The Kansas Jayhawks are shaking. They’re wobbling. They’ve vulnerable. But they have not been knocked out just yet.
For right now, Kansas’s streak of consecutive Big 12 regular season titles has not been broken. Through five conference games, the Jayhawks are 4-1 and are tied atop the Big 12 standings with Texas Tech, West Virginia, and Oklahoma.
Devonte’ Graham and the rest of the Jayhawks have found a way to win several close matchups in conference play. The team has won its last three games by a combined ten points. Graham and Malik Newman made clutch plays down the stretch to close out those games. Kansas has had to fight for every win they have gotten against Big 12 opponents.
This season, the Big 12 is as deep as it has ever been. Seven or eight of the conference’s ten teams will play in the NCAA Tournament. There is no other conference in College Basketball that will have 70 or 80 percent of its teams playing in The Big Dance. Every team in the conference is ranked in the top 100 in the kenpom ratings. In fact, only one team in the conference is ranked outside the top 60. That team, the Iowa State Cyclones, almost defeated the Jayhawks at Allen Fieldhouse last week.
The four teams tied atop the Big 12 standings are all national championship contenders. Kansas can get hot from behind the three-point line and has the veteran leadership necessary to win in March.
West Virginia hounds their opponents with a relentless full-court press. The Mountaineers had a 15-game winning streak without its one of its best players, Esa Ahmad. Ahmad returned on Saturday and almost helped the Mountaineers to a tough road win at Texas Tech. West Virginia lost by one point in that game, but they look to be the most complete team in the conference.
Oklahoma has freshman sensation Trae Young, who leads the country in points per game and assists per game. Young has the ability to singlehandedly take over games. He will not be intimidated by the mystique of Allen Fieldhouse.
Texas Tech has undergone a quick rebuild under head coach Chris Beard. The Red Raiders’ leading scorer, Keenan Evans, averages over 17 points per game, but the Red Raiders have a balanced scoring attack. Nine Red Raiders currently average at least five points per game. Texas Tech easily defeated Kansas at Allen Fieldhouse, which is not a task that an average team can accomplish. They will contend for the conference title.
The next ten days will determine the fate of Kansas’s Big 12 title streak. They play a road game at West Virginia tonight. Then, they play Baylor at home on Saturday before going on a trip to Norman to face Oklahoma next Tuesday. The Jayhawks must win one of those road contests in order to have a chance at extending their Big 12 title streak.
The game at West Virginia will be difficult. KU has lost four straight games at WVU Coliseum, and only one of the losses was a close game. Last year, the Jayhawks ran out of gas in the final minutes as the Mountaineers closed the game with a 25-10 run. The aforementioned Ahmad had 27 points. His return gives the Mountaineers a great chance to win tonight in convincing fashion.
Kansas defeated Oklahoma on the road last year, but the Sooners return almost everyone from last year’s team. Oh, and they added that Trae Young guy as well. Kansas has had success in Norman in recent years, but they have not had to face Young. KU will have to hope Graham can defend Young the way he defended Buddy Hield a few years ago.
If Kansas loses both of those games, they will need plenty of help in order to win the Big 12 title. They have looked very vulnerable at home, and could easily lose at home against West Virginia and Oklahoma.
The Jayhawks still have everything in front of them. The next ten days will be crucial in deciding whether the streak is extended to 14 straight.