No. 5 Kansas lifts lid on season against UC Santa Barbara

Nov 14, 2014 - 5:02 PM Lawrence, KS ( - The fifth-ranked Kansas Jayhawks tip off the 2014-15 season on Friday night, as they welcome the UC Santa Barbara Gauchos to Allen Fieldhouse for a non-conference affair.

Although Kansas earned a No. 2 seed in the NCAA Tournament and won its 10th straight Big 12 Conference regular-season title in 2013-14, it was still a rather disappointing campaign for the Jayhawks. That just speaks to how prestigious the program is. After all, most teams would be more than happy with a 25-10 record. However, a 60-57 loss to Stanford in the third round of the NCAA Tournament left a bitter taste in the mouth of a squad which had won at least 30 games in each of the previous four seasons.

UCSB had a real chance of winning the Big West Conference crown last season. Although the Gauchos finished second in the standings behind UC Irvine, they still won 12 of 16 league affairs. However, a troubling 69-38 setback to seventh-seeded Cal Poly in the first round of the Big West Tournament sank those hopes. The disappointment marred an otherwise strong campaign for Bob Williams' program, which was one of three in the Big West to tally at least 20 wins on the season. To be specific, the Gauchos finished at 21-9 overall.

Kansas easily got past UCSB in the only other meeting between the two squads, rolling to a 72-52 victory early in the 2003-04 season.

Just as most teams would be completely satisfied with Kansas' finish last season, most also would be unable to recover from the loss of talented players like Andrew Wiggins and Joel Embiid, who both took off for the NBA after stellar freshman campaigns. Fortunately for Jayhawks fans, Bill Self produced another strong recruiting class for this season. Kelly Oubre Jr., a slashing forward with a ton of scoring ability and athleticism, and powerful frontcourt enforcer Cliff Alexander are the biggest additions. The two youngsters should fit in well with returning contributors Wayne Selden Jr. (9.7 ppg) and Perry Ellis (13.5 ppg, 6.7 rpg), who were each important players for last year's squad. Perry's return is especially important as he was the only player to average in double figures besides Wiggins and Embiid. Frank Mason III (5.5 ppg) may work into the rotation more frequently as well.

There are four starters back for UCSB this season, but there is really only one player to watch for the Gauchos. Alan Williams was the Big West Player of the Year last season and will likely collect the award yet again, assuming he maintains his incredible production. Last season, Williams averaged 21.3 points, 11.5 rebounds and 2.4 blocks per game, leading the league in the first two categories and ranking second in the last. Although Williams is the centerpiece, the Gauchos have other talented players. Michael Bryson (11.5 ppg) is a solid secondary scorer, while Zalmico Harmon (7.8 ppg, 5.1 apg) has an excellent habit of finding open players and setting them up for easy looks. Mitch Brewe (4.1 ppg) started in 24 games last season and should have an expanded role this time around.

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