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Big 12 Title Race: Kansas Maintains Slim Conference Lead

Jayhawks hold one-game lead after short week.

NCAA Basketball: Texas A&M at Kansas Scott Sewell-USA TODAY Sports

Let’s take a trip down memory lane, back to the first Big 12 games of the season on Dec. 29 and Dec. 30, 2017. Road teams went 4-1, with Texas Tech being the lone victorious home team. Since then? Big 12 road teams are 7-28 in conference play, for a total road record in the conference of 11-29.

So yeah, road games in the Big 12 are not easy to come by. This fact was on display the past week as West Virginia got worked in Fort Worth and Kansas stumbled in Norman (though Kansas is still the only Big 12 team with a winning road record at 3-1).

Kansas still sits atop the conference standings at 6-2, but the pack of West Virginia, Oklahoma, Texas Tech, and Kansas State sit close behind at 5-3. With the SEC/Big 12 Challenge complete, we’re back to focusing solely on the conference race, with two games this week that could dramatically shake up the standings.

KU’s Place in the Standings: First

The Jayhawks couldn’t connect late in the game at Oklahoma last Tuesday, which would have placed significant distance between KU and the field. Instead of owning a two-game lead with road victories against two of the biggest competitors, Kansas’ margin for error has slimmed as the Jayhawks head into hostile territory in Manhattan. The SEC/Big 12 Challenge provided Kansas with its most dominant win since conference play began. It’ll be interesting to see if that carries over into Monday’s matchup.

Biggest Challengers: Oklahoma, Kansas State

Really, any of the four 5-3 teams could be listed here. But West Virginia and Texas Tech have struggled of late—showing offensive vulnerability—so let’s go with the team that just knocked off the Jayhawks and the team who has the first shot at moving into a tie with KU midway through the week. Oklahoma has the more manageable week—hosting Baylor before traveling to Texas—while K-State would be in great position if it can somehow knock off the Jayhawks at home and then head to Morgantown Saturday and win against the Mountaineers.

Game of the Week: Kansas at Kansas State

The first conference game of the week is also the biggest. Kansas narrowly escaped with a win in Allen Fieldhouse a few weeks ago and now has to face a K-State team off a quick turnaround that has won four straight since that loss in Lawrence. The outcome of this game determines if Kansas will still be alone in first place, so there’s plenty on the line. Add in that it’s a rivalry game and it should be an entertaining Monday night in Kansas.

Honorable mention: Oklahoma at Texas on Saturday. Texas has regrouped well, rallying around teammate Andrew Jones, who was diagnosed with leukemia, and the Longhorns have won their last four home games. Meanwhile, OU has struggled on the road (1-3 away from Norman) as teams have been able to rattle Trae Young. Not to mention there should be some fantastic individual performances with Young and fellow freshman phenom Mohamed Bamba squaring off.

Streak Level Threat: Cautious Concern

The implications of Monday’s game in Manhattan has already been discussed at length. So let’s look at Saturday, which could help offset some of the damage a loss Monday could bring for the Jayhawks. Kansas will host Oklahoma State (who is 0-4 on the road in conference play), while Kansas State has to travel to West Virginia.

Meanwhile, Oklahoma (at Texas) and Texas Tech (at TCU) will be on the road against teams that have played well at home. If the Jayhawks can sweep its games this week, Kansas will maintain sole possession of first place while causing problems for one of its biggest competitors. Yet even at 1-1 on the week, if West Virginia can take care of the Wildcats, Kansas will still hold at least a share of first place as conference play eclipses the midway point of the season.