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Big 12 Basketball Standings and Projections, Feb 21-27

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Through this time last week, Texas and Kansas were simply cruising along. The Longhorns were riding their lock-down defense to repeated double digits wins, and Kansas was rolling with an elite offensive attack. Kansas stumbled first on Monday night when they ran into a desperate team and an outstanding individual performance by Jacob Pullen. Advantage Texas. After the mid-week win over Oklahoma State, Texas was clear of the second place Jayhawks by two games with just five remaining. A win in Lincoln and Texas would be in prime shape for an outright conference title.

It was not to be, though, as Texas left its defense in Austin and was victimized in the paint by the Nebraska bigs. Conference race back on. Texas still holds a one game lead over Kansas in the real standings and is still projected to win the conference title outright. However, there is no question that the schedule the rest of the way favors KU.

Over the next two weeks, Texas must travel to Colorado, host Kansas State, and closes the season in Waco against the Baylor Bears. All three of these teams are bubble teams who would greatly enhance their NCAA resume with a win over the Longhorns, ala the Nebraska Cornhuskers. Meanwhile, Kansas should cruise this week with a home game against a down-and-out Oklahoma State team and a trip to Norman. The Jayhawks close the season with A&M in Lawrence and Missouri in Columbia. The Aggies are playing better basketball but I don’t see them winning at Kansas. Missouri could knock off the Jayhawks but Kansas might be playing for a Big 12 title by that point, so who knows.

The point of all of this speculation is to emphasize that Texas missed a huge opportunity on Saturday in Lincoln. As many readers have pointed out, Texas does hold the tie-breaker over Kansas, but that is only good for seeding in the Big 12 tournament and means little to the NCAA selection committee. As we’ve discussed over the last two months, the goal for the Longhorns is a protected seed in the San Antonio region. In order for that to happen, Texas would likely have to be a No. 1 seed and slotted higher than the Jayhawks. An outright title would give the ‘Horns that position or a shared regular season title and a Big 12 tournament title would easily put the Longhorns over the top. So, unless Kansas falters down the stretch, not likely, then Texas needs to take care of business on the road to close out the season.

More on the Big 12 and the week ahead after the jump…

Big 12 Bubble Teams

As intriguing as the conference race is at the top, the middle of the pack is maybe more so. A&M and Missouri have steadied themselves and both would be safely in the NCAA tournament if the season ended today. As far as additional teams from the Big 12, who the heck knows. Even if we don’t include Oklahoma State in the discussion after their two losses this week, there are still four other Big 12 teams that should be considered alive for at-large selections.

Kansas State notched a signature win on Monday with a resounding defeat of No. 1 Kansas. The Wildcats have now clawed back from 1-4 to sit at 6-6 in the conference. Frank Martin’s club can’t rest though as their last four are not easy: at Nebraska, vs. Missouri, at Texas, vs. Iowa State. Two home wins would put them close to a bid; three wins over their last four would probably put them in the tournament.

On the surface at just 5-7, Colorado appears to be done, but let’s wait just a second. Colorado has four winnable games to finish the season: at Texas Tech, vs. Texas, at Iowa State, vs. Nebraska. A 9-7 Colorado team with wins over Missouri and Texas and two over Kansas State could be NCAA bound. Their journey must start in Lubbock though. A loss on Wednesday night would make winning at least two games in the Big 12 tournament a requirement.

What to make of Baylor? Scott Drew’s team was 6-4 in the Big 12 just a week ago and looked like they were finally putting their individual pieces together to form an actual basketball team. Well, after a close loss to Texas, Baylor stepped out of conference to defeat Wayland Baptist mid-week but suffered a horrific home loss to Texas Tech on Saturday. Baylor is now 6-6 in conference and has no non-conference wins of any relevance. The Bears need to at least get to 8-8, maybe 9-7, and win a game or two in Kansas City to get back in the discussion. This team is too talented to completely count out, and the rest of their schedule gives them plenty of opportunities to increase their chances. Baylor closes at Missouri, vs. A&M, at Ok State, and vs. Texas.

The casual basketball fan may be shocked to see that Nebraska (6-6) is a possible NCAA tournament team. The Cornhuskers have won three straight, just took down No. 2/3 Texas, and have more opportunities to shine. Nebraska ends the season vs. Kansas State, at Iowa State, vs. Missouri, and at Colorado. Two home court victories and a road win in Ames would put the Huskers firmly in the discussion and likely in the NCAA tournament.

Tier System

The aforementioned Cornhuskers won two games that were projected losses last week. They continue their yo-yo ride and move back into Tier II. Meanwhile, thanks to a home loss to A&M, the Oklahoma State Cowboys fall into Tier III. They may have some winnable games remaining, but when your best player is a 5-9 catch and shoot guard, I can’t keep you in the second tier. The rest of the assignments remain the same: Tier I--Texas, Kansas, Missouri, and Texas A&M; Tier II--Kansas State, Baylor, Colorado and Nebraska; Tier III—Oklahoma State, Oklahoma, Texas Tech, and Iowa State.

Last week, there were 11 total conference games. The tier system projected winners in ten of those contests and went a pathetic 6-4. Nebraska was responsible for two of those misses, Tech’s win in Waco for the third, and A&M escape in Stillwater for the fourth.

As a reminder, this is how the tier system works and projects games:

Tier I

Projected Wins: All home games, & road games against Tier III teams.
Toss-Ups: Road games against Tier II teams.
Projected Losses: Road games against Tier I teams.

Tier II

Projected Wins: Home games against Tier II and Tier II teams.
Toss-Ups: Home games against Tier I teams & road games against Tier III teams.
Projected Losses: Road games against Tier I and Tier II teams.

