College Basketball Nation: Kansas Jayhawks
Not enough for a player who could have been the No. 1 pick in last summer’s NBA draft. The No. 1 recruit in America can’t be ordinary.
Between the Villanova loss and Saturday's victory over UTEP, (Wiggins had 17 points against Wake Forest on Thursday, I know), the freshman standout went 5-of-17 from the field, committed 5 turnovers, registered a 5-for-11 clip from the charity stripe, scored 16 points and grabbed 10 rebounds.
The Jayhawks’ struggles cannot be assigned to Wiggins alone and yes, even the best have bad nights. Kansas was outhustled, outplayed and outworked in three of four halves in its last two games in the Bahamas.
But Wiggins never grabbed his cape.
Jabari Parker doesn’t have that problem. Duke’s superstar is not flawless. He’s not as athletic as Wiggins. And most NBA general mangers would probably admit that Wiggins has a higher ceiling. But Parker is the better player right now. And it has nothing to do with talent.
They’re both talented. But Parker is more assertive, especially on offense.
He knows exactly who he is every time he steps onto the court. Parker assumes that wins and losses rest on his shoulders. That’s not true, but stars think that way.
They accept the reality that they’ll be accused of playing “hero ball” when those instincts emerge and they fumble in clutch situations. They’re just called heroes when those tactics work.
Even in Duke’s losses, Parker (23.0 PPG, 8.0 RPG and 1.8 blocks per game) was relentless. He should be the No. 1 pick right now on the mock draft boards of smart NBA executives.
But that discussion can wait.
I just wonder if Wiggins knows how good he can be if he just turns those flashes of greatness -- see Wiggins splitting the UTEP defense on Saturday with ridiculous agility and explosiveness on one of the prettiest plays of the evening -- into sustained bursts of brilliance. The kind we all expected when he switched graduating classes and topped Parker to become the unanimous No. 1 recruit in 2013.
Kansas won’t reach its potential if Wiggins falls short of his. And so far, he has.
He’s not the player that he could be.
And a lot of that has to do with the adjustment that every freshman must make from high school to college. Wiggins has to figure out his new teammates. He has to learn their tendencies. He has to gain a better understanding of Kansas coach Bill Self’s system.
And it’s not easy to do that -- even for veterans -- a month into the season.
But there’s no excuse for the imbalanced offensive aggression.
To transition into one of those takeover moments.
It never happened.
Self continues to preach Wiggins’ value to his team and the freshman’s ability to make his teammates better. And he’s right. Wiggins’ sheer fluidity and versatility make life easier on the rest of the Jayhawks.
He draws double-teams and frees up space for Perry Ellis and Joel Embiid. Wiggins can handle the ball, which always makes it difficult for opposing coaches to find defenders who can stay in front of him.
He makes an impact. Just not a constant impact.
Kansas wants to win its 10th consecutive Big 12 crown and a national title. But it won’t get there unless Wiggins plays more like Parker.
The critics will ask for mercy on the youngster. They’ll plead for patience as Wiggins matures. He deserves that. All freshmen do. And he’s off to a good start.
No one, however, faces a higher standard.
Wiggins is a very skilled athlete. He has more potential than any player in the country. And he must prove that consistently in the coming months.
That has nothing to do with the race to be the No. 1 draft pick next summer. The NBA will figure that out.
Wiggins has to be more effective and deliberate, because that’s the only way that the Jayhawks will earn a trip to Arlington, Texas, in April and compete for the ultimate crown. It’s that simple.
Happy holidays, and happy early Wooden Watch. This Tuesday edition of what will for the rest of the season be a Thursday update is brought to you by pumpkin pie, stuffing and the rest of our quirky turkey traditions. You'll be eating and watching football Thursday. So will I, if the weather cooperates. So let's check in on the running Wooden list a couple of days early.
What's changed in five days? Honestly ... not a whole lot. That goes for last week's disclaimer, too: Since we're just now rounding the corner into December, the order of the list below is not really of primary concern. This is a window to the landscape, not a definitive hierarchy, for at least the next few weeks. And with that said:
Marcus Smart, Oklahoma State: If the season ended today, Marcus Smart would be my 2013-14 national player of the year. You likely saw what he did to Memphis last week; you've no doubt heard the ever-more-impressive stories about his leadership and work ethic. But my favorite Smart moment may have come Monday night at South Florida, when he and the Cowboys utterly eviscerated the Bulls with a gusto typically reserved for games against Kansas. Smart scored 25 points with four assists and four steals. He finished inverse post alley-oops, set up Cowboys wings for thundering finishes and even splashed down a 65-foot-or-so buzzer-beater at halftime. It looked like someone in the South Florida crowd had said something to Smart along the way: He was unusually talkative, and even threw up a "shush" sign. And, well, a word to wise fans on the Cowboys' road schedule: Don't do that.
Doug McDermott, Creighton: Another week, another chapter in my book, "Doug McDermott is hilariously efficient," available at all reputable bookstores (note: not really). McDermott has posted a 124.1 offensive rating on 31.9 percent usage and a 37.9 shot rate, the second highest in the country. He's hitting 50 percent from 3, drawing fouls at the usual rate and rebounding the defensive glass as steadily as ever. (Oh, and last week's catch-shoot winner at St. Joe's, which I criminally failed to mention Thursday, is worth watching over and over and over.)
Julius Randle, Kentucky: Randle had his first "off" night against Cleveland State on Monday night, but he still finished with 15 points and 15 rebounds, and his passing out of the block was key to the last-ditch 3-point flurry that helped the Wildcats escape with a win. Good teams will double and triple Randle until UK proves it can knock down 3s consistently, but even if that never happens, he is as dominant a force as any in the game.
Jahii Carson, Arizona State: Save Marcus Smart, no guard has had a better start to the season than Carson, who followed up last week's 40-point effort in a win at UNLV with Monday's 23-point, five-assist performance in ASU's thrilling win against Marquette. There might be two or three defenders in the country capable of keeping Carson out of the lane. If that.
Jabari Parker, Duke: The order of this list isn't a big deal right now, remember, but I went ahead and downgraded Parker a bit this week anyway. But why? Isn't he still pouring in points? Yes. And thrillingly so. But Parker and Rodney Hood's issues on the defensive end for Duke have contributed to the Blue Devils' No. 176-ranked efficiency defense, and Duke gave up 90 points in 65 possessions to Vermont at home Sunday. Russ Smith, Louisville: Louisville took a tough and totally surprising loss to North Carolina on Sunday afternoon; the Tar Heels, especially guard Marcus Paige, looked better than anyone could have expected. But it's hardly time to panic on Smith. He was great individually Sunday, and he'll be great in the weeks to come, too.
Keith Appling, Michigan State: Gary Harris' spot last week is now occupied by Appling, and that says far more about Appling's performance than it does Harris'. The Michigan State point guard has done everything right as a senior thus far: He's shooting far less, and more accurately (57.1 percent from 3, 55.3 percent from 2); he's assisting teammates on nearly 30 percent of his possessions; and he isn't turning it over -- or suffering the long, disengaged stretches of a season ago. What a start.
Aaron Gordon, Arizona: Arizona's team is so balanced, and playing so much more unselfishly on the perimeter with the addition of T.J. McConnell, that it's tempting to give some love to one of the other Wildcats -- McConnell himself, perhaps, or peerless senior shooting guard Nick Johnson. But Gordon remains the focal point on offense, and his athleticism is just flabbergasting.
Shabazz Napier, Connecticut: Early in his fourth season at UConn, Napier officially has every tool in the tool box. Tom Crean talked about this at length after Indiana's close loss to UConn in New York last weekend, and it's totally true: Napier is lights-out on the perimeter whether catching and shooting or off the dribble; he puts defenders in blenders with his ball-handling and versatility; and he keeps the ball moving and his teammates involved. Oh, and he's a blast to watch. A+++ -- would DVR again.
