Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports
From top to bottom, the Big 12 is the best conference in college basketball this season. With that said, at least seven Big 12 teams could find themselves dancing when the brackets are released on March 16.
Kansas is in the driver’s seat and ready to win another Big 12 regular-season title, while Texas, Iowa State, Kansas State and Oklahoma all hope to somehow sneak their way back into the race. Oklahoma State and Baylor are more than eliminated from the Big 12 title discussion and will be fighting for a spot in the NCAA tournament as the end of the regular season nears.
Here are the current power rankings for the Big 12 Conference:
1. Kansas Jayhawks (18-5, 9-1 in Big 12)
Key Wins: Duke, at Oklahoma, Kansas State, at Iowa State, Iowa State, Oklahoma State
Bad Losses: None
Kansas looks to be in solid shape to take its 12th Big 12 regular season title in 13 years. The only loss in conference play the Jayhawks have suffered this season has been on the road at Texas.
Star freshman Andrew Wiggins leads his team with 16 points per game, while other freshman sensation Joel Embiid is averaging 10.9 points per game and leading the team with 7.8 rebounds per game. Sophomore forward Perry Ellis also continues to be a key playmaker with 13 points per game and 6.7 rebounds per game.
Bill Self’s squad will travel to Manhattan to face in-state rival Kansas State Monday night, where it has not lost since 2011. The other key matchup will be when it hosts Texas on Feb. 22. A win over the Longhorns could be what gives the Jayhawks their 10th consecutive Big 12 title.
2. Texas Longhorns (18-5, 7-3 in Big 12)
Key Wins: at North Carolina, Iowa State, Kansas State, Kansas
Bad Losses: None
Rick Barnes’ Longhorns have been one of the biggest surprise teams in the Big 12 this season. Texas lost its first two conference games but went on to win seven straight games including four wins over ranked opponents.
Texas has been solid on the boards this season with 42.1 rebounds per game (sixth in the nation). Junior forward Jonathan Holmes leads the Horns with 13.1 points per game, as well as 7.4 rebounds per game. Holmes injured his right knee on Saturday at Kansas State though, and there is no word on how long he could be out.
Even with a 74-57 blowout loss at Kansas State on Saturday and the potential loss of Holmes, Texas should be back in the NCAA tournament after missing out last season. The Horns are also still is in contention to win a Big 12 regular-season title for the first time since 2008. They will likely need to win out though, which means a win at Kansas on Feb. 22 is a must.
3. Iowa State Cyclones (18-4, 6-4 in Big 12)
Key Wins: Michigan, Iowa, Kansas State, Oklahoma State
Bad Losses: None
Iowa State set a school record with 14 consecutive wins to start the season but stumbled in January during conference play, as it lost four games. The Cyclones appear to be back on track though, as they defeated both ranked Oklahoma teams and blew out TCU on Saturday 84-69 with Melvin Ejim’s Big 12 single-game record of 48 points.
Ejim leads a Cyclone squad that is averaging 85 points per game (fourth in the nation) with 19.8 points per game and 8.6 rebounds per game. Georges Niang (16.2 points per game) and DeAndre Kane (16 points per game) are dangerous on the offensive end as well, while forward Dustin Hogue has been strong on the defensive end with 142 defensive rebounds.
Fred Hoiberg’s Cyclones still have a slight chance to win a Big 12 regular-season title but are in good shape to advance to the NCAA tournament for a third straight year.
4. Kansas State Wildcats (16-7, 6-4 in Big 12)
Key Wins: Ole Miss, Gonzaga, Oklahoma State, Oklahoma, Texas
Bad Losses: Northern Colorado and Charlotte
Kansas State lost three of its last four games before manhandling No. 15 Texas 74-57 at home on Saturday. The quality wins are in the Wildcats' favor, but they need to win at least four or five of their last eight games to be NCAA tournament bound. A home win against a Kansas team it has not defeated in the the last six meetings would be a start.
Freshman guard Marcus Foster went off for a career-high 34 points against Texas and will need to continue to put up points if Kansas State wants to be successful down the stretch. Junior forward Thomas Gipson is shooting 58 percent from the field and leads the team with 6.5 rebounds per game, while senior guard Shane Southwell scored an average of 13.5 points in the Wildcats’ past two games.
A Big 12 title is likely out of reach for Kansas State after sharing the regular-season title with Kansas last season, but it should be NCAA tournament bound for the sixth time in seven years.
5. Oklahoma Sooners (18-6, 7-4 in Big 12)
Key Wins: Texas, Iowa State, Oklahoma State
Bad Losses: None
Oklahoma proved it could be a threat in the Big 12 when it knocked off then-No. 9 Iowa State 87-82 at home on Jan. 11. The Sooners have since won five of their last eight games in Big 12 play.
