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Big 12 Men’s Basketball Power Rankings: Favorites Falter

The opening week of league play proved that even top ranked teams are vulnerable in the Big 12

Syndication: The Ames Tribune
Milan Momcilovic (22) scored four points in the final 30 seconds to knock off No. 2 Houston
Nirmalendu Majumdar/Ames Tribune / USA TODAY NETWORK

The first week of Big 12 conference play did not disappoint, leaving us with just three unbeaten and three winless teams in conference after two league games. Stunning last second finishes in Cincinnati and Ames, a controversial finish in Lawrence, and a court storming in Orlando headline the wild week. The Power Ranking already has a shake up at the top while one conference newcomer is already tumbling.

TIER 1: Big 12 Title Favorites

1. Baylor Bears (13-2; 2-0)

  • Last week: W at OK State; W vs. #18 BYU
  • NET: 14; KenPom: 14
  • Next: Jan 13 vs Cinci; Jan. 16 at K-State
    The Bears’ time as a title contender almost came to an end on day one of league play, as a trip to Stillwater turned dicey, as Baylor shot an uncharacteristic 2-15 from long range, ultimately needing OT to handle the Pokes. Regardless of the opponent, in this league simply surviving is challenge enough. In the midweek, Baylor got its best win of the season, knocking off NET #4 BYU at home, behind a 25-point output from senior forward Jalen Bridges.

2. Houston Cougars (14-1; 1-1)

  • Last week: W vs. WVU; L at ISU
  • NET: 1; KenPom: 1
  • Next: Jan. 13 at TCU; Jan. 17 vs. TTU
    Welcome to high-major basketball Cougs. There are no days off. You can be on top of the world, but one sub-par shooting night and you are undefeated no more. Houston took its pristine record into snowy Ames and got properly introduced to Hilton Magic on Tuesday, falling to the Cyclones 57-53. The Cougars did pick up a win over the cellar-dweller Mountaineers, dominating its first ever Big 12 game to come away with a 34-point victory. Clearly still one of the best teams in the country, a downgrade within the conference was necessary having not survived its close call like Baylor did.

3. Kansas Jayhawks (13-2; 1-1)

  • Last Week: W vs. TCU; L at UCF
  • NET: 16; KenPom: 19
  • Next: Jan. 13 vs OU; Jan. 16 at OK State
    If not for officiating shenanigans vs. the Horned Frogs, Kansas would be 0-2 in league play. Its performance in Orlando is one of the worst we’ve seen from a Bill Self Jayhawks team since a hideous TCU team beat them in Fort Worth in 2013. Dickinson followed his 30 point outburst vs. TCU with just 12 points vs. the Knights. Regardless of its depth struggles, it’ll take more than this loss to consider KU outside of title favorite tier. If Self gets this team a Big 12 Championship and a Final Four, it’ll be his masterpiece.

TIER 2: Contenders

4. Iowa State Cyclones (12-3; 1-1)

  • Last Week: L at OU; W vs. Houston
  • NET: 10; KenPom: 15
  • Next: Jan. 13 vs. OK State; Jan 16 vs. BYU
    The Cyclones turned in one of the wins of the season on Tuesday, using Hilton Magic to serve Houston its first loss of the season. ISU stormed out to a big lead that UH eventually erased, but ISU’s Milan Momcilovic made a jumper in the final seconds to deliver one of the biggest wins of the season. Last Saturday, ISU dropped its league opener in Norman, pushing the Sooners to a top-ten AP ranking. While that loss keeps ISU from really climbing this power ranking, the Houston win will keep it afloat for a long while.

5. Oklahoma Sooners (13-2; 1-1)

  • Last week: W vs. ISU; L at TCU
  • NET: 23; KenPom: 20
  • Next: Jan. 13 at Kansas; Jan. 17 vs. WVU
    You don’t just walk into Schollmaier Arena as a Top 10 squad and leave unscathed. The Sooners took a beating at the hands of the Horned Frogs in its first true road game of the season. The resume is still very solid, but the team we saw in Fort Worth on Wednesday looked a lot more like the one picked 12th in the Big 12 Preseason Poll. The win over ISU continues to look better, so expect the Sooners to continue to hover in this zone even with continued 1-1 weeks.

6. TCU Horned Frogs (12-3; 1-1)

  • Last week: L at Kansas; W vs. OU
  • NET: 36; KenPom: 27
  • Next: Jan. 13 vs. Houston; Jan. 16 at Cinci
    The questions surrounding TCU due to its lackluster non-conference schedule are already in the rearview as the Frogs picked up a top-ten win and would’ve had another if not for the officiating ineptitude that comes in Allen Fieldhouse. TCU’s depth has been on display, as it’s done this without second leading scorer JaKobe Coles to open league play. The pieces of Avery Anderson III, Jameer Nelson Jr, and Trey Tennyson have more than picked up the slack, while Emanuel Miller performs at an All-Conference level to lead the Frogs. A win Saturday over Houston would vault TCU to the top of this tier and likely into the AP Top 25.

TIER 3: Two & Oh Really?

