Jayhawk Dispatch

KU's road to a 10th straight Big 12 title

In simple terms, Kansas' magic number is 10.

That, of course, is the number of consecutive Big 12 regular season titles KU will own if the Jayhawks can hold onto a two-game conference lead over the season's final 12 games.

But if we're thinking about the Big 12 season in terms of a baseball pennant race, that's also the Jayhawks' "Magic number" — the combination of KU wins and losses by Oklahoma, Oklahoma State and Texas that the Jayhawks (6-0) would need to clinch the title.

For example: If KU finishes 10-2 over its last 12 games, it would clinch at least a share of the title; Texas (5-2), Oklahoma (5-2) and Oklahoma State (4-2) could still earn a share by doing the near impossible and winning out. If the Jayhawks finish 9-3, they would just need all three of those teams to lose one more game to clinch a 10th straight title.

The standings will look even different after Monday night. No. 11 Oklahoma State travels to No. 25 Oklahoma for the first round of Bedlam, and one of those teams will have three Big 12 losses.

It's still early in the Big 12 race. Sticking with the baseball analogy, Kansas coach Bill Self has said the Jayhawks' two-game lead is a little like being ahead in the third inning. It doesn't matter.

But if you look a little deeper, you can see the impact of Kansas' 6-0 start. While Kansas will no doubt suffer some setbacks in conference play, it would take one of two things to keep the Jayhawks from earning at least a share of the title: A KU collapse ... or an unbelievable run from one of the other teams in the Big 12's top six.

Let's look at the contenders and their remaining schedules, with a little help from the projections at KenPom.com.

Kansas, 6-0

Five toughest games:

Iowa State, Wednesday

At Texas, Saturday

At Baylor, Feb. 4

At Kansas State, Feb. 10

At Oklahoma State, March 1

Breakdown: You could argue that Kansas' home game against Oklahoma on Feb. 24 will be tougher than a trip to Baylor, which is currently 1-5 in the conference. But KenPom does not agree. He gives KU an 84 percent chance to beat Oklahoma at Allen Fieldhouse, while just a 67 percent chance to win at Baylor. The Jayhawks need to hold serve at home and take care of business on the road against Texas Tech and West Virginia. But if the Jayhawks manage that, they could go 2-3 against their five toughest games and still win the title with plenty of breathing room.

KenPom projection: 15-3

Texas, 5-2

Five toughest games:

Kansas, Saturday

At Kansas State, Feb. 8

At Kansas, Feb. 22

At Iowa State, Feb. 18

At Oklahoma, March 1

Breakdown: The Longhorns are one of the few teams in the Big 12 that can attempt to match up with Kansas in the paint. But after a surprisingly good start, their schedule is a little back-loaded. They still have to travel to Allen Fieldhouse, Bramlage Coliseum and Hilton Coliseum.

KenPom projection: 11-7

Oklahoma State, 4-2

Five toughest games:

At Oklahoma, Monday

Iowa State, Feb. 3

At Texas, Feb. 11

Kansas, March 1

At Iowa State, March 8

Breakdown: Oklahoma State is still in the best position to challenge KU, but the early-season loss at Kansas State hurts. To be a serious contender, the Cowboys need to beat Oklahoma on the road tonight, beat Kansas in Stillwater, and pick up at least one win in remaining trips to Texas and Iowa State.

KenPom projection: 12-6

Oklahoma, 5-2

Five toughest games:

Oklahoma State, Monday

At Iowa State, Saturday

At Oklahoma State, Feb. 15

At Kansas, Feb. 24

Texas, March 1

Breakdown: Bad news for Oklahoma: The Sooners still have road games at Iowa State, Oklahoma State and Kansas. You have to think that means at least two losses. That illustrates how crucial tonight's home game against Oklahoma State will be for the Sooners.

KenPom projection: 11-7

Iowa State, 3-3

Five toughest games:

At Kansas, Wednesday

At Oklahoma State, Feb. 3

At Kansas State, March 1

At Baylor, March 4

Oklahoma State, March 8

Breakdown: The Cyclones face road games at KU and Oklahoma State in two of their next three games. But then the schedule softens: From Feb. 8 to Feb. 26, Iowa State has a six-game stretch that includes two games apiece against TCU and West Virginia and a home game against Texas Tech.

KenPom projection: 11-7

Kansas State, 4-3

Five toughest games:

Kansas, Feb. 10

At Baylor, Feb. 15

At Oklahoma, Feb. 22

Iowa State, March 1

At Oklahoma State, March 3

Breakdown: K-State has already played three of its toughest games, suffering losses at KU, Texas and Iowa State. To stay near the top of the standings, the Wildcats need to find a way to beat Kansas at Bramlage and pick off some road victories when they travel to Baylor, Oklahoma and Oklahoma State.

KenPom projection: 10-8