West Virginia basketball coach Bob Huggins, TCU’s Jamie Dixon and Baylor’s Scott Drew each used the word “remarkable” Thursday to describe Kansas’ historic run of 13 straight Big 12 championships.
Texas’ Shaka Smart, meanwhile, referred to KU’s tying UCLA for most consecutive regular-season league titles in college hoops history, “a tremendous accomplishment.”
The weekly Big 12 coaches teleconference, held the morning after KU’s league-clinching 87-68 home victory over TCU, gave Jayhawk coach Bill Self’s coaching peers a chance to reflect on a streak that, to their chagrin, simply won’t go away.
“I’ve said before, they’ve got a Hall of Fame coach sitting on the bench and they’ve got the best players in the league and nobody beats them at home,” said 10th-year West Virginia coach Huggins. His Mountaineers beat KU by 16 points in Morgantown, W.Va., but squandered a 14-point lead in the final three minutes, ultimately losing in overtime at Allen Fieldhouse.
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“Iowa State got them this year … the first time in what, 102 years? I think it was right after Naismith wrote those rules that they lost there that one time. You’ve got to beat them there,” Huggins added.
The No. 3-ranked Jayhawks, 25-3 overall and 13-2 in the league heading into Saturday’s 5 p.m. contest at Texas, are 7-1 at home and 6-1 on the road, losing to Iowa State at Allen and at WVU.
“I think with Kansas, they obviously have one of the best homecourts in college basketball. Simply stated, they just don’t lose at home,” said Texas Tech coach Chris Beard, whose Red Raiders lost by 17 points in Lawrence and one in Lubbock. “So they start every year with nine wins or eight. If they win half their road games they are going to compete for a title.”
Dixon, who is in his first year in the Big 12 after 13 seasons at Pitt, said KU’s 13-year streak “is probably the most remarkable thing I’ve seen since I’ve been around college basketball. The consistency of it … it speaks to a lot of things, the history of the program, what Coach Self has done and the quality of players they continue to get, their ability to reload.
“Actually from afar, I was always amazed. During the late signing period out east, they would come in and get guys and be able to reload like no team I’ve ever seen. Teams are made in the late signing period. (They) pick up a (Josh) Jackson at the end, just go down the list. They find guys and get it done.”
Drew has been asked about KU’s run of titles many times in his 14 years in Waco.
“There are certain streaks that as coaches you don’t see being broken at any time in the near future or as long as you are alive maybe: UConn’s 100-game win streak (in women’s basketball) might be one of them,” Drew said. “Kansas’ 13 league titles especially in the Power Five leagues because it’s just so hard to maintain with graduate transfers, transfers, one-and-dones, injuries.
“So it’s truly remarkable what they’ve been able to accomplish in a very competitive league. If our league was sixth or seventh ranked you could see where one team is dominant and could say they haven’t faced the competition. They’ve done it and always found a way to win thus far.”
Smart said the streak “is something everybody is keenly aware of. I think it really says more about Kansas than anything else. It creates an urgency for the rest of us to say, ‘Hey we’re not there yet.’ No matter who you are talking about in the league the other nine teams are certainly trying to strive toward something that Kansas has done consistently.”
‘Pressure’ off Jayhawks
There are some benefits to wrapping up at least a share of the league title with three games still to play.
“The next two weeks we can focus in on trying to play our best basketball we’ve played all year because the pressure is off a little bit,” Self said.
KU will follow the Texas game with a Senior Night contest against Oklahoma at 8 p.m. Monday at Allen, then conclude the regular season March 4 at Oklahoma State. KU enters the stretch three games in front of five-loss teams Baylor, Iowa State and West Virginia.
“Right now what we have to do is have fresh minds and bodies as much as possible and work on some things that we are not doing as well as we should, play with a freer mind than we have,” Self said. “Whether you see it or not, these guys during conference play operate under pressure. They get everybody’s best shot. Ever since Year 3 or 4 (of KU’s 13-year string), every team doesn’t want to be the team that didn’t do it.”
Self said he sees no need to rest certain players during the final three Big 12 games.
“We’re not going to change who we are and what we’ve been doing,” Self said. “What we’ve been doing works pretty well. I don’t see any reason to back off what we’ve been doing. Practices are short. The thing is, Saturday/Monday (games) stink while you are playing them. After you play them you get two days off. We play Saturday/Monday next week, too. There’s no reason we can’t take a couple more days off next week.”
Seeding still important
Even though the league race has been decided, the Jayhawks’ seed for the NCAA Tournament is far from settled. KU will likely need to be a No. 1 seed to be placed in the Midwest Regional. Sprint Center is the site for Sweet 16 and Elite Eight contests.
“We don’t have anything locked up. On the one seed or where we’ll go, we’ve got nothing locked up. We need to keep playing and winning,” Self said.
KU seniors Landen Lucas and Tyler Self and juniors Sviatoslav Mykhailiuk and Dwight Coleby have been named Academic All-Big 12, the league announced Thursday. Lucas, Self and Coleby are first-team selections, while Mykhailiuk is on the second team. A total of 26 student-athletes made up the team. Mykhailiuk is a repeat honoree from last season, while Lucas, Self and Coleby are academic all-conference for the first time. Both Lucas and Self graduated from Kansas in spring 2016 and are currently pursuing master’s degrees in business administration.