LAWRENCE — The guy who might be the best choice to handicap the Big 12 basketball race offers the following prediction regarding the record of the 2017-18 champion:
“I think 13-5 would get it free and clear.’’
That comes from Bill Self, who coached Kansas to titles each of the last 13 seasons. The Jayhawks will begin their quest to extend their streak with an 8 p.m. conference opener Friday at Texas.
Since the Big 12 adopted a round-robin schedule in 2011-12, Kansas claimed the title with a 13-5 mark just one time, in 2014-15. Each of the conference defeats came on the road that season, though the Jayhawks claimed the crown by one game over Iowa State and Oklahoma.
At 9-3, Texas carries the worst mark entering league play, but the defeats were all against solid programs — Duke, Gonzaga and Michigan — as part of a schedule that certainly toughened the Longhorns. They rank first in the Big 12 at defending the 3-point arc, allowing opponents a .282 percentage that should command the attention of the deep-shooting Jayhawks.
Since they returned from holiday break, the Jayhawks have been advised of their streak of Big 12 championships and the resolve required to preserve that string, which began in Self’s second season at KU.
“Coach just emphasized it a lot when we got back,’’ senior point guard Devonte’ Graham said Wednesday. “It’s like a war. Night in, night out, you’ve got to be prepared.
“He said you can lose the Big 12 in a week if you come into a game underestimating an opponent and all of a sudden you lose two in a row and the race is over. You’ve just got to be prepared.’’
Winning the league opener is not essential.
Then again, Kansas would seem to have it no other way.
The Jayhawks have claimed an inexplicable 26 conference openers dating to, well, the Big Eight.
“That’s a pretty good stat,’’ Self deadpanned.
In 1991, KU lost at Oklahoma, but ever since it has gotten out of the blocks successfully, winning 10 conference openers at home and 16 on the road. Friday’s game will mark the ninth time KU has opened Big 12 play on the road under Self.
Asked if he preferred opening at home or on the road, Self said, “I’d say better on the road, because students (at Texas, in this case) won’t be there as much. I’m sure it’ll be full. It doesn’t make a lot of difference here, but I always feel we have our best home games here when the students are in full force.’’
Full force for the Jayhawks as a team remains a work in progress. Both because of some weaknesses exposed during their 10-2 nonconference run and some missing players who could add to KU’s depth.
Freshman forward Silvio De Sousa only began practicing on Wednesday and is awaiting NCAA certification. Freshman forward Billy Preston continues to remain in limbo as an investigation into the financing of his automobile drags on.
“This is not a team that’s close to being a championship-caliber team in our league. Not even close,’’ said Self, who turned 55 on Wednesday. “We make so many mistakes. Our energy level is still average, and we’ve got to get a couple of guys pumping energy into the room.
“We haven’t developed an identity yet. Who are we? How do we make people play bad? Are we only going to win when we make shots? That’s kind of the personality we have right now. We’ve got to get out of character to get a little tougher. We’re not as tough as we need to be.’’
Self tabbed No. 12 Oklahoma — one of six Big 12 teams ranked in the Top 25 — as the biggest surprise through nonconference play, noting the impact of Trae Young.
The uncanny ability of the freshman point guard to distribute the ball has made all of the Sooners more confident because they are open when Young finds them. That, plus Young scores too as an early candidate for national player of the year.
He still has yet to play a Big 12 game, however, and familiarity enables league coaches to devise methods for dealing with good players and good teams.
Kansas, obviously, has been best at that for some time.
“It will be interesting to see (the league race unfold) because not everybody has played the same competition,’’ Self said. “Some teams are a lot better than what we’ve seen and some probably aren’t as good. We could be either one, to be honest with you.’’
Contact Kevin Haskin at email@example.com or @KevinHaskin on Twitter.