The Big 12 has been the class of college basketball all season, and on Saturday Kansas made an argument for being the class of that conference.
Just a couple hours after Texas struggled with last-place Oklahoma, the No. 7 Jayhawks notched a statement win against No. 9 Baylor.
Trailing by as much as 17 in the first half, Kansas completed a stunning 34-point swing with four minutes to play, taking an 80-63 lead, and eventually finishing off an 87-71 win.
With the win, Kansas moves into a tie with Texas for first place in Big 12 standings, with each program sitting at 10-4. Baylor, meanwhile, sits at 9-5.
Baylor hit nine 3-pointers in the first half to take a 45-32 lead into the locker room, but a 55-point blitz from KU after the break was Baylor’s undoing. Kansas hit 63.3% of its shots in the second half and 50% from long distance. The biggest 3 came from Gradey Dick, whose trey with 14:29 gave Kansas the lead for good.
Four Jayhawks scored 14 points or more, led by Jalen Wilson’s 21; he also grabbed 13 rebounds and one steal. Dajuan Harris scored 14 and dished out nine assists, committing just one turnover.
Kansas recorded only four turnovers the entire game. For that ball handling, plus their impressive comeback, the Jayhawks are on top of Saturday’s biggest winners and losers list. That’s fitting, given the conference they’re in.
BRACKETOLOGY: Kansas is new No. 1 seed and Kentucky rejoins tournament field
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LAWRENCE, KANSAS – FEBRUARY 18: Kansas’ Gradey Dick celebrates a basket against Baylor during the second half of their game at Allen Fieldhouse in Lawrence, Kansas on Feb. 18, 2023.
Michigan and Michigan State
The final score might have read 84-72 in favor of Michigan but make no mistake: There was no loser in this matchup, one of the most heated rivalries in college sports.
Less than a week after a gunman opened fired on their campus and killed three students, the Spartans returned to the court and gave a gutsy performance in the road loss. There were reminders everywhere of what had just happened: Michigan players wore T-shirts that read, “Michigan basketball stands with MSU” and thousands in the arena held up signs that said, “Spartan Strong.”
Michigan State didn’t score in the final 2:29 of a game that featured nine lead changes and 11 ties, but the Spartans’ play was more about bringing a grieving community together in the wake of tragedy. At a vigil honoring the victims Wednesday, Michigan State coach Tom Izzo gave a moving speech where he told those gathered, “Let’s do a better job taking care of each other. We need each other.”
Saturday, the Spartans and the Wolverines did exactly that.
The Big 12
The NCAA Selection Committee previewed its top 16 seeds Saturday morning, sharing with viewers who would earn the top four seeds in each region if the tournament started tomorrow. Alabama was the overall No. 1 seed, but the biggest winner was the Big 12, which had five teams seeded 3 or higher. The conference was led by Kansas, the projected 1 seed in the West Region (the defending champions, the Jayhawks have been a 1-seed 15 times).
The Big 12 has been the best conference in the country all season – it currently has six teams ranked in the USA TODAY Sports Coaches Poll and could get as many as eight teams in the tournament. It’ll be a relief for these teams to see someone new in the NCAA tournament, and given what a grind their regular season is, don’t be surprised if many of them dance deep into March. Bottom line: These teams are battle-tested and ooze toughness.
Are the Wildcats sick of all the talk about being on the bubble or potentially missing the tournament altogether? Sure seems like it based on their shellacking of No. 11 Tennessee in Rupp Arena. Considering how each squad played, you’d never know that Tennessee knocked off No. 1 Alabama earlier this week.
Four Kentucky players scored in double figures and the Wildcats hounded the Vols on defense, forcing Tennessee into an ugly shooting night while also outrebounding them, 40-32. That’s one way to get back into the selection committee’s good graces. On Saturday at least, Kentucky absolutely passed the eye test and looked like a team that belongs in the NCAA tournament. Can the Wildcats keep it up?
The No. 15 Hoosiers completed a comeback against pesky Illinois on Saturday, using the final 13 minutes to recover from a 48-39 deficit. Two free throws by Jalen Hood-Schifino with 30 seconds to play gave Indiana a lead and, eventually, a 71-68 win. The victory marked Indiana’s 15th win in a row at home.
Additionally, Trayce Jackson-Davis scored 26 for the Hoosiers, moving into No. 5 all-time and surpassing coach Mike Woodson on the school’s all-time scoring list. He also grabbed 12 rebounds.
Talk about an impressive come-from-behind win. Trailing by eight at halftime, No. 14 KSU turned 15 Iowa State turnovers into 19 points, coming back to beat the No. 18 Cyclones 61-55. Shooting 44% from the field, 45.5% from 3 and 91.7% from the line in the second half certainly helped matters. Markquis Nowell led KSU with 20 points, six rebounds and five assists.
The No. 3 Boilermakers have lost three of their last four, but their resume is still plenty impressive – which the selection committee acknowledged Saturday by giving them the No. 1 seed in the East Region. Maybe that’ll give Purdue a boost of confidence when it tips off against Ohio State (11-15, 3-12 Big Ten) Sunday morning at 1 p.m. ET.
Lots of people make too many assumptions when a team loses a conference game to an unranked or lower-ranked opponent. Though frustrating, those losses can often be overblown because no one scouts you as well as your conference.
That being said, the Vols looked all out of sorts Saturday in Lexington, losing 66-54 as they shot an abysmal 37.3% from the field and 22.2% from 3. They were brutal from the foul line, too, hitting just 28.6% of their attempts.
Tennessee might have only lost by 12, but the final score was deceiving – the Wildcats were in command by double digits the entire game and probably could have won by 30 if they wanted. It’s the first time Tennessee’s been swept by Kentucky during the regular season since 2011-12.
What a miserable last year for longtime coach Mike Brey. The Irish lost 57-55 at No. 6 Virginia on Saturday, the team’s fifth consecutive road loss by five points or less. Notre Dame’s Dane Goodwin had a good look at a potential game-winner, but his open 3 was off. The Irish are just 10-17 overall, and a heartbreaking 0-8 on the road.
Trailing 85-83, the Sooners had a chance to take down No. 5 Texas in Austin after the Longhorns missed one of two free throws with 6.8 seconds to play in overtime but Sam Godwin couldn’t convert a close look, and the Sooners lost. You don’t get a lot of opportunities to knock off a top-five team, and it would have done wonders for the Sooners’ confidence, as OU is in last place in Big 12 standings.
One week after beating Kentucky 75-68, Georgia got smoked by No. 1 Alabama, 108-59 (yes, you read the score correctly). The Bulldogs let the Tide shoot 62% from the field and 47% from 3 and were outrebounded 49-26. Georgia got beat in every facet of the game, and the final stat sheet wasn’t pretty. Maybe Kirby Smart can be in charge of basketball recruiting too?
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Kansas, Big 12 highlight biggest winners from men’s college basketball