Iowa State's Big Monday loss at Oklahoma a big development in Big 12 race
For roughly the first 15 minutes of the Iowa State-Oklahoma Big Monday basketball game in Norman, Oklahoma, the Cyclones looked like they were ready to put some real pressure on Kansas for the top spot in the Big 12 standings.
A victory by ISU would've pulled the Cyclones within a half game of the Jayhawks and put at least palpable pressure on the team that has ruled the conference for the past decade.
But OU, which trailed by as many as 10 late in the first half, closed the half with a monster run to tie the game at 46 and then shot lights out in the second half while building a 20-point lead en route to a 94-83 victory.
The win moved OU into second place at 8-4 in Big 12 play and dropped Iowa State to third at 7-4. With KU sitting at 8-2 heading into Tuesday's night's road battle at Texas Tech, the Jayhawks, once again, appear to be in great shape in the race to win their 11th straight Big 12 title, two wins clear of both teams in the loss column with eight games to play.
Here's the thing. Both Oklahoma and Iowa State are plenty talented enough to threaten KU's streak, but both teams are running out of time. The Cyclones don't play KU again and, therefore, will need some serious help to catch Kansas. Oklahoma has one more head-to-head match-up with KU on the schedule, but it's not until March 7. Given the way things have played out in the Big 12 Conference so far this season, is there anyone out there who thinks OU will avoid suffering another loss before then?
One thing that's important to remember is that these two teams play each other again — Monday, March 2 in Ames, Iowa — so at least one of them is guaranteed to finish with at least five conference losses.
West Virginia, at 6-4, is the only other team in the Big 12 with four losses, but the Mountaineers have lost two straight and still have to go to Ames, Lawrence, Stillwater and Waco. WVU has the most to gain in that it plays KU head-to-head two more times, but Bob Huggins' squad also has the toughest remaining schedule of the four Big 12 title contenders.
Real quick, let's take a look at KU's remaining road to Big 12 title No. 11 by examining the remaining schedules for all four teams and my guesses for the outcome of those games.
No. 21 WEST VIRGINIA (18-5, 6-4)
Wednesday, Feb. 11 — vs. Kansas State (W)
Saturday, Feb. 14 — at Iowa State (L)
Monday, Feb. 16 — vs. Kansas (W)
Saturday, Feb. 21 — at Oklahoma State (L)
Tuesday, Feb. 24 — vs. Texas (W)
Saturday, Feb. 28 — at Baylor (L)
Tuesday, March 3 — at Kansas (L)
Saturday, March 7 — vs. Oklahoma State (W)
No. 17 OKLAHOMA (17-7, 8-4)
Saturday, Feb. 14 — at Kansas State (W)
Tuesday, Feb. 17 — vs. Texas (W)
Saturday, Feb. 21 — at Texas Tech (W)
Saturday, Feb. 28 — vs. TCU (W)
Monday, March 2 — at Iowa State (L)
Saturday, March 7 — vs. Kansas (W)
No. 14 IOWA STATE (17-6, 7-4)
Saturday, Feb. 14 — vs. West Virginia (W)
Wednesday, Feb. 18 — at Oklahoma State (L)
Saturday, Feb. 21 — at Texas (W)
Wednesday, Feb. 25 — vs. Baylor (W)
Saturday, Feb. 28 — at Kansas State (W)
Monday, March 2 — vs. Oklahoma (W)
Saturday, March 7 — at TCU (W)
No. 8 KANSAS (19-4, 8-2)
Tuesday, Feb. 10 — at Texas Tech (W)
Saturday, Feb. 14 — vs. Baylor (W)
Monday, Feb. 16 — at West Virginia (L)
Saturday, Feb. 21 — vs. TCU (W)
Monday, Feb. 23 — at Kansas State (W)
Saturday, Feb. 28 — vs. Texas (W)
Tuesday, March 3 — vs. West Virginia (W)
Saturday, March 7 — at Oklahoma (L)
As you can see, even if you call KU's game at OU a loss, I've got the Jayhawks winning the league with 4 losses. And I don't think that's a stretch by any means. Remember, KU has just nine home losses in the Bill Self era at Allen Fieldhouse. Because of that, you won't have any luck convincing me that any of KU's four remaining home opponents will leave Allen Fieldhouse with a victory.
That leaves it up to KU's performance on the road, where the Jayhawks have won and looked good at Baylor and Texas and lost and looked lousy at Iowa State and Oklahoma State.
Speaking of Oklahoma State, how about that team. They're arguably the hottest team in the conference right now and playing with a ton of confidence. I can't wait for the Big 12 tournament!
Three of KU's four road games could and probably should be legitimate tests. West Virginia is tough at home and a bad match-up given how effective the Mountaineers' pressure defense is. Kansas State, despite the current turmoil in Manhattan, will clearly be fired up for Round 2 of the Sunflower Showdown. And Oklahoma is talented, tough and not afraid to play fast.
Texas Tech on Tuesday night, despite that old saying about how hard winning on the road in the Big 12 is, should be no problem for an angry KU team still reeling from Saturday's upset loss in Stillwater.
Tough or not, the odds are long that KU will lose all three of those other road games. So, let's say they win one, lose two, beat Texas Tech and take care of business at home.
That puts the Jayhawks at 25-6 overall and 14-4 in Big 12 play and puts the creative minds inside the KU athletic department on notice to start brainstorming T-Shirt-worthy ways to celebrate title No. 11.