Now itâs only one game away from being official. With one more win, the Big 12 will go to Kansas yet again.
The No. 3 Jayhawks somehow escaped in Waco on Saturday afternoon with a 67-65 win against No. 4 Baylor. It might well go down as the best game of the weekend. And amazingly, for the 10th straight time, the Jayhawks defeat the Bears. KU is 24-3 overall and in the driverâs seat for a No. 1 seed. With a 12-2 record in the Big 12 and a three-game lead in the standings with four games remaining, Kansas is all but assured of finishing atop the conference for the 13th straight season.
Unthinkable. Iâve got more context on that below.
Kansas won after Devonteâ Graham missed a long 2-pointer, but ever-improving big man Landen Lucas got the offensive board and was fouled with 11.5 seconds remaining. He sank both foul shouts.
Baylorâs chance to get the game to overtime failed when a broken-down play at the end of regulation was capped with a bad shot by Manu Lecomte. Hereâs how it wilted for Baylor in the closing seconds. A tough loss, because the Bears played well enough to win. No doubt about that.
Six Things to Know
1. Nobodyâs better in close games more frequently than Kansas
Before the game got to the end, Kansas and Baylor traded sweeps and surges. It was strike after counterstrike, and I have to admit I thought Baylor would eke out the win. Then Kansas went on an 8-0 run to close out the game. This after KU managed a 14-0 run earlier this week to come back on West Virginia and pull out that bonkers victory.
So hereâs the most simple way to put it: Kansas has been in two consecutive games against top-10 teams, trailed by significant margins into the closing two minutes, and still wound up winning both.
Thatâs how you win a league title. Thatâs how you assure yourself of a No. 1 seed. Thatâs how you build a mindset and confidence toward winning a national title.
This season, Kansas has won eight of its 10 games decided by five points or less, and the two losses came in overtime. In its last six games, Kansas has a 5-1 record, the games were decided by an average of 3.0 points, and every opponent was ranked in the top 40 at KenPom.com. That is how you slam the door on another league title.
2. Baylorâs turnover problem will prevent the Bears from reaching the Final Four
The Bears have been hurt in the backcourt this year with inconsistency. If anything, BUâs 22-5 record has come in spite of unreliable composure. Baylorâs now hovering around 300th in turnover percentage; the Bears gave away the ball 16 times vs. Kansas. On your home floor against a top five-level team, 16 turnovers isnât going to do it unless youâre forcing a) forcing more than 20 turnovers b) grabbing at least 40 percent of your offensive-rebound opportunities or c) are hitting more than 10 3-pointers. Baylor did none of those things. Manu Lecomte is running the offense for Scott Drew, but this story ends in the NCAA Tournament -- first round, second round or Sweet 16 -- if the team canât stop coughing it up. Now, Lecomte only had one TO, but future NBA pick Johnathan Motley had six giveaways.
If Baylor canât fix this -- and Iâm not sure if it can -- then the Final Four is off the table entirely.
3. Landen Lucas called his shots
How about this. So Kansas completes that comeback over West Virginia on Monday night. But Lucas shoots 2 for 7 from the line in that game. In fact, Lucas hasnât made more than 50 percent of his foul shots in games where heâs taken at least four of them since -- get this -- Jan. 14. But he made a promise to Kansas fans. And with the game on the line, he hit both his free throws to top Baylor.
He tweeted this after the WVU game.
Don't worry y'all i'm about to get in the gym and shoot some free throws lol 😅 Big time win though. Thanks for sticking with us!!!!— Landen A. Lucas (@LandenLucas33) February 14, 2017
4. Devonteâ Graham was awful but it didnât matter
Graham is Kansasâ third-best player, yet on the road he had one of his worst games of the season. The junior generator was just 1 of 12 from the field, though he did contribute seven rebounds and four assists. Point is, for Kansas to pull off a road upset when Graham was so bad, it only reinforces the notion that Kansas has as good a chance as any team to win the national title this season. Itâs not a deep team, but even when a critical member of the starting five is so bad, KU still finds ways to win.
Also, Kansas was just 5 for 20 from 3-point range, eight of those misses coming from Graham. That stat mattered until it didnât.
5. Bill Self has already surpassed John Wooden in this respect
While UCLA did win 13 straight Pac-8 titles, from 1967-1979, the fact is that John Wooden was not on UCLAâs sideline from 1976-79. Woodenâs successor, Gene Bartow, coached two of those teams. Gary Cunningham coached the final two. So as a program, Kansas is set to match UCLAâs record. As a coach, Self stands alone. There has never been a coach in a major conference to finish atop his leagueâs regular season standings 13 straight years -- but that will change with Kansasâ next win.
6. Frank Mason drops the mic
Within six minutes of the game ending, Mason sent out the tweet below. Another ring coming for him and his veteran teammates. Mason had 23 points and eight assists to keep his candidacy alive and at the top of the list for National Player of the Year.
Secure the ring alert— Frank Mason (@FrankMason0) February 18, 2017