Gardner tourney to host KU recruit

By Rustin Dodd

It’s lining up to be a convenient basketball recruiting week for Kansas. The nation’s No. 1 overall player in the class of 2015 — combo guard Malik Newman — is expected to be in KU’s own backyard this week, competing in the Under Armour Jayhawk Invitational in Gardner.

In the world of AAU basketball, schedules and rosters can fluctuate at the last minute, but Newman, a 6-foot-3 guard from Jackson, Miss., is slated to play for Mo Williams Academy, which will open the tournament at 8:20 p.m. Friday against Kansas City-based Run GMC at New Century Fieldhouse, 551 New Century Parkway.

Run GMC features Blue Springs South standout Kevin Puryear, Lee’s Summit’s Drew Lock, who has committed to play quarterback at Mizzou, and Columbia Hickman standout Jimmy Whitt.

Kansas coach Bill Self, of course, is still working on adding some final pieces to his 2014 recruiting class. But while KU waits for decisions from five-star center Myles Turner and rising point guard Devonte Graham, Newman figures to be one of Self’s top targets in the 2015 class. Self and assistant Jerrance Howard conducted an in-home visit with Newman earlier this month.

Newman, who has led Jackson-Callaway High School to three straight Mississippi state titles, has drawn heavy interest from Kentucky, Duke, Baylor, Missouri (before the departure of Frank Haith), Memphis, as well as Kansas. The list of suitors is longer than that, of course. But Newman still has an entire summer before he begins his senior year of high school.

Rivals’ recruiting analyst Eric Bossi likened Newman’s game to former UConn star Ben Gordon, an athletic combo guard with a scorer’s mentality.

Rivals’ scouting report described him as a “a scoring machine who is virtually unstoppable on the offensive end. (Newman) has a beautiful jumper that features deep range and he’s plenty capable of creating off the dribble; has a body that is built for contact. Ideally, (Newman) will develop more point guard skills because he is slightly undersized as a two.”

At least two other five-star recruits are expected to be in town this weekend: Diamond Stone, a 6-foot-10 center from Milwaukee, will play for the Young Legends team that opens the tournament against 1 Nation at 7:10 p.m. Friday at the New Century Fieldhouse. Stone is rated as the No. 3 overall player in Rivals’ 2015 class, holding offers from more than a dozen schools.

Stone will face off against 1 Nation’s Josh Jackson, a Detroit shooting guard rated as Rivals’ No. 1 overall recruit in the class of 2016. Jackson holds scholarship offers from Kansas, Louisville, Ohio State, Memphis and Oregon, among others, according to Rivals.

Embiid’s father hopes son back in uniform soon

By Rustin Dodd

In the minutes before Kansas faced Oklahoma State on Thursday afternoon, Thomas Embiid stood up from his seat in a far corner of the Sprint Center and surveyed the scene.

His son, Kansas freshman center Joel Embiid, is shut down for this weekend’s Big 12 Tournament with a stress fracture in his back. But Thomas Embiid is still hopeful he’ll see his son play in person before the end of the season, saying his son’s back injury wasn’t “too serious.”

“It’s improving,” Thomas Embiid said. “Hopefully he can come back soon.”

Thomas Embiid and Joel’s mother, Christine, traveled to Kansas City this weekend from their native Cameroon. Thomas Embiid plans to travel back to Cameroon after the tournament but would like to return to see Kansas play in the NCAA Tournament. When asked if he thought Joel would be able to return before the end of the season, Thomas Embiid said: “I don’t know. Hopefully he can.”

Thomas Embiid said he was pleased with the way Kansas and coach Bill Self had handled his son’s back issues. He also downplayed Embiid’s looming decision to potentially enter the NBA Draft after his freshman season, saying his son would make his decision after the season.

This is Thomas Embiid’s second trip to the United States to see Joel play. He also visited in November.

Turner to visit KU basketball

Myles Turner, the top unsigned basketball recruit in the country, will take an official visit to Kansas on March 5. Turner’s father, David, confirmed the visit to multiple outlets on Wednesday.

A 6-foot-11 center from Euless, Texas, Turner will attend Kansas’ Senior Night game against Texas Tech, the same game that KU freshman Andrew Wiggins visited last season before committing to KU in early May. Kansas coach Bill Self later said that he game-planned to throw multiple lobs to KU guard Ben McLemore, hoping to impress Wiggins.

