Breaking down what's left in the Big 12 race for KU, K-State and Texas Tech
A big Saturday in the Big 12 Conference has come and gone and the only change at the top trimmed things down from a 4-horse race to 3.
Baylor’s loss at Kansas State on Saturday night dropped the Bears two games back of co-leaders K-State and Texas Tech with two games to go, and all but eliminated Scott Drew’s squad.
Meanwhile, the Red Raiders’ win at TCU — another thorough domination by Chris Beard’s club, by the way — and Kansas’ close-call win at Oklahoma State kept those three teams separated by just one game entering the final week of the regular season.
For the Jayhawks, who got a strong showing from freshman Quentin Grimes to survive in Stillwater, Okla., the idea of playing into a share of the Big 12 title while sitting one back with three to go did not seem all that crazy.
But now, after K-State and Texas Tech both passed real tests in the hours that followed KU’s latest win, things are starting to look like a little bit more of a long shot.
Nothing has changed for Kansas. The Jayhawks still must go down to Norman, Okla., on Tuesday night and take care of 7th-place Oklahoma and return to Allen Fieldhouse on Saturday to knock off Baylor.
Lose either game and the streak is over.
The Wildcats and Red Raiders still have to take care of their business, too, but in order for KU to extend its unprecedented conference title streak from an NCAA-record 14 in a row to 15, the Jayhawks need both teams to lose a game in their next two. That’s what makes this so tricky.
If KU were just chasing one team, the odds would seem to be more in their favor. But needing both Texas Tech and K-State to slip up stacks the deck against the Jayhawks and puts the streak in serious jeopardy.
Here’s a quick look at where things stand, top to bottom, in the Big 12, followed by what Texas Tech and K-State have left.
2018-19 Big 12 standings (through March 3)
1 – Kansas State, 12-4
1 – Texas Tech, 12-4
3 – Kansas, 11-5
4 – Baylor, 10-6
5 – Iowa State, 9-7
6 – Texas, 8-8
7 – Oklahoma, 6-10
7 – TCU, 6-10
9 – West Virginia, 3-13
10 – Oklahoma State, 3-13
Texas Tech finishes the regular season with a home game against Texas on Big Monday (8 p.m., ESPN) and a road game at Iowa State five days later.
Both teams are capable of handing the Red Raiders a loss, as shown early on in Big 12 play, when, coincidentally, the Red Raiders played at Texas and home vs. Iowa State in back-to-back games in January, knocking off the Longhorns in Austin, 68-62, before falling to Iowa State, 68-64, in Lubbock, Texas.
After losing tough road games by a combined 3 points at Oklahoma and Baylor last week, the Longhorns got right over the weekend by whipping Iowa State in Austin, 86-69.
With their athleticism, size down low and streaky ability to get hot from the outside, the Longhorns are capable of defeating just about anybody and certainly could give Tech a scare.
Beyond that, we all know how things go in Hilton Coliseum in Ames, Iowa, and that game — 1 p.m. March 9, the same time that KU will be playing Baylor in its regular-season finale — probably represents KU’s best chance at seeing a Texas Tech misstep.
For what it’s worth, KenPom.com has Tech splitting those two games, with a 77 percent chance of beating Texas (68-60 is the predicted score) and a 49 percent chance of beating Iowa State (69-68, ISU, is the projected score in that one).
Kansas State also plays Monday night — 8 p.m. at TCU on ESPN2 — and then closes its regular-season schedule with a home game against Oklahoma in Manhattan at 5 p.m. Saturday.
The Wildcats aren’t losing to OU at home. So the Jayhawks’ chances of extending the streak may very well come down to Monday’s game in Fort Worth, Texas.
KenPom.com has K-State slated to lose that game, 64-63, with the Wildcats’ holding a 48 percent chance of winning the game. And their predicted odds of topping OU skyrocket to 69 percent.
Amazingly, K-State, like Tech with its two remaining opponents, played OU and TCU in back-to-back games earlier in the Big 12 schedule, beating both by double figures, including a 13-point road win at Oklahoma.
So there you have it. The Jayhawks are down, but they’re not out. They are, however, in a much tougher spot than they were in entering the weekend, needing positive results in four of the six remaining games that could have an impact on the Big 12 title race.
KU must win both of its games. That’s two.
And K-State and Texas Tech must each lose one game — that’s two more — the final four combined games those teams have left.
History, the schedule and KenPom say it's possible.
And things will become much clearer after both teams play Monday night.