Finding a Path to the Madness for Big 12 Bubble TeamsPosted by Shane McNichol on December 29th, 2016
The top of the Big 12 is off to a hot start this season with Kansas, Baylor, and West Virginia all ranked among the top 12 of the AP poll and the current KenPom ratings. These three teams have a combined 34-2 record that includes wins over Duke, Virginia, Louisville and Xavier. The class of the league appears as strong as ever, but if the Big 12 has notions on putting seven teams back into the NCAA Tournament for the third consecutive year, trouble arises further down the standings. With a mix uninspiring victories and troubling losses, the middle of the pack is full of teams that will need to earn their chops in conference play to sufficiently impress the NCAA Tournament Selection Committee. Texas and Oklahoma appear in trouble, so let’s focus on the five teams with the best resumes to date.
- Iowa State. The Cyclones entered the season with high expectations given that head coach Steve Prohm returned four key contributors. To date the Cyclones have yet to really impress or disappoint. Iowa State’s three losses have all been understandable — dropping games to Gonzaga, Cincinnati and rival Iowa — but the rest of the schedule has consisted of mostly cupcakes save for a nice win over Miami (FL). The key for the Cyclones in Big 12 play will be their performance on the road. Hilton Magic should result in a minimum of six or seven home wins, but that means Iowa State will need to win three or four road games to feel confident about an NCAA Tournament berth. With no sign of a true bottom-feeder in the conference this year, that will be much easier said than done.
- TCU. Despite sporting an 11-1 record, Jamie Dixon’s Horned Frogs have yet to create any real buzz in part because TCU’s best wins came in an odd scheduling quirk, beating Washington in back-to-back contests. Aside from those two victories, their next best win came against Illinois State — not exactly something to write to the Selection Committee about. Whereas Iowa State is more concerned with taking care of business and keeping the status quo, TCU needs a big win or two in conference play as well as a plus-.500 Big 12 record. Going 9-9 with six losses to Kansas, Baylor and West Virginia isn’t likely to be enough.
- Oklahoma State. A trio of wins over Connecticut, Georgetown and Wichita State — all on neutral or road courts — has put the Pokes in good position entering conference play. With better non-conference wins than the other four teams in the middle of the pack, a key for Oklahoma State will be its head-to-head match-ups against those foes The Cowboys enter league play ahead on points so they shouldn’t allow their fellow bubble members to best them with a knockout. Even in situations where one team has a clearly better resume than the other, the committee often struggles to exclude the team that won multiple head-to-head match-ups.
- Texas Tech. The Red Raiders’ schedule pales in comparison to that of every other Big 12 team, including TCU. Texas Tech has only played one power conference opponent, which resulted in a neutral court loss to Auburn. Aside from that, its schedule has been packed with lots of filler and easy wins. Anything less than 10 wins in Big 12 play likely results in Texas Tech heading to the NIT.
- Kansas State. Speaking of bad schedules, Kansas State has yet to challenge itself at all. The Wildcats lost to the best team it has played (Maryland), beat two of the nation’s worst power conference teams (Boston College and Washington State), and coasted against a host of lackluster opponents. The Wildcats will enter conference play with something to prove to the Selection Committee and are fully capable of playing themselves out of NCAA Tournament contention by the end of January. If Kansas State can’t win four of its first seven conference games, Kansas State will be out of the conversation.