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Big 12 Enters League Play Stronger Than Ever

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After a record-setting run through non-conference play, the Big 12 begins league action tomorrow. Let’s take a look at what could be the deepest conference in the nation.

Michael C. Johnson-USA TODAY Sports

The Big 12’s reign of terror in non-conference play came to a close this week with the league posting a 98-20 overall record. The league’s .835 winning percentage against out of conference opponents was the best of any league in the nation. After beating up everybody else, the Big 12 now turns to conference play with the league as strong as it has ever been.

Entering the opening weekend of play, the Big 12 boasts five teams in the AP Top 25 as well as two others receiving votes. Kansas and Oklahoma have each spent the majority of the season in the top five in the nation, as the two schools are barreling down on what could be the first ever #1 vs. #2 showdown in league play on Monday. In total, nine of the league’s 10 teams have either been ranked or receiving votes so far this year. (I’ll let you figure out who the only holdout is.) Seven of the league’s 10 teams have 10 or more wins and two or fewer losses.

Big 12 Splits 1

Big 12 Matrix

For the first time in the new-look Big 12, there is a pretty clear divide between the top and bottom half of the league. Through non-conference play, it still looks like this is Kansas’ league to lose, however the Sooners might have something to say about that. Iowa State, West Virginia, and Baylor each look like legitimate contenders once March rolls around.

The bottom half of the league features a trio of teams still trying to prove their worth. Texas Tech has jumped out to a red-hot 10-1 start, and the Red Raiders want to show that their handful of quality wins is no fluke. Kansas State is off to a similarly hot 10-2 start, but the Wildcats are still looking for their first signature win. Texas knocked off #3 North Carolina to open the season, but a foot injury to star center Cam Ridley has the Longhorns entering Big 12 play with more questions than answers. Injuries have also hampered TCU and Oklahoma State, who are each off to 8-4 starts.

Let’s take a look what each Big 12 team achieved during non-conference play and what to expect in the new year.

Baylor Bears: 10-2 overall, 23rd in AP Poll

Key Win: vs. #16 Vanderbilt
Losses: at #25 Oregon, at #24 Texas A&M

The Bears struggled in their two biggest tests of the non-conference portion of the season, falling in road contests against Oregon and Texas A&M. However, Baylor did pick up a big home win over Vanderbilt in early December. Outside Vandy, the Bears don’t have any other quality wins. Their next best victory was a 97-55 win over a 7-5 Stephen F. Austin team. Baylor’s 10-2 start is largely thanks to their relatively weak non-conference schedule.

But that’s not to say the Bears aren’t a legitimate threat in league play. BU features four double-digit scorers, led by Rico Gathers and his 14.1 points and 11.0 rebounds per game. Taurean Prince has shined so far this season, averaging 15.5 points and 5.9 boards. Al Freeman and Johnathan Motley round out the team’s top scorers and are each lethal shooters.

Iowa State Cyclones: 11-1 overall, 11th in AP Poll

Key Wins: at #22 Cincinnati, vs. Iowa
Loss: vs. Northern Iowa

Iowa State was the only ranked Big 12 team to fall to an unranked opponent as the Cyclones were upset at home by Northern Iowa in mid-December. However, ISU is off to an 11-1 start despite a relatively challenging start to the season that featured four power conference opponents. In addition to a major road win at Cincinnati, the Cyclones knocked off Iowa, Virginia Tech, Illinois, and Colorado.

Perhaps the biggest storyline surrounding Iowa State this season is the loss of Naz Long. The team’s dynamic senior guard was averaging 12.0 points per game before being forced to the sideline for the rest of the season due to complications resulting from offseason back surgery. Despite the loss of Long, the Cyclones look like a Final Four contender under first year head coach Steve Prohm. Georges Niang leads the team with 19.2 points per game on 52.7% shooting from the field. Monte Morris and Jameel McKay are each adding 14.5 points per game, while McKay is pulling down a team-high 9.9 boards per game. Iowa State has emerged as a serious contender for the league title and possess the weapons to make a deep run in the NCAA Tournament.

Kansas Jayhawks: 11-1 overall, 2nd in AP Poll

Key Wins: vs. #19 Vanderbilt, vs. UCLA, at San Diego State
Loss: vs. #13 Michigan State

After falling to Michigan State in the Champions Classic, the Jayhawks rolled through their competition at the Maui Invitational, capturing the Championship in the prestigious non-conference tournament. KU enters Big 12 play on the hells of impressive wins over Harvard and San Diego State. With the addition of Chieck Diallo, the Jayhawks have all the pieces in place to make a serious run at the Final Four.

