After all the hand wringing, fears that the sky was falling and a January slump that left it as far back as fourth place, the Kansas basketball team can claim a share of its 12th straight Big 12 title on Saturday when it hosts Texas Tech.
Jayhawk fans were in total dismay when the team was 5-3 after eight conference games, with the three losses coming on the road. Most disturbing was a 19-point blowout loss at Oklahoma State, which has gone on to be near the bottom of the Big 12 standings.
While his fans around him were in full-blown panic mode and some incredulously calling for his resignation, KU coach Bill Self never wavered. While the Big 12 is as competitive as it’s ever been from top to bottom, a gutty road win at Oklahoma opened the door and some of the other contenders started to slip up. With KU on a hot streak, what was a close race has turned into yet another Jayhawk coronation as I can't see it losing three games to close out the season.
This may not be one of Self’s most talented teams, but it is a veteran team that seems to respond when its back is against the wall. While many thought this was going to be the year the KU domination ended, it appears to be business as usual.
KU in the past few years had brought in the more high-profile, one-and-done, fan-pleasing types including Andrew Wiggins, Joel Embiid, Kelly Oubre and Cliff Alexander. Wiggins was a terrific individual talent, but wilted at times under pressure. Embiid's career was injury plagued, Oubre had a modicum of success while Alexander was a bust and didn't even finish out his only season.
This year's Jayhawks, though, are loaded with unheralded veterans and more of a team. Perry Ellis is a solid four-year player, and Frank Mason and Wayne Selden are three-year regulars. Landen Lucas, perhaps the key to the turnaround with his improved play, is a fourth-year junior and Devonte' Graham is a two-year standout. Off the bench is fifth-year senior Jamari Traylor and three-year player Brannen Greene, among others.
That experience served the team well when things became shaky. Ellis was always the go-to guy, Mason the most indispensable. Selden is maddening because there's games he looks like a lottery pick and others where he's destined for the D-League, but even Selden with his C-game is a good college player. Graham has stepped up in the biggest moments, saving the season with the win at OU.
I won't be surprised if KU doesn't win the Big 12 Tournament because it has nothing to play for. Given the state of parity in college basketball, it certainly has a chance at the Elite Eight or Final Four, but this could be one of those years the top seeds go out early and it won't be nearly as shocking as other years.