How critical is the Big 12 regular season championship for the Jayhawks?
With Saturday’s loss in Waco, Kansas dropped into second place in the conference, causing many KU fans to grow more concerned about the Jayhawks’ Big 12 championship streak. While surpassing John Wooden’s consecutive conference title streak with the UCLA Bruins would be a significant accomplishment, would the potential end of the Big 12 reign impact KU’s chances in March?
In examining all of the national champions since the Jayhawks last took home the title in 2008, only three failed to win their conference. The UConn Huskies did not win their conference (the Big East/the American Athletic Conference) in either of their title runs in 2011 and 2014. The only other school in the last nine seasons to cut down the nets without a conference title was the Duke Blue Devils in 2015. Otherwise, 67 percent of programs won their conference regular season title before going on to win the big dance.
One might think teams build valuable momentum by winning their conference tournaments. In reality, only 33 percent of national champions since 2009 celebrated a conference tournament championship. With six games left in the season, every contest becomes critical.
With all five Kansas starters posting double figures in Tuesday’s win over the Cyclones and Texas Tech’s Keenan Evans leading the charge to beat Sooners, KU is still a game behind the Red Raiders. Kansas will eventually need to win on the road against a seventh-ranked Red Raiders team that never trailed in Allen Fieldhouse and out-rebounded the Jayhawks 44-29 in January. But first, Devonte’ Graham will need to complete the season sweep of West Virginia for the first time in his career.
Winning the record-breaking 14th Big 12 championship may be important for history books, but if the past serves as any indicator, it is also a strong prerequisite for late March success.