Since Bill Self arrived at Kansas, there have been no down years.
Obviously, some seasons have been worse than others, but consider this: Kansas has made the NCAA Tournament every year under Self and has never been lower than a fourth seed. In other words, every year, Kansas has been one of the best 15 teams in college basketball.
This year, Self has a squad that is not living up to the lofty expectations he has set since taking over in Lawrence. If ranking Self’s 10 teams at Kansas, this year’s bunch would land in the bottom half.
The Jayhawks have endured a three-game losing streak, the first time that has happened in eight years, and they have found themselves in the unfamiliar position of having to look up at Kansas State in the Big 12 standings.
CBSSports.com’s Jeff Borzello summed up Kansas’ position well after its loss at Oklahoma Saturday:
Something I didn't see coming two weeks ago: Kansas in a dogfight to win the Big 12.— Jeff Borzello (@jeffborzello) February 9, 2013
Are the Jayhawks vulnerable? Yes. This year, Kansas’ deficiencies are real and could cause the Jayhawks to lose out on the regular season Big 12 title for the first time since the 2003-04 season.
Has the rest of the league caught up? No. This is more of Kansas coming back to the pack than it is any school elevating itself to the level at which the Jayhawks have been in the recent past.
The shortcomings have been well documented. Kansas can go through long droughts offensively, and Elijah Johnson has not given Bill Self what he needs out of the point guard position.
The Jayhawks are scoring 111.2 points per 100 possessions, according to KenPom.com. That is the lowest offensive output by Kansas in Self’s 10 seasons.
Self is well aware that his team isn’t elite like some teams during his tenure. In fact, he was pleased with the way his team performed after its loss at Oklahoma. Here is what he had to say after losing to the Sooners, according to The Kansas City Star: “I’m not leaving out of here disgusted with my team at all,” Self said. “We actually played better today. We played a good team today.”
Still, that does not mean his team isn’t any good. Earlier this season, the Jayhawks won 18 consecutive games, a streak that included wins at Ohio State and Kansas State.
Ben McLemore has emerged as a star and will be a Top Five pick in the upcoming NBA draft. Jeff Withey is one of the best centers in college basketball and can defend the rim better than almost anyone in the country.
Combine that with a down year in college basketball where there is no elite team and the Jayhawks still have hope to make a Final Four or National Championship run.
Kansas is still the class of the Big 12. That does not figure to change in the near future because there is no clear challenger to Kansas' reign atop the conference.
Kansas State probably poses the biggest threat. Iowa State coach Fred Hoiberg had this to say about K-State after the Wildcats beat the Cyclones Saturday, according to The Kansas City Star: “That is not a good team, that is a great team,” Hoiberg said. “They are well coached, they have veteran players and they are very difficult to defend because all of their weapons out there, and they exposed us on some things.”
Kansas State has had a good season in its first year under Bruce Weber. Weber has shown in the past he can win big early on in his tenure (see Illinois), but next year, he loses senior Rodney McGruder, the only Wildcat player averaging double figures this season. Plus, Kansas has lost just once in its last 30 games on the road in Manhattan, which includes a 59-55 Jayhawks win this season on Jan. 22.
Oklahoma State probably has more talent on its roster this year than Kansas. The Cowboys have a legit shot to make some noise in the NCAA Tournament but could be hit hard with early departures. Freshman point guard Marcus Smart is a projected lottery pick, and sophomore Le’Bryan Nash is a first-round talent.
Baylor has done well on the recruiting trail and has a couple Elite Eight appearances, thanks to some things falling its way in March (the Bears’ six wins in those tournaments were all over double-digit seeds). However, things haven’t completely come together for Scott Drew as of yet.
Who will win the Big 12 this year?
Iowa State is starting to get going under Hoiberg and is on pace to make back-to-back NCAA Tournaments for the first time since 2000-01. Oklahoma is also getting back on track with Lon Kruger, but neither the Cyclones nor the Sooners are legitimate threats.
Texas is the one school that can consistently keep up with Kansas on the recruiting trail, but Rick Barnes is in the middle of his worst season in Austin.
Speaking of recruiting, if ever Kansas truly needed to haul in a monster recruiting class, this was the year. And Self delivered in a big way.
The Jayhawks have what Rivals.com considers the second best recruiting class in the country behind Kentucky, and there is still the possibility Kansas could add Julius Randle, one of the premier recruits in the country.
As for this year, Jayhawk fans will just have to grin and bear this “down” season, one that could still end up with Self cutting down the nets.