We’re halfway home to the end of league play. Let’s breakdown how teams can win the league.
12. The longshots
Here are the teams with more than four losses in league play: Oklahoma, TCU, Texas, Iowa State, Kansas State, Oklahoma State.
You can go ahead and eliminate Oklahoma State from winning the league. You can pretty much do the same with ISU and KSU. With six losses, they would need Baylor to go 3-6 and go at least 7-2 to just tie for the league. Obviously, that’s unlikely.
The teams with five losses have a puncher’s chance, but they still need collapses to do it. A four-loss first half Big 12 slate means a team went 5-4 in the first half which should put that squad on a tournament path.
11. Best of the longshots: TCU (4-5)
The Horned Frogs lost by 15 points to the only team who had yet to win in the Big 12 on Wednesday, Oklahoma State. It was the fourth straight loss this season. It knocked the Horned Frogs out of a realistic Big 12 title run, but TCU will host Kansas (this weekend), West Virginia and Baylor in the second half of conference play. Win those games at home and they have an outside shot. The problem is TCU is 1-3 on the road in conference play and that doesn’t include upcoming road games at Lubbock, Austin, Ames and Lawrence. Losing in Stillwater by double digits makes me think TCU could lose all those games.
If Brady Manek plays like he has the last two games for Oklahoma, the Sooners have a shot to get in the race.
Game to watch: See No. 3
10. How they win the league: Texas Tech (5-4)
Winning games like the Red Raiders did on Tuesday is a start.
I think you can chalk this season as one where the Red Raiders have had an incredible amount of bad luck with injuries. Chris Clarke getting hurt and only playing seven minutes for Texas Tech against Oklahoma could have sunk TTU, especially with OU playing well. But the Red Raiders pulled out the win. Clarke’s injury, whether serious or not, is another in a long line of health issues Texas Tech has endured. When healthy, Texas Tech is a top 25 team who can beat anyone.
So winning games like Tuesday is how Texas Tech can get back in the race, because they can’t afford to lose any more — they’ve only lost once — at home. Tech will host Kansas in the final game of the regular season, but before that the schedule features TCU, Kansas State and Texas. The road game will be difficult with slates against Baylor and Texas this weekend, but going 5-0 is doable considering the three other road games are OSU, OU and Iowa State.
The Oklahoma game will certainly be the most difficult outside of Waco — sorry Texas — mainly because of what we did see from the Sooners on Tuesday and what we’ve seen from Manek, who has played like Larry Bird the last two games.
Still, Texas Tech is walking out of the first half of Big 12 play a mildly disappointing 5-4. The losses to Kansas and West Virginia are given a pass because they’re on the road, but not beating Baylor at home and then flopping on the road to TCU is kind of a let down.
Game to watch: See No.2
9. How they win the league: West Virginia (6-3)
West Virginia has a great chance to win the league because the Mountaineers get both of their chances at Baylor in the second half, get a home game against Kansas — West Virginia was leading KU at half in Lawrence — and get to avoid playing Texas Tech down the stretch. The tricky games are both matchups with a textbook average Oklahoma team that could use at least one win against an elite Big 12 team. Considering they smashed Texas in Morgantown, a road game against Texas — and considering how Iowa State has played at home this season — the two other road games are very winnable.
Game to watch: Since both Baylor games and the Kansas game are too obvious, let’s go with: At TCU, Feb. 22, 1 p.m.
TCU is trying to convince people it’s a tournament team. Hell, they may be trying to convince itself it belongs in the field. To really push them over the edge, TCU needs another win over an elite team and maybe that’s Kansas this weekend. Maybe it’s Baylor. But West Virginia is the overwhelming third-best team in the league for a reason.
8. How they win the league: Kansas (8-1)
If Kansas wins the league this year, it should be the NCAA Tournament’s No. 1 overall seed regardless of the Big 12 Tournament.
For KU to win the league, it probably means Kansas went 3-0 or 2-1 in road games against West Virginia on Feb. 12, Baylor on Feb. 22 and Texas Tech on March 7. In most years, Kansas’ 8-1 record would mean the Jayhawks were winning the league, but with Baylor’s magical season and early home games against the top teams, Kansas’ down-the-stretch league schedule is brutal.
KU will not only play three road games against the best teams, but they play TCU twice. The home games are pretty easy: OU, ISU, OSU and TCU. Even the KSU road game is extremely difficult with Kansas heading to Manhattan on Feb. 29.
Given Baylor’s late season schedule, Kansas can’t afford to lose more than two games in the second half to have a chance to win the league, and that shows how good Baylor is when we’re talking about a 15-3 league record not being good enough to win the title.
