Iowa State entered its third-to-last week of the regular season and conference schedule seeking to prove talk of road woes were undoubtedly overstated. Two road wins later, and the Cyclones will begin the two-week stretch to the finish line on the heels of first-place Kansas.
Since Fred Hoiberg, Georges Niang and Dustin Hogue arrived at the Sprint Center in Kansas City for Big 12 Media Day back in mid-October, the talk has been settled on halting Kansas at 10 consecutive Big 12 regular season titles. The task is easier said than done, and the Jayhawks 11-3 start in Big 12 play has proven the task will be difficult yet again.
While Iowa State was upset by Texas Tech on the road and narrowly lost in Waco, Texas, against Baylor, Kansas has found ways to squeak out multiple close road wins including ones against Baylor and TCU. With two weeks remaining, Iowa State's chances have not disappeared, although splitting the Big 12 would be the most likely scenario if that run comes to fruition.
Here's a look at the race to the finish.
First up, Kansas.
The Jayhawks are leading the pack and control their own destiny as they aim for their 11th consecutive Big 12 crown. Kansas, in 12 seasons under the direction of coach Bill Self, has lost nine times at Allen Fieldhouse, and the comfort of home could help carry it in games against Texas and West Virginia.
The road games will be no easy test, as all road games in the Big 12 have proven to be difficult. Yet Kansas State will be fresh off a 27-point loss to Baylor. The March 7 matchup with Oklahoma could be with the Big 12 title hanging in the balance. The Big 12 is certainly hard to predict this season, but it'd seem like Kansas should win at least three of its final four. That'd put the Jayhawks at 14-4. If they win out, it's 15-3.
Now, Iowa State.
The Cyclones, who are one game back of Kansas at 10-4, have their toughest road games behind them (among the final four, at least). Kansas State has fallen apart and TCU is in the bottom third of the league, as well. With that said, no road game is a given and the Octagon of Doom in Manhattan, Kan., is certainly not an easy place to play. Iowa State must win out at home it would seem, and both of those games will be difficult against ranked opponents.
Should Iowa State win at least three of four, it would finish 13-5. Winning out would put it at 14-4, which appears to be the best chance at claiming at Big 12 title, although in that case it's likely to be shared.
Oklahoma is in the picture, too, at 10-5. The Sooners have played one more game than both Kansas and Iowa State, so they have only three remaining. The home game against TCU is obviously a must, and Oklahoma will then play both Iowa State (at Hilton) and Kansas (at home) to close out the regular season.
Kansas rarely loses at Allen Fieldhouse, and assuming they don't falter against a flailing Kansas State squad or in its two subsequent home games, the Jayhawks seem to be primed to go at least 14-4.
Assuming that's the case, Oklahoma is out of the running. Then, there's Iowa State. The Cyclones would need to win out, which is plausible, but that'd get them only a share of the title. Should Kansas drop 2 of 4, Iowa State could lose another and split.
Iowa State must simply focus on its own schedule.
"We’re really just trying to control our own destiny and win as many games as we can. That’s really what we’re focused on right now," Georges Niang said. "[Kansas is] going to have to win just like we’re going to have to win. We might as well control what we can control and let them try to control what they can control."
Regardless of what happens, Iowa State seems to be in good position to win at least 3 of 4 and are pretty likely to be favored in the last four. No matter what may happen with Kansas, Iowa State is well positioned for its best conference record under Fred Hoiberg and remains in line for a No. 2 seed in Kansas City.