As sure as the wheat fields rising every spring and the Chiefs losing home playoff games, Kansas Jayhawks basketball is as dependable as it gets in the Sunflower State.
For a brief time this season, Kansas didn’t look like itself, losing not once, but twice at Allen Fieldhouse and leading fans to wonder if The Streak was finally in jeopardy.
Don’t sweat, Jayhawks fans, the boys are back. KU has rattled off four wins in a row, including a 16-point comeback at sixth-ranked West Virginia on Monday, and has regained its lofty perch atop the Big 12. The Jayhawks are steaming toward a 14th consecutive league championship.
Who’s going to stop them? They’ve already won in Morgantown, Austin and Fort Worth. They’re not going to lose many more home games, maybe one at best.
“It’s way too early to draw any conclusions,” coach Bill Self said Thursday. “We haven’t played great, but we’ve competed hard. That can be more important than playing well. Guys have made some plays in late-game situations that gave us an opportunity to win close ones.
“We need to do a lot of things better. First-shot defense. Penetrating. Rebounding. If you’re not good rebounding, it’s hard to run. We’re not a good activity team in transition. We are gaining on it. Offensively, we need to work in a second big (man).”
Other teams would love to have Kansas’ problems … and players.
Senior guards Devonte’ Graham, averaging 18.3 points and 7.3 rebounds per game, and Svi Mykhailiuk, averaging 16.6 points, headline a group that has five players averaging double-figures scoring. As a team, the Jayhawks shoot 50.6 percent from the field, topped by the NCAA-leading 78.1 percent by Udoka Azubuike, the team’s lone low-post threat.
Baylor treads into the Phog this Saturday, and coach Scott Drew said KU’s league dynasty is relatively easy to explain.
“First and foremost, they do a great job recruiting,” Drew said. “Coach Self excels at X’s and O’s and as a motivator. In the past, they’ve won more home games than the rest of us. That’s an edge. They’re one of the elite teams in the country for a reason. They don’t beat themselves. You’ve got to be near perfect to beat them, especially at their place.”
This year’s team does have more flaws than recent versions. The lack of a strong inside game shows up in rebounding margin, where KU is ranked 181st, offensive rebounding (250th) and free throws attempted (339th).
“In the past they’ve had more offensively explosive guys inside,” West Virginia coach Bob Huggins said. “Now they are really guard-oriented. They’re a totally different team, and Bill deserves credit for being able to make that switch.”
Drew said, “this year they depend on the three-ball more than in the past.”
Texas Tech’s Chris Beard pointed to the changing cast.
“Don’t forget, they had Josh Jackson, who was a lottery pick, and Frank Mason was the Big 12 player of the year and got to the rim. They also had the bigs to do more of the high/low game and lobs that Bill likes. This year it’s more on the perimeter. Different personnel, different style of play.”
Yet same results.
“You have one bad week in this league and you can go from first to fifth or sixth,” Self said. “We’re trying to get our players to understand that. Our guys hear about the streak from media outlets, but we don’t talk about that at all. We’re just trying to compete for our first title with this group.
“I feel we’ve been vulnerable in the past, yet we found a way to keep it going. With the strength of the league now, this year would rank as the best win of any during our entire streak.”
BIG 12 POWER POLL
Rnk (prv) Team;W-L (conf.);Next opponent;Comment
1. (4) Kansas;15-3 (5-1);vs. Baylor (12-6), Sat.;Surprise, surprise. OK, no surprise, but it took surging Jayhawks only one-third of season to restore order.
2. (2) Oklahoma;14-3 (4-2);at Oklahoma State (12-6), Sat.;Trae Young turns the ball over a lot. Know what he does even more? Put the ball in the basket.
3. (3) Texas Tech;15-3 (4-2);at Iowa State (10-7), Sat.;Red Raiders, dealt reality check, should find it much easier to score in Ames than in Austin.
4. (1) West Virginia;15-3 (4-2);vs. Texas (12-6), Sat.;In what-have-you-done-for-me-lately department, Mountaineers suffered back-to-back losses.
5. (6) Texas;12-6 (3-3);at West Virginia (15-3), Sat.;If WVU has one of its wayward shooting games, Longhorns can make it interesting. Otherwise, forget it.
6. (5) TCU;14-4 (2-4);at Kansas State (13-5), Sat.;Jaylen Fisher’s season-ending knee surgery huge blow, though Horned Frogs do have point-guard options.
7. (8) Kansas State;13-5 (3-3);vs. TCU (14-4), Sat.;Cats charging as Barry Brown and Dean Wade ‘make decision to put team on their back,’ coach says.
8. (7) Baylor;12-6 (2-4);at Kansas (15-3), Sat.;Bill Self calls Bears ‘one of best teams in country,’ with good point guard and 7-foot inside presence.
9. (9) Oklahoma State;12-6 (2-4);vs. Oklahoma (14-3), Sat.;Computers at teamrankings.com give Cowboys and Cyclones 0.00 percent shot to win Big 12.
10. (10) Iowa State;10-7 (1-5);vs. Texas Tech (15-3), Sat.;Steve Prohm alarmed by team’s lack of focus in 23-point loss at TCU. ‘We were not engaged.’