The Iowa State Cyclones were the biggest challengers to Kansas’ quest to remain Big 12 men’s champs in basketball for an 11th consecutive season, but the Cyclones now may have blown their biggest opportunity.
Entering the week, Iowa State knew it had to run the table in its remaining Big 12 regular-season games, but without any games left with Kansas, the Cyclones had to have the Jayhawks slip up along the way in order dethrone the 10-time defending champions.
On Monday night, with the Jayhawks falling to archrival Kansas State, 12th-ranked Iowa State received new life and had a golden opportunity to draw even with No. 8 Kansas in the conference standings.Feb 23, 2015; Manhattan, KS, USA; Kansas Jayhawks guard Frank Mason (0) passes around Kansas State Wildcats guard Justin Edwards (14) during the Jayhawks
All the Cyclones had to do was take care of business at home on Wednesday against visiting Baylor and they would tie Kansas, both with 11-4 league records. And the odds seemed stacked in Iowa State’s favor with the Cyclones playing at home at Hilton Coliseum, where they were unbeaten this season and over the last 21 home games.
Only this wasn’t just any ordinary game for the Cyclones. Through games of Tuesday night, 42 of the last 46 conference games involved at least one team ranked in the top 25 nationally, and the game between Iowa State and Baylor involved two top-20 teams, with Baylor at No, 19 in this week’s Associated Press Top-25 poll.
Baylor led by three, 41-37 at the half, but Iowa State went on an early second half run and it appeared that the Cyclones were on their way to making Baylor its 15th home victim with an eight-point advantage and 8″33 left in the game.
But that’ when things changed dramatically. The Bears started raining three pointers – and they were hitting the jackpot, seven straight made three-pointers – and Baylor surged into the lead. In a matter of four minutes, Baylor erased the Cyclones eight-point advantage and jumped ahead by six, a swing of 14 points.
Iowa State never got closer than four points the rest of the way and, just like that, its Big 12 title hopes, which looked so promising just two may have gone screaming out the window.
Baylor made a season-high 14 three-pointers in the game, twice as many as the Cyclones. At one stretch in the game, the Bears made five three-point shots in five successive possessions.
The question now is: Can anyone trip up Kansas with just three conference games remaining in the regular season? West Virginia and Oklahoma both have games with Kansas in the final week of the season.
The Mountaineers, who defeated the Jayhawks a little over a week ago in Morgantown, are at Kansas for a rematch next Tuesday. After that, though, Kansas must go on the road and play at 16th-ranked OU in the regular-season finale in what could ultimately decide the Big 12 championship for 2014-15.
Another top-20 showdown will take place in Ames, Iowa, on Monday. The Sooners will go to Iowa State, where there will be even more on the line than in the Baylor game. But before the Cyclones host Oklahoma, they have to take a little trip to Kansas State, and we all know what happened to the last team that made that trip to the Octagon of Doom.
While most of the attention over the next 10 days will be on 10-time defending conference champion Kansas and the three teams sitting just a game back of the Jayhawks, Baylor is not out of it, either. The Bears host West Virginia on Saturday and finish up next week with games at Texas and back home to finish out the regular season with Texas Tech.
If Baylor can get by the Mountaineers on Saturday, the Bears will have a good chance to finish out at 12-6 in the conference and leap
frog the three teams currently immediately ahead of them.
All of this to say, the best is yet to come in Big 12 men’s basketball, The next 10 days could be the best in what arguably has been the best season in the 18-year history of Big 12 basketball.