Colleges: Oklahoma State Cowboys
|Kirk Herbstreit joins Fitzsimmons & Durrett to discuss Bob Stoops' recent comments about the SEC and the pending college football playoff, what appears to be an unpredictable Big 12 in 2013, how the Aggies will handle expectations and more. |
With those comments in mind, how would you rank the SEC and Big 12 teams heading into the 2013 season if you were doing a combined poll from those two leagues?
You get a chance to do just that in our SportsNation poll by clicking here.
This ought to be interesting.
The only Big 12 teams I would for sure have in my top 10 would be Oklahoma, Texas and Oklahoma State. TCU would be a maybe.
The good thing is that we'll get to see this whole debate play out on the field in a couple of 2013 season openers. LSU and TCU will square off in Cowboys Stadium to kick off the season, while Mississippi State and Oklahoma State will meet in Houston's Reliant Stadium.
For perspective, my ESPN colleague, David Ubben, had Oklahoma State No. 1 in his Big 12 post-spring power rankings and TCU No. 2.
In our SEC post-spring power rankings, we had LSU No. 6 and Mississippi State No. 10.
The 2013 draft is bad. Weak. Shallow. Limited. Bereft of quality players. The worst since 2000. Insert your own preferred pejorative wherever you like, but know it's probably been used already. A consensus has been reached: If you're looking for future NBA All-Stars, the June 27 draft is not the place for you.
Whether you agree with that meme or not (and I don't), whatever you thought the NBA draft was Tuesday afternoon, it got worse Tuesday night.
That's when Oklahoma State point guard Marcus Smart, the national freshman of the year, Big 12 player of the year and No. 2-ranked player overall on Chad Ford's NBA Draft Big Board made a legitimately shocking decision. He would forgo sure NBA riches. He would stay in school for his sophomore season.
Peter G. Aiken/Getty ImagesOklahoma State's Marcus Smart is returning for his sophomore season.
This dynamic -- shaky offense, great defense -- spawned a few regrettable stats vs. eyes arguments during Smart's freshman season, to the point where (through no fault of his own), Smart probably overshadowed the huge improvement of Cowboys shooting guard Markel Brown. And his game does have flaws, particularly that shooting. But consider this: In 2011-12, Oklahoma State ranked No. 107 in the country in adjusted defensive efficiency. In 2012-13, they ranked No. 11. Smart doesn't get 100 percent of the credit for that, but as his team's best defender and best player and all-around leader, he deserves plenty.
So Oklahoma State will be much better than we expected next season, because Travis Ford, and not one of the first few teams on the 2013 draft board, will have Smart in the lineup. Good enough to end Kansas' nine-year reign atop the Big 12? You won't get me on record predicting against Kansas, but it's a real possibility. Smart will be taking a chance at an injury next year, and he'll have to dive in to a much more loaded draft pool, and there will be lots of second-guesses (how do you turn down a top-five pick?) and laments (who are we supposed to draft now?).
But Smart has never struck the college hoops world as anything but a driven young dude who values the experience, who wants to win at the college level, and who doesn't much care about the rest. Come to think of it, maybe we shouldn't be so shocked after all.
These interesting tidbits were revealed when USA Today came out with its new survey of athletic director salaries, which are on the rise across the country.
Dodds, not surprisingly, earns the most among Big 12 athletic directors with a total compensation package of $1,109,041. Oklahoma’s Joe Castiglione is next, earning $1 million.
Third place, however, comes as a surprise. Iowa State’s Jamie Pollard makes $900,000, which is third-most among Big 12 athletic directors, and 12th-most in the country. No one else in the Big 12 earns more than $700,000. Pollard’s relatively high income, though, stems from a one-time retention payment of $400,000 he received last year for completing eight years of employment. The Cyclones are smart to give Pollard incentive to stay. He is responsible for hiring Paul Rhoads and Fred Hoiberg to coach Iowa State’s football and men’s basketball programs. The Cyclones have gone to bowl games in three of four years under Rhoads, and Hoiberg has Iowa State on the cusp of making back-to-back NCAA tournament appearances.
Overall, the USA Today study found that FBS athletic directors make an average of about $515,000, or roughly one-third of what they pay their football coaches.
Baylor has a chance to alter the conference race because it has remaining home games against K-State (Saturday) and Kansas (March 9). The Bears were waxed during their initial meetings with the Jayhawks and Wildcats, but they're talented enough to beat both teams if the stars align and the moon is full. Whatever happens, the final week of the season should be interesting. Here are this week's power rankings.
1. Kansas: Elijah Johnson's 39-point performance in Monday's overtime win at Iowa State marked the best game by a Big 12 player this season. A healthy and aggressive Johnson could be the difference in this team winning a game or two in the NCAA tournament and making the Final Four. Ben McLemore is averaging just 10.3 points in his past four games.
2. Kansas State: The Wildcats have won eight of their past nine games. They look better every time they step on the court. K-State's shot selection is good and they're playing tough defense. Shane Southwell has made 10 of his past 17 attempts from 3-point range. The Wildcats' past six wins have come by nine points or more, including a 20-point thrashing of Baylor on Feb. 16.
