It feels like we go through this every year.
At some point during the season, maybe after an unexpected loss in non-conference play or an ugly start to the Big 12 schedule, we ask whether or not this is the year where the streak will end, where the Kansas run of 13 straight conference regular season titles will cease.
That point is tonight.
No. 10 Kansas trailed for 40 minutes on Tuesday night, falling behind No. 18 Texas Tech 23-7 within the first ten minutes and never getting closer than six points the rest of the way.
Keenan Evans, who is Texas Tech’s best player, led the way with 15 points and three assists, although he shot just 4-for-16 from the floor. As a team, the Red Raiders were 6-for-24 from three. This wasn’t a case of a team walking into Allen Fieldhouse and shooting the lights out. Texas Tech was the tougher team. They got to the glass, they executed their game-plan better and they were the first to every loose ball. Chris Beard’s club was, quite simply, better, and it wasn’t all that close.
“They have good players and they’re experienced so I would say that helped but I look out there and I see two freshmen wearing us out just as much as the seniors were,” Bill Self said Tuesday night. “Age is irrelevant when it comes to competing and trying.”
Texas Tech is the real deal.
The Red Raiders aren’t a basketball powerhouse so it might take awhile for this to catch on, but they could very well be the best team in the conference. Beard has amassed a roster that has some ridiculous athletes, size all over the roster, a killer at the point in Evans and a team that is just as hungry to prove themselves as Beard is. There are some vagabonds on this roster. There are some underrecruited freshmen on this roster. There are holdovers from the Tubby Smith era that have fully bought into what Beard is selling.
The truth is this: Beard’s club is just good enough offensively that they are going to be able to win a lot of games with their defense. They force turnovers as well as just about anyone. They run opponents off the three-point line as well as just about anyone. They have enough big bodies in the paint – and they rotate well enough defensively – that open looks at the rim are not going to be easy to come by when those opponents do get run off the three-point line.
And that just so happened to matchup perfectly with a Kansas team that wants to spend 40 minutes zipping the ball around the perimeter and hoisting up threes.
I’m not sure I am quite ready to dub Texas Tech the best team in the Big 12, not when Trae Young exists, not when West Virginia is just now hitting their stride and getting Esa Ahmad back in two weeks. Hell, I’m not going to completely write off a Kansas team that added Sam Cunliffe, is still adding Silvio De Dousa and could also end up getting Billy Preston eligible.
That trio, combined with Devonte’ Graham and the Phog, would put the Jayhawks right back in the mix.
But as of today, it is officially time to say that the Jayhawks are no longer the favorite to win the Big 12, and there are a couple of reasons to say that.
For starters, the Phog is not the fortress that it has been in the past. Arizona State walked in and whipped up on Kansas in that building. Texas Tech did the same. Part of the reason that the Jayhawks have been able to keep this streak going as long as they have is that they are damn near unbeatable in their building. When you are locked into nine wins in an 18 game league schedule because the Phog is the Phog, it’s hard for anyone to keep pace.
In a conference where the margins are going to be fine, Texas Tech landing a road win in Lawrence immediately gives them an edge.
Because the league is ridiculous this season.
TCU was undefeated and ranked No. 10 in the country last week and they may be the fifth-best team in the league at this point.
Road wins, particularly those against the top of the league, are not going to be easy to come by.
But the bigger issue is that Kansas just is not all that good.
We’ve talked about the lack of talent on the roster. We’ve talked about their issues on the defensive end of the floor. We’ve talked about the fact that there really is only one player that can create a shot that isn’t a three – Devonte’ Graham – and that he isn’t a guy that loves creating off the dribble.
Everything that I wrote in this ‘What’s Wrong With Kansas?’ story from three weeks ago still holds true today.
But the biggest issue is No. 2 on that list: There is not enough toughness of leadership on this roster.
Frank Mason and Josh Jackson were alphas. They were pitbulls. Competitors. Whatever the cliché du jour is, they were.
“Let’s just call it like it is,” Self said last month. “You’re replacing Frank with somebody who’s not near as competitive as Frank. You’re replacing Josh with somebody who’s not near as competitive as Josh. And you’re replacing Landen with somebody that doesn’t know how to be competitive yet. Those aren’t negatives. Those are just facts. I mean, we had two-and-a-half dogs last year, and Landen was close to being a full one.”
With those two gone, Kansas doesn’t have that guy, and it showed in the body language of the guys on the roster in the second half. By the 10 minute mark, it was clear Kansas was never going to seriously mount a comeback attempt, and the bad news for Jayhawk fans is that none of Preston, De Sousa or Cunliffe are the answer to that problem.
What that means is that whoever the actual favorite to win the Big 12 is, it is not Kansas.
Not this year.