Dallas Colleges: Missouri Tigers

Big 12 not at SEC level, but getting closer

January, 4, 2014
Jan 4
12:40
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ARLINGTON, Texas -- No matter what Oklahoma coach Bob Stoops tells you, the Big 12 is not up to the SEC’s level. Not yet, anyway. But the conference isn’t as far off as the experts thought when the season began, either.

[+] EnlargeMike Gundy
Kevin Jairaj/USA TODAY SportsMike Gundy watched as Missouri narrowly escaped Friday night.
Missouri ended Oklahoma State’s hopes of becoming the second Big 12 team to knock off an SEC team in two nights Friday. The Cowboys watched as defensive end Shane Ray scooped up a late-game fumble and rumbled 73 yards for the touchdown that sealed Missouri’s 41-31 win in the AT&T Cotton Bowl.

It was a back-and-forth fourth quarter between two of the better offenses in the country, and it ended with the SEC team making a key play late to ensure the victory.

Just six years ago, Missouri was winning the Cotton Bowl as a member of the Big 12. You can take Missouri’s success this season -- an East Division title and a spot in the SEC championship game -- and Texas A&M’s status as a top-flight program as a slap to the Big 12, since the Tigers and Aggies left the conference for the greener (think dollars) pastures of the SEC two years ago. But there’s another way of looking at it: Perhaps the Big 12 was better than many thought, since both programs are competing for titles in the best conference in the country so quickly.

It’s clear the Big 12 needs the Texas Longhorns to return to prominence for this league to consistently compete for national titles as the SEC continues to do. But Auburn is proof that a big program with resources, talent and the right coach can engineer a turnaround in record time. There’s no reason to think Texas can’t rebound quickly, either.

I know what you’re thinking: If the biggest school in your conference is making news by looking for a new coach fresh off a tumultuous season -- and having some trouble finding some big names who want to actually take the job -- how can 2013 be considered a step forward for said conference?

But to judge this Big 12 season on Texas’ failure isn’t completely fair. How quickly we forget that nobody expected much from this conference when the season began.

The preseason AP top 25 included four Big 12 teams. None of them were in the top 10. The highest-ranked team was Oklahoma State, at No. 13. Texas was a sleeper pick by some for a run to the national title game. Instead, the Longhorns sputtered, fired their defensive coordinator and waved goodbye to head coach Mack Brown after a blowout loss to Oregon in the Alamo Bowl.

TCU, ranked 20th when the season began, was supposed to be primed for conference championship contention with a bunch of returning starters. But injuries and an ineffective offense led to the end of the school’s bowl streak and the hiring of a couple of new offensive coaches.

Baylor wasn’t even in the top 25 when the season began, but sprinted up the rankings about as quickly as it scored points. The Bears got rid of the tarps and became the conference’s best chance for a BCS title-game appearance, but that run ended in a blowout loss to Oklahoma State in Stillwater.

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Stacy Revere/Getty ImagesOklahoma's win over Alabama gave the Big 12 a boost.
Oklahoma rebounded from an injury-plagued 2012 to get back to a BCS bowl. But a loss to Texas at the Cotton Bowl in October slowed its rise, and Baylor ended any long-shot title-game discussion with a 41-12 trouncing.

The conference did manage a few bowl wins that could be building blocks toward next season. Texas Tech came into the Holiday Bowl as a huge underdog after losing its final five regular-season games. But the Red Raiders beat up Arizona State. Kansas State outplayed Michigan in the Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl. It hurt that Baylor lost as a heavy favorite to Central Florida in the Fiesta, but that might say more about the Knights and how good they were than it does about the Bears. Oklahoma made the biggest statement, pulling the shocker of the bowl season with a Sugar Bowl win over Alabama on Thursday. With Texas down, the Sooners needed to step up for the conference -- and did against a team that many thought was the best in the country despite losing to Auburn in the Iron Bowl.

In the end, the conference held its own during bowl season. Monday night will be another reminder that the Big 12 has work to do as the SEC plays for an eighth consecutive national title against an undefeated Florida State team from the ACC.

It wasn’t that long ago that Texas and Oklahoma were playing for national titles -- and even winning some of them. There’s still work to do, but the Big 12 isn’t far from having that opportunity again.
ESPN draft expert Mel Kiper has two Big 12 players -- Oklahoma’s Lane Johnson and Texas’ Kenny Vaccaro -- potentially going in the first round of this year’s NFL draft.

Fellow expert Todd McShay has the same two as Kiper and also is optimistic about the chances of West Virginia’s Geno Smith and Tavon Austin.

So let’s split the difference and label the potential Big 12 first-round picks as an optimistic three, with Johnson being the only absolute first-round lock.

Those three would represent the fewest Big 12 players taken in the first round of the NFL draft since 2008. Even if four went, the Big 12 still would have the fewest since 2008.

That year, only Kansas -- yep, the Jayhawks -- managed a first-rounder, Aqib Talib to Tampa Bay with the 20th pick. In the four drafts that followed, the Big 12 has always put at least five players into the first round, including the first four overall picks in 2010.

How well this year’s group of first-round picks will fare might not be known for years. What is known, though, is how well Big 12 players have done when they are selected in the first round. With that in mind, here is a ranking -- from worst to best -- of the Big 12’s best first-round draft classes over the past 10 years.

2008: It’s all about quantity, and a little bit of quality. In 2008, the Big 12 only produced one first-round pick, Talib. He has not produced dramatic returns in the NFL. In the past two years, he has only started nine games. He was somewhat productive for Tampa Bay in the previous three seasons, starting 41 games and playing in 53. But, again, he was the only Big 12 player taken in the first round in 2008.

2006: Vince Young is working out at Texas’ pro day at the end of March. Enough said. Davin Joseph and Michael Huff have been solid producers. But when the No. 3 overall pick is out of the league and having to work out at his alma mater's pro day, it means it was a bad year for the Big 12 in the first round of the NFL draft.

2004: Tommie Harris and Marcus Tubbs, the two defensive tackles taken in the first round, were productive for a few years, with Harris selected to Pro Bowls in 2005, '06 and ’07 before he was beset by injuries. Tubbs lasted four seasons in the NFL. Roy Williams had 5,715 receiving yards but never lived up to the hype he generated coming out of Texas. Rashaun Woods played only two years and had seven career catches.

