Big 12 race following all-too-familiar script
A decade ago, Tiger Woods taking the lead in a tournament was synonymous with its end.
The last day or two might have been fun to watch, but the entire exercise was colored by a lack of drama.
Around that time, Kansas began a streak of Big 12 titles that reached 10 last season.
A month ago, with eight teams hovering around the top 25, a balanced league had the feel of one with a handful of contenders and a few more dark horses. Had there ever been a more wide-open Big 12 race?
Game by game, it’s become obvious yet again that one team in the league is best equipped to navigate a booby-trapped schedule.
Kansas’ only loss came by five points on the road to its chief contender for the title: Iowa State.
The Cyclones promptly lost to the Big 12’s worst team–Texas Tech–on the road a week later.
Texas can come close to matching KU’s talent level, but the Longhorns already took losses to Oklahoma (by 21 points) and Oklahoma State, who has since lost three of four. The Longhorns lost point guard Isaiah Taylor for the last 10 games of the nonconference slate and looked slow to adjust to his return with ugly performances against Oklahoma and Oklahoma State.
They’re still adjusting, in fact.
"After six games and practices I feel like he’s still somewhere in December," Barnes said of Taylor. "There’s nothing he can do about it. That’s just what it is."
Kansas traveled to Austin on Saturday to personally deliver Texas’ third Big 12 loss and eliminate the Longhorns’ best chance to gain any ground on the Jayhawks.
Kansas State? Even at 5-2 and in second place, are we talking about the same team left blushing after losses to Texas Southern and Georgia? Next.
Oklahoma? The Sooners 2-0 start has given way to a 1-4 stretch that’s eliminated the Sooners from contention.
With only a third of Big 12 play complete, the rest of the Big 12 is left feeling a lot like Tiger’s nonexistent rivals used to: Looking up at a lead that already feels insurmountable, even at one game.
"It’s going to take a lot," Iowa State coach Fred Hoiberg said of unseating the Jayhawks. "Kansas has hit a stride and they’re playing as well as any team in the country with the win at Texas. Plus they know how to win with 10 straight. We know they’ll be right there."
The Jayhawks will be more than just "right there." Only one of KU’s last seven titles has been shared. If someone manages to wrestle half of one away from the KU this year, they might just earn a screenplay and a major motion picture based on their true story. Hollywood digs triumphs over long odds.
Trips to Baylor, Iowa State and Texas are already behind the Jayhawks. Only two road trips to face ranked teams remain and is 184-9 (.953) all-time at Allen Fieldhouse.
"If you’d have told us we’d be 5-1 playing that schedule, I’d have been very pleased," Self said.
To make the odds steeper, name me a Kansas team that was markedly worse entering the conference tournament than it was entering the regular season portion of the Big 12 schedule.
"We’re coming off an uptick in Austin. Our team has grown," Self said. "We’ve gotten deeper. Even though we always had players, I don’t know if it was trusted depth, consistent depth."
Perhaps Kansas should take a page from Texas and Oklahoma, which have graciously allowed the Big 12 to crown four different champions in the last four seasons. At the very least, it’d add a little more intrigue into the last month of the conference schedule.
Instead, Kansas and its annual excellence and consistency have the second round of the round-robin schedule looking a whole lot like a victory lap.