In battle of college basketball's elite, Jayhawks have made up 34 wins on Kentucky in Self's 15-plus seasons
Lexington, Kent. — By now, unless you’ve been hiding out all week or haven’t been paying attention for, oh I don’t know, the past couple of decades, you know that today’s showdown between No. 9 Kansas and No. 8 Kentucky at Rupp Arena is a meeting between the two winningest teams in the history of college basketball.
Kentucky, at 2,278 wins and counting, sits in the top spot, with Kansas, at 2,264 wins and counting, holding down the No. 2 spot right behind them.
North Carolina, Duke and Temple round out the Top 5, but nobody cares about those teams today. Today is just about Kentucky and Kansas. And today, only one of the blue bloods wearing blue can walk away with a victory.
Either KU closes the gap to a mere 13 victories or the Wildcats extend their cushion to 15, which is where it sat when the 2018-19 season began.
No keeping pace with each other by both winning or both losing. No ties. No more guaranteed games the rest of the season. Just one head-to-head battle, which will mark the fifth consecutive season that these two tradition-rich and historic programs have played each other and the 32nd time in the sport’s history.
All of this talk about making up ground, even if it is just by a single game, got me thinking about how much ground the Jayhawks really have made up on the Wildcats during recent years.
Because Bill Self is the Jayhawks’ current coach, we’ll narrow down the time frame to the Self Era, which spans the past 15-plus seasons.
During that time, Self’s Jayhawks have made up 34 games on the Wildcats in the all-time win total race, including the one-win edge this season that they take into today’s game.
The Jayhawks have won 463 games under Self and Kentucky has won 429 games during that same time. Given those numbers, the Jayhawks are making up an average of a hair more than 2 victories per season. At that rate, Kansas could — emphasize could — pass Kentucky in seven more seasons.
Of course, with KU only 13 behind the Wildcats, history has shown that that number could be eclipsed in as little as one or two seasons as well.
Including this season, which is a long way from finished for both teams, Kansas has won more games than Kentucky during 9 of Self’s 16 seasons at KU. Beyond that, the Jayhawks also have, by far, the largest single-season advantage, closing the gap by up a whopping 19 games during the 2007-08 season, when KU won the national title with 37 wins and Kentucky lost in the first round of the NIT and finished with just 18 victories.
In fact, three of the four largest margins in single-season wins belong to Kansas, with the Jayhawks +19 during their title run, +10 in 2012-13 (the year after Kentucky beat Kansas for the national title, no less) and +9 during the 2006-07 season.
The only Kentucky entry in the Top 4 came in 2014-15 when the Wildcats made a push for a perfect season and finished 38-1 while Kansas won just 27 games.
Kentucky does own the two highest single-season win totals during this time frame, winning 38 games in both 2014-15 and 2011-12.
So what does all of this mean for today’s game? Absolutely nothing. All we know for sure is that only one team will make up ground today and these two programs have won a heck of a lot of games to this point and figure to win a whole bunch more in the future.
Here’s a quick look at the season-by-season breakdown of Kansas and Kentucky victories since Self took the reins in Lawrence.
2003-04: UK +3 (27-24)
2004-05: UK +5 (28-23)
2005-06: KU +4 (26-22)
2006-07: KU +9 (31-22)
2007-08: KU +19 (37-18)
2008-09: KU +5 (27-22)
2009-10: UK +2 (35-33)
2010-11: KU +6 (35-29)
2011-12: UK +6 (38-32)
2012-13: KU +10 (31-21)
2013-14: UK +4 (29-25)
2014-15: UK +11 (38-27)
2015-16: KU +6 (33-27)
2016-17: UK +1 (32-31)
2017-18: KU +5 (31-26)
2018-19: KU +1 (16-15, so far)
Total: Kansas +34 (463-429 and counting...)