Big 12 Freshmen Update: The Names You Know & The Names You Should

Posted by Nate Kotisso on December 2nd, 2016

Last season was like a dream for the Big 12, as junior and senior-laden teams produced some of the best basketball the conference has seen in its 20-year history. Seven teams made the NCAA Tournament, and unlike years past, multiple members other than Kansas made it to the second weekend and beyond. With much of that experience from those teams now gone, many Big 12 teams are looking to their freshmen to lead this season. There are a few schools with freshmen who did not make the cut for several reasons. Those particular teams either did not have compelling enough freshmen just yet (i.e., Baylor and West Virginia), have good contributors who haven’t played in every game (i.e., Iowa State’s Solomon Young) or don’t have any scholarship freshmen at all (Texas Tech). Let’s take a look at the top eight freshmen in the league to this point in the season.

I doubt a better picture of KU super freshman Josh Jackson in the known universe. (Jamie Squire/Getty Images)

I doubt a better photo of KU super freshman Josh Jackson exists in the known universe. (Jamie Squire/Getty Images)

  • Jarrett Allen, center, Texas (10.5 PPG, 7.8 RPG, 1.3 BPG in 29.7 MPG): Allen being on this list is both a blessing and a curse. The Round Rock, Texas, native currently ranks first in rebounds and blocked shots on the team and is third in scoring. However, Allen has to this point logged better field goal shooting (52.2%) than he has at the charity stripe (51.7%). Still, the season is young and this freshman is a rising star for the Longhorns.
  • Udoka Azubuike, center, Kansas (5.0 PPG, 5.0 RPG, 1.3 BPG in 13.7 MPG): Azubuike is the latest in Bill Self’s successful recruit-17-year-old-basketball-prodigies program. His measurements — an energetic 6’11” big man with a 7’5″ wingspan — are what get NBA scouts excited, but it is clear that the freshman has some game. Self clearly is buying in, given that Azubuike has started each of Kansas’ last two games. Prepare for more impressive numbers from this precocious big man after we ring in the New Year.

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Feast Week Mission Briefing: Oklahoma State in the Maui Jim Maui Invitational

Posted by Nate Kotisso on November 21st, 2016

Feast Week is here. To get you ready for the Big 12’s representation in the various holiday tournaments, our Feast Week Mission Briefings continue with Oklahoma State in the Maui Jim Maui Invitational.

Catching Up: Despite Big 12 coaches picking the Cowboys to finish seventh in the conference standings, it was hardly a surprise that Oklahoma State hammered Campbell, Central Arkansas and New Orleans thoroughly in Brad Underwood‘s first three outings. In doing so, the Cowboys put together three 100-point efforts in a season for the first time since Marcus Smart was on campus in Stillwater. Underwood’s projected backcourt duo of Jawun Evans and Phil Forte has so far lived up to its lofty expectations. Evans and Forte have combined to average 45.3 points per game, a figure inflated by a low level of competition but still nice to look at it a week and a half into the season.

Oklahoma State Cowboys guard Jawun Evans has put up video game numbers so far this season: 23.3 ppg, 4.0 rpg, 6.3 apg and 3.0 spg. (Alonzo Adams/USA TODAY Sports)

Oklahoma State Cowboys guard Jawun Evans has put up video game numbers so far this season: 23.3 ppg, 4.0 rpg, 6.3 apg and 3.0 spg. (Alonzo Adams/USA TODAY Sports)

Opening Round Preview: Connecticut came into this opening round game looking nothing like its usual self. Picked in the preseason to finish second in the American, UConn has stumbled out of the gate in losing back-to-back home games to Wagner and Northeastern, followed by a comeback road victory at Loyola Marymount. Despite being plagued by poor three-point shooting (27%), the Huskies still have athletic bodies like Amida Brimah and Rodney Purvis, both of whom can guard multiple positions. Monday night’s game will be a meeting of one team that wants to run (Oklahoma State) and another that would much prefer a tight, defensive affair (UConn).

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Big 12 Power Rankings: It’s Practically March Edition

Posted by Nate Kotisso on February 26th, 2016

It is practically March, isn’t it? We’re just four days away. You can almost feel the bubble shrink as at-large hopefuls drop games they shouldn’t be dropping and simultaneously expand whenever a recent winning streak is validated with a big win. As of now, the Big 12’s bubble situation is relatively clear. Barring a flurry of wins from Kansas State within the next two weeks, the conference will send seven teams to the NCAA Tournament. The last team among the seven is Texas Tech. When Big 12 coaches picked them to finish 10th a few months ago, how could anyone have seen this coming?

