Kansas, Oklahoma going in opposite directions in early Big 12 race
The Big 12 in college basketball might as well be the SEC West in college football. In 2014, all seven football teams in the SEC’s toughest division reached a bowl game. In an annual bit of irony, those seven teams also had to play each other, which gives the division a cannibalistic feel. The SEC West chews teams up and spits them out -- if you survive unscathed, you almost certainly deserve a shot at a national championship.
In basketball, the Big 12 is already beating itself up in similar fashion in 2015. After a couple of conference matchups on Tuesday, two teams looked like they were headed in opposite directions.
No. 9 Kansas remained unbeaten atop the Big 12 with a 67-57 win over No. 24 Oklahoma State. The Jayhawks now sit 14-2 overall and 3-0 in conference play, joining Iowa State (2-0) as the only undefeated teams in the league. Meanwhile, No. 18 Oklahoma dropped its second straight game, 86-65, to No. 18 West Virginia. In a conference with this much parity -- every team but one (Kansas State) already has double-digit wins -- the smallest margin of error could ultimately determine the Big 12 champion.
The Big 12 has long been Kansas’ conference to lose in college basketball, and for good reason. The Jayhawks have claimed an unprecedented 10 straight Big 12 titles, and thus far they’ve looked like the league’s best team. With the exception of a 72-40 rout at the hands of Kentucky in November, as well as a questionable 77-52 loss at Temple in December, Kansas has taken care of business. That's even with West Virginia (No. 11) and Oklahoma (12) ranked ahead of the Jayhawks (13) in KenPom's efficiency rankings.
Oklahoma’s a team that looked dangerous early in its Big 12 schedule, notching a 2-0 league start with wins over then-No. 22 Baylor and then-No. 10 Texas. But the Sooners have fallen back to earth in recent games. First they fell in overtime 66-63 to Kansas State on Saturday. On Tuesday night, Oklahoma committed a season-high 22 turnovers while giving up a season-high 86 points. Coach Lon Kruger’s team has now lost two straight games for the first time this season.
But forget what history says. It’s far too early to crown Kansas as Big 12 champs once again. Burying Oklahoma would also be premature, as it’s difficult to truly count out any of the 10 teams in this deep of a conference.
The ACC and the Big 12 are likely the top two conferences in college basketball, but the Big 12 probably takes the cake from top to bottom, thanks in part to it being a smaller league. Seven Big 12 teams entered this week ranked in the Associated Press Top 25, which represents more then half of the league.
Oklahoma will still be an intriguing team to watch going forward. It ranks sixth nationally in adjusted defense, per KenPom, and is the only Big 12 team in the top 10 in that category. But the Sooners won’t last long in the conference race if they can’t survive the coming weeks. Their next three games are against ranked foes in Oklahoma State, Kansas and Baylor, with the latter two coming on the road.
Kansas, meanwhile, faces a battle of unbeatens when it travels to No. 11 Iowa State on Saturday. Getting past the Cyclones will give the Jayhawks a leg up in the Big 12 battle, especially with a home date against Oklahoma looming next Monday. But taking the conference title is no guarantee, even for this Kansas squad. That’s a testament to the depth in the Big 12 this season.