Just when it starts to look like No. 7 Kansas has it all figured out, things go haywire. The same goes for the Big 12.
The correlation shouldn’t be that surprising at this point. In KU’s quest for a 14th straight league title, the Jayhawks have been all over the place. From dropping back-to-back games to Arizona State and Washington to finishing January comfortably atop the conference.
Now this: an 84-79 loss at Allen Fieldhouse to an Oklahoma State team among the worst in the Big 12.
The fact that the Jayhawks cut the deficit to five is astonishing in itself. The Cowboys (14-9, 4-6 Big 12) raced out to an 18-point lead at halftime and Kansas (18-5, 7-3) spent the final 20 minutes looking for any way to get it within two possessions.
That alone proved impossible until it no longer mattered.
Every time the Jayhawks were within seven points of the lead and desperate for a stop, Oklahoma State answered with a back-breaking bucket — a floater over seven-footer Udoka Azubuike (20 points, five rebounds), a bank shot off the glass, a soft touch off the rim. They all seemed to fall in the biggest moments.
Keep in mind, this Oklahoma State team is far inferior to the Marcus Smart-led roster in 2013, when the Cowboys last stole a win in Lawrence. Still, four OSU starters finished in double-digit scoring led by guard Kendall Smith’s 24 points and Cameron McGriff’s 20 points and nine rebounds.
The Cowboys shot 52 percent from the field for the game while taking away the Jayhawks’ perimeter game early. KU went 8-for-22 from behind the arc while OSU out-rebounded it 41-28 (Ok. State also had 26 second-chance points to Kansas’ seven).
— Cowboy Basketball (@OSUMBB) February 3, 2018
So, yes, this was about as ugly a game as KU has played all year. It’s also the first time Kansas has dropped three home games in one season since the 1998-99 campaign. Unsurprisingly, that team failed to win the Big 12 and was bounced out of the NCAA tournament in the second round.
That doesn’t mean all is lost for Kansas — Bill Self still only has as many home losses (13) as he does conference titles — but it certainly puts the Big 12 back up for grabs.
If Texas Tech and/or Oklahoma each notch a victory on Saturday, they’ll be tied for first place with KU at 7-3. That’s quite a logjam for a trio that still has to play each other once more this season.
For Kansas that means a trip to Lubbock, where the Jayhawks tend to find trouble, and a home game against OU, where Kansas has struggled to play with intensity this year. Texas Tech will also have a chance to avenge a road loss to the Sooners at home.
The Oklahoma State game should’ve kicked off a four-game stretch against the Big 12’s worst for KU. Now a upcoming games versus TCU and a road trip to Baylor and Iowa State have a lot more pressure riding on them.
But Kansas’ streak hasn’t just relied on the Jayhawks being better than everyone. It often benefited from the Big 12 more or less cannibalizing itself. KU needs that now more than ever to win a 14th straight title.
February doldrums are nothing new for Bill Self teams. The margin for error with this one, however, is like nothing Kansas is used to. Another home loss to Oklahoma State is just the latest reminder.
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