Kansas' hopes for a 15th consecutive Big 12 title took a hit this week, as the Jayhawks (16-5, 5-3) followed a loss to Kentucky with a listless 73-63 defeat at Texas. Bill Self & Co. enter Saturday's matchup behind four other teams in the conference ... but part of a glut of six programs within 1½ games of each other. Here's who ESPN.com's college basketball experts think will be still standing when all is said and done, in addition to their picks for the weekend's other marquee contests.
Who wins the Big 12? Is it OK to doubt Kansas now?
Myron Medcalf, senior college basketball writer: I'm not sure Kansas has ever looked worse in Bill Self's tenure. The Jayhawks are 6-5 since Dec. 18. But the power of Allen Fieldhouse is real. And this is a team that has five more home games. I think the Jayhawks will find their way through that slate to secure a piece of the Big 12 pie, but I'm not convinced they'll win it outright.
Jeff Borzello, college basketball Insider: Despite its struggles, I'm sticking with Kansas. I'm well aware the Jayhawks are not a good basketball team right now, but I also am not sure any particular team in the Big 12 is consistent enough to truly have confidence in moving forward. And if it comes down to one game or one day of games, I'll still roll with Self and a program that's won 14 of these in a row.
John Gasaway, college basketball writer: Baylor, Iowa State and Kansas State split the Big 12 title, possibly at 11-7. The Bears and the Cyclones look the best on paper performancewise, but K-State has righted the ship after a rocky start, plus Bruce Weber's guys own a huge road win at ISU. As for KU, I just don't have the scenario where it finishes first. It sure won't be with offense, and on D the Jayhawks were gashed in both games against Texas (even though Kansas won one of those). That surprised me. This whole Big 12 season is a surprise.
Jordan Schultz, Insider/analyst: I still like Kansas to win its 15th consecutive Big 12 title. Self undoubtedly has his work cut out for him, though, in large part due to Udoka Azubuike's season-ending injury. One thing is for sure: The Jayhawks must receive more consistent minutes from decorated freshman guards Devon Dotson and Quentin Grimes. Still, Dedric Lawson is enjoying an All-America-caliber season, and while Texas Tech, Baylor and Kansas State have all been impressive, none has the offensive and defensive firepower of KU. Kansas ranks in the top 30 in both offensive and defensive efficiency, per KenPom.com, and, in Lawson, it has perhaps the best player in the league.
Louisville went to Chapel Hill and rocked North Carolina 83-62 in mid-January in what was the worst home loss of the Roy Williams era. How do you see Saturday's return engagement going? (2 p.m. ET, ESPN)
Borzello: I think Louisville poses a lot of problems for North Carolina, and some of that was reflected in the earlier matchup. The Tar Heels continue to prefer playing Luke Maye at the 4, and he has a lot of trouble guarding Jordan Nwora. And Steven Enoch, given his size and touch, will cause issues for Garrison Brooks. With that said, part of the reason Louisville dominated North Carolina three weeks ago was the Tar Heels shot 3-for-22 from 3 -- and Carolina has made 47 of 102 since then. I think the Tar Heels will start making shots and get some form of revenge.
Medcalf: To Borzello's point, I think Maye is the key here. North Carolina is 7-1 when he scores 15 or more points this season. He scored 9 against Louisville earlier this season. Against teams with an athletic edge at the 4 and 5, he has struggled (see: Texas, Michigan, Kentucky, Louisville). I think an inconsistent Maye is a problem again in North Carolina's second loss to the Cardinals this season.
Gasaway: Louisville is for real and give all your best "doing a heckuva job" phrasings to Chris Mack, because he certainly has earned them. That being said, "worst home loss in 15 years" is by its very essence something of a blip, and, that game notwithstanding, UNC in ACC play has looked a lot like, well, the Cardinals. So, yes, this should be the close game between two elite teams we were expecting the first time around. I'll take the Cards in front of the home crowd.
Schultz: North Carolina has transformed itself since then, specifically offensively, where the Heels are finally running. With them leaning more on blue chipper Nassir Little and the sterling play of fellow freshman Coby White, we are finally bearing witness to the offensive juggernaut we all hoped to see in November. Take Carolina's dominant 103-82 win over 10th-ranked Virginia Tech last week: Little was a menace, tallying 23 points and six rebounds, while collecting three assists, as well. White notched a career-high 27 points, showcasing his dynamic scoring ability all over the floor. Better yet, the added pace resulted in more open looks from 3, on which the Heels capitalized, burying 16 of their 34 attempts. Williams desperately wants his athletes to run, and as his team learns how to take care of the ball, it will only continue improving.
