It's been a magical stretch of ten straight Big 12 championships for Bill Self and the Jayhawks. It's a streak that is mentioned during virtually every nationally televised KU game, yet is still somehow under-appreciated.
As the 2014-15 conference season got underway, I found myself thinking back to past years of the streak, some of the great wins and demoralizing losses, and which conference titles were the most satisfying, either because of how dominant Kansas was, or because of how unexpected the title was. And, as is my tendency, I wouldn't be fully satisfied until I ranked every season of the streak, based solely on conference play.
12-4, shared title with Oklahoma
The first year of the Big 12 streak was also one of the most trying. The last month was a dogfight, as besides sharing the title with the Sooners, Oklahoma St. finished just one game back, and Bobby Knight's Texas Tech squad two back. The conference season started out promising enough, as a 10-0 start included many of the classic romps that we as fans had to come to expect, having been spoiled by the last few years of the Roy Era. However, despite the fact that the Jayhawks were 20-1 and ranked #2 in the country, there were a few warning signs that this team wasn't that dominant. They didn't force a lot of turnovers. The one loss was a complete shellacking at the hands of Villanova. There was an ugly 2-point win over annual doormat Nebraska at the Fieldhouse. There were a few games that the Jayhawks merely slogged through, putting up W's, but in far from impressive fashion. Then, beginning with the Valentine's Day double-overtime loss at Texas Tech (holy crap, that travel call on Aaron Miles tho), the wheels fell off. Three losses in a row, four in the last six, and all of a sudden KU's undefeated conference record turned into 12-4. The loss at Missouri to wrap up the season meant that the title would be shared with Oklahoma. Counting postseason play, Kansas went 3-6 in their last nine games, lost to Bucknell in the first round, and let's never speak of this again.
14-4, shared title with Kansas State
There were undoubtedly some great highlights during this conference season. There was the win at Oklahoma St. in double overtime, featuring the infamous Bill Self Shuffle. (Personally, I like MC Hammer's better, but we're not here to rank shuffles today.) There was Ben McLemore's banked-in buzzer beating three-pointer to force overtime at home against Iowa St. Elijah Johnson dropped 39 points in Ames, in varying degrees of awesomeness, making children cry and grown men hurl racist insults in equal fashion. However, the lowlights of this season are what gives it the #9 ranking. The three-game losing streak, which included the TCU "Topeka YMCA" game, harshly exposed KU's weaknesses, and lowered the ceiling on the entire year, at least for me. That losing streak also forced us all to watch Marcus Smart backflip after an Okie St. win, Beware the Phog be damned. There was also the last game in the regular season, the hot garbage fire at Baylor, a 23-point loss that forced Kansas to share the title with Kansas St. On the plus side, t-shirt shops in Manhattan had to totally restructure their output that year, as instead of celebrating some random one-game victory, they actually had Big 12 Champion shirts to print.
14-4, solo champs
Last season was a roller-coaster; I can't remember a season when KU's floor and ceiling had such a high variance. From game to game, they could look like THE team to beat nationally, a 7-seed, and everything in between. I enjoyed the win at Iowa St., in which we all celebrated a great road win, while simultaneously preparing to say goodbye to Joel Embiid, as that game pretty much sealed the deal that he would be NBA-bound after the season. I enjoyed beating Kansas St. by 26 and Texas by 31. I enjoyed Andrew Wiggins' halftime, half-court buzzer beater at Baylor. I didn't enjoy the eye-opening loss at Texas, the frustrating overtime loss at K-State, and the disaster at West Virginia after the conference had already been clinched, when Wiggins scored 41 of KU's 86 points. This may just be me talking, but last year's march to the conference championship seemed relatively joyless, at least compared to some of the other years on this list. Although, the celebration of Tarik Black's dunk will always bring me joy. Naadir Tharpe, your Jayhawk career didn't have the greatest ending, but we'll always have your Chappelle Show robot dance.
13-3, shared title with Texas
Sharing a title with the Longhorns in 2005-06 was a huge victory in itself, considering Kansas was loaded with freshman, and Texas started future NBA players LaMarcus Aldridge, PJ Tucker, and Boobie Gibson, and brought sharpshooter AJ Abrams off the bench (I still hate Abrams for breaking Jeff Boschee's Big 12 three-point record). That team was good-- good enough to rock KU by 25 that year, which until two months ago, was a pretty big outlier in Self's Kansas career. The only other losses that year were a brutal home loss to K-State (KU's first loss to the Wildcats since 1994), and an OT loss at Missouri, which goes down as one of the toughest losses of the Self Era. Up seven with 30 seconds left, Mizzou stormed back to tie it. "Greatest Walk-On in College Basketball History" Christian Moody (copyright Billy Packer), missed two free throws with less than a second remaining, and Kansas went on to lose in the extra session. As far as highlights, KU secured revenge victories over both K-State and Missouri. The Missouri game was especially sweet, as Kansas rocked the Tigers by 33, shortly after Quin Snyder had resigned, and the program was literally unraveling before everyone's eyes. Considering the youth of the Jayhawks and the talent of the Longhorns, this was definitely one of the more pleasantly unexpected Big 12 titles of the streak.
15-1, solo champs
The only conference loss was at Oklahoma St. Kansas was #1, the Cowboys shot the lights out, and we all tried to take solace in the fact that the last time Okie St. upset the Jayhawks in Stillwater, the 'Hawks ran the table afterwards and won the NCAA title. Unfortunately, history would not repeat itself that way in 2010. KU swept both their rivals this year, including a 17-point thrashing of Kansas St. when the 'Cats were ranked 5th in the country, and a pair of 19-point W's over Mizzou. Kansas clinched the title early, and ended up winning the conference by four games. It seems a little weird for a 15-1 conference season to only rank 6th on this list, but there just weren't as many memorable moments that stand out for me in 2010.
Next time, we'll run through #5-1 on the list, and hopefully by that time, the 2015 iteration will be 5-0, and we'll already be talking about the moments to remember from this conference season. We know we already have at least one so far...