Conference play is right around the corner, and it is now prediction time. Who will surprise people? Who will be the disappointing teams? In this preview, I hope to answer any question you may have. The teams who I believe will be the best and worst will be ranked in order from 1-10.
1. Kansas- This should not come as a shocker to anyone. The Jayhawks have won eight straight conference regular season titles, and it seems like they are a lock for number nine. They lead the Big XII in field goal percentage and blocks. They are second in points per game, free throw percentage, three point percentage and assists. Where the Jayhawks lack in size, they more than make up for it in their guard play. Conference play aside, the Jayhawks could make a deep postseason run if they cut back on their hefty amount of turnovers. Every player on the team has been in a winning atmosphere since the first day they stepped on campus. I just do not see a team in the Big XII who could derail Kansas from their ninth straight title. Rock Chalk will haveended what has been so far a great season.
2. Kansas State- I think this may come as a surprise to many people, and rightfully so. I have K-State at number two mostly because there is no other team that could be number two, but I also like the way KSU plays. While former coach Frank Martin gets credit for the intense defense, Coach Weber has been able to continue this trend for Kansas State. This is a team who can play very well in conference play and especially in the second half of the season. Size wise, K-State is pretty big with a 7 foot center, but the only person who can lead this team is Rodney McGruder. The senior has been in the shadows his entire career behind Jacob Pullen and Wally Judge. Now, it is his turn to step up, and so far he has held his ground. This is his team, and I am looking forward to seeing how McGruder handles his role as the team leader. The one thing that could come back to haunt the Wildcats is the loss of head coach Frank Martin. An average fan would not have noticed Frank was gone except not seeing him on the sidelines screaming at players. However, the players are responding the same way wit Coach Weber. This K-State continues to be the same physical, athletic team as they were in the past years. K-State is my front runner for number two.
3. Baylor- Coming into the season, I would have told you that Baylor would win the conference title. Since then, my views have changed because of how much better KU is playing, and how much Baylor is struggling. The Bears have one person who is under six feet tall. With this size and athleticism, there should be no excuses to already have three losses on the year. The one player under six feet is Pierre Jackson, who is arguably the quickest player in the NCAA and has been a leader on this team since he was a freshman. Baylor’s rebounding is pitiful, and they should be one of the best in college with their size. Averaging just over 37 boards a game, Baylor’s rebounding has been the reason for their three losses. It would be okay if they did not lose to Northwestern, Boston College and the College of Charleston if they were a small team, but with such great size, these losses are disappointing. In the end, I think this team is stacked with talented players. I think the Bears will turn it around and could potentially swap spots with Kansas State towards the end of the season.
4. Oklahoma State- I have always been a fan of Pistol Pete and the Cowboys. This program has great tradition and is known to be a team that can rattle the standings. In past years, it has been one of the toughest schools to win at home against in the Big XII. However, history does not win games. I like the Cowboys this year because of their hot start to the season. Currently ranked 24th in the country, Oklahoma State beat North Carolina State very easily, who at the time was sixth in the country. Oklahoma State is a threat to any team because of their defense. The team gives up just 54.5 points a game, making them one of the best defensive teams in the country. This scrappy team could make a deep push this year to fight for the top of the conference.
5. Iowa State- The Cyclones have surprised me with the numbers they are putting up through 12 games. Their play has made them the seventh ranked team in the NCAA in points and rebounds per game, averaging 82.2 and 43.5. Assists wise, the team is dishing 17.2 assists per game, making them the 14th ranked team. Iowa State is a quiet team, but has the ability to win big games if teams overlook them. They did it last season at home versus the Jayhawks, and I would not be surprised if they did it to another team this year. The only issue for the Cyclones is their size. Senior 6’7 guard Will Clyburn will have to be a strong leader in order for Iowa State to make a jump in the standings.
6. Texas- With the suspension to Myck Kabongo, the Longhorns season can be thrown out the window. I cringe when I see the stats the Longhorns have put up so far. They are 246th in the country in points per game averaging 64.5. They are also 246th in assists with just 11.9 a game. Their worst stat is their field goal percentage of 40.4, making them the 276th team in the country. An embarrassing loss in Hawaii to Division II school Chaminade essentially marked doom on the Hook ‘Em season. The only thing I can ask about this team is, “What went wrong?”
7. West Virginia- I was confident Coach Bob Huggins could help impact the Mountaineers first season in the Big XII, but after five quick losses, I have lost all faith in West Virginia’s season. They were absolutely spanked by the Marist Red Foxes, falling 87 to 44. The Mountaineers also lost in an early season conference matchup to Oklahoma and fell short at Duquesne. This is undoubtedly not the year for West Virginia. After seeing the sizes of their shooting guards and big men, it is sickening to see this team averaging 69.5 points per game with a field goal percentage of 41. Something has to change for the Mountaineers, and it starts down low with the big men. With one of the winningest active coaches in Bob Huggins, you should expect West Virginia to flip the switch and show major improvement.
8. Oklahoma- To keep it short and sweet, this is a team who can not beat elite teams. They have not in the past, nor will they this year. There is not a go-to-player on this team, which just hurts their already slim chances of winning. Senior Romero Osby is the only player who is somewhat productive. His 12.7 points per game and 6.5 rebounds per game make him the leader in both categories on this team, and those are not even close to impressive figures. Until a leader emerges on this Sooner team, Oklahoma will have to wait for their chance to come close to a conference championship.
9. Texas Tech- Since Bobby Knight’s retirement, Texas Tech’s basketball program has gone nowhere fast. Forward Jaye Crockett is the only productive player on this squad averaging 15.8 points per game and 8.9 rebounds per game. There is not much more for Texas Tech to except except losing. The Red Raiders have back to back losing seasons coming into this year, and you should expect that to become back to back to back losing seasons. Hopefully for the Red Raiders, interim head coach Chris Walker can surprise some people and win some games.
10. Texas Christian- Last but not least, I believe the TCU Horned Frogs will be the worst team in the Big XII this year. The fact that they only scored 31 points in one of their games this year pretty much sums up this team. Sure, they have a winning record of 8 and 4, but do I need to tell you who they beat? Teams from the Big West and Southwestern Athletic Conference are not the teams you can beat and call yourselves a winning team, especially if you are winning by an average of just over 8 points. Luckily for the Horned Frogs, expectations were never high and they were projected to finish last in the conference by other scouts and analysts.
In order to win a conference championship in the Big XII, or any league for that matter, a team must have a true, go-to leader. Some of these teams have such a train-wreck of a season because there is no leader. There is nothing complex to winning the Big XII. If the right coaching is present, anything could happen. Hopefully this Big XII season will be yet another one packed with great games.