The bloodletting and survival-of-the-fittest mentality that has permeated Big 12 men’s basketball this season doesn’t take a timeout this weekend, with two key games that have title-contention implications. And neither of them, by the way, involve No. 8 Kansas, the current school in the driver’s seat as far as a 2013-14 title run is concerned.
The dogfight for survival shifts attention on Saturday to Ames. Iowa, and Waco, Texas. Iowa State, which was undefeated and led the Big 12 standings less than two weeks ago, hosts No. 22 Kansas State on Saturday. The Cyclones (14-3, 2-3) are in the midst of a three-game losing streak, while Kansas State (14-5, 4-2) had a four-game winning streak snapped on Tuesday at Texas. Once No. 8 in the national rankings, Iowa State has since dropped to No. 16 in the latest Associated Press poll.
The other big game this weekend has Baylor entertaining red-hot Texas. The 24th-ranked Bears (13-5) are on a three-game slide of their own, dropping games to Texas Tech, Oklahoma and Kansas in their last three outings. The Longhorns, 15-4 overall and one of three teams tied for second in the league standings with a 4-2 record (Oklahoma and Kansas State are the other two), have been on the rebound after losing their first two conference games. Since then, Texas has reeled off four consecutive wins, three of them on their home floor.
Based on the national rankings as of today, Kansas State will be the first of four straight games for Iowa State against teams ranked in the top 25. When you compare that with the fact that the Cyclones’ three consecutive losses were also against ranked opponents, the strength of competition and the Big 12 No, 1 conference RPI becomes readily apparent.
Iowa State is one of only three teams in the country with three starters averaging at least 15 points per game (Melvin Ejim, 17.7; DeAndre Kane, 16.7; George Niang, 15.2). All three rank in the top 10 in the conference in scoring and DeAndre Kane and Melvin Ejim rank in the top 11 in the league in both scoring and rebounding. With those individual performances, it’s not that surprising that the Cyclones lead the conference in scoring, averaging 85 points a game, the seventh-highest scoring team in the country
Against Kansas State, though, Iowa State will need to take command of the game early or be forced to adjust to the Wildcats’ tough defensive game and more deliberate style of play. Freshman guard Marcus Forster (13.7 ppg) and junior forward Thomas Gipson (12.5 ppg) are K-State’s top scorers. The Wildcats have spread their offense around this season, with seven different leading the team in scoring.
Both teams tebound well, and this could be a key factor in the game. Because Kansas State doesn’t have as much offensive firepower as the high-scoring Cyclones, winning the rebounding battle will help limit ISU’s offensive opportunities.
Kansas State holds a slight edge in the all-time series with Iowa State, 50-46, but the series is tied at 18 apiece since the beginning of the Big 12. Saturday’s game is the first time that both teams have been ranked in the too 25 when they played.
In the other big game this weekend, Baylor hopes to get back on the winning track after three consecutive losses and losing four of its first five conference games. Baylor has played Texas more times in its history than any other school. Texas leads the all-time series by a wide margin (158-82) and is 27-7 under coach Rick Barnes. The Bears have won seven of the last 10 games between the two teams, however. The Bears also have won 13 of their last 14 home games, with the only loss in that stretch coming last Saturday against 25th-ranked Oklahoma.
A Texas win against Baylor would give the Longhorns three straight victories over ranked opponents for the first time in program history. The Longhorns have been playing great basketball the past couple of weeks and have gotten a big scoring boost in conference play from a pair of sophomores, 6-9 center Cameron Ridley and guard Javan Felix. Ridley has scored in double figures in each of his last three games, all Texas wins, and Felix has increased his scoring average by sevem points, to 17.2 per game, in Big 12 play.
Junior Jonathan Holmes leads the Longhorns in scoring, with a 12.7 average. He was the one who fired in the game-winning three-point shot at the buzzer Tuesday night in Texas’ 67-64 victory over Kansas State.
On the other side, Baylor has been getting a strong performance from 6-7 sophomore forward Taurean Prince. In his last seven games, Prince has contributed a total of 82 points on just 53 field goal attempts. he already has more cumulative points (144) than he had all of last season (88). The Bears have nine players who average 12-plus minutes per game, and their bench contributes an average of 30 points every game, the best in the league.
The Bears live and die on the three-point line, although they have a solid inside game with 7-1 sophomore Isaiah Austin and 6-9 senior Cory Jefferson. Baylor leads the Big 12 in three-point percentage (41.0) behind senior guard Brady Heslip,second best in the Big 12, who shoots 48 percent from three-point range and average three threw-pointers a game.
Another interesting stat to keep in mind in the Texas-Baylor contest: Baylor has won 31 of its last 33 games when leading at halftime. This stat didn’t hold up a week ago, though, against OU. The Bears led that game 30-24 at the intermission, but ended up losing to the Sooners, 66-64.
Big 12 Men’s Basketball Weekend Game Picks
Kansas State 72 @ Iowa State 84 - It’s too much to expect a team as good as Iowa State to lose four in a row, especially playing at home. Wroing place, wrong time for KSU.
Texas 76 @ Baylor 84 – Like K-State at Iowa State this weekend, Texas is going to catch Baylor at the wrong time: at home and fed up with losing.
Oklahoma 74 @ Texas Tech 70 - This could easily be an upset-alert game, but I think Lon Kruger’s team will find a way to pull out the win in a closer game than people might expect.
Kansas 82 @ TCU 60 - Bill Self still remembers what happened last season in Fort Worth, even if his current team doesn’t. This could get ugly.
West Virginia 62 @ Oklahoma State 78 - This isn’t football season, and the game is in Stillwater. OSU cruises.
Last week’s results: 6-2
For the season: 18-8 (.692)