The Kansas Jayhawks tipped off Big 12 play this week and it’s already looking like the conference will be one of the best in the nation from top-to-bottom. Not only is the conference depth apparent early in the season, but it appears the Jayhawks are going to get everyone’s best shot from game to game.
The Kansas basketball program should be used to having a bullseye on their back. They recently had a streak of 14 consecutive Big 12 regular season championships that extended from 2004-2018. Then, of course, Kansas won the 2022 National Championship and the bullseye has only increased for this season.
The Jayhawks opened conference play on New Years’ Eve afternoon at home in Lawrence, Kansas at Allen Fieldhouse. They hosted the Oklahoma State Cowboys. Whenever these two teams play, it seems like it’s a battle and this game was no different. The Cowboys, led by junior Bryce Thompson, couldn’t miss a shot and jumped out to an early lead. By halftime, that lead was 15 points.
In the second half, the Jayhawks chipped away at Oklahoma State’s lead. KJ Adams played a critical role down the stretch, hitting the go-ahead shot and finishing the game a perfect 6-for-6 from the field. Kevin McCullar Jr. blocked a shot in the final seconds and the Jayhawks won the game 69-67.
The first game for the Jayhawks in 2023 started out similarly. Kansas traveled to Lubbock, Texas to take on the Texas Tech Red Raiders. The first several minutes of the game were looking like a repeat of the Oklahoma State game. The Red Raiders were on fire and couldn’t miss a shot. Kansas looked lost on the offensive end, turning the ball over, and found themselves in a hole, losing 13-5 at the first timeout.
This time, the Jayhawks responded sooner, being able to make a run of their own, and ended up leading 43-36 at halftime. DeJuan Harris led the way, making a career-high 18 points on a career day shooting, hitting 5-for-5 from three-point range. Once again, Adams was a key contributor throughout the entire game but especially in the second half. Adams is proving to be a critical piece to the puzzle for Bill Self.
The first two games in conference play shows us what will likely be a continuing trend throughout the rest of the season. Teams will come out with their hair on fire, taking big swings early, and then after the game slows down, Kansas shows they have the demeanor of a team that can get settled in and win close games.
Every team will give KU their best shot. They want to beat the champion. As the great wrestler Ric Flair once said, “To be the best, you have to beat the best… woo!” In order for the other Big 12 teams to show they can be a top contender in the conference, they will have to beat Kansas.
The Big 12 is one of the deepest conferences in college basketball. They may be the deepest conference in college basketball from top to bottom. When the next poll is released, there should be six ranked Big 12 teams. Kansas will be taking everyone’s best shot and every time is good enough to put up a fight.
Next up for the Jayhawks will be a road test in Morgantown, West Virginia on Saturday at 5:00 CT on ESPN+. The Mountaineers are currently in last place in the Big 12, but that doesn’t mean they won’t put up a fight. Traditionally, West Virginia has been a tough place to win and, like every other team, they will be looking to take down the top dog.
Kansas will do what they’ve done all year; they’ll take a few punches, weather the storm, and show why they are the #1 team in the Big 12 gunning for their first back-to-back National Championships in their storied program’s history.