The Kansas Jayhawks have had at least a share of the Big 12 regular-season title for the past 11 years. Seemingly for the past handful of years it has been openly questioned if this would be the year that streak would end, only to be proven wrong by Bill Self and his team.
Yet here we are again pondering if this could be the year someone finally knocks the Jayhawks off that Big 12 pedestal. There are a couple of factors that could point you in the direction of yes. First, there seem to be more suitors for the top spot than in years past as there are as many five other teams with a chance to lay claim to the title, with four of them currently ranked in the top 20. Secondly, there is a team in Oklahoma that is not only challenging Kansas as the best team in the conference but possibly as the best team in the country as well.
Baylor is currently ahead of the pack at 5-1 and 15-3 overall. The Bears three losses have come at the hands of other top 2 teams and all on the road (Oregon, Texas A&M) including a 28-point drubbing at the hands of Kansas on Jan. 2. With two games vs. Texas, West Virginia and Oklahoma as well as a return bout with Kansas remaining on the schedule, Baylor has ample opportunity to pull away from the pack.
Oklahoma is the current #1 team in the country with in all likelihood the leader for national Player of the Year in Buddy Hield but they sit a game behind Baylor at 4-2 and 15-2 overall. The Sooners losses came at the hands of Kansas in a triple-overtime thriller and this past Monday to Iowa State at Hilton Coliseum. They will get the chance to avenge one of those losses on Feb. 13 when they welcome Kansas to Norman.
One of the biggest surprises in all of college basketball is Bob Huggins’ West Virginia Mountaineers who were picked to finish sixth in the conference and currently find themselves 6th in the country. They are 15-3 overall and 4-2 in the Big 12. Before entering conference play they were 11-1, with their lone loss coming at the hands of then #10 Virginia. Since conference play started the Mountaineers rattled off four straight wins, including one over #1 Kansas, before suffering back-to-back defeats at the hands of #2 Oklahoma and Texas in the last week. They still have head-to-heads with Iowa State and Baylor and return match ups with Kansas, Oklahoma and Texas on their slate.
Speaking of Texas, they had one of the more high-profile hires in the offseason, wrangling Shaka Smart away from VCU. As of now the Longhorns sit at 12-6 and 4-2 in the Big 12. Of the six losses only one, to Texas A&M was over 10 points and since losing back-to-back games to UConn and TCU Texas has won 4 of 5 including three straight over Iowa State, Oklahoma State and West Virginia. With plenty of meat left on their schedule (8 of their final 12 games are against current top 25 teams), if Smart can get his guys to come together at the right time they will most certainly have a say in who wins the Big 12.
Iowa State is 14-4 but is a full two games back of the pack right now at 3-3 in conference. But the Cyclones have lost those four games by a total of 14 points (an average of 3.5 points per game). But they also have wins over Iowa, Cincinnati and Oklahoma.
Look Kansas may very well prove us all wrong again as and win a 12th straight conference title, but if they do, they will have absolutely earned it this year with the amount and quality of competition looking to take them down.