Ralphie runs free
Easily the biggest surprise in early league play has been the play of Colorado, which has the two best wins in the first week in a 13-point home victory over Missouri and an eight-point win in Manhattan over Kansas State.
That's two of the league's projected top four or so squads getting bounced by a team that entered conference play with four losses. The Buffaloes are 10-0 at home this year and protected that mark thanks to a huge game from Big 12 Player of the Year candidate Alec Burks. Not to be outdone, Levi Knutson dropped in 6-of-8 three-pointers against the Wildcats. And none of that counts gifted backcourt mate Cory Higgins, who's averaging 13.5 points per game in league play (16.2 on the season).
Burks and Knutson have hit an amazing 10-of-13 from the three-point line in two games, a rate that they won't likely be able to keep up. Nor will the Buffs likely continue to grab 15 offensive rebounds per game, nor 44.1 percent of available offensive rebounds the way that they have (their season averages are 12.2 and 37.3 percent, respectively). Their defense also leaves quite a bit to be desired.
Burks and Higgins give the Buffaloes a pair of NBA players who are tough to deal with, and when Knutson is hitting his threes, this is a tough team to deal with. They're averaging more than 84 points per game this season, second in the league. And they shoot free throws as well as anybody.
On a given night, the Buffs are tough out. But over the course of a long Big 12 season, expect the Colorado to fall back in the pack a bit.
Weren't you the preseason favorite?
Call Kansas State the anti-Colorado. Picked as the preseason favorite (who was making those picks, by the way?), and chosen by some as high as the No. 3 team in the nation, the Wildcats don't even appear to be the third-best team in the conference.
The Wildcats appear to be less a fluid unit without departed point guard Denis Clemente, and aren't as tough defensively without Dominique Sutton. To make matters worse, their top two senior players — Jacob Pullen and Curtis Kelly — have each missed time this year for disciplinary reasons. Picked in the preseason as Big 12 Player of the Year, at this point, Pullen isn't playing like a first-team All-Big 12'er.
The loss at Oklahoma State wasn't so much expected as understood, as the Wildcats haven't won there since the early 1990s. But a title contender has to defend its home court, especially against a four-loss Colorado squad.
Without Clemente at the point, Pullen's efficiency numbers have plummeted, and the Wildcats have looked less a team than a collection of parts. We'll see whether coach Frank Martin can right the ship, but at this point, just two games in, the Wildcats' Big 12 title hopes appear to be lost.
The Buffaloes will likely trend more toward the middle of the league, which would put them with an awful lot of company.
Two teams have played just one conference game so far — Kansas and Texas — and those two squads project to be the Big 12's best. They're both 1-0. Oklahoma and Texas Tech both sit at 0-2. As the only two conference teams without a winning overall record, they're expected to be at the bottom of the Big 12 food chain.
But everybody else appears to be somewhere in the middle. Iowa State is 0-2, but has one-point loss to Nebraska on the road and gave league favorite Kansas a fight in Ames. Kansas State is 0-2 but has played without post player Curtis Kelly and appears to at least have the pieces to rebound from a difficult start.
On the other side, Colorado appears likely to lose some of its early momentum, Baylor has been up-and-down this year and Texas A&M doesn't seem to have elite-level talent, but is playing at a high level. Those are the three 2-0 teams.
Out of the 1-1 teams, Missouri has the personnel to make a conference run, Oklahoma State is always difficult to beat in Stillwater and Nebraska is defending at a high level.
All of that should make for an interesting battle for spots 3-10.
Tough to win on the road
How will that middle be separated? Likely by an ability (or inability) to go on the road and get a win. The saying goes that it's always tough to get a road win in the Big 12. But is it holding true?
Out of the 11 games played so far, six of the victors have worn the home jerseys. That's not all that convincing, until one actually looks at the road victories. Three of the five came over cellar dwellers Texas Tech (twice) and Oklahoma. Another came when Kansas beat Iowa State in Hilton, hardly a shock. The only surprise road win came when Colorado upset Kansas State in Manhattan.
So the road teams haven't exactly been coming in and tripping up the top teams. More often, teams like Oklahoma State (Kansas State), Colorado (Missouri), Nebraska (Iowa State) have been able to protect their home courts against teams of equal or higher talent.
Impressive stats, for now
Leaving out players who have only played one game — we're looking at you, Marcus Morris 33 points per contest, and you 0.0 percent three-point defense, Texas — there are several impressive stat lines that will drop over the course of conference play.
Of course, one is Knutson's 7-10 mark from three-point range, his percentage eclipsed only by Burks's 3-3 shooting from behind the arc. As a team, Colorado is shooting 52.2 percent on three-point bombs.
How about Perry Jones scoring 22.5 points per game while shooting 18-for-22 (81.8 percent) from the field? Expect that rate to plummet quickly, though Jones's rebounding numbers, at 6.5 per game, might go up. His percentage should stay fairly high, as Jones is the current conference No. 2 shooter in field goal percentage this year, behind Kansas's Marcus Morris.
Missouri's Laurence Bowers is often expected to protect the basket when the Tigers press, but he won't likely average five blocks per game over the whole season, either.
And finally, Nebraska's Lance Jeter is a heady player. But he's probably not heady enough to continue his 6-to-1 assist-to-turnover ratio. On the season, Jeter currently leads the league at 2.68-to-1.