KANSAS CITY, Mo. – Forget what's happening to the other top seeds for a minute, and whether or not they’re being pushed, losing or coming back.
Just focus on Kansas for a moment. The Jayhawks don’t need to be compared to any other team yet.
And through two days here at the Big 12 tournament we continue to learn just how tough this squad can be when prodded and how they have one player most don’t – someone like Sherron Collins.
Kentucky’s John Wall proved earlier Friday that he has that special something, the type of ability to take a team and carry it to a win by wanting to make winning plays. He did that in the win over Alabama. But this is his first and perhaps only time in the postseason.
Collins has done this before. He won a national title as a sophomore and is primed to claim a second as senior.
Texas A&M was arguably tired of dealing with a Kansas team that has dominated the Big 12 throughout the course of the season. The Aggies were a man down as Dash Harris couldn’t play due to a bruised hand. But that didn’t mean they weren’t ready to be the aggressor at the outset. They took the game to Kansas, built a lead and were matching the Jayhawks in enthusiasm and effort. But then the switch flipped, especially with Collins, and the run was on.
This is exactly what the Jayhawks needed going into the Big 12 title game and the NCAA tournament. You want an edge? We’ll give you an edge? You need someone to amp up the atmosphere? They’ve that covered, too.
“We’ve had that No. 1 team bulls-eye on our back wherever we go,’’ Collins said. “We know it’s going to be tough. This was good for us. Games like this boost our confidence even more.’’
Kansas won 79-66 in a game it trailed by three at the half. Collins scored 14 of his 26 in the second half. The Jayhawks also sprinkled in some zone to keep the Aggies unsettled.
The Jayhawks proved to be more versatile than we probably thought, too. They find a way to win. This isn’t easy. And Kansas won the league by four games.
It’s not like Kansas hasn’t been pushed. The Jayhawks had to outlast Cornell in the final minute at home. Winning at Kansas State, Missouri, Texas and Texas A&M was hardly a walk. All of those road wins were grinders before the Jayhawks made winning plays. But the true test of an elite team is to win the regular season and then beat the same collection of teams in a three-day period, regardless of whether the court is neutral (it’s not here).
Kansas coach Bill Self had no problem with the game Friday being a bit chippy.
“I think we’re a little more mentally tough than what I give credit to them with you guys,’’ Self said. “They’ve responded to a number of challenges.’’
Self doesn’t buy the theory, mine at least, that it is difficult to win a tournament after knowing you’ve won the regular season and are assured of a high seed, if not No. 1.
“I don’t think it should be,’’ Self said. Kansas won the Big 12 last season, yet Missouri was deemed Big 12 champions because the Tigers won the conference tournament. But Self was quick to point out that it was the tournament, not the regular-season championship. So if that’s the definition of who is deemed to be the Big 12 champ then why shouldn’t Kansas go and grab the trophy?
“If you’re going to play in this you might as well go and win it,’’ Self said. “Maybe we didn’t have the edge that some of the other teams have playing in this tournament. But you’ve got to have a little bit of it since everyone is going to take their best shot.’’
Self said the Jayhawks have been dealing with the pressure of being No. 1 for nearly the entire season. So this is nothing new. Everyone is going to come after Kansas.
“We had tough games we had to grind out when we won in 2008,’’ Aldrich said. “We knew that winning the Big 12 tournament is just another stepping stone.’’
And so far the Jayhawks continue to make the right moves prepping for the run to a second title in three seasons.