Abandon hope all ye who enter a Big 12 arena. Despite students not fully back in session and winter storms blasting much of the country, the home court advantage of the Big 12 remained as frightening as ever. Any road trip in this league will represent a massive challenge and that was on full display across the league this week as eleven teams took road Ls, seven of which were ranked in the AP Top 25 headed into the game. The margins are very thin in this league and those at the bottom rungs of this league can still jump up and beat those at the top; the conference has probably 12 Tournament-level squads, but will likely get no more than eight bids. The jockeying for positioning within the league standings is already shaping up after two weeks and will become even more critical with each contest.
TIER 1: Big 12 Title Favorites
1. Kansas Jayhawks (15-2; 3-1)
- Last Week: W vs. OU; W at OK State
- NET: 11; KenPom: 13
- Next: Jan. 20 at WVU; Jan. 22 vs. Cinci
Bill Self is inevitable. Allen Fieldhouse is inevitable. The Kansas Jayhawks as Big 12 favorites is inevitable. In a week where its closest league competitors Baylor & Houston each took road losses, the Jayhawks cruised to easy victories over the Sooners and Cowboys. While those wins may not represent huge achievements - they are games Kansas certainly always should win, but continuing to bank wins pushes the Jayhawks back atop the ranking. Kansas has won 21 regular season titles of the 27 seasons the Big 12 has existed, and it continues on a pace to pick up number 22.
2. Baylor Bears (14-3; 3-1)
- Last Week: W. vs. Cinci; L at K-State
- NET: 12; KenPom: 14
- Next: Jan. 20 at Texas
Scott Drew’s squad has been playing with fire in the opening weeks of conference play and on Tuesday it finally burned them. After narrow escapes vs. OK State & Cinci, Baylor got caught in an OT contest with KSU, ultimately falling to the ‘Cats in Manhattan. We’ll find out more about Baylor in February when its schedule gets much tougher. Until then, Baylor should continue to hold steady in the three team race atop the conference. To note: the Bears were granted a bye in the midweek ahead of its game vs. TCU in Waco on January 27.
3. Houston Cougars (15-2; 2-2)
- Last Week: L at TCU; W vs. TTU
- NET: 1; KenPom: 1
- Next: Jan. 20 vs. UCF; Jan. 23 at BYU
Houston brought its bruising style of play to Fort Worth and found a team that can bang right back as TCU took every punch from the Cougs and got the bucket and the steal in the final seconds to seal it. No harm done though to UH’s computer rankings or truly to its spot in this top three after serving the Red Raiders its first Big 12 loss in dominant fashion. Houston gets two games against fellow league newcomers this week, all of whom have proven they can hang with the big dogs, so a 2-0 week is far from a guarantee, but that’s what the Cougars need to keep pace in the league race, already a game back from the top of the standings.
TIER 2: Proved It
4. BYU Cougars (14-3; 2-2)
- Last Week: W at UCF; W vs. ISU
- NET: 4; KenPom: 9
- Next: Jan. 20 at TTU; Jan. 23 vs. Houston
While the Cougars continue to be computer trickers, sitting Top 5 in the NET, last week I suggested it had two must-win games to keep pace and sure enough the Cougars went out and proved it on the court. BYU joined Kansas as the only teams to go 2-0 for the week Taking down the Knights in Orlando is a major win, being the same site where Kansas fell a week earlier. Earning a clear dominant ranked win over the Cyclones at home is by far the Cougars best win of the year. With another 2-0 week, coming against ranked foes, BYU would have to considered a legitimate contender.