Turner is rated as the nation’s sixth-best prospect, according to Rivals.com. His current list of options still includes Arizona, Duke, Kansas, Kentucky, Ohio State, Oklahoma State and Texas. He has visited Oklahoma State and SMU and will take a visit to Duke on March 8. He may also visit Kentucky, according to multiple reports.

Kansas has signed two players in its 2014 class — Chicago power forward Cliff Alexander and swingman Kelly Oubre of Findlay Prep in the Las Vegas area. The Jayhawks’ scholarship situation still remains fluid. The expected departures of senior forward Tarik Black and freshman wing Andrew Wiggins will open up two scholarships, while freshmen Joel Embiid and Wayne Selden Jr. will also have NBA decisions to consider.

Turner would be an obvious reinforcement if Embiid, a potential top-two pick, decides to enter the draft. So all signs point to Turner waiting until April to choose a school. Huntington prep guard JaQuan Lyle visited Kansas during its victory over Oklahoma on Monday.

Post-Sooner thoughts

By Rustin Dodd

One day after No. 5 Kansas clinched a share of its 10th straight Big 12 title, The Bonus returns with three takeaways from the Jayhawks’ 83-75 victory over Oklahoma.

Yes, Naadir Tharpe says. He’s heard it.

Sometimes, he’ll stumble upon the critical shrapnel on Twitter. Sometimes he’ll get a text message or call from his high school coach, Jason Smith of Brewster Academy in New Hampshire.

“Kansas fans,” Tharpe recalls Smith saying. “They try to kill you, Naa.”

Maybe it’s a bad turnover at an inopportune time. Maybe it’s a defensive breakdown. But usually — well, almost always — it’s his shot-selection. Last season, while serving as Kansas’ backup point guard, Tharpe had a tendency to fire up an off-balance jumper early in possessions. He was the seventh-leading scorer on a KU team that basically played seven players. But his shot selection often suggested the confidence of Ray Allen.

So Kansas fans would joke about the #NaadirTharpeHeatCheck, or they would question a step-back 18-footer with 29 seconds left on the shot clock, and Tharpe would just try to roll with it.

“I just laugh at it,” Tharpe says.

The truth is, Tharpe says, he doesn’t know how to play any other way. When he was a point guard at Brewster, one of the top prep schools in the country, the roster was loaded with future pros. He played alongside Thomas Robinson and Syracuse standout C.J. Fair. Iowa State senior star Melvin Ejim came off the bench. And yet, Tharpe was never shy about taking the big shot.

This goes back a ways, Tharpe says. When he was growing up in Worcester, Mass., Tharpe’s older brother and mentor, Tishaun Jenkins, used to pound the following point home.

“If you can’t take making that shot and everybody loving you — and you can’t take missing a shot and everybody hating you — you shouldn’t be playing this game.”

So it was on Monday night. No. 8 Kansas trailed Oklahoma 59-56 with 9:18 left. The Jayhawks were in danger of suffering their second home loss of the season. And Tharpe rose to the moment, finishing with 14 points and two assists in the final nine minutes as KU clinched its 10th straight Big 12 championship

“He closed the game the way good players close games,” Kansas coach Bill Self said. “The way point guards close games. All the teams that have a chance to win, or have great seasons, they all have guys that can close.”

In his junior season, Tharpe is getting closer to becoming that guy. Let’s take a look at one stretch in particular. The Jayhawks had taken a 74-68 lead after a three-pointer from Andrew Wiggins with 2:45 to play. But on two consecutive possessions, Oklahoma challenged Tharpe to make a play — and Self gave Tharpe the freedom to make it.

On the first possession, with more than 1:52 left, Oklahoma shaded two guys on Joel Embiid and extended the defense on Wiggins on the wing.

The lane wasn’t totally open, but the Sooners’ defense was extended enough. All Tharpe needed to do was get his shoulders past one defender and the help-side defenders were too afraid to leave Perry Ellis or Embiid. Tharpe pulled up in the lane and hit a short jumper.

The next possession was even more open.

