, Nov. 25th | HP Field House, Orlando, FL
1:30 PM CST

The Mean Green are averaging 71.3 points per game this season and hold a 2-1 record, while KU averages 87.7 points per game and holds a 3-0 record.

An important storyline for KU is the return of junior guard Jalen Wilson, who is coming off a four game suspension due to a DUI arrest.

While head coach Bill Self hasn’t made the decision on whether or not Wilson will start Thursday, he has spoken highly about his time away from the court. Self maintained that he would frequently see Wilson running sprints and working out on his own outside of practice.

“He has an air about him that’s very confident,” Self told KUsports.com, “And he’s a terrific leader.”

KU will certainly welcome the energy and spark Wilson is expected to bring, including his defensive rebounding ability that Self noted. This could be an important edge as KU and North Texas average the same number of rebounds per game (37.3) so far this season.

Self is expecting, and has made it clear, that his team should expect a difficult game. He noted that North Texas beat Purdue, who just jumped KU a spot in the most recent AP Top 25 poll, in last year’s NCAA Tournament.

From the scouting Self and staff have done, he expects them to play big for portions of the game and praised their guards and wing players.

Next up, the Jayhawks could have a date with the Miami Hurricanes or Dayton Flyers.

If KU wins, they will play either Miami or Dayton on Friday, Nov. 26, at noon or 12:30 p.m. CST.

The Hurricanes come into the tournament at 3-1 out of the ACC, with their only loss to future Big 12 member Central Florida. They are averaging 80.0 points and 37.5 rebounds per game.

KU could also see former guard Charlie Moore, who leads the Hurricanes in assists with three per game.

The Dayton Flyers bring a 1-3 record out of the Atlantic 10 Conference. They average 65.5 points and 35.3 rebounds per game.

Finally, the Jayhawks could have a date in a marquee matchup against No. 10 Alabama.

Certainly the biggest matchup from a rankings standup would be the championship game on Sunday.

To get to KU, Alabama would have to get past a rematch from the NCAA Tournament with Iona and a potential second-round game against Belmont or undefeated Drake.

The Crimson Tide average a whopping 89.0 points and 47.0 rebounds per game through four wins this season.

Alabama brings size as they tout a 7-foot freshman in Charles Bediako, who is averaging 9.3 points and 4.8 rebounds per game. The Jayhawks would need Wilson’s added rebounding ability in this one.

Overall, Self says this is a tournament that’s underrated from a rankings standpoint in his eyes. While the clear headliners are KU and Alabama, the field is filled with quality mid-majors that could cause trouble for the bigger schools.

This will be KU’s first chance to bring home a trophy this season and build toward an NCAA Championship trophy come spring.