THE EVIDENCE. (Big12Sports.com)

HERE IS THE EVIDENCE. LOOK AT IT. LOOK AT ITTTTTT (Big12Sports.com)

Texas Tech has eight conference wins at this point which bodes well with how the selection committee has historically treated eight-win Big 12 teams. Oklahoma State (twice) and Texas (once) made it safely into the field of 68 with that number in 2014 and 2015. Much has been written about the Red Raiders’ rise from rotten to respectable, and rightly so, but we shouldn’t forget that they’ve gone on this five-game winning streak without the services of starting center Norense OdiaseTubby Smith is the favorite for Big 12 Coach of the Year and is also creeping into National Coach of the Year discussions as well. Now let’s hope all seven clubs make it to the Sweet Sixteen.

Big 12 Power Rankings

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Big 12 M5: 02.15.16 Edition

Posted by Nate Kotisso on February 15th, 2016

big12m5

  1. In the second meeting of the Big 12’s Game of the Century, Kansas persevered through Frank Mason III fouling out with 3:22 to go and completed a season sweep of Oklahoma. Not only did the Jayhawks join a first-place tie in the Big 12 with West Virginia but, as CBS Sports’ Gary Parrish points out, Kansas also notched its fifth RPI top 25 victory. No other team in all of college basketball has done that this season. Considering the questions around this team after they lost at West Virginia and Oklahoma State, The Streak™ looked to be in great jeopardy. Not so much now, as we’re three weeks away from the completion of conference play and again in the place we’ve always been around this time of year: marveling at Kansas atop the Big 12 standings.
  2. When you think about Iowa State, you probably think about this man as the team’s one and only All-American leader. Maybe you shouldn’t, though. As the Ames Tribune’s Travis Hines writes, the team’s starting point guard is performing at an All-American level as well. You may remember Monte’ Morris from his game-winners against Texas, Iowa and Oklahoma in the last calendar year, but he’s been a tremendous performer in all of phases of the game this season. The junior point guard is averaging 15.1 points, 4.0 rebounds, 1.9 steals and 7.0 assists per game (against 1.4 turnovers per game) while shooting 51 percent from the floor. As good as Kentucky’s Tyler Ulis and Providence’s Kris Dunn have been this year, it’s hard to argue against Morris being the best point guard in America when factoring in his offensive efficiency numbers. If the conversation for Morris to get All-American publicity hasn’t already started, let Hines be the one to get it going.
  3. Maybe Saturday night was your official wake up call, but Tubby Smith‘s Texas Tech squad has officially arrived. After fighting off Iowa State earlier in the week, Tech walked into Waco and ran over the Bears by 18 points in a convincing victory. It was the first time it had won back-to-back games versus AP Top 25 opponents in nine years. Because the Red Raiders gamed the RPI system and took down a few non-conference opponents that are at or near the top of their respective leagues, their recent wins could turn into fuel for an at-large bid. Now armed with league wins over Texas, Iowa State and Baylor, Smith’s team could get away with a 9-9 or even an 8-10 conference record and still actually sneak into the NCAA Tournament.
  4. Kansas State vs. Oklahoma State was a sad game for a few reasons. This nearly empty picture of Gallagher-Iba Arena and the “actual” attendance numbers told the story of a once-proud basketball program heading decisively in the wrong direction. On the flip side, Kansas State needed to win the game to join Texas Tech in the bubble picture, but the Wildcats were unable to score the road conference win. Two teams with two different mindsets are now inexplicably tied at 3-9 in Big 12 play — yet another wrinkle in a wild and confusing Big 12 standings.
  5. Before the Cowboys’ home game against the Wildcats, Travis Ford brought in former Oklahoma State dunking spacehuman Markel Brown to give the team a serious pep talk. Brown, now a guard with the Brooklyn Nets, had NBA All-Star Weekend off so he thought it was a good idea to take a trip back to campus. Gotta give it to the head coach, though. Even when the world is telling him he’s done at Oklahoma State, he’s still willing to try anything to get his players motivated. And hey, it worked.
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Big 12 Power Rankings: Blowing Bubbles Edition

