Next 5 weeks feature 2 key stretches for Kansas basketball
It hasn’t mattered who was on the team, what the rotation looked like or how deep and talented the Kansas men’s basketball team has been.
Almost every year, without fail, there has been a small but impactful stretch, usually during conference play, when the Jayhawks have struggled and KU fans has questioned what in the heck was going on.
Last year, a team that gave eventual national champion Villanova an absolute street fight in the Elite Eight lost three of five games during mid-to-late January, all on the road and all by double digits.
One year before that, the Jayhawks lost three of six, including twice in a seven-day span, before bowing out of the NCAA Tournament in the second round.
And three seasons ago, the Jayhawks lost three of four early in the season — including back-to-back games at Colorado and Florida — and finished the season losing two of their last three to close the regular season and four of its final seven overall.
Heck, even the 2007-08 team, which finished 37-3, dropped two of those three in a 12-day span in February, right around the time when you want to start building momentum for a postseason run.
Each of those teams won the Big 12 Conference and one of them won the national championship. The point? Good teams lose games. Heck, even great teams lose games or have lulls or struggle through adversity. It’s part of what makes college basketball so great and part of what makes what the Jayhawks have done in winning a dozen straight Big 12 titles so impressive.
Before we tip things off for Game No. 2 of 18 in the Jayhawks’ quest to make that 13 straight — 8 p.m. tonight vs. Kansas State at Allen Fieldhouse — let’s just take a moment to accept and embrace that this team is probably going to have its rough patch, too.
If you’re the type of fan that would rather know when these stretches are coming instead of being blindsided by a loss you never expected, continue reading.
The Jayhawks’ conference schedule this season is pretty well set up, with KU two in a row on the road just one time — Monday, Feb. 6 at Kansas State and Saturday, Feb. 11 at Texas Tech. Back-to-back home games ease the Jayhawks into that doubleheader and a follow-up home game against West Virginia sits on the back end.
But it’s that fairly lengthy period, beginning Jan. 16 and ending Feb. 18, that actually presents a couple of stretches in which the Jayhawks could be bitten by the loss bug more than once.
The first and most obvious stretch is a five-game run that starts in Ames, Iowa, includes road games at West Virginia and Kentucky (not a Big 12 team, but still) and ends with Baylor at home on Feb. 1.
Tom Keegan wrote Monday that Baylor and West Virginia pose the biggest threats to KU continuing its Big 12 title streak, so having to play one of them away and the other at home around the same time as the always-tough trip to Iowa State and an unknown journey to Kentucky very well could present the Jayhawks with their toughest challenge of the season.
Right after that run is another sequence that features three nasty games in a four-game stretch, with the fourth and seemingly easiest game of the group still coming on the road.
KU plays at K-State on Feb. 6, travels to Lubbock, Texas, to take on Texas Tech five days later and follows that week up by hosting West Virginia and traveling to Baylor.
There’s no way the Jayhawks will lose all of those, but a case could be made for dropping two or perhaps even three of them, especially because West Virginia seems, at least to me, to be the Big 12 team most poised to come into Allen Fieldhouse and leave with a victory.
Don’t worry. I’m not predicting doomsday for the Jayhawks here. I still think they’ll go undefeated at home and I also still think they’ll win the Big 12. The biggest reason? It’s not because Baylor and West Virginia aren’t worthy challengers but more because of the overall strength of the league and the much higher likelihood of Baylor or WVU slipping up in a game they shouldn’t instead of Kansas doing the same.
Either way, it should be a fun couple of months and if you’re one of those KU fans that doesn’t handle losses very well, keep an eye out for the two stretches in the schedule that I mentioned above.