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Jayhawk want to end bad stretch on offense

  • The Wichita Eagle
  • Published Wednesday, Jan. 30, 2013, at 2:43 p.m.
  • Updated Wednesday, Jan. 30, 2013, at 6:16 p.m.

Upset watch

After a victory against West Virginia on Monday, Kansas improved to 19-1 and pushed its winning streak to 18 games. The Jayhawks, ranked No. 2 in the Associated Press poll and No. 1 in the USA Today coaches poll, are five victories shy of breaking the KU mark for consecutive victories in a single season. The Jayhawks opened the 1996-97 season with 22 straight wins before falling at Missouri. (Kansas also once won 23 straight games between the 1934-35 and 1935-36 seasons).

If Kansas wins its next five, it won’t just be a milestone for the program. KU coach Bill Self would also notch his 500th career victory against Texas on Feb. 16 at Allen Fieldhouse.

Here’s a look at Kansas’ next five games — and the likelihood of an upset:

Oklahoma State, Saturday

The Cowboys have high-end talent in freshman guard Marcus Smart and sophomore swingman Le’Bryan Nash, two players that Self recruited hard. Oklahoma State, however, has been dogged by a tough Big 12 schedule, and a victory at Allen Fieldhouse seems unlikely. Maybe in Stillwater?

Upset alert: Medium

At TCU, Feb. 6

The biggest question: How many KU fans will fill Daniel-Meyer Coliseum in Fort Worth? The Horned Frogs are 0-7 in Big 12 play and appear destined for a 10th-place finish.

Upset alert: Low

At Oklahoma, Feb. 9

At some point, the Jayhawks are going to drop one on the road, right? KU still has trips to Oklahoma State, Iowa State and Baylor on the schedule. But this trip to Norman could be another fight.

Upset alert: High

Kansas State, Feb. 11

It’s become a K-State tradition: Play KU close in Manhattan, and get run in Lawrence. Bruce Weber will try to change that as the Wildcats battle for second in the Big 12.

Upset alert: Medium

Texas, Feb. 16

Mario Chalmers will be in the building to have his jersey retired — and so will top recruit Julius Randle, a forward from Plano, Texas, and ESPN’s College Game Day crew.

Upset alert: Low

Longest single-season winning streaks in school history:

22, 1996-97

21, 1970-71 and 1935-36

20, 2007-08

— Jeff Withey knows how you feel. In fact, he’s felt it, too — that strange blend of satisfaction and frustration.

On Monday night, Withey scored 15 points in Kansas’ 61-56 victory over West Virginia in Morgantown. The Jayhawks moved to 19-1 — 7-0 in the Big 12 — and improved to 5-0 in true road games this season. And earlier in the day, Kansas had risen to No. 1 in the USA Today coaches poll and No. 2 in the Associated Press poll.

On most days, Withey would have relished the moment and relaxed on the late-night flight back to Lawrence. So why was this any different?

“As a team,” Withey said, “we know we can play better.”

For the fifth time in seven games, Kansas failed to score at least 65 points and the Jayhawks committed 16 turnovers during another slop-heavy performance. The victories continue to pile up, but for the last month, the style points have been at a minimum.

“It’s a little frustrating at times,” Withey said, “but at the same time, you’re 7-0, you can’t not be satisfied. You’re obviously doing something right.”

Maybe, of course, the Jayhawks are just victims of their own dominance. A year after another Final Four run, the Jayhawks have won 18 straight, five victories shy of setting a single-season KU mark for consecutive victories.

KU coach Bill Self has a phrase he likes to call “Kansas math” — the idea that his program can lose all its best players to graduation and the NBA, and fans still expect to be better the next year.

Well, maybe this is a “Kansas funk” — an extended slump that appears much more serious than it really is. For instance, the Jayhawks played some efficient and smooth basketball for the first 15 minutes against West Virginia. A few more free throws would have given them 40 first-half points in a Big 12 road game. And even after struggling in the second half, Self made a clear distinction: There’s a difference between playing good and scoring more points.

“If the score was 74-69,” Self said on Monday, “everybody would be thinking we played really well. Which doesn’t mean we played well, it means we didn’t guard. But we may have played better offense.”

Kansas will put its streak on the line again on Saturday, when it plays host to Oklahoma State at Allen Fieldhouse. And according to advanced statistics, the Jayhawks still fit the profile of a top-ranked team. According to defensive efficiency numbers at KenPom.com, KU’s defense now ranks third in the country. And despite playing its least-efficient offense since the 2005-06 season, KU ranks in the top 20 nationally on offense. Still, there are issues to address.

“Our guard play has got to get better,” Self said. “Teams that pressure us (and) get up after us, we’ve turned it over here of late. I thought we actually did some good things (against West Virginia), but we made some bone-headed plays.”

Self hopes his team is learning something from these hard-fought victories. And maybe, he said, they can learn the hard lessons without losing the hard way.

“There’s a lot of room for improvement,” Withey said, “which is good. You don’t want to peak too soon, and we’re definitely not there yet.”

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