Posted by Nate Kotisso on February 11th, 2016

When the calendar turns to February, it is required that everyone must talk about bubbles. When engaging in bubble talk, we are obliged to have serious discussions about big bubbles, small bubbles, dish soap, glycerin and various bubble wand shapes. But you must also make mention of the nervous teams on the fringe of the NCAA Tournament bracket. Last week, we discussed the Big 12 bubble picture at considerable length. While we thought that teams like Kansas State and Texas Tech still had some life left in them, we weren’t so positive that they could change their fortunes so quickly. Down starting point guard Kamau Stokes, the Wildcats knocked off #1 Oklahoma on Saturday because Wesley Iwundu decided the offense would run through him. (He also accurately decided his man-to-man defense on Buddy Hield would give his team a better chance at slowing down Oklahoma’s potent offense.) The Red Raiders had solid computer numbers going into last night’s game against Iowa State (RPI: 54, non-conference SOS: 59, two RPI Top 50 wins) but a 3-7 conference record is not where a team wants to be in mid-February. Texas Tech then proceeded to take down the Cyclones in overtime, adding another feather in the cap of a potential at-large profile.

Texas Tech head coach Tubby Smith might have received help from above in last night's upset victory over Iowa State. (Michael C. Johnson/USA TODAY Sports)

Texas Tech head coach Tubby Smith may have received some help from above in last night’s upset victory of Iowa State.
(Michael C. Johnson/USA TODAY Sports)

What does this all mean? It means there are 23 days until the final day of the Big 12’s regular season on March 5. Some teams will rise, some will fall, and some will be Kansas. If you are not Kansas, you, a Big 12 conference member, have been sentenced to death in the wings of a flightless bird. They may not fly, but they sure can claw.

All hail the mighty Jayhawk.

The power rankings are below.

1. Oklahoma — 4 points (Chris & Nate — 1st, Brian — 2nd). Comment: “This is the first week that Brian, Chris and myself have not unanimously voted the Sooners No. 1 in quite some time. I might be turning myself into #thatguy, but… something’s clearly up with Oklahoma, right? The Sooners’ somewhat sluggish play might be because of the rough 48-hour turnaround that Saturday-Big Monday games will do to players, but Texas outscoring the Sooners by 14 in the paint isn’t good. Texas owning the paint with just one legitimate big man inside isn’t good. Oklahoma going ice cold late in a game (sans Buddy) in Norman isn’t good. Am I making a bigger deal from probably nothing? Maybe, but then again, maybe not.” – Nate Kotisso (@natekotisso)

2. Kansas — 5 points (Brian — 1st, Chris & Nate — 2nd). Comment: “The much-maligned Landen Lucas was the most active defensive player for Kansas Tuesday night, hauling in 16 rebounds and blocking four shots. It was the first such performance by a Jayhawk since Jeff Withey in the 2013 Round of 32, when Kansas knocked off North Carolina behind Withey’s 16 points, 16 rebounds and seven blocks. It will probably be a while before those two are mentioned in the same sentence again, so Jayhawk fans are advised to print out these rankings and display them in their offices.” – Brian Goodman (@bsgoodman)

3. West Virginia — 9 points (All voted 3rd). Comment: “Has the Big 12 finally discovered some cracks in the Mountaineers’ press? West Virginia’s last eight opponents have all registered turnover rates below the Mountaineers’ season-long defensive average of 26.1 percent. If coaches are doing a better job of scouting West Virginia, and it looks like they are, the Mountaineers will need to find a way to adjust if they want to stay in the thick of the race.” – BG

4. Texas — 12 points (All voted 4th). Comment: “Weird trivia time! Had Texas knocked off the Sooners a few days ago, they would have been just the second Big 12 team since West Virginia and TCU joined the league to win at Baylor, at West Virginia and at Oklahoma in the same season. The first team to pull this off was 2012-13 Kansas State. Perhaps losing in Norman was for the best.” – NK

5. Baylor — 15 points (All voted 5th). Comment: “With Rico Gathers unavailable because of illness, the Bears got pummeled on both backboards against Kansas State Wednesday night, so they turned to an unlikely source for help: the free throw line. While Baylor had excelled at getting to the stripe this season, entering the game ranked second in the Big 12 in offensive free throw rate, they also entered it ranked just sixth in free throw shooting. Led by Lester Medford‘s 11-for-11 effort, though, Baylor calmly hit 29-for-30 attempts in the 82-72 win, quieting the talk of Kansas State’s narrow chances for an at-large bid – at least for now.” – BG

6. Iowa State — 18 points (All voted 6th). Comment: “While Steve Prohm hopes Jameel McKay‘s suspension will help the Cyclones in the long run, it’s certainly not helping in the short run. Without its sole rim protector against Texas Tech on Wednesday, Iowa State blocked just two shots, allowed the Red Raiders to shoot 80 percent (12-of-15) at the rim and hauled in just 62.5 percent of available defensive rebounds.” – BG

