A few hours after the fax machine is put back into the storage closet — the only time of year a fax machine is actually used — the real event of the day is going down in Lawrence, Kan., when two of the nation’s best basketball teams will play in the greatest college arena remaining.
With all due respect to the faux thrill of National Signing Day, No. 2 Baylor plays at No. 3 Kansas in Allen Fieldhouse — the winner will win the Big 12. Bet KU on both. Bigly. KU is a 6.5-point favorite.
The Jayhawks are in the midst of what is easily the least appreciated streak in big-time sports — 12 consecutive major conference titles. Shame on Baylor, Kansas State, Iowa State, Texas, Oklahoma and the rest of the programs in the Big 12 for allowing this streak to happen.
As great as Duke is, the Coach K’s don’t win 12 straight ACC titles. As much money, and NBA talent, that pours into Kentucky, Coach Cal doesn’t own the SEC the way Self does his league. Nor should any coach.
In this era, no team should run a league the way Kansas has the Big 12. No team is set up to end this streak any better than Baylor this season, and KU is still going to get ’em on Wednesday night.
Baylor may pop Kansas on Feb. 18 in Waco, but KU is again the best team in the league and will at least share another conference title.
I was sure Oklahoma and guard Buddy Hield was going to do it last season, but KU swept the Sooners. The Sooners went to the Final Four.
KU’s combination of guards Devonte’ Graham and Frank Mason are too good to lose at home, and are difficult to kill on the road. They are talented and have been around too long to not win this league this season.
Neither should be expected to be an NBA guy, but they are both wonderful college players who thrive at this level.
If one-and-done freshman forward Josh Jackson scores, KU can reach the Final Four. Jackson scored 20 points with 10 rebounds in KU’s win at No. 4 Kentucky on Saturday; if this maturation continues, KU is a tough out in March.
Head coach Scott Drew has had good teams in Waco before, and while this is not his most talented group, this is his best team. This is not a national title team, but it’s Final Four caliber. Since arriving in Waco in 2003, he has built good teams before and reached an Elite Eight but never advanced beyond that finish.
Drew’s job in Waco remains one of the more remarkable in college basketball this era. He’s winning big in Waco.
His four top scorers are juniors or seniors, which is virtually unheard of in Power 5 college basketball any more. Normally a freshman or a sophomore is near the top of major statistical rankings on the best power teams, with a lottery pick or two.
Kansas has one — Jackson. According to NBADraft.net, KU junior guard Sviatoslav Mykhailiuk is rated as a late first-round pick, too.
Drew has built this version of Baylor much like a Missouri Valley team, or a Gonzaga — load the roster with good players who will stick around and improve. There is not a Perry Jones III on this team, or a Pierre Jackson.
Drew’s best player is junior forward Johnathan Motley, also rated as a potential late first-round pick.
What Drew has is a team that’s physically mature and gets it; no moment spooks them. When a game gets close, they figure it out.
Baylor is good enough to win the Big 12 outright. But so too have been many other teams over the last 12 years, and yet only one does.
Until then, pick the Jayhawks.