Big 12 Basketball: What We'll Learn from Saturday's Conference Showdowns

Joe Tansey@JTansey90Featured ColumnistJanuary 31, 2014

Jan 27, 2014; Norman, OK, USA; Oklahoma State Cowboys guard Marcus Smart (33) reacts during the game against the Oklahoma Sooners at Lloyd Noble Center. Oklahoma won 88-76. Mandatory Credit: Kevin Jairaj-USA TODAY Sports
Kevin Jairaj-USA TODAY Sports

Saturday produces an enticing slate of games in the Big 12 conference with two matchups between ranked teams as well as two other intriguing games; then there is TCU at Texas Tech, which is a game that is lucky to even get a mention here. 

With Kansas in charge of the conference title race at the moment, the four teams sitting with two and three losses in Big 12 play will be big-time supporters of Texas as the Longhorns host the Jayhawks at the Erwin Center. 

Big 12 Standings
TeamConference RecordOverall Record
Kansas State5-315-6
Oklahoma State4-316-4
West Virginia4-412-9
Iowa State3-415-4
Texas Tech2-610-11

Iowa State and Baylor both are in need of victories over the weekend to ensure that they do not fall into the Big 12 abyss alongside TCU and Texas Tech. 

Then, there is the matchup that pits Bob Huggins' current team against his former team in Morgantown, W.Va. in a highly underrated showdown.

So what exactly will we learn from the four clashes across the Big 12 on Saturday? That is what we examine below. 

Texas Needs to Win for its Sake and Everyone Else's

No pressure, Texas, but you need to win on Saturday to stop Kansas from dominating the Big 12 regular-season championship race. 

Before we can even dissect what the full slate of games mean to everyone else in the conference, we need to focus on Austin, where Texas can knock the Jayhawks down from their pedestal. 

Rick Barnes has guided his Longhorns through a difficult stretch of games against ranked opposition with three consecutive wins, but now he faces his most difficult test of the season.

Andrew Wiggins is finally living up to the hype he had during the preseason, and Joel Embiid is a titan in the paint who continues to dominate.

Luckily, Texas will have a strong guard in Javan Felix (12.2 points per game), who can score, and a large pair inside in Jonathan Holmes and Cameron Ridley, who can cause plenty of trouble to Embiid. 

Cameron Ridley should test Embiid inside.
Cameron Ridley should test Embiid inside.Howard Smith-USA TODAY Sports

Texas could easily have the formula to beat Kansas with strong guards and depth in the paint, and since the Longhorns have a ton of momentum behind them, they could easily show the rest of the conference how to defeat Bill Self's team later in the season.

Iowa State and Baylor Will Show Us Their Resolve

Not many people would have predicted at the start of conference play that Iowa State and Baylor would be in the bottom half of the standings seven games in. 

Both teams need to win on Saturday against their respective opponents from the state of Oklahoma, and in the process, they could show us how much resolve they have left in their tanks. 

Iowa State has the better chance of winning than Baylor since the Cyclones will host Oklahoma at Hilton Coliseum, while the Bears must travel to Stillwater to play Oklahoma State. 

The Cyclones have already played, and lost, to Kansas twice, which means their remaining schedule is easier than the rest of the teams in the conference. 

A win over Oklahoma would be another one against a ranked opponent for Fred Hoiberg's team, and they could use that as a springboard for their trip to Stillwater on Monday night.

Baylor's remarkable free fall has seen them lose five consecutive games, a streak that started when they were upset by Texas Tech. 

Losing to Texas Tech hurt Scott Drew's team a ton, and they have failed to recover since then. 

Jan 25, 2014; Waco, TX, USA; Baylor Bears head coach Scott Drew reacts during the second half against the Texas Longhorns at The Ferrell Center. Mandatory Credit: Kevin Jairaj-USA TODAY Sports
Kevin Jairaj-USA TODAY Sports

With a loss to Oklahoma State, the Bears will officially exit the NCAA men's tournament discussion. 

If they leave Gallagher-Iba Arena with a win, they will gain some confidence heading into tough games against Kansas and Oklahoma, a stretch of games in which the Bears need to win at least once to stay relevant. 

Winner of Kansas State-West Virginia Game Could Become Postseason Contender

Both Kansas State and West Virginia have shown plenty of promise during their first eight games of the conference season, and with a win on Saturday, either team could find itself in the postseason discussion. 

When the two teams played in Manhattan on January 18, the Wildcats won with ease, 78-56. 

Jan 18, 2014; Manhattan, KS, USA; Kansas State Wildcats guard Marcus Foster (2) tries to get to the basket against West Virginia Mountaineers forward Kevin Noreen (34) and West Virginia Mountaineers guard Terry Henderson (15) during first-half action at F
Scott Sewell-USA TODAY Sports

If Bruce Weber's team can go into Morgantown and defeat the Mountaineers, they would earn their fifth conference win of the season and find themselves in a very favorable position in the standings. 

A loss could lead to a big swan dive down the standings with Texas and Kansas awaiting in the next week. 

West Virginia enters the clash with Kansas State on the heels of a two-point victory in Waco, which shows you just how bad Baylor is playing right now. 

Outside of the triumph in Waco, the Mountaineers have won their only conference games against TCU and Texas Tech. To be taken seriously, they must start beating the better teams on their schedule.

With two big home games against the Wildcats and Oklahoma on their schedule, the Mountaineers could easily enter the postseason conversation with two consecutive home wins, a streak that would have to start on Saturday. 

The Big 12 Is Much Deeper Than We First Thought

While it may not rival the Big Ten for its depth from top to bottom, the Big 12 has eight teams that all have the potential of making the postseason if things go well. We are still including Baylor for now, but the Bears are close to finding themselves irrelevant despite 12 nonconference victories. 

Everyone expected Kansas and Oklahoma State to dominate and every other team to just be average at best. 

That is not the case, as the six teams underneath the Jayhawks in the standings can make a legitimate case for a postseason bid. 

In all reality, the Big 12 could be a six-bid league if all goes right, but if some things do not fall in place, only four or five teams could be playing in March.

Regardless of how many teams make the NCAA tournament, Saturday will be a fine showcase of the talent and depth in the league.

Follow Joe on Twitter, @JTansey90. 


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