I’m all for the well-deserved love that B1G and Big East basketball gets from my LMBF colleagues. But I also feel it’s important to speak for the underrepresented. The forgotten. What some might call “deplorables”. That’s right, we’re talking Big 12 hoops, baby.
As of Monday, the Big 12 boasts three of the top seven teams in the AP Poll: KU (#2) Baylor (#6) and WVU (#7). And even though it didn’t place another team in the most recent rankings, the conference isn’t just top heavy. It could put six or seven of its 10 teams in the tournament.
With all that parity and a trio of apparent Final Four contenders, it should be a riveting battle to the Big 12 regular-season crown over the next two months – except it won’t be, because the Kansas Jayhawks are here to Make the Big 12 Boring Again and crush my dreams.
Kansas' winning streak has now reached 17 after tonight's win at Iowa State. Years change, but the Jayhawks' Big 12 dominance does not.
— Jon Rothstein (@JonRothstein) January 17, 2017
KU has won 12 straight Big 12 regular season championships. Having grown up in Kansas, I can tell you firsthand how insufferable this streak is. It’s partially the duration; at least the other detestable blue bloods like Duke, UK and UNC have been humbled in the occasional off year. It’s partially the fans, too, who use the streak to deflect their annual Round of 32/Sweet 16 collapse or, as I call it, the Bill Self Memorial of Spring.
Bill Self should send Steph Curry a Christmas gift every year for passing the ball instead of taking the potential game winner in 08 Elite 8
— nick wright (@getnickwright) March 22, 2015
But it irks me most because I’ve watched KU’s streak deny so many great, likeable, exciting teams: Kevin Durant’s Longhorns in ’07… the “40 Minutes of Hell” Mizzou Tigers in ‘09… Buddy Hield and OU last season… and this year, they’re well on their way to doing the same.
The Jayhawks, 17-1, haven’t lost since their opener on Nov. 11 against Indiana and are 6-0 in the Big 12. They have maybe the best point guard in the country (Frank Mason), probably the best backcourt (Mason and Devonte’ Graham), a 6’8” freshman wing who’ll be a 2017 lottery pick (Josh Jackson) and a sturdy senior big man (Landen Lucas). They have all the talent, experience and pieces to warrant being not just Big 12 favorites, but title favorites, too.
And that sucks, because there’s so much else to like about the Big 12 right now.
Baylor, also 17-1, rocketed to #1 in the AP poll for hot second before its first loss last week. 6’10” forward Johnathan Motley is one of the most dynamic players in the country, and he just dropped 32 and 20 boards in last night’s 74-64 win over Texas. The Bears are crazy athletic and seem to match up well with Kansas, given their ability to make Graham and Mason uncomfortable with size and speed.
However, Baylor was badly exposed last week in an 89-68 ass-kicking at West Virginia. The Bears turned the ball over 29 (!!!) times against the Mountaineers’ and generally showed a total lack of composure and ability to make adjustments.
At what point in this game do you think Scott Drew realized West Virginia presses a lot? Has it even happened yet?
— Mark Titus (@clubtrillion) January 11, 2017
So now, Baylor will absolutely need to win on Feb. 1 in Lawrence – where the Jayhawks have won 35 straight Big 12 games – then again in Waco on the 18th if they stand any chance of unseating KU. Allen Fieldhouse is an environment that feeds on undisciplined, mentally soft teams, and Baylor still needs to prove to me they aren’t those things.
Then there’s West Virginia, which I love absolutely everything about. Avid #JumpsuitJanuary supporter Bob Huggins is a ball of emotion (mostly one emotion). Their “Press Virginia” gameplan of non-stop, full court press is as refreshing as it is dangerous. And their top scorer, Esa Ahmad, averages 12.1 points per game. The Mountaineers are simply peak college basketball and a thrill to watch.
As every KU frat boi will remind you, though, the Big 12 runs through Allen Fieldhouse. WVU will get their first shot at the Jayhawks next Tuesday in Morgantown (hide your couches now), but like Baylor, the Mountaineers will likely need to win that one and in Lawrence on Feb. 13.
And unlike Baylor, West Virginia’s style plays right into KU’s hands. Mason and Graham won’t be flustered by the press and actually thrive in an up-tempo game. Also, for everything that’s great about Bob Huggins, he isn’t what you’d call “composed”. The first time Kansas gets some of its famed home-cookin’ from the officials, Huggy Bear is blowing a gasket. It’s hard to see that ending well for the Mountaineers.
“But Baylor and West Virginia don’t need to beat Kansas twice to win the Big 12,” you say? Fair enough, but that means KU needs to lose at least two – more realistically, three or four – conference games to someone other than Baylor or WVU. Here’s why I’m not putting money on that:
- 35 STRAIGHT BIG 12 HOME WINS
- The Jayhawks already won at TCU (4th in the Big 12) and at Iowa State (5th), leaving K-State and Texas Tech as their toughest remaining road tests. Very slim chance they drop both.
- STARIGHT. BIG 12. HOME. WINS.
So here we are. Spring will come, and KU will win its 13th straight Big 12 regular season title, yet again depriving two deserving teams, and me as a Big 12 fan, a much-needed new face atop the conference.
I’ll take at least some solace in KU’s upcoming loss to a 5-seed in the Sweet 16 and will gladly, irrationally pencil West Virginia into my Final Four now. But next season, Kansas and its fans will still have their ridiculous, undeniable trump card – and there’s nothing you, I or anyone else in the Big 12 can do about it.