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Big 12 Men’s Basketball Power Rankings: Non-Conference Recap

How does the Big 12 stack up as league play opens on Saturday?

NCAA Basketball: Louisiana-Monroe at Houston
LJ Cryer (4) & head coach Kelvin Sampson’s Cougars sit atop the Big 12 entering its first season as a conference member
Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports

The nation’s best college basketball conference begins league play this week with all 14 Big 12 teams in action on Saturday, beginning the gauntlet of ten straight weeks of intense Big 12 battles. With six teams ranked in the top 20 of the AP Poll and all but one rated in the KenPom top 100 (#124 West Virginia), the Big 12 should provide terrific drama every night. The conference went a combined 147-34 through the non-conference portion of the schedule, including a 7-4 record in the Big East-Big 12 Battle, as ten teams enter league play with at least 11 wins. Let’s set the stage for where each squad stands ahead of Saturday’s conference tip off:

TIER 1: Conference Title Favorites

1. Houston Cougars (13-0)

  • NET: 1 KenPom: 1
  • Best Win: Neutral vs. #18 Utah 76-66
  • Worst Loss: N/A
  • Next game: Jan. 6 vs. West Virginia, 1:00 PM, ESPN+.
    The Cougars have reached at least the Sweet 16 in each of the last four NCAA Tournaments, including a Final Four run in 2021, developing into one of the most consistent programs in the nation. Will Houston be able to maintain that high level of performance once it joins the Big 12? UH has already banked four Quad 1 wins (Utah, Texas A&M, Dayton, and Xavier) through a strong non-conference slate. Houston should continue undefeated through the opener, in what on paper will be the most lopsided Big 12 matchup of the season, hosting the lowly Mountaineers on Saturday.

2. Kansas Jayhawks (12-1)

  • NET: 11 KenPom: 13
  • Best Win: Neutral vs. #6 Tennessee 69-60
  • Worst Loss: Neutral vs. #11 Marquette 59-73
  • Next game: Jan. 6 vs. TCU, 1:00 PM, CBS
    Yes I’m already going to deviate from the metrics here, but Rock Chalk cannot drop out of the top two title contenders until it is mathematically impossible for them to win the league. The Jayhawks got blown out by the Golden Eagles in Hawaii and have looked shaky in wins over sub-100 squads Mizzou and Indiana. It may not have a bona fide one-and-done elite lottery guy and the team may lack depth compared to previous dominant Kansas teams, but the experience and talent of starters Dajuan Harris Jr, KJ Adams Jr, Kevin McCullar Jr, and Hunter Dickinson is as good as anyone nationally. Allen Fieldhouse remains one of the toughest venues to play in America and it will be rocking when the Horned Frogs visit Saturday, as the home team will be looking to avenge the Shahada Wells powered loss to TCU in Lawrence last season.

3. Baylor Bears (12-1)

  • NET: 17 KenPom: 15
  • Best Win: Neutral vs. #15 Auburn 88-82
  • Worst Loss: Neutral vs. #28 Michigan State 64-88
  • Next game: Jan. 6 at Oklahoma State, 2:00 PM, ESPN+
    The Bears opened up their new arena this week with a cruising win over a solid Cornell squad and gets what should be an easy road trip to Stillwater to open league play. Baylor sports a top-5 offense nationally, with the Big 12’s best offensive efficiency and best 3-point percentage. Five-star true freshman Ja’Kobe Walter has more than lived up to the billing, shooting 43.5% from long range while averaging 16 points per game. Although the Bears’ defensive numbers aren’t stellar overall, Yves Missi (another true frosh) is averaging over 2 blocks per game. With that offense, Baylor will have a chance to win any game it plays, and it avoids a road game at Houston; the Bears should be favored in every game outside of hosting Houston, at Kansas and maybe at BYU.

TIER 2: The Contenders

4. Oklahoma Sooners (12-1)

  • NET: 29 KenPom: 26
  • Best Win: Home vs. #50 Providence 72-51
  • Worst Loss: Neutral vs. #27 North Carolina 69-81
  • Next game: Jan. 6 vs. Iowa State, 5:00 PM, ESPN+
    For me, winning many games against good teams is more impressive than blowing out bad teams. The Sooners do not have a signature win, dropping its only Q1 game played during non-conference, but does have four impressive Q2 wins over Power 6 opponents. That ability to scrape together wins could keep OU afloat during the Big 12 schedule longer than was believed preseason. This tier ranking may get a shakeup in a hurry as the OU-ISU game is the conference’s best outside of the TCU-Kansas showdown.

