After Iowa State defeated Kansas for a fifth straight time, four times with All-Big 12 guard Jamaal Tinsley in a Cyclones uniform, he expressed a thought in 2001 that should be stitched in every opposing player’s warm-ups.
“It’s just another gym,” he said then, as Iowa State was on its way to a second straight conference championship.
To Tinsley, Allen Fieldhouse was just that.
To Cyclones coach Fred Hoiberg, who never won as a player and now hasn’t won as coach in Lawrence after Monday’s 89-76 victory by the Jayhawks, the tone was different.
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“It’s tougher than hell to walk out of this building with a victory,” he said.
The quality of the regular tenant is the biggest reason. Kansas improved to 8-1 at the Big 12 championship race turn, and the Cyclones fell from second place at 6-3. West Virginia, 6-2, owns second, at least until the Mountaineers play tonight at Oklahoma.
The Jayhawks’ home success has been nothing less than astounding, and it’s part of the reason why Kansas is pointed directly toward an 11th straight conference championship.
The Jayhawks won’t bite on that topic. Guard Wayne Selden, who scored 19 of his 20 points after halftime, said the team was more motivated by the loss at Ames two weeks ago than any thought of a title.
Coach Bill Self said he breaks down the season by weeks. He looked at Iowa State and Saturday’s game at Oklahoma State. He’ll reset after that. Don’t ask about a championship.
“We’ve put ourselves in a favorable position, but it’s way too premature to even be thinking like that,” Self said. “We’re not going to think like that or talk like that.”
Avoiding a championship even at this early juncture will require a perfect finish by somebody else and a Kansas collapse.
Not impossible but ridiculously improbable.
Playing into this inevitability are some general trends. First, the home-court edge — five Big 12 losses in Allen in Self’s dozen seasons — with the Allen Fieldhouse winning streak moving to 20. That’s a school record at some places. In the Self era, it ranks third behind runs of 69 and 33 games.
Also, Kansas rarely loses to unranked teams on the road. The Kansas loss at TCU two years ago was such an aberration that no trip to Fort Worth will pass without mention of that outcome.
Already this season, the Cyclones have fallen at Texas Tech, and Iowa State and KU are the only Big 12 teams undefeated at home.
That’s how a team doesn’t suffer the season sweep. Since Tinsley’s Big 12 title teams came up huge in Lawrence, Kansas entered Monday having played regular-season home-and-home opponents 77 times: the five North opponents for 10 years and three years of the 18-game, Big 12 round robin.
The Jayhawks swept 57 opponents and split the 20 other series. Monday’s victory makes it 21 splits.
Remember, in the first 10 years of the streak, Kansas didn’t play South teams twice. Still, it’s a stunning run, as much so as the team’s nine home losses under Self.
One team remains with a chance to end the run this year, and that’s the Big 12’s current second-place team, West Virginia. They initially meet in Morgantown, W.Va., on Big Monday in two weeks.
Kansas avoided the sweep on Monday by taking Iowa State’s early shot. The Cyclones grabbed a seven-point lead, and the first few moments stood in contrast to the opening moments of Saturday’s victory over Kansas State, a game that seemed over by the second media timeout.
Monday, perimeter shooting loosened up the game for Kansas. Brannen Greene turned the game around in the first half, Selden extended the margin in the second half and KU was money most of the night, hitting 10 of 21 from deep.
Strange to see the Jayhawks shoot it better than Iowa State, while the Cyclones had advantages in rebounding and points in the point. The teams switched personalities from recent seasons. Then again, Kansas doesn’t win like previous teams.
There’s no rim protector like Joel Embiid or Jeff Withey. No obvious all-conference candidate like Andrew Wiggins or Thomas Robinson.
These Jayhawks are more finesse, with a point guard in Frank Mason who combines ball skills with toughness. Top big man Perry Ellis gets plenty of shots blocked.
But when Kansas plays a low-possession game, it beats Texas in Austin and Baylor in Waco. When the tempo increases, it scores a Big 12-high against the Cyclones.
And no matter how differently games unfold, some things remain unchanged.
Kansas doesn’t lose at home, which means the Jayhawks don’t lose Big 12 titles.