Big 12 look: Halfway home

Groundhog day brings a look forward to the Big 12 in the near and distant future

We’ve reached the halfway point of the Big 12 Conference season, and the standings are starting to shake out like many thought they would.

Monday is also Groundhog Day, and in honor of that stupid rodent ‘Punxsutawney Phil,’ we’ll take a look at where each team in the Big 12 will be playing in six weeks – since that will be the official end of winter - as a part of the Big 12 Power Rankings put together by Sooners Illustrated this week.

Here they are:

1. Kansas (7-1) - The Jayhawks are definitely headed to the Big Dance in March and could be a No. 1 seed, the only real question is how soon will they wrap up the Big 12 regular season title. This week could tell a lot with a game against Iowa State and West Virginia holding two chances to lose.

2. West Virginia (6-2) - Winners of three straight and holders of the best road record in the conference, the Mountaineers are likely headed for a solid seed in the NCAA Tournament. A split with Kansas might earn them a No. 3 seed. Facing Oklahoma and Baylor this week.

3. Iowa State (6-2) - Either the Cyclones or the Mountaineers will earn a No. 3 seed from the Big 12 – if nothing goes horribly wrong. Iowa State can strike a big blow tonight against Kansas, going for the season sweep.

4. Oklahoma (5-4) - The Sooners have won back-to-back games to end a scary slide and felt like a No. 5 or No. 4 seed since the preseason. It’s a bad spot to be in, but they can play their way up with four of the final nine games against Kansas, West Virginia and Iowa State. Leading the way was Ryan Spangler, who earned his first career Big 12 Player of the Week honor Monday morning, announced by the conference.

5. Baylor (5-4) - Riding in neutral and splitting their home and road games, the Bears are full of surprises – home win against Iowa State and a road loss to Oklahoma State. Still, they’re playing well enough to make the NCAA Tournament, probably around a No. 6 seed.

6. Kansas State (4-4) - The slumping Wildcats were the second-best team in the conference less than two weeks ago but have lost three of four (at Kansas, at Iowa State, vs. West Virginia). Without a big name and a poor out-of-conference schedule, the Wildcats could miss the tournament. NIT Champions, perhaps?

7. Oklahoma State (4-5) - Another Big 12 bubble team. The Cowboys have far more bad losses than they do good wins – maybe just one against Baylor. Oklahoma State plays Texas on Wednesday in what could be an early elimination game. The Big 12 will only get seven teams into the NCAAs – max.

8. Texas (3-5) - The third of the Big 12 bubble teams, and who would have seen this coming. The Longhorns have lost three straight and could miss the tournament entirely without a major turnaround. Gotta beat the Pokes or the Longhorns could be in trouble and NIT bound.

9. TCU (1-7) - Once mighty, ranked and undefeated, the Horned Frogs are better than they’ve been in quite a few years but still aren’t good enough to make the NCAA Tournament. A road dog in the NIT maybe, but probably the CBI takes a shot at TCU.

10. Texas Tech (1-8) - The Red Raiders have to find a win or they won’t be going anywhere. They’re playing for the CBI right now.

Big 12/SEC Challenge being moved

Starting next season, the one-game showcase between the two conferences will be moved to Jan. 31 – the halfway point of the conference season for both leagues.

Usually held during the non-conference season in November, Big 12 commissioner Bob Bowlsby said moving the challenge to January will give it “the attention it deserves.”

The Big 12 has won the challenge both years.

Biggest surprise: It was a pretty tame week in the Big 12. There was the Sooners’ big win against Texas Tech, and Kansas squeaking out a win on the road against TCU. But what about Texas, which lost for the second time in Big 12 play by 20-plus points. The Longhorns aren’t looking pretty anymore with three straight losses.

What to watch this week: There’s really no debating that all eyes will be on a Big Monday matchup between Kansas and Iowa State. Should the Jayhawks go into Ames, where no team has won yet this season, and pull off an upset-of-sorts, they’ll be clear of most of the Big 12. If Oklahoma then beats West Virginia in Lloyd Noble Center, Kansas will be two games clear of the field in the Big 12. The Jayhawks could be well on their way to another regular-season Big 12 Championship in the next two days.

Quotable: “I would have to say I am not doing a good job in terms of getting the message across to the them and what we need to do to get off to a good start. I know that two games in a row we have dug a hole and when I look at it they came out and made some shots, and we missed some shots. . . . It goes back to where offensively when we don't capitalize there, I think it spills back into what we are doing defensively. We can't let that happen, we just can't let that happen. – Texas coach Rick Barnes on the Longhorns’ slow start against Baylor, which lead, 23-9, 10 minutes into the game Saturday.

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