The Remarkable Consistency of Kansas in a Sport That Favors the Unexpected

Posted by Chris Stone on March 4th, 2015

Kansas rather unceremoniously captured a share of its 11th straight Big 12 regular season title when Iowa State roared back for a 77-70 win over Oklahoma in Ames Monday night. The Jayhawks came into last night’s home game against West Virginia wanting to be selfish, as head coach Bill Self told the Lawrence Journal-World, “We don’t want to share it.” It took five extra minutes of basketball to get it done, but Kansas clinched the outright Big 12 regular season title with a thrilling overtime victory over the Mountaineeers. The Jayhawks’ 11th Big 12 title in a row (shared or outright) ties Gonzaga’s WCC streak from 2001-11 for the second-longest streak in college basketball history. Nothing else in the modern era of college basketball even comes close. “I will be shocked if it happens again in a major conference,” Self said after the game. The streak, though, doesn’t end here. The number Kansas is chasing is 13 — John Wooden’s UCLA program won every Pac-8/10 conference title from 1967-79.

Screenshot 2015-03-04 09.17.03

Before chasing more historical milestones, the Jayhawks must worry about a somewhat cloudy remainder of this season. After an NCAA issue was raised last week, Kansas is still awaiting word on freshman Cliff Alexander’s eligibility. He has missed the last two games and his family has hired an attorney to expedite the investigation, but it remains unclear whether the big man will return to the Jayhawks’ lineup this season. The larger concern is with junior Perry Ellis. Ellis suffered a sprained knee in last night’s game against West Virginia and is likely to miss Saturday’s final regular season game with Oklahoma. Team doctors told Self that Ellis may be able to return in time for the Big 12 Tournament and Kansas will assuredly need its leading scorer at full health if it hopes to make any sort of run in the NCAA Tournament this year.

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Big 12 M5: 03.02.15 Edition

Posted by Brian Goodman on March 2nd, 2015

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  1. Kansas moved one win closer to clinching an amazing 11th straight conference title with a close win on Saturday over Texas, but questions abound as to the nature of a potential NCAA eligibility case involving freshman forward Cliff Alexander. According to Sports Illustrated, Alexander is represented by Arthur McAfee, a Washington, D.C.-based attorney with significant experience working with the NCAA from both sides of the table. McAfee, Alexander and Kansas head coach Bill Self are pulling for a quick resolution so Alexander can be eligible for the Jayhawks’ remaining games, but as we’ve come to learn from all sorts of NCAA cases, it’s incredibly tough to predict when a resolution will be reached.
  2. Once 3-4 in Big 12 play, Oklahoma finds itself with a decent chance of sharing the Big 12 title with Kansas and a small chance of winning it outright. While there’s no doubt the Sooners are an incredibly good team, they’ve also benefited recently from a few breaks, winning their last three contests by a combined 13 points including Saturday’s seven-point win over TCU. The Sooners will look to stay alive in the hunt for the Big 12 crown tonight when they head on the road to face a scuffling Iowa State squad.
  3. Kansas State‘s sudden surge of strong victories have many asking a question that seemed absolutely insane last week: Do the Wildcats have any chance of making the NCAA Tournament? The Sporting News‘ Mike DeCourcy remains bearish on Bruce Weber’s team due to its incredibly high number of losses (15) for a team with Tournament aspirations, particularly the low-level opponents that felled Kansas State in the non-conference slate. With some back-of-the-napkin math, it looks like Kansas State still needs to win its last game against Texas, which won’t be a walk in the park, and leave Kansas City with at least two wins next week to even get back in the conversation.
  4. It’s danger time for Oklahoma State, which saw its losing streak balloon to five games with an untimely loss to Texas Tech. The Cowboys are back on the bubble with two games remaining, but since this is the Big 12, opportunities still abound. This week they’ll play host to TCU on Senior Day before going on the road to wrap up the regular season against West Virginia. The ceiling has never been very high for this year’s Pokes due to its reliance on standouts Le’Bryan Nash and Phil Forte, but the same team that swept Baylor, won at Texas and bested Kansas at home needs to return soon.
  5. In a touching moment on Saturday, Oklahoma honored the memory of a young fan, Reat Griffin Underwood, who was killed along with his grandfather, William Corporan, in an attack last April just outside of Kansas City. Underwood had dreamed of singing the national anthem at a Sooners’ sporting event growing up, and on Saturday, the university paid tribute to him by playing a video of him doing just that prior to the tip of their game against TCU. Several of Underwood and Corporan’s family members were on the court at the Lloyd Noble Center as the video played. A special tip of the cap goes out to Oklahoma’s event staff for a classy gesture.
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NCAA Eligibility Issue Shelves Kansas’ Cliff Alexander: Impacts

