The Big 12 conference title race always, somehow, figures to come down to the wire. And, with a little more than a third of the games played after this weekend commenced, the conference finally has a team alone in first place.
Kansas State, who’s 6-1 in conference with its only loss being a dismantling in Schollmaier by the TCU Horned Frogs, is alone in first. Kansas, Iowa State, and Texas are right behind the Wildcats at 5-2.
And TCU, who’s right behind the leading pack at 4-3, has beaten 2 of 4 of those teams above them.
So, how do we power rank the top of this conference, in which everyone’s beating everyone in a true Hunger Games situation??
How far does Kansas fall down for losing in overtime by a point to Kansas State, and then getting decimated by 23 points in Allen Fieldhouse to TCU?
Then what about Iowa State, for losing by 2 points to Oklahoma State on Saturday?
For the rest of the conference, the lowlier teams I haven’t yet mentioned, seven wins will be the magic number. Since the conception of the “new” Big 12, there have been a few instances in which a 7-11 conference record gets you in.
No 6-12 conference record has ever been invited at-large. Seven will be the barometer.
There’s a good chance 9 out of the Big 12’s 10 teams do get to 7-1, though.
Sorry Texas Tech.
Without further ado, let’s get to this week’s rankings after another crazy slate.
1. Kansas State
Yes, I know TCU’s beaten them, and handily too, but as the record shows this is still the top team in the Big 12.
If the Frogs were more consistent, and didn’t blow games to the likes of West Virginia, it could be them in this spot.
Like the Frogs, Kansas State beat Kansas (though not in Allen Fieldhouse, and not by 23), but the Wildcats’ lone loss is much better than the few Frogs’ losses.
Kansas State has the potential to beat any team, on any night, in the Big 12. But can they continue to do so as the grind of the season beats them down?
A good sign - the Wildcats are undefeated in close games this season, and teams who win the Big 12 regular season generally do so by winning an incredibly fortunate amount of close contests.
Kansas State’s next four games are going to be a massive indicator on if they can stay at this #1 spot. The Wildcats travel to Ames Tuesday to play Iowa State, go back home next Saturday to play a sneaky-good Florida team (SEC-Big 12), then have to travel to Lawrence and Allen Fieldhouse, then back home, against Texas.
Tough upcoming schedule for the Wildcats. We’ll see if they’re for real.
This is where it really starts to get murky, as you can make an argument for any team ranked #2-#5 to be here.
Sure, Iowa State beat the Frogs in Schollmaier, but the Cyclones didn’t put up half the fight TCU put up in Allen Fieldhouse.
The Cyclones kept it close, but couldn’t pull away from the raucous environment. The Frogs were able to.
Also, while the Frogs do have a bad loss in West Virginia, the Cyclones just earned a bad loss of their own Saturday against Oklahoma State.
We’re here to talk about the Frogs though. TCU showed Saturday against Kansas why, at its best, there isn’t a better team in the Big 12. They’ve beaten Kansas, and the #1 Kansas State.
In the Kansas game, the Frogs completely destroyed, in all aspects of the game, in an 83-60 win inside the hardest place to play in college basketball.
Yet - too often there are times the Frogs are far from that kind of performance. In wins against Texas Tech and Baylor, the Frogs fell behind, the squad lost an 18 point lead to Texas, and then absolutely rolled over in Morgantown against West Virginia.
To win the Big 12, consistency is a must, and the Frogs don’t have that right now. It’s strange, especially when we’ve seen the pieces come together many different times this season.
The constant inability to shoot the 3-ball still hurts - but the rebounding has gotten better (Eman + Eddie have been monsters), and the Frogs still run on the fast break better than any team in the country.
Was very much thinking of putting Iowa State in this spot, but based on the head-to-head matchup, I’m giving the Jayhawks the edge. (Kansas beat Iowa State in Lawrence 62-60).
Based on pure talent - Kansas probably should be #1, but the overtime loss to Kansas State, and the blowout loss to TCU has to push them down.
In the loss to Kansas State, the Jayhawks were undisciplined. Three players were unavailable during the final stretch due to fouling out and Kansas had trouble hitting anything beyond the interior.
In the loss to TCU, Kansas never truly woke up, and could never sustain a rhythm when they needed it most. They looked lazy, and unconcerned, for a large part of Saturday’s contest.
4. Iowa State
Again, I had trouble deciding between Iowa State and Texas in this spot, but based on the head-to-head record, the Cyclones get the nod. (Iowa State beat Texas 78-67 in Ames on Tuesday)
Before Saturday’s surprising loss to Oklahoma State, the Cyclones’ lone loss in the Big 12 came by 2 points to Kansas in Lawrence. Despite the loss, that’s still an impressive showing.
Iowa State has an elite defense, the best in the Big 12, and it gives them the edge in a lot of games. TCU saw just how constricting the Cyclone pressure could be.