Early honorable mentions: C.J. Fair (Syracuse), Gary Harris (Michigan State), Joseph Young (Oregon), Adreian Payne (Michigan State), Anthony Drmic (Boise State), Chaz Williams (UMass), Yogi Ferrell, (Indiana), Melvin Ejim (Iowa State), Tim Frazier (Penn State), Jordan Adams (UCLA), Roberto Nelson (Oregon State), Kendall Williams (New Mexico), Caris LeVert (Michigan), Cleanthony Early (Wichita State), Marcus Paige (North Carolina) and Casey Prather (Florida)
That is not necessarily an indictment of women's basketball. After all, plenty of collegiate events suffer attendance issues, issues that span gender and type. No one would argue that the women's game is "better" than the men's, but it does have plenty of unique, subtle appeal. Unfortunately, far fewer people care. This is the way of the world. Getting butts in seats requires creativity.
Colorado's athletics department has no illusions on the matter. Even more amusing, it has zero compunction about leveraging what it does have -- in this case, a super-hot men's hoops ticket. Which is how Buffs brass arrived at this genius plan:
The claim process for the Kansas men's basketball game, which takes place on Saturday, December 7 at 1:15 p.m., will take place Wednesday, November 20 at the No. 16-ranked women's basketball team's game against Iowa at 8:30 p.m. at the Coors Events Center.
Students will enter through the southeast entrance of the Coors Events Center beginning at 7:30 p.m. You will swipe your Buff OneCard and receive a wristband, which you will need to keep on. Your wristband guarantees you your ticket to the Kansas game. If you leave the Events Center prior to the conclusion of the game, your wristband will be removed.
To get their Kansas tickets, Colorado students have to go to the court immediately following the women's game, where they can exchange their wristband for a ticket. That's brilliant.
Now, if I was a student and a rabid men's basketball fan at Colorado, would I be especially thrilled? Probably not. Being a student is kind of a busy process, and you're telling me that to attend the best men's hoops game of the year -- when old Big 12 rival Kansas and star freshman Andrew Wiggins come to town -- I have to take two-plus hours out of a separate, totally unrelated night? This would make me kind of angry. Maybe I have an exam that week, and it's dumb for me to go. Maybe I blocked off the one Colorado game I want to make it to this season. Likewise, if I was a player for the Lady Buffs, I'm not sure how I'd feel. More students in seats is great, but do you really want to play to a begrudging crowd?
Ah, well, whatever. It's not like Colorado athletics are making students do a 10K run; they have to sit through two hours of a basketball game they probably weren't planning on attending. At least they don't have to dress up.
(Hat tip: Norlander)
Note: For the first half of this scouting report on the fascinating matchup between Kentucky and Michigan State, click here.
No. 4 Duke vs. No. 5 Kansas, 9:30 p.m. ET, ESPN
A whole new world. And you thought scouting Kentucky-Michigan State was hard.
Sure, the Wildcats are freshmen in short tape supply. But at least they have two games in the books already, twice as many as either Kansas or Duke. And Michigan State is a known quantity. With the Spartans involved, the mental template for how a game might progress is at least within reach; you don't need scattered film to make an educated guess.
Kansas and Duke offer little such luxury.
This is a most unusual state of affairs. Kansas coach Bill Self (for the past decade) and Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski (for the past 246 years) have sustained their respective successes through the classic program-building of yore. Both coaches have taken on one-and-done talents, sure, but they've always leaned on the proverbial "program guys" -- juniors and seniors with reliable, if less rapturous, roles.
It would be silly to overstate the case here, of course; Duke has Quinn Cook (a junior), Rasheed Sulaimon (a heavily used sophomore), Andre Dawkins (a prodigal junior) and even reserve guard Tyler Thornton (a program-guy's-guy senior). Kansas has former Memphis forward Tarik Black (a senior, albeit a newcomer), point guard Naadir Tharpe (a junior) and forward Perry Ellis (a heavily used sophomore). There are familiar faces here. But there are more of the unfamiliar. More to the point, the newcomers are the most crucial pieces on both sides, even this early in the season.
One game is the smallest of sample sizes, to be sure, but that only adds to the difficulty -- and drives home that it's so hard to know what to expect when these two teams take the floor Thursday.
Jabari Parker vs. Andrew Wiggins. Or is it? Speaking of newcomers, it would be silly to ignore the individual matchup this game offers us: The No. 1 player in the loaded 2013 class versus the No. 2; the new Next LeBron James against the player crowned as such on the cover of Sports Illustrated a year ago; Jabari Parker versus Andrew Wiggins, with all eyes on both.
It's entirely possible we'll look back at this game as the start of a personal rivalry akin to that shared by James and Carmelo Anthony early in their NBA careers, if not exactly Bird versus Magic. (Let's not go crazy.) But the immediate upshot is far more concrete: Parker might be the best pure scorer in the country, and Wiggins -- in addition to being good at pretty much everything a basketball player can be good at -- might be the best on-ball defender in same.
At the very least, Wiggins will need to be Tuesday night. If nothing else -- and that's a big "if," because Wiggins can dominate on both ends of the floor -- he'll have to do that. For as small as that sample size is, we have every reason to believe he can. (Just ask Julius Randle.)
The benefit of identity. Wiggins will have to key on Parker not thanks to narrative, or next June's draft, but because Kansas's best shot of beating Duke Tuesday night hinges on it.
Duke, even one game in, has one clear advantage over Kansas: identity. That's a fuzzy term to throw around in a scouting report, I realize, but it's true. The Blue Devils' season opener against Davidson showcased exactly what everyone thought (hoped?) Duke's true calling might be before the season began -- that Coach K would not only field a good team, but a thrilling one; that his group would not only pour in points, but would do so with verve. And that's what exactly what it did in its debut last week, scoring an utterly mental 111 points in 70 possessions in high style. The prophecy was fulfilled. Basketball aesthetes everywhere rejoiced.
This identity is inextricably tied to Parker's versatility. At 6-foot-8, Parker is as comfortable on the perimeter as in the low block; one would seek to avoid the Anthony comparisons were they not so obvious, or so apt. Hood's presence means double trouble in this regard, combining with Parker and Duke's lineup of floor-spreading guards to create a secondary-breaking nightmare.
Kansas, on the other hand, is still very much in search of the I-word. The Jayhawks weren't nearly as impressive in their 80-63 win (in 70 possessions) over Louisiana Monroe on Friday. They were far more disjointed on both ends of the floor. This shouldn't come as a surprise. Self typically has years to concoct the balance of his lineup, to drill his players in the nuances of his hi-low offense and tight man-to-man defense. But with so many young players, Self finds himself in the position -- at least for the moment, and maybe for a month or more -- of hoping the individual talents of Wiggins, Embiid, Selden, Black and the rest are enough to overcome early structural shortcomings.
To do that Tuesday night, Wiggins has to dominate. He has to exert his will offensively, yes, but just as important is his ability to stop Parker at the point of attack, to slow Duke to a more manageable speed, to get the Blue Devils out of their deadly open floor rhythm.
That's a lot to ask of a kid playing in his second career game, but everything -- from the first chapter of the Wiggins-Parker saga to the simple matter of getting out of Chicago with a win -- depends on it.
Now that you know what you need to watch in every conference in the country in 2013-14, we've turned our attention to the theme of change -- from coaching swaps to player development to good old-fashioned rules, and anywhere in between. Today: Bill Self's sudden youth movement.
For starters, let's get this out of the way: Bill Self's success at Kansas is remarkable -- period, that's it, sentence over, the end. Self's Jayhawks have now won or shared nine consecutive Big 12 regular-season titles, a streak that would be crazy in a top-heavy mid-major league but is utterly jaw-dropping in a league like the Big 12. He has won more back-to-back regular-season Big 12 titles than he has lost home games at Allen Fieldhouse. And no, I have no problem doubling down on that stat. It's completely insane.
To dig into the past decade of Kansas rosters is to gaze upon the glories of personnel development. Every season, Self's teams have been a combination of talented youngsters, promising stars and reliable, program-sculpted veterans; every season, players from one group slowly move into the other.
