Eddie Sutton led Oklahoma State to the NCAA Final Four, Bill Self and Scott Drew were Big 12 newcomers and George W. Bush was finishing his first four-year term in the White House the last time Kansas didn’t at least share a piece of the league’s title.
That was 2004.
Could this really be the season, Self’s 16th at Kansas, that the Jayhawks’ unprecedented championship streak ends?
With three games left in the regular season, the No. 15 Jayhawks (21-7, 10-5 Big 12) are a game behind No. 11 Texas Tech (23-5, 11-4) and No. 16 Kansas State (21-7, 11-4). There are no head-to-head games remaining among the trio of teams, who all split their games.
The Red Raiders, Wildcats and Jayhawks are locks for the NCAA Tournament. How many of their fellow Big 12 teams will join them in the 68-team field? Some projections have as many as eight from the league, including Oklahoma with its 5-10 conference mark.
ATOP THE BIG 12
Texas Tech, an Elite Eight team last season, has a six-game winning streak. The Red Raiders had won five in a row by an average margin of 25 points, and were coming off a 29-point home win over Kansas, before needing overtime Wednesday to beat last-place Oklahoma State . Lindy Waters made four 3-pointers in the final 55 seconds of regulation for the Cowboys.
“I didn’t watch a minute of it until the last 10 minutes of regulation, then I got hooked on it because it was a great game,” Self, an Oklahoma State alumnus, said Thursday. “I’d be lying if I didn’t say I was definitely pulling for my alma mater in that particular situation.”
Kansas followed its lopsided loss in Lubbock with a 15-point home win over K-State, a game the Jayhawks pretty much had to win Monday to keep their title hopes alive. They go to Oklahoma State and Oklahoma before finishing the regular season at home against Baylor (19-9, 10-5).
The Bears, coached by Drew, tied KU in the standings after overcoming a 19-point deficit at home to beat Texas in overtime Wednesday night. They go to Kansas State and host Oklahoma State.
Texas Tech is at TCU on Saturday before hosting Texas and going to Iowa State.
“Zero challenge in trying to get guys ready,” Red Raiders coach Chris Beard said. “If you can’t get ready for March, then you need to go play badminton. No offense to badminton, that was one of my sports that I chose at church camp when I was growing up.”
Kansas State plays next week at TCU before hosting Oklahoma.
Iowa State (20-8, 9-6) uncharacteristically has lost three Big 12 home games this season.
“You take one or two of those home losses away, you’re in unbelievable shape going down the last stretch to put yourself in a position for a league championship,” coach Steve Prohm said. “But you’ve got to move on from that.”
As of Thursday, the Big 12 had eight teams in the top 43 of the NET rankings , the new analytical formula that replaced the RPI and will be utilized by the NCAA Tournament selection committee.
Oklahoma (17-11, 5-10) was 42nd, a spot ahead of TCU (18-10, 6-9).
The Sooners host West Virginia and Kansas before going to Kansas State.
“It is an opportunity,” coach Lon Kruger said. “Obviously very difficult schedule, but still, it’s there in front of us to play better and play well enough to still earn that opportunity to play in the postseason.”
Texas Tech is the highest-ranked Big 12 team in the NET rankings at 10th, followed by Iowa State (14), Kansas (17), Kansas State (28), Baylor (35) and Texas (36). The Big 12 is No. 1 overall among a number of ranking sites.
ON THE BUBBLE
TCU last season ended a two-decade absence from the NCAA Tournament, but needs a strong finish to go back again. The Horned Frogs are coming off a triple-overtime loss at West Virginia, a team they beat by 31 points at home earlier this season. They now face Big 12 co-leaders Texas Tech and Kansas State in a three-day span.
Texas (15-13, 7-8) has lost three of four games after blowing that big lead after halftime at Baylor. The Longhorns had a similar slide late last season before getting into the NCAA Tournament.
“The way we handled it last year is just trying to do the absolute best we could on the current game, but also understanding that the reality for our players … is you’re going to have some awareness of all of the projections and talk about the NCAA Tournament,” Longhorns coach Shaka Smart said. “The best thing you can do obviously is win your next game, and it puts you in so much better position. So that’s where our focus is.”