Are we sure they’re good? I have asked myself that question about most of the teams in the Big 12 more times than I can count this season. In a month where we’ve seen upsets, buzzer beaters, and court storming on almost a nightly basis, the one thing we haven’t seen is consistency. No team has been more of a crapshoot over the past few weeks than the eleven-time defending Big 12 champion Kansas Jayhawks.
Three weeks ago, the Jayhawks were the number one team in the country and riding a 13 game winning streak. They looked unstoppable and seemed to be cruising to their unprecedented twelfth consecutive conference title. However, since their win against Texas Tech in Lubbock on January 9th, the Jayhawks have dropped three of their last five games and now find themselves tied for fourth place in the middle of a crowded Big 12 field. Recent losses to West Virginia, Oklahoma State, and Iowa State have many Kansas fans reaching for the panic button (and probably a bottle of Jack Daniels). Yes, these are troubled times for Bill Self’s squad, but anybody who has followed Big 12 basketball for more than about 5 minutes knows better than to throw in the towel on the Jayhawks. Here are four reasons why I’m not writing Kansas off just yet, and you shouldn’t either:
Slumps are nothing new for Bill Self’s teams
One Lawrence resident who you won’t find on the verge of a mental breakdown over the Jayhawks recent play is Head Coach Bill Self. The reason? He’s seen this movie before, and he knows how it ends. An inevitable 2-3 week patch during conference play has come around like clockwork for Kansas during each of the past five seasons.
2012: 1-2 from January 28-February 14
2013: 0-3 from February 11-23
2014: 2-3 from March 1-14
2015: 3-3 from February 7-23
2016: 2-5 from January 12-25
Clearly these are not uncharted waters for Self, and he knows that there are going to be highs and lows when you’re dealing with a bunch of 18-22 year old kids. The one commonality among all of the past four Kansas teams have (besides a shaky winter stretch) is the end result, a regular season conference championship.
Strong veteran leadership
Upperclassmen, Kansas has them. Their starting lineup consists of two seniors, two juniors, and a sophomore. In an era where college basketball has been dominated by one-and-done freshmen phenoms, the Jayhawks are getting it done the old fashioned way. Their big three of Perry Ellis, Wayne Selden and Frank Mason have now been playing together for three years. They have all been through the rough patches that the past few seasons have brought, and they all know that they are entirely capable of turning it around and getting back on track.
Despite the many “Perry Ellis is old” jokes that the Internet has so graciously provided us with this year…
The Louisiana Purchase was a major factor in Perry Ellis’ decision to go to Kansas.
— Drew Franklin (@DrewFranklinKSR) November 18, 2015
I still cant believe Perry Ellis was able to dodge the dysentery outbreak of 1840. He’s been ballin at KU ever since pic.twitter.com/kPN625w6Ch
— Paint Lou Blue (@PaintLouBlue) November 18, 2015
Yall forgot perry ellis signed a 5 year contract extension with kansas in 2013
— UpNorth Migo (@MyManMyMelo) November 18, 2015
…the senior forward has been having yet another outstanding season. He is averaging almost 17 points and 7 rebounds per game, while shooting over 50% from the field. Ellis has turned into the college basketball equivalent of the eternal flame, and he shows no signs of slowing down as March approaches.
They protect their home court
Boston Red Sox legend Ted Williams once said, “I think without question the hardest single thing to do in sport is to hit a baseball.” Ted Williams obviously never tried to win a road game in Allen Fieldhouse. Just how hard is it to win in Lawrence? Since taking over as head coach in 2003, Bill Self has more Big 12 championships (11) than home loses (9).
The Jayhawks are currently riding a 34 game home winning streak that dates back over two years to January 2014. In a conference as cutthroat as the Big 12, there are no guarantees when you go on the road. Defending your home court is an absolute necessity if you want to remain in contention for a conference championship. Kansas has a chance to avenge all three of their recent losses with home games against West Virginia, Oklahoma State and Iowa State still remaining on their schedule.
Sophomore guard Sviatoslav Mykhailuk was just six years old the last time Kansas didn’t win at least a share of the Big 12 regular season championship. As much as opposing fans around the Big 12 want to declare that this is the year that the Jayhawks reign over the conference will finally come to an end, odds are that it isn’t. Their current streak of eleven consecutive conference championships is a mark that has only been surpassed by John Wooden’s UCLA Bruins when they won 13 conference titles in a row from 1967-1979.
They Jayhawks know that they are within spitting distance of UCLA’s record, and they will not be denied the chance to leave their mark on college basketball history without a fight. If there were ever a year for another team in the Big 12 such as Oklahoma to end the Jayhawks streak, this would be the year. The Sooners are currently a game ahead of Kansas in the standings, but a one game lead in the deepest league in America is about as safe as a Kardashian relationship.
Jayhawk fans can rest assured that Bill Self will have this team primed and ready to go by March. For the time being, I would suggest that everybody sit back, take a page out of Aaron Rodgers’ playbook and R-E-L-A-X.