Updated: Mar 18, 2020
By: Chris O'Brien
This is a historical look back at the 14-year streak of Big 12 conference titles. The format bounces back and forth from closely monitoring the 2017-18 season (the final year of the streak) to chronicling all of the seasons and players that came before and made the streak what it was. The streak in total may have been perfect, but every season had its share of ups and downs. I highly recommend starting with Part 1 before diving here into Part 2.
The Sprint Center isn't technically our homecourt. But it's pretty damn close.
Any game KU plays in Kansas City is in front of a crowd consisting of around 90-95 percent KU fans. And, as we know from decades of experience, Kansas doesn't lose at home.
And yet there we were losing again in the Sprint Center. Let's run through the recent list. Oregon in the Elite Eight the year before. TCU in the first round of the Big 12 tournament. Now Washington this year. Washington??
An unranked Washington team who wasn't even predicted to finish Top Five in the Pac 12. Their zone defense shut down our three-point shooting, holding our guys to 5-of-20 from behind the arc. Graham finished with just three points, Svi with eight.
Maybe the Sprint Center should be viewed like a road game. Especially Graham, that place is his kryptonite.
I tried to justify it. I remember in high school there was one gym that I played horribly in, every single time. It turned me into the guys in Space Jam after the aliens took their talent. And, honestly, it wasn’t a bad thing because I could superstitiously rationalize, “Well, as long as I’m not playing in that gym, I’ll be fine.” Maybe Graham could do the same with the Sprint Center?
All I know is we need this Preston situation worked out. Fast. Without him, I don't know if we can keep this streak alive.
2008-09: Rebuilding, Bill Self style
This was an unfamiliar feeling as a KU fan. A season with no pressure. Playing with house money.
I mean, come on, Mario Chalmers, Brandon Rush, Sasha Kaun, Darnell Jackson, Darrell Arthur, Russell Robinson were all gone. We lost five NBA players. Plus it took 20 years in between banners the last time, winning back-to-back wasn't even on the mind. This would be a rebuild. Get to the tourney, maybe a Sweet 16 berth, that's good enough for me.
Sherron Collins (junior) and Cole Aldrich (sophomore) were now the veterans of the team. They were joined by a powerful recruiting class: Marcus Morris, Markieff Morris, Travis Releford, Tyshawn Taylor.
KU started 11-4 in non-conference play, falling out of the Top 25. But then the Jayhawks rallied off eight in a row in the Big 12. Finished 14-2 in conference, No. 9 in the AP poll.
Kansas landed a No. 3 seed and made a run to the Sweet 16. Self's squad put up a good fight against Michigan State, a team that went on to be national runner-up with a star freshman named Draymond Green.
So much for a rebuilding year. We still won the Big 12 outright, landed a top-three seed. This theme would continue, with Bill Self there are no down years.
The Jayhawks could bounce back from the disappointing loss to Washington with a win over another Pac 12 opponent. Arizona State was off to a great start, undefeated, already a win over a top-tier Xavier squad.
ASU was good but they were good through their guard play, not big men. We should be able to handle that. This was a chance to notch a quality out of conference win to pair with wins over Kentucky and Syracuse.
But Kansas couldn't guard at all. We gave up 58 second-half points on our HOME floor! Can't blame it on the Sprint Center. The Sun Devils pulled off the 95-85 win. We were ranked No. 2 at the time, the Washington loss was earlier in the week so hadn't hit the voting yet. But after this week of disastrous PAC 12 speed dating, we didn't even look like a Top 25 team.
This loss had me worried because, obviously, the size of teams like Michigan State, Arizona, or Duke would be a problem for us, but I assumed we could handle elite guards. Apparently, this wasn't the case. So now add Villanova and Xavier - both with great guard play - to the list of teams I don't think we could beat.
And sure, that's the big picture, me dreaming of Final Fours. But this year, there was a lot to fear in the conference. The defensive pressure of West Virginia and this rising star Trae Young over at Oklahoma. The Big 12 title felt like it was beginning to slip away and we were not even in conference play.
