A few thoughts on one of college basketball’s best leagues:
12. ‘Trails end, baby, they all end’
When Texas fired baseball coach Augie Garrido in 2016, the legend said:
“If I’m not back, it’s because I couldn’t control the decision that was made. But trails end, baby. They all end.”
That’s the first thing I thought a few weeks ago when Kansas lost to Kansas State in Manhattan. I just didn’t see the Jayhawks being able to close out the league without help.
I’ve always thought for the streak to end a perfect storm of calamity would need to happen.
Make no mistake, KU should win the conference every year because no one in the league cares more about winning it. No one spends the money Kansas spends (I’m referring to the legal money, of course) and no Big 12 program has a better head coach, fan base and arena than Kansas.
For the Jayhawks not to win it, I thought, scandal, injuries, bad roster dynamics and someone would need to beat Kansas at home.
I don’t think Kansas will lose at home on Saturday, giving them an undefeated season in Lawrence, but injuries, scandal and bad roster dynamics impacted this team.
Lagerald Vick, essentially, bailed in February and Sam Cunliffe transferred in the summer, creating a roster without a reliable 3-point shooter.
Scandal happened with Silvio De Sousa’s suspension and the FBI black-mark on the program.
Injuries happened with Udoka Azubuike and Marcus Garrett missing games.
Three of the four things that needed to happen for Kansas, the Associated Press’ preseason No. 1 team, to get knocked off the perch happened.
The Jayhawks will finish third in the league and get a three, four or a five seed in the NCAA Tournament. Everyone else in the league must be shouting, “And that’s considered the worst season in two decades?”
It should be noted also that despite not winning the league, Kansas did go 2-2 against the two teams currently at the top of the standings. Mark Titus of the One Shining Podcast said earlier this year that he was hoping the streak would end with one team beating Kansas in an epic game at Allen Fieldhouse. Instead Kansas beat both Texas Tech and Kansas State at home by a combined 31 points.
Trails end, baby. It’s time to appreciate what Kansas accomplished.
11. That said, here are my top five Kansas teams from the streak
- 2010: The most dominant Kansas team of the streak
- 2008: The National Championship team
- 2012: The best coaching job of the streak
- 2009: The first time the streak should have ended but didn’t
- 2006: The first surprise crown
Honorable mention: 2011, 2017 and 2018 teams.
The 2010 Kansas team, which went 33-3, is the great forgotten team of the last 20 years in College Basketball. It was absolutely dominant but no one remembers because of the Ali Farokhmanesh shot in the 69-67 upset that knocked Kansas out of the 2010 tournament.
That team featured an All-American point guard, Sherron Collins, an All-American center, Cole Aldrich, four more NBA first round picks in Thomas Robinson (a future All-American) Marcus Morris (future All-American) and Markieff Morris and Xavier Henry. Jeff Withey was on the bench. Travis Releford (redshirted that season), Tyshawn Taylor, Tyrel Reed, Brady Morningstar and Elijah Johnson all eventually finished their KU careers as key starters and role players that went to the Elite Eight, Final Four (and the National Championship Game) and the Sweet 16 over the next three seasons.
The 2010 team went 15-1 in the Big 12.
The National Championship team of 2008 went 13-3 in Big 12 play and tied with Texas for the league championship, but hey, they’re the only Big 12 team to ever win a national title, so they must be on the list.
The 2012 team was the start of what feels like constant roster peril this decade for Kansas.
The Jayhawks lost Ben McLemore, Jamari Traylor and Braeden Anderson before the season as academic non-qualifers. They would be relying on Robinson, who hadn’t played much as a freshman and sophomore, and Taylor, a senior who had split the fan base with sometimes erratic play. Withey was sensational that season, as was Releford. Transfer Kevin Young, who spurned San Diego State late to come to Kansas, did the dirty work in the paint.
That year is best remember as the Robinson year. He had a season that stands next to Danny Manning and Frank Mason’s senior seasons as one of the best in program history. That team lost to Kentucky in the National Championship Game.
No one thought Kansas could lose eight players after winning the title and win the league, but they did in 2009 and Self won National Coach of the Year because of it. They had a big assist from Oklahoma’s Blake Griffin, who got hurt and allowed Kansas to climb into the league race. If Griffin doesn’t get hurt, the streak probably ends in 2009.
The first conference title Kansas won in the streak was expected, with seniors like Wayne Simien, Keith Lanford and Aaron Miles. Kansas finished tied with Oklahoma at 12-4 in the league in 2005.
The second one was not. That Kansas team was so thin that walk-on Christian Moody had to play major minutes. Freshmen Brandon Rush, Micah Downs, Mario Chalmers and Julian Wright– probably the greatest recruiting class in Self’s time at Kansas– struggled early. Somehow that team tied Texas at the top of the standings.
The Longhorns had LaMarcus Aldridge, Daniel Gibson and P.J. Tucker. UT beat Kansas by 25 points in Austin, and then KU stunned the Longhorns with a win in the Big 12 Championship Game. It’s one of Self’s best coaching jobs. Of course that team lost in the first round of the tournament, so it’s not remember fondly by KU fans.
