With their 3-point victory over No. 17 Villanova on Saturday at Allen Fieldhouse, the top-ranked Kansas Jayhawks picked up their third Top 25 win in just nine games so far this season.
According to KenPom.com, those victories, along with several other factors, put KU’s strength of schedule as the second best among major Division I programs through Sunday, at No. 6 in the nation, with only Purdue (4th) ranking higher.
Texas Southern, Alabama State and Middle Tennessee rank first through third, with St. Francis (Pa.) in fifth, Alcorn State in seventh and Gonzaga, Long Beach State and Eastern Washington rounding out the Top 10.
While all but two of those teams have losing records, each is benefiting from playing what KenPom refers to as Tier A games, or those that come against the Top 50. Tier B games are those that come against the Top 100. Both designations factor in where a given game takes place.
However, a deeper look at the Jayhawks’ schedule compared to those nine other teams surrounding them, shows that Kansas is not only playing tough competition, but also defeating it.
In beating Michigan State, Marquette, Tennessee and Villanova during the first six weeks of the 2018-19 season, the Jayhawks (9-0) have as many Tier A wins as those nine other tough-schedule survivors combined.
Both Gonzaga (9-2) and Texas Southern (4-6) have two Tier A wins apiece, while the rest of KenPom’s 10 toughest schedules are 0-29 combined against Tier A opponents, including Purdue, which is 6-5 overall but 0-4 against Virginia Tech, Florida State, Michigan and Texas — all teams that rank at No. 31 or better in KenPom’s overall rankings.
So what does all of this mean? Nothing that we didn’t really already know. As is the case most seasons, KU continues to take on the best competition it can schedule in nonconference play and begins crafting its strong postseason resume well before the calendar turns to January.
Perhaps the most incredible thing about this KU start, however, is that it has come despite the Jayhawks being forced to operate without key contributors in well over half of their games, be it because of injury, slump or individual struggles.
As a result, no one associated with this team believes the unbeaten Jayhawks have come anywhere close to playing their best basketball yet.
“Yeah, we definitely haven’t,” said senior guard Lagerald Vick after Saturday’s win over Villanova. “But we’ve had different guys step up different nights. We’ve got to keep learning and keep practicing. We’ll get there. Next man up. We practice and go over situations like this and we just have to stay prepared.”
Added KU coach Bill Self: “I don’t think we’ve played great, by any stretch, but we played a lot better today (vs. Villanova) than we’ve been practicing. So I’m optimistic, very, leaving out of here knowing that there is a gear we can get to that hasn’t been apparent on a daily basis and we’ve got to get more consistent with that, but I like our team.”
KU’s next opportunity to add to its collection of Tier A wins will come Saturday when the Jayhawks play their first true road game of the year at No. 20 Arizona State, which sits at No. 42 in the KenPom rankings, with a strength of schedule rating of 153rd through Sunday.
Before that, the Jayhawks at 7 p.m. Tuesday will host South Dakota, which, at No. 167 in the KenPom rankings, is one of two remaining games on KU’s schedule that features a matchup against a team ranked outside of the Top 65.
The Jayhawks, who are expected to retain their No. 1 ranking in Monday’s new AP poll, fell from No. 2 to No. 3 in KenPom’s rankings despite Saturday’s win over Villanova.
Duke and Virginia currently hold the top two KenPom spots.