LAWRENCE, Kan. -- Houston, we have lift off.
The national champion will be crowned in the Texas city in a few months, and Monday's game between No. 1 Kansas and No. 2 Oklahoma could have been a preview. If it was, is anyone going to complain?
Well maybe people with a bedtime.
Fifty-five minutes, 215 points and one winner but honestly no losers. Kansas might have claimed the victory, 109-106, but no way Oklahoma is a loser here. Call them No. 1 and No. 1¾.
Kansas and Oklahoma needed three overtimes to figure this one out, the first 1-2 game to go to multiple OTs since NC State beat UCLA at the 1974 Final Four.
In a season in which everyone has been searching for a favorite, the Nos. 1 and 2 teams in the country more than made the case that they belong just where they are. There were too many hero plays, too many big shots.
It was an instant classic. Welcome to college basketball season, everyone.
A win for the little guys
Bill Self has called his backcourt the biggest difference-makers on this team and the smallest players showed just how big they are in this one. Devonte' Graham, who played almost too frenetically early, hit the go-head free throws and then Frank Mason III, his backcourt mate, sealed the victory for Kansas, swiping an Oklahoma inbounds pass.
Mason is a flat-out bulldog. He didn't shoot well, didn't score a lot of points, but he calmly directed the Jayhawks through this game on the offensive end and tried to stick with Buddy Hield on the defensive end. Sticking with Hield is near impossible, not to mention exhausting, but Mason didn't let it change his attack on offense. He dished out six assists, pulled down seven rebounds and ultimately won the game with his toughness.
Here's the best way to explain Buddy Hield: Kansas closing the gap, cutting the lead to just five, and Hield has the ball, dribbling on the wing to try to find an opening, Frank Mason on him like a blanket. Mason nearly strips the ball, forcing Hield to regroup. He gathers himself, steps back beyond the arc, drains a 3-pointer.
And then he did that, or something similar, again and again and again. On a night when Brice Johnson stole the headlines with 39 points and 23 rebounds for North Carolina, Hield responded with 46 points of his own.
It is way too soon to call the player of the year race, especially with Denzel Valentine on the sidelines for another week or so, but Hield has to be in the favorite position right now.
The Kansas senior looks like he should be headed back for his 15th college reunion. It seems like he has been in college forever. There's always, it would appear, someone who is better than him at Kansas but he showed in this game why he is arguably the most underrated player in the country. The Jayhawks wisely started to go to him almost exclusively in the second half and overtime and he delivered, finishing with 27 points and 13 rebounds.
And so the Big 12 title still runs through Kansas. At least for now, at least until the rematch in Norman on Feb. 13. The Jayhawks, snakebit in four previous tries in a 1-versus-2 game, not only broke the streak and kept hold of their top spot in the polls with them, they got an early jump in the Big 12 race.