10. The game Kansas would love to have back
Kansas lost this streak the moment they fell to West Virginia in Morgantown. No one knew that at the time, but that’s the game Kansas would like to have back. Up eight points with less than five minutes to play against one of the two worst teams in the league, that’s the difference maker.
9. Does the streak start over again in 2020?
The answer to that question lies on whether the NCAA fast-tracks some type of investigation regarding the FBI recruiting scandal.
I doubt it, but you never know.
If KU decides to head off the NCAA and announce a postseason ban next year I would be stunned, but it’s not out of the question. Clearly KU thinks they have a counter argument to the scandal or they wouldn’t have blasted the NCAA following the De Sousa suspension.
If you base it on roster projection, KU should have Devon Dotson, Ochai Agbaji, David McCormick and Quentin Grimes returning. All should be better as sophomores. Marcus Garrett and Mitch Lightfoot are expected to be back.
Dedric Lawson is almost certainly gone to the NBA.
The big question is the biggest player. Azubuike flirted with the NBA last season and returned. I expect him to return, but Kansas City Star beat reporter Gary Bedore doesn’t, and he knows Kansas basketball better than anyone on the planet not named Bill Self.
Regardless, a potential line-up of Azubuike, Lightfoot/McCormick, Garrett, Grimes and Dotson is one of the best in the league.
The program isn’t going anywhere and it’s too early to know what is going to happen at other programs– namely Iowa State and TCU, who could potentially be the best teams next season if Desmond Bane (TCU) and Marial Shayock (ISU) return. But if we’re playing that game, Lawson could return and Kansas would be the overwhelming favorite. Again.
8. Are you as happy as I am that ESPN can retire the ‘streak talk?’
How refreshing will it be to watch Big 12 basketball next season and not have to hear about the streak, “Will Kansas keep it going,” or “Kansas versus the field.”
Sometimes narratives get old and that one got old after Kansas’ 11th straight title.
7. Who’s the next Kansas in the Big 12?
The obvious answer is Kansas is the next Kansas in the Big 12, but if we assume the Jayhawks may have some lean years coming due to NCAA troubles, what program can emerge to be the dominant one over the next few years?
If Kansas State can stay at this level after the loses of Barry Brown, Dean Wade and Kam Stokes following the season, then they have real potential. Same can be said about Texas Tech, who needs to hope that Chris Beard doesn’t get lured away to another job.
The problem is those programs aren’t the easiest jobs in the world and great coaching and some luck played into those programs building the rosters they did. Jarrett Culver, Wade and Brown going from lightly regarded players out of high school to college stars is something that doesn’t always happen.
I say this because Oklahoma went to the Final Four a few years ago and then won just 11 games the next season after graduation ravaged the program. And OU had more pieces back then Tech will have next season.
Baylor is the team I always pencil in here because Scott Drew has shown he consistently wins — maybe he doesn’t always go to the tournament, but he never bottoms out.
West Virginia is the same way, but it’s clear that the gimmicky “Press Virginia” era has ran its course — unless the Mountaineers enroll another Jevon Carter type this offseason.
The obvious answer is Texas and TCU.
TCU is in a recruiting hotbed and Texas can recruit any player they want. Both of those programs were put on a path to success or trying to get on the path to success by Chris Del Conte, the former athletic director at TCU and current AD at Texas.
6. What’s future hold for the league’s greatest basketball coach?
Bill Self is the greatest Big 12 basketball coach of all-time.
Until this season, Self had won every league title outside of his first year at KU. It’s just remarkable.
His star doesn’t shine as bright ever since he was heard on a wiretap telling a bag-man to keep sending him good players last fall. Then again it’s clear Self was just a part of a corrupt system that runs college basketball recruiting. The Brian Bowen Sr., testimony at the same trial shows that.
Where Self goes from here is a good question. Now that the streak is over, does Self cash his NBA chips in? Or does he not want to be seen as someone who ran away from the NCAA, like Pete Carroll once did?
It wouldn’t surprise me if Self decides to retire, especially after this season. I don’t think that happens, but with everything surrounding the program, perhaps he and the athletic department decides a soft break would be ideal and maybe the NCAA sees that Kansas has taken steps to change it’s program.
I believe we’ll one day see Self coach in the NBA.
As for Kansas, I wouldn’t be too worried about them finding a coach. The school will make whoever they would hire one of the five highest-paid coaches in the country and the list of potential candidates would probably be a mile long.
5. Oklahoma, TCU and Texas are probably in the tournament. Should they be?
Texas is an emphatic yes. Despite the team being blown out Monday in Lubbock, Texas’ wins over North Carolina and Purdue matter just as much as a win over Texas Tech would have. The Kansas State win looks great and I’ve always believed the committee cares more about who teams beat than who teams lost to and thus I think Texas is safely in.
But TCU is not a team that should be dancing.
The Horned Frogs’ best win was at Iowa State. Outside that, they weren’t really even competitive against Texas Tech and Kansas State at home this month. Against Kansas, the clear third-best team in this league, TCU had opportunities to win and didn’t. Their non-conference schedule wasn’t great.