3. Oklahoma State: Le'Bryan Nash snapped out of a mini-funk Wednesday and scored a career-high 28 points in the Cowboys' 64-47 drubbing of TCU. Nash is averaging 19.5 points in his past four games. OSU has three tough games remaining against Texas, Iowa State and Kansas State. But only one of those contests (Iowa State) is away from home.
4. Iowa State: The Cyclones (19-9, 9-6) might be the most snakebitten team in the Big 12. Three of their losses have come in overtime and another occurred on a last-second basket at Oklahoma State. Fred Hoiberg's squad ranks fourth in the nation in scoring (80.1), 12th in assists (16.3) and 19th in rebounds (39.3). Saturday's game at Oklahoma will be pivotal in terms of NCAA tournament seeding.
5. Oklahoma: Lon Kruger's squad led Texas by as many as 22 points in the second half Wednesday before wilting down the stretch in a 92-86 overtime loss. The Sooners, who are getting a team-high 15 points per game from Romero Osby, will have a tough chore Saturday against Iowa State, a team they lost to by 19 points earlier this season. Things get easier after that with a home game against West Virginia and a road tilt with TCU to close the regular season.
6. Baylor: If the season ended today, the Bears wouldn't deserve to be in the NCAA tournament. But they still have plenty of opportunities to play their way into the field with remaining home games against No. 13 Kansas State and No. 6 Kansas. Both of those contests are at home. A win at Texas on Monday would also enhance Baylor's résumé. Scott Drew's squad has been a disappointment, but the talent is still there to upset anyone.
7. Texas: Even though the Longhorns have lost to West Virginia twice, I'm still ranking them above the Mountaineers, based on their current play. Overtime home wins against Iowa State and Oklahoma proved that Texas hasn't given up during the worst season in coach Rick Barnes' tenure. Myck Kabongo had 31 points, 8 rebounds, 6 assists and 4 steals in Wednesday's overtime win against Oklahoma. He's averaging 11.2 fee throw attempts in his past five games.
8. West Virginia: Each of the Mountaineers' six Big 12 wins have come against teams ranked eighth, ninth or 10th in the league standings. West Virginia's leading scorer (Eron Harris) is only averaging 9.3 points. Harris, a freshman, turned in an encouraging performance by scoring 25 points in Wednesday's home loss to Baylor. With upcoming road games at Kansas and Oklahoma and a home game with Iowa State, the Mountaineers may not win again.
9. Texas Tech: The Red Raiders are just 2-13 in Big 12 play and haven't won a game since beating Iowa State on Jan. 23. They'll likely be favored at home Saturday against TCU, a team it beat in the conference opener. And there's a chance Texas Tech could sneak up on Texas on March 9 in Lubbock. Freshman point guard Josh Gray (9.7 points, 3.2 assists) is showing positive signs.
10. TCU: The season can't end fast enough for the Horned Frogs, whose only Big 12 victory came in that stunner against Kansas on Feb. 6. Each of TCU's 14 Big 12 losses have come by nine points or more. It will be interesting to see how competitive Trent Johnson's squad is in Saturday's road game against fellow Big 12 bottom feeder Texas Tech.
1. Kansas. The Jayhawks defeated Kansas State and Texas by an average of 23.5 points before escaping Stillwater with a 68-67 double-overtime win Wednesday. Backup guard Naadir Tharpe hit the game-winner on a night when Ben McLemore scored only seven points. KU's toughest remaining game is Monday at Iowa State.
2. Kansas State. Forget all the talk about the Wildcats hitting their ceiling. Bruce Weber's squad just keeps getting better. Point guard Angel Rodriguez looked like a first-team All-Big 12 guard in his 22-point, 10-assist effort in Saturday's win over Baylor. If K-State wins out it will claim at least a share of the conference title for the first time since 1977.
3. Oklahoma State. The Cowboys nearly defeated KU Wednesday even though Marcus Smart went just 2 of 14 from the field. Small forward Le'Bryan Nash continues to be an enigma. In his past four games, he's scored 14, 6, 26 and 8 points. Oklahoma State plays at West Virginia Saturday and at TCU Wednesday.
4. Iowa State. Fred Hoiberg's squad finally beat a decent Big 12 team on the road. Wednesday's 87-82 victory over Baylor was impressive on a variety of fronts. The Cyclones shot 54.2 percent from the field and got 15 or more points from four players: Melvin Ejim, Korie Lucious, Tyrus McGee and Georges Niang. Monday's home game against Kansas is obviously huge.
5. Oklahoma. The Sooners have won three of their past four games, with the only setback coming in a road defeat at Oklahoma State. Lon Kruger's squad has a tough upcoming stretch against Baylor, Texas and Iowa State. (The Texas game is on the road). If Oklahoma wins two of those three contests, the Sooners would be a virtual lock to make the NCAA tournament. Wouldn't they?
