Who can stop mighty Kansas from claiming a ninth straight Big 12 title? At this juncture, it seems the answer is no one — though four of the Jayhawks’ wins have been down-to-the-wire jobs.
1. KANSAS (19-1, 7-0) RPI: 2
The Jayhawks’ 18th consecutive victory was a stop-and-go, clutch-and-grab cage match at the WVU Coliseum, where more than 12,000 fans watched the nation’s No. 2-ranked team spoil the Mountaineers’ ambush plans 61-56.
Two of Bill Self’s seniors, Jeff Withey and Travis Releford, scored 15 points each on combined 13-of-17 shooting, to help the Jayhawks scrape by. Kansas made the game closer than it had to be by making only 18-of-34 free throws and committing 16 turnovers.
“They can get rattled — everybody can get rattled at some point,” Self said.”But you look across America and there are teams that would give anything to be 5-0 on the road. With the schedule we’ve played, we shouldn’t make any excuses for winning games away from home.
“If you tell us this afternoon ‘Hey, you’re going to win by five in Morgantown,’ we’d say we’ll take that and go to the house.”
2. KANSAS STATE (16-4, 5-2) RPI: 32
On the heels of narrow losses to Kansas and Iowa State, the Wildcats crushed Texas 83-57 despite seeing top scorer Rodney McGruder marginalized by foul trouble and losing starting guard Will Spradling to a broken nose. (K-State’s bench outscored the Horns’ reserves 45-17.)
Spradling may need a mask for Saturday’s game in Norman, where K-State figures to have its plate full with …
3. OKLAHOMA (14-5, 5-2) RPI: 16
Romero Osby is struggling but fellow forward Amath M’Baye is surging. The Wyoming transfer scored 20 points in Wednesday’s 74-71 win at Baylor, a nice resume builder for the Sooners’ NCAA chances.
It was Oklahoma’s seventh win away from home this season, just more evidence that the Lon Kruger Experience still squeezes the most from whatever team he coaches.
4. OKLAHOMA STATE (14-5, 4-3) RPI: 39
Point guard Marcus Smart endured a poor outing against WVU, a game in which his teammates picked up the slack 80-66. On Wednesday night against Iowa State, Smart repaid his buddies in clutch fashion.
Smart committed only one turnover while producing 21 points, six rebounds, four steals and seven assists, and, most importantly, he hit the decisive runner with five seconds left in a 78-76 victory.
“Most of the time, I don’t think those shots are going in, but at that time and moment I had a feeling that I couldn’t miss,” Smart said. “When I was going to the basket, I knew it was going in.”
5. IOWA STATE (14-6, 4-3) RPI: 51
The Cyclones showed wild fluctuations in their recent three-game stretch. There was a tough two-point road loss at Oklahoma State on Wednesday, which followed a gritty home-court upset of K-State, which followed am embarrassing 56-51outcome at Texas Tech, the kind of bubble-bursting loss that could spell doom on Selection Sunday.
The next week provides the perfect tonic — two home games against Baylor and Oklahoma.
6. BAYLOR (14-6, 5-2) RPI: 37
Down by 16 in the second half to Oklahoma, the Bears had a chance to then the final five seconds only to miss two 3-pointers by their best gunners — Pierre Jackson and Brady Heslip.
“You know the Big 12 — one game you’re sitting pretty and the next one the world is coming to an end,” said coach Scott Drew, whose team lost despite 21 rebounds from Isaiah Austin.
7. WEST VIRGINIA (9-11, 2-5) RPI: 101
It reveals the depths of this season’s swoon when the WVU Coliseum features 2,600 empty seats for Kansas. Thanks to the 12,402 who showed up for Big Monday, the atmosphere was electric in the second half when the Mountaineers rallied within a basket several times.
But alas, this WVU still hasn’t managed to close out a game against a good team, much less a very good one, like KU.
“Execution down the stretch has killed us,” said Bob Huggins after WVU managed only two field goals in an eight-minute, late-game stretch. What could’ve helped west Virginia get over the hump?
“We could’ve ran what we were supposed to run in the fashion that it was supposed to be run,” he said.
8. TEXAS (9-11, 1-6) RPI: 137
After generating a modicum of momentum by beating Texas Tech in Austin and getting off the offer snide in Big 12 play, Texas was mauled in Manhattan, Kan., by a final of 83-57 i— a score that was deceptively close.
“(K-State) played a great game tonight, but we certainly helped them by not fighting,” said Longhorns coach Rick Barnes.
Even a sleepwalking Texas squad should handle TCU on Saturday before the Horns come to Morgantown for a Big Monday matchup that must have ESPN considering flex scheduling.
9. TEXAS TECH (9-9, 2-5) RPI: 201
The official attendance showed more than 7,000 watched Tech’s stunning 56-51 upset of Iowa State, but the actual turnout looked much sparser. (That’s OK, because Iowa State didn’t show up either.)
The win had a watershed feel for the Red Raiders, in a relative sense: It doubled their Big 12 win total of last season and marked their first win in two years in a game decided by five points or less.
10. TCU (9-11, 0-7) RPI: 233
For a while the Frogs earned kudos for keeping conference games close, but that was before Trent Johnson’s team was flattened by 21 at West Virginia and by 26 at home versus Baylor.
The game to circle is March 2 at Texas Tech, which looks to be TCU’s only chance of avoiding an 0-18 Big 12 record.
“This team was a lower-level team in the Mountain West,” last season, Johnson said. “Even the good teams in the Mountain West couldn’t come out and just go to town in the Big 12.”