By Wendell Barnhouse
Big 12 Digital Correspondent
KANSAS CITY, Mo. – “The more things change, the more they stay the same” is a translation of French proverb. The phrase means that “turbulent changes do not affect reality on a deeper level other than to cement the status quo.”
The status quo in men’s basketball in the Big 12 Conference resides in Lawrence, Kan. Unless you’ve spent the last dozen years on the International Space Station, you probably know that Kansas has won 11 consecutive Big 12 regular-season titles. And the Jayhawks are favored to make it 12 this season.
“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.”
The Kansas championship streak is more amazing because the Big 12 has been one of the nation’s top basketball leagues during the Jayhawks’ run. More than 91 percent of Big 12 games last season involved at least one top 25 team and the Big 12 was ranked No. 1 in RPI last season.
Self described the Big 12 using these words: “Competitive, balanced, consistent, tough." All accurate and factual, not hyperbole.
“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.”
While Kansas is ranked as a top five team in most preseason rankings, Iowa State and Oklahoma are consistently listed in the top 10.
The Cyclones must replace coach Fred Hoiberg but return seven top players plus add Deonte Burton, who was selected as the preseason newcomer of the year; he’ll be eligible to play in December. Oklahoma returns four starters including senior guard Buddy Hield, last season’s player of the year.
Iowa State senior Georges Niang begrudgingly admits his admiration for Kansas has accomplished.
“It’s darn impressive; as an opponent it’s frustrating to say that,” he said. “The fact they’ve done it 11 times is one of the greatest things done in college sports. They’ve handled the adversity and the pressure of getting everybody’s best shot.”
The Cyclones have won the last two Phillips 66 Big 12 Men's Basketball Championships, last March defeating Kansas in the title game. Does history beckon?
“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 arguably a more talented team than last season. The Jayhawks return three starters – senior Perry Ellis along with juniors Frank Mason III and Wayne Selden Jr. The Jayhawks have added a talented big man in Carlton Bragg and is hopeful that Cheick Diallo, the preseason freshman of the year, will have his eligibility confirmed by the NCAA.
“Kansas has a lot of talent, depth and experience,” ESPN college basketball analyst Fran Fraschilla said. “And, they won a gold medal over the summer in South Korea in the World University Games. The overall strength in the Big 12 is excellent. There are at least six teams that I think are solid candidates to make the NCAA Tournament and there are a few others that might make the field.”