Fourteen and out
Going to bed at a decent hour has led me to wake up at a not so decent hour.
It’s 0330, and I’ve been up for more than an hour. The one good thing it did was allow me to take my contact lenses out and get some drops in my irritated right eye. I fell asleep in my lenses, and now I wish I hadn’t.
When I went to bed last evening, I saw Kansas was losing to Oklahoma in men’s basketball. The first thing I did was check the score when I woke up.
Oklahoma 81, Kansas 68.
The streak is over.
For the first time since 2003-04, Bill Self’s first season in Lawrence, the Jayhawks will not win at least a share of the Big 12 Conference’s men’s basketball championship. Kansas is 11-6 in conference games, meaning it cannot catch either Kansas State nor Texas Tech, both of which are 13-4.
The regular season ends Saturday. The Wildcats host Oklahoma, and the Red Raiders face Iowa State in Ames. If both win or both lose, they tie for the championship. Of course, if one wins and the other loses, the winner is outright champion.
Kansas holds the national Division I record for most consecutive conference championships. The old record of 13 was set by UCLA from 1967-79 in what is now the Pacific-12. When the Bruins began the streak, it was known was the Athletic Association of Western Universities (AAWU), a loose confederation of former members of the Pacific Coast Conference, which had been forced to disband after hundreds of NCAA rules violations by its members. The league officially became the Pac-8 in 1968, then the Pac-10 in the fall of 1978 when Arizona and Arizona State joined from the WAC.
I’m not a Jayhawk fan. Far from it. But finishing first or tied for first in a major conference, one often rated as the best in the country, is quite remarkable, especially when taking a look at another college basketball blue blood.
Kentucky has been a superpower since the game began. Yet the Wildcats have never won 14 consecutive SEC championships, even though there were many years during Adolph Rupp’s reign in Lexington (1931-72) no other team in the SEC could compete on a national level. For many years, many SEC schools did not have a full-time basketball coach; either that person coached another sport, or he had to teach classes in addition to coaching. It wasn’t until after Kentucky lost in the 1966 NCAA championship game to Texas Western (now Texas-El Paso) in the famous game where Rupp’s all-white squad lost to a Miner team which started five black players that the rest of the SEC truly got serious about basketball. Sure, Tennessee and Vanderbilt had a good team every now and then, and Mississippi State will be forever remembered for defying the state’s governor to play a desegregated Loyola team in 1963, but basketball in the SEC for too long was the Wildcats and nobody else.
That hasn’t been the case with Kansas in the Big 12. Oklahoma State, where Self played from 1981-85, regained its position as an elite program under Eddie Sutton, even though it has now fallen on hard times. Oklahoma has had great players and great teams, even if few noticed due to the Sooners’ football dominance. Texas has been a consistent big winner. So has Iowa State. Kansas State isn’t where it was under Jack Hartman in the 1970s, but it’s come back a long way from the abyss which was Jim Woolridge’s coaching tenure. West Viriginia’s program has fallen this year, but Bob Huggins has brought the Mountaineers their second golden age, the first being Jerry West’s days in Morgantown.
Kansas will go to the NCAA tournament. That’s all that matters. It won’t add #15 to the billboards across the state proclaiming its conference championship streak, but does it matter that much? Nah.