Not since the UCLA glory days has a school had quite the hammerlock on a power conference as Kansas has had on the Big 12.
When preseason polls were taken, the Jayhawks, as per usual, were picked to finish on top – for the 15th straight year.
And this dominance has come in a conference that routinely sends at least half of its membership to the NCAA Tournament. Last season, seven of the 10 Big 12 teams made the Big Dance.
Kansas entered this season, not just No. 1 in the Big 12, but top-ranked in the country.
Despite not losing in November, the Jayhawks were twice jumped for the No. 1 spot. Duke ascended to the top of the rankings in Week 2 after pummeling Kentucky by 34. When Duke fell to Gonzaga in Maui, the Zags leapfrogged the then-No. 2 Jayhawks for the top spot.
Kansas returned to No. 1 when Gonzaga was beaten by Tennessee on Dec. 9.
It hasn’t all been smooth sailing for the 11-1 Jayhawks.
Kansas beat Tennessee in overtime, but were also extended to extra time to get past unranked Stanford. They had narrow wins over New Mexico State and Villanova and then lost for the first time this season, at Arizona State on Dec. 22.
Kansas played those last three games, however, without 7-foot star Udoka Azubuike. He returned on Saturday to score 23 points and grab nine rebounds in an 87-63 win over Eastern Michigan.
The Jayhawks begin their quest for No. 15 on Wednesday against No. 23 Oklahoma.
They’ll face a typically stout Big 12 schedule.
The top six teams entering conference play have lost a total of eight games.
Kansas (No. 6) leads seven Big 12 teams in the Top 40 of KenPom.com’s efficiency ratings: Texas Tech is No. 10, and Iowa State is No. 18; TCU and Oklahoma are 23 and 24; Kansas State is 34th and Texas 36th.
Prior to the season, Kansas State, an Elite Eight team in March, was considered the Jayhawks’ chief rival. But the Wildcats have an ugly loss (47-46 to Tulsa) and struggled against the likes of Denver, Southern Mississippi and George Mason.
Oklahoma has wins against Florida and Creighton and boasts the nation’s No. 8 defense, according to KenPom.
Kansas’ chief rival, however, appears to be Texas Tech, the top defensive team in the country.
The Red Raiders (11-1), another Elite Eight team from last season, have been transformed under coach Chris Beard.
They are No. 2 in field goal percentage on defense, both inside and outside the 3-point arc, and just three opponents have managed to reach 60 points against them.
Still, they may not have the firepower to match up with Kansas.
Doesn’t seem wise to bet against more of the same in the Big 12 in 2019.
Texas Tech at West Virginia: Speaking of the Big 12, the Mountaineers have been one of the few disappointments thus far with four losses, including against Western Kentucky and Rhode Island. But West Virginia has lost just once at home – in overtime against Buffalo in the season opener – and figures to get points in this one. WEST VIRGINIA
Colorado State at UNLV: The Rams, losers of nine of their past 10 games, might be the worst team in the Mountain West Conference. And while the Rebels are hard to trust, they’ve had more than a week off since being embarrassed by Bucknell in Hawaii. UNLV
Saint Mary’s at San Francisco: This could be a passing-of-the-torch game for the 2019 version of the West Coast Conference. The Gaels start conference play with an uncharacteristic six losses, and they’re just 2-4 away from home. The Dons, who look ready to surpass Saint Mary’s as Gonzaga’s chief rival, are coming off a not-as-bad-as-it looks loss at UC Santa Barbara and are undefeated at home. USF
Stanford at UCLA: Each of the Cardinal’s five losses have come to teams ranked 44th or better in Ken Pomeroy’s rankings, while the Bruins’ disastrous December cost head coach Steve Alford his job. UCLA can’t lay too many points. STANFORD
Last week: 3-1