Just when it appeared that Kansas was getting set to separate itself from the other Big 12 title contenders and pretenders., the Jayhawks do the seemingly impossible: They go down to defeat not once, not twice but three times in succession.
As a result of the usual college basketball musical chairs act this time of year, when the best teams rise to the top only to stumble and tumble back down to Earth after wearing the seemingly cursed No. 1 target for a game or two, the Jayhawks found themselves in that same predicament a week and a half ago.
Top-ranked Indiana lost, and Michigan and Kansas were right there to move up to the top spot in the AP and USA Today weekly polls, respectively. Since then, Michigan has lost twice, the Jayhawks have dropped an almost unheard of three games in a row, and Indiana has climbed back on top of the No, 1 pedestal. For how long, no one knows, because four different teams have held court at the top of the men’s basketball world in the past five weeks
Kansas State seems to be headed in the opposite direction right now from its Sunflower State and conference rival from Lawrence, and the Wildcats head into KU’s Allen Fieldhouse on Monday as the conference leader with an 8-2 league mark. Coach Bruce Weber’s Wildcats trailed Kansas by two games less than a month ago after losing at home to the Jayhawks and following that up with a double-double in the loss column, dropping a decision at Iowa State, to drop to 4-2 in conference play.
Since then, however, Kansas State has reeled off four consecutive wins to replace the eignt-time defending league champion Jayhawks. Kansas is now tied with Oklahoma State, the team that beat them a week ago on Saturday, snapping a 33-game home winning streak for the Jayhawks and handing them only their second loss at Allen Fieldhouse in the previous 1o4 games.
Kansas actially played a fairly sound game at Oklahoma on Saturday, good enough to win many games. The only problem was, the Sooners (now 6-4 in Big 12 play and 15-7 overall) played better. never trailing in the game after taking a 16-14 lead six minutes into the game. Ironically, it was Oklahoma that was on the far end of Kansas’ last three-game losing skid, in 2005.
“I hate to say this,” Kansas head coach Bill Self said after KU’s loss to the Sooners on Saturday. “but there’s a lot of teams in the country that lose two or threee games in a row. And there are a lot of teams struggling winning away from home.”
That may be true, but the Jayhawks have not been one of those teams in past seasons. We’re talking about a Kansas juggernaut that has lost a total of three road games in the Big 12 in the last three years.
This sets up another epic Sunflower Showdown at Kansas on Monday night. It is very rare that Kansas is in a must-win position in this classic confrontation rather than the Wildcats of Kansas State. But that is exactly the case this season.
With seven games to go in the conference season after this one, the Jayhawks can ill afford to fall two games behind their in-state rival in the standings. As a result of Kansas’ three consecutive losses, the Wildcats will come into Monday’s contest as the higher-ranked team. It’s also been some time since that has happened.
With about a month to go in the regular season and seven conference teams sporting .500 or better records in the league, it is shaping as one big dogfight as the second-half of the round-robin league schedule plays out.
Heading into Week 6 of the 2013 Big 12 season, here is our assessment of the men’s basketball conference power rankings and a few words on why:
Feb. 10, 2012 Big 12 Basketball Power Rankings
1. Kansas State – After Monday’s game at KU, the Cats play at home against Baylor, West Virginia and Texas Tech in three of its next four games.
2. Oklahoma State – The Cowboys have won six of their last seven and are as hot right now as any team in the conference.
3. Kansas – The Jayhawks are in third place right now, but don’t count on them losing more than one time, if that, the remainder of the conference season.
4. Iowa State – The Cyclones still have tough road trips left at Baylor and Oklahoma, but have Kansas at home, where Iowa State is a perfect 11-o this season.
5. Oklahoma – The Sooners were 2-3 in a five-game stretch with Kansas twice, Kansas State, Baylor and Iowa State. The Kansas win may have landed OU an NCAA Tournament bid.
6. Baylor – Still has to play Kansas State twice, Kansas at home and Oklahoma away. Bears haven’t played up to their talent level in Big 12 play.
7. West Virginia – Got off to a terrible start in their first Big 12 season, but the Mountaineers have won their last three to even their league record at 5-5.
8. Texas – The Longhorns get their best player, Myck Kabongo (a 10-point scorer as a freshman) back this week, which will make them a much tougher matchup going forward.
9. Texas Tech – The Red Raiders are pretty much destined to finish out where they are now. With the lone exception of TCU.
10. TCU – Beating Kansas far and away is their signature win of the season and perhaps the biggest upset of the year in college basketball.
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