By Ben Everett | Sports Editor
With just a few weeks left in the regular season of college basketball, the Big 12 title race is getting tighter. The conference isn’t just top-heavy, though, as eight teams very well could make the NCAA Tournament. Here’s where I rank each team in the conference:
1. Kansas (20-6, 9-4) (No. 12 in AP poll)
The Jayhawks are second in the Big 12 and are in danger of losing the Big 12 regular season title for the first time since 2004. Yet they are still the best team in the conference. The absence of senior guard Lagerald Vick, who is taking a personal leave, has oddly coincided with a surge in scoring for Kansas. The Jayhawks have put up 78-plus points during a three-game win streak including a road win over TCU and a drubbing of West Virginia. Kansas has a date with Texas Tech on Saturday in Lubbock that might decide the fate of its Big 12 title streak.
2. Texas Tech (21-5, 9-4) (No. 14 in AP poll)
The Red Raiders are riding their airtight defense to a Top 15 ranking and a 9-4 record in conference. According to KenPom, a college basketball statistical website, Texas Tech is the best defense in the country, but the offense lags behind at 67th best in the country. After a sweep of the Oklahoma schools on the road, the Red Raiders took down Baylor in impressive fashion, setting up a matchup with Kansas that will feature two teams on three-plus game win streaks.
3. Kansas State (20-6, 10-3) (No. 23 in AP poll)
The Wildcats won nine straight conference games to find themselves at the top of the Big 12 standings, but confusing losses to Texas A&M in the Big 12/SEC Challenge and a home loss at the hands of Iowa State knock K-State down a notch. The health of senior forward and preseason Big 12 Player of the Year Dean Wade will be a huge storyline to follow. Wade missed the Wildcats’ loss to the Cyclones, but played on Monday in a win over West Virginia in Morgantown, W. Va. Next Monday, the Wildcats travel to Lawrence to face the Jayhawks. If they win, they will likely be the Big 12 champs.
4. Iowa State (19-7, 8-5) (No. 19 in AP poll)
Iowa State is an interesting team. The Cyclones are the best offense in the Big 12, scoring almost 80 points per game with high-level scorers like Marial Shayok and Lindell Wigginton. They have depth on the wing and inside. Yet they have struggled to contain other offenses and that is why they find themselves in and out of the AP Top 25. The Cyclones, after taking down Kansas State in Manhattan, Kan., came home and lost to Baylor to fall to 8-5 in conference play.
5. Baylor (17-9, 8-5)
The Bears have dealt with injury after injury this season, but they continue to win tough games. A five-game conference win streak put Baylor in great position to make the NCAA Tournament after missing out last year. Since that win streak ended, the Bears have been up and down, but a win over Iowa State shows that they belong in the Big 12 title race. Trips to Kansas and Kansas State still loom large for this over-performing team.
6. Texas (15-11, 7-6)
The Longhorns might be the most enigmatic team in all of college basketball. They have double-digit losses, but have NBA -level talent and own wins over North Carolina, Kansas, Purdue and Kansas State. It’s essentially a dice roll each game on whether or not a good Texas team shows up. Giving up 98 points to Georgia in the Big 12/SEC Challenge was baffling, and a loss to Oklahoma State is an albatross on the Longhorn’s resumé. The Red River Rivalry resumes on Saturday as Texas looks for the season sweep of the Sooners.
7. TCU (17-9, 5-8)
The Horned Frogs had a promising start to the season and even found themselves ranked in the Top 25 for a few weeks, but TCU has largely struggled in conference play and the schedule doesn’t get easier. TCU lost winnable games to Oklahoma and Oklahoma State and had Kansas on the ropes but ended up falling in overtime. TCU is in the NCAA Tournament field as of now, but they need to do more to secure their bid. They have a chance to sweep Iowa State when the Cyclones visit on Saturday.
8. Oklahoma (16-10, 4-9)
The Sooners are doing the same thing they did last season: start out very strong and then flame out in Big 12 play. Except this time they don’t have a transcendent talent like Trae Young who could influence the NCAA Tournament committee’s decision. Oklahoma has some bad losses. They got blown out of the gym by Baylor on their home floor and lost to West Virginia on the road. A win over TCU on Saturday helped put the Sooners back on track, but they are firmly on the bubble.
9. Oklahoma State (10-16, 3-10)
The Cowboys are having a rough season, having dismissed multiple players from the team. Despite that, they have actually put up a fight in conference games. They only have three wins, but Oklahoma State has played teams closer than expected. The schedule doesn’t get any easier, though. The Cowboys face four of the top five Big 12 teams in their final stretch.
10. West Virginia (10-16, 2-11)
What a crazy year for the Mountaineers. Bob Huggins’ team was ranked in the preseason despite losing a veteran backcourt to graduation. The new guards have not filled in well, and the record shows that. Maybe Huggins can get his guys back on track next year.