Jayhawks find themselves in familiar spot

By Steve Sell
February 03, 2015

The Kansas Jayhawks’ Big 12 championship reign was finally supposed to end this season.

No way, the so-called experts said, could the Jayhawks survive the loss of stars Andrew Wiggins and Joel Embiid — who went Nos. 1 and 3 in the NBA draft.

The Jayhawks are a team of no seniors in their regular rotation and just two juniors. The rest are a bunch of sophomores and freshmen.

Texas was the trendy pick in the preseason, but the Longhorns have imploded. Iowa State also was mentioned in the pre-conference talk as a top chaser.

We’ve now reached the halfway point of the Big 12 schedule and, alas, nothing has changed. It still says Kansas at the top of the Big 12 standings, 1 1/2 games up on West Virginia and two-up on Iowa State. Bob Huggins’ Mountaineers have been the surprise team as they are the physically toughest team without question.

At times for KU it hasn’t been aesthetically pleasing basketball. The Jayhawks go through some mysterious scoring droughts and have been turnover prone. Their games can be somewhat choppy. They struggle against fullcourt pressure and allow big leads to evaporate.

Despite all these flaws, they are still 8-1 against the Big 12, the only loss coming at Iowa State, which has built up a homecourt advantage on par with KU’s Allen Field House. The key to the first half was the Jayhawks won at both Baylor and Texas, two of the tougher venues in the conference. They also haven’t slipped up against the dreg teams, such as TCU and Texas Tech.

The Jayhawks play five of their nine second-half games on the road. I’m guessing they’re going to lose three of those — Oklahoma, Kansas State and West Virginia. Still, I think 14-4 can earn them at least a share of the title. It’s just so tough to win on the road in the Big 12.

Of course for KU, winning the Big 12 or the postseason tournament is only window dressing. The Jayhawks know when they step on the court for the first game of the season they’re going to make the NCAA Tournament, it’s all about playing for the highest seed possible.

Kansas has been playing better in recent games. I like when Bill Self has his two point guards — Frank Mason and Devonte’ Graham — on the floor at the same time as the offense seems to run smoother. 

The wild-card is Wayne Selden Jr., who emerged from his funk on Monday to score 19 of his 20 points in the second half by burying five 3-pointers. Selden seems to be the team’s barometer — when he plays exceptional, so do the Jayhawks.

Mason has been the team’s rock and Perry Ellis for the most part is consistent (and consistently soft on defense). The rest of the Jayhawks take turns riding the roller coaster. But Self seemingly has settled on a nice nine-man rotation, with Landen Lucas the ninth man and he’s been ready when called on.

The Jayhawks’ title hopes probably hinge on their games with West Virginia. A split of those and they’ll probably be the outright champs. If they’re swept, they’ll probably share the championship.