Sports

KU uncomfortable sitting at No. 2

The ladder and scissors are getting nervous.

It's been more than two weeks since Kansas occupied first place in the Big 12, and if that seems like an eternity it is by Jayhawks' standards.

Kansas has won or shared the last six Big 12 championships, which means KU spends most winters gazing down on the rest of the league and celebrating a net-cutting ceremony at Allen Fieldhouse.

But by the conference season calendar, these Jayhawks have spent more time not in first than at the top, and second place doesn't sit well.

"I'm upset we're not in first," forward Marcus Morris said.

The standing took shape on Jan. 22, when Texas arrived in Lawrence and left with a 74-63 triumph ended the Jayhawks' school-record 69-game home-court winning streak.

Neither team has lost since then, with Kansas coming off a 103-86 triumph over Missouri on Monday and Texas beating Oklahoma Wednesday.

According to research confirmed by the Big 12, Kansas hasn't spent more than two weeks outside of first place in the past five seasons.

Until now, as the Jayhawks are into their third week as a second-place team.

Texas is 9-0, Kansas 8-1, and the way Bill Self sees it, the Jayhawks could win out and still finish without a conference trophy, and such hardware is especially meaningful to the school that's won more of them (53) than any major program. Ten of them have come in Big 12 play.

"Personally I think Texas is really good, good enough to win the national championship," Self said.

Which makes them good enough to hold on to first place in the Big 12, and perhaps become only the second team in the league's 15-year history to run the table. In 2002, the Kansas team of Drew Gooden, Kirk Hinrich and Nick Collison went 16-0.

The Longhorns have been remarkable in conference action, winning every game by double digits with an average victory margin of 18.4 points. They haven't trailed in a home league game.

"Good chemistry and great leadership," is how Texas Tech coach Pat Knight described Texas.

Uncatchable in the Big 12 also might fit the profile.

"We need Texas to lose and they're playing their best basketball," Morris said.

But so is Kansas.

In the five victories since the Texas loss, the Jayhawks have shot 55.4 percent from the floor and 48.4 percent on three-pointers.

They're ranked second nationally, one spot ahead of the Longhorns, who pay the voters' price for three non-conference losses. Kansas also is the nation's No. 1 team in Ratings Percentage Index, and a sure bet top seed in the NCAA Tournament if the field was selected today.

But the Jayhawks stand in an unfamiliar second place in the Big 12.

"It's just different, playing from behind," Kansas guard Tyrel Reed said.

The team's seniors and juniors have been in this situation before. They were around in 2009 when Kansas trailed Oklahoma and Blake Griffin in the standings. The Sooners jumped to an 11-0 start when misfortune struck. Griffin suffered a concussion.

Oklahoma lost three of its final five, including a home game to the Jayhawks in which Griffin didn't play. KU won the league by one game.

In 2008, Kansas lost at Texas and needed a late-season Longhorns loss at Texas Tech to tie the Longhorns for the conference title.

Kansas won the 2007 championship through the back door. The Jayhawks lost at home to Texas A&M — the defeat that launched the home winning streak — but the Aggies lost twice late in the season.

"I remember Jarrius Jackson hitting a big shot for us," Self said.

Sure did. The Texas Tech guard knocked in a buzzer beater that gave the Red Raiders a victory at College Station. Kansas won the league outright when A&M lost again, this time a double-overtime classic to Kevin Durant and Texas.

Through much of this stretch, coaches from the Big 12 South griped Kansas had an easier road to first place because it didn't have to meet the stronger half of the conference on a home-and-away basis.They were right. The Texas and Oklahoma teams generally were better and had the tougher conference road.

But by 2010, the league's power had balanced out. Last season, Kansas led the Big 12 start to finish and won the conference by four games over Kansas State, Baylor and Texas A&M.

Self likes to recall the Jayhawks of 2006 — the freshmen seasons of Brandon Rush and Mario Chalmers — started conference play with a 1-2 record and later lost by 25 at Texas. That team wound up tying the Longhorns for first and beating them in Dallas for the Big 12 tournament championship.

"We've been behind in the league race before," Self said.

And needed help to win the league, which is the case this year. But will Texas cooperate?

"There is no margin for error," Reed said. "You've got to be on top of your game every night."

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