Posted by Brian Goodman on February 28th, 2015

All season long, the play of Kansas forward Cliff Alexander has been a divisive topic among hoopheads. His tempo-based stats paint the picture of a dynamic, impactful big man on a team that has struggled to find a solution on both ends, yet he’s been benched for mental lapses and early foul trouble that indicaes a tough-love approach from Bill Self. Wherever you fall on that spectrum, it’s tough to argue that Alexander’s presence would have been helpful for Kansas in today’s match-up against a big Texas team, but the Jayhawks were dealt a blow when the NCAA reportedly brought a potential eligibility issue to Kansas’ attention, essentially forcing the team to bench the freshman for today’s game against the Longhorns.

The oft-criticized Cliff Alexander played well against Texas last month, but will sit out today's game against the Longhorns. (AP Photo/Michael Thomas)

The oft-criticized Cliff Alexander played well against Texas last month, but will sit out today’s rematch. (AP Photo/Michael Thomas)

In the short term, the Jayhawks are likely to miss Alexander against a team that thrives on its rebounding and shot-blocking ability. While Landen Lucas and Jamari Traylor have received the lion’s share of minutes alongside Perry Ellis, they could be overpowered against Texas’ vaunted front line. It’s certainly worth pointing out that in the first match-up between these teams on January 24, Alexander posted perhaps his best line of the season (15 points, nine rebounds and zero turnovers in 27 minutes) while Traylor scored just two points and grabbed four rebounds in 20 minutes and Lucas didn’t see any action. While it remains a fool’s errand to bet against the Jayhawks in Allen Fieldhouse, Lucas, Traylor and seldom-used Hunter Mickelson will have to step up in order to neutralize Texas’ frontcourt attack.

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Big 12 Weekend Preview: Road Map to the Most Thrilling Finish Possible

Posted by Brian Goodman on February 27th, 2015

For roughly 46 hours between Kansas State’s upset over Kansas on Monday and Iowa State‘s deflating loss to Baylor on Wednesday, the Big 12 race had more intrigue than at any point in the season. But after the Bears took down the Cyclones at Hilton Coliseum thanks to some deadly shooting down the stretch, the standings returned to an all-too-familiar position: the Jayhawks all alone at the top with a logjam behind them. The race isn’t yet over, but Iowa State’s loss definitely removed some of the buzz surrounding the finish. As it stands, Oklahoma, West Virginia and Iowa State — each one game behind Kansas — all need to take care of business and get some unlikely help if any of the three wants to make history. The Sooners still have a game left against the 10-time defending conference champs — their home finale on March 7 — but they will likely have to win their next two games in order for that match-up to mean something. More on that in a minute.

It will take a home loss by Kansas for the Big 12 race to become a race again.

The Big 12 race isn’t over, but it will take a Kansas loss in this building to restore the chaos that has encapsulated the conference all year long.

West Virginia also has a game left against Kansas, but with two of its last three games coming on the road — including next Tuesday’s tilt against the Jayhawks — the Mountaineers are at a big disadvantage. Lastly, not only do the Cyclones not have any remaining games against the Jayhawks, but they’ll also play two of their last three games on the road. Meanwhile, Kansas plays two of its last three games in the cozy confines of Allen Fieldhouse, so the odds of Bill Self’s team winning that 11th straight Big 12 title in outright fashion look favorable.

