Coming in to the season, this was the biggest rebuilding project of anyone in the country. Gone were the five starters, four of which were drafted in the NBA. Two of those draft picks were first rounders, and one of the second rounders, Mario Chalmers, is starting. That doesn't even mention a fifth departee, Sasha Kaun, who was also drafted in the second round despite coming off the bench. Plus, sometimes-used Rodrick Stewart, effectively the team's ninth man, also graduated.
So, if you're counting at home, that's seven of the top nine players on the team. All of them: poof. We were left with Sherron Collins and Cole Aldrich to try and, single-handedly, lift us up out of the ashes and resurrect Kansas. It wasn't, by any means, supposed to be a full resurrection; or even a half-one, really. They were merely supposed to, with some inexperienced help of course, float along this year, simply told not to sink the ship. A halfway-decent finish in conference play and an NCAA bid, one that would extend our consecutive-years streak to twenty-one, would be plenty fine. And, honestly, it still should be. Let's not go overboard on these expectations, as long as we are dancing, this season has to be considered, in some form at least, a success.
But, instead of merely plodding along, this team has, uh, well, they've exceeded expectations. And, surprisingly, we're a serious contender for the Big 12 regular season conference championship. No, seriously.
After the jump, we'll get into some reasons what it will take to win the league...
What It's Going to Take...
Win the Gimmes -- As always, this is the key. However, moreso than usual, we really can't afford a slip-up in Ames, or in Manhattan, or in Lawrence against anyone from the North. Now, some of those aren't gimmes; one could even argue there are none. And, in the true meaning of the word, there really aren't any gimmes in league play. They just don't exist, no matter how bad the Buffaloes are. But, still, we can't afford to lose the games we should, frankly, win. But, I'm trying to be reasonable. So, I'll just say that as long as we just lose one of the easy games, we'll still give us a shot. Here are the games I consider to be 'gimmes': @ Iowa State, vs. Colorado, @ K-State, vs. Iowa State, vs. Nebraska, vs. Missouri, @ Texas Tech.
Split Your Non-Gimme Road Games -- With us already marking down road trips to Ames, Manhattan and Lubbock victories, that leaves four games left on the road. All of them will be tough. Hell, I really struggled with putting the K-State agme in the gimme category. Still, though, it is reasonable that we can win two of the following: @ Nebraska, @ Missouri, @ Baylor, @ Oklahoma. Obviously, one of those is more difficult than the others (Boomer Sooner), and one is easier (Cornhuskers). I figure we'll win up in Lincoln and lose down in Norman, although both outcomes could certainly change. This essentially leaves us with two of this season's key games; the game in Columbia and the game down in Waco. Both will be tough, both will be difficult, both will be hard. We will likely be the underdog in both scenarios. However, if we're serious about winning the league, we pretty much have to win one of the games. As to which one, we'll see. But we have to win one of 'em, or we can kiss our shot at winning the Big 12 goodbye.
Win the Home Games Remaining -- Now, this is where it gets really demanding. The two home games left unaccounted for are vs. Okie State and vs. Texas. Both are really good teams. The Cowboys are a little underrated, I think, while the Longhorns might be a touch overrated. In any case, neither will be easy. But, we are a much better team in the friendly confines of Allen Field House. And we should probably win both. If we win 'em both, we can even lose another game along the way. Maybe. But, seriously, let's just win these both. I understand we're young. But we're still one of the best teams in the country (I believe, and yes, I'm a touch biased) when we're at home. That's the key. These games are in AFH, people. We're gonna win 'em.
Pray Oklahoma Loses (X) Games -- No matter what, the number will have to be at least two. Sorry, but we are losing at least two games. It's just inevitable. But, to think we could go through this slate losing less games than our dominating team did last year, even in a weaker Big 12, isn't likely. So, we'll say we have to find three losses, maybe four. In order, from most to least, here are the most likely opportunities for the Boomer Sooner to lose from here on out: @ Texas, @ Oklahoma State (I'm a believer, baby), @ Baylor, @ Missouri, vs. Kansas, vs. Oklahoma State, vs. Baylor. That is eight, legitimate chances for Boomer Sooner to lose. See how much tougher the South is? Odds are they win most of those, naturally, but I bet they lose at least two. And, honestly, I'd put the odds of them losing only three pretty low.
And really, that last sentence is why we've got a shot. While our conference schedule isn't a cakewalk, and none of the teams in the conference are guaranteed victories, the schedules are very different. Missouri is pretty good, and Nebraska isn't terrible, but the other three Big 12 North teams aren't good. K-State has shown flashes, but not nearly enough. The South, on the other hand, is five-deep in NCAA-threats, including four of the top five-or-six (depending on how much you like the TigerS) teams in the entire league. So, yeah, we'll have a shot to win. I promise. We just have to do what we can do, and live with the results. If we go 12-4 and they go 13-3, well, then, whatever. No biggie. But, we can go 13-3, it's conceivable, and we certainly can go 12-4.
I promise. And I'd hate to miss out on a shot to win the Big 12 when the champion only goes 12-4. So, please, let's just go 12-4. That's the new goal. No more of this 10-6, 11-5 nonsense. With Mario Little, this team's better than that. Set the bar high. That doesn't mean freak out and be all disappointed if we don't reach that mark, but we're a better team than most are giving us credit for.
Thank you Mario Little and your offensive emergence.