LAWRENCE — The Kansas Jayhawks still haven't cut down any nets this season.
When they clinched a share of their seventh straight Big 12 regular-season title last week against Texas A&M, they didn't pull out the ladder and scissors because they still had a game at rival Missouri that could help them claim the outright championship. Still, even when KU beat the Tigers 70-66 on Saturday, the Jayhawks didn't enjoy any public celebration at Mizzou Arena, retreating to the visitor's locker room.
KU coach Bill Self says he wishes his players would have gotten to "to blow off steam," and he believes the reason they didn't is systemic at this point.
"One thing I've done a poor job of with my team is always talking about 'next game,' " Self said. "They become robotic in thinking 'next game,' which is good in an NBA season, but in a college season, hey, this is a big deal to win a championship.
Never miss a local story.
"A lot of places would be cutting down nets, doing everything else when you win a conference championship. And here, these guys just think that's what they're supposed to do... 'We just did our job.' They have done their job. They've done it very well, and they need to hear that from me more."
Today, as the Big 12 Tournament tips off, it's a safe bet that all of Self's peers would love to share those particular deficiencies. The Jayhawks have won the most league titles in a row since UCLA took 13 straight from 1967-79. They have won a national championship during that span and four Big 12 Tournaments. The last two seasons, KU has a combined record of 62-5.
Of course, the argument could be made that one of the reasons Self's teams have maintained such dominance over a long period is that they haven't gotten too high on themselves or taken their success for granted.
Still, Self hopes his current players — who did cut down nets last year in Kansas City — get to enjoy themselves later this season if they get the chance.
"As a baseball player, after a guy pitches a no-hitter, everybody runs out and jumps on him," Self said. "We haven't had any of that stuff. I'm really proud of our guys. Their efforts have been absolutely remarkable. Certainly here of late, the last few years, these guys have done some things that I never in my wildest dreams would have ever thought they could accomplish from a winning standpoint."
Self said two seasons were the keys in making this streak happen: the 2005-06 team and the 2008-09 team.
In 2006, the Jayhawks started freshmen Mario Chalmers, Julian Wright and Brandon Rush, along with two sophomores, and started slowly.
"You start out 1-2 in the league, and you're not gonna win the league," Self said. "And somehow they put it together."
In 2009, KU lost six of seven regular contributors from the 2008 national championship team to graduation and early defections to the NBA. Sherron Collins and Cole Aldrich were the only players on the '09 roster that played a meaningful part in the title run. KU twin forwards Marcus and Markieff Morris and point guard Tyshawn Taylor were freshmen that season.
"You've got a couple kids from Philly that you don't know if they can make it up and down the floor three times without passing out," Self said. "You've got a point guard from (New Jersey) that's the fourth-leading scorer on his high-school team. You say, 'Hey guys, go win the league,' and those guys responded."
This championship would probably rank third in degree of difficulty. The Jayhawks lost lottery picks Aldrich and Xavier Henry and the heart of their team in Collins. Plus, freshman Josh Selby didn't play until the 10th game of the season because of an NCAA suspension.
"I would have never thought we'd go 14-2 six months ago," Self said.
Certainly, it sounds like Self would relish an opportunity on Saturday evening to see his players climb a ladder and grab the scissors.