Big 12 Bubble Watch: Giving It The Ol’ College Try Edition

Posted by Nate Kotisso on February 5th, 2016

Today is the first Friday in February, which means March is approaching as quickly as bubble discussion is intensifying. So lets frame the Big 12’s bubble situation as it stands now. Thankfully, the Big 12 isn’t the most complicated conference in this respect. We aren’t talking about a league like the ACC, where the second and tenth place teams are separated by just 2.5 games. In any case, the Big 12’s true bubble teams are down to four after West Virginia, who is currently tied for first in the conference, all but locked up its tournament spot by taking down Iowa State this week at Hilton Coliseum. The other three teams considered locks for the NCAA Tournament are obvious ones: the aforementioned Cyclones, Kansas and Oklahoma.

Now it’s time to dive into the four teams who have the best shot at snagging those coveted at-large bids. What have they done so far? What must they do in the future? Should you eat more of a balanced diet? Two of these questions will be answered on this edition of Big 12 Bubble Watch. (RPI numbers via; SOS via; Kenpom via Numbers are as of February 4.

You won’t need to watch out for Lucille. She already has an eye on the Big 12 bubble picture.

You won’t need to watch out for Lucille. She already has an eye on the Big 12 bubble picture.

Probably In

Baylor: 17-5 (6-3); RPI: 26, SOS: 43, Kenpom: 29

Analysis: There was a 30 for 30 on a great Bears team last night (er, somebody’s Bears) but this year’s team is just kinda plain. They’re vanilla. A likable flavor with likable qualities. Lester Medford has dished out 75 assists compared to 25 turnovers in the last 10 games. Rico Gathers Sr. is a man with “Sr.” in his name and continues to dole out punishment to anyone who has to guard him. Taurean Prince is still a prospect NBA executives are drooling over. So what’s missing? The Bears’ lone win against a sure-fire tournament team came on the road at Iowa State, which is obviously nice. Outside of that, Baylor’s other wins are fairly hollow. Fortunately, they’ve got nine games to go and a golden opportunity at another good road win when they travel to West Virginia tomorrow. There is very little to worry about right now in Waco.

Texas: 15-7 (6-3); RPI: 17, SOS: 3, Kenpom: 28

Analysis: You could argue that they’re already a lock and you might have a case. The Longhorns look like the next Big 12 team to get one more really good win and receive lock status for the NCAA Tournament. They have the sixth strongest non-conference strength of schedule in the country. They own wins against North Carolina, Washington, Iowa State, at West Virginia and at Baylor. Shaka Smart makes a mean quesadilla (allegedly). There is almost nothing wrong with where Texas stands at the moment. At the same time, they have seven losses. Seven losses with road games at Oklahoma and Iowa State coming up this week. If they do drop some loseable games and take an early exit in the Big 12 Tournament, if I’m a Texas fan, I wouldn’t feel comfortable leaving my team’s fate with the Selection Committee. However, if they take one of those road games next week, they’ll inch that much closer to a stress-free Selection Sunday.

In 11 games without center Cam Ridley, Shaka Smart has led his Horns to a 7-4 record. (USA Today Sports Images)

In 11 games without center Cam Ridley, Shaka Smart has led his Horns to a 7-4 record. (USA Today Sports Images)

There’s Still Some Life Left

Kansas State: 13-9 (2-7); RPI: 55, SOS: 24, Kenpom: 48

Analysis: The Wildcats are one of those teams we didn’t expect to be on the bubble before the year and are somehow still in the hunt. The 2-7  start to Big 12 play could be better, but that’s why conference play is 18 games and not nine. Their overall profile is a blander version of Baylor’s, if such a thing is possible. The strength of schedule is 24, a nice number, but a closer look reveals their non-conference strength of schedule stands at 120. K-State’s best chance to make a move is their next one. The next five games are at home against Oklahoma, Baylor and Kansas with road trips to bottom-feeders Oklahoma State and TCU interspersed. If they’re able to win four of these next five (a very tall order), a 6-8 conference record with four to play opens up the opportunity of finishing at or around .500 in the league. Hopefully, the Selection Committee grades an 8-10 Big 12 record on a curve like they have previously (Oklahoma State in 2013-14).

Texas Tech: 13-8 (3-6); RPI: 47, SOS: 7, Kenpom: 58

This is Texas Tech forward Zach Smith. He's been doing a lot of this lately. He's fun to watch. You should watch him play sometime. (Zach Long/AJ Media)

This is Texas Tech forward Zach Smith. He’s been doing a lot of this lately. He’s fun to watch. You should watch him play sometime. (Zach Long/AJ Media)

Analysis: The way Tubby Smith put together this season’s non-conference schedule is nothing short of a masterpiece. The Red Raiders were able to get preseason favorites of smaller leagues to play games in Lubbock’s United Supermarkets Arena, but they needed a little luck too. High Point was voted as the preseason favorite to win the Big South. Hawaii was picked to finish third in the Big West and currently stand 0.5 games back of first place at 17-3. South Dakota State was picked to finish first in the Summit League and are 18-5. Arkansas-Little Rock was picked to finish fifth in the Sun Belt and are now running away with the league at 20-2. All of these teams played TTU in Lubbock and all of these teams lost to TTU. It’s led to a nice, clean RPI number for the Red Raiders (47). But as good as that number is, Tech’s only other win versus an RPI top 50 opponent was against Texas. There’s a lot to like about both this team and profile, but they simply need more quality wins. With Smith dealing with an injured Norense Odiase, players like Toddrick Gotcher and Zach Smith must step up to keep Tech alive in the bubble picture.

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