A Big 12 program hasn’t won a national championship since the Kansas Jayhawks prevailed in 2008, but that could change this season.
There is a clear divide this season within the conference in regard to who is a contender and who is a pretender. Schools that may have had success against non-conference foes early on in the season have not necessarily played well since the start of Big 12 play.
In the most recent edition of Bracketology, presented by ESPN’s Joe Lunardi, six Big 12 schools would make it into the field of 68.
Iowa State was listed as one of the last four teams in while West Virginia, Texas Tech, Texas and TCU all failed to make the cut. Each currently has a sub-.500 conference record and a poor overall record—either .500 or just below.
But of the Big 12 teams expected to be playing in March, only a couple have a true shot at winning it all. Let’s take a look at who those programs are.
The Kansas Jayhawks are clearly the team to beat in the Big 12 and one of the top teams in the country. The No. 4 Jayhawks have a perfect record in the conference and have just one loss on their resume on the year—a three-point loss to No. 21 Michigan State.
Kansas has, however, had two close calls against conference opponents this season. The Jayhawks needed extra time to take down Iowa State in early January and nearly fell to the Longhorns just a couple of days ago.
But Kansas, led by Ben McLemore and Jeff Withey, do have a couple of impressive wins—none more impressive than an eight-point victory over then-No. 7 Ohio State.
Kansas still has to face No. 16 Kansas State twice before the end of the year, which will absolutely be must-watch games. Lunardi has Kansas as one of the four No. 1 seeds at the moment and the Jayhawks will need to stay hot if they’re going to hang onto that seed.
The Baylor Bears aren’t a threat to Kansas for the Big 12 championship, but just like the Jayhawks, they’re expected to play in March. Lunardi has Baylor as a No. 8 seed in the latest edition of Bracketology, projected to play the Wisconsin Badgers.
Baylor has been rather inconsistent this season which has them at 12-5 overall and 3-1 in the Big 12. The Bears lost two of their first six games of the season before upsetting the then-No. 8 Kentucky Wildcats. But then they lost to Northwestern and then-No. 13 Gonzaga a few weeks later. Baylor also got destroyed by No. 4 Kansas.
It would appear that the Bears can play with the not-so-good teams in the country, but they tend to struggle against the powerhouses. Baylor still has two games against No. 16 Kansas State on the schedule and finishes the year at home against the Jayhawks.
Baylor is missing two stars in Quincy Acy and Perry Jones who helped the Bears advance to the Elite Eight last season. But now, led by Pierre Jackson, Isaiah Austin and Cory Jefferson, the Bears could easily make another deep run in the NCAA tournament.
Kansas State Wildcats
Kansas State doesn’t score a lot of points or shoot the ball very well, but the No. 16 Wildcats somehow find a way to win games. Kansas State has won 15 games this season—four against Big 12 teams—while losing just twice.
Both of the Wildcats’ losses came against ranked teams—a 14-point loss to No. 4 Michigan and a 16-point loss at the hands of No. 14 Gonzaga—but they do have big wins. Kansas State beat No. 8 Florida by six points and then-No. 22 Oklahoma State by another six points.
Kansas State still has two huge games against Kansas which will determine where they end up in March. Those matchups are possibly the last games that the Wildcats will play against ranked opponents, and many will be watching to see how they play.
The Wildcats are projected to be a No. 7 seed in the NCAA tournament, and they can improve that come March by taking out Kansas in one or both games, not losing to poor teams and by getting Rodney McGruder some help. He’s the only player averaging double-digit points per game, which has to change for the Wildcats to make a run at a championship.