Jayhawks Insider: Five things to watch in Big 12 play
LAWRENCE, Kan. – As the Jayhawks embark on the quest for their 15th-consecutive Big 12 regular-season championship, here are a few things to keep an eye on in the 18-game, two-month journey through what is primed to be a daunting league schedule:
KANSAS APPROACHING 1,100 LEAGUE VICTORIES
As impressive as the Jayhawks’ streak of 15-straight league titles is, a figure that should also raise some eyebrows is 1,100, the number KU will try to hit over the next two months. Kansas has won 1,089 league contests since 1907-08, the season the program began conference play. As a member of the Missouri Valley, Big Six, Big Seven, Big Eight and now the Big 12 conferences, the Jayhawks have amassed an all-time record of 1,089-364 and need just 11 victories to hit the 1,100-victory plateau. Those 1,089 wins have contributed to an NCAA DI record of 61 regular-season conference titles for the Crimson & Blue, including 18 titles in the 22 years as a member of the Big 12.
CAN LAWSON CONTINUE TO MEET PRESEASON PLAYER OF THE YEAR EXPECTATIONS?
The preseason Big 12 player of the year status of Dedric Lawson hasn’t been a fluke as the Jayhawk forward enters league play as the conference’s leading rebounder (10.8 rpg) and second-ranked scorer (19.6 ppg). Lawson has also tallied eight double-doubles in his 12 nonconference outings, putting him on watch to move up the Big 12’s single-season record books. The conference’s double-double record is 13, held by Michael Beasley (2008), Blake Griffin (2009) and KU great Thomas Robinson (2012). If he continues to put up the same numbers we’ve seen in the first half of the season, it will be hard for the league’s coaches to vote for anyone other than Kansas’ double-double machine.
There have been a lot of Lawson highlights so far this season, but this dunk in OT vs. Tennessee ranks up there:
JAYHAWKS LOOKING TO CONTINUE HOME DOMINANCE IN THE BIG 12
Perhaps one of the key factors to KU’s 14-year run of conference titles has been the its dominances against league foes on its home floor. Kansas is an incredible 116-8 in Big 12 home games since Bill Self took over 16 seasons ago, that’s good for a 93.5 winning percentage on James Naismith Court. KU has won seven or more home games in league play in each of those first 15 years under Self, including a mind-boggling eight seasons, in which it hasn’t lost a league game at home.
If the Jayhawks want to add Big 12 title No. 19 to the trophy case, Allen Fieldhouse will once again need to carry the outstanding home-court advantage it has boasted for decades.
WILL THE KU DEFENSE CONTINUE TO IMPROVE?
The Jayhawk defense has had its ups and downs this year, but over the last few weeks Kansas has shown signs that it can become the defensive squad fans have grown used to during Bill Self’s tenure. KU started the year allowing 87 points from Michigan State, including 12 Spartan 3-pointers on 52 percent shooting from beyond the arc. After the first six games of the 2018-19 campaign, KU was allowing its opponents to shoot nearly 43 percent from the field, a figure that ranked 159th in the nation and last among its Big 12 brethren. But in their six outings since, the Jayhawks have buckled down on the defensive end, holding those six opponents to 36 percent shooting and an impressive 25 percent clip from beyond the 3-point arc. KU’s havoc has also forced those opponents into an average of nearly 15 turnovers per game with the help of over seven steals per outing. Udoka Azubuike’s return from an ankle injury that held him out for much of December will also help the Jayhawks’ defensive efforts. His 7-0 foot, 260-pound stature in the lane and his two blocks per game give KU a valuable rim-protecting presence.
It’s evident that the KU defense will need to continue this upward trend as it enters league play. While over half the league’s schools are shooting better than 45 percent from the field this season, it’s the opposing defenses that the Jayhawks will need to keep up with. The conference features seven squads ranked among the top-70 in the NCAA in scoring defense, including a trio of teams ranked in top-15.
Azubuike’s defensive presence was on display early in his return to the court on Dec. 29
DON’T BE FOOLED, THIS YEAR’S BIG 12 SLATE WILL BE BRUTAL
While the Big 12 Conference may not have received the national hype it has been used to in recent years, this season’s league schedule will be a grind. The conference enters 2019 with six of its squads sitting inside the top-35 of the NCAA’s NET rankings and all but one team in the top-100. The Big 12’s non-conference win percentage (.783) leads the nation and its 26 losses are the fewest among the NCAA DI conferences.
It also appears that any victory on the road will not come easy. The league features eight teams that have suffered one or fewer losses on their home court this season.
Bill Self on the strength of the Big 12:
“I got a kick out it with some of the so-called pundits saying this is going to be a ‘down’ year for the Big 12. We actually had a bad first week or so as a league as a whole. Since then, I read an article and it’s the number-one rated conference again … I read something the other day that we are 20-10 against the other Power 6 leagues because we included the BIG EAST. (A) 20-10 (record), that’s terrific. That bodes well. First of all, that means everybody scheduled a good schedule and secondly, we’ve taken advantage of opportunities.”
Kansas opens Big 12 play by hosting Oklahoma on Wednesday, Jan. 2, at 8 p.m. (Central). The game will be televised on ESPN2. Kansas is 147-67 all-time against Oklahoma, including a 75-16 record in Lawrence (48-7 in Allen Fieldhouse). KU has won the last 17 clashes with OU in Allen Fieldhouse dating back to Jan. 10, 1994. Kansas has been 1-0 in conference play for each of the last 27 seasons, a streak which started in 1991-92.
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