With No. 7 Kansas picking up another surprising home loss to Oklahoma State on Saturday, the Big 12 regular-season race is wide open once again.
The Cowboys used impressive outside shooting and balanced scoring to race past the Jayhawks with an 84-79 Big 12 win — the second time in conference play the Jayhawks have lost at home. Using red-hot, first-half three-point shooting, and hitting timely shots in the second half, the Cowboys (14-9, 4-6) held a comfortable lead for nearly the entire game. Oklahoma State shot 44 percent (12-for-27) from distance while four players finished in double figures, led by big efforts from Kendall Smith (24 points) and Cameron McGriff (20 points).
This is a feel-good win for the Cowboys and first-year head coach Mike Boynton. It gives them an outside shot at the NCAA tournament and a huge boost of confidence following a three-game losing streak.
The real story, however, is Kansas losing another winnable game at home. The Big 12 race just got much harder for the Jayhawks. The loss also makes you question the validity of Kansas as an elite team this season.
Kansas (18-5, 7-3) is currently tied in the loss column with Texas Tech and Oklahoma in the Big 12 standings. A number of other schools are just a game or two outside of the conference’s top three teams. And with eight games remaining on the Big 12 schedule, there is still plenty of time for things to change.
Kansas losing to a team like Oklahoma State at home means that they’re capable of being defeated by anybody in the league on any given night. The Jayhawks still played a relatively good game on Saturday, but they were still soundly outplayed by one of the worst teams in the Big 12 at home. Outside of Lagerald Vick’s poor 2-for-10 shooting night, Kansas had four players in double figures and only 11 turnovers while shooting a respectable 36 percent from three-point range.
On most nights, Kansas can win with that.
The problem is, the Jayhawks didn’t have the depth and firepower to overtake a team that hit a flurry of three-pointers in the first half. This loss for Kansas was a bit reminiscent of when Wichita State lost at home to SMU a few weeks back. The Mustangs, just like the Cowboys, were knocking down tough and timely shots after building an early lead. Neither unranked home loss for Kansas or Wichita State felt like it was particularly bad. It didn’t feel like all the season was lost.
But both losses also made it feel as though Kansas and Wichita State might not be elite this season. Many had assumed both were elite since the preseason. It’s not that Kansas can’t still make the Final Four (or Wichita State, for that matter). It’s just that losses like this at home haven’t usually happened to these two programs the past few years. It gives an uneasy sense as Kansas tries to capture yet another Big 12 regular-season title.
Since that SMU loss, the Shockers have dropped two more games to unranked teams as they’re suddenly looking out of the American race while feeling like a good, but not great, team.
The Big 12 race is much tighter with a much tougher schedule. It would be silly to assume that Kansas will go on some sort of tailspin because of one home loss. But if the Jayhawks can lose to a team like Oklahoma State at the Phog, it does make you wonder about their future.