With more than a minute left, and the lead now just at 76-71 after an Oklahoma three, the Jayhawks’ other four players flattened out along the baseline. Tharpe beat his man off the dribble, and once again, the help was late. Of course, it’s tough to leave Embiid or Ellis alone on the block. So Oklahoma coach Lon Kruger picked his poison. And Tharpe carried the Jayhawks to a victory.

“When you don’t run offense,” Self said, “and you just put the ball in his hands and say ‘Go make a play’, that’s what good teams do. And that’s how you have to score in the NCAA Tournament a lot of times.”

2. Jamari Traylor, offensive weapon. We don’t often think about Traylor’s offensive prowess, and for good reason. A redshirt sophomore forward, Traylor has taken just 58 shots this season. The Jayhawks almost never play through him on the post. But Traylor, who is playing 15.1 minutes per game, might be on his way to becoming the most efficient part-time player of Self’s tenure.

After going two for two on Monday against Oklahoma, Traylor is shooting 74 percent on the season. He’s been even better in Big 12 play, hitting 28 of 38 (78 percent). No player in Self’s tenure has ever shot 70 percent from the floor while shooting more than 75 shots. Traylor could be the first.

For comparison: Mark Randall holds the KU record for field-goal percentage in a season (minimum 175 shots). He hit 64.6 percent in 1989. KU freshman Joel Embiid (62.4 percent) has an outside chance at that mark.

3 Wayne Selden’s future. In the moments after Monday’s game, Self was asked freshman Wayne Selden Jr.’s leadership skills. Self began to answer the question, suggesting Selden could be one of his best leaders at Kansas … but then he stopped.

“Who knows how long these kids stay in school,” Self said. “But he’ll be one of the better leaders we’ve had at KU if he’s in school long enough, because he gets it. He gets it.”

While Embiid and Wiggins will be projected lottery picks in this summer’s NBA Draft, Selden’s future could be a little more cloudy. In some mock drafts, he’s projected as a late first-round pick. For now, it appears Self doesn’t want to publically presume that Selden will be back at Kansas next year. But if he sticks around, Self says, he has the tools to grow into one of his best leaders.

“Wayne’s not scared of his voice,” Self said.

OU-KU pregame talk

By Rustin Dodd

As we wait for No. 5 Kansas to tip off against Oklahoma on Monday night at Allen Fieldhouse in Lawrence (8 p.m. on ESPN), here are five things to know about the matchup:

1. Where does Kansas’ Big 12 title streak rank?

With a victory tonight against Oklahoma, Kansas can clinch its 10th straight Big 12 championship. The streak, according to the NCAA record book, would be tied for the third longest conference title streak in history.

13, UCLA, Pac-8/10, 1967-79
11, Gonzaga, WCC, 2001-11
10, Connecticut, Yankee, 1951-60
10, UNLV, Big West, 1983-92
9, Kansas, Big 12, 2004-
9, Idaho St., Rocky Mtn., 1953-61
9, Kentucky, SEC, 1944-52

2. Wiggins and awards

Andrew Wiggins is building a compelling case for Big 12 player of the year honors. Before we get to that, here are two quick caveats: 1. There are still four games left in the Big 12 season — that’s 22 percent of the conference slate — so it may be a little early to discuss postseason honors. 2. You could argue that freshman center Joel Embiid has been Kansas’ most important/dominating player for stretches, but foul trouble and injuries have limited his minutes. (He’s averaging just 22.6 per game and missed Kansas’ home victory against TCU.)

But for now, here are some of the most convincing arguments for Wiggins:

He’s the most productive player on a top-five team that will likely win the Big 12 by multiple games. And …

Using Ken Pomeroy’s player-of-the-year metric, Wiggins has been the most valuable player in the conference. After Saturday’s victory over Texas, Wiggins is averaging 16.4 points and 5.9 rebounds per game. The offensive numbers aren’t gaudy, but …

He’s the best rebounder from the guard position that Self has had at Kansas, pulling down 8.4 percent of available offensive rebounds when he’s on the floor. So yeah …

His offensive numbers could be slightly more efficient. He’s hitting just 49 percent from inside the three-point line, a fine clip but a shade below some of the top players in the country. (Doug McDermott is making 55 percent, while Duke’s Jabari Parker is at 51 percent. And both of those players are carrying a bigger offensive load.). But Wiggins’ two-way ability — he often guards the best scorer on the opposing team — had made up for some of the offensive struggles.

