- Thomas Robinson will look to lead KU to its 8th Big 12 Conference Title in a row.
In the last round of games before conference play, the Tigers pulled off a last minute victory against Old Dominion, the Jayhawks blew out North Dakota, and the Wildcats of Kansas State had an easy win against Howard. All three teams did relatively well in their preconference schedules: Missouri went undefeated, KU lost to highly ranked teams (except the Davidson upset), and K-State only lost once in double overtime.
Now is the time we’ve all been waiting for: Big 12 conference play. It should be a little interesting this year; half of the teams in the conference could make a run at the championship, but who has the best shot? Well Baylor of course, but the Tigers, Jayhawks, and even Wildcats could all pull it off with the right schemes and defensive play.
What most people don’t know is that the conference looks a little different this year. With the loss of Nebraska and Colorado, the Big 12 will now play a round-robin conference schedule, which will declare a true champion. The basketball conference play is an 18 game league schedule, concluding with the Big 12 tournament in Kansas City, Missouri.
The usual hotshots are not the favorites this year either, the Jayhawks have been replaced by the Baylor Bears, and the Tigers are predicted to come in a close second. The Jayhawks still have a high chance of having a top-four finish, most likely followed by Texas and Kansas-State. Clearly that isn’t good enough though, as Senior Thomas Robinson put it: “This is Kansas. Nothing less than championships are acceptable.”
Can Baylor live up to the hype?
Can the veteran led Tigers continue their undefeated streak?
Are Jayhawks really going to let their 7-year Big 12 Champions streak fall?
Only time will tell.
Here’s a break down of the Big 12 teams:
Since All-American candidate Perry Jones came back from the NCAA mandated 5-game suspension, the Bears have been on a roll. Led by the youngsters Perry Jones and Quincy Miller, the Bears are undefeated and showing no indication of slowing down. Like many other teams though, they have yet to play much fierce competition and even struggled against a few unranked teams. Their size gives them a major advantage over Big 12 contender Missouri, but the Bears average roughly 15 turnovers a game; an area that teams can capitalize on.
The Tigers have been on a roll this season. Led by All-American senior Marcus Denmon who averages 18.7 points a game, Mizzou has dominated easier opponents and even have marquee wins over Cal and Illinois. The Tigers are first in the nation with their .517 average field goal percentage, and third in the nation scoring 86.2 points per game. Missouri opens up Big 12 play with Oklahoma tomorrow, Kansas State on the 7th, and then Iowa State on the 11th. Although Missouri hasn’t had trouble covering big men thus far, they are bound to be challenged in the Big 12 play. Look for the Tigers to win a lot of games this season through outstanding shooting, turnovers, and fast-break points.
The 17th ranked Jayhawks haven’t started off their season like they would have liked, but they are still major contenders in the Big 12. With early losses to then #2 Duke and #6 Kentucky, the Jayhawks have really suffered by the play of senior guard Tyshawn Taylor. They also were the victims of an upset in Kansas City, when unranked Davidson came out and beat the Jayhawks by six in front of an all-blue crowd. They have shown signs of light though; Kansas did knock off then #2 ranked Ohio State, and Thomas Robinson leads the team averaging 17 points and 12 rebounds. If the Jawhawks want to defend their 7-year big 12 champions streak they will need better guard play from Taylor, consistent double-doubles from Robinson, and better shooting from Elijah Johnson and Connor Teahan. You can watch Kansas open up their Big 12 conference schedule against #25 Kansas State at Allen Field House on ESPN 3 on Wednesday.
Although K-State has been under the radar this season, they have been playing outstanding basketball thus far. Sitting at #25 in the country with one loss to West Virginia in double overtime, the Wildcats also have a shot to make a run at the Big 12 title. Beating their last two opponents by a combination of 56 points, they are led by junior guard Rodney McGruder. McGruder is inconsistent in his performance though, scoring 28 points against Long Beach State and only four against UTEP. The Wildcats have relied on their defense to propel them in the win category this season, and that’s exactly what will determine whether or not they can be a contender in the Big 12.
