Kansas’ current winning streak could be a potential downfall for the men’s basketball team
The Kansas Men’s Basketball team beat Oklahoma on Saturday to push their conference record to 6-0 and their overall record for the season at 18-1, winning their 17th game in a row. After the victory on Saturday, KU has a one-game conference lead over Baylor, a team that KU has dominated in conference play in past seasons*, and a two-game lead over Kansas State and Iowa State, the two teams that pose the biggest threat to Kansas in the conference championship race.
* This is excluding the Bears’ victory over the Jayhawks in last year’s conference tournament, but this is addressed later on.
With the Big 12 having its weakest showing in years, it looks like the Jayhawks have a very realistic chance of finishing the season with only one loss. If this happens, the Jayhawks are guaranteed a number one seed in the NCAA Tournament and likely to be one of the heavy favorites to win it all. But I will also say this: if the Jayhawks don’t lose another game leading up to the tournament, then I can guarantee the season will end with a disappointing loss for KU fans.
Kansas has been winning games against decent teams while not playing their best. This is usually the sign of a very good team, but teams that are not challenged to perform at their highest level often enough have major problems in critical games against very good opponents.
Kansas certainly has underachieved in the past and has the potential to do it again this season.
Many times have the Jayhawks won the Big 12 before underperforming in the Big Dance. Kansas finished the 1996-1997 season with only two losses, one in the Big 12. The Jayhawks were a one seed and bowed out early in the Sweet Sixteen to Arizona. In the 1997-1998 season, Kansas won the Big 12 handily with a 15-1 then proceeded to win the Big 12 tournament. Kansas entered the NCAA Tournament as a one seed and exited in the second round to the Rhode Island Rams. More recent examples are the Bradley and Northern Iowa losses in the second rounds of the 2006 and 2010 NCAA Tournaments, respectively.
On the flip side, KU has performed very well in the NCAA Tournament when being challenged in the Big 12 and losing close to the start of the tournament. In 2002, Kansas lost in the Big 12 tournament then bounced back to make it to the Final Four. The Jayhawks lost in the Big 12 tournament again the next year and then nearly won the title in 2003, losing to Syracuse in the final. In 2008, Kansas was shocked by Oklahoma State in Stillwater at the end of the season, and we all remember how that tournament went.
Even last year the Jayhawks had some trouble in the Big 12. There was a tough loss in Columbia. The Jayhawks were able to win a titanic battle in the Phog over Missouri later, but they also lost their last game before the NCAA Tournament to Baylor.
These trends are no coincidence. Basketball is an ego-driven sport. Kansas has been winning ugly, but all they know is that they’re not losing. They’re getting cocky. A team learns a lot more from a loss than a win. The Kansas players need be humbled by some opponent they never saw coming. I believe that last year’s loss in Ames to Iowa State is the reason Kansas made it to the National Championship. I almost hope that the Cyclones beat the Jayhawks again.
Sometimes a basketball team just needs a good kick in the pants to get set in the right direction. The way our Jayhawks have played lately, it looks like they need one.