THREE WEEKS TO ANSWERS
What team will win the Big 12 regular-season basketball championship?
How many Big 12 teams will make it to the NCAA Tournament?
Who will win Big 12 Player of the Year?
The three most important questions in the Big 12 won’t be answered for another three weeks, but we already know enough to make educated guesses.
The conference champion will be Kansas, Kansas State or Oklahoma State. All three are tied for first with nine league wins, and all three will face each other one more time starting Wednesday, when Kansas heads to Oklahoma State.
Some think that game will decide the league race. It could, but remember the Jayhawks and Cowboys still have to play Iowa State at Hilton Coliseum, where the Cyclones have won 21 straight. And Oklahoma State hosts K-State on senior day. A lot can happen in the next few weeks.
There is less certainty when it comes to predicting the Big 12’s NCAA Tournament candidates. Those three are locks, while Baylor, Oklahoma and Iowa State appear likely invitees.
Everyone else will need to win the conference tournament.
Perhaps the most unpredictable race is for Big 12 Player of the Year. Oklahoma State’s Marcus Smart might be the new front-runner with the Cowboys on a seven-game winning streak. But he isn’t even the leading scorer on his team. That’s Markel Brown, another candidate.
Are either better than Kansas freshman Ben McLemore?Then there’s K-State’s Rodney McGruder, who has been a consistent force.
A case could be made for all four. The tie-breaker might come down to which team claims the conference title.
FASHION FAUX PAS
Lost in the debate about whether it was appropriate for Oklahoma State fans to rush the court after defeating Oklahoma on Saturday was the bright-orange blazer Cowboys coach Travis Ford wore on the sideline.
Ford doesn’t normally flash such loud colors, but with a sellout crowd turning out for a rivalry game, he decided to give orange a try. His team won, so it worked out, but he looked like a game-show host in an orange blazer and black pants. If he breaks out the orange again, he should go all-in with a full suit.
Of course, Ford was much better dressed for a basketball than the Texas Longhorns were at Kansas. They debuted “road warrior” uniforms from Nike in black. The last time Texas wore black, it lost 97-66 to Duke in 2005. There were jokes of burning them afterward. The black returned on Saturday, and Texas once again played like it was attending a funeral, losing 73-47.
When a conference decides to add the word “co” to its Player of the Week award, it’s usually a cop-out move that unnecessarily honors multiple hoopsters.
But it’s hard to see anyone complaining about Kansas center Jeff Withey and K-State point guard Angel Rodriguez sharing the Big 12’s top weekly honor Monday.
They were brilliant last week. Withey averaged 16 points, 10.5 rebounds and 3.5 blocks during blowout victories over K-State and Texas, and became the conference’s career blocks leader.
Rodriguez averaged 19.5 points and eight assists during a loss to Kansas and an easy win over Baylor. The sophomore point guard might have been at his best against the Bears, finishing with 22 points and 10 assists while outplaying Pierre Jackson.
How close is Iowa State to being in first place? Consider this: If not for allowing last-second three-pointers at Kansas and at Texas, the Cyclones would be tied with K-State and Oklahoma State atop the Big 12 standings. Erase an inexcusable loss to Texas Tech on top of that, and they would be all alone in first.
Iowa State is the best home team in the Big 12, but it has problems closing out games on the road. Some of that is due to bad luck. Some of it is due to poor coaching and defense. Some of is due to focus. Fix those problems, though, and ISU is a title contender.
Through Saturday’s games
1. Oklahoma State (19-5, 9-3): Bedlam win was big. Beating KU would be bigger.
2. Kansas (21-4, 9-3): Jayhawks are back, but the league title now goes through Stillwater.
3. Kansas State (20-5, 9-3): Rodriguez was the league’s best point guard last week.
4. Iowa State (17-8, 7-5): Cyclones would be in first if they could defend late threes.
5. Oklahoma (16-8, 7-5): Couldn’t do anything once Oklahoma ramped up its defensive pressure.
6. Baylor (16-9, 7-5): Too much talent to underachieve like this.
7. West Virginia (13-12, 6-6): Mountaineers struggle against the Big 12’s best.
8. Texas (11-14, 3-9): Longhorns should never wear black again.
9. Texas Tech (9-14, 2-10): Almost got West Virginia on the road.
10. TCU (10-15, 1-11): At least the Kansas win was fun.