The 2021-22 season is shaping up as a bounce back campaign for some blue blood programs, and while Kansas didn’t slip far at all compared to Duke or Kentucky last season, there is certainly room for the Jayhawks to make a resurgence. As usual, their nonconference schedule is packed with intriguing matchups that will give a deep, revamped roster some opportunities to shine.
Last year’s squad opened with 102-90 loss to Gonzaga but got nice wins over Kentucky and Creighton in nonconference play before getting blown out by Tennessee in the Big 12/SEC Challenge. All four of those games were against opponents ranked in the top-20 at the time, which made Kansas’ nonconference schedule one of the nation’s tougher slates amid the limitations of the COVID-19 pandemic.
This time around, the Jayhawks have compiled a similarly challenging nonconference slate. With a solid returning nucleus and the addition of the nation’s No. 8 recruiting class along with a star transfer guard in Remy Martin, KU should be poised to take a step forward and again be a national title contender.
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Here’s a look at Kansas’ full 2021 nonconference schedule with the Big 12 schedule to be announced at a later date:
Nov. 9: vs. Michigan State (Champions Classic)
Nov. 12: Tarleton State
Nov. 18: Stony Brook
Nov. 25-28: vs. Alabama, Belmont, Dayton, Drake, Iona, Miami (Fla.) and North Texas in ESPN Events Invitational (Orlando, Florida).
Dec. 2: at St. John’s (Big East – Big 12 Battle)
Dec. 7: UTEP (Kansas City)
Dec. 11: Missouri
Dec. 18: Stephen F. Austin
Dec. 21: at Colorado
Dec. 29: Harvard
Jan. 29: Kentucky (SEC/Big 12 Challenge)
Let’s dissect the schedule more closely by ranking the Jayhawks’ five most challenging non-conference games — ranked countdown style.
Dec. 21 at Coors Events/Conference Center in Boulder, Colorado
2020-21 record: 23-9
Coach: Tad Boyle
In another clash between former big 12 foes, Kansas will play at Colorado, which is coached by former KU guard Tad Boyle. The teams last met in 2013, when the Buffaloes snagged a 75-72 victory. This is almost guaranteed to be a Quadrant 1 opportunity for the Jayhawks since the game is on the road.
4. Michigan State
Nov. 9 Champions Classic at Madison Square Garden in New York
2020-21 record: 15-13
Coach: Tom Izzo
The all-time series is tied 7-7, so it’s only fitting that the tiebreaker will take place on a neutral court. Kansas has won the last two in the series, including a 2018 neutral site game and a 2017 second-round NCAA Tournament team. The Jayhawks should be favored in this one, too, as the Spartans try and recover from a First Four exit out of last season’s NCAA Tournament.
3. ESPN Events Invitational
Nov. 25-28 at HP Field House in Kissimmee, Florida
Possible opponents: Alabama, Belmont, Dayton, Drake, Iona, Miami and North Texas.
A potential matchup against Alabama is too good not to mention here, although the Jayhawks and Crimson Tide figure to be pitted on opposite sides of the bracket. The field is solid all-around as well as Drake, Iona and North Texas were also NCAA Tournament teams last season. Dayton and Belmont are typically solid and Miami figures to be one of the ACC’s top turnaround teams. Regardless of the draw KU gets, it will get some quality games.
Dec. 11 at Allen Fieldhouse in Lawrence, Kansas
2020-21 record: 16-10
Coach: Cuonzo Martin
The long-awaited renewal of the basketball Border War is finally on after it was wiped out last season due to the COVID-19 pandemic. These former Big 12 rivals have not played — aside from a 2017 exhibition — since Missouri’s last season in the Big 12 back in 2012. That game went to overtime with Kansas emerging an 87-86 winner. The rematch has been a long time coming and should make for a raucous atmosphere at Allen Fieldhouse.
Jan. 29 at Allen Fieldhouse in Lawrence, Kansas
2020-21 record: 9-16
Coach: John Calipari
Considering their shared heritage as college basketball elites, it’s a bit surprising that Kentucky owns a 22-10 lead in the all-time series. But Kansas has won four of the last five and gets the Wildcats at home this season as part of the SEC/Big 12 Challenge. After getting blown out at Tennessee in last year’s challenge, the Jayhawks should be plenty motivated to make it a good showing in what figures to be the event’s marquee matchup.