The opponent was Tennessee State, but as has been the case for most of the past six years, thoughts of the Kansas faithful figured to drift to the next game.
The Champions Classic was born in the 2011-12 season and has become a non-conference jewel with Kentucky, Duke and Michigan State joining the Jayhawks in a doubleheader that often serves as a team’s second or third game. Cats versus KU this year, and part of the exercise in Friday’s season opener was sizing up that matchup.
But a virtual scouting report wasn’t completely possible from the Jayhawks’ 92-56 victory Friday, not without Billy Preston on the floor. The freshman forward with a load of potential has also brought to Kansas something of a “taking care of business” problem.
Preston commands much attention from Bill Self and the coaching staff, but not Friday. Preston didn’t play, his punishment for a late night/early morning. He missed curfew.
“We had curfew last night … and I was with them,” Self said. “I fed them.”
But Preston missed it anyway, getting home late enough on Thursday that he skipped a class Friday, and, well, all that remained was the confession.
“The great thing about Billy, he just told us,” Self said. “Right before warm-ups. I asked him why, and he told me. There wasn’t much of a decision to be made.
“Just take care of your business. Everybody needs to be responsible.”
Preston had been called out for underachieving play in the final exhibition. Plenty of players, including future NBA talent, have resided in Self’s doghouse. Self didn’t seem overly concerned. Player made a mistake, paid the price and he’ll take the floor against Kentucky, Self said.
Also of lineup interest, Malik Newman didn’t start for KU on Friday but entered the game after the first media timeout.
That was a decision based on an earlier practice and not a permanent arrangement, Self said. Freshman Marcus Garrett got the start and not a bad debut with 10 points and 10 rebounds.
“The bottom line is I think it was the right thing to do, trying to make sure he understood that he can play better when he’s not shooting the basketball,” Self said. “It’s not a knock.”
The shuffling had no impact on the contest. It would be difficult to imagine Kansas playing, at least starting, much better.
The first nine shots of the season were true, and when the Jayhawks finally missed, they were there for the stick-back.
Things were going so well on that end of the floor that a Udoka Azubuike mishandled an entry pass and the ball deflected into the bucket.
Devonté Graham flirted with a triple-double, finishing with 10 points, 12 assists and seven rebounds and reinforced the notion that on a night when six players finished with double-figures scoring, he is the most indispensable Kansas player.
Tennessee State coach Dana Ford said he hoped Graham didn’t zoom toward 30, which is in his arsenal. In that case, “we thought we’d have a fighting chance,” Ford said.
But Graham did everything but score, including collecting two steals in the first four minutes.
The margin and the Tigers’ frustration grew in the first half. With about four minutes remaining Tennessee State big man Ken’Darius Hamilton spied KU’s Clay Young closing in on him. Young’s head was turned, and Hamilton decked him with a forearm shiver. Young, who has logged 39 career minutes and was playing because of foul trouble and depth issues, should have been more alert, but this was a cheap shot.
How will all of this play against Kentucky, which had a difficult time shaking Utah Valley in a 10-point triumph on Friday and meets Vermont on Sunday? Who knows? The Wildcats have defeated Kansas twice in the event, the previous meeting in 2014 resulting in Self’s worst loss at KU.
Even short-handed, the Jayhawks got what they wanted from the opener. How it relates to the second game, Self said it doesn’t exist.
“I don’t know if there’s an exact formula that gives you a better chance,” he said. “But a having a couple of positive things happen tonight will help our preparation the next couple of days.”