University of Kansas

Big 12 title would hold special significance, Kansas coach Bill Self says

Kansas coach Bill Self said if his Jayhawks can wrap up a 12th straight Big 12 title, he’d “probably be as proud of this team as any of them.”
Kansas coach Bill Self said if his Jayhawks can wrap up a 12th straight Big 12 title, he’d “probably be as proud of this team as any of them.” rsugg@kcstar.com

Every Kansas men’s basketball practice reinforces the message, players gathering in a huddle before breaking with three words said in unison:

“Big 12 champs.”

The expectation is built into KU’s players from their earliest days in the program.

“There’s just an understanding,” KU forward Landen Lucas said, “that there’s something really greater than us that we’ve got to keep alive.”

The Streak appears destined to live another year. No. 2 KU, with a home victory over Texas Tech at 11 a.m. Saturday, can clinch at least a share of its 12th consecutive Big 12 regular-season crown with two games remaining.

If coach Bill Self’s team does so, it will have accomplished the feat without a surefire NBA lottery pick playing in the team’s rotation — an uncommon occurrence among recent KU squads.

“I’d probably be as proud of this team as any of them,” Self said.

There are reasons to believe this year’s Jayhawks could be accomplishing something greater than their predecessors.

For one, KU put itself in an early hole, losing three of its first eight conference games while dropping to a three-way tie for fourth place.

“Every year, I feel like there’s a point in time where you’re in doubt a little bit,” Lucas said. “This year was a little more than normal.”

The moment didn’t pass easily. KU’s players could hear frustrations regarding the team on social media, though that didn’t separate teammates when it could have.

“We felt kind of a ‘backs-against-the-wall’ mentality, and especially from the fans,” Lucas said. “But as a group, I feel like there was not a ton of panic. We were just like, ‘We got this. This is going to be OK.’”

Lucas believes a home game against Kentucky — a rare non-conference game in the middle of the Big 12 grind — helped the Jayhawks reboot their season. That 90-84 overtime victory was the start of an eight-game winning streak for KU.

“They care,” Self said of his players. “We can talk about whatever, but hey, these kids care and they try real hard and they are competitive.”

They’ve also opened up a two-game lead against what Self calls the toughest Big 12 schedule his team has faced in his 13 seasons.

Six of the conference’s 10 teams are ranked in the latest Associated Press poll. Add in Texas Tech, and the league is expected to get seven of its teams into the NCAA Tournament next month.

“You’re not going through one or two teams. You’ve got to beat six or whatever,” Self said. “And so that to me is pretty significant, if we’re fortunate enough to win.”

No, it’s not official yet, but the numbers sure appear to be in KU’s favor.

The team has won 38 straight home games. It has gone 15-0 all-time against Texas Tech in Allen Fieldhouse.

And it’s also in position to claim a 12th straight conference championship ring — a goal that’s brought up specifically in each of the Jayhawks’ practices.

“It’s just something that we work hard for and we prepare for,” KU guard Devonte’ Graham said. “We’re definitely where we want to be.”

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