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Big 12 Title Race: Kansas Back in the Driver’s Seat

No one wins on the road...except Kansas

NCAA Basketball: Baylor at Kansas Jay Biggerstaff-USA TODAY Sports

What a difference a week makes. Flashback seven days and the perception of the Big 12 race is entirely different. On Jan. 15, Kansas, West Virginia, Oklahoma, and Texas Tech sat in a four-way tie, with Kansas about to face arguably the toughest road test of the season.

The national discussion of “is this the year Kansas loses the Big 12” was at full blast, and for a reason. KU will not have a top-15 recruit in Billy Preston this year, causing a lack of size and a thin bench. Not to mention West Virginia looked as dangerous as ever, Oklahoma starts the front runner for national player of the year in Trae Young, and Chris Beard had turned Texas Tech into a gritty team with one of the best defenses in the country.

Yet as the Lawrence Journal-World’s Matt Tait summed up on Twitter, “Seen it once, you’ve seen it a thousand times…” The week unfolded in a familiar way that makes Kansas fans grin and the rest of the Big 12 shake its collective heads. Kansas somehow escaped Morgantown with a win, which was promptly followed up with Oklahoma and Texas Tech each dropping two games, opening up some breathing room and causing analysts to question their predictions.

That being said, the conference season is still less than 40 percent complete, which means the roller coaster that is the Big 12 race likely still has a couple more ups and downs in it. That’s why each Monday we’ll reconvene here, examining KU’s place in the standings, the challengers posing the biggest threat, the games of the week with the most impact on the race, and the threat level of the streak.

KU’s Place in the Standings: First

Kansas’ margin of victory has caused hesitancy amongst the fanbase, as KU’s six wins have come by a combined 22 points. But winning five straight games in this conference—two of those being road victories against ranked teams—is no easy feat. Not to mention two of those wins were against Kansas State and Iowa State, who both knocked off ranked teams last week. There are no easy victories in this conference.

Biggest Challengers: West Virginia and Oklahoma

The standings show that this is still basically a four-team race, but Zach Smith’s injury—and Tech’s subsequent 1-3 record without him—has pushed Texas Tech back to the rest of the pack. West Virginia (5-2) is still just a game back of Kansas (6-1), while Oklahoma, Tech, and K-State are sitting at 4-3. Oklahoma has to be the favorite to contend out of the 4-3 teams, not only because of Trae Young, but because the Sooners still have two games against Kansas to close the gap.

Game of the Week: Kansas at Oklahoma

Another week, another road game against a top-10 team (or former top-10 team, depending on how fall the Sooners drop when the rankings are released) for the Jayhawks. Kansas was able to come back and steal a game against the Mountaineers, and will face a tougher offensive threat in the Sooners, who will undoubtedly be motivated while riding a two-game losing streak. With the Big 12/SEC Challenge on Saturday, the Jayhawks can’t lose their first-place standing this week, but Oklahoma can quickly get back into the race with a victory at home.

Honorable mention for game of the week is West Virginia at TCU on Big Monday. Without Jaylen Fisher, winning this game is a tough ask for the Horned Frogs, which means it’s not unrealistic to think West Virginia and Kansas could be tied at 6-2 heading into non-conference games this weekend. On the other hand, should we see a repeat of last week, Kansas could have a two-game lead with its (arguably) two toughest road games resulting in Ws.

Streak Threat Level: Not Out of the Woods Yet

Many people think 13-5 could win the league, and if that’s the case, Kansas could theoretically go 7-4 the rest of the way and still share a piece of the title, which is reason for optimism. But what did we learn last week? That it’s really difficult to win Big 12 games on the road. Kansas is 2-0 on the road so far, and the next two weeks will prove if this momentum can continue. West Virginia isn’t likely to drop another home game, and Oklahoma has held serve at home so far.

If Kansas can continue to steal games on the road, starting at Oklahoma, confidence will continue to grow. But should KU stumble, and West Virginia gets a road victory of its own, the race is back to being wide open.