The last time that Kansas finished a season has anything other than a winner of at least a share of the Big 12 regular season title, the year was 2004.
That was the year that Eddie Sutton, who was still coaching Oklahoma State, won his only Big 12 regular season title. Texas A&M, Missouri, Nebraska and Colorado were all still league rivals. and Quin Snyder was still Bill Self’s Border War counterpart. Yeah had just usurped Slow Jamz at the top of the Billboard charts and Ruben Studdard had the No. 9 song in America.
Fast forward 15 years, and Bill Self will be telling Kansas fans ‘I’m sorry for 2019.’
With their chance to remain in the Big 12 title picture on the line, No. 13 Kansas went into Norman and got absolutely boatraced by an Oklahoma team that hadn’t been good in more than two months and entered the game sitting at 6-10 in the Big 12. The Sooners jumped out to a 23-7 lead, led by as many as 24 points and sent the Jayhawks back to Lawrence with a 81-68 loss and the indignity of being the team that ended The Streak™.
This was always the inevitable ending for this group.
They lost Udoka Azubuike for the season in early January. Lagerald Vick hasn’t been seen or heard from since taking a leave of absence from the team last month. They were expected to be two of the top three scorers for this Kansas team. Throw in Silvio De Sousa, who hasn’t played a second all season after failing to be cleared by the NCAA due to the FBI’s investigation into college basketball, and this team hardly looks like the one we expected to see when they were ranked No. 1 in the preseason AP Poll.
They were supposed to be one of the oldest and deepest teams in the country. Instead, they spent the final month of the season starting four freshmen, one of whom was supposed to be their third-string center and another who spent the first half of the season redshirting. After Azubuike went down with his wrist injury, Self tried to morph his team into one that played small-ball full-time. That had limited success, but it only lasted a few weeks before two of the most important pieces to that system — Marcus Garrett (ankle injury) and Vick — found themselves MIA. It didn’t help matters that Quentin Grimes has spent the season playing with the confidence of an eighth grader asking his crush to the spring formal.
The truth is that this Kansas team just isn’t very good, and if it wasn’t for the cauldron that is Phog Allen Fieldhouse, the Jayhawks never would have had a chance to keep The Streak™ alive on Tuesday night.
The truth is that this Kansas team has spent the season doing what you should expect out of teams that start four freshmen. They’ve been inconsistent. They’ve struggled to execute offensively, and they’ve made mistakes on the defensive end of the floor. They haven’t won games on the road.
That’s what freshmen are supposed to do!
And I know, Grimes isn’t just a normal freshman. He entered school as a top ten prospect expected to go one-and-done straight into the lottery. That’s true. It’s also true that we knew by the time the calendar hit December that it wasn’t to be as easy for Grimes as we projected.
Let me be clear: None of that is meant to be an excuse for Kansas. They aren’t good enough to be champions of a league that is as good and as deep as the Big 12 is this season. Full stop.
But that should also put into context just how incredible this streak has been.
Because this is the first time since Self’s first year at Kansas that having things go wrong cost them the league.
Think about that.
Last season, Self was forced to enroll De Sousa at the semester break because his team was so thin up front and they won the league. In 2016, the Jayhawks lost three out of five in January in a year where their star freshmen were Cheick Diallo and Carlton Bragg and they won the league. In 2015, they won the league despite being forced to play Jamari Traylor at center because Cliff Alexander was their prized recruit.
Put another way, this is not the first time that Kansas has not had luck break their way during the season.
But this is the first time that it cost them a league title.
All it took was losing two of their top three players and seeing their best freshman flop, and they were still in the mix during the final week of the regular season.
I think that says all you need to know.