The college basketball regular season is great for so many reasons. Whether it’s the loaded schedule with top 25 games almost every night in February and March or the unexpected teams vaulting themselves past traditional powers, there’s a lot going for it. A top-five matchup between Virginia and Duke on Saturday night had all the makings of a Final Four game, only to be overlooked by the biggest game in sports on Sunday. We all expect the ACC to be strong this time of year – and that was before Notre Dame and Louisville entered the conference in 2014. As of week 13, one conference has six teams in the top 25. The Big East, Big Ten and Pac 12 have as many ranked teams combined. The Great Plains is where the most consistent high-level competition is currently being played and they are exchanging serious blows. The Big 12, once college football’s greatest conference, is challenging as the deepest in men’s hoops.
The first tier in the Big 12 includes Kansas, Iowa State and West Virginia. The Jayhawks, led by Bill Self, are riding a 5-game winning streak. After an early shellacking by top-ranked Kentucky, the team started 9-1.1 An uncharacteristic 20+ point loss to Temple in late December has sparked Kansas to a hot 10-1 record since, holding eight of those opponents to less than 65 points. This included a victory against Iowa State on Monday, the only team to beat them in-conference so far back on January 17. Iowa State, currently ranked 11th in the polls, will drop outside of the top-15 with that double digit loss to Kansas. With four wins against top-25 opponents, the Cyclones will be ranked high in RPI and BPI come season end. Coupling that with the 14th ranked scoring offense in the nation,2 I could see Iowa State overpowering opponents in the NCAA tournament and return to the Sweet 16. West Virginia also has a top-25 scoring offense to boast, starting the season 14-1 to lose three out of their last seven. Press defense is specialty for the Mountaineers, ranking first in the nation in steals at just over 12 per game. Yet, Oklahoma found a way to beat that trap on Tuesday night, beating West Virginia by 19.
The bottom tier of the Big 12 has a lot to feel good about in an attempt to make a run at the NCAA tournament. Six teams are within 3.5 games of conference-leading Kansas, all with another chance at hosting the Jayhawks. With eight teams with a BPI inside of 60 at the moment3, the committee choosing 68 teams will have to respect what the Big 12 is doing. Here are a few projections for the next two months in the Big 12:
Best Match-up#8 Kansas at #21 Oklahoma, March 7, 2015: The Big 12 season finale for each team will test Kansas’ right to an eleventh straight regular season championship. Oklahoma is playing some of its best basketball of the season. With respective wins against Iowa State and Texas at home in the next two weeks, the Sooners will make a run at its first conference championship since 2005.
Eight Teams make the 68-team field Whether Kansas State or TCU sneaks into the tournament, the Big 12 will lead the power conferences in teams entering the field. Kansas and West Virginia will receive 2-seeds and will challenge Kentucky, Virginia, Wisconsin and Arizona in their respective regions.
Player of the Year Georges Niang: Currently averaging 15.6 points per game, Niang will lead Iowa State to the Big 12 Championship game and a 3-seed in the NCAA tournament. With a sour-taste from a season-ending injury in the tournament last year, the team will reach the Elite 8 with a shot at the 1-seed and a regional title.