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Big 12 Men’s Basketball Power Rankings: The championship race is full throttle

There’s no true outlier in the conference. The top of the Big 12 is closer than ever.

Syndication: The Topeka Capital-Journal Evert Nelson/The Capital-Journal / USA TODAY NETWORK

The conference championship race is tighter than ever. With Houston’s addition to the Big 12, Kansas no longer reigns supreme. Furthermore, the top half of the conference is littered with teams capable of bringing home the Big 12 Tournament title. Only a few teams are out of contention, but those teams still have plenty of fight. Here is this week’s Big 12 Power Rankings.

TIER 1: Big 12 Title Favorites

The top two squads are solidified. However, the third and fourth-place teams are up for debate weekly. Whichever teams remain at the top come tournament time are likely to be seeded in the 1-4 range by March. The Big 12 is that good, as evidenced by the impressive NET and KenPom rankings for each of the following squads.

1. Houston Cougars (20-3, 7-3)

  • Previous Rank: 1
  • Last Week: L at KU; W vs. OK State
  • NET: 1; KenPom: 1
  • Next: Feb. 10 at Cincy
  • After a less-than-stellar outing at the Phog, the Cougars rebounded to defeat the lowly Oklahoma State Cowboys at home. Against the Kansas Jayhawks, the Cougars only turned the ball over three times. However, they shot a paltry 36.2 percent from the floor and 31.0 percent from the floor. Conversely, Kansas knocked down 68.9 percent of their field goals. The 13-point differential would’ve likely been far more drastic if not for the Jayhawks’ 18 turnovers. Two days later, Houston’s shooting looked back to form. The Cougars nailed 49.2 percent of their looks and held a 40.0 percent mark from distance against Oklahoma State.

2. Kansas Jayhawks (18-5, 6-4)

  • Previous Rank: 3
  • Last Week: W vs. Houston; L at KSU
  • NET: 12; KenPom: 13
  • Next: Feb. 10 vs. Baylor; Feb. 12 at TTU
  • What a turn of events for the Jayhawks. Kansas, despite turning the ball over 18 times, scorched the Cougars’ vaunted defense to the tune of 78 points, the most the Cougs have allowed all season long. Houston hadn’t even allowed more than 72 points all season. Then, on Monday night, the Jayhawks took all of 45 minutes to breach the 70-point plateau against intrastate rival, Kansas State. The Jayhawks kept the turnovers down but shot just 3-of-15 from deep in the affair.

3. Baylor Bears (17-5, 6-3)

  • Previous Rank: 6
  • Last Week: W vs. ISU; W vs. TTU
  • NET: 14; KenPom: 16
  • Next: Feb. 10 at KU; Feb. 13 vs. OU
  • The highest riser on the list goes to the Baylor Bears. The Bears defeated back-to-back ranked squads in Iowa State and Texas Tech. The Baylor victories were impressive, given Bears’ star freshman Ja’kobe Walter’s poor outings. The potential lottery pick went a combined 4-of-19 from the floor and 2-of-11 from three in last week’s contests. It’s now been three consecutive games the Baylor guard has gone under double digits. Walter’s fellow backcourt-mate RayJ Dennis took a step forward. He scored 18 against the Cyclones, then followed his first impressive performance up with a 21-point outing against the Red Raiders.

4. Iowa State Cyclones (17-5, 6-3)

  • Previous Rank: 2
  • Last Week: L at Baylor: W at UT
  • NET: 9; KenPom: 12
  • Next: Feb. 10 vs. TCU; Feb. 13 at Cincy
  • A slight drop in the ranking isn’t an indicator of how good this Iowa State team is. The Big 12 is so talented that teams can shift with extreme frequency. The Cyclones lost to the Bears by only two points, after a last-second layup doomed the Cyclones’ chances of victory. On Tuesday, Iowa State built a massive lead over the Longhorns in the first half. However, in a blink of an eye, the Longhorns came back. With seven minutes left, Iowa State led by 14 points. After the clock dipped below seven, Dylan Disu and Texas roared back to cut the lead to three with 41 seconds to go. This time around, the Cyclones closed out the Longhorns to maintain the W.

TIER 2: The Contenders

These squads below are on the verge of title contender status. However, a few suspect losses are holding them back. Nevertheless, any of these squads can rise the ranks in a pinch. All three squads have been ranked in the teens at one point. And it’s all but likely at least one of the following teams will make it back to the 10-20 range of the polls once again.

5. TCU Horned Frogs (16-6, 5-4)

  • Previous Rank: 4
  • Last Week: L vs. UT
  • NET: 35; KenPom: 29
  • Next: Feb. 10 at ISU; Feb. 12 vs. WVU
  • The Horned Frogs, like many Big 12 squads, can beat and lose to anyone. This past Saturday was an example of just that. TCU had been impeccable at home, losing just one game to the Cyclones by one point. However, the Horned Frogs, coming off back-to-back top-15 wins, lost to the Texas Longhorns by 11 points. If TCU were to win, they’d be sitting half a game back from first place.

6. Texas Tech Red Raiders (16-6, 5-4)

  • Previous Rank: 5
  • Last Week: L vs. Cincy; L at Baylor
  • NET: 37; KenPom: 36
  • Next: Feb. 10 vs. UCF; Feb. 12 vs. KU
  • Not the best week to be a Texas Tech fan. After an impressive run to begin conference play, the Red Raiders have looked subpar in recent contests. The Red Raiders lost a back-and-forth game to a better-than-expected Cincinnati Bearcats squad. Just a few nights later, the Red Raiders took on the rolling Baylor Bears in Waco. Playing without their best big man, the Red Raiders were forced to rely on a foursome of guards. With no Warren Washington on the floor, the Bears outrebounded the Red Raiders 33-24.

