As far as Big 12 basketball goes, Kansas is not a favorite for once.
The No. 17 Jayhawks (23-8), whose NCAA-record string of 14 consecutive conference championships was snapped, get a mulligan this week in the Big 12 Tournament, which started Wednesday in Kansas City, Mo.
Kansas, the defending champion and 10-time winner of the tournament, was seeded third, its lowest position in the Big 12 bracket since Bill Self's first year as coach in 2003-04. It opens against Texas (16-15) in the last quarterfinal game Thursday.
While examining the Jayhawks, who have won the Big 12 Tournament crown 11 times, Self realizes the postseason is a time for freshmen to show growth. Four freshmen start in the Kansas lineup, the most ever used by the 16th-year coach.
The other starter, Memphis transfer Dedric Lawson, is a junior who led the Big 12 in scoring (19.1) and rebounding (10.6) in his debut season in the league. The last player to lead the Big 12 in both categories was Oklahoma's Blake Griffin in 2008-09.
"I think we have to grow up and play beyond our years a little bit," said Self, whose team was the preseason No. 1 and was also ranked in that position for three weeks in December after getting off to a 10-0 start. During that streak, Kansas lost center Udoka Azubuike to a season-ending wrist injury.
"When you say how do we do it (win), how did we do it in a number of particular games throughout the season?" Self said. "We have been bad away from home on the road, but the other 20 games on the season, we haven't been that bad."
Although Sprint Center is considered a neutral floor, the nearby location in Kansas City provides a homecourt atmosphere whenever Kansas plays and could fuel the young Jayhawks.
Self hopes any such spark carries over to both ends.
"We need to have some guys step up and make some shots. We've shown we're capable of doing that," he said. "But the other things is we've had too many games where other people had career nights against us shooting the ball, and that's what we've got to eliminate. We've got to make other people play poorly."
Texas is in jeopardy of missing out on the NCAA Tournament for the second time in Shaka Smart's four seasons as coach. Smart reinstated senior guard Kerwin Roach following a five-game suspension for an unspecified violation of team rules. Roach averages 15 points.
The Longhorns lost four of five to close out the regular season. They split their season series against Kansas. Forward Jaxson Hayes is coming off a career-best 19 points in a loss to TCU and was named the Big 12 freshman of the year by the league coaches.
Although dissatisfaction with Smart has become noticeable, his contract is fully guaranteed for four more seasons and $12.9 million. Smart previously guided VCU to the 2011 Final Four but stands 61-59 at Texas.
"Obviously, we haven't had the results we wanted to have," Smart told the San Antonio Express-News. "And that's a huge part of the reason we're here."
--Field Level Media