7. Texas Tech — 22 points (Chris & Nate — 7th, Brian — 8th). Comment: “It feels like it might be a while before the Red Raiders move up in our rankings because their 4-7 Big 12 record isn’t close enough to .500. But if it does, we’ll gladly oblige an ascension.” – NK

8. Kansas State — 23 points (Brian — 7th, Chris & Nate — 8th). Comment: “From off the bubble to on it to back off it in the span of five days, it’s been a busy week for the Wildcats. Then again, if you told Bruce Weber this time last year that flirting with an at-large bid would constitute a busy week, chances are he’d take it in a heartbeat.” – BG

9. Oklahoma State — 28 points (Brian & Chris — 9th, Nate — 10th). Comment: “From the Kansas win to Monday’s loss at TCU, these last few weeks have encapsulated Oklahoma State’s tenure under Travis Ford: numerous moments of failure mixed in with brief moments of brilliance. The end is near.” – NK

10. Texas Christian — 29 points (Nate — 9th, Brian & Chris — 10th). Comment: “I voted ninth for the Horned Frogs this week because: a) they share identical conference (2-9) and overall records (11-13) with Oklahoma State; and b) they have a head-to-head win over the Cowboys. The climb out of the Big 12 cellar is nearly complete.” – NK

Big 12 Video/GIF of the Week

This week’s winner was a late entry but wound up being the best regardless. With 1:34 left in overtime and two seconds remaining on the shot clock, Texas Tech’s Keenan Evans grabbed the inbounds pass and hoisted a desperation three from the Southwest Texas area of the midcourt map that smoothly banked in. It’s one of those shots that, when it drops, gives your team a boost. For the other team, however, it represents a dagger to the heart. (h/t The Cauldron)

Five Big 12 Games You Better Watch

  1. Saturday: Kansas at Oklahoma (1:30 PM CT, ESPN)
  2. Saturday: Texas Tech at Baylor (7:00 PM CT, ESPNU)
  3. Saturday: Texas at Iowa State (7:30 PM CT, ESPN2)
  4. Monday: Oklahoma State at Kansas (8:00 PM CT, ESPN)
  5. Wednesday: Oklahoma at Texas Tech (8:00 PM CT, ESPNU)
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Big 12 Power Rankings: This League Is (Still) Off Its Rocker Edition

Posted by Nate Kotisso on January 22nd, 2016

We’re almost four weeks into league play, which typically means a select group of contenders have asserted themselves and are heading for the summit they call “Conference Champion Mountain.” It’s a grueling hike to the top, but totally worth it once you get up there. You get to look out at the rest of your conference mates with the knowledge that your better was better than their better. You think about that banner you get to hang in your arena’s rafters that will forever stamp just how good your regular season was. Then, all of a sudden, you realize that you’re up really high. You struggle to breathe. Now, you can’t breathe AT ALL. After fighting for breath, you fall off the mountain, not because of the altitude. No. You fall off the mountain because a scrappy No. 14 seed has ended your quest for a national championship before you had a chance to get out of the Tournament’s first weekend.

Or, at least that’s usually how it goes in the Big 12. This season, though, has brought a special kind of craziness – one none of us could have imagined even a few short weeks ago.

Womp womp. (Screengrab via ESPN.com)

Womp womp. (Screengrab via ESPN.com)

This is where we are now, so expect a wild and crazy edition of our Big 12 Power Rankings. Here we go.

Power Rankings

1. Oklahoma — 3 points (All voted 1st). Comment: “The Sooners have two losses in Big 12 play, but both of them came on the road against upper echelon competition. Buddy Hield is continuing to play like a National Player of the Year and he has Oklahoma in position to be KenPom’s favorite in the Big 12.” – Chris Stone (@cstonehoops)

2. Kansas — 6 points (All voted 2nd). Comment: “Defensive struggles were at the heart of Tuesday’s upset at the hands of Oklahoma State, but the Jayhawks have been in a bit of a rut offensively, too, averaging only an even 1.00 point per possession over their last four games. One of the biggest factors has been the regression of Wayne Selden, who is scoring just 9.5 points per contest on 37.8% shooting since opening conference play with 24 and 21-point outbursts. The Jayhawk’s depth, along with Bill Self‘s coaching ability, is strong enough that I trust Kansas to get back on track sooner rather than later.” – Brian Goodman (@BSGoodman) Read the rest of this entry »

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Big 12 Power Rankings: Safe To Call Kansas State Good? Edition

Posted by Nate Kotisso on December 24th, 2015

Kansas State had chemistry problems all season long a year ago as the Wildcats stumbled to a miserable 15-17 record. The offseason then brought a multitude of departures that only further weakened a fan base’s confidence in head coach Bruce Weber. This season, however, with 10 newcomers — including seven freshmen — Weber’s team has already given Texas A&M and North Carolina difficult games. The Wildcats also beat Georgia, a better-than-average SEC team, on the road. So who are these Wildcats?