The Horned Frogs had major roster issues that caused them to play the last two months with limited scholarship players, but two loses by double-digits in back-to-back home games like they did against the top- two teams is a sign that TCU doesn’t belong in the tournament.
Oklahoma at least played a challenging non-conference schedule, but for that team to be that average without a season-ending injury to a key player is puzzling. But after dominating Kansas on Tuesday, I think they’re in. Perhaps they even climb up a seed if they can somehow spoil Kansas State’s season on Saturday.
4. Chris Beard’s masterpiece
In some ways, Texas Tech coach Chris Beard’s tenure in Lubbock, so far, reminds me a lot of Fred Hoiberg’s time at Iowa State.
Not from the style of play, the coaching demeanor or any actual basketball style. But in the way he and his program have captured the national spotlight, gotten lightly recruited players and transfers to play at a high level and how they’ve just overwhelmed teams with the way they play.
Obviously they did it differently — Hoiberg’s teams outscored teams and weren’t good defensively, while Beard’s teams smother offenses and then crash down on teams who make mistakes offensively. It makes you realize how great Duke is when you realize that the Blue Devils came back from double-digits in the second half on the Red Raiders.
Like Hoiberg, Beard is going to be facing looming questions about his future until it become obvious he’s not leaving.
I hope he stays. He and Lubbock go together like West Texas and cowboy boots.
If Tech was smart, they would lean heavily into the basketball market and make Lubbock the place where Texas prospects want to play because the coach knows what he’s doing (he’ll have produced two lottery pick guards after this season) and the fan base has bought in.
If he left for another job his biggest adjustment would be not having the Whataburger name-drop in his postgame press conference, but the way he coaches, I suspect he could win anywhere he goes.
That is of course if he stays true to who he is, which is to say if he goes to place where the fan base demands he chases 5-star prospects instead of recruiting the best players to his style, then he could have problems.
3. Player of the Year
Kansas coach Bill Self said he didn’t think any player had separated themselves from the Player of the Year race earlier this week.
That’s funny, because I’m pretty sure he has the leader. Lawson should be the league’s POY, but there’s no way a KU player wins in a season the Jayhawks didn’t win the league. But Barry Brown has been the best player on the best team in the league this season.
Here’s my postseason accolades prediction:
- POY: Barry Brown, Kansas State senior
- Defensive Player of the Year: Matt Mooney, Texas Tech, senior
- Newcomer of the Year: Dedric Lawson, Kansas, junior
- Freshman of the Year: Devon Dotson, Kansas
- Sixth man of the Year: Brandone Francis, Texas Tech, senior
- Coach of the Year: Bruce Weber, Kansas State
First team All-Big 12:
- Marial Shayok, Iowa State, junior
- Jarrett Culver, Texas Tech, sophomore
- Dean Wade, Kansas State, senior
3. Big 12 tournament thoughts
After the last three months, don’t be surprised if Texas Tech and Kansas State take a pass on trying to win the Big 12 tournament.
If Kansas State were to win the league outright, I believe they will have secured a No. 2 seed. If Tech wins it outright, they have an outside shot at a No. 1 seed, but Gonzaga, Tennessee and Kentucky would all have to lose in their conference tournaments, and then maybe Tech has a chance. Duke and Virginia, to me, are locks on the 1-line but perhaps North Carolina sneaks in if they beat Duke at home this weekend.
The fact is though if you’re a lock for a top-3 seed and have only an outside shot at a No. 1 seed, then why go full-tilt to win three games in three days against teams that need wins more than you?
I’d be floored if Stokes played for KSU in the Big 12 Tournament. I’d be surprised if Dean Wade played in it. Texas Tech doesn’t have the same issues, but perhaps Beard gets his bench players more minutes. Both KSU and TTU rely on jump shooting and 3-point shooting to win, so tired legs aren’t great to have in the middle of March.
The teams who need to win the most at the tournament are the ones we’ve mentioned above. Texas, TCU and OU. These would be potential second-round games for the top teams. Kansas is probably somewhere between a No. 3 and No. 4, and I don’t think a loss in the conference tournament is bumping them a line. Baylor can climb with wins, but they too are a lock to make the tournament and have dealt with injuries this season.
The darkhorse is West Virginia. I wouldn’t want to play that team next week.
1. Kudos to Kansas State
I think Kansas State will win the league outright this weekend at home, and their seniors deserve it.
The Wildcats went to the Elite Eight last year and returned pretty much everyone from that team, but they took huge steps this season. You can make the case that two of the program’s all-time greatest players are on this team, Wade and Brown, and they refused to let KSU lose the dumb games they’ve lost in past years that kept them from winning the league.
The popular Big 12 pick to win tournament games in less than two weeks will be Texas Tech. But I like KSU more because Wade is a tough matchup and Brown can carry KSU for large stretches. Then you have to figure out how to stop Xavier Sneed, who has become a terrific defender and can knock down shots.
Bruce Weber deserves Big 12 Coach of the Year even though Beard will get more love nationally. Weber’s ability to get his teams to play hard is his greatest skill.