Checking in on… the Big 12

Posted by Brian Goodman on January 17th, 2011

Owen Kemp of Rock Chalk Talk and SB Nation Kansas City is the RTC correspondent for the Big 12 Conference.

A Look Back

  • The theme to the week in the Big 12 was “nothing comes easy”.  Headed into the season fresh off the league’s best showing in its history, the common thought was that many teams would be taking a step back.  That belief could probably be argued both ways at this point, but one thing is certain and that’s the fact that teams one through ten in this league can compete.
  • If a prediction were made today on what the final weeks of the season would hold, it would be twofold.  First, the battle for the league title; in years past, two losses this early on might have been a fairly damaging blow.  This year, there are two potential league contenders sitting at two losses (Missouri, Kansas State).
  • The second prediction for the final weeks is that there will be a dogfight for the final Big 12 spot in the NCAA Tournament.  Colorado, Oklahoma State, Baylor, Iowa State and even Nebraska have all had their moments, but you won’t see all of these teams representing the league and so the battle resumes.
  • Looking back at the week, the team with the best story right now might actually be the Colorado Buffaloes.  After an early upset victory over Missouri at home, the Buffs went on the road and pulled off back-to-back wins over Top 25 opponents with a win over Kansas State before returning home and grabbing what could prove to be a very important victory over the Oklahoma State Cowboys.  Colorado now sits at 3-0 in the league, and at 14-4 overall, Tad Boyle might find his team sitting near or even in the Top 25.
  • While Colorado was the story of the week, the game of the week took place Saturday in College Station.  Mike Anderson’s Missouri Tigers traveled to College Station to face the Aggies, and from the start, they were in attack mode.  Two newcomers to the conference, Phil Pressey and Ricardo Ratliffe, emerged as major players for the Tigers and for much of the game, these two teams were back and forth.  Late in regulation, Khris Middleton was able to get to the free throw line and secure overtime, where the Aggies would win by a narrow two-point margin in what was one of the early season battles between contenders in the league.  Right now, Mark Turgeon could have the inside track on coach of the year honors in the conference.
  • Elsewhere, the Kansas Jayhawks continue to flirt with a loss, as they escaped with a narrow victory in Ames against the Cyclones and an even closer win at home against the Nebraska Cornhuskers.  Neither win instills a tremendous amount of confidence, but both are wins and Marcus Morris is finding a way to carry his team when they need him, scoring 49 points and grabbing 25 rebounds in the two games.
  • After one full week of league competition, A&M, Colorado, Kansas and Texas all sit on top with undefeated records.  Baylor sits at 2-1 with the one loss coming to an Iowa State team that continues to show a lot of grit and great cohesiveness in Fred Hoiberg’s first year.  And just beyond Baylor, there are five teams sitting with two losses, including Missouri and Kansas State, who were and should still be viewed as contenders in a very balanced league.

Power Rankings

*Power rankings reflect who is playing the best basketball at a given time.

  1. Kansas (17-0, 2-0) – Plain and simple, the Jayhawks didn’t look great this week, but they are still undefeated and Marcus Morris is coming on strong just as he did a year ago.  What Kansas does that many teams don’t is win those tough games on the road.  Until someone else does that consistently or Kansas quits doing that, the Jayhawks will continue to be at or near the top of the league.
  2. Texas A&M (16-1, 3-0) – A&M dominated one game and managed a hard fought victory in another.  The Aggies do it with their size, they do it with experience and they have a player in Khris Middleton that can take control of a game.
  3. Texas (14-3, 2-0) – Texas  had a fairly soft start to conference play with games against Texas Tech and Oklahoma.  The Longhorns handled business with ease, but we learn a lot more in the next week as Rick Barnes and his Texas squad take on A&M and Kansas in a matter of days.
  4. Colorado (14-4, 3-0) – WOW.  That’s all you can say about what Colorado has done early, and yes, a big part of that is their history.  This isn’t a team or program that wins games like this, a road win over a ranked opponent and a big comeback at home over a pesky OSU team.  They sit 3-0 and are well-positioned to make a play at the NCAA Tournament.  Now it’s a matter of how much damage they can do on the way.  Buffs fans have January 25 circled and a final home game against the Jayhawks as a fellow Big 12 school.
  5. Missouri (15-3, 1-2) – Missouri played well against the Huskers at home and then put a big-time scare into the Aggies in College Station.  Fewer mistakes down the stretch and the Tigers manage a win.  As it stands, they have the players emerging with Phil Pressey and Ricardo Ratliffe taking control, and now they just need to get a few marquee wins to get the ball rolling.  After that, the sky is the limit; this is up there with Mike Anderson’s best teams.
  6. Baylor (12-4, 2-1) – Baylor remains a tale of two teams.  They are a group with great athleticism and big time talent, but they also manage to lose in Ames and struggle to score.  What’s the real Baylor?  That’s the question.
  7. Kansas State (13-5, 1-2) – K-State loses a home game to Colorado, loses a starter to the pros and then manages a pretty impressive 30+ point win, albeit against Texas Tech.  The Red Raiders might be just what the doctor ordered to get things back on track, but the Wildcats will get a chance to prove it as they enter a brutal week with a road game against Missouri and then a matchup with the Aggies in College Station.
  8. Oklahoma State (13-4, 1-2) Oklahoma State didn’t have a great week, but it certainly wasn’t an easy one on the schedule.  When you look at these next three it’s tough to say who deserves to be on top, but for now, the Cowboys still have the best in of the three, at least on paper.
  9. Nebraska (13-4, 1-2) – The Huskers have the head to head against the Cyclones and took the Jayhawks to the brink in Allen Fieldhouse.  That’s good enough for the nod at 9.   
  10. Iowa State (14-4, 1-2 Big 12) – Big win on Saturday evening against Baylor in Hilton.  The Cyclones are a team that is overachieving because of solid leadership from their coach and their upperclassmen.  They have a chance to do some damage and the Baylor game helps this team regain some confidence.  
  11. Oklahoma (8-9, 0-3 Big 12) – The only thing saving the Sooners from the bottom is that none of their losses came to the tune of a 30+ point scoring margin.  Anyone else looking forward to Tuesday’s must see matchup between OU and Tech in Norman?
  12. Texas Tech (8-10, 0-3 Big 12) – Lucky for Pat Knight, he’s coaching in Lubbock.  It’s a football school, a football state and even with those things playing in his favor, he’s likely coaching on borrowed time.    

