So far this season there have only been two number one teams in college basketball and both of them reside in the Big 12. First it was KU who was number one from the preseason thru January 10th. But now number one belongs to Rick Barnes Texas Longhorns for the first time in school history. The Horns arguably own two of the best wins in the country this season beating North Carolina and Michigan State in the non-conference.
If you're the rest of the conference the schedule is full of
opportunity and risk and this just might be the deepest most talented
Big 12 conference the nation has seen in a long, long time.
"I do believe the Big 12 is arguably the best conference in the country
this year. With three teams ranked in the top ten, having the best
non-conference winning percentage and the pleasant surprises that teams
like Texas Tech and Baylor have been--all those things have certainly
made this league deeper than its ever been," said KU head coach Bill Self.
"I think we have a tough conference every year," said KU center Cole Aldrich. "The last two years I've been here we've had five or six NCAA
Tournament teams. I think that's great (for us) because it proves that
we're in a tough conference."
"It's definitely the best it's been since I've been here," said
sophomore Tyshawn Taylor who really just has one year to compare. "I
remember Oklahoma being ranked high last year, and Texas being ranked
high, but three teams like this (in the Top 10), it's good for the
But the strength doesn't just reside in the top. Through and through
there isn't an easy game on the schedule. Upstart middle to lower
echelon teams will be hungry and capable of an upset. The upper tier
will have to bring their "A" game every night especially on the road.
Heading into Tuesday the Big 12 conference was 112-1 at home,
astonishing numbers for sure.
"The winning formula away from home the way that we coach it and the
way that we play it is to defend, rebound, and take care of the
basketball and everybody be as one," said Self.
Every game will be hotly contested and make no mistake about it whoever
wins this year's title will have earned it.
"In this league this year any possession could mean the difference
between winning and losing," said Self.
We start at the top with Texas who will likely battle it out with
Kansas for the conference title. The Longhorns record remains
unblemished and Rick Barnes team is loaded with first class talent.
"I told the team earlier that if you would have asked me who the No. 1
team was in the second week of January last year, I couldn't tell you.
But I do know who won the national championship. With that said, I
think it's a compliment to our players and our program. They've worked
to do something that hasn't been done here," said Barnes about the
number one ranking."
Barnes has a deep roster and a potential Big 12 Player of the Year
candidate in Damion James. James is averaging a double-double and is a
tough matchup for just about any team. Freshman guard Avery Bradley has
been outstanding and put up a career-high 29 points against Colorado.
But it isn't just those two. Barnes roster boasts eight players
averaging over six points a game showing their tremendous balance.
"I think that the fact that we have continued to improve," said Barnes
when asked what he likes best about his team. "We've had different guys
at different times do some really good things. We just need to get more
consistent as a group. I still think our younger guys must continue to
learn and sustain effort. We're learning to play with different
lineups. We've got to do different things with different groups out
there. I still think we're nowhere near being as good as we can be."
Scary thought for the rest of the league.
Kansas State (13-2, 0-1) is off to a terrific start even after a tough
loss Saturday in Columbia. The Wildcats are ranked in the top 10 and
Frank Martin's teams are always physical and this year boasts one of
the league's better guard combos in Jacob Pullen and Denis Clemente. 11
times this season the two have combined for 30 or more points.
So far Martin's team features a potent offense scoring over 80 points a
game but usually conference play makes that number drop. You must take
care of the basketball against this team or they will make you pay. In
five or their last six games the Wildcats have scored 20 or more points
A team I have been impressed with is Missouri. Head coach Mike Anderson
has his team wrecking havoc and playing his style of basketball. They
lead the nation in steals and are currently in the midst of an
eight-game win streak. We know how formidable Anderson's pressure D has
been especially in Columbia. But the Tigers haven't been on the road
since early December so a tough road lies ahead for the Tigers and
we're about to find out just how good this team can be.
J.T. Tiller leads the team on the defensive end and is once again a
candidate for Big 12 Defensive Player of the Year. It starts with his
"We try to make people uncomfortable with our defense," said Anderson
whose team forces 22 turnovers per game. "That means the ball pressure
and traps that occur. We kind of mix and match our defense. We want to
be a team that number one we're not predictable and I think that's the
great thing about it. We're different than everybody and that could be
good and that could be bad. So far it's been pretty good for us."
On the offensive end Anderson's teams always share the basketball. The
Tigers lead the nation in assists per game last year and find
themselves among the top 10 again this season.
Youth is the theme on this roster with 11 of 13 players currently in
their first or second season under Anderson. 6-1 freshman Michael Dixon
has been impressive averaging double-figures in some of the team
toughest contests this season.
They play the game inside out and are getting over a big time injury to
one of their best players, Derrick Roland. Roland was a leader and one
of the team's top defenders but he is gone for the season with a broken
leg. So far Mark Turgeon's team has responded to the adversity.
Turgeon's teams always feature rugged defense and play together
offensively but everyone knows who the unquestionable leader of this
team is. Senior Donald Sloan is averaging 18.0ppg and carrying the load
this season for the Aggies.
"He's been phenomenal," praised K-State coach Frank Martin. "Donald has
always been a very athletic slashing kind of guard he's taken his
senior year here by storm. He's extremely aggressive and playing with a
big-time amount of confidence right now."
Sloan anchors the perimeter but the interior is not quite as formidable
as in years past.
Doc Sadler's Nebraska Cornhuskers do it with balance. Not a single
player averages more than 13.0ppg. But the lineup got a lift when 6-8
freshman center Christian Standhardinger made his career debut Saturday
against Texas A&M. He led the Huskers in scoring with 13 points
on 4-of-7 shooting, and also notched a team-best seven rebounds.
