LOS ANGELES — In a season that is shaping up as one that could show Kansas fans just how spoiled they've been by the consistency of the Bill Self era, we offer a staggering statistic as the Jayhawks prepare to play their first road game of the season tonight against Southern California:
Under Self, KU is 57-22 in opposing arenas, a winning percentage of 72.1 percent. Kansas is nearly better on the road than at neutral sites, where it is 53-20 (72.6 percent). In the last two seasons, the Jayhawks have racked up an astounding road record of 18-3.
This year's team, coming off a humbling 80-74 loss to Davidson on Monday night at the Sprint Center in Kansas City, will have plenty to live up to tonight in the Galen Center. Self's teams have thrived on keeping "tight huddles" in raucous environments, and the mettle that it has taken to win seven Big 12 regular-season championships in a row has oftentimes been forged in the fires of foreign venues.
The Jayhawks have played away from Allen Fieldhouse five times this season on neutral floors, going 2-3. In all of those games, KU had a significant cheering section, and on Monday night the Jayhawks played a technical home game at Sprint. If past years are any indication, hitting the road for Hollywood this week could be the best thing to happen to a team desperately searching for an identity.
"We have been such a good road team over the years," Self said, "but this is one that... we don't have much margin for error. We really need to be focused and disciplined, some things that we really haven't been to be quite candid with you. We haven't been able to put together 40 minutes, and that will be a challenge for our guys away from home."
On both sides of the floor, Kansas has been unpredictable in 2011. The Jayhawks have the capability of being electric offensively, with their guards getting into the lane at will and feeding big men Thomas Robinson and Jeff Withey. But as often as that has been the case, KU's guards, led by senior guard Tyshawn Taylor, have gotten sped up and lost their bearings. Taylor and Elijah Johnson can too easily forget that Robinson is the All-America candidate averaging 18.1 points per game.
Defensively, the guards can lose their focus just as quickly. For instance, in the first half against Davidson, KU stayed in the game thanks to creating nine steals and 12 turnovers. In the second half, the Jayhawks didn't force one turnover.
"I'd like to see a lot of things," Self said. "I'd like to see us actually attempt to guard and get in a stance and win 70 percent of the 50-50 balls. I'd like for us to not give up layups and have enough discipline to defend the entire shot clock and not break down. I'd like for us to not play tired and play with more energy and more passion.
"And offensively I'd like for us to run our stuff and actually try to execute what we do rather than basically being out there on our own. We run our stuff, we're pretty good offensively."
If Kansas can't pull out a victory tonight, it will lose back-to-back games in nonconference play for the first time since 2005. Win or lose, Self sees a team that has plenty to work on after the holidays in preparation for an 18-game Big 12 slate.
To this point, Self has not seen a team that's ready to win the league crown over the likes of undefeated Baylor and Missouri.
"No, not at all," Self said. "I watched a team play (Monday night) that anybody in the league could have. I do think that we're going to have a good team. I think we'll have a good conference run. But to think we'll be a favorite right now, we've got a long ways to go to even consider ourselves one of the best teams. But I do think we have the potential to get there."