Kansas visits Oklahoma State with Self’s streak of avoiding season sweeps on the line

Kansas has yet to be swept by a conference opponent in a season series since Bill Self took over as head coach in 2003.
Denny Medley-USA TODAY Sports

STILLWATER, Okla. — Kansas not only preserved its string of consecutive Big 12 basketball championships but clinched a 14th consecutive title outright before the end of the regular season.

Another streak, however, that has contributed to the Jayhawks‘ NCAA-record string of conference crowns remains in jeopardy. Since taking over at Kansas, 15th-year coach Bill Self has never been swept in a season series against a conference team.

That could change Saturday when No. 6 Kansas (24-6, 13-4 Big 12) travels to Oklahoma State (17-13, 7-10). The Cowboys claimed an 84-79 victory at Kansas on Feb. 3, one of three defeats in Allen Fieldhouse for the Jayhawks, though they now ride a five-game winning streak.

“Back when (the Big 12 was divided) north-south, you didn’t play as many home-and-homes as what you do now,” Self said, “but I know it’s been like a hundred (actually, 102) series we haven’t been swept. Certainly going to Texas Tech and going to Stillwater isn’t the remedy you would think to give you the best chance to keep that streak intact, but we’ve got an opportunity if we play well.”

Texas Tech was the other Big 12 rival to win at Kansas, but the Red Raiders tumbled in the rematch last Saturday before a home sellout crowd, enabling the Jayhawks to clinch at least a share of the conference title.

Kansas sealed its outright stake Monday by defeating Texas and securing the No. 1 seed for the Big 12 Tournament for the 10th consecutive year.

Of those 102 series with Big 12 teams since Self’s arrival, 72 resulted in season sweeps and there were 32 splits.

The Jayhawks treaded a fine line this season because they lack depth, and also because the Big 12 was thoroughly competitive top to bottom. Ten of their victories were by margins of eight points or less.

Yet Self is not sure the tight matchups necessarily make for a tougher mindset with the NCAA Tournament approaching. He recalled a conversation with former Oklahoma coach Billy Tubbs before Kansas captured the 2008 NCAA title.

“He asked me what our point differential was going into the NCAA Tournament, and I told him,” Self said. “He knew that because we were averaging winning games by 20-something. …

“He said, ‘You can win it. You know why? Players aren’t stressed.’ He hadn’t played many close games. That was his philosophy. Then you hear other people’s philosophy that you’ve been in so many close games, that may help you. I don’t know if there’s an exact formula.”

Oklahoma State, likely bound for the NIT, is coming off an 80-71 victory on Tuesday at Iowa State. The Cowboys have not posted back-to-back wins in Big 12 play.

“We need to stick to what we do most and that’s defense and get in transition,” said Oklahoma State forward Cameron McGriff, a sophomore who netted 19 points in the win at Iowa State. “Just staying together, all as one, because the crowd is going to be there and we can definitely use that energy from them, but we’ve got to also find energy ourselves.”