Checking in on… the Big 12Posted by Brian Goodman on January 11th, 2011
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A Look Back
This week signaled the beginning of conference play in the Big 12 as ten of the league’s 12 teams tipped things off on Saturday, with Kansas and Texas as exceptions.
- All in all, it wasn’t a good day to be a favorite. The Kansas State Wildcats, the preseason pick to win the conference, were the first to fall. Frank Martin took his team into Gallagher-Iba Arena to take on Oklahoma State and after a close game for much of the contest, the Wildcats went cold down the stretch and the Cowboys managed a solid victory over Kansas State.
- It wouldn’t take long for the next, and possibly biggest, upset of the day to occur as Missouri would stumble in Boulder against a Colorado team that certainly opened some eyes on Saturday. The Tigers were behind by a hefty margin for most of this one before closing it to eight at one point late. In the end, Colorado would ride a 36-point effort from Alec Burks to a comfortable win over the number eight team in the country.
- The win was a coming out party on the year for Burks, a statement win for head coach Tad Boyle and Colorado once again looks like a team that will be playing for a spot in the Tournament if they can maintain Saturday’s level of play. As for Missouri, the press did little to trouble the Buffs for the majority of the contest and once again, the halfcourt offense left plenty to be desired.
- Elsewhere in the league, the favorites held serve as Texas A&M handled Oklahoma with relative ease and despite a tight game early in the second half, Baylor proved too much for Texas Tech.
- One game that didn’t receive much fanfare, but might have been a bit surprising to a few, occurred in Lincoln. The Cyclones of Iowa State took on the Huskers and both teams had shown solid starts to the year without too much in the way of competition. In a lot of ways, Iowa State passed the eyeball test and was more of a surprise this year, while Nebraska looked like the same old Nebraska year after year. Turns out Nebraska walked away with a one-point win and showed the ability to hang their hat on defense once again.
All in all, the lesson of the day is that parity is alive and well in the conference and the Big 12 looks to be one of the deepest and most competitive in the country once again. Road wins will come at a premium and there are easily eight or nine teams that can realistically point to the NCAA Tournament as a goal right now. They won’t all make it, but it’s there if any given team can find a way to win the games in front of them.
Outside of conference play, there were two more games of note. Saturday, Texas dropped one at home to the ninth ranked Connecticut Huskies late in overtime by just a point. Right now, the sense is that the Longhorns have solved the concerns from a year ago, but this Longhorn team actually sits at a worse record than the team that collapsed so epically last season.
Lastly, on Sunday, Kansas went to Michigan and prevailed over a Big 10 opponent, though not without some difficulty. Michigan isn’t expected to be particularly competitive in the Big 10 this year, so the result was not expected. Both Texas and Kansas will tip conference play on Wednesday night.
Note: Power rankings are are meant to reflect who is playing the best basketball at a given time. Early conference play can and did create quite a shakeup based on some telling head-to-heads, but things tend to balance out as the games add up.
- Kansas (15-0) – Kansas continues to flirt with a loss, and after looking to have things rolling in the right direction, they took a small step back with a nailbiter in Ann Arbor against a young Michigan team. The title still looks to run through Lawrence, but it’s far from a given for the Jayhawks this year.
- Texas A&M (14-1, 1-0 Big 12) – A&M was the one ranked Big 12 team that took care of business in conference play on the opening weekend. Mark Turgeon and the Aggies also appear to have the attention of the college basketball world as they should continue to move up the top 25 rankings.
- Texas (12-3) – Texas lost to the 9th-ranked team in the country in overtime – that’s not a bad loss. They continue to look like a solid team, and despite the hiccup this week, Rick Barnes still has the group playing good basketball
- Colorado (12-4, 1-0 Big 12) – It’s a power ranking and this week at this moment, Colorado looks as good as anyone. The Buffs handed it to Missouri at home, and Tad Boyle has the team playing well since a few early season losses. Will CU finish this high? Probably not, but a power ranking is meant to be a judge of who’s playing the best basketball at a given moment, so hats off to Colorado.
- Missouri (14-2, 0-1 Big 12) – Missouri stumbled a bit, and more than anything, they ran into a buzzsaw in Colorado. The Tigers are still a very good team, but they’ll need to find a way to dial up the pressure earlier and some sense of a half court offense is a must.
- Oklahoma State (13-2, 1-0 Big 12) – Oklahoma State upset the Wildcats of Kansas State in a Gallagher-Iba Arena with plenty of empty seats. This is a tournament caliber team that beats you by outworking you and the Cowboy fans need to take notice.
- Baylor (11-3, 1-0 Big 12) – Baylor opens conference play with a win in Lubbock. The game was close briefly, but Baylor showed glimpses of why many expected them to compete for the conference crown. Throw in LaceDarius Dunn’s string of success and this is going to be a team in the mix.
