The Big 12 standings are more jumbled than usual.
February is typically when college basketball teams separate themselves, but that isn’t happening this year in the Big 12. Kansas is in position to claim its 13th straight conference championship, but Baylor is lurking one game back and West Virginia remains in the mix. The race for fourth is just as intriguing, as six teams are within two games of each other.
The main reason: The bottom of the conference is unusually strong. No Big 12 team is an easy sweep.
“You used to go 2-0 against certain teams in our league, and that obviously isn’t happening anymore,” Kansas coach Bill Self said. “Everybody is beating everybody else up. I think the teams that maybe didn’t do as well as they would have liked last year are far, far, far improved.”
When Oklahoma, fresh off a Final Four appearance, is trapped in the cellar, that tells you all you need to know. The Sooners, despite their struggles replacing Buddy Hield and Co., have won at West Virginia. Texas, which is four games under .500, just beat Iowa State. Oklahoma State started conference play 0-6 and then won five in a row.
Few outcomes are easy to predict. Baylor, Kansas and West Virginia all lost at home to unranked conference opponents last Saturday.
Perhaps that is to be expected when a conference has no hapless teams. Every Big 12 team owns at least a decent spot in the major computer rankings. They all rank in the top 80 of KenPom, the top 80 of ESPN’s Basketball Power Index and they all rank in the 150 of the RPI.
“When you have got every team ranked (that high),” Oklahoma State coach Brad Underwood said, “every night you better expect a bloodbath.”
Eight teams could realistically reach the NCAA Tournament, and seven would be in position to make the field if the postseason began today.
Coaches often say there are no off days in the conference whether they believe the statement or not, but it feels true this season.
“If you’re not ready in this league and if you’re not playing as well as you possibly can things aren’t going to turn out the way you want,” West Virginia coach Bob Huggins said. “Every game is difficult.”
Selection Sunday Preview
The NCAA Tournament will borrow an idea from the College Football Playoff this weekend when its Selection Committee reveals its top 16 teams a month before the field is set at 11:30 a.m. on Saturday. CBS will televise the announcement.
There will be plenty of time for the Selection Committee to change its rankings before the NCAA Tournament begins, but it will give fans an idea of where teams could end up.
“I think it is long overdue,” Huggins said. “It’s a great thing for the committee. Everybody will know where they stand and I think it is great for fans. It will further enhance the excitement of March Madness.”
Baylor and Kansas both figure to be included in the top 16. West Virginia might make the cut, as well.
TCU Trending Up
It’s time to start believing in the Horned Frogs.
In his first season, Jamie Dixon has tranformed TCU from the Big 12’s worst team to one that appears on its way to the NCAA Tournament. The Frogs started hot, reaching 14-3, but faded hard with consecutive losses to Texas Tech, Baylor, Oklahoma State and Auburn. Many gave up on them.
But they have bounced back with three wins in a row to tie Iowa State for fourth place in the conference standings.
“We want this to be a season of firsts,” Dixon said. “We have done a good job and are playing well, we just have to keep it going.”
1. Kansas (21-3, 9-2 Big 12): Frank Mason the new favorite to win national Player of the Year honors.
2. Baylor (21-3, 8-3): Winning at Oklahoma State keeps Baylor in conference title chase.
3. West Virginia (19-5, 7-4): Two home losses holding Mountaineers in conference title chase.
4. Iowa State (14-9, 6-5): Won at Kansas. Lost at Texas. Cyclones are difficult to predict.
5. TCU (17-7, 6-5): Time to stop sleeping on TCU. Horned Frogs are good.
6. Kansas State (16-8, 5-6): Won at Baylor. Lost to Kansas. Grueling stretch ends Saturday at West Virginia.
7. Oklahoma State (15-9, 4-7): Cowboys finally lost, but no one discount the way they are playing.
8. Texas (10-14, 4-7): Longhorns becoming hard to beat in Austin.
9. Texas Tech (16-8, 4-7): Red Raiders haven’t won back-to-back games in conference.
10. Oklahoma (8-15, 2-9): Tough season for the Sooners. At least they have Final Four memories.
Kellis Robinett: @kellisrobinett