6. Baylor. If it weren't for West Virginia, the Bears would be the Big 12's biggest disappointment. Scott Drew's squad has lost five of its past seven games, including home setbacks against Iowa State and Oklahoma. Baylor has defeated just one team (Oklahoma State) in the upper half of the league standings. Its other six Big 12 wins have come against Texas, West Virginia, TCU (twice) and Texas Tech (twice).
7. Texas. The Longhorns have gone 2-1 since the return of point guard Myck Kabongo, beating Iowa State at home and TCU on the road and losing at Kansas. Kabongo has been solid, but not spectacular. He's averaging 12.7 points, 4.7 assists and three turnovers while shooting just 38.7 percent from the field. Texas hosts co-league leader Kansas State on Saturday.
8. West Virginia. The Mountaineers are 13-13 overall and 6-7 in league play. They may have the toughest remaining schedule of any Big 12 team, with home games remaining against Oklahoma State, Baylor and Iowa State and road games against Kansas and Oklahoma. West Virginia lost their first meeting with each of those schools.
9. Texas Tech. The Red Raiders almost upset West Virginia in Morgantown on Saturday before falling 66-64. A few days later, they were blown out at home by Oklahoma 86-71. Texas Tech's next two games (against Iowa State and Kansas State) are both on the road. Things could get ugly.
10. TCU. The Horned Frogs threw a scare into Texas Wednesday before wilting down the stretch in a 68-59 loss. First-year coach Trent Johnson shouldn't be judged on his team's 10-16 record. He simply doesn't have the personnel to compete. At least not yet.
Ennis had 26 points, 15 rebounds and four steals in Long Beach State’s win over Cal State Fullerton. Ennis is the first Division I player this season with at least 26 points, 15 rebounds and four steals in a game. He’s the first Big West player to do so since Fullerton’s Pape Sow, who had 26 points, 18 rebounds and four steals against Cal Poly in February 2004.
Scorer of the Night -- Elston Turner, Texas A&M
Turner scored 37 points on 13-for-20 shooting, including 7-for-10 on 3-point attempts, in Texas A&M’s win over Ole Miss. Turner didn’t fill the stat sheet in many ways other than scoring, as he had just two rebounds, one assist, one steal, no blocks, no fouls and no turnovers. Only one player has scored more points in a game this season without any fouls or turnovers. That player is also Turner, when he scored 40 against Kentucky on January 12. His 40-point performance was the most by a Division I player without a foul or turnover in more than six years.
Shooter of the Night -- Markel Brown, Oklahoma State
Brown, who is usually known for dunks like this, showed off his outside shooting skills in Oklahoma State’s win at Texas Tech. Brown scored 25 points on 8-for-11 shooting, including 7-for-8 on 3-point attempts. He also made both of his free-throw attempts. No player in Big 12 history has made more 3-pointers while only missing only one attempt than Brown. Five other Big 12 players have also shot 7-for-8 from beyond the arc: Oklahoma’s Nate Erdmann (1997), Kansas’s Kirk Hinrich (2003), Texas A&M’s Antoine Wright (2005), Baylor’s LaceDarius Dunn (2008) and Iowa State’s Jamie Vanderbeken (2011).
Stat Sheet Stuffer -- Joe Jackson, Memphis
Jackson had 21 points, 10 assists, four rebounds and three steals in Memphis’s win over UCF. Jackson is only the second Division I player to reach those plateaus in a game this season. The other was Western Carolina’s Trey Sumler, who had 25 points, 12 assists, four rebounds and four steals against Chattanooga on January 19. Jackson is the first Memphis player with a stat line like that since Antonio Burks, who had 27 points, 10 assists, four rebounds and four steals against UAB in February 2003.
Debut of the Night -- Myck Kabongo, Texas
Kabongo might have been the only player with his season debut last night, but he still deserves the award. Kabongo had 13 points, seven assists and four rebounds in the Longhorns’ double-overtime win over Iowa State. Perhaps Texas is a different team now that Kabongo has returned from his 23-game suspension. According to BPI, Iowa State is the best opponent Texas has defeated this season.
Now the landscape has changed.
Four days after losing to Oklahoma State in Lawrence, KU suffered one of the biggest upsets in recent college basketball memory -- and easily the biggest in school history -- when it fell to last-place TCU on Wednesday in Fort Worth. Just like that, the race for the Big 12 title is wide-open, with six teams in the mix for the trophy.
Here are this week's power rankings. And remember, these rankings are based on how teams are playing at the moment. Kansas, for instance, touts the best record in the league at 19-3. But the Jayhawks have been terrible lately, which is why they're at No. 4.
1. Kansas State. The Wildcats have done a good job of winning the games they are supposed to win, but we'll find out what this team is truly made of in the next three days. K-State hosts a red-hot Iowa State team on Saturday before traveling to Lawrence to face Kansas on Monday. The Cyclones and Jayhawks handed K-State its only two Big 12 losses this season, so Bruce Weber's players should be foaming at the mouth for these two games. If the Wildcats come out in attack mode, they can win both of them -- and perhaps even a Big 12 title.
