The punditocracy has spoken. The overwhelming consensus prior to the start of the Big 12 season was that KU was going down--as in they would be looking up at the champion for the first time since 2004--rather than sideways or down at everyday else.
And the team most mentioned as the Jayhawks’ likely successor?
Texas. And why not? They had the momentum from a strong league campaign last year, their top 30 or 40 players were returning, and the addition of the second best freshman big man in the conference, gave UT something KU was lacking for the first time in years: an eraser in the lane.
After Saturday’s action, the Big 12 title is, suddenly, KU’s to lose. And this is a team whose personality is that it does not like losing. Further, it is a team that has, somehow, quickly, made the transformation from young team with beaucoup talent to team of tough, mature competitors with beaucoup talent.
As for Texas: Rick Barnes’ team is on life support in the ICU.
In other games: K-State won at Home, as projected, vs. Okie St; West Virginia won (ho-hum) at Home as projected, vs. TCU; and Baylor won at Home, as projected, vs. Oklahoma.
Oh, and KU’s former co-leader, Iowa St, lost, not as projected, at Texas Tech.
As a result:
1. There are only two teams in the conference without a blemish (defined as either a Loss at Home or on the Road to a team two tiers lower). Both reside in Kansas. One resides in Tier One.
The other, K-State, is lobbying hard for a position in Tier One, what with a W at Oklahoma and no Home losses. However, impressive as the win in Norman was, it was only one game. It merited a battlefield promotion from Tier 3 to 2. They need another big, un-projected win to stake a claim to Contender status. Winning a game they were projected to win (Okie St at Home) won’t get them there.
2. As noted in the last REAL Standings Report, “Lubbock is where Championships can be lost.” Iowa St’s championship dreams are not entirely lost, despite its loss to Tech, because (a) it won at West Virginia, washing away the stench of its defeat on the High Plains, and (b) the Cycones still get a shot at KU in Lawrence. But more about that next time.
3. The Big 12 still goes through Lawrence. The Jayhawks are not merely the most talented team in the league, they might be the best competitors. If this is truly the case, to paraphrase Billy Packer: “This race is ovah.” Okay, it isn’t. Every Road game the rest of the way is loseable. Teams as good or better than this one have lost in Lubbock or Fort Worth.
Tier 1: Baylor, Iowa State, Kansas, Oklahoma, Texas, West Virginia
Tier 2: K-State, Okie St, TCU
Tier 3: Texas Tech
KU (5-1) Projected Losses: at WVU, at OU At risk games: at TCU, at OSU, at KSU
Iowa St: (4-2) Projected Losses: at KU, at OU, at UT At risk games: at OSU, at KSU, at TCU
Oklahoma (3-4) Projected Losses: at ISU At risk games: at OSU, at TCU, at KSU
West Virginia (4-2) Projected Losses: at OU, at ISU, at BU, at KU At risk games: at KSU, at OSU
Baylor (3-3) Projected Losses: at WVU, at KU, at ISU, at UT At risk games: at OSU
Texas (3-3) Projected Losses: at ISU, at BU, at OU, at WVU, at KU At risk games: at KSU
K-State (5-2) Projected Losses: at KU, at WVU, at TCU, at BU, at UT At risk games: WVU, at Tech, UT, OU, KU, ISU
Okie St (3-4) Projected Losses: at UT, at BU, at TCU, at WVU At risk games: BU, OU, KU, ISU, WVU, at Tech
TCU (1-5) Projected Losses: at ISU, at BU, at UT, at KU, at OU, at OSU At risk games: KU, OU, ISU
Texas Tech (1-6) Projected Losses: at OU, at WVU, at ISU, KU, at UT, BU, OU, at TCU, at BU At risk games: KSU, OSU
BIG 12 SCHEDULE
1. Texas at Iowa State (8:00pm)*****(Projected W: ISU)
Texas HAS to pick up a couple of Road wins vs. Contenders to re-enter the league title discussion. Iowa State MUST protect its Home court from here on out with KU having two Road wins on the plus side of its ledger. Not yet halfway through the season, this has the feel of one of those March elimination games.
2. West Virginia at K-State (6:00pm)**** (At-risk game)
Huggy Bear returns to the scene of the crime. You might call it Manhattan: CSI. A loss here, and the Mountaineers , who spent the last week losing big in Austin and fluking by TCU in Morgantown, might be in need of a body bag.
3. Baylor at Okie St (8:00pm). ****1/2 (At-risk game)
Forget Okie St. They aren’t going anywhere. A Tier 2 team they are, and a Tier 2 team they will stay. As for Baylor, they have a Home loss (to KU) and a loss in an at-risk game (at K-State). Another loss here, and they will be in the same position as if they had lost two Home games.
4. Texas Tech at Oklahoma (6:30pm) * (Projected W: OU)
The premise of the REAL Standings is that it’s a Hard Knock Life on the Road. And, unfortunately for Tech, the sun is not likely to come out for it Wednesday in Norman.
5. KU at TCU (8:00pm)**** (At-risk game)
Speaking of the scene of the crime, Fort Worth is the site of a Day that Will Live in Infamy.
Putting that forgettable moment aside, this game serves as another major hurdle in KU’s quest for No. 11. As mentioned earlier, the Jayhawks are showing a surprising level of maturity for such a young team. However, there are different types of maturity. There is the kind that it takes to keep your poise in a big game against teams with comparable talent, such as Iowa St, Oklahoma, and Texas. It is easy to remain focused in those contests, because it is necessary to focus. More than that, it is essential to focus.
In games like TCU, where the talent and reputation of the opponent are lacking, better and more experienced KU teams than this one have gone Ray Benson and walked away from a Lubbock or a Fort Worth with a capital L behind their name.
On the other hand, this game will be played at a high school venue, which should make KU’s High School All-Americans feel right at Home.
If the Jayhawks prevail in this one, they will then have to demonstrate their maturity as a front runner.
And after that. . .