Kansas' recent shortcomings have Big 12 conference race wide open
Remember that episode of Oprah? The one where she gave out a free car to every single person in the audience? And how everyone began freaking out because they were just handed a brand-new car? Yeah, that's the Big 12 on Tuesday morning.
Iowa State? You get a chance!
Oklahoma? And you get a chance!
West Virginia? And you get a chance!
Baylor? You get a chance, too!
You all get chances, because Kansas, which appeared to have this conference wrapped up three weeks ago, has now let half the league back into the race entering the last 12 days of the regular season.
On Feb. 2, the Jayhawks pounded Iowa State at Allen Fieldhouse. That gave them a 1.5-game advantage over West Virginia, a two-game cushion over Iowa State and a three-game advantage over Oklahoma and Kansas State. Baylor was 3 1/2 games back, while Texas was 4 1/2 back.
Now? Well, things are much, much different. Kansas is still the leader by a half-game, but it's tied in the loss column with the Cyclones. Two losses in its last three games, to West Virginia and now Kansas State, has left Bill Self's team in a precarious position entering its last three games of the regular season.
Kansas now has to fend off Texas and West Virginia over the next week, both at home, before going on the road to Norman to face the Sooners in the season finale.
Iowa State doesn't have a cakewalk to the finish line either, with four tough games left. Beginning on Tuesday night, it will alternate home and road games, starting with Baylor (a team it already lost to), Kansas State, Oklahoma (another team it already lost to), before finishing with TCU. If the Big 12 has proven one thing this season, it's that any team can take any other one out. Even TCU and last-place Texas Tech own wins over ranked conference opponents.
That's why the Wildcats' win was cause for celebration around the conference.
For the better part of the season, the Jayhawks played "bend-don't-break" defense of the top position in the league. It lost at Iowa State on Jan. 17, but came right back to win five in a row (including three against ranked opponents) before a loss at Oklahoma State. Every time Kansas would take a step back, one of its pursuers would as well.
Iowa State to Oklahoma. Oklahoma to Baylor. Baylor to Oklahoma State. West Virgina to Iowa State. You see where we're going with this.
The Big 12 Conference has been operating in a vicious cycle this season, devouring itself nightly. But Kansas' recent shortcomings have given four teams a chance to sneak in the back door and steal the regular-season conference title, as well as the No. 1 seed in next month's conference tournament.
It's a concept that seemed so unlikely only a few weeks ago. Until Kansas traveled to its in-state rival and was upset at the hands of Kansas State.
Now, thanks to K-State, four teams are waking up on Tuesday with a shot at the conference. Heck of a lot better than a car.