A trio of upperclassmen lead the charge for Kansas, highlighted by senior Perry Ellis’ 15.1 points and 6.2 rebounds per game, both team highs. Junior Wayne Selden and Frank Mason are each averaging over 13 points per game, helping provide balance to a lethal scoring attack. The Jayhawks, who enter league play with the 6th highest scoring offense in the nation at 87.2 points per game, count heavily on a deep bench of talented shooters. It’s going to take a wild string of events to prevent Kansas from capturing their 12th consecutive Big 12 Championship this season.

Kansas State Wildcats: 10-2 overall

Key Wins: vs. Missouri, at Georgia, vs. Saint Louis
Losses: vs. #9 North Carolina, at Texas A&M

After being selected to finish 8th in the Big 12 preseason poll, the Wildcats have jumped out to a 10-2 start to the season. With solid wins against Missouri on a neutral court and Georgia on the road, paired with a couple of close losses to North Carolina and Texas A&M, Kansas State enters conference play with reason to be hopeful. Head Coach Bruce Weber is getting the most out of a fairly reconstructed roster after an offseason that saw a handful of players transfer away from the program.

Key returners Wesley Iwundu and Justin Edwards have sparked the Wildcats run through non-conference play. Iwundu has been one of the best shooters on the team, averaging 13.3 points per game on 49.6% shooting from the field. Edwards isn’t far behind, adding another 13.0 points and a team-high 5.8 rebounds per game. Newcomer Dean Wade has been a bright spot so far as well, averaging 10.8 points and 5.6 rebounds each night.

Oklahoma Sooners: 11-0 overall, 3rd in AP Poll

Key Wins: vs. #9 Villanova, vs. Wisconsin, vs. Washington State
Losses: None

Oklahoma will enter Big 12 play as one of just three undefeated teams in the entire country. The Sooners knocked off Washington State, Hawaii, and Harvard in the span of four days to capture the Diamond Head Classic title last week. With a big neutral site win over a top-10 ranked Villanova team, OU is proving that they can make a Final Four run themselves.

Not surprisingly, the Sooners have been led by national Player of the Year candidate Buddy Hield. After winning the Big 12 scoring title a year ago, the senior is averaging a league-best 24.9 points per game. Jordan Woodard and Isaish Cousins are each contributing over 13 points per game as crucial role players. Ryan Spangler is averaging a double-double with 10.3 points and 10.0 rebounds per game. The only weakness of this Sooners team may be their lack of depth. Only the five starters see more than 15.0 minutes per game.

Oklahoma State Cowboys: 8-4 overall

Key Win: vs. Minnesota
Losses: vs. George Mason, vs. Tulsa, vs. Missouri State, vs. Florida

The Cowboys started 3-0 before star guard Phil Forte was sidelined with an arm injury. Since losing their top scorer, OSU is 5-4. What’s more concerning is that Oklahoma State has lost four games despite a relatively easy non-conference slate. The Cowboys dropped back-to-back home games against Tulsa and Missouri State before rebounding to knock off Minnesota and take Florida to the brink.

Prior to the injury, Forte was averaging a team-high 13.3 points per game. Jeff Newberry and Jawun Evans have helped fill that void with double-digit scoring averages of their own. Newberry also leads the team in total rebounding, with 5.9 per game. Despite missing three games with his own injury, Leyton Hammons has been a top performer for Travis Ford’s bunch, contributing 10.7 points and 4.9 boards per game.

TCU Horned Frogs: 8-4 overall

Key Win: vs. Illinois State
Losses: vs. South Dakota State, vs. Rhode Island, vs. SMU, at Washington

The Frogs will enter Big 12 play still looking for their first quality win of the season. Despite leading late against South Dakota State, Rhode Island, and SMU, the Frogs dropped all three would-be resume-building contests. After a 25-point road loss to Washington, TCU has rebounded to win four straight non-conference games to improve their record to 8-4 entering Big 12 play.

A pair of transfers has led the Frogs to begin the season. Vladimir Brodziansky is averaging a team-high 13.9 points to go along with 5.8 rebounds. His 60.7% shooting percentage from the field is also one of the best in the league. Fellow transfer Malique Trent is adding 12.2 points and 3.5 assists per game. Leading rebounder Karviar Shepherd is off to a hot start to his junior campaign, adding 9.2 points and 7.4 boards for the Horned Frogs.

Texas Longhorns: 8-4 overall, RV in AP Poll

Key Wins: vs. #3 North Carolina, at Stanford, vs. Washington
Losses: vs. Washington, vs. #25 Texas A&M, vs. Michigan, vs. Connecticut

After a 2-3 start to the year, the Longhorns put together six straight victories, including a home win over 3rd-ranked North Carolina. However, just after Christmas Break, double-double machine Cameron Ridley suffered a fracture in his foot, sidelining the senior center indefinitely. Texas fell to Connecticut in the team's only game without their top big man, allowing UConn to score 40 points in the paint.