2. Oklahoma State. What a stretch this has been for the Cowboys. On Jan. 30 they beat Iowa State on a Marcus Smart layup with three seconds remaining. Three days later OSU became just the second team in 104 games to defeat Kansas at Allen Fieldhouse, and then on Wednesday it toppled Baylor in overtime. The schedule sets up nicely for Travis Ford's team the rest of the way.
3. Iowa State. In Monday's win over Oklahoma, six Cyclones made 3-pointers in the first 12 minutes of the game. That's how potent this Iowa State offense can be. The problem with Iowa State is that it hasn't been able to win on the road. Fred Hoiberg's squad is 1-3 in league games away from Hilton Coliseum, although it's worth pointing out that ISU played well in losses at Kansas (97-89 in overtime) and Oklahoma State (78-76). Three of the Cyclones' next four games are on the road starting with Saturday's tilt at K-State.
4. Kansas. To put Wednesday's loss to TCU into perspective ... Jerry Palm, who crunches basketball numbers for cbssports.com, said TCU's victory marked the biggest upset in RPI difference in the 20 years he's been tracking numbers. Kansas entered the game No. 7 in RPI, TCU No. 237. KU's field goal percentage (29.5) was its worst in the Bill Self era, and so was its first-half point total (13). The Jayhawks hadn't lost consecutive games since 2006. And they haven't lost three straight since 2005. Kansas plays at Oklahoma on Saturday.
5. Oklahoma. The Sooners have lost four of their past six games, but they'll be catching Kansas at the perfect time this weekend. Oklahoma needs to get more out of Romero Osby, who is averaging 13.8 points on the season but only 10.5 points in his past four games. It will be interesting to see what kind of crowd shows up at the Lloyd Noble Center on Saturday. A sold-out arena would certainly help OU's chances.
6. Baylor. The Bears have lost three straight games by an average of 4.3 points. They are 2-7 in games decided by single digits, mainly because they make horrible decisions and shoot ill-advised, forced shots at the end of close games. And often it's the wrong player taking those shots. Baylor's next two games (against Texas Tech and West Virginia) are at home. Isaiah Austin is averaging 14 rebounds in his past three games.
7. West Virginia. The Mountaineers have won two in a row -- and there's a significant chance they could stretch that streak to four. Bob Huggins' squad plays at TCU on Saturday and then returns to the Lone Star State on Wednesday to face struggling Baylor. As a team West Virginia shoots just 40.3 percent from the field, a mark that ranks 303rd in the country.
8. Texas. The Longhorns host a hot Oklahoma State team on Saturday before welcoming back suspended point guard Myck Kabongo for Wednesday's game against Iowa State in Austin. Beneficial as it will be to get Kabongo back on the court, it may not make much difference in UT's season. The Longhorns are 10-12 overall and 2-7 in the Big 12. Barring a miracle, they'll miss the NCAA tournament for the first time in Rick Barnes' 14 seasons.
9. Texas Tech. The Red Raiders may be improving, but it's not showing up on the scoreboard. Texas Tech is 2-7 in league play, with the seven losses coming by an average of 19.8 points. Baylor and Oklahoma State each beat Texas Tech by 34 points. Those are the Red Raiders' next two opponents.
10. TCU. The Horned Frogs' victory over Kansas on Wednesday is even more amazing when you consider that they shot 39.1 percent from the field, shot 30.8 percent from 3-point range and lost the offensive-rebound battle 17-6. TCU also missed 16 free throws but still won 62-55.
6. Texas A&M. There’s good Texas A&M and bad Texas A&M. Bad Texas A&M is ranked 110th in adjusted offensive efficiency per Ken Pomeroy. But the Aggies’ grit has helped them overcome those problems in multiple games this season. They held a double-digit lead over Missouri in the last six minutes of Thursday’s win. They squandered that advantage but made big plays down the stretch. (Fabyon Harris hit a game-winning 3-pointer in the final seconds.) That was good Texas A&M. The Aggies have wins over Missouri, Kentucky and Arkansas.
1. Kansas. While KU's defense has been outstanding, its offense continues to sputter. The Jayhawks are averaging 62 points in their past six games, and three of their past four wins have come by five points or less. Kansas' guard play has been sloppy at times.
2. Kansas State. The Wildcats' 83-57 thrashing of Texas Wednesday is even more impressive considering the minimal contributions made by Rodney McGruder and Will Spradling, who combined for 12 points. KSU plays at Oklahoma -- a team it defeated 69-60 last month -- on Saturday.
3. Oklahoma. The Sooners pulled off one of the more impressive Big 12 wins of the season thus far by defeating Baylor 74-71 in Waco Wednesday. Amath M'Baye and Steven Pledger each scored 20 points for a team that shot 52.7 percent. OU's only two Big 12 losses are against Kansas and K-State, both on the road.
4. Baylor. The Bears were lifeless in the first half of Wednesday's 74-71 home loss to Oklahoma. They deserve credit for fighting back from a 16-point deficit, but it should've never gotten to that point. Isaiah Austin was a bright spot with 19 points and 20 rebounds. Baylor now has back-to-back road games at Iowa State and Oklahoma State. Uh-oh.
