On Monday, the Big 12 Conference rolled out its men’s basketball coaches via teleconference. It was a perfect time to hear from the men in charge as the league kicked off its best week in Associated Press Top 25 rankings history with a record six schools listed among the nation’s elite.
Opponent strength is always a legitimate talking point in the largely doughy-soft non-conference months, but not here. Led by Texas A&M’s 2-0 mark, the conference is 6-5 against both AP and Coaches’ Top 25 competition. According to the Big 12 office, it is the only conference above .500 against the Top 25.
How do the 12 stack up against each other? Well, that’s a little tougher since the schools have yet to play, but that’s also what makes the first KCConfidential.com conference rankings of the season fun.
So, somewhere between six and 10 games into the season, let’s say they fall this way:
1. KANSAS (9-0, AP No. 3) – The Jayhawks are undefeated but a little bruised following KU’s win against Colorado State last Saturday. Like any other regular school, however, the Jayhawks “have” to turn toward a premier freshman in Josh Selby for a little shot of energy. I mean, who doesn’t have the nation’s top recruit coming off suspension ready to supply energy and huge talent to an already solid backcourt?
2. KANSAS STATE (9-1, AP No. 6) – You would be hard-pressed to find another 9-1 team that has navigated such turbulent waters to begin the year, but guys rotating through Frank Martin’s doghouse (Jamar Samuels, Curt Kelly), indefinite leaves of absence (Wally Judge – “personal issues”) and inconsistent intensity have laid a thin layer of soot over an otherwise solid start that has fans wondering how good the Cats could be when/if they put everything together.
3. MISSOURI (8-1, AP No. 13) – “Fastest 40 minutes in basketball”? Well, I’d be willing to buy fastest “30 minutes and then hang on” because, right now, the Tigers have shown the ability to blow teams out of the gym for awhile before allowing ridiculously large leads circle the drain. Three of the Tigers’ last four games came down to the final possession, including Oregon nearly stealing a win after trailing by 20 at halftime. It’s a dangerous way to live, but the Tigers have made it work thus far.
4. BAYLOR (6-0, AP No. 9) – The 1-3-1. Yeah, that’s how Baylor rolls. It found good fortune with the defense a year ago, as it allowed the Bears to utilize its sick length across the baseline, so why change a good thing? It’s one of my favorite defenses, and watching it run the way it was intended is a treat. As Scott Drew continues to pound the defense’s philosophies into his young players’ heads, look for the Bears to become downright nasty again defensively. And, oh yeah, LaceDarius Dunn is still knockin’ down shots like Charlie Sheen does a bottle of…well…anything.
5. TEXAS A&M (9-1, AP No. 25) – The Aggies have outrebounded every opponent this year and stolen their way into the Top 25 with a couple of unexpected wins against ranked teams. With a combined margin of four points, including by one on a last defensive stand at home against Washington over the weekend, are they groundbreaking? No, not really. But, holding the Huskies 33 points below their scoring average is definitely noteworthy.
6. TEXAS (7-2, AP No. 22) – Normally, it’s an overrated Texas team that starts highly ranked before falling flat. Last year’s torpedoed end to the season changed that, and the Longhorns have had to fight their way back to a No. 22 ranking this week. It would be higher had Texas not inexplicably lost big to USC (a team beaten by Nebraska), but as beast-of-a-freshman Tristan Thompson continues to develop and freshman Cory Joseph matures into a night-in/night-out type at guard, Texas may actually build as the season goes along instead of falling off the map.
7. OKLAHOMA STATE (9-1) – The Cowboys have flown under the radar this season mainly because they lack any real sizzle since James Anderson graduated. That doesn’t mean they’re a bad team. Far from it. The one blemish was to a decent Virginia Tech team on a neutral floor, but OSU also has a 2OT win over underrated La Salle and a solid 14-point victory over Missouri State. It’s just…well, when you see a team led by Keiton Page and Marshall Moses, you have to look twice before you take them seriously. That’s exactly what will allow OSU to surprise a few teams through conference play.
8. NEBRASKA (8-2) – The Cornhuskers have won six in a row, including four to start December (the first time since 1996-97 that’s happened). Heck, I thought the Big 12 would fall apart before that happened… Anyways, yes, six in a row, including a two-point come-from-behind win against USC. The Huskers trailed by 20 at one point and by 13 at the half. It’s a win that even a year ago would have never happened. Doc Sadler’s team appears to have bled just enough scoring from its rocky offense to stay competitive while its defense frustrates opponents.
9. COLORADO (5-3) – New coach Tad Boyle said he was going to open the throttle to the team’s offense this year, and he’s backed it up as his Buffs are scoring 82 points per game (16th in the nation). Led by Kansas City kid Alec Burks, CU is trying its best to be high-octane, I just wonder if 82 is about the best this team can do. Burks, Marcus Relphorde and Cory Higgins are all talented, but without a true big man and little-to-no depth, it’s an all-hands-on-deck approach with those three in order to have a chance to win, which will make things very, very tough in conference play.
10. IOWA STATE (9-2) – In ISU’s world, 6-6 freshman guard Melvin Ejim has been phenomenal for the Cyclones early on. He scored in double figures in his first six games, and has done so eight times overall, including two double-doubles. He has provided a needed third option alongside Scott Christopherson’s 16.5 and Diante Garrett’s 16.3 ppg. The question is two-fold for a kid like that, of course. Can he handle the rigors of Big 12 play as a freshman? And, if his legs don’t wear out, will he be able to handle ever-evolving defenses as more game film is accumulated and scouting reports on him more detailed? If so, the Cyclones also could be more of a threat (like a 30 percent threat compared to a 20, but still…) than anyone thought heading into the year.
11. TEXAS TECH (5-5) – It’s way too early to be talking about a team going 1-4 in its last five, but that’s what Pat Knight is facing. The Red Raiders were blown out by St. Mary’s by 20, dropped a three-point decision to South Florida, beat Oral Roberts by four, then were destroyed by 29 at Washington in the Pac-10/Big 12 Challenge and lost Dec. 8 by four to TCU. I’m sure going to miss Pat’s colorful answers at press conferences…
12. OKLAHOMA (5-5) – Jeff Capel said, in his mind, his team played one of the toughest five-game stretches in the nation as it went 0-5 from Nov. 22-Dec. 5. I think I agree with that, with Kentucky, Virginia, Arkansas and Arizona in there, but if it was meant to cushion or justify the results, I can’t buy. The average margin of defeat was 13.4. OU scored 63.6 points on average. They lost 68-64 in the last place game of the Maui tournament…to Chaminade. Cade Davis can still get red-hot on occasion from the outside. Steven Pledger can hold his own inside if he stays out of foul trouble. Past that, Sooners fans are more excited over the news about Josh Heupel taking over as the football team’s offensive coordinator.
Check each Monday for updated Big 12 rankings. As always, comment below or send your thoughts to firstname.lastname@example.org.