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Kansas puts together another loaded non-conference schedule

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Kansas, perhaps the preseason No. 1 team in college basketball next season, will also have one of the nation’s best non-conference schedules. The Jayhawks officially released the dates for their non-conference games late last week as it includes high-major heavyweights and some talented conference regular-season champions.

The season opens on Nov. 6 with a matchup in Indianapolis against Michigan State in the Champions Classic before the Jayhawks enter the Preseason NIT. The opening home games are against Vermont and Louisiana before Kansas potentially plays Louisville, Marquette or Tennessee in Brooklyn.

Stanford and defending national champion Villanova will also travel to Lawrence while Kansas will host New Mexico State in Kansas City. And a return trip to Arizona State, after the Sun Devils beat Kansas at home last season, will also be on the radar on Dec. 22.

With a lot of talent transfers and a deep freshman class, Kansas becoming an intriguing potential No. 1 team when senior Lagerald Vick surprisingly returned to the team after opting out of the 2018 NBA Draft. Kansas has the depth and overall talent to be a national champion this season. This non-conference schedule will be a good indicator of what this team’s ceiling might be with a lot of early challenges.

Lagerald Vick’s return to Kansas gives Jayhawks perimeter threat

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Kansas announced on Friday that guard Lagerald Vick will return for his senior season after Vick initially declared his intentions to go pro on April 6th.

The surprising return of the 6-foot-5 Vick, a starter on last season’s Kansas Final Four team, is a major boost for a team that was already considered No. 1 in the NBCSports.com Preseason Top 25. With Vick back in the Kansas lineup, it gives the Jayhawks a proven double-figure scorer who also doubles as the team’s best returning perimeter shooter.

And that perimeter shooting could be a huge difference for Kansas this season.

With a mostly new-look perimeter that will include Cal transfer Charlie Moore, sophomore Marcus Garrett and freshmen Devon Dotson and Quentin Grimes, Kansas has a lot of talent in the mix on the perimeter. It was also going to be perimeter shooting that was a major question mark among that group.

Moore should be a plus perimeter shooter, but Garrett was only 26 percent from distance last season. Dotson and Grimes are more effective as downhill attacking guards. With Vick back in the mix, it reduces pressure on those guards — as well as the incoming Lawson brothers. Vick is there to knock down perimeter shots since he is ideal as knockdown-shooting wing. Vick shot 37 percent from three-point range each of the past two seasons after a 47 percent clip as a freshman. He can make shots and get on rolls.

While the late return of Vick makes for an interesting minutes dilemma for head coach Bill Self, now he has one of his deepest teams ever at Kansas. This team has multiple backups capable of playing good minutes next season and they shouldn’t worry at all about depth after last season’s issues.

If Vick can knock down perimeter shots and provide more floor spacing then it makes Kansas that much more dangerous in the Big 12 and national title race. Vick will be the only senior on the Jayhawks next season, and his unexpected return gives Kansas even greater pressure to make a title run if he knocks down perimeter shots like he’s capable of.

West Virginia working to find new starting backcourt

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West Virginia has become a perennial top-25 threat over the last several years. This season’s roster will have major question marks in the backcourt after four-year players like Jevon Carter and Daxter Miles Jr. moved on to the NBA.

Carter and Miles helped morph the Mountaineers into “Press Virginia” as head coach Bob Huggins used the two guards to create havoc for other teams. Now that Carter and Miles are gone, it creates the intriguing future of West Virginia’s future backcourt.

The West Virginia Gazette Mail’s Mitch Vingle detailed some of the Mountaineers’ roster dilemmas in speaking with Huggins earlier this week. The Mountaineers should have its interior and frontcourt in place as Sagaba Konate, Esa Ahmad and Wes Harris are all returning starters. Lamont West also started the first half of last season while Ahmad was sitting out a suspension as he provides another talented option on the wing.

But West Virginia’s backcourt has health question marks and a lot of newcomers they are working with right now. Carter said last season that Brandon Knapper was the hardest guy he played against. But Knapper is trying to return from a pulmonary episode. Reserve guard Beetle Bolden is also dealing with a high ankle sprain that has limited him this summer in workouts.

That leaves newcomers like Trey Doomes, Jermaine Haley, Emmitt Matthews and Jordan McCabe to compete with reserve guard Chase Harler for spots in the starting lineup and the rotation. West Virginia might have lost its two leading scorers from last season, but they might be a deeper team in the next few seasons because of some talented recruiting classes entering the mix. It gives the Huggins press additional athleticism and reinforcements.

“I kind of want to see guys play,” Huggins said to Vingle. “I want to see what they can do, what their strengths are… I mean, obviously we know about the returning guys. But it’s a whole lot different watching guys on the AAU circuit or in a junior college game to what goes on here. They’ll find that out certainly.”

