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No. 5 Kansas begins title defense sans Bill Self in opener with Omaha

Sportsnaut
Oct 19, 2022; Kansas City, Missouri, US; Kansas Jayhawks coach Bill Self is interviewed during the mens Big 12 Basketball Tipoff media day at T-Mobile Center. Mandatory Credit: William Purnell-USA TODAY Sports
Credit: William Purnell-USA TODAY Sports

Life will come at the No. 5 Jayhawks fast starting with the season opener against Omaha on Monday night at Allen Fieldhouse.

The first game Kansas plays as defending national champions is also the start of a four-game suspension for coach Bill Self imposed by KU.

Kansas, which won the 2022 NCAA championship in April, has other absences to consider under acting coach Norm Roberts.

KU returns only two players who averaged more than three points per game last season. Jalen Wilson (11.1 ppg) and Dajuan Harris (5.38) were key players in the championship run, but four players who averaged a combined 52.1 points per game are on to greener pastures.

“We’d like to think we’re in a position to defend a championship,” Self said. “I think the thing we’ve got to realize is that we’ve got to be in the game first. What puts us in the game is learning how to win by making somebody else play worse.

“This team has some shortcomings as of today. Hopefully, we’ll be much better by conference season. I think there are a lot of things that we have to do to put ourselves in a position to be good enough to defend. I don’t think we’re quite there yet.”

Eight days after the season tips off, Kansas returns to the national spotlight in Indianapolis to play in the annual gathering of bluebloods that features the Jayhawks, Kentucky, Michigan State and Duke.

The Jayhawks count on the championship experience of Wilson and Harris while blending in a bench full of youngsters. Self also added Kevin McCullar, a 6-6 wing who was part of Texas Tech’s national championship runner-up squad in 2019.

The key could be what understudies on last year’s squad learned from the experience.

“I think they learned a ton by being here and playing with and behind those other guys,” Self said. “But I still don’t think we totally grasp why that team won last year. That team won because of intangibles. I think we take talking for granted. I think we take learning how to compete on each possession and paying attention to detail for granted.

“I don’t think this team has bought into that yet. That team didn’t buy into it when they were freshmen. But that team was totally bought into it.”

Kansas plays its usual juggernaut schedule with that Nov. 15 date with No. 7 Duke and a December matchup with No. 13 Indiana headlining the nonconference slate. Self will be eligible to return to the team for the Nov. 23 game at North Carolina State.

Omaha will be breaking in a new regime as Chris Crutchfield takes over as head coach. A former player for the Mavericks in the 1990s, Crutchfield was an assistant at Oregon last season, but spent several seasons in Oklahoma, both as the head coach at East Central College in Ada, and as an assistant under Lon Kruger at Oklahoma.

Crutchfield, whose wife is also an alum of the school, said he couldn’t wait to come back.

“I can sell this place. I can sell UNO. I can sell Omaha,” he said. “Student-athletes around the country, get ready. I’m coming, because we’ve got something special here. I really believe that in my heart.”

Omaha returns only one of its top six scorers from last season. Sophomore Frankie Fidler led the Mavericks in scoring as a freshman (12.9 points per game on 48.6 percent from the field, 42.9 percent from three-point range and 82.4 percent from the foul line).

–Field Level Media