Fresh off their first Big 12 Tournament win since joining the conference, TCU will turn around and face the top-seeded Kansas Jayhawks this afternoon. The regular season series between these schools was fairly close, and the Jayhawks enter today's game with a couple of injury concerns. To talk all things TCU-Kansas, I met back up with misterbrain from Rock Chalk Talk. Be sure to head over to their page in a bit to see the other half of our conversation.
1. Kansas won the Big 12 for the 11th consecutive season this year. The program is just two more titles away from tying the NCAA record for consecutive conference titles set by the legendary John Wooden at UCLA. Talk a little bit about this remarkable streak and its impact on the program.
Honestly, the streak is an absolutely amazing accomplishment, especially when you consider just how strong the conference has been the last few years. People tend to undercut just how strong the conference has been just because there hasn't been one team that's been consistent to challenge Kansas over the top. But if you look at the strength of the conference, there's always been a group of teens that have been right up there close to Kansas and yet somehow they have managed to come out on top each and every time.
Unfortunately this is something that a lot of Kansas fans seem to have taken for granted. What the streak really speaks to is just how special of a coach Bill Self is. To be able to continually push and prod his teams, even in rebuilding years, to be able to finish at the top of the conference, that is a real testament about how hard he works and how successful his system really is. Man I sure hope that guy never leaves.
2. The Sprint Center has been a home away from home for Kansas since it opened in 2007. The Jayhawks' history of success in Kansas City spans back to the old Kemper Arena and Municipal Auditorium. How much of an advantage, if any, is it for the Jayhawks that the Big 12 Tournament is so close to Lawrence?
Of course playing in Kansas City is a huge advantage for the Jayhawks. Anytime you can play in a city with such a large alumni base and fan base that's also extremely close to your campus you'll have an advantage over everyone else that's coming. But part of that advantage is that the Jayhawks routinely play in Kansas City during the year.
What I'm really grateful for is the fact that the city is such a huge college basketball town. If it weren't for that there would probably be more complaints about just how close it is to Lawrence but every time the tournament has been here it's been done great. But to be honest Kansas has done pretty well in the tournament regardless of the venue even. When it was down in Oklahoma City or Dallas the Jayhawks still had a good showing. The main advantage personally had been that while I lived in Kansas I was actually close to it and got to go every once in a while.
3. Kansas enters the Big 12 Tournament with some big question marks surrounding some of their top talent. Perry Ellis was sidelined for the season finale with a knee injury, Brannen Greene also missed the finale because of a suspension, and Cliff Alexander remains sidelined, pending the outcome of an NCAA investigation. What is the status of these three? How concerned are Jayhawk fans going into the tournament?
Ellis is going to play but he will have a knee brace on that may limit his productivity little bit. Greene is expected back from his suspension and he's had these problems before, missing a game here and there for some "maturity" issues. Alexander looks to be out the rest of the season, as the word is his mother or some other close family member took a loan from an agent. It would be great to have him back but at this point I'm not counting on it. But as we saw against Oklahoma, this is still a formidable team even without those three.
Lucky for Jayhawk fans is the fact that playing in this tournament is just for pride at this point, since their NCAA tournament seed is pretty much locked in as a number 2. So while these guys will be missed if they're not playing or not playing to their full potential this game, this game really isn't extremely important in the grand scheme of things for the Jayhawks.
4. Kansas swept the season series with TCU, but the Frogs kept things interesting in both meetings. The Jayhawks only beat TCU by a combined 12 points in the two meetings this year. What do the Frogs need to do on Thursday to make an unprecedented run to the Big 12 Semifinals?
The gameplan here has to be pretty much the same as both other games, and there are a few reasons why that plan might actually work this time. First, with Cliff gone, that removes a talented big man from the middle of the rotation. While he hadn't been doing much recently, his presence in the lane had helped to affect some of the shots that opponents had taken. Second, Mason looks exhausted. Self may be resting him up a bit so that he is ready for the NCAA tournament. Third is that Kansas has been absolutely atrocious from 3 recently, so that huge advantage from the first two games needs some work. All these things will help keep it close, and the Horned Frogs will just need to continue executing down the stretch.
5. I bet you can't guess what I'm about to ask... What is your prediction for today's game? Is the third time the charm for TCU, or will the Jayhawks start their postseason journey on the right foot?
I don't know that being without Cliff is going to change much for this Jayhawk team, as he combined for a total of 8 point, 6 rebounds and 2 blocks in both games against TCU. But the Ellis injury could be a real opportunity for the Horned Frogs. That might help to contain Ellis and allow them the chance to play good defense on the rest of the squad. But ultimately, Mason is still going to be playing (although hopefully not quite as much), Ellis is still likely going to get his, and the improved play of the rest of the Jayhawks should be enough to get this Kansas team to victory. It's going to be a nail-biter the whole way, but I'll go Kansas 74, TCU 72. Good luck in the NIT, I'll be pulling for you the whole way.
Big thanks to misterbrain and the team at Rock Chalk Talk. Look for continued coverage of TCU vs. Kansas and the Big 12 Tournament right here leading up to this afternoon's game.