Game to watch: Kansas at Kansas State, 12:30 p.m. Feb. 25, CBS
Rivalry game, check. Road game, check. Potential “we have nothing else to play for” game for KSU, check. Kansas on CBS, check.
Kansas’ regular season games on CBS have not been all that kind. Two years ago, Kansas was blown out on CBS by OSU and earlier this year Baylor beat Kansas in Allen Fieldhouse on CBS. But really this is here because we’ve already noted the massive road games KU has to play, but this is one road game KU will be expected to win and could lose because of everything that surrounds the Sunflower Showdown and what happened at the end of last game. Plus, KSU is either going to be playing for a bubble spot or have nothing else to play for except rivalry bragging rights.
7. How they win the league: Baylor (9-0)
Even through all those consecutive Big 12 title seasons, I can’t remember a team having a better path to a league championship than Baylor. The Bears, to be bluntly honest, have one difficult road game remaining among several tricky road games. Baylor was 9-0 in the first half with wins at Kansas and at Texas Tech, the two toughest venues in the league. A trip to Morgantown on the final day of the season is the only game they won’t be expected to win.
That said, they have to play WVU twice and they have return home games with KU– who should have a healthy Devon Dotson, which changes everything- and Tech at home. Baylor barely beat Tech in Lubbock and that was before the No.1 target was on its back.
The rest of the games? Texas could give Baylor a tough game in Austin, but it’s not like Texas has given many teams tough games in Austin– especially the good ones.
Games to watch: Baylor at WVU, 1 p.m., March 7
Pretty sure this game will be a giant season event for ESPN+.
6. Tweet of the week
— Big 12 Conference (@Big12Conference) February 4, 2020
Point guard is the biggest key to teams winning in college basketball. Three of the best are in the league. While Tyrese Haliburton’s team is struggling mightily this season, Dotson and Butler are leading their teams to incredible seasons.
Games to watch:
5. TCU at Texas Tech, 8 p.m., Monday, ESPN2
It’s impossible to predict this game without knowing what Saturday’s results are, but it’s a tough back-to-back stretch for TCU, though you could envision a world where TCU beats KU at home and then takes that momentum to Lubbock and plays well. At the same time, if Texas Tech were to lose to Texas on Saturday, Monday’s game could be a good bounce back win. It’s not like Tech, who lost to TCU two weeks ago, will be overlooking the Horned Frogs with a trip to lowly OSU following this game.
Matchup to watch: The defenses are too good for us to ever get an Acie Law-Kevin Durant type of shootout, but it would be fun for Jahmi’us Ramsey and Desmond Bane to go toe-to-toe.
Pick: Texas Tech
4. No. 13 West Virginia at Oklahoma, 1 p.m., Saturday, ESPNU
The Sooners are the fourth highest-rated team in the Big 12 at Kenpom, coming in at No. 50.
At 14-8 overall and 4-5 in conference play, OU is still the hardest team in the league to grade. The losses are bad: 13 points at Iowa State, 14 points at home against KU and eight points to Kansas State. But they got closer than any team in the country has to winning in Waco, losing to Baylor 61-57. They beat Texas on the road and crushed TCU at home. The best win of the season is the SEC-Big 12 Challenge win over No. 39 Mississippi State, a 1-point home win.
You wonder if OU keeps at this pace if they will be a solid tournament team. But at some point OU is going to have to go on a string that makes more people believers. The easiest stretch of the season OU had is now out the window. For the Sooners to move up seed lines, they needed to finish a first half of conference play stretch that featured two games against KSU, Texas, Iowa State, TCU and at home against Kansas strong.
Instead they went 4-5.
The second half has its opportunities, but they’re uphill climbs: at Kansas on Feb. 15, home games against Baylor and Texas Tech. Home games against Texas and Iowa State. But the big picture key is this: Win a home against West Virginia and three games against Kansas, Baylor and Texas Tech don’t matter as much for just making the tournament.
While it seems like WVU is becoming the sacrificial “beat me because we’re good not great team” of the Big 12, they really can only blame themselves. The Mountaineers haven’t played Baylor yet, split games with Tech and blew the game in Lawrence. Throw in the blowout in Manhattan, and it’s why they are the most winnable game on the middle tier of Big 12 team’s schedule.
If WVU goes to OU and wins, it gets KU at home, where WVU hasn’t lost this season, then after the road game against Baylor get a stretch of OSU, TCU, Texas, OU and Iowa State before the season finale at home against BU.
