A few weeks ago, Kansas coach Bill Self tried to calm the folks who were panicking about the downtrodden state of the Big 12. “By the time January gets here,” Self said, “our league will be as good as it’s been.” I couldn’t have disagreed more when Self uttered that statement, and I’m still not ready to say he was 100 percent correct. This clearly isn’t as good of a league as it has been in the past. But it may not be nearly as bad as we thought, either. Just ask Florida, North Carolina, Ohio State, Kentucky and NC State -- all of whom have lost to Big 12 schools. Maybe the league season won’t be so bad, after all. Here are this week’s power rankings.
1. Kansas. Is Ben McLemore the best player of the Bill Self era? That’s the question that’s circulating around Lawrence these days following a five-game stretch in which McLemore, a redshirt freshman, averaged 19.6 points while shooting 59.1 percent from 3-point range.
2. Oklahoma State. The Cowboys are expecting a packed house for their New Year’s Eve tilt with No. 13 Gonzaga. A victory would provide a huge momentum boost entering Big 12 play. Le'Bryan Nash (14.9) and Markel Brown (14) combine to average 28.9 points for a team whose only loss came at Virginia Tech.
3. Kansas State. The Wildcats broke into the Top 25 this week, and rightfully so. First-year coach Bruce Weber did an outstanding job preparing his squad for Saturday’s 67-61 victory over Florida in Kansas City. Seven-foot center Jordan Henriquez provided a spark for the first time this season. He’s one of the biggest keys for K-State’s future success.
4. Baylor. The Bears turned in one of their best performances of the season in last week’s 79-64 domination of BYU in Waco. The question now is if Scott Drew’s squad can do it against a good Gonzaga team in a hostile road environment Friday. Baylor has already defeated Kentucky in Lexington, but Gonzaga is a better team than Kentucky.
5. Iowa State. The Cyclones host Yale on New Year’s Day before opening Big 12 play against Kansas on Jan. 9. Will Clyburn and Tyrus McGee combine to average 27.1 points. Michigan State transfer Korie Lucious is shooting just 34.5 percent from the field.
6. Texas. There is reason for hope in Austin. Three days after upsetting North Carolina, the Longhorns pushed Michigan State on the road before falling 67-56. Rick Barnes’ squad led at halftime. Sheldon McClellan averages a team-high 15.3 points but is shooting just 24.4 percent from the field in his past four games.
7. Oklahoma. The Sooners are probably good enough to beat any team in the league on a good day, but they’re capable of losing to just about anyone, too. See: Austin, Stephen F. Ohio University will provide a tough test Saturday.
8. West Virginia. Bob Huggins’ squad hosts Eastern Kentucky Sunday before opening Big 12 play at home against Oklahoma on Jan. 5. Aaric Murray is averaging 11 points and shooting 51.8 percent from the field. He’s also blocking 1.8 shots per game.
9. Texas Tech. Someone give the Red Raiders directions to the Lubbock airport. Texas Tech has yet to play a game outside of United Spirit Arena, and it won’t until a Jan. 5 tilt with TCU in Fort Worth. Chris Walker’s team has lost three in a row and four of its past five.
10. TCU. The Horned Frogs are averaging just 56.5 points per game, a mark that ranks 336th in the country. Yikes! Their Jan. 5 game against Texas Tech will be a battle between two of college basketball’s worst teams from a power conference.