Uptrend after winning five games in a row, leaping to No. 3 in the Associated Press Top 25 and earning a spot in the 1 line in last Saturday’s late-season NCAA board preview, Kansas men’s basketball is being mentioned in some circles as a possible repeat national champion.
The Florida Gators won back-to-back NCAA basketball titles in 2006 and ’07. Since then, no men’s college basketball team in America has accomplished the repeated feat.
“You came up with something I haven’t thought about for months: … us defending the national champions. I don’t think so,” KU coach Bill Self said in response to a reporter’s question at Thursday’s press conference held before Saturday’s game between KU and West Virginia.
“I probably thought I was going to (think so) going into the season,” Self added. “Once the season started, it was completely irrelevant. We’ve asked our guys – we’ve even told the media – that it’s time to move forward and I think our guys have done a great job moving forward knowing it’s no different than last year.
However, with a 23-5 total and 11-4 in the Big 12 with a nation’s best 14 Quad 1 wins, KU entered the final three games of the Big 12 regular season in prime position for a possible repeat.
“We’re the only team that really has a chance to make it this year,” Self said with a smile, “but I don’t think there have been many teams that have won it and the following year put themselves in condition to be spoken to in a way that maybe we’re talking about now. Yet it’s just talk, it means nothing.
Teams that haven’t repeated since Florida won it all in 2006 and 2007: Kansas, North Carolina, Duke, UConn, Kentucky, Louisville, UConn again, Duke again, Villanova, UNC again, Villanova again, Virginia and Baylor.
“I hope our best ball is still ahead of us,” Self said on Thursday. “To be honest with you, I don’t think I imagined that at the end of the year we would be controlling our fate on what actually happens starting in the postseason, whether it’s capturing the championship (title) or whatever.
“Controlling your fate also means you probably have to win. Texas (tied with KU atop the Big 12) could also say the same thing. But to win the championship and be a true top seed in the tournament is all in front of us if we do what we set out to do. You don’t need someone else’s help to do this if you go about your business. There have been many years where we have needed help finding our way to where we wanted to go. That may still be the case, but the reality is that we put ourselves in a good position.
Self said Saturday’s home game against West Virginia — 3 p.m. at Allen Fieldhouse — and Tuesday’s home game against Texas Tech are big entrances into the season finale at Texas one week from Saturday.
“You can argue that we’ve played a lot of big games, but they’re the two biggest games we’ve played at home to date because of obviously the ramifications of what it could be if we were able to take care of business and what if we didn’t “Self said. “They are huge games: both difficult games and two teams we haven’t played in a long time.”
KU beat West Virginia 76-62 on January 7 in Morgantown, West Virginia and defeated Texas Tech 75-72 on January 3 in Lubbock, Texas.
Whatever happens in the next three games, Self has seen enough to give his team high marks going into the 2022-23 season.
“I’m sure this team for me will always be thought of as a team that has maximized its talent as well as any other we’ve had up to this point,” said Self. “They love to compete and (consistently) gave us the best chance to win…because they were trainable and put in a lot of effort. The intangibles I would think of this team would be in the A to A-plus range because I really, really liked this team.
Accident, illness report
Junior guard Joseph Yesufu missed two days of training this week with illness. However he returned to training on Thursday.
Self updated the status of Zach Clemence (knee) and Zuby Ejiofor (foot): “Zach can play but he’s not 100%. Zuby can play. She is closer to 100% than Zach but not 100%,” Self said. “This time of year I don’t know if anyone is 100% healthy. We are all right.”
Redshirt freshman guard Kyle Cuffe (knee) will wear a medical shirt for the season, while senior forward Cam Martin (shoulder) will likely wear a medical shirt, Self said Thursday.
“I would think so,” Self said of Martin reaching for a medical shirt. “It’s certainly not 100%. I’m sure he will request it if he really can’t come back. He had to take a couple days off last week or something because his shoulder was so sore. They told him it would take three to four months to get him back to where he needed to be. We’re not at that point.”
Of Cuffe, the KU coach said: “He’s not 100% yet. It’s an easy decision to medically coat him largely because he’s not healthy enough (which) might be the best out there for us.
Self was asked whether Cuffe, who redshirted last year, would have contributed to this season’s games had he been healthy.
“He’s talented, a formidable athlete. He has the potential to be a really good player,” Self said, “but if you’re doing an in-depth graph I wouldn’t put that above the guys who are playing right now.
He noted on Tuesday’s Hawk Talk radio show, “Kyle’s attitude is a 12 when it comes to him trying to come back and be in a situation to practice even though he’s going redshirted and not going to play in games. He probably won’t be 100% for two or three months, but he’s close enough to probably help us in practice. I am proud of him. He knows we respect his mentality in the way he has come back from injury.