Had everything gone according to plan, Iowa State would be preparing for a quick two-day turnaround and another road test tied atop the Big 12 with control over its own destiny entering the final 10 days of the regular season.
As the Big 12 has proven time and time again this season, though, sometimes the plan isn’t so simple. Instead, Iowa State finds itself in a three-way tie for second place in the conference with Oklahoma and West Virginia after a home loss to Baylor on Wednesday night.
The Cyclones do still control some of their own destiny. The battle to remain in at least second place is in their control. The battle to take at least a share of the conference, however, is not. Kansas controls its own destiny, and Iowa State needs both help and to do its own work should it move up a slot by season’s end.
The standings are jumbled, so let’s sort through the Big 12 with one and a half weeks remaining in league play.
Here Kansas is yet again, in the driver's seat to win another Big 12 crown. Winning this one outright isn’t a sure thing for the Jayhawks, but it’s also hard to see them not win at least a share barring a total collapse.
For one, two of the three remaining games on Kansas’ schedule are at Allen Fieldhouse, a place where the team has lost only nine times in the 12 seasons under coach Bill Self. Sure, Texas is somewhat desperate and sure Kansas did struggle with the West Virginia press at times in Morgantown W. Va., but losing either of those games would still be a surprise.
That takes Kansas to the final regular season game. It is in Norman, Okla., where the Jayhawks will be most vulnerable and it is also there where Kansas’ hopes at an outright title could be in jeopardy. Iowa State's chances at claiming a share of the title — we’ll get to those in a second — most likely rest with winning out and having Kansas lose at Oklahoma.
Oklahoma controls its own destiny to at the very least share the Big 12. Assuming the Sooners don’t stumble at home against TCU, they will have the opportunity to play Iowa State and Kansas in the season’s final week. Should Oklahoma win those games, it would share a title with Kansas at the very least. If Kansas also loses a home game, it would likely take the title outright.
In terms of the Iowa State matchup, an Oklahoma win at Hilton Coliseum would likely bring an end to the title aspirations for the Cyclones. If Iowa State wins that game, it would likely keep Oklahoma from the title. No matter if Kansas falters or not, that Big Monday matchup will certainly have major implications on second place and ultimately conference tournament seeding.
West Virginia seems least likely to win the league and also has a tough battle to finish second, but maybe that’s underestimating the Mountaineers. The tough thing is, they face two top-25 teams on the road, and as was mentioned previously, one of those is against a Kansas team that rarely falls at home. They also face a Baylor team that is playing well and host a capable Oklahoma State team.
West Virginia may be able to afford one loss and at least tie for second in the conference. It obviously remains to be seen whether or not the No. 2 team will have five or six conference losses 10 days from now.
The chances of Iowa State winning the Big 12 outright are pretty slim. Kansas, as talked about earlier, appears unlikely to drop more than one game to fall even at five losses. So the best chance, barring a collapse by the Jayhawks, is to split. Nonetheless, that does remain at least a decent possibility. To do so, the Cyclones have no choice but to grab road wins against Kansas State and TCU and avoid a two-game losing streak at Hilton Coliseum by beating Oklahoma. Then Iowa State needs Kansas to lose somewhere along the way.
Should Iowa State beat Oklahoma, the Sooners would likely be out of the title picture (again assuming Kansas wins at home). Winning out will guarantee Iowa State no worse than second in the conference. It would also obviously mean Oklahoma doesn’t finish second and assuming West Virginia losses at least one more, it would give Iowa State sole possession of second. That would mean no worrying about seeding in Kansas City.
But who knows? The Big 12 has been widely unpredictable. The scenarios are aplenty, so maybe it’s just best to wait until March 7.