Checking in on… the Big 12Posted by Brian Goodman on February 21st, 2011
A Look Back
Last week’s Big 12 schedule ended up riddled in upsets, and rather than the league providing some clarity as the NCAA Tournament approaches, the waters just got a little muddier.
The week started with a Valentine’s Day Big Monday matchup between the Kansas State Wildcats and the newly-anointed #1 Kansas Jayhawks in Manhattan. Headed into the game, the Wildcats were in desperate need of a statement win headed toward the tourney, while the Jayhawks talked about embracing the target that comes with being named #1. The game turned out to be all Kansas State, as senior guard Jacob Pullen exploded for a career-high 38 points and the Wildcats dominated a Jayhawk team that looked complacent from the start.
Tuesday night went as expected as the Texas Tech Red Raiders lost in Columbia in a high-scoring affair against the Tigers. The Tech effort actually provided one of the closer games for the Tigers at home this year, but the eight-point loss was just another bump in the road for a Tech team that hasn’t had much in the way of positive news this season.
On Wednesday, the Texas Longhorns took to the court knowing that taking care of business in two very winnable games during the week likely meant a top ranking to start the following week. Against Oklahoma State in Austin, the Longhorns cruised and the Cowboys dropped to 4-7 in the conference likely dropping them off the bubble and into the group of Big 12 teams that will be NIT-bound come March.
Texas A&M turned away an Iowa State team still looking for win number two in conference play and Nebraska got a big road win in Norman over the Sooners. The win moved the Huskers to 5-6 in the conference and in the conversation with Kansas State and Colorado as a potential league representative in the tourney. It’s definitely a bit of a reach, but in a year where college basketball is full of parity, it’s not out of the question.
Saturday tipped off with the Jayhawks rebounding from their loss to Kansas State with a blowout win over Colorado and Missouri getting their first conference road win in Ames over the Cyclones. The big story in the early going, however, was the Nebraska Cornhuskers. Doc Sadler and the Huskers pulled off the second big time upset of the week in conference play as they knocked off the Longhorns in a thriller in Lincoln. The Huskers used a pesky defense and rode the energy of the home crowd to the upset and with a statement win put themselves firmly in the conversation as a fringe bubble team.
Kansas State continued their strong play of late with big win at home over the Sooners, while A&M continued to survive winning by one point over Oklahoma State in Stillwater. Besides the Longhorn upset, another game provided a mild upset when Texas Tech went into Waco and knocked off the Baylor Bears. Baylor now sits 6-6 in the conference with an identical record to Nebraska and Kansas State. The biggest concern for Baylor has to be the lack of any quality wins. In a little over a week, Baylor has gone from a team that looked to be improving and moving toward lock status, to a team sitting on the brink. If the tourney started today Texas, Kansas, Missouri, Texas A&M, Kansas State and Nebraska would be your top six teams with Baylor checking in at number seven. That most likely doesn’t get them in.
Quick Disclaimer: Power rankings are not meant to be a poll. They are meant to reflect who is playing the best basketball at a given time.
- Texas (23-4, 11-1) – Texas dropped one on the road in Lincoln, but they retain the top spot because it was a game where they fought for 40 minutes and it just wasn’t their day.
- Kansas (25-2, 11-1) – Kansas was manhandled in Manhattan and didn’t put up much of a fight. They looked great on Saturday at home against a mediocre opponent, but the manner of the loss on Monday keeps them at #2.
- Texas A&M (11-5, 8-4) – A&M continues to win albeit by a very slim margin. Still the Aggies have won on the road more often than the Tigers and that puts them at #3 for now.
- Missouri Tigers (21-6, 7-5) – Two wins this week for the Tigers and their first conference road win against last place Iowa State. That doesn’t necessarily change the concern over the Tigers’ play away from Columbia, but it’s a start.
- Kansas State (18-9, 6-6) – The Wildcats were on the ropes headed into the week, but after a win over # 1 Kansas, they now seem firmly in control of their NCAA Tournament hopes. K-State is #5 right now in the conference if the tournament selection show were today.
