A deeper look at Kansas basketball’s 2021-22 conference slate
Kansas basketball fans got an early present in their stockings on Wednesday, when the Big 12 Conference released the full schedules for the 2021-22 season.
For many Jayhawk fans, that meant plans to attend games — home or away — finally could be finalized.
For some, that means nailing down the dates for that one road trip a year with friends. For others, it means splitting up season-ticket packages and seeing if the games match up with their schedules.
It may seem a little strange to compare schedule release day to the holidays, but you’d be surprised how many times I get asked about the schedule each year. From mid-June on, people reach out to me weekly, sometimes daily, to see if I know anything or have heard anything about when a certain game might be or when the schedule might come out.
Now that it’s here, and all of those people and countless others are feverishly lining up their plans, let’s take a quick look at a few things that stood out about this year’s schedule.
We already knew the dates and games for the nonconference slate. So, as enticing as it is to rehash how great two trips to New York, the renewal of the series with Missouri, a trip to Colorado and a Thanksgiving week tournament in Orlando will be, the focus today will be solely on what jumped out at me about KU’s Big 12 schedule, which officially opens Jan. 1 at home against TCU.
• No matter how the first half of the conference race goes, this thing is going to come down to what happens in February. Kansas plays both Baylor and Texas TWICE between Feb. 5 and March 5. And those two programs, which are both projected as top-10 preseason teams and contenders in the conference, also play each other twice in a 16-day span in February. Getting off to a good start in the conference race is crucial any season if you want to be in the hunt at the end. But it may be less important than ever this season because of that back-loaded schedule.
• Nastiest stretch? Let’s go with the five-game run between Jan. 24 and Feb. 7 that starts with a home game against the always-tough Texas Tech defense and ends with a road game at Texas, two days after hosting Baylor at Allen Fieldhouse. In between Tech and UT, KU also will play Kentucky at home in the SEC/Big 12 Challenge. The only game in that stretch that figures to be against an unranked opponent comes Feb. 1 at Iowa State. Who would’ve thought five years ago that a game at Hilton Coliseum would qualify as relief during a murderer’s row section of a future schedule.
• Easiest stretch? There are no real prolonged runs without some kind of tough challenge. Such is life in the Big 12 Conference these days. But it’s not the hardest start for Kansas in 2021-22. Home against TCU should be a layup and another home game against Iowa State in Game 4 should be, as well. Sandwiched between that are road games at Oklahoma State and Texas Tech, though, and no one has ever called those two venues easy to play in. There’s pretty good balance to this schedule, both in terms of tough challenges and easier matchups and the home/road layout.
• I always like looking at the gap between playing teams and there’s a pretty big one this season. After opening with TCU at home on New Year’s Day, the Jayhawks and Horned Frogs don’t meet again for two months, March 1 in Fort Worth, Texas. That’s the second-to-last game of the regular season and could be critical in the Big 12 race. Rather than leaning on what they just saw a few weeks earlier, KU may have to restart the scouting process from the beginning with the Frogs heading into Round 2.
• The Big Monday balance is pretty good, too — two at home and two on the road. The first is Jan. 17 at Oklahoma, where the Jayhawks will get their first taste of new OU coach Porter Moser. After that, it’s home for Texas Tech on Big Monday the following week (Jan. 24), at Texas two weeks later (Feb. 7) and home against Oklahoma State on Feb. 14. There have been times in the past when the schedule has featured KU four times on Big Monday but only given the Jayhawks one of those at home. It makes sense for ratings and to inspire teams that don’t consistently sell out their venues. But the 2-2 split seems much more fair.
• The conference did KU no favors in early February, when by far the toughest back-to-back of the season takes place. After squaring off with Baylor at home on Saturday, Feb. 5, the Jayhawks will head to Austin, Texas, for a Big Monday battle with Texas. That’s basically one day to get ready for the Longhorns after an emotional showdown with the defending national champs.
• Both Sunflower Showdown games take place on the 22nd of the month they’re played in — KU at K-State on Jan. 22 and KSU vs. KU in Lawrence on Feb. 22. I’ll have to look up those dates, as well as the 22nd in general, to see if it holds any significance in the rivalry.
2021-22 KU men’s basketball schedule
Nov. 3 vs. Emporia State (exhibition)
Nov. 9 vs. Michigan State (Champions Classic, New York City)
Nov. 12 vs. Tarleton State
Nov. 18 vs. Stony Brook
Nov. 25 vs. North Texas (ESPN Events Invitational, Orland, Fla.)
Nov. 26 vs. Dayton OR Miami (ESPN Events Invitational, Orland, Fla.)
Nov. 28 vs. Alabama, Belmont, Drake or Iona (ESPN Events Invitational, Orland, Fla.)
Dec. 3 at St. John’s
Dec. 7 vs. UTEP (Kansas City, Mo.)
Dec. 11 vs. Missouri
Dec. 18 vs. Stephen F. Austin
Dec. 21 at Colorado
Dec. 29 vs. Harvard
Jan. 1 vs. TCU
Jan. 4 at Oklahoma State
Jan. 8 at Texas Tech
Jan. 11 vs. Iowa State
Jan. 15 vs. West Virginia
Jan. 17 at Oklahoma
Jan. 22 at Kansas State
Jan. 24 vs. Texas Tech
Jan. 29 vs. Kentucky
Feb. 1 at Iowa State
Feb. 5 vs. Baylor
Feb. 7 at Texas
Feb. 12 vs. Oklahoma
Feb. 14 vs. Oklahoma State
Feb. 19 at West Virginia
Feb. 22 vs. Kansas State
Feb. 26 at Baylor
March 1 at TCU
March 5 vs. Texas