7. Oklahoma Sooners (17-6, 5-5)

  • Previous Rank: 8
  • Last Week: L at UCF; W vs. BYU
  • NET: 26; KenPom: 21
  • Next: Feb. 10 vs. OK State; Feb. 13 at Baylor
  • Bad loss, great win. That pretty much sums up the Sooners week. Oklahoma lost by 11 points to the UCF Knights on Saturday afternoon. The offensive was putrid, scoring just 63 points on 20-of-54 shooting. Additionally, the Sooners coughed up the ball 15 times. Oklahoma never led in the game. It took more than half the next game for the Sooners to get back on track. With 17 minutes to go, the Sooners trailed by five points. All of a sudden, the Sooners found their touching, demolishing the Cougars over the next 16 minutes of gameplay.

TIER 3: On the Bubble

This section includes a few free-falling squads while others are just hanging on. Of the five schools listed below, three of which are brand new to the conference and one is on the verge of departure. All of the following squads can defeat any team, but each one owns an even or a losing record in conference play.

8. BYU Cougars (16-6, 4-5)

  • Previous Rank: 7
  • Last Week: W at WVU; L at OU
  • NET: 8; KenPom: 11
  • Next: Feb. 10 vs. KSU; Feb. 13 vs. UCF
  • BYU had a similar week to the Sooners. Although the level of competition was quite different. The Cougars defeated the Mountaineers in Morgantown by 13 points before falling to the Sooners by 16. BYU played well in both first halves. Against West Virginia, bYU replicated success in the second-half. The story wasn’t the same in game two. BYU looked like a much different squad in the last 10 minutes against the Sooners.

9. Kansas State Wildcats (15-8, 5-5)

  • Previous Rank: 10
  • Last Week: L at OK State; W vs. KU
  • NET: 76; KenPom: 72
  • Next: Feb. 10 at KSU
  • One of the more difficult teams to rank, the Wildcats were defeated by the worst squad in the Big 12, the Cowboys, and then two days later they toppled the Jayhawks. This past week has been indicative of the Wildcats’ season. Kansas State began the conference schedule on a tear before dropping four consecutive contests. The win against Kansas should surely regain some confidence in Manhattan.

10. Cincinnati Bearcats (15-7, 4-5)

  • Previous Rank: 11
  • Last Week: W at TTU
  • NET: 32; KenPom: 31
  • Next: Feb. 10 vs. Houston; Feb. 13. vs. ISU
  • The Bearcats defeated the Red Raiders in Lubbock on Saturday night. It was a much-needed win, as Cincinnati only played one game this past week before taking on the Houston Cougars at home on Saturday, February 10. Against the Red Raiders, Cincinnati executed very well to come away with the victory. The Bearcats shot better from all areas of the court, won the rebounding battle, and forced double-digit turnovers.

11. Texas Longhorns (15-8, 4-6)

  • Previous Rank: 9
  • Last Week: W at TCU; L vs. ISU
  • NET: 38; KenPom: 30
  • Next: Feb. 10 vs. WVU
  • Yet another difficult team to rank, the Longhorns are one of the biggest underachievers this season in the Big 12. In the preseason, Texas was chosen to finish third in the conference. It’s now likely the Longhorns miss the NCAA Tournament altogether. One of the most talented squads in the Big 12, Texas began conference play with a 1-3 record. The Longhorns have fought hard to rise the ranks, but it’s likely too little too late for the squad in burnt orange.

12. UCF Knights (13-8, 4-5)

  • Previous Rank: 12
  • Last Week: W vs. OU
  • NET: 66; KenPom: 68
  • Next: Feb. 10 at TTU; Feb. 13 at BYU
  • UCF dominated Oklahoma on the defensive end of the court. Despite not scoring with the utmost efficiency, the Knights stifled the Sooners’ impressive offense. UCF held Oklahoma to their second-lowest scoring total of the season. The Knights rejected 12 of the Sooners’ shots, making life difficult for Oklahoma.

TIER 4: The Bottom Dwellers

Both of these schools will likely remain in tier four for the rest of the season. Another team will probably join them, but for now, there are two teams clearly at the bottom. Both of these teams have defeated at least two conference foes this season. Other than that, there’s not much to write home about considering the losing records.

13. West Virginia Mountaineers (8-14, 3-6)

  • Previous Rank: 13
  • Last Week: L vs. BYU
  • NET: 143; KenPom: 134
  • Next: Feb. 10 at UT; Feb. 12 at TCU
  • The Mountaineers allowed the Cougars to get to whatever spot they wanted to on the court. BYU dropped 86 points on West Virginia, knocking down 13 triples in the process. The worst defense in the conference was unable to put a stop to the second-best offense.

14. Oklahoma State Cowboys (10-13, 2-8)

  • Previous Rank: 14
  • Last Week: W vs. KSU; L at Houston
  • NET: 138; KenPom: 121
  • Next: Feb. 10 at OU
  • Oklahoma State defeated Kansas State to win their second conference game on Saturday afternoon. The joy was short-lived however, as the Cowboys fell at the hands of the Houston Cougars on Tuesday night. Sans a true star player, the Cowboys have been reliant upon guard Javon Small as of late. He’s scored in double digits in five of the last six Cowboys’ contests.