As you may have heard, the Kansas men’s basketball program has won 13 consecutive Big 12 titles, a remarkable streak that dates back to the Stone Age, when sports weren’t televised in high definition, Nike Shox were cool, and everyone was certain that Bucknell-beating-Kansas jokes would stay popular forever. Every year around this time, questions arise as to whether this will finally be the season that The Streak gets snapped, and every March, these questions are answered in the same way: with Jayhawks coach Bill Self’s belly popping out from beneath his suit jacket as he hoists another conference title trophy above his head.
Questioning whether Kansas will win the Big 12 is a basketball tradition as storied as The Streak itself, which is why it’s so comical to see people continue to exemplify a certain definition of insanity. Kansas always has the most talented players, the strongest home-court advantage, and the best head coach in the league. Yet every season people still whip themselves into a frenzy debating whether The Streak will end just because West Virginia coach Bob Huggins runs a press and/or Oklahoma has a guard who can make it rain. I’ll never get sick of laughing at those who are much dumber than me as they embarrass themselves by repeatedly falling into this trap.
With that being said, I will now embarrass myself and fall into the obvious aforementioned trap by suggesting that this might actually be the year that Kansas’s streak ends! I mean, it has to happen at some point, right? I guess there’s a chance the Jayhawks can keep this up until Big Ten commissioner Jim Delany inevitably annexes the entire Big 12 in 2036. But isn’t the more likely scenario that Kansas finds itself with a severely flawed team during a season in which the Big 12 is the best conference in college basketball? The answer is yes, and in fact, that’s exactly the situation this season. This year’s Jayhawks lack size and depth, they have no desire to do anything except jack a ton of 3s, and they’ve already suffered two home losses (and two other close calls) at the once-impenetrable Allen Fieldhouse. Meanwhile, Oklahoma’s Trae Young has had flames emanating from his hands since November, West Virginia just rattled off a 15-game win streak, Texas Tech boasts one of the three best defenses in college basketball, Texas has a future top-10 NBA draft pick who isn’t even the best player on his own roster, TCU has its best team in school history, and every other Big 12 program is ranked in the top 110 on KenPom. A conference sending every one of its teams to the NCAA tournament will never happen; the Big 12 this season figures to come as close as any league ever will.
And yet, Kansas still sits atop the Big 12 standings following a thrilling 71–66 comeback win at West Virginia on Monday night. That’s right — despite all of the speculation that this has to be the year The Streak will be broken, Kansas is in the driver’s seat after pulling out a road victory over the team that many felt was the Jayhawks’ biggest challenger. So where do we stand? Is it worth holding out hope that The Streak will end? Or will Kansas run away with its 14th straight conference title?
There’s only one way to tackle these pressing questions: to follow established media convention and assign meaningless tiers to each Big 12 team, assess each’s odds of toppling the Kansas empire, and reflect those odds by using an arbitrary evaluation that appears to be derived from a meticulous formula but is really just pulled out of my ass.
The Good Job, Good Effort Tier
Iowa State (10–7 overall; 1–5 Big 12)
Baylor (12–6; 2–4)
Oklahoma State (12–6; 2–4)
Kansas still has to play Oklahoma twice, Texas Tech on the road, and West Virginia at home. If, for the sake of this exercise, we assume that the Jayhawks will split those four games and then drop another to an opponent like TCU or Kansas State, that would leave Kansas (currently 5–1 in league play) with four losses in the Big 12, meaning that Iowa State is already effectively eliminated. Meanwhile, even if Baylor or Oklahoma State goes undefeated the rest of the way, it would only tie Kansas for a share of the conference crown, thus keeping The Streak intact. In other words: The Bears and Cowboys need a ton of help and need to run the table from here on out. That’s slightly problematic given that these are the two worst teams in the Big 12.
Chances of ending The Streak: Zero. Point. Zero.
The What Might Have Been Tier
Texas (12–6; 3–3)
Of the eight toughest games on Texas’s 2017–18 conference schedule (home and away against Kansas, Oklahoma, Texas Tech, and West Virginia), the Longhorns have played only two (a 92–86 home loss to Kansas and a 67–58 home win over Texas Tech) so far. They already have three Big 12 losses. If we stick with the assumption that five league losses will eliminate a team from championship contention (we absolutely should, since any scenario that begins “let’s hope Kansas loses six Big 12 games” is doomed from the start), this means that the Longhorns have to go 11–1 the rest of the way with six (!!!) games against top-10 teams left.
