KU basketball's real test starts with conference play

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

— Marcus Morris begins his third Big 12 season tonight in Hilton Coliseum, so he is well acquainted with the difference between the nonconference and conference seasons.

When the playing-dumb question “Which would be tougher, going undefeated in nonconference or the Big 12?” was sent his way, he crushed it with an expression that made him look as if he had just tasted motor oil.

“Oh, the Big 12, definitely,” he said. “We face a lot tougher teams.”

Nobody is in denial about the reality that starting tonight, everything changes, and nobody is in denial that just because Kansas University is 15-0, that doesn’t mean the team is where it needs to be to be taken seriously as a contender for what would be its second national title in four seasons.

Asked to rate the team’s performance to this point, Markieff Morris nailed his answer as if it were an overtime three-pointer.

“I would say it was OK,” Markieff said after Sunday’s 67-60 overtime road victory against Michigan. “We could have played better a whole lot of games, this one included. We snuck out a few, but going 15-0 in nonconference is good.”

Good, not great.

KU played a number of teams that face tough schedules, which inflates the Jayhawks’ RPI, but most of those schools are experiencing down years. KU did prove it can win close games, a good sign against any competition.

Forty-seven schools received at least one vote in the latest Associated Press college basketball poll. Kansas has played one of those 47, No. 38 Arizona. Whereas KU didn’t play against a team in the top 37, exactly half of its 16 Big 12 games will come against teams ranked in the top 32.

Three of those will be played on the road: Monday at Baylor, Feb. 14 at Kansas State, March 5 at Missouri. The dates of the five biggest threats to the home-court winning streak: Jan. 22 vs. Texas, Jan. 29 vs. K-State, Feb. 7 vs. Mizzou, Feb. 21 vs. Oklahoma State and March 2 vs. Texas A&M.

It seems like decades ago that 10 conference coaches gave first-place votes to K-State in the preseason poll. It was such a strange pick at the time it almost seemed as if the coaches forgot that it’s Baylor’s Scott Drew and not the Wildcats’ Frank Martin many seem to shun as an outsider.

So far, next to Texas Tech and Oklahoma, KSU ranks as the biggest disappointment in the conference. Here’s how the coaches rounded out their picks: 2. Kansas, 3. Texas, 4. Baylor, 5. Missouri, 6. Texas A&M, 7. Texas Tech, 8. Oklahoma State, 9. Colorado, 10. Nebraska, 11. Oklahoma, 12. Iowa State.

With the benefit of the nonconference season and a few Big 12 games, here’s a better guess as to how the standings could look heading into the conference tournament at the Sprint Center:

  1. Kansas, 2. Texas, 3. Baylor, 4. Texas A&M, 5. Missouri, 6. Oklahoma State, 7. Kansas State, 8. Colorado, 9. Iowa State, 10. Nebraska, 11. Oklahoma,12. Texas Tech.

A stab at the all-conference team: Alec Burks (Colorado), LaceDarius Dunn (Baylor), Jordan Hamilton (Texas), Marcus Morris (Kansas) and Jacob Pullen (K-State).