The Big 12 is the best conference in college basketball from top to bottom, and ranking the teams is never an easy task. So far this season, Big 12 teams have amassed a 97-21 record against non-conference opponents. The conference also has 5 teams currently ranked or receiving votes in the AP Top 25 and 7 teams ranked in the top 100 of the RPI. Also of note, new coaches in the Big 12 this season have gotten off to a combined 32-4 start.
Coming into the season, I thought the Big 12 would look something like this this season. With a majority of the non-conference out of the way and Big 12 play around the corner, it’s time to look at how teams currently rank. Some teams (Texas, Oklahoma) have been disappointing so far and other teams (Baylor, Oklahoma State) have exceeded expectations.
#1: Baylor Bears (12-0, AP: #4)
Big 12 Opener: @ Oklahoma (12/30)
It hurts me to do this, but Baylor has been the best team in college basketball so far this season in my opinion. Not only are they undefeated, but due to a strong schedule (weird for the Bears, I know), they are currently ranked #2 in RPI, only behind reigning national champion Villanova. The Bears so far this season have gotten wins over Oregon, VCU, Michigan State, Louisville, and Xavier. Junior forward Johnathan Motley has led the way for them this season, averaging 16 points and 8.7 rebounds per game. Motley is also shooting 51.2% from the floor. Manu Lecomte has also been effective for the Bears this season, averaging 11.6 points and 5.4 assists per game.
#2: Kansas Jayhawks (11-1, AP: #3)
Big 12 Opener: @ TCU (12/30)
Since dropping their season opener against Indiana in Hawaii, Kansas has been on a roll. The Jayhawks got their first win of the year over Duke and have also picked up victories over Georgia, Stanford, and Nebraska. Kansas enters Big 12 play ranked #8 in RPI and many people believe they are poised to win their 13th-consecutive regular season Big 12 title. Leading the charge for the Jayhawks this season have been senior guard Frank Mason and freshman phenom Josh Jackson. Mason leads the team in scoring and assists with 19.7 points and 5.8 assists per game and is also shooting 54.5% from the field. Jackson, an athletic wing from Detroit, is averaging 15.6 points and 6.5 rebounds per game and is shooting 52.9% from the field. Unfortunately for Kansas, they have lost center Udoka Azubuike for the remainder of the season due to a wrist injury.
#3: West Virginia Mountaineers (11-1, AP: #11)
Big 12 Opener: @ Oklahoma State (12/30)
Press Virginia is still a force to be reckoned with in the Big 12 and one of the favorites to compete for the conference title. The Mountaineers have not faced the toughest schedule this season, but they do have a win at Virginia and are currently ranked #47 in the RPI. They have blown out multiple opponents this season and are averaging 91.8 points per game while only allowing 58.3 points per game. The Mountaineers are #1 in the nation in forcing turnovers, getting other teams to give up the ball more than 26 times per game. Due to the blowouts, West Virginia has been able to rotate a lot of players and should be rested headed into Big 12 play. Players to keep an eye on for the ‘eers include Nathan Adrian and Jevon Carter.
#4: Oklahoma State Cowboys (10-2, AP: RV)
Big 12 Opener: vs. West Virginia (12/30)
Jamie Dixon isn’t the only new Big 12 coach exceeding expectations so far this season. Brad Underwood, the new head man in Stillwater, has Cowboys fans hoping for another trip to the NCAA Tournament. Oklahoma State finished 3rd in the Maui Invitational, one of college basketball’s premier in-season tournament, and are currently ranked #37 in the RPI. The Cowboys have gotten impressive wins over UConn, Georgetown, and Wichita State; all of which were either on a neutral court or on the road. The Cowboys are led by a backcourt of Jawun Evans, Jeffrey Carroll, and Phil Forte, who average a combined 49.5 points per game.
