Big 12 play has opened and we have already seen numerous games coming down until the final moments in the deepest conference in college basketball. Ten of the fifteen games so far have been decided single digits, seven of which have been decided by 4 points or less. Eight of the ten teams are currently in the top 100 of the RPI and all eight still have hope of earning a trip to the NCAA tournament.
Currently, the Big 12 appears to be separated into three tiers. At the top, Baylor, Kansas, and West Virginia seem like the favorites to compete for the league title this season.
In the middle tier, we have five programs that have shown competitiveness, but none of which look like an actual Big 12 contender this season. TCU falls into this group with Iowa State, Kansas State, Texas Tech, and Oklahoma State.
Bringing up the rear of the conference is two programs that had much more expected of them this season. Texas welcomed a freshman class that featured two McDonald’s All-Americans and Oklahoma is coming off of a Final Four run, but lost three key players. Both schools are most likely going to be sitting at home in March unless they find some ways to win and fast.
#1: Baylor Bears (15-0 Overall, 3-0 Big 12, AP: #1), Previous: #1
Next 2 Weeks: @ West Virginia (1/10), @ Kansas State (1/14), vs. Texas (1/17), @ TCU (1/21)
Ugh. The Bears are one of two remaining undefeated teams in the nation (the other is Gonzaga) and they are currently ranked #2 in the RPI, trailing only reigning champion Villanova. Baylor blew out Oklahoma 76-50 in Norman to open Big 12 play, but then were nearly defeated twice on their home court by Iowa State and Oklahoma State. A major game looms for them tomorrow as they travel to Morgantown to face #10 West Virginia. If they survive, we could see an undefeated Baylor team coming to Fort Worth in two weeks.
#2: Kansas Jayhawks (14-1, 3-0, AP: #2), Previous: #2
Next 2 Weeks: @ Oklahoma (1/10), vs. Oklahoma State (1/14), @ Iowa State (1/16), vs. Texas (1/21)
Like the Bears, Kansas is off to a 3-0 start in conference play as they chase their 13th-straight Big 12 regular season title. The Jayhawks are currently ranked #7 in the RPI and are looking to earn a #1 seed in the NCAA tournament this year. They opened conference play by barely getting past the Horned Frogs in Fort Worth and then needed a questionable shot from Svi Mykhailiuk to overcome Kansas State at home. The Jayhawks should be able to get through these next two weeks unscathed and could find themselves once again atop the conference.
#3: West Virginia Mountaineers (13-2, 2-1, AP: #10), Previous: #3
Next 2 Weeks: vs. Baylor (1/10), @ Texas (1/14), vs. Oklahoma (1/18), @ Kansas State (1/21)
Press Virginia, despite being upset in Lubbock, still looks like a contender for the Big 12 title. They limited Jawun Evans and Phil Forte enough to get a win in Stillwater and Jevon Carter showed his ability to lead the Mountaineers to victory over TCU. They currently sit at #53 in RPI but should work their way up as conference play progresses. The ‘eers have a chance for a HUGE win tomorrow if they can take down #1 Baylor. The game can be seen at 6pm on ESPN2.
#4: Iowa State Cyclones (10-4, 2-1, AP: RV), Previous: #6
Next 2 Weeks: @ Oklahoma State (1/11), @ TCU (1/14), vs. Kansas (1/16), @ Oklahoma (1/21)
Now looking at the teams I described as the middle tier of the Big 12, Iowa State is towards the top due to their 2-1 conference record and the potential they have with guards Monte Morris and Deonte Burton. They have knocked off Texas Tech and Texas at home and nearly took out #1 Baylor in Waco. The Cyclones are ranked #72 in the RPI, but that should also move up as the season goes on. The next two weeks will be interesting for Iowa State as they travel to Stillwater and Fort Worth before returning home to host #2 Kansas.
