The Big 12 has turned the corner on its conference season, leaving teams one month to jockey for conference tournament position and build postseason credentials.
To date, the conference has plenty to crow about.
Nearly a quarter of the teams in the major wire service polls — six of 25 — are from the Big 12 with Oklahoma, Kansas and West Virginia the current holders of top 10 status. The Sooners and Jayhawks have been ranked first this season.
The conference has the nation’s No. 1 RPI on the strength of its success against nonconference competition, and it has delivered plenty of dramatics with five league games going into overtime.
The final month before the Big 12 Tournament runs March 9-12 at the Sprint Center holds plenty of intrigue, starting with Kansas’ run of 11 straight regular-season conference championships at stake. Is this the year for a new team at the top?
“I’ve thought that before and it didn’t happen,” Baylor coach Scott Drew said. “Until somebody actually beat Kansas (out), they’re the champs.”
The final four weeks should be the league’s competitive best. Here’s what to watch, in threes.
Players to watch
Buddy Hield: Oklahoma’s standout guard continues to lead the national player of the year conversation.
Georges Niang: When games get tight, Iowa State goes to their forward who finds ways to score around the basket.
Perry Ellis: The Kansas senior is having his best season and is the Jayhawks’ steadiest player.
Games to watch
No. 10 West Virginia at No. 6 Kansas, 6 p.m. Tuesday (ESPN2): Mountaineers look to open their Big 12 lead.
No. 6 Kansas at No. 3 Oklahoma, 1:30 p.m. Saturday (ESPN): ESPN’s “College GameDay” will focus on the matchup that provided college hoops’ best game last month.
West Virginia at Texas, 6 p.m. Feb. 16 (ESPN2): The Longhorns have already won in Morgantown.
Trends to watch
1. Oklahoma’s 45.3 three-point shooting percentage leads the nation, but a 6-for-24 effort in Saturday’s loss to Kansas State showed the Sooners can’t live by the jump shot.
2. West Virginia’s pressure defense has worked even with games more tightly called by NCAA mandate. “Press” Virginia leads the nation with 10.3 steals per game.
3. The Big 12 has sent seven teams to the NCAA Tournament the previous two years. There appear to be six locks today _ West Virginia, Oklahoma, Kansas, Texas, Iowa State and Baylor. A seventh will have to win its way in. Kansas State and Texas Tech are the top candidates.
Big 12 leaders (entering Monday)
1. West Virginia, 8-2, 19-4
2. (tie) Oklahoma, 7-3, 19-3
2. (tie) Kansas, 7-3, 19-4
2. (tie) Texas, 7-3, 16-7
5. (tie) Baylor, 6-4, 17-6
5. (tie) Iowa State, 6-4, 17-6
Remaining schedules (entering Monday)
Combined Big 12 record of remaining opponents in parentheses
West Virginia (39-41): at Kansas, TCU, at Texas, Oklahoma, Iowa State, at Oklahoma State, Texas Tech, at Baylor
Oklahoma (41-39): Texas, Kansas, at Texas Tech, at West Virginia, Oklahoma State, at Texas, Baylor, at TCU
Kansas (42-38): West Virginia, at Oklahoma, Oklahoma State, at Kansas State, at Baylor, Texas Tech, at Texas, Iowa State
Texas (46-34): at Oklahoma, at Iowa State, West Virginia, Baylor, at Kansas State, Oklahoma, Kansas, at Oklahoma State
Baylor (42-38): at Kansas State, Texas Tech, Iowa State, at Texas, Kansas, at TCU, at Oklahoma, West Virginia
Iowa State (37-43): at Texas Tech, Texas, at Baylor, TCU, at West Virginia, Kansas State, Oklahoma State, at Kansas