5. Oklahoma State. Marcus Smart's layup with 3 seconds remaining propelled the Cowboys to a 78-76 win over Iowa State Wednesday. Oklahoma State hopes to capitalize on that momentum in Saturday's game at Kansas, where the Jayhawks have won 102 of their past 103 games at Allen Fieldhouse.
6. Iowa State. I never thought I'd rank the Cyclones this low, but their inconsistency has been maddening. How do you go from coming within 1 second of beating KU in Lawrence to losing at Texas Tech? Five days after beating K-State at home, Iowa State lost at Oklahoma State. Fred Hoiberg's squad won't get an NCAA tournament bid if it can't win a few road games.
7. West Virginia. Bob Huggins' squad has lost four of its past five games, with the only win in that stretch coming against TCU. Huggins and talented transfer Aaric Murray can't seem to get on the same page. Games against Texas Tech, TCU and Texas are up next, so the potential for a three-game winning streak exists.
8. Texas. The Longhorns looked like the Big 12's worst team in Wednesday's 83-57 loss at Kansas State. Point guard Myck Kabongo becomes eligible in three games, but it may not matter. Sheldon McClellan averages a team-high 14.8 points.
9. Texas Tech. Three of the Red Raiders' next four games are at home, and Saturday's tilt with West Virginia at United Spirit Arena looks like their best chance at a win during that stretch. Jaye Crockett averages team-highs in points (12.7) and rebounds (7.7).
10. TCU. The Horned Frogs' past two losses (to Baylor and West Virginia) have come by an average of 23.5 points. TCU plays at Texas Saturday before hosting Kansas on Wednesday. That one could get ugly. Arkansas transfer Devonta Abron is averaging only 6.6 points.
Oklahoma State at Baylor, 5:30 p.m. ET, ESPN: What if I told you that the final score of Baylor's last home game was -- wait for it -- 107-38? And that they set a school winning margin record in doing so? You would probably be really impressed, right? Don't be. The Bears racked up that tally against Hardin-Simmons, which is not a Division I opponent. I suppose if you insist on being impressed by that win, you could point to the fact that Baylor was able to destroy poor law firm-rec league-sounding Hardin-Simmons without Pierre Jackson and Isaiah Austin, whom coach Scott Drew elected to rest on Saturday. Your mileage may vary.
Anyway, if there is anything to take away from that game (beyond the fact that non-D1 opponents like Hardin-Simmons are exempt from RPI calculations, which is why it is savvy to schedule one or two a season and get a guaranteed tune-up game without the requisite RPI hit) it is that both Jackson and Austin don't have to fight the fatigue of a two-day turnaround when Oklahoma State comes to town this afternoon.
That is good news, because the Bears will need both. The Cowboys have built their 2012-13 renewal on one of the nation's five-best defensive efforts this season. Freshman point guard Marcus Smart's much-lauded intangibles don't always show up in the box score, but where they do show up is on the defensive end, where Smart ranks in the top 15 in the country in steals rate and blocks 3.3 shots for every 100 possessions. He is a difficult guard to play against, because his combination of size and quickness makes him uniquely immovable when he is planted in front of an opposing guard. That lockdown work on the perimeter, combined with Oklahoma State's impressive basket protection inside the arc (OSU opponents make just 40.1 percent of their twos), have fueled this season's impressive revival.
It's also precisely why Jackson and Austin need to be well rested and ready to go. Jackson might be the quickest guard in the country and serves not only as Baylor's primary scorer but its top assist man; everything runs through him. And Austin, the talented 7-footer with real guard skills, has had a good but not great freshman season. To hold on to a win in Waco, Jackson may need to dominate, and Austin will definitely need to be a presence in the paint. So, yes. It's good they sat out against Hardin-Simmons. (It was probably good for Hardin-Simmons, too.)
1. Kansas. The Jayhawks' offense has sputtered a bit lately, but defensively Bill Self's squad has been stout. The Jayhawks held Baylor to 44 points on 23.2 percent shooting Monday. Leading scorer Ben McLemore injured his ankle but is expected to play against Texas on Saturday in Austin.
2. Iowa State. After nearly upsetting KU in Lawrence nine days ago, Iowa State has defeated Texas by 20 points and staved off a late rally by West Virginia. The Cyclones' next two games are road tilts against the league's worst two teams: TCU and Texas Tech.
3. Kansas State. No other player in the Big 12 has been as good as Rodney McGruder since the beginning of conference play. The senior is averaging 22 points per game against Big 12 opponents and is shooting 54 percent from the field. Center Jordan Henriquez has given his team a nice boost off the bench in recent weeks.
4. Baylor. The Bears can't be as bad as they looked against Kansas on Monday, can they? Baylor is in for a long Big 12 season if it doesn't show more discipline and start taking better shots. Baylor plays a nonconference game against Hardin-Simmons on Saturday before hosting Oklahoma State in a crucial contest Monday night.
5. Oklahoma. The Sooners hit the jackpot by hiring Lon Kruger. Oklahoma is one of the league's three remaining undefeated teams along with Kansas and K-State. Romero Osby leads the team in points (13.7) and rebounds (6.3). Saturday's game at K-State is huge for both teams. Four of OU's next six games are on the road.
