Kansas-Rhode Island Preview
Since Rhode Island already knocked off one ranked team, Kansas coach Bill Self knows his squad didn’t catch a break in its opener to bracket play of the Orlando Classic.
Having bounced back from their first defeat, the No. 11 Jayhawks face the undefeated Rams on Thursday.
Off to its best start since winning the first four in 2009-10, Rhode Island (3-0) won 66-62 in overtime at home over then-No. 21 Nebraska on Saturday to snap a 26-game losing streak against Top 25 opponents.
"We obviously didn’t get an easy draw for the first game," Self said.
The Rams haven’t defeated two straight ranked opponents since winning four in a row in 1997-98, ending that stretch with an 80-75 victory over the second-ranked and top-seeded Jayhawks in the second round of the NCAA tournament.
Rhode Island won’t have the comfort of its home court for this game, but the neutral site offers a solid chance to pull off another upset while riding the momentum of its latest triumph.
”It was a huge win for the program and for our players,” coach Dan Hurley said. ”They work so diligently. Their preparation was so great.
"Obviously, we’ve got a lot of work to do. We’ve got a huge, huge tournament against one of the best teams in the country. We’re going to have a game plan that’s going to give us a chance to be in the mix with them."
After holding Division II Pace University and UMass-Lowell to 36.4 percent shooting, Rhode Island proved its worth by limiting the Cornhuskers to 36.8 percent – including 3 of 20 from 3-point range – and outrebounding them 49-36. The Rams shot 34.4 percent, but guard E.C. Matthews scored 26 and pulled down 10 boards.
"They attack the glass, very active," Self said. "They’re a good team."
So were the Jayhawks (2-1) on Monday as they bounced back from a 72-40 loss to top-ranked Kentucky by beating Rider 87-60. Perry Ellis and Brannen Greene each scored 17 as Self used his third different starting lineup and Kansas shot 59.6 percent after going 11 of 56 from the field against the Wildcats.
Self said the change in starters has as much to do with what happens off the court than on it. Only Ellis, Frank Mason III and Wayne Selden have started each game.
"I’d like to see us settle in on a starting five, but I have a hard time starting guys who are late to tutoring," Self said. "Hopefully we’ll tighten some things up because if we let them go now, I know it’s going to be something that will haunt us later."
Averaging a team-leading 11.3 points, Ellis regrouped nicely after finishing with four on 1-of-6 shooting against Kentucky.
"I’ve got to continue being aggressive and just keep doing what coach wants us to do," said Ellis, the team’s top returner who averaged 13.5 points and 6.7 rebounds last season.
Highly touted freshman guard Devonte’ Graham is expected to return after he missed Monday’s game with a shoulder injury. He scored 14 in a 69-59 win over UC Santa Barbara but was held without a point in 14 minutes against Kentucky.
Kansas won the most recent meeting with the Rams, 80-69 on Dec. 30, 2006.