For most of the nonconference portion of the 2013-14 college basketball season, the top half of the Big 12 standings have looked a lot like the just-ended football season.
The top five teams in the Big 12 coming into the first weekend of conference play – Iowa State, Oklahoma State, Baylor, Oklahoma and Texas – sported a combined season record of 58-6. Iowa State is the one outlier from the football season, but the Cyclones have sent a strong signal that they, not Kansas or Oklahoma State, are the team to beat in the 2013-14 Big 12 basketball race.
Iowa State is 13-0 after defeating Texas Tech in its conference opener on Saturday. The 12th-ranked Cyclones (USA Today Coaches’ Poll) host one-loss Baylor (12-1) on Tuesday night, followed by a trip to Norman, Okla., on Saturday to take on surprising Oklahoma (12-2).
Unlike in football this past season, however, when the top four or five teams battled right down to the final three weeks of the season, the double round-robin scheduling format in basketball will make it much harder for the top teams to gain too much separation from the rest of the roundball pack. We’re likely to see teams knocking each other off from week to week, which should make for, in the words of Big 12 basketball play-by-play announcer Dave Armstrong, one of the most “spirited and competitive” and spirited conference races we’ve seen in quite a few years.
Watch for Iowa State and Oklahoma this season. Both of these teams, which in recent years have hovered around the middle of the conference standings, are off to strong starts and both are definitely for real.
The jury is still out on Kansas, which has been almost an automatic at the top of the league in men’s basketball for nearly a decade. The Jayhawks clearly have superior individual talent. You don’t get ranked as the No. 1 recruiting class with ho-hum talent coming in. The young Jayhawks, howver, appear to be still searching for an overall identity and a team leader (you can easily tell the difference from last season’s mostly all senior starting five and this year’s assembly of largely individual contributors and without the defensive skills that have been closely associated with Bill Self-coached teams in the past.
The Jayhawks lost at home on Sunday in a nonconference game with 21st-ranked San Diego State. That’s something that hardly ever happens at the grand palace known as Allen Fieldhouse. Nor is it characteristic for a Jayhawk basketball team to have four losses and less that double-digit wins at this stage of the season. Kansas has only lost three times at home in the past four seasons combined. Don’t underestimate this talented bunch, though. The Jayhawks will find their way and win quite a few games before the end of the season, but they will be challenged much more this year than in any other time in recent memory.
Big 12 Men’s Basketball Week 10 Power Rankings
(Last week’s ranking in parentheses)
- Iowa State Cyclones (1) - Got a mild wake-up at Texas Tech; now they return home to take on Baylor in what should be the Cyclones’ biggest test of the season.
- Baylor Bears (3) - Hope to make Iowa State their third ranked opponent to fall victim to the Bears this season when the two collide on Tuesday at Hilton Coliseum.
- Oklahoma State Cowboys (2) - The Cowboys’ loss at K-State on Saturday was just the first of what should be a number of nail-biter surprise finishes in the Big 12 this season.
- Oklahoma Sooners (5) - OU served up notice at Texas on Saturday that the Sooners are in this year’s conference race for the long haul. Next up is nine-time defending conference champion Kansas in Norman on Wednesday.
- Kansas State Wildcats (7) - The Wildcats have won nine straight, including big wins over two ranked teams this season. They are going to have to improve their field-goal percentage, though. They’re last in the league at 41 percent.
- Kansas Jayhawks (4) – The Jayhawks are still seeking their sea legs. We’ll learn a lot about this Kansas team this week, when the Hawks visit Oklahoma and return home to play Sunflower State rival Kansas State on Saturday.
- Texas Longhorns (6) – The Horns stumbled in their conference home opener, but they will beat some of the top teams in the league before all is said and done.
- West Virginia Mountaineers (10) – West Virginia boasts two of the top-seven scorers in the conference, including leading-scorer Eron Harris, averaging 18.6 per game.
- TCU Horned Frogs (8) – A very good free-throw-shooting team, but next to the bottom in the league in field-goal percentage
- Texas Tech Red Raiders (9) -Played a very good game for 30 minutes against Iowa State, but couldn’t sustain it for 40 minutes.