Current winning streak helps Kansas reemerge as a team worth talking about as postseason draws near
While the Kansas basketball team’s current three-game winning streak was absolutely essential for the Jayhawks to get their confidence back, it also opened the door to a key component of KU’s postseason prospects.
Had the Jayahwks continued to struggle like they did in January, it would have been awfully tough for anyone touting KU’s overall résumé to look back at what this team did in December as worthy of being the primary component of Bill Self’s team’s postseason seeding.
Today, however, that narrative looks a little different. Just like the Jayhawks.
No one is claiming that back-to-back wins over Iowa State and a home victory over now-unranked Oklahoma State are enough to suddenly vault the Jayhawks into the conversation for a 3 or 4 seed today.
But the fact that those recent victories helped this team rediscover some of the elements that made them a Top 10 team in December makes it a lot easier to look back at those wins with a little more weight.
Included among them:
• A Dec. 8 victory over Creighton. The Bluejays have turned in the kind of season most people expected them to have and have maintained their status as a Top 20 team all season long. Currently ranked 16-5 and 12-4 in the Big East, Creighton is fresh off of a 16-point victory over No. 5 Villanova. Any way you slice it, beating this team, now or in December, qualifies as a good win.
• A Dec. 17 road win at Texas Tech. Like Creighton, the Red Raiders have spent most of the season in the Top 20, and, as recently as last week, were ranked No. 7 in the nation. Tech’s 11-point home loss to West Virginia last week (you might remember it as the Chris Beard ejection game) dropped Tech to No. 15 in this week’s poll, and the Red Raiders are, without question, a tournament team and one of the toughest teams in the Big 12. KU will get a shot at validating that December win when Tech comes to Lawrence on Saturday. If the Jayhawks can pull off the season sweep, both wins will bolster their NCAA Tournament resume.
• A Dec. 22 home win over West Virginia. The Mountaineers are currently 14-6 and ranked No. 13 in the country. Like KU, they, too, do not have a single bad loss on their resume, with all six WVU losses coming to teams ranked in the Top 28 of the current KenPom.com rankings. Any team that tops them can count it as a quality win, and, it will be really interesting to see what the selection committee does with the teams who finish behind Baylor in the Big 12 standings. On one hand, they all may be battling each other for spots on the 3-4-5 lines. On the other hand, there’s a chance that all of them could wind up on the same line but in different regions.
• A Jan. 9 home win over Oklahoma. The Sooners are currently the second-highest ranked team in the Big 12 and they’ve been on an absolute tear (7-1, with four wins over ranked teams) since losing to Kansas at Allen Fieldhouse in a game they had a chance to win. Nobody thought much of that victory at the time, but it may wind up going down as one of KU’s best of the season. And, if the Sooners stay hot — they’re currently ranked No. 9 at 13-5 — that KU win in early January will go down as much more than a nice, little Quadrant 1 victory.
Those victories, to date, are KU’s only four Quadrant 1 wins. But before you scoff and view that number as teenie tiny, consider that only eight teams in the country (Gonzaga, Baylor, Illinois, Ohio State, Alabama, West Virginia, Oklahoma and Missouri) have more Quadrant 1 wins at this point in the season.
Beyond that, Kansas has played six games against that group, which illustrates how tough this team’s schedule has been. The NET rankings have it as the 11th hardest schedule in the country, and KenPom.com puts it at No. 17. Back-to-back games against Iowa State (No. 148) knocked it out of the Top 10 on that site.
Tough schedules are great and can give a team a significant boost in the rankings or seedings if the road is viewed as impressive enough by those filling out their ballots or the bracket.
But, at some point, teams have to prove that they can do more than just play good teams. They also have to beat them.
The Jayhawks were doing that earlier this season and then the wheels fell off a little bit. Now that this team’s confidence has been restored and Kansas seems to have found its identity — win with defense and let the offense come naturally — the Jayhawks have put themselves in position to do just that.
Whether they do, or how often, could go a long way in determining where they’re seeded and what kind of a threat they’re viewed as in March.
But, as of now, that’s at least worth discussing again, and it’s not hard to see how KU quickly could get into the conversation as a potential 3 or 4 seed.
They’ll have to win to get there. But this group appears to be more prepared to do that today than at any time this calendar year.