Chances of ending The Streak: No chance — no chance in hell!
TCU (14–4; 2–4)
TCU is in the same boat as Baylor and Oklahoma State: The Horned Frogs likely need to win out to have any hope of winning the Big 12 title. That almost certainly won’t happen, but there’s an eversoslight chance that it could. TCU has a solid team this season and was undefeated entering conference play, and all four of the Horned Frogs’ losses have come by five points or less. Thus, an argument could be made that TCU is just as good as the top teams in the conference and is only a few breaks away from being the Big 12 favorite. That argument will do nothing to erase the four losses or clean up the Horned Frogs’ atrocious defense, however.
Chances of ending Kansas’s streak: Some might say one out of 100, but I’d say more like one out of a million.
Kansas State (13–5; 3–3)
The good news for Kansas State is that Bruce Weber is the only active conference coach besides Bill Self who’s ever won a Big 12 regular-season championship, suggesting that he alone might have the blueprint to snap The Streak. The bad news is that Bruce Weber remains Bruce Weber, and I can assure you that he has no such blueprint. The man is an adequate and occasionally even good coach, but a miracle worker he is not. And while Tuesday’s 87–69 blowout win over Oklahoma is a step in the right direction for the Wildcats, they absolutely need a miracle worker to stand any chance of making up a two-game deficit on their in-state rivals. This would be a different story had Kansas State not, you know, WALKED THE BALL UP THE FLOOR WHILE TRAILING BY ONE WITH 15 SECONDS LEFT at Allen Fieldhouse on Saturday. But they did, so here we are.
Chances of ending The Streak: Not great, Bob!
The Contender Tier
West Virginia (15–3; 4–2)
The Mountaineers choking away Monday’s game against Kansas is not a death blow to their Big 12 title dreams, even if the emotion draining out of WVU Coliseum after the final buzzer sounded made it feel that way. If West Virginia, which has now dropped two games in a row, can overcome its recent stumble and regroup, it is still very much alive in the conference championship chase. The prevailing thought for years has been that a prerequisite for dethroning the Jayhawks is beating them at home, but I don’t think that’s true. It’s entirely plausible for the Mountaineers to get swept by Kansas and still win a league title outright, as other recent power-conference champions have proved: Syracuse won the 2009–10 Big East despite being swept by Louisville; Washington won the 2008–09 Pac-10 despite being swept by Cal; and UCLA won the 2005–06 Pac-10 despite being swept by Washington.
After all, Kansas doesn’t win the Big 12 every season because it dominates the other contenders. It wins the Big 12 because the rest of the conference cannibalizes itself and the Jayhawks escape with slightly less damage than everyone else. Just because West Virginia didn’t deliver a punch to Kansas this week doesn’t mean the punches aren’t coming. If the Mountaineers can take care of business from here on out, they’ll be in excellent shape.
That’s easier said than done, of course, especially with games against Kansas, Oklahoma, and Texas Tech yet to come. But three important elements to keep in mind are that West Virginia still has a (slight) margin for error, still has an opportunity to get payback on Kansas in Lawrence, and still has the most-feared defense and second-best coach in the league. Oh, and the Mountaineers still have Jevon Carter. They ain’t dead yet.
Chances of ending The Streak: YOU’RE GOING THE WRONG WAY!
Oklahoma (14–3; 4–2)
As it turns out, a team that plays subpar defense and relies on a 19-year-old to hit 30-footers and throw impossible passes is susceptible to an off night every once in a while. Who could have possibly seen that coming?
Like West Virginia, Oklahoma isn’t doomed just because it shit the bed at Kansas State on Tuesday. The Sooners have only two conference losses and have the best player in the country (Young) as well as a standout supporting cast. And unlike the Mountaineers, the Sooners control whether they’ll pass Kansas in the standings, as Oklahoma trails the Jayhawks in the Big 12 by only one game and has two matchups against Kansas yet to come. In short: If Oklahoma wins out, The Streak will end. It’s that simple.