The Longhorns have struggled a bit this season with the loss of Tristan Thompson and Cory Joseph to the NBA. They have two early losses to unranked teams: Oregon State and North Carolina State, and then lost to #6 ranked North Carolina later in their pre-conference schedule. J’Covan Brown leads the Longhorns with roughly twenty points a game, and must have a consistent performance to give the Longhorns a shot. They also have suffered this year with the disappointing performance of freshman guard Myck Kybongo. He was 11th overall and 2nd in the country at his position as a senior in high school, but has almost had a negative impact for the longhorns this season. If Texas wants a shot of even making the NCAA tournament this year, they need better play from Kybongo and freshman big man Jonathan Holmes. The good thing is that the Longhorns are young. Look for them to be a force in years-to-come.
The Sooners have been playing decent basketball this season under new coach Lon Kruger. Their rebounding and guard play have propelled them to the position they’re in thus far. ESPN.com ranks them as fourth overall team in rebounds per game with 42.2. 16.8 of these boards are on the offensive end, which gives their scorers more opportunities to knock down shots. Most likely the biggest improvement in all of basketball this season has been junior guard Steven Pledger. He has bumped his average points per game from 10.9 as a sophomore to 19.8 this year. The Sooners will be in the bottom half of the conference this season, but don’t be surprised if they upset one or two teams along the way.
The Cowboys have probably been the biggest disappointment in non-conference play this season. Sitting at a record of 7-6, they are awful in scoring points, shooting, and they only have 10 assists a game. To put that in perspective, UNC guard Kendall Marshall averages 10 assists per game by himself. To Oklahoma State’s credit though, every loss they have is to a potential tournament team, a stat that might make Cowboy fans a little happier. On the bright side, they open Big 12 play up against Texas Tech, another team that consistently ranks in the 200’s in almost all important stats. The Cowboys will be an easy win for other teams this season, and most certainly has no chance of making the tournament.
Texas Tech Red Raiders
Texas Tech went out and hired Billy Gillispie as their new coach this season, and let’s just say, it shows. All of their losses have been to non-ranked teams, and three of these games were at neutral locations. Their only bright spot is freshman forward Jordan Tolbert, who averages 15.4 points and 6 rebounds a game. After they play Oklahoma State on Wednesday, they have to meet Baylor and Kansas in their second and third games of conference play. Let’s just hope Texas Tech can escape Big 12 conference play with more than four wins.
Texas A&M Aggies
Texas A&M has had their fair share of ups and downs this season. Some predicted them to win the Big 12 this year, but after new coach Billy Kennedy was diagnosed with early stages of Parkinson’s disease and a few losses under their belts, this doesn’t seem as possible as it once did. Star 6-7 forward Khris Middleton also missed seven games with a knee injury, and sixth-man off the bench Kourtney is out for a month. Texas A&M was originally ranked #19, but losses to Mississippi State and Florida knocked them out of the rankings. Because of coach Kennedy’s diagnosis, the injuries, and the fact that backup point guard Jamal Branch announced he was transferring, the Aggies will not have as good of a season as we all thought. They also open up Big 12 play against Baylor, which surely doesn’t help.
Iowa State Cyclones
The Cyclones sit at 10-3 with a great win over #15 Michigan. They haven’t really seemed to find their rhythm or team chemistry, this in part because the team is largely made up of transfers. Their 6-8 forward transfer Royce White is a force to be reckoned with in the paint, and transfer guard Chris Allen can score points as well. All in all, the Cyclones won’t be a huge force in the conference and they won’t go to the tournament, but they will upset a few teams. Look for them to make the big upset of the season, just like their football team did against Oklahoma State in week 11.
How they’ll finish
4. Kansas State
6. Iowa State
7. Texas A&M
9. Texas Tech
10. Oklahoma State