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When it was finally over, after top-ranked Kansas had made all the plays down the stretch, again, to win another close game, again, Bill Self took a moment to marvel at the Big 12's final standings.

In handling a good Oklahoma State team 90-85, the Jayhawks continued their dominance of a very good basketball league, putting the bow on their 13th consecutive conference championship -- and winning it by four games.

"I thought this year would be as tough a year as we've had to try to win the league," Self said. "And it was. Fortunately, we won several games just like this game. ... The guys have been pretty good finishers."

That's apparent, and it's why Kansas is headed for a No. 1 seed in the NCAA tournament. Despite the program's tendency through the years to fade in March, the Jayhawks will be among the favorites to win it all.

But there have been other significant story lines, too. Allegations of off-court misbehavior ranging from vandalism to violence against women loom over the season, darkening the picture -- which is probably why Self didn't seem surprised by a question posed a little later:

Amid all the success, is he running a loose ship?

"That's not true at all," Self said. "But that may be how people perceived it, but I think it's perceived that way because that's the way some media has reported it. We're not in a position to talk about a lot of that stuff like we'd like to."

He went on to describe "irresponsible actions," saying players had "done some things that we could have handled better." Those things include this list of allegations:

Freshman guard Josh Jackson faces misdemeanor charges for allegedly damaging the car of a Kansas women's basketball player outside a Lawrence bar in December. McKenzie Calvert's car needed nearly $3,000 in repairs after Jackson allegedly kicked it after an argument. The nation's consensus No. 1 recruit, who is among 10 finalists for the Naismith Trophy as the nation's best player, has not been publicly disciplined.

That incident apparently grew from a contentious relationship between sophomore guard Lagerald Vick and Calvert, the women's basketball player. The Kansas City Star reported Calvert had thrown a drink on Vick that night, precipitating Jackson's alleged vandalism.

The newspaper also reported that Vick was the subject of an earlier school investigation that found he "likely hit" Calvert several times during 2015 and recommended a two-year probation.

Most troubling, there's an ongoing investigation of a reported rape of a 16-year-old girl in the residence hall where the basketball players, along with other students, live. Five players, including Frank Mason III -- another Naismith finalist -- Jackson, Vick, Tucker Vang and Mitch Lightfoot were listed in a police report as witnesses.

During the rape investigation, police discovered drug paraphernalia in the residence hall. Sophomore forward Carlton Bragg entered into a diversion agreement after misdemeanor possession charges. He was suspended for three games last month for violating team rules.

There's even a spinoff to the main plot lines. Calvert, who led the women's basketball team in scoring in five of its first seven games, has seen her minutes dwindle in the remainder of the season. Her father told the Star she had been punished for making trouble for the men's players.

Self hasn't said much about the off-field issues -- in part, he says, because he cannot. During a brief conversation Saturday with USA TODAY Sports, he referenced Title IX -- likely in regard to the situation involving Vick and Calvert -- and said, "We're not in a position to talk about a lot of that stuff like we'd like to." But last week, Self referred to that stuff as "crap and distractions," framing it in the context of a team playing through adversity and remaining focused on basketball.

"I would say that's a proud thing," he told reporters. "You know, as a coach, you want your team to be -- to rally around things. You want them to be tough."

It's what coaches do, and never mind what it looks, sounds or reads like to anyone who thinks perhaps the correct prism isn't wins, losses, championship streaks and tournament seeding. But it's also where Self's reputation as a good guy might be playing a role in insulating Kansas from criticism. Over the years, his media-friendly approach has perhaps built up benefit of the doubt. To his credit, he stood in a hallway Saturday night and talked agreeably with a reporter about a topic he didn't want to discuss.

But take the same set of "crap and distractions" -- and remember, we're talking about things that were self-inflicted -- and apply it to a program headed by, say, Rick Pitino. Or John Calipari. What happens then? Might the temperature already have been turned up a notch or two?

"I have no idea," Self said. "But what have we done? What have we done that's bad? The kid kicked a car. That was handled. ... I know that we've been irresponsible in some ways, a couple of times irresponsible that we could have handled situations better and that kind of stuff. And I'm not denying any of that or running from any of that.

"But just because I don't talk about it or our players don't talk about it doesn't presume anything other than the fact that we can't talk about it."

So yeah, sure. This team has played through distractions of its own making. In keeping with his style, Self remained pleasant throughout the conversation. A few moments later, he was all smiles, posing for photos with a small knot of Jayhawks fans in the lobby of the old arena.

In less than two weeks, the Jayhawks figure to be back in Oklahoma for the NCAA tournament. If the seeding predictions are correct -- and they likely are -- they'll post up in nearby Tulsa, a little more than 200 miles from Lawrence, for the first and second rounds. Win there, and they'd glide to Kansas City, Mo., just 45 minutes from campus, for the Midwest Regional. Given their likely path, their obvious talent and their demonstrated ability to finish strong, it's very possible this bunch could overcome the program's proclivity for early NCAA exits.

No one should be surprised to see them in Arizona for the Final Four.

But they'll bring baggage.

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March 6, 2017


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