Big 12 Bubble Teams’ To-Do List Ahead of Selection Sunday
There’s been a lot of separation in the past week of Big 12 basketball, and the six tournament locks are obvious. Over the past nine days, Baylor has lost control in the regular season race, Texas now needs help from Texas Tech if they want the outright title. Kansas can clinch a share of the title on Tuesday. Kansas State has stopped the bleeding and finds itself sitting as the three seed with two games to play. Iowa State is in freefall mode, having lost three straight, and TCU removed any thought of them falling back to the bubble by winning two of their last three.
However, the real drama is happening at the bottom, with three teams fighting amongst each other for their tournament lives. Oklahoma has fallen out of the NCAA conversation, though their win in Ames did keep their NIT hopes alive. But Oklahoma State, West Virginia, and Texas Tech all suffered back-breaking losses on Saturday which makes their final games must wins. Here’s what all three teams need if they hope to play in the Big Dance.
The loss to Kansas State on Saturday was a brutal one for the Pokes, as their fourth straight loss knocked them squarely on the cut line. What makes it worse is that they seemed like they were in decent control of the game for large stretches, and it would’ve added another quad-one win to their resume. The metrics aren’t horrible for Oklahoma State, but these losses are really starting to add up, they sit 46th in NET, right between fellow bubble teams USC and North Carolina. In KenPom they’re slightly better at 42nd, right behind Michigan, but at 16-13 overall and 7-9 in conference play, wins are a must, as there’s no chance a team that goes 16-15 overall finds an at large bid.
In this league, this year 7-11 should be enough to get you in if you have a decent non-conference, unfortunately for Oklahoma State, they don’t have that. As early losses to Southern Illinois, UCF and Virginia Tech still plague their resume. However, a pair of quad-one wins could be on deck for Oklahoma State, as they get Baylor at home on Monday, and Texas Tech in Lubbock on Saturday. Baylor is an interesting one after their losses to the Kansas schools it appeared as if things could unravel for the Bears, but a home win over Texas seems to have crushed those concerns. The bright spot for Oklahoma State is that Baylor should be without star Freshman Keyonte George, now Flagler and Cryer are still a brutal guard pairing to face, but it at least should give Oklahoma State some hope.
Then on Saturday, they travel to Lubbock, a tough place to play for sure, and Texas Tech seems to have things figured out. But if Texas Tech loses to Kansas on Tuesday, their at-large hopes would be dashed, and you could be looking at a much easier environment than normal, and against a team that would know their only hope of making it is to win four straight in Kansas City. If Oklahoma State has any chance of making the tournament they need to add one more win this week, and two would almost certainly see them playing in the NCAA Tournament.
Boy did that final possession for the Mountaineers in Lawrence sting, not only did they blow a chance for Bob Huggins to get his first win there, but they made this week so much more difficult for themselves than it had to be. Now the metrics are still great for West Virginia as they sit at 26th in the NET, between Xavier and Texas A&M, and at 20th in KenPom between Kansas State and Indiana. However, they are 5-11 in conference play and 16-13 overall. If they lose their next two, 5-13 and 16-15 just won’t cut it, no matter how good their metrics are. No team has ever gone 6-12 in Big 12 play and made the tournament, but there is an outside chance West Virginia could be the first. In the non-conference they played a gauntlet, getting wins over Pitt, Florida, and Auburn, with losses to Purdue and Xavier. Should they get one of their last two and then win the 8/9 matchup in Kansas City, that should be enough, but it’s by no way a guarantee.
To get an at-large, West Virginia needs to get at least one win this week, and two should make them a lock. First, they’ll go to Ames and play a reeling Iowa State team on Monday, while Hilton is typically a brutal place to play, last place Oklahoma went there and won by double digits on Saturday. This isn’t the Iowa State team that we saw in the first half of Big 12 play either, as they’ve fallen from fighting for a regular season title to fighting for a top-six seed in Kansas City. Losers of five of their last six, and their last three, this is a crucial game for the Cyclones to get right before the Tournament. But for West Virginia, this game means more. A win on Monday, and West Virginia could likely lock up a bid on senior day at home against Kansas State.
West Virginia’s second chance to get a crucial sixth conference win this week would likely be just as formidable as the trip to Ames, as they get a suddenly hot Kansas State, that’s won three straight. The bright side for West Virginia in this one is that they’ve been a much better team at home this year, sitting 4-4 in conference home games. If West Virginia can split these games, they’d likely play in the 8/9 game in Kansas City, and a win there should be enough to send them to Dayton. 2-0, and you have to consider West Virginia a lock, but 0-2, and I’m sorry but a 16-15 team has no business in the Tournament.
Now that I went through the two teams that have seemingly manageable paths to the Tournament, here’s one completely up against it. The frustrating thing for Tech fans is it really didn’t have to be, if they had beaten TCU, a 1-1 week, and some wins in Kansas City should’ve been enough. That’s not where we’re at though, an impressive comeback fell short as TCU hit two free throws with less than five seconds to go, and Tech now needs to go 2-0 to have a chance. The metrics for Tech aren’t great as they sit 54th in the NET, and 51st in KenPom, that with injuries seems understandable, but their weak non-conference is a killer. While they have a top 20 overall strength of schedule, in the non-conference out of 363 D1 teams they sit at 331. They have three non-conference power six wins, but all three of Georgetown, Louisville, and LSU sit last in their conferences, in fact, their combined conference records are 6-47.
For Texas Tech to make the tournament they need to hit at least 7-11 in conference play, and get at least one, maybe two wins in Kansas City. What makes this tougher is that on Tuesday go to Lawrence and take on a top 5 Kansas team. All-time, Texas Tech is 7-41 against Kansas, and 1-20 at the Phog, with the lone win coming from their Elite Eight 2018 team, even the 2019 Final Four team lost in Lawrence 79-63. It’s a tall task for Texas Tech, but it’s an absolute must-win, and a loss would end their tournament hopes, but if you want to do something special like make the tournament after a 1-10 start, sometimes you need to do something else special like get your second win ever in Lawrence.
If somehow Texas Tech pulls it off on Tuesday, they’ll have a chance to hit seven conference wins at home against fellow bubble team Oklahoma State. This may actually be a good matchup for Texas Tech, as a missed box out cost them the game in Stillwater the first time these two played. What could be even more exciting for Tech is that should they go 2-0, they will likely get another bubble team, West Virginia on Wednesday in Kansas City. The path is clear for Texas Tech, go 2-0 and see where you stand.