As great a story as that would be, however, where’s the fun? As a die-hard college hoops fan, I want as much meaningful basketball as possible. Sure, if Kansas puts a bow on it by this time next week, everyone will still be playing for valuable postseason seeding; we’ll still watch; and then the postseason will be here. But throughout its relatively young history, the Big 12 has lacked a climactic final day of action in the truest definition.

I’m talking about one game to decide the conference race and the fate of the Jayhawks’ Big 12 title streak all wrapped up in one tidy package.

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On Court Rushes: In Need of Better Security, Not Regulation

Posted by Brian Goodman on February 24th, 2015

In the minutes following Kansas State‘s upset win last night over Kansas, the focus of the social media conversation wasn’t on the reeling Jayhawks, which have now dropped their last three road games to reopen the Big 12 race. It wasn’t on the Wildcats, who — at least for one night — overcame maddening inconsistency and team chemistry issues to beat a team seven spots ahead of them in the league standings. Instead, it was about the tired topic of court-rushing. However, now that our own Chris Stone has addressed the storylines that are far more interesting (at least in my opinion) from the game itself and its impact on the Big 12 race, we can move on to the matter of what made last night’s postgame celebration tricky and what should be done to help keep everyone — players, coaches, team staffers and fans alike — safe in the fracas.

The answer to the court-storming question is simpler t

The answer to the court-rushing question is simpler than many are making it out to be.

Fundamentally, I love everything that court-rushings represent to a student community. When executed without harm, they embody the close relationship between college athletes and the students who support them. In the constant news cycle of glorifying teams (or picking them apart) and evaluating individual players’ skill sets, it’s easy to forget that they’re also young adults who attend the same classes, eat at the same restaurants, hang out at the same bars and go to the same parties as many of the non-athletes in the student sections. There are tons of things that make college sports different than pro sports, and many of those things are problematic, to say the least, but the physical unification and celebration that takes place in the jubilant moments following a big win is one that is much simpler and easier to get behind.

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Big 12 M5: 02.23.15 Edition

Posted by Chris Stone on February 23rd, 2015

morning5_big12

  1. Don’t look now, but the Big 12 title race is in full swing. After an 85-77 victory over Texas on Saturday afternoon, Iowa State has now won three straight games and sits one game behind first place Kansas with four games left to play. While it may be tough for Fred Hoiberg’s group to win the regular season crown outright, it could certainly earn a share if the Cyclones finish strong. Hoiberg and his players agree that they are putting it together at just the right time. “We’re hitting our stride,” Georges Niang said after the win, “and I think that’s because we decided to come together and do it as a team rather than as individuals. That’s huge for us.” With their potent offense clicking on all cylinders, Iowa State will be a tough out come March.
  2. Texas, meanwhile, is headed in the opposite direction. The Longhorns have lost their last two games and are now 6-8 in Big 12 play with only one win over a conference team likely to make the NCAA Tournament. With upcoming road contests against West Virginia and Kansas still to come, it might be time for Texas to start pressing the panic button. Carrying a 1-10 record against the RPI top 50, it’s now just as likely that the Longhorns will head to the NIT, according to NBC Sports’ Rob Dauster. A win against West Virginia or Kansas would go a long, long way toward shoring up Texas’ shaky NCAA Tournament resume.
  3. Jesse Newell of The Topeka Capital-Journal published an interesting read on some of the finer details of Bill Self’s coaching during Kansas’ weekend win over TCU. From his position on press row, Jesse could hear how Self was instructing his players during the game’s stoppages in play, so he documented some of those moments in addition to how the players reacted to those conversations. While we are used to analyzing the game from a distance, this was a great opportunity to get inside one of the game’s best coaching minds.
  4. ESPN Insider has been running a series of posts this season examining potential Giant Killers in the NCAA Tournament — teams with high seeds that might upset a much better seed in the round of 32. The metric-based forecast has pegged the Big 12’s West Virginia as the most potent potential Giant Killer in the potential field. The Mountaineers’ ability to create extra shots through offensive rebounding and turnovers gives them a 77.9 percent chance to upset an average Giant come March. That’s a lethal combination when opposing teams will have such a limited amount of time (48 hours or less) to prepare for West Virginia’s unique style.
  5. Oklahoma and Texas Tech provided the latest case study in whether a team leading by three should foul or defend on the final possession. With 16 seconds remaining, Sooners’ coach Lon Kruger instructed his team to foul on the upcoming possession. With 7.7 seconds remaining, Oklahoma fouled the Red Raiders’ Toddrick Gotcher. After missing the first free throw, Gotcher intentionally missed the second. The ensuing scrum allowed Texas Tech’s Isaiah Manderson to grab the rebound before kicking it out to Gotcher for the tying basket. The Sooners would escape with a win in overtime, but not before facing a similar situation in the extra period. Oklahoma elected to play it out the second time around, walking away with the victory after a missed three-point attempt.
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Big 12 M5: 02.20.15 Edition

