College basketball: What success looks like for Kansas in difficult three-game stretch
No. 2 Kansas is riding an 18-game winning streak, and all things considered, it’s a good time to be a Jayhawk fan.
Kansas’ 13th Big 12 title is well within striking distance. The Jayhawks have one of the best freshmen in the country in Josh Jackson, and if asked to choose one backcourt to start in an important tournament game, it would be awfully hard not to roll with Frank Mason and Devonte’ Graham.
With that said, Kansas is about to endure one of the toughest three-game stretches any college basketball team has had to weather in recent memory. Check out this trifecta of doom:
|Date||Opponent||Win Probability (Per KenPom)|
|Jan. 24||@West Virginia||31%|
|Feb. 1||vs. Baylor||60%|
Whew. Make no mistake: Kansas is as talented as any team in the country. If these games were being played at Allen Fieldhouse, the most likely outcome would be a 3-0 stretch for the Jayhawks.
But the first two tilts are on enemy soil, and winning at the WVU Coliseum or Rupp Arena is a difficult task. The Mountaineers have lost three games in the past two seasons in Morgantown. John Calipari has more toes than career losses at Rupp. And even if the Jayhawks are fortunate enough to win both of those games or split, they have Baylor staring them right in the face the following game.
It’s going to be a whirlwind of a nine days for the Jayhawks. Here are the four possible outcomes for this stretch and what each would mean if it occurred.
Most likely: 1-2
Believe it or not, even for the No. 2 team in the nation, going 1-2 would be a perfectly reasonable output during this stretch. No team would be expected to win at Kentucky, though UCLA proved this season that it’s possible.
West Virginia is in the midst of a two-game skid, but it handled the Jayhawks by 11 at home in 2016, and the Mountaineers made Baylor look silly in Morgantown just a few weeks ago. The No. 2 team losing to the No. 18 team seems like an upset at first glance, but given the quality of West Virginia’s wins this season and its inherent homecourt advantage, it wouldn’t be remotely shocking to see the Mountaineers edge the Jayhawks on Tuesday.
Certainly possible: 2-1
Kansas would have to be beaming if it came out of this stretch 2-1. West Virginia has every opportunity to beat the Jayhawks at home, but if ever there was a team that should be equipped to handle Press Virginia, it would be Kansas.
West Virginia leads the nation in steal rate and turnovers forced; Kansas has three elite ball-handlers on the floor at the same time in Mason, Graham and Jackson. And Kentucky, though looking more and more dominant as the year progresses, has already been nipped at home this season. Splitting those road affairs and handling Baylor would be a huge win for Kansas.
Unlikely, but don’t be too surprised: 0-3
The West Virginia and Kentucky games won’t make knocking off Baylor any easier. There’s a very real scenario in which Kansas falls twice on the road and is both mentally and physically drained for its home clash against the Bears, who have complied one of the best resumes in the country this season. Kansas’ backcourt is elite, but its frontcourt still has plenty to prove. We’ll learn much more about it during this three-game span.
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Crown these guys if it happens: 3-0
Kidding, but this really would be remarkable. Kansas would have the inside track at a No. 1 overall NCAA tournament seed if it went unblemished in its next three games, but don’t count on it.
There are no nights off in the Big 12 to begin with. Sandwich a trip to Lexington in the middle of the conference slate, and you’re really testing your group. Kansas deserves credit for challenging itself, and college basketball fans are in for a treat throughout the next week and change.