The Kansas basketball postseason résumé is starting to look pretty stout
Technically, the Kansas men’s basketball team still has one game left in its regular season — 7 p.m. Thursday vs. UTEP — before the do-or-die days of March arrive.
But in the moments that followed Saturday night’s massive, 71-58 win over No. 2 Baylor at Allen Fieldhouse the Jayhawks did a bit of reflecting about their season to date.
And Kansas coach Bill Self was in no mood to hold anything back in terms of praising the way his team fought through adversity, battled a mid-season slump and figured out how to play its best basketball at the end of the season.
“I don’t think one game validates the season,” Self said. “But we finished 12-6 in a ridiculously hard league and we sucked for three weeks. So, if you take those three weeks out of it we've performed pretty consistently. … There’s a lot of teams across America that would love to be 12-6 in arguably the toughest conference in America.”
Don’t look now, but what was widely considered to be a down year for the Jayhawks for several weeks has turned into a pretty memorable season with KU putting together a résumé that ranks up there with some of the best in college basketball.
No team has more wins over ranked teams (6) than the Jayhawks, who are now 18-8 overall and winners of six of their last seven games, with the only loss in that stretch (since Feb. 8) coming at No. 14 Texas in overtime.
No team has played more Quadrant 1 games than Kansas, which is 6-8 in those games and now up to No. 11 in the NET rankings. KU was No. 17 prior to the win over Baylor.
No. 32 Maryland (5-9), No. 65 Kentucky (3-11), No. 88 Northwestern (3-11) and No. 200 Kansas State (1-13) also have played 14 Q1 games, while Illinois (8-5), Minnesota (4-9), Penn State (2-11) and Nebraska (1-12) rank second with 13 Q1 games.
Add to that the fact that ESPN Bracketologist Joe Lunardi now has KU on the 3 seed line and you’re clearly looking at a team trending in the right direction. With the potential for a few more Q1 games awaiting in the Big 12 tournament, the Jayhawks could see their NCAA Tournament seed climb even higher if they can continue their winning ways.
Perhaps more important than any of that is the fact that very few teams were able to play this season’s schedule, from start to finish, without any self-induced COVID-19 delays the way Kansas has.
“The players have handled everything great,” Self said after Saturday’s win. “We did hit the bump in the road in January. We went through that period of time where we played with no energy and were duds. Somehow, they kind of responded and got their legs back, and we’ve been pretty good since.”
Pretty good might be putting it mildly. The Kansas defense, which has carried this team since the start of February, has been sensational, limiting opponents to both low point totals and low points-per-possession marks.
The crown jewel of that came Saturday night, when the Kansas defense held unbeaten Baylor to just 58 points, .94 points per possession and some of its most atrocious shooting percentages of the season — 35% overall, 23% from 3-point range and 38% at the free throw line.
It’s worth pointing out that those numbers came against a Baylor team that, even after that off night, ranks fourth in KenPom.com’s adjusted offensive efficiency numbers. Shutting them down, COVID pause or not, was a significant accomplishment. And it’s one that has Self and his players believing that if they can stick to the old defense-wins mindset, they can finish the season with a deep tournament run.
“I’m proud of our guys,” Self said. “I think we’re playing better than we have. We’ve had a lot of teams that had better records going into postseason, but they may not have been kind of on an uptick. I think this team’s on an uptick.”