A suddenly competitive Big 12 Conference has Kansas State and Oklahoma State thinking big in dethroning eight-time defending champ Kansas.
A semi-impressive win in Stillwater last week officially put KU back into the pole position for No. 9. A dominating first-half against TCU over the weekend left four regular season games, two of which are road tests against tourney-seeking teams.
A clean sweep of those four games would ensure another title but Bill Self's Jayhawks must stick to a rather simple blueprint to get it done.
KU's home winning streak should have ended a month earlier than it did as they escaped a perimeter-heavy Iowa State team in overtime.
The Cyclones took a whopping 73 shots in the first meeting, 38 of which came from three-point range. While they only hit 14, their perimeter versatility wreaked havoc all night as every starter stepped outside for at least four three-point attempts.
Tyrus McGee might be Fred Hoiberg's only ultra-efficient perimeter shooter (45 percent entering Monday's game), but five other Cyclones can effectively hit from deep.
Jeff Withey and Kevin Young in particular must move comfortably outside the paint in order to prevent some Hilton magic.
The first half on Saturday was fun. TCU's starters failed to score in the entire first half as Kansas jumped out to a 38-9 halftime advantage.
However, the second half was a dud as KU was outscored, out-hustled and simply outplayed in surrendering 39 points to one of the worst offensive teams in Division I.
It appears Bill Self is still experimenting with a deep and diverse roster, understandably resulting in inconsistent play against good competition. Those inconsistencies could prevent a perfect run through the remaining four games, leaving the door open for the despised Wildcats.
Poor shooting from Naadir Tharpe and Elijah Johnson has been an obvious weakness for Kansas this season as both continue to shoot under 40 percent from the floor and 32 percent from three.
Ball movement has been excellent throughout the season, with improvements from those two, but too often the offense is broken off early in the shot clock for step-back perimeter jumpers.
Baylor has dropped six of their last eight games in falling squarely on the NCAA Tournament bubble. ESPN's Joe Lunardi has the desperate Bears as one of his last four teams in as a 12-seed with three weeks to go before Selection Sunday.
Scott Drew's team still boasts a bevy of dangerous scorers in Pierre Jackson, Isaiah Austin and Cory Jefferson that must propel their team to win at least two of their remaining four games.
Kansas' March 9th trip to Waco might be both a must-win for the Big 12 regular season title and a must-win for Baylor's tournament hopes.
The Jayhawks have oftentimes struggled with help defense on versatile forwards and quick guards, leading to open perimeter shots and easy offensive rebounds.
Despite tremendous team defense, inadequate communication on defensive switches and backside help has allowed opposing playmakers to make KU uncomfortable.
Luckily they have a dominating shot-blocker in Jeff Withey to abuse over-aggressive scorers in the event of poor help but their guards must do a better job of anticipating the next two or three cuts from their man.