The Frogs also saw how good Gabe Kalschuer could be. Kalschuer’s playing at an All-Big 12 level, and if he could continue getting the help he got against Texas (rather than the measly play he got against OSU), Iowa State’s offense could be elite. Jaren Holmes had 21 against Texas, and Caleb Grill had 17.
Neither showed up against Oklahoma State.
It feels weird putting this Texas team #5. They’re so damn good. But, so is this conference.
Yes, the Longhorns beat TCU earlier this season, but it’s still Texas’ best win in the Big 12, and the game was played in Austin. They also needed the Frogs to completely fall apart, coming back from 18 to win by only 4 points.
TCU’s best win of the season: a 23-point win over Kansas in Lawrence (feel like it bears repeating).
But - the Longhorns are quietly hanging around, as it feels they haven’t been talked about much within mainstream media, yet are winning and are only a game back from the league’s one spot.
Texas hasn’t been nearly as good defensively as they were before Big 12 play began, but they’re still capable of scoring with any team in the league. The Longhorns rank in the Top 10 nationally in 2-point field goal percentage.
With an “easier” game in Austin versus Oklahoma State coming up, let’s see if the Longhorns can gain some ground in the Big 12 before traveling to Knoxville to play one of the best teams in the country: Tennessee.
Per BartTorvik.com, Baylor has been the conference’s 2nd-most efficient team since Big 12 play began, only behind Iowa State. That surprised me.
But - Baylor’s offense has been elite. It’s just tough to win when your defense consistently struggles.
Recently, though, it hasn’t been too tough. The Bears are on a roll, and are enjoying a four-game win streak, albeit against the four teams below them in the rankings (WVU, OSU, TTU, OU).
Before this streak, the Bears lost to Iowa State, TCU, and Kansas State.
Monday’s game in Waco against Kansas will be huge.
The Jayhawks are reeling. Can the Bears take advantage?
7. Oklahoma State
Before this week, the Cowboys were in the middle of a three-game losing streak. Now, they’re enjoying a two-game winning streak after beating Oklahoma on Wednesday and upsetting Iowa State on Saturday.
They’re formula is simple: the Cowboys are an elite defensive team which ranks as one of the country’s top shot-blocking teams.
But, like many great defensive teams, they tend to find trouble scoring. When they do get in an offensive rhythm, this is a sneaky good team, who could beat just about anyone in the league.
When they don’t score, though, it’s ugly. Oklahoma State has seen a different opposing Big 12 team win three different times, despite scoring less than a point per possession (KSU, KU, UT).
Man, oh, man have the Sooners been involved in some close games. 6 out of 7 of the Sooners’ conference games have been decided by two or fewer possessions. 4 of 6 of those have been losses.
That’s just a couple swings away from Oklahoma being 5-2 in conference instead of 2-5.
But - the Sooners haven’t been consistent enough to turn these losses into wins, and it’s why they’re #8 this week.
Coach Porter Moser was heated in Wednesday’s 16 point loss to Oklahoma State, and understandably so. The defensive lapses were inexcusable against a team who consistently struggled offensively.
If one more player could step up for the Sooners, one not named Grant Sherfield or Tanner Groves, the Sooners could get over the hump, and start winning some of these close games.
9. West Virginia
West Virginia’s #9 in my power rankings, and sits #9 on the conference standings right now, but the Mountaineers are an analytics darling.
KenPom has them fifth in the conference in adjusted efficiency.
West Virginia started 0-5 in conference play, but after controlling the whole game against TCU in Morgantown the Mountaineers finally got on the board.
They turned around and lost by 8 to Texas, also in Morgantown, but the win against TCU showed that West Virginia can still be a trap.
6th-Man Joe Toussaint’s been great, and WVU is going to need him if they want to start stacking some wins. The Mountaineers need someone to come off the bench, and produce.
He had 20 points against Baylor, 14 against Oklahoma, and was the team’s leader down the stretch in the win versus TCU.
He didn’t make an impact offensively in the Texas game, and it’s part of why they only scored 61.
West Virginia will need to start winning some games, and upset a couple more heavy-hitters, if they want a sniff of the NCAA Tournament.
10. Texas Tech
Honestly - Texas Tech hasn’t been horrible in Big 12 play. 4 of its 8 losses have come by two possessions or fewer.
Still - the better teams win those close games, and the Red Raiders haven’t. An 0-8 conference record is, also, inexcusable.
What’s also funny? Texas Tech’s best win is still a non-conference win against Louisiana Tech.
The Bulldogs aren’t even a KenPom Top 100 team.
The Red Raiders’ NCAA Tournament chances are slim to none. They’ll need a miracle-run in the Big 12 Tournament to make the big dance.
Where have all those cactuses been this season?
This Week’s Power Rankings
- Kansas State
- Iowa State
- Oklahoma State
- West Virginia
- Texas Tech