You might be alarmed to learn that Bruce Weber has the Kansas State Wildcats out to an 8-2 start. (Scott Sewell/USA TODAY Sports)

You might be surprised to hear that Bruce Weber has the Kansas State Wildcats off to an 8-2 start. (Scott Sewell/USA TODAY Sports)

Justin Edwards and Wesley Iwundu are the two highest scoring returnees, but it’s freshmen like last year’s Kansas Mr. Basketball Dean Wade (11.3 PPG, 5.8 RPG) and Kamau Stokes (9.1 PPG, 3.5 APG) who have led the Wildcats to a 9-2 record thus far. Is it too early to call them a good team? Probably. Still, it’s encouraging to see the Wildcats hang around with teams that are clearly better than them. Kansas State likely isn’t at the point of beating good teams just yet, but the Wildcats also aren’t nearly as far away as we expected them to be before the season began. Let’s see how they fared in our latest power rankings.

Power Rankings

  • 1. Oklahoma (tie) — 6 points (Chris & Nate — 1st, Brian & Kendall — 2nd). Comment: “The Sooners still own the Big 12’s best win according to KenPom, a 23-point drubbing of Villanova on a neutral floor. They also have the country’s fifth-best defense. Sophomore Khadeem Lattin has helped fill the void left by the departure of TaShawn Thomas. His production on the defensive end, where he’s grabbed nearly 20.0 percent of the available rebounds and blocked 8.6 percent of the opposing shots, has been his biggest contribution.” – Chris Stone (@cstonehoops)
  • 1. Kansas (tie) — 6 points (Brian & Kendall — 1st, Chris & Nate — 2nd). Comment: Wayne Selden‘s development has fueled Kansas’ shot at winning a national title. Although Selden can’t shoot 54.0 percent from three-point range all season, he has also increased his field goal percentage at the rim by 10 percent from last season.” – Kendall Kaut (@kkaut)
  • 3. Iowa State — 12 points (All voted 3rd). Comment: “Yes, the Cyclones did not lose their first game until falling to Northern Iowa in Des Moines last week, but their imperfections have been noticeable for a little while now. They struggled to beat a clearly inferior Colorado team. They trailed by 20 at home to Iowa before coming all the way back to win that one in dramatic fashion. Now they’ve lost both a game and a major shotmaker in Naz Mitrou-Long for the season while they slowly work Deonte Burton into the rotation. So, naturally, they then go out and nip Cincinnati at the wire on the road.” – Nate Kotisso (@natekotisso)

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Big 12 Power Rankings: We Don’t Know Anything Edition

Posted by Nate Kotisso on December 10th, 2015

Welcome to what is certain to be an exciting and perplexing year of our Big 12 Power Rankings. Most of the fun found in doing weekly power rankings is to watch the progression of each team from December to March. The other fun part is being given the license to be dead wrong in December because conference play hasn’t yet started. Since we’re less than a month away from league play, join us as we are free to drive off of the road with our rankings and crash into as many mailboxes before our front bumper is no longer a front bumper. Remember to buckle up.

We're not sure what Oklahoma coach Lon Kruger is telling his players at this moment. It's likely he is sharing something basketball related here but I wouldn't rule out Kruger explaining to him the lyrics of "Coconut" by Harry Nilsson. (CBS Sports)

We’re not sure what Oklahoma coach Lon Kruger is telling his players at this moment. It’s likely he is sharing something basketball related here but I wouldn’t rule out Kruger explaining to him the lyrics of “Coconut” by Harry Nilsson. (CBS Sports)

Power Rankings

1. Kansas (tie) — 6 points (Brian & Kendall — 1st, Chris & Nate — 2nd). Comment: Bill Self‘s best teams have been known for their intensity and defensive toughness, but this might be the best offensive team he’s ever had in Lawrence. The Jayhawks are shooting a white-hot 47.2 percent from three, mostly without the help of Brannen Greene, whose five-game suspension just ended.” – Brian Goodman (@BSGoodman)