The Big 12 has some other solid candidates; DeAndre Kane might be the most complete guard; Melvin Ejim is probably the best scorer; and Juwan Staten might carry West Virginia back to the NCAA Tournament. But as Baylor coach Scott Drew said on the Big 12 teleconference on Monday, “To the victors go the spoils.”

That might be what separates Wiggins.

3. Oklahoma’s offense

Sophomore forward Ryan Spangler doesn’t shoot as much as Cam Clark or Buddy Hield, but Spangler is by far the Sooners’ most efficient offensive player. A transfer from Gonzaga, Spangler is shooting 62.5 percent from inside the three-point line.

Spangler battled foul trouble in Oklahoma’s loss to Kansas in Norman, scoring just four points on two-of-three-shooting in 23 minutes. So if Oklahoma wants to hang with KU inside Allen Fieldhouse, Spangler will need to supply some more offense in the frontcourt.

4. Defensive test

For a Kansas team that is trying to take another step on defense before March, Oklahoma should provide an intriguing test. The Sooners, which entered Monday ranked 12th nationally in offensive efficiency, will probably be the best offense Kansas sees until the NCAA Tournament. (West Virginia, 15th in offensive efficiency, might also have an argument). Oklahoma can shoot it from the outside (the Sooners score nearly 30 percent of their points on threes) and sophomore guard Buddy Hield (70 for 182 on threes) can clip off a lot of them.

5. Tharpe’s shooting

Naadir Tharpe is suddenly in a shooting slump. Perhaps that’s all it is, but the junior guard is still just two of 19 in his last three games — all KU victories. He’s also hit one of 13 from three-point range during the same span. Before the season, Kansas coach Bill Self said Naadir Tharpe had to be the Jayhawks’ most valuable player. But during the NCAA Tournament, the Jayhawks may need his outside shooting just as much as his intangibles.

Tharpe, before his shooting skid, has been the Jayhawks’ most reliable outside shooting. If he isn’t making shots, Kansas can struggle to find offense from three. In a one-and-done tourney, a cold shooting night could doom KU.

Why KU’s Justin Wesley couldn’t talk about his role in ‘Jayhawkers’

By RUSTIN DODD
The Wichita Eagle

LAWRENCE — The NCAA has a lot of rules. Here are a couple more.

Kansas senior forward Justin Wesley was able to be cast in a lead role of the movie “Jayhawkers”, which premiered on Friday in Lawrence. He could be paid and everything. But at the official premiere, Wesley could not say a word about his performance or the film in general.

Why?

During the playing season, the NCAA does not allow athletes to “make any endorsement, expressed or implied, of any commercial product or service.”

Upon request, the KU compliance office supplied the specific bylaws and rules that barred Wesley from talking about his first starring film role.

Here’s the explanation:

Based on bylaw 12.4.1, Wesley could be paid for his role in the movie. As long as it was “(a) Only for work actually performed; and (b) At a rate commensurate with the going rate in that locality
for similar services.”

But based on bylaw 12.5.3, which deals with “media services”, Wesley couldn’t talk about the film on Friday. He’d be, based on one interpretation, endorsing a commercial product. They sold tickets
last night, and the makers of the film are presumably trying to make some money on the film.

As far as NCAA policies and bylaws go, this one probably isn’t worth a grand protest. But it is interesting. Most KU basketball players do dozens of media interviews each season, essentially
promoting and implicitly endorsing the product of Kansas basketball and college hoops. They sell tickets to KU basketball games, too, you know, so those media interviews certainly help the school
and program.

In some ways, Wesley’s role in “Jayhawkers” wasn’t all that different. He was working with a KU film professor — director Kevin Wilmott — doing something educational and constructive with his time,
and exploring another potential career path. (Wesley has previously expressed interest in pursuing other acting roles after his college basketball career is over.)

But he couldn’t do interviews that might help his (potential) acting career. Not during the season at least.

Self on interacting with fans

By Rustin Dodd

In the aftermath of the Marcus Smart fan incident at Texas Tech on Saturday, Kansas coach Bill Self said he rarely speaks to his team about how to handle fans’ taunts or specific arenas.