Posted by Brian Goodman on February 20th, 2015

morning5_big12

  1. Kansas coach Bill Self revealed on Thursday that big man Cliff Alexander has been banged up, but that nagging back and chest problems shouldn’t keep him from playing at a high level as the Jayhawks enter the home stretch. While Alexander has started the last few games, Self has felt more comfortable with the more experienced Landen Lucas for most of the game and the redshirt freshman affirmed his coach’s faith with solid production against Baylor and West Virginia. How Self manages his frontcourt rotation is likely to continue to be newsworthy tomorrow when the Jayhawks square off against TCU.
  2. Burnt Orange Nation has a thorough preview of the best match-up of the weekend, which pits Texas against visiting Iowa State. The Cyclones, known for converting most every close shot they get, will face a Texas frontcourt that has improved since struggling in December and January. Despite a disappointing campaign to this point, there isn’t much reason to fret over the Longhorns’ chances of making the NCAA Tournament quite yet, but a loss would spark a heightened level of debate, so a win would definitely keep their heads above water.
  3. Meanwhile, the Cyclones, who had struggled on the road before beating Oklahoma State earlier in the week, will try to keep the good vibes going. With five games remaining to make up one game on conference-leading Kansas, history is still in Iowa State’s sights. They will need some help, but any help they get will be moot if they don’t take care of business themselves. As for Iowa State’s gameplan, the Longhorns have the ninth-best transition defense in the country according to hoop-math.comso if Fred Hoiberg’s team is going to pull off another upset, it will probably have to be on the efficiency of its half-court offense.
  4. Thursday afternoon saw craziness ensue during the NBA trade deadline, and there were a couple interesting developments for former Big 12 standouts. The headline-grabber is a mini-reunion of the memorable 2006-07 Texas Longhorns with D.J. Augustin and Kevin Durant once again joining forces as Augustin was dealt from the Pistons to Durant’s Thunder. On a less pleasant note, former Jayhawk Thomas Robinson, who has struggled to find a permanent home at the next level, is on the move again after he was dealt from the Trail Blazers to the Nuggets. Robinson has already reportedly agreed to a buyout with Denver, though, so it looks like he’ll be on the move again as he searches for a role more befitting of a former #5 overall draft pick.
  5. Lastly, it’s been a very up-and-down month for Oklahoma State, which rode a wave of stellar victories before running into bumps in the road against TCU and Iowa State. Refusing to let the inconsistent play be a source of frustration, the Cowboy blog Pistols Firing brought some levity to the situation with some good old-fashioned satire at the expense of the team’s coaching staff. The post re-imagines coach Travis Ford as a “Breakfast Club”-type principal with assistant coach James Dickey playing the good cop role. It’s definitely worth a read.
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A Column of Enchantment: Perry Ellis is a Junior, SNL40 and Sterling Gibbs…