Simple probably isn’t the best word choice, however, because Oklahoma winning out feels highly unlikely. It’s particularly improbable given that Young is pursuing Evan Turner triple-doubles (a double-double plus 10 or more turnovers) at an alarming rate. For the Sooners to have a shot, the team has to get better defensively, and Young has to rein in his hero-ball antics by about 20 percent. Both of those things have to happen in a hurry.
Chances of ending The Streak: My algorithm says Oklahoma has a 50–50 chance, but there’s only a 10 percent chance of that.
Texas Tech (15–3; 4–2)
Two key factors are working in Texas Tech’s favor: The Red Raiders have an incredible defense and the most favorable remaining schedule of any Big 12 program. Defensive-minded teams are almost always more consistent than offensive-minded ones, and regular-season conference championships are inherently a measure of consistency. Perhaps most importantly, Texas Tech already has the holy grail of Big 12 title contention, an 85–73 victory in Allen Fieldhouse on January 2. That’s not to mention that the Red Raiders have already played at Oklahoma and just beat West Virginia 72–71 in Lubbock, meaning that the only games left in which they won’t be favored are at West Virginia on February 26, maybe against Kansas on February 24, and possibly at TCU on February 3.
Two key factors are working against Texas Tech: The Red Raiders offense is anything but reliable, and they just dropped a game at Texas on Wednesday that they probably couldn’t afford to lose. Now Kansas has a stronghold on the conference yet again, as every other Big 12 team is left playing catch-up. And yet, I still think the Red Raiders’ remaining schedule is reason enough to remain optimistic. It’s a fool’s errand to preemptively assign wins and losses in college basketball, let alone in a conference that’s as nuts as the Big 12. But I can’t resist, so chew on this: If Texas Tech can just defend its home court the rest of the way and win at Kansas State, Oklahoma State, Baylor, and Iowa State, the Red Raiders would finish the Big 12 slate with a 14–4 record, which juuuust might be enough to end The Streak. THERE’S STILL A WAY THIS CAN HAPPEN. EVERYONE JUST STICK TO THE PLAN AND DON’T PANIC.
Chances of ending The Streak: It’s possible!
The Ric Flair Tier
Kansas (15–3; 5–1)
If you’re still reading, it’s probably because you believe that there might actually be a chance that Kansas doesn’t win the Big 12 this season. Oh, my sweet summer child, how wrong you are. Do you honestly think that West Virginia could pull it off? Huggins practically committed career suicide the moment that he gave that pullover to Bill Self and magically transmitted his powers to Self in the process. And Oklahoma? Are you kidding? Do you seriously think a 19-year-old noodle-armed chucker is going to bring down an entire goddamn dynasty that has already swallowed up the likes of Kevin Durant, Blake Griffin, Buddy Hield, Marcus Smart, and Michael Beasley?
And don’t get me started on Texas Tech, which has never finished better than third in Big 12 history and hasn’t finished better than seventh in the past 10 seasons. I know — streaks are meant to be broken, and the players and coaches on this Red Raiders team have nothing to do with those from the past. But let’s imagine that no pilot had ever successfully flown nonstop from Los Angeles to Paris, and that more than 20 had died trying. If I told you that a better pilot flying a better plane was going to attempt it, and then asked if you wanted to take that flight, I’d bet you sure as shit wouldn’t shrug your shoulders and say, “Welp, this guy had no hand in those previous failures! I see no reason I shouldn’t trust him!”
Look, I get it. Kansas is down this year. It’s been playing with fire all season and is basically daring another Big 12 team to do something about it. Nearly everything about the situation suggests that this is the year The Streak will die. But The Streak can’t die. Many have tried to kill it and failed. Even Self is sick of it, which is why he tried to snap it by screwing up the 2013–14 team with Andrew Wiggins and Joel Embiid, and even that didn’t work.
The Streak is an entity that’s far greater than you or I have the capacity to understand, which is why our only choice is to give in and stop fighting. It’s time for all of us to come to terms with reality: Jim Delany is our only hope.
Chances of continuing The Streak: It is happening again.
Chances of everyone wondering next January if Kansas will be able to keep The Streak alive: Pretty good. Prettaay prettaay prettaay pretty good.