6. Oklahoma State. By the time they take the court for Saturday's game against Texas Tech, the Cowboys will have had a week to think about last weekend's 77-68 loss to rival Oklahoma in Norman. Marcus Smart has shown great leadership, but he's shooting just 41.3 percent from the field and 29.7 percent from 3-point range.
7. West Virginia. The Mountaineers haven't lived up to their expectations, but they certainly appear to be getting better, especially in the toughness department. Bob Huggins' squad erased an 18-point second-half deficit against Iowa State but lost when Cyclones forward Georges Niang hit a layup with 2.5 seconds remaining. WVU is a threat to beat anyone in the conference.
8. Texas. The Longhorns have lost four of their past five games, including two in overtime. With Kansas visiting this weekend, things probably won't get better soon. Sheldon McClellan played just one minute in last weekend's 20-point loss to Iowa State as coach Rick Barnes, displeased with McClellan's effort, sent the team's leading scorer a message.
9. Texas Tech. Chris Walker's squad has lost its past three Big 12 games by an average of 22 points. Jaye Crockett leads the team in points (13.8) and rebounds (8.3). Texas Tech's next two games (at Oklahoma State on Saturday and at home against Iowa State on Wednesday) will be tough. But a Jan. 26 tilt at Texas could be interesting.
10. TCU. The Horned Frogs led Baylor at halftime Saturday before losing 51-40. Trent Johnson's squad simply doesn't have the personnel to compete with major college schools. No one would be surprised if TCU finished 0-18 in league play.
1. Kansas. The Jayhawks have won 100 of their past 101 games at Allen Fieldhouse. The only home game they've lost there in the last six-plus years came against Texas in 2011, the morning after forward Thomas Robinson's mother passed away unexpectedly. KU plays at Texas Tech on Saturday before hosting Baylor on Monday. McLemore averages a team-high 16.9 points.
2. Iowa State. It's rare that a team moves up in the polls after a loss, but the poise the Cyclones displayed in Wednesday's setback against KU was remarkable considering the opponent and venue. This team has a lot of nice pieces and will continue to improve as long as Michigan State transfer Korie Lucious plays at a high level. Fred Hoiberg is one of the country's more underrated coaches.
3. Baylor. The Bears opened Big 12 play with an overtime win against Texas and looked scary good in Tuesday's road-thumping of Texas Tech. Baylor won by 34 points but probably could've beaten the Red Raiders by 60. Scott Drew, who returns to the bench this weekend after serving a two-game suspension, has already led his team to a victory at Kentucky's Rupp Arena. Winning against Kansas at Allen Fieldhouse on Monday will be even tougher.
4. Kansas State. Rodney McGruder looked like the best player in the league while scoring 26 points in the second half of Saturday's home victory against then-No. 22 Oklahoma State. Winnable road games against West Virginia (Saturday) and TCU (Wednesday) are up next. Reserve forward Nino Williams is averaging 16.5 points off the bench in his past two games.
5. Oklahoma State. The Cowboys snapped a two-game losing streak with an 18-point home win over TCU on Wednesday. OSU needs to get more production out of wing Le'Bryan Nash. The potential first-round NBA draft pick ranks third on the team in scoring with 13.7 points per game. But he's shooting just 42.8 percent from the field and 24.1 percent from 3-point range.
6. Oklahoma. The Sooners are the Big 12's most improved team. Lon Kruger's squad opened conference play with a road victory at West Virginia. Sure, the Mountaineers are struggling. But winning in Morgantown isn't easy no matter what. A victory in Saturday's Bedlam game against Oklahoma State in Norman would give the Sooners a huge jolt of momentum and generate legitimate NCAA tournament buzz.
7. West Virginia. Bob Huggins' squad showed a ton of resolve by battling back from a double-digit deficit to force overtime against Texas in Austin on Wednesday. WVU went on to win 57-53 for its first league victory as a member of the Big 12. As poorly as things have gone for the Mountaineers thus far, a home win over K-State on Saturday could alter the course of their season. Huggins spent a year as KSU's head coach before taking over at WVU in 2007.
8. Texas. After two consecutive overtime losses to open Big 12 play, it's tough to envision the Longhorns (8-7, 0-2) extending their streak of 14 straight NCAA tournament berths. Heck, at this point, they might not even make the NIT. Texas' next three games are: on the road against Iowa State, at home against Kansas and on the road against Oklahoma. The Longhorns will be underdogs in each.
9. Texas Tech. Longtime followers of the Big 12 have opined that TCU might be the worst team in the history of the conference -- and that Texas Tech might be the second-worst. The Red Raiders weren't even close to being competitive in Tuesday's 34-point loss to Baylor. Whoever takes over this program in the spring will have a massive rebuilding job on his hands.
10. TCU. No one will be surprised if the injury-riddled Horned Frogs finish 0-18 in Big 12 play. Their best chance for a victory game in last week's league opener against Texas Tech, but TCU lost at home by nine points. Saturday's road tilt at Baylor will be followed by back-to-back home games against Kansas State and Iowa State.
