Kansas made a statement with its hard-fought road victory over Baylor on Saturday in a battle between two national title contenders. But the victory means more than a shift in the Big 12 standings.
The outcome has major Selection Sunday implications.
The Jayhawks (24-3, 13-1) avenged a Jan. 11 loss to Baylor and still have one more loss than the Bears. But Saturday's win vaults Kansas to the top overall No. 1 seed if Selection Sunday were tomorrow. That's because Kansas' résumé now features a nation-leading 11 Quadrant 1 (top-30 home, top-75 road) wins and the country's best strength of schedule.
The NCAA tournament selection committee considers the full body of work and Kansas also owns the nation's top non-conference strength of schedule. Its only other losses came in the season opener to Duke and on the road against Villanova. Neither are bad losses.
Kansas Jayhawks guard Devon Dotson (1) reacts after scoring during the first half against the Baylor Bears at Ferrell Center. (Photo: Kevin Jairaj, USA TODAY Sports)
Then consider that among all those Quad 1 wins, Kansas has beaten Dayton (a projected No. 2 seed in USA TODAY Sports' latest bracketology), West Virginia (No. 4 seed), Colorado (No. 5 seed), BYU (No. 7 seed), Texas Tech (No. 8 seed) and even East Tennessee State (No. 11 seed).
Baylor, meanwhile, has an equally impressive portfolio — with 10 Quad 1 wins of its own — that will make it nearly impossible for the Bears to slip off the No. 1 seed line. But KU's credentials are superior when considering Baylor's strength of schedule in the 60s and non-conference strength of schedule at 139.
In Saturday's contest, things got scary for KU after leading all game when Baylor's MaCio Teague drained a three-pointer to cut Kansas' lead to 62-61 in the closing seconds. But then one of Kansas' key role players, Isaiah Moss, calmly sank two free throws to ultimately secure the 64-61 win.
It speaks volumes when a team can shoot just 23% from beyond the arc and still come away victorious. Big man Udoka Azubuike was the difference-maker Saturday — as he has been all season long after missing most of last year with a hand injury. The 7-footer's 23 points and 19 rebounds off 11-for-13 shooting from the floor proved how valuable the All-American big man can be.
It also is a testament to why Kansas is a national title front-runner right now. Teams that shoot well in the NCAA tournament can make it to the second weekend. But the team that cuts down the nets in April usually has an X-factor player like Azubuike and an exceptional defense (Bill Self's team leads the nation in KenPom's defensive efficiency ratings) to offset any off shooting nights.
Kansas had a 14-year Big 12 regular season title streak snapped last year but are back in contention to win at least a share of the league race this year. Yet March Madness success is where programs define more meaningful greatness. Saturday's win showed why this KU team is well positioned to give Self his first national title since 2008.
Follow national college basketball reporter Scott Gleeson on Twitter @ScottMGleeson.
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