By Wendell Barnhouse | email@example.com
The final four is making an early appearance in the Big 12.
There are four Conference games remaining for each team and the top five teams in the standings are poised for a fantastic finish. Saturday's results brought no surprises. Kansas and Kansas State, tied for first place, each won easily. Oklahoma State remained alone in third place with a tough-minded victory at West Virginia while Oklahoma and Iowa State kept pace with no-sweat triumphs.
And the final two weeks of the regular season gets off to a big start with a Big Monday game. Kansas travels to Iowa State (8 p.m., ESPN) in a rematch of the season opener for both teams. The Jayhawks won that game in overtime thanks to Ben McLemore banking in a 3-pointer at the end of regulation.
"I remember it," Cyclones coach Fred Hoiberg said of the shot. "I don't think I'll ever flush the memory."
Iowa State won its 22nd consecutive game in Hilton Coliseum with an 86-66 victory over a Texas Tech. That was a revenge game for the Cyclones - they lost to the Red Raiders in Lubbock. But the Kansas loss, as Hoiberg indicated, is a game that has haunted Iowa State.
"We played them well at their place," Iowa State's Will Clyburn said of Kansas. "We can do better here."
Kansas is trying to win its ninth consecutive Big 12 title. The Jayhawks ceded any margin for error in the race with a three-game losing streak. One of those losses was a stunning 62-55 defeat at TCU. The Jayhawks beat the Horned Frogs, 74-48, Saturday - KU's fourth consecutive victory.
"They're playing better than anybody in our league again," Hoiberg said of Kansas. "They're getting the ball moving. Their big guys are a load. ... I think (freshman Ben McLemore) is the most talented player in the country."
The nine points scored in the first half by TCU were the fewest in any half in the last 15 years of Big 12 games - the fewest the Jayhawks had ever allowed in a Big 12 game. And they were the fewest allowed in a half by Kansas since Cornell scored nine on Jan. 2, 1996.
"That first half," Kansas coach Bill Self said, "that's as focused and the best we've been as far as both ends of consistency in a long time. That was the best we've executed and moved the ball, and also the most active we've been defensively.
"Iowa State scores easier than anyone in our league," Self said. "We were fortunate we got a win the first time. We're going to have to play our best game away from home."
Kansas State will be keeping a close watch on the game in Ames. Two of the Wildcats' three Big 12 losses were against Kansas. K-State, which made 9-of-18 from 3-point range to win at Kansas, has one game (March 9 at Oklahoma State) remaining against a team with a winning Big 12 record.
"We're trying to win a championship you know?" said Kansas State guard Angel Rodriguez, who had 16 points and six assists. "We've got to play at a high level. We've still got a couple of games. If we keep doing what we do, we should be all right."
Kansas: Coach Bill Self will be seeking the 500th win of his career against Iowa State.
Kansas will be playing in its 65th Big Monday game. The Jayhawks are 48-16 and have made four Big Monday appearances each of the last seven seasons.
Kansas State: The Wildcats have tied their school record for Big 12 wins (11).
Under first-year coach Bruce Weber, Kansas State has won 22 games. That's the most wins for a first-year K-State coach before conference tournament play.
Kansas State is trying to become the third team to win championships in football and men's basketball in the same school year. Oklahoma (2004-2005) and Texas (2005-06) are the other Big 12 schools to accomplish that feat.
Oklahoma State: The Cowboys' Big 12 road woes over the last few were well documented. But an unexpected victory at Kansas jump-started Oklahoma State's season. Saturday's victory at West Virginia made the Cowboys 4-3 in Big 12 road games this season.
Oklahoma State has won 20 or more games for the fourth time in the last five seasons and the 18th time in the last 23 years.
The Cowboys have won 10 Big 12 games for the first time since 2004-05.
Oklahoma: Senior point guard Sam Grooms has played significantly more with freshman Buddy Hield out with a broken foot. Grooms, who was second in the Big 12 in assists last season, has been impressively productive. He has scored a total of 53 points over the last three games; he had scored a total of 54 in the first 22 games.
The Sooners have three players averaging at least 17.7 points last over the last three games: Steven Pledger at 19.7, Romero Osby at 18.7 and Grooms at 17.7. All are shooting at least 54 percent from the field.
Iowa State: The Cyclones have scored 80 points or more in four-straight league games for the first time since the 2000-01 season, averaging 86.5 points in their last four games. Melvin Ejim and Tyrus McGee have been major factors.
Ejim has posted a double-double in four of the last five games, averaging 15 points and 11.2 rebounds during that span. McGee, one of the nation's top sixth men, is averaging 17 points per game and shooting 53 percent from 3-point range over his last five games.
Iowa State is 3-10 on ESPN's Big Monday. The Cyclones' last appearance was a 78-58 loss against eighth-ranked Texas at Hilton Coliseum on Jan. 9, 2006.
For the top five teams in the Big 12 standings, here's a look at their final four regular-season games. Current Big 12 records are in parentheses.
Feb. 25 Kansas (11-3)
March 2 at Oklahoma (9-5)
March 6 Oklahoma State (10-4)
March 9 at West Virginia (6-8)
Combined opponent record: 36-20
Feb. 25 at Iowa State (9-5)
March 2 West Virginia (6-8)
March 4 Texas Tech (2-12)
March 9 at Baylor (7-7)
Combined opponent record: 24-32
Feb. 25 Texas Tech (2-12)
March 2 at Baylor (7-7)
March 5 TCU (1-13)
March 9 at Oklahoma State (10-4)
Combined opponent record: 20-36
Feb. 27 at Texas (4-10)
March 2 Iowa State (9-5)
March 6 West Virginia (6-8)
March 9 at TCU (1-13)
Combined opponent record: 20-36
Feb. 27 at TCU (1-13)
March 2 Texas (4-10)
March 6 at Iowa State (9-5)
March 9 Kansas State (11-3)
Combined opponent record: 25-31