“Death, taxes, and KU winning the Big 12.”
– CBS college basketball announcer Doug Gottlieb, February 14th, 2015
Everyone knows about the streak. Everybody knows about the run. It’s simply not news anymore if the Kansas Jayhawks win the Big 12. For 10 consecutive years, KU has won at least a share of the regular-season conference crown. Since early January, it appeared that the Jayhawks’ remarkable run was on its way to continuing for another season as they stormed out to an 8-1 start. However, recently, they’ve been in a bit of a slide, and considering how important the title is to an overwhelming number of fans that rep crimson and blue, is it actually possible that Kansas *gulp* doesn’t win the Big 12 in 2015?
At this point in the season, the Big 12 is a two-team race for the regular-season title. The first-place Jayhawks sit atop the conference at 10-3, while 9-4 Iowa State is right behind. The Jayhawks own a one-game advantage with five regular-season games remaining. Three of those five matchups are home games (TCU, Texas, and West Virginia), while KU has remaining road contests with Kansas State and Oklahoma.
Iowa State’s path is much tougher. The Cyclones must travel away from the friendly confines of Hilton Coliseum and take on Texas, Kansas State, and TCU, and even their two remaining home contests (Baylor and Oklahoma) are not sure-fire wins. Iowa State managed to defeat Oklahoma State in Stillwater last Wednesday night, but that was just the beginning of a murderous slate down the stretch.
With that said, is it plausible to assume that KU’s streak may come to an end soon? Let’s break down each final-record scenario for Kansas:
5-0 finish, 15-3 overall: The Jayhawks control their own destiny in their quest for a conference title. If they win their last five games, regardless of what happens with Iowa State, Kansas would secure an 11th straight Big 12 championship. Chances KU finishes 15-3: 20%.
4-1 finish, 14-4 overall: This appears to be the most plausible outcome for the Jayhawks. While it’s safe to assume Kansas will win each of their three remaining home games, splitting the two road tilts would land KU a 14-4 finish. This would secure the Jayhawks a piece of the conference crown, and Iowa State would only be able to earn the other half if they were to win out. This seems unlikely for a team that’s struggled on the road thus far (The Cyclones are just 2-4 in road play), but it’s certainly not completely impossible. Chances KU finishes 14-4: 60%.
3-2 finish, 13-5 overall: This is when things get interesting. If the Jayhawks drop both road games, the door is opened for the Cyclones to win the Big 12 outright by winning out. They could also earn a share by going 5-1 down the stretch, which seems like a realistic expectation for ISU. If the two teams tie at 13-5 and share the conference, it wouldn’t signal the end of KU’s streak, but there would definitely be some disappointment in Lawrence. Chances KU finishes 13-5: 19.5%.
2-3/1-4/0-5 finish, 12-6/11-7/10-8 overall: The only way KU finishes 12-6 or worse is if they drop at least one game in Allen Fieldhouse, and the Jayhawks haven’t lost at home in 21 consecutive contests. This won’t happen. Chances KU finishes 12-6 or worse: 0.5%.
14-4 would secure the Jayhawks no worse than a share of the conference crown, and unless the Cyclones end the season on a six-game winning streak, it would earn KU an outright title for the second consecutive year. Essentially, if KU wins a road game or Iowa State loses any game, the Jayhawks will clinch the Big 12 for the 11th straight year (pending a loss inside Allen Fieldhouse).
Right now, I’d give the Jayhawks a 90% chance of earning at least a share, and a 75% chance of winning the Big 12 outright. Iowa State is too inconsistent to close the season on a six-game winning streak, and KU should roll through their next four games with relative ease. Kansas should be 14-3 when they head to Norman, Oklahoma for the regular-season finale with the Sooners, and at that point, the Jayhawks will likely be playing for an outright title with a share already clinched.
Iowa State needs to win out to earn at least a share of the conference crown, and finishing 6-0 (with four of those games on the road) is next to impossible in the Big 12. KU fans should rest assured after realizing that no team has put together a six-game winning streak thus far in Big 12 conference play. If Iowa State loses at Texas Saturday, OR if Kansas wins in Manhattan on Monday, the league race will be virtually over. However, if neither one of those two results occur and the two teams are tied at 11-4 next week, it’ll set up an intense race to the finish line.
Buckle up, Jayhawk fans. If Big 12 play has taught us anything thus far, it’s that these last three weeks will be completely unpredictable.