Instead of power rankings this week, we are introducing the bubble watch for Big 12 teams. We will alternate these for the next couple weeks and release both weekly as we get closer to March.
To call any team a lock at this point would be foolish. Big 12 teams still have 14 regular season games to go (13 conference + Big 12/SEC Challenge) as well as the Big 12 tournament. However, there are three teams in the Big 12 that are on the verge of gaining lock status: Kansas, West Virginia, and Baylor. All three are currently ranked in the top 7 of the AP Top 25, and will likely be fighting to earn high seeds in the NCAA Tournament.
Teams that would be in today:
In addition to those three teams, I believe that another three teams would likely be in the tournament if it started today: TCU, Iowa State, and Texas Tech. With their victory over Iowa State, TCU moved to 3-2 in Big 12 play and is just outside the AP Top 25 at #26. The Frogs also have the 4th-highest RPI ranking in the conference at #25, behind only the Bears (#1), the Jayhawks (#4), and the Mountaineers (#23). As the season progresses, TCU will need to take care of business at home and will want to pick up a win over one of those teams in the top 3. They will have a great opportunity this Saturday when Baylor comes to town.
Iowa State would also be in the tournament, due to the fact that they don’t have any bad losses yet this season. The Cyclones currently sit at 11-5 overall and 3-2 in the Big 12. Four of their five of their losses have come to teams that are either currently ranked or receiving votes in the AP poll, with the only non-ranked loss coming to rival Iowa on the road. The Cyclones are also 5th in the conference in RPI at #47. Iowa State has a major chance to pick up a signature win and boost their RPI as they host Kansas tonight on ESPN at 8.
Texas Tech would likely find themselves in the NCAA tournament for the 2nd consecutive year if the selection was today. Despite a weak non-conference schedule, which really hurt their RPI ranking (#61, 8th-best in Big 12), they have picked up two key Big 12 wins at home. First, they knocked off Press Virginia, ranked #7 at the time, for a signature win and then found a way to get past K-State, who was ranked #25 at the time. The Red Raiders will likely need to continue to win at home and find a couple road wins in order to make up for the poor non-conference schedule and stay on the good side of the bubble.
Teams with a lot of work to do:
Both Kansas State and Oklahoma State have a good chance to make runs toward the tournament; however, both would likely be sitting just outside of the bubble as of today.
The Wildcats and Texas Tech are very tough to split, but the Red Raiders currently gain the edge due to their narrow home victory over Kansas State and their signature win over West Virginia in Lubbock. K-State has been through a brutal schedule thus far in the Big 12, having already traveled to Lawrence and hosted Baylor. The Wildcats were on the unfortunate end of a blatant travel call against the Jayhawks, but they can’t get that one back. In order to move into the tournament side of the bubble, the Wildcats will need to beat Tech when they travel to Manhattan and get a signature win over one of the teams in the top 3 of the conference. One chance will come next Saturday when they host West Virginia.
Oklahoma State is the only team without a Big 12 win thus far this season, but their 10-2 non-conference record keeps them in the conversation. However, their major non-conference wins against UCONN, Georgetown, and Wichita State don’t look quite as good as they once did. They also have a decent RPI ranking at #52, which is 6th-best in the conference. The Cowboys have a talented backcourt with Jawun Evans and Phil Forte and have the ability to win games, but it’s a matter of going out and doing it. The next three games (vs. K-State, @ Tech, vs. TCU) will be key for the Cowboys’ postseason chances.
Sitting at home in March:
Although there is time left this season to make a run, the remaining two Big 12 teams are likely to have a hard time getting into the tournament without winning the Big 12 tournament. Both Texas and Oklahoma have struggled this season and are currently sitting below .500 overall. The Sooners have a better chance at getting in, since they have some better wins, namely victories over Clemson and Texas Tech. However, unless these teams can turn things around quickly, they’ll be watching March Madness from their own rooms.