Which games Kansas’ Bill Self, Ochai Agbaji and David McCormack are looking forward to this season

Jordan Guskey
Topeka Capital-Journal

LAWRENCE — There could be any number of reasons a player or a coach could be looking forward to certain games more than others.

Maybe there’s a family tie to that school, because of a sibling or parent. Maybe the matchup represents a regional rivalry, between a school in the same state or one that’s just across the border. Maybe a former teammate who transferred away is with that program now, and there’s added motivation because of the opportunity to go up against a friend and win bragging rights.

Or the upcoming opponent could simply be a team that’s successful year after year, and it’s a chance to play on a national stage.

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During the Big 12 Conference’s tipoff event for men’s basketball on Wednesday in Kansas City, Kansas men’s basketball coach Bill Self highlighted some games that stood out to him. So, too, did Jayhawks seniors Ochai Agbaji and David McCormack. And their answers probably won’t come across as much of a surprise to fans.

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Bill Self highlights the non-conference slate

Kentucky coach John Calipari talks with his team during UK's Pro Day in Lexington on October 11, 2021.

Self doesn’t want to use the saying that he has any of the games circled, but he did bring up some that “jump off the page” to him. He admitted he’d be lying if, from a non-conference standpoint, he didn’t mention Missouri or Kentucky. Both of those schools visit Kansas during the 2021-22 season, the Tigers on Dec. 11 and Wildcats on Jan. 29.

And there’s the season opener Nov. 9 against Michigan State, Dec. 21 matchup on the road against Colorado and potential meeting next month in the ESPN Events Invitational against Alabama as well.

“We’ve got a great schedule,” Self said, “probably the best home schedule I think we’ve had since I’ve been here.”

Kansas beat Kentucky in a neutral-site game last season in one marquee event and lost on the road against Tennessee in another. Those contests represented the Jayhawks’ State Farm Champions Classic and Big 12/SEC Challenge games, respectively, that this season are what have the Spartans and Wildcats on the schedule.

David McCormack and Ochai Agbaji pick out non-conference matchups

Missouri's Marcus Denmon works against Kansas' Elijah Johnson.

McCormack had always heard about the rivalry with Missouri, and now that he can both finally experience it and do so at Allen Fieldhouse, he’s already excited for tipoff.

“My family was like, ‘Oh, what game do you want us to come out to?’” McCormack said. “I was like, ‘You’ve got to come to Missouri.’”

Both McCormack and Agbaji touched on the connection their teammate, junior Christian Braun, has to Missouri. Braun’s brother used to play basketball for the Tigers, and his mother was an athlete when she went to college at Missouri as well. Maybe, Agbaji volunteered, it’d be an even more serious matchup if Braun’s brother was still playing for the Tigers.

Agbaji, who grew up watching the Missouri-Kansas rivalry, also brought up the Kentucky game as McCormack did. Agbaji joked that, unfortunately, he did so rooting for the Tigers.

The last time the two sides met in a non-exhibition game was Feb. 25, 2012, when Kansas won 87-86 at home in overtime. The Jayhawks were led in scoring that day by Thomas Robinson’s 28 points. Marcus Denmon also scored 28, but for the Tigers.

David McCormack and Ochai Agbaji bring up conference games

Then with Kansas, Bryce Thompson watches Ochai Agbaji warm up prior to a Jayhawks' game against TCU in Lawrence. Thompson transferred to Oklahoma State after the 2020-21 season.

In a conference with as many talented teams as the Big 12 has, it’s no wonder there were games in conference play that stood out to McCormack and Agbaji. Agbaji mentioned both Texas games and was reminded by McCormack that the March 5 home game against the Longhorns is on senior night. And Agbaji circled the games against Baylor and Oklahoma State, too.

McCormack said Oklahoma State and Iowa State, because there are former teammates on both teams. The Cowboys have Bryce Thompson, a sophomore who spent his freshman year last season with the Jayhawks. The Cyclones have Tristan Enaruna, a junior who spent his first two years of college basketball with the Jayhawks.

Texas and Baylor were picked to finish second and third, respectively, behind Kansas in the Big 12’s preseason coaches poll. And the Longhorns (No. 5) and Bears (No. 8) weren’t far behind the Jayhawks (No. 3) in the preseason AP Top 25 poll, either.

Jordan Guskey covers University of Kansas Athletics at The Topeka Capital-Journal. Contact him at jmguskey@gannett.com or on Twitter at @JordanGuskey.