USA TODAY Sports
Is the Big 12 Title Streak in Jeopardy?
It's been a year of broken streaks. Two weeks ago Kansas looked poised to extend an unprecedented eight straight Big 12 titles to nine with little resistance. The league was down, and while Kansas was expected to take a step back this year, they sure didn't appear to do so through the early part of the season. Yes the offensive struggles were concerning and their were going to be losses, but the Jayhawks had always held serve at home and won the majority of the games on the road. Over the last two games Kansas has lost a key game at home and then followed that up with a road loss of fairly epic proportions. Those two things combined have erased the escape against Iowa State and a key road win over Kansas State. Now, midway through the conference schedule, Bill Self and the Jayhawks are in very serious jeopardy of having that Big 12 title streak snapped.
For Kansas it's not all that simple anymore. It used to be easy to pencil in a win here and a win there with a toss up game in a few instances. Now the Jayhawks enter the second half of league play with several very difficult challenges ahead of them. Next up for the Jayhawks is a road contest against a solid Oklahoma squad that gave Kansas trouble at home. Then Kansas returns to Allen Fieldhouse for a game against a Kansas State team that has shown a substantial amount of toughness as the season grinds on, while the Jayhawks seem to be struggling with that very aspect. Road games at Iowa State, Oklahoma State and Baylor also all loom on the horizon making for five games that are very iffy for the Jayhawks if the current trend continues.
Kansas State on the other hand has weathered the first half of the year with a pair of losses bringing them even with the Jayhawks. They have beaten Oklahoma on the road, handled Oklahoma State at home, but they did lose to Iowa State on the road and Kansas at home. In all reality though, this is a team that has done what they were probably expected to do so far so they have to feel good about their position. They do still travel to Kansas, to Oklahoma State and to Baylor but Bruce Weber has them playing good basketball and they have a very serious shot at breaking the Jayhawks streak.
For Iowa State it's a little unclear. They can be very good at home and they play up to the competition, but they have also stumbled and looked bad on the road on occasion. Next up is a road game against Kansas State which will be tough, they also travel to Baylor and to Oklahoma. They play Kansas at home which will likely be a huge game for them and one where they play at a peak level. The most important game for them right now is probably the next one against Kansas State. Win that and they are very much in the mix.
Oklahoma State is another interesting case. They have three losses, all on the road against solid Big 12 teams. They have on huge road win at Kansas and their toughest opponents on the back end of the schedule all have to play in Stillwater. A road game against Iowa State is the most difficult road game still in front of them, and they will host the remainder of the top half of the league which provides plenty of reason for optimism.
Could you include Baylor and Oklahoma in this mix? Maybe, but neither has really shown any reason to believe they can keep pace with the four teams mentioned above. That means you've got a four team race for number one at best. Kansas State, Kansas, Oklahoma State and Iowa State. Two weeks ago you would have said Kansas was the clear frontrunner and out in front for a ninth straight. Down league, solid start to the year, why wouldn't the Jayhawks just take care of business as usual? The last week has certainly led to a lot of questions and now the Jayhawks are in a dogfight to keep that streak alive.
Bill Self has managed teams through much more challenging league schedules and he's always come out on top, maybe it's not time to panic, but I don't think anyone can probably point to a time where a Bill Self team was bottoming out the way they did last night. A bottoming out that happened after a slow decline. This is a team that could very easily be sitting at four losses and on the outside looking in without a few breaks, now they have to find a way to right the ship or a team led by four seniors and one of the most talented freshman in the country could be the ones that let the streak slip away.