But who comes next?
Baylor, Oklahoma State, Kansas State and Iowa State all have solid squads with somewhat similar resumes. Ranking those four schools -- and the rest of the league -- isn’t easy, but here’s how I see things as we near the season’s midway point.
1. Kansas. While most other schools open Big 12 play this week, the Jayhawks will host a Temple squad on Sunday that defeated previously unbeaten Syracuse last month. Point guards Elijah Johnson and Naadir Tharpe combine to average 8.1 assists.
2. Oklahoma State. The Cowboys appeared to have Gonzaga beaten on New Year’s Eve in Stillwater before the Zags battled back for a 69-68 victory. Still, the Cowboys -- who got 23 points from Marcus Smart -- should be encouraged by their gutsy performance.
3. Baylor. The Bears have looked much better their past two outings, drubbing BYU at home before falling by seven points against a very strong Gonzaga squad in Spokane, Wash. They can’t afford to lose home games against lesser foes. That includes Texas, which visits Waco on Saturday still without point guard Myck Kabongo.
4. Iowa State. The Cyclones are off until their Big 12 opener at Kansas on Jan. 9. Will Clyburn and Tyrus McGee are averaging a combined 27.5 points. Melvin Ejim leads the team with 9.2 rebounds. It’s not absurd to say that Iowa State could finish as high as second in this league.
5. Kansas State. The Wildcats are playing hard for their new coach, Bruce Weber. But it’s not always pretty. K-State has looked mediocre since it defeated Florida Dec. 22 in Kansas City. Weber’s squad is good defensively while ranking 21st in the country in rebounds per game. But K-State has trouble scoring.
6. Texas. Freshman point guard Javan Felix hasn’t been all that bad in replacement of suspended sophomore Kabongo. Felix averages 6.5 assists. The Longhorns (8-5) have some serious work to do in conference play if they hope to keep their streak of 14 consecutive NCAA appearances alive.
7. Oklahoma. The Sooners are good enough to sneak up and beat anyone in this conference. But to contend for a postseason berth, Oklahoma needs to win some games on the road. It all starts Saturday with a tilt against West Virginia in Morgantown.
8. West Virginia. The Big 12’s most disappointing team can’t afford to lose Saturday’s home game against Oklahoma. Transfers Juwan Staten and Aaric Murray combine to average only 21.8 points.
9. Texas Tech. The Red Raiders will hit the road for the first time this season for Saturday’s game against TCU in Fort Worth. Texas Tech (7-4) is getting 15.2 points per game from Jaye Crockett.
10. TCU. Saturday’s home game against Texas Tech may be the best chance TCU will have at a conference win all season. Sophomore guard Kyan Anderson has been the Horned Frogs’ steadiest player, with 13 points per game.
1. Kansas. Saturday’s tilt with No. 7 Ohio State in Columbus will be the first true road game for Bill Self’s squad. The Jayhawks’ three most recent victories -- against Colorado, Belmont and Richmond -- came by an average of 31 points. Jeff Withey leads the nation with 5.4 blocks per game.
2. Oklahoma State. Kudos to the Cowboys, who have won four straight since losing at Virginia Tech on Dec. 1. Travis Ford’s squad, which gets a combined 30.2 points per game from Le’Bryan Nash and Markel Brown, hosts Tennessee Tech on Saturday and then has eight days off before a New Year’s Eve date with Gonzaga in Stillwater.
3. Iowa State. Christmas has come early for the Cyclones, who don’t play again until Jan. 1. Guard Tyrus McGee has been playing extremely well for Fred Hoiberg’s squad. He’s averaging 13.3 points and shooting 48 percent from 3-point range. Iowa State is 9-3 with losses to Cincinnati, UNLV and Iowa.
4. Baylor. The Bears host Brigham Young on Friday. They. Have. To. Win. Seriously, a team that’s already toting home losses to College of Charleston and Northwestern can’t afford to drop another non-league game against an inferior opponent. Baylor has zero chemistry on offense.
5. Kansas State. The Wildcats’ two losses are to Michigan (in New York) and to Gonzaga (in Seattle. That’s nothing to be ashamed of. Still, even against mediocre teams at home, Kansas State has struggled to score. That’s not a good thing for a team that takes on Florida on Saturday in Kansas City.
6. Texas. Myck Kabongo won’t play for the Longhorns this season, but Texas didn’t even need him during Wednesday’s 85-67 whacking of an alarmingly sloppy, uninspired North Carolina club. Texas, which is getting 15.5 points from Sheldon McClellan, could pick up some additional momentum with a victory at Michigan State on Saturday.
7. Oklahoma. Wouldn’t you know it? The minute I start complimenting the Sooners for the strides they’ve made under Lon Kruger, Oklahoma goes out and drops a game to Stephen F. Austin. That’s inexcusable, boys. The Sooners' next game, a Dec. 29 visit from Ohio University, won’t be a cakewalk.
8. West Virginia. The Mountaineers ended a two-game losing streak by squeaking past Oakland on Wednesday. Still, Bob Huggins’ squad may be the Big 12’s biggest disappointment thus far. Transfers Aaric Murray and Juwan Staten are averaging a collective 20.5 points.
