KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) -- Just a week ago, the Big 12 appeared muddled, not a front-runner in the bunch.
Texas was bumped out of its No. 1 ranking with consecutive losses, Kansas lost to Tennessee's walk-ons and Kansas State fell at home to Oklahoma state after knocking off the Longhorns.
Well, look who's in control now: the five-time defending champion Jayhawks.
Coming off an impressive week of wins over its two biggest rivals, Kansas is back atop the rankings and in control of the Big 12 race. Playing better than they have all season, the Jayhawks lead the conference by two games at 6-0 and are 20-1 overall, the same record they had on the way to the 2008 national championship -- and still not satisfied.
"We'd rather be two games up in the Big 12 than be No. 1 right now," said Kansas senior Sherron Collins, who fought off cramps to hit the go-ahead basket against Kansas State. "No. 1 doesn't mean anything because at the end of the year there's only going to be one No. 1."
Kansas spent the first eight weeks of the season atop the polls and were back there again on Monday. Now, the Jayhawks hope to avoid letdown the previous two poll sitters experienced.
Texas was undefeated when it rose to No. 1 on Jan. 11 and lost to Kansas State on the road a week later. The Longhorns added a loss to Connecticut and were done at No. 1 after two weeks. Undefeated Kentucky took over last week and was promptly knocked from its perch, losing to South Carolina.
Kansas' second stint at No. 1 starts with games at Colorado and at home against Nebraska this week before heading to Austin for a huge game against the Longhorns that will feature a dozen or so potential NBA players on the same court.
The Jayhawks have been there before and don't care all that much about the rankings, so expect them to ready for being No. 1 and everything that goes with it.
"My goal for this team is to play to that ranking as opposed to being there," Kansas coach Bill Self said.
Kansas sputtered at times even as it opened the season 14-0, then lost on Jan. 10 to a Tennessee team missing four players.
Since then, the Jayhawks have played arguably their best basketball of the season.
Kansas opened conference play with a couple of easy wins, then outlasted Baylor, ranked No. 25 at the time. The Jayhawks won easily at Iowa State and followed with an 84-65 dismantling of rival Missouri at Allen Fieldhouse that could have been a 40-point victory had they not let up.
Kansas capped its run off with perhaps its most impressive win of the season, a gut-check overtime victory at Kansas State's "Octagon of Doom" on Saturday that gave the Jayhawks 20 wins for the 21st straight season, the longest streak in the nation.
"I feel like we've improved in a lot of areas since the start of the season," Self said.
The biggest difference has come inside.
Kansas likes to play inside out, but wasn't able to early in the season because Cole Aldrich and Marcus Morris weren't consistent enough.
Playing more aggressively than he ever has, Morris has shaken loose from his underachieving reputation during the conference season, leading the Jayhawks with 18 points per game. He had 13 points and 10 rebounds against Kansas State.
Aldrich struggled with bronchitis for the early part of the season and was emotionally drained as he dealt with his grandmother's battle with cancer. The junior center's lungs finally cleared up and so did his mind once he got past grieving the death of Ann Aldrich on Jan. 15.
Aldrich has three straight double-doubles heading into Wednesday's game against Colorado and was nearly unstoppable inside against the Wildcats, finishing with 18 points and 13 rebounds.
"Cole Aldrich is the best center in college basketball," Kansas State coach Frank Martin said after the game.
There are still 10 games left in a conference that has eight teams in the RPI's top 40 -- most in the nation -- and reaching No. 1 during the season isn't high on the list of goals at a place like Kansas.
"I think there's still another step we can take," Self said.
(Copyright 2010 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)
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