Jayhawks back in familiar territory

By Steve Sell
February 16, 2016

It wasn’t that long ago the last rites were being given to the Kansas Jayhawks’ long streak of 11 straight Big 12 basketball championships.

The Jayhawks were scuffling, including an ignominious loss at Oklahoma State. Court stormings when KU was on the road were becoming as predictable as Brannen Greene ending up in Bill Self’s doghouse.

Oklahoma was the chosen one, ascending to the No. 1 spot in the country. The schedule appeared to be in its favor.

But the Sooners got caught looking ahead. They stumbled at Kansas State, but figured to make up for it by knocking off KU in the much-anticipated rematch in Norman. I don't think many believed the Jayhawks could win there, considering how they've played in Big 12 road conference games.

But baby-faced sophomore assassin Devonte' Graham may have saved the Jayhawks' season. With Wayne Selden having wandered off the beaten path once again and Perry Ellis struggling — not to mention Frank Mason fouled out with more than 3 minutes to go — Graham single-handedly won the game and all of a sudden there was no longer a new sheriff in town as the old one had returned from a hiatus.

The 10-3 Jayhawks, who are a half-game up on 9-3 West Virginia, still have a lot of work to do if they're to win or share the title. The next two games will determine their fate as they play at Kansas State and Baylor. Following a home game against much-improved former punching bag Texas Tech, KU has to go to Texas and wrap up at The Phog with Iowa State, which honestly has been its biggest rival the last five years.

This KU team has taken its fans for a wild ride. The problem is the maddening inconsistency and how it seems to take stretches of games off. Selden is at the head of the class as I thought after the summer he had he wouldn't go through these funks like the one he came out of last night. Ellis has been a warrior, but even he's going to have off nights. Frank Mason still looks worn down, but Graham has emerged as a nice complement. And don't forget under-appreciated Landen Lucas, who has put together a nice string of games after emerging as the winner of the rotating post competition.

Here's how the other contenders' schedules play out:

• West Virginia (9-3) — at Texas, Oklahoma, Iowa State, at Oklahoma State, Texas Tech, at Baylor

• Oklahoma (8-4) — at Texas Tech, at West Virginia, Oklahoma State, at Texas, Baylor, at TCU

• Iowa State (7-5) — at Baylor, TCU, at West Virginia, Kansas State, Oklahoma State, at Kansas

• Texas (7-5) — West Virginia, Baylor, at Kansas State, Oklahoma, Kansas, at Oklahoma State

• Baylor (7-5) — Iowa State, at Texas, Kansas, at TCU, at Oklahoma, West Virginia

KU and Oklahoma have three of the top six left to play, West Virginia and Texas have four and Baylor has the toughest schedule, as five of its last six are against the top teams. 

West Virginia has a slightly easier schedule than KU as it plays the toughest teams at home. But if KU wins its next two road games, about the worst it will do is a tie to make it 12 championships in a row.