RCW: Men's basketball midseason review
“War and Peace” is widely known for being one of the longest novels ever written. With what Kansas men’s basketball has already accomplished in 2016-17, “War and Peace” has a contender.
Setting the scene, Kansas was coming off an NCAA Tournament Elite Eight season in which the Jayhawks won their unprecedented 12th-straight Big 12 regular-season title. The tradition-rich program was a preseason favorite to win the league title once again and entered the year ranked No. 3 by Associated Press and No. 2 in the USA Today Coaches’ poll.
Kansas opened the year traveling approximately 14,000 miles in participating in the Armed Forces Classic in Honolulu and the Champions Classic in New York City. The Jayhawks lost an overtime thriller to then-No. 11/12 Indiana on Nov. 11 in Hawaii but their win over then-No. 1 Duke in New York on Nov. 15 started an 18-game winning streak which tied for the second-longest in the 14 seasons under Bill Self.
In the Indiana contest, senior Frank Mason III started his storyline as he scored his first of two 30-point games this season, a feat for which he would later earn his first of two Big 12 Player of the Week honors in 2016-17.
Mason made the game-winning jumper in the win versus Duke and would be named the NCAA.com National Player of the Week. He has continued his prowess and has been on numerous national player of the year watch lists midway through the season.
Following its journey across the United States to start the season, Kansas returned to Lawrence and played in its first regular-season game in Allen Fieldhouse, an 86-65 win against Siena on Nov. 18. With the victory, Self became the winningest coach in Allen Fieldhouse, making history in passing Ted Owens, who had 206 wins from 1964-83. Self’s current mark in the historic venue stands at 216-9.
KU then turned its attention to Kansas City for what could be up to eight games played in Sprint Center this season. The Jayhawks won the CBE Hall of Fame Classic defeating UAB (83-63) and Georgia (65-54) in claiming their second CBE title. Freshman sensation Josh Jackson joined Mason and Self in a feature character role as he was named the CBE Hall of Fame Classic Most Valuable Player and was joined on the all-tournament team by Mason and junior guard Devonte’ Graham.
Still in the midst of the nonconference portion of the season, Self became the ninth-fastest coach in NCAA Division I history to reach 600 career wins with KU’s 105-62 victory against UMKC on Dec. 6. Just over two weeks later, Self became a first-time nominee for the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame.
Kansas closed out December with a 6-0 record after an 86-80 win at TCU in the Big 12 opener. The win marked a mind-boggling 26th-straight league-opening victory for the Jayhawks, a streak which began in 1991-92 when KU was a member of the Big Eight Conference.
Senior center Landen Lucas joined the plot of the season’s story as he recorded 15 points and 17 rebounds in the TCU win, later earning Big 12 Player of the Week honors. Lucas became the third Jayhawk to receive the accolade this season, joining Mason and Jackson. Having earned both player and newcomer honors from the Big 12, Jackson joined Ben McLemore in 2012-13 and Mario Chalmers in 2005-06 as the only other KU players to earn both accolades from the league in the same season. Jackson’s five Big 12 Newcomer of the week honors is a new KU record.
With its 81-70 win at Oklahoma on Jan. 10, Self became the third coach in KU history to win 400 games while on the sidelines at KU. Self joined coaching legends Dr. F.C. “Phog” Allen (580) and Roy Williams (418). To date, Self has amassed 404 wins as the Jayhawks’ mentor.
On Jan. 7, Kansas became only the second school in NCAA Division I history to record 2,200 all-time victories with its 85-68 win against Texas Tech. KU currently has 2,205 all-time wins, trailing Kentucky’s 2,222.
Kansas was the last Big 12 team to have an undefeated league record, going 7-0 which tied for its sixth-best start in 21-year history of the league. In that span, Kansas jumped to No. 1 nationally in the USA Today Coaches poll on Jan. 16. It marked the second-straight season Kansas has been ranked No. 1. KU has been in the top-10 in both the Associated Press and coaches’ polls in 2016-17, including in the top five in 11 of 12 AP polls and in 10 of 12 coaches’ polls.
In storybook fashion, KU closed out the nonconference season with a come-from-behind 79-73 victory at then-No. 4/4 Kentucky on Jan. 30 in the SEC/Big 12 Challenge. The contest pitted the two most-winning programs in NCAA Division I against one another in Lexington. The Jayhawks went 12-1 in nonconference play for the year.
Kansas entered the season with the nation’s longest home court winning streak at 43 games and the Jayhawks have kept it going, currently at 53, which includes 50 inside Allen Fieldhouse. Additionally, Kansas has sold out of each of the last 253 games in Allen Fieldhouse dating back to the second game of the 2001-02 season.
As previously mentioned, Mason is a national player of the year candidate as he has appeared on the Wooden Award Midseason watch list, the Oscar Robertson watch list and is one of 10 finalists for the Bob Cousy Point Guard of the Year Award. Also one of 30 candidates for the Senior CLASS Award, Mason has climbed the Kansas career lists as he is 18th on the scoring list with 1,549 points, 13th in 3-pointers made at 151, 11th in assists at 497 and 20th in steals at 146.
Jackson is also on the Wooden watch list and one of 12 candidates for the Wayman Tisdale Award honoring the top freshman nationally.
Just under halfway through the Big 12 race, Kansas is tied for the league lead with Baylor at 7-1 with the Bears coming to Allen Fieldhouse Wednesday night. Having won the last 12 Big 12 regular-season titles, KU is vying to tie UCLA’s NCAA record 13-straight conference titles, a feat the Bruins accomplished under two coaches form 1967-79.
Kansas has already met many milestones during 2016-17 and this season’s novel is still being written.