Despite having to re-tool somewhat, the Kansas 12 season ranked 13th in the country, and they'll entertain the Towson Tigers tonight at Allen Fieldhouse in Lawrence. This game is part of the prestigious Maui Invitational.
Towson is a member of the Colonial Athletic Association, and enters the season with a new head coach in former Pittsburgh assistant Pat Skerry. Replacing Pat Kennedy, who stepped down in March after the Tigers went a dreadful 4-26 (0-18 in conference), Skerry has some familiarity with the CAA, having previously worked as an assistant at Northeastern and William & Mary among his nine different stops over a 19-year career. Towson is 28-24 all-time in season openers.
Kansas is coached by Bill Self, who enters his ninth season in charge and owns a record of 237-46 over that span. Overall, he is 444-151 in 18 seasons as a head coach. The Jayhawks have won nine straight season openers, and 38 straight home openers. Kansas has shared or won outright each of the last seven Big 12 Conference regular-season championships, and has won 11 of the 15 titles since the inception of the league. With Self at the helm, KU has won nearly 95 percent of its home games (129-7).
Kansas won the only other meeting between these two teams back in 2006, taking an 87-61 decision also in Lawrence.
The Tigers are in a transition year themselves, and their climb up the CAA ladder is expected to be a difficult one as they are the only team in the country to return just one letterwinner, and they are one of only three teams without a returning starter. Senior guard RaShawn Polk is the lone returnee after ranking third on the team in scoring with 11.5 ppg. Help is expected to come from senior center Robert Nwankwo, who red-shirted last year but in 2009-10 he led the Colonial in blocked shots (3.1 bpg) to earn a spot on the league's All-Defensive team. Nwankwo was also second in the league in field goal percentage (.558) that year, and third in rebounding (8.9 rpg). While the Tigers figure to have a solid inside-out combo in Nwankwo and Polk, the rest of the supporting cast will need to elevate it overall play for Skerry's first year to have a chance at being deemed a success.
No team lost more in the Big 12 than did Kansas following last season, and Self may have to done one of his more masterful coaching jobs to make up for the loss of four starters and six key contributors in all. The Jayhawks are now senior Tyshawn Taylor's team, and the 6-3 guard is the lone returning starter and top returning scorer (9.3 ppg, 4.6 apg). Backcourt mates Elijah Johnson and Travis Releford will play much more prominent roles this year, while up front it's anyone's guess how the team will respond now that the Morris brothers are gone. The expectations are that guys like junior Thomas Robinson (7.6 ppg, 6.4 rpg) will answer the challenge, but he won't be able to shoulder the burden alone. Seven-footer Jeff Withey must become a presence in the middle for Kansas, to give the Jayhawks a balanced attack.