Sophomore guard Buddy Hield leads an Oklahoma team averaging 83.8 points per game (seventh in the nation) with 18.4 points per game in conference play. Senior forward Cameron Clark adds to the Sooner offense with 15.8 points per game, while sophomore forward Ryan Spangler has averaged 10.6 points per game and an impressive 10 rebounds per game. Spangler is 10th in the nation with 240 total rebounds.
The Sooners still have work to do and have the opportunity to get quality wins on the road at Oklahoma State and Kansas, as well as at home against Kansas State and Texas.
6. Oklahoma State Cowboys (16-7, 4-6 in Big 12)
Key Wins: Memphis, Colorado, Texas
Bad Losses: at Texas Tech
Oklahoma State and sophomore star Marcus Smart were supposed to be a Big 12 contender, but the Pokes are on a downward spiral. They have lost five of their last six games and will be without Smart for the next three games, as he was suspended on Sunday for shoving a fan in a 65-61 loss at Texas Tech on Saturday night.
While Smart has averaged 17.5 points per game, teammates Markel Brown, Le’Bryan Nash and Phil Forte have and will need to continue to be effective if the Pokes want to advance to the NCAA tournament. Brown is scoring 16.6 points per game and Nash is putting up 14.5 points per game. Forte continues to be a threat from beyond the arc by shooting 47.1 percent and knocking down 64 three-pointers.
This week Oklahoma State will travel to Texas and host Oklahoma in Bedlam. Two wins against quality opponents could get this team back on track and in better shape for the NCAA tournament.
7. West Virginia Mountaineers (14-10, 6-5 in Big 12)
Key Wins: Kansas State and Oklahoma
Bad Losses: at Virginia Tech
Bob Huggins’ Mountaineers appeared to be on track to have another disappointing season in the Big 12, but things began to change on Jan. 28 at Baylor. A 66-64 win over Baylor led to two more upset wins over Kansas State and No. 21 Oklahoma.
West Virginia’s recent success has been in part to junior guard Juwan Staten, who has averaged 23 points and six assists in the Mountaineers' last four games. Eron Harris also has been a key aspect by averaging 17.5 points per game, while Terry Henderson averaged 13.7 points in their three key wins.
At this point, West Virginia is a bubble team. Two wins over ranked Iowa State and Texas this week is a must if this team wants to helps its chances of advancing to the NCAA tournament.
8. Baylor Bears (14-9, 2-8 in Big 12)
Key Wins: Colorado, Kentucky, at Oklahoma State
Bad Losses: at Texas Tech
At one point, Baylor was 12-1 and ranked seventh in the nation. The Bears again this season have struggled in Big 12 play and are currently out of the NCAA Tournament field. This team has severely underachieved by losing eight of its last 10 games.
Senior forward Cory Jefferson leads the Bears with 12.4 points per game and 7.9 rebounds per game. Senior guard Brady Heslip has averaged 11.3 points per game this season, while sophomore center Isaiah Austin managed to get back into a rhythm on Saturday night at Oklahoma by scoring 21 points. Austin averaged only 6.8 points in the four games prior.
Baylor controls its destiny down the stretch with opportunities to get good wins over ranked Big 12 teams. Not advancing to a second consecutive NCAA tournament would be a major disappointment to Scott Drew’s squad.
9. Texas Tech Red Raiders (12-11, 4-6 in Big 12)
Key Wins: Oklahoma State
Bad Losses: at Alabama
Chances of Texas Tech making the NCAA tournament are unlikely unless it manages to win seven of its last eight games. Even that could be a bit of a stretch.
On the bright side, Tubby Smith has brought a bit of excitement back to Lubbock. The Red Raiders defeated then-No. 12 Baylor on Jan. 15 and No. 19 Oklahoma State on Saturday night. The program had not defeated a ranked opponent since it outlasted No. 12 Washington 99-92 in overtime back in 2009.
Senior forward Jaye Crockett and junior forward Jordan Tolbert lead the Red Raiders. Crockett is averaging 14.7 points per game and 6.5 rebounds per game, while Tolbert is averaging 11 points per game and shooting 57.4 percent from the field.
Texas Tech could finish the season with seven quality wins and make a run in the Big 12 tournament, but an NIT invitation appears to be more realistic.
10. TCU Horned Frogs (9-13, 0-10 in Big 12)
Key Wins: None
Bad Losses: Longwood
What else is there to say about TCU? The Horned Frogs are by themselves in the cellar of the Big 12 standings. TCU is 0-10 in conference play and has yet to win a game in 2014, but this Wednesday could be a potential win, as it hosts a struggling Baylor team.
The Horned Frogs are led by junior guard Kyan Anderson, who has averaged 19.2 points and six assists in TCU’s last five games. Junior forward Amric Fields has also been a leader by averaging 13.9 points per game and recording 6.1 rebounds per game.
Winning at least one or two of its last eight games is not completely out of reach. TCU caught No. 5 Kansas on a bad night last season and managed to pull off one of the biggest upsets of the 2012-13 season.