Posted by Joseph Nardone on February 19th, 2015

People have lots of differing opinions on all sorts of stuff. Usually, because they are them, their opinion is usually right while yours is most certainly wrong. Whether it is discussing important topics like global warming or more trivial things like an all-female cast of Ghostbusters, people have opinions and — well — you need to hear them out. Having fancy-schmancy opinions are fine. I mean that. I also mean that in the same way that having intimate relations with a bear is fine — as long as you know what you are getting yourself into, who am I to argue with what you want to do or say? Really, I am just a man who spews out opinions as well. It would be a bit hypocritical of me to tell you what you can or can’t think. Still, I wish people would think before they speak, type or whatever. Or, at the very least, look some stuff up before coming down hard on other people for things. Sure, we all get caught up in the gut reaction of seeing something live, and want something, whatever done about it, but maybe we should all be forced to take a little timeout and regroup before we start demanding things.

And. Here. We. Go.

———————-

Kansas’ Perry Ellis is only a junior. I should probably repeat that one more time so you fully understand what I am trying to say. Perry Ellis, the guy who missed a layup at the end of the game against West Virginia and has seemingly been on Bill Self’s roster since Nixon was in office, is only a junior. This baffles the ever-living poop out of the insides of my cranium. I honestly thought he was at least a senior. Maybe it was his hairline being deathly afraid of his eyebrows or the fact that I sincerely remember him posting up Danny Manning at a practice at one point, but not only is he still an unpaid laborer, but he still has another year left to do all sorts of basketball things for free. This must be a huge, huge advantage for Kansas. Forget whatever happened against West Virginia and Ellis losing track of how much time he had and forcing his layup attempt. Bill Self has something just gosh slam amazing at his disposal. Seriously, having the eleventy-billion year old Perry Ellis is all the positive adjectives. All of them — even gnarly!

Amazingly, Perry Ellis is Only a Junior at Kansas (USA Today Images)

Amazingly, Perry Ellis is Only a Junior at Kansas (USA Today Images)

Here is a quick list of things Kansas should be grateful for while having the AARP-subscribed Ellis on the roster:

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Big 12 M5: 02.18.15 Edition

Posted by Brian Goodman on February 18th, 2015

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  1. The road has not been kind to Iowa State in Big 12 play this season. The Cylcones are just 1-4 away from Hilton Coliseum and are about to embark on a stretch where three of their next four games will be in opponents’ gyms. As Travis Hines writes, should the Cyclones fall behind in tonight’s game against Oklahoma State, the key will be to stay loose and avoid the mindset of needing to make up the entire deficit in one play. Fred Hoiberg’s team should also feel some ease in the fact that their porous defense doesn’t figure to be a large issue against the Cowboys, a team that ranks seventh in the conference in offensive efficiency.
  2. On the other sideline, the Cowboys will look to play with the chip on their shoulder that was missing in Saturday’s loss to TCU. Facing Iowa State, Oklahoma State’s attack will have to be much more potent than the 0.89 points per possession it posted against the Horned Frogs. The hot stretch that propelled the Pokes to three straight wins over ranked teams has the team safely on the right side of the bubble, but another two or three wins in the regular season would do a lot to remove any remaining pressure.
  3. Kansas coach Bill Self‘s handling of Cliff Alexander has been a lightning rod for discussion all season, but the fervor on both sides reached a new point when Alexander played just six minutes (and none in the second half) in Kansas’ loss to West Virginia on Monday night. According to the Topeka Capital-Journal‘s Jesse Newell, the Jayhawks had their worst night on the defensive glass since 2009, and it stands to reason that the blue-chip Alexander, despite his shortcomings, could have helped significantly in that department. In a one-point game, it’s tough to isolate the outcome to any one decision, but regardless of what you think of Alexander’s pro prospects, it’s tough to see Kansas making a deep postseason run without him playing a significant role, and in order to do that, he needs reps.
  4. After spending a week and a half beating up on the lower third of the conference, Texas took a tough loss to Oklahoma in Norman Tuesday night. Myles Turner continued his stellar play, posting 16 points and 10 rebounds off the bench to go along with six blocks, but rough shooting nights from Isaiah Taylor (1-of-10) and Jonathan Holmes (2-of-9) made it challenging for the Longhorns to pull off the upset (though it was within reach). I still maintain that Texas’ NCAA Tournament hopes aren’t in any serious jeopardy, but their inability to beat good teams away from Austin (their only conference road wins have come against Texas Tech, TCU and Kansas State) doesn’t bode well for their postseason future.
  5. In the only other Big 12 action last night, Baylor edged Texas Tech by five in Lubbock to get back above .500 in league play. On a night when the Bears’ offense looked otherwise listless, Taurean Prince provided a spark with 18 first half points on his way to 22 overall. Kenny Chery recovered from a horrendous shooting night, closing out the game with four clutch free throws to seal the win.
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Big 12 M5: 02.13.15 Edition

