There’s a shakeup at the top this week, with Kansas in the throes of a three-game losing streak for the first time since 2005. Also suddenly in peril is the Jayhawks’ eight-year reign as Big 12 champs. Their slump includes narrow losses to Oklahoma State and Oklahoma sandwiched around one inexplicable stumble at TCU.
“We should be better in some ways than what we are … but all teams go through it every year,” said coach Bill Self. “If we haven’t gone through some crap, we wouldn’t have been tough enough to compete on the highest stage anyway.”
1. Kansas State (19-4, 8-2) RPI: No. 21
Aiming to get the feel of The Phog (and to escape the bubbling hype on its own campus), K-State made the 80-minute drive to Lawrence a day early for a shootaround in preparation for tonight’s Big Monday matchup. The Wildcats come in on a four-game winning streak, but they’ve lost 45 of their last 48 meetings against big brother KU.
How is the Wildcats’ psyche after losing at home to Kansas 59-55 back on Jan. 22?
“I’m not inside there heads totally,” coach Bruce Weber said, “but we challenged them after we lost to Kansas and Iowa State to make this game mean something in the standings. Now, here we are not only in the race, but we’re on top of the standings.”
K-State may be leading the Big 12 and ranked higher in the polls, but the Wildcats enter tonight as 7-point underdogs.
2. Kansas (19-4, 7-3) RPI: No. 9
“We have labored big-time the last week,” Self said after his Jayhawks dropped from a No. 1 seed in the NCAA tournament to the No. 2 spot in their own league. The 13-point first half at TCU was not merely a low point for KU’s season, but Self suggested it was a rock-bottom event for the program — on par with one of James Naismith’s early teams losing to the Topeka YMCA.
As for Big Monday’s home date against K-State, the coach implored his guys to “play with freedom” and not feel the weight of this skid. The Jayhawks haven’t suffered a four-game slide since 1988.
3. Oklahoma State (17-5, 7-3) RPI: 28
Winners of five straight, the Cowboys may stand the best chance of claiming the Big 12 regular-season championship, because they still have home games against K-State, Kansas and Oklahoma.
Just a week ago, OSU had lost 21 of its last 22 league road games — but now the Pokes have won two in a row at Kansas and Texas. In the latter, OSU’s league-worst 3-point defense held UT to 1-of-18 from long range.
4. Oklahoma (15-7, 6-4) RPI: No. 18
The Sooners erased the sting of an 83-64 loss at Iowa State by knocking off Kansas 72-66 in Norman, where OU fan stormed the court. Kansas had beaten Oklahoma 10 consecutive times.
Lon Kruger’s team plays four of its final eight league games against TCU, Texas Tech and Texas, making OU seem like a lock for the NCAA tourney. Not bad for a squad currently cycling through three point guards in its last three games.
5. Iowa State (16-7, 6-4) RPI: 38
The Cyclones split two decisions last week, crushing Oklahoma 83-64 before losing at Kansas State 79-70.
“I thought we battled at K-State, but we just didn’t do a good enough taking care of the ball,” said Fred Hoiberg, whose team committed 20 turnovers. “You have to play 10 points better on the road just to think about walking out of there with a win.”
6. Baylor (15-8, 6-4) RPI: 50
It’s a strange Big 12 season indeed when the Bears can drop three straight games yet still not lose ground to Kansas. Baylor snapped its skid by throttling Texas Tech 75-48 on Saturday thanks to Cory Jefferson (15 points and 10 rebounds) and Isaiah Austin (13 and 13) producing a double double-double.
“We know it’s going to be a photo finish here in conference at the end of the season,” said Bears coach Scott Drew. “We want to do our part.”
7. West Virginia (12-11, 5-5) RPI: 88
The Mountaineers, winners of three straight games against Texas Tech, Texas and TCU, look a little bit more like the team Bob Huggins envisioned back in the preseason. Though to be certain, Huggins probably didn’t envision WVU’s offense revolving around two freshmen, but that’s the case with Eron Harris and Terry Henderson dialing in from the perimeter.
Those two guards, along with sophomore Jabarie Hinds, combined for 43 points in a 63-50 win in Fort Worth.
“We’ve still got a lot of youth but I think they’re growing up,” Huggins said.
8. Texas (2-8, 10-13) RPI: 160
After a 23-game NCAA suspension, it’s finally Myck Kabongo time at Texas, and coach Rick Barnes expects his reinstated point guard to make a huge impact when the Horns host Iowa State on Wednesday.
“It’s not like he’s been hurt,” Barnes said, “so from a conditioning standpoint, that shouldn’t be an issue. He’s done everything the rest of our team has done this season except play.”
While Barnes hasn’t been pleased with his eligible players this season, he said Kabongo’s influence from the sideline has been reaffirming.
“He’s been our hardest worker every day, and here’s a guy who knows he’s not even going to play three-quarters of the season,” Barnes said. “During games, he’s more invested in what’s going on than the guys who are playing. He has really grown. I don’t see anyway in which he’s not going to make us better.”
9. Texas Tech (9-12, 2-8) RPI: 217
After a 75-48 drubbing at Baylor on Saturday, the Red Raiders have lost their last four Big 12 road games by an average margin of 24 points. Tech shot 28 percent from the floor in Waco and only 11-of-20 at the foul line.
“I believe that we’re going to get a couple more wins,” said interim coach Chris Walker, “and the best chance for that comes at home.”
Against Baylor, Tech’s Jordan Tolbert missed a large span of the first half after picking up his second foul. It was here that Walker should have considered leaving his best player on the court — after all, what chance did Tech have without him? Tech trailed by 12 at intermission and Tolbert played only 17 minutes overall, finishing with six points and three fouls.
10. TCU (10-13, 1-9) RPI: 220
What is the lingering relevance of the Kansas upset? “None,” said Trent Johnson.
Give the coach credit for not getting caught up in the euphoria, but his players weren’t as mindful. Several players reportedly missed class the next day, rankling Johnson, who reminded everyone the upset was as much about Kansas playing poorly as it was TCU playing well. “I’m not so sure they can play any worse than they played,” Johnson said.
Three days after making national headlines, TCU crashed back to reality, losing at home to West Virginia 63-50.
“Everybody talks about momentum and the fans being happy and all that … but it’s all about consistency,” Johnson said. “We competed at a hard and high level (against Kansas), but we did’t do that against West Virginia.”