#5: TCU Horned Frogs (11-1)
Big 12 Opener: vs. Kansas (12/30)
TCU has exceeded nearly everyone’s expectations so far this season. The Frogs have gone 11-1 to open the year and are ranked #25 in the RPI. Some of the key wins for the Frogs have come over Arkansas State, Illinois State, and Texas Southern. Although they may not sound impressive, those schools have put together solid resumes thus far. TCU also picked up a pair of wins over Washington and their star freshman Markelle Fultz. Locking down a player of Fultz’s caliber should prepare TCU for some of the stars in the Big 12. The Frogs will be tested early facing both Kansas and West Virginia over the course of their first three conference games.
#6: Iowa State Cyclones (8-3, AP: RV)
Big 12 Opener: vs. Texas Tech (12/30)
Due to their three losses, the Cyclones have a deceptively low RPI ranking of #116, but don’t let that fool you. Two of their three losses came to Gonzaga and Cincinnati by a combined 3 points. Both of those teams are ranked highly in RPI and have a combined record of 22-2. Iowa State has thoroughly dismantled a majority of their opponents and their best win so far has come against Miami. The Cyclones are heavily dependent on what they can do offensively. They are averaging 92 points per game in their wins, but only 63 points per game when they lose. Four Cyclones are averaging double-digit scoring, led by Nazareth Mitrou-Long, who is putting up 15.3 points per game.
#7: Kansas State Wildcats (11-1)
Big 12 Opener: vs. Texas (12/30)
Kansas State has gotten off to a good start this season, but have not gotten a big win that makes me want to move them up higher. They have good wins over Boston College and Washington State, but both those teams will likely finish towards the bottom of their respective conferences. The Wildcats had a chance at a great win against Maryland, but narrowly lost 69-68. Their RPI ranking is #72 due to their 11-1 record and have a chance move up thanks to an early Big 12 schedule that includes Texas, Oklahoma, and Texas Tech in the first four games. The Wildcats have six players averaging 9+ points per game and their best player this season has been senior forward D.J. Johnson. Johnson is averaging 12 points and 7.1 rebounds per game and is shooting an impressive 66.3% from the field.
#8: Texas Tech Red Raiders (11-1)
Big 12 Opener: @ Iowa State (12/30)
Much like the Wildcats, Texas Tech finds itself towards the bottom of the list due to a weak schedule. The Red Raiders lost their best chance so far at a signature non-conference win when they dropped their match with Auburn, which puts them at #89 currently in the RPI. Although their opponents may not be the strongest, the Raiders have proven they can win games and should be competitive in the Big 12. Texas Tech has looked good offensively and has eight players averaging 7+ points per game, led by junior Keenan Evans with 13.4 points per game. The Raiders will also benefit going forward with the return of big man Norense Odiase. He will be key if they want to make a return appearance to the NCAA Tournament under new coach Chris Beard.
#9: Oklahoma Sooners (6-5)
Big 12 Opener: vs. Baylor (12/30)
According to the RPI, Oklahoma should be at the bottom of the Big 12, as the Sooners are ranked #173 in the nation currently. However, the Sooners come in at 9th in these rankings due to the fact that their losses are of slightly higher quality and they just have not looked as bad as Texas. Oklahoma has dropped three games in a row heading into Big 12 play and are likely to lose a fourth to Baylor before coming to Fort Worth. Replacing a star like Buddy Hield is never easy, but Jordan Woodard has done his best. Woodard is averaging 17.6 points and 5.2 rebounds per game, but is shooting only 43.2% from the field. The Sooners will also be hoping to get freshman Kameron McGusty going as Big 12 play opens, as he can light teams up in a hurry, which he proved in their win over Clemson.
#10: Texas Longhorns (6-6)
Big 12 Opener: @ Kansas State (12/30)
Texas has been the most disappointing team in the Big 12 so far this season. In Shaka Smart’s second season in Austin, it seems like the Longhorns have regressed despite welcoming an incredible recruiting class. It’s not that Texas has lost to bad teams; it’s that they haven’t beaten any good teams and they have looked unimpressive in their wins so far. They are currently ranked #147 in the RPI and their best win this season has come at home against Alabama. Sophomore Tevin Mack has been a bright spot for the Horns, averaging 14.7 points per game. Although they have struggled up until this point, keep an eye on this team. If the coaching staff can get the star freshmen and sophomores to mesh, the Longhorns could win some games and work their way up in these rankings.