Are the Kansas Jayhawks the Best Regular-Season Team of the Past Decade?
On December 22nd, the Kansas Jayhawks traveled to Philadelphia, Pennsylvania where the Temple Owls routed them, their second blowout loss on the young season.
This has caused many, including yours truly, to think that maybe this would be the season Bill Self’s squad finally takes a tumble from college basketball’s mountain top.
13 games later, the Jayhawks have proven their early-season skeptics wrong. Despite the departures of freshmen Andrew Wiggins and Joel Embiid, who were the first and third overall picks of the 2014 NBA Draft, respectively, Kansas is reloaded and poised to make noise in March.
Of course, this is the norm for the Jayhawks under Self. Kansas has won 25 or more games prior to the NCAA Tournament in eight of the past nine seasons and have drawn a top-two seed in the last five tournaments.
All this regular season success made me wonder if the Kansas Jayhawks are college basketball’s top regular-season team of the last decade.
For the sake of trying to answer this question, we will count every game leading up to Selection Sunday as a part of the regular season. Through an examination of where the Jayhawks belong in history, how they compare against their contemporary peers, and how things are shaping up this season, I try to reach a conclusion.
Where Do the Jayhawks Belong in History?
Right now, the Jayhawks are in the midst of winning at least a split of 10 consecutive regular season Big 12 crowns, which is quite an accomplishment in any league -- and even more so statistically the top conference in the country. Under Self, the Jayhawks have yet to lose both at home and away to a conference foe in the same season. They have won at least 75% of their conference games every year since Self arrived in 2003 and have won six of the past 10 Big 12 Conference tournaments.
How does that compare to other notable runs of consecutive regular-season conference titles?
|Conference||Team||First Title||Last Title||Consecutive Seasons|
|Big Ten||Ohio State||1959-1960||1963-64||5|
As you can see from the table of the longest conference title streaks in the six major conferences (as well as the West Coast Conference because of Gonzaga’s impressive run), the Jayhawks are in some elite company. Kansas is currently second only to Gonzaga for consecutive conference crowns since three pointers introduced to the college game in 1986-1987.
However, during Gonzaga’s run, the most tourney bids the WCC received was three, while the fewest teams the Big 12 has sent to the tournament during Kansas’ reign has been four. With this in mind, it is fairly clear that the Big 12 is a much better basketball conference than the WCC and one can even say that Self’s current regular-season run at Kansas is approaching a John Wooden level of achievement.
How Do the Jayhawks Compare to Their Contemporaries?
While the historical perspective is a great way to put the Jayhawks’ achievements in context with all-time teams, it is not enough to tout them the greatest regular-season team of the past decade. Instead, their seeding in the tournament the past 10 seasons sheds some insight on this question.
|Team||1 seed||2 seed||3 seed||4 seed||Top 4 seeds||Tourney bids||Average Seed|
Over the past 10 seasons, the Jayhawks have not been seeded below a four seed and have been a top seed five times. Only Duke and Wisconsin are the other teams to earn five or more top-four seeds and make the tournament in each of the past 10 season, while only North Carolina has received as many one seeds as Kansas over this span. Although Duke has received twice as many two seeds as the Jayhawks in the past decade, the six seed it received in 2007 devastated its average.
Not only did the Jayhawks receive the best seed on average of any team in the past decade, they also were most consistently in the top 16 on Selection Sunday.
Now that we have looked at Kansas’ place in history and against other schools in the past 10 seasons, it’s time to look ahead to rest of the regular season.
Where the Jayhawks Go From Here
With only seven conference games remaining on their slate, the Jayhawks hold a two-game lead in the Big 12 standings. Our algorithms project them to tack on 4.1 more wins while dropping 2.9 to finish 13.1-4.9 or more likely between 13-5 and 14-4 in conference play. Currently a 14-4 finish would give the Jayhawks at least a split of the crown, whereas 13-5 would mean Oklahoma, West Virginia and Iowa State would all have to lose at least once.
Interestingly enough, they do not hold the Big 12’s highest nERD score, which is our advanced metric of team efficiency that indicates how much one should expect a given team to beat an average NCAA team on a neutral court. Instead, that honor belongs to Oklahoma who ranks 9th in nERD (16.92) to Kansas’ 11th (16.33). They have yet to play the Sooners this season, but since their nERD scores are so close to one another, it is very likely that the two split their season series by winning their contest at home.
At any rate, our projected records expect the Jayhawks to be the conference’s “one true champion,” and claim their 6th number-one seed in the past 11 tournaments.
I would say yes, and likely so would the selection committee -- at least from a consistency stand point.
While the Jayhawks may have fallen short of their NCAA Tournament goals more often than they would like in recent years, Kansas fans should appreciate the history that is unfolding before their eyes. As a student at another Big 12 school, I have often watched the Jayhawks dominate the conference first hand and am of in awe of Self’s ability to reload his teams into perennial conference champions. Self’s program should be viewed as a paragon of consistency and excellence in college basketball.