What Makes #13 Different For KansasPosted by Brian Goodman on February 23rd, 2017
Kansas‘ 13th consecutive regular season Big 12 title became a formality after its comeback win over Baylor last weekend, but it’s felt like an inevitability in practical terms since February 4 when the Jayhawks’ closest challengers failed to capitalize on a rare loss at Allen Fieldhouse. That doesn’t make The Streak (TM) any less impressive, however. In fact, this season’s run to the regular season title — a share of which was clinched in Wednesday’s 87-68 win over TCU — represents Bill Self‘s best coaching job since taking the reins at Kansas in 2003. Here are three reasons why.
- Conference Strength – The Big 12 has been the nation’s best conference for several years now, but it’s never been as deep as this year even if it only sends six teams to the NCAA Tournament this time. The residents of the conference’s cellar help tell the story, too. Oklahoma at 3-12 is the worst team in the league, but the Sooners still rank among KenPom’s top 75 with a resume that includes a win at West Virginia and close losses to Baylor, Oklahoma State (twice), TCU and Wichita State. All five of those opponents are either safe bets to make the NCAA Tournament or right on the periphery, which goes to show that the also-rans of the other power leagues simply can’t compare. With just two league losses to date, Kansas leads the Big 12 by three games and could add even more padding before the regular season ends.
- Clutch Performance – The Jayhawks sport a record of 10-2 this season in games decided by six points or fewer. Kansas has won the vast majority of its close battles, and the team has done so in spite of depth issues that would cause less mentally-tough squads to wear down. It would be irresponsible to ignore a few favorable calls Self’s club received along the way, but lesser teams are typically not in position to benefit from those moments — especially on the road — without impressive performances to that point. Late-game adjustments and consistent play-making have been a hallmark of most of Self’s teams, but this group has taken the flair for the dramatic to a new level.
- Adjustments and Player Development – It’s been written before, but it bears repeating: This is not a typical Kansas team. It’s thinner than usual, rarely runs a high-low offensive set, and its defense has a habit of bending without breaking. It counts former Towson and Appalachian State commitments among its best players, and perhaps the most valuable player on the roster is a redshirt senior who was the team’s consolation prize after losing Kaleb Tarczewski. At the same time, this isn’t a ragtag bunch either. That former Towson commitment is in a close race for National Player of the Year and the team’s x-factor is likely to be selected in the top five of this June’s draft. This isn’t Self’s most talented team, so the bigger story is how he has adapted his philosophy to fit his team’s strengths while developing the core into one capable of cutting down the nets in Glendale.