One of the great misconceptions of Bill Self’s time at Kansas is that the vaunted streak of 11 straight Big 12 titles has been built on success at Allen Fieldhouse. The Jayhawks have been dominating at home, of course — their latest home-court winning streak stands at 34 games. But for so many years, what separated Kansas from the rest of the Big 12 was its overwhelming success on the road.
From 2007 to 2013 — a seven-year stretch that produced seven conference titles and the 2008 NCAA championship — the Jayhawks went 45-13 on the road in conference play. The run included three seasons in which Kansas lost just one conference road game. The numbers, in retrospect, are staggering.
They also stand in sharp contrast to the last two-plus seasons. As No. 3 Kansas prepares to face No. 19 Iowa State at Hilton Coliseum at 8 p.m. Monday, the Jayhawks are just 10-11 on the road in conference play since 2014. They finished 4-5 last season and have dropped two straight away from Allen Fieldhouse, suffering losses at West Virginia and Oklahoma State.
There are some obvious factors, of course. The Big 12 moved to an 18-game round-robin schedule in 2012, meaning Kansas could no longer feast on sometimes weak North teams. The Big 12 may be deeper than it’s ever been, with new coaches in the conference, and solid teams from top to bottom. But the numbers illustrate a crucial point: Kansas has been mortal on the road for more than two seasons.
“The really good teams that we’ve had here,” Self said, “you knew when we went on the road, if you played well, you were going to win. And the chances were four out of five you would play well. I don’t have that feeling this time.”
The run of road setbacks hasn’t kept Kansas from winning Big 12 titles the last two seasons. But as Self says, it does limit the margin for error. Last season, the Jayhawks finished with a losing record in conference road games for the first time under Self. They needed a perfect home record to win the conference by a full game.
This sets up Monday night’s matchup as a pivotal game in the Big 12 race. After a victory over Texas on Saturday, the Jayhawks are 5-2 in the Big 12 and tied atop the league standings with Oklahoma, Baylor and West Virginia. The gridlock sets up plenty of intrigue. Kansas still has to travel to Oklahoma on Feb. 13, and it also will face hostile road environs at K-State and Baylor. But the Jayhawks might not experience a more raucous atmosphere than Hilton Coliseum on Big Monday.
“They definitely have an angry crowd,” senior forward Jamari Traylor said.
Hilton Coliseum has been the site of multiple launching-point victories in recent years. In 2013, the Jayhawks triumphed in an overtime classic in late February. One year later, the Jayhawks scored a 77-70 victory in early January, sending an early statement to the Big 12. Before absorbing an 86-81 loss last season, Kansas had won of nine of 10 in Ames. Now the Jayhawks will attempt to find that old road swagger.
“I just feel like we got to take it one possession at a time,” Traylor said. “The last couple games, I feel like when we got down, we tried to make home-run plays and ended up digging our selves in a bigger hole.”
Self believes the Big 12 has been better in recent years — or at least deeper. There are few road breathers. But the formula for a Big 12 title, Self says, remains the same. You must hold serve at home and steal victories on the road. The Jayhawks have an opportunity to steal a crucial one on Monday night.
“If you can go 5-4 on the road, you’ve had a hell of a year,” Self said. “Four-and-five would be a (heck) of a year. But certainly, we’re not off to a great start this year.”