2005: The lack of numbers might be what hurts this group the most. Cedric Benson, Jammal Brown, Derrick Johnson, Mark Clayton and Fabian Washington all proved they could play at the NFL level. Benson has had three 1,000-yard-plus seasons. Johnson is one of the top linebackers in the game. Brown remains a solid option on the offensive line. Clayton played seven NFL seasons; Washington played six. But there were only five guys selected and that isn't enough to push 2005 to the top of the list.

[+] EnlargeAdrian Peterson
Andy Clayton King/Getty ImagesThe Big 12's 2007 draft class wasn't huge, but did feature 2012 NFL MVP Adrian Peterson.
2009: Every Big 12 player selected in the first round in 2009 has produced and appears to be poised to continue to do so. Only Jason Smith didn’t have a start last year. But the offensive lineman still played in all 16 games for the New York Jets. Michael Crabtree, Brian Orakpo, Josh Freeman, Jeremy Maclin, Brandon Pettigrew and Ziggy Hood are all starters for their respective teams.

2007: It wasn’t the biggest group, but it did include Adrian Peterson, so there could be some quibbling that maybe 2007 should be higher in the rankings. Throw in Aaron Ross and Michael Griffin and the debate could get even more heated. Adam Carriker was also taken this year. He started his career strong but suffered an injury and only played in two games last season.

2003: Kevin Williams has been the standout of this group. The defensive tackle has started every game but four in his 10-year career. Terence Newman has been effective as a defensive back, first in Dallas and last season in Cincinnati. Tyler Brayton played at least 15 games on the defensive line in a nine-year career. Ty Warren played eight solid seasons for New England but tailed off last season with Denver. Andre Woolfolk lasted four seasons, mostly as a reserve.

2011: Von Miller, who was the highest pick among Big 12 players this year, has proved to be the top player so far. Aldon Smith is not far behind. Add in Prince Amukamara, Phillip Taylor, who when healthy is a starter at defensive tackle, a somewhat productive Blaine Gabbert and Nate Solder as well as reliable backups Danny Watkins and Jimmy Smith and this proved to be a successful year for Big 12 first-round selections.

2012: Three quarterbacks, and all were not only starters as rookies but also made huge differences for their respective squads. Clearly, Robert Griffin III made the most dramatic impact, but Ryan Tannehill, with the Dolphins, and Brandon Weeden, with Cleveland, were both solid. Kendall Wright and Justin Blackmon each had 64 catches, for Tennessee and Jacksonville, respectively. Blackmon was targeted more (133 to 104) and had 200 more receiving yards.

2010: This list maybe doesn’t have the star power and is not littered with offensive playmakers, but six of the nine players picked were selected for the 2013 NFL Pro Bowl: Gerald McCoy, Trent Williams, Ndamukong Suh, Earl Thomas, Russell Okung and Jermaine Gresham. And the other three players -- Dez Bryant, Sam Bradford and Sean Weatherspoon -- were vital pieces for their respective teams.

Video: Championship week predictions

March, 11, 2013
3/11/13
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I'd like to see Myck Kabongo return for a full season at Texas. His 23-game penalty (originally a full year) was excessive for a workout last May and the expenses incurred. But he wasn't truthful with Texas when asked initially and that cost him dearly. The Texas staff told Kabongo to watch what he did and yet he still went ahead and put himself in a position to be caught or at the very least in a precarious situation. It was unnecessary. He didn't need the pro workout when he was hardly a lock for a first round spot. The draft is not strong but I'll be surprised if NBA teams are lining up to get Kabongo. He should return to see if he can get Texas back to the NCAA tournament after this disappointing and disjointed season. Returning to lead would also prove to NBA teams that he has matured and worked on his all-around game.

Rapid Reaction: Kansas 64, Texas 59

January, 19, 2013
1/19/13
4:00
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AUSTIN, Texas -- A few quick thoughts from Kansas’ 64-59 rally at Texas …

Overview: Kansas has rarely been tested this season. And when the Jayhawks have been, much more often than not they have proven to be up to the challenge. Saturday presented another of those challenges as No. 4 Kansas had to rally from 10-points down in the second half to beat lowly Texas at the Frank Erwin Center.

Kansas' win streak has been extended to 15. The Jayhawks are atop the Big 12 with a 3-0 record and are 16-1. Texas (8-9) has started the Big 12 with four straight conference losses for the first time in Rick Barnes' 15 seasons.

Turning point: For most of the game Naadir Tharpe remained silent. But he picked the right time to make some noise. The sophomore guard hit a crucial 3-pointer to pull Kansas within one, 53-52 with 4:35 left in the game. Feeding off that emotion, Kansas picked it up on the defensive end as Jeff Withey swatted away Javan Felix's next attempt. That led to a dunk by Ben McLemore and to a lead for the Jayhawks. Texas briefly regained that lead, but KU proved to have too much momentum and talent down the stretch.

Kansas key player: As he has done almost all season (save for the Michigan State game) McLemore provided a consistent scoring punch for the Jayhawks. The freshman, who is on pace to become to the highest scoring KU freshman, had 16 points. He averages 16.4 points per game.

Texas key player: When the Longhorns got on a roll, it was largely because of Jonathan Holmes. The sophomore forward was saddled with two early fouls, but he came back in the second half to key an 11-0 run. In that run, Holmes had seven points and created a steal that led to another Texas bucket. Holmes fouled out with 2 minutes to go and finished with 10 points.

Noteworthy number: Kansas did not climb to better than 40 percent shooting until there was 1:15 remaining in the game. The Jayhawks shot 28 percent in the first half. That's two straight games now for KU that the shooting percentage has been questionable. The Jayhawks shot 38 percent in a win against Baylor.

Etc...: Kansas game into the game leading the Big 12 in scoring margin at 17.4 per game. The Jayhaws didn't take more than a two-possession lead against Texas until there was 1:16 remaining.

Next up: The biggest game of the Big 12 season is next for Kansas. The Jayhawks, who have won 15 straight, will head to No. 16 Kansas State on Tuesday. Texas, 0-4 in the conference, will be at Oklahoma on Monday.

Instant analysis: Texas A&M 59, Missouri 29

November, 24, 2012
11/24/12
10:37
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COLLEGE STATION, Texas -- Texas A&M put the finishing touches on a double-digit win season and Johnny Manziel made his final case for the Heisman Trophy as the Aggies coasted by Missouri 59-29 Saturday at Kyle Field.

