The big picture
Kansas and Kansas State emerged unscathed at the top of the league standings after a week in which both knocked off other undefeated contenders. The Jayhawks suffocated Baylor on Big Monday, holding the Bears to 23.2% shooting from the field en route to a 61-44 victory. On Saturday, Kansas State took care of Oklahoma at Bramlage Coliseum, setting up a battle for first place in the Sunflower State showdown on Tuesday night.
While the Jayhawks looked dominant throughout December, they have survived some close calls in Big 12 play, needing a Ben McLemore three to force overtime against Iowa State and a furious second-half comeback to escape Austin with a win. The Octagon of Doom has tripped up Kansas in recent years, with the Wildcats snagging two victories against their hated rivals in the last five meetings at Bramlage.
Iowa State continued to take care of business, but the Cyclones certainly made it interesting. They led West Virginia by as many as 18 points in the second half on Wednesday night, but once again gave up a game-tying three-pointer in the final seconds of regulation. If the Cyclones were having flashbacks to the McLemore heroics, they definitely didn’t show it. Will Clyburn raced up the court and hit Georges Niang under the basket for the game-winner with 2.3 seconds to go.
The Cyclones followed that exciting victory with an easy road win against league doormat TCU, keeping them just a game behind the league leaders. With another winnable road game against Texas Tech up next on Wednesday night, the Cyclones should be sitting at 4-1 in conference when they host Kansas State for a huge game on Saurday.
The bottom half of the league held steady last week as the league’s top teams added victories against the second division. Although Texas put a scare into the Jayhawks and West Virginia charged back at Iowa State, the league’s two worst squads scuttled through another week of action. TCU slid to 0-5 after losses to both Kansas State and Iowa State. The Horned Frogs logged only 0.827 points per possession against the Cyclones, but that futility was nothing in comparison to Tech’s. After losing by 18 to Oklahoma, the Red Raiders were blown out by 34 in Stillwater on Saturday, managing just 0.686 points per possession against the Pokes.
Oklahoma State at Baylor; Monday, 4:30 P.M. CT (ESPN)
Until they can get the monkey off their collective back, the Oklahoma State Cowboys will always be the team that can’t win on the road. Under Coach Travis Ford, OSU is 6-29 in Big 12 road games, with only one win in their last 21 conference games away from Gallagher-Iba. Last season, the team’s trip to Waco was a nightmare, with Baylor coasting to a 106-65 win at the Ferrell Center.
While it will be interesting to see if Philip Jurick and Michael Cobbins can handle unorthodox big men Isaiah Austin and Cory Jefferson, the key matchup could be on the perimeter. Baylor has allowed opponents to hit more than 34% of their threes on the year, a mark that is in the bottom half of D-I. OSU has a dead-eye shooter in Phil Forte that could propel his team to a road upset if he’s left unchecked behind the arc.
Both of these teams were considered preseason contenders who could challenge Kansas at the top of the Big 12. Neither has looked like a championship-caliber team so far in conference play, but the winner could make a statement in this nationally-televised game.
Texas at Oklahoma; Monday, 8:30 P.M. CT (ESPN)
LRT’s preview of the Texas/Oklahoma game will be available later this morning.
Kansas at Kansas State; Tuesday, 7 P.M. CT (Big 12 Network/ESPN3.com)
There will be a ton of experience on the court when the Big 12′s biggest rivalry heats back up on Tuesday night, with first place on the line. The Jayhawks start four seniors, while nearly everyone is back for a K-State squad that has three upperclassmen in the starting lineup. Although this is a Top 15 matchup, basketball fans across the country will have to get to their laptops to see the action. The game is on the Big 12 Network, so folks who are not in a market with an affiliate will have to use ESPN3 if they don’t pony up for the Full Court package.
All eyes will be on Elijah Johnson Tuesday night as he looks to bounce back from a very disappointing showing in Austin. Wildcat guard Angel Rodriguez has very quick hands on the perimeter, and the K-State defense forces opponents to turn it over on nearly 23% of their possessions. When the Jayhawks dug an 11-point hole against the Longhorns, turnovers were the catalyst. If EJ and the ‘Hawks have the same kind of issues in a very hostile road environment, that 15-game KU winning streak could be in jeopardy.
TCU at West Virginia; Wednesday, 6:30 P.M. CT (ESPN2)
West Virginia has lost three times by a combined total of 13 points in its inaugural Big 12 season. In the team’s one league win, they needed a last-minute rally and overtime to knock off Texas. While all of those tight games have likely turned some stomachs into knots in Morgantown, there’s little chance that any Pepto Bismol will be needed on Wednesday night. West Virginia should cruise to a victory over a depleted TCU team that struggles to score, hopefully building some confidence and momentum for the ‘Eers. With a road game against Oklahoma State and a visit from KU looming on the horizon, they will certainly need it.
Iowa State at Texas Tech; Wednesday, 8 P.M. CT (ESPNU)
While Iowa State proved it can play with the league’s best in a heartbreaking loss at Allen Fieldhouse, the team has yet to face any other true contenders. The Cyclones have marched through the easy part of their schedule, reeling off three consecutive wins against the league’s bottom four teams.
Although teams have been known to stumble when visiting Lubbock, Wednesday night should offer ISU another chance to log an effortless victory before the competition toughens up. As long as the Cyclones don’t get caught looking ahead, they should be sitting comfortably in second place before a key eight-day stretch pits them against K-State, Baylor, and Oklahoma State.