Can the Kansas Jayhawks be stopped?

Kansas head coach Bill Self (Photo Credit: Brendan Maloney, USA TODAY SPORTS)

Kansas head coach Bill Self
(Photo Credit: Brendan Maloney, USA TODAY SPORTS)

KANSAS CITY, Mo.–Any team that wants to win the Big 12 Conference must go through Lawrence, Kan, but in the last 11 seasons no other team has been able to accomplish such a feat.

The Kansas Jayhawks have won 11 consecutive Big 12 regular-season titles, and they are favored to make it 12 straight titles this season.

The Jayhawks were a unanimous selection and are the favorite for the 14th time in conference history overall.

What makes this an amazing accomplishment is the fact that Big 12 has been one of the nation’s top basketball leagues during the Jayhawks’ run. The conference was ranked No. 1 in RPI last season and more than 91 percent of Big 12 games last season involved at least one top 25 team.

“I don’t know how tougher the conference can get considering we were the top league in terms of RPI,” Baylor coach Scott Drew said. “But the case can be made that the league is deeper than last year. It’s pretty rare to have four of the five All-Big 12 First Team players returning.”

Last season the Jayhawks had their backs against the wall during the final week of the season, but no one was able to stop their reign at the top.

Kansas will return four starters back from last season. Senior Perry Ellis will lead the Jayhawks after being the only player in the conference in the top 10 in scoring, rebounding and field goal percentage.

“It should be a fun time,” Kansas coach Bill Self said Tuesday at Big 12 Media Day in the Sprint Center. “We’ve got a group of competitive guys, quite a bit of balance. It will be an unbelievable league again, just like it has been. Maybe as good this year as it ever has been.”

Self went on the describe the conference as: “: “Competitive, balanced, consistent, tough.”

Oklahoma's Buddy Hield (Photo Credit: Soonersports.com)

Oklahoma’s Buddy Hield (Photo Credit: Soonersports.com)

The Oklahoma Sooners finished second last season and are picked to finish right behind the Jayhawks this year.

The Sooners return for starters including the reigning Big 12 Player of the Year Buddy Hield.

The 6-foot-4, 214-pound guard led the conference in scoring last season and ranks 15th all-time at OU with 1,366 points.

The Iowa State Cyclones won the last two Big 12 postseason crowns and were the only team to earn a first-place vote.

New head coach Steve Prohm leads the Cyclones. He takes over a fully loaded lineup, which includes junior Morris and seniors Abdel Nadar, Georges Niang and the clutch-shooting Nazareth Mitrou-Long.

Texas and Baylor come in at fourth and fifth. The West Virginia Mountaineers are picked to finish sixth.

The Longhorns are under the direction of head coach Shaka Smart and return four starters. Kendal Yancy, Demarcus Holland and Javan Felix are dependable veterans in the backcourt. While Cameron Ridley, Connor Lammert and Prince Ibeh are dangerous in the frontcourt.

Ridley is a dominant defender who uses a 7-foot-4 wingspan.

The Bears will be led by All-Big 12 First Team choice Rico Gathers along with Big 12 Sixth Man of the Year Taurean Prince.

The Mountaineers led the nation in steals in 2014-15 with 376,  which is the second-best single-season total in Big 12 history and 12 away from the conference record. The Mountaineers set a school record for opponent turnovers with 678.

West Virginia will be without veteran leaders Juwan Staten and Gary Browne, but all the other key components to last seasons’ Sweet 16 team return.

Junior Devin Williams will lead the Mountaineers. Jevon Carter also returns. The 6-foot-2, 195-pound sophomore led West Virginia with 67 steals and 48 3-pointers.

Oklahoma State is picked to finish seventh, while K-State, TCU and Texas Tech rounded out the preseason rankings.

“You talk about rosters and we return a lot of the top players from the league last year,” Oklahoma coach Lon Kruger said during the Big 12’s annual media day Tuesday. “The top three teams, two-thirds of those return leading scorers, leading rebounders.”

While Kansas may be the favorite to win the Big 12, it won’t be an easy task. Nine other teams will be gunning for them.

“What adds more motivation is you want to be known as the team that did it,” Niang said. “Can most people tell you who was on the Kansas team that won the sixth title in a row? But whoever breaks that streak, you’ll know who the starting five on that team was.”

Kansas is ranked as a top five team in most preseason rankings, Iowa State and Oklahoma are consistently listed in the top 10.

On paper, Kansas is arguably a more talented team than last season. Ellis along with juniors Frank Mason III and Wayne Selden Jr are a threat no one wants to face.

Plus the Jayhawks have added a talented big man in Carlton Bragg and Cheick Diallo, the preseason freshman of the year, may have his eligibility confirmed by the NCAA.

Any of the teams in the top six are solid candidates to make the NCAA Tournament and any of them could walk away with the Big 12 title.

Basketball fans should prepare for a down right ugly battle to become crowned the Big 12 champs.

 

20150417_160703Shanna Rose is a West Virginia University grad with a Bachelor’s in Journalism and a minor in Sport Communication.  Writing for Global Basketball was her first writing assignment . Shanna has a passion for college basketball, along with hockey, baseball, and football.  Follow Shanna on Twitter @SMR1837.