By KEVIN LONNQUIST
Big 12 Insider
We’re about at the quarter pole for the conference season and the separation has begun. Barring anything unforeseen, there really isn’t going to be anyone to challenge Kansas for the Big 12 championship. That’s no surprise.
With the kind of defense the Jayhawks play, teams just cannot get quality looks. Iowa State was the exception Jan. 9 in its conference opener in Lawrence, KS. But then KU subsequently marched through Texas Tech and Baylor. Texas is on alert Saturday. And the Longhorns already have enough problems scoring. They are ninth in the conference at 64.1 points per game.
Separation also occurs in Manhattan, KS. It’s pretty much a stand-up game for visiting Oklahoma. Typical of Lon Kruger, he’s quietly putting together a nice start. There are good wins at West Virginia and home to Oklahoma State before an expected win over Texas Tech.
But we’ll see how the aspiring Sooners respond at No. 16/18 Kansas State. If forward Romero Osby, who has led the Sooners in each of the first three games, does that again, then Oklahoma has a really good chance.
Iowa State, Oklahoma State and Baylor are in that next group category. All three teams have their youth and inconsistencies and are definitely on the bubble to make the NCAA tournament. Of course, that’s two months away.
We still won’t know much about the Cyclones because they play at bottom feeders TCU and Texas Tech next. The Cyclones have taken care of business against Texas and West Virginia.
Oklahoma State and Baylor need to pick up some good conference wins. Admittedly, Baylor’s first three wins came against teams (TCU, Texas Tech and Texas) who are a combined 1-10. Oklahoma State has fallen short in big games at Oklahoma and Kansas State.
Speaking of Texas, the Longhorns likely may have their last stand in terms of NCAA tournament talk Saturday against Kansas. If they don’t win here, the season is likely lost.
BIG 12 WEEKEND
12:30 p.m. (Big 12 Network)
The Skinny: Cyclones have the conference’s top 3-point shooter in Cyrus McGee (48.4%).
TCU is the worst free throw shooting team in the conference at 60 percent.
1:00 p.m. (CBS)
The Skinny: Jayhawks guard Ben McLemore (ankle) should play against the Longhorns.
Texas is 7-1 at home but lost in overtime to West Virginia at Erwin Special Events Center Jan. 9.
1:00 p.m. (ESPN2)
The Skinny: Without double-double wizard Jaye Crockett, the Red Raiders would be nowhere offensively.
The Cowboys hope the off week to helped calm their freshmen.
2:00 p.m. (FSSW)
The Skinny: A tune-up game for the Bears who will need to work on some things.
This team has to find a way to get spot up shooting guard Brady Heslip involved.
1:00 p.m. (CBS)
The Skinny: For both teams, this an important game to start building the NCAA tournament resume. Both were NCAA teams last year.
They’re having mirror seasons. Each team is shooting about 41-42 percent and is struggling from 3-point range.
3:00 p.m. (Big 12 Network)
The Skinny: A real test for the Sooners who could change their national perception with a win on the road.
The Wildcats Thomas Gipson is the conference’s best offensive rebounder at 3.2 per game.
NEWS & NOTES
- • With Monday being Martin Luther King Day, the Big 12 has two conference games with Oklahoma State at Baylor at 4:30 and Texas at Oklahoma at 8:30 p.m. Both games will be on ESPN. Really, all four will be in must-win positions regardless of Saturday’s outcomes. Texas swept Oklahoma last year and Baylor swept Oklahoma State.
- • Watch the situation involving Texas guard Sheldon McClendon and coach Rick Barnes Saturday against Kansas. McClendon played just one minute in the loss at Iowa State. Now, the question will be whether those two will have reconciled or not. If not, a long day could get longer.
BIG 12 BASKETBALL POWER RATINGS
During the Big 12 conference basketball season, Rattle and Hum Sports unveils its power rankings. We also provide our postseason tournament projections.
1. Kansas – One of the top five defensive teams in the country
2. Kansas State – The last time the Wildcats were 3-0 in Big 12 play was 2007-08
3. Oklahoma – Huge stand-up game Saturday at Kansas State
4. Baylor – Bears had only nine 2-point field goals in their loss at Kansas
5. Oklahoma State – Guard Markel Brown has scored in double figures in 14 of 15 games
6. Iowa State – Missed scoring 70+ points in all 16 games by one point Wednesday
7. West Virginia – Guard Jabarie Hinds has scored in double figures in first four Big 12 games
8. Texas – Headed toward its first 0-4 start in Big 12 history
9. Texas Tech – Dusty Hannahs second in conference in 3-point shooting (43.1%)
10. TCU – First in the league in scoring defense (55.3); last in scoring offense (55.2)
Projected NCAA tournament teams: Kansas, Oklahoma State, Kansas State, Baylor
NIT tournament teams: Oklahoma, Texas, Iowa State