After the Washington game, and a couple days before the Arizona State game, I read a story by Gary Bedore titled, “Bill Self visits granddaughter in Texas, prepares for KU game against Arizona State.”
Did the granddaughter visit soften him up? Make him feel warm and fuzzy about his team? Not at all.
“You are replacing Frank with somebody not near as competitive as Frank (Devonte Graham). You are replacing Josh with someone not near as competitive as Josh (Lagerald Vick). And you are replacing Landen with somebody who doesn’t know how to be competitive yet (Udoka). Those aren’t negatives. Those are just facts. We had 2 1/2 dogs last year. Landen was close to being a full one.”
(quote from Bedore story)
Or how about:
“You look at personality and whatnot, we’ve got some really nice young men. I don’t know that anybody, first thing they said after playing Frank or Josh was, ‘Those are some nice young men.’ I don’t think that’s what they said normally. I think that’s probably how other people look at us now,” Self said.
(quote from Bedore story)
2009-10 Sherron's Senior Season
What a season!
Started No. 1 in the pre-season polls, held onto that top spot for 14 games. All the way to January 10th when we lost at Tennessee.
And talk about milestones. Bill Self wins his 400th career game. He hit his 200th win at Kansas, the fastest coach in KU history to do so. The Jayhawks won their sixth straight Big 12 title, a "feat that hadn't been accomplished in a BCS conference since John Wooden's UCLA Bruins."
Which is incredible, but man, if we only knew this streak wasn't even halfway through...
The season was filled with individual achievements. Sherron Collins set the record for winningest Jayhawk in a four-year span. Cole Aldrich broke Greg Ostertag's record for blocks in a season.
Or how about beating Kansas State three times! This was Kansas State's best season, they finished Number 7 in the AP Poll but we remained the big brother. We finished even better than our record in '07-08, at 32-2 overall, 15-1 in conference play. Landed the Number 1 overall seed.
Only took us two games to lose our first Big 12 matchup. The second loss in the Phog. Texas Tech dominated the game from start to finish, winning 85-73. Add Texas Tech to the list of teams that might end the streak.
On the season, Kansas shoots something like 40 percent of their total shots from three. It’s kind of like the college version of the Houston Rockets. It’s sporadic to watch; it leads to significant droughts during games followed by these crazy fast rallies where Kansas scores 10 – 15 points in a couple of minutes.
And it can work as a core strategy IF there are other components to the offense. For example, look at last year. Graham and Svi spent a lot of time behind the 3-pt line but it was balanced out by Mason getting to the rim, Jackson getting to the rim. When guys went cold, the offense didn’t come to a screeching halt.
But this year, I was shocked to see (at the time of the Texas Tech game) that Kansas was dead last in ALL of college basketball in free throw attempts. That’s ridiculous. I looked it up and the teams around us on that list were Colgate, Holy Cross, Western Illinois.
Colgate?! We’re shooting less free throws than a brand of toothpaste??
And yeah, sure, we don’t have size, but lack of free throws, to me, is a sign that our guys are playing way too soft. Free throws would also be a chance for a thin depth chart to get some breaks during a game. Catch their breath. There is no reason our total number of attempts per game should be just 12 or 13.
2010-11: Lucky Number 7
1. The ball may be thrown in any direction with one or both hands.
2. The ball may be batted in any direction with one or both hands (never with the fist).
3. A player cannot run with the ball. The player must throw it from the spot on which he catches it, allowance to be made for a man who catches the ball when running at a good speed if he tries to stop.
Bill Self took over after Roy Williams who took over after Larry Brown. Larry Brown got the keys to the car after Ted Owens, who hopped in after Dick Harp. Before Dick Harp there was the legendary Phog Allen, before Phog Allen there was Dr. James Naismith.
And that's it. Six degrees of separation from Bill Self to the creator of basketball. In that way, Lawrence serves as basketball's Garden of Eden.
4. The ball must be held in or between the hands; the arms or body must not be used for holding it.
5. No shouldering, holding, pushing, tripping, or striking in any way the person of an opponent shall be allowed; the first infringement of this rule by any player shall count as a foul, the second shall disqualify him until the next goal is made, or, if there was evident intent to injure the person, for the whole of the game, no substitute allowed.
