Kansas sits 18-0 on the regular season and 3-0 in the Big 12. The Jayhawks are ranked #2 in the nation and are just one of three remaining undefeated teams across the country. While there are certainly times that could be pointed to as "room for improvement" moments, this is a team that has a ceiling as high as anyone in the country.
Think about it for a minute. If you go back to the Jayhawks Elite 8 appearance in 06-07 the Jayhawks have been in the National Title conversation for four out of the last five years. What other programs can make that claim? There might be a handful at most.
Now based on what we've seen, what is the ideal scenario for Kansas? I'm going to assume that an undefeated conference record has very little chance of actually occurring so a loss or even several losses have to be on the table. But what do the Jayhawks need to do to manage the remainder of the regular season and the Big 12 tournament in order to best position Kansas for a run in March?
The schedule breaks out like this:
Home: Texas, Kansas State, Missouri, Iowa State, Colorado, Oklahoma State, Texas A&M
Away: Colorado, Texas Tech, Nebraska, Kansas State, Oklahoma, Missouri
For starters, Kansas looks to have a pretty good draw in the final year of the unbalanced schedule. Of their three South opponents, they likely already won the biggest test in Waco against Baylor. Games in Lubbock and Norman should be wins for Kansas provided they show up to play.
Now putting road games on the back burner for the moment it's pretty clear that one of the big things Kansas does EXTREMELY well is win at home. That's why they have a 69 game home court winning streak. The question becomes whether or not the Jayhawks can get to 76 by the end of the season and carry that streak into 2011-2012.
It's a tough schedule and Kansas has a big test on Saturday, but for the moment it would seem this team has what it takes to win the close game and win in different ways and there really isn't a home game left that the Allen Fieldhouse crowd won't be completely juiced for.
That puts Kansas at 12 wins. Yes Kansas is perfectly capable of doing better, but realistically a few losses would seem to be in the cards somewhere along the way. Kansas could lose one at home unexpectedly and then maybe pick another up on the road that looks tricky. 12-4, perfectly reasonable. So, Does 12-4 win the Big 12? Or does it take 13-3, 14-2?
Kansas State is virtually out of it already with three losses in the first four games. Colorado is a team that has to at least be considered, but after they dropped one on the road to Nebraska, I think the reality is that they might be a tournament team but conference championships might have to wait. Missouri has two losses and the Jayhawks still have a chance to hand the Tigers a third or even fourth. Missouri is very much a player but perhaps not as much as two other teams.
Texas and Texas A&M both look the part and while they will play eachother twice, each has the good fortune of playing the South this year. Top to bottom the North is better than the South and it might not even be close. Kansas can give each one loss in Allen Fieldhouse and assuming they split, each sits at two losses. Can another team from the North make a play at one of these in their head to head matchup and hand these two teams a third or fourth loss? Tough call, A&M is sitting pretty having already beaten Missouri, but both of these teams would pose a major threat if Kansas ended at that 12-4 mark.
All of that brings us to the goal and that is putting the team in the best position to make a run in March. At 12-4 Kansas may or may not win the Big12, but they likely finish no lower than 2nd. Overall the record is 30-4 at that point and Kansas has a chance at three more games in the Big 12 tournament.
It's hard to imagine Kansas any lower than a two seed and with a better record in the regular season or a deep conference tourney run, Kansas very easily makes a great argument for a one seed.
That's the goal. Find a way to win the home games, steal one of those tough ones on the road and get to 13-3. 13-3 would likely win or tie for the Big12 and Kansas would in theory hold an edge in the tiebreaker with home games against A&M and Texas.
Top seed in the Big 12 tourney, win at on Thursday, win on Friday and it's a lock. Kansas is a one seed and with any luck the basketball gods look kindly on their draw.