Kansas’s Division I-record 14-year streak atop the Big 12 ended on Tuesday night when the Jayhawks fell to Oklahoma 81-68 at the Lloyd Noble Center in Norman. The defeat left Kansas State and Texas Tech as the two Big 12 teams left vying for the regular-season championship, denying the Jayhawks at least a share of the conference title for the first time since March 2004. Fans in Stillwater, Austin and Waco likely spent much of their night dancing on the Jayhawks’ grave. But before we turn to the next chapter in the Big 12’s history, we should take a short moment to revel at Kansas’s dominance over the past 14 years, and reflect on a streak that may never be replicated.
The Jayhawks’ extended run of excellence crushes the best runs from the other power conferences in the 21st century. The SEC has produced seven different champions since 2010. North Carolina leads the ACC with eight conference titles since 2000, but the Tar Heels’ last three-peat came from 2007–09. We’ve had five different Big Ten champions in the past five years.
Even Gonzaga can’t top Kansas, with its best streak spanning 11-straight titles from 2001–11. In an age of relative parity, Kansas’s excellence is unmatched. Its record could remain intact for decades to come.
The Big 12’s premier team over the last two decades mirrors MLB’s team of the 90s, the Atlanta Braves. The Braves won 14-straight National League East titles from 1991–2005, dominating their division with just one manager, Bobby Cox. Atlanta won just one World Series during that span, in 1995. Bill Self’s lone title with Kansas came in 2008. The Jayhawks made the Final Four on two other occasions, losing to Kentucky in 2012 and Villanova last year. Atlanta lost to the Yankees in its two other World Series appearances. Both teams achieved an unparalleled measure of success for over a decade. Yet like the Braves, a single national title with Self can leave a bittersweet taste for the Allen Fieldhouse faithful.
A string of early tournament exits has also added frustration to the Self era. Kansas lost to 14-seed Bucknell in 2005, then lost to Bradley the next year. 2014 and 2015 both brought second-round exits, and 2010 provided perhaps the most brutal defeat of all. The Jayhawks sprinted to a No. 1 seed at 33–3, 15–1 Big 12, then lost to Ali Farokhmanesh and Northern Iowa in the second round in a memorable upset. Farokhmanesh should never have to buy a meal again in Cedar Falls. He may have trouble finding a table in Lawrence.
Self is just 56, providing plenty of time for additional Big 12 titles and runs at a second national championship. The Jayhawks were rightfully dethroned this season, with a legit Final Four contender in Texas Tech and a veteran Kansas State squad now battling for the conference crown on Saturday. But don’t assume we’ll see a true changing of the guard over the next decade. Kansas’s streak of Big 12 titles is dead; it’s standing as the conference’s elite program is still very much alive.