Sounds like West Virginia’s new backcourt is a pretty open competition right now as Huggins tries to see if anyone steps up while Knapper and Bolden are limited or out.

Regardless of who ends up starting, the Mountaineers have enough frontcourt depth and overall talent to be rated as the No. 20 team in the NBCSports.com Preseason poll.

Bruce Weber receives contract extension at Kansas State

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Kansas State and head coach Bruce Weber have agreed to a two-year contract extension, according to a release from the school.

After leading the Wildcats to a surprising Elite Eight appearance in March, Weber will be the head coach at Kansas State through the 2022-23 season, which gives him another five seasons to work with. Weber will be paid $2.5 million in 2018-19 and he’ll receive a $100,000 increase to his salary in each remaining contract year.

Weber had already signed a two-year extension in August 2017, but this move gives the veteran head coach more job security (and positive recruiting perception) for the next few seasons.

“We are very fortunate to have not only such an outstanding basketball coach but also a man in Coach Weber who conducts his program with integrity and class and is widely respected across the nation,” Kansas State Director of Athletics Gene Taylor said. “Certainly last season was one of the most memorable postseason runs in our program’s history, and we are excited for next season and the years ahead under Coach Weber’s leadership.”

With Kansas State returning most of its roster from last season, including the return of guard Barry Brown from the 2018 NBA Draft process, expectations are sky-high for Weber and the Wildcats this season. Currently ranked as the No. 8 team in the NBCSports.com Preseason Top 25, Kansas State’s veteran club could give Kansas a serious run for a Big 12 regular season title this season.

Texas Tech loses starting big man Odiase for up to 6 weeks

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Texas Tech took a huge blow to its interior depth this week as head coach Tubby Smith confirmed on his radio show that starting big man Norense Odiase is expected to miss the next six weeks with a broken bone in his foot.

The 6-foot-9 Odiase broke his fourth metatarsal in a win over TCU this week and he is expected to spend the next three weeks in a cast before being reevaluated. Starting in all 17 games for the Red Raiders this season, Odiase averaged 9 points and 4.4 rebounds per contest in 19.5 minutes per game. Although he doesn’t put up huge numbers, Odiase has been a steady interior presence for a Texas Tech team that doesn’t have much depth up front.

Without Odiase in the lineup, head coach Tubby Smith will likely rely on reserves like junior forward Matt Temple or other options that have seen more regular rotation minutes like sophomore forward Zach Smith and junior forward Aaron Ross.

Texas Tech sits at 12-5 and is hoping for some upsets in Big 12 play to spring an NCAA tournament bid, this is not a good sign of the Red Raiders making that postseason run happen.

No. 11 West Virginia upsets No. 1 Kansas

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West Virginia pressed and physically beat down No. 1 Kansas on Tuesday night as the No. 11 Mountaineers pulled off the 74-63 upset at home. Always a tough matchup for the Jayhawks, West Virginia now owns three consecutive wins over Kansas in Morgantown.

Jumping out to an early lead and never relenting, West Virginia was simply the more aggressive team on both ends of the floor. The Mountaineers crashed the offensive glass for a 15-7 advantage in that category and forced 21 Kansas turnovers. As the No. 1 team in the country, the Jayhawks were thought to have a strong backcourt with veteran leadership but Frank Mason and Wayne Selden combined for 13 turnovers and looked shaky against West Virginia’s guards.

West Virginia (15-1, 4-0) had a strong efforts from Jaysean Paige (24 points, four rebounds, four steals) and Devin Williams (17 points, 12 rebounds) as they looked like a potential threat in the Big 12. Their press is obviously difficult to handle, but this team really plays well together and has a tremendous attitude at all times.

Early in the game, the Mountaineers set the tone by constantly attacking the basket and drawing fouls. It helped West Virginia win the free-throw battle, as they were 32-for-46 from the charity stripe while Kansas was only 13-for-21

Perry Ellis was the leader for Kansas, as he finished with 21 points and seven rebounds. But credit has to go to West Virginia’s defense with making it difficult for Ellis to get touches so the Kansas offense could not go through him. With guards like Mason and Selden forced to make plays off the dribble, it made it difficult for the Jayhawks offense to function and they looked disoriented. Mason finished with 12 points while Selden added 11 points.

The Jayhawks (14-2, 3-1) still have plenty of time to fix their press break and re-tool their offense to face a pressure-oriented defense, but this loss was still a bit concerning. Their veteran guards looked flustered, and although Kansas has barely seen any press situations this year, they should have handled it better.

West Virginia has a chance to make another statement later this week when they take a trip to No. 2 Oklahoma. They’re already at 4-0 in the Big 12 with two road wins and a win over Kansas, so that’s certainly as good of a start as Bob Huggins could have hoped for. Paige is a major sparkplug off the bench and Williams continues to be one of the more underrated big men in the country on a national level.