Matchup to watch: For Oklahoma to ever be a really good team, it needed Brady Manek to become a college superstar — OU’s version of Doug McDermott: a sharpshooting forward who could heat up at any moment. The last two games he’s been that, scoring 19 against Texas Tech despite 1-for-6 on 3-point shooting, and scoring 30 points against OSU on 7-of-13 on 3-point shooting and 11-of-18 overall from the field. The Tech matchup wasn’t all that good for him T.J. Holyfield is bigger, stronger version of Manek and he scored 21 points including making the biggest shots of the game. Against West Virginia, Manek will force WVU to into making a lineup choice: can you play Derek Culver and Oscar Tshiebwe together against OU’s small lineup and who do you put on Manek?
Pick: West Virginia
3. No. 3 Kansas at TCU, 11 a.m., Saturday, ESPN2
TCU losing to OSU on Wednesday makes this a must-win for the Horned Frogs in terms of being a credible Big 12 title team — which is an incredible longshot right now anyway. That loss was TCU’s fourth in a row, so that maybe laughable to even mention now.
The fact is, while the next two games are tough for TCU, going at least 1-1 would strengthen its tournament case. Whatever kudos they got for beating Texas Tech at home are almost all but wiped away now.
Unfortunately for TCU, Kansas has been really good on the road and actually have played a little looser and better away from Allen Fieldhouse. Simply put, the Jayhawks have taken care of business on the road with the only true road loss coming in Philadelphia against Villanova during a game that Marcus Garrett was hurt in and Devon Dotson missed game-sealing free throws at the end.
Matchup to watch: It’s a homecoming of sorts for Garrett, who went to Dallas Skyline High School, and he’ll be tasked at defending Desmond Bane, who famously hit a shot to knock Kansas out of the Big 12 tournament in 2017. However, let’s give this one to Udoka Azubuike and Kevin Samuels, two players who are first and second in the league in field goal shooting percentage.
2. Texas Tech at Texas, 3 p.m., Saturday, ESPN
It’s not the biggest game of the season for Texas, that would be on Monday, but it’s the most fascinating.
Fascinating because you won’t find many Texas fans not wishing for Chris Beard to leave Lubbock for Austin right now.
You may not think this game means as much to Texas Tech as it does for the Longhorns, but Tech is 1-3 in conference road games and 1-4 overall in road games. Unless Texas turns it around in the second half — which could happen, but also with every loss another sign of a coaching change, it could also go sideways — a loss in Austin is a bad loss for the Red Raiders.
At the same time, a win over Tech this Saturday could actually be the thing that saves Smart’s job.
Texas is No. 63 at Kenpom. Texas Tech is No. 22. The metrics point to a Tech win.
Matchup to watch: Jericho Sims is no longer the key to every Texas game because he’s becoming so consistent that you trust him to play well and the only thing keeping him from doing that are his guards getting him the ball. The matchup I’m watching is Jase Febres and Davide Moretti. We know that Sims and Matt Coleman will bring it. We know that Jahmi’us Ramsey and Holyfield will too. We don’t know if Chris Clarke will be a go and you can pretty much rule out Courtney Ramey from having a huge impact because he’s been below average all season.
But Febres can shoot and Moretti can shoot. Both are in the top 10 for 3-point shooting percentage in the league and both are experienced players and both have been a little maligned this season. Febres has been off in some games and Moretti hasn’t really shown he can be more than just a shooter this season. This has a chance to be breakout games for them.
1B. No. 1 Baylor at Texas, 8 p.m., Monday, ESPN
1A. No. 3 Kansas at West Virginia, 6 p.m., Wednesday, ESPN+
Both of these games could ultimately decide who wins the league. Both of these games could decide if we have a climactic second half of the league race or not. One of these games is the Waterloo for an entire coaching staff. Another game — really both games — could potentially bump the winner two or three seed lines in the NCAA tournament.
Kansas won’t win the league if it falls two games behind Baylor in the standings without help. Shaka Smart won’t be the coach at Texas next season with a 0-8 record against Baylor, Kansas, West Virginia and Texas Tech. Baylor can’t afford to lose road games to teams not in the top four of the standings to keep a firm grip on first-place and remain No. 1 in the polls. West Virginia won’t be taken serious as a Final Four contender without beating Baylor or Kansas at least once.
Who wins? I think Texas stuns Baylor. Regardless of what happens Saturday, I think the Longhorns played Baylor somewhat tough in Waco and I think if Texas beats Tech on Saturday, they’ll play well on Monday. If Texas loses on Saturday, they know that every game moving forward is a chance to save its coaches’ jobs. I think Kansas beats WVU because the Jayhawks’ guards are too much for the Mountaineers.