Tom Keegan: Big 12 basketball race heading into home stretch
The old rules no longer apply in Big 12 basketball. Not long ago, you could look at the rest of a team’s schedule and come pretty close to projecting the wins and losses.
Not now. The difference between the juggernauts and have-nots just isn’t the same. Not by a long shot.
Iowa State (4-9) stands alone in last place with a .308 winning percentage. The highest winning percentage (.250) for a Big 12 last-place team during the Bill Self era was recorded by Baylor in 2006.
A year later, the differential between the average scoring margin of the Big 12 champion, Kansas, was 30.4 points greater than Colorado’s. This season, West Virginia has the highest average scoring margin, Oklahoma State the lowest and the difference between them is just 11.3 points.
One more example of the narrowing of the gap from top to bottom came when Iowa State buried Texas Tech, 70-52, on Jan. 20. The worst was better than the best that night.
It all makes forecasting the Big 12 race with five games remaining such a guessing game.
Texas Tech (10-3) has a one-game lead on Kansas (9-4). Advantage Red Raiders.
Yet, Kansas has three home games remaining, Texas Tech two. Advantage Jayhawks.
KU and Tech both have to go to Stillwater to play Oklahoma State, so let’s remove that game from the equation when comparing schedules for the top two title contenders.
The Big 12’s game of the year — Kansas vs. Texas Tech, Feb. 24 in Lubbock, Texas — tips off at 3 p.m. Let’s remove that from the equation in comparing schedules, as well.
That leaves three games for each school. Tech plays at Baylor, at West Virginia and at home vs. TCU. The Bears are 5-2 at home, the Mountaineers 5-2 at home and TCU 2-5 on the road, which adds up to 11-9.
KU is at home vs. West Virginia (3-3 on the road), at home against Oklahoma (1-6 on the road) and at home against Texas (1-5 on the road), which adds up to 5-14 for KU’s opponents.
So Tech has a one-game lead and a tougher remaining schedule than Kansas. Advantage nobody.
Again, removing the head-to-head game from discussion for the moment, Kansas will be favored in every game it plays the rest of the way. Tech will be the underdog just once, at West Virginia.
If the favorite wins all of those games — that doesn’t happen as often as it once did — then the Big 12 title all comes down to the rematch of an 85-73 game won by Texas Tech in Allen Fieldhouse on a night KU made just 6 of 26 3-pointers and Tech dominated the boards, 44-29.
And then, there is the possibility of a three-way tie for the title. Here’s how that happens. West Virginia runs the table, pinning losses on Kansas and Tech. KU beats the Red Raiders and loses to either Texas or one of the Oklahoma schools.
So much can happen with five games left, but chances are decent that the winner of the Big 12 game of the year wins the conference title outright.
But first, Bob Huggins brings his Mountaineers to Allen Fieldhouse, two days before Trae Young takes aim at the fieldhouse rims for the first and only time.
Seldom a dull moment in the Big 12.