Unbeaten Kansas can count a Mid-American Conference team as one of its 11 victims thus far in 2007-08. Making it two might not be quite as easy.
The third-ranked Jayhawks try to open a season 12-0 for the first time in three years on Saturday when they host Miami of Ohio, which is also coming off a major road win.
Kansas beat Ohio University 88-51 last Saturday, but its next MAC opponent could represent a bigger challenge.
The RedHawks are just 6-4, but are coming off a 61-58 overtime victory at Illinois - Miami’s first road win against a Big Ten opponent since beating Purdue in the 1984-85 season. Miami has lost its four games by a combined nine points, losing to USC, Louisville and Dayton while beating Xavier.
The Jayhawks’ record is unblemished, but they’ve been seriously tested three times - in four-point wins against Arizona and USC, and their most recent game, a 71-66 win at Georgia Tech on Tuesday.
Kansas led by 13 points with five minutes left, but the Yellow Jackets cut the lead to one with 9 seconds to play. Sherron Collins, however, made two free throws and capped the game with a steal and a layup for the final margin.
Russell Robinson scored 17 points, becoming the Jayhawks’ seventh different leading scorer in 11 games.
“In all honesty, whoever is playing the best that night, we have enough balance that they can be the go-to-guy,” Kansas coach Bill Self said. “A lot (of teams) would like to have that problem.”
Kansas has five players who average in double figures, led by Darrell Arthur’s 13.2 ppg. Eight Jayhawks play at least 18 minutes per night.
One of those players is preseason All-Big 12 guard Brandon Rush. The junior has only started two games and has played in nine since coming back from offseason ACL surgery. He’s tenth in Kansas history with 141 3-pointers, and while it’s taken him some time to get adjusted to being back in the lineup, Self feels he’s progressing.
“I said all along that he will become a better basketball player through this than he would if it hadn’t occurred,” Self said. “I don’t think he’s quite there yet because I don’t think that he has the total pop back that he will.”
While Kansas likes a quick tempo - its 83.7-point average is tied for second in the Big 12 - the RedHawks prefer a different pace, and that has Self worried.
“I’m concerned about whether or not we are patient enough to defend the entire shot clock because they don’t play fast,” Self said.
Miami is first in the MAC in scoring defense, yielding 58.5 per night. The RedHawks haven’t allowed a team to score 70 points in 44 straight contests - the nation’s longest active streak - dating to a 73-58 loss to Ohio in a MAC tournament quarterfinal on March 9, 2006.
Unlike the Jayhawks’ balanced scoring, Miami mostly relies on two players. Junior guard Michael Bramos leads the team with 19.0 points per game, and senior forward Tim Pollitz averages 17.7 points, 7.1 rebounds and 4.2 assists. Pollitz’s teammate, Tyler Dierkers, leads all centers nationally with 4.6 assists per game.
The two stars were right around their averages in the RedHawks’ win at Illinois - Bramos had 19 points and Pollitz has 17 to go with 13 rebounds.
“They have two great players,” Self said of Bramos and Pollitz. “Not good - great players. (Pollitz) is as skilled as anybody that we’ll play this year.”
Kansas and Miami have never met, but the Jayhawks are 7-1 against MAC teams - their lone loss came to Ball State in the 2001 Maui Invitational. The RedHawks are 2-4 all-time against Big 12 opponents.