NORMAN, Okla. —Five Big 12 games produced five home winners. Opening week continues today with all of those winners on the road, and an early tone for the league race could be established.
That means road success is vital for teams with designs on a conference championship. It's why Kansas coach Bill Self was quick to dismiss the team's immediate accomplishment, and no more than 30 minutes after polishing off Kansas State, declared today's contest at Oklahoma as more of a benchmark for the Jayhawks' ultimate goal.
"Road wins are precious, and there aren't going to be a lot of teams get a lot of them," Self said.
No. 14 Kansas (11-3) has gotten its share. In Self's eight seasons, Kansas is the only Big 12 team never to post a losing conference record. In fact, the Jayhawks have never recorded a losing road record in league play. They broke even (4-4) in 2000.
"The teams that are going to finish in the top part of the conference are going to protect their home game court," Oklahoma coach Lon Kruger said. "For teams that are going to finish in the lower part, you win anywhere you can, but you have a better chance at home."
The Big 12 is a different place this year. For starters, two teams are undefeated, reside in the top 10 and neither of them are Kansas. Baylor and Missouri are off to fabulous starts.
Also, an 18-game conference schedule adds twists to the championship path, and already an injury to one of the league's most productive players could have an impact. Texas guard J'Covan Brown, who leads the Big 12 in scoring, suffered an ankle injury in the second half of the Longhorns' game at Iowa State. Brown missed most of the second half and the Cyclones pulled away for the victory.
Kansas' challenge today isn't an injury but confronting a focused an Oklahoma team that likely went through an, ahem, spirited few practices after getting trounced at Missouri in its opener on Tuesday.
The Sooners had raised expectations under first-year coach Kruger with a 10-2 record in non-league play, only to have the Tigers douse them with a 38-point trashing. It was Oklahoma's most lopsided Big 12 loss.
The Sooners entered the game leading the conference in rebounding and grabbed only 20, less than half of their season average.
"We were kind of surprised by that because we hadn't played that passively all year long," Kruger said. "We had no aggressiveness in any part of our game. That has to change for us."
Kansas expects the wounded pride team today.
"They're going to be very ready," guard Travis Releford said. "We know they're capable."
The Jayhawks proved the same thing against the Wildcats. Kansas' rebounding toughness had come into question after lackluster performances in the final two non-conference games. Against the Wildcats, KU won the board battle 50-26.
"The whole emphasis this week for us is to be a good defensive team," Releford said. "We're playing against physical teams."
In the Big 12, that's going to be the case all year.