In 2008, when Kansas won a national title, Sherron Collins played 50.2 percent of the Jayhawks' available minutes; in 2009, he was the team's leading scorer. That season, sophomore Cole Aldrich anchored the low block; Marcus and Markieff Morris served as understudies. In 2010, Marcus Morris earned a starting role at power forward alongside Collins, Aldrich, and rare one-and-done freshman Xavier Henry. In 2011, all three players left, and the Morris twins were backed up by an intriguing sophomore named Thomas Robinson. In 2012, after the Morris twins departed, Robinson morphed into a national player of the year candidate, and little-used three-year center Jeff Withey assumed the other frontcourt role. Last season, Withey was the stalwart on the low block, senior forward Kevin Young jumped from playing 27.6 percent of his team's available minutes to starting and seniors Travis Releford and Elijah Johnson joined lottery pick freshman Ben McLemore in the backcourt.
And so on. This is the single defining characteristic of Self's tenure: He has built lineups in the classical style -- developing players from clueless freshmen into All-American-level veterans while adding a dash of raw talent along the way. Every season, his teams are extremely good because every season there's another guy finally ready to make the most of his shot.
Every season, that is, except this one.
It is entirely possible Self has assembled his most purely talented group this season. There's some kid named Andrew Wiggins, and maybe you've heard of him, but there's also Wayne Selden, Joel Embiid, Perry Ellis, Conner Frankamp and Jamari Traylor. Are all of these players good? Yes. Are any of them seniors? No. Well, OK, but are any of them juniors? Also no!
Self has three upperclassmen on his team. They are point guard Naadir Tharpe (who earned his first major, and often shaky, run last season), forward Tarik Black (a graduate-exception transfer from Memphis who arrived in Lawrence just a few months ago) and Justin Wesley (a barely-used redshirt senior). That's it.
Which is what makes this such a completely fascinating season for Kansas beyond the Wigginsanity. For the first team since 2007, Self is coaching a team whose best players are freshmen, whose most reliable returning player (Ellis) is a sophomore, whose lone key senior spent the last three years 500 miles to the east, whose junior point guard remains an open question.
It's a good thing Wiggins and Selden and everyone else are so talented. They better be quick studies. Self Basketball 101 is usually a multiyear course. The advanced seminar is a matter of weeks.
The most controversial selection, if that's even possible, will be Kansas freshman Andrew Wiggins. The last time a freshman -- Harrison Barnes in 2010-11 -- was named to the first-team list, it was a nod to the way the one-and-done freshman had changed the sport. When Barnes struggled ("failed to totally dominate" is probably a better way to put it) in his first season, the whole notion of anointing freshmen came under intense fire. If Wiggins has similar issues -- doubtful, but you never know -- expect the preseason selection to be used as a rhetorical cudgel in every hot sports take on the topic for months to come.
Arguably more surprising is the inclusion of Michigan forward Mitch McGary. McGary's place makes sense: No one played better in March, when McGary finally unleashed the talent that made him a top-five player in his recruiting class for all but his senior season of high school. But the five months before McGary's explosion was mostly pedestrian; even with the tournament thrown in, McGary played just 48.8 percent of his team's available minutes. As late as Michigan's final regular-season game against Indiana, he was being used for little more than a body to absorb (and provoke) contact from Indiana center Cody Zeller. He's bound to regress from his dazzling postseason display. The real question is: How much? (Another reason the selection is surprising: McGary wasn't even the Big Ten's preseason player of the year. That honor went to Michigan State's Gary Harris.)
Louisville guard Russ Smith's inclusion might also be a tad bit startling, but it shouldn't be: Smith was arguably the best player in the country last season, certainly the best and most productive two-way guard, to say nothing of that whole "winning the national title" thing. (Oh, that.) But even then, Smith was just a third-team selection at the end of last season, and he still seemed to be shaking off his reputation as a goofy gunner. It's good to see folks taking Russdiculous seriously.
And then there are the obvious choices. Oklahoma State guard Marcus Smart and Creighton forward Doug McDermott's chances of not being on the preseason list were roughly as good as my chances of earning honorable mention. No further explanation required.
Taken as a whole, the five honorees paint a revealing picture of the season to come. We expect dominance from a lauded, loaded freshman class; we know what we're going to get from established veteran stars; and, as always, we allow perceptions formed during the NCAA tournament to override the months of regular season, and dozens of games, that came before.
These are defining characteristics of any college hoops season, but they are turned up to 11 in 2013-14. If you weren't already aware, this mix of preseason All-Americans should drive the point home. This is going to be a fascinating season.
Here are previews for each team in the Big 12:
Iowa State Cyclones
Kansas State Wildcats
Oklahoma State Cowboys
TCU Horned Frogs (FREE)
Texas Tech Red Raiders
West Virginia Mountaineers
College basketball has had a fascinating decade. In the last seven years alone, we've lived through the NBA age limit, watched the NFL become a dominant cultural force, tracked college football's exploding popularity, rubbernecked as the NCAA's power and prestige melt away, and witnessed a massive shift in conference affiliations and priorities. We've seen the sport slow to a crawl (and scoring tallies descend) even as offenses became more efficient. We've marked how one-and-dones have changed the game. We've marveled at the rise of the mid-major. We've celebrated this new world (Butler!) and recoiled at it (53-41?!). We've been forced to admit that, yes, in a lot of ways, college basketball ain't what it used to be. Different, at least. But still so very good.
Honestly? It's been weird. The NBA's vibrant parallel growth -- built on stars, but also on a more entertaining, open game -- has made talking about college basketball a matter of sensitivity. Say the college game needs to pick up a few stylistic tips from the NBA and college fans go nuts. Say the college game is struggling, and could probably fix a few things schedule-wise or rules-wise or anything-else-wise, and sit back as the defensive Twitter mentions roll in. That game was won on a buzzer-beater! What do you mean it wasn't exciting?! Go watch the NBA then!
That's the hope anyway, but it's well-founded. For starters, the new hand-checking, armbar and charge-call rules approved by the NCAA this summer are part of a major push to open the floor and get rid of brutally physical play. It may mean a lot of free throws in the first few weeks, but if officiating coordinator John Adams executes across the entire sport -- no easy feat, that -- we should see the effects right away. Even something as seemingly subtle as the charge call change (where a defender is no longer allowed to move into position after an opponent begins his upward motion) is a massive step in the right direction. The game should be more entertaining, more like Louisville and Michigan's gift of a national title contest than the historically low-scoring season before it.
Then there are the teams. Oh, the teams! You know how some analysts like to make a habit of proclaiming that there are no "great" teams anymore? This season, there are at least five candidates out of the gate, all of them marquee programs with national name recognition. Tom Izzo has his most well-rounded and talented Michigan State team since ... well, maybe ever. Duke might play its most beautiful basketball ever. Louisville is coming off a national title and, even with Chane Behanan suspended until who-knows-when, returns the best two-way player in the country last season in Russ Smith. Kentucky could be one of the best college basketball teams ever, period. And the ranks below them are loaded with great players (Marcus Smart, Doug McDermott), intriguing programs (VCU, Wichita State) and loads of stylistic diversity.
And then there is Kansas. And then there is Andrew Wiggins.
If all of the above were true, and Wiggins wasn't so naturally gifted at the game of basketball, I'd still hold the highest of hopes for the coming season. But his presence, like Batman's, changes things. It has sent, and will send, NBA franchises racing to the bottom. It brings everyone to the table: NBA fans fostering obsessions; causal observers who'd normally just wait for March; that dude you know who only watches the NBA when LeBron James is playing; GIF enthusiasts; people who don't care about basketball at all. You name it. College basketball can often be confused for a niche sport. Sometimes it is. Not this season. Not with Wiggins. If the monoculture still exists, it will be watching.
What that means for Wiggins himself -- a shy, reserved kid who seems equal parts bemused and exhausted by all the attention -- is yet to be seen. As Smart said recently, the burden of proof is impossibly high. But if Wiggins is even 60 percent of what everyone who has ever watched him play the game says he is, then he is the marquee attraction in a sport suddenly chock full of them.