TIER 3: Home Heroes, Road Regrets
5. Oklahoma Sooners (14-3; 2-2)
- Last Week: L at Kansas; W vs. WVU
- NET: 26; KenPom: 20
- Next: Jan. 20 at Cincinnati; Jan. 23 vs. Texas
We didn’t really learn anything from the Sooners week, so they’ll hold steady here at fifth. OU did what anyone would predict, losing in Allen Fieldhouse then winning at home over the lowly Mountaineers. Oklahoma still has not won a true road game and unfortunately neutral site wins over Arkansas & USC only continue to appear less impressive as those squads aren’t up to usual standard. Unless OU drops a game it shouldn’t the Sooners will likely stay right in this range until mid-February when it’ll have a week with games at Baylor and vs. Kansas.
6. Iowa State Cyclones (13-4; 2-2)
- Last Week: W vs. OK State; L at BYU
- NET: 10; KenPom: 10
- Next: Jan. 20 at TCU; Jan. 24 vs. K-State
The Cyclones went to Provo and got thoroughly thwacked on Tuesday, and defeating OK State at home is certainly nothing to write home about. But ISU already banked a top tier win by taking down Houston and maybe this is a case where I am just trusting the metrics placing the Cyclones as a Top Ten team nationally. If the Tamin Lipsey injury has ISU’s leading scorer miss significant time, things could get scary in a hurry, but the roster is deep enough with legit contributors that they may be able to pick up any slack. It’s a huge week of games for ISU ahead of next week’s brutal KU-BU combo.
7. TCU Horned Frogs (13-4; 2-2)
- Last Week: W vs. Houston; L at Cincinnati
- NET: 32; KenPom: 23
- Next: Jan. 20 vs. ISU; Jan. 23 at OK State
TCU was very near taking a leap even further up this Power Ranking, but the brutal grind of the Big 12 road caught the Frogs in Cincinnati as free throw woes and sloppy turnovers prevented a major Q1 win over the Bearcats. However the Frogs did secure a massive result on Saturday in Fort Worth, knocking off the Houston Cougars with an Emanuel Miller bucket in the final seconds. At some point the Frogs will need a 2-0 week to make any movement, otherwise it will float around the Bubble all season; it gets a big bounce back opportunity against another ranked foe with the Cyclones coming to Schollmaier on Saturday.
8. Texas Tech Red Raiders (14-3; 3-1)
- Last Week: W vs. K-State; L at Houston
- NET: 39; KenPom: 33
- Next: Jan. 20 vs. BYU; Jan. 27 at OU
This TTU team is a tough one to place - it’s best win is at Texas which keeps looking less impressive, it hasn’t won any marquee games, its three league wins are against three of the bottom ranked Big 12 squads, and yet wins are wins and the Red Raiders remain tied atop the conference standings. I have to keep Texas Tech in this range until it wins a Top-60 NET game, and it has two opportunities this week to be a Proved It team. I am not sure the slow pace, poor 3FG defense, and foul avoidance will continue at this rate and continue to produce positive results, but it’s been a successful recipe thus far.
9. Kansas State Wildcats (13-4; 3-1)
- Last Week: L at TTU; W vs. Baylor
- NET: 70; KenPom: 54
- Next: Jan. 20 vs. OK State; Jan. 24 at ISU
They can’t keep getting away with it! KSU is now 5-0 in overtime games this season. The Octagon of Doom strikes again as a Top Ten Baylor squad went into Manhattan and dropped a hard fought contest in OT on Tuesday. KSU’s star trio of Tylor Perry, Cam Carter, and Arthur Kaluma have finally exploded into full bloom once conference play began, each averaging double-digit points through four conference games. While KSU doesn’t deploy a deep bench, if its starters stay healthy and out of foul trouble, they’ll be a menace that is able to take down any foe, particularly when playing at home in Bramlage. The Wildcats did end up on the wrong end of another thriller on Saturday, as its road trip to Lubbock resulted in a one-point defeat to the suddenly contending Red Raiders.
