Something monumental is happening around our basketball parts: Kansas is losing its invincibility.
The Jayhawks did not win the Big 12 Conference last year. That had not occurred since we still watched “Frasier” and listed a home phone number.
They did win every game they played at Allen Fieldhouse, but the year before that they did not. Arizona State, Texas Tech and Oklahoma State won in Lawrence during the 2017-18 season, which was a little like the sun failing to rise three mornings.
Mike Boynton’s Cowboys did contenders a hopeful favor with that rare triumph on James Naismith’s court. Chris Beard’s Texas Tech Red Raiders and Bruce Weber’s Kansas State Wildcats did contenders one better the following season by sharing a Big 12 championship that, after 14 straight years, was starting to feel like a Jayhawks birthright.
Something monumental could happen again soon: Kansas could lose more than a few basketball games. It could lose scholarships, postseason opportunities and, depending on penalties issued in the aftermath of a scathing notice of allegations recently issued the university by the NCAA, its coach.
Here, though, let’s pivot from Bill Self’s vulnerability.
Let’s focus on Boynton and Lon Kruger’s opportunities as a result of that vulnerability.
It doesn’t just have to be Beard and Weber who take advantage of any KU shortcomings. It shouldn’t just be Beard and Weber.
Kruger has gone toe-to-toe with Self in his eight years as Oklahoma coach. He has taken a few games off Self, even reaching a 2016 Final Four that Kansas failed to make by one game.
Kruger has gone toe-to-toe with everybody over an accomplished 33-year college career. He has won with different players and different systems in different leagues, adapting enough to have taken five schools to the NCAA Tournament.
He obviously has the coaching chops to seize an opportunity when it is presented. Now it appears he has the talent.
OU’s 2019 recruiting class, led by four-star point guard De’Vion Harmon, was ranked No. 25 nationally by 247Sports. It should be fun watching Harmon develop with fellow freshmen like Jalen Hill and Victor Iwuakor over the next few years.
It could be prosperous, depending on what happens at other Big 12 programs like, say, Kansas.
It could be prosperous at OSU, where Boynton reeled in a 2019 recruiting class rated one spot above the Sooners.
Freshmen Kalib Boone and Chris Harris Jr. both scored in double digits Friday night in their exhibition debut. Classmates Avery Anderson and Keylan Boone got plenty of run, and it’s a matter of time before they help fill box scores, as well.
Boynton doesn’t have Kruger’s track record — who does? — but the relentlessly positive young coach does have something Kruger hasn’t gained since taking over the Sooners in 2011 — a win in Allen Fieldhouse. That should tell you something about Boynton’s motivational instinct.
Surely he’s working that angle right now. He’s surveying the blend of proven seniors and promising freshmen on this year’s team and saying: “You know, fellas, we really do have an opportunity here ...”
Wouldn’t it be cool if the Cowboys took advantage? It’s about time they did, don’t you think? Ten years without an NCAA Tournament victory is an awfully long time. Sixteen years without a conference championship is even longer.
It has been 15 years since OU shared the Big 12 title with Kansas. And while the Sooners do have that Final Four appearance to show off, they haven’t posted a winning conference record since the Buddy Hield joy ride.
It doesn’t appear that they are expected to win more than lose this season, seeing as how they are No. 8 in the Big 12 preseason coaches poll. OSU is No. 6.
So, no, we’re not asking for a sudden conference takeover by our two state reps. Those freshmen have to learn some things that only a breathless league experience can teach.
No, the Cowboys and Sooners don’t have to finish 1-2 in March. And yet it’s worth remembering that someone besides Kansas finished 1-2 (well, 1-1) last March.
Texas Tech and Kansas State showed the Big 12 the way. It would be great if OU and OSU followed along over the next few years. They’d better while their coaches, and the talent they have recruited, are still around.
And in case Kansas becomes invincible again.