At worst, it is going to be a very fun year. At best, it's the dawn of a new era. How's that for expectation?
A lot of us -- and by "us" I mean any college basketball fan (or writer) inclined to (or paid to) offer their tepid predictions for the 2013-14 season -- will pick Wiggins as the preseason player of the year despite zero college hoops evidence to support it. Plenty of people still haven't seen Wiggins play period. No matter how good a recruit is, and Wiggins is as good as any, visiting this kind of expectation upon a freshman comes with a huge amount of risk. (And yes, in this instance, the "risk" mostly amounts to "being heckled on Twitter." But still.)
The freshman could struggle with a new role. He could take a month or two to assert himself. He could just flat-out not be as good as everyone thinks. None of this is likely in Wiggins' case, but it's certainly possible. You never really know.
"They are saying he is the best college player there is and he has not even played a game yet," Smart said. "Of course that hypes me up. It is all talk. He still has to put his shorts on one leg at a time like I do. It is all potential. I am not saying he can't do it. But he has not done it yet.
"I wouldn't say he is overrated," Smart said. "I would just say there is a lot of pressure on him right now. He is under a microscope from the world that is bigger than anybody would think, bigger than he knows. Whatever he does will be magnified times a million, just because of the hype. Whatever he says, does, however he acts."
This might be the biggest factor in Wiggins' season: Coming to terms with the spotlight foisted upon him. Whereas Smart entered college 18 going on 35 -- where he embraced the attention and backed it up with die-hard gym work and leadership -- Wiggins arrives at Kansas the kid still hoping he can just play basketball and be left alone. In high school, Wiggins' attempts to remain low-key were charming, a refreshing contrast to most high-profile recruits. At the college level and beyond, there is no escaping the glare. So when Smart says something like this ...
"I am not going to back down from any challenge. Like I said, you are going to have to prove to me. I am a fighter; I will keep fighting and will never give up."
... or this ...
"I want to earn it, I don't want anything given to me," Smart says. "It has not been [given] at all. I want to work for what I have. If feel if you work for what you have instead of it being just given to you, people respect you a lot more because you understand what it takes, you've been there and done it. No one can just say it was easy because you took it. You didn't just get it. You took it. So all the power and credit to him [Wiggins]. Congratulations for the Sports Illustrated, all the hype, congratulations to him. But that's definitely a lot of pressure on him."
... you can almost see him hunched over in a defense stance, clapping his hands, smiling at Wiggins as Gallagher Iba rattles at the hinges around him. At this point, Wiggins' entry into the sport has been so feted that even the most celebrated players in the game are circling their calendars. He will get everyone's best shot.
Is he talented enough to win anyway? Without question. Is it a guarantee? For so many of the reasons that make basketball so fascinating, no. Not even close.
We’ve officially judged and juried every nonconference schedule.
Kudos to the teams that had the nerve to schedule bravely. Your just rewards could come in March, when the selection committee recognizes the merits of playing tough opponents, even if there’s a risk of a loss.
And shame on those who scheduled meekly. Enjoy the NIT.
Now, it’s time to play Armchair Scheduler -- or King/Queen of the Basketball Universe, whichever title floats your boat -- and offer up 15 nonconference games that won’t be played this year, but we wish would be:
Kansas vs. Missouri: Let’s just file this under an annual request. One of the greatest rivalries in college basketball ought to be played this year, next year and every year. We don’t care who left what conference. We don’t care who’s angry. This is like two divorcing parents sparring over the china with the kids stuck in the middle. Here the two schools’ fan bases and fans of the game in general are the kids. So hire a good mediator, work this out and play ball.
Georgetown vs. Syracuse: See Kansas-Missouri argument above. The two teams here at least have agreed that continuing the rivalry at some point is a good idea and it appears a multiyear contract is imminent, but there’s nothing yet on the schedule. Let’s fix that. Soon.
Kentucky vs. Indiana: Ibid. Or is it op. cit.? Whatever, reference the Kansas-Missouri, Georgetown-Syracuse arguments cited above. Two states separated by a river. Great rivalry. Lousy excuses. Figure it out.
North Carolina vs. Raleigh News & Observer: The Tar Heels’ crimes, misdeeds and lack of punishment have been well documented in the news media, but nowhere as thoroughly and as well as at the local newspaper. The staff at the N&O has been relentless and thorough in its coverage. We suggest a game of H-O-R-S-E (with the African-American studies department excused from judging) at the Newseum to settle this once and for all.
Harvard vs. Duke: Smart school versus smart school. Mentor versus mentee. Easy storylines for reporters. What’s not to like about this matchup? Not to mention it would feature two top-25 teams and give the Crimson a chance to show how good they really are.
Kansas vs. Kentucky: Yes, we will get to enjoy Kansas (Andrew Wiggins) versus Duke (Jabari Parker) in Chicago, but we’re selfish. We’d like to see Wiggins go up against Kentucky, one of the schools he spurned. Not to mention it might be fun witnessing what could essentially be a freshman All-American game, with Wiggins, the Harrison twins, James Young, Julius Randle and Joel Embiid together on one floor.
Florida Gulf Coast vs. Georgetown: Let’s see if the slipper still fits when last season’s Cinderella goes rematch against its Madness victims, the Hoyas. Georgetown doesn’t have Otto Porter anymore and Greg Whittington is hurt, but hey, Dunk City lost its drum major when Andy Enfield headed to USC. Seems about even.
Michigan vs. Notre Dame: No one would dare call Mike Brey a chicken, would they? The two schools called the football rivalry quits this year amid acrimony and an endgame Wolverine chicken dance, but maybe the basketball schools can extend the olive branch and play for the first time since 2006.
Michigan State vs. Duke: Tom Izzo may not want to see the Blue Devils very often -- he’s 1-7 against Duke in his tenure -- but this game never disappoints. The two schools have met nine times and only twice, in 2003 and in 1958, has it been a blowout. The two have gone head-to-head over top recruits, including Jabari Parker, and come into the season as top-10 locks.
Memphis vs. Arizona: Josh Pastner revisits his coaching roots in a game that will answer the biggest question facing the Wildcats -- how good is point guard T.J. McConnell? If the Duquesne transfer can handle the Tigers’ onslaught of Joe Jackson, Geron Johnson, Chris Crawford and Michael Dixon, he can handle everything.
Louisville vs. Oklahoma State: You like good guard play? Imagine this one. Russ Smith, Chris Jones, Terry Rozier (and maybe Kevin Ware) against Marcus Smart, Markel Brown and incoming freshman Stevie Clark. The coaches would be miserable -- with Rick Pitino going up against his own beloved point guard, Travis Ford -- but the rest of us would enjoy it tremendously.
Oregon vs. Creighton: This game stacks up on merit, not just on the storyline of Dana Altman facing his old squad. With Doug McDermott back in the fold, the Bluejays are legit. Their schedule is less so, a sort of meandering plunder of nonconference nothingness. Adding the Ducks, a team Altman has reconstructed, and his impressive backcourt would be helpful. And OK, old coach/old school is fun.
New Mexico vs. Florida: The Gators already have a pretty impressive nonconference slate, but hey, what’s one more? This one would be a nice tussle between pretty skilled, albeit different, big men in Alex Kirk and Patric Young. Kirk enjoyed a breakout season last year, but facing Young would be a real test of the 7-footer’s abilities.
2. Tyler Roberson isn’t listed on the Syracuse website roster yet, but he has been cleared to play. And that’s great news for Syracuse and the attempt to unseat ACC favorite Duke in the first year of being in the league. "He’s obviously a good player," said Syracuse coach Jim Boeheim of the 6-7 forward from Union, N.J. "He gives us some depth at forward with C.J. [Fair] and Jerami [Grant]. It gives us three athletic, quick forwards. We’re excited about that." Boeheim said the news Roberson is eligible has bigger ramifications. "Long-range, that’s the key," said Boeheim of a replacement for Fair once he’s done with his eligibility in the spring of 2014. "Next year, he’ll be really, really good by then. He’s a really good player. He’s pretty quick."