The win makes Texas A&M 10-2 on the season (6-2 SEC), marking the first time since 1998 that the Aggies have finished a season with at least 10 wins. Let's take a look at the notable happenings from the night:

It was over when: The clock hit triple zeroes at halftime. The Aggies started fast and didn't look back, jumping out to a 42-0 lead at the 3:33 mark in the second quarter. Missouri scored once before the half and added 22 points in the second half, but it was all for naught as A&M's lead was already insurmountable.

Game ball goes to: Manziel. He was his usual productive self on Saturday, completing 32-of-44 passes for 372 yards and three touchdowns with one interception while running 12 times for 67 yards and two touchdowns. He became the SEC's single-season total yardage record-holder, eclipsing Cam Newton's mark of 4,327 (Manziel finished with 4,600 for the season, breaking Newton's mark in two fewer games).

Key stat: 12-of-16. The Aggies' third-down conversion rate. All season, Texas A&M has called third down the "money down", and the Aggies have earned their money in that area on both sides of the ball. They converted their first 12 attempts on offense Saturday, which was a big reason why they took their commanding lead. They converted 75 percent of their third downs and were pretty good defending them on defense too (5-of-14, 35.7 percent).

Unsung hero of the game: Spencer Nealy. All season long, the senior defensive tackle has done dirty work for the Aggies, taking on double teams after switching positions from defensive end prior to the season. He shined in that role, and Saturday was the best example of that, when he was disruptive to Missouri quarterback Corbin Berkstresser and the Tigers' offensive backfield. Nealy finished with seven tackles, two tackles for loss, a quarterback hurry and a pass breakup.

Best call: A&M head coach Kevin Sumlin applied a nice touch late in the game, allowing Manziel to come in for a play so that he could leave the field and get an ovation from the 87,222 in attendance. Manziel gave the "Gig 'em" thumbs up to the crowd as he exited. It was a nice moment and a fitting end to what has been a memorable season for the redshirt freshman quarterback and the Aggies.

What it means: The Aggies' first SEC regular season is in the books and it's safe to say that they've arrived. With 10 wins, they exceeded expectations and they have a legitimate Heisman Trophy candidate (front-runner, even?) in Manziel. Texas A&M will go to a quality bowl game, likely either the Capital One Bowl, Cotton Bowl or possibly a BCS bowl, depending on how things shake out in the season's final weekend.

For Missouri, it means the Tigers will not go bowling, as they finish 5-7 (2-6 in the SEC). There were high expectations coming into the season and it's a disappointing end for the Tigers, who were without starting quarterback James Franklin on Saturday because of a concussion suffered last week.

Which moving team will do best in Year 1?

July, 4, 2012
7/04/12
10:52
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Sunday was officially moving day in college sports. We officially said goodbye to A&M and Mizzou back in February, but the page officially turned on July 1.

The Big 12 was in the middle of it all, introducing TCU and West Virginia on the same day two of the league's founding members left.

That was a year after two more founding members -- Colorado and Nebraska -- left the league.

SportsNation

Which incoming/outgoing Big 12 football team will do best in the first year in its new conference?

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Discuss (Total votes: 3,691)

Last season, Colorado struggled under a new coach in the Pac-12, winning just two conference games and finishing 3-10.

Nebraska was picked by many to win its division in the first year of the new Big Ten, but it went just 9-4 and finished third in the Legends Division, including two lopsided losses to Big Ten powers Michigan and Wisconsin.

How will all the teams changing leagues in 2012 do in their first year in their new digs?

Texas A&M is breaking in a new quarterback (Jameill Showers, probably), new coach (Kevin Sumlin) and new athletic director (Eric Hyman), but has loads more talent than Colorado has had in a long, long time.

Missouri brings back most of its eight-win team from 2011, but will its spread offense succeed in the more physical SEC?

TCU and West Virginia will boast some of the Big 12's best offenses, but the big question without an answer is whether they can handle the week-to-week grind in the Big 12 that the Big East and Mountain West Conference lacked.

So, take your pick.

In Year 1, which team will have the best record? Vote in our poll.

Rapid Reaction: Missouri 90, Baylor 75

March, 10, 2012
3/10/12
7:57
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KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- Quick thoughts from Missouri's 90-75 victory over Baylor.

Overview: Missouri's final season as a member of the Big 12 is officially its best. Kim English scored 19 points, and Michael Dixon added 17 to propel the Tigers to the conference tournament championship at the Sprint Center. Missouri will take a 30-4 record into next week's NCAA tournament, where the Tigers will likely be a No. 2 seed.

Baylor, which defeated regular-season champion Kansas in Friday's semifinal, fell to 27-7 and is expected to be a No. 3 seed next week. Saturday's loss to Missouri was the Bears' third of the season. Perry Jones III led Baylor with 16 points and 11 rebounds. The Bears made just 39.7 percent of their shots.

Missouri never trailed Saturday, and the score was never tied. Baylor trailed by as many as eight points in the opening half, when Missouri shot a blistering 53 percent from the field. The Bears pulled within two points twice -- 33-31 and 37-35 -- before intermission. But each time, the Tigers responded with points on the other end. Missouri opened the second half with a 13-5 scoring run that made it 56-42.

Baylor never got closer than five after that.

Turning point: The Bears made a slight threat in the game's waning minutes. Trailing 75-62, Baylor went on a 10-2 run to whittle Missouri's lead to 77-72 with 2:20 left. But the Tigers made their free throws after Baylor began to foul, and it wasn't long before the game was out of reach.

Key player: It's hard to pick just one for Missouri, as five Tigers scored in double figures. Along with English and Dixon, Phil Pressey, Ricardo Ratliffe and Marcus Denmon had 15 each. Such balance illustrates the versatility and well-roundedness Missouri has shown all season.

Key stat: Not many teams would've defeated the Tigers on a night when they shot 53.8 percent from the field and 80.6 percent (25 of 31) from the foul stripe.

Miscellaneous: It was a bit of an awkward moment when Big 12 interim commissioner Chuck Neinas presented the Tigers with the championship trophy about five minutes after the final horn. Neinas has been ultra-critical of Missouri's decision to leave the Big 12 for the SEC. He was booed heavily.