6. A foul is striking at the ball with the fist, violation of Rules 3,4, and such as described in Rule 5.
Just like God giving the tablets to Moses, Dr. James Naismith had his 13 original rules of basketball written out on a couple pieces of paper. These original documents were going up for auction in New York City and one KU fan was determined to keep the sacred texts home in Lawrence.
The fan cold-called and met with a wealthy KU alumnus, David Booth. He convinced him of the grand mission. It became a high-stakes bidding war, Booth was going toe-to-toe with someone from Duke. Keeping the Biblical theme alive, how perfect that we battled against the (Blue) Devil for the right to the holy text. It was a back and forth affair, like something you'd see on the court between the two Blue Blood programs. In the end, we defeated Duke. David and Suzanne Booth purchased Dr. James Naismith's Original Rules for $4.3 million. The text would be kept safe where it always belonged, in Allen Fieldhouse.
The University Daily Kansan
With the rules secure, the holy land was restored. The Jayhawks broke the KU home-court winning streak record of 62 straight with their 63rd home win in a row over Texas A&M-CC on Nov. 23rd, 2010. The streak ended at 69 straight home wins with a defeat to Texas on January 22, 2011. The streak was the longest in NCAA basketball since 1992.
8. A goal shall be made when the ball is thrown or batted from the grounds into the basket and stays there, providing those defending the goal do not touch or disturb the goal. If the ball rests on the edges, and the opponent moves the basket, it shall count as a goal.
It was another great season for the Jayhawks. KU went 35-3, 14-2 in conference, won the Big 12 outright. They landed a No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament. Marcus Morris was named Big 12 Player of the Year.
And Thomas Robinson won over the hearts of Kansas nation. Our hearts broke for him when the news was released that he lost his grandparents and mom all in the matter of a few weeks. He was now raising his little sister Jayla on campus. And somehow summoning up the energy to be a vital part of this team.
Bill Self was fast becoming a legend in the KU coaching ranks, worthy of that historic lineage to Dr. James Naismith. Worthy of that office on Naismith Drive.
13. The side making the most goals in that time shall be declared the winner. In case of a draw, the game may, by agreement of the captains, be continued until another goal is made.
2017 - 18 Season
It's hard to call it Allen Fieldhouse magic.
Bill Self teams always finish strong, have an incredible knack for performing their best in the last four minutes of a game.
But Bill Self teams also have plenty of 10-20 point wins at home. We don't need to tap into any sort of homecourt magic against a middle of the road or bottom of the conference team.
Yet there we were tied 73-73 with 3:30 to go against Iowa State, a team that would finish last place in the conference. Thankfully, Malik Newman had a career game, we were able to pull out the victory 83-78.
Next game, Kansas State coming into town. We'd surely get up for our in-state rival, yeah?
Well, here we go again. Trailing 67-64 with three minutes left. Vick tied it up then we went back-and-forth five different lead changes. Tapped into that Phog Allen mystique again, barely won 73-72.
One loss in Kansas City. Two losses in Lawrence and two narrow escapes. And it's only January 13th. We haven't even seen Oklahoma or West Virginia yet.
Articles referenced - http://www.espn.com/mens-college-basketball/recap?gameId=400989183
This wasn't quite a rebuild, but worth pointing out that KU lost both Morris twins, plus Morningstar and Reed graduated.
But what we were continuing to find out is that every year under Bill Self starts to build not just Big 12 Championship expectations, but National Championship expectations.
It didn't quite start out that way in the 2011-12 season. Kansas started 3-2 with losses to Kentucky and Duke. Davidson took us down a few weeks later in the Sprint Center (do we ever win in the Sprint Center??).
But the team started to come together. By February 25th, we were 23-5, ranked No. 4 in the country.
But guess who was one spot higher? The Missouri Tigers. And on Saturday, February 25th the two bitter rivals were scheduled to play their final Big 12 "Border War" game as Big 12 opponents.
