Sorry Scott Drew. Apologies to you too, Jamie Dixon.
You guys are both fine coaches having outstanding years. But neither of you is Big 12 coach of the year.
That would be Bill Self, something that became even more clear following Kansas’ 84-80 overtime victory over West Virginia on Monday night.
I can hear the snickering already. “Self gets all the five-star guys. KU was expected to win the Big 12. Self has an easier path to winning than other coaches.”
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And I get all that, but here’s the deal: Self is winning differently this year. There is no dominance, no depth, no margin for error.
Yet KU … just … keeps … winning.
Consider this: In the last seven games, KU has scored exactly as many points as its opponents. The team has gone 5-2 over that stretch.
Or this: The Jayhawks are ninth in Big 12 play in two-point percentage and eighth in defensive efficiency — two staples of Self’s dominant teams. KU is two games up in the conference standings anyway.
The numbers get crazier as you go. On Monday, KU trailed 67-60 with 1:13 to go, with the win probability chart giving the team less than a 1 in 1,000 chance of winning. The Jayhawks were forced to full-court press, which the team hadn’t practiced in a month.
And yet KU kept fighting and Self kept urging his guys to play harder, and suddenly, the game was in overtime and no one could really figure out how it had gotten there.
There is some luck involved in close games, but this seems more than that. KU improved to 9-1 in Big 12 games decided by single digits, and one has to assume Self’s late-game proficiency contributes to that success.
Something else to consider: I’m not sure KU is the best team in the Big 12. West Virginia outplayed KU twice. Baylor is still ranked higher in many advanced rankings. This all isn’t even mentioning the fact that this year’s Big 12 could be the toughest conference in more than a decade.
And still, somehow, through 13 games, Self has the Jayhawks up two. With a win Saturday at Baylor — something that won’t be easy — taking the Big 12 by three games or more isn’t out of the realm of possibility.
Drew’s gone a good job at Baylor, but his team had a chance to win at Texas Tech on Monday and didn’t. Two days earlier, KU did.
TCU has exceeded expectations too. But then again, the Horned Frogs haven’t done enough to this point for Dixon to be put in Self’s class.
Think about all that has happened. Self correctly scrapped his three-out, two-in offense to go to a four-guard look in the preseason to play to his team’s strengths. He’s helped his team overcome the loss of emerging big man Udoka Azubuike to injury while navigating the Big 12 with primarily a seven-man rotation.
He’s helped the development of Frank Mason from Towson commit to national player of the year candidate and tutored Landen Lucas as he matured from bench player to invaluable defender. He’s played counselor for talented freshman Josh Jackson, getting him to the point where he’s thinking next play instead of constantly worrying about the last one.
Allen Fieldhouse is an advantage, as is recruiting to the KU brand. In most years, that’s helped Self build a team of rotating superstars and high-flying athletes who weren’t guaranteed playing time because of the people around them.
This isn’t that team.
Without depth, without a shot-blocking big man, maybe even without the best roster in the Big 12, Self has KU on the verge of winning a 13th straight Big 12 title by multiple games.
Sorry Scott and Jamie. There’s always next year.