St. Louis Kansas University’s Big 12 rivals never bought into that talk about a rebuilding season. Despite replacing all five starters, the defending national champions were in first place heading into the final week of conference play.
“They recruit good players; they don’t recruit bad players,” Kansas State coach Frank Martin said Monday on the Big 12 coaches teleconference. “You just knew at the end of the year they were going to be right in the middle of it.
“Bill Self is as good as it gets.”
Martin rates Sherron Collins the best guard in the Big 12, calling him “unguardable.” He said 6-foot-11 Cole Aldrich was the “best presence at the rim on both ends of the court in the league.”
The ninth-ranked Jayhawks, who have won four straight conference titles, are coming off a 90-65 spanking of No. 15 Missouri on Sunday.
Texas Tech’s Pat Knight, whose team hosts the Jayhawks on Wednesday, expected Kansas (24-5, 13-1 Big 12) to be a contender back in October.
“I thought it was kind of funny when everybody was trying to count him out before the season just because he has young kids,” Knight said. “They just reload every year. If Bill’s coaching the team, they’re going to be good.”
Collins was a top reserve last season with 15 double-digit scoring games.
He led the way against Missouri with 25 points.
“Everybody’s talking about what they lost, and he’s saying, ‘What about me?”’ Knight said. “They’re kind of playing with a chip on their shoulder, and they’ve picked it up. Boy, they’re playing well.”
Self believes the Final Four experience is paying off, even if players had only bit roles last season.
“Our guys that were here and part of that team have passed on to the other young guys that, ‘Hey, we can do this,’” Self said. “We’re not closing our eyes and dreaming it, we saw it firsthand.
“I do believe that having done something you dreamed of doing can’t help but give you confidence. That if we can just put ourselves in the game we can do this again.”
For the first time, the conference tournament will wrap up on a Saturday. Coaches have pushed for the schedule change, which will give the NCAA selection committee a day to sort out things.
In past years, the committee had just a few hours to factor in results from the championship game. The tournament is March 11-14 in Oklahoma City.
“Our whole conference is done, we’re fresh in their minds, and they don’t have to wait around to see who beats who,” Knight said. “We’ve got all our stuff done, and they can start slotting teams right away.
“They say it probably didn’t hurt us (in the past), but I think a lot of coaches agree maybe it did.”
Schools also get an extra 24 hours of rest and preparation time.
When the bracket plays out, it’s no big deal for the selection committee to flip-flop teams after the finale, but Self said schools are in a no-win situation when a potential No. 6 NCAA seed upsets a potential No. 1. Under that scenario, Self said, the committee would be likely to play it safe and slot one team as a No. 2 and avoid adjusting the lower seed.
“I’ve studied this a little bit, and it seems to me the more time they have, anybody, the better chance you can get it the way it should be,” Self said. “Thirty or 45 minutes isn’t enough time to do some of those things.”
Oklahoma State’s Travis Ford would rather the entire conference tournament not be a factor. He pointed out that first-round byes can be a mixed blessing because it eliminates another shot at building the résumé.
“If you can get a bye and be one of the top four teams in this league, then I think you’ve done something pretty special,” Ford said. “I think conference tournaments need to be put out of play, period.”
A seven-game losing streak prompted Baylor coach Scott Drew to remove players’ names from their jerseys. Drew hasn’t decided whether to leave them off the rest of the season.
“It was just the team getting together and finding a couple of different things we could focus on,” Drew said, before the Bears lost Monday. “We really wanted to focus on playing for Baylor.
“We lost seven in a row, and we needed to get back to basics.”