Initial reaction to KU's 2017-18 Big 12 Conference schedule
We’ve known about the marquee games for a while now — KU vs. Kentucky in the Champions Classic in Chicago; KU vs. Syracuse in Miami in early December; a return to Nebraska in mid-December and Arizona State and Washington in Lawrence and Kansas City.
But on Thursday, the Big 12 Conference released the second half of KU’s schedule, with all 18 conference games now with known dates and times.
While a lot can change over the course of a season, and, remembering that things don’t always go as predicted, it’s worth noting that what we perceive to be true today might not wind up being that way as the season plays out.
But, with that in mind, here’s my initial reaction to KU’s Big 12 Conference schedule for the 2017-18 season, which opens Dec. 29 on the road at Texas.
Most exciting game: I think you have to look at Feb. 17, Kansas vs. West Virginia at Allen Fieldhouse. The clear-cut Big 12 favorite against the clear-cut top contender. It’s a Saturday evening game and it will mark the first time since KU’s improbable and incredible comeback win over the Mountaineers at home last season that the two schools will hook up at Allen Fieldhouse. The Mountaineers will be looking for revenge from that utter collapse and the Jayhawks, no doubt, will give WVU their full attention. Runner-up: I really like KU opening Big 12 play in Austin, Texas, against a super-talented (on paper) Shaka Smart team in what figures to be a fun environment on a Friday night.
Toughest stretch: There’s a four-game stretch, starting Feb. 6 and ending Feb. 17 that could be a bear. Four games in 11 days against the likes of TCU, Iowa State, Baylor and West Virginia. The Baylor and Iowa State games are on the road and TCU — which, oh by the way, beat a Josh Jackson-less KU in the Big 12 tournament last year — West Virginia proved to be two of KU’s toughest outs at home last season. Beyond that, the back-to-back road games on Saturday at Baylor and on Tuesday at Iowa State are the only time the entire season that KU will play two true road games in a row. There are two other two-game spurts away from Allen Fieldhouse this season — Dec. 2 against Syracuse in Miami and Dec. 6 against Washington in Kansas City, Mo., and Dec. 21 against Stanford in Sacramento and Dec. 29 at Texas in the Big 12 opener — but only one of those four games is a true road game.
Easiest stretch: Frankly, if anyone in the Big 12 has its eye on ending the Jayhawks’ consecutive Big 12 title streak this season, they better do the heavy lifting early. The way I see it, KU’s easiest stretch on this year’s conference schedule is the four-game run that ends the regular season. Yes, two of the four games are on the road. And, sure, Stillwater, Okla., is always a tough place to win. But at Texas Tech and at OSU aren’t nearly as scary this season as they have been in the past and when you sprinkle in home games against Oklahoma and Texas in there, it’s hard to see the Jayhawks slipping in their final four games. That means, even if the Jayhawks somehow stumble out to a 9-5 record in their first 14 Big 12 games, a 13-5 record is still easily within reach and that should at least win a share of the league yet again.
Toughest game: I don’t think there’s any question that this is Monday, Jan. 15 at West Virginia. Talented team in a Big Monday environment with a hostile crowd in a building where the Jayhawks have lost four in a row. Ending their losing streak in Morgantown will be one of the toughest tasks the Jayhawks face all season.
Easiest game: I’ll go with Saturday, Feb. 3 vs. Oklahoma State. Not only are the Cowboys picked to finish at or near the bottom of the Big 12 standings this season, they’re also rebuilding with a new head coach and a bunch of new faces in new roles. Add to that the fact that the Saturday game follows a Big Monday match-up with Kansas State at home — so KU will get a full week of rest, recovery and preparation — and you’re looking at a perfect set up for an easy home win.
Overall takeaway: This schedule is about as good as KU could ask for. Opening on the road is never easy, but the fact that it’s Texas, which fields a ton of impressive talent, should get their attention. After that, when you look at just about every spot on the schedule where a tough game might give KU trouble, trouble is nowhere to be found and those slots are filled either with favorable home games or bottom-half opponents. Consider one more advantage for the boys in crimson and blue. After getting their tougher road games out of the way early on, four of their final five games away from Allen Fieldhouse are against teams projected to finish toward the bottom of the Big 12 standings. Kansas should like this schedule a lot and should definitely feel good about making a run to Big 12 title No. 14 in a row.