At the beginning of the year, who would have expected that Missouri, Kansas State, and Nebraska would be in the top 5 in the Big 12 Conference men's basketball standings this late in the season? Not me. Personally I thought it would be a strong showing from the Big 12 South division, with Oklahoma and Texas at the top, Baylor and Kansas the best of the rest, and Texas A&M having a decent season. But, that's not the case right now. Here's a comparison of the preseason Big 12 Coaches' Poll and the current standings (place is in parentheses, in the event of a tie):
|Preseason Poll||Current Standings|
|Oklahoma (1)||Oklahoma (1)|
|Texas (2)||Kansas (1)|
|Baylor (3)||Missouri (3)|
|Kansas (3)||Kansas State (4)|
|Texas A&M (5)||Nebraska (4)|
|Oklahoma State (6)||Texas (6)|
|Missouri (7)||Oklahoma State (7)|
|Kansas State (8)||Texas A&M (8)|
|Nebraska (9)||Baylor (8)|
|Texas Tech (10)||Texas Tech (10)|
|Iowa State (11)||Iowa State (11)|
|Colorado (12)||Colorado (11)|
Pretty interesting. Look who is significantly exceeding expectations: Missouri (+4 places in the standings), Kansas State (+4), Nebraska (+5), and to a lesser extent Kansas (+2). Kansas' 8-0 start in conference play is all the more impressive when you consider how much tougher the North is this year. All 4 of the teams exceeding expectations are from the North division!
Contrast that with teams significantly underperforming expectations: Texas (-4), Baylor (-5), Texas A&M (-3). Oklahoma State, to be fair, is right about where they were expected at only -1. All of those teams are from the South division!
The scary thing is that the Sooners still have the two toughest teams from the North remaining, albeit Oklahoma seems to have a pretty special team this year.
What does this mean in terms of the tournament? Here's the list of the Big 12 teams in order from best to worst RPI (source: RealTimeRPI): Oklahoma (3), Kansas (14), Missouri (21), Oklahoma St. (31), Texas (44), Texas A&M (45), Baylor (56), Nebraska (68), Kansas State (70). Everyone else is pretty much out of it. Barring major collapses, it looks like OU, Kansas and Mizzou are all in.
Of the remaining squads, Texas and Texas A&M have the best shot. If they can hang strong the rest of the way, even with some recent losses, they should be in based on RPI and record. Texas, in particular needs to stem the bleeding. That would make 5 from the Big 12, and there would probably be 1 more in. At this point, I'd have to believe that's Kansas State given their recent road wins in Texas. Nebraska knocked off the Longhorns, but that was in Lincoln. Oklahoma State has lost pretty much every big conference game they've played too, so their resume is weak (best wins based on RPI are Siena and Texas A&M).
ESPN bracketology has only Oklahoma (1 seed), Kansas (4 seed), Missouri (5 seed), and Texas (6 seed) making the tournament. However, their bracket expert was on Sportscenter this morning saying Kansas State would make it.
Dance Card, a site that does a pretty good job of predicting at large bids to the tournament, has Oklahoma, Kansas, Texas, Missouri, Baylor and Oklahoma State making it. However, those rankings were through February 1st, so there might be some changes.
Bottom line: Oklahoma and Kansas are pretty much locks. Missouri will get in if they play alright down the stretch. Texas needs to step up, but if they finish strong they'll get in. Baylor, Oklahoma State, Texas A&M, and Kansas State are all alive and will need to play their way into the tournament for 1 or 2 more at large bids from the conference.
Here are the key games for each bubble team remaining:
Oklahoma St: They can add big wins to their resume with a win @Texas (Feb 10), Texas (Feb 28), @Oklahoma (Mar 7). They can beat up on other contending teams with wins against Baylor (Feb 21) and Kansas St (Mar 3).
Texas A&M: They can add big wins to their resume with a win against Texas (Feb 16) or against Mizzou (Mar 7). They can beat up on other contending teams with wins at Baylor (Feb 14) and at Nebraska (Feb 24).
Baylor: They can add big wins to their resume with a win against Oklahoma (Feb 11) or at Texas (Mar 2). They can beat up on other contending teams with wins against Texas A&M (Feb 14), at Oklahoma State (Feb 21), and against Nebraska (Mar 7).
Kansas State: They can add big wins to their resume with a win against Kansas (Feb 14), or at Mizzou (Feb 25). They can beat up on other contending teams with wins against Nebraska (Feb 28), or at Oklahoma State (Mar 3).
Hopefully, for the conference, one or two of these teams really seperates themselves from the pack and plays their way into the tournament. If I had to pick a favorite I'd say Kansas State. They're really on a hot streak right now, they're on a 5 game winning streak right now, including impressive wins against Mizzou, as well as at Texas and at Texas A&M. They also have 4 games remaining against teams with an RPI of 100 or worse, 3 of those coming at home. They have a good mix of easy games and meaningful games left on their schedule. Unfortunately they are also a really streaky team, as their year shakes out like this so far: 4-win streak, 3-loss streak, 6-win streak, 4-loss streak, and 4-win streak. Biggest concern: can they stay hot?