Kansas isn't new No. 1, but it sure could be
They can beat you slowly. Or quickly. Your choice. Hey, they're nice like that. Bill Self is nothing if not polite.
They can pound you like bread dough. They can dice you with little Ginsu knives, the kind that never get dull or break.
They can go big. They can go small. They can cha-cha. They can waltz. Pick the record, Kansas will find a way to dance to it. That, and beat you over the head. Metaphorically speaking, of course.
Value City Arena? Tough crowd. Previously unbeaten Michigan just fell there by three on Sunday to a salty Ohio State squad.
Kansas played there on Dec. 22. And won by eight.
Colorado? The team that thought it had 15-1 Arizona beat in Tucson, save for that slightly controversial replay review? The Buffs visited the Jayhawks in Lawrence back on Dec. 8.
Kansas clubbed 'em. By 36.
But when it comes the question of who should be No. 1 in the land — even though Louisville officially took that spot Monday in the new Associated Press poll — don't take our word for it. We'll turn the microphone over to Temple coach Fran Dunphy, whose Owls scared the ever-living pants off of Kansas before falling 69-62 on Jan. 6 at Allen Fieldhouse.
A reporter asked Dunphy, who's seen it all, whose kids took out mighty Syracuse, if he noticed any weaknesses in this particular bunch of Jayhawks.
"Well, I don't see any weaknesses," Dunphy replied. "I think they have a really good basketball team … I think they're a legitimate top program in the country."
And there you go. Now that all the big boys have at least one loss each, it's a fleeting consensus but a beautiful debate. There are lots of ways to go at this, and none of them could be considered wrong. Duke is still No. 1 in terms of RPI; Ken Pomeroy's computer rankings have Florida at the top. Louisville was the highest-ranked team in the polls to not lose this past week.
Arizona can claim five wins against the unofficial RPI Top 50, as many as Duke. Indiana looked jaw-droppingly brilliant for a half against Minnesota, and then — well, not so brilliant. The Hoosiers also lost to Butler, which lost to Xavier, which lost to Wofford, which lost to Appalachian State, which lost to High Point, which lost to Radford, which … look, you get the point.
Meanwhile, circling around the rest of the carnage, there's Kansas. Lurking.
You want numbers? The Jayhawks go into their Monday showdown with Baylor with a 14-1 record and all the computer plaudits to match: No. 3 in RPI, No. 5 in strength of schedule, No. 7 on KenPom.com, 4-1 vs. the RPI Top 50.
You want momentum? Self's men are riding a 13-game winning streak, having dropped a squeaker to Michigan State back on Nov. 13 in Atlanta. They've shifted it up about six gears ever since. Even when the Jayhawks aren't in form — and they haven't been in form for a week or so, barely surviving Temple and Iowa State at home and sleepwalking at Texas Tech — their ceiling remains ridiculous.
You want stars? No one in college basketball changes shots, and game plans, the way center Jeff Withey, a 7-footer with the wingspan of a pterodactyl, does in the paint.
Because of Withey, who's averaging 4.8 blocks per contest, one of the more sensible ways to attack Kansas, on paper, is to run at the Jayhawks before they can set up defensively in the half-court. That or shoot the lights out from the perimeter, the way the Cyclones did for 39-minutes-and-change before freshman guard Ben McLemore decided to bank in a 3-pointer and break their heart.
And Temple tried to run at the Jayhawks, for a while. But once it turned into a half-court contest over the final four minutes or so, the Owls were cooked.
"You can't practice against that," Dunphy said, "how dominant (Withey) is inside there."
The Jayhawks are a fascinating mix of old and young; a blend of studs, transfers and kids; of five-stars and the star-crossed. Teams have tried to grind them. Teams have tried to gas them. Teams have tried to bludgeon them silly. There's no formula for beating them.
Think about it for a second. Withey in the post. Senior ballhawk Travis Releford patrolling one wing, the high-flying McLemore — who's being touted by some as a No. 1 draft pick — at the other. Self on the sideline, pointing fingers and pushing buttons.
You want a piece of that? Really?
"There (are) probably 10 schools that can come out of this fight in (the) NCAA (tourney) this year and be right there at the end," Dunphy said. "And I would count (Kansas) among them."
They're real. More than that, they're spectacular.
You can follow Sean Keeler on Twitter @seankeeler or email him at firstname.lastname@example.org