As the Big 12 schools conclude their non-conference schedules, it’s a great time to catch up on where the league’s 10 teams stand entering conference play. Once again, Kansas has navigated an arduous schedule, but enough questions remain that we can at least consider the possibility that another team wins the conference. The Jayhawks’ closest challengers are a Texas team that has kept pace despite losing one of the best point guards in the country for an extended period of time, while Iowa State has another high-powered team with a newly-eligible big man who Cyclones fans hope will provide a needed lift on defense.
Kansas (via Chris Stone)
- Key wins: at Georgetown, Utah (in Kansas City)
- Key losses: Kentucky (in Indianapolis), at Temple
It’s very easy to watch Kansas’s blowout losses to Kentucky and Temple and write off the Jayhawks as a Big 12 title contender. To do so, however, would ignore the rest of their resume. Kansas has five wins over teams ranked in the top 50 of KenPom’s efficiency rankings; Only Kentucky can match that total. Sophomore Frank Mason is providing Bill Self with his best point guard play since Sherron Collins left Lawrence five years ago. Mason is averaging 11.9 points, 3.8 rebounds, and 4.0 assists per game. Freshman Kelly Oubre is finally emerging as the potential lottery pick he was billed as before the season, having scored 20 points in two of the last three games. Still, those two losses linger. Kentucky dominated the Jayhawks in Indianapolis. Temple rocked Kansas at the Wells Fargo Center. The typical refrain surrounding Kansas has been to trust in Bill Self, the man who has won 10 straight conference titles, but Self is still tinkering with his starting lineup while trying to play through a frontcourt that has struggled to score inside. Kansas is shooting just 52.3 percent on shots at the rim, a number that is nearly 15 percent worse than last season’s mark, according to data from hoop-math.com. In particular, junior Perry Ellis has seen his shooting percentage decline by over 10 percent as he’s had a difficult time scoring against the size of teams like Kentucky, Georgetown, and Utah. The Jayhawks have their limitations and the losses to Kentucky and Temple showcased them. They’ve also had their triumphs that suggest an ability to compete for another Big 12 championship. Much depends on the consistency of Mason, the continued emergence of Oubre, and the play of bigs like Ellis and Cliff Alexander, but to write off Kansas is to also write off Self’s history and the quality of their non-conference resume. Big 12 coaches won’t make that mistake, and you shouldn’t, either.