As we approach the end of non-conference play in the Big 12, we’re finding that the conference is average at best. Kansas continues to lead the way, but there is a considerable drop-off in the level of play of the rest of the conference.
Kansas remains at the top of conference. Redshirt freshman Ben McLemore has had a strong start to the season with several 20+ point scoring games, Travis Releford and Elijah Johnson have been more than reliable. Jeff Withey is having a strong season at both ends of the floor, especially with an early triple double against San Jose State. The Jayhawks don’t have the depth they’ve had in years past and Bill Self is relying on his top 6 guys to carry them this season. Jeff Withey and Travis Releford are logging heavy minutes right now. Though the Big 12 is not very strong this year, I don’t see Self resting Withey and Releford any time soon.
Baylor has been inconsistent. They started the season ranked in the top 25, but lost at Colorado. Then they lost at home to Charleston. They bounced back with a road win against Kentucky in Lexington, but then had a head-scratching loss at home to Northwestern. Pierre Jackson has been solid, but Baylor relies on him too much. When he plays well, the rest of the team plays well, but when he struggles, the others struggle to get going as well. Cory Jefferson has played well early on, as has freshman center Isaiah Austin. He has stepped in to fill their void in the frontcourt very admirably. Brady Heslip is struggling with this shooting. It would be a huge boost for Baylor if he gets going heading into conference play. Baylor lacks depth as well, which could be problematic for them against the likes of Kansas and Oklahoma State.
Texas has struggled a lot. They clearly miss Myck Kabongo and the leadership he brings but he is still ineligible to play. They struggled at the Maui Invitational, dropping games to Division II Chaminade and to an underwhelming USC squad. They’ve beaten the ‘cupcakes’ on their schedule, but struggled in matchups with Georgetown and USC. Sheldon McClellan and Javan Felix have carried them early on, but it hasn’t been enough for Rick Barnes. Cameron Ridley has developed steadily in their frontcourt, and it’s easy to see why he was so highly regarded out of high school. The Longhorns have not had a consistent starting lineup all season either. Rick Barnes continues to experiment with his players to find a good unit that plays well together, and McClellan has been coming off the bench lately.
Kansas State has been a pleasant surprise thus far. Even with a new regime under Bruce Weber, they have played well early on despite a loss at Michigan. Will Spralding, Angel Rodriguez, and Rodney McGruder lead the way for the Wildcats. If they want to make a serious run at the Big 12 regular season and conference titles, McGruder will have to pick it up. He has a strong supporting cast with Rodriguez playing especially well early on.
Oklahoma State has been another surprise in the Big 12. We all knew how talented Le’Bryan Nash was coming into this season. He has filled up the box scores and shown he is a capable leader. The biggest surprise has been the play of freshman Marcus Smart. An early season loss at Virginia Tech is only a blip on the radar. The Cowboys convincingly beat a strong NC State team in San Juan, and we should see more wins against good teams heading into conference play.
I was very wrong about West Virginia. Deniz Kilicli doesn’t get the ball inside enough, and in a narrow home win against Virginia Tech, Bob Knight even went out of his way to point this out. Normally, a team coached by Bob Huggins plays disciplined basketball, but the Mountaineers have been beaten by the likes of Davidson and Duquesne. They close out their non-conference schedule with a tough game against Michigan. Perhaps they will struggle to stay in the top half of the conference.
Oklahoma has had a fairly soft schedule so far. The two measuring stick games they’ve had so far have been disappointing. A blowout loss to Gonzaga and a road defeat at Arkansas leave them at 6-2 so far, but given the way the rest of the conference has performed, it wouldn’t surprise me to see them in the top half of a weak Big 12. Steven Pledger has struggled early on, and there isn’t a consistent second option behind him, as someone different has picked up the scoring slack almost every game.
Iowa State has managed to weather the storm early on. Two of their losses came to ranked teams at the Global Sports Classic. Losses to UNLV and Cincinnati, two teams ranked in the top 25 are nothing to be ashamed of. Will Clyburn has played well for the Cyclones, and so has freshman Georges Niang, who was recently inserted into the starting lineup. Korie Lucious hasn’t made the kind of impact that I thought he would, but needs to bring his level of play up.
Texas Tech has played a soft schedule, which helps explain their 5-1 start. Their lone loss was to Arizona, but the game was never close. I think they’ll come back to earth once conference play starts. Jaye Crockett has been their best player, and he comes off the bench.
TCU is struggling through their non conference schedule with losses to Northwestern, Tulsa, SMU, and Houston. They play perhaps the softest non conference schedule out of any Big 12 team, and they will struggle to stay competitive in games with their Big 12 conference mates. Kyan Anderson and Amric Fields lead the way for them, but they will struggle with strong defensive teams in their conference.
Current Big 12 power rankings: 1. Kansas, 2. Oklahoma State, 3. Baylor, 4. Kansas State, 5. Texas, 6. Iowa State, 7. West Virginia, 8. Oklahoma, 9. Texas Tech, 10. TCU
Amit Tailor is a Big 12 Correspondent and Scout for NetScouts Basketball.