The Kansas Jayhawks’ path to their 13th consecutive Big 12 crown has been paved.
Should they win the conference in 2017, the Jayhawks will tie the 1970s UCLA Bruins teams for the most consecutive regular-season conference titles in NCAA Division I basketball history. Last year, many doubts circled as to whether the ‘Hawks could handle #12, with teams such as Oklahoma and West Virginia nipping on their heels. After falling to Iowa State in Ames on January 25, the Jayhawks went on to win the rest of their conference games, finishing at 15-3, well ahead of the field. Back last August, Rock Chalk Blog co-owner Ryan Landreth predicted the 15-3 finish correctly, as well as calling losses at West Virginia and Iowa State.
The 2017 conference season seems far different than what was a daunting schedule from last year. With Oklahoma and West Virginia losing Buddy Hield and Devin Williams, as well as Georges Niang graduating from Iowa State and Rico Gathers and Taurean Prince moving on from Baylor, the conference alleviates for what you could call a “rebuilding” season for many of the Big 12 programs. But for Kansas, it pick right up where it ended in 2016, adding to an already-deep backcourt, and reimagining the frontcourt. With the losses of Perry Ellis (after 83 seasons), Jamari Traylor, and Hunter Mickelson, Kansas is forced to replenish the paint. No problem, though, because the additions of Mitch Lightfoot, Udoka Azubuike (7’0), and Dwight Coleby make the future appear bright. This isn’t even mentioning the returnees to the KU backcourt: Carlton Bragg and Landen Lucas.
Below, I have divided league play into four respective tiers. The tiers will include dates, game times, and also predictions.
Tier I: Getting the feet wet
- at TCU (Friday, December 30, 8pm *ESPN2)
- Kansas State (Tuesday, January 3, 8pm *ESPN2)
- Texas Tech (Saturday, January 7, 6:15pm *ESPN2)
- at Oklahoma (Tuesday, January 10, 8pm *ESPN2)
For the past couple of seasons, Kansas has played Baylor to open conference play. This time, the Jayhawks start with the Horned Frogs, and then it is a quick turnaround back to Allen Fieldhouse to face the Wildcats in the Sunflower Showdown. Personally, I was surprised to see Kansas schedule K-State that early, as in previous seasons, the games against the Wildcats have come later in the schedule. The Jayhawks will have one of the easiest conference starts in years, and I believe that after three easy wins against subpar opponents, Kansas will handle Oklahoma in what should be an easier contest than either of the terrific 2016 matchups.
Way-too-early prediction: win at TCU (1-0), win vs. Kansas State (2-0), win vs. Texas Tech (3-0), and win at Oklahoma (4-0).
Tier II: A trip down/to memory lane
- Oklahoma State (Saturday, January 14, 1pm *ESPN2)
- at Iowa State (Monday, January 16, 8pm *ESPN)
- Texas (Saturday, January 21, 1pm CBS)
- at West Virginia (Tuesday, January 24, 6pm *ESPN2)
Remember when Oklahoma State came into Allen Fieldhouse back in early 2013, and the Marcus Smart-led Cowboys ended the Jayhawks’ 33-game home winning streak? Don’t expect the same result here, because I think that the Jayhawks will rope the Cowboys this time around. Although, I am fairly pessimistic about a win in the following game at the dreadful Hilton Coliseum. They don’t call it “Hilton Magic for nothing! After facing Iowa State on the road, the Jayhawks return to their own magical building to face Texas. There should be no problems here, but Kansas should see a quick test in Morgantown. However, for the first time since 2013, WVU Coliseum won’t be blaring any “Mountain Mama” this go-round.
Way-too-early prediction: win vs. Oklahoma State (5-0), loss at Iowa State (5-1), win vs. Texas (6-1), and win at West Virginia (7-1).
Tier III: Foes & Keeping an eye on Texas
- Baylor (Wednesday, February 1, 8pm *ESPN2)
- Iowa State (Saturday, February 4, TBD *ESPN2)
- at Kansas State (Monday, February 6, 8pm ESPN)
- at Texas Tech (Saturday, February 11, 1pm *ESPN2)
- West Virginia (Monday, February 13, 8pm ESPN)
After the Jayhawks make the long trip to Morgantown, they return to Lawrence to face the Baylor Bears. Scott Drew’s squad projects to be an upper-level Big 12 team once again, but expect Kansas to pick up the win here. Kansas hosts Iowa State just three games apart from their first meeting, but I expect that they Jayhawks deliver on their home floor this time around. Furthermore, the Jayhawks make trips to Kansas State and Texas Tech, two games that I think Kansas should handle with ease. Then, Kansas hosts West Virginia at home, one of four games that Kansas appears on ESPN’s “Big Monday” this conference season.
Way-too-early prediction: win vs. Baylor (8-1), win vs. Iowa State (9-1), win at Kansas State (10-1), win at Texas Tech (11-1), and win vs. West Virginia (12-1).
Tier IV: The homestretch to #13
- at Baylor (Saturday, February 18, Noon, CBS)
- vs TCU (Wednesday, February 22, 6pm, *ESPN2)
- at Texas (Saturday, February 25, TBD, *ESPN/2)
- vs Oklahoma (Monday, February 27, 8pm, ESPN)
- at Oklahoma State (Saturday, March 4, 5pm, ESPN)
Kansas closes out its 2017 conference slate with five games spanning just three states. The Jayhawks begin with a trek to Waco, where they have had few issues in the past. After Baylor, Kansas plays Chaminade-excuse me-I mean TCU at home. Kansas faces Texas on the final Saturday of February in Austin; I think that Shaka Smart’s team will squeak past the Jayhawks. Following the game in the Frank Erwin Center, Kansas concludes with the two Oklahoma schools, at home against the Sooners, and then on the road in Stillwater. Much like they will against West Virginia, for the first time in four years, the Jayhawks will buck a road losing trend against the Cowboys.
Way-too-early prediction: win at Baylor (13-1), win vs. TCU (14-1), loss at Texas (14-2), win vs. Oklahoma (15-2), and win at Oklahoma State (16-2).