Something was strange in our house this morning.
M sensed it. She walked down the stairs, paused, and said, “It feels weird in here. Like I kind of feel like I did when I was a baby, but I don’t know exactly how or what that means.”
L was on the couch, whimpering, muttering, “Dad? Dad, is that you? Why is it so cold, Dad?”
C was just crying, but that could have been her braces.
That’s what it was like for my girls to wake up in a world where Kansas was not the Big 12 mens basketball champions. Only M had lived in such a world, and then only for the first eight months of her life.
I kid, of course. My girls have no idea what’s going on.
And I? I was chill since I had resigned myself to this fate two months ago.
It was a bummer that the final result that eliminated KU came in a game where they got blown out by a team struggling to get into the NCAA tournament. It would have been nice to at least be competitive last night, or even to have pulled out a win to put pressure on K-State and Texas Tech Saturday not to blow it and let KU sneak back in on the final day of the season.
The Streak never made sense. No team should win a Power 5 conference even five years in a row in the current era. Carolina hasn’t done it. Neither has Duke. Nor anyone in the Big 10 or Pac 12 or SEC. You would think Kentucky would have done it, but their best stretch under Calipari is three years.
Haters will say, “Well, that’s because those conferences are good and the Big 12 sucks!” Which is a classic garbage, sports radio caller argument. It’s not KU’s fault that the Big 12 traditionally puts up a collective turd in March. Which, unfortunately, is the primary way people judge college basketball programs and conferences these days.
Yes, the Big 12 hasn’t cranked out elite NBA talent like the ACC or SEC. But KU did have to get through Blake Griffin, Michael Beasley, and Kevin Durant, along with a host of other really solid NBA guys.
There have been a host of tough-ass teams that KU had to knock out each year. Some great Iowa State teams. Peak Press Virginia. Texas and Baylor’s annual collections of hyper-athletic 6’9” guys. The last Big 12 Missouri team. Some Texas A&M teams that were loaded with future NBA rotation guys.
Statistically, it just shouldn’t happen.
So why did it happen?
1) Talent. For sure, KU has generally been the most talented team in the conference. KU fans get annoyed/angry when someone like Quentin Grimes or Josh Selby doesn’t live up to their recruiting hype. Not many other schools in the conference ever get guys like them on campus. KU always has high school All Americans and five-star recruits. And even KU’s emergency recruits often pan out way better than expected. Frank Mason III and Devonté Graham being the two best examples.
2) Allen Fieldhouse. There’s Hilton Magic, the Octagon of Doom, Gallagher-Iba, the uniqueness of Morgantown. All of those are great home court environments and advantages. And none of them stack up to Allen. There’s always that 13–0 run waiting to kill a team that thinks it is going to pull of an upset in Lawrence. It’s a shock when KU goes 7–1 at home. It has to do wonders for a team to know they have 7–8 wins banked before the season begins.
3) Coaching. Bill Self is the best all around coach in the league, by far. Break down coaches in the league however you want. Recruiting, bench coaching, in-game adjustments, system, etc. At worst Self would be #2 in each category if you ranked them. Put it all together and no one else is close. He makes a big difference.
4) Luck. For something as statistically unlikely as The Streak, there has to have been a lot of luck along the way. John Lucas III’s shot that just missed at the buzzer. Kevin Durant rolling his ankle. Acie Law going off in overtime against Texas. Blake Griffin sitting out games with a concussion. Devonté Graham’s wild-ass shot bouncing in at Texas Tech a year ago. Massive comebacks against West Virginia in 2018, 2017, and 2015. Recruits who were supposed to make differences at other schools who never got eligible. And those February games that every team who challenged KU always lost.
To me the big bummer isn’t that The Streak is over. It’s more that this is the team that broke it. This team, as constituted today, is likely the weakest team of the Self era. It would have been better if a stronger team ended The Streak and then got all pissed off and went on a run in March. Last year’s team would have been a good example. Maybe they would have beaten Villanova if they had finished second in the Big 12. But this team is too flawed for me to have any confidence they can win four games and get to Minneapolis.
One of the most remarkable thing about The Streak is that while KU had plenty of “rebuilding” seasons over its run, that never got in the way of winning the Big 12. This year was not supposed to be a rebuilding season. In fact, late last year ESPN’s Fran Fraschilla kept saying “If you don’t end The Streak this year,” meaning 2018, “when will you?” Self had a loaded recruiting class lined up, some high level transfers, and some very good returning parts. The Big 12 was supposed to be down. Number fifteen might be the easiest of the bunch.
But when Bill Self pulled the redshirt off Ochai Agbaji and shortly after LaGerald Vick left the team, 2019 became a rebuilding season. KU has been starting four freshmen for three weeks. Those freshmen have all shown moments of brilliance, especially Devon Dotson who has been really good most of the year. But they’ve also had plenty of games where they look young, confused, and without confidence. Unlike 2007 and 2009 and 2012 and 2015, the rebuild caught up with the Jayhawks.
It was a good run.
Rock Chalk, bitches.