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Try telling the Runnin' Utes this isn't a true road game.
They may not be playing under the national championship banners and the honored jerseys of All Americans past, but the No. 10 Jayhawks and the No. 13 Utes will likely play on a Sprint Center court surrounded by a sea of fans singing "Crimson and Blue," Kansas' alma mater.
There's a weight to Saturday's game for visiting Utah (7-1). In a schedule of tough nonconference games, this is the biggest: The Utes face off against a team that has won 10 consecutive Big 12 titles and three national championships. Few programs would be able to absorb the loss of two top-three NBA Draft picks, but Kansas (7-1) is one of them, pulling in 2014's No. 9 recruiting class in the country, according to ESPN.
Kansas' enormous stature in college ball is so self-evident that coach Larry Krystkowiak sees no need to talk about it with his players.
"It's still very much of a road game for us, but I gotta believe that we're talking about not getting caught up in emotion and some of the tradition Kansas has," he said. "Hopefully we don't have to visit about something that's kind of a foregone conclusion with our guys."
Since the season started, Krystkowiak has seen signs that he doesn't need to worry about the crushing force of an opponent's prestige or the chaos of a hostile crowd. It's a factor, but one that has been somewhat mitigated by the standout play of his freshmen's poise.
Take Brekkott Chapman, who scored eight first-half points and four first-half rebounds in his first game at a rocking Marriott Center. He also had some high points in an otherwise frustrating outing at San Diego State, helping develop plays down the stretch that made an ugly game at least close.
"That feels great to have the team have that confidence in you to go to you over and over, especially as a freshman," Chapman said. "It's great to get that kind of confidence in yourself."
Several of Utah's youngsters have demonstrated an ability to withstand the heat even under pressure and high stakes, and it's been a huge advantage. Kansas knows it: Coach Bill Self called the game as difficult a nonconference matchup as Kentucky, the only team to beat the Jayhawks this year.
"They're good, and they're deep," Self said. "They can play a lot of people, and they can stretch it at every spot. Their big freshman I've not heard a lot of players coming out of Vienna, Austria, but this cat is good."
Utah's youth has elicited praise this year, particularly freshman center Jakob Poeltl. But Poeltl struggled against BYU's double-teams and physical play for six points and seven rebounds.
The hopeful sign was that Utah weathered its standout rookie's issues, replacing the production with other newcomers. Chapman had a standout game, but so did Kyle Kuzma, whose second-half assertiveness broke open a zone defense that mostly left the Utes scratching their heads.
"He plays with a little moxie," Krystkowiak said. "He's going to make some mistakes, as freshmen are, and I'm at the point where I'm willing to live with some of that stuff because he brings some other things to the table, and you feel like something's gonna happen."
That can be said of a number of freshmen. Chapman, Kuzma and Isaiah Wright have helped the bench be an asset: In the past two games, Utah's bench outscored the Shockers' and the Cougars' bench by a combined 51-26.
Kansas is similarly deep, and its athletes from strong recruiting classes are as good as any other program's. But the Utes go into an intimidating environment against a high-caliber team, feeling more like equals in that aspect than worrying about wide-eyed newcomers.
"They've been transitioning really well I don't really know where their limit is," Delon Wright said. "They have a lot of room to improve still, which is really good. We're going to need them when it comes tournament time."
No. 13 Utah vs. No. 10 Kansas
P Sprint Center, Kansas City, Mo.
Tipoff • 1:15 p.m.
TV • ESPN
Radio • ESPN700 AM
Records • Utah (7-1), KU (7-1)
Series history • KU leads, 1-0
Last meeting • Nov. 25, 1995, at Kemper Arena; KU 79, Utah 68
About the Utes • Utah is ranked No. 13 for the first time since the 2004-05 season. … During the past two weeks, senior guard Delon Wright has averaged 18 points, 5.6 rebounds and 4.6 assists while shooting 69 percent from the floor. … Utah is ranked No. 7 in scoring margin (plus-21.3 points) and leads the Pac-12 shooting 51.6 percent from the floor.
About the Jayhawks • Junior forward Perry Ellis leads Kansas in scoring (14.4 ppg) and rebounding (7.1 rpg). … The Jayhawks are one of two teams to have three preseason Wooden Award watch-list candidates this year: Ellis, Wayne Selden Jr. and Kelly Oubre Jr. … Kansas has 10 players who average nine or more minutes per game.