What can KU basketball get out of Big 12 finale vs. Houston? Here’s Bill Self’s take

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Saddled with a 2-6 record in Big 12 road games, Kansas men’s basketball on Saturday will face its most difficult challenge away from home to date.

The No. 14-ranked Jayhawks (22-8, 10-7) will travel to Houston for a 3 p.m. contest against the Houston Cougars (27-3, 14-3), the No. 1-ranked team in all of college hoops.

A win would give the Jayhawks a 3-6 conference road record, which would tie the 2023-24 Jayhawks with the 2018-19 KU team for the worst road record in the 21-year Bill Self era.

A loss would mean a 2-7 road campaign, worst of all Self-coached KU teams.

KU did win a huge nonconference road battle at Indiana on Dec. 16 and also claimed league road wins over Oklahoma State on Jan. 16 and Oklahoma on Feb. 17.

“I actually agree with you,” Self told a reporter at his Thursday news conference. “We haven’t had the best road record. It’ll be a great challenge, absolutely.”

He did point out it’s not unusual for teams to be sub .500 on the road.

“The thing is when you look at NBA teams that finish 50-30 (during the regular season), they usually don’t have winning records on the road and still finish in the top three in their conference,” Self said. “It’s the way it is. This year has been tougher for us. We gave a couple away, no doubt about that. It’s hard to win at certain places without question. We’ve not done as well as what we hoped.

“As far as preparation for the NCAA Tournament and those things, winning on the road is important. It’s more important for your resume and seeding and how people look at it, but in the tournament you play at neutral sites. The Big 12 tournament (at T-Mobile Center) is a semi-neutral site. We need to go (to Houston) and play well. Playing well there would certainly give us confidence no question.”

It should be noted KU has excelled on the road in the Self era.

The Jayhawks went 9-0 in 2019-20; 8-1 in 2016-17; 7-1 in 2006-07, 2009-10 and 2010-11; 7-2 in 2011-12; 6-2 in both 2005-06 and 2008-09.

KU has finished over .500 on the road in 16 of Self’s 21 seasons at Kansas.

This road contest presents a monumental challenge.

The Cougars, who lead Iowa State by one game in the Big 12 standings, could clinch the title outright with a victory over KU or an ISU loss at K-State. Also, Houston on its Senior Day obviously would like to atone for a 78-65 loss to the Jayhawks on Feb. 3 at Allen Fieldhouse.

“Playing a great, terrific Houston team, going down there and seeing where we are at this stage of the season (should have KU fired up),” Self said. “Playing Houston on the road and and they are ranked No. 1 in the country and they get a chance to clinch and do a lot of different things on Senior Day, that should be enough to excite you.”

KU freshman guard Jamari McDowell hails from Houston.

He knows the Cougars and Big 12 player of the year candidate Jamal Shead make up for a formidable foe.

“Just the intensity they play with … they play really hard 40 minutes every game. That’s one you’ve got to get up for, for sure. We’ve got to go in for that one,” McDowell said.

He currently has four tickets to distribute to family and friends.

“I will try to figure something out,” said McDowell, who estimates his family residence is about a 20-minute drive from the UH campus.

McDowell heard from Houston in the recruiting process.

“I talked to Houston a little bit. They never offered me,” he said. “I don’t have too much to say about them.”

Asked if not being recruited by the Cougars added incentive, McDowell said: “I will forever remember that. Any Texas school really, they all get the same type of vibe from me for sure.”