Get ready for seven days that will sort out the Big 12 race

From ESPN - January 9, 2018

Yes, it's January, and, yes, there's a lot of basketball yet to be played.

Still, the schedule-makers -- and three close games won by home teams on Tuesday night -- have made January unusually crucial in the Big 12 this season. In particular, the next seven days will have a significant impact on the conference race.

Can Kansas extend its streak to an incredible 14 consecutive Big 12 titles? We will know a lot more than we do now in seven days.

First, consider the team the Jayhawks are already chasing ...

West Virginia can take control of the title race on Saturday ...

The Mountaineers survived a grueling test against Baylor on Tuesday in Morgantown and came away with a 57-54 win. It was a game in which Bob Huggins' team converted just nine of its 36 two-point tries, but again, it was a win.

If there's concern furrowing Huggins' brow, it could be that his team might not get a victory the next time it is held to less than a point per possession. Huggins has long won games with a combination of strong offensive rebounding and a minimum of turnovers. This season, however, that formula is proving more elusive.

The Mountaineers are still pretty good on the offensive glass (freshman Teddy Allen has been particularly good in that respect during limited minutes), but the WVU offense has given the ball away once every five trips down the floor early in Big 12 play. That has had a big impact on this team's shot volume.

Nevertheless, West Virginia sits atop the Big 12 at 4-0, the only team undefeated in league play. It's possible that the one-game lead the Mountaineers now have over KU, Texas Tech and Oklahoma could become a two-game lead within the next week. It would be difficult, but it's possible.

Next up for Huggins and his men is Saturday's game against the Red Raiders in Lubbock. West Virginia figures to get a big lift in that game, thanks to the return of Esa Ahmad. The 6-foot-8 junior has been held out of action this season after failing to meet NCAA eligibility requirements. He was the team's second-leading scorer last season behind Jevon Carter, and Ahmad should help the Mountaineers get more second chances on offense. His return is a boost to a team that is already 15-1 and ranked No. 2 in the AP poll.

Still, the trip to Lubbock, even with Ahmad, does not project to be a walk in the park.

... or Texas Tech can pull itself into a first-place tie on its home floor


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