As KU Improves, the Bandwagon Fills Up- Again

I was on the phone with a diehard KU fan Saturday night, performing an autopsy on how Kansas managed to debunk Hilton's Magic earlier that day.  He talked in glowing terms about the vast improvement we've seen in the Jayhawks recently.  He summed it all up with, "What a difference two weeks makes!"

Truer words have never been spoken.

Two weeks ago, KU had just gotten done puking on their own shoes, blowing double-digit leads at the worst possible times: while playing Kansas State at home and Missouri at The Paige.  Suddenly, our two archrivals were hot programs on the rise while the Jayhawks had a snowball’s chance of making the NCAA tournament.  Internet idiots and radio sports talk honks said Bill Self’s job was in danger and the season was all but lost.  All we needed was a plague of locusts.

I spent the next five days talking my fellow fans, both bandwagon and hardcore alike, in off ledges as they cried out, “No, this team is not alright!” when I’d calmly say they were.

What a difference two weeks makes.

Since that gut-wrencher against Mizzou, KU has won on the road, 83-73, against an improving Texas A&M squad and pummeled perennial Field House punching bag Nebraska, 96-54. 

Then they won yet again on the road, 95-85, at Iowa State in a game in which Kansas never trailed.  The Jayhawks are now +2 when comparing road wins to home losses.  The only other Big 12 team that can say that is conference-favorite Texas.

To cap it off, The General would have loved to have surrendered about eight minutes into the second half Monday night’s 34-point loss in what seems to have become another KU tradition in The Phog: Bob Knight’s semi-annual KU beatdown.  The win puts KU in a tie for second place in the conference.

A Kansas win against Oklahoma next Sunday will almost surely find the Jayhawks back in the top 25 for the first time this season.

Meanwhile, back at the ranch, let’s look at those two hot programs on the rise.

Since being handed a win by Kansas, Missouri has lost three times by a total of 52 points.

Sure, Kansas State is 2-1 since they ended KU’s 31-game win streak against the Cats, but keep in mind that one of the wins was a win against Missouri.  All I have to say about that is, well, someone had to win.

The Wildcats then lost to Colorado in the Buffs’ gym – a place where KU won by 12 in their conference opener.

Suddenly, the same fans and bracketologists who had KU penned into the Nobody's Interested Tournament are now saying that, barring a collapse, KU is likely in the big dance.

My point – and I do have one – is that none of the adversity (translate: losses) should have been unexpected.  But in today’s win-at-all-costs, multi-billion atmosphere of college athletics, even those more reasonable fans who said last September they would've been satisfied with a 14-6 record at this point were ready to assemble a search committee for a new coach mid-January.

But now, those fans – and the unreasonable ones, too – are back on the bus.  The team has shown tremendous improvement over the last two weeks, mainly due to the maturation of the backcourt trio composed of Mario Chalmers, Russell Robinson and Brandon Rush.  Also significant is Darnell Jackson’s growing inside presence with each passing game and Sasha Kaun’s continued improvement, albeit slow but sure.  And role players who were seeing major minutes to start the season are now back to being role players.

Looking ahead, KU’s schedule appears favorable.  Expect at least a split in road games in Lincoln, Stillwater, Austin and Allen Field House West.

The remaining home schedule includes Oklahoma, Iowa State, Missouri, Baylor and Colorado.  I see at least four wins there.

That all adds up to 21-9 and 11-5 in conference heading into the Big 12 postseason tournament.  KU’s NCAA tourney streak easily remains intact.

KU is now 11-2 over their last 13 games, including the 4-point loss to Kansas State and a 3-point overtime loss at Columbia.

And the same guys who were making dumb freshman mistakes two weeks ago?  Now a lot of fans are pricing statues to go alongside Doc Allen next to the Field House.

Don’t get me wrong: there are plenty more goofy passes and bad possessions to be groused about the rest of this year.  Don’t be surprised if this team drops another game or two that they shouldn’t.

But there comes a point when freshmen aren’t freshmen anymore.  Not nearly as much, anyway.  We’re being treated to that process as it takes place in front of our eyes.  I saw this back in 1984 with a bunch of guys named Thompson, Kellogg, Turgeon, Hunter and Dreiling.  Last time I checked, they turned out okay.

Admit it: it was those early season growing pains that have made the last two weeks so much fun.

But always remember the words of John Wooden or Vince Lombardi.  Or maybe it was my Bitty Ball coach when I was eight.  Whoever it was said, “No win is as big as you think, and no loss is as bad as you think.”

Once again, never have truer words been spoken.

What a difference two weeks makes. Top Stories