The world of Big 12 sports is riding high right now, coming off Oklahoma’s upset win over Alabama in the Sugar Bowl. On Saturday the focus turns to basketball, as the conference basketball season begins.
Big 12 basketball looks deep, with four of the ten teams ranked in the Top 25 and three more receiving votes. To set the stage for the race ahead, here’s a look at each team, what they’ve accomplished and who they’re working with.
Oklahoma State (#6): The Cowboys have the horses to make sure the Big 12 is represented when the Final Four comes to their backyard in Dallas. Marcus Smart is an elite player, and the sophomore two-guard averages 17 ppg. The same goes for guard Markel Brown and forward LeBryan Nash is averaging 14 points/6 rebounds. Okie State has role players in sharpshooter Phil Forte and rebounder Kamari Murphy. They’ve split two games with Memphis, while beating Butler and Colorado.
Baylor (#9): A balanced backcourt of Kenny Chery disturbing the ball and Brady Heslip hitting the three, is joined by forward Cory Jefferson, with his 14/9 per-game average. Gary Frank can hit from long range and Rico Gathers hits the boards. What the Bears need to move into the national elite is for 7’1” sophomore Isaiah Austin to start getting more than five rebounds a game. Baylor has already knocked off Kentucky, and the only loss is to Syracuse.
Iowa State (#13): Wins over Michigan, BYU and Iowa highlight an undefeated start for the Cyclones. This is a group of ‘tweeners, players between 6’4” and 6’7” who all score and rebound. Dustin Hogue is a double-double man at 14 points/10 rebounds, while DeAndre Kane does it all, with 15 points/8 rebounds/6 assists. And neither is among Iowa State’s top two scorers, those being Melvin Ejim and Georges Niang.
Kansas (#16): Bill Self has won at least a piece of the Big 12 for nine consecutive years. Oddly enough, the year when he has the nation’s most highly touted recruit, the one-and-done Andrew Wiggins, could be the year the streak ends. Wiggins is averaging a 16/5, and there is not a lot of depth to the lineup. Kansas is big, with sophomore forward Perry Ellis and 7’0” freshman Joel Embiid anchoring the front line, but Self needs to develop a backcourt and find some perimeter shooting.
Texas (Receiving votes): Rick Barnes hasn’t had a really good team since 2008, but there are some early signs of promise with this group. The Longhorns have already beaten North Carolina and have a deep lineup that is well-balanced. Jonathan Holmes, a 6’8” forward is the best player, but it’s a first-among-equals kind of best. The lack of three-point shooting is the biggest weakness.
Oklahoma (Receiving votes): Like their archrival in Austin, the Sooners have good balance, but are weak in three-point shooting. Cameron Clark, a 6’7” forward, is knocking down 19 ppg, while fellow forward Ryan Spangler is averaging an 11/10. The backcourt of Buddy Hield, Jordan Woodward and Isaiah Cousins can all chip in. Now they just need someone to do the chipping in from behind the arc.
Kansas State (Receiving votes): A terrible start saw quick losses to Northern Colorado, Charlotte and Georgetown, but each loss improved in quality and eventually K-State won eight in a row, including a win over Gonzaga. Bruce Weber has this team getting better, and…stop if you’ve heard this before—they have good balance in their scoring, but don’t have anyone who can loosen up the defenses from three-point range.
West Virginia: The losses have piled up, but the competition has been good—Wisconsin, Missouri and Gonzaga, along with Purdue and Virginia Tech. The Mountaineers have an outstanding scorer in guard Eron Harris, and his ability to hit the trey can give them an edge against midlevel Big 12 teams that otherwise have more talent. Juwan Staten is a quality backcourt scorer, while 6’9” freshman Devin Williams is emerging as both a scorer and rebounder.
Texas Tech: Here’s another team that has challenged itself and paid the price in the W-L record. The Red Raiders have quality losses to Arizona, Arizona State and Pitt, and tolerable defeats to Alabama and LSU. Even better, Texas Tech has a nice win against Houston. The Red Raiders are built around a pair of 6’7 forwards in Jaye Crockett and Jordan Tolbert, but they have to shoulder a big load.
TCU: Kyan Anderson is an exciting player, that averages 17 ppg and dishes five assists per game. The team lost to Longwood, which tells us about all we need to know. The Horned Frogs are the one Big 12 team where I really can’t find any reason for hope.