Will Bill Self ever lose another Big 12 regular season title?
The question is absurd. Yet not nearly as absurd as the fact that "no" exists as a plausible answer.
I'm sorry to say this, but the Big 12, when it comes to basketball, it just might be garbage.
"But the Kenpom rating..."
I know what the ratings say, but to essentially paraphrase former Supreme Court Justice, Potter Stewart, it may be difficult to quantify the highly subjective interpretation of what constitutes as mediocrity, "but I know it when I see it." And the product of the four former and nine current schools in the Big 12 not named Kansas over these last 10+ seasons has been the epitome of just that.
Of the ten straight titles Bill Self's Kansas' teams have racked up, four of them have been shared. Three of those four shared titles came in the first four years of the streak, which means they came in the old Big 12 structure. All three schools Kansas shared the title with were in the old "South" half of the conference. Oklahoma in 2005 and Texas in 2006 and 08. In the old system KU only played them once. In all three of those seasons the singular meeting between the schools came on the road for Kansas. There was no opportunity for a rematch at Allen. One has to wonder if at least two of those titles would have ultimately been won outright if there had been the round robin format to which the conference currently adheres. Knowing what we know of Bill Self's gaudy conference home record (91-5 as of this writing), and seeing as how the Jayhawks defeated the Longhorns in the rematches of the Big 12 Tournament Title games of 2006 & 2008, it is a very distinct possibility.
The only other regular season title Bill has shared came in 2013 when his Hawks "shared" the title with Bruce Weber's Kansas State team. To be brutally honest here, even though the teams' conference records were an identical 14-4 the Jayhawks shared that 2013 title with the Wildcats about as much as Governor Brownback shares money with the Kansas public school system. The Hawks beat them at Bramlage, at the Fieldhouse, and in Kansas City that season.
Shared titles and all though, the sad truth remains, in ten years not one single Big 12 team could knock Kansas off the champions' line. Not even one season?
Over the past ten years, Duke, Carolina, Virginia, and hell even the Miami Hurricanes, have all taken turns as ACC champs. In the Big 10 seven different teams won championships during that time. Even in the SEC, where it's essentially Kentucky and a dozen also-rans, Florida, LSU and even Tennessee have won titles during Bill Self's streak at Kansas.
Now, I know what you're probably saying to yourself right now. "Yeah, well, Bill Self and his teams are just that much better than everyone else." And while, yes, in my opinion Bill Self is the best recruiter and coach in the Big 12 and there have been seasons where his teams have been clear juggernauts (2007, 08, 10, 11, even that 2013 team could probably count as one) he's also had four teams during the streak who most likely wouldn't have been championship caliber in a more salty conference.
The 2006 squad saw every significant starter from the 2005 team gone after Wayne Simien, Aaron Miles and Keith Langford graduated and J.R. Giddens got all stabby outside of a karaoke bar and got himself kicked off the team. Filling the vacuum of all that experience was the freshman class of Brandon Rush, Mario Chalmers, and Julian Wright and sophomores Russell Robinson, Darnell Jackson and Sasha Kaun. That 2006 season kicked off in brutal fashion with the Hawks getting hammered by everybody but Chaminade out in the Maui Invitational Tournament. Just three games into the Big 12 season their overrall season record was 10-6 after coming off of back to back losses to Mizzou in Columbia and Kansas State in Lawrence. That team looked to have no business even talking championship. Then they went 12-1 over their final 13 games.
In 2009 Kansas lost all five starters and their top reserve big man off their 2008 National Title team. Sherron Collins and Cole Aldrich were joined by the likes of Brady Morningstar and freshman Tyshawn Taylor and the Morris twins. We all know how the twins turned out by the time they left Kansas, but that first year they looked so ragged that my old friend, the late Bill Mayer - who covered Kansas sports for the Lawrence Journal World for 50+ years - said to me early in that season, "Those Morris boys catch a pass down in the post about as well as someone with a pair of broken wrists." Even so, that team posted a 14-2 Big 12 record.