"We gotta be better than we were yesterday going to Lincoln because we
know that we'll get a great atmosphere which we always do when we go up
there and play a good Nebraska team that played very well at
A&M," Self told the media on Monday. "They were winning the
game in the second half. They got a new guy (Christian Standhardinger)
that's playing and he's good. He's got a lot of bounce and energy so
it's definitely a different Nebraska team from a size standpoint just
According to Sadler Standhardinger has a long way to go on the
defensive end but he hopes he can create matchup problems on the floor
for the opposition. Standhardinger is one of seven fresh faces on
Sadler's roster of 11 scholarship players this season but the
Cornhuskers rely on experience for most of the scoring. Seniors Sek
Henry and Ryan Anderson are usually the most potent scoring threats but
they will face a fired up Kansas team coming of its first loss of the
season, something Sadler doesn't necessarily see as a positive.
"There's not any weakness on their team as far as I'm concerned. I know
Bill is going to have those guys so ready to play Wednesday night, and
not that they wouldn't have been but they're definitely going to be
focused now. As the opponent it's not real encouraging but at the same
time we're looking forward to the challenge I hope."
When asked what it would take to beat KU on Wednesday Sadler laughed
and said, "it's going to take Bill (Self) breaking the rules and
practicing them about 20 hours a day the next three days probably. And
them being so sore they don't want to play."
The Red Raiders got off to a fine start to the season going without a
loss until the mid point of December. They were mentioned as one of the
nation's biggest surprises early on. This Texas Tech team is a bit
different then the one Pat Knight's father Bob coached. This team is
playing confidently and plays at a faster tempo.
"I think he's letting those guys play with freedom that's one thing I
picked up on," said Mizzou head coach Mike Anderson. "He's got more
athletic kids they're still under the motion cutting game I think
they're playing a lot faster. But there are still the fundamentals of
basketball that I'm sure Pat preaches day in and day out. They look
like they're having fun. He's playing a lot of players too."
But lately the Red Raiders have hit the skids losing three of their
last six games including an absolute drubbing at Oklahoma State on
"We've been ranked here for over a month and that really hasn't
happened here and kids were feeling too good about themselves," Knight
said honestly. "I had warned them and warned them about this league but
sometimes they've just got to experience it for themselves and I think
Those three losses have all come on the road where Tech went winless
last season (0-11).
Knight's triple threats include Mike Singltary, who leads the team in
scoring at 15.8 ppg, John Roberson averages 13.9 ppg and David Tairu
adds 12.2 ppg. Most fans remember Singletary's offensive heroics from
last season's Big 12 Tournament and it appears he's picked up where he
left off this season. Roberson distributes the ball and boasts a 2:1
turnover ratio and leads the conference in assists (5.5 apg). Tairu
nails over 51 percent from behind the three-point line.
"I like this team. We have a lot better team than we did last year so
I'm not worried from a mindset," Knight continued. "They don't like to
lose which is good. I expect them to be able to bounce back."
REST OF THE LEAGUE
Baylor just joined the ranks of the Big 12's ranked teams this week and
as Kansas knows all too well, the Louisiana combo of LaceDarius Dunn
and Tweety Carter can single-handedly give a team fits. The Bears
knocked KU out of the Big 12 tournament last year and make life
difficult on any team that fails to guard the perimeter.
Dunn is a 6-4 junior with long range marksmanship. Senior Tweety Carter
is the school's first McDonald's All-American and is a playmaker but
also accurate from three-point range. On the interior, 6-10 junior Ekpe Udoh leads the team and the conference in blocked shots and leads the
league in rebounding.
Scott Drew's Bears are a dangerous opponent.
Colorado unfortunately will continue to be behind the rest of the Big
12 and close to the cellar of this conference. Four starters returned
from a team that went 9-22 and won just one Big 12 game just a season
6-5 junior Cory Higgins scores the ball the best for the Buffaloes and
6-5 freshman shooting guard Alec Burks is long and legitimate
Oklahoma State is lead by James Anderson who leads the team and the
conference in scoring at nearly 22 points per game (21.7 ppga). Obi Muonelo continues to be a threat from the exterior. Second-year coach
Travis Ford continues to feature a frenzied style.
Oklahoma has likely been the conference's biggest disappointment thus
far this season though the Sooners came in with one of the highest
ranked backcourts. Willie Warren's name is frequently mentioned among
the best in the nation but his 17.6 ppg haven't been enough for Jeff Capel's Sooners thus far. Production is up for Warren but shooting
percentages are down. Other than Tiny Gallon's shattered backboard vs
Gonzaga there hasn't been much to talk about for this squad which has
already lost six games.
Iowa State was predicted by many to be a surprise in the conference.
When you have one of the conference's best players then you get some
attention. All-Big 12 forward Craig Brackins opted to stay in Ames, and
the 6-10 junior is without a doubt one of the league's best players.
"I'm not saying that we've played great, but I think you can make a
case that we're one of the best teams out there. I think you can make a
strong case that Texas is one of the best teams out there and I think
whenever you're ranked in the top 10, you can make a case that K-State
is as well. I don't know that we've had three teams that have been in
the top 10 at the same time as long as I've been here," said Self.
Texas is a good of a team as I've seen in the country and Texas Tech
has had a great start. Baylor's also had an exceptional start and Texas
A&M is off to a good start being ranked a majority of the time.
No one is going to want to play Missouri. There are some good teams in
our league. It's the best that it's been since I've been here and I
think it will play out to be thought of that way nationally as time
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