5. BYU Cougars (12-1)

  • NET: 2 KenPom: 4
  • Best Win: Home vs. #23 San Diego State 74-65
  • Worst Loss: Road at #18 Utah 69-73
  • Next game: Jan. 6 vs Cincinnati, 9:00 PM, ESPN2
    Perhaps I’m a hater or a skeptic or whatever words you want to use, but I just don’t think BYU jumps into the Big 12 and is instantly a conference title favorite and a top-5 team nationally. Every season is a new year, but this team finished sixth in the WCC last season, losing 78% of its true road contests. In 2024, BYU has played one true road game, and you guessed it, that’s its one loss. The win over the Aztecs in the first week of the season was an eye opener, but that was eight weeks ago now. The Cougars will be formidable at home and gets some of the conference’s worst teams on the road, but I just don’t see this squad getting enough wins to be threatening for the conference crown in March. The analytics love the Cougars, and there is something to be said for smashing lowly competition, but BYU has a sub-250 strength of schedule and may be what CBS’ Gary Parrish would call “Computer Trickers”. That said, if BYU goes into Waco next week and beats the Bears, I’ll have to eat these words and push the Cougars way up this ranking.

6. Iowa State Cyclones (11-2)

  • NET: 8 KenPom: 18
  • Best Win: Home vs. #69 Iowa 90-65
  • Worst Loss: Neutral vs. #63 Virginia Tech 62-71
  • Next game: Jan. 6 at Oklahoma, 5:00 PM, ESPN+
    If the Cyclones had picked up one more win in the Kissimmee, FL ESPN Events Invitational (vs. either TAMU or VA Tech), it’d likely easily be atop this tier. It’s another team that has incredible metrics, particularly defensively, but has a horrendous schedule strength, ranked 322 at NET. Earning two Q2 wins will be good for the resume, and guard Tamin Lipsey is playing at all-conference level, but with at OU and vs. Houston to open conference play, things get tricky quickly for ISU.

7. Texas Longhorns (11-2)

  • NET: 51 KenPom: 32
  • Best Win: Neutral vs. #137 LSU 96-85
  • Worst Loss: Road at #11 Marquette 65-86
  • Next game: Jan. 6 vs. Texas Tech, 7:00 PM, ESPN2
    Kudos to the Longhorns for scheduling a pair of tough games away from Austin, playing former coach Shaka Smart’s Marquette and defending champs UConn, but dropping both of those games by double digits and getting thoroughly smashed by the Golden Eagles is a tough scene. Then the rest of the schedule has been atrocious, as Texas has played ten Quad 4 opponents, the most in the country. Texas opens Big 12 play with about as easy an opening two weeks as is possible in the conference, with home games against TTU and UCF plus road trips to WVU and Cincinnati; UT could very well be sitting atop the league standings at 4-0 before it hosts Baylor on January 20. The ‘Horns have too much talent to fall too far off, but coach Rodney Terry will need to take them on another magical run to climb beyond this tier.

TIER 3: On The Bubble

8. TCU Horned Frogs (11-2)

  • NET: 44 KenPom: 34
  • Best Win: Neutral vs. #125 Arizona State 79-59
  • Worst Loss: Neutral vs. #34 Nevada 75-88
  • Next game: Jan. 6 at Kansas, 1:00 PM, CBS
    We will find out very fast whether this season’s Horned Frogs will jump into contender status or fall into the drowning tier; TCU’s first three conference games are against teams ranked in the top 11 of the AP Poll. It would be fair to doubt this team right now, having flopped in its only tests this season, winning zero Quad 1-2 games in the non-conference slate and needing a miracle to defeat lowly Georgetown in DC. Jamie Dixon has built a battle tested roster that is playing at the fastest tempo in the league, but has yet to prove that it is able to grind out games against quality competition. TCU has the highest ceiling of this tier, but will likely need at least nine conference wins to earn an at-large bid. To do so, TCU will need to take Ws in many coin flip games as the Frogs are likely to be favored by more than a possession only three times the rest of the season (Home vs. WVU, Cinci, and UCF).

9. Texas Tech Red Raiders (11-2)

  • NET: 50 KenPom: 37
  • Best Win: Neutral vs. #75 Michigan 73-57
  • Worst Loss: Road at #62 Butler 95-103
  • Next game: Jan. 6 at Texas, 7:00 PM, ESPN2
    Texas Tech may hang around in the conference race longer than you’d expect, with the 13th ranked remaining schedule strength in the Big 12 (this happens to be the 13th toughest schedule in the nation...the Big 12 is wild) - only playing UH, KU, BYU, and ISU once each. Given that relative ease of opposition compared to the rest of the league, I can see the Red Raiders lingering in the Bubble conversation all season. Pop Isaacs continues to be TTU’s top scorer, but his three-point shooting has not matched last season, falling from 37.8% down to 28.9% this year as he’s been asked to become the primary option on offense. TTU will be pesky, a thorn in the side of every team it plays, but likely not competing for the conference title, with a ceiling of just sneaking into the NCAA Tournament.

