Naadir Tharpe scored 12 of his 19 points in the final six minutes, adding five assists and just a single turnover while shooting 6-for-7 from the floor as No. 5 Kansas knocked off Oklahoma, 83-75, earning the Jayhawks at least a share of their 10th straight Big Ten title.
I’ll get back to that in a second, because it’s an incredible feat, but first I want to talk about Tharpe.
Five Jayhawks scored in double-figures on Monday night, including four others that will likely end up being first round picks by the time they leave Lawrence. Two of them, Andrew Wiggins and Joel Embiid, will likely end up going No. 1 and No. 2 in the NBA Draft in June. But with Kansas up 76-71 with just over a minute left in the game, Bill Self called a timeout to draw up a play for Tharpe.
A simple 1-4 high-set, allowing his junior point guard to go one-on-one. Tharpe repayed him with a driving lay-in that put the Jayhawks up seven and all-but iced the game.
Oh, and did I mention that Tharpe is this team’s question mark?
Tharpe has had an up-and-down career with Kansas, but he’s been tremendous for the Jayhawks during conference play. He still has some bouts of inconsistency — the end of the Texas Tech game, for example, where he had two unforced turnovers and airballed a three in the final minutes — but the bottom-line is that when he is playing well, Kansas is near-unbeatable this season.
And he’s been playing well more often than not of late.
Which is why Kansas became the first power conference team to lock up at least a share of their league’s regular season title, the 10th consecutive season that is the case.
I hope all of you appreciate just how difficult that is to do, especially in a power conference. For comparison’s sake, only four teams currently have streaks of three consecutive regular season titles currently intact: Belmont (Atlantic Sun and OVC), Bucknell (Patriot), Harvard (Ivy) and Long Beach State (Big West). Only two of those programs, Belmont and Harvard, are currently in first place in their conference this season, while LBSU is a game back with four games left.
Only four other programs in Division I history have ever won ten straight regular season titles: Gonzaga (2001-2011), UNLV (1983, 1992), UCLA (1967-1979) and UConn (1951-1960).
In the last ten years, North Carolina, Kentucky, UCLA, Indiana, UConn, Louisville, Arizona, Ohio State, Florida and Syracuse have all missed the NCAA tournament at some point. Michigan State lost 15 games in 2011. Duke finished sixth in the ACC in 2007 and got Eric Maynor’d in the first round of the NCAA tournament.
In a day and age where early entry to the NBA Draft has forced programs at the highest level of the sport into a cycle of rebuilding that is faster than ever, Self has kept Kansas in control of the league for an entire decade. Think about this: three of these ten league titles have come without Kansas returning a single starter.
Including this season!
He’s locked up the toughest conference in the country in February with three regular season games left on the schedule.
And this was supposed to be the season that the streak ended.