The all-tournament team: Kim English (Most Outstanding Player), Phil Pressey (Missouri), Perry Jones III (Baylor), Brady Heslip (Baylor), J'Covan Brown (Texas).

What's next: Missouri is expected to open NCAA tournament play in Omaha, Neb., on Thursday. Most prognostications have Baylor going to Albuquerque, N.M., where play begins on Friday.

Stage set for Baylor-Missouri

March, 10, 2012
3/10/12
4:50
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KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- When it arrived in Kansas City earlier this week, the Baylor basketball team noticed advertisements around town hyping a potential meeting between Kansas and Missouri in the Big 12 tournament title game.

It was talked about on television, on the Internet and in the hotel lobby. Everyone, the Bears said, assumed the Jayhawks and Tigers would be playing in tonight’s championship.

“It definitely caught our attention,” guard Brady Heslip said. “We used it as motivation.”

It worked.

Instead of Kansas, the Bears will be the team facing Missouri in tonight’s championship bout. If the two squads are as crisp and sharp as they’ve been all week, the game could actually turn out to be better than the one so many people had originally hoped for.

Missouri is 29-4 and ranked No. 5 in the country. Eleventh-ranked Baylor climbed to No. 3 in the polls earlier this season. The Bears advanced to tonight’s title game by upsetting Kansas 81-72 in the semifinals Friday.

[+] EnlargeKim English
Peter G. Aiken/US PresswireKim English and the Tigers are 4-0 in the Sprint Center this season, with an average margin of victory of 25 points.
The Tigers defeated Baylor twice this season, but they said they’ll hardly be complacent after seeing how well the Bears have played in their past two games.

“Just because we’re not playing Kansas doesn’t mean we’re not playing a great team,” Missouri guard Phil Pressey said. “Baylor has so much talent and they’re playing so well. We’re going to have to be at our best to beat them.”

Rare has been the night when the Tigers weren’t at the top of their game. Missouri’s field goal percentage (50.3) ranks third in the nation. The Tigers rely heavily on their outside shooting, but their patience on offense and the pride they take in sharing the ball usually lead to high-percentage shots.

Baylor coach Scott Drew said earlier this season that Missouri was the top offensive team in the nation.

“They do two things extremely well,” Drew said Friday. “They can shoot it from the outside, and they can penetrate on anybody. So it’s pick your poison with them. You take away one thing, you get the other. That’s what great teams do. They have multiple options.”

Drew’s players seem to agree.

“If they get hot, it’s over,” said forward Quincy Miller, who is averaging 24.5 points in two games against Missouri. “They’re very good shooters. They know how to get to the paint and they know how to offensive rebound, which is a little surprising for a smaller team.

“Ricardo Ratliffe is definitely one of the best big men in the NCAA. They’ve got so much chemistry. They’re just a great team overall.”

Missouri has been especially good in Kansas City’s Sprint Center, where it's 4-0 this season with an average victory margin of 25 points. And get this stat: Guard Kim English is shooting 75.5 percent this season at the Sprint Center.

English, who averages 14.7 points, hopes to have another good game against Baylor, but he knows it won’t be easy.

Baylor surprised Kansas State and Kansas this week by playing man-to-man defense the majority of the game. The Bears are spending a lot of time in a three-guard lineup with point guard Pierre Jackson, 3-point specialist Heslip and defensive standout A.J. Walton. All three are solid ball-handlers -- Baylor committed just nine turnovers against Kansas -- who usually maintain their poise. And their presence has given more room and freedom for versatile forwards such as Jones and Miller, who combined for 31 points against Kansas on Friday.

The biggest difference, though, has been the play of forward Perry Jones III, who is averaging 24.5 points in two Big 12 tournament games. A projected lottery pick, Jones has had an up-and-down regular season and has struggled against top competition.

Or at least he had until this week.

“Perry Jones ... ever since the [ESPN.com article] about him came out, he’s been picking it up,” English said late Friday night. “He’s been playing really well. It’s good to see him playing that well. He seems like a really good kid. I love him, but I hope he doesn’t have a good night tomorrow.”

Both teams have plenty to play for.

There’s still an outside chance Missouri could earn a No. 1 seed in the NCAA tournament, and nothing would please the Tigers more than to strut out of the Sprint Center with a championship trophy from their final Big 12 tournament ever. Missouri is leaving the league after the season for the SEC.

Even though he knows the rest of the Big 12 will be pulling for his team to keep the title out of the Tigers’ claws, Drew said Baylor won’t be distracted by outside storylines.

“Right now we’re pretty focused on what we want to do as a team,” Drew said. “That’s why we’ve been successful the first two games.”

A victory by Baylor today would mark the first time in history that a team from Texas has won the Big 12 tournament. Making the achievement even more impressive would be that Baylor defeated Kansas State, Kansas and Missouri on their home turf at Kansas City’s Sprint Center, which doesn’t exactly feel like a neutral court when 90 percent of the 18,000-plus fans are either Wildcats, Jayhawks or Tigers.

“When we had that tough stretch in the Big 12, I was like, ‘I don’t know if we’re going to be able to beat the top teams,’” Heslip said. “But when you get a little momentum and then you win a game against a great team like Kansas, you definitely have to feel good.”

Jones agreed.

“If we keep playing like this,” he said, “there’s nowhere to go but up.”

Baylor, Texas face tough tasks in semis

March, 9, 2012
3/09/12
1:30
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KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- Kansas and Baylor have spent most of the season ranked among the country’s top 10 teams. Still, even though they’ve remained close in the polls, the Jayhawks and Bears couldn’t have been farther apart on the court.

Kansas whipped Baylor by 18 points in January. A month later they humiliated the Bears by 14 points on their home floor.

Despite the lopsided scores, KU guard Tyshawn Taylor vows his squad won’t be looking past the Bears when the teams meet for a third time Friday in the semifinals of the Big 12 tournament.

“They’ve got way too much talent,” Taylor said, “for us to come out and sleep on them.”

[+] EnlargePerry Jones III
Peter G. Aiken/US PresswireCan Perry Jones III keep the momentum going from his 31-point game against Kansas State?
That was obvious Thursday, when Baylor demolished Kansas State in a game that wasn’t nearly as close as the 82-74 score indicated. Perry Jones III scored a career-high 31 points for the Bears, showing glimpses of why he’s projected as an NBA lottery pick.

