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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.

Elite Class of 2020 point guard to reclassify

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Nico Mannion, a five-star point guard from Arizona, announced on Friday that he will be reclassifying into the Class of 2019.

Mannion was a top 20 player in 2020 but, according to 247 Sports, he will be ranked No. 11 in 2019. The athletic, 6-foot-3 Mannion was long-rumored to be considering a move up a class because of his age. He’ll turn 18 in March of next year, meaning that he’ll arrive on campus the same age as a typical college freshman.

Mannion cut his list to ten schools in June — Duke, Arizona, Villanova, Kansas, USC, UCLA, Oregon, Vanderbilt, Marquette and Utah — but Duke and Arizona appear to be the favorites at this point.

Mannion plays his high school ball for Pinnacle High School in Phoenix and with West Coast Elite on the Under Armour Association circuit. He played for Team USA’s youth ranks, but his mother is Italian and, in June, he was called up to the Italian men’s senior national team, scoring nine points in 29 minutes of a FIBA World Cup Qualifier.

Nebraska to lose junior big man to transfer

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Nebraska’s frontcourt depth took a blow on Thursday as junior big man Jordy Tshimanga informed the program that he will be transferring.

“Jordy called me tonight and asked for his release,” head coach Tim Miles said in a statement that was given to the Lincoln Journal-Star. “The University of Nebraska and our program wish Jordy and his family the best.”

Tshimanga averaged 4.0 points and 4.6 boards in 13 minutes this past season, and a source close to the program told NBC Sports he wasn’t expected to play much more than that this season.

Miles’ has spent the better part of the last two seasons on the hot seat, and this certainly doesn’t make his job easier, but with the talent the Cornhuskers have on their roster, they look like an NCAA tournament team already. They bring back their top four scorers, including former five-star prospect Isaac Copeland and potential first-team all-Big Ten wing James Palmer. With or without Tshimanga, Nebraska has a shot to finish top four in the Big Ten.

North Carolina, UCLA, Michigan State part of Las Vegas event

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LAS VEGAS (AP) — North Carolina, UCLA, Michigan State and Texas will play in an early season basketball tournament in Las Vegas.

The Las Vegas Invitational will include games at campus sites, then the final two rounds on Nov. 22-23 in Las Vegas. North Carolina takes on Texas in one semifinal, and Michigan State faces UCLA in the other.

UNC, UCLA and Michigan State are all top 20 teams in the NBC Sports preseason top 25.

The championship is Nov. 23, and the semifinal losers also play each other that day.

NCAA to study possible effects of widespread legal wagering

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INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — The NCAA plans to study how the expansion of legalized betting could affect college athletics and member schools.

The NCAA announced Thursday it will create a working group of “subject matter experts” to assess areas such as officiating, NCAA rules, federal and state laws, and the use of integrity services. NCAA leadership has already called for federal regulation on sports betting. NCAA rules prohibit sports wagering by athletes and athletic department employees.

The Supreme Court opened the door for states to have legal wagering on sporting events when it struck down a federal ban in May. Schools in some states such as West Virginia, Mississippi and New Jersey are already exploring the possibility of collecting integrity fees in anticipation of legal sports books opening in their states.

“While we certainly respect the Supreme Court’s decision, our position on sports wagering remains,” said Donald Remy, NCAA chief legal officer. “With this new landscape, we must evolve and expand our long-standing efforts to protect both the integrity of competitions and the well-being of student-athletes.”

The NCAA Board of Governors has already suspended the association’s ban on holding championships in states with legalized sports betting, a policy that only affected Nevada.

“Legalized sports gambling across the country is rather new, but the NCAA and its members have committed significant resources over the years to policy, research and education around sports wagering,” said Joni Comstock, senior vice president of championships and alliances. “With student-athlete well-being as the centerpiece, we will continue to build upon these efforts to assist members as they adapt to legalized sports wagering in their states and regions.”

Arizona releases non-conference schedule

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A trip to Maui, a home date against Baylor and trips to UConn and Alabama highlight Arizona’s non-conference schedule, which the school released Thursday, this season.

Despite losing nearly the entirety of last year’s talented-but-troubled group, Sean Miller still scheduled aggressively. The first test will come the week of Thanksgiving in Hawaii at the Maui Invitational. It’s an extremely competitive field with Duke, Auburn, Gonzaga, Iowa State, Illinois, San Diego State and Xavier. The bracket for the event has yet to be released.

The Wildcats travel to Storrs to face UConn in Dan Hurley’s first season on Dec. 2, and then a week later visit Alabama in Tuscaloosa.

The marquee home game will be Saturday, Dec. 16, when Scott Drew and Baylor come to Tucson.

Here’s the full schedule:

Day Date Opponent Location

Sunday Nov. 11 Cal Poly Tucson, Ariz.

Wednesday Nov. 14 UTEP Tucson, Ariz.

Monday Nov. 19 vs. TBA Lahaina, Hawai’i

Tuesday Nov. 20 vs. TBA Lahaina, Hawai’i

Wednesday Nov. 21 vs. TBA Lahaina, Hawai’i

Wednesday Nov. 28 Texas Southern Tucson, Ariz.

Sunday Dec. 2 at UConn Hartford, Conn.

Thursday Dec. 6 Utah Valley Tucson, Ariz.

Sunday Dec. 9 at Alabama Tuscaloosa, Ala.

Saturday Dec. 15 Baylor Tucson, Ariz.

Wednesday Dec. 19 Montana Tucson, Ariz.

Saturday Dec. 22 UC Davis Tucson, Ariz.