It probably remains unwise to think Kansas will do anything other than win at least a share of its 14th straight Big 12 title — even after Saturday’s 80-64 loss at Baylor. Either way, here’s the truth: If the Jayhawks manage to do it, they’ll do it in a way they’ve never done it before. Because they’ve never been in this position before.
“They were better than us,” Kansas coach Bill Self said after his team suffered its fourth Big 12 loss. And if you’re wondering when Self last had to discuss a fourth Big 12 loss this early in the calendar, the answer is … never. Even in the one season that Self didn’t win at least a share of the Big 12 championship (2004), the Jayhawks did not have four league losses on Feb. 10.
But they do now.
So this is undeniably becoming a year-of-firsts for Self, who was inducted into the Naismith Memorial Hall of Fame in September. He’d never previously lost multiple games in the same season by double-digits at Allen Fieldhouse. But he’s already done it this season. He’d never previously lost more than two games in a season at Allen Fieldhouse. But he’s already done it this season. And he’d never previously taken a fourth Big 12 loss before Feb. 23. But he’s already done it this season.
And it’s only Feb. 10.
In other words, this KU team — a team that’s now 19-6 overall, 8-4 in the Big 12 — isn’t like those other KU teams that have combined to win at least a share of 13 straight Big 12 titles. The Jayhawks have only lost four league games four times in the previous 13 seasons, and they’ve never lost more than five. But now, for what it’s worth, KenPom projects Kansas to lose six. And KU’s current ranking of 15 at KenPom would represent the program’s lowest finish ever under Self if the season ended today.
Which is remarkable, by the way.
The idea that Kansas has never finished 15th-or-lower at KenPom in 13 consecutive seasons is a testament to the job Self has done running one of college basketball’s jewels. It’s why he was inducted into the Naismith Memorial Hall of Fame even before he turned 55. It’s why he’s an all-time great.
But it’s also why Kansas fans are flipping out.
Simply put, they’re not used to this.
Nine of KU’s Big 12 titles in this 13-year run are outright titles. Five have been won by multiple games. And the Jayhawks won the league by four games last season. So this struggling stuff is new territory. Sweating things out is not the norm.
Kansas will still, one way or another, figure out a way to extend this streak of Big 12 titles. But the Jayhawks are clearly going to take a different path. If they do it, they’ll do it with a more questionable defense than ever, with a more vulnerable homecourt advantage than ever and, probably, with more league losses than ever.
They’ve already got four.
How many more can they afford to take?