It was far from easy and certainly not an artful performance, but by outlasting Sunflower State rival Kansas State on Tuesday in a critical road test, there are many around Big 12 Country and college basketball who are now ready to concede yet another conference championship to the top-five-ranked Kansas Jayhawks.
The Jayhawks survived a narrow four-point win in a defensive-minded contest in which neither team reached the 60-point mark for the game. The 59-55 final outcome was spot-on the scoring-defense average for the two teams, but, a good 12-15 points below their season scoring average. So you could say that the low score was not surprising.
You could say the same for Kansas winning at Bramlage Coliseum, where the Jayhawks own a dominating 23-2 record since the building opened in 1988. The irony is, Kansas State has fared better at KU’s Allen Fieldhouse – if only by a mere one more win over the same length of time – than the Wildcats have at home against their in-state rival.
Nevertheless, Kansas State always manages to present one of the biggest obstacles for Kansas every season, it seems, which makes Tuesday night’s road win over the top-20 ranked Wildcats all the more telling.
There is a long-held axiom in the topsy-turvy world of college basketball that a team must win all of its home games and do no worse than 50-50 away from home if it wants to contend for a league championship. With the road win over the Wildcats safely in the win column for the eight-time defending conference champion Jayhawks, and looking ahead at Kansas’ remaining league schedule, it is difficult to see how the perennial Big 12 hoops favorite can fail to add a ninth consecutive conference crown to its already overflowing trophy case.
I know, anything can happen in this conference and typically does, but given the fact that the overall strength of the Big 12 in basketball is down this season compared with past years (rated fifth in RPI among major conferences), it’s virtually unthinkable to think head coach Bill Self’s bunch is going to lose more than a game or two in league play, and every team in the league other than KU has at least one loss already.
The Jayhawks are virtually unbeatable at legendary and loud 16,000-seat Allen Fielhouse (Kansas has only lost 26 games out of the last almost 390 games played at home in the past 25 years), and three of their five wins so far this season have come in foreign arenas. Kansas still has six road contests remaining, of which stops at Oklahoma, Oklahoma State, Iowa State and the regular-season finale at Baylor appear, at this time, to pose the greatest challenge. And of those four teams, the Hawks’ final two road contest are likely the ones to worry about for KU fans.
Here’s one more telling stat for anyone who doubts Kansas’ high probablity of succesfully sustaining its conference dominance in basketball (if only some of this could carryover to football): Of the Jayhawks’ 13 remaining regular-season games, seven are against teams that have won just four of 24 games.
It may not be over till it’s over, as Yogi Berra likes to say, but I’m telling you, KU’s victory over Kansas State Tuesday night, giving the Wildcats their first conference loss, signals that this season’s Big 12 basketball race is most likely just a week to 10 days from being over. It’s almost a slam dunk.
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