With a magic number that is now down to one, Kansas appears to have sole possession of the regular-season conference championship all but wrapped up. The race now is for the runner-up spot, and there are several teams still in the hunt for the bridesmaid position in the conference standings.
There are a couple of games this weekend that could have a big impact on which team comes out of the dogpile with the credentials and the wins for the position immediately behind perennial conference champion Kansas and the No. 2 seed in the upsoming conference tournament.
One of the games will take place in Manhattan, Kan., when Iowa State (22-5, 10-5) pays a visit to Kansas State (19-9, 9-6). The other game of high importance as far as top half of the league standings is concerned is part II of the Oklahoma-Texas Red River Rivalry series in basketball this season on Saturday afternoon in Norman.
As it turns out, the aforementioned two games pit the two teams currently tied for second in the conference standings against the two teams that are tied for third, right behind them in the standings. And it will be a home game for the two teams (Oklahoma and Kansas State) sharing second place. Depending on the results of these two games, we could have a four-way tie for second place in the conference by the end of the day on Saturday with one week to go in the regular season.
Kansas State has been lights out for opposing teams when playing at home at Bramlage Coliseum this season. The Wildcats lost the home opener this season back in November, and haven’t lost on their home floor since. K-State is a perfect 7-0 at home this year against conference teams, including a victory over Kansas, and 14-1 overall. K-State will get a very similar type game from Iowa State that the Cats faced last Saturday at Oklahoma: an up-tempo offensive style and a team that scores a lot of points and likes to put up the three-ball.
The Wildcats, on the other hand, like a more ball-controlled type of game that keeps the game in the 60s and feeds its offense off of tight defense. Speaking of the Kansas State defense, the Wildcats lead the league in scoring defense, allowing opponents an average of 64 points a game. That’s almost 20 points fewer than the Cyclones average per game. K-State also is the best in the Big 12 in defending the three-point shot, holding opponents to a mere 29-percent shooting behind the three-point line.
When Kansas State and Iowa State met in late January at Iowa State, the Wildcats put up a valiant effort after being down by a dozen points at halftime, but fell six-points short, 81-75. In that game, Iowa State made 9 of 18 from three-point range, but KSU also cashed in an uncharacteristic nine three-point shots of its own.
Three Things To Watch For In This Game
- This game features a contrast in styles: Iowa State’s high-scoring offense vs. Kansas State’s tough defense. If this game is played in the 50s or 60s, Kansas State should win. If the score gets into the hugh 70s or 80s, Iowa State has the advantage.
- Kansas State played Iowa State tough on ISU terms in the game at Iowa State. The Wildcats play even tougher when they have the “Octagon of Doom” crowd behind them, which is one of the loudest in the conference. The Cyclones have not done well in the harder Big 12 venues to play this season (losses at Oklahoma, Kansas and Texas, and blown out at West Virginia).
- K-State senior Shane Southwell has been injured and has not been a factor for several games. If he is able to play more in this game, Kansas State has another offensive weapon, more depth in its lineup and, importantly, more leadership on the court.
My pick: Kansas State 72, Iowa State 65 - The home court is the big difference. Kansas State will win this rematch, avenge its earlier loss to the Cyclones and throw the top of the conference standings – sans Kansas, of course – into further disarray than it is already.
The Oklahoma-Texas affair Saturday will feature two of the better offensive teams in the conference. The Sooners lead the all-time series 49-35 and are 24-11 against the Longhorns when the game is played at OU. Oklahoma won the first game between the two teams this season, an 88-85 win in Austin to open Big 12 play for both teams.
Rebounding could play an important factor in this game. The Sooners are not big along the front line, but they have played bigger than their size all season long. Texas is alot like Kansas, OU’s last opponent, in that the Horns like to take advantage of their size mismatches inside and kick it out to the perimeter when double-teamed down low. The Sooners like to push the ball to the rim on breakouts created by their quick hands on defense, but they tend to live of die on the proficiency of their three-point shooting. And they have a handful of capable three-point shooters, led by their scoring leader, sophomore Buddy Hield. All five Oklahoma starters average in double figures in scoring.
Free-throw shooting plays an increasing importance in games late in the year when the outcomes are generally tighter at the end. The Sooners lead the Big 12 in free-throw accuracy (74 percent on the year) as a team. Another factor to keep in mind is that Oklahoma is 14-3 this season when the Sooners score 80 or more points. That advantage goes up even more when they play at home.
My pick: Oklahoma 84, Texas 77 – This is a rivalry game with a lot at stake in the final standings and potential NCAA Tournament seeds. This teams literally don’t like each other, and the game is at Oklahoma, where the Sooners have played very well this year against ranked teams.
Other Big 12 Basketball Picks This Weekend
Kansas 78 @ Oklahoma State 73 – This would be a perfect setup for an upset, but Kansas is playing together much better than OSU and the Jayhawks will find a way to steal a win at Oklahoma State on Bracket Buster Saturday.
TCU 69 @ West Virginia 82 - This could be the last game the Mountaineers win in the regular season.
Texas Tech 68 @ Baylor 75 - Baylor wasn’t able to get by Texas on Wednesday, but the Bears will get the job done at home against Texas Tech.