No. 8 Kansas headed toward another Big 12 title after smashing No. 19 Texas
No statistic is cited more frequently in college basketball analysis. It is mind-blowing and unthinkable and hard to process. For the uninitiated, it sounds like something that could only happen before 1960. “Are you sure you’re not talking about John Wooden?” people will ask. Nope. It’s Kansas coach Bill Self that’s led the Jayhawks to at least a share of nine consecutive regular season Big 12 championships, and it’s all but guaranteed the streak will reach double digits after the No. 8 Jayhawks routed No. 19 Texas 85-54.
This game wasn’t competitive. Kansas led 24-10 with 8:20 remaining in the first half and 46-18 at the break. Kansas freshman forward Andrew Wiggins bolstered his conference player of the year candidacy by scoring 21 points on 7-of-12 shooting and grabbing six rebounds, while freshman center Joel Embiid – who threw down a highlight dunk late in the first half – had 13 points, seven boards and six blocked shots. Freshman point guard Frank Mason added 14 points on 6-of-7 shooting off the bench. The Jayhawks scored 1.30 points per possession against the Big 12′s third-most efficient defense and yielded 0.84.
With four games remaining, Texas, Iowa State and Oklahoma all have five conference losses and sit three games back of Kansas in second place. If the Jayhawks beats Oklahoma at home on Monday, they will clinch a share of the conference championship. If they lose (tip: don’t bet on it), the Jayhawks can extend their streak by winning three of their final four games. That shouldn’t be an issue. Two of Kansas’ final two opponents (Oklahoma and Texas Tech) will visit Allen Fieldhouse and neither of the other two (Oklahoma State and West Virginia) has a winning record in conference play.
Kansas has been the best team in the Big 12 all season, so it’s not surprising that it will likely bank another conference title. But there was a time earlier this season, hard as it may be to recall, when people were questioning whether Kansas had what it takes to win the league. The Jayhawks opened the season 5-0, but starting with a loss to Villanova at the Battle 4 Atlantis tournament on November 29, Kansas alternated wins and losses over an eight-game stretch. It also played close games against UTEP and Toledo. The capper was a four-point loss to San Diego State at Allen Fieldhouse that ended the Jayhawks’ 68-game nonconference home winning streak. All of a sudden, the Kansas team ranked No. 5 in the Associated Press Preseason Poll looked vulnerable.
Were the Jayhawks too inexperienced? Why hadn’t Wiggins morphed into an offensive maestro? Where were the veterans that had anchored Self’s beat teams in years past? Did Kansas schedule too many tough games?
When Self’s team began conference play on January 8 with a home game against Oklahoma, the continuation of Kansas’ crazy streak was no sure thing. Over the past seven weeks, with impressive wins over the best teams in arguably the top conference in the country, Kansas erased doubt whether it would finish the regular season atop the league standings. Among them: the big road win at then-No. 8 Iowa State on January 13, the home victory over then-No. 13 Oklahoma State on January 18 and, two days later, a 10-point decision at home over then-No. 24 Baylor.
Kansas had no trouble handling Texas on Saturday, thoroughly outclassing a team ranked No. 32 in Pomeroy’s team rankings that is on track to earn a top-six seed in the NCAA Tournament. The selection committee doesn’t factor margin of victory in the selection process, but its members do have eyes, and what they saw is hard to dispute: a legitimate national championship contender.
Yes, Kansas is erratic. Yes, Kansas is young. But the Jayhawks’ best might be better than anyone else’s best.
— Jeff Eisenberg (@JeffEisenberg) February 23, 2014
The Jayhawks (21-6, 12-2 Big 12) may fall short of earning a No. 1 seed, but given they fared reasonably well against the toughest schedule any team has faced in the past two decades, the committee will have to at least consider them for the top line. Where Kansas is slotted in the bracket will be influenced by how it plays over its final four regular season games and in the conference tournament. The Jayhawks claim to a share of a 10th consecutive conference title feels more certain. They should lock it up on Monday.