Owen Kemp of Rock Chalk Talk and SB Nation Kansas City is the RTC correspondent for the Big 12 Conference.
A Look Back
This week in the Big 12 featured another upset on top along with a fair amount of jockeying in the middle as the tournament bubble becomes more and more crowded. Monday night, the Kansas Jayhawks squared off against the Oklahoma State Cowboys in their last Big Monday appearance. The news of the day surrounding the Jayhawks was the suspension of junior starting point guard Tyshawn Taylor. Taylor remains with the team and the violation is viewed as minor, but the fact that Kansas is dealing with another player missing time down the stretch is a bit of a concern. As for the game on the court, Kansas didn’t skip a beat and Taylor’s replacement, Elijah Johnson, scored 15 points including a perfect 4-4 performance from beyond the arc.
Tuesday featured the Iowa State Cyclones heading on the road to take on the Longhorns. The game was never really in doubt, as Texas eventually won by 23 and got back on track following the loss to Nebraska.
Wednesday was a day that had the potential to separate those on the bubble and those slowly falling off. Missouri faced off against Baylor in a game the Bears could have used in a big way. However, the impressive run of the Tigers in Columbia continues and after keeping it close for a time Baylor fell apart. For Mizzou, it was an 18-point win to move the Tigers into fourth place in the Big 12 standings.
Elsewhere, Colorado kept their slim hopes alive with a close win over Texas Tech in Lubbock. The three-point road win moved the Buffaloes to 6-7 in the conference and 17-11 overall and while the win on its own wasn’t enough to put Colorado back in the conversation, what they would accomplish later in the week was.
The big matchup on the night featured a trip by the Kansas State Wildcats into Lincoln where Nebraska and Kansas State were both battling for more stable footing. The Wildcats entered the game considered a team in pretty good position as far as a tournament bid, but Doc Sadler’s Husker team had a chance to boost their hopes in a big way with a win. The game was close throughout but the Huskers could never get enough consistency on the offensive end as Kansas State would win by four.
Rounding out the Wednesday action was an easy win by Texas A&M over Oklahoma in College Station. The Aggies have quietly separated themselves in the three spot in the league, but with two tough late season tests, Kansas State and Missouri could easily threaten that.
Saturday is always the premier day of the week in the Big 12, and just like last Saturday, the Texas Longhorns fell in an upset on the road. Despite jumping out to a 22-point lead, the Longhorns couldn’t hold off a monster day from guard Alec Burks as Tad Boyle’s Buffaloes made their most convincing argument for the tournament bubble in a win. As for the loss, it means that the Longhorns now sit tied with the Kansas Jayhawks on top of the league as Kansas handled Oklahoma on the road and both teams sit 12-2.
Outside of the Texas upset, there were two more minor upsets in the league when Texas A&M lost to Baylor in Waco and the Missouri Tigers fell in Manhattan. The win by Kansas State doesn’t come as much of a surprise, as Frank Martin’s team is playing very well of late and looks like a team recovering from rock bottom in early January.
The three upsets mean that the three through seven spots in the conference are separated by just two games and all seven teams, including Colorado and Baylor, now have a very real opportunity to make a late push for another large Big 12 representation in the NCAA Tournament.
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.
1. Kansas (27-2, 12-2) – Kansas continues to be extremely efficient offensively and the door is now reopened for a seventh straight conference title.
2. Texas (24-5, 12-2) Texas loses for the second consecutive Saturday against a team in the league with a below .500 record. The Longhorns have a few chinks in the armor of late, especially on the offensive end, but they still control their own destiny in terms of winning the league.
3. Kansas State (20-9, 8-6) One month ago, the Wildcats looked like they could very easily find themselves in the NIT. In the last month, Jacob Pullen has started to play like the POY candidate that many expected and while Kansas State was probably overrated to start the year, they have fought their way back to reality and that puts them as a pretty good team that can make some noise in March.
4. Texas A&M (22-6, 9-5) – A&M has been flying under the radar of late and at the moment, they hold the third position in the standings, giving them that all important first day bye. Overall though, they haven’t been as impressive as some so it drops them down a bit in the power rankings.
