The Big 12 is once again one of the best, and toughest to rank, conferences in college basketball. Every game in conference play seems to go down to the wire no matter who is playing or where it is being played. Eight of the ten teams are ranked in the top 100 of the RPI, seven of which are ranked in the top 55. The conference also has 5 teams ranked or receiving votes in the AP Top 25, two of which are ranked in the top 5.
Coming this Saturday, we will get a better chance to see the depth and strength of the conference in the Big 12/SEC Challenge. We will have a preview for the other nine games besides TCU’s on Friday.
A couple of weeks ago, our power rankings looked something like this. I mentioned then that there appeared to be three tiers in the conference. In the top tier was Kansas, Baylor, and West Virginia, and in the bottom tier was Oklahoma and Texas. The other five teams were all very difficult to sort out in the middle tier.
With four more games in the books for each team, the tiers have begun to breakdown and the conference has started to become a little bit clearer. Kansas and Baylor still appear to be the top tier of the Big 12 this season, and the Jayhawks seem the clear favorite to take home the league title, which would be their 13th-straight.
The next seven teams have broken into three tiers of their own. Kansas State and West Virginia have shown flashes of being very strong teams at home, but have struggled on the road. Iowa State is also in this tier, but lack a signature win on their resume thus far. Texas Tech and TCU make up the next tier. Both teams have been competitive in each of their games for the most part, but have not been able to put away games in key moments.
Next, Oklahoma and Oklahoma State have struggled so far in conference play, but both teams have started to put it together. Lastly, Texas has struggled in Big 12 play and the remainder of the season looks fairly bleak. For more on each team and where they rank, keep scrolling.
#1: Kansas Jayhawks (18-1 Overall, 7-0 Big 12, AP: #2), Previous: #2
This Week: @ #18 West Virginia (1/24), @ #4 Kentucky (1/28)
The Jayhawks once again seem poised to come away with the Big 12 regular season title. Their only loss came on opening night of the season against Indiana in Hawaii, but since then they have looked as strong as any team in the nation. They have not been steamrolling opponents, but they refuse to beat themselves. Their backcourt of Frank Mason and Devonte Graham is the best in the nation and should help them earn a #1 seed in the NCAA tournament. They are currently ranked #6 in the RPI, and could move up with two ranked match-ups this week.
#2: Baylor Bears (18-1, 6-1, AP: #5), Previous: #1
This Week: vs Texas Tech (1/25), @ Ole Miss (1/28)
The Bears are a good team but the fact that they are 18-1 is a little surprising. Johnathan Motley is a good player in the post for Baylor and they have a solid point guard in Manu Lecomte. They reached #1 in the AP poll for the first time in school history, but were blown out by 21 at then-ranked #10 West Virginia. After getting past the Frogs, they moved up to their current #1 spot in the RPI. They should get through this week unscathed and could potentially be a second #1 seed for the Big 12 in the NCAA tournament.
#3: Kansas State Wildcats (15-4, 4-3, AP: RV), Previous: #5
This Week: @ Iowa State (1/24), @ Tennessee (1/28)
Between the Wildcats and the Mountaineers, I think the ‘Eers will end up finishing higher, but I have to give Kansas State the edge after they took down West Virginia this past Saturday. They also added a win in Stillwater earlier in the week and have moved up to #39 in the RPI. This is a good team and has shown it in Big 12 play, but they will need to continue to win in order to make up for their weak non-conference schedule. They have two good opportunities to pick up road wins this week for their resume.
#4: West Virginia Mountaineers (15-4, 4-3, AP: #18), Previous: #3
This Week: vs. #2 Kansas (1/24), vs. Texas A&M (1/28)
As I mentioned, I think the Mountaineers will finish above Kansas State in the final standings/rankings, but they fell to 4th in these rankings after a 0-2 week. They were upset at home by Oklahoma in OT to begin the week before losing in Manhattan to the Wildcats. They have fallen to #43 in the RPI, which is 5th in the conference, but have a major opportunity to move back up if they can get a home win over the #2 Jayhawks tomorrow. They beat Kansas 74-63 in Morgantown last year when the Jayhawks were ranked #1 in the nation.
