Moments and milestones to watch as Kansas basketball prepares to tip off the 2020-21 season this week
Now that it’s officially game week for the 6th-ranked Kansas men’s basketball program, let’s dive in to a few facts, stats and reasons to watch that will help shape the upcoming season.
• KU is slated for two games this week — 12:30 p.m. Thursday vs. No. 1 Gonzaga and 1 p.m. Friday vs. Saint Joseph’s — but we won’t know for sure that they’re playing until both teams are on the floor in Fort Myers.
Duke, which was scheduled to open its season against Gardner-Webb on Wednesday already found that out when it had to cancel the opener because of a positive COVID-19 test within the Gardner-Webb program.
The Jayhawks have been fantastic throughout the preseason with regard to how serious they’ve taken the pandemic and how strictly they’ve stuck to the rules that they now must follow. But that Duke situation is a reminder that every game this season will involve two teams (not to mention officials) and the chances of playing are only as good as both teams make them, not just how the Jayhawks operate.
Because Gonzaga is another elite program and because this is a high-profile game, I think the odds are still terrific that KU will play on Thursday.
But several programs across the country are currently in quarantine or have had to hit pause on their practices. And Baylor coach Scott Drew and Tennessee's Rick Barnes just recently announced that they had tested positive, bringing some uncertainty to the early part of the schedule for the 2nd-ranked Bears and 12th-ranked Volunteers, both of which appear on KU's 2020-21 schedule.
As much as any zone defense or imposing opponent, the COVID-19 pandemic is going to play a major role in the upcoming season no matter how prepared a program believes itself to be.
• Because of their strong finish to the 2019-20 season, the Jayhawks enter the 2020-21 season riding a 16-game winning streak, which is tied for the third longest stretch of consecutive victories during head coach Bill Self’s time in charge of the program.
The longest winning streak in the Self era was 20 games, set, not surprisingly, by the 2007-08 national championship team.
After that, Self guided the Jayhawks to winning streaks of 18 games three different times (2016-17, 2012-13 and 2010-11) and 16 games one other time, from the end of the 2007-08 season to the start of 2008-09.
Winning five in a row to open the 2020-21 season to set a new KU record would be an impressive achievement given the quality of the opponents on KU’s schedule.
Not only would it include victories over Gonzaga and St. Joe’s this week in Fort Myers, but it also would include a win over Kentucky next week in the Champions Classic in Indianapolis.
The Jayhawks likely will be heavy favorites against St. Joe’s on Friday, against Washburn on Dec. 3 and North Dakota State on Dec. 5.
And the Gonzaga and Kentucky games, though tough, are certainly both winnable. If they can get all five of those, the Jayhawks will be sitting at 21 in a row (a new best under Self) heading into a Dec. 8 clash with Creighton.
• Speaking of streaks, the Jayhawks also carried over a road winning streak into the 2020-21 season, having won the final 10 games away from home last season.
The longest road winning streak under Self is 11 in a row during both the 2006-07 and 2007-08 seasons, so the Jayhawks will be within reach of tying that mark when they go to Lubbock, Texas, on Dec. 17 for their first true road game of the season.
After that, the Jayhawks’ next true road game is scheduled for Jan. 5 at TCU.
A lot could change between now and then on the schedule, but if it doesn’t, those two games could be worth watching as Kansas looks to add to its streak of recent road success.
• With four fewer games on the 2020-21 schedule than originally planned, this next milestone became a little harder in the offseason. But it’s still worth noting.
Self is just 21 wins shy of cracking the Top 25 on the all-time list for Division I coaching victories.
The KU coach set to begin his 19th season at Kansas enters the season with an all-time coaching record of 708-214, with 501 of the victories and just 109 losses coming at Kansas.
According to a note from Kansas Athletics, Jerry Tarkanian and Norm Stewart sit in a tie for 24th on the current list with 729 DI victories in their storied careers.
If the KU schedule plays out in full, a 21-6 regular season would move Self into a tie with those two, while 22 victories or more would put him in 24th all by himself.
Self, who ranks 7th in victories among active coaches with those 708 victories, is also just 12 wins shy of passing KU legend Phog Allen, who finished his career with 719 victories.
• As for team streaks, records and accomplishments, the Jayhawks will look to extend two of their own NCAA records during the upcoming season.
Later this season, KU will look to make it 31 NCAA Tournaments in a row, dating back to the 1989-90 season.
The Jayhawks also will be gunning for 25 wins or more for a 16th consecutive season, which would extend their current NCAA record of 15 straight seasons with 25 wins.