“We don’t talk about the seating arrangement or how close the fans are,” Self said Monday on the Big 12 coaches’ teleconference. “But the whole thing, you don’t communicate with fans, and it’s water off your back.”

Smart, the reigning Big 12 player of the year, pushed a Texas Tech fan after barreling into the stands in the final seconds of Saturday night’s game in Lubbock. The fan, a Texas Tech supporter named Jeff Orr, later said he called Smart a “piece of crap” but denied using any racially charged language.

“The thing that’s always concerned me the most is the storming of the court,” Self said. “You have a bumping that could escalate into something else. But I’ve never addressed anything with my team.”

Of freshmen and the NCAA final

By Rustin Dodd

LAWRENCE — So youth has been the story in college basketball this season, here in Kansas and throughout the country.

From the rather premature 40-0 talk at Kentucky, to the early-season dominance of Jabari Parker, to the fog of hype and scrutiny surrounding Andrew Wiggins, to the midseason rise of Joel Embiid. It’s been a year for the uber-prospect — even if the most productive (and perhaps best) player in college basketball is a four-year senior who didn’t think he was good enough to play in the Big 12.

But as we move closer to March, brace yourself for more talk about youth. Can a team dependent on freshmen be the last one standing at the Final Four in Arlington, Texas?

It’s a good question to ponder, so let’s start here:

In the last decade, only one team has won the NCAA title with freshmen playing more than 50 percent of the minutes. And only two teams have won with freshmen playing more than 40 percent of the minutes. More evidence for experience: From 2004 to 2013, freshmen played, on average, just fewer than than 21 percent of the minutes for the team that won the title.

So what does it mean? Maybe not as much as you’d think. Most freshmen don’t play a ton of minutes, because well, most freshmen aren’t very good. It’s rare that freshmen-centric teams win the title, but that’s partly because freshmen-centric teams are rare to begin with.

Still, recent history suggest it’s possible:

– Two years ago, Kentucky won it all in New Orleans with freshmen Anthony Davis, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist and point guard Marcus Teague leading the way. The Kentucky freshman class played 54 percent of the minutes.

– In 2011, Connecticut won the championship with a surprising tourney run; junior guard Kemba Walker did most of the heavy lifting, but the Huskies’ freshmen played 47 percent of the minutes.

– And last year, Michigan went to the NCAA title game with a class of freshmen that accounted for 51.4 percent of the Wolverines’ minutes.
All of those teams, of course, had veterans (well, sophomores at least) playing crucial roles. Kentucky had Terrence Jones and Doron Lamb; UConn had Walker; Michigan had Trey Burke and Tim Hardaway Jr.

That brings us to this year, and two freshmen-dominated teams.

In 22 games, Kentucky’s crop of McDonald’s All-Americans have played 74.6 percent of the minutes for John Calipari. That is, quite simply, taking freshmen dependence to the extreme. (In a preseason study, Sports Illustrated found only two teams that have relied that much on freshmen: Michigan’s Fab Five, which played 68.5 percent of the minutes; and Texas in 2006-07, which was Kevin Durant’s class.)

Meanwhile, in Lawrence, Bill Self’s freshmen have played nearly 57 percent of the minutes — a profile much closer to Anthony Davis and Co. than the Fab Five. So while we’ll likely spend the next few months gauging the development of Wiggins and Embiid, maybe we should remember this: The emergence of junior guard Naadir Tharpe has been just as key to the Jayhawks’ 8-1 record in the Big 12.

Here it comes, the same question for the next two months: Is Kansas too young to do damage in March? It’s a worthwhile debate, but it also obscures this point: If you’re going to win with freshmen, you need the right freshmen, of course. But you also need the right mix.

So while KU’s freshmen play 57 percent of the minutes, the Jayhawks’ tourney prospects could hinge on the veterans — the other 43 percent.

Here’s a look at the percentage of minutes freshmen played for the last 10 NCAA champions:

2013: Louisville, 8.1 percent

2012: Kentucky, 54 percent

2011: Connecticut, 47 percent

2010: Duke, 14.8 percent

2009: North Carolina, 16.8 percent

2008: Kansas, 6.9 percent

2007: Florida, 7.8 percent

2006: Florida, 13.7 percent

2005: North Carolina, 14.0 percent

2004: Connecticut, 21.3 percent

 

Looking back at Ben McLemore’s banked three-pointer against Iowa State last year

By RUSTIN DODD
The Wichita Eagle

LAWRENCE There were 8.4 seconds on the clock, and Bill Self called for the play called “Chop.”

