The Big 12 Conference is looking like the best league in the country when it comes to roundball once again, even in the Jayhawks look surprisingly vulnerable at the moment. But with five ranked teams and two more receiving votes, even a little weakness at the top won’t dull the shine too much. Let’s take a look at the week that was.
Baylor (6-2): The Bears entered the week that was ranked 23rd overall, and opened things up with a beat down of a pretty good Sam Houston State team. They followed that up with a convincing win over something called “Randall” to make it a 2-0 week, moving them two spots up the charts in the process. The Bears aren’t scoring with their usual flourish, despite having played just one Power Five team. They are also 0-2 against ranked opponents this year, but have a nice win over Wisconsin out of conference. Manu Lecomte is their leader, and one of five Bears averaging double digits, but BU gets very little from their bench. Baylor is always going to be good come conference play, but this isn’t nearly as dominant a team as a season ago.
Next Up: Two more tough ones in Texas Southern (Thursday) and Savannah State (Sunday).
Iowa State (6-2): This is not the Iowa State of old, but they can still work some Hilton Magic when necessary. The Cyclones took down the rival Hawkeyes Thursday in a tightly contested game and followed that up with an easy win over Alcorn State over the weekend. ISU won’t play a ranked opponent this preseason, but they have won six straight and get their first two conference games at home. ISU has a trio of dangerous scorers in Jackson, Wigginton, and Babb, who all shoot over 40% from deep and average in the double digits. But ma, this team doesn’t score, doesn’t rebound, doesn’t share the ball, and gives up a ton on defense. It appears like it will be a rebuilding year in Ames, but that doesn’t mean opponents will have an easy time winning there.
Next Up: An always dangerous Northern Iowa team comes to town Friday in the Cyclones only game of the week.
Kansas (7-2): LOLOLOLOLOLOLOLOL Kansas. When is the last time the Jayhawks had an 0-2 week? Sure, they will still beat the team to beat come conference time, but man, it’s hard not to enjoy their struggles in December. KU lost to a bad Washington team in Kansas City to open the week, then turned around and manhandled by (a really good) Arizona State team in Lawrence. Coming into the week they were the #2 team in the country, but they plummeted all the way to 13th Monday, and with a superbly strong conference slate in front of them, this has to be as vulnerable as the streak of titles has ever been. They score the ball at a top 20 clip, share it well (second in the country in assists per game), but they don’t rebound well and are very susceptible on the defensive end. They have five players averaging double digits, but not a ton of star power - it will be interesting to see what that means come league play.
Next Up: The Jayhawks travel to Lincoln to take on a Nebraska team that hasn’t lost at home yet this season in their only game of the week.
Kansas State (8-2): The Wildcats are a tough team to figure out; they pushed Arizona State to the brink, beat Vandy in Nashville... and summarily lost to Tulsa at home. They play really good defense but can’t score and rebound at one of the worst clips in the country, though they do have four players dropping in double digit points nightly. I wouldn’t expect them to compete for the top of the Big 12, but they will be tough at home and win a game or two they shouldn’t.
Next Up: A pretty good SE Missouri State team should build some momentum for K State at the end of the week.
Oklahoma (7-1): Trae Young is really, really, really good. Like, freshman of the year in the Big 12 good. Like player of the year candidate good. Like number one guy you game plan against good. Like first round pick in the NBA good.
The Sooners have just one win against a ranked opponent in the early goings, as they beat a suddenly really USC squad in LA as part of the Hall of Fame Classic over the weekend. But Oklahoma can fill it up in a hurry, averaging over 90 points a game (good for third best in the country) behind Young’s nearly 29 ppg. But he’s not the only guy lighting it up for Lon Kruger’s squad, as Christian James and Khadeem Latin average 10+ as well. The Sooners shoot over 36% from long range and rebound at a really solid rate, making them a tough matchup on the offensive end. But they don’t believe much in defense, allowing over 80 points per game, coming in at 305th place in the country, which is - not good. It will be interesting to see how the “our best defense is a good offense” thing works come conference play, but for now, they are fun to watch, if not to play against.
Next Up: An intriguing matchup against the #3 Wichita State Shockers on Saturday, on the road, should give us much more insight into just how good the Sooners really are.
Oklahoma State (7-2): The Cowboys are the most uninspiring 7-2 team you will find, as their empty arena gives face to their empty hopes this season. They’ve won a bunch of games against teams you’ve never heard of, won a game over a bad Pitt team by six at home, and lost to the two ranked opponents they have seen - a blowout at the hands of the Aggies and a double-digit L to the Shockers. They are a top 40 defensive unit but fall outside the 100s in offense; and while three players average double-digits, their leading scorer checks in at just 12.7 ppg. The Cowboys are just okay, and that’s probably enough to keep them from being a serious threat come conference play. But unless they find a way to put the biscuit in the basket, it could be a long season.
Next Up: Okie State is part of the Metro PCS Orange Bowl Classic, playing a top 20 Florida State team.
TCU (10-0): Oh, hello highest ranking in decades, Horned Frogs. TCU put it on a good, albeit young, SMU team on their home floor before heading west to off a ranked, veteran, Nevada squad as part of the Hall of Fame Classic. The Frogs have the pieces that you’re looking for - a combination of veteran leadership and bouncy youth. They shoot it well from outside and have a strong inside presence, while playing good defense and rebounding at an impressive clip. The Frogs are undoubtably a top 25 team, and while they haven’t played the toughest schedule in the country, it’s not all that bad. They have two more easy ones before the league season kicks off, but still have a lot to prove if they want to be a legit Big 12 contender.
Next Up: TCU doesn’t play a game this week, but will welcome Texas Southern to the Scholly Monday.
Texas (6-2): The Horns have some talented young players and have given two really good teams all they could handle in close games against Duke and Gonzaga. If they figure things out come Big 12 play, they will give opponents fits. Texas doesn’t score it at all that impressive clip and the defense isn’t the Shaka Smart havoc as old, but Bamba, Roach, and Jones are an impressive triumvirate of talent for Texas. UT is going to be a tough out for anyone, especially at home, and they should be a tourney team come March - one that no one wants to play in the first round. A close win over a so-so VCU squad gave them a 1-0 week.
Next Up: An interesting matchup with Michigan at home Tuesday, one of the conference’s best games of the week.
Texas Tech (7-1): Quite possibly the biggest surprise in the conference of the young season, the Red Raiders are off to an impressive start in Chris Beard’s second season. Tech parlayed a win over a ranked Nevada squad into a top 25 ranking, coming in at 24th in Monday’s poll. A solid defensive team, the Red Raiders spread it around on offense, with only two players averaging double digits but ten players dropping in at least five per game.
Next Up: Two games against two really bad teams; one win Kennesaw State and two win Rice.
West Virginia (9-1): The most likely threat to Kansas’ decade plus streak, the Eers seem to be picking up right where they left off a season ago, despite graduating most of their starting lineup and running out a young group. After getting pummeled by A&M to open the season, WVU has rattled off nine straight, including wins over Mizzou, UVA, and rival Pitt. The week started with the home win over #15 Virginia, and though Pitt is bad, that rivalry is intense, and they held them off for a W. Led by 40 year old man Jevon Carter and Dax Miles, WVU is top 60 in most of the major categories. And they are a team that seems to always get stronger as the season goes on under Huggins. The Mountaineers are the conference’s highest ranked team at 11, and they should cruise through the rest of the preseason and into the top ten before Big 12 play kicks off.
Next Up: Something called a Wheeling Jesuit.