Tier III

Projected Wins: Home games against Tier III teams.
Toss-Ups: Home games against Tier II teams are toss-ups.
Projected Losses: All road games & home games against Tier I teams.

Given the above placements, here is how the Big 12 conference is expected to play out. The table is sorted by Projected Record.

Team Actual Record Projected Record Toss Ups Projected Losses
1. Texas

11 - 1

14 – 2

@ Colorado, @ Baylor
2. Kansas

10 - 2

13 – 3

@ Missouri
3. Texas A&M

8 - 4

10.5 – 5.5

@ Baylor @ Kansas
4. Missouri

7 - 5

10 – 6

@ Kansas St, @ Nebraska
5. Kansas St

6 - 6

8 – 8

@ Nebraska, vs. Missouri @ Texas
5. Nebraska

6 - 6

8 – 8

@ Iowa St, vs. Missouri @ Colorado
7. Baylor

6 - 6

7.5 – 8.5

vs. A&M, @ Ok State, vs. Texas @ Missouri
7. Colorado

5 - 7

7.5 – 8.5

@ Tx Tech, vs. Texas, @ Iowa St
9. Oklahoma St

4 - 8

5.5 – 10.5

vs. Baylor @ Kansas, @ OU
9. Texas Tech

4 - 8

5.5 – 10.5

vs. Colorado @ Ok State, @ A&M
11. Oklahoma

4 - 8

5 – 11

@ A&M, vs, Kansas, @ Tech
12. Iowa State

1 - 11

2 – 14

vs. Nebraska, vs. Colorado @ Texas, @ Kansas St

Biggest Surprise from Last Week:
Texas Tech taking down Baylor in Waco. After reaching the Elite Eight last season, Baylor was a pre-season top 20 pick and hopeful to challenge Kansas and Kansas State for a Big 12 title. Like the Wildcats, the 2010-11 season has not been kind. However, unlike K State, who appears to have found themselves and now has a signature win to point toward on Selection Sunday, Baylor is reeling. With the home loss to the Red Raiders, it is now a steep uphill climb to even 8-8 in league play. With bad losses to Iowa State, Oklahoma, and now Texas Tech, Baylor needs a strong finish to secure a bid. That means holding serve at home vs. A&M this week and against Texas to end the season AND doing some damage in the Big 12 tournament.

Team with Most Favorable Schedule: Kansas. Face it Longhorn fans, Texas missed a golden opportunity to basically wrap up the Big 12 title during the trip to Nebraska. Had the ‘Horns won, Texas would have a two game lead with just four games remaining. Now, that lead is just one and Kansas clearly has the easier road over the next two weeks. Kansas gets an offensively challenge Oklahoma State team in Lawrence on Monday and then goes to another Tier III team, Oklahoma, on Saturday. With Josh Selby looking healthier, no way Kansas doesn’t get to 12-2 by week’s end.

Team with Least Favorable Schedule: Oklahoma. The Sooners visit a resurgent A&M team on Wednesday night and then host Kansas on Saturday. It’s hard to see Capel’s bunch pulling out either of those. Other contenders for this line include Iowa State (at Texas and vs. Nebraska this week) and Kansas State (at Nebraska and vs. Missouri). Iowa State should continue its stumble and reach 1-13. While Kansas State has some momentum, winners of four of their last five, but could give it all back with two losses this week.

Toss-Up Games:

Colorado at Texas Tech (Wednesday) Buffs need this one to get back into the NCAA discussion, and I think they get it.

Texas at Colorado (Saturday) I’ve been impressed with Alec Burks for the last two seasons and Cory Higgins for the last four. In other home games against Tier I opponents, CU defeated Missouri to start the season, fell to Kansas by just three, and was overtaken by A&M in overtime. Texas will have its hands full in Boulder. If Dogus Balbay or Cory Joseph gets into foul trouble, Texas probably loses. I’ll take Texas by two points.

A&M at Baylor (Saturday) After A&M defeats OU on Wednesday, the Aggies will roll into Waco as the hottest team in the conference. On the other hand, Baylor could be close to calling it a season, if the lose at Missouri. That said, Baylor found a way in College Station, and I’ll take the Bears to prolong their season with a five point backs-against-the-wall victory.

Missouri at Kansas State (Saturday) In a match-up of two teams which I do not believe in, I’ll take the home team. Missouri has been atrocious away from Colombia all season, and I don’t see them finding their footing in the Octagon of Doom.

Upset Pick: Kansas State over Nebraska in Lincoln. With all four of the Tier I teams playing at home in the non-Saturday games, I don’t see any upsets. And with four of the six Saturday games pegged as toss-ups, my pickings are even slimmer. I could see Tech winning in Stillwater but I’ll go with the Wildcats. I was impressed with Kansas State on Saturday when they won going away over the Sooners. It would have been easy to let the emotion of their win over Kansas distract their focus but K State took care of business like they should have. I like Jacob Pullen to have a big game against the Nebraska guards and for K State to roll out enough bigs to take away Nebraska’s front court advantage.

Post-season Outlook: Kansas (RPI 1, Pomeroy 3) and Texas (RPI 7, Pomeroy 4) are NCAA locks at this point. Missouri (RPI 28, Pomeroy 24) and Texas A&M (RPI 27, Pomeroy 44) look to be in good position. Kansas State (RPI 31, Pomeroy 37), Colorado (RPI 93, Pomeroy 62), Nebraska (RPI 63, Pomeroy 43), and Baylor (RPI 78, Pomeroy 58) have lots of work left to do. (RealTimeRPI, KenPom)