With half of the Big 12 Conference schedule now completed, I’ve decided to break down the action thus far and what we can look for down the stretch. It didn’t take very long to figure out what we will see when the conference tournament starts at the Sprint Center in March.
As has been the case for the last decade, there’s the Kansas Jayhawks, and then there’s everyone else.
A month ago, this group of Big 12 teams looked like formidable group to end KU’s reign over this conference. Fast forward to today and the other teams that looked like they might challenge the Jayhawks for the conference title, all have warts that I believe will keep anyone from challenging Kansas for the hardware.
Kansas is just better than everyone else. Bill Self is just better than everyone else. They rarely play a game in which they put everything together and yet Kansas sits at 8-1 in the league after Tuesday’s 69-52 win over Baylor in Waco, Texas. As has been the case for 13 of the leagues 17 seasons, the Jayhawks are the class of the league.
With a one game lead at the halfway mark of conference play, the Jayhawks are once again firmly in the drivers seat. In six of its last nine games, KU could play its “C” game and win. Matchups with Oklahoma, Oklahoma State, and Texas are the only real challenges left on KU’s schedule, and two of those games are in Allen Fieldhouse.
If Self can squeeze everything out of his team, as he so often does, this Jayhawk team is a Final Four team.
Down the road in Manhattan, Kansas State is reeling.
The Wildcats have lost three of its last four and host No. 15 Texas Saturday, before the Jayhawks head to Manhattan for the second installment of the Sunflower Showdown this year. Bruce Weber has already stated that Saturday’s matchup with the Longhorns is a must-win game, and it is if the Wildcats want to stay in the top half of the Big 12 standings.
It’s beginning to look like the Wildcats (5-4) peaked in the first few weeks of conference play. That’s not to say the Wildcats are done, but they need to get themselves out of this tailspin before they undo all of the resume building they did in late December and early January.
They just don’t seem to know how to win yet. Marcus Foster is good, but the Wildcats at times seem to rely on him too much. It’s too early in his career for him to be asked to do that. The guys that the Wildcats should be able to lean on, Shane Southwell and Will Spradling, just don’t bring it consistently enough.
In the three recent losses, all of which came on the road, K-State has had its chances to win the game, but folded in the waning minutes of each contest. It’s a talented team, but a wildly inconsistent team.
They’re not a threat to repeat as co-champions of the Big 12, but if they can manage to get to 10-8 they should feel rather comfortable on selection Sunday.
The Texas Longhorns are the conference’s best bet to stop the Jayhawks. The only team that can come close to matching KU’s length and athleticism, the Longhorns are 7-2 in conference play, and just one game behind the Jayhawks in the standings.
Fresh off of the beat down they handed to KU last Saturday, they struggled to squeak out a 59-54 win over hapless TCU. The Horned Frogs shot 33% and were outrebounded 57-25, and Texas could only manage a five-point win? That isn’t a team that’s going to challenge Kansas at the top of the standings.
Oklahoma sits alone in third place, and travels to West Virginia tonight. The Sooners can score with just about anybody, but they just don’t play well enough defensively to challenge the Jayhawks.
Baylor is 2-7 now and any hopes the Bears had to make the NCAA Tournament in 2014 probably died Tuesday night. Probably the second most talented team in the Big 12, Baylor has been a massive disappointment in 2013. Outside of last weeks win at Oklahoma State, everything about the Bears has been a failure.
The way they utilize the skill set of Isaiah Austin is pathetic. Austin, who likely would have heard his name called as a lottery pick in last years NBA Draft, is only averaging 10.2 points a game this year after averaging 13 points a game as a freshman. NBAdraft.net now has him projected as the 47th pick of this years draft. The decision to come back to play another year for Drew’s Bears has cost him a lot of money.
In Stillwater, Oklahoma State fans, and more importantly T. Boone Pickens should be compiling their lists of replacements for Travis Ford. If not for Scott Drew at Baylor, Ford would be the conference’s whipping boy as its worst coach. Remember, the Cowboys who sit at 4-5 in league play, were picked in the preseason to share the league crown with the Jayhawks before the year.
Sure, Ford lost the services of center Michael Cobbins before the conference season started. But he still has the league’s best player in Marcus Smart, and two other players that will play in the NBA in Le’Bryan Nash and Markel Brown.
The Cowboys are mired in a three game losing streak after dropping a three-overtime thriller Monday against Iowa State. Ford, up three points late in the second overtime, decided not to foul the Cyclones, allowing them to attempt not one, but two three pointers, and Iowa State, which leads the conference in three-point attempts and makes, buried the second attempt to force a third overtime.
The Cyclones, 5-4, looked like a legitimate challenger to challenge KU just two weeks ago. They hit a rough patch losing three of four, but now have two straight victories over ranked opponents Oklahoma and Oklahoma State. And the schedule for the Cyclones is rather easy for the next three weeks, with two matchups each against TCU and West Virginia, as well as hosting the Texas Tech Red Raiders.
But the Cyclones have already lost to the Jayhawks twice, making it nearly impossible for them to climb to the top of the Big 12 standings.
So barring some set of bizarre circumstances, or a rash of unfortunate injuries, the Jayhawks are going to add another banner to the already crowded rafters of Allen Fieldhouse. For fans of the other teams in the conference (including me) it grows tiresome, yet expected. But that doesn’t make it any less impressive.