3. Utah State has a rarity of hosting two schools from power conferences in USC (Pac-12) and Mississippi State (SEC) in Logan this season -- the first for the Aggies in the Mountain West. The series with the Bulldogs is a two-for-one that coach Stew Morrill wasn’t thrilled with but will do. The Aggies went out to Starkville in 2012 (lost by two), get the Bulldogs in Logan this season after the series took a year off under new coach Rick Ray and will go back next season. The USC game was as a result of the Aggies going to USC -- Sept. 21 -- in football. "My AD (Scott Barnes) asked that if we do that could we get a home and home in basketball," said Morrill. The series was supposed to start last season in Logan but former USC coach Kevin O'Neill said he needed to put it off a year but then would play the opener this season. O’Neill then got fired. "I told him there was a hefty buyout to move it back a year and that the buyout doubled," said Morrill. "Andy (Enfield) got the job, and there was a $150,000 buyout on this game." Utah State opens up with USC at home Nov. 8 and will return the game next season. "People have no idea how hard it is to get games," said Morrill. Utah State has kept the BYU series in Salt Lake City on a neutral court. Utah has put off playing Utah State and Morrill said he would only play the Utes in a home-and-home situation.
In a sports world full of clumsy, inane analogies to armed conflict, the Border War -- the centurylong rivalry between Kansas and Missouri -- legitimately deserved its designation. The Jayhawks and Tigers first met on the gridiron in 1891, just 36 years after a perfectly real, horribly violent border war broke out between pro-slavery Missouri and abolitionist Kansas, as The New York Times recounts:
In 1855, Missourians crossed the border in droves to vote in the first Kansas election, and 6,000 votes were somehow cast by a total voting population of 2,905 to elect a proslavery government. New Englanders opposed to slavery organized to send settlers, money and guns to the antislavery residents there. Amos Lawrence, a New England textile magnate whose name was given to the city where the University of Kansas now stands, helped ship hundreds of rifles to aid the fight against the “border ruffians” from Missouri and the proslavery settlers in Kansas.
It did not take long for violence to erupt. On May 21, 1856, parts of Lawrence were destroyed when Missourians marched on the town with five cannons in tow. A day later, Senator Charles Sumner of Massachusetts was beaten almost to death on the floor of the United States Senate by a Southern congressman upset by Sumner’s speech, “The Crime Against Kansas.” A week later, John Brown and several abolitionists hacked five proslavery Kansans to death with swords.
Today, when you check in to a hotel in Kansas City, those senseless horrors are impossible to fathom. But the up-close-and-personal violence -- neighboring cities burning, rival bands of "Jayhawkers" fighting to the death, dignitaries beaten to a pulp on the Senate floor -- is really only a handful of generations removed from present day. People still remember. They just express themselves differently.
For example: In April 2012, the morning of Kansas' national title showdown with Kentucky, the morning announcements at an elementary school in tiny Lee's Summit, Mo. -- a 20-minute drive from the Kansas border -- included the Jayhawks' fight song. In roughly 99 percent of the country, that would be seen as a small, token gesture toward regional sporting spirit. In Lee's Summit, it was a slap in the face:
“As a parent of two and a taxpaying resident of the Lee’s Summit R–7 School District, I am shocked and disappointed that there was an apparent attempt to indoctrinate Lee’s Summit school children to be KU fans at Trailridge Elementary this week,” said Brian Yates, a former state representative and graduate of the University of Missouri, at the time. “Playing the KU fight song or any college fight song over the intercom in a publicly funded elementary school is unacceptable.”
Indoctrinate! Another example: In 2011, the town of Osceola, Mo., passed a citywide resolution condemning the Jayhawks' nickname, which it saw as a "celebration of this murderous gang of terrorists by an institution of ‘higher education’" in a "brazen and malicious manner."
A couple of weeks ago, apropos of nothing, a Lawrence resident who had stumbled upon that old school-announcements chestnut sent me an email. He felt obligated to explain:
People that have not grown up in this area have no real understanding of this rivalry between MU and KU. To quantify it with words just diminishes the intensity of it.
This was never a sports rivalry. This was hatred that is taught and bred into the youth on both sides of the border. […] The memories are vivid and each side has their version of what "really" happened.
People along the border communities of Kansas and Missouri murdered each other at will. Bands of men from Missouri would ride into Kansas and indiscriminately kill men, women and children and so did bands of men from Kansas as well as Union forces into Missouri. This didn't happen once or twice. This occurred regularly for 8 years before the Civil War and then throughout the Civil War. It doesn't matter which side won, the Union or the Confederacy. For us it never ended.
We don't like them and they don't like us. That's the way it was, is, and will be.
In 2012, after more than 120 years of expressing their fans' intense distaste for the Kansas Jayhawks at least once a year, the Missouri Tigers left the Big 12 for the SEC. The two played three more times in the 2011-12 season, each game more thrilling than the last. And then, just like that, it was over. Kansas basketball coach Bill Self, his blue-blooded program having been made suddenly vulnerable by Big 12 turmoil, loudly proclaimed that he didn't see the need to play Missouri anymore.
"I will say this," Self said in 2011, when Missouri announced its impending move. "The media is not going to dictate who we play. I’ll dictate who we play as long as I’m coaching here. I have no ill will toward Missouri at all, but to do something at a time that could be so damaging and hurtful to a group, I can’t see us just taking it and forgetting."
The two schools haven't played since. There are no future plans to do so. The Border War, at least for basketball purposes, is dead. How powerful is conference realignment? That's how.
Syracuse and Georgetown never shared that kind of immense historical baggage. (Thankfully, because sheesh.) The SU-GU distaste was sparked in purely sporting terms: When John Thompson Jr. "closed" Manley Field House in 1980, ending the Orangemen's 57-game win streak in the last game in the building, Syracuse fans boiled over. Their hatred of Georgetown might not have been preceded by a decade of Civil War-era violence, but it is a product of shared cultural memory. No one talks about Manley Field House like that.
In the 30 years since, both programs have won titles and been consistent national powers. Thompson's mid-'80s teams brimmed with "Hoya Paranoia"; Jim Boeheim's 2-3 zone made him the second-winningest coach of all time; and the rivalry blossomed into the Big East's best and most reliable fixture, the marquee matchup in the country's marquee hoops attraction.
In 2013, those two teams played their last game as co-members of the Big East. Syracuse was headed to the ACC, set to be part of a new marquee basketball league; Georgetown had found refuge in the new Big East, a smaller, basketball-only assemblage. For the most part, conference realignment avoided drastic changes to the status quo. It hasn't been as bad, or as crazy, as we all thought. But it did kill the Border War. Now, it had taken Syracuse-Georgetown, too.
That's why this news is so very exciting. Syracuse and Georgetown are in talks to keep their rivalry alive, with the most prominent option being a 10-year, rotating home-and-home contract being enthusiastically pushed by Boeheim and Syracuse athletic director Daryl Gross. There are still plenty of details to iron out, of course. Georgetown still needs to accept and hasn't commented. There are modern, real-world concerns to attend to: Will the logistics of each team's schedule line up? Does Georgetown get as much out of the game as Syracuse, which very much enjoys the chance to play in downtown Washington, one of the hottest recruiting hotbeds in the country?
But all of that stuff is minor, even petty. The fact is, Syracuse and Georgetown have a chance to do what Missouri and Kansas couldn't: keep a storied, cherished rivalry alive in the face of shifting conference allegiances. They have a chance to set a precedent for what appears to be a future of pretty much nonstop conference changes. League affiliations might come and go, but rivalries deserve to stand the test of time.
Kansas and Missouri had that once. Syracuse and Georgetown, thankfully, are doing their best not to lose it.
