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Best of the Streak: Teams (Part I)

Ranking the 14 teams of KU’s conference title streak

NCAA Basketball: Texas at Kansas Denny Medley-USA TODAY Sports

We’re highlighting the best of the KU Big 12 title streak now that number 14 has been clinched. Last week, I went through the top ten three point shooters of the streak. Today, it’s time to look at the teams that actually made the streak happen. I’ve seen a couple other such lists, but this one will obviously be the best.

First, we look at the top half of the 14 teams that put Kansas in the record books, with the bottom half to follow tomorrow.

14) 2013-’14
Big 12 record: 14-4
KenPom rank: 7th

This may well be the toughest team to rate, because there were several versions of it within the same season. There was the offensively-challenged version that dropped four non-conference games, including an ugly home loss to San Diego State where the Jayhawks failed to reach 60 points. Then there was the version we saw early in Big 12 play, when Joel Embiid was still healthy and seemingly getting better with each minute he played. Then Embiid got hurt, and KU lost four of their final seven games.

The team we saw in the middle stretch of the season would not be at the bottom. Unfortunately, we saw more of the frustrating teams than the great one. Wayne Selden’s freshman season came nowhere close to the lottery pick projections we saw before the season started, Perry Ellis was still playing without much confidence as a sophomore, and Naadir Tharpe was wildly inconsistent at point guard, with a young, reckless Frank Mason as his only backup. Once Embiid went down, it was Andrew Wiggins and a bunch of guys who just hadn’t figured things out yet.

13) 2005-’06
Big 12 record: 13-3
KenPom rank: 8th

The Big 12 was down in 2006 - way down. So down that Kansas only played three conference games (Oklahoma, Texas and Texas A&M) against teams in the KenPom top 50. In a better year, this team would have had a tougher time winning the league. This team was made up of the building blocks of ‘08’s national title run. Chalmers, Rush, Robinson, Jackson and Kaun were all present. They were also young. This squad started three freshmen and two sophomores, and all were a year away from closely resembling the players they would become.

This team’s athleticism made them a very stingy defense, but they were prone to offensive struggles. While they shot pretty well from outside, they didn’t go to that well often. The team’s young ballhandlers also turned it over quite a bit, and without much of an offensive post presence, they relied a bit too much on jumpers. The young team got it together as the season went on, but a 1-2 start to league play, including a home loss to K-State and a bad loss to a Missouri team ranked 151st showed how rough things could get for them. Oh, and there was that whole Bradley thing at the end.

12) 2017-’18
Big 12 record: 13-5
KenPom rank: 12th

It’s been a year of ups and downs. This team lost two big men before the season even started, then a McDonald’s All-American suddenly couldn’t go after Billy Preston’s surprise eligibility issue. Severe depth issues and a lack of the usual top-end talent caused this year’s Jayhawks a lot of trouble. They lost at the Sprint Center to a Washington team that won’t make the tournament, lost at home to an Arizona State team that ultimately fell apart, then lost two home games in conference play, plus a couple of road games that weren’t even close.

On the other hand, they beat Kentucky and went 6-3 on the road in Big 12 play. That includes winning at the 2nd, 3rd, 4th, and 5th place teams in the conference. Though there were some flat performances, the season featured two remarkable comebacks against West Virginia, and a clutch win in the biggest game of the year in Lubbock. Far from the best of the streak, but not quite the worst, either.

11) 2014-’15
Big 12 record: 13-5
KenPom rank: 12th

This is still Bill Self’s only Kansas team to lose five games in conference play. When Kansas managed just 40 points against Kentucky in November, it looked like it might be a long season for the Jayhawks. Fortunately, Perry Ellis was started to round into form, and Frank Mason started to make fans realize that he was going to be a lot more than they expected. Kelly Oubre and Wayne Selden struggled at times, but also came up huge on a number of occasions, while Brannen Greene, Landen Lucas, and freshman Devonte Graham all found a groove in their roles off the bench. Perry Ellis got hurt toward the end of the year, and the season ended with a thud against Wichita State in the tournament, but you could see that the foundation for the next season was solid.

10) 2004-’05
Big 12 record: 12-4
KenPom rank: 11th

This is another tough team to rank. It’s generally thought of as being near the bottom of Bill Self’s Kansas teams, but there was some real talent there. Wayne Simien was a dominant big man, while Keith Langford was one of the better scorers in schools history. Aaron Miles had his turnover issues, but was a great playmaker who played outstanding defense. JR Giddens hit a shooting slump but ultimately was a borderline NBA player.

However, there is definitely a talent dropoff after that, as the team relied on Christian Moody to play in half their minutes. There were solid bench players, but most were a year away from becoming productive players. The high end talent gets them into the top 10 for me, but their struggles as a team (and the Bucknell loss), keep them from going any higher.

9) 2008-’09
Big 12 record: 14-2
KenPom rank: 14th

Per KenPom, this is the worst team of the streak era. If you just glance at the names on the roster, it’s actually pretty puzzling. Collins, Aldrich, Tyshawn, the Morri, Releford, Reed and Morningstar all played on this team. However, as a junior, Sherron Collins was actually this team’s elder statesman. Had Cole Aldrich not gone full beast mode in his sophomore season, the streak probably would have ended after the previous year’s title run. With everyone else too green to contribute much, this team belonged to Collins and Aldrich. After four non-conference losses, they figured things out in a big way, winning an outright title in the Big 12.

8) 2012-’13
Big 12 record: 14-4
KenPom rank: 8th

I think this season brought us the most frustration from Kansas fans we’d seen since Bucknell and Bradley. Things actually started out very well, with KU starting out 19-1, and 7-0 in conference. However, on the heels of that start came a rare three game losing streak. That run of play was bad enough, but it was compounded by perhaps the most puzzling loss in recent Kansas history, 62-55 loss to TCU, who came into the game ranked 278th by KenPom, still searching for the first Big 12 win in school history. Forutnately, they shook it off and didn’t lose again until the last game of the conference slate.

This team had depth issues that seem to have been forgotten about. The entire bench was Naadir Tharpe, and freshmen Perry Ellis and Jamari Traylor. While Kevin Young turned out better than anyone expected, this team probably relied on him too much. That said, Elijah Johnson, Travis Releford and Jeff Withey gave this team a solid senior foundation, and they had a lottery pick in redshirt freshman Ben McLemore. Not bad.