LAWRENCE — From a cold and calculated standpoint, Kansas coach Bill Self has a pretty good idea what Monday nights Sunflower Showdown could mean for his careworn troops. After a loss to Oklahoma on Saturday a day that marked KUs first three-game losing streak in eight years the Jayhawks (19-4 and 7-3 in the Big 12) dropped one game behind Kansas State (19-4, 8-2) in the Big 12 standings.
If they were to defeat us, Self said, theyd have a two-game lead, and (it would) put us behind the eight-ball.
Thats true, of course. But after a demoralizing week that slalomed between frustration and shock, it could be a challenge for Self to get his team in the right frame of mind for what could be a season-defining night. The Jayhawks probably cant afford a loss at home to Kansas State if they want to win their ninth straight Big 12 title.
For now, Self would like to take the long view. His program has been in similar situations before, even during its run of Big 12 championships. And more than anything, Kansas just needs a win.
Does it surprise me that were in a dogfight? Self said. No, not at all.
Self says he never bought into the conventional wisdom that KU would waltz to another conference crown. Maybe he didnt envision suffering three losses in a row, but if you told him that KU would be 19-4 on Feb. 11, Self probably would have thought that sounded about right.
This talk that people had, the whole deal was, whos gonna finish second? Self said. I never felt that at all.
After KUs loss to Oklahoma on Saturday, senior guard Elijah Johnson conceded that the Jayhawks had lost a degree of focus early in the conference season.
I dont think we relaxed as a team, Johnson said. I think we took a little bit of time off. A little more time off than we should have. And it was setting up some steps for us to step backward. And we didnt realize it.
So, I dont think we relaxed that much. But we definitely relaxed a little.
Some of that focus, Johnson said, came back after the Jayhawks went through a night of shame at TCU last week. But now comes a chapter in the Sunflower rivalry that, all things considered, hasnt been seen in a generation.
Consider: Before Saturdays loss at Oklahoma, Kansas had experienced just four losing streaks of three or more games since the 1983-84 season, Larry Browns first year in Lawrence. Now the Jayhawks run of eight straight Big 12 titles appears in some unexpected peril. And another KU loss, to K-State at Allen Fieldhouse no less, would be a bitter pill for the Jayhawks to swallow.
I think the crowd will do a great job of getting us jacked back up, Self said. And Big Monday always helps. And playing a rival always helps, so I think well play with great energy Monday.
Of course, from a cold and calculated perspective, its hard to know what to make of Kansas right now. Can the Jayhawks be close to the same team that handled Kansas State 59-55 at Bramlage Coliseum on Jan. 22? Or will they be the group mired in an extended offensive slump?
I dont know where we are, Self said, but it seems like to me, were missing a lot of shots that other teams arent missing.
A statement victory in front of a packed Fieldhouse could do plenty to resuscitate KUs title hopes and stabilize the Jayhawks fleeting confidence. But if Self expected a dogfight, KU still has to prove it can emerge from the fray.
Anything can happen, Self said. But were gonna have to play our best ball of the conference season to have a chance to win it.