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Big 12 observations: Who's in, who's not; looking ahead to Monday: Texas or K-State?
It's going to be difficult to fill out my NCAA Tournament bracket this year.
Three more teams ranked in the top 5 of the Associated Press poll faltered over the weekend, leaving no overwhelming favorite presiding over the college basketball world. Top-ranked Duke, No. 4 Pittsburgh and No. 5 Texas were the latest victims to go down this week. The path to the Final Four in Houston should be filled with mystery, madness and Gus Johnson going berserk behind the microphone.
The Big 12 storyline of the weekend was the mayhem in Boulder, where Colorado stormed back from a 22-point deficit to take down Texas. The Longhorns dropped to 12-2 in the league, opening a massive door that Kansas gladly walked through with an 82-70 victory over Oklahoma. KU improved to 12-2 in the league, keeping its quest for a seventh consecutive Big 12 regular-season title well within reach.
KU's remaining schedule: vs. Texas A&M, at Missouri.
UT's remaining schedule: vs. Kansas State, at Baylor.
Advantage? KU has the tougher road game. It's probably close to a push, though.
Onto some Conference Chatter bullet-point observations after the weekend's action:
• Have any plans Monday night? Hopefully not. Kansas State travels to Texas in what should be a thrilling matchup at 8 p.m. on ESPN. A month ago, this would not have been nearly as exciting. But K-State has won six of its past seven games. The Wildcats will face a ticked off Texas squad that will be ready to hit the court after the loss at CU.
I get the sense that most KU fans are rooting for K-State, despite the Sunflower rivalry. Winning the league title outright appears to be more important than simply rooting against the in-state rivals. If I'm off on this, let me know.
• K-State senior Jacob Pullen probably doesn't have to worry about the NIT. The Cats, at 20-9 and 8-6 in the Big 12, appear to be headed to the NCAA Tournament.
• Before the weekend, ESPN's Joe Lunardi had five Big 12 schools cracking the tournament field. I see six: Kansas, Texas, Texas A&M, Missouri, Kansas State, and either Baylor or Colorado. Baylor's remaining schedule: at Oklahoma State, vs. Texas. Colorado's remaining schedule: at Iowa State, vs. Nebraska. Advantage: Buffs.
• Big 12 player of the year, to this point: Jordan Hamilton, Texas. Still in the running: Marcus Morris, Kansas.
• Big 12 coach of the year, to this point: Rick Barnes, Texas. Still in the running: Tad Boyle, Colorado (if UT slips up again and CU wins out).
• My early All-Big 12 first team hasn't changed from last week: Kansas State's Pullen, Baylor's LaceDarius Dunn, Colorado's Alec Burks, Texas' Hamilton, KU's Marcus Morris.
• As good as Burks is — he erupted for 33 points against UT's elite defense — the sophomore could be even better with a more potent outside jump shot. On Saturday, Burks slashed his way to the rim, initiated contact and attempted 21 foul shots. It was a great game plan. But with the NBA hype surrounding Burks (11th overall on NBADraft.net, 19th overall on draftexpress.com), he will need to develop a steadier jump shot to have a lengthy career at the next level.
• Kansas State has won its last two meetings against Texas in Austin.
• Big Monday pick: Texas.
Much safer option. Big 12 teams have struggled mightily on the road this season. K-State is 2-5 on the road this season in Big 12 play, while UT has yet to lose a league game in Austin.
Texas opened as an 8.5-point favorite on Sunday night. I'll also take UT -8.5.
• What I love about Kansas in a potential deep NCAA Tournament run: The offensive prowess.
This is one of the best offenses of the Bill Self era. The Jayhawks find the open man particularly well with free clinics on accurate ball movement, and punish teams that suffer mental lapses on defense. KU also takes good shots. Kansas has led the country for a while this season in kenpom.com's effective field goal percentage (58.8 percent currently).
The Jayhawks are also the best road team in the Big 12 (6-1 in league road games). They'll need to carry that over to the NCAA tourney.
• What scares me about Kansas in a potential earlier-than-expected exit: Inconsistent point guard play. Tyshawn Taylor has his moments, but his turnovers are concerning. He had 10 (vs. six assists) in the two games before his suspension. Elijah Johnson appears to have the stats on his side — he's not had a game with more than two turnovers all season — but how much will his inexperience play a factor in the tournament? Josh Selby's stress reaction in his foot is clearly affecting his play. Since coming back from the injury after missing three games, he's yet to score in double figures. His field goal percentage since returning from injury is 25.9 percent in four games. Kansas will need a steady floor general in time for the tourney.
• What I love about Texas in a potential deep NCAA Tournament run: defense. UT didn't show up on defense against a Burks-inspired Colorado comeback on Saturday, but the Longhorns have been steady for the majority of the season. Texas remains No. 1 in the country in kenpom.com's adjusted defensive efficiency and effective field goal percentage defense rankings.
• What scares me about Texas in a potential earlier-than-expected exit: Closing out games and foul shooting. Texas shoots only 64.2 percent from the free throw line, second-to-last in the Big 12. In close games, converting charities becomes vital. Texas led Colorado by 22 in the first half on Saturday. UT had 34 chances at the foul line and only made 20 (58.8 percent). The Longhorns could have weathered the massive CU rally and quieted the frenzied fans with a couple more made free throws. This could become a concern during the NCAA Tournament.
That should be all for now, friends. As always, discuss.