1. Oklahoma (tie) — 6 points (Chris & Nate — 1st, Brian & Kendall — 2nd). Comment: “The Sooners absolutely demolished the Big East’s best team in a convincing 78-55 win over Villanova. Meanwhile, Buddy Hield is taking more shots and knocking them down at a more efficient clip than last season. Barring a major slip up, Oklahoma should enter Big 12 play still undefeated.” – Chris Stone (@cstonehoops) Read the rest of this entry »

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Big 12 Preview: Oklahoma State’s Burning Question

Posted by Nate Kotisso on October 28th, 2015

This team preview is part of the RTC Big 12 microsite’s preseason coverage.

Burning Question: Will Travis Ford still coach Oklahoma State a year from now?

The year 2000 was solid, by most accounts. Y2K was overrated; civilization moved on. Al Gore was about to rock America’s world as the 43rd president. Supercompanies America Online and Time Warner, merged to form a global Internet partnership that would most definitely last for decades. Oklahoma State basketball was in pretty good shape as well. Eddie Sutton began his 11th season at his alma mater with little to complain about. The Cowboys had reached eight NCAA Tournaments in Sutton’s first 10 seasons in Stillwater, a run that had included a Final Four, two Elite Eights and four Sweet Sixteens. Sutton’s success would continue into the early 2000s, where he would guide the Cowboys to five more Tournaments, the most memorable of which would end in the 2004 Final Four. But all of this success occurred before the night of February 10, 2006 — perhaps the date at which Oklahoma State basketball started heading south.

Head coach Travis Ford is entering his eighth season as Oklahoma State's coach. (Tyler Drabek/Tulsa World)

Travis Ford is entering his eighth season as Oklahoma State’s head coach. (Tyler Drabek/Tulsa World)

That was the night when Sutton was arrested and charged for driving under the influence. With a blood alcohol level (0.22) nearly three times the legal limit in Oklahoma, Sutton drove his SUV “across four lanes of traffic, slammed into the back of another car and then crashed into a tree.” Three days later, the university named Eddie’s son, Sean Sutton, as his interim replacement. Four months after that, as the Hall of Famer sought treatment for alcohol abuse, the younger Sutton was named his father’s permanent replacement. Sean Sutton lasted less than two full years as the head man in Stillwater, with the school forcing his resignation in April 2008 after two subpar seasons that ended in the first round of the NIT. On April 17 of that same year, Oklahoma State hired a new head coach that did not include the last name Sutton: UMass’ Travis Ford.

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Big 12 Power Rankings: Baylor Demands Your Attention Edition

Posted by Nate Kotisso on February 3rd, 2015

It’s a near-consensus this season that the Big 12 is considered the best conference in college basketball. As we approach the halfway point of league play, drawing a line between NCAA Tournament contenders and the rest has become an easier task. We all expected Kansas and Iowa State to reign at the top and Oklahoma State, TCU and Texas Tech rounded out the standings (sorry, guys). But the middle five conference teams have been the tough to forecast all season long. West Virginia is 6-2 in league play but still somewhat unproven, with four of those six wins coming against the Horned Frogs and Red Raiders. Texas, Oklahoma and Kansas State have all left something to be desired. The only middle five team to exceed expectations so far has been none other than Baylor.

It's possible: You can respect Scott Drew's grind while laughing at how silly he looks in this photo. (Tom Pennington/Getty Images)

It’s possible: You can respect Scott Drew’s grind while laughing at how silly he looks in this photo. (Tom Pennington/Getty Images)

After finishing sixth last year, Big 12 coaches picked Baylor sixth again before the season began. At the moment, the Bears are in, you guessed it, sixth place. So how are they exceeding expectations? Because they lost Isaiah Austin, Cory Jefferson and Brady Heslip — three of their top four scorers from a year ago — and a slew of role players has been charged with taking on greater responsibility. Rico Gathers has been an anchor inside, grabbing more rebounds in a starter’s role (12.0 RPG) while sharing the wealth among veterans Royce O’Neale (6.3 RPG), Taurean Prince (5.7 RPG) and freshman Johnathan Motley (4.6 RPG). The graduation of sharpshooter Heslip left a gaping hole in the team’s outside shooting but that role has been supplanted by another trio of Bears. O’Neale has been a consistent outside shooting option since arriving from Denver (42.4%) and Prince is also capable from distance (40.5%), but the most improvement has come from point guard Kenny Chery (32.5% last season to 40.5%).

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