Warning: The Kansas basketball championship express is off and in high gear, and unless someone has enough game - or is foolhearty enough – to jump in front of this high-flying, fast-moving team of runaway Jayhawks who are building steam with each passing game, there won’t be anything left but the spoils six weeks from now, if not sooner.
I emphasis the term team, because that’s what you have right now, a total team effort. This year’s version of Kansas basketball isn’t just super freshmen Andrew Wiggins and Joel Embiid. Everyone who steps on the floor for Bill Self’s group this season – and I’m talking about 10 to 12 deep on the bench – is contributing. So, if your a Kansas opponent, who do you try to stop or double team? It’s like squeezing a balloon: You can squeeze one end, but it just pops up somewhere else.
Like it or not, the Jayhawks are about to slam the door and lock out any and all contenders on the way to their 10th consective conference championship.
But they’ve only played seven conference games, and they lost four nonconference games, you say if you are one of the anti-Kansas crowd or tired of Big 12 basketball always being about the Jayhawks and seemingly no one else. This Kansas basketball team is like a fine bottle of vino: It has gotten better with age.
Yes, the Jayhawks lost four nonconference games, but let’s look at who those losses were to: Villanova, Colorado, Florida and San Diego State. All four of those teams were ranked when they played Kansas. San Diego State is currently 18-1 and No. 5 in the Associated Press poll and Viullanova is 17-2 and ranked ninth nationally. Oh, and Florida is the country’s third-ranked team this week, according to AP, with a 17-2 record.
A loss is a loss, no matter who you lose to, but there is a very good reason why Kansas is at the very top of the list in RPI ranking. It’s because they have played the country’s most difficult schedule. And those tough games early on have only made this KU bunch grow up faster, and we are all seeing the effects of that now, approaching the midway point of the conference schedule. Something else to keep in mind: The four Jayhawk losses were by a combined 14 points. In other words, KU was in every one of those games and, with a break or two down the stretch, could easily have come out the victors.
The brutal schedule these young Jayhawks endured at the front end of the 2013-14 campaign has tested and toughened them and brought them together as a high-performing unit. Moreover, it put them in a primed and ready position to take on the teams in the Big 12, which this year has shown it is deserving of the title of best conference in college basketball. Led by KU at No. 6, four other Big 12 schools are ranked in this week’s AP poll ( Oklahoma State 8, Iowa State 16, Oklahoma 23 and Texas 25). And two others, Kansas State and Baylor, both of which have been ranked in the top 25 previously, are receiving votes.
Count ‘em. That’s seven of the 10 conference teams who are currently or have been ranked this season. No other conference can make that claim, and Kansas is at the front of the pack. And, believe me, this KU team is not about to relinguish that top perch anytime soon.
Five of the Jayhawks first seven Big 12 opponents are now or were at the time ranked, three of them (Iowa State, Baylor and Oklahoma State) at one time among the nation’s ten best teams. I can’t think of any other team in the country that can say they’ve beaten five top 25 opponents in course of the last three weeks. Kansas’ margin of victory in their seven conference wins has been 12 points. That’s more than double the winning margin of the second best team in the league in that category (Oklahoma State).
Three of Kansas’ seven conference wins through Wednesday have been away from the death valley for KU opponents known as Allen Fieldhouse. And the Hawks go for their fourth conference road win on Saturday at Texas, another ranked team, with 16 wins this year, the same number as Kansas.
The closest team to the Jayhawks in the league standings right now is Oklahoma, and the Sooners already have two conference losses to go with six Big 12 victories. That could all change on Saturday, however, as OU is at Iowa State. If Kansas is able to get by the Longhorns in Austin, and Iowa State holds home court against the surprising 17-win Sooners, Bill Self’s team will open up a three-game advantage in the loss column. If that happens, and their is a high probability that it will, the men’s basketball race in the Big 12 will be over, folks, lock, stock and barrel.
The 2013-14 Jayhawks are a good bet to go undefeated in Big 12 play this season. All right, they could lose one, possibly two, given that they still have to go to Oklahoma State and Kansas State before the season is over. But there is no way this team is going to lose three conference games in the regular season. They aren’t going to lose at Allen Fieldhouse (they’ve already beaten Oklahoma State, Baylor and Iowa State there), and they would have to lose three of their six remaining road game for that to happen.
Not to pour gasoline on an already blazing fire if you are a fan of one of the other Big 12 schools – and as a matter of full disclosure, I am - but Kansas actually is not playing as well as it could. There’s still plenty of room for improvement, coach Bill Self says. Now if that isn’t a scary thought, I don’t know what is.
I’ll even go a step further. Kansas will continue its dominance of the Big 12, and by the end of the regular season, you’re going to see a starting five and support cast that will proudly take its No. 1 seeding in the NCAA Tournament all the way to the 2014 Final Four. Whether this Kansas team can be considered one of the best, if not the best, Jayhawk teams of all time will rest on what happens from there.