Disappointing End of Big 12 Title Streak Will Push Kansas to Reassess Goals

David KenyonFeatured ColumnistMarch 7, 2019

Kansas head coach Bill Self looks to the scoreboard during an NCAA college basketball game in Stillwater, Okla., Saturday, March 3, 2019. (AP Photo/Brody Schmidt)
Brody Schmidt/Associated Press

It's over.

Though the Kansas Jayhawks will still make the NCAA tournament, they will not finish the regular season atop the Big 12 standings for the first time since 2004.

An 81-68 loss to the unranked Oklahoma Sooners ensured the fate of Bill Self's club, which began the year as the league favorite for the eighth consecutive season but couldn't overcome a series of injuries and absences.

Any claims about disinterest in the streak are disingenuous. If the Jayhawks had won at least a share of the Big 12 crown for the 15th straight year, the achievement would be celebrated. And that's great! It's the sort of bravado few fanbases ever enjoy.

But the discontent and frustrationreflected in a tweet from former Kansas player Jamari Trayloris allowed to sting.

While it's not a "good" thing the Jayhawks didn't win the Big 12, one clear positive accompanies the streak's end: No longer will Kansas players and coaches feel pressure to extend a regular-season trend. No longer will their supporters feel empowered to withdraw to a conference-specific brag if the team underperforms on the tournament stage.

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A national championship remains college basketball's ultimate prize, but the program hasn't celebrated an NCAA title in 11 years.

Since Mario Chalmers, Brandon Rush and the rest of the 2007-08 squad hoisted that trophy, Self has guided Kansas to a top-three NCAA seed in each subsequent season. However, five Elite Eight appearances over the last eight years have only resulted in two Final Four berths and one runner-up finish.

"But hey, we never had a bad campaign! At least the streak stayed alive!" fans have been compelled to claim when remembering previous seasons.

That was partly true but partly a fallback response.

Kansas, from those on the court to those in the bleachers, can now redirect its focus toward winning a national title. The players have already done so:

Conference championships are valuable, but the streak―while a spectacular feat―became a way to soften the disappointment of losing in March. (It also didn't help the Big 12's reputation, but that's more a supplemental detail.)

After the loss to Oklahoma, Self mentioned how the Jayhawks have consistently dealt with "everybody else's best shot every game." That comes with the territory when you're a conference's dominant force, and every program aims for that label.

It's also unlikely to change.

Kansas will still be Kansas. When the Jayhawks appear on the schedule, they will remain a circle-the-date opponent.

LAWRENCE, KANSAS - FEBRUARY 25:  Kansas Jayhawks fans cheer during the game against the Kansas State Wildcats at Allen Fieldhouse on February 25, 2019 in Lawrence, Kansas. (Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images)
Jamie Squire/Getty Images

Nevertheless, "stop another streak from starting" isn't as psychologically compelling as "end the streak." That minor change in an opponent's mindset can aid―even if only slightly―future Kansas teams against Big 12 competition.

Plus, if the current squad is unable to navigate through March Madness, the 2019-20 Kansas roster can embark on a redemption tour. It doesn't matter if it's true, either; even the most established clubs can convince themselves of their underdog status (cough, cough, New England Patriots).

The Jayhawks can unapologetically aim higher.

Don't just reclaim the Big 12. Forget that goal. If it happens along the way, neat. Should they start slowly, constant reminders of what previous teams did before losing on the biggest stage won't accompany them.

Instead, they can focus on becoming the Jayhawks team that leaps atop the podium to celebrate the end of a different streak.

             

Follow Bleacher Report writer David Kenyon on Twitter, @Kenyon19_BR.