The past week has done a lot to clear up the race, though:
- Self's #18-rated Jayhawks defeated the #1-ranked Fighting Capels in Norman last (Big) Monday, 87-78.
- Anderson's much-improved #8 Missouri Tigers were more much-improved than Martin's much-improved Kansas State team Wednesday night, running the Wildcats off the floor at the Paige, 94-74.
- Oklahoma bounced back on Saturday, celebrating Blake Griffin's return with a 78-63 win over Texas Tech.
- Finally, Self's Jayhawks exposed Missouri on Sunday, jumping out to a 45-19 halftime lead en route to a 90-65 win at Allen Field House.
Here's the deal: if Kansas wins either of their last two games – against Texas Tech at Lubbock Wednesday night and Texas in the Phog next Saturday afternoon – they will guarantee a tie for the Big 12 regular season conference crown. Win 'em both and they win the thing outright.
If KU gets any part of their fifth consecutive Big 12 title, Bill Self is the conference coach of the year. Anyone who thinks otherwise is a stark, raving loon.
Capel's done a terrific job, but his Sooners were the pre-season favorite to win the league title. He's also got Blake Griffin, the best player in the country. Winning your conference is always impressive, but when that accomplishment is achieved by the favored team with the best player around, one could say you've simply done your job.
In Manhappiness, Martin done a better coaching job this year than he did last year. Maybe it's the new suits made of cast titanium, or maybe it's because he's got some good players. Put any three of them together, though, and they still wouldn't equal The Beaz. Getting swept by Kansas and getting pummeled by Missouri didn't help his tournament resume or his coach of the year chances, though.
Anderson's Slaver team was picked to finish seventh in the conference, so at 11-3, MU has exceeded expectations. His team has shown marked improvement this season, and they've turned 40 Minutes of Hell, version 2.0, into a top 10 ranking. In a day and age when no one has senior leadership, Anderson's got it from two good players: DeMarre Carroll and Leo Lyons.
Sunday's 25-point drubbing courtesy of Kansas all but negated MU's seven-game win streak (which included a 62-60 win over the Jayhawks in Columbia) took Anderson out of the running. He's also got to take on Oklahoma Wednesday night at home and finish off his season in College Station, where Mark Turgeon's team is on a mini-roll, having beaten Iowa State this past weekend.
Which leaves us with Kansas' head coach Bill Self.
Granted, Self has the luxury of coaching at the flagship program of his conference. He's fresh off a national championship season; that right there should take him out of consideration, right? I mean, how hard can it be at Kansas?
Not so fast, Sparky. That's exactly the reason he shouldn't just be considered – he should win.
After the confetti settled in San Antonio, KU lost six players to graduation – four of those were NBA draft picks – and two more juniors left early for the league. That was 80% of the team's scoring and rebounding.
Self was left with one upperclassman, Sherron Collins, who saw meaningful minutes in '07-'08. He was a really good upperclassman, but he was it.
Collins' supporting cast would include Cole Aldrich, a sophomore center whose shining moment the previous season had been slapping around Tyler Hansbrough for 17 minutes. Also lending a hand would be a group of untested freshmen and sophomores, including Tyshawn Taylor, Tyrel Reed, Brady Morningstar, juco transfer Mario Little and a pair of twins from Philly.
The Big 12 media picked Kansas to finish third in the pre-season, tied with senior-laden Baylor. Was this pre-season pick a courtesy to Self and a reward for KU's outstanding 2007-2008 championship season? I could argue it was. Regardless, I don't think any but the most hardcore fans thought KU would contend for the conference title, let alone win it outright. Hey, I had 'em 11-5 and finishing 4th or 5th.
Now, everyone looks at Kansas and wonders how Bill Self has done it. If you'd have told me after five games that Marcus and Markieff Morris would buy into Self's "defense first" philosophy and be busting their butts on that end of the floor, I'd have told you you were nuts.
Who imagined that KU fans who, in October, were looking for key wins that could make or break a chance at the NCAA tournament would be talking about a shot at a three seed on March 1?
You knew that Aldrich would be better this season, but who could've imagined that he would average 19 and 14 since January 1st?
Who knew Sherron Collins would not only be good but be capable of taking over a game all by his lonesome and average 22 points a game for a good chunk of the conference season?
Who knew Tyshawn Taylor would go from turnover-waiting-to-happen to smart-player-who-takes-good-care-of-the-ball so quickly?
And who knew that Self had a benchful of guys who had the kind of positive attitude, focus and work ethic that would not only prepare them to eat minutes but to make actual contributions to the team when called upon?
This group of coaches, along with guys like Mark Turgeon at Texas A&M and Doc Sadler at Corn, lead me to think that the Big 12 is set for good coaches for a long time to come, and that's great news for the schools, the fans and the whole league.
For this season, though, one – Bill Self – has separated himself from a good bunch and distinguished himself by taking a largely untested crew and turning them into a first-place team on March 1st . They also look like they've become one of those teams that no one wants any part of come time for the Madness.