At this time last week, Kansas State associate head coach Chris Lowery was asked what the Wildcats needed to do to qualify for the NCAA Tournament.
“Win our home games and steal one or two on the road,” he said. “We control our own destiny.”
That synopsis remains true, but time is running out for K-State and other Big 12 teams to prove they belong in the NCAA Tournament.
Four teams appear to be locks for the bracket (Baylor, Iowa State, Kansas, West Virginia) and another (Oklahoma State) would likely be included if the postseason began today. Two more teams (K-State, TCU) are on the bubble. One (Texas Tech) is trying to play its way into the conversation and two (Oklahoma, Texas) are out of the at-large mix.
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Drama is unfolding in many areas.
Will Kansas and/or Baylor be No. 1 seeds? Can West Virginia and Iowa State climb high enough to earn favorable draws? Perhaps the most fascinating question: How many teams will the Big 12 send to the NCAA Tournament?
ESPN bracket analyst Joe Lunardi had seven Big 12 teams in the field in his latest projection Thursday. K-State and TCU were among his final eight teams in. Texas Tech was listed among his first eight out.
The Red Raiders gave themselves hope for a return trip to the NCAA Tournament by beating Baylor at home earlier this week, but that alone won’t be enough. Texas Tech ranks 83rd in RPI, because of a soft nonconference schedule, and needs a strong finish to bolster its resume.
Ditto for K-State and TCU.
Neither team appears comfortable with prosperity. The Wildcats have lost 6 of 7 since starting 15-4. The Horned Frogs have lost two in a row to fall to 17-9. Both could have locked up bids by now.
“We’re playing to get in the tournament, so we’ve got to execute better on offense and defense,” TCU forward JD Miller told reporters Wednesday. “We can’t take too many more losses.”
With a soft bubble, neither team needs to win its remaining games to make the postseason, but the margin for error has shrunk. Anything worse than a 3-2 finish would leave them with serious work to do at the Big 12 Tournament.
“You just kind of add everything up — difficult schedule, some injuries and just not winning a couple close games we had opportunities in,” Weber said. “You kind of put yourself in a bind. Now you need a great finish.”
It seems unlikely Kansas will do any worse than a share of the Big 12 championship this season, as the Jayhawks have a two-game lead in the standings with five to play. But Baylor can slow their march to another ring ceremony on Saturday.
That’s when Kansas visits Ferrell Center for one of the biggest Baylor games in recent memory — No. 3 Kansas against No. 4 Baylor.
The Bears can pull within one game of the Jayhawks with a victory. Kansas can slam the door on Baylor with a win.
Oklahoma loses Woodard
It’s been a tough season for Oklahoma, but things got even worse last week when the Sooners announced top player Jordan Woodard would miss the remainder of the season with a torn anterior cruciate ligament in his right knee.
Oklahoma has fallen to 9-16 a year after reaching the Final Four.
But the team responded to the Woodard news with fight this week and won a home game against Texas.
1. Kansas (23-3, 11-2 Big 12): Jayhawks have all but clinched another conference championship.
2. Baylor (22-4, 9-4): Could still tie Kansas by winning out.
3. West Virginia (20-6, 8-5): Blew a 14-point lead in three minutes at Kansas. Biggest choke job of the season.
4. Iowa State (16-9, 8-5): Don’t look now, but Cyclones could finish in the top three.
5. Oklahoma State (17-9, 6-7): Best of the rest.
6. TCU (17-9, 6-7): Race for fifth a jumbled mess.
7. Kansas State (16-10, 5-8): Time is running out to make a NCAA Tournament push.
8. Texas Tech (17-9, 5-8): Big win against Baylor.
9. Texas (10-16, 4-9): Longhorns will try to spoil some seasons the rest of the way.
10. Oklahoma (9-16, 3-10): Tough season made even tougher by loss of Woodard.
Kellis Robinett: @kellisrobinett