Posted by Nate Kotisso on February 13th, 2015

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  1. Last summer, Kansas assistant Jerrance Howard pled guilty to a charge of unlawful possession of marijuana in Peoria, Illinois. According to the Peoria Journal Star, Howard was ordered to pay nearly $1,200 in fines and legal fees and was placed under court supervision for six months. Somewhat coincidentally, the six-month court supervision period ends today and head coach Bill Self claims he did not have knowledge of the situation until Wednesday. Self responded by suspending Howard from team activities for two weeks, but this is pretty much a non-story. Howard had a lapse in judgment, a sentence was handed down, and it was served. Let’s all move on.
  2. TCU coach Trent Johnson announced yesterday that junior guard Charles Hill Jr. has been suspended indefinitely for “conduct unbecoming of a TCU men’s basketball player.” Hill has appeared in 14 games this season, averaging 2.6 points and 1.2 rebounds in a little over five minutes per game of action. As Frogs O’ War points out, Hill sent out a tweet following TCU’s 66-43 loss to Texas that may or may not have to do with his suspension. We probably won’t hear what he did to warrant punishment but kudos to Johnson, though, for working in “unbecoming” into a suspension announcement. Coaches and athletic departments typically reuse the same suspension statement ad nauseam. Finally, I feel smarter after reading one of these things!
  3. In West Virginia’s recent win over Kansas State, Mountaineers sophomore forward Brandon Watkins sprained the medial collateral ligament (MCL) in his left knee while having his best game of the season (14 points and nine rebounds in 17 minutes). Watkins is listed as day-to-day and therefore has a chance to suit up for the team’s massive road contest with Iowa State on Saturday. I hope he is well enough to play because heaven knows the ‘Eers haven’t had a good win since throttling Oklahoma a month ago.
  4. On Thursday, SI’s Luke Winn published the interweb’s most intelligent power rankings for your consumption. Seven Big 12 teams are ranked in the top 24 teams on his list, with Oklahoma making a seven-spot jump from last week, the sharpest increase of any team among his top 16. Winn asks whether the Sooners are the national title contender that we aren’t talking about, and it’s a valid question. They’ve played fantastic basketball lately but have still suffered a handful of head-scratching losses (Creighton, Washington, Kansas State at home and at West Virginia). I want to believe in the Sooners, I do, but I’m not totally confident in Lon Kruger’s team getting to the second weekend of the NCAA Tournament, much less Final Four weekend.
  5. West Virginia guard Juwan Staten was named as a finalist for the Lowe’s Senior CLASS Award on Thursday. Staten is just one of ten players in Division I to earn this distinction, given to the senior with “notable achievements in four areas of excellence: community, classroom, character and competition.” Staten is the Big 12’s lone representative. The Big East had three (D’Angelo Harrison – St. John’s; Matt Stainbrook – Xavier; Alex Barlow – Butler); the Big Ten had two (D.J. Newbill – Penn State; Frank Kaminsky – Wisconsin); the West Coast Conference had two (Kevin Pangos – Gonzaga; Tyler Haws – Brigham Young); while the Ohio Valley (Reece Chamberlain – Belmont) and Pac-12 (Chasson Randle – Stanford) conferences each had one representative per league.
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Can Any Big 12 Team Stop Kansas From Lucky Number 11?

