Something unexpected has happened early in the Big 12 Conference college basketball season. A chasm has grown between the top five schools, which have 20 of the league wins thus far, and the bottom five schools, which have only 4 wins in league play. Many believed it would be Kansas, then a scrap for second between seven other teams. Kansas leads but with no separation from the pack. The pack is three teams short itself, with Oklahoma State, West Virginia, and Texas not keeping up in the win column. The best thing about a round robin schedule, 18 games long, is that there is a lot of basketball yet to play. Although Texas will not challenge for the title this season, OSU and WVU both can recover and force themselves back into contention. Those teams need to respond soon or it will be too late for them as well.
1) Kansas (5-0, 17-1) – The Jayhawks survived two strongly contested road games, winning at Texas and Kansas State by a combined 9 points. KU overcame a double digit second half deficit in Austin to win and just plain outlasted KSU in game that remained tight throughout. This past week, Ben McLemore was named the conference Rookie of the Week for the Jayhawks. Coming Up: Kansas hosts Oklahoma Saturday in what promises to be another fine match-up, and then KU heads to Morgantown for a Big Monday match-up with West Virginia.
2) Kansas State (4-1, 15-3) – The Wildcats split this week in a pair of games against scrappy opponents at home. They held off Oklahoma over the weekend and fell by 4 to in-state rival Kansas last night. Kansas State fell into a virtual 4-way tie for second (ISU has one less win) in the conference but have the talent to stake a claim for first by the time things are finished. KSU featured the four-time Big 12 Player of the Week in Rodney McGruder, who has grown into a star in his time in Manhattan. Coming Up: Saturday, the Wildcats travel to Ames for a crucial meeting with the Cyclones. ISU is one of those teams right in the thick things in the league. Should be a good one!
3) Oklahoma (4-1, 13-4) – The Sooners split their two games this week, falling to K-State in Manhattan this weekend and staving off a desperate Texas squad Monday. The loss to the Wildcats was their first in Big 12 play but Oklahoma didn’t seem adversely affected by it. They kept a scrappy Longhorn squad at bay to bounce back. Coming Up: The Sooners are about to be tested. Their only game this week is a trip to Lawrence, the first of five match-ups against the other schools that are in the top half of the conference. Three of these are on the road. How OU emerges from this rugged stretch will go a long way to determine how big of a challenger they really are.
4) Baylor (4-1, 13-5) – The Bears have had one of the easier early schedules in the conference, with a trip to Lawrence notwithstanding. Still, Baylor won a game they needed to win at home Monday against Oklahoma State. The Cowboys haven’t had much success in league play but are still a fine team. The Bears never seemed seriously threatened during their 10-point victory. Coming Up: The Bears go on the road this week. Fortunately, it is only to Fort Worth to take on TCU. Baylor should have little difficulty dispatching the Horned Frogs.
5) Iowa State (3-1, 13-4) – The Cyclones continue to play well in conference. They edged out West Virginia at home by 2 and won by double digits against TCU. Iowa State appears to be serious about being a contender and they are starting to make believers out of the rest of the league. Coming Up: ISU travels to Texas Tech Wednesday then hosts Kansas State in a big match-up on Saturday. Winning at home against the Wildcats will go far in legitimizing the Cyclones’ title hopes.
6) Oklahoma State (2-3, 12-5) – The Cowboys are on the outside looking in. They have played a tough road schedule thus far. Following up an easy win at home against the Red Raiders, the Cowboys traveled to Waco for a Big Monday game. OSU didn’t play poorly but again, they were unable to take out a top team on the road. If OSU wants to have a chance at the conference title, they must win a game on the road against one of the big boys while defending their home court every time out. Coming Up: This week, the Cowboys host a school in a similar situation. West Virginia needs some road victories if they want to be in the top half of the league. OSU cannot afford to drop any at home. Something has to give in this intriguing game.
7) West Virginia (1-3, 8-9) – The Mountaineers just can’t seem to get things going in their rookie Big 12 season. They played well in Ames this week but fell short against the Cyclones. This is a team many thought would be right in the thick of things in the league race but it is just not worked out that way. Coming Up: It’s a big week for WVU. They should get their second conference win against TCU Wednesday before shuffling off to Stillwater in a important match-up between two teams off to disappointing starts. It will be back to Morgantown for Big Monday against the Jayhawks. Coach Bob Huggins has an interesting clause in his new contract. He will get a $25,000 bonus any time he beats Kansas during the regular season. A win against KU at home will certainly brighten West Virginia’s season.
8) Texas Tech (1-4, 8-8) – It was not a good week for the Red Raiders. They went on the road for two and got beat by a combined 52 points in Norman and Stillwater. Tech is scrappy but they are just not as talented as most of their league counterparts. Winning on the road is going to be very difficult for them. Coming Up: Texas Tech will host Iowa State tonight before taking on Texas in Austin Saturday. As with most match-ups, the Red Raiders will have to have everything go their way if they stand a chance against either of these teams.
9) TCU (0-5, 9-9) – There just aren’t many win possibilities for the Horned Frogs in this conference right now. Their ferocious defense keeps them relatively close in games, as it did against K-State and Iowa St. this week, both at home, but their offense just can’t score enough points. There is little doubt TCU is well coached but it is going to take awhile for the Frogs to find enough talent to win games at this level. Coming Up: TCU goes east to face West Virginia tonight before they host Baylor this weekend.
10) Texas (0-5, 8-10) – Another week has gone by without the Longhorns getting a conference victory. They outplayed Kansas at home Saturday for 35 minutes but ended up losing an 11-point second half lead and fell to the Jayhawks in a gut wrenching loss. On Monday, the Longhorns again played well but just not quite good enough to win in Norman. The losses were by 11 combined points, so Texas seems to be close to figuring things out. It may be too late. Coming Up: Texas should finally gain their first league victory this Saturday when they host Texas Tech. If they don’t, there won’t be much more to say about the Longhorns.
Game To Watch: Kansas State at Iowa State, 12:30 p.m. Saturday.
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