Confident Jayhawks win another Big 12 title
AP Sports Writer
LAWRENCE, Kan. (AP) – Kansas was in trouble before the season even started, with a series of fights and DUI arrests casting a fog over the Phog.
Talent? Never a question. This bunch may be the best coach Bill Self has had in his seven seasons in Lawrence.
Maturity, that was the issue. As precocious as these young Jayhawks were on a basketball court, there was still plenty of ripening needed off it.
Since then? Silence.
Other than sophomore guard Tyshawn Taylor’s ill-advised Facebook fumblings (he supposedly said he wanted to transfer), the Jayhawks have been incident free since their summer of slip-ups, piling on wins on their march to another Big 12 Conference championship – and possibly another national title.
“We went through our crap before practice started,” Self said. “Look across America, how many teams deal with stuff? It’s pretty remarkable that this team has not had a lot of distractions since back before the season started. That’s one reason we’re winning games: We haven’t had to deal with a lot of that crap that a lot of teams have had to deal with.”
Kansas had a heavy load before the season.
A series of fights with the football team embarrassed the university and left Taylor with an injured thumb. Just two weeks later, junior guard Brady Morningstar was arrested on a DUI charge and promptly suspended for the first semester by Self. Reserve guard Chase Buford also was arrested on the same charge.
Once the season started, though, it was as if the mistakes never happened.
Kansas opened No. 1 in the polls, won its first 14 games and has followed its only loss (to Tennessee) with a 13-game winning streak. The Jayhawks clinched at least a share of their sixth straight Big 12 regular season title by beating Oklahoma State on Monday night and can, with three more wins, become the second school to go through the conference undefeated, joining the 2002 Kansas team.
“They’re a great basketball team,” Oklahoma coach Jeff Capel said. “They’re the No. 1 team in the country for a reason. They have a chance to win the whole thing.”
The remarkable part about Kansas’ string of conference titles is that it was done with three distinctly different teams.
Wayne Simien, with help from Keith Langford and Aaron Miles, were part of the Nick Collison/Kirk Hinrich teams that won conference titles in 2002-03 and helped Kansas win the first of the current string in 2005. Brandon Rush and Mario Chalmers anchored the next three, two with Julian Wright and one with assists from Darrell Arthur and Darnell Jackson during the national championship season of 2008.
The current group, anchored by Sherron Collins and Cole Aldrich, has won two straight now. The Jayhawks kind of backed into last year’s title, learning they had clinched after a 19-point loss to Texas Tech. This season, Kansas marched through the schedule, sewing up a piece of the title early in a conference that has the highest RPI rating in the country.
“It never gets old,” Aldrich said. “It’s just one of those things that you work so hard for five, six, seven months over the course of the summer and then practice starts and you really work hard – and it all pays off.”
This year’s group has the chance to be the best of the bunch.
It doesn’t have the same killer instinct of the 2008 team, which liked to get a team down, then steamroll it into submission. This year’s bunch is more like a cat playing with a toy, swatting their opponent around, letting them back up, then finally delivering the crushing blow.
What this year’s team is better at is winning tough games, at least during the regular season.
In 2008, Kansas opened the season 20-0, then lost road games against Kansas State, Texas and Oklahoma State in conference. It wasn’t until the one-and-done format of the NCAA tournament that the Jayhawks were able to handle pressure.
This year’s team thrives under tension.
Kansas has defended Allen Fieldhouse, pushing the nation’s longest home winning streak to 58 games, and has played some of its most impressive games on the road, beating teams like Temple, Texas, Texas A&M and Kansas State.
“There is something about this team that continues to impress our staff in that we play better when the situations are at their toughest,” Self said. “This team was able to go to win at places that team was not able to win at, against quality competition. That team was the best we’ve had since we’ve been here, but this team has a chance to get to that point; we’re just not there yet.”