Ask any fan if they would trade a national title in exchange for a second or third place finish in their conference and it's a no brainer, you take the Final Four, the National Title and you move on. On the other hand league titles still matter and they matter a lot more when you have a streak of eight straight going. Granted every Kansas fan knows that at some point this streak is going to end, but three games ago this sure didn't seem to be the year that it would happen. Now Kansas heads into Monday night's Sunflower Showdown a game back of Kansas State and in a make or break moment for the league race. A win and there is still hope, lose and Kansas is on a four game slide and nearly out of contention.
How did we get here? Right now the Jayhawks look like a shell of what they were back in December. This team was exceeding expectations on the year. Four seniors were carrying the torch passed on by Thomas Robinson and Tyshawn Taylor and the Jayhawks looked well equipped to capitalize on a mediocre Big 12 and head into the tournament as a one or a two seed. Turns out, Kansas is just another one of the mediocre teams in the Big12, at least they have been for the last 10 days.
A loss at home snapped the home win streak, losing to TCU was horrific and then losing on the road to Oklahoma was just the icing on the cake. Now Kansas returns to Allen Fieldhouse looking to defend their homecourt against the now first place Kansas State Wildcats.
If you take the three game skid and extract the TCU game from it, things don't look as bad. Oklahoma State is a talented team contending for the league. Losing in Norman against a team that played really well isn't a bad loss either. Bookend those two moments around a loss to the Horned Frogs and you have panic. What has made Kansas so good during this eight season stretch is the ability to hold serve at home nearly without fail and the avoidance of the road letdown. This year other teams are doing that and Kansas is not.
Tonight Kansas continues to search for answers. Where do they come from? Things looked better Saturday, but offensively this is still a team falling well short of where they were a little over a month ago. Defensively they aren't locking teams down the way they did a few weeks ago.
Kansas is backed into a corner. An outright league title is probably going to be tough. The odds of Kansas winning out are pretty slim at this point and that is probably what it would take. But if Kansas can get a win tonight it might start to shift this teams confidence back in the right direction and give them a shot of earning at least a share of the league title for the ninth consecutive season.
Kansas State is a good team. They play well on the road, the play tough defensively and they are playing very confident basketball right now. The Wildcats are almost doing everything Kansas is not at this moment in time. The mystique is definitely worn off for the moment and Bruce Weber is going to bring a team into Allen Fieldhouse that probably expects to win, that hasn't always been the case.
Tonight's Sunflower Showdown is a make or break for Kansas in terms of league play. Lose this one and hope fades. That puts a lot of pressure on four seniors who have yet to respond to a pretty significant challenge in recent weeks. Does Kansas get over the hump and relieve some of that pressure, or does this team buckle?
The level of success at Kansas over the last eight years has been unprecedented in the Big 8 or the Big 12. It's a fun streak, it's a meaningful streak. It's going to end someday, it just depends if that moment is signaled tonight or further down the line.