Tennessee is 19-1 as it heads to Texas A&M on Saturday (8 p.m. ET, ESPN), and ESPN's College Basketball Power Index (BPI) has the Vols with 3.4 projected losses entering the SEC tournament. You taking the over or the under on that number, and why?
Medcalf: I'll take the under. The only team I see beating Tennessee is maybe Kentucky in Lexington. The problem with facing Tennessee is that the Vols are a terrible matchup for most opponents with Grant Williams and Admiral Schofield playing positionless ball. Also, they're a great free throw shooting team (77 percent), so you're probably not going to win a tight game down the stretch against this group. I don't see the Vols losing four games before the SEC tournament.
Borzello: Under. Who is Tennessee going to lose to the rest of the way? Assuming they split with Kentucky, the only other games that should pose a true issue for the Volunteers are at LSU on Feb. 23 and at Auburn on March 9. I don't think they're going to lose both games, leaving them at three losses heading into the SEC tournament.
Gasaway: Over, if a difference of 0.6 really qualifies as "over." The Volunteers have to lose a mere three more times to arrive at a "4" in the loss column going into the conference tournament, and this is a different SEC these past couple seasons than what we're used to seeing. LSU can beat Tennessee in Baton Rouge. Auburn can beat Tennessee at Auburn. Kentucky can most certainly beat Tennessee, either in Lexington or in Knoxville. Are the Volunteers going to lose all four of those games? No way, but throw in a road trip to Ole Miss, and the "over" looks doable.
Schultz: Under! Tennessee just keeps getting better. The Vols have two excellent players in reigning SEC Player of the Year Williams and Schofield. The versatile duo is why Rick Barnes' club boasts the nation's second-best offensive efficiency, per KenPom. But the difference with this team is its toughness and improved ability to shut down half-court offense. Tennessee guards sit down in their stances as well as anyone, thwarting dribble penetration and using supreme quickness to mitigate ball screens. The No. 1-ranked team in college basketball is slotted 27th nationally in defensive efficiency, per KenPom.
Myron made a plea earlier this week for more midseason "events" like last week's SEC/Big 12 Challenge. If you were the college hoops czar for a day, what in-season matchup or event would you create?
Borzello: I think we can sort of mix up the style of the old BracketBusters and the style of the Champions Classic into one thing. Make it three or four games, at a neutral site, maybe in Las Vegas or in the Final Four city, on the Saturday before Super Bowl Sunday. And it's going to be four top-10 power-conference programs against four of the best non-power-conference programs. Imagine it this season: Ja Morant and Murray State against Duke. Gonzaga against Virginia. Nevada against Michigan State. Buffalo against Tennessee. I'll make some calls and get it going.
Medcalf: Well, I'll co-sign Jeff's idea. That's beautiful. But I'd also set aside one day for rivalry games, but all at the same site. We could do this in alternating years at Madison Square Garden. Give us Louisville-Kentucky, Michigan-Michigan State, Duke-North Carolina and maybe Kansas-Kansas State on one Saturday in January. I know it's crazy. And it messes up conference schedules, and everyone would say no. But I don't care. Let's give fans the kind of one-day entertainment experience that would get everyone talking about college basketball midway through the season. It would be like college football's New Year's Day slate.
Schultz: I love where Jeff is on this. How good would Morant against Markus Howard be? Or Zion Williamson against Grant Williams? Better yet, think of the drama surrounding a Buffalo-Kentucky rematch (remember Bulls coach Nate Oats' comments on John Calipari)? Let's get the top non-power schools and put them on a neutral floor with the top teams in the country.
Gasaway: I've been on my soapbox for the following idea for a while now with zero success, but then Steve Kerr stole it, so I must not be completely crazy. I want a coaches' holiday the Saturday before the Super Bowl. It can be a four-team, one-day event at a neutral site, and every team there is coached in that game by the players themselves, just like Golden State did in a game against Phoenix last February. It's the ultimate test of coaching, right? Have you coached your players so well that they can win without you barking out instructions every second for 40 minutes? Let's find out.
ESPN.com expert picks for this week's top games
(Lines, published as they become available, from the Westgate Las Vegas SuperBook.)