A Look Ahead

  • This week, the Big 12 is the main event as ESPN’s Big Monday kicks off with a quadruple-header starting in the middle of the afternoon.  First up will be a marquee matchup between two teams very much in need of a win.  Missouri and Kansas State both sit at 1-2 and whoever drops this one in Columbia will most certainly have an uphill climb when it comes to winning the league.
  • The second matchup is the late game with Kansas heading to Waco to take on the Baylor Bears.  These might be the two most athletic teams in the league, but while Kansas has managed to find some team chemistry, Baylor hasn’t been consistent at all.  The Bears will be looking to get a statement win on the season and the fans in Waco should step up to the plate for Kansas.  It’s a big early season game for both squads and whoever wins this one takes a big step forward.
  • Wednesday sees another pair of games that are important for different reasons.  Both contests tip at 9 EST with one on ESPN2 and the other on ESPNU.  The marquee matchup is going to be the Aggies of Texas A&M heading into Austin for a game against the Longhorns.  Early season games certainly don’t break your season, but they can go a long way toward making it and this one gives the winner a leg up in the South.  The other contest is between a pair of two loss teams and a pair of teams that could be battling down the stretch in the bubble watch.  Iowa State heads in this matchup for a game against the Cowboys.  The Cyclones are coming off a big win at home and the Cowboys are looking to get back on track after two straight losses.
  • All of that brings us to Saturday, which has become must-see television.  The early games include Colorado on the road in Norman to take on the Sooners and Kansas State, entering a brutal stretch, on the road at A&M.  What happens during the week will help shape the importance of the matchup between the Wildcats and the Aggies, but on paper it’s a big time battle in the Big 12.
  • The afternoon games include Oklahoma State heading to Waco for a game against Baylor.  The other is the one and only matchup between Texas and Kansas this year, the two teams many are picking as the frontrunners in the conference.  This one takes place in Lawrence, where Texas takes its turn at snapping the Jayhawks hefty home game winning streak.  Over the years, the battle between these two teams has been huge in terms of the league and this year doesn’t look to be any different.
  • Finally, the late games and the Huskers on the road against a struggling Texas Tech and Missouri hosting a pesky Iowa State Cyclone team in Columbia. The Big 12 is in full swing, and at the moment, there are very few games that aren’t worth a look.  The league is wide open, tournament spots are wide open and right now there are 8-10 teams in this league that are in a dogfight for conference titles and postseason spots.

Player of the Year Watch

Power Ranking Style and Based on Conference Play

  1. Marcus Morris, Kansas – (24.5 PPG, 12 RPG, 71% FG): Morris carried the Jayhawks in crunch time through to tight ball games this week and currently leads the league in points and rebounds, while ranking second in field goal percentage and offensive rebounds.
  2. Alec Burks, Colorado – (22.7 PPG, 8.7 RPG): Burks is the reason that Colorado is looking like a conference contender right now.  The sophomore guard ranks 2nd in the league in scoring and third in terms of rebounding.  The rebounding is key, because that is an area that was viewed as a potential weakness for the Buffs headed into the season.
  3. Jacob Pullen, Kansas State – (22.7 PPG, 4.3 APG): If K-State is going to rally and make a move this season, it’s going to take Jacob Pullen at his best.  So far through two games he’s stepped it up.  Now he has to carry his team through a tough week with two top 25 opponents.
  4. Diante Garrett, Iowa State – (20.3 PPG, 6.33 APG): Garrett is the point guard and leader of an Iowa State team that has exceeded expectations early on this season.  His 20.3 PPG ranks third in the conference while his 6.3 assists makes him the league leader.
  5. Marcus Denmon, Missouri – (20 PPG, 48% 3FG): Denmon was brilliant in non conference play and a 27 point career high effort against Nebraska helps carry that momentum into conference play.  The Tigers sit 1-2, Denmon will be a big part of turning the tide the right way in Columbia.
  6. LaceDarius Dunn, Baylor – (18.7 PP, 12 three-pointers in conference play): Right now, Dunn is still the leader for the Bears, but his numbers are starting to dip as Perry Jones furthers his emergence as the premier player for Baylor.
  7. Khris Middleton, Texas A&M – (17.7 PPG, 3 SPG, 58% FG): Middleton carried the Aggies in a big overtime win against Missouri early in the year and leads the league in steals per game.  His versatility creates mismatches on the court and he has the chance to make himself a contender for the POY and his team a contender for the league title.
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