In the season’s opening months, a veteran-laden Kansas team squandered a chance against Michigan State at the Champions Classic, rallied to win an early-season tournament, rolled through a nonconference schedule with ease, and then took the show on the road, stretching the winning streak to nine games with a victory on Dec. 22.
Sound familiar? We are talking, of course, about the 2012-13 Jayhawks, a team that forged a path that has been replicated three seasons later. On Dec. 22, 2012, Kansas went on the road and took down a top-10 Ohio State squad, 74-66. It was the victory that produced the following GIF.
It was also the ninth straight victory in an eventual 18-game winning streak. The Jayhawks won their ninth straight Big 12 conference title, earned a No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament, and were a Trey Burke three from playing Florida in the Elite Eight in Arlington, Texas.
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Three years later, to the day, in fact, Kansas claimed another road victory on Dec. 22, fending off San Diego State on Tuesday night. To this point, at least to our knowledge, the victory has not produced any memorable GIFs. But it was the Jayhawks’ ninth straight victory.
And with a week off for Christmas — and just one nonconference game remaining — it’s time to ask the natural question: When will Kansas lose again? Looking at the upcoming schedule, it seems unlikely that the Jayhawks will match the 18-game winning streak from 2012-13 — which is tied for the eighth longest streak in program history. But the Jayhawks do have an opportunity to push the streak into the latter half of January — and perhaps beyond. Here’s a look at how the upcoming slate breaks down.
UC Irvine: Dec. 29 at Allen Fieldhouse
KenPom prediction: W, 80-64 (93 percent)
The Anteaters could be a more difficult opponent than one would think. They currently rank 87th in KenPom’s efficiency rankings, just four slots below San Diego State. But with Kansas at home, and the Jayhawks closing in on their 30th straight win at Allen Fieldhouse, this one probably won’t be close.
Baylor: Jan. 2 at Allen Fieldhouse
KenPom prediction: W, 79-68 (84 percent)
The Bears have been statistically solid and own a home victory over Vanderbilt. Rico Gathers is back, and Taurean Prince is reprising his role as the most underrated player in the Big 12 for the second straight season. Baylor, though, has never won at Allen Fieldhouse. That streak probably will continue.
Oklahoma: Jan. 4 at Allen Fieldhouse
KenPom prediction: W, 79-66 (62 percent)
Count on one thing: There will be threes. After Tuesday’s victory, Kansas is shooting 46.3 percent from three, the third best mark in the country. The Sooners are at 47.2 percent, the second best mark in the nation. By almost all metrics, this appears to be Lon Kruger’s best Oklahoma team and a genuine Final Four contender. The Sooners own blowout victories over Wisconsin, Villanova and Creighton and claimed a road win at Memphis. One year ago, the Jayhawks put 51 points on Oklahoma in the first half at Allen Fieldhouse while shooting 52 percent from three for the night. The Sooners closed hard during the first 10 minutes of the second half, but Kansas left with an 85-78 victory. Some will point to the Kentucky game on Jan. 30, but really, this could be Kansas’ most difficult home game of 2016. If Kansas holds serve at home, though, the streak probably will persist for another week. Because a trip to Texas Tech comes next.
Texas Tech: Jan. 9 at United Supermarkets Arena in Lubbock, Texas
KenPom prediction: W, 77-72 (70 percent)
In year three under Tubby Smith, the Red Raiders have appeared to turn a corner. They are 9-1, with their only loss coming to Utah, and their defense ranked 22nd in the country, according to KenPom. KU will be a healthy favorite, though, and should have enough to pick up a Big 12 road victory in a building that has given the Jayhawks some problems.
West Virginia: Jan 12 at WVU Coliseum in Morgantown, W.Va.
KenPom prediction: L, 77-76 (49 percent)
OK, this could be the one, and the computers agree. The Jayhawks’ winning streak would be at 13 games. Kansas would be playing its second straight road game, with its two longest trips coming just three days apart. With Frank Mason and Devonte’ Graham, Kansas should be well positioned to handle West Virginia’s pressure. But the Jayhawks have also dropped two straight at West Virginia, which is 10-1 with its only loss coming to Virginia.
After West Virginia, KU will play host to TCU, travel to Oklahoma State, face Texas at home, travel to Iowa State and then face Kentucky at Allen Fieldhouse on Jan. 30.
The one stat where Kansas doesn’t measure up
If you look at the Jayhawks’ statistical profile, they are pretty much above the national average in everything — with one exception. Opponent free-throw shooting.
Kansas’ opponents are draining 73.3 percent from the foul line — the national average is 69.0 — and scoring 22 percent of their points on free throws. This is obviously an anomaly more than anything — unless, of course, you put this one on the KU student section to come up with some better distractions — but it highlights a couple points. The Jayhawks should be in good shape when that number regresses toward the mean, and for the moment, it’s probably smart to keep teams off the foul line.
The Return of the Three-Point Tracker
It’s back! The second edition of the Three-Point Tracker is operational. Here are the latest numbers: The Jayhawks hit 42 percent (8 for 19) from three-point range on Tuesday at San Diego State. For the season, the Jayhawks are hitting 46.3, which is just slightly down from our first edition on Dec. 15. The three-point percentage would still be the highest in the Bill Self era by a substantial margin.
The trend that is slightly more concerning? The Jayhawks’ three-point attempt percentage has dipped as well, from 32.0 to 31.7. It’s not much, of course. But with Kansas hitting 46 percent from three, the number should perhaps be inching upward, not downward.
The Three-Point Tracker: Percentage
The Three-Point Tracker: Attempt percentage
Pct. of FGs from 3