As Oklahoma was saying the last rites for Kansas’ 14-year streak of Big 12 championships Tuesday night, college basketball Twitter was busy thinking of all the ways in which the world had changed since Kansas was last eliminated from Big 12 contention.
The Streak was a mutant appendage that fed off some weird stew that had been brewing in the Heartland since before anybody had ever grinded to “Slow Motion” by Juvenile on a sticky bar dance floor.
The 14 consecutive titles are the NCAA record. But the program Kansas passed is what reveals how confounding Kansas basketball has been over the last 14 years. UCLA won 13 Pac-10 championships in a row, mostly under John Wooden. The main difference between Wooden’s UCLA and Bill Self’s Kansas, then, is that UCLA won eight national championships during that time, and Kansas has … one.
It seems impossible that there would be a blueblood program that wins its conference championship 14 years in a row, is a No. 1 or No. 2 seed 10 years in a row, is ranked in the top five in the preseason 10 times in 14 years, makes it to nine Sweet 16s and six Elite Eights — and comes away with one title.
Since 2004, Duke has won the ACC regular-season championship twice, has gone to two Final Fours and has two national championships. Since 2004, Kentucky has won six conference championships. It has also been to seven Elite Eights, four Final Fours, and has one title, which it won over Kansas in 2012.
North Carolina has won the ACC eight times since 2004, converting those Kansas-like regular seasons into five Final Fours and three national championships.
UConn has as many national championships since 2004 as it does conference championships (2).
You can’t go with the “Bill Self is a choker” thing anymore. Like any team that is always a high seed, Kansas has had its heartbreaking losses. But after back-to-back first-round losses in 2004 and 2005, the Jayhawks have been to more Sweet 16s than North Carolina, and more Elite Eights than Duke.
It’s not that Kansas has under-performed in the NCAA Tournament. Even Tom Izzo gets bounced early from time to time. It’s just that The Streak indicates a level of dominance over college basketball that doesn’t bear itself out in the final results.
You would think, every now and then, a team that is almost invariably a No. 1 or No. 2 seed would just kind of trip into a national title. That’s how some of those North Carolina championships feel. You had a really good team that played really well all year and just kept playing really well until somebody handed it a pair of scissors. That’s exactly the kind of team Kansas had in 2008, when it won its only championship since 1988. But even that required an epic collapse by Memphis and a miraculous shot by Mario Chalmers.
Kansas almost came out of nowhere to win one in 2012. A team led by Tyshawn Taylor and Thomas Robinson was ranked 13th in the preseason and looked overmatched in an early game against Anthony Davis and Kentucky. But the Jayhawks went 16-2 in Big 12 play and made it to the national championship game, where they looked overmatched against Anthony Davis and Kentucky.
You’d have thought for sure the team with Andrew Wiggins and Joel Embiid would have carried the momentum from a Big 12 championship right through the NCAA Tournament. But Embiid hurt his back.
Last year a great and mature Kansas team beat Duke to go to the Final Four. They Jayhawks played the No. 2 overall team, Villanova, and Villanova made 18 three-pointers.
That’s not lucky, but you can’t really chalk it up to bad luck since making 18 three-pointers is just the kind of thing Villanova does. It’s just that making 18 was also the kind of thing Kansas did last year, except Kansas didn’t make 18 that night. Kansas made 7.
That’s the way things go in single-elimination basketball tournaments. Kansas doesn’t really have anything to complain about, other than the obvious, which is that it seems like it would have more than three national championships by now.
We’re talking about a program that hasn’t missed the NCAA Tournament since 1989. Since that year, you know how many 10-loss seasons Kansas has?
You know how many times Kansas has lost more than 10 games in a season since then?
KU hasn’t had a down year in three decades. North Carolina, Duke and Indiana all have losing seasons in that span and Kentucky has missed the NCAA Tournament three times.
In the 15 years Roy Williams was at Kansas, he won 80 percent of his games, coached five All-Americans and went to four Final Fours, but never got a title. Then he goes to North Carolina and within two years he’s got his first championship, with two more to follow.
What is that?
How do you explain three consecutive decades of unbroken excellence at the highest level of college basketball resulting in one national championship?
One theory is that Kansas’ home-court advantage is so great that KU teams wind up with better records than they really should. The point has some merit. Kansas is nearly impossible to beat at Allen Fieldhouse, for reasons that often seem to have more to do with Allen Fieldhouse than any particular collection of Jayhawks. So maybe there are years in which the Jayhawks were a No. 2 seed, but really they were more like a No. 3. There are definitely years in which Allen Fieldhouse was the difference between winning the Big 12 and finishing second or third.
But that doesn’t explain away all of this. It’s not smoke and mirrors that’s been winning these Big 12 titles. Wayne Simien, Sherron Collins, Marcus Morris, Andrew Wiggins, Frank Mason — these guys were known to walk into visiting arenas and shut things down too.
Everybody always figured if you were going to take down Kanas, you were going to have to beat the Jayhawks in Lawrence. But nobody did that this year (KU hosts Baylor in the season finale on Saturday). Kansas went 2-6 on the road in conference play, and that’s all it took. Half the time the Jayhawks were on the ropes by the first media timeout.
So the streak is over. I’m not sure what we learned.