Jayhawks can lock up share of 12th straight Big 12 title
LAWRENCE, Kan. (AP) The championships could easily bleed together, one right into the next, each one special but none of them rising above the rest during Kansas's remarkable string of Big 12 titles.
Instead, No. 12 may trump all others.
That's the opinion of coach Bill Self, who has presided over all of them, and it's rooted in this logic: Never before has the league featured so many elite teams. And if the Jayhawks can beat Texas Tech in Allen Fieldhouse on Saturday, the five-time national champions will move within one of matching the record of 13 consecutive championships established by the UCLA teams of the 1960s and `70s.
''I do think this one will be significant for our players and for me and our staff,'' Self explained, ''because it's a year in which our conference was probably the best it's ever been.''
The Jayhawks (24-4, 12-3) swept Oklahoma, which spent time at No. 1 this season. They've split with West Virginia, which has been a top-10 mainstay. And proved to Iowa State, Texas, Baylor and the rest that the road to Big 12 supremacy still tracks along Naismith Drive in Lawrence.
''There are a lot of positives about our league that winning it this year, at least from our perspective, would probably be more of an accomplishment,'' Self said, ''because you're not going through one or two teams. You've got to beat six or whatever. And so that to me is pretty significant.''
Just to be clear, Self adds: ''If we're fortunate enough to win it.'' But consider the fact that the Red Raiders have never won at Allen Fieldhouse, and Kansas has won 38 straight in their building, and the enormity of the challenge facing coach Tubby Smith's crew comes into focus.
The streak began quietly enough, in Self's second season in town. The Jayhawks were coming off a trip to the Elite Eight and managed to tie Oklahoma for the regular-season crown.
They tied for the championship two of the next three years, too. But six of the past seven titles have been won alone, some in lopsided fashion. And while wrapping up a share of this year's championship on Saturday is noteworthy, winning it outright next week would be even better.
Kansas finishes with a trip to No. 25 Texas and a home game against No. 17 Iowa State.
''We should be talking about playing Texas Tech, and that's how we'll handle it with our guys,'' Self said. ''If we are able to take care of business and do well, then you have a chance to celebrate a little bit. But the reality of it is our last three games are against teams that are all ranked in the top 25 in the RPI, so we've still got a lot of work to do.''
Another reason this Big 12 title would be noteworthy? The roster.
Andrew Wiggins, Kelly Oubre Jr. and other one-and-done stars have spent time at Kansas during the streak, offering enough talent to almost single-handedly win games. But this year's team may not have a lottery pick - in fact it may not even have a first-round pick.
Cheick Diallo is the best pro prospect, but the raw forward has played sparingly and may be best-served returning for his sophomore season. Ditto for smooth-shooting sophomore swingman Svi Mykhailiuk, who is still getting up to speed in college. And while junior guard Wayne Selden and senior forward Perry Ellis will make money playing the game, both are probably second-round picks at best.
''We don't have the great prospects that we've had in the past. We've had some pretty good prospects run through here,'' Self said. ''(But) sometimes when you say that, you're discrediting how good your players are. I'm not doing that at all. I think we have really good players, a bunch of them. I just don't feel like we have the NBA-projected top lottery picks like we have in some of the years past.''
Other programs have sewn together remarkable runs of conference success. Gonzaga dominated the West Coast Conference for 11 consecutive years from 2001-11. Connecticut won 10 straight titles in the old Yankee league in the 1950s and `60s. UNLV rattled off 10 in a row in the Big West from 1983-92.
But none of those leagues was as good as the Big 12. And none of those programs have had, year after year, the same kind of staying power as the Jayhawks.
''We just have an understanding to represent a streak that's been made by other people who have come before us, and made possible by them,'' junior power forward Landen Lucas said. ''There's an understanding that there's something greater than us that we have to keep alive.''