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Best of the Streak: Teams (Part II)

The second of my rankings as we look at every team in Bill Self’s Big 12 championship streak.

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

Yesterday we went through teams 8-14 of the Big 12 championship streak. Today, it’s time to bring it home.

7) 2011-’12
Big 12 record: 14-2
KenPom rank: 5th

I know, I know. I ranked a team that made it to the national title game seventh. As impressive as the team’s end result was, there were serious concerns about them earlier in the year. Tyshawn Taylor’s turnover problems contributed to a rough losses against Kentucky and Duke, while a flat performance against Davidson at the Sprint Center dropped them to 7-3 through ten games. I remember actually hearing the words “bubble team” on the radio after that start.

Obviously, that talk was just a bit premature. Kansas got it together in Big 12 play, and reeled off five NCAA tournament wins despite an early exit in the Big 12 tournament. This was built around Tyshawn Taylor’s driving ability, and Thomas Robinson’s skill around the basket. The rest of the team was just role players, but what a bunch of role players. Elijah Johnson was a reliable scorer, Travis Releford was a lockdown perimeter defender, and I’d have no problem calling Jeff Withey the best defensive player in college basketball, if it weren’t for that Anthony Davis guy. I don’t want to disparage how good this team was or what they accomplished, but as I looked at the next six teams, I had a hard time moving them up any further.

6) 2010-’11
Big 12 record: 14-2
KenPom rank: 3rd

This team brought us one of the more frustrating tournament losses in recent memory, bowing out to VCU in the Elite 8. Prior to that, they were a machine. This was the Morris twins’ final year in college, and they both put together incredible seasons, scoring at an almost unfairly efficient clip, both and around and away from the basket, while remaining beasts on the boards. Thomas Robinson started to come into his own. Tyshawn Taylor was a much better replacement for Sherron than expected, and Tyrel Reed and Brady Morningstar were sharpshooters who could lock their man down on the other end of the court. This team was a buzzsaw that won ten of its 16 league games by double digits. They looked like they could easily win it all until it all fell apart against VCU.

5) 2009-’10
Big 12 record: 15-1
KenPom rank: 2nd

Speaking of great teams with frustrating tournament losses, meet the ‘10 team. The starting lineup was Sherron Collins, Tyshawn Taylor, Xavier Henry, Marcus Morris and Cole Aldrich. That means a full platoon swap would bring in Elijah Johnson, Brady Morningstar, Tyrel Reed, Markieff Morris and Thomas Robinson. As young as some of those guys were, that team would still have had a shot at making the tournament.

The 2010 squad was 7th in the country in three point shooting, 22nd in offensive rebounding, and KenPom rated both the offense and defense in the top 10 nationally. The pieces were all there for a much deeper run in March. FAROKHMANESH!

4) 2016-’17
Big 12 record: 16-2
KenPom rank: 6th

Like the next two teams, the 2017 squad was soooooo close to getting to the Final Four. Frank Mason posted one of the best seasons any Jayhawk has ever put together, Devonte Graham emerged as a star, Josh Jackson showed incredible versatility and somehow became a solid three point shooter, Svi came into his own as a regular player, and Landen Lucas was a brick wall as a defender, rebounder and screener. Lagerald Vick showed amazing athleticism off the bench, though Carlton Bragg seemed to take a small step back from his freshman year.

The team’s post depth took a big hit when Udoka Azubuike went down with a season ending injury, but Josh Jackson did such a good job as a hybrid point forward who could defend the post, it didn’t seem to matter much. This team absolutely destroyed Michigan State and Purdue back to back, but a horrific shooting performance, combined with unusually great play from Oregon, put Kansas chasing the Ducks all night in the Elite 8. KU never could close the gap and we were left to wonder what could have been if they could have even hit eight or nine of their 25 three point attempts.

3) 2006-’07
Big 12 record: 14-2
KenPom rank: 5th

This was the ‘08 national championship team, plus Julian Wright! Sherron Collins and Darell Athur immediately made themselves big names in college basketball as freshmen, while Chalmers and Rush continued their ascent in the KU history books. If Wright had a handle or a jump shot, he was probably a top 5 pick. The team’s youth led to unusual non-con losses to DePaul and Oral Roberts, but neither team was bad that year. If not for about a million missed bunnies, this team would have beaten UCLA (a two seed we played in San Jose for some untold reason) and been Bill Self’s first Final Four squad.

2) 2015-’16
Big 12 record: 15-3
KenPom rank: 3rd

The last of the three straight Elite 8 squads on the list. Had this team drawn literally any other matchup in the Elite 8, I believe they would have gone to the Final Four, and quite possibly won a national championship. Frank Mason and Devonte Graham were a lethal backcourt combination, and Wayne Selden had easily his best year in a Kansas uniform. Oh, and this was the senior year for some guy named Perry Ellis. Carlton Bragg looked great off the bench, and Jamari Traylor was able to slide back into his natural place as a high-energy role player. Svi and Brannen Greene were as good a shooting pair as you’ll ever find on the bench. This team was so good that Chieck Diallo barely saw the court after finally becoming eligible ten games in.

They breezed through the first three rounds of tournament play before running into the eventual national champion, Villanova. Even then, though that Nova squad was an offensive juggernaut putting up obscene numbers, Kansas managed to hold them under a point per possession in a narrow loss.

1) 2007-’08
Big 12 record: 13-3
KenPom rank: 1st

Even if Davidson’s desperation heave in the Elite 8 had gone in, I think this team would still deserve the #1 spot. There simply wasn’t a weakness. They had ballhandling, playmaking, three point shooting, post scoring, offensive and defensive rebounding, perimeter defense, post defense and rim protection. There isn’t a single category on their KenPom page that’s even a little pink.

They were hardly even challenged in four of their six tournament games. Perhaps the comeback against Memphis was unlikely, but the fact that they had the offensive and defensive tools to make it happen was incredible. They remain the second best college basketball team of the KenPom era.