Five intriguing Big 12 games to watch this season

TAMPA, FL - APRIL 07: Baylor guard Juicy Landrum (20) dribbles down the court in the NCAA Division I Women's National Championship Game between the Baylor Bears and the Notre Dame Fighting Irish on April 07, 2019, at Amalie Arena in Tampa, Florida. (Photo by Mary Holt/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)
TAMPA, FL - APRIL 07: Baylor guard Juicy Landrum (20) dribbles down the court in the NCAA Division I Women's National Championship Game between the Baylor Bears and the Notre Dame Fighting Irish on April 07, 2019, at Amalie Arena in Tampa, Florida. (Photo by Mary Holt/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images) /

In-state rivalries, momentum and the potential for some well-timed upsets highlight this slate of Big 12 games

When the runaway defending conference champions are also the defending national champions, it’s hard not to feel like it’s Baylor vs. The Entire Big 12 heading into the 2019-20 season.

Rest assured, the below list features what will perhaps be Baylor’s two toughest games, both on the road, just as they were last season. But this list also explores regional rivalries that have a little something extra this season, how new players could change things and more.

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Without further ado, here are five Big 12 games to look forward to that offer solid competition, intriguing storylines and unsung (and sometimes untested) stars:

Oklahoma at Oklahoma State — Jan. 8 at 8 p.m. ET, FSN

The Sooners mustered just four Big 12 wins last season, their lowest total since 1997-98. But head coach Sherri Coale was with the team through that, and she’s still with them this season as they look to bounce back and rebuild.

These teams split their season series last season, with each team winning at home. So why choose the Sooners on the road for this must-watch game? Well, with their previous two games coming against UConn and Baylor, a nice in-state rivalry game will shift expectations while maintaining the intensity they’ll have grown used to. The Cowgirls, on the other hand, will be coming off games against Duquesne and Kansas.

Oklahoma also returns six players who started at least half the team’s games and add two four-star recruits. With the depth they offer, especially against an Oklahoma State team that lost two of its key starters, this shuffle could tip things in the underdogs’ favor.

Kansas State at Kansas — Jan. 29 at 9 p.m. ET, FSN

Kansas won just two Big 12 games last season. But as this matchup appears on this list, you can guess who won of those two wins came against.

The issue for the Jayhawks in their quest to repeat that performance, though, is that their top three leading scorers from that game have all graduated. But in adding redshirt sophomore transfer Emma Merriweather and five freshmen, led by four-star recruit Zakiyah Franklin, there are a lot of options for head coach Brandon Schneider in the team’s rebuild. The odds might be long, but it won’t be impossible for this team to scrape together a home win in a rivalry game.

Sure, things could still get worse for Kansas — the option of winning just one or even zero conference games remains. But with a new-look team helmed by a coach in Schneider who has increased the Jayhawks’ overall win total in each season since his first, rebuilding isn’t as daunting as it seems. Neither, it seems, is getting at least a few big wins.

Baylor at Texas — Jan. 31 at 7 p.m. ET, FS1

Baylor may have won six of the last seven editions of the Big 12’s top in-state rivalry game, but Texas sure hasn’t made it easy. The Longhorns have kept it close in both of their last two home games, as well as their 2018 Big 12 Tournament game.

But what will it take for Texas to win its first game against Baylor since 2017 — which they won in Waco, no less? Consistency, for one: The Longhorns return four players who started 10 or more games, two of whom scored in double figures against the Lady Bears in their last game in Austin. They’ll also have the services of standout sophomore Audrey Warren, who didn’t play in that game, but scored six points in their meeting in Waco; plus, 2017-18 standout Lashann Higgs is due to return after suffering an ACL injury at the beginning of last season.

Of course, the addition of graduate transfer Te’a Cooper will reinvigorate Baylor’s already-stout roster after losing Kalani Brown and Chloe Jackson to the WNBA. But it’s unwise to count out Texas when they’ve been so close for so long to grabbing another big win against this powerful (and, especially for the state of Texas, local) opponent.

West Virginia at Texas — Feb. 17 at 8:30 p.m. ET, FS1

Since 2015, the Mountaineers are a whopping 3-10 against the Longhorns in both regular-season conference and Big 12 Tournament play. But the circumstances of those wins, and the current similarities between these teams, suggest a battle in 2020.

West Virginia’s three wins against Texas came at home in 2015, at a neutral site in 2017 (defeating them in the Big 12 semifinals en route to winning the conference championship) and, importantly, in Austin last season. After the dust settled, the Longhorns ended up third in the Big 12 standings, with the Mountaineers just a game back in fourth.

Both teams lost a major contributor from last season, retain a star and add a five-star recruit. They should stay close in the Big 12 standings this season, but importantly, West Virginia seems have its best chance to grab wins against Texas in consecutive seasons — even on the road.

But in case you want to prepare for this by watching West Virginia at home first, they host Texas on Jan. 12 (1 p.m. ET, FSN).

Baylor at Iowa State — March 8 at 1 p.m. ET, FSN

It’s not that either meeting between the conference’s top two teams last season was particularly close, but playing in Ames always offers a little something extra for visiting teams.

This game takes place on the very last day of the conference season, injecting extra importance into the result. Will Baylor have already steamrolled through the conference and just need this game to wrap up another undefeated campaign? What will Iowa State’s last-gasp Hilton Magic look like against one of the nation’s best? Could the Cyclones find themselves in position to grab the No. 1 conference tournament seed?

Six months and an entire season out, all we have now is speculation. And Iowa State still hasn’t beaten Baylor at home since 2015. But if there’s a chance for a last-day upset anywhere in the country, this will be the place to find it.

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