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No. 7 Texas Tech now the favorite to end Kansas’ reign atop the Big 12

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If the streak is going to end, if the one certainty in college basketball — that Kansas will win the Big 12 regular season title — is no longer guaranteed, this is the year for it.

For the first time since Bill Self inherited the Kansas program from Roy Williams back in 2003, Kansas lost four Big 12 games before Feb. 23rd after they fell at Baylor, 80-64. Hell, they’ve only done this five times in the previous 14 seasons. They’ve never lost more than five Big 12 games with Self as their head coach. It’s also the first time that Self lost three games in Phog Allen Fieldhouse in one year, the first time that two of those losses came by double-figures and, if things hold, the first time since the run of Big 12 titles started that Kansas will finish the season ranked as low as 15th in KenPom.

Put another way, this is as beatable as Kansas as ever been under Self.

But they’ve been beatable before. There just hasn’t been anyone in the league good enough to, you know, beat them, to take the Big 12 regular season title for their own.

In 2006, after beating Kansas by 25 points to take over sole possession of first place in the Big 12 by a game, Texas turned around and lost at Texas A&M their next time out. Kansas shared the title. In 2008, holding a one game lead in the Big 12 race with just three games remaining, Texas lost at Texas Tech, sharing another league title with the Jayhawks. In 2013, Kansas State entered the final Saturday of the regular season tied for first place with Kansas, but on a day where Baylor blew out the Jayhawks by 23 points, Kansas State couldn’t find a way to win at Oklahoma State. Again, they shared the title. Iowa State had a chance in 2015, but they lost two of their last four games of the regular season, and Kansas would eventually win the league title outright despite losing five Big 12 games that season.

Which begs the question: Is No. 7 Texas Tech actually good enough to be the team that gets this done?

We know it’s not going to be Oklahoma. The Sooners have now lost three in a row after they fell at Iowa State on Saturday. They’ve lost six of their last eight games and their last five road games with road trips to Texas Tech and Kansas left on the schedule. West Virginia might have a shot, but they still have to play at Kansas — who beat them in Morgantown — and get Texas Tech again.

So Texas Tech then.

It’s there for the taking, more than it’s ever been there before.

With just three weeks left in the regular season, the Red Raiders currently hold a one game lead on Kansas in the Big 12 standings after they went into Manhattan and snuffed out Kansas State the way closing the vents on a grill snuffs out the last remnants of heat on those coals. The final score was 66-47, and it never felt in doubt. It’s the sixth straight win for Chris Beard’s club, their third straight on the road after losing four of their first five road games.

The Red Raiders seem to have solved the issues they had adjusting to life without Zach Smith, who went down in early January with a broken foot, and as a result they’re playing some of their best hoop of the season.

But here’s the most important part: Texas Tech’s second game against Kansas is in Lubbock, where the Red Raiders have not lost a game all season long. Let’s assume that Kansas loses that game. Let’s assume that one of the toughest teams in college basketball beats up on a Kansas team that has lacked exactly that all year long. Let’s assume that one of the nation’s top three defenses, a team that allows opponents to shoot just 31 percent from three and forces turnovers on 24 percent of their defensive possessions finds a way to keep one of the nation’s most three-point reliant teams from getting hot beyond the arc.

Assuming all that happens, the Jayhawks will have to make up a two-game deficit just to earn a share of the Big 12 title. This is a Kansas team that lost at home to Oklahoma State. This is a Kansas team that lost by 16 points to Baylor, who entered Saturday in last place in the Big 12. They play West Virginia and Oklahoma and Iowa State’s Hilton Magic before they even face off with Texas Tech.

Considering where Chris Beard was six years ago — coaching an expansion ABA franchise that didn’t have a single player on the roster when he was hired in late July — it’s remarkable that he has gotten Texas Tech to this place in just his second season with the program.

But none of that will matter if Beard and Texas Tech cannot finish the job.

And for once, I think we finally have found a team that will be up to that task.

Washington’s Thybulle returning for senior season

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Matisse Thybulle will return to Washington for his senior season after contemplating declaring for the NBA draft following a junior campaign in which he was named the Pac-12 defensive player of the year.

“The NBA is really enticing and it was definitely something that I seriously considered when the season was over,” Thybulle told the Seattle Times. “I talked it over with my family and we came to the conclusion that it would be in my best interest to stay and get my degree (in communications) and grow as a basketball player and take this last year to mature and fine tune everything so I can be fully prepared to take that next step when it’s time.”

The 6-foot-5 guard averaged 11.2 points, 2.9 rebounds, 2.0 assists and 3.0 steals per game last season. He shot 44.5 percent from the field and 36.5 percent from 3-point range.