Jones had 18 points in Baylor’s setback against Kansas in Lawrence on Jan. 18 but scored just five points in the loss in Waco on Feb. 8. The NBA scouts in attendance Friday will certainly be interested to see how Jones fares in this third matchup against Jayhawks forward Thomas Robinson, a national player of the year candidate who is also projected as a lottery pick.

Jones’ teammates hope the aggression he showed in Thursday’s win over Kansas State carries over into the game against the Jayhawks. The 6-foot-11 sophomore scored from all areas of the court and didn’t hesitate to drive and mix it up down low. It was a nice look for Jones following a regular season when he was often described as passive and soft.

Also, at times this season, Baylor hasn’t done enough to get Jones the ball. Bears coach Scott Drew admitted as much Thursday.

“That’s my fault,” he said.

It will be interesting to see what kind of defensive strategy Baylor uses to try to stop Kansas today. In both of the regular-season meetings the Jayhawks’ picked apart the Bears’ trademark zone. In last month’s tilt in Waco, Kansas went on a 32-4 run to put the game out of reach. Seven-foot Kansas center Jeff Withey had 25 points.

“We played two of our better games of the year against them,” coach Bill Self said, “and they probably look back and say they didn’t play two of their better games against us.”

The Bears said mental toughness will be important if they want to keep it close against the Jayhawks in Round 3.

“A couple of times we lost our head a little bit,” Baylor point guard Pierre Jackson said. “We got rattled when they made their runs. We’ve got to stayed poised and be mature about the situation. We’ve got to go out there and execute.”

Teammate Quincy Acy agreed.

“We can’t lay down,” Acy said. “If we get punched in the face we’ve got to get back up and keep fighting.”

Win or lose, the Bears know that today’s game will help prepare them for the NCAA tournament. Most bracketologists are predicting that Baylor will be a No. 3 seed.

“If you’re a competitor, you want to play the best,” forward Quincy Miller said. “And everyone says they’re the best.”

Missouri vs. Texas: Much like Baylor, Texas will be looking to avenge a pair of early-season losses when it faces Missouri in Friday’s other Big 12 semifinal. The Longhorns lost to the Tigers 84-73 in Columbia and 67-66 in Austin.

In the second defeat, it appeared as if Myck Kabongo was hacked by Tigers guard Matt Pressey as he attempted a game-winning shot from the baseline at the buzzer. The whistle never came, though, and Missouri escaped with the win.

Kabongo took the loss hard, teammate J’Covan Brown said.

“He was mad about missing the shot,” Brown said. “The guy fouled him. But the refs don’t call everything. He was upset but he moved on.”

Apparently.

Kabongo turned in an excellent defensive effort on Iowa State’s Scott Christopherson (10 points on 4-of-13 shooting) in Texas’ 71-65 quarterfinal victory over the Cyclones Thursday. The win made the Longhorns feel much better about their NCAA tournament hopes. Texas, which went 9-9 in the Big 12, entered the game on the bubble.

Longhorns coach Rick Barnes knows his team is in for a tough task tonight against Missouri, which is coached by his former assistant, Frank Haith. The fifth-ranked Tigers are 28-4 overall and shoot 50.3 percent from the field, a mark that ranks third in the nation.

“They’re a very explosive offensive team,” Barnes said. “They can hurt you in a lot of different ways. We’re going to have to defend them.”

Texas will obviously need a big game from Brown, who leads the Big 12 in scoring with 20.1 points per game. Brown’s three-point play with 36 seconds remaining Thursday broke a 65-65 tie and propelled Texas to victory.

“I love big games,” Brown said. “I like the challenge.”

He’ll certainly get one Friday night.

Casting our ballots: Big 12

March, 1, 2012
3/01/12
12:00
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Editor’s Note: To see our expert picks for each of the nation’s 12 top conferences, click here. To cast your vote in these races, visit SportsNation.

A quick look at the player and coach of the year races in the Big 12:

Player of the year

Thomas Robinson is battling Kentucky’s Anthony Davis for national player of the year honors, so it’s logical to assume the 6-foot-9 forward is a shoo-in for the Big 12 award, right? Robinson averages team-high 17.8 points and ranks second in the country with 11.8 rebounds per game. He’s tallied 21 double-doubles and, in the most important game of the year, Robinson had a game-tying 3-point play and a game-saving block to help KU defeat Missouri in overtime Saturday.

[+] EnlargeBill Self
Rich Sugg/Kansas City Star/Getty ImagesThomas Robinson (0) and Bill Self have had plenty to celebrate this season.
Still, if you’re basing this award solely on performance in conference games, Robinson’s teammate Tyshawn Taylor is the better choice. Taylor leads the team with 18.4 points a game against Big 12 opponents, and he’s shooting 50.4 percent from the field. More importantly, Taylor’s leadership -- both vocally and by example -- helped set the tone for the Jayhawks en route to their eighth straight Big 12 title.

He’s scored 20 or more points eight times in the Big 12 and has raised his season scoring average from 9.3 points as a junior to 17.1 points this season. Taylor still has issues with turnovers, although the situation isn’t nearly as bad as it was in November and December. No major college point guard in America has been as good as Taylor since the turn of the new year.

That being said, I think the player of the year award should encompass the entire season, so for that reason I’m going with Robinson, who is also my pick for national player of the year.

Coach of the year

There are three worthy candidates.

Kansas’ Bill Self is the mastermind behind one of the greatest streaks in all of college sports. Winning eight straight league titles in a major conference such as the Big 12 is simply unheard of. UCLA won 13 straight conference championships from 1967-79, but that was when players were staying in school all four years. No power conference team since then has won as many consecutive titles as the Jayhawks. This year Self managed the feat despite losing four starters and six of its top eight scorers from last year’s Elite Eight team. While other major programs experience down years or rebuilding years from time to time, there has been no slippage at Kansas under Self.

Missouri’s Frank Haith is another strong candidate and would’ve been the easy pick had the Tigers won at least a share of the Big 12 championship. Missouri is a Final Four-caliber team, and Haith is one of the main reasons. This squad is playing with much more structure than it has in the past and takes tremendous pride in sharing the ball. The result has been a shooting percentage (49.7) that ranks third in nation. The mental toughness the Tigers showed in a deafening environment at Allen Fieldhouse Saturday said volumes about Haith and the culture he’s helped create.

