The road to the Big 12 basketball championship still goes through Waco.
Even with seven games left in the regular season, we’re basically down to just two contenders – No. 1-ranked Baylor and the conference’s longtime gold standard, Kansas.
The Jayhawks cleared a major hurdle on Wednesday by winning in Morgantown against West Virginia, where they had won only twice in seven tries prior to the ugly 58-49 victory. In the process, they closed out the Mountaineers, who are now 6-5 and have fallen to fourth behind 7-4 Texas Tech.
Baylor is 11-0 in the Big 12 and KU is 10-1, but the Bears’ road will be much easier to navigate the rest of the way.
Both teams have three road games left. Kansas has by far the tougher schedule, with games at Texas Tech, Baylor and Kansas State. Tech isn’t what it was last year, but is always dangerous in Lubbock. And when KU goes to Kansas State, the “Octagon of Doom” will be at fever pitch because of what happened at the end of last month’s game at Allen Field House, which was ugly for both schools’ reputations.
By winning at Allen earlier, Baylor gave itself the wiggle room it needed. It has road games left with Oklahoma, TCU and West Virginia. KU handed the Mountaineers their first home loss of the season and I imagine that will be the only blemish until Baylor comes to town the final day of the regular season.
Kansas’ plodding win over West Virginia was hard to watch. In fact, college basketball in general has become hard to watch, except for KCAC men’s basketball, which has been wildly entertaining in the games I’ve covered as teams regularly score in the 80s an 90s.
Kansas has become the ultimate halfcourt team after watching it streak up and down the court for so many years.
Now it plays a grinding, halfcourt game with the offense going through big man Udoka Azubuike.
Azubuike generally gets at least one touch on every position. The Jayhawks try to isolate him on the post and he either makes a move to the basket or kicks it out for the 3-pointer.
Trouble is, KU is not, by any stretch of the imagination, a good 3-point shooting team.
Take away graduate transfer Isaiah Moss, who was recruited specifically to shoot the 3, and it’s an unsightly 3-ball club.
Moss hit some key 3s against West Virginia and that probably won the Jayhawks the game. He scored 10 of his 13 points in the second half, but he’s been wildly inconsistent and hasn’t shot it like his days at Iowa.
Devon Dotson’s outside shooting has regressed to the point where he doesn’t even make 3 out of every 10. But his makes seemingly come at opportune times.
Marcus Garrett shouldn’t even think about a 3, but every once in a while he’s like a blind squirrel and knocks one down. His value is on defense because he’s the best in the Big 12. He won Wednesday’s game with his three straight steals in the second half when KU was rallying from a 9-point deficit.
What KU really needs is for Christian Braun or Ochai Agbaji to become more consistent. Braun has had some good moments as a freshman, but as you could see on Wednesday KU coach Bill Self didn’t trust him in such a physical game. Agbaji is a terrific athlete who leaves you wanting more as he doesn’t seem to be utilizing his immense gifts to the fullest.
Inside, Big Doke is having a solid year even when he’s in pout mode as sometimes he disappears for stretches out of frustration of getting pounded on and not getting the calls, at least in his mind. David McCormack, who most certainly needs to come back next year as he’s still raw, has had good moments, but they’re too infrequent.
Given the state of college basketball where parity dominates the landscape, KU has as good a chance as any to win the national championship. There’s simply not that one team that brings the “wow factor,” even though Baylor, Gonzaga and San Diego State have a combined one loss.