For the moment, Kansas is just 16 percent through its Big 12 men’s basketball schedule, which might make any discussion of the conference title race a little premature.
But the ninth-ranked Jayhawks, 14-2 overall and 3-0 in the Big 12, are the only unbeaten in the conference after No. 11 Iowa State’s 74-73 loss at No. 22 Baylor on Wednesday. Kansas, of course, will also travel to Iowa State for an 8 p.m. matchup on Saturday, a showdown that will anchor ESPN’s “College GameDay” coverage.
So as Kansas coach Bill Self met with reporters at Allen Fieldhouse on Thursday morning, the subject of the Jayhawks’ place back atop the conference was an obvious place to begin.
“It’s too early to get excited or down about where you are in the Big 12 race,” Self countered. “Because if you look at the game Saturday, every game is going to impact that race.”
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Indeed. Iowa State dropped to 12-3 overall and 2-1 in the Big 12 after the loss to Baylor in Waco, Texas. But the Cyclones can climb back into a tie with Kansas with a victory on Saturday. West Virginia and K-State are also 3-1 in the Big 12, and Kansas, meanwhile, will have a chance to move two games ahead of Iowa State before returning home to face No. 19 Oklahoma, 11-5 and 2-2, on Big Monday.
“We’re not really checking the standings,” Kansas sophomore Wayne Selden said. “But we see what’s happening around the conference. We’re just really focused on ourselves, though.”
In the past, Self has generally waited until about halfway through the conference season to pore over the schedule and standings. But this season, he says, feels slightly different. Instead of zeroing in on a handful of pivotal matchups on the schedule, every game feels like something that could swing the standings.
“(It’s like) who does Iowa State play next? Who does Texas play next? Who does Kansas play next?” Self said. “Because every game is a losable game. Obviously, it would be huge for us to get another win on the road. But it would be way premature to think that that would be, ‘OK, anyone’s in the driver’s seat so far,’ because it’s way too early for anybody to feel that way.”
Big 12 standings
‘GameDay’ in town
Self said Thursday that he was looking forward to playing in a primetime game with ESPN’s “College GameDay“ crew in the building. ESPN’s flagship college basketball show will be in town to broadcast from Ames, Iowa, all day on Saturday, bringing its usual circus of shows and pregame material.
“(It’s) an infomercial for your program and for your school, which is a 24-hour infomercial, which is great,” Self said. “But it would be good for our guys to play in that type of environment.”
Kansas is 29-19 at Hilton Coliseum, but the Jayhawks have been dominant at Iowa State in recent years. Kansas has won two straight and nine of the last 10 at Hilton, which has historically featured one of the most rabid home crowds in college basketball.
“It was really hostile (last season),” Selden said. “I liked it a lot, though. It was really intense.”
Selden praises Niang
If Kansas’ coaches require help on scouting Iowa State’s leading scorer, Selden might be able to help. Selden, a native of Roxbury, Mass., was high school teammates with Iowa State’s Georges Niang at the Tilton School in Tilton, N.H.
Niang, a 6-foot-8 junior forward, has grown into one of the Big 12’s best players, averaging 14.9 points and 5.5 rebounds per game. Niang, a matchup nightmare, can bomb away from deep, while also taking bigger forwards off the dribble.
“He can really stretch the defense, and he has a real great touch inside,” Selden said. “He can put it on the floor every now and again. So it’s really just being able to guard him and help behind the ball.”
Selden said Niang was the best player he played with before Kansas, which is high praise considering Kentucky center and eventual lottery pick Nerlens Noel also played with both players at Tilton. When asked about Noel, Selden stuck with his original thought on Niang.
“Best player I ever played with until I got here,” Selden said.