Bill Self’s 10th Consecutive Big 12 Title as Predictable as It Is ImpressivePosted by Kory Carpenter (@Kory_Carpenter) on February 25th, 2014
Every season, Kansas players exit the huddle with the same phrase: “Big 12 champs.” For the last decade, the chant has worked. Last night the Jayhawks clinched a share of their 10th consecutive Big 12 regular season championship with an 83-75 home win over Oklahoma. And yet, a feat that shouldn’t surprise anyone who follows college basketball is still somewhat surprising. Bill Self — who now has more Big 12 titles than losses at Allen Fieldhouse — has done well in every conference in which he has coached. He finished third in Conference USA during his first year at Tulsa prior to winning back-to-back titles there and moving up to Illinois. In Champaign, he won two Big Ten titles in three seasons before heading west to Lawrence. He then finished second in his first Big 12 season at Kansas and has won a share of the league title every year since.
Self reflected on the accomplishment last night after the win.“To get a piece of it or win it outright 10 years in a row means we’ve had a lot of good players come through here.” And he is right. But this run hasn’t been your garden variety roll-the-ball-out and dominate with better players like John Wooden’s UCLA dynasties of old. Self has won the Big 12 in just about every way imaginable. The 2008 National Championship team had four NBA draft picks in the rotation. The 2011-12 Final Four squad had former walk-on Conner Teahan as its sixth man. In 2006-07, he won the league with the nation’s best defense and 26th best offense (according to KenPom.com). This year the defense is ranked 27th but his offense is fifth (averaging nearly 80 points per game).
The Jayhawks were picked to finish fourth in the Big 12 after losing the entire lineup in 2008. Kansas State, Texas, Oklahoma and Oklahoma State have taken turns as team that were supposed to supplant them from the top. Blake Griffin and Kevin Durant were world-class college players who have become NBA superstars, but because neither played for Kansas, they never won a Big 12 title. In 2010-11, Self started five upperclassmen who won the league outright over Texas. This season he starts three freshman, a sophomore and a junior. Last night those freshmen played 125 of the possible 200 available minutes, while sophomores accounted for another 37. He’s done it with different styles, different players, different levels of competition… but the result has remained the same: Big 12 champions.
It’s not that winning regular season titles are as important as postseason success, but Kansas is creeping up on UCLA in terms of major-conference dominance. The Bruins hold the all-time college basketball record with 13 consecutive conference titles achieved from 1967-79. The Bruins also happened to win eight NCAA championships in that period. And while that is an unrealistic goal in today’s basketball world, regular season accomplishments fade quickly when the calendar turns to March. Teams, especially at the most elite level, are judged by postseason success and little else. But that might be alright for this year’s Kansas team. “We won it in 2008 and nobody knew who our leader was,” Self said last night. “Nobody knew who our go-to guy was because the go-to guy was usually the guy who was open. And I think this team’s becoming a little bit like that.” Whatever happens over the next month, the youthful 2013-14 Jayhawks won’t be the group that allowed the Big 12 streak to end. And in the halls throughout Allen Fieldhouse and the fans that pass through them, that certainly means something.