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Is a formidable non-league schedule too tough for a Kansas team losing five starters?

Jeff Eisenberg
The Dagger

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Perry Ellis and Naadir Tharpe (Getty Images)

Just because all five Kansas starters are either graduating or turning pro doesn't mean the Jayhawks are scheduling like it's a transition year.

In fact, Kansas coach Bill Self has assembled a non-conference slate as difficult as any he has ever put together.

Depending on the draw in the formidable Battle 4 Atlantis tournament, Kansas could face as many as seven preseason top 25 teams before the start of Big 12 play. The only surefire wins on the schedule are Louisiana Monroe, Toledo and ... well ... that's pretty much it unless you think quality mid-majors Towson and Iona pose no threat.

The marquee games on the schedule are a Nov. 12 matchup with Duke in Chicago, a Dec. 10 visit to Florida and the Battle 4 Atlantis Tournament in the Bahamas from Nov. 28 to Nov. 30. The Blue Devils may have the best perimeter talent in the nation next season, the Gators are likely to start the season in the top 10 and the Battle 4 Atlantis field includes the likes of Tennessee, Villanova, Xavier and Iowa.

Besides those matchups, Kansas still has a handful of other challenging games against quality teams.

A Dec. 7 visit to old Big 12 foe Colorado will be difficult with the Buffs returning four of five starters and likely to contend with Arizona and UCLA for the Pac-12 crown. Games against Mountain West favorite New Mexico in Kansas City and new Big East contender Georgetown in Lawrence will also be tough. Heck, even a Jan. 5 visit from rebuilding San Diego State is no gimme, especially if the Aztecs have found new scorers to replace departed stars Jamaal Franklin and Chase Tapley by then.

"We’ve always played a schedule that has a great RPI and we’ve always played a tough non-conference schedule that prepared us for the league, but this year our schedule will rival any schedule that we’ve ever played," Self said in a release from the school.

"This will certainly be as difficult a schedule, especially when you’re replacing five starters. This is probably not the brightest thing I’ve done since I’ve been here, but it’s a schedule that will force us to get ready at an accelerated pace."

Although the idea of Kansas facing so many marquee opponents is terrific for fans and for college basketball as a whole, the lingering question entering the season will be if the Jayhawks over-scheduled.

Next year's team will lean heavily on promising sophomore forward Perry Ellis, returning backups Naadir Tharpe and Jamari Traylor and a deep and versatile recruiting class that will need to contribute right away. Wayne Selden is a McDonald's All-American, center Joel Embiid is a gifted shot blocker who's still raw offensively and Conner Frankamp and Brannen Greene are both skilled shooters who should provide perimeter scoring.

Suggesting Kansas is in store for a down season by its lofty standards is typically foolish because Self has a way of making doubters feel silly by midseason. Nonetheless, to survive the gauntlet their coach has laid out for them, the Jayhawks will need Ellis to emerge as a breakout star, Tharpe to solidify the point guard position and several of the freshmen to become comfortable in a hurry.

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