Five games ago, the Oklahoma Sooners were sitting pretty atop the Big 12 standings with an unblemished record. The only apparent challenger to the Big 12 crown was a young Kansas team that was sitting one game back and would have to travel to Norman for the two teams' only regular season matchup.
Then a collision happened. Oklahoma forward and player of the year favorite Blake Griffin ran into a mountain in the form of 300-pound Texas forward Dexter Pittman with four minutes to go in the first half of a Feb. 21 game against the Longhorns in Austin. Now the rest is history.
Without their star, the Sooners dropped that game and were suddenly tied for first place with that red-hot Kansas team that would be visiting in two days. You know the rest of the story—Kansas grabs a big second half lead and fends off a furious late comeback from the Griffin-less Sooners to permanently put themselves in first place and the top seed in this week's Big 12 tournament.
Since then, the blogs, columns, and radio talk shows have all offered up their own "what might have been" scenarios for the Sooners with a healthy Blake Griffin.
Even Oklahoma coach Jeff Capel offered his opinion in a recent Denver Post article. After pointing out that Griffin was sidelined for half of the Texas loss and all of the Kansas loss, Capel said he would like to see a healthy Kansas "come down here and play us when we're fully healthy."
Sure, everyone would have liked to see that happen.
But it didn't.
Everyone seems to forget that last week, Oklahoma had the chance to put themselves in a position to grab at least a piece of the conference title—with a healthy Blake Griffin.
Last Wednesday, on the same night that Kansas suffered a humiliating 19-point loss at Texas Tech, the Sooners (with Griffin) had a chance to grab a first place tie but instead suffered a nine-point loss at the hands of the Missouri Tigers. That would be the same Missouri team that sandwiched that win with a blowout loss at Kansas and another double-digit setback at Texas A&M.
The Kansas Jayhawks are now the Big 12 Champions (again) and have been playing like it. Sure, maybe it would've been different had Griffin been healthy, but he wasn't, and that's just a part of the game.
Now Capel's Sooners have the chance to prove they really are the best in the league, but it will be no easy task.
Several Big 12 teams have a lot riding on this year's conference tournament. For starters, the winner gets an automatic NCAA tournament bid, and even though the Big 12 could place as many as six or seven teams, only three (Oklahoma, Kansas, Missouri) seem to have locked up their bids.
Right now, it looks like there are four teams (Kansas State, Texas A&M, Texas, Oklahoma State) battling for three spots, which could mean the team with the worst showing this week (and Kansas State has a first round bye) could be the odd one out.
That also means that if one of the other five teams (Baylor, Nebraska, Iowa State, Texas Tech, Colorado) makes an unexpected run and wins the conference tourney, there could be at least two of those other teams on the outside looking in.
Also on the line this week are seedings and geographic placement for Kansas, Oklahoma, and Missouri. If the NCAA tournament was seeded today, Oklahoma would possibly be a one but likely be a two, Kansas would probably be a three, and Missouri a four. Winning the Big 12 tourney would likely mean a one seed for the Sooners, a two for the Jayhawks, and a three or maybe even a two for the Tigers.
Oklahoma has probably locked up Kansas City as their first and second round site, but the Jayhawks and Tigers each have a chance to play there if they win the Big 12 tournament. They would also have to do it and make themselves look more deserving than a Memphis squad that just finished a third straight undefeated conference season.
Any way you look at it, there is a lot still at stake in the Big 12, too much at least for all of this "what could have been" talk. Oklahoma has a lot to accomplish this week, or all that talk won't even matter anymore.