Devonte' Graham's grand game clinches history for Kansas: 14 straight Big 12 titles
Graham was so good on Saturday vs. Texas Tech, he's got a case for Big 12 Player of the Year
On Feb. 12 -- check the calendar, this is less than two weeks ago -- Kansas was 8-4 in the Big 12 and trailing in the league race. The Jayhawks were coming off an 80-64 drubbing against Baylor and looking to some like the most uninspiring Kansas crew of the past decade.
Once again, there was aover whether KU would fail to finish atop the Big 12 standings. Veteran Big 12 historians surely knew better. Kansas reached mid-February in second place, marking the sixth time in 14 seasons that it was on the chase so late into the calendar. Winning the league late and from behind didn't stop Kansas in 2006 or in 2007. Same is true of 2009, 2011 and 2013.
And, now, 2018.
Kansas occasionally gives us drama but when it comes to Big 12 results at the start of March, the universe has a way of clicking into place.
The No. 8 Jayhawks won 74-72 at No. 6 Texas Tech on Saturday, clinching at least a share of the Big 12 regular season title for the 14th straight season. That is the longest streak of its kind in the history of Division I. Bill Self's 14 consecutive conference crowns eclipses UCLA's run (10 of which came under John Wooden) of 13 Pac-8 titles in the 1960s and 70s.
It would be hard to fathom that kind of consistency and dominance if we weren't conditioned to see this kind of intra-league domination in the first place. The outrageousness of Kansas' streak is perhaps dulled only by the fact that Kansas has built itself into the only automatic in college basketball. It's reached such a high number that nothing else Self pulls off will match this spell of supremacy.
And just because Kansas (23-6, 12-4) has achieved the unprecedented is not an indictment of the Big 12 as much as it is an illustration of KU's spiritual hold over what has evolved into the most well-rounded conference in college basketball.
Saturday didn't only extend the streak, it produced two more outrageous statistics. Kansas' win kept Self's run of never being swept by a Big 12 opponent going. Winning at Allen Fieldhouse is rare, so just know that if you pull it off, you're trading that upset for a home loss vs. the Jayhawks that same season. Texas Tech (22-7, 10-6) is having a fine campaign, but it will most likely have to take its second-place ending and rally off that into the Big 12 tournament.
The win was also Kansas' eighth straight on the road against a team ranked in the top 10. Sit on that for a while. You might come out thinking what I'm thinking: beating eight straight top 10 opponents on the road is almost as impressive as winning 14 straight league titles.
I've written and said this sentiment plenty of times before, and I'm sure you've seen it stated elsewhere, but it has to be repeated: Unless you are a fan of a Big 12 program, you should try to appreciate what Kansas has pulled off here because it's not going to happen again with any other program so long as you and I both shall live. Gripes with how Kansas gets the calls at home or how Self reloads on talent? Those are justifiable. But in the wide view, the year-over-year accomplishments of Jayhawks players is something to applaud.
After Saturday's win, KU's string of titles belongs to Devonte' Graham just as much as it belongs to Wayne Simien and Keith Langford, a pair of seniors on the 2004-05 Kansas team that started this streak.
Graham was stellar vs. Texas Tech. He had a game-high 26 points. From start to finish, considering opponent, venue and all that was up for grabs, Graham had one of the most impressive games of his career. From body-blow 3-pointers and a clutch forced turnover late, to this dazzling wait-how'd-you-that prayer that fell late in the second half.
Devonte' Graham can't be stopped. Look at the control and focus. pic.twitter.com/hqHPUIM4Za— Troy Machir (@TroyMachir) February 24, 2018
One of the reliable charms of college basketball every February and March is seeing seniors rise to the moment. Graham was a stud in Lubbock, Texas.
Graham's goodness has people buzzing about his credentials for Big 12 Player of the Year. Such league awards frequently go to the best player on the best team. Graham obviously applies. He's had an outstanding February and is playing himself into First Team All-America status. I'm eager to see if he gets even better in March.
There hasn't always been a go-to point guard who's solved Kansas' problems over the years. There have been some, but Kansas hasn't abided by one formula or been able to count on one specific factor to build the streak to 14. This team's four-guard attack is unlike anything Self had done before. But it's undeniable that without Graham, Kansas would not be atop the league and sitting on the 1-line heading into March.
The streak is one of the most impressive runs in all of sports history, but it's built by more than just Self. Graham going from Appalachian State recruit to Jayhawks legend is how you get to 14 in a row. That program has dozens of legends and a lot of factors why 2018 wasn't witness to the end of the streak. But the single biggest reason why this reign runs on this year is because of Graham. No matter what happens the rest of this season, he'll be credited with that by KU fans forever.
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