Iowa State’s Fred Hoiberg should also be considered. The Cyclones will finish third or fourth in the Big 12 after going just 3-13 last season.

My vote is for Self.

Conference Power Rankings: Big 12

February, 27, 2012
2/27/12
12:32
PM CT
If I believed in ties, I’d rank Missouri alongside Kansas in this week’s Big 12 Power Rankings. But I don’t, so Kansas gets the nod after clinching at least a share of its eighth straight conference title in Saturday’s 87-86 overtime victory against the Tigers.
  1. Kansas: Thomas Robinson (national player of the year) and Bill Self (national coach of the year) both enhanced their chances of some lofty postseason honors in Saturday’s win over Missouri. Robinson finished with 28 points and 12 rebounds. Self coached his team back from a 19-point deficit in the second half.
  2. Missouri: It was hard not to be equally impressed with the Tigers on Saturday. Their performance in what was easily the loudest environment they’ll ever encounter was stunning. I don't care that they ended up on the losing end. This is a Final Four candidate. Period.
  3. Baylor: Monday is senior night at the Ferrell Center for Quincy Acy and Anthony Jones. But could it also be the final home game for sophomore Perry Jones III and freshman Quincy Miller, both of whom are projected as lottery picks in this summer’s NBA draft?
  4. Iowa State: Assuming they lose at Missouri on Wednesday, a victory over Baylor on Saturday would place the Cyclones in a tie with the Bears for third place in the Big 12 standings. That’d be quite a feat for a team that finished just 3-13 in league play a season ago.
  5. Kansas State: The Wildcats are one of the toughest teams in the country to figure out. Seriously, how do you beat Missouri on the road one night then lose at home to Iowa State three days later? Frank Martin’s team needs to beat either Texas A&M (Tuesday in College Station) or Oklahoma State (Saturday in Manhattan, Kan.) to feel rock-solid about its NCAA tournament hopes.
  6. Texas: The Longhorns needed overtime to defeat Texas Tech in Lubbock Saturday. That’s a reason for concern. Wednesday’s home game against Oklahoma is huge in terms of earning an NCAA tournament bid. A victory would ensure at least a .500 record in Big 12 play.
  7. Oklahoma State: The Cowboys would be ranked ahead of Texas -- a team they beat -- if not for a recent hand injury to LeBryan Nash that will likely sideline the freshman for the remainder of the season. Monday’s home game against Kansas will be tough with Nash out. And winning in Manhattan on Saturday won’t be easy, either.
  8. Texas A&M: The Aggies played Kansas tough on Wednesday before getting drilled by 18 points at Oklahoma State over the weekend. It’s unfortunate that injuries and off-court distractions ruined Billy Kennedy’s first season in College Station. He’s done the best he could with the hand he was dealt.
  9. Oklahoma: The Sooners certainly aren’t giving in. They snapped a six-game losing streak by defeating Oklahoma State on Wednesday before giving Baylor all it could handle in a 70-60 defeat in Waco on Saturday. Oklahoma led that game at intermission.
  10. Texas Tech: The Red Raiders end their miserable regular season against a pair of ranked teams in Baylor and Missouri. Don’t be surprised if Texas Tech is the Big 12’s most improved team next season, although Texas will certainly be in the mix for that accolade as well.

Playmakers: Missouri needs 3-ball for upset

February, 24, 2012
2/24/12
3:30
PM CT
It’s the game of the weekend.

If you’re a true college basketball fan, you have to find a way to see Mizzou-Kansas on Saturday afternoon.

This could be the end of the rivalry.

The Big 12 title is at stake. A Missouri victory would put the Tigers and Jayhawks in a 13-3 tie for the first place. A Kansas victory would give the Jayhawks a slice of the Big 12 title for the eighth consecutive season.

It has a pair of serious national coach of the year contenders in Frank Haith and Bill Self. Allen Fieldhouse will go crazy.

The Tigers won the first game 74-71 on Feb. 4, but the Jayhawks have been the better team since that game.

So how can the Tigers beat the Jayhawks for the second time this season? It won’t be easy. The Jayhawks look like a Final Four team right now. And the Tigers are coming off a 78-68 loss to Kansas State.

Missouri won’t have a chance if it’s struggling from the 3-point line. In the first game, the Tigers were 10-for-22 (45 percent) from beyond the arc.

That was a crucial factor in Missouri’s victory. The Tigers hit shots -- really Marcus Denmon hit shots -- because they put in the work to free their best shooters, proven in this sequence from the first game (starting at the 1:22 mark).

Michael Dixon is dribbling the corner as the play unfolds. Kim English sets a hard screen that frees up Denmon on the right wing.

(Denmon scored 29 points and went 6-for-9 from the 3-point line in the game. The Jayhawks had to shadow him, and they’ll have to stick with him Saturday too.

He hits the big shot at a crucial juncture.

But this play showcases Missouri’s versatility and perimeter potency.

After English sets the screen, he’s open at the top of the key. Had Denmon been stuck on that play, he could have easily found English (46 percent from the 3-point line) as a second option.

English, Denmon and Dixon shoot 36 percent or better from beyond the arc.

It’s quite simple. If Missouri’s shooters find more success from the 3-point line, they will put the Tigers in a position to get their second win of the season against the Jayhawks.

Bilas previews Missouri-Kansas

February, 24, 2012
2/24/12
2:00
PM CT
When and where: Saturday (CBS, 4 p.m. ET), Phog Allen Fieldhouse (Lawrence, Kan.)

The setup: Kansas and Missouri are coming off less than stellar performances. The Jayhawks won an ugly game against Texas A&M, while the Tigers are coming off perhaps their worst conference game of the season, a home loss to Kansas State. But in a happy place or not, this game is not for those who are ready to play. This game is for those who are prepared for a fight. Saturday at the Phog will be the Big 12’s top two scoring teams, with Missouri leading the league in scoring (73.7) and second in field goal percentage (48.1) in conference play, while Kansas is second in scoring (73.5) and leads in field goal percentage (48.4).

Kansas leads the Big 12 in scoring defense (60.8) and field goal percentage defense (38.1). It also tops every Big 12 team in scoring margin (+12.1), perhaps the most important indicator of a team’s strength and efficiency (and, predictably, a metric that is completely ignored by the RPI). Missouri is second in the league in scoring margin (+7.0) but is a shaky fifth in the Big 12 in scoring defense (66.7) and dead last in the Big 12 in field goal percentage defense (46.9).

