Lutz on the Jayhawks: Young, but still the best

11/03/2012 12:00 AM

08/05/2014 9:48 PM

In 1927, the New York Yankees won 110 games and lost only 44. Their lineup was loaded with Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig, Earle Combs, Tony Lazerri and others. Four Yankees pitchers won 18 or more games.

When teams in any sport are in the midst of a superb season, you sometimes hear, “Who do they think they are, the ’27 Yankees?” That team is widely regarded as the best in baseball history with its .714 winning percentage.

But .714 isn’t .841, is it?

Since the Big 12 was formed in 1996, the Kansas basketball team has ravaged fellow conference members to the tune of a 217-41 (.841) record. The Jayhawks have won eight straight conference championships, though they did share three of those titles.

If you take it back to the final five seasons of the Big Eight, Kansas has finished in first place or in a first-place tie 17 of the past 22 years, with a 271-57 (.826) conference record.

This kind of dominance is unprecedented and a little bit creepy. KU hasn’t lost more than four games in a conference season since 1999-2000 and hasn’t had a losing conference record since Roy Williams’ first season as coach in 1988-89.

Kansas has wagged the Big 12’s tail in basketball for the better part of a quarter-century and the dominance is even more glaring when the Jayhawks play at home, where their Big 12 record inside Allen Fieldhouse is 60-4 — 145-8 overall — since Bill Self took over in 2003-04.

Any way you look at it, through KU’s Big 12 dominance to the Jayhawks’ incredible success at Allen Fieldhouse, this is a program on a pedestal, a king of the hill without a serious pursuer.

Which is why, despite the losses of Thomas Robinson and Tyshawn Taylor from a team that reached the national championship game, the Jayhawks are an overwhelming pick to win another Big 12 title. Prognosticators are in the habit of picking KU, and it’s a hard habit to break.

The rest of the conference looks flimsy, for sure. Outside of Baylor and maybe Texas – and mayyyyyyyyyybe Kansas State – it doesn’t look like there’s a team even capable of unseating KU, which has a team loaded with baby fat – nine freshmen.

This is the year to potentially get the Jayhawks, yet no other Big 12 team appears capable of doing so.

Elijah Johnson could be an All-American as a shooting guard. Center Jeff Withey would just as soon send your shot back through your body cavity as look at you. And senior Travis Releford has done nothing but get better since he arrived oh those many years ago.

They are the Jayhawks’ backbone.

Self plans to fill in with one semi-experienced player, senior forward Kevin Young, and a whole bunch of young’uns, starting with redshirt freshmen Ben McLemore and Jamari Traylor, who looks to have a little T-Rob in him.

Wichita’s own Perry Ellis is squarely in the mix, too, as are fellow freshmen Landen Lucas, Zach Peters and Andrew White, though Peters has been out with an injury.

Kansas lost to Kentucky in the national championship game with a razor-thin roster. Self has lots of choices this season, but he’s picking from the kids aisle.

So there will be crazy ups and downs, hairpin turns and wild thrills as Self mixes veterans with newcomers.

But it’s a concoction that can work. Given KU’s history and success, it will work. Remember, nobody can beat Kansas inside the Big 12 or inside Allen Fieldhouse. Other than that, the Jayhawks are fair game.

Good luck trying to catch them.

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