LAWRENCE, Kan. — Kansas coach Bill Self freely admits he is to blame for the nearly monthlong trek that his young, impressionable bunch of Jayhawks is trying to weather early in the season.
After all, he is the one who signed off on the schedule.
It seemed like a good idea back when he was piecing it together. The Jayhawks would start by hitting the Bahamas for a tournament during the Thanksgiving weekend, and then play tough road games against Colorado and Florida before facing New Mexico in Kansas City, Mo.
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Now, after a sluggish three games at the Battle 4 Atlantis, the No. 6 Jayhawks are trying to catch their breath with a trip to the high altitude of Boulder, Colo., up next.
“I don’t know who did our scheduling. I don’t really understand,” Self said facetiously. “It’s probably not the wisest thing to have done. But you know what? We’ll come together. The Atlantis trip didn’t serve its purpose for coming together, so hopefully we’ll do a much better job in Boulder.”
Saturday’s matchup isn’t going to be easy for the Jayhawks, either, like so many were when the Buffaloes were still members of the Big 12. Colorado is off to an 8-1 start on the season.
“We’re familiar with them, and I’m sure they are with us,” said Self, whose team routed Colorado at Allen Fieldhouse last year. “But they’ve got a nice team. They’ve won eight in a row. They should be confident. They’ve won away from home, and it’ll be a tough game, very tough. But fun.”
After that comes a date with the No. 15 Gators (6-1) as part of the Big 12-SEC Challenge, and then the Jayhawks’ now-annual game at the Sprint Center against the Lobos (6-1)
Throw the current road trip on top of beating then-No. 4 Duke in Chicago in their second game of the season, and it’s hard to imagine the Jayhawks (6-1) having a more difficult opening schedule. The lost in the Bahamas to Villanova.
“You know, this is one thing about my guys that I need to be careful of,” Self said. “Guys, it’s a marathon, and you’re going to have games where you don’t play your best. The key is to win the games where you don’t play your best, and we didn’t do that one time against a top 20 team on a neutral floor. And with young kids it’s going to happen.”
Self is hopeful that all the road games will help prepare one of the youngest teams that he’s ever had at Kansas for the rigors of Big 12 play.
Already, star freshman Andrew Wiggins has gone through plenty of growing pains, and fellow first-year players Wayne Selden, Joel Embiid and Connor Frankamp are also learning on the fly.
“We don’t consistently play with the sense of urgency that teams here in the past have played, would probably be the best way to put it,” Self said. “A lot of that is our veterans need to do a better job of educating our younger guys on exactly what level you have to play at all the time.
“The UTEP game was a great example,” Self said of the third-place game in Atlantis. “We didn’t play great against UTEP, but they scored 18 points the last 1:49 off of guys just not concentrating.”
That’s not going to work when the Jayhawks dive into the Big 12, which features three other ranked teams in No. 9 Oklahoma State, No. 17 Iowa State and No. 20 Baylor. By the time Kansas returns to Allen Fieldhouse to play Georgetown on Dec. 21, it will have been nearly a month since it played its last game in the friendly confines.
The Jayhawks will have traveled more than 3,000 miles on their brutal road trip.
“You’ve got to win at home. I mean, it’s a home game. That’s what you’re supposed to do,” Self said this week, “but going and beating somebody else in their building, where the deck is supposedly stacked against you from a crowd standpoint, I think is what would spur me on. That’s what we need to make sure spurs our players on.”