10) NORTH CAROLINA
Toughest: Hall of Fame Tipoff (Nov. 23-24), at Michigan State (Dec. 4), Kentucky (Dec. 14)
Next-toughest: Texas (Dec. 18)
The rest: Oakland (Nov. 8), Holy Cross (Nov. 15), Belmont (Nov. 17), at UAB (Dec. 1), UNC Greensboro (Dec. 7), Davidson (Dec. 21), Northern Kentucky (Dec. 27), UNC Wilmington (Dec. 31)
This schedule's overall strength hinges on the Hall of Fame Tipoff. If the Tar Heels meet Louisville in the "championship" of that two-game event at the Mohegan Sun in Uncasville, Conn., their nonconference schedule will thus include what seem sure to be, in some order, the Nos. 1, 2 and 3 teams in the country to start the season -- national title favorites (or co-favorites) all. Without that Louisville game, though, the Heels still have to go to the Breslin Center for the ACC/Big Ten Challenge; they still have that massive matchup with Kentucky on Dec. 14; and they still have some very good mid-major programs (Oakland, Belmont, Davidson) lying in wait on the rest of the docket. It's a good schedule, with a strong chance to be great.
Toughest: vs. Baylor (Nov. 8 in Dallas), Harvard (Nov. 24), Kansas (Dec. 7), vs. Oklahoma State (Dec. 21 in Las Vegas)
Next-toughest: Wyoming (Nov. 13), at Colorado State (Dec. 3), Georgia (Dec. 28)
The rest: UT Martin (Nov. 10), Jackson State (Nov. 16), Arkansas State (Nov. 18), UCSB (Nov. 21), at Air Force (Nov. 30), Elon (Dec. 13)
In relatively short order, Tad Boyle has turned Colorado into a program that expects to play NCAA-tournament-level basketball on a yearly basis, and with that improved status, the ability -- and a willingness -- to build tough schedules has followed. (Boyle surely took heed in 2011, when his otherwise worthy squad was left out of the tournament thanks to its atrocious nonconference schedule.) The result is what you see above, which is highlighted by huge games against former Big 12 foes Kansas and Oklahoma State, complemented by games against a talented Baylor group and the loaded, experienced Crimson. (Which, yes, is a really weird phrase to write.) The good news, at least in real-world wins and losses terms, is that none of those games is a true road visit, plus almost all of the second-level opponents Colorado will face (Wyoming, Air Force, Colorado State, Georgia) are retooling.
Toughest: at Wisconsin (Nov. 12), at UConn (Dec. 2), Kansas (Dec. 10), Memphis (Dec. 17)
Next-toughest: Florida State (Nov. 29)
The rest: North Florida (Nov. 8), Arkansas-Little Rock (Nov. 16), Southern (Nov. 18), Middle Tennessee (Nov. 21), at Jacksonville (Nov. 25), Savannah State (Dec. 9), Fresno State (Dec. 21), Richmond (Jan. 4)
Wisconsin's vaunted home advantage took a bit of a hit last season when Virginia beat the Badgers at their own deliberate game in Madison. But no matter: The Kohl Center is still an especially difficult place to play, particularly for nonconference visitors, and Dec. 2's trip to UConn won't be all that much easier. Florida State looks likely to be down, but Richmond could prove a quality second-tier opponent. Memphis' experienced backcourt could be a particularly tricky matchup. And of course there is the gem of the schedule, that Dec. 10 date against Kansas, that gives much of its heft.
Toughest: vs. Michigan State (Nov. 12 in Chicago), at North Carolina (Dec. 14), Louisville (Dec. 28)
Next-toughest: Baylor (Dec. 6 in Arlington, Texas), vs. Providence (Dec. 1 in Brooklyn), Boise State (Dec. 10)
The rest: UNC Asheville (Nov. 8), Northern Kentucky (Nov. 10), Robert Morris (Nov. 17), Texas-Arlington (Nov. 19), Cleveland State (Nov. 25), Eastern Michigan (Nov. 27), Belmont (Dec. 21)
John Calipari's skill at assembling and unleashing brilliant young ensembles will meet its toughest test this season, as his certifiably insane freshman class -- which, by way of reminder, boasts five of the top nine, and six of the top 25, players in the 2013 class -- will have exactly two tuneups (UNC Asheville and Northern Kentucky) before facing Tom Izzo's vastly more experienced national title contender at the Champions Classic on Nov. 12. The Wildcats also have to travel to UNC, and to Jerryworld for Calipari's much-touted "event" versus Baylor. But by far the biggest game on UK's schedule -- and the biggest game of the season, period -- against hated rival and defending national champion Louisville, comes in the comfy old confines of Rupp Arena.
Toughest: at San Diego State (Nov. 14), NIT Season Tip-Off (Nov. 27-29 in New York), at Michigan (Dec. 14)
Next-toughest: UNLV (Dec. 7)
The rest: Cal Poly (Nov. 8), Long Beach State (Nov. 11), New Mexico State (Dec. 11), Southern (Dec. 19), Northern Arizona (Dec. 23)
The NIT Season Tip-Off is not like most early-season events, where the marquee teams' participation is guaranteed no matter what happens in the early preliminary pods. But assuming the supremely talented Wildcats handle business at their own host site and get through their semifinal matchup (over Alabama or Rutgers) in New York, they're likely to square off against Duke on Nov. 29 in Madison Square Garden. Sean Miller also nets some bonus points for picking up two good old-fashioned straight-up noncon road games -- no preseason event affiliation required. The trip to San Diego State means going up against The Show, which, no thanks; the journey to Ann Arbor means a date with the reloaded national runners-up.
Toughest: Puerto Rico Tip-Off (Nov. 21-24), at Duke (Dec. 3), Arizona (Dec. 14)
Next toughest: at Iowa State (Nov. 17), vs. Stanford (Dec. 21 in Brooklyn)
The rest: UMass Lowell (Nov. 8), South Carolina State (Nov. 12), Coppin State (Nov. 29), Houston Baptist (Dec. 7), Holy Cross (Dec. 28)
With Kansas State, VCU, Georgetown (and even Charlotte and Long Beach State) in the field, the Puerto Rico Tip-Off is one of the stronger nonconference events this season. The aforementioned fixture against Arizona in Ann Arbor is highly intriguing, and Hilton Coliseum is never a particularly inviting place to play. And then there's that trip to Duke -- as tough a road trip as any in the country.
Toughest: vs. Kansas (Nov. 12 in Chicago), NIT Season Tip-Off (Nov. 27-29), Michigan (Dec. 3), vs. UCLA (Dec. 19 in New York City)
Next-toughest: Davidson (Nov. 8)
The rest: Florida Atlantic (Nov. 15), UNC Asheville (Nov. 18), East Carolina/Norfolk State (Nov. 19), Vermont (Nov. 24), Gardner-Webb (Dec. 16), Eastern Michigan (Dec. 28), Elon (Dec. 31)
Duke's 2013-14 nonconference slate could have ranked even higher on this list were it not for the fact that the Blue Devils don't have an actual road game in the mix. Even so, the fact remains they'll play Kansas, Michigan, UCLA and possibly Arizona before the new year, which is as deep a docket of high-end matchups as any schedule in the country.
Toughest: vs. Oregon (Nov. 8 in South Korea), at Kansas (Dec. 21), vs. Michigan State (Feb. 1 in New York)
Next-toughest: Puerto Rico Tip-Off (Nov. 21-24)
The rest: Wright State (Nov. 13), Lipscomb (Nov. 30), High Point (Dec. 5), Colgate (Dec. 7), Elon (Dec. 17), Florida International (Dec. 28)
"Short of matching up with Kentucky in Kabul," our own Dana O'Neil wrote Monday, "I’m not sure how John Thompson III could have made his schedule much more daunting." I'll co-sign that statement. Georgetown's participation in its landmark Armed Forces Classic game against Oregon in South Korea (the first regular-season college basketball game to be played in Asia since 1982, when Ralph Sampson and Hakeem Olajuwon took their talents to Tokyo) is brutal for sheer logistical reasons alone. The Puerto Rico Tip-Off offers potential matchups against VCU and Michigan; the Hoyas travel to Kansas before the holiday break; and they save a nonconference appearance for Feb. 1, Super Bowl Sunday, against Michigan State in Madison Square Garden.
