By KEVIN LONNQUIST
Big 12 Insider
Early January signals the beginning of the Big 12 conference season and the two-month march toward building the NCAA Tournament resume.
With only 10 teams, that means the conference enjoys the 18-game round robin schedule – a true home-and-home format between the teams. In other words, it’s a little old school. That means trying to go undefeated will be extremely difficult. During Kansas’ run to the National Championship game in 2012, the Jayhawks went 16-2, losing to Iowa State and Missouri.
The Big 12 has featured some impressive wins during the non-conference season, including Baylor winning at Kentucky, Texas at home over North Carolina, Kansas State winning in Kansas City against Florida and Kansas winning at Ohio State.
Bill Self’s Jayhawks are positioned to win their ninth consecutive conference championship and have one of the nation’s most dynamic freshmen in Ben McLemore, who is averaging more than 15 points per game.
Iowa State could challenge but the Cyclones lost every one of their big games in November and December, losing the chance to make a strong case for a Tournament berth. They fell to Cincinnati at home, lost at UNLV and lost at rival Iowa. Kansas State plays ugly but wins. Oklahoma State’s youth is really intriguing as Dallas-Fort Worth products Le’Bryan Nash and Marcus Smart combine to score nearly 28 points per game.
And then there’s Baylor, with its great backcourt led by Pierre Jackson. There just needs to be a little more leadership. This team also has some youth with freshmen Rico Gathers and Isaiah Austin. Come February, they won’t be freshmen anymore.
BIG 12 WEEKEND
No. 22 Oklahoma State (10-2) at No. 25 Kansas State (11-2)
12:30 p.m. Saturday
The Skinny: The conference’s first heavy hitting matchup. KSU’s Rodney McGruder will carry a heavy scoring load for the Wildcats.
The Skinny: Baylor has won 11 consecutive matchups against instate rivals and 6 of its last 8 games against the Longhorns.
Point guard Pierre Jackson leads the team in scoring at 19.6 points per game.
The Sooners do not have anyone averaging 13 points per game.
Texas Tech (7-4) at TCU (9-4)
5:00 p.m. Saturday
The Skinny: This should be a battle between the two worst teams in the conference. This could be TCU’s lone realistic shot at a win in its first Big 12 game. The Horned Frogs average 57 points per game, No. 332 in the country.
Temple (10-2) at No. 6 Kansas (11-1)
3:30 p.m. Sunday
The Skinny: The Jayhawks final non-conference matchup. The Owls under Fran Dunphy can play. Witness their victory over Syracuse earlier this year.
Iowa State is idle
NEWS & NOTES
·Because of the NCAA sanctions handed down to the Baylor men’s and women’s basketball programs last year, head coach Scott Drew will not be on the bench for Saturday’s game against Texas and Tuesday against Texas Tech.
·Big Monday for the Big 12 does not begin until Jan. 14. Monday is the BCS national championship game
BIG 12 BASKETBALL POWER RANKINGS
Each week during the Big 12 conference basketball season, Rattle and Hum Sports will unveil its weekly power rankings. We chose to let the non-conference season run its course before starting this. We also provide our postseason projections.
1. Kansas (11-1) – Freshman G Ben McLemore is pretty special
2. Oklahoma State (10-2) – Cowboys youth in Marcus Smart and Philip Forte strong
3. Kansas State (11-2) – Bruce Weber making the transition nicely to Manhattan
4. Baylor (9-4) – Inconsistency still an issue with this team
5. Oklahoma (9-3) – But the Sooners have a terrible loss to Stephen F. Austin
6. Texas (8-5) – The loss of Myck Kabongo limits the Longhorns’ offense
7. Iowa State (10-3) — Cyclones’ resume doesn’t include any big wins
8. West Virginia (7-5) — Mountaineers shooting only 40.5 percent this year
9. Texas Tech (7-4) — Forward Jaye Crockett averaging nearly a double, double (15 points per game, 9 rebounds per game)
10. TCU (9-4) — Soft schedule has produced eights wins by 11 or fewer points
Projected NCAA tournament teams: Kansas, Oklahoma State, Kansas State, Baylor
NIT tournament teams: Oklahoma, Texas, Iowa State