Big 12 Bubble Watch: Yeah, It’s Early. So What?

Posted by Nate Kotisso on December 10th, 2013

We are 96 days away from Selection Sunday so what better time is there than now to do a Big 12 Bubble Watch? Conference teams thus far have been a big surprise in non-conference play, scoring wins over the likes of Duke, Kentucky, Michigan, Colorado and Memphis. But some teams are more of a sure thing and the others just keep us guessing. So here’s how we’ll break it down: Those “in very good shape” are definitely in the NCAA Tournament if it started today; those that “might be getting in” have looked good so far but haven’t truly tested themselves yet; and those “on the outside looking in” have a chance to get in but still need a lot of work. As for those not listed, let’s just say that they have quite a bit of work to do at this point. Let’s get to it.

This was the scene in Boulder following Colorado's upset win over Kansas. (Screengrab via ESPN/The Big Lead)

This was the scene in Boulder following Colorado’s upset win over Kansas. (ESPN; screengrab via The Big Lead)

In Very Good Shape

Oklahoma State: (8-1); RPI: 15, SOS: 28.

Analysis: I haven’t been crazy about who the Cowboys have played considering they were a preseason top-10 team, but they haven’t shown any reason to doubt that they will make the Tournament. They were able to split two games with nationally-ranked Memphis and scooted by Butler at the Old Spice Classic. The caveat about the Butler win, like most against the Big East this season, is that you might not know if it’s a good win until Selection Sunday. It’s great to have one, though, for security reasons. If that Butler win doesn’t hold up, the Cowboys have one more big test against Colorado (didn’t they leave the Big 12?) in Las Vegas. They’re certainly on the right track.

Kansas: (6-2); RPI: 2, SOS: 1

Analysis: Hugs for Bill Self. He challenges his team in the non-conference portion of the season each and every season and we love him for that. Some have been disappointed with the unspectacular play of Andrew Wiggins and have been surprised with the still-relatively-new-to-basketball Joel Embiid. Kansas has a neutral-court victory over Duke that is likely to withstand the season and it’s not like the Jayhawks won’t have time before the conference opener to change minds (if they need to). They have Florida to contend with tonight and Mountain West favorites New Mexico and San Diego State coming up soon. Plus, if you’re ranked in the top five in both RPI and SOS, you’ve pretty much in a good place.

Baylor: (8-1); RPI: 4, SOS: 2

Analysis: The Bears lost do-everything point guard Pierre Jackson and they might be better off because of it. Baylor tipped off the season with a win against Colorado in Dallas and found themselves in the EA Sports Maui Invitational Championship. Their only loss of the season came to Syracuse, the AP No. 2 team in college basketball. On Friday night, Baylor got its most impressive win over then-No. 3 Kentucky on a neutral floor in Arlington, Texas. The toughest part of their schedule seems to be over until January and Baylor has passed muster with flying colors. Despite that, Baylor’s poll rankings do not befit a team with a few quality wins already.

Iowa State: (7-0); RPI: 19, SOS: 104

Analysis: It seems like every time I look up, the Cyclones are hanging 90 or 100 points on opponents with relative ease. There isn’t any doubt that they’re fun to watch and seem to be peaking earlier this season than what we’ve seen from previous Fred Hoiberg teams. Wins over national runners-up Michigan and BYU on the road in consecutive games gave this team the confidence that it could beat anyone anywhere. But their schedule isn’t on the same level as Baylor or Kansas. Their next game against archrival and fellow pleasant surprise Iowa will be a battle between two highly-ranked clubs. The Hawaiian Airlines Diamond Head Classic during the week of Christmas looks like a tournament the Cyclones can win with likely Boise State or Saint Mary’s as their toughest opponent in the title game. So far, so good.

Might Be Getting In

Oklahoma: (8-1); RPI: 36, SOS: 97

Lon Kruger's team is 8-1 but they lack quality victories. (Beth Hall/USA Today Sports)

Lon Kruger’s team is 8-1 but lacks quality victories. (Beth Hall/USA Today Sports)

Analysis: The Sooners lost a lot of scoring from last year’s NCAA Tournament team. Lon Kruger has decided to go with a four-guard starting lineup with this year’s group, and so far it’s gone rather well. This is a good team but Oklahoma lacks a quality win at home, road, or anywhere. They did, however, give Michigan State a bit of a game at the Barclays Center last month but that doesn’t help much on their resume. Their next four games before the conference opener against Texas are Tulsa, Texas-Arlington, Texas A&M and Louisiana Tech. Long Kruger hasn’t given his team any favors with all those pillow-soft schools on it.

Texas: (8-1); RPI: 29, SOS: 66

Analysis: To date, the Longhorns have been the biggest surprise in the conference. Eleven players on the Texas roster are either freshmen and sophomores, and lo and behold, they’re 8-1. They have two wins against power conference opponents in Vanderbilt and an overtime road win at Temple on Saturday. Take a look at that strength of schedule figure now, because it’s going to skyrocket in the next two weeks. Next week they will face schizophrenic North Carolina in Chapel Hill, and then turn around and face Michigan State three days later in Austin. We’ll find out soon enough whether this Texas squad is worth taking a closer look at.

On The Outside Looking In

West Virginia: (6-3); RPI: 75, SOS: 90

His team has got some work to do but Bob Huggins' West Virginia Mountaineers have a legitimate shot at an at-large bid. (AP Photo/Orlin Wagner)

His team has got some work to do but Bob Huggins’ West Virginia Mountaineers have a legitimate shot at an at-large bid. (AP Photo/Orlin Wagner)

Analysis: I had the opportunity to watch the Mountaineers last Thursday when they traveled to play Missouri in the Big 12/SEC Challenge. Seeing them play in person and on television, I’m convinced that this isn’t the same team from a season ago. Sure, many of the players from that team are still there but they aren’t nearly as horrid as they were on the offensive end. They’ve also played a challenging schedule so far, but unfortunately, WVU hasn’t been able to capitalize on those big games. They lost to Virginia Tech during the 24 Hour Tip-Off Marathon, gave No. 4 Wisconsin a game at the Cancun Challenge, and fell to now nationally-ranked Missouri last week. They still have a chance to get things in order before Big 12 play, starting tonight as No. 20 Gonzaga pays a return visit to Morgantown in what looks essentially like a must-win. If they finish non-conference play without another loss and go 9-9 in the Big 12, they’ll have a legitimate chance for an at-large bid come Selection Sunday.

Kansas State: (5-3); RPI: 184, SOS: 200

Analysis: Looking at their RPI and SOS numbers, the Wildcats look like a poor candidate to make the NCAA Tournament in 2013-14. K-State started off the year with a loss to Northern Colorado and before they knew it, they were 2-3. But the only reason why they kinda, sorta, still have a shot is because of last Thursday’s win against Ole Miss. That’s their saving grace right now. The Wildcats have their own date with Gonzaga in Wichita next Saturday and face an underrated George Washington team back at Bramlage on New Year’s Eve. It should be pointed out that Thomas Gipson (12 PPG, 5.2 RPG) has dealt with injuries since the preseason and didn’t return to form until the tail end of the Puerto Rico Tip-Off. The NCAA Selection Committee will certainly take that into consideration if K-State ends up on the bubble.

*RPI and SOS numbers via CBSSports.com

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