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Kansas, Kansas State and Oklahoma appear to be the primary teams in contention for the Big 12 title. How does the final stretch shape up for each team?
Last night the Kansas Jayhawks soundly defeated the Kansas State Wildcats completing a sweep of their in state rival and pulling even atop the Big 12 standings. Currently the Oklahoma State, Kansas and Kansas State are all tied with three losses apiece.
So with six games to play who has the edge? If things ended today all three would be "Big 12 Champs" since the Big 12 does not break the tie for regular season titles. If they did use a tiebreaker, Kansas would have a very clear tiebreaker over Kansas State, Kansas State over Oklahoma State and Oklahoma State over Kansas with the latter two matchups having only played once to date. Kansas still makes a return trip to Stillwater as does Kansas State.
Glancing at schedules it would certainly appear that Oklahoma State has the advantage down the stretch. The Cowboys host both major contenders in Stillwater and have one challenging road game, in Ames, remaining. That's not to say the Cowboys couldn't slip up against say West Virginia, or perhaps a Texas team with Myck Kabongo back in the lineup, it just isn't something that can be counted on. If the Cowboys hold serve at home and drop the one potential road hurdle in Ames, they'll still finish with a 4 loss conference record which secure at least a share of the league title.
After the Cowboys you have the Kansas State Wildcats. Bruce Webers team now sits at three losses and finishes out the year with Baylor twice, a potentially tricky game at Texas and a tough one in Stillwater. Now much of this Texas talk is based around the return of Kabongo and the fact that Texas has been a solid defensive team. It might be overly presumptuousness to think they can cause problems at the top, but the potential is there. The two most difficult challenges for the Wildcats will undoubtedly be the road game in Waco and the return trip to Stillwater. If they split those and win out the remainder that also puts them at four losses. If they drop both, they sit at five losses and would have a difficult time keeping pace with the Cowboys. Completing the sweep of the Cowboys in Stillwater would be huge, but that game comes on the final day of league play and it might not matter.
Kansas has perhaps the most challenging road. Losing at home to Oklahoma State puts a huge amount of pressure on the return trip to Stillwater. The loss to TCU pretty much forfeits any room for error that might have otherwise existed. Kansas also plays on the road against Iowa State and Baylor while hosting a Texas team that gave Kansas trouble in Austin. Obviously Kansas has some added incentive in Stillwater, but that game could make or break the Jayhawks chances and it's only eight days away. A loss to Oklahoma State puts the Jayhawks a game back and Kansas still has two very challenging games. For an outright title, the Jayhawks will essentially have to win out. That doesn't seem likely. To share the title, Kansas might only be able to afford one loss. One loss in three very challenging road contests just doesn't seem like a likely scenario.
It's going to be a tough year for Kansas to keep the streak alive. Last night provided a boost of confidence but the reality is that this is still going to be one of the biggest tests Bill Self has had in sometime.