Basketball purists, who believe bluebloods Kansas and Kentucky should be playing each other every year, seem to be getting their wish.
It was announced Thursday that the Wildcats, who have the most victories in college basketball history (2,263), and the Jayhawks, second on the all-time win list (2,248), will meet in the SEC/Big 12 Challenge on Jan. 26, 2019, at Rupp Arena in Lexington, Kentucky.
It will mark the fifth-straight season the squads have played and also the seventh time in the past eight years. KU has won three in a row in the series after losing three in a row to Kentucky.
Although it is not official by any means, there’s a good chance the two squads will play for a sixth-straight season in 2019-20. That will happen if the Big 12 and SEC schedule a return KU-UK game in Allen Fieldhouse (as happened in the event with a home-and-home in 2016 and 2017).
After that … the powerhouses would play a seventh-straight season in 2020-21 if the four-team Champions Classic is renewed for another cycle with teams KU, Kentucky, Michigan State and Duke. The 2020-21 season would mark KU’s turn to play Kentucky in the still-popular season-opening event, which started in November 2011.
“Having the top two winningest programs in college basketball puts the Kansas-Kentucky game in the national spotlight and the Big 12/SEC Challenge and Champions Classic has allowed this game to happen much more the past few years. This is normally a very competitive game, and our players look forward to playing in it,” KU coach Bill Self said Thursday, giving a thumbs-up to the matchup occurring in most seasons.
KU schedule-maker Larry Keating, the Jayhawks’ special assistant to the athletic director, shed some light on the frequency of the KU-Kentucky matchups.
“Kansas-Kentucky … the reason it’s happening is we have deals with the two events,” Keating said of the SEC/Big 12 Challenge and Champions Classic, both televised by ESPN.
“We like the fact we are playing each other. If we didn’t we wouldn’t schedule to be part of those events,” Keating added.
He noted that “there’s no guarantee” KU and Kentucky will meet in a SEC/Big 12 Challenge game in 2019-20. He says by no means will he assume that matchup will take place. However, if KU and Kentucky remain contenders for their respective league titles, it would remain a highly attractive game for ESPN, which likely would lobby for that matchup in Allen.
“They try to match the top 1, 2, 3 teams against each other,” Keating said of the Big 12 and SEC, as well as ESPN.
Mann cuts list to three schools
Tre Mann, a 6-foot-4 senior-to-be point guard from The Villages (Fla.) High School, has narrowed his choices to KU, Florida and Tennessee, he reported Thursday on Twitter. Mann is ranked No. 37 in the recruiting Class of 2019 by Rivals.com.
"They told me that they will help me reach my goal, which is to get to the next level," Mann told prepcircuit.com. "I've seen them do it before with other players that are in the league now, so I believe them. I know they are a really good program, so why not have them in your top choices?"
Transfers draw praise
KU's Dedric Lawson and Charlie Moore are listed as two of the top 15 "impact transfers" in college basketball for the 2018-19 season, according to ESPN's John Gasaway.
Of junior forward Lawson, formerly of Memphis, he wrote: “Bill Self is making a specialty of signing transfers who were elite recruits out of high school. Last season, that role was filled by Malik Newman. In 2018-19, it will be Lawson who fits that description. Lawson was the No. 26-ranked prospect nationally in the recruiting class of 2015, and the 6-9 forward was immediately given featured-scorer responsibilities at Memphis, first by Josh Pastner, then by Tubby Smith. The threes didn't fall for Lawson when he was with the Tigers, but improvement in that department is likely for a career 73 percent shooter at the line who averages about three attempts per game from beyond the arc.”
Of point guard Moore, formerly of Cal, Gasaway wrote: “Moore logged one season as a high-usage 5-11 freshman point guard in a major conference, and that went about how you'd expect in terms of two-point success rate (low). Still, the Chicago product hit a fair number of threes and excelled at distributing the ball. Bottom line, Moore is a proven point guard on a team that's facing a new season without both Devonté Graham and Frank Mason for the first time in, seemingly, forever."
Two KU recruiting sagas mentioned
The recruiting sagas of Josh Jackson and DeAndre Ayton made Rivals.com’s list of the 10 toughest defeats in recruiting (for the runner-up team) of the last five years.
KU beat out Arizona for Jackson, the No. 1 rated prospect in the recruiting Class of 2016 according to Rivals.com. The Jayhawks lost out to Arizona in the battle for Ayton, the No. 3-rated prep in the Class of 2017.
“Depending on who you talk to, an even argument can be made that either Michigan State or Arizona was the school blindsided here,” analyst Eric Bossi wrote of the Jackson saga.
“After all, Michigan State is the program Jackson grew up following in Michigan. However, Arizona gets the nod here (as runner-up), because to this day sources close to the program insist that Jackson told (Arizona coach) Sean Miller he was coming,” Bossi added.
“The addition of Jackson helped Kansas make the Elite Eight in 2017, while Arizona bounced back two days later to land five-star wing Terrance Ferguson — though Ferguson ended up going to Australia to play professionally instead,” Bossi noted.
Here’s Bossi’s take on the Ayton recruitment: “For the longest time, Ayton looked to be a lock for Kansas, and it got to the point where others weren't even really bothering to recruit him. Then late in the summer before his senior year, Arizona got heavily involved and he ended up on campus for a visit in August and picked the Wildcats shortly after.
“It was almost a bit of payback for another big timer — Jackson — that the Jayhawks beat them for the year before. At Arizona, Ayton was a star, but the Wildcats lost in the first round of the NCAA Tournament and reports — which to date haven't proven to be true — emerged that Miller arranged to pay for Ayton. Kansas landed on its feet just fine after missing Ayton with a trip to the 2018 Final Four.”