Toughest: at Oklahoma State (Nov. 19), Old Spice Classic (Nov. 28-Dec. 1 in Orlando, Fla.), vs. Florida (Dec. 17 in New York), Gonzaga (Feb. 8)
The rest: Austin Peay (Nov. 14), Nicholls State (Nov. 23), Northwestern State (Dec. 7), Arkansas-Little Rock (Dec. 13), Southeast Missouri State (Dec. 21), Jackson State (Dec. 28)
Ranking these schedules is always a bit of a subjective exercise. Much of the perceived strength comes from our educated guesses about the season ahead, guesses that prove incorrect as often as they come true. It also asks us to weigh entire early-season tournaments and the matchups therein, and hey, how are we supposed to know whether Memphis will meet Oklahoma State in the Old Spice Classic final? We can't. But I'm awarding credit to the Tigers for a schedule that could include two matchups with the Cowboys, the first in Stillwater on Nov. 19, the second just two weeks later, on Dec. 1. That requires both teams to advance that far, sure, but the potential is too intriguing to consider an alternative. If you have to play Marcus Smart twice in two weeks, your schedule is hard, man. End of story.
Toughest: vs. Duke (Nov. 12 in Chicago), at Colorado (Dec. 7), at Florida (Dec. 10), New Mexico (Dec. 14), Georgetown (Dec. 21), San Diego State (Jan. 5)
Next-toughest: Iona (Nov. 19), Battle 4 Atlantis (Nov. 28-30 in Nassau, Bahamas)
The rest: Louisiana-Monroe (Dec. 8), Towson (Nov. 22), Toledo (Dec. 30)
Kansas is the lone exception to the rule governing this list. How do I mean? The other nine schedules you see are different by degrees, and subtle ones at that -- a road trip vs. a neutral site event, a quality second tier, that sort of stuff. Kansas stands apart. No one else makes the most of the two months preceding conference play: The Jayhawks have just two true cupcakes on their docket (Iona and Towson are plenty talented, and you likely will see them in March). The rest of the slate is populated by a combination of elite fixtures (the Andrew Wiggins-Jabari Parker matchup at the Champions Classic just needs to get here already, please), brutal road games (at Colorado, at Florida), very solid home fixtures (New Mexico, Georgetown, San Diego State) and a high-quality exempt tournament (the Battle 4 Atlantis) which contains Tennessee, Villanova and Iowa among its potential upset threats.
Especially interesting? This is not a normal Kansas season. Most years, Self would unveil a schedule like this (though rarely this tough) to a crop of veteran, experienced, developmentally ripened veterans. This year, he will lead an almost entirely new batch of young players -- featuring Wiggins, yes, but also classmates Wayne Selden, Joel Embiid, Brannen Greene and Conner Frankamp -- into the breach. Watching how that team develops and congeals in the early months is going to be highly intriguing, far more so than any argument about who has the best schedule in the country. That debate should be settled.
Toughest: vs. Colorado (Nov. 8 in Dallas), Maui Invitational (Nov. 25-27), vs. Kentucky (Dec. 6 in Arlington, Texas)
Next-toughest: South Carolina (Nov. 12), Southern (Dec. 22)
The rest: Louisiana-Lafayette (Nov. 17), Charleston Southern (Nov. 20), Hardin-Simmons (Dec. 1), Northwestern State (Dec. 18), Oral Roberts (Dec. 30), Savannah State (Jan. 3)
Toughness scale (1-10): 7 -- The Bears will try to beat Kentucky for the second season in a row when they take on the Wildcats at the mammoth AT&T Stadium -- home of the Dallas Cowboys. Catching a freshman-laden Kentucky squad early in the season is ideal for the Bears. Baylor also will have a chance to avenge last season’s loss to Colorado in the Charleston Classic. Scott Drew’s squad meets the Buffaloes as part of a season-opening tripleheader at American Airlines Center in Dallas. Baylor has an excellent shot of getting to the title game in Maui. The Bears open against Chaminade and will likely face a vulnerable Gonzaga squad (the Zags lost Kelly Olynyk and Elias Harris) in the semifinals. A victory in that contest could result in a showdown against Syracuse in the championship game.
Toughest: Michigan (Nov. 17), at BYU (Nov. 20), Iowa (Dec. 13)
Next-toughest: vs. Northern Iowa (Dec. 7 in Des Moines), Diamond Head Classic (Dec. 22-23, 25 in Honolulu)
The rest: UNC-Wilmington (Nov. 10), Texas A&M-Corpus Christi (Nov. 12), UMKC (Nov. 25), Auburn (Dec. 2), Northern Illinois (Dec. 31)
Toughness scale (1-10): 6 -- The Cyclones play just one true road game, but it’s a tough one, as BYU touts one of the best home courts in the country. The Cougars should be pretty salty, too, after reaching the semifinals of the NIT last spring. No game on the schedule, though, jumps out quite like Iowa State’s home tilt with NCAA runner-up Michigan, who returns many of the key pieces from last season’s squad. Hilton Magic will have to be in full effect if the Cyclones, who are incorporating a plethora of new faces, are to have a chance against the Wolverines. Iowa State opens the Diamond Head Classic against George Mason and will likely play either Akron or Oregon State in the semifinals. Don’t be surprised if Fred Hoiberg’s squad ends up in the title game against Boise State.
Toughest: vs. Duke (Nov. 12 in Chicago), at Colorado (Dec. 7), at Florida (Dec. 10), New Mexico (Dec. 14), Georgetown (Dec. 21), San Diego State (Jan. 5)
Next-toughest: Iona (Nov. 19), Battle 4 Atlantis (Nov. 28-30 in Nassau, Bahamas)
The rest: Louisiana-Monroe (Dec. 8), Towson (Nov. 22), Toledo (Dec. 30)
Toughness scale (1-10): 10 -- There may not be a team in America with a slate as difficult as the one staring at Andrew Wiggins and the Jayhawks. Duke and Florida are both top five-caliber teams, and Kansas faces each of them away from home. Even more daunting is that both games occur extremely early in the season, when a team featuring as many as six freshmen in its rotation will still be trying to find itself. New Mexico, Georgetown and San Diego State will each take a minor step back from last season, but they should all still be excellent teams, especially the Lobos. Kansas opens the Battle 4 Atlantis against Wake Forest and will play either USC or Villanova in the second round. Event organizers are surely hoping for a title game featuring the Jayhawks against either Tennessee or Iowa. Even nonconference opponents such as Iona, Towson and Louisiana-Monroe will be in the mix for an NCAA tournament berth.
Toughest: Puerto Rico Tip-Off (Nov. 21-22, 24), vs. Gonzaga (Dec. 21 in Wichita, Kan.)
Next-toughest: Long Beach State (Nov. 17), Ole Miss (Dec. 5)
The rest: Northern Colorado (Nov. 8), Oral Roberts (Nov. 13), Central Arkansas (Dec. 1), South Dakota (Dec. 10), Troy (Dec. 15), vs. Tulane (Dec. 28 in Brooklyn, N.Y.), George Washington (Dec. 31)
Toughness scale (1-10): 4 -- This is a pretty disappointing slate, especially considering how good the program has been over the past five or six years. Other than a tilt with Gonzaga in Wichita -- which will basically be a K-State home game -- the Wildcats don’t have a single opponent on their nonconference schedule that raises an eyebrow. The one exception would be Ole Miss, but the Rebels lost most of the key players from last season’s NCAA tournament team. The Wildcats open the Puerto Rico Tip-Off against Charlotte and will play either Georgetown or Northeastern the following day. Michigan, VCU and Florida State are on the other side of the bracket, so the potential for a game against another top team exists. Still, the defending regular-season Big 12 co-champs should have scheduled a few more marquee games.
Toughest: vs. Alabama (Nov. 8 in Dallas), Coaches vs. Cancer Tipoff (Nov. 22-23 in Brooklyn, N.Y.)
