LAWRENCE — Were getting way ahead of ourselves, Kansas basketball coach Bill Self says, shaking his head. You cant crown a conference champion in the second weekend of January.
By RUSTIN DODD
The Kansas City Star
Its too early, he says, to be measuring the Jayhawks trophy case for more Big 12 crystal or wondering how many victories will be needed to secure another league title.
We havent even played a game yet, Self said.
But such are the problems when you are Self, the engineer of an unheard of Big 12 title streak, a run that last year reached eight straight regular-season championships. On Tuesday afternoon, the Jayhawks took the practice floor just more than 24 hours before beginning their charge toward another title. The path starts at 6 p.m. Wednesday against Iowa State, 10-3, at Allen Fieldhouse.
If Self and Kansas face a daunting challenge in their way to another ring, it may have less to do with the Big 12 and more to do with the Jayhawks themselves. No. 6 Kansas is 12-1 overall and an overwhelming favorite to comfortably win its ninth straight Big 12 title. Kansas State, ranked No. 18, is the only other Big 12 team in the Associated Press top 25, and according to conference RPI rankings, the Big 12 grades out as the sixth-toughest league in the country behind the Mountain West and the Pac-12.
For a team like Kansas, that can leave another conference title feeling more like a responsibility or burden than an opportunity.
I hate to say this, Self said, I think its probably more a responsibility.
Last season, the Jayhawks finished 16-2 in the Big 12 the first year of the 18-game double round-robin schedule. KU won the league by two games over Missouri. The year before, KU finished 14-2 and won the league by a game over Texas.
In the KU locker room, the streak has been passed down from class to class, each new group motivated by a simple and fear-laden mantra:
It cant be us, sophomore guard Naadir Tharpe said. It cant be us.
When Tharpe arrived at Kansas, he heard the same thing from the Jayhawks veterans, including then senior guard Tyshawn Taylor, and now hes among those passing along the message.
Everybody always talks about not being that team, Tharpe said. You dont want to be that team, the one that messes up the streak. How would that look?
On Tuesday, when Self was asked about the Jayhawks ongoing streak, he turned the question into an opportunity to talk about Alabama football and coach Nick Saban, who won a third national title in four seasons on Monday night in the BCS National Championship Game.
For Self, it all made sense.
That humbles you a little bit, Self said. To win three (national titles) in four years is a remarkable feat. So no matter what weve done here, locally on the national scene, theres a lot more to be done if we want to be considered elite.
So, yes, there was a reason Self took a moment on Monday to marvel at the making of a football dynasty. And its not because Alabama keeps getting the best players or finding ways to win titles. Instead, Self says, its the way Saban or any coach finds a way to keep his team from feeling satisfied, or worse, entitled.
The thing about it is, Self said, its hard not to take the foot off the gas just a little bit. I mean, its a natural reaction.
A moment later, Self attempted to downplay the Big 12 streaks significance. Its not that he doesnt put a premium on winning league titles; he does. But its more that league titles are only the first step to bigger stages. Then, Self allowed himself to ponder a dream scenario what would it be like to deal with Sabans problems.
Id be more concerned if we cut down nets a couple years in a row, he said. That would be a great problem Id love to have. But that would be a real challenge to get the next team to not feel entitled.
This week, Self was running his players through a film session. When they finally concluded with the tape of the victory over Temple on Sunday, Self could sense a new excitement in the room. It was conference season, finally, and the Jayhawks were ready to move forward.
They say everything counts right now, freshman guard Ben McLemore said. Eight in a row is great. It wont hurt to get another Big 12 championship ring.
To reach Rustin Dodd, call 816-234-4937 or send email to email@example.com. Follow him at twitter.com/rustindodd.