Friday, March 1, 2013
Conference Power Rankings: Big 12
By Jason King
If the Kansas Jayhawks and Kansas State Wildcats both win the rest of their regular-season games, they will share the Big 12 title. The Jayhawks are seeking their ninth straight league crown. Kansas State hasn't won a conference championship since 1977, so even tying KU for first place would be huge for the Wildcats, especially considering they're playing for a new coach, Bruce Weber.
Baylor has a chance to alter the conference race because it has remaining home games against K-State (Saturday) and Kansas (March 9). The Bears were waxed during their initial meetings with the Jayhawks and Wildcats, but they're talented enough to beat both teams if the stars align and the moon is full. Whatever happens, the final week of the season should be interesting. Here are this week's power rankings.
1. Kansas:Elijah Johnson's 39-point performance in Monday's overtime win at Iowa State marked the best game by a Big 12 player this season. A healthy and aggressive Johnson could be the difference in this team winning a game or two in the NCAA tournament and making the Final Four. Ben McLemore is averaging just 10.3 points in his past four games.
2. Kansas State: The Wildcats have won eight of their past nine games. They look better every time they step on the court. K-State's shot selection is good and they're playing tough defense. Shane Southwell has made 10 of his past 17 attempts from 3-point range. The Wildcats' past six wins have come by nine points or more, including a 20-point thrashing of Baylor on Feb. 16.
3. Oklahoma State:Le'Bryan Nash snapped out of a mini-funk Wednesday and scored a career-high 28 points in the Cowboys' 64-47 drubbing of TCU. Nash is averaging 19.5 points in his past four games. OSU has three tough games remaining against Texas, Iowa State and Kansas State. But only one of those contests (Iowa State) is away from home.
4. Iowa State: The Cyclones (19-9, 9-6) might be the most snakebitten team in the Big 12. Three of their losses have come in overtime and another occurred on a last-second basket at Oklahoma State. Fred Hoiberg's squad ranks fourth in the nation in scoring (80.1), 12th in assists (16.3) and 19th in rebounds (39.3). Saturday's game at Oklahoma will be pivotal in terms of NCAA tournament seeding.
5. Oklahoma: Lon Kruger's squad led Texas by as many as 22 points in the second half Wednesday before wilting down the stretch in a 92-86 overtime loss. The Sooners, who are getting a team-high 15 points per game from Romero Osby, will have a tough chore Saturday against Iowa State, a team they lost to by 19 points earlier this season. Things get easier after that with a home game against West Virginia and a road tilt with TCU to close the regular season.
6. Baylor: If the season ended today, the Bears wouldn't deserve to be in the NCAA tournament. But they still have plenty of opportunities to play their way into the field with remaining home games against No. 13 Kansas State and No. 6 Kansas. Both of those contests are at home. A win at Texas on Monday would also enhance Baylor's résumé. Scott Drew's squad has been a disappointment, but the talent is still there to upset anyone.
7. Texas: Even though the Longhorns have lost to West Virginia twice, I'm still ranking them above the Mountaineers, based on their current play. Overtime home wins against Iowa State and Oklahoma proved that Texas hasn't given up during the worst season in coach Rick Barnes' tenure. Myck Kabongo had 31 points, 8 rebounds, 6 assists and 4 steals in Wednesday's overtime win against Oklahoma. He's averaging 11.2 fee throw attempts in his past five games.
8. West Virginia: Each of the Mountaineers' six Big 12 wins have come against teams ranked eighth, ninth or 10th in the league standings. West Virginia's leading scorer (Eron Harris) is only averaging 9.3 points. Harris, a freshman, turned in an encouraging performance by scoring 25 points in Wednesday's home loss to Baylor. With upcoming road games at Kansas and Oklahoma and a home game with Iowa State, the Mountaineers may not win again.
9. Texas Tech: The Red Raiders are just 2-13 in Big 12 play and haven't won a game since beating Iowa State on Jan. 23. They'll likely be favored at home Saturday against TCU, a team it beat in the conference opener. And there's a chance Texas Tech could sneak up on Texas on March 9 in Lubbock. Freshman point guard Josh Gray (9.7 points, 3.2 assists) is showing positive signs.
10. TCU: The season can't end fast enough for the Horned Frogs, whose only Big 12 victory came in that stunner against Kansas on Feb. 6. Each of TCU's 14 Big 12 losses have come by nine points or more. It will be interesting to see how competitive Trent Johnson's squad is in Saturday's road game against fellow Big 12 bottom feeder Texas Tech.