10. Kansas State Wildcats (10-3)

  • NET: 94 KenPom: 75
  • Best Win: Home vs. #27 Villanova 72-71 (OT)
  • Worst Loss: Neutral vs. #90 USC 69-82
  • Next game: Jan 6 vs. UCF, 5:00 PM, ESPN2
    EMAW is a very curious case. The computer rankings hate the Wildcats compared to what is on its actual resume. K-State has two Quad 1 wins, behind only UH & KU in the conference. It does have three losses, though all of those are classified as Q2 vs. teams in the NET top 90. It’s the resume of a Bubble team, while the metrics have it no where near the conversation. This is likely due to two factors: first, its losses have been pretty one-sided, most notably a bludgeoning in Bramlage at the hands of Nebraska; secondly, four of KSU’s wins came in overtime, three of which came at home, two of which came vs. sub-200 rated opponents. Jerome Tang lost much of the team he rode to success in his first season, including the controversial dismissal of Nae’Qwan Tomlin; high profile additions Tylor Perry & Arthur Kaluma have patched over some of that, but it hasn’t fully gotten rolling yet. This is a team Big 12 programs will hate to play, because it’s absolutely capable of beating anyone on the right night, but a loss would be a resume killer due to KSU’s lowly ratings.

TIER 4: High-Major Wake Up Call

11. Cincinnati Bearcats (11-2)

  • NET: 37 KenPom: 40
  • Best Win: Home vs. #100 Evansville 76-58
  • Worst Loss: Road at #61 Xavier 79-84
  • Next game: Jan. 6 at BYU, 9:00 PM, ESPN2
    The biggest question for the Bearcats is best posed by 1990s Belgian Eurodance group 2 Unlimited: “Y’all ready for this?” Cincinnati may be in for a rude awakening in its first season in the Big 12, as its first six league games include road trips to BYU, Baylor, and Kansas with home games vs. Texas, TCU, and Oklahoma. If Cinci emerges from that 2-4 or better, it certainly moves into Bubble territory, but would still have a February home-and-home with Houston lurking. Having already lost two games played in the Queen City, albeit away from its home Fifth Third Arena, the Bearcats have a steep climb to get its resume to become Tournament worthy.

12. UCF Knights (9-3)

  • NET: 67 KenPom: 73
  • Best Win: Neutral vs. #123 Charlotte 74-71 (OT)
  • Worst Loss: Home vs. #205 Stetson 82-85
  • Next game: Jan. 6 at Kansas State, 5:00 PM, ESPN 2
    The Knights are in a similar boat as Cincinnati, but with a much worse resume with a hideous Q4 stain. UCF may pull some stunning upsets, but I’m finding it very difficult to see a path to making the postseason in 2024. Last season, last place in the Big 12 was five league wins; if the Knights surpass that number in 2024 it would have to be considered a major success and a huge step forward to showing this program can be a legit player in this league going forward. To get there, UCF has a near must-win at Kansas State on Saturday.

TIER 5: Drowning

13. Oklahoma State Cowboys (8-5)

  • NET: 129 KenPom: 93
  • Best Win: Neutral vs. #190 Tulsa 72-57
  • Worst Loss: Home vs. #245 Abilene Christian 59-64
  • Next game: Jan. 6 vs. Baylor 2:00 PM, ESPN+
    What in the world happened to Mike Boynton’s program? The Cowboys got crushed in the transfer portal, losing key contributors Avery Anderson III (TCU), Moussa Cisse (Ole Miss), Kalib Boone (UNLV), Tyreek Smith (SMU), and Woody Newton (George Mason). Already with 5 losses despite a NET Strength of Schedule ranked 313th nationally, the season has already been flushed. The Cowboys will look to play spoiler to the resumes of the rest of the conference, but if Gallagher-Iba is going to be an empty cavern on game days, it’ll be tough for OSU to pull off upsets even at home.

12. West Virginia Mountaineers (5-8)

  • NET: 167 KenPom: 124
  • Best Win: Home vs. Missouri State 67-59
  • Worst Loss: Home vs. #179 Monmouth 65-73
  • Next game: Jan. 6 at Houston, 1:00 PM, ESPN+.
    This was supposed to be the year in Morgantown as its Hall of Fame coach brought in a top-flight transfer class to compete atop the Big 12. Then the offseason arrived wherein Coach Huggins used homophobic slurs in a radio interview in May and followed that up with a frightening drunk driving arrest in June, shortly followed by his dismissal (“resignation & retirement”) from the university. Some of that ballyhooed transfer class has stuck around and has gotten a big boost with the two-time transfer restriction being dropped by the NCAA, allowing RaeQuan Battle to begin play. Battle has been a superstar through three games, averaging over 27 points per game, but two of those games were still WVU losses. Accumulating eight losses through non-con play before hitting the Big 12 schedule is brutal, but only two of those losses came in Q3-4, the rest were all “acceptable” to potentially lose. I do not think WVU is as bad as the computer rankings place it and will shock some teams in the league to provide big time resume killers. I wouldn’t predict an upset win over the Cougars at Fertitta Center on Saturday, but it may be scarier than UH fans would like.