Justin Hite - Scout

Oklahoma Sooners must keep focus in unforgiving Big 12 Conference

There's no time to rest in a Big 12 that's better and deeper than ever.

Kansas coach Bill Self was well aware of the tight spot his team was in last week. The Jayhawks were pushed to the limit in a narrow victory.

He reflected on it Monday morning on the Big 12 coaches’ weekly teleconference.

“It’s basically the same team that they had last year,” he said. “They have all just gotten so much better. I like their team. They’re tough. They don’t give the game to you. You have to make plays to beat them because they are sound defensively and playing with a lot more freedom offensively.”

Triple overtime win against Oklahoma, right?

Not exactly.

Self was talking about his team’s victory against Texas Tech, which was stretched to 10 points late after No.1 Kansas (14-1) led by just two points at halftime. This is a Kansas team that West Virginia coach Bob Hugginssaid it the best since the Mountaineers joined the league.

Kansas isn’t any worse. In fact, they might be better. The rest of the conference is just catching up.

“We’re a team that has improved from a year ago,” Texas Tech coach Tubby Smith said. “We were beat pretty badly by most teams in the last couple of years. We’ve kind of closed the gap.”

That’s how life is in the Big 12 Conference this season.

TCU, which won just four conference games last season, knocked off Texas last week and lost by just eight points against No. 11 West Virginia. Texas Tech pushed Kansas to the edge, and Iowa State lost at home to Baylor – only the Cyclones’ fifth home conference loss in five years.

“That’s the Big 12 for you, they’re all tough,” Oklahoma State coach Travis Ford said. “Every game, you have to try to do your best. Take them one and a time. Every game presents a new challenge, a different challenge. . . . If you start looking at who we play next, it can become very overwhelming.”

The Big 12 Conference is one of only two leagues in the nation with each team posting a winning record. Every team in the league is at least three games over .500. The three teams with the worst records (9-6) are winless in conference play.

Compared to the Pac-12 though, the Big 12 has the top two teams in the nation and five teams in the top-25.

The Pac-12 has just one team in the top-25. No. 18 Arizona is ranked behind four Big 12 Conference teams. But the league is more balanced than ever, having 11 of its first 15 conference games decided by single digits. The conference itself is No. 1 in RPI –ranking four teams in the top 20 and six in the top 35.

The deciding factor continues to be defending home court. Big 12 teams are 11-4 at home this season. The four home losses have come at the hands of the top four teams in the league.

“Any time you go on the road in this league, you’ve got your hands full,” Iowa State coach Steve Prohm said.

That’s where Oklahoma is headed on Wednesday night – on the road for a Bedlam matchup with Oklahoma State.

“They understand that they have to continue to focus,” Oklahoma coach Lon Kruger said. “Big battle ahead. They know how tough the Big 12 is. They’re not taking anything for granted. They’ve worked at it every day. To see them approach it with that maturity, it’s pretty pleasing.”


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