In the end, when the situation is most dire, when the wreckage is nearly unsalvageable, Self always calls Chop.

This was no different. It was last year January, a Wednesday night in Allen Fieldhouse, and Kansas trailed Iowa State by three points in the final moments of regulation. Kansas was 8.4 seconds away from losing its first Big 12 opener in more than two decades. And so the Jayhawks went to the familiar script of Chop, the same play Mario Chalmers had once made famous against Memphis.

A dribble handoff. A ball screen. A fade screen on the other side of the court. If you ask Kansas players why “Chop” almost always seems to deliver in the final seconds, they’ll usually say the same thing: Options.

“There’s nothing magical about that action,” said Brett Ballard, a former Jayhawks player who worked on the KU staff before taking an assistant coaching job under Danny Manning at Tulsa. “I think it’s good action, but that dribble handoff kind of catches people off guard a little bit, and then if you don’t switch it, you can get hung up on that screen. And that allows that shooter to get free.”

In the final seconds against Iowa State, Naadir Tharpe pushed the ball down the floor, flipping the ball to Elijah Johnson, who used a ball screen from Jeff Withey. On the other side of the court, Travis Releford was carefully setting up to spring Ben McLemore on a fade screen.

In the Memphis game, of course, you might remember that the play never made it to this point. Chalmers took the handoff from Sherron Collins, unspooling a high, arcing shot over the outstretched arms of Derrick Rose.

Last year thought, the Jayhawks were looking for McLemore, who was just a little bit rushed. The shot came out of his hand quickly — a little too strong — before banking in with one second left.

The Jayhawks would hold on, winning 97-89 in overtime. You know, sometimes you need a little luck to go with all those options.

“When it left my hand,” McLemore would say. “I actually kind of called bank.”

On Tuesday afternoon, on the eve of Iowa State’s first return to Allen Fieldhouse since that night, the Jayhawks took a little time to reflect on McLemore’s game-tying shot.

“I knew it had a chance, because it was plenty hard enough,” Self said. “There was not way it was going to be short.”

“I didn’t know if we were going to come back and win,” forward Landen Lucas said. “And then when he hit that shot, I knew we were going to win in overtime. There was too much momentum. That was a big-time shot.”

“That’s Ben McLemore,” Naadir Tharpe said.

The “Chop” play is an end-game set that Self installed during the 2006-07 season, when the Jayhawks were having trouble finding a reliable option at the end of games. On one of the first days that Kansas worked on the play at practice, the story goes like this: The Jayhawks must have run through it 10 times, but Self wanted to run it more. So they ran it another 10 times. Over and over, they kept running it. Maybe 30 times.

A few months later, in the Big 12 tournament championship game, this happened:

“When you hear ‘Chop,’” former KU guard Conner Teahan said, “I just right away start to picture Mario, the ball releasing from his hands, with him knocking it down.”

Later on Tuesday night, a few hours after Self was done thinking about McLemore’s shot, I turned on the television and found myself watching the final seconds of the Creighton-St. John’s game.

The score was tied 60-60 in the final seconds, and the play looked eerily familiar. A point guard racing down the court. A dribble handoff. A ball screen. And Creighton’s Jahenns Manigat setting a quick fade screen for Doug McDermott.

It was, quite clearly, the old Chop play. This time, McDermott didn’t need a bank.

KU’s road to a 10th straight Big 12 title

In simple terms, Kansas’ magic number is 10.

That, of course, is the number of consecutive Big 12 regular season titles KU will own if the Jayhawks can hold onto a two-game conference lead over the season’s final 12 games.

But if we’re thinking about the Big 12 season in terms of a baseball pennant race, that’s also the Jayhawks’ “Magic number” — the combination of KU wins and losses by Oklahoma, Oklahoma State and Texas that the Jayhawks (6-0) would need to clinch the title.

