Here we are again.
Kansas is atop the Big 12 standings after turning away one of its chief Big 12 rivals at Allen Fieldhouse.
The third-ranked Jayhawks dispatched No. 2 Baylor, 73-68, on Wednesday night in the surest evidence there is yet that this season will likely end like the 12 that came before it: With the Jayhawks as conference champions.
Of course, there’s still a lot of season to play. Yes, the Jayhawks still have rematches with contenders Baylor and West Virginia on the schedule.
But having vanquished Baylor, who, coming into the night, was tied with Kansas for the Big 12 lead, makes what has seemingly always been feel destined once more.
Beyond defending homecourt Wednesday and taking sole position of first, the Jayhawks are so fantastically positioned because they look as though they’re just now hitting their stride. That’s a significant thing for a team that’s always been viewed as a national championship contender.
Kansas won at Rupp Arena last week despite shooting 26.3 percent from 3-point range by converting at a 60-percent clip from inside the arc and consistently turning Kentucky over. Four days after seeing their 18-game winning streak snapped, the Jayhawks left Lexington with a W and the country’s second-ranked team waiting for them.
It doesn’t get much more grueling than that.
Against the Bears, whose lone loss on the season came to West Virginia, Kansas’ defense put the clamps down. Baylor scored less than 1.00 point per possession, shooting 41.8 percent from the floor. After big man Johnathan Motley throttled Kansas for 14 points in the first half, the Jayhawks held him to a single field goal attempt and two points after halftime.
Baylor led with less than seven minutes to play, but in Allen Fieldhouse, one of the sport’s fiercest venues, time elapses with a slow march toward defeat.
As seconds tick away, the pressure, stakes and pitfalls all become harder to avoid. It’s like in The Temple of Doom, when Indiana Jones finds himself trapped in a room in which the ceiling lowers and spikes rise from the floor and descend from the roof. It all bears down, methodically, lethally and inevitably, crushing all who enter.
Unlike Indy in that cave, few find the release lever in Allen Fieldhouse. Death comes for nearly all there.
The last time Kansas lost at home was Jan. 5, 2014, to San Diego State. Its last Big 12 home last came almost exactly four years ago today, Feb. 2, 2013, to Oklahoma. That year also happened to be the last time Kansas had to share its Big 12 title. The Jayhawks have won 50-straight there. Bill Self, in his 14th season, has lost nine games in the building. Scott Drew, who if you weren’t paying attention coaches for Baylor, has lost there 10 times.
While Allen Fieldhouse is the weapon that will help ensure a 13th-straight Big 12 title, Josh Jackson is the piece of the arsenal that will help the Jayhawks achieve much more.
The freshman phenom has been superb in recent weeks. Since a six-point outing at Iowa State, the potential No. 1 NBA Draft pick has averaged 20 points, 7.3 rebounds and 2.5 assists per game while shooting 53.6 percent overall and 55.6 percent from 3-point range.
Frank Mason III and Devonte Graham are the foundation on which this Kansas squad is built. They’re tough and fearless. Productive and possessing guile in reserve.
Jackson, though, as he takes his game to another level, elevates Kansas.
With all those things coming together, it almost feels trite to discuss the Jayhawks’ Big 12 prospects. Of course they’re going to win the conference. How could they not? What more can they achieve becomes the intriguing question.
A whole hell of a lot looks to be the answer right now.