Bill Self and his seventh-ranked Kansas Jayhawks will try to win their 40th straight home opener as they host the Southeast Missouri State Redhawks in the first round of the CBE Classic.
Southeast Missouri State is 0-8 in its history versus ranked opponents. The Redhawks finished last season with a 15-16 overall record under coach Dickey Nutt, who enters his fourth year as the program's leader with a 32-61 record. Nutt has a 221-248 career mark, which includes a long tenure at Arkansas State. The Redhawks seemed to be on track to a postseason invite last season before winning only one of their last five games. SEMO finished 9-7 in the Ohio Valley Conference a season ago.
The Jayhawks are in rebuilding mode after losing some key components from last season's 32-7 team which won the Big 12 Conference regular-season title and lost in the national championship game to Kentucky. Coach Self has managed to keep Kansas in contention for the national title every season since winning it all in 2008 by recruiting classes filled with players that fit needed roles. The Jayhawks have won their last 10 season openers, and their last 39 home openers at Allen Fieldhouse dating back to the 1973-74 season.
These schools are separated only by a state line, but they have never met on the hardwood before. Kansas is 18-0 versus members of the OVC in its history.
SEMO has an able leader in Tyler Stone (14.7 ppg, 7.3 rpg), who has proven to be one of the best forwards in the Ohio Valley Conference. Stone averaged a double-double consisting of 16.5 points and 12 rebounds per contest in the team's two preseason games. The backcourt duo of senior Marland Smith (12.3 ppg) and A.J. Jones will join Stone in the starting lineup. Jones is a Memphis native with loads of potential. He was forced to sit out last season to become eligible. Lucas Nutt played valuable minutes off of the bench last season, but he will have more opportunity this season in a starting guard role. Nino Johnson will bring much-needed size (6-8, 220) and athleticism to the floor as he makes his starting debut.
Kansas lost its leaders from last season's NCAA Tournament run, but fans in Lawrence have reason to be optimistic of a return to the Final Four. Senior Jeff Withey is one of the top centers in the nation due to his tremendous shot-blocking and rebounding ability. Withey broke the school and conference single-season blocked shots record with 140 last season, which included 31 in six NCAA Tournament games. Junior forward Justin Wesley is a former walk-on transfer from Lamar. Self is hoping he can step into the starting power forward spot and make up for some of the production that was lost when Thomas Robinson elected to leave for the NBA. Elijah Johnson and Travis Releford are both capable scoring guards who will pace the offense. Johnson is the leading scorer among returnees (10.2 ppg).