- Nebraska (18-8, 6-6) – A big win over Texas and the Huskers now sit 6-6 with a real chance to play themselves into the NCAA Tournament. Doc Sadler plays a tough physical defensive game and it’s winning basketball games in Lincoln.
- Baylor (17-9, 6-6) – Baylor losing to Texas Tech at home is a pretty big blow at this point. The Bears can’t claim any marquee wins and they have more “bad” losses than Kansas State and Nebraska.
- Colorado (16-11, 5-7 Big 12) – Colorado was in a position to make a play, but the schedule isn’t kind down the stretch. Right now, they are probably a longshot tourney team, but they’ll have to run the table.
- Oklahoma State (16-10, 4-8) The Cowboys can’t seem to catch a break and continue to lose close games in tough situations. Help is on the way in Stillwater, but this year has been a struggle.
- Texas Tech (12-15, 4-8) – Tech got a pretty nice win on the road in Waco this week and actually proved pretty competitive in Columbia which is no easy task. One tick up in the power polls as a result.
- Oklahoma (12-14, 4-8) – Two losses for the Sooners this week and they drop from a potential middle tier Big 12 team back to the bottom.
- Iowa State (14-13, 1-11 Big 12) – Things just aren’t getting any better in Ames. It’s a long season when you have such a lean bench.
A Look Ahead
- Monday brings another Big Monday in Lawrence as Kansas welcomes the Oklahoma State Cowboys. Bill Self has had his struggles against his alma mater, and at this point, the role of spoiler is all the Cowboys have to play for.
- Tuesday night, Texas will play host to the Iowa State Cyclones in Austin in their first game since losing to the Huskers in Lincoln. The Longhorns are still playing for the outright conference title and with four losses they are the team with the most losses that is still being mentioned in terms of a potential number one seed.
- Wednesday night, Kansas State heads to Lincoln in a game that means a great deal for Nebraska, but also has implications for the Wildcats as well. While most believe Kansas State is fairly secure as a fifth Big 12 team in the tournament a win helps improve their seeding while a win for Nebraska is another big feather in the cap of Doc Sadler as he looks to take the Cornhuskers to the tourney in their final year in the Big 12.
- Wednesday night games also include Oklahoma heading to Texas A&M, Colorado heading to Lubbock and the unpredictable but talented Baylor Bears traveling to Columbia where the Tigers are undefeated on the season.
- Saturday once again sees all 12 teams in action with the Kansas Jayhawks and Texas Longhorns going on the road in games they are expected to win against Oklahoma and Colorado, respectively. The Longhorn trip to Boulder is probably the more dangerous of the two as the Buffs have NBA talent. The big question will be whether or not they can defend well enough to slow the Longhorns.
- Missouri travels to Manhattan for a tough contest against K-State in a matchup that is slowly growing into a rivalry. While neither team hates the other in the way they hate Kansas, this is a game that has become competitive and relevant in recent years.
- Elsewhere, Texas A&M heads to Waco for a game against Baylor. Texas Tech and Oklahoma State square off in Stillwater in a game that holds little significance. And lastly Nebraska gets another chance to boost the resume when they travel to Iowa State with a chance at another conference road win against the Cyclones.
Player of the Year Watch
With two weeks to go, this is down to a three-man race. Two players with teams at the top and one player who’s overcome his fair share of struggle and become a better player and leader for it.
Power Ranking Style and Based on Conference Play
- Jordan Hamilton – (17.6 PPG, 8.0 RPG): Not a great week for Hamilton, but he’s still the best player on the best team in the conference.
- Marcus Morris, Kansas – (18.0 PPG, 7.7 RPG): Statistically, Morris is still impressive, and he’s by far the most versatile. But will the perception that he lacks leadership hurt his chances?
- Jacob Pullen, Kansas State – (21.2 PPG, 3.6 APG): Pullen exploded on Monday against Kansas with 38 points, but what was even more impressive is how he was able to step back and elevate others around him in the second half while Kansas State kept their foot firmly on the gas. Pullen has put himself firmly back in the conversation for the postseason award.