If this sounds cliché, it is. But it's true nonetheless: The path to the Big 12 title once again runs through Lawrence, Kansas. Lather, rinse, repeat.
Facing a 6-point deficit at the half, Kansas outdueled the No. 2 Baylor Bears 73-68, storming back in the final 20 minutes while controlling the pace after struggling against the mighty Baylor zone defense early. With Kansas' victory over the Bears, the Jayhawks have now won 51 straight home games and assume sole possession of first place in the Big 12 -- a spot the Jayhawks have grown accustomed to over the past 12 years.
Three takeaways from the Jayhawks statement win over Baylor.
1. We learned more about Baylor than Kansas: Fifty-one straight home wins under Bill Self. Twelve straight Big 12 titles. Only nine losses total at Allen Fieldhouse in Self's regime. Even as the No. 2 team in the country, Baylor was fighting an uphill battle against not only the third-ranked team in the country -- but against history. And it was a battle. The Bears' zone defense left Kansas searching for answers in the first half, as it forced the Jayhawks into 37 percent shooting (10 of 27) and nine uncharacteristic first-half turnovers.
Baylor coach Scott Drew, a terrific coach in his own right, is now the centerpiece of a strangely true statistic. Drew is 0-10 at Allen Fieldhouse. He has had more losses on the KU home floor than Self (217-9) in his Kansas coaching career.
Despite the loss, Baylor hung tight and even had a chance to tie it up with under 10 seconds left, within 3 before the Bears turned the ball over and didn't get a chance to heave a potential game-tying shot. Did anyone expect Baylor to come in and steal it? Maybe. Should it have won? Hey, the Bears certainly had a shot. But keeping it as close and competitive as they did is an encouraging sign. If there were ever any doubters about this team, they should know this team is for real. It just so happens that Kansas is too.
2. Josh Jackson is emerging as KU's best player: Former five-star blue-chip recruit Josh Jackson had high expectations thrust on him as a freshman. And up to this point, he has been really, really good, but maybe not the great wing KU expected him to become.
Until this recent stretch, that is.
In Kansas' pivotal run in the past week against No. 18 West Virginia, No. 4 Kentucky and No. 2 Baylor, he has been one of the team's most reliable offensive players. He plays above the rim and has the ability to clean up the offensive glass better than most wings his size. When he has the ball in his hands, just move out of the way.
We already knew what he could do off the bounce. This isn't a new development. What is new, however, is his scoring from outside. Against three ranked teams in the past three games, Jackson has developed into a serious threat from the 3-point arc, hitting 8 of his 13 (61.5 percent) during that stretch. Additionally, he has averaged 21.6 points during that span. He finished with a team-high 23 points and 10 rebounds Wednesday.
Kansas already knows what it has with national Player of the Year candidate Frank Mason, as well as Devonte' Graham and Landen Lucas from a scoring perspective. If it can continue to get quality offensive production like it has from Jackson of late, it could be a huge development as March approaches. Especially if he can continue his surge from behind the 3-point line.
3. The Big 12 is still up for grabs: The math checks out. Baylor, despite falling to 7-2 in Big 12 play, is not eliminated from winning the conference. So let's not jump to definitive conclusions about another Kansas title yet. There are nine conference games left for both teams -- including a rematch in Waco on Feb. 18.
While it's difficult to foresee any team other than Kansas winning it because, well, it's Kansas -- it is still entirely possible Baylor could be the team that knocks the Jayhawks off their podium. In fact, KenPom projects Baylor to be favored in each of its games the rest of the regular season.
For a majority of the game, Baylor used its long, athletic front court to disrupt Kansas in its zone defense. As the top-rated defensive team in the Big 12, the Bears used their length to stifle Frank Mason, the team's leading scorer. He finished with 19 points on 3-of-12 shooting.
Right now the Big 12 is Kansas' to lose. It's a situation Self is familiar with. However, with the Bears looking like a team as well put together as any to make a legitimate run for the crown, the regular-season title race could come down as one of the tightest in recent years. Baylor has the firepower and defensive weapons to potentially get it done, too.