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Weekly War Zone: The Big 12 is the Best Basketball Conference in the Country


NCAA Basketball: Oklahoma at Wichita State Kelly Ross-USA TODAY Sports

When the team you are picking to finish last in the conference is off to an 8-2 start and beating ranked opponents in their home state, you have to feel pretty good about the depth of your league. That’s exactly what happened this week, as Oklahoma State upset #19 Florida State in a tournament and Oklahoma shocked the Shockers on their home court. In all, the Big 12 went 11-1 over the past seven days, a light schedule due to finals week, with the only loss coming by Texas to Michigan. This is a conference where any team can win any game anywhere, and they proved that once again near the end of the non-conference schedule. Furthermore, in his latest Bracketology, ESPN’s Joe Lunardi had 7/10 Big 12 teams making the tournament, with only Kansas State, Iowa State, and Oklahoma State missing the cut - three teams that have combined to go 25-6 in the preseason so far. The conference has six teams ranked in the top 50 of RPI, led by #3 TCU, and no team falls below #139 (Kansas State). Top to bottom, you won’t find a better league - and if you want to argue the ACC is just that, I will gladly put the Big 12’s bottom three against Wake Forest, Pitt, and Georgia Tech.

The Big 12 won’t get ten teams into The Dance, but don’t be surprised if they push eight by season’s end.

#18 Baylor (9-2): Baylor is a tough team to figure out; streaky as hell, they go as their star goes, seemingly vulnerable at times and unbeatable at others. They are a young team that is very reliant on guard play, which can be a recipe for disaster on bad shooting nights. That being said, they will be tough at home and not an easy matchup for anyone come conference play, as when they are on, they are really on. BU took on two really bad teams this week and hammered them both, trouncing Texas Southern and Savannah State both by 30+.

Next Up: One last game before breaking for the holiday, as the Bears host Southern in their last non-con matchup of the year.

Iowa State (8-2): The Cyclones looked really good in the second half against a tough UNI team, exploding for 46 points after being stifled for the first twenty minutes of play. Lindell Wiggington continues to be a problem for opposing defenses, as he went for 20/7/2 while playing all 40 minutes. ISU had 4/5 starters in double digits, and a fifth with eight points, and got ten off the bench from freshman Cameron Lard. They aren’t especially deep, but they might not have to be, and having one of the two or three best home court advantages in the conference gives them a big leg up come league play.

Next Up: Maryland Eastern-Shore. No, really.

#14 Kansas (8-2): Is Kansas just... okay? That seems to be the case, as it took everything in the Jayhawks’ bag of tricks, including a controversial no-call on a potential game-winning shot (SHOCKER!) to pull off a one-point victory over Nebraska in Lincoln. In their first true road contest of the year, KU needed a late Svi three to knock off the unranked Huskers, who should have had two free throws late to have a shot at sending Kansas to their third straight loss. The Jayhawks have talent - five players average double-digits, Devonte’ Graham and Lagerald Vick are solid guards and sophomore center Udoka Azubuike is shooting 78% from the field for 15 points and 7.7 rebounds per game, but this isn’t the unstoppable force of the last decade and a half. They might get on track, and they looked like they did in a big victory over Omaha Monday night, but the depth of the Big 12 this year makes it more likely than ever that they won’t win the conference for the first time in 14 seasons.

Next Up: A trip out west to play a struggling Stanford squad.

Kansas State (9-2): The Cats bounced back with a win over Southeast Missouri State to run their record to an impressive 7-0 at home (though they haven’t played anyone of note). Kamau Stokes and Xavier Sneed look like really solid players for Bruce Weber’s squad,

Next Up: A pretty good SE Missouri State team should build some momentum for K State at the end of the week.

#17 Oklahoma (8-1): The Sooners are indeed, for real. And what a lot of people don’t realize, it’s more than just Trae Young. While the likely lottery pick is shining brightest in the early going, he has a talented supporting cast around him too, and they can come at you in a lot of different ways. In Saturday’s shocking win over Wichita State, the Sooners used a balanced scoring attack - two 20+ point scorers and four total players in double-digits - to light up the scoreboard to the tune of 91 points on the road. They had four different bench players log at least ten minutes as well, showcasing their depth, though Young did pour in 34 ticks. It will likely be a top 15 matchup when Oklahoma and TCU square off to open Big 12 play, and an entertaining one at that.

Next Up: All about the north west, as the Sooners welcome in Northwestern State and Northwestern over the next week.

Oklahoma State (8-2): Well, a week ago in this space, we told you that the Cowboys were a very meh basketball team. But then they went to Florida and upended #19 Florida State, and all the sudden the team picked to finish dead last in the Big 12 is demanding you respect them. I don’t know how good Oklahoma State is, but Mitchell Solomon is a solid player, Jeffrey Carroll can light it up, and if OSU doesn’t have to dig too deep into their bench, they can play with just about anyone.

Next Up: The Pokes should finish their non-con schedule with a win over UT Rio Grande Valley State this week.

#15 TCU (11-0): It was a sloppy first half, and as much as the players and coach didn’t want to say it, a nearly two week layoff had the Frogs rusty against Texas Southern. But, when it was all said and done, TCU had a twenty point victory, Vlad had his first double double of the season, and the Frogs had a 16 game winning streak. Consistent and balanced, Jamie Dixon’s squad doesn’t have the most impressive resume heading into Big 12 play, but they have wins against seven likely tournament teams (South Dakota, St. Bonaventure, Yale, SMU, Belmont, Nevada, and Texas Southern) and plenty of time to prove they’re for real with an opening conference stretch of OU, @ Baylor, and Kansas.

Next Up: The Frogs close their preseason with a home contest against William and Mary Friday night.

Texas (8-3): Texas didn’t look terrible in their loss to Michigan Tuesday night, but they came close to disaster Monday in scraping by Tennessee State at home. Shaka Smart’s team can’t really score, doesn’t have a star, and possesses little to no bench. Bamba is a defensive presence, but when Dylan Ostekowski is your best offensive player, it’s probably going to be a long season.

Next Up: A trip to Tuscaloosa to play a sneaky good Alabama team.

#21 Texas Tech (9-1): The Red Raiders picked up a pair of wins against overmatched opponents this week in Kennesaw State and Rice. And while their resume is pretty meh at the moment, they have wins over two decent Power Five teams in Boston College and Northwestern, as well as a victory over a then-ranked Nevada team that has been giving opponents fits. Chris Beard can really coach, and while Tech doesn’t have a ton of star power, they have a lot of guys that can do a lot of things, and are very balanced, and thus, very dangerous.

Next Up: Abilene Christian comes to town to wrap up the non-conference slate for Chris Beard’s team.

#10 West Virginia (9-1): They did it, they got by Wheeling Jesuit.

But in all reality, it might be time to start talking about the Mountaineers as the conference’s favorite heading into league play. They have a superstar in Jevon Carter, they play excellent defense, are well-coached, and have solid depth with nine players averaging at least ten minutes. They are as tough as anyone to play against and have one of the best home court advantages in the conference. And though they open with two straight on the road, they are games they should be favored in (Kansas State and Oklahoma State) before playing three of their next four at home - though all four opponents are currently ranked. The Eers might just be the team that knocks off the Jayhawks... and they will get their first shot at doing so in a Big Monday matchup on January 15th.

Next Up: Coppin State and Fordham close out their non-conference run.