It was the game of the day in college basketball and arguably one of the most important of the 2016-17 season. No. 3 Kansas escaped with a thrilling 67-65 victory over No. 4 Baylor in Waco on Saturday. The Jayhawks clinched the victory thanks to a couple of Landen Lucas free throws with just 12 seconds remaining.
This wild victory had wide-ranging implications. Here are five takeaways:
This win basically clinches Kansas’ 13th straight Big 12 title
With Kansas’ win on Monday over West Virginia and Baylor’s loss to Texas Tech the same night, the Jayhawks’ pursuit of a 13th straight Big 12 title was a hot topic all week. Now it’s time for us to (un)officially begin the celebration. Barring a Golden State Warriors-esque collapse (did you know they were down 3-1 to the Cavs?), Kansas will once again be your Big 12 champions.
The Jayhawks have a three-game lead over their closest competitors in the loss column with just four games to play, and can clinch a share of the Big 12 title with a win over TCU at home Wednesday. If that happens, they can clinch it outright next weekend against Texas.
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Frank Mason is the front-runner for National Player of the Year
We all know the value of Lonzo Ball and Josh Hart. But neither has the game-in, game-out impact on a championship-caliber team that Mason does. And it’s not just his stats; it's that he always seems come up huge at the most crucial time for the Jayhawks. Saturday was no exception.
On an afternoon when Devonte' Graham was awful (1-for-12 from the field) and Josh Jackson was good but not his best (16 points, one rebound), it was Mason who again stepped up. He finished with 23 points on highly efficient 7-of-13 shooting and added eight assists. Did you notice who defended Baylor guard Manu Lecomte on the final possession of the game? You guessed it. Frank Mason.
A lot can change between now and early March. But if the season ended today, Mason should be your National Player of the Year.
Baylor is good enough to win the national title
Because it isn't a traditional power and because somewhere along the way people decided Scott Drew can’t coach (utterly absurd), most folks refuse to put Baylor in the title conversation. If Saturday's effort didn’t prove that the Bears can play with anybody, nothing will.
Not only does Baylor have a boatload of good wins (Oregon, Louisville, Xavier, Michigan State), it has played Kansas down to the wire twice. The Bears had the ball with less than 15 seconds to play and a chance to win at Phog Allen Fieldhouse a few weeks ago, and found themselves in the same situation Saturday. Baylor is 0-2 against Kansas but easily could be 2-0.
If you can play Kansas that well twice in one season, you can play with anyone. It also means that the Bears could make it all the way to Glendale. And maybe win the whole thing.
Kansas has the heart of a champion
Will the Jayhawks win the national championship? In a sport in which you need to win six, single-elimination games to take home the title, anything can happen. But I wouldn't bet against the Jayhawks.
On Saturday, the Jayhawks once again showed their championship heart and proved that you can’t count them out – no matter who they’re playing or where. Kansas scored the final eight points to beat Baylor, after overcoming a 14-point deficit late against West Virginia on Monday.
Sure, some others factors have aided those rallies (officiating, poor play by the opposing team), but you eventually need to stop making excuses and start giving the Jayhawks credit for who they are and what they do. They continue to find ways to win close games. That’s a skill, and one that is hard not to appreciate at this time of year.
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Let’s do it again?
The past two games between these clubs have been really fun. And it would be great to see them square off one more time in the Big 12 tourney in Kansas City.
Heck, while we’re at it, why not a fourth meeting in the Final Four?