Weekend Homework: KU's critical stretch

If they're going to grow up, then they have to grow up soon. Perhaps now.

Kansas has been criticized for falling short of its on-paper potential in the first half of the 2013-14 season.

But the pieces are all there. And it's not wise to make assumptions about a team with this degree of talent and potential in early January. By March, few opponents will want an early-round matchup against a squad with a blossoming 7-foot-1 center (Joel Embiid) and a likely top-three pick in next summer's NBA draft (Andrew Wiggins).

There's one problem, though. The team's pursuit of the Big 12 title -- a title that Kansas has won outright or shared for the last nine seasons -- could be jeopardized in the coming weeks. The program's next four games comprise a brutal stretch -- and also a vital opportunity since three out of four are at home.

The Jayhawks will face nationally ranked foes Kansas State (Saturday), Iowa State (Monday) Oklahoma State (Jan. 18) and Baylor (Jan. 20).

Kansas hasn't beaten a top-25 squad since its Nov. 12 win over Duke in Chicago.

Since then, the Jayhawks have been dissected and scrutinized as the team hasn't met the hype with inconsistent guard play, Wiggins' imbalanced assertiveness, Embiid's foul trouble and turnover problems (232nd in offensive turnover rate per Ken Pomeroy).

Against KU's schedule, many teams would be thrilled to post a 10-4 record. But the expectations are always extremely high for the Jayhawks. The addition of the top recruit in the country solidified them.

But they haven't met them. They still have time to change that, though.

These next four games will offer Kansas a chance to show all -- supporters and doubters -- that it's not only a Big 12 contender but also an assembly that could wreak havoc come March.

These four games could crush the dream, too. Coach Bill Self has only lost a handful of games at Allen Fieldhouse. Iowa State is KU's only road game during this four-game skid.

Yet, the Jayhawks seem as vulnerable as they've been in recent years. And they're facing four of the best teams in America.

By the end of this lineup, we'll find out if Kansas is truly in that group, too.