Here are five thoughts on the Big 12 Conference basketball on Saturday, as nearly the entire league was in action on the men’s and women’s sides.
So what happened? Kansas reminded everyone that the road to the regular-season title always runs through Allen Fieldhouse, a pair of Big 12 women’s NCAA Tournament bubble teams took a hit and Baylor and Iowa State played a chaotic classic in Waco.
Here are five thoughts on the day.
Return of the Jayhawks
There is a point in Big 12 play in which we start asking ourselves if this is the year that Kansas takes a step back. The question has gotten more prevalent the past few years — not because Kansas has been bad, but because the rest of the conference is investing in basketball and trying to close the gap.
When we start asking that question, we tend to get an answer and it’s a Jayhawks version of “hold my beer.”
Houston learned the lesson Saturday in a 78-65 loss to Kansas at Allen Fieldhouse. I’m not sure the game was actually that close. It made those that installed Kansas as an underdog at home look rather foolish.
The Jayhawks started the game shooting 11-for-15 from the floor and finished making seven of their last eight shots to finish the game firing 69%, which is legitimately insane. No one is beating Kansas when it shoots like that. Heck, the Jayhawks aren’t beating any team that shoots like that.
It rendered Kansas’ 18 turnovers meaningless, although Bill Self will use it as a coaching point. But Kansas outrebounded Houston by 16 and outscored the Cougars 42-24 in the paint.
Houston was on a five-game winning streak, had proved it could win on the road in the Big 12 and shared the top of the Big 12 standings. Now? The Cougars walked away from Allen Fieldhouse humbled and sharing first place with … Kansas.
Look, Houston is a great team. But even great teams go into Allen Fieldhouse and lose. UConn did it earlier this year, falling to Kansas when it was ranked No. 4. The Cougars will continue to be competitive.
But, every once in a while, Kansas is happy to remind everyone that the road to winning the Big 12 goes through them. It always has and it likely always will.
The two teams will see each other in Houston later this season, and their non-conference meeting in Mexico City next December is now set.
The Big 12 clearly sees this as a matchup that can grow into something. I agree. For now, Kansas showed Houston just how much farther it has to go.
Wackiness in Waco
The Big 12 saved the insanity for the night game as Iowa State went to Waco and lost to Baylor, 70-68.
I mean, when someone tells you this game had everything, it just about did.
Baylor coach Scott Drew was ejected from a game for the first time in his Baylor career. That’s 21 seasons. It apparently had to do with stepping on the floor and out of the coaches’ box. Not for nothing, but I’ve seen so many coaches step on the floor this season and not get called for a technical that I find the whole “point of emphasis” distinction to be ridiculous.
I mean, remember when Marquette’s Shaka Smart basically played defense on the floor and nearly interfered with play? No technical foul. And that’s an EASY call.
Baylor led by 12 points at halftime, which was the largest deficit Iowa State has faced all season. During the chaos of Drew’s ejection — and another technical right after that — Iowa State went on an incredible 20-2 run to take a five-point lead in the second half. Keshon Gilbert led the way with 24 points, including five 3-pointers.
Baylor roared back late and went on a 7-0 run to regain the lead with two minutes left. Both teams made mistakes, the most critical being a pass that Gilbert made in the corner that was picked off by a hobbling Jayden Nunn.
Nunn, who had 16 points, dribbled right past Baylor’s coaches trying to get a timeout and made a layup that gave Baylor a two-point lead. He drew a foul and had a free throw to make it a three-point game. Nunn missed it. Iowa State started down the floor for a last-second shot and .. the clock stopped.
Or, rather, it started early. Iowa State got a gift of a timeout, as it had none, as officials determined that there should be 1.2 seconds left.
So Iowa State inbounded ball and got it to Milan Momcilovic, who hit a bank shot 3-pointer for the game-winner … that wasn’t a game-winner because the buzzer sounded just before he let go of the ball. But game officials injected one last bit of drama, stopping the game one more time to make sure the clock started on time.
Just an unreal end to a day that saw four of the Big 12’s eight ranked teams lose, two of them in head-to-head Top 25 matchups.
A Women’s NET Gain
We spent a lot of time talking about the men’s NET ratings, and they’re some of the best in college basketball.
But, the Big 12 women — all 14 teams — are doing something that not even the men are doing right now.
There is a little more separation from top to bottom and the league won’t have as many NCAA Tournament teams as the men, but the women are building up to keep this league competitive after Texas and Oklahoma transition away. The inclusions of Arizona, Arizona State, Colorado and Utah will help.
Arizona, Colorado and Utah have been nationally ranked the past few years. This league won’t lose much with the departures of UT and OU.
Bubble Teams Take A Hit
It was a bad day to be Iowa State and Texas Tech. From my perspective, at least five Big 12 women’s teams will be in the NCAA Tournament — Baylor, Kansas State, Oklahoma, Texas and West Virginia. Two — Iowa State and Texas Tech — have a shot. But Saturday was not a good day for either.
Both were on the road and against new Big 12 teams. Iowa State went to UCF and fell to the Knights, 71-66. Mya Burns led UCF with 20 points as the Knights won their second Big 12 game.
Meanwhile, Texas Tech went to Cincinnati and was blown out, 74-56. Jillian Hayes blew up for a double-double for the Bearcats — 18 points and 12 rebounds — as Cincinnati won its third Big 12 game.
These are great wins for UCF and Cincinnati, and they are losses that Iowa State and Texas Tech and afford to absorb. Look at ESPN’s latest bracketology and the sixth Big 12 team in the tournament is Iowa State, slotted as a No. 10 seed. Texas Tech isn’t among the bubble teams.
While ISU is a No. 10 seed, the Cyclones are also one of the last four byes, meaning they’re close to the bubble.
These sorts of games, win or lose, can be highly determinative of whether either team makes March Madness. If the committee sees those games as ones that ISU and TTU should have won, that won’t look great when it comes to selecting the final teams.
Thanks to an incredible Saturday, the men’s standards are now a beautiful mess.
Kansas (6-3) and Houston (6-3) now lead the conference by a half-game over three teams — Baylor (5-3), Iowa State (5-3) and Texas Tech (5-3), the last of which has now lost two straight games.
Beyond that are seven teams with either four or five league losses, led by TCU (5-4) and BYU (4-4). After that UCF, Texas, Oklahoma, Cincinnati and Kansas State are all 4-5.
Even more insane? Oklahoma State is the conference’s worst team by record at 2-7. The Cowboys are four games out of first place.
On the women’s side, more will be decided on Sunday when Kansas State faces Texas. Kansas State (9-1) is tied with Oklahoma (9-1) at the top after the Sooners beat Oklahoma State. If K-State wins, the Wildcats and Sooners will remain tied. If the Wildcats lost, then they fall a half-game behind the Sooners for first place.
West Virginia (8-2) will either be the only two-loss team or have company. Texas (7-3) will either be in four place by itself or tied for fourth place with Iowa State (7-4). Baylor (5-4) could also remain at four losses assuming it beats Houston on Sunday.
You can find Matthew Postins on Twitter @PostinsPostcard.