- Kansas State (12-4, 0-1 Big 12) – Kansas State has Jacob Pullen back, but they still have some issues to address. The loss to Oklahoma State is just another example of how difficult life on the road in this conference is, but K-State needs to get things going in the very near future.
- Nebraska (13-2, 1-0 Big 12) – The Huskers got a big win for them in the early going and did it with their staple, which is defense. Things get a little tougher this week with a matchup against the Missouri Tigers, but maybe, just maybe, Doc Sadler can make some waves this year.
- Iowa State (13-3, 0-1 Big 12) – On paper, there wasn’t much differentiating Iowa State and Nebraska, but the return of Fred Hoiberg and an overachieving nature early led to some goodwill in the rankings department for the Cyclones where the Huskers struggled. A one-point loss in Lincoln isn’t all that bad in reality, but it’s a loss to give Nebraska the edge.
- Texas Tech (8-8, 0-1 Big 12) – Tech almost provided some nervous moments for Baylor Bear fans but continue to find plenty of struggles on the offensive end. It’s a team that’s better than Oklahoma, but that’s about all that can be said.
- Oklahoma (8-8, 0-1 Big 12) – Oklahoma loses the opener against the Aggies and things don’t get any easier from here on out. It’s exactly what was expected from the Sooners and the morale behind and confidence in Jeff Capel has to be hurting.
A Look Ahead
Twelve conference games on the docket this week and every single one will be important considering the parity that showed this week.
- Tuesday night, the Big 12 South is the feature as Texas takes on Texas Tech and Baylor welcomes Oklahoma.
- Wednesday features four games across the league, with Kansas opening play against Iowa State and Nebraska heading into Columbia, where the Tigers will look to rebound from their opening game loss.
- The two games that look to be the most interesting on the night are Colorado at Kansas State and Oklahoma State at Texas A&M. Both Colorado and OSU are coming off statement wins in their respective openers and both head on the road against a ranked opponent (if K-State remains ranked) with a chance to cement themselves as a potential NCAA tournament representative for the Big 12. A loss doesn’t hurt either team all that much, but a win does wonders. Furthermore, Kansas State is in a situation where they almost have to feel like Colorado is a must-win in order to get things back on track.
- Jumping ahead to Saturday, all 12 teams across the conference are in action. The highlight of the day has to be Missouri heading into College Station to take on the Aggies. This represents the first real head-to-head for two conference “contenders” and both teams stand to make an early statement in that hunt with a win.
- Another game to watch is once again in Boulder, as Oklahoma State takes on the Buffaloes. These two teams fall into the must-watch category because both teams made some noise on the opening weekend, and when push comes to shove come March, these could be two teams in very similar situations in terms of tournament hopes.
- Elsewhere, Kansas hosts Nebraska, Oklahoma heads to Texas, Iowa State takes on Baylor at home, and Texas Tech heads into Manhattan for a game against the Wildcats.
Player of the Year Watch (no particular order)
Power Ranking Style and Conference Statistics Consideration Beginning Next Week
- Jacob Pullen – (17.4 PPG, 3.8 APG, 43% FG) Trending Up: Pullen is back on the court and stepping up his game for the Wildcats. Something still seems to be missing, but it’s more in the way of chemistry and the supporting components than Pullen.
- Marcus Morris – (15.2 PPG, 6.1 RPG, 61% FG) Even: Morris continues to be extremely efficient and leads the #3 Jayhawks. Now he needs to step up in the leadership department and start playing smarter as a player in order to take the Jayhawks and his chances at the POY to the next level.
- Alec Burks – (20.1 PPG, 4.9 RPG, 51% FG) Trending Up: Monster opening weekend for Burks with a 36-point, eight-rebound effort in an upset win over #8 Missouri. Based on one game, which is way too early, he’s the leader.
- Jordan Hamilton – (19.6 PPG, 7.1 RPG) Even: After the loss to UConn, conference play begins Tuesday for the Horns, and that’s where Hamilton will need to lead his team in order to win this award.
- LaceDarius Dunn – (23.1 PPG, 4.7 RPG, 2.4 APG, 44% FG) Trending Up: Dunn seems to be hitting his stride after the early season suspension. A 43-point output in the non conference finale was the highlight of the week.
- Marcus Denmon – (17.2 PPG, 2 SPG, 50% 3P%) Trending Down: If you handed out the award for play in the nonconference, Denmon might just win it. So far in the one conference game, both Denmon and the Tigers struggled.
- Khris Middleton – (15.4 PPG, 4.8 RPG, 2.8 APG) **New**: It’s really a team effort in College Station, but right now Middleton is the leader on arguably the second best team in the league. Actually, the team in the league with the most Top 25 wins. A&M deserves a representative in the conversation.