Kansas has proven it is once again King of the Big 12 after a dominant performance in the Big 12 Tournament in Kansas City.
The Jayhawks may have shared the regular season title with Kansas State but taking care of the Wildcats fairly easily three times this season shows who is once again the Big 12's best without question.
"I don't really feel like we had to prove something," said senior point guard Elijah Johnson. "I felt it was more so for us. They tied out with us, the same record. So I felt like this game had to be played."
"I think how the season played out this year, I think it means a lot to us and our fans. They have a lot of bragging rights now that this game is over," said senior Travis Releford.
Turns out that maybe K-State provided the extra motivation in a game that really required no extra juice. KSU head coach Bruce Weber mentioned the officiating in the Iowa State game keeping the Wildcats from a regular season title. Probably not so smart to say that.
"I was really glad personally we got a chance to play K-State, because even though we tied - we left little doubt leaving out of here beating them three times that we were pretty good, and we stubbed our toe a couple times we shouldn't have. But they had a great season. But I don't know if it was motivation for our guys, but our guys certainly knew about it," Self said.
For the third time in the last four seasons, KU took at least a share of the regular season and the conference title into the NCAA Tournament. As a result, the Jayhawks look to be headed for a one seed once again, and appear to be on solid footing heading into the tournament that matters most in college basketball.
Before we move forward and talk about what's ahead, take a moment to digest this stat. In the last 9 years Kansas has had 18 chances to be a Big 12 Champion - that's regular season and/or tournament champion - KU has won 15 of them. That is staggering in a major BCS conference. Just incredible.
Bill Self will never get the attention he deserves for numbers that haven't been seen in a major conference like that since the Wooden era. But we will continue to talk about it because in a day and age where you're replacing talent every year at such a rapid rate the Jayhawks have never really had a drop off. Let me say it again - Kansas has won 9 straight league titles.
This Kansas team has had an interesting year on its way to that 9th title. The Jayhawks looking like world beaters throughout December, they hit an uncharacteristic 3-game slide in February, dropped a head scratcher in the regular season finale to Baylor, but now they are apparently clicking once again after winning a Big 12 tournament title.
Kansas isn't really much different than most teams this season. I've learned one thing about this season in college hoops. It isn't conventional. We could have a one seed that has lost 3 of their last 6 and another with a loss from a team below 200 in the RPI. This season it's all about remaining in the present.
Right now, the present for Kansas is looking good.
After putting up little resistance in that regular season finale loss to Baylor, The Jayhawks appear to have regained an emphasis on the defensive end. In three games in Kansas City on their way to a title KU gave up a shade over 63 points a game. KU also dominated the glass 98-73 over the three games. Both are good signs because when you're not playing well in the NCAA tourney those are the stats that could pull you through and must remain constant.
"I thought we played really well and efficiently all three days over here," said Self. "I think we guarded pretty well. We rebounded the ball well, and today was probably the poorest we played offensively the first half, and then we look up and we're still up 8 because we defended and rebounded.
Another huge part of KU's defensive prowess comes from Releford. Watching him contain and control some of the league's best players time after time this year should bode well for the postseason because Kansas has one of the nation's most formidable stoppers.
"I think when Travis is really tuned in, I think he's as good a perimeter player as there is in the country. I do," Self said after watching him lock up Rodney McGruder for a third time this season. "I think he can guard a 1, 2, 3. A lot of times a 4. And I think he can guard the ball. He can guard the drive. But what he is, he's really smart and he understands angles. And he did a great job playing angles today."
The anchor of that defense, Jeff Withey remains one of the nation's best shot blockers and don't ever dismiss the importance of that in the NCAA Tournament. Remember how critical Withey was last season during a terrific March run. The Most Outstanding Player in Kansas City will be key.
Bottom line is that Kansas has some things going for it when things aren't going well to help combat an "off day" during the NCAA Tournament.
"I don't know of anybody that's played their best for six games. It's hard to do," Self said. "And certainly when we won it in'08, we didn't play our best for six games. The key to the tournament is going to be winning games when you don't play your best. And that's going to be more difficult this year because obviously the margin, the talent margin, has been reduced significantly compared to years past, especially with the elite teams."
Kansas has plenty of reminders from this season about what happens if there's a lack of energy or a lack of defense.
But for now there's a renewed passion for March for every Jayhawk fan this morning. Forget about the past. The present is KU is champion again. Its stars are playing well, it is getting key contributions from the bench from Naadir Tharpe and Perry Ellis, and key elements appear to be clicking. It's a good day to wake up a Jayhawk fan.