“I talked to coach (Mike Hopkins) and he gave me some good advice that was honestly something that helped in the grand scheme of things,” Thybulle said. “He told me that if I do it (enter the draft), then I should be all in because that’s what I’m going to be up against is a whole bunch of guys fighting for their lives. He thought it would be a better idea for me to stay in school until I’m at that point.”

Washington is awaiting the decision of Noah Dickerson, who declared for the draft but has not hired an agent. The 6-foot-8 averaged 15.5 points and 8.4 rebounds last season.

Koby McEwen transferring to Marquette

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Steve Wojciechowski added a significant piece to his 2019-20 team over the weekend.

Koby McEwen announced his intention to transfer to Marquette from Utah State late Sunday evening.

“I would like to thank God, my family, inner circle and all the schools/coaches that recruited me during this process!” McEwen tweeted. “With that being said, I’m proud to announce that I’ll be furthering my college career at Marquette University.”

McEwen picked the Golden Eagles over fellow finalists Creighton and Grand Canyon after he decided to transfer when the Aggies announced South Dakota coach Craig Smith was taking over the program last month. The 6-foot-4 guard averaged 15.6 points, 5.4 rebounds and 3.2 assists per game while shooting 40 percent from the field and 30 percent from 3-point range as a sophomore.

After sitting out the upcoming season, McEwen will have to years of eligibility remaining. Marquette went 21-14 last season, but missed the NCAA tournament for the third time in Wojciechowski’s four years in Milwaukee.

Minnesota adds Vanderbilt transfer Payton Willis

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Minnesota has added some depth for the future.

The Golden Gophers received a pledge from Vanderbilt transfer Payton Willis over the weekend, giving him a guard with two seasons of eligibility remaining starting in 2019-20.

Willis will sit out the upcoming season under NCAA transfer rules.

The 6-foot-4 guard played a limited role in two seasons in Nashville, never averaging more than 18. 5 minutes or 5.2 points per game. He scored in double figures in three games as a sophomore.

Willis was a top-150 prospect in the Class of 2016 coming out of Fayetteville, Ark. with offers from the likes of Tulsa, Rice and Dayton. Vandy and Minnesota were his two high-major offers.

After being ranked in the top-15, Minnesota was beset by injury and suspensions last season as they limped to the finish line in a 15-17 season that featured losses in 12 of its last 13 games.

Richard Pitino still has two available scholarships for the 2018-19 campaign.

Report: Quade Green returning to Kentucky

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John Calipari just landed a critical recruit for 2018-19, and he was already on the roster.

Quade Green, who averaged 25 minutes per game last season, is returning to Kentucky for his sophomore season, his mother told the Lexington Herald-Leader on Monday.

Given that six Wildcat players have entered the draft (Kevin Knox, Shai Gilgeous-Alexander and Hami Diallo are signing with agents), getting the 6-foot point guard back for a second season is a massive deal for Calipari and Co. The Wildcats have always been at their best under Calipari with returning players as the cornerstones of the roster with talented one-and-dones providing the extra boost. Getting one such returner at the point guard position is even more critical.

Green, who came to Kentucky as a five-star recruit last year, averaged 9.3 points and 2.7 assists per game while shooting 45.1 percent from the field and a respectable 37.1 percent from 3-point range, an area where Kentucky continually needs help.

With Green back in the fold, Kentucky will now await the decisions of PJ Washington, Wenyen Gabriel and Jarred Vanderbilt, who are all going through the pre-draft process without hiring agents, which will potentially allow them to return to school and bolster a Kentucky roster has the look of a top-five team.

CBT Podcast: NBA Draft Early Entry Deadline: Winners, losers and who has the most on the line?

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The NBA Draft Early Entry Deadline came and went on Sunday night, meaning there are now roughly 60 college players that have signed with an agent and another 100 or so that have declared for the draft while retaining their college eligibility. Who were the winners? Who were the losers? Who has the most on the line? Sam Vecenie of the Game Theory podcast joined Rob Dauster to talk through all of it. The rundown:

OPEN: What do NBA teams value in players these days?

10:00: Villanova has more on the line during this testing the water process than anyone

19:00: Just how important was De’Andre Hunter’s decision to return to Virginia

25:25: Gonzaga getting Rui and Killian Tillie back makes them a title favorite

32:10: Nevada has a top ten season on the line with the Martin twins and Jordan Caroline

36:15: #RANTALERT – The decision to turn pro is so much more complicated than “is he a first round pick”

48:30: Rapid fire: Maryland, Kansas, Syracuse, Nebraska, Purdue and Michigan. What do they have on the line?