Kansas State upset makes Jayhawks title quest seem vulnerable

Kansas has conditioned Big 12 observers as well as Pavlov's dogs over the past decade, and many assumed the Jayhawks were headed for their 11th straight conference title.

But after Kansas State's 70-63 upset of the No. 8 Jayhawks on Monday, that space for a new Big 12 trophy in the Phog Allen Fieldhouse case will remain empty at least until March.

Iowa State (20-6, 10-4 Big 12) and Kansas (22-6, 11-4) are now tied in the loss column atop the Big 12 standings although the Jayhawks maintain a half game lead. Oklahoma (19-8, 10-5) looms just one loss behind Kansas.

The Sooners will have their say in March on the road at Iowa State and closing the regular season at home against the Jayhawks. The Sooners are the hottest team in the league, winning seven of their last eight games including one over the Cyclones.

West Virginia (21-6, 9-5) owns a last-second win over Kansas and could also be eyeing a shot at the crown should it win its remaining four games.

All of a sudden it looks as if Kansas is the vulnerable team in the Big 12 having lost three of its last six. The good news for the Jayhawks is all three of those losses came on the road and their next two games against Texas and the Mountaineers are at home.

But the loss, along with the other two defeats in February, might create some doubt in Lawrence, Kansas. More importantly, it might make the Sooners and Cyclones more confident that the Jayhawks' grip on the title can be broken.

KU coach Bill Self has more to be concerned with than the way the K-State students stormed the floor after the game.

The Jayhawks haven't been a team that gets to the free throw line a lot. They rank ninth in the league in terms of percentage point distribution from free throws according to Ken Pomeroy, so if they're not making shots they tend to struggle.

Freshman forward Cliff Alexander has seemingly regressed despite Self inserting him into the starting lineup. Alexander was held scoreless with only four rebounds against the Wildcats. He's totaled just six points and 12 rebounds combined in his last four games.

The past three games for sophomore guard Wayne Selden Jr. haven't been much better offensively. He's shot a combined 5-of-15, including just one 3-pointer in his last seven attempts, for 16 total points.

Perry Ellis it seems is the lone Kansas player who has been consistently good as his 24 points against Kansas State marked back-to-back outings of more than 20 for the first time this season.

It is a bit perplexing. Kansas had beaten its in-state rival 40 of 44 times in the Big 12 era entering the game. The Wildcats were reeling, having lost seven of eight games. Senior Thomas Gipson had even publically questioned their heart, telling the Topeka Capital-Journal, “We'll probably lose by 27, who knows?”

Gipson's thoughts hardly suggested a team with resolve.

K-State was led by reserve sophomore guard Nigel Johnson -- he of a 4.2 scoring average and four previous double-figure scoring games all season -- pumping in a career-high 20 points.

Sophomore Marcus Foster, arguably the most talented player on the team, missed three games for disciplinary reasons after the first meeting with Kansas. He didn't look like a malcontent Monday, only scoring six points, but wildly cheering his teammates on from the bench.

It's hard to tell if the Wildcats just summoned enough intensity to pull off an upset because seeing that smiling Jayhawk mascot generally gets them seething. It will only take until Saturday to find out, when Iowa State visits Manhattan, Kansas.

In the meantime, the Wildcats unexpectedly breathed new life into a league chasing the Jayhawks and made it just a tad tougher on their rivals to breathe easy.