Texas Tech, an overlooked team nevertheless ranked 18th in the country and sporting a 12-1 record, marched into Allen Fieldhouse on Tuesday night and picked up one of the biggest wins in program history.
The Red Raiders' 85-73 upset of No. 10 Kansas makes for a quake of a result in the Big 12 and few teams will wind up with a more valuable win than the Red Raiders' one here. The outcome could also wind up as the point where Kansas' path veered into unfamiliar territory. Kansas was outworked and often blitzed by a Tech team that made a national statement regarding its potential to win the Big 12 and get back to the NCAA Tournament for just the second time in 11 seasons.
The Red Raiders are coached by 44-year-old Chris Beard, a portrait of old-school grinder -- but also a rising star in the industry. He prepared his veteran team to have its way with Kansas by beating the undersized Jayhawks on the boards, in transition and with opportunistic ball movement. This was TTU's first win in school history at Allen Fieldhouse. The loss was Kansas' second at home this season -- Bill Self's team having been bested Dec. 10 by Arizona State. This season marks the first time since 2006-07 that Kansas lost two games at home in the same season.
Kansas was desperate from 3, shooting 6 for 26. Texas Tech then clipped the Jayhawks' wings by nabbing 26 points off turnovers. When transition points weren't coming in, the Red Raiders got a cushion thanks to 21-for-25 foul shooting. Rarely can a team walk into the Phog and play with such confidence and consistency for 40 minutes. Beard's guys did it and put the rest of the Big 12 on notice.
Kansas fans, plenty I'm sure, are freaking out. It's a birthright in Lawrence to support the best team and proudest program in the conference. Uncertainty must be a strange feeling for them. It's a strange sensation, this idea that Kansas won't be a sure thing for a top-three seed in the NCAA Tournament. (That's happened 12 straight seasons.) Now, at 1-1 in league play, KU is suddenly in danger of having its regular-season championship streak snapped. The horror.
But a little scare could be what Self needs to straighten his situation out.
The Jayhawks (11-3) lack interior depth, a playmaking point guard and an alpha dog-type who can take over games late. Devonte' Graham is a fine college player but he is no substitute for what Frank Mason brought to KU last season and in years prior. Self is considered by most within the coaching fraternity to be a top-five coach in terms of his scouting, strategy and in-game adjustments. If this team truly has the talent, he should bring it out of them and Kansas should be atop the standings toward the end of the year.
Kansas has way more questions at this point in the season than it normally does, or ever should have. But allow me to remind you that Tuesday night's loss was Self's 12th one at Allen Fieldhouse. He still has more regular-season titles (13) with KU than home defeats. And it's the stat you should keep in mind before assuming Kansas is going to drift into the bottom of the polls and get caught behind Texas Tech, West Virginia, TCU or Oklahoma in the Big 12. Statistically speaking, there is nothing as automatic in college basketball as Kansas finding a way to finish atop the Big 12 standings come the first week of March.
It's only 1-1, but Kansas is three back in the loss column.
There are factors working in Kansas' favor already. The Big 12 has seen eight of its first nine league games end with the road team winning. Bet against the streak at your own peril.
Especially if reinforcement arrive to their fullest capacity. Kansas is expecting Silvio De Sousa, a former four-star power forward, to work his way into the rotation soon. He recently was declared eligible. Still not eligible: Freshman Billy Preston, whose inconvenient financial situation regarding a car has kept him out of every game so far this season. De Sousa will make Kansas better. Preston, if he ever suits up, could be the clinching frontcourt piece to solidify Kansas as the best in the Big 12.
Kansas is not that team right now, but let's not get too far ahead of ourselves with the "this is the year the streak ends" talk. It might be, but Self is in the Hall of Fame for a reason. Kansas almost never loses at home for a reason. Tuesday night was more about Texas Tech's ceiling than Kansas' floor. Credit to Beard for getting a career highlight.
Self's team has to decide whether it's going to become the group that allowed the streak to end. The Big 12 is the best conference in college basketball. What Tuesday night proved, beyond all else, is that if Kansas' streak is to keep going, this will be the toughest season for the run to keep its course.