Big 12 Title Race Primer: 3 Weeks to Play

The Big 12 regular season title race is down its final three weeks and there’s still a lot to figure out. The Kansas State Wildcats still have a slim lead on the field, but four other teams are within two games of first place. Let’s take a look at last week’s results and what’s next for all five teams in contention.

Current Standings

1. Kansas State (9-3)

T2. Kansas (9-4, .5 GB)

T2. Texas Tech (9-4, .5 GB)

4. Iowa State (8-4, 1 GB)

5. Baylor (7-5, 2 GB)

Weekend Recap

Kansas State – Last game: L vs. Iowa State 78-64

Kansas State had its nine-game conference winning streak snapped this weekend when it fell at home to Iowa State. Beyond the loss itself, the Wildcats could be facing injury troubles again after senior forward Dean Wade had to leave the game with a foot injury in the second half. The normally elite K-State defense ran into a buzzsaw shooting performance by Iowa State, which shot better than 58 percent from three-point range on Saturday.

Kansas – Last game: W vs. West Virginia 78-53

The Jayhawks have rattled off three wins in a row after blowing out West Virginia at home this weekend, exacting a modicum of revenge for the upset of the year back on Jan. 19. Five players scored in double figures in this weekend’s win, led by 15 each from freshman guard Devon Dotson and sophomore guard KJ Lawson. David McCormack also had the first double-figure performance of his career. KU shot nearly 53 percent from the floor in the win, while holding WVU to just 34 percent.

Texas Tech – Last game: W vs. Baylor 86-61

The Red Raiders have the Jayhawks’ winning streak beat, as coach Chris Beard’s team has won its last four games in league play. Once again it was sophomore forward Jarrett Culver who ran the show for Tech, leading all players in points and rebounds with 18 and eight, respectively. Texas Tech has been blowing teams out during its streak, averaging a 24-point margin of victory. Its defense has been its typical self too, allowing just 53.8 points per game in the last four.

Iowa State – Last game: W @ Kansas State 78-64

When Iowa State gets hot it shoots the ball as well as, if not better than, any other team in the country. Their three-point barrage this weekend was led by sophomore guard Lindell Wigginton and freshman guard Talen Horton-Tucker, who combined to go 14-of-20 from the floor and 11-of-15 from deep. This was an important win for Steve Prohm’s Cyclones, who suffered an upset loss at home to TCU one weekend ago.

Baylor – Last game: L @ Texas Tech 86-61

Baylor is still in the hunt for the Big 12 title, but the Bears’ hopes are obviously fading. They’re playing shorthanded, with senior guard Makai Mason still out injured and Baylor desperately missing his scoring presence (senior guard King McClure is also hurt). Without those two in the lineup, specifically the former, Baylor simply doesn’t have enough firepower on the floor to keep up with the other elite teams in the conference.

What’s Next

Kansas State – Games this week: @ West Virginia (Monday), vs. Oklahoma State (Saturday)

Kansas State’s Big 12 championship hopes, as well as its hopes for a deep NCAA tournament run, could have taken a big hit depending on the severity of Wade’s injury. The Wildcats can handle the likes of West Virginia and Oklahoma State without him, but a massive matchup next week in Lawrence looms large if he’s not 100 percent. Riley Gates of reported on Sunday that Wade could be a game-time decision on Monday night.

Again, though, the Mountaineers and Cowboys shouldn’t be too much of a struggle for the Wildcats. Both programs, frankly, are terrible this year, evidenced most recently by both losing badly again this weekend. Senior guard Barry Brown alone could probably drag K-State to a pair of wins this week, which would surprise exactly no one given the Wildcats’ less-than-stellar offense and Brown’s stellar talent and leadership. Normally you’d be wary of a program looking ahead to its biggest game of the season next week, but this week shouldn’t be particularly tough regardless of who looms ahead.

Kansas – Games this week: @ Texas Tech (Saturday)

KU needs an off week to get healthy, so not playing until the weekend should benefit the Jayhawks. Coach Bill Self said that with junior forward Dedric Lawson exhausted and sophomore guard Marcus Garrett still nursing an ankle injury, the bye is coming at a good time.

The Jayhawks will need to be at full strength (or as close as they can be, given their current roster makeup) when they face the Texas Tech Red Raiders. KU won the first matchup of the year, and to its credit has been playing its best basketball of the season lately. Lawson in particularly will likely need a big game after he feasted with a 25 and 10 double-double last time the two programs met. Dotson scored 20 in that game as well, and he’s scored in double digits in each of the last five games. His impact can’t be overstated, and he’ll need to keep up the high-quality play and on-court leadership for Kansas going forward.

Texas Tech – Games this week: vs. Kansas (Saturday)

The Red Raiders will also benefit from not having a midweek contest before this weekend’s big matchup in Lubbock. One of the biggest critiques for Texas Tech this year has been its lack of offense, but during their winning streak the Red Raiders have rectified that to a degree. They’re scoring 77.8 points per game during their winning streak.

Like every team in the league, generally speaking, Tech is hard to beat when its at home. It’s 5-1 in Big 12 play at home this season and it’s still holding on to the top-ranked defense in the nation per KenPom. The higher the score on Saturday, the more likely the game will favor the Jayhawks, so the Red Raiders will need to muster more offense than in the first meeting this year, when four players scored in double figures for Tech but none had more than 14 and it shot just 34 percent from the field.

Iowa State – Games this week: vs. Baylor (Tuesday), @ TCU (Saturday)

Iowa State has a chance to deliver a pair of knockout blows this week, one (potentially) to Baylor’s conference-title hopes and one (potentially) to TCU’s NCAA tournament hopes. If they shoot like they did against K-State this weekend, Iowa State can beat anyone in the country, but they need to avoid having a performance like they did the first time they played the Horned Frogs, when they shot under 30 percent from three.

Playing Baylor at home will help, considering Iowa State’s typical home-court advantage in Ames, especially with the Bears playing down several players. The Cyclones do benefit from having a stretch following the Baylor game on Tuesday of four consecutive games against teams from the bottom half of the conference standings.

Baylor – Games this week: @ Iowa State (Tuesday), vs. West Virginia (Saturday)

A game against West Virginia at home is certainly a nice thing to have this week, but Baylor needs to essentially win out in order to stay in the race at this point. Unfortunately for coach Scott Drew’s team, they have the hardest schedule left of anyone in the Big 12 title hunt, with games against Iowa State, Kansas State and Kansas all on the road still coming up.

If Mason is out, the Bears need to find someone to pick up the slack. Freshman guard Jared Butler and sophomore guard Mario Kegler scored 16 and 15, respectively, over the weekend, and they’ll need to do that and more to hang on this week. The Baylor zone could be in trouble against ISU’s shooting attack if the Cyclones get hot again. A Baylor win on Tuesday will change the complexion of the back end of the race, but a loss could spell the end of the run for the Bears.