The Big 12 has gotten off to a hot start in nonconference play. Several teams have wins that will be important for seeding come selection Sunday. West Virginia beat Virginia, Iowa State has Miami, FL, and Baylor has six top 100 wins including Louisville. Oklahoma State, Kansas State, and Texas Tech are three teams that are still either looking for a signature win or have not played a challenging opponent.
Oklahoma State has started the season on a scoring tear. As expected, Jawun Evans leads the team in possession percentage and is 11th in the country in shot percentage according to Kenpom, but he hasn’t had to play without any offensive help. Phil Forte and Jeffrey Carroll are both top 100 offensive players nationally that are helping against weaker opponents. The concerns when the Cowboys get to conference play are going to be about how the defense holds up against stronger competition. North Carolina scored 107 points in a blowout win and, while Oklahoma State is 5th nationally in steal rate, the gambling style has led to a 218th ranking in opponent’s effective field goal percentage. Talent advantages and scoring have masked these deficiencies against weaker opponents, but conference play will bring more talented teams that can expose that risky style.
After a strong first season that ended in a disappointing first round tournament loss to La Salle, Bruce Weber has not had the success in Manhattan that was expected. Wildcat fans expect to compete for a tournament birth each year and the main issue over the last two seasons has been a very poor nonconference showing. This season’s 328th ranked strength of schedule does not present an opportunity to show the committee that a .500 record in even the tough Big 12 will be enough for an at-large bid. Kansas State’s best win is arguably over Nebraska-Omaha and there are no opponents remaining in the top 100 per Kenpom. The good news for the Wildcats is that they are forcing a turnover on nearly a quarter of all defensive possessions and that has not affected their field goal percentage defense which is 16th nationally. Going 11-1 out of conference is not going to get Weber fired before conference play, but, without a strong showing against the top half of the league, fans will be expecting a change in the offseason.
The Red Raiders, with a 335th ranked strength of schedule, are in a similar position to Kansas State. Fortunately for Chris Beard, he is in just his first season in Lubbock after coming over from Arkansas Little Rock. Rice and Auburn have been the toughest opponents but a close win over the former is not enough for tournament expectations at this point in the season. Also similar to Kansas State, Texas Tech does not have an opponent left on the schedule to boost their resume. They will need their balanced offensive start (9th nationally and just one spot behind Kansas in effective field goal percentage) to continue when conference play starts. Beard is hoping that his roster consisting entirely of juniors and seniors can continue the methodical (342nd in adjusted tempo) and efficient play into the Big 12 slate. Aaron Ross has come off the bench and in limited minutes has led the team in scoring but Keenan Evans and Anthony Livingston will be expected to shoulder the load going forward. Beard used a slow pace to upset Purdue and reach the second round of the NCAA Tournament last season. Hopefully the Raiders can slow down the more talented conference opponents to steal a couple wins.
The Big 12 could not have scripted a better start for most of its teams. Each of these three are capable of making some noise in conference play and, with weak nonconference schedule, will need just that to make the tournament.