7. Texas Tech Red Raiders (13-2; 2-0)

  • Last Week: W at Texas; W vs. OK State
  • NET: 31; KenPom: 25
  • Next: Jan. 13 vs. K-State; Jan. 17 at Houston
    It was a tumultuous and controversial week off the court for the Red Raiders, which we do not need to get into here, but they picked up a surprising 2-0 week on the court. The cruising midweek home win over OK State is nothing to write home about but Saturday’s win in Austin over the Longhorns was a significant result. TTU shot the lights out, over 50% from the field and 7-15 on 3FGs while four players scored in double digits. The pair of wins had a huge influence on the NET, rocketing the Red Raiders up 19 spots in the ranking. Someone will emerge from Saturday’s TTU-KSU game with a stunning 3-0 league record.

8. Kansas State Wildcats (12-3; 2-0)

  • Last Week: W vs. UCF; W at WVU
  • NET: 74; KenPom: 57
  • Next: Jan. 13 at Texas Tech; Jan. 16 vs. Baylor
    KSU had a decidedly simpler road to its 2-0 start than did TTU, but more impressive than the fact EMAW took the victories was the margin of victory: destroying UCF by 25 in its Big 12 debut and going to Morgantown for a 14-point decision. Certainly those are games the Wildcats should win if its going to be an NCAA Tournament team, and doing so has leapt KSU up the NET over 20 spots. But with its metrics so low, there is still much to prove in Manhattan.

On The Bubble

9. Texas Longhorns (12-3; 1-1)

  • Last Week: L vs. TTU; W at Cinci
  • NET: 45; KenPom: 34
  • Next: Jan. 13 at WVU; Jan. 17 vs. UCF
    What an escape in Fifth Third Bank Arena on Tuesday! Max Abmas with the dagger shot to put the ‘Horns over the Bearcats to avoid an 0-2 start in league play. Thank goodness too, because Texas could’ve fallen even further here after getting smacked around by the Red Raiders in Austin on Saturday. UT has the horses to run with anybody, and for individual moments of greatness like the Abmas shot, but may just not be a complete team yet. If Texas gets anything but a 2-0 week ahead, it’ll fall to the bottom of this tier.

10. Cincinnati Bearcats (12-3; 1-1)

  • Last Week: W at BYU; L vs. Texas
  • NET: 32; KenPom: 32
  • Next: Jan. 13 at Baylor; Jan16 vs. TCU
    Going to Provo for the late night conference opener was a tough test and the Bearcats passed with flying colors, smashing the Cougars in the battle of league newbies. Coming home for Texas in the midweek and had the ‘Horns on the ropes, but couldn’t land that knockout punch you need in the Big 12. Now Cinci has a brutal stretch over the next two weeks: at Baylor, TCU, OU, at Kansas. The season can turn on a dime in the Big 12 - will Cincinnati stay afloat through that gauntlet or will it fall off a cliff?

11. UCF Knights (10-4; 1-1)

  • Last Week: L at K-State; W vs. Kansas
  • NET: 76; KenPom: 79
  • Next: Jan. 13 vs. BYU; Jan. 17 at Texas
    Absolute Scenes in Orlando on Wednesday night! The Knights get a signature Big 12 win in just its second ever league game. It’s the kind of game that can build momentum and fan support and was well deserving of the stormed court. A win that good can paper over a lot of ills...but it does not quite put a band-aid over the gaping wound of a Q4 home loss to NET #216 Stetson (let’s also ignore the shellacking at K-State to open league play). The Knights still have a lot of resume building to become Tournament-worthy, but few teams nationally have a feather in its cap as bright as UCF.

Computer Trickers

12. BYU Cougars (12-3; 0-2)

  • Last Week: L vs. Cinci; L at Baylor
  • NET: 4; KenPom: 12
  • Next: Jan. 13 at UCF; Jan. 16 vs. ISU
    Welcome to the show. This team spent the first two months of the season demolishing terrible competition, with its only quality win - vs. San Diego State - coming in the first week of the season at home. This had them sitting top-five across all the predictive metrics and computer numbers. But the Big 12 does not care that you beat Morgan State and Houston Christian and Bellarmine by 40+. Even teams like Cincinnati, that on paper you should handle at home, prove to be too much, much less an elite team on the road like Baylor. Now you have potentially must-win games against the teams that just knocked off AP #2 Houston and #3 Kansas. Good luck.

The Spoiler

13. Oklahoma State Cowboys (8-7; 0-2)

  • Last Week: L vs. Baylor (OT); L at TTU
  • NET: 124; KenPom: 104
  • Next: Jan. 13 at Iowa St; Jan. 16 vs. Kansas
    The Pokes almost pulled off the upset of the season to open league play, taking Baylor to overtime in Stillwater last Saturday, finally showing some sign of life. This team will continue to exist merely as a thorn in the side of the rest of the league, bringing down overall metrics and perhaps earning a handful of wins that crush resumes. However, the Cowboys had to be pulled out of the bottom tier as it has separated from the cellar with the solid showing vs. the Bears. OSU will be massive underdogs in its two games this week, very likely headed for an 0-4 start to the Big 12 schedule.


14. West Virginia Mountaineers (5-10; 0-2)

  • Last week: L at Houston; L vs. K-State
  • NET: 193; Ken Pom: 145
  • Next: Jan. 13 vs. Texas; Jan. 17 at OU
    I thought this team could be frisky, despite the turmoil and the poor performances in non-con play, but through two Big 12 games it has gotten fully blasted off the court and the only noteworthy accomplishment is Kerr Kriisa getting pushed out of opponent huddles. Could they down the Longhorns in Morgantown this weekend, sure, but this team is very bad right now and is wasting an otherwordly season from RaeQuan Battle. This team could realistically go winless in conference.