With 5 teams still alive, KU coach Bill Self says it’s the other 5 teams that might determine the Big 12 champion
While five teams remain in the hunt for this year’s Big 12 regular season title, Kansas coach Bill Self believes it’s the other five teams in the conference standings that could have the biggest impact on which program is crowned the champ.
“Everybody in that Top 5 has like two games left with each other,” Self said of contenders Baylor, Iowa State, Kansas, Kansas State and Texas Tech. “But that’s probably not going to determine it. What’ll determine it is how everybody does against everybody else, because everybody else can beat everybody, too.”
If you’re confused, you’re not alone. And it seems safe to say that none of those five teams still in the thick of the hunt for the 2018-19 Big 12 title enters this weekend feeling overly confident about its chances.
Kansas State currently leads the pack at 10-3, but has just a one-game lead on KU (9-4) and Texas Tech (9-4) and a two-game cushion over Baylor (8-5) and Iowa State (8-5). Because of that, Self still considers K-State to be in the “driver’s seat,” largely because Bruce Weber’s Wildcats have the biggest margin for error.
“Obviously 4 (losses) will win it,” Self said. “That’s obvious. Because even if K-State were to lose again, they’d still tie for the championship if they don’t lose again (after that). So 4 is a guarantee to win it or at least tie for it. And 5 could be a reality, as well. If 5’s a reality, then you’ve got five teams still with a chance to win it. But K-State’s still way in the driver’s seat right now. And they deserve to be.”
The Wildcats’ two games against the Big 12’s top tier come Monday at Kansas and March 2 against Baylor at home. Beyond that, KSU hosts Oklahoma State this weekend and finishes at TCU and home against Oklahoma.
KU actually has three games left against the five teams atop the Big 12 standings — Saturday at Texas Tech, Monday vs. Kansas State and in the regular season finale against Baylor at Allen Fieldhouse. Beyond that, the Jayhawks still have road games at Oklahoma State and Oklahoma in early March.
Iowa State, meanwhile, is the one team in the bunch that plays the top tier just one time down the stretch, closing the season at home against Texas Tech. The Cyclones’ four games up to that point are at TCU, vs. Oklahoma, at Texas and at West Virginia.
Baylor’s final two Top 5 tests come in the Sunflower State, with the Bears slated to play at Kansas State on March 2 and at Kansas in the regular season finale. Beyond that, the Bears host West Virginia, Texas and Oklahoma State to close the season.
And Texas Tech’s road, which starts with KU in Lubbock, Texas, at 7 p.m. Saturday night, includes Oklahoma State and Texas at home and TCU and Iowa State on the road.
“Well, I think it’s crazy,” Self said when asked, in general, about the Big 12 race as it reaches the homestretch. “I thought it was even crazier when Baylor went up and (beat Iowa State) in Ames.”
In that one, a four-point Baylor win earlier this week, BU point guard Makai Mason returned from a stretch in which he missed two of Baylor’s previous three games with a bruised toe to score 14 points and help lead the Bears to victory, which kept them alive in the race.
“That’s the question right there,” Self said when talking about Baylor and the transfer guard. “What if they’d had Mason the last three or four games? They could easily be leading the league.”
To get to that point now would certainly take some good fortune. Even with two games against the Big 12 Top 5, Baylor will need some help along the way to get into that title mix.
Self is clearly aware of that.
“Now, things have to go perfect for (certain) teams to go ahead and finish,” he said.
But even with his own team, which faces the biggest 48 hours of the season starting Saturday, Self knows that success against Texas Tech and Kansas State, while huge, would only go so far in helping the Jayhawks extend their NCAA-record of consecutive Big 12 titles to 15.
And Self and his players won’t be surprised for a second if the Oklahomas and West Virginias of the world still have something to say about which team, or perhaps teams, will be hoisting the trophy when the race reaches its end in early March.
Winners of three in a row, the Jayhawks’ challenge now is to add to the efforts they put on the floor during the past two weeks. ‘
“I feel like we’re all at that same level,” junior forward Mitch Lightfoot said Thursday. “We watched filmed (Wednesday) and I could feel the energy, even with how coach is coaching us. There’s an energy there and we’re ready to give it all we’ve got and hopefully finish this out right.”
Added Self: “I would say we had good week of practice. I don’t know that I want them totally jacked on Monday for a Saturday game, but we’ve had good workouts.”