With three teams in contention for the Big 12 title and five teams in good standing for NCAA bids, let’s jump into the league power rankings:
1. Kansas (25-4, 13-3)
RPI: No. 4
By winning six straight games, the Jayhawks have resurfaced as a potential NCAA No. 1 seed, and at 9-3 against the RPI top 50, they’re deserving of top-line consideration.
KU’s hopes of wrapping up a ninth straight Big 12 championship likely boil down to Saturday’s game at Baylor, but first comes Big Monday’s matchup against Texas Tech on Senior Night. The Jayhawks will recognize the accomplishments of Jeff Withey, Travis Releford, Elijah Johnson and Kevin Young.
“These guys have paid their dues,” said Kansas coach Bill Self. “You’re talking about four guys who are all two-year starters, and they’ve been contributors, but they’ve never been ‘the guy.’ None of them have scored 1,000 points in their career … but they’ve kept great attitudes and saw the big picture, and I think this will be a special group that I’ll remember forever.”
2. Kansas State (24-5, 13-3)
RPI: No. 18
Rodney McGruder’s buzzer-beating 3 at Baylor — off an inbounds pass with 1 second left — kept the Wildcats tied with Kansas for the conference lead. Bruce Weber’s team seems likely to land as a No. 3 seed in the NCAA tournament, though it could climb into a No. 2 by winning at Oklahoma State this weekend and reaching the finals of the Big 12 tournament.
“Anybody on our team can step up and make a play, but if you ask me which guy would you want to give the ball to in that situation I would say Rodney,” said point guard Angel Rodriguez, who triggered the inbounds pass to McGruder. “He has been here the longest. He is our go-to guy.”
3. Oklahoma State (22-6, 12-4)
RPI: No. 26
The Cowboys, safely in the NCAAs as an at-large team, still have a chance to tie for the Big 12 regular-season title if they can win at Iowa State on Wednesday and beat K-State in Saturday’s home finale.
As the conference player of the year race winds down, Oklahoma State point guard Marcus Smart remains a top candidate. “I don’t know if anyone impacts as much as he does when you look at rebounding, assists, defense, diving after loose balls,” coach Travis Ford said. “He just affects the game, not just better than any player in our league, but better than any player I’ve ever seen.”
4. Oklahoma (19-9, 10-6)
RPI: No. 22
The Sooners blew a 22-point lead in the final eight minutes of a loss at Texas but recovered to bury Iowa State 86-69 three days later (breaking an NCAA record with 34-of-34 shooting at the foul line). Ironically, OU found itself leading the Cyclones by 22 with about eight minutes left.
“A couple of the Iowa State players were reminding me on the free-throw line,” said OU forward Romero Osby, ho scored 22 points. “It was just something that we wanted to make sure we didn’t let happen again.”
Mock brackets have Oklahoma anywhere from a No. 7 to a No. 10 seed, so Lon Kruger’s should be dancing.
5. Iowa State (19-10, 9-7)
RPI: No. 53
Yes, the Cyclones were robbed in last Monday’s home loss to Kansas (the second time they should have beaten the Jayhawks this season), but they came out flat at Oklahoma and were manhandled. That leaves Iowa State on the NCAA bubble and needing wins over Oklahoma State on Wednesday and at West Virginia on Saturday.
“We’ve got to get ourselves right — it’s an important stretch,” said Iowa State coach Fred Hoiberg.
6. Baylor (17-12, 8-8)
RPI: No. 60
For now the Bears aren’t deserving of being in the NCAA field. They’re 1-8 against the RPI top 50 and 4-10 against the top 100. Obviously, Baylor squandered a chance at a signature win with Saturday’s home heartbreaker agains K-State.
“That’s a tough game to get over, but 18- and 20-year-olds tend to get over things quicker than grownups do,” said coach Scott Drew, whose team likely needs to win at Texas Monday and upset Kansas on Saturday in Waco. “We have opportunities.”
7. West Virginia (13-16, 6-10)
RPI: No. 111
The Mountaineers must upset Oklahoma and Iowa State this week, then reach the semifinals of the conference tournament to avoid a losing record.
“We’re going to prepare as best as we can prepare,” said WVU coach Bob Huggins. “I think you’ve seen that we’re prepared when the game starts — I hunk we’ve started pretty well in every game here of late. Our problem comes when (opponents) do some different things and make adjustments. We don’t adjust when other people adjust.”
WVU led 16-9 at Kansas on Saturday before the Jayhawks got cranked up in what turned out to be a 91-65 romp. Kansas shot 56 percent, leading Huggins to say: “When they shoot the ball the way shot the ball, we don’t have a chance.”
8. Texas (13-16, 5-11)
RPI: No. 122
With wins over Baylor and Texas Tech, combined with WVU losses to Oklahoma and IowaState, the Longhorns could climb into seventh place in the Big 12 standings (thereby securing a league tournament opener against TCU).
Looking deeper into the postseason, Rick Barnes said a lesser tournament like the CBI could be appealing to a team like Texas. “I think you want to play all the games you can play,” he said. “If you love what you do, I can’t imagine not wanting to play games.”
9. Texas Tech (3-13, 10-17)
RPI: No. 221
Though never a factor in the NCAA at-large discussion, at least the Red Raiders kept themselves out of the Big 12 cellar. Texas Tech defeated TCU 72-63 for its first season sweep of a Big 12 opponent since 2010.
10. TCU (10-19, 1-15)
RPI: No. 236
Did the Frogs really beat Kansas? I mean, that actually happened, right? Outside of the KU stunner, none of TCU’s losses have come by fewer than nine points.