HORNS BACK IN CONVERSATION
Most fans rush the court following a victory over Kansas.
Texas fans prefer to stay in their seats and heckle the Jayhawks with chants of “overrated.”
That’s what transpired over the weekend at the Erwin Center, when the surging Longhorns thumped Kansas 81-69, handing the Jayhawks their first Big 12 loss. It was a fitting scene.
Though you can argue the merits of the chant itself — as Texas coach Rick Barnes did in his postgame news conference, saying “I really think that’s the dumbest thing our fans have done. What, we just beat a team that isn’t any good? Why would you chant that?” — you can’t dispute what it said about the state of this rivalry. Kansas and Texas are back to being heavyweights in the Big 12.
And they are ready to throw punches. No. 8 Kansas (16-5, 7-1 Big 12) is the favorite to win another conference championship. But No. 15 Texas (17-4, 6-2) won’t let that happen without a fight. They are all alone in first and second in the league standings. As we approach the midway point of the Big 12 season, they appear to be in their own class, competing for a trophy while everyone else battles for third.
The Jayhawks and the Longhorns are the only teams in the Big 12 that have built a rivalry based solely on success, exciting games and the pursuit of league championships. That rivalry has gone dormant the past few years, with Texas declining to the point where it missed the NCAA Tournament for the first time under Barnes last season. Now it’s back.
“Kansas and Texas, combined, have probably experienced more success than anybody else in the league,” KU coach Bill Self said. “We have won a couple (Big 12 championships), they have won a couple and Iowa State has won a couple. Some of the best games that have been played have been Kansas and Texas over time. Certainly Rick has a very good team this season and they exposed us in a big way on Saturday.”
That was good for the Big 12.
The conference needs two dominant teams to drive the conversation in basketball. Oklahoma State, Iowa State and Kansas State all tried to carry the torch while Texas struggled, but none of them could match the intensity of a good old-fashioned clash between Texas and Kansas.
They are the only two teams to win more than two conference championships. Kansas has won 13, while Texas has won three. They are the only two teams that have won more than 65 percent of their conference games since the Big 12 formed. And they are the only two teams that have advanced to the NCAA Tournament 30 times.
When they are good at the same time, people stop and pay attention on a national level.
“I think the league benefits from it,” Self said, “and that is the case again this year.”
They will meet again on Feb. 22 at Allen Fieldhouse in a game that is sure to be surrounded by hype. How much hype depends on how Kansas handles failure and Texas deals with success. The Jayhawks have allowed their first conference loss to become two and three in past years. Can it bounce back more quickly this year? Texas will likely beat TCU next, but future games against Kansas State, Oklahoma State and Iowa State will all be challenging.
Texas appears to be back. Now is the time to prove it has staying power.
"We're a good team," Barnes said Saturday. "But it's such a fine line between winning and losing. If you start drinking the poison, it will all get away from you."
Kansas State coach Bruce Weber has been looking forward to a week without games for a long time.
“We need a break,” Weber said. “As coaches, we haven’t had a day off since Christmas.”
The off week comes at a good time for the Wildcats, who have lost three of their last four. They are undefeated at home in conference play, but 1-4 on the road. Their next two games will be played at Bramlage Coliseum, which is a positive, but they will face red-hot Texas and Kansas in those games.
Weber has already told his team that expecting victory in those games, simply based on playing at home, won’t work. He plans on resting his players this week, only practicing hard on Wednesday, and spending most of his time preparing for the important home stand.
Oklahoma State dismissed freshman Stevie Clark from its basketball team on Monday. Clark was arrested in Stillwater, Okla. early Sunday on suspicion of outraging public decency. It was his second arrest of the season. Clark, who was averaging 5.3 points and 2.7 assists, had already missed games for violating team rules. His departure further weakens Oklahoma State’s roster. It has been without big man Michael Cobbins since the start of Big 12 play. He is out for the season with a torn Achilles.
Player of the Year: Juwan Staten. The West Virginia point guard ranks second in the Big 12 in scoring (18 points), and he ranks first in assists (5.95) and assist-to-turnover ratio (2.91.) Staten is coming off a 35-point masterpiece against K-State, and the Mountaineers are 5-4 in league play. Imagine where they would be without him.
Coach of the Year: Rick Barnes. Texas is ranked and on a six-game winning streak a year after winning 16 games and losing its top four scorers. This is one of his best coaching jobs in Austin.
Newcomer of the Year: Ryan Spangler. The Oklahoma big man is averaging a double-double. He is a main reason why the Sooners are third in the league standings.
Freshman of the Year: Andrew Wiggins. The Kansas freshman is the top scorer on the league’s best team.
PLAYERS OF THE WEEK
Staten and Isaiah Taylor took home the Big 12’s weekly awards on Monday. Staten was the slam-dunk choice for player of the week. The West Virginia point guard scored 35 points against Kansas State and helped the Mountaineers win back-to-back games. Taylor won newcomer of the week after scoring 23 points against Kansas.
1. Kansas (16-5, 7-1): The Jayhawks may not win the Big 12 by a landslide after losing at Texas, but they are still the favorites.
2. Texas (17-4, 6-2): The debate is over. Texas, fresh off a convincing victory over Kansas, is a legitimately strong team.
3. Iowa State (16-4, 4-4): The Cyclones need road victories to separate themselves from the middle of the pack.
4. Oklahoma (17-5, 6-3): Most teams will lose at Iowa State, but OU needs to take advantage of a favorable upcoming schedule.
5. Kansas State (15-7, 5-4): Good news: K-State’s next two games are at home. Bad news: K-State’s next two games are against Texas and Kansas.
6. Oklahoma State (16-5, 4-4): Michael Cobbins should get consideration for Big 12 Player of the Year. Oklahoma State has taken a nosedive without him.
7. West Virginia (13-9, 5-4): Move over Marcus Smart. Staten is the Big 12’s top point guard.
8. Baylor (14-7, 2-6): Just when it looked like the Bears were dead, they go on the road and beat Oklahoma State.
9. Texas Tech (11-11, 3-6): Tubby Smith has done quality work in his first season at Texas Tech.
10. TCU (9-11, 0-8): How long before TCU gets its first conference victory?