Judging by the atmosphere, Kansas’ game against Kentucky felt more like a tournament game than a break from conference play.
“It’s kind of like when you go to an AAU tournament," Kansas coach Bill Self said. "It’s kind of like the showcase game. There’s a showcase game and you win or lose, it’s no big deal. It doesn’t affect the bracket. That’s kind of what I thought about this game."
Self is correct in the sense that, win or lose, Kansas’ standing in the Big 12 wouldn’t be affected. However, Kansas’ win over Kentucky could go a long way in acquiring a No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament.
ESPN’s Joe Lunardi updates his postseason bracket predictions based on a team's RPI at any given time. Kansas, which is currently the Midwest’s No. 1 seed, is just three RPI spots above Florida State, the current No. 2 seed.
In short, a team’s RPI ranking is based on its wins and losses, as well as how good the opposing team is. The RPI system is crucial for deciding the seeding of the tournament.
What Kansas’ win against Kentucky did was give Kansas its first win against a Top 10 RPI team this season. Kentucky is currently No. 8 in RPI. Previously, Kansas’ best win of the season was against now-No. 20 Duke back in November.
Kansas has the chance to grow its resume this week as Baylor, No. 1 in RPI, comes to Allen Fieldhouse on Wednesday. Following the win over Kentucky, it should also make clear that Kansas’ chance to beat Baylor is significantly better than it seemed after the loss against West Virginia.
Another revelation that came from the win was Kansas’ defense against opposing bigs.
Kentucky’s best forward, Bam Adebayo, was held in check despite Kansas’ depleted forward depth. That bodes well for the Jayhawks as their remaining schedule involves two games against Baylor and a rematch at home against West Virginia.
Usually when two unheralded recruits go up against the best point guard and second-best shooting guard in their recruiting class, the latter comes out on top.
Just don't count out Kansas guards Frank Mason III and Devonte' Graham.
Much of this newfound confidence comes from the defense of senior center Landen Lucas and junior forward Dwight Coleby. Freshman guard Josh Jackson’s defense is another huge takeaway from the Kentucky game.
After an off game against TCU to open Big 12 play, Jackson has looked like one of the most talented players in the country again. After fouling out for the second time in three games against West Virginia, Jackson staying on the court against Kentucky was a key turning point in Kansas’ win.
Jackson’s length came in handy with Kansas’ transition to zone defense and paired with his 20 points and 10 rebounds, Jackson will remain the difference maker outside of Kansas’ stalwart backcourt.
Self wasn’t wrong in his assessment of the game and his comment that the game “means a lot to the fans of both schools” is certainly true. But while the Big 12 standings might not show it, the win at Rupp Arena definitely provided answers for a Kansas team that was full of questions.
— Edited by Omar Sanchez