Big 12 basketball notebook: Pressure's on Kansas to keep streak intact
KANSAS CITY, Mo. - Kansas has dominated Big 12 basketball like perhaps no other program has dominated a major conference in recent years.
The Jayhawks have won or shared eight straight regular-season championships. Kansas has actually won more Big 12 titles during that time than it has suffered home losses (seven).
The Jayhawks are once again the preseason favorite in the league with three starters back from a team that lost to Kentucky in the national championship game last season. Coach Bill Self said Wednesday that yes, there is pressure to keep all the success going.
"Our players don't want to be the team that doesn't,'' Self said during the league's preseason media day at the Sprint Center, where the league tournament will be held in March. "They put pressure on themselves not to be that.
"And I think that's good. I think it means an awful lot to them. I don't think there is a jubilation of winning the league maybe that you would anticipate with our guys because I think they take the approach this is our job. This is what we came here to do.''
That doesn't mean that it's old hat, though.
"The most important one we could ever win would be this year's,'' Self said. "And that's how I think our guys look at it. That is certainly how I look at it.''
Chris Walker isn't terribly concerned right now about job security. That's a good thing, considering that he really doesn't have any.
Walker was named Texas Tech's interim head coach less than two weeks ago, replacing Billy Gillespie, who resigned under the pressure of an investigation into alleged mistreatment of players and his own health issues. He's working under a six-month contract.
Now that's an interim job, although Walker doesn't see it as any different a situation than most coaches.
"I was remarking to somebody the other day, there are a lot of interim coaches out there,'' Walker said. "They just don't know it.''
Despite his relative inexperience, Walker might have more current knowledge of West Virginia than any head coach in the Big 12. Before joining Gillespie's staff in Lubbock last year, he spent two seasons at his Big East alma mater, Villanova.
Presumably Walker's chances for continued employment depend upon the performance of his Red Raiders this season. Tech has four of its top five scorers back, but that's from a team that finished 8-23, won just one of 18 Big 12 games and lost 18 of its last 19 a year ago. Since 2005, when the Red Raiders of Bob Knight lost to WVU in the NCAA regional semifinals in Albuquerque, Tech is 106-122.
But Walker isn't about to complain about what amounts to a six-month interview process with that group.
"People look at it as if I've been diagnosed with cancer and I have six months to live,'' Walker said. "I've flipped it and it's six months to give. I'm a head coach for the first time in the Big 12.''
Of the two newcomers to the Big 12 this season, West Virginia has by far the most high profile. TCU, quite frankly, has had virtually no success in basketball in recent seasons.
Since Billy Tubbs left after the 2001-02 season, TCU is 131-181. Last season's 18-15 mark was only the second winning season in that time. The Horned Frogs are on their third coach in six years with the well-traveled Trent Johnson (late of LSU, Stanford and Nevada) taking over and they play in the shadow of a football program that has risen rapidly.
Johnson is hoping the school puts the same emphasis on basketball as it has on football, upgrading facilities and making a concerted effort to improve. That's one of the reasons the football program was able to take the final steps from a good program to a great one.
But before that happens, Johnson knows something else has to take place.
"The bottom line is our football program and our baseball program did a lot of winning before they got good facilities,'' Johnson said. "We need to take care of business and not have a sense of entitlement. If we do that, everything else will take care of itself.''
Johnson has been successful pretty much everywhere he's been, but in the Big 12 he faces the task of coaching against a lot of other very successful coaches.
"You've got five guys who have coached in the Final Four, four guys who are pretty good and one grinder,'' Johnson said. "I think we can achieve [success] in time. Is it going to happen overnight? Probably not."
Big 12 supervisor of officials Curtis Shaw seems a firm believer that there are too many fouls called in college basketball games. He would get no argument from most fans.
That's why officials this season are being told to look at things just a little bit differently when it comes to what Shaw describes as marginal and incidental plays. A foul is still a foul, but not all fouls are created equally. Some of the lesser ones shouldn't be called.
"There's contact on every play. But does it disrupt rhythm, speed, balance or quickness?'' said Shaw, whose last game as an active official was West Virginia's national semifinal loss to Duke in 2010. "If it does, it's a foul. If not, let it go.''
Shaw admitted that sometimes that might mean officials could wait to see the result of a play before blowing a whistle or not, which is sure to raise some eyebrows. But in some cases it's necessary to reduce the number of fouls. For instance, if an offensive player is slightly knocked off stride driving to the basket, if his shot goes in then the contact didn't affect the player's rhythm, speed, balance or quickness, don't call it.
"We're not saying it's not a foul if the ball goes in,'' Shaw said. "But if it doesn't affect the play then maybe it's not a foul.''
Reach Dave Hickman at 304-348-1734 or firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him at Twitter.com/dphickman1.