LAWRENCE — It’s been a quality week in Kansas beat writer land, where the Jayhawks announced an upcoming home-and-home basketball series with UNLV. The Jayhawks will play in Las Vegas during the 2016-17 season, and the series continues a trend of Kansas road games in primo locales.
By RUSTIN DODD
The Kansas City Star
This year, of course, the Jayhawks will play Duke in Chicago, make a return trip to play Colorado in Boulder, and play in the Battle 4 Atlantis tourney in the Bahamas.
Also in play: An upcoming road game at Georgetown in Washington D.C.; a trip to play at San Diego State in 2015-16; a recently scheduled road football game at Hawaii later this decade; and a likely return to the Maui Invitational. It appears the KU schedule-makers are really maximizing the road opportunities.
From a competitive standpoint, though, the Jayhawks’ nonconference basketball schedule, which is made by associate athletic director Larry Keating, continues to be among the nation’s best. A lot of top programs probably wouldn’t schedule road games at San Diego State or UNLV. But both areas are prime recruiting areas, and Kansas should benefit from that as well.
So without further ado, let’s get to the first #KUmailbag of the fall. We’ll be here every Thursday or Friday, hashing out the big issues of the week. Send me questions via Twitter ( @rustindodd) or email ( firstname.lastname@example.org).
This, of course, is in reference to Kansas being tied for first in the Big 12 preseason coaches poll with Oklahoma State. More specifically, it’s in reference to this: The Jayhawks have won (or shared) nine straight Big 12 regular-season titles, and in three of those seasons (2006, 2009, 2011), KU wasn’t picked to finish first.
The implication: Don’t bet against Bill Self in the Big 12 regular-season race.
Still, the Cowboys have the credentials to be a worthy foil. Marcus Smart could be the league’s most talented point guard since T.J. Ford or Chauncey Billups — although the junior-and-senior version of Sherron Collins has a case, too, at least from a college perspective. The Cowboys are also experienced, with Markel Brown and Le’Bryan Nash returning as well.
It’s still October … and none of KU’s six freshmen have played a college game. But the Jayhawks still hold the same trump card: Allen Fieldhouse. Kansas has lost two conference games in Lawrence (Texas in 2011 and Oklahoma State last season) since the beginning of the 2007-08 season. If that trend continues, it’s a tough task to finish a game better than the Jayhawks in an 18-game conference season.
From a pure wins and losses perspective, Weis has a worse record (3-13) through 16 games than his predecessor Turner Gill (5-11). Gill, of course, lost his final 10 games, finishing 5-19 in two seasons. But this comparison comes with one more important caveat: Gill was taking over for Mark Mangino, who had won at least five games his last five seasons. Weis, meanwhile, was picking up after Gill.
Mangino’s departure was messy, but you can argue that Gill took over a more healthy situation than Weis did.
(One other comparison: Mark Mangino, who went 2-10 in his first season in 2002, also was 5-11 in his first 16 games. But his 2003 team rallied to finish 6-6, earning a bid to the Tangerine Bowl.)
Still, these last eight games will be important for Weis. Kansas is loaded with juniors, and one can reasonably hope for improvement going forward.
The quarterback question is fair, but Jake Heaps has performed adequately this season. The real concern may be a receiving corps that hasn’t made any progress in two years, and an offensive scheme that hasn’t produced points. If you recall, Mangino’s tenure didn’t really take off until he put offensive coordinator Ed Warinner in charge of the offense. Maybe finding his own version of Ed Warinner could be a solution for Weis.
The KU guard rotation could be one of the more interesting story lines to track during the season’s opening weeks. All signs, for now, point to Naadir Tharpe, Wayne Selden and Andrew Wiggins holding down the three starting spots in the backcourt. That leaves at least one reserve guard spot — with a fifth guard likely playing spot minutes.
Bill Self has said that Frankamp, in addition to playing solid defense, will have to adjust to a reserve role after being a leading man in high school in Wichita. The Jayhawks could also need a secondary ball-handler off the bench, which could create an opening for freshman Frank Mason. Of course, there’s also Brannen Greene, who Self says would be a “headliner” in any other recruiting class. And, yes, for the moment, it appears the competition in the backcourt should be fierce.
(Linebacker) Ben Heeney doesn’t get any love on defense. Is he the most underrated player in the Big 12?” — Email from Mark
I sense that, inside the Big 12, especially among coaches, there’s a growing respect for Heeney, a junior middle linebacker from Hutchinson.
Heeney leads the Big 12 with 11 tackles per game, and has also added two sacks and two interceptions. I wrote this last week, but Heeney is sort of like a Cy Young-quality pitcher on a last-place team. The pitcher might allow two earned runs in eight innings — and his performance is still wasted. Through four games, Heeney is probably playing at a level unseen since Mike Rivera and Joe Mortensen were patrolling the middle of the field in 2007 and 2008.
It’s been a few years… but this place might be one of the more underrated gems in Lawrence. It’s free… generally empty… and has a basketball court. What more do you need?
The mailbag music pick of the week: Cowboy Indian Bear
To reach Rustin Dodd, call 816-234-4937 or send email to email@example.com. Follow him at twitter.com/rustindodd.