Kansas leads the league in rebound margin (+5.7 to Missouri’s -1.0), blocks, assists and steals. The Jayhawks might not be deep, but they are rock solid. The Tigers might not be deep, but they are dynamic and fearless. This is one of the great games of the season, with a chance to be a memorable spectacle. The sport needs more matchups like this one.

[+] EnlargeMarcus Denmon
Jeff Moffett/Icon SMIMissouri guard Marcus Denmon is fearless when going to the rim.
Neither team can rely on significant bench production. Kansas, in my judgment (and as reflected in The Bilas Index), is the better team because the Jayhawks have size and the ability to get the ball inside for higher percentage shots and more opportunities to get fouled. If you recall from the first meeting, Kansas seemed to have the game in its win column with three minutes to go and an eight-point lead. But the Jayhawks made a couple of mistakes, and the fearless Marcus Denmon made the Jayhawks pay for every one of them, willing Missouri to the home win.

After the game, I was walking down the hallway to the locker rooms and passed Kansas star Tyshawn Taylor using the wall to hold himself up. Anyone who believes these players don’t care is simply incorrect. They care deeply, and Taylor showed how much he had invested in that game. He was mentally and physically spent, devastated about the loss.

That game was incredible in its solid play. Both teams shot better than 50 percent from the floor, a rarity in today’s bump-and-grind games. Missouri hit 10 3-point field goals and more than doubled the Jayhawks in free throw attempts. One thing is certain, the Jayhawks cannot get a bagel from Jeff Withey and expect to win, even at home. In Columbia, Withey played 23 minutes and did not score, grabbing four rebounds.

After that first game, it was clear that Kansas and Missouri are capable of reaching a Final Four and could win the whole thing with a good draw and some good fortune. Kansas is probably better suited for it, because of its inside strength and ability to get the ball inside and get to the free throw line. Missouri will cause problems because of its style differences and the matchup problems it poses, but the Tigers are vulnerable to a lot of teams on bad shooting nights.

Tigers' stud: Denmon. The diminutive wing guard put on a show with 29 points and 9 rebounds against Kansas, including 6 of 9 from 3-point range. Late in the game, Denmon carried the Tigers, and this was after a prolonged shooting slump. He is afraid of nothing and is a difficult cover because he can score in transition, off the catch or the bounce and drives the ball with a relentless attitude. Denmon’s play would add up to a Big 12 Player of the Year honor in most seasons, but he just happens to be in the Big 12 with Thomas Robinson this year.

[+] EnlargeThomas Robinson
AP Photo/Sue OgrockiKansas' Thomas Robinson had 25 points and 13 rebounds in the first meeting against Missouri.
Jayhawks' stud: Robinson. A legit national player of the year candidate, Robinson has been magnificent all season long. He never takes a game off, and his only real issue is his penchant for taking a perimeter shot or putting the ball on the floor when he should simply lock down his defender in the post and take him apart. Robinson had 25 points and 13 rebounds, but five turnovers, in the first meeting. Robinson was doubled but hit 11 of 17 shots.

Tigers' wild card: Ricardo Ratliffe. He is having a magnificent season and has missed so few shots that he is closing on a national record held by Oregon State star Steve Johnson. Ratliffe is always surrounded by four guards, but Kansas was able to frustrate him, holding him to six points, four rebounds and only five shot attempts. On the floor, Ratliffe usually plays off of his guards, but Kansas did a good job of closing him down and attacking him, putting him into a position to foul. Ratliffe has to give Missouri a presence and be productive in Lawrence.

Jayhawks' wild card: Withey. The transfer from Arizona has blossomed since the Missouri game, averaging 16.2 points, 10.2 rebounds and 5.4 blocks per game in the past five outings. Withey has the ability to be a game-changer, blocking shots, rebounding and finishing. Missouri presents some difficulties for him because he has to guard Ratliffe and can be drawn away from the basket for ball screens. He needs to stay out of foul trouble and be productive. Missouri served him up his only bagel of the season, and Kansas needs something out of him.

Tigers' X factor: Kim English. The senior sharpshooter scored 18 points in the first meeting and has the ability to draw a bigger defender and take him away from the paint. English has been smart about his shot selection and has done a great job defending and laying his body on the line, which he did not do as well last season. English is a respected player and has been an important part of Missouri’s success. Unless English has a productive outing, I am not sure the Tigers can win in Lawrence.

Jayhawks' X factor: Taylor. The senior point guard has had a tremendous season. We spend time talking about his turnovers, but there is no way Kansas is among the nation’s top five teams without Taylor and his stellar play. Taylor is averaging 16.5 points, 5 assists and is shooting better than 47 percent from the floor. In Big 12 play, Taylor is third in the league in scoring and fifth in assists. With his speed, ability to get to the rim and improved shooting, Taylor is a tough player to shut down.

Key stat: Paint scoring. Both teams can score in the lane and get close-in shots, but they do it differently. Kansas pounds the ball inside, hits the offensive glass and gets a ton of high percentage shots that give the opponent a chance to foul. Missouri also gets a lot of paint touches but by dribble penetration and off turnovers. The team that wins the paint will win the game.

And the winner is: Kansas. The Jayhawks have to feel like they let one get away at Missouri. Kansas will pull out a win and claim the driver’s seat toward its eighth straight Big 12 title, 75-70.

Conference Power Rankings: Big 12

February, 20, 2012
2/20/12
11:35
AM CT
Saturday’s game between Kansas and Missouri will go a long way toward deciding this year's Big 12 regular-season champion. Both teams have identical 12-2 conference records, but Missouri gets the nod in this week’s Conference Power Rankings because of its victory over the Jayhawks on Feb. 4 in Columbia.

1. Missouri: Frank Haith’s squad eked out another hard-fought road victory Saturday when it defeated Texas A&M 71-62 in College Station. The win was the seventh straight for the Tigers, who will try to avenge a Jan. 7 loss to Kansas State on Tuesday.

2. Kansas: The Jayhawks had an easy time with last-place Texas Tech in Saturday’s 33-point win. Forward Thomas Robinson continues to make a case for national player of the year honors. The junior is averaging 17.7 points and 11.8 rebounds.

