How good is this season’s Kansas team? The answer to that question is should become more clear over the next eight days. That’s three games, if you’re following the Jayhawks’ game calendar.
Between this Monday and next Monday, Kansas (11-4, 2-0) goes to battle with Iowa State, Oklahoma State and Baylor, in that order. The combined record of those three Big 12 opponents is 41-5 through Sunday’s games, and all three teams rank in the top 12 in the country, according to the latest AP weekly rankings. That sequence of games is further testament that practically game day is “Big” in the Big 12 in 2013-14. If the next three games for Kansas doenn’t sound daunting enough, consider that the Jayhawks’ first two conference games were at Oklahoma and against in-state rival Kansas State.
Kansas came away victorious in its first two league contests, vaulting Bill Self’s squad into its familar perch atop the conference standings. The Big Monday contest this week has No. 15 Kansas at No. 8 Iowa State to tip off the Big 12 Monday schedule for the new season. It doesn’t get any better than that, except for next Monday, of course, when Baylor, currently No. 12 in this week’s AP poll, comes calling to Allen Fieldhouse in Lawrence.
That will make five straight league games for the young Jayhawks against teams that were, at the time, or are now ranked in the nation’s top 25.
But back to tonight’s spotlight matchup at Iowa State, the Cyclones (14-1, 2-1) are one of five conference teams that have won two of their first three league games. Until last Saturday, however, Iowa State was undefeated with 14 victories already in the books this season. The Cyclones stumbled at Oklahoma on Saturday, suffering their first loss of the season. That means that an angry group from Iowa State will be awaiting Kansas tonight at Hilton Coliseum, one of the most difficult places to play in the Big 12.
Kansas, fresh off a dominating 26-point victory over Kansas State, has been more successful than most playing at Iowa State. The Jayhawks are 23-19 all-time in games played at Hilton Coliseum and own a 29-8 advantage against Iowa State since the inception of the Big 12 in 1996. Kansas is 49-18 all-time in ESPN’s “Big Monday” broadcasts and 22-15 on the road. At home on Big Mondays, KU has been virtually unbeatable (27-1), which pretty much speaks for anytime the Jayhawks are playing at home.
Iowa State is one of the highest-scoring teams in the country, averaging 86 points a game. As a team, the Cyclones are shooting at a 49-percent clip from the field, just under KU’s 50 percent shooting average. The big difference between the teams is that Iowa State also plays pretty tough defense, something that in past seasons has been more characteristic of Kansas.
The Cyclones also are a good rebounding team and lead the Big 12 in assist-to-turnover ratio. All eyes this season have been on KU’s freshmen super recruits, and in the Jayhawks’ first two conference games they have gotten big lifts from first-year players Andrew Wiggins and Wayne Selden, who have scored 31 and 44 points, respectively, in wins over OU and KSU. Senior forward Melvin Ejim leads Iowa State in scoring this season with an 18-points-per-game average, third best in the Big 12.
The Cyclones may be without their second-leading scorer, however, in tonight’s game with Kansas. DeAndre Kane averages over 16 points per game and was ISU’s high scorer with 23 against Oklahoma, but he went down with an ankle injury in the final 12 seconds of Saturday’s game with the Sooners and coach Fred Hoiberg says his status for tonight will be a game-time decision.
With or without Kane’s availability, this will be a very tough road test for the young Jayhawks, who are fearless, playing with great confidence and beginning to come of age. The atmosphere at Hilton Coliseum is sure to be electric, and with two offensive-minded teams, you would expect the game to be quick paced and with plenty of points scored.
There are actually two Monday night games in the Big 12 this week. Prior to the prime-time game between Kansas and Iowa State, West Virginia (10-8, 2-1) will play host to the Texas Longhorns (12-4, 1-2).
Picking Monday Night’s Big 12 Games
Kansas 78 @ Iowa State 85
Texas 68 @ West Virginia 62