And now, the exciting (?) conclusion to the list started last week. Here is one man's ranking of the top 5 conference seasons of the ongoing Big 12 title streak for the Kansas Jayhawks.
13-3, shared title with Texas
It's weird to think about in retrospect, now that we know that Kansas wins the national title this season, but Big 12 play was a battle with Texas the whole way-- and if KU loses that Big 12 Tournament championship game to the Longhorns, they almost certainly get bumped down to a 2 seed in favor of Rick Barnes' squad. Conference play started with five wins by an average of 21 points per game, before a bumpy 4-3 stretch that included losses at Kansas State, Texas, and Oklahoma St. The Okie St. game prompted the now-infamous players-only meeting at Henry T's, in which the team allegedly discussed the need to cut down on their video games and refocus. (Loser talk if you ask me, but then again, I've always been V.G.O.E.)
Anyway, whatever was and wasn't discussed at that meeting (if I was a player on that team, it might have been tough for me to offer much to the conversation, since every time I'm at T's, I'm usually double-fisting buffalo chicken strips and waffle fries), the Jayhawks rebounded to win their last four conference games, three in a row at the Big 12 tourney, and of course, the most important six games of the season. For whatever it's worth, 2008 had two games with statistical anomalies I've always enjoyed and remembered without having to double-check the numbers-- the Senior Night game vs. Texas Tech when Kansas won by 58 and had 15 different players score; and the home game vs. Baylor when KU dropped 100 points without making a single three-pointer. Bizarre. And awesome.
14-2, solo champs
This was the season, if you remember, that Kansas State was predicted to win the Big 12. The Wildcats returned almost every key player from their Elite 8 run, and KU had lost the Northern Iowa game, then lost Sherron, Cole, and Xavier to the NBA. This was also probably the height of the "There's no way KU can win the conference EVERY year" stance, whereas we have now passed into the "I'm picking KU to win it every year until they don't" era.
Among all the wins, arguably the most memorable game of this conference season was the loss to Texas the night after Thomas Robinson's mom passed away, which snapped KU's 69-game home winning streak. After a six-game winning streak that included a couple of emotionally charged blowouts against K-State and Missouri (how amazing was T-Rob against K-State, just two days after the funeral, no less?), Kansas went into Bramlage with the #1 ranking and got pasted by the Wildcats, putting them two games behind Texas at that point. But KU recovered to win their last five games, with the cherry on top being a hotly-contested road win at Missouri (Tyrel Reed screaming at the Antlers after that three-pointer, anyone?) With KU needing help, the Longhorns obliged with three losses in four games, and just like that, the Big 12 title streak reached seven. Winning the conference when K-State was expected to do so, combined with the sheer emotion that surrounded so many of these games, results in 2011's high ranking for me. Winning 14 games with an average margin of victory of more than 15 points per game doesn't hurt, either.
14-2, solo champs
There were only two conference losses this year: at home vs. Texas A&M (damn you Acie Law), and at Texas Tech. Remember that stretch when Self couldn't win in Lubbock? That feels like it was 100 years ago. Were games even televised this year? Had electricity even been invented? There were a couple of victories, particularly early on, in which the 'Hawks kinda scraped by; an OT win in Ames here, a down-to-the-wire finish against Mizzou there.
But the home blowouts in 2007....they were epic. There was the 37-point win over Iowa St.-- it's crazy to look back at how bad the Cyclones were at the end of last decade, before Hoiberg took over. There was a 30-point win against Oklahoma St. when the Cowboys were ranked in the top 10, and the 53-point win at home over Nebraska that was so ridiculous I spent most of the game just giggling. Overall, the 2007 squad had a point differential of +285 in the 14 wins-- don't worry, I'll do the math for you-- it's just over 20 points per victory. Granted, the Nebraska game skews that number a bit, but let's say Kansas only wins by 20, which might be generous since they beat the Huskers by 20 in Lincoln, and it still works out to even 18ppg margin of victory. That is sick. Also, I would be remiss if I didn't mention the game at Mizzou when Julian Wright scored 33 points, including this dunk....and the game vs. Colorado when JuJu, um, attempted this dunk.
14-2, solo champs
I had no idea where to rank this season initially. On one hand, this season is Bill Self's piece de resistance. After losing every contributor from the national championship team except Sherron Collins and seldom-used Cole Aldrich, there was no way KU was supposed to win the Big 12 (although to be fair, and not sarcastic at all, let's not downplay the return of Brady Morningstar after redshirting). On the other hand, Kansas caught a huuuuuge break when Blake Griffin suffered a concussion late in the season. At the time, Oklahoma was 11-0 and #2 in the country. With Griffin finishing the game on the bench, they lost to Texas, and Griffin was forced to miss his next game....which happened to be the Jayhawks coming to town. So while it's awesome that Kansas was even involved in the Big 12 race this year, it's almost impossible to separate this title from Griffin's injury, and the main reason I didn't put 2009 in the top spot.
But hey, that win at Oklahoma was one hell of a game, Griffin or no Griffin! Tyshawn Taylor and Sherron were on fire early, and KU built a 20-point lead. The Sooners came roaring back, and with the game on the line, Sherron and Willie Warren decided to fire up a little one-on-one HORSE action, with Sherron and Kansas coming out on top in the end. Both losses this season were pretty big disappointments. Mizzou beat Kansas on a shot with two seconds left in Columbia, and when KU had a chance to clinch the title late in the year, they laid an egg and lost at Texas Tech by 19. However, both losses were avenged, as KU rocked Missouri by 25 on the same day they retired Kirk Hinrich's jersey (one of the best Phog Allen Fieldhouse atmospheres of my life), and they clinched a solo conference title in more dramatic fashion, coming back from 14 down and beating Texas in the last game of the year.
16-2, solo champs
Let's start with the obvious: the final Missouri game was the greatest sporting event I've ever attended, and I'm sure there are 16,299 other people who agree with me. A 19-point second half comeback, going down to the buzzer, overtime, going down to the buzzer a second time, a clinch of a share of the Big 12 title, one last set of bragging rights over Mizzou....you'd be hard-pressed to come up with a better set of circumstances for one regular season win to mean so much. I wouldn't so much classify that as a basketball game as I would a life experience, and I was merely a (I'd be lying if I said sober) spectator.
Mixed in with the one real lowlight, the loss in Columbia when KU lead by eight with three minutes left, then failed to score the rest of the game, there were a few impressive blowout wins that season: beating K-State by 18; beating Tech twice by an average of 34 points per game, beating Baylor on Big Monday by 18 when they were ranked #3 (T-ROB DUNK ALERT); then raking the Bears in Waco by 16 when they were ranked #6. There were also quite a few wins that weren't aesthetically pleasing, but got the job done-- and as we know after the run to the NCAA title game, that was basically the story of the 2011-12 Kansas Jayhawks.
For me, the top five conference seasons of the streak were incredibly liquid; you could pretty easily make a case for any one of these to hold the top spot. I basically could have put these seasons in a hat and randomly drawn any order and been content with it, but that's considered bad form when compiling a top 5 list, amirite?
What say you?