The final week of the regular season is finally here and with that comes a tight two team race for the Big 12 title. Kansas sits 27-2 with a 12-2 overall record and currently holds a six year streak of consecutive Big 12 Conference titles. The Texas Longhorns currently sit at 24-5 with an equal 12-2 conference record but Rick Barnes and his team have the current head to head over Kansas.
The critical piece in Big 12 play is that the head to head doesn't give Texas an edge in terms of any regular season championship designation per the league rules. All things equal the Longhorns would receive that distinction as would the Kansas Jayhawks. Texas would however get the nod as the top seed in the Big 12 Conference Tournament set to tip next week. Now you have to ask yourself if that's such a bad thing?
Kansas has games against Texas A&M and a tough finale against Missouri in Columbia. Texas plays host to a surging Kansas State with a trip to play an unpredictable Baylor team in Waco next Saturday. Neither remaining schedule is easy but the Jayhawk schedule is particularly difficult with the final game in Columbia.
In a perfect world Kansas runs the table, Texas loses at the hands of either Jacob Pullen or for their third Saturday in a row at Baylor. The 29-2 record and the 7th consecutive conference title would all but secure a top seed for the Jayhawks regardless of what happens during the Big 12 tournament.
Putting the ideal aside, is it that bad of a scenario if Kansas splits the Big 12 and plays from the two seed in the conference tournament?
Viewing it from the standpoint of a shared regular season title where Kansas maintains the streak, I'd say it's not necessarily all bad. One it keeps a team hungry. Winning the league title outright without beating the team that you competed for it against isn't quite as gratifying. Of course a 7th straight league championship in any fashion is impressive, but having to share it and watch that other team lay claim to the top seed in the tournament might keep a little fire going in the belly . Who knows, maybe the commissioner will take the trophy to Waco and neglect the Jayhawks in Columbia as they've done in the past when this scenario has occurred. That can't hurt the size of the chip on the shoulder.
Even if this scenario occurred with Kansas losing in Columbia and Texas losing somewhere along the way, the Jayhawks 28-3 record would still be as well positioned for a top seed as anyone and the set up in the conference tournament would actually be a more favorable one.
If the tourney started today Kansas and Texas would split the regular season title with the Longhorns getting the top seed. Kansas at two, A&M at three, Missouri at four and Kansas State at five. At this point those spots look fairly secure with Missouri and K-State potentially switching spots. What that does for Kansas is put Kansas State and Missouri in the top half of the bracket against Texas. Kansas most likely faces a road to Saturday's conference championship that travels through Colorado and then either Baylor or Texas A&M. The other option would be Texas who will likely play Nebraska followed by K-State or Missouri. It's obviously a matter of perspective but playing in Kansas City I'd take a path of Colorado and either Baylor or A&M any day of the week over the top half.
Why is that important? Because again, I see a Kansas team that reaches the Big 12 championship game grabbing a top seed. Even if Kansas loses again in the regular season and even if Kansas loses in that championship game, a 30-4 record with a Big 12 regular season title is enough to accomplish that based on the other pieces out there. Especially if some combination of Texas, Pitt, Duke or BYU lose between now and then all of which are very possible outcomes based on the difficulty of everyone's schedule and the balance in college basketball.
Right now Ohio State is probably the most likely team that can be considered locked into a top seed. After that Kansas is in the running along with Pitt, Texas, BYU and Duke. That's five teams for three spots. There will be losses among those five from this point forward, but Kansas can sustain more damage than most and still come out on the up and up come tournament time with a one seed.
Obviously the goal is to win every one of them, but this team has shown a tendency to respond well to a loss. With that in mind I'm not all that convinced that losing a game while maintaining a top seed late in the season is all that bad of a thing for Bill Self and the Jayhawks as they head into March. Now the trick is convincing myself of this if and when that loss actually occurs.
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