10. Cincinnati Bearcats (13-4; 2-2)
- Last Week: L at Baylor; W vs. TCU
- NET: 29; KenPom: 28
- Next: Jan. 20 vs. Oklahoma; Jan 22 at Kansas
UC is just a well built team that is well coached and executes at a high level. While none of its metrics reflect elite play at any one thing, it just does everything solid, which is enough to take its fair share of toss up games. Strong forward play, strong guard play, and a strong home court atmosphere sets the stage for what will be a nice debut season in the Big 12. The Bearcats still don’t have any wins over the very top of the league, necessary to move further up this tier, but if it keeps putting together 1-1 weeks it’ll have a very strong Tournament resume.
11. UCF Knights (11-5; 2-2)
- Last Week: L vs. BYU; W at Texas
- NET: 67; KenPom: 71
- Next: Jan. 20 at Houston; Jan. 23 vs. WVU
OK, the Knights followed up its monumental home win over Kansas last week with a rough performance vs BYU in Orlando, so they aren’t actually moving up the rankings. However we have to talk about how Johnny Dawkins’ squad waltzed into Austin’s Moody Center and served up a slice of embarrassment to the Longhorns. Texas led 22-6 early in the game and led by 13 midway through the 2nd half. Jaylin Sellers put up an absurd 24 points and five rebounds off the bench as the Knights ended up with a 77-71 victory and threw the Horns Down in celebration, as one does. Which brings us to:
TIER 5: Charmin Soft
12. Texas Longhorns (13-4; 2-2)
- Last Week: L at WVU; L vs. UCF
- NET: 66; KenPom: 49
- Next: Jan. 20 vs. Baylor; at Oklahoma
LOL. LMAO even. Rodney Terry was gifted the full time head coaching job by taking the ‘Horns on a miracle March run to the Elite Eight after taking over for the dismissed Chris Beard last season. His week was about as bad as you can have in this conference: a loss to one of the clear non-contending teams and then a home loss to a sub-70 KenPom newcomer. Terry is clearly feeling the heat as his thin skin was pierced by what one would think must have been the most obscene gesture one can make in Austin, the most offensive action known to modern civilization: Horns Down. Coach Terry went full Ehlinger, berating the UCF players during the postgame handshake line and then using his press conference to rant about classlessness. Cry more. Stay mad. The ‘Horns have now lost twice at home in league play, 25% of all Big 12 home losses this season. If this trajectory continues, Dylan Disu scored seven points in the game’s first three minutes vs. UCF then did not score again the rest of the way, missing five straight shots. The Texas roster is simply too good to be fielding a team playing this poorly; anything other than an 0-2 week ahead has to be seen as a major success. Athletic Director Chris del Conte might be hiring his third men’s basketball coach in as many years.
TIER 6: Dumpster
13. West Virginia Mountaineers (6-11; 1-3)
- Last Week: W vs. Texas; L at OU
- NET: 168; KenPom: 140
- Next: Jan. 20 vs. Kansas; Jan. 23 at UCF
Morgantown is still a scary place to visit, regardless of the overall quality of this Mountaineers squad. Kerr Kriisa shot 50% from long range and WVU overcame a heroic performance by UT’s Max Abmas to knock off the Longhorns. Last week I suggested WVU could go the rest of the season without a win and it went out and won the very next game. The ‘Eers won’t sniff the Bubble this year, but it can certainly cause trouble to those teams looking for at large bids, there are no nights off in the Big 12.....then again:
14. Oklahoma State Cowboys (8-9; 0-4)
- Last Week: L at ISU; L vs. Kansas
- NET: 140; KenPom: 115
- Next: Jan. 20 at K-State; Jan. 23 vs. TCU
Just a horrid week of basketball from the Cowboys, a program that appears to have fully punted on the season. since dropping its league opener in OT vs. Baylor, OK State lost its next three games by a combined 65 points, looking wholly uncompetitive in falling below .500 for the season. I realize putting OSU in the basement the week it hosts TCU - a game that TCU is certainly capable of losing - is setting up for the Cowboys to finally play the spoiler role and put a nasty stain on the Horned Frogs’ resume, but as it stands the winless Pokes have to hold the cellar slot.