What does cluster in Big 12 standings say about league? A look ahead to KU-Nebraska
Several nights per week, when working on the sports copy desk for the Lawrence Journal-World, I update the Big 12 basketball standings so they can be placed on our Scoreboard page.
After Wednesday's Big 12 games, a variety of thoughts crossed my mind as I updated the standings. A few Conference Chatter bullet-point observations:
• Oklahoma is in a tie for third place in the Big 12. Um ... Yeah. The same OU that's 12-9. Credit coach Jeff Capel and the Sooners, though, for winning four straight conference games to sit at 4-3 in the league. When I glanced at the standings and noticed OU that high up, I had to make sure I was looking at the right sport.
• So just how good is the Big 12? A week ago, the conference was arguably the best in the country. Then, Texas A&M and Missouri had awful weeks and lost two in a row, raising questions about the conference's depth and quality.
Really, what teams in the Big 12 are well above-average right now? Texas (19-3, 7-0 conference), clearly. Kansas (21-1, 6-1), obviously.
The rest of the conference, however, is a bigger mess than the women who don't receive a rose in the final 10 minutes of The Bachelor.
Every team in the Big 12, minus UT, KU, and bottom-feeder Iowa State (1-7 in league) is either 4-3, 3-4 or 3-5. Talk about a cluster. I don't know what to make of it. Perhaps A&M and Mizzou can provide separation and join with UT and KU to create an upper tier of the league again.
For now, it's a two-horse race for the Big 12 title, with the rest of the teams fighting to keep their NCAA Tournament hopes alive.
Realtimerpi.com actually has high praise for the conference, ranking the Big 12 second in the country behind the Big East.
Where would you rank the Big 12 right now? It's way too top-heavy to place above the Big East. But the two top-heavy Big 12 teams are so good that I can see how Realtimepri ranked the Big 12 ahead of the third-place Big Ten.
• Let's take a look at the upcoming opponent for Kansas: the pesky Nebraska Cornhuskers (3 p.m., Saturday, Lincoln, Neb.).
The Jayhawks had trouble knocking off the Huskers on Jan. 15 in Lawrence. Kansas escaped, 63-60, to preserve its then-69-game home court winning streak.
Since that game in Lawrence, Nebraska has gone 2-2. No secret in the pattern. Both victories came at home, while both losses took place on the road.
Nebraska (15-6, 3-4 Big 12) is no slouch at home. The Huskers are actually undefeated at the Devaney Center this season, sporting a sparkling 14-0 record. Most notably, the Huskers have taken out USC, Iowa State, Colorado and Texas A&M in Lincoln.
It wouldn't be surprising if Big Red fans treated Saturday's game as their Super Bowl (one day before the actual Super Bowl in Arlington, Texas). Think about what a victory would do for the Huskers and their chances of making the NCAA Tournament. There's a pretty big difference between 4-4 and 3-5, especially since nine Big 12 teams have either three or four league victories at the moment.
If Nebraska wants to play in the NCAA Tournament, it needs a signature victory to spice up its resume. The Huskers can't just slide into the Big Dance going 8-8 in the league, for instance, and expect the committee to give them the benefit of the doubt. NU went 8-8 in the league in 2008-09, and was rewarded only with an NIT invitation. Nebraska has only made six NCAA Tournament appearances in its history, and hasn't been included in the field since 1998.
Now ... A 9-7 league record with a victory over Kansas? Nebraska's chances would become much better.
Saturday is a huge game for the Cornhuskers, who last beat Kansas seven years ago.
• What Nebraska does best: Holds opponents to low shooting percentages.
The Huskers defend well, as evidenced by their 43.2 effective field goal percentage defense, good for eighth in the country out of 345 teams.
But will NU be able to stop KU's dynamic offensive attack? Only one team in the Big 12 consistently shoots better than 50 percent from the field: Yep, it's Kansas (51.9 percent).
How well Nebraska shows up on D will determine if the Huskers are in this game again at the end against KU.
Saturday will be a big game for Kansas as it continues its chase of Texas and a seventh consecutive Big 12 regular season title.
Saturday's also important for Nebraska and coach Doc Sadler, who's trying to elevate the Huskers to their first NCAA Tournament appearance in the coach's five years in Lincoln.
That should be all for now, friends. As always, discuss.