Next-toughest: vs. George Mason (Dec. 8 in Washington, D.C.), vs. Texas A&M (Dec. 21 in Houston), Louisiana Tech (Dec. 30)
The rest: North Texas (Nov. 11), Idaho (Nov. 13), Arkansas-Little Rock (Dec 29), Mercer (Dec. 2), Texas A&M-Corpus Christi (Dec. 5), Tulsa (Dec. 14), Texas-Arlington (Dec. 17)
Toughness scale (1-10): 3 -- Not a lot of games on this docket that do much for the excite-o-meter. At least not when it comes to nonconference play. That’s probably a good thing for the Sooners, who may be in for a “transition year” following the loss to standouts such as Romero Osby, Steven Pledger, Andrew Fitzgerald and Amath M’Baye. Alabama will be tough to beat, but it’s certainly a game the Sooners could win. Lon Kruger’s squad will also be tested when it travels to Brooklyn for the Coaches vs. Cancer Tipoff. If Oklahoma gets by Seton Hall in the first round, it would likely play Michigan State the following night. Some media outlets have ranked the Spartans No. 1 entering the season.
Toughest: Memphis (Nov. 19), Old Spice Classic (Nov. 28-29, Dec. 1 in Orlando. Fla.), vs. Colorado (Dec. 21 in Las Vegas)
Next-toughest: at South Florida (Nov. 25), South Carolina (Dec. 6), vs. Louisiana Tech (Dec. 14 in Oklahoma City)
The rest: Mississippi Valley State (Nov. 8), Utah Valley (Nov. 12), Arkansas Pine-Bluff (Nov. 15), Delaware State (Dec. 17), Robert Morris (Dec. 30)
Toughness scale (1-10): 6 -- This is definitely an improvement from last season, when the Cowboys earned a ranking of “3” in this category. Like Oklahoma State, Memphis is a potential top-10 team with one of the top backcourts in the country. The two squads could actually end up meeting twice, as Memphis is also in the Old Spice Classic. Oklahoma State opens that tournament against Purdue and will face Butler or Washington State in the next round. Beating Colorado on a neutral court also won’t be easy, especially if talented Buffs guard Spencer Dinwiddie can neutralize Marcus Smart. It still would’ve been nice to see a few more high-profile games -- and a few more true road contests -- for a team that features three potential first-round NBA draft picks.
Toughest: vs. SMU (Nov. 8 in Dallas), at Washington State (Nov. 24)
Next-toughest: Great Alaska Shootout (Nov. 27, 29-30), at Mississippi State (Dec. 5)
The rest: Longwood (Nov. 12), Abilene Christian (Nov. 19), Texas Pan-American (Dec. 15), Grambling State (Dec. 19), Tulsa (Dec. 21), Texas Southern (Dec. 29)
Toughness scale (1-10): 3 -- This would be a terrible schedule for a program that was experiencing a moderate amount of success. But considering TCU won just two Big 12 games last season, this is the perfect slate for the Horned Frogs as they try to rebuild. Second-year coach Trent Johnson didn’t schedule the type of Top-25 squads that will shatter his team's confidence. But he also didn't produce a schedule so weak that it wouldn’t challenge his team as it continues to grow. SMU could contend for an NCAA tournament berth and, even though Washington State has struggled in recent seasons, Pullman is a difficult place to play. Tulsa and Texas Southern are both solid teams, and Mississippi State was making huge strides at the end of last season.
Toughest: CBE Classic (Nov. 25-26 in Kansas City), at Temple (Dec. 7), at North Carolina (Dec. 18), Michigan State (Dec. 21)
Next-toughest: Mercer (Nov. 8), Vanderbilt (Dec. 2)
The rest: Stephen F. Austin (Nov. 15), UT-Arlington (Nov. 29), Texas State (Dec. 14), Rice (Dec. 30)
Toughness scale (1-10): 8 -- Rick Barnes always puts together one of the toughest schedules in the country, and this season is no exception. Michigan State is an NCAA title contender, North Carolina could open the season in the top 10, and Temple is never easy to beat on the road. The Longhorns will also play high-scoring BYU in the CBE Classic, and with a win, would likely be pitted against Final Four participant Wichita State in the title game. But Texas lost its top four scorers from last seasons’s 16-18 squad and didn’t recruit as well as it has in years past. In other words, this is the worst possible season to be playing such a grueling schedule. It’ll be interesting to see if the Longhorns (and Barnes) can survive.
Toughest: at Alabama (Nov. 14), at Arizona (Dec. 3), LSU (Dec. 18), at Arizona State (Dec. 21)
Next-toughest: South Dakota State (Nov. 21), Legends Classic (Nov. 25-26 in Brooklyn, N.Y.)
The rest: Houston Baptist (Nov. 8), Northern Arizona (Nov. 11), Texas Southern (Nov. 18), Texas-San Antonio (Nov. 29), Central Arkansas (Dec. 15), Mount St. Mary’s (Dec. 30)
Toughness scale (1-10): 8 -- First-year coach Tubby Smith can’t be pleased with the schedule he inherited from former Red Raiders coach Chris Walker. This is way too difficult of a slate for a program that’s in rebuilding mode. It clearly wasn’t thought out well at all. True road games against Alabama, Arizona and Arizona State and a home tilt with a vastly improved LSU squad? That’s a daunting chore, especially considering TTU is in the Legends Classic with quality opponents such as Pittsburgh, Stanford and Houston. Texas Tech returns nearly all of its key pieces from last season and could make some huge strides under Smith. Unfortunately, the Red Raiders’ confidence could take a hit before Big 12 play ever begins.
Toughest: at Missouri (Dec. 5), Gonzaga (Dec. 10), Purdue (Dec. 22)
Next-toughest: at Virginia Tech (Nov. 12), Cancun Challenge (Nov. 26-27), vs. Marshall (Dec. 14 in Charleston, W. Va.)
The rest: Mount St. Mary’s (Nov. 8), Duquesne (Nov. 17), Georgia Southern (Nov. 21), Presbyterian (Nov. 23), Loyola (Dec. 2), William & Mary (Dec. 29 in Charleston, W. Va.)
Toughness scale (1-10): 6 -- The 2012-13 season was one of the worst of Bob Huggins’ career, but the Mountaineers are hoping a standout recruiting class led by power forwards Devin Williams and Elijah Macon -- as well as the return of leading scorer Eron Harris -- helps change their fortunes. There are certainly some opportunities to build confidence early. Missouri and Gonzaga are both incorporating new pieces and may not be crisp in early December. Purdue should be improved, but West Virginia will have revenge on its mind after last season’s 79-52 embarrassment in West Lafayette, Ind. West Virginia opens the Cancun Challenge against Old Dominion and could play Wisconsin the following day.
You should, because it's going to happen. The flood is coming. And it's not just a basketball flood or a mainstream sports thing. It's going to go wider than that. It's going to get cultural.
Why? Kentucky is why. Julius Randle is why. Jabari Parker is why. And more than any other, Andrew Wiggins is why.
How do I know this? Because this already happened:
That's a quick Instagram video of Wiggins posing for a photo shoot for GQ. GQ, if you don't know (you do, but just in case) is not a sports magazine. It is a very general interest men's fashion and culture magazine that spends most of its time writing about male movie stars, aspirational fashion, overpriced hair products and shoe trees. It only rarely spends its time on sports, and only then when something (or someone) achieves some measure of crossover recognition.
As our friends at NBC note, Wiggins hasn't even participated in a full practice with Kansas, let alone played in a game. But here he is, modeling KU's new jerseys, doing the double-palm thing required of every basketball player during photo shoots. Unlike Rob at NBC, I don't see amateurism undertones at work here; amateur athletes pose for magazines all the time.
No, this is more revealing of what this upcoming season has in store. NBA fans are going to tack their obsession onto Wiggins and Parker and Randle, and even the most casual, mainstream sports fans are going to tune in to see the "next LeBron James" (which, just wait, someone will say it). Our quiet, peaceful little college hoops neighborhood is about to be overrun with TV cameras straining for shots of the new neighbors. It's going to be pretty crazy around here for a while.