Yes! Away We Go!

Bill Self (Steve Puppe photo)

Finally. After a highly anticipated offseason, four exhibition games in Europe and two recent exhibition contests against Emporia State and Washburn, the games now count for real as KU tips off its regular-season opener against Southeast Missouri State in the opening round of the CBE Hall of Fame Classic at 7 p.m. tonight in Allen Fieldhouse.

KU coach Bill Self is anxious to see how his players bounce back after a disappointing exhibition game against Washburn on Monday night. KU, which won 62-50, committed a whopping 24 turnovers, shot just 43.5 percent from the field (38.9 in the second half), 59.3 percent at the free throw line (16 of 27), and only outrebounded the smaller Ichabods by one (40-39) in a grind-it-out, "ugly" game that the Jayhawks never really seemed to enjoy playing.

"I got a lot of concerns," Self said. "I didn't think we played very well at all. We didn't rebound the ball defensively at all, we turned the ball over at an alarming rate, which is pretty consistent to how we played going back to the summer. That looked like the team that played in Europe, offensively, and we didn't attack them with the ball. We didn't put pressure on the defense at all.

"Those would be the things that I would hope that we'd improve on, at least put pressure on people on both ends."

The No. 7 Jayhawks will look to elevate their intensity against Southeast Missouri State, which returns seven letterwinners, including three starters, from last season's 15-16 team that finished fifth in the Ohio Valley Conference at 9-7. SMSU, located in Cape Girardeau, Mo., was selected to finish second in the West Division behind Murray State in the OVC coaches and sports information directors 2012-13 preseason poll.

Coach Dickey Nutt's Redhawks are led by junior forward Tyler Stone, an OVC preseason all-league selection who's the team's leading returning scorer (14.7 ppg) and rebounder (7.3 rpg) from last season. Senior guards Marland Smith (12.3 ppg), who is also a preseason conference selection, and Nick Niemczyk (9.2 ppg) are returning starters as well. Sophomore forward Nino Johnson showed he's a force, too, by posting a game-high 20 points and 15 rebounds in an 80-75 exhibition victory over Truman State on Monday.

Self said the Redhawks have some talented players.

"(They're) really athletic," Self said. "They got two guys inside (Stone and Johnson) that are very, very active. They both go after the ball, they both rebound it well and they both can score in tight and put it down. Our big guys will have to guard movement. They run our stuff for the most part, so we should be familiar with what they run. They run it better than us sometimes, at least based on their exhibition games than what we've run so far.

"Dickey's got a good team. They were 9-7 in the league last year and return everybody, so they'll be one of the favorites in their league."

KU is certainly the favorite to win the Big 12 with hopes of making a statement in its first game tonight. While Self is not completely sure how his team will bounce back after its poor game against Washburn, history tells him the Jayhawks will make a good showing.

"Usually in the past, I've liked our chances to play better when we're coming  of a time when basically their pride has been challenged," Self said. "So I think we'll come out and play hard, no question."

The ride now begins for the Jayhawks. And Self is going to enjoy it every step of the way with a team with great upside.

"I'm excited about this team. I'm excited about what potentially can take place," Self said. "I'm excited about the process of us getting better and taking a team through November to March. I'm excited about all that stuff. I think it can be a fun year, but I do know this: I know we got a lot of work ahead of us."

FRIENDLY REUNION

Self and Nutt have been friends for over 30 years. Both graduated from Oklahoma State and coached under Leonard Hamilton, currently the head coach at Florida State. Self was a guest speaker at Nutt's coaching clinic in Cape Girardeau on Oct. 7, 2010. Nutt, who is 32-61 entering his fourth season at Southeast, has an all-time record of 221-248 in 17 seasons.

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