Like a passenger jet flying above turbulence, Kansas went into the weekend above the churning that was taking place just below it in the Big 12 Conference standings. With an undefeated record, the Jayhawks were unlike the other five teams engaged in a cage match.
But now Kansas knows what it's like flying in coach instead of first class. Oklahoma State's 85-80 victory in Allen Fieldhouse Saturday reset the Big 12 race. The Jayhawks are still favored to win their ninth consecutive regular-season title but a large dose of doubt has been added.
"With this league race, all we did was invite everybody right back into it," Kansas coach Bill Self said. "Hopefully we can regroup. It's not panic mode or anything like that, but I know our staff feels the same."
Kansas escaped losing its Big 12 opener thanks to a banked 3-pointer that forced overtime. The Jayhawks won at Texas by five, at Kansas State by four and at West Virginia by five. Before scoring 80 against the Cowboys, KU had won six consecutive games without scoring more than 67.
"Like coach said we've been playing on borrowed time," Kansas senior forward Kevin Young said. "We've been cutting it close a lot. I mean it was bound to happen. Now that it did, we just have to spin it into a positive and come out and get better."
The biggest improvement needed appears to be at point guard. Senior Elijah Johnson, who last year was stellar in KU's run to the national championship game, moved from shooting guard to replace Tyshawn Taylor. The transition has been bumpy. Against Oklahoma State, Johnson had four turnovers with three coming in crunch time. He also missed 11 of 14 shots.
When Kansas was trying to steal the victory, Johnson found himself on the bench, replaced by seldom-used freshman Andrew White III.
"We needed something, and we were definitely a better team with him over there sitting down next to us," Self said. "I'm not putting it all on Elijah, but that was a really poor game."
Self later added, "We don't have a point guard."
The second half of the season will be interesting. Kansas will try to right the ship.
"We are just so frustrated with the toughness. Let's just call it like it is ... we are mentally tough in some ways, but physically this is our softest group of all time," Self said. "(Oklahoma State) kicked our (butt) in a late-game situation ... we didn't compete when we needed to compete.
"We definitely need to tweak some things. When you are winning it kind of camouflages some things. I've known all along that we haven't played as well as what our record indicated that we were."
A Crowded Field
Six teams are within two games of first place in the Big 12 standings. Here's a look at where the teams' losses have occurred and their remaining road games.
Kansas, 7-1: Home loss to Oklahoma State; victories at Texas Tech, at Kansas State, at West Virginia. Road games remaining at TCU, Oklahoma, Oklahoma State, Iowa State and Baylor.
Kansas State, 6-2: Home loss to Kansas, road loss to Iowa State; victories at West Virginia, TCU, Oklahoma. Road games remaining at Texas Tech, Kansas, Texas, Baylor and Oklahoma State.
Oklahoma State, 5-3: Losses at Kansas State, at Oklahoma, at Baylor. Victory at Kansas. Road games remaining at Texas, at Texas Tech, at West Virginia, at TCU, at Iowa State.
Iowa State, 5-3: Losses at Kansas, Texas Tech and Oklahoma State; victory at TCU. Road games remaining at Kansas State, Texas, Baylor, Oklahoma and West Virginia.
Oklahoma, 5-3: Losses at Kansas State and Kansas. Home loss to Kansas State. Victories at West Virginia, Baylor. Road games remaining at Iowa State, at Oklahoma State, at Texas Tech, at Texas, at TCU.
Baylor, 5-3: Losses at Kansas, at Iowa State; home loss to Oklahoma. Road games remaining at Oklahoma State, at Kansas State, at Oklahoma, at West Virginia, at Texas.
The Big 12 race will have another defining moment in Ames when Oklahoma visits Iowa State Monday (6 p.m., ESPNU). Both teams are playing the fourth game of a challenging five game stretch and both teams are riding the Up And Down Rollercoaster.
The Cyclones defeated Kansas State at home then lost at Oklahoma State and beat Baylor. After OU visits, Iowa State plays at K-State Saturday. The Sooners lost at Kansas, won at Baylor then lost at home to K-State. OU hosts Kansas Saturday.
"Oklahoma runs a lot of great stuff," Iowa State coac Fred Hoiberg said. "A lot of great actions. Lon Kruger is an excellent X's and O's coach, and those guys are very experienced.
"The most important thing right now is to get (his players) off their legs and get them some rest and at the same time try to prepare them as well as we can in 24 hours."
Oklahoma State's 85-80 victory at Kansas Saturday produced the "thrill of victory, agony of defeat" reactions you would expect.
Phil Forte of Oklahoma State:
"There's so much history and tradition here. To come into a place where they're No. 1 in one poll, No. 2 in another ... no one really gave us a chance to win the game. To walk out and the place is silent, it's probably one of the best feelings I've ever had playing the game."
Jeff Withey of Kansas:
"This one hurts, definitely. We don't really lose at home. The other time was against Texas two years ago. We wanted to pull this one off for coach (Bill Self). I know he wants to win against Oklahoma State every time just because it is his alma mater. We can spin this into a positive just like we have in the past with losses. ... We thought we were a lot better than what we were obviously and a loss like this will bring us back to the reality."
Oklahoma State defeated a top five team on the road for the first time since 1958 when the Cowboys defeated ... (wait for it) ... Kansas, 52-50 in overtime.
Oklahoma State coach Travis Ford played one season at Missouri before transferring to Kentucky. In his one season with the Tigers, they won at Kansas. Ford can now claim a rare double - winning in Allen Fieldhouse as a player and a coach.
Texas freshman Ioannis Papapetrou had 13 points and nine rebounds against TCU. Over the last six games, he is averaging 11.3 points per game and shooting 50 percent from the field.
Texas Tech trailed Wests Virginia by four points with just under seven minutes to play. But the Red Raiders turned it over on four consecutive possessions to help spark a 16-1 by the Mountaineers that was the difference in the visitors' 77-61 victory. "When the game was over we were kind of shocked," Texas Tech guard Ty Nurse said. "We kind of let it slip (away), turned the ball over too much. During those times it's crunch time, so every possession matters a lot."
Starting the month with a loss is not a good sign for Oklahoma. The Sooners are a combined 3-23 the last three seasons in the month of February.
Texas had a 19-point lead at home against TCU Saturday night and the visitors closed to within nine points before the Longhorns sealed a 60-43 victory. "We get a lead and I think we get lazy mentally," Texas coach Rick Barnes said. "We think we can take a little time off."
TCU shot 32.7 percent from the field, 15.4 percent from 3-point range and made just seven of 15 free throw attempts. "We didn't shoot it very well," TCU coach Trent Johnson said. "We haven't shot it well all year. [Texas] did a good job of sagging off our non-shooters, and we have a lot of them."
Kansas State swept the season series with Oklahoma for the first time since 1993. The Sooners swept the series last year. "Since I got here they talked about Oklahoma got them twice last year so they were able to get them back this year," K-State coach Bruce Weber said.