Big 12 Bubble Watch: Texas is Here to StayPosted by Nate Kotisso on January 23rd, 2014
Want a good laugh? Take a look at our Big 12 Bubble Watch from six weeks ago. Look at how gaudy those early season records were! Sigh, we were only kids then. But now is a lot different. Kansas appears headed for another Big 12 championship while early favorites Baylor and Iowa State are struggling to find themselves in conference play. Kansas State has turned around what could have been a disaster of a season following a co-Big 12 title last year. Oklahoma State is very much in the conversation for dethroning the Jayhawks and Rick Barnes’ Texas Longhorns continue to surprise us game after game.
(Ed. Note: While it was unclear in December who would win the Big 12, at least now we have a good enough sample size to project a team to take the conference’s automatic bid. For this particular scenario, that Big 12 champion is Kansas. Not considered in this Bubble Watch were TCU, Texas Tech and West Virginia.)
In Very Good Shape
Oklahoma State: 15-3 (3-2); RPI: 12, SOS: 38
Analysis: It seemed like the world would come crashing down when Michael Cobbins went down with a season-ending Achilles injury and the Stevie Clark situation(s) flared up, but it wasn’t so. Marcus Smart is still doing Marcus Smart things and did you know Phil Forte is connecting on half of his three-pointers this season (53-for-106)? Seriously. Oklahoma State managed to be a few possessions from winning at both Kansas State and Kansas (and for that matter, a few possessions from losing at West Virginia). While having Memphis and Colorado as good non-conference wins, nice RPI and SOS numbers, no bad losses, and the rough part of their schedule still to come, Travis Ford’s team has plenty of chances to add to its portfolio.
Iowa State: 14-3 (2-3); RPI: 10, SOS: 11
Analysis: Surprised to see these guys here? The Cyclones’ struggles have been well-documented and their chances at a Big 12 regular season title are dwindling, but there is still a lot going right for this team. Remember that win over Michigan in mid-November? Its luster started to fade but the Mitch McGary-less Wolverines have re-entered the Big Ten title race with consecutive wins at Wisconsin and against Iowa. Speaking of the Hawkeyes, Iowa State beat them last month as well. At this point in the season, the difference between the Cyclones and Baylor is their head-to-head match-up in Ames where Fred Hoiberg’s team took them out with ease. What will be interesting to see from the Cyclones now will be how they deal with DeAndre Kane’s minutes. He’s played 35 minutes or more in every Big 12 game while battling an ankle injury. Will Hoiberg try to work Bubu Palo, who was placed back on the team by a county judge, into the rotation to supplant Kane? We shall see.
Oklahoma: 15-4 (4-2); RPI: 16, SOS: 7
Analysis: I watched Oklahoma play Texas A&M in person on December 21 in what can be best described as an uncharacteristic performance by the Sooners. The Sooners’ high-powered offense scored a season-low 64 points, committed 22 turnovers and still defeated the Aggies by 12. At the time, they were a team that looked formidable but only did so against a questionable non-conference schedule. After a difficult stretch to tip-off Big 12 play, Lon Kruger’s team has emerged with a home win over Iowa State and nice road victories at Texas and at Baylor. They very nearly avoided a very bad home loss to TCU last night that would have assuredly knocked them from the “In Very Good Shape” category. But all is forgiven.
Might Be Getting In
Baylor: 13-5 (1-4); RPI: 42, SOS: 15
Analysis: The Bears are in the midst of a three-game losing streak. A losing streak can do two things to a good team like Baylor. Obviously, it changes the perception of just how good they are. Some will ask questions like: Will Baylor be worth watching going forward, or will they be able to turn things around? Secondly, it makes people forget about the good things the Bears did earlier in the season. Believe it or not, Baylor has solid semi-neutral court wins over Colorado and uber-talented Kentucky. But their only conference win came against TCU at home, which simply doesn’t carry much weight (sorry, TCU). While currently ranked 42nd in the latest RPI ratings, Baylor was all the way up at No.13 a week ago. They’re not in danger of falling off the bubble altogether, but anything less than a 9-9 finish in the Big 12 would make for some tense moments on Selection Sunday.
Texas: 15-4 (4-2); RPI: 43, SOS: 36
Analysis: I think it’d be best to put those Buzz Williams-to-Texas rumors to bed. Buzz is having his own struggles at Marquette in the first year of the new Big East, while Rick Barnes continues to make a strong case for Big 12 Coach of the Year in Austin. The Horns have two good home wins against Iowa State and Kansas State thanks to Jonathan Holmes, their best pure scorer. While those victories are all well and good, eventually they’ll need a meaningful win outside of Austin’s city limits. I know you’re probably thinking the North Carolina win counts as one, and it does, to a degree. UNC, however, currently sits at 1-4 in league play, good for 13th in the 15-team ACC. It’s time for an upgrade. Playing a struggling Baylor team in Waco is a good place to start.
Kansas State: 14-5 (4-2); RPI: 34, SOS: 29
Analysis: Our last Bubble Watch used CBSSports.com’s unofficial RPI rankings which had Kansas State’s RPI at #184 with a strength of schedule of #200. Look at them now. They’ve won eight of their last 11 games since December 10, winning all the ones necessary to turn their season around: vs. George Washington, Gonzaga, Oklahoma State, and Oklahoma. The Wildcats, much like the Longhorns, have had the advantage of home-cooking to enhance their profile. Those four wins all came within the Sunflower State’s borders. That’s what makes this week so crucial for K-State. They were a missed buzzer-beater from getting another chance at Texas in an overtime period, and Saturday brings an opportunity to win at Hilton Coliseum for the first time since 2011. Like his competitor at Texas, Bruce Weber has a good chance at Big 12 COY for the second consecutive season. But who cares about winning COY anymore? I say we do away with the COY award and put Barnes, Weber and Kruger at Oklahoma in a cage-fighting scenario. Three will enter and the winner will leave… with a $100 Whataburger gift certificate. I’d watch that.
*RPI numbers via NCAA.com; SOS numbers via CBSSports.com