9. Texas Tech. Chris Walker is going to have a tough time earning the permanent head-coaching position if his team can’t beat McNeese State at home. The Red Raiders showed some fight against Alabama three nights later but still lost 66-62. Arizona State, Saturday’s opponent, is pesky.
10. TCU. The Horned Frogs haven’t caught any breaks in Trent Johnson’s first season. Aaron Durley and Amric Fields were both lost to ACL injuries, and now Jarvis Ray is out six to eight weeks with a broken foot.
1. Kansas: The Jayhawks are the league’s lone Final Four contender. No one was surprised that KU beat Colorado at Allen Fieldhouse. But a 36-point win over a Buffaloes team that’s been in the Top 25? Wow. Belmont will provide a tough test Saturday.
2. Oklahoma State: Billionaire booster T. Boone Pickens swept up the remaining 4,000 tickets to the Cowboys’ Dec. 31 game against Gonzaga and plans to distribute them for free. Even if they had to pay, fans would find Le'Bryan Nash and Marcus Smart to be worth the price of admission.
3. Kansas State: Rodney McGruder finally seems to be breaking out of his funk. The senior is averaging 17.7 points in his past three games for the Wildcats, which face a tough test against Gonzaga in Seattle on Saturday. Bruce Weber’s squad barely escaped with a victory at George Washington last weekend.
4. Baylor: Remember that College of Charleston team that beat the Bears in Waco? On Thursday, that same squad lost 65-49 -- at home -- to Division II Anderson. Baylor led Lamar by three points with 10 minutes remaining Thursday before pulling away. But that’s OK. It’s not like Lamar is 1-9 or anything. Oh wait ...
5. Iowa State: Just when I was starting to get a little excited about the Cyclones, Fred Hoiberg’s team turned in a clunker -- an 80-71 loss at Iowa last Friday. This is still a good enough team to finish as high as second in the league, but it may be awhile before we see the Cyclones mesh.
6. Oklahoma: It may not be saying much, but the Sooners are the most improved team in the Big 12 and are capable of beating any school in the conference. Romero Osby, Amath M'Baye and Steven Pledger are high-quality players, although Pledger’s scoring average (10.1) is the lowest since his freshman season.
7. West Virginia: It appeared the Mountaineers were turning the corner when they defeated previously unbeaten Virginia Tech in the final seconds Saturday. But three days later, they coughed up a 13-point halftime lead and lost 60-56 at Duquesne. Things could get ugly Saturday against Michigan.
8. Texas: Even if Myck Kabongo were playing, I’m not sure the Longhorns would be very good. Texas was up by as many as eight points late in the game against UCLA before choking it away in the final minutes. Freshman forward Cameron Ridley (14 points, 10 rebounds) had his best game to date as a collegian. North Carolina visits Austin on Wednesday.
9. Texas Tech: The Red Raiders are better than they were last season, but they were exposed a bit earlier this month in an 85-57 home loss to Arizona, the first decent team they’ve played. Upcoming games against Alabama and Arizona State will be tough.
10. TCU: The Horned Frogs, which haven’t played since losing to Tulsa on Saturday, have lost three of their past five games. Trent Johnson’s team is averaging just 54.5 points per game. Kyan Anderson leads the team in points (13.3) and assists (3.7).
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Play Podcast Kirk Herbstreit joins Fitzsimmons & Durrett to discuss Bob Stoops' recent comments about the SEC and the pending college football playoff, what appears to be an unpredictable Big 12 in 2013, how the Aggies will handle expectations and more.
Play Podcast Texas A&M coach Kevin Sumlin talks about the improvements being made to Kyle Field, what those improvements will to for the program, the success of last year, Johnny Manziel's offseason and the expectations for the Aggies in 2013.
Play Podcast Scott Van Pelt and Ryen Russillo talk about Texas A&M's decision to expand its stadium and say although the Aggies had a fantastic year, the school must also be careful not to overextend its resources based on a single hot stretch.
Play Podcast Baylor head coach Art Briles joins Fitzsimmons & Durrett to discuss what kind of player the Cowboys are getting in Terrance Williams.
Play Podcast Arlington and Texas A&M product Luke Joeckel, the potential No. 1 overall pick in the NFL draft, joins Ian Fitzsimmons and Richard Durrett to discuss the draft, coaches and advice from his dad.
Play Podcast Florida Gulf Coast athletic director Ken Kavanagh joins Fitzsimmons & Durrett to discuss his school's Cinderella story and playing in the Sweet 16 at Cowboys Stadium.
Play Podcast Big 12 commissioner Bob Bowlsby joins Fizsimmons & Durrett to discuss Cowboys Stadium as a venue, the state of Big 12 basketball, the new 2014 college football format, why there's no hurry to have a Big 12 football championship and much more.
Play Podcast Jay Bilas joins Fitzsimmons and Durrett to discuss the remaining 16 teams in the NCAA tournament, the intrigue surrounding the Northwest Region and the excitement over FGCU, even though a similar story happens every year.