For example: If KU finishes 10-2 over its last 12 games, it would clinch at least a share of the title; Texas (5-2), Oklahoma (5-2) and Oklahoma State (4-2) could still earn a share by doing the near impossible and winning out. If the Jayhawks finish 9-3, they would just need all three of those teams to lose one more game to clinch a 10th straight title.

The standings will look even different after Monday night. No. 11 Oklahoma State travels to No. 25 Oklahoma for the first round of Bedlam, and one of those teams will have three Big 12 losses.

It’s still early in the Big 12 race. Sticking with the baseball analogy, Kansas coach Bill Self has said the Jayhawks’ two-game lead is a little like being ahead in the third inning. It doesn’t matter.

But if you look a little deeper, you can see the impact of Kansas’ 6-0 start. While Kansas will no doubt suffer some setbacks in conference play, it would take one of two things to keep the Jayhawks from earning at least a share of the title: A KU collapse … or an unbelievable run from one of the other teams in the Big 12’s top six.

Let’s look at the contenders and their remaining schedules, with a little help from the projections at KenPom.com.

Kansas, 6-0

Five toughest games:

Iowa State, Wednesday

At Texas, Saturday

At Baylor, Feb. 4

At Kansas State, Feb. 10

At Oklahoma State, March 1

Breakdown: You could argue that Kansas’ home game against Oklahoma on Feb. 24 will be tougher than a trip to Baylor, which is currently 1-5 in the conference. But KenPom does not agree. He gives KU an 84 percent chance to beat Oklahoma at Allen Fieldhouse, while just a 67 percent chance to win at Baylor. The Jayhawks need to hold serve at home and take care of business on the road against Texas Tech and West Virginia. But if the Jayhawks manage that, they could go 2-3 against their five toughest games and still win the title with plenty of breathing room.

KenPom projection: 15-3

Texas, 5-2

Five toughest games:

Kansas, Saturday

At Kansas State, Feb. 8

At Kansas, Feb. 22

At Iowa State, Feb. 18

At Oklahoma, March 1

Breakdown: The Longhorns are one of the few teams in the Big 12 that can attempt to match up with Kansas in the paint. But after a surprisingly good start, their schedule is a little back-loaded. They still have to travel to Allen Fieldhouse, Bramlage Coliseum and Hilton Coliseum.

KenPom projection: 11-7

Oklahoma State, 4-2

Five toughest games:

At Oklahoma, Monday

Iowa State, Feb. 3

At Texas, Feb. 11

Kansas, March 1

At Iowa State, March 8

Breakdown: Oklahoma State is still in the best position to challenge KU, but the early-season loss at Kansas State hurts. To be a serious contender, the Cowboys need to beat Oklahoma on the road tonight, beat Kansas in Stillwater, and pick up at least one win in remaining trips to Texas and Iowa State.

KenPom projection: 12-6

Oklahoma, 5-2

Five toughest games:

Oklahoma State, Monday

At Iowa State, Saturday

At Oklahoma State, Feb. 15

At Kansas, Feb. 24

Texas, March 1

Breakdown: Bad news for Oklahoma: The Sooners still have road games at Iowa State, Oklahoma State and Kansas. You have to think that means at least two losses. That illustrates how crucial tonight’s home game against Oklahoma State will be for the Sooners.

KenPom projection: 11-7

Iowa State, 3-3

Five toughest games:

At Kansas, Wednesday

At Oklahoma State, Feb. 3

At Kansas State, March 1

At Baylor, March 4

Oklahoma State, March 8

Breakdown: The Cyclones face road games at KU and Oklahoma State in two of their next three games. But then the schedule softens: From Feb. 8 to Feb. 26, Iowa State has a six-game stretch that includes two games apiece against TCU and West Virginia and a home game against Texas Tech.

KenPom projection: 11-7

Kansas State, 4-3

Five toughest games:

Kansas, Feb. 10

At Baylor, Feb. 15

At Oklahoma, Feb. 22

Iowa State, March 1

At Oklahoma State, March 3

Breakdown: K-State has already played three of its toughest games, suffering losses at KU, Texas and Iowa State. To stay near the top of the standings, the Wildcats need to find a way to beat Kansas at Bramlage and pick off some road victories when they travel to Baylor, Oklahoma and Oklahoma State.

KenPom projection: 10-8