It will take a team effort for UT to replicate Ridley’s 12.7 points and 10.0 rebounds per game. The Horns' other bigs – Prince Ibeh and Shaquille Cleare – have combined to average 3.7 points and 5.9 rebounds. Isaish Taylor and Javan Felix have been the team’s other scoring leaders so far, contributing 15.1 and 10.1 points per game, respectively. In Ridley’s absence, Connor Lammert becomes the team’s leading rebounder with 5.3 per game.

Texas Tech Red Raiders: 10-1 overall, RV in AP Poll

Key Wins: vs. Mississippi State, vs. Minnesota
Loss: vs. #16 Utah

Led by a Hall of Fame-caliber head coach in Tubby Smith, the Red Raiders have turned heads with their 10-1 start to the season. Texas Tech picked up several solid wins during the non-conference slate, including victories over Mississippi State, Minnesota, South Dakota State, and a previously 10-0 Arkansas –Little Rock team. In fact, the team’s only loss was a 10-point decision to 16th-ranked Utah in the Puerto Rico Tipoff Tournament.

The team’s top two seniors have been lighting up the competition. Devaughntah Williams is averaging a team-high 14.5 points per game while Toddrick Gotcher is adding another 11.2 each night. Sophomore Zach Smith has burst onto the scene, leading the team with 6.8 boards per game in addition to his 10.4 points each night. He is also the best shooter on the team, connecting on 55.4% of his shots from the field. With continued success, the Red Raiders could finish near the middle of the pack in a loaded Big 12.

West Virginia Mountaineers: 11-1 overall, 19th in AP Poll

Key Wins: vs. San Diego State, at Virginia Tech
Loss: vs. #10 Virginia

West Virginia has made up for their lack of quality non-conference opponents by blowing out their opposition. The Mountaineers have won their 11 games by an average of 28.7 points. WVU has just one single-digit victory, a 67-59 decision over Richmond in late November. However, the team’s only real test resulted in a 70-54 loss to a 10th-ranked Virginia team.

Junior Devin Williams has been the most impressive performer thus far, adding 15.5 points and 9.1 rebounds per game. His 57.3% shooting percentage is also tops on the team. Three more high-flying Mountaineers contribute to a scoring offense that ranks in the top 15 in the nation. Jevon Carter is adding 13.0 points per game while Daxter Miles and Jaysean Paige are also averaging in double-figures. Bob Huggins’ high-scoring squad also features a tough defense that leads the nation with 12 steals per game.

Felts Predictions

Game-by-Game


Baylor

Iowa State

Kansas

Kansas State

Oklahoma

Oklahoma State

TCU

Texas

Texas Tech

West Virginia

at Baylor

---

2/16
BU

2/23
KU

1/20
BU

1/23
OU

1/5
BU

1/13
BU

2/1
BU

2/13
BU

3/5
BU

at Iowa State

1/9
ISU

---

1/25
ISU

2/27
ISU

1/18
ISU

2/29
ISU

2/20
ISU

2/13
ISU

1/6
ISU

2/2
ISU

at Kansas

1/2
KU

3/5
KU

---

2/3
KU

1/4
KU

2/15
KU

1/16
KU

1/23
KU

2/27
KU

2/8
KU

at Kansas State

2/10
BU

1/16
ISU

2/20
KU

---

2/6
OU

1/23
KSU

3/2
KSU

2/22
KSU

1/12
KSU

1/2
WVU

at Oklahoma

3/1
OU

1/2
OU

2/13
KU

1/9
OU

---

2/24
OU

2/2
OU

2/8
OU

1/26
OU

1/16
OU

at Oklahoma State

1/27
BU

2/6
ISU

1/19
KU

2/13
OSU

1/13
OU

---

1/2
OSU

3/4
OSU

2/20
OSU

2/27
WVU

at TCU

2/27
BU

1/23
ISU

2/6
KU

2/16
TCU

3/5
OU

2/8
TCU

---

1/9
UT

1/18
TCU

1/4
WVU

at Texas

2/20
BU

1/12
ISU

2/29
KU

1/5
UT

2/27
OU

1/16
UT

1/26
UT

---

2/6
UT

2/16
WVU

at Texas Tech

1/16
BU

2/10
ISU

1/9
KU

3/5
TTU

2/17
OU

2/3
TTU

2/23
TTU

1/2
TTU

---

1/23
WVU

at West Virginia

2/6
BU

2/22
WVU

1/12
WVU

1/26
WVU

2/20
OU

1/9
WVU

2/13
WVU

1/20
WVU

3/2
WVU

---

Final Big 12 Standings

Team

Big 12 Record

Overall Record

Kansas

16-2

27-3

Oklahoma

15-3

26-3

Iowa State

14-4

25-5

West Virginia

13-5

24-6

Baylor

12-6

22-8

Texas

5-13

13-17

Kansas State

4-14

14-16

Oklahoma State

4-14

12-18

Texas Tech

4-14

14-15

TCU

3-15

11-19