While the Big 12 has a long and winding road to go until a regular season champion is crowned, all signs point to No. 8 Kansas as the team to beat in the conference.
Surprise, surprise: the team with 10-straight conference titles is the favorite to win it all again down the stretch. The streak has lasted so long that Lawrence may turn on itself the day Kansas isn’t crowned Big 12 champions.
The last time that happened was 2003, 12 years ago under guidance of first-year head coach Bill Self.
It’s safe to say Self has steered the Jayhawks in the right direction since then. Wait, no, an unbelievable direction, including a carer 345-73 record at Kansas and a decade of dominance in what many believe is, yearly, one of the top conferences in the country.
To illustrate that dominance, or add insult to injury for the rest of the Big 12, depending on which way you see it, Kansas is 160-33 in conference play since 2003. K-State would need to add up all its conference victories since the Tom Asbury-era starting in 1990 to reach 160 conference wins.
With the way Kansas has handled itself over the last 11 years, the question has become whether or not the Jayhawks’ overwhelming success is a good thing for the Big 12.
The simple answer is yes.
Every conference has at least one powerhouse program in every sport. In basketball, the ACC has Duke and North Carolina; the SEC has Kentucky; the Pac-12 has UCLA and the Big 10 has Ohio State and Michigan State. Kansas is that team for the Big 12.
With Kansas ranked at the top of the conference and among the elite in the country, Big 12 teams have the chance to grab statement wins against the Jayhawks in order to considerably improve their resumes.
For example, voters ranked Oklahoma State No. 21 in the country after beating the Jayhawks a week after showing up unranked in top 25. Wins against Baylor and Texas helped, yes, but a win against Self’s Jayhawks is a major statement.
Like it or not, Kansas is the big mammoth of a man sitting in the corner of the bar who everyone — drunkly — wants to fight to “prove themselves.” Losing is expected, certainly, but competing is rewarded nonetheless.
But back to basketball. When a team manages to do the herculean task of usurping Kansas at the top of the conference, they get rewarded. This is rightly deserved, because it rarely happens.
The last time Kansas failed to win the conference was in 2003-04. The Jayhawks’ “down year” saw them finish in a tie for second place with Texas behind Oklahoma State. That year, the Longhorns and Cowboys snagged top-three seedings in the NCAA Tournament.
Coaches come and go in Lawrence, but winning never stops. Some of the most well-known coaches in the history of college basketball — Forest Clare Allen, Larry Brown, Roy Williams and now Self — have walked through the same tunnel at Allen Fieldhouse, and they all have led Kansas to impressive feats.
If you missed the message: Kansas will always be good. The Big 12 spectrum is those near the basement and a handful of times duking it out in the middle of the standings — and then Kansas at the top.
Programs at the bottom and middle change, but Kansas, the benchmark of excellence in the Big 12, remains firmly seated at its throne at the top.
If the Jayhawks succeed and win their 11th-straight Big 12 regular season title this season, it is something positive for the Big 12 … mainly because it sends a huge message to everyone else: “come and get us.”
Emilio Rivera is a sophomore in mass communications.