3. Kansas State: Angel Rodriguez scored 15 points to lead the Wildcats to their best win of the season against Baylor on Saturday. The 57-56 victory upped Kansas State’s Big 12 record to 7-7 and will greatly enhance its resume on Selection Sunday. Two more tough tests await this week. The Wildcats visit Missouri on Tuesday and host Iowa State on Sunday.

4. Baylor: The Bears are in a downward spiral with losses in three of their past four games. Scott Drew’s team failed to score in the final two minutes of Saturday’s home defeat against Kansas State and looked completely disorganized and lost on its final two possessions. Getting healthy at Texas on Monday won’t be easy.

5. Iowa State: Scott Christopherson scored 25 points and Chris Allen added 16 in Saturday’s 80-69 victory over Oklahoma. At 9-5, the Cyclones are now tied with Baylor for third place in the Big 12 standings. Standout Royce White has had three single-digit scoring outputs in his past five games.

6. Texas: Saturday’s 90-78 loss to Oklahoma State in Stillwater snapped the Longhorns’ four-game winning streak. Texas was outscored from the free throw line 43-14. At 7-7 in league play, Rick Barnes’ team desperately needs a home win against Baylor on Monday to enhance its NCAA tournament hopes. Texas lost to the Bears 76-71 on Jan. 28 in Waco.

7. Oklahoma State: The Cowboys are the Big 12’s most improved team; especially when they play at home. Oklahoma State has now defeated Missouri, Texas, Iowa State, Texas Tech and Oklahoma in Stillwater. They still have home games remaining against Texas A&M and Kansas. Keiton Page had 40 points in Saturday’s win over Texas, when he was 20-for-20 from the foul stripe.

8. Texas A&M: The Aggies have lost five of their past six games, and with Kansas coming to town Wednesday, things may get worse before they get better. Point guard Dash Harris hasn’t played since Jan. 23 because of a foot injury. Elston Turner averages a team-high 14 points.

9. Texas Tech: The Red Raiders didn’t do much to capitalize on their Feb. 11 victory over Oklahoma. They turned in a dismal offensive performance in a 47-38 setback against Texas A&M on Tuesday before getting stomped by 33 points at Kansas on Saturday.

10. Oklahoma: The Sooners have lost six games in a row and eight of past last nine. Wednesday’s home game against Oklahoma State looks like a possible victory, as the Cowboys have been terrible on the road. Still, it’s been quite a collapse for a team that opened the season with wins in nine of its first 10 games.

Conference Power Rankings: Big 12

February, 13, 2012
2/13/12
10:51
AM CT
The race for the Big 12 title appears to be a two-team affair between Missouri and Kansas. The rest of the league, however, is in a state of flux. Here are this week’s power rankings:

1. Missouri: Aided by Oklahoma's porous free throw shooting, the Tigers escaped Norman with a three-point victory last week before dismantling Baylor at home Saturday. On Wednesday they get to avenge last month’s loss to Oklahoma State when they take on the Cowboys in Columbia. Marcus Denmon has made 14 of his previous 26 attempts from 3-point range.

2. Kansas: The Jayhawks looked like a totally different team last week thanks to the emergence of Jeff Withey. The 7-foot center scored a career-high 25 points in Wednesday’s win at Baylor before erupting for 18 points, 20 rebounds and seven blocks Saturday against Oklahoma State. Kansas travels to Manhattan to play Kansas State on Big Monday. Bill Self’s squad defeated the Wildcats by 18 points on Jan. 4. Expect a closer game on the road.

3. Baylor: Not many teams in the country had a worse week than the Bears, who were humiliated in blowout losses to Kansas and Missouri. Baylor looked ill-prepared in both games and cowered under the national spotlight. Leading scorer Perry Jones III accounted for just nine points on 3-of-20 shooting in the two losses. It’ll be gut-check time for Scott Drew’s team when it hosts Iowa State on Monday.

4. Iowa State: If they beat Baylor, the Cyclones will be able to make a case for being the Big 12’s third-best team. They’ve already defeated Kansas, Kansas State and Texas. On Saturday, Fred Hoiberg’s squad defeated Texas A&M by 23 points. Leading scorer Royce White is averaging just 7.7 points in his last three games, but ISU is still hanging in.

5. Texas: The Longhorns -- who count six freshmen among their top eight players -- are beginning to mature. Texas has won four of its last six games, and the two losses were by a combined six points. Freshman guard Sheldon McClellan has taken some of the pressure off of leading scorer J'Covan Brown by scoring in double figures in his last three games.

6. Kansas State: Saturday’s 75-64 loss to Texas may have been the most frustrating of the season for the Wildcats, who blew a 13-point halftime lead en route to their third defeat in five games. Texas attempted 48 free throws compared to 12 by Kansas State. Once a Top 25 team, the Wildcats will fall to 6-7 in the Big 12 if they don't defeat Kansas at home Monday.

7. Oklahoma State: You won’t see the Cowboys in the NCAA tournament this season, but that doesn’t mean there isn’t hope for the future. Travis Ford’s squad has shown loads of improvement during the last month. Oklahoma State defeated Iowa State on Tuesday and cut a 29-point deficit to 12 at Allen Fieldhouse on Saturday before eventually falling to Kansas 81-66. Guard Markel Brown is averaging 20 points in his past two games.

8. Texas A&M: Saturday’s 23-point loss at Iowa State was the fourth in a row for the Aggies, who are even in danger of falling at Texas Tech on Tuesday. Khris Middleton (knee) returned to the court Saturday but contributed just five points on 2-of-9 shooting. Point guard Dash Harris has missed five consecutive games with a foot injury.

9. Texas Tech: The team that nobody thought would win a Big 12 game finally pulled off a victory Saturday. Billy Gillispie couldn’t help but get emotional when talking about the Red Raiders’ 18-point win over Oklahoma in Lubbock. The victory was the first for Texas Tech since Dec. 30. Javarez Willis scored 21 points.

10. Oklahoma: The Sooners went 10-2 in nonconference play, but things have been going south for Lon Kruger’s squad ever since. Oklahoma is just 3-9 in Big 12 play -- with two of the wins coming against K-State -- and Saturday it was embarrassed by a Texas Tech squad that had yet to win a league game. The Sooners shot just 32.7 percent in the loss.

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