LAWRENCE — Here are a few known facts about Belmont University, Kansas opponent Saturday night at Allen Fieldhouse.
By RUSTIN DODD
The Kansas City Star
The undergraduates number just more than 5,000. The music programs are world-renowned. And the Belmont mens basketball program plays its home games in a cozy little on-campus venue in Nashville, Tenn., called the Curb Event Center a building that would need more than three games to equal the attendance for one game inside Allen Fieldhouse.
By almost every measure, Belmont exists outside the world of major college basketball. But in scheduling Belmont, a perennial contender in the Ohio Valley Conference, theres another measure that Kansas coach Bill Self is focused on.
Ratings Percentage Index. That all-important figure that includes strength of schedule and seems to come up every March. And for a team like KU, theres another term for Belmont: RPI Gold.
This is a good RPI game, Self says, without question.
But heres the funny thing about playing Belmont. Kansas, with its roster of top recruits and potential pros, will have to go out and deal with the ever-so-slight possibility that they could lose to a mid-major on their home court.
Belmont can beat us, Self says. Im telling you. They can beat us. They can stretch it. They can take advantage of ball screen matchups and things like that. And theyre superbly coached.
There may be a little bit of coach-speak here. But Belmont, 7-2, defeated Middle Tennessee State on Thursday and is an early-season computer darling. According to college basketball stats maven Ken Pomeroy, the Bruins grade out as the No. 23 team in the country. Belmont also features the 15th-most efficient offense in the nation, and senior guard Ian Clark is shooting 56 percent from three-point range. Add it up, and Belmont is aiming for its sixth NCAA Tournament appearance since 2005-06
Were not going into it taking any team lightly, senior forward Kevin Young said. We know they can play.
During Selfs tenure at Kansas, talented mid-majors have been a consistent bugaboo. Since the 2004-05 season, Selfs Kansas teams have lost 22 nonconference games an average of less than three per season. Of course, nine of those losses have come against teams from non-BCS conferences.
When we scheduled them, Self says, I thought it would be one of the very best nonconference games that wed play at home this year, without question. Maybe arguably the toughest one.
The Jayhawks, of course, are coming off their most complete performance of the season a 90-54 beating of a Colorado team that may make some noise in the Pac-12. Before that victory, Self had said that his team was playing harder in practice than it was in games. For some reason, the energy wasnt carrying over. Finally, with a packed building on a Saturday afternoon, the Jayhawks played with the pace and power that Self was looking for.
It would be easy, then, to theorize that KU just needed an environment and name opponent to get the juices flowing. Self, though, doesnt see it that way.
I think its based more on personalities, Self says. You look at our personalities of our team, really Kevin (Young) is the only one that has natural energy. The other guys are just out there.
In the past, Self says, he could always point to certain players often veteran leaders to provide the passion and energy. Last year it was Thomas Robinson and Tyshawn Taylor. Before that, the Morris twins had it.
This is one reason Self believes that his current team isnt quite as seasoned as last years team at least, to this point in the year.
Last years team, Self says, even though we didnt perform great (early), you knew that they were battle-tested and tough. This years team hasnt had that yet. But I would say if you take out clips of this years team when we play well compared to when we played well in the past this years team ranks right up there.
In this way, Saturday's game could do plenty for Kansas. A little boost in strength of schedule? Probably. But Self often talks about learning how to beat different types of teams and enjoying it in the process. And the Belmont Bruins, unassuming as they may be, may just give Kansas the right test at the right time.
To me, Self says, the deal is we gotta get better every day, and we shouldnt play, from an emotion standpoint, based on who were playing. You only get so many times to run out of a tunnel. And those seniors number is dwindling.
To reach Rustin Dodd, call 816-234-4937 or send email to firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him at twitter.com/rustindodd.