In 2012 Kansas lost four starters off the 2011 squad that was one of the most statistically dominant in school history. All that 2012 team did was win 16 conference games for only the second time in school history.
In 2014 the Jayhawks again lost every single starter from the year before and came into the season with three freshman starters and no starting point guard worth mentioning. That team lost two of their final three regular season games and still won the conference by two games.
But if regular season evidence isn't doing it for you, let's take a peek at the NCAA tournament performances of the other Big 12 schools over the past 10 years. You may want to ask younger readers to leave the room for this. It's quite disgusting.
During his ten year conference title streak, Bill Self's teams have at least made it to the second weekend of the tournament 6 times, the Elite Eight four times, the Final Four twice, the National Title Game twice, and won it once. Bill's KU teams have locked up a #1 seed five times while averaging a #2 seed overall and posting an average of 2.3 tournament wins. In other words, a second weekend appearance in at least the Sweet Sixteen.
At the same time no other Big 12 school has garnered a single #1 seed, with all schools combining to average a #6 seed and averaging almost exactly 1 - ONE! - tournament win. In other words, going home after the first weekend of action. That is the worst of all five major conferences over that same span of time.
See. When it comes to basketball, the Big 12 is a big hot stinking bag of trash.
One of the things I love about Bill Self is that he puts together tough, legit non-conference schedules. His Hawks will play anyone, anywhere. Too many of the other Big 12 schools assemble confidence boosting non-con slates. They roll into conference play with impressively swollen records after feasting on low grade opponents, and then there's Kansas all battle tested going around the conference like a bully on the block punching weaklings in their Adam's apples and taking their pride in the process.
Bill Self is not to blame for these other programs' perennial underachieving. In fact, it's the strength of KU's non-con schedule that helps to inflate the strength of the conference that the computers seem to love so much. It's high time those other schools start doing their part too.
I mean, come on. Have you seen this year's Kansas squad? Yes, it seems to be finding itself, but it may be the most offensively challenged squad since Bill's 2005 team that had Christian Moody in the starting lineup, a banged up Keith Langford, J.R. Giddens wasting all that talent as he not only camped out beyond the three point arc but also started a fire and went fishing back there, and the entirety of the offense seemingly resting on the prematurely arthritic shoulders of Wayne Simien. And this year's team may be worse, because it has nothing comparable to the 20 point a game beast that Simien was down low.
Yet, still, the Jayhawks find themselves atop league standings by two games halfway through the conference season. Will anybody in this crap league ever stand up and actually land a blow on this bully?
I got a call from a buddy at 7:30 Monday night. He'd just gotten his hands on some good seats to the Big Monday tilt against Iowa State - the best matchup of the Big 12 conference season so far. He wanted to know if I wanted in.
My answer? "I'll meet you at Phog's statue in fifteen minutes."
A match-up of two conference opponents in the top 15. A Big Monday in the Phog, against a supposed worthy opponent. A revenge game. I wanted to see a bloodbath, baby! Booing at refs. Rebounding battles resembling rugby scrums. Clutch 3's. I wanted it all. Let's get it on already!
First ten minutes didn't disappoint. ISU threw their punches. Game was good and tight - six lead changes and a one point KU lead through three TV timeouts. And then... the Hawks pulled away from their competition like a doped up Lance Armstrong peddling up the French Alps.
The seven point halftime deficit would be as close as the Cyclones would get the rest of the night.
The crowd got the "Rock Chalk" chant echoing against the steel blue rafters of Allen Fieldhouse with an obscene minute and a half still left in the game.
I actually sighed at this point. Come on Iowa State. You of all teams? I thought you were ready for the big time.
At what point does beating on a bunch of softies start to make you soft? How much better would Bill Self's NCAA Tournament record be if he'd had some other programs pushing, I mean really pushing his teams through the eighteen conference games? Is this conference sucking his Hawks down with it?
Fact is you play the teams on your schedule and no one ever has to apologize for winning. You just have to add a line to the budget strictly for cases of Brasso needed to polish up all that hardware spilling out of your trophy case.
Will Bill Self ever lose another title? Unless I see legit proof that he could, no is still a very plausible answer.