Lots of college hoops news to discuss. I’ll begin today with the good stuff.
Just like I have been predicting all year, KU won the Big 12 for the fourteenth straight year.
There was no way West Virginia or Oklahoma or Texas Tech or Kansas State was going to be good enough to take the crown away. There was no way the rest of the league was to steal a win or two throughout the season that might give one of those other contenders a boost. There was no way that all the contenders other than KU wouldn’t fall apart in mid-February like they always do. There was no way this KU team did not have enough firepower to continue the streak.
“Oh not!” as we used to say.
Yeah, I’m kind of at a loss to explain how this happened again.
Keenan Evans getting hurt certainly helped a lot, although Tech has now lost four straight games and I don’t think you can blame that exclusively on his injury.
West Virginia put up gaudy win totals up until mid-January. All those wins masked a team that wasn’t as strong defensively as recent Mountaineers teams. And when Big 12 teams began to expose the WVU defense, we learned their offense was kind of a mess. Oh, and we learned that KU is completely in Bob Huggins’ head. Somehow he blew two 12-point leads to KU this year. Normally it’s just one per season. And I remain convinced he, more than KU or the refs, lost the game in Lawrence a week ago when he decided to have his offensively challenged team pull the ball out and work the clock with over 9:00 to play. Just keep doing what they had been doing and I think they win that game easily. But Huggy remembered what happened in Morgantown in January, what happened in Allen Fieldhouse last February. And two Februarys before that. He didn’t trust himself or his team and paid for it with a loss.
And Oklahoma was exposed as a fraud of a one-man-team. Trae Young is spectacular. When you have a talent like that, you ride it as far as it takes you. But I think Lon Kruger made a huge error in December when Trae started putting up all those crazy 35 and 12 games. The Sooners were reduced to a team that stood around and watched Trae. Yes, he was getting 10 assists a night, but it was because he was dribbling around wildly, drawing three defenders, and the making a crazy pass through traffic to some dude wide open at the rim. There was no offense that involved all five players. And that caught up with them when they hit conference season. Once teams learned how to slow Trae, his teammates didn’t know what to do. I would argue Lon should have told Trae, back in December, “Hey, you can get all the points you want. But let’s run some offense here and try to get you 20 assists a night.” I think his teammates would have been more invested and involved and they had more of a say in the Big 12 race. They have a really nice team beyond Trae. But you wouldn’t know it the way they’ve played the last month.
Throw in TCU underachieving and all that combined to make the top half of the Big 12 weaker than we expected. There wasn’t a team among the contenders strong enough to take the title away from KU. And if you leave it out there for KU to grab, they’re going to take advantage.
The last two weeks have been a lot of fun. KU has played really well over that stretch. Devonté Graham took his game to another level, and likely stole the conference POY award away from Young in the process. Udoka Azubuike has taken the next step in the evolution of his game, and is on the verge of being un-guardable. Svi shook his slump, Malik has been solid, Vick has mixed in some nice moments among his curious ones, and there have been occasional contributions from the thin bench. And this team found a way to play solid defense when it mattered most.
Oh, and they have Bill Self, the best coach in the world from February 1 to about March 5.
You could see all that coming together late in Saturday’s game at Texas Tech. KU had controlled the game from the opening tip and had just jumped out 68–60 late. Tech started clawing back. They tied the game on a follow dunk that got the arena rocking. And then KU made every play while Tech made two inexplicable turnovers in the final minute.
Shit just happens when you play KU late in the conference season. Sometimes it’s a call(s) that goes their way. Sometimes it’s Graham throwing in a prayer 3-pointer as the shot clock expires. Sometimes it’s an otherwise steady team losing their minds when they have to get a score to stay in the game.
Folks talk about Self and KU having a mental block about Elite 8 games. I think the entire Big 12 has a mental block when it comes to winning those games in late February that could finally break the streak.
Jay Bilas, among others, has said all year if you don’t beat KU this year, when will you? That was a nod to this being the thinnest KU team in recent memory that also lacked a single, sure-fire first round draft pick. Next year’s KU team is going to be insanely deep and talented. It will have at least four solid big men. Multiple guys at every other spot. It will add Self’s second-best high school recruiting class ever. And add three transfers, one of whom may be the preseason Big 12 player of the year.
I think Tech, Iowa State, and Kansas State will all be really good next year. We’ll see what parts TCU, Baylor, and West Virginia can add to put them in the mix. And then we’ll see if any of those teams can get over than mental hump in February 2019.
But for now, you know what time it is…Rock Chalk, bitches!
A quick postscript about uniforms:
KU busted out red uniforms for the first time in five years last night at the request of Graham. By my count KU has now worn 10 different uniforms this year. They’ll likely add one more next week when Adidas forces them to wear special March ones. Adidas will supply a blue version of that March set that KU is unlikely to wear. So that’s 12 uniforms in one season.
I’m a big fan of alternate uniforms when done well. And several of the alt sets for KU this year were really good. I love the 1960s throwbacks they’ve been wearing in recent years. But 12 seems like a little much.
- Wiggins, Embiid, Mason, Selden, Greene, Francamp will likely never be topped. ↩
- Dedric Lawson. ↩
- Standard home white, alternate home whites. Standard road blues, alternate road blues. Phog and Chalk alternates. 1960s home and road throwbacks. 2008 throwbacks. Red alternates. White and blue March sets. ↩