Kansas Is Suddenly Vulnerable at Home, and in the Big 12
What’s happening at Kansas? The Jayhawks lost to Texas Tech on Tuesday, 85-73. It’s unusual enough for Kansas to lose any game, but this defeat also came at home, the third such loss for the men’s basketball team this season.
Kansas has always been particularly dominant at home. Last season, it lost just one regular-season game at home, to Iowa State in overtime. The previous two seasons, it lost none at all.
Texas Tech is one of the many Big 12 teams to regularly report for a thrashing at Allen Fieldhouse. The Red Raiders had been 0-17 at Kansas before Tuesday.
Since Bill Self took over as coach in 2003-4, Kansas has regularly been at the top of the college basketball world. It has won or tied for 13 straight Big 12 regular-season titles. That streak could be in jeopardy this year.
Kansas now stands at 11-3, and 1-1 in the Big 12. That might not seem to be a terrible record, but consider that Kansas was expected to be great, as usual, this season. The team, which was the 2008 national champion, has made the round of 16 nine times in Self’s 14 years.
Kansas’ preseason Associated Press ranking was No. 4, but it is now No. 10, and should drop some more after this loss.
That its three losses came at home is particularly notable. In December, Kansas lost back-to-back games, first against Washington in Kansas City, Mo., then against Arizona State at the campus arena in Lawrence. Arizona State has developed into a very strong team, it turns out, but Washington is nothing special so far, currently rated around 100th by computer rankings.
Before the season, Self’s total of conference championships, 13, exceeded his total losses at Allen Fieldhouse, 10. The loss total at the fieldhouse is now 12, and there is a good chance it will grow.
Kansas is not a bad team; 11-3 against a good schedule is certainly creditable. It ranks in the top 10 in field-goal percentage and the top 20 in 3-point shooting.
But its long record of success has led to much higher expectations: home-court dominance, a Big 12 title every year, a deep N.C.A.A. run.
Kansas lost its two top scorers, Frank Mason and Josh Jackson. Both were drafted into the N.B.A., and Jackson went No. 4 over all. But elite programs in this era lose top players every year.
One glaring statistic is the team’s free-throw rate. It has taken only 180 shots from the line, 347th out of 351 Division I teams.
That’s a sign that Kansas may be relying too much on small players rather than big men who get inside and get fouled. And indeed, its top three scorers, and five of its top six, are all listed as guards.
That means the Jayhawks may have to live and die by the 3. Against Texas in their previous game, they were 17 for 35 and won by 6. On Tuesday, they were 6 for 26.
A freshman expected to help out in the frontcourt, Billy Preston, a top 20 recruit, has not played while the N.C.A.A. investigates him over the financing of his car. Preston was the team’s only top 100 recruit this season, according to ESPN’s rankings. The 6-foot-9 Silvio De Sousa, originally part of next year’s class, has enrolled early and is awaiting N.C.A.A. approval to play.
Devonte’ Graham is the team’s top player, and he has taken a step forward this year. But teams dependent on 6-2 seniors don’t tend to be national championship contenders.
Self has hope for the future. “I think we’re going to be really good by the end,” he told The Kansas City Star last week. “I don’t think we’ll be close to what we can be until February.”
But after Tuesday’s loss, he was more negative, questioning the team’s will to win: “Those are hungry athletes on the other side we didn’t match from an intensity standpoint. We got what we deserved. I hate to say this as a coach because I’m really disappointed in the way we competed.”
Besides the embarrassing home losses, the team has some good wins, including an early one against Kentucky. But a game Saturday at T.C.U., ranked 16th, could send the Jayhawks to 1-2 in the Big 12. West Virginia and Oklahoma are also having strong seasons and are ranked in the top 10. Kansas may not get its usual stroll to a Big 12 title.