5. Missouri (22-7, 8-6) – Can a team win the tourney when they have been so bad away from home all year? Honestly, Missouri does seem to sneak up on people in March so they are tough to count out, but the difference between at home and on the road is staggering.
6. Colorado (18-11, 7-7) – Colorado went from a team looking to be down for the count to a team firmly on the bubble with what amounts to a fairly impressive resume.
7. Baylor (18-10, 7-7) – Baylor continues to be as up and down as ever. The win over Texas A&M keeps them in the hunt, but the team is definitely at risk of going from Elite 8 to NIT.
8. Nebraska (18-10, 6-8) – The loss to Kansas State is one that can be lived with, but losing to Iowa State all but ruins the Huskers hopes for a tournament bid.
9. Oklahoma State (17-11, 5-9) The Cowboys had a strong non-conference season, but they haven’t put together the conference resume to make a play. The good news is that of the bottom four teams, the Cowboys might have the brightest future.
10. Texas Tech (12-17, 4-10) Tech didn’t win but they were close in both contests. That’s just enough to keep them ahead of Oklahoma. It’s still fairly amazing that Pat Knight’s name rarely comes up in any discussion of coaches on the hot seat.
11. Oklahoma (12-16, 4-10) – Another week, another two losses. The common theme when you look at the two teams at the bottom of the Big 12 is a complete lack of depth. The good news is that both OU and ISU look to have pieces in place to improve.
12. Iowa State (15-14, 2-12) – The Cyclones snag a second win this week and send the Huskers limping to the Big 10.
A Look Ahead
This week is HUGE for the Big 12, starting with the two teams battling it out up top. The Texas Longhorns have games against red-hot Kansas State and a trip to Baylor remaining on the schedule. After two consecutive Saturday losses, the confidence isn’t as high in Austin and a possible one-seed and the Big 12 title are very much at stake.
Meanwhile, the biggest competition for Texas, the Kansas Jayhawks, have two pretty tough matchups themselves. First off the Texas A&M Aggies head into Lawrence for senior night where Kansas hasn’t lost in a very long time. The game that could be the do-or-die moment will come next Saturday when Kansas heads into Columbia where Missouri is a different team and the Tigers will be fired up as they look to keep their bitter rival from winning or sharing the league for a seventh straight season.
Tuesday night features a winnable game and really a must-win game for current bubble team Baylor. The Bears head on the road to Stillwater and need to get a win over the Cowboys.
Wednesday night is huge for the Colorado Buffaloes as they head on the road to Ames in a game that could secure a .500 conference record. Like Baylor, this is a must win for the Buffaloes as they currently sit on the bubble with the chance to close out strong.
Saturday, the league wraps up the regular season with Texas taking on Baylor and Kansas and Missouri locking horns, though a Nebraska/Colorado tilt could be just as big in the overall conference picture heading into March.
It’s been an incredibly balanced and unpredictable year across the Big 12 and the final week has storylines building for multiple teams. Now it’s just a matter of who rises to the challenge.
Player of the Year Watch: One week left and the preseason pick has surged back to the front of the pack, a darkhorse candidate puts his name back in the mix and the two players on teams battling it out at the top continue to put forth a strong argument.
Marcus Morris, Kansas – (19 PPG, 7.6 RPG): Morris is one of the most efficient offensive players in the country and he has the chance to lead his team to a seventh consecutive league title and a number one seed in the NCAA Tournament.
- Jacob Pullen, Kansas State – (21.8 PPG, 3.4 APG): Pullen is coming on strong at just the right time and might mean more to his team of late than anyone in the league. If voting were today, Pullen would have to like his chances. How much should voters penalize him for his team’s slow start?
- Jordan Hamilton – (18 PPG, 7.9 RPG): Hamilton shoots just 7-24 in a loss to Colorado. The game is another signal that as Jordan Hamilton goes offensively, so goes the fate of the entire Longhorn attack.
- Alec Burks, Colorado – (20.3 PPG): Burks is an impressive offensive player and without him, Colorado isn’t even close to the bubble. He’s a big time talent and led his team to a big time win over #5 Texas.