Missouri was headed to the SEC next season and were looking to leave with an exclamation point. They had a 44-32 lead at the half. Pretty early in the second half, Mizzou grew their lead to 19 points.
Then the comeback began. We just couldn't let Mizzou go out on top. We slowly chipped away. Eleven points with nine minutes to go. Seven points with seven minutes to go. Down by three with six minutes. The crowd going crazy, maybe the loudest it's ever been.
Missouri was up 75-72, twenty-five seconds left on the clock. KU ball. Elijah Johnson does that three-point line weave offense that Self loves to run. He gets it to senior Tyshawn Taylor. Taylor back to Elijah. Elijah driving into the paint, Thomas Robinson cutting to the hoop. Pocket pass, Robinson catches the ball by the basket, goes up for the layup. It's good! And the foul.
Thomas Robinson, first-team All America. Big 12 Player of the Year. The man who has been through so much this last year stepped to the line and tied the game. We stopped them on their final possession, what better way for the Border War to end than in overtime.
And Missouri hadn't lost their fight. They led 84-83 with thirty seconds to go. We did the same weave play set up, except this time Taylor ran a v-cut, Johnson dished him the ball, wide open for the dunk. KU, 85-84.
Missouri punches again. Re-takes the lead, 86-85. Twelve seconds left. Taylor takes the inbounds pass, sprints to the basket with the speed of a young Rajon Rondo. He draws a foul on his shot. Hits both free throws. KU, back on top, 87-86.
The Jayhawks were locked in on defense. Missouri wasn't able to get up a shot before the clock expired. Thomas Robinson held the name KANSAS up on his jersey. Bill Self had both fists in the air, let out a war cry. It was a celebration comparable to a national championship. We had won, at least for now, the final Border War.
But the Jayhawks season was far from being over. We finished 32-7, won the Big 12 outright at 16-2, landed a No. 2 seed. Yet no one was giving this team a shot. Several were saying KU might be vulnerable to an upset loss to No. 15 seeded Detroit.
We would have another rivalry game a month later in the Elite 8. It was Bill Self vs. Roy Williams, Round 2.
It was a great high-scoring first half, the teams went into the locker room tied 47-47. KU's defense tightened in the second half, held the high scoring Tar Heels to just 20 points. Bill Self was on to his second Final Four in five years, second win over Roy in five years. KU wins 80-67.
Kansas had another thriller in the Final Four, beating Ohio State 64-62, a crazy victory because we led for less than four total minutes.
In the national championship, we were going up against a pseudo-NBA team. The Kentucky Wildcats were 37-2, with National Player of the Year Anthony Davis + NBA Lottery picks Michael Kidd-Gilchrist and Terrence Jones. Add Marquis Teague, Doron Lamb, and Darius Miller, we were just outmatched. No one on TV picked KU to win. It was hard even as a KU fan to believe.
Yet the Jayhawks did what they did best all year. Just kept fighting. Down 41-27 at half, the Jayhawks hung in there like Rocky vs. Apollo Creed. The lead was down to five points with a minute and a half to go. In the end, we only lost 67-59.
Syracuse hurt in 2003. Losing to Maryland hurt in 2002. But this loss was different, and I'm not sure we'll ever feel something like this again. The truth is, it wsn't devastating. This KU team overachieved all the way to the final game. Bill Self said it best when the team was greeted by fans on their return home.
"We didn't lose, we just ran out of time."
Billy Preston is gone. Frustrated by the investigation, Preston has chosen to leave campus and go play for a professional team in Bosnia.
And it's hard to blame him. He has his career to think about. He needs some exposure, try and solidify a spot in the NBA Draft's first round. There were no signs that he was going to play this season so he needed to take matters into his own hands, make a decision for his career and his family.
Thankfully, the De Sousa situation worked out, but the kid's the equivalent of a high school senior. That's a lot to put on his plate.
We were still small inside. And no time did we look smaller than that first half in Morgantown. Ended up down 41-27 at halftime. West Virginia's big man, Konate, had five first-half blocks. He looked like the Gladiator and we looked like the small Junior Varsity team.