#5: Iowa State Cyclones (12-6, 4-3, AP: RV), Previous: #4
This Week: vs. Kansas State (1/24), @ Vanderbilt (1/28)
Iowa State is another team that has the potential to finish high in the Big 12 thanks to a strong backcourt with Monte Morris and Deonte Burton. However, they find themselves down here at #5 in the rankings because they still lack a signature win on their resume. They have had chances against Kansas, Baylor, Gonzaga, and Cincinnati, but came up short in each game. I expect them to come away with two wins this week, which should help their resume and #52 RPI ranking, but still won’t give them a signature win.
#6: Texas Tech Red Raiders (14-5, 3-4), Previous: #6
This Week: @ #5 Baylor (1/25), vs. LSU (1/28)
Texas Tech and TCU are another tough two teams to split, but Tech gets the edge for now, due to their win over the Frogs in Lubbock this past week. They could have been ranked higher, but they were dominated by Oklahoma State on Saturday on their home floor. The Cowboys were winless in Big 12 play going into that game, but put on a show against the Red Raiders. Tech is currently ranked #82 in the RPI, which will be a problem for them as Selection Sunday approaches. They have a huge chance to move up if they can win in Waco, but they have struggled away from Lubbock.
#7: TCU Horned Frogs (14-5, 3-4), Previous: #7
This Week: @ Oklahoma State (tonight), vs. Auburn (1/28)
The Frogs have been the toughest team to rank and find themselves at #7 for now, but I expect them to move up as we move forward. They are currently ranked #30 in the RPI, and have one of the strongest non-conference resumes in the Big 12, which is why they have a legitimate shot at the NCAA tournament. They have played each opponent close so far in conference and have come away with some good wins. The Frogs will likely need to win out at home and find one or two more wins on the road or in the Big 12 tournament in order to lock up an NCAA tournament berth.
#8: Oklahoma State Cowboys (11-8, 1-6), Previous: #8
This Week: vs. TCU (tonight), vs. Arkansas (1/28)
The Cowboys have struggled thus far in Big 12 play, but if their game Saturday was any indication, they might be starting to put it all together. They picked up their first conference win in a 19-point victory in Lubbock and have a backcourt that can light up the scoreboard in a hurry. They also aren’t necessarily out of the NCAA tournament conversation either, thanks to their strong non-conference schedule and their #54 RPI ranking. Tonight’s game with the Frogs will provide some clarity as to whether or not Oklahoma State has really turned the page.
#9: Oklahoma Sooners (8-10, 2-5), Previous: #10
This Week: @ Texas (tonight), vs. #25 Florida (1/28)
The Sooners seemed down and out a couple of weeks ago, but since the return of Jordan Woodard, Oklahoma looks like they can compete with anyone. They picked up a home win over Texas Tech before traveling to West Virginia and picking up a major road win. The Sooners’ chances of making the NCAA tournament are pretty slim due to their current losing record and #115 RPI ranking, but a win in Austin and a win over #25 Florida in the Big 12/SEC Challenge could create some momentum at the right time.
#10: Texas Longhorns (7-12, 1-6), Previous: #9
This Week: vs. Oklahoma (tonight), @ Georgia (1/28)
Texas is back... at the bottom of the power rankings. What a rough year it has been for the Longhorns across all of their athletics programs. Men’s basketball has seemed to regress in Shaka Smart’s second year with the program, despite bringing in an excellent recruiting class on paper. They have a lot of young talent and should compete in years to come, but it doesn’t look like they’ll be playing any more games after the Big 12 tournament. Tonight’s game with the Sooners is a must-win for Texas if they have any hope of postseason play, but it’ll be tough to overcome their #141 RPI ranking.