Posted by Chris Stone on February 4th, 2015

We’ve now arrived at the halfway point of the Big 12 season and the league standings certainly have a familiar feel to them. After winning at least a share of the regular season title in each of the last 10 seasons, Bill Self’s Kansas group once again sits atop the conference with a remarkable 8-1 record. The Jayhawks currently hold a two-game lead over their closest competitors, Iowa State and West Virginia, so even at this midway point, it’s already worth asking if another team can stop Kansas from snagging a share or an outright 11th straight regular season title. Ken Pomeroy’s ratings system currently projects Kansas to finish Big 12 play with a league-best 14-4 record. The Jayhawks are expected to be favored in all but two of their remaining games — road trips to West Virginia and Oklahoma are the pair of outliers. Because Pomeroy’s system factors in the cumulative probabilities of winning each game, he expects Kansas might drop one other unnamed game along the way.

Brannen Greene celebrates with fans after the Jayhawks' win over Iowa State. (Nick Krug/KU Sports)

Brannen Greene celebrates with fans after the Jayhawks’ win over Iowa State. (Nick Krug/KU Sports)

The Jayhawks’ season will turn on their final five road games, something Self is keenly aware of. “If you’re able to go steal another game or two on the road, then you’ll be in better shape.” he recently said. “But hey, we’ve got five road games left and if we don’t go and play well, we’ll go 0-5.” That scenario, of course, is extremely unlikely with a road game against league-worst Texas Tech coming up. Kansas is also likely to win its four remaining home games (Baylor, TCU, West Virginia and Texas). Pomeroy gives them at least a 70 percent win probability in each and Kansas is on a 20-game winning streak at Allen Fieldhouse. Even if the unthinkable occurs and the Jayhawks lose their four remaining road games, that would likely put them at 13-5 in Big 12 play to end the season.

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Big 12 Power Rankings: Baylor Demands Your Attention Edition

Posted by Nate Kotisso on February 3rd, 2015

It’s a near-consensus this season that the Big 12 is considered the best conference in college basketball. As we approach the halfway point of league play, drawing a line between NCAA Tournament contenders and the rest has become an easier task. We all expected Kansas and Iowa State to reign at the top and Oklahoma State, TCU and Texas Tech rounded out the standings (sorry, guys). But the middle five conference teams have been the tough to forecast all season long. West Virginia is 6-2 in league play but still somewhat unproven, with four of those six wins coming against the Horned Frogs and Red Raiders. Texas, Oklahoma and Kansas State have all left something to be desired. The only middle five team to exceed expectations so far has been none other than Baylor.

It's possible: You can respect Scott Drew's grind while laughing at how silly he looks in this photo. (Tom Pennington/Getty Images)

It’s possible: You can respect Scott Drew’s grind while laughing at how silly he looks in this photo. (Tom Pennington/Getty Images)

After finishing sixth last year, Big 12 coaches picked Baylor sixth again before the season began. At the moment, the Bears are in, you guessed it, sixth place. So how are they exceeding expectations? Because they lost Isaiah Austin, Cory Jefferson and Brady Heslip — three of their top four scorers from a year ago — and a slew of role players has been charged with taking on greater responsibility. Rico Gathers has been an anchor inside, grabbing more rebounds in a starter’s role (12.0 RPG) while sharing the wealth among veterans Royce O’Neale (6.3 RPG), Taurean Prince (5.7 RPG) and freshman Johnathan Motley (4.6 RPG). The graduation of sharpshooter Heslip left a gaping hole in the team’s outside shooting but that role has been supplanted by another trio of Bears. O’Neale has been a consistent outside shooting option since arriving from Denver (42.4%) and Prince is also capable from distance (40.5%), but the most improvement has come from point guard Kenny Chery (32.5% last season to 40.5%).

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