#5: Kansas State Wildcats (13-2, 2-1, AP: t-#25), Previous: #7
Next 2 Weeks: @ Texas Tech (1/10), vs. Baylor (1/14), @ Oklahoma State (1/18), vs. West Virginia (1/21)
These next three teams are the toughest to rank and will likely fluctuate a lot throughout the rest of the season. For now, the Wildcats find themselves ranked highest thanks to their two conference wins. They benefited from facing (and beating) Texas and Oklahoma at home early in Big 12 play and should’ve had a chance to beat the Jayhawks in OT in Lawrence. However, neither of those two wins are the highest quality. They are currently #58 in the RPI and will likely find themselves on the bubble of the NCAA Tournament due to a weak non-conference schedule. Their game tomorrow in Lubbock should provide some clarity for this section of the rankings.
#6: Texas Tech Red Raiders (12-3, 1-2), Previous: #8
Next 2 Weeks: vs. Kansas State (1/10), @ Oklahoma (1/14), vs. TCU (1/18), vs. Oklahoma State (1/21)
Texas Tech gets the 2nd spot among these three currently because they have the strongest Big 12 win thus far, their 77-76 victory at home over West Virginia. It’ll take a lot more though if the Red Raiders want to move up, as they have the lowest RPI of the three at #63. They also struggled against Kansas, unlike TCU and Kansas State, and were blown out by 17 in Lawrence. However, they have a good chance to establish themselves over these both since both the Wildcats and Horned Frogs will visit Lubbock over the next two weeks.
#7: TCU Horned Frogs (12-3, 1-2), Previous: #5
Next 2 Weeks: @ Texas (1/11), vs. Iowa State (1/14), @ Texas Tech (1/18), vs. Baylor (1/21)
TCU unfortunately falls to #7 in the ranking this week, but a fair portion of it has to do with the tough schedule to open conference play. They have the best RPI of the three schools at #30 and have the best non-conference schedule, which would give them an advantage if all three end up on the bubble. All three of their games have been tightly contested and hard-fought, but TCU just couldn’t get past the #2 Jayhawks or the #10 Mountaineers. They have a good chance to move up over the next two weeks and if things go according to plan, they could be at 4-2 in Big 12 play when #1 Baylor comes to town.
#8: Oklahoma State Cowboys (10-5, 0-3), Previous: #4
Next 2 Weeks: vs. Iowa State (1/11), @ Kansas (1/14), vs. Kansas State (1/18), @ Texas Tech (1/21)
After going 10-2 in non-conference play, I can’t drop them below Texas even with their loss in Austin and their 0-3 start to Big 12 play. However, Cowboys fans have to be concerned with this sort of start to conference play. Their schedule has been one of the toughest to start in the Big 12, facing West Virginia and Baylor, but they needed a win in Austin to boost their NCAA tournament resume. With guards like Jawun Evans and Phil Forte and an RPI ranking of #64, the Cowboys will be hoping to find some wins over the next couple weeks in order to have a chance at postseason play in Brad Underwood’s first year in Stillwater.
#9: Texas Longhorns (7-8, 1-2), Previous: #10
Next 2 Weeks: vs. TCU (1/11), vs. West Virginia (1/14), @ Baylor (1/17), @ Kansas (1/21)
Texas managed to find a win over Oklahoma State in Austin and nearly had a chance to beat Kansas State, but their lackluster non-conference resume finds them in the bottom tier with Oklahoma. Things won’t be getting any easier for the Longhorns either. After facing the much-improved Horned Frogs, they face an absolute gauntlet hosting #10 West Virginia before traveling to #1 Baylor and #2 Kansas. They are currently ranked #128 in the RPI, but have the talent to make a run at the NCAA tournament. It isn’t out of the question, but it would require a massive effort from a very young squad. The next couple weeks will let us know for sure.
#10: Oklahoma Sooners (6-8, 0-3), Previous: #9
Next 2 Weeks: vs. Kansas (1/10), vs. Texas Tech (1/14), @ West Virginia (1/18), vs. Iowa State (1/21)
OUch. After making the Final Four last season, the Sooners keep sliding and have struggled to replace Buddy Hield, Isaiah Cousins, and Ryan Spangler. Their best player this season, Jordan Woodard, has missed some games for health reasons and they have currently lost six consecutive games. They have fallen to #169 in the RPI and have a tough stretch of games over the next two weeks. One positive for Oklahoma fans though has been the emergence of Kameron McGusty. The talented freshman has shown what he can do in Woodard’s absence and he could be a problem for other Big 12 teams in years to come.