Somewhere out in North Carolina on a cold night in February, I’m sure eight year-old Devonte’ Graham was practicing basketball on the blacktop while Wayne Simien and the Kansas Jayhawks got a beat down in Stillwater by Tony Allen and the Cowboys. That evening, in his first season as Kansas head coach, Bill Self would suffer what still is one of the largest defeats of his tenure, losing to Oklahoma State by 20.
That same season, Self finished tied for second in conference with a 12-4 record, while the aforementioned Cowboys went on to win the Big 12. That was the last time Kansas failed to win the Big 12 championship, every year since then -13 years straight- they have secured at least a share of the Big 12 regular season championship.
This streak is amazing considering that John Wooden’s UCLA team from 67-79 is the only other team to have accomplished such a feat, and another championship this season would set Bill Self and Kansas apart. However, this is looking to be the year it all comes crashing down.
Pundits have begun to question just how good this team really is and although I do agree this is one of the weaker versions of recent Kansas basketball, I would say that the level of play in the Big 12 is the biggest reason why the 14th straight conference championship is already beginning to look bleak.
1. West Virginia (+1)
Now that conference play has begun, we really begin to sort out who truly is the best team in the conference, and truly it’s been right under our noses this entire time. West Virginia is the best team in this conference and they have been since November. After losing the season opener to A&M, Bob Huggins’ group has gone on a tear winning 13 straight, including both road games over the weekend. Jevon Carter has been a monster averaging 17 points a game and if it wasn’t for a certain somebody down in Norman, he’d likely win player of the year.
2. Oklahoma (-1)
That certain someone previously mentioned happens to be Trae Young, I’m sure if you’ve heard of him. Young added another tool to his skill set Wednesday night, as he collected nine rebounds in the Oklahoma’s win over their rivals, Oklahoma State. Young was just one rebound shy of his first triple double of the season. The Sooners also went to Fort Worth and handed the previously unbeaten Horned Frogs their first loss of the season as well in a tight knit contest, as Young used his teammates down the stretch to get his team the victory.
3. Texas Tech (+3)
What about the team that beat the kings of the conference? Tech has looked remarkable and fans are already placing this team among the best in program history. This win over Kansas wasn’t just some fluke or a season nice highlight before inevitable doom that usually follows Tech athletics whenever something good happens. No, this is a team that started the conference season by beating a ranked team by 20, and then going into one of the top five toughest places to play in college basketball and beating a top 10 team by double digits. Tech was the better team in both scenarios, and has proven to be this good all along. Tech is just a Seton Hall hot streak away from an undefeated season, and it’s time that the rest of the league, and us as fans, took notice.
4. TCU (-1)
TCU played the best two teams they’ve faced all year and came out 1-1. Two very close, very tough match-ups and played them both tough. The overtime victory over Baylor, on the road, will do wonders for the psyche of this team going forward.
5. Kansas (-1)
Look, Kansas isn’t dead. I mean they only have one conference loss for crying out loud. However, the concern should definitely be there for this team. Good news could be soon coming for this team as both Billy Preston and Silvio de Sousa could become available soon. Both players would be big boosts to a Jayhawk team that looks like it desperately needs it if it wants to continue their streak.
6. Kansas State (+2)
Since losing to Tulsa, this Wildcats team has looked better and better. They went into Ames and did what they were supposed to do, win comfortably over an inferior opponent. The more impressive thing this team accomplished was truly pushing West Virginia to the brink Tuesday night. No shame in losing to a team vastly superior and the way, K-State fought should be a good sign going forward.
7. Baylor (-2)
Baylor found out that losing feels terrible no matter how you do it. Baylor took a beating in Lubbock, and then followed that up by losing a heart breaker at home to TCU. It’s difficult to gauge whether this Bears team is overrated or just had two games against tough competition. They’ll get a chance to prove their worth this weekend against Texas.
8. Oklahoma State (-1)
The Big 12 did the Cowboys no favors when it came to scheduling. They started off the conference slate going up against the two best teams in the conference and suffering losses to both of them. Luckily, for them their next four games are against teams in the bottom half of the conference. If Okie State wants to enjoy March Madness, they are going to need to rack up wins in these upcoming games.
9. Texas (-)
Earlier this season, Texas played on of their best games of the season in a losing effort to Duke while later on beating Tennessee State in a rather dismal and embarrassing fashion. Well, the Longhorns found a way to do both again. Texas came close to pulling off an upset over ranked Kansas and looked impressive in the showing as Bamba put up 22 points, 15 rebounds, and a staggering eight blocks. Then UT followed that up by looking terrible in their next game barely beat lowly Iowa State. Not too many times can a team look better in a loss than they do in a win and then replicate that feat again. This is such an odd team.
10. Iowa State (-)
Just as much as we’ve been able to find the best team in the conference, we’ve also found the worst. Iowa State was able to schedule weak opponents in the non conference and tally nine wins in the process but now it’s time to put up and it’s safe to say, they just do not have the talent and skill level to keep up with the other nine teams in conference. Their still good enough to pose a threat of upset in the season and Ames, IA will always be a tough place to play, but expect them to be fighting for a CBI spot.