No. 1 Kansas' next challenge comes against No. 17 Villanova
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Kansas is ranked No. 1 in the nation. However, when Bill Self leaves practice, the Jayhawks may not even rank No. 1 in their coach's heart.
An 8-0 start to what has been rated as America's toughest college schedule has won over the minds of pollsters, which is understandable. Kansas is an elite program that reloads at a rate that has generated 14 consecutive Big 12 championships.
Yet inconsistencies, coupled with an ankle injury to junior center Udoka Azubuike, create a delicate balance the Jayhawks are treading as they welcome No. 17 Villanova (8-3) on Saturday to Lawrence, Kan.
"The reason we're inconsistent so far is because of intangible things that we can control and do a better job of," said Self, who has often cited uneven practices this season.
"I think a lot of that is youth. We have one senior on our team, but the (overall) mentality is probably younger than what the actual age is. We need to grow up in some areas and become more mature, but we'll do that as the season progresses."
Inconsistencies can even strike at the Jayhawks' leading scorer and rebounder, junior forward Dedric Lawson, who averages a double-double with 19.1 points and 10.6 rebounds.
The 6-foot-9 Memphis transfer struggled throughout most of a game last Saturday before erupting down the stretch as Kansas overcame an upset bid by New Mexico State for a 63-60 win.
"The best thing about our team so far is that they figure out a way to win close games," Self said. "The worst thing about our team so far is that every game is a close game."
Kansas has trailed in all of its games. The largest deficits average out at 8.1 points.
Before Azubuike rolled the ankle (he is expected to return for the start of Big 12 play), the Jayhawks had a certifiable inside threat most opponents do not feature, though the 7-footer often encountered foul trouble.
Another veteran, senior guard Lagerald Vick, has been scorching hot (55.8 percent) from 3-point range, though disciplinary issues kept him from starting the past two games and he was a non-factor.
Vick, however, is obviously a veteran who can provide grim details of the 96-79 loss to Kansas by Villanova in the Final Four last season. Vick was also around in 2016 when the Jayhawks fell to the Wildcats in the South Regional final of the NCAA Tournament.
A 78-75 loss to Penn on Tuesday ended a six-game winning streak for the Wildcats and a 25-game streak against Philadelphia Five rivals.
"It was nice while it lasted," Villanova coach Jay Wright said of the Philly streak. "But you're always on to the next game. (Kansas) is the most important one right now. We'll learn from (the Penn loss). It was fun to be a part of and it will be something we think more about after our careers are over."
Villanova has been ranked as high as No. 8 but was bounced out of the polls after an 0-2 start. Senior guard Phil Booth (15.8 ppg.) and senior forward Eric Paschall (14.5) lead the Wildcats in scoring.
The last time Wright and the Wildcats visited Allen Fieldhouse was in 2004, Self's first season as Kansas coach. The Jayhawks won 86-79.
Updated December 14, 2018