Last week at this time, we all hoped and dreamed were ready to believe the Big 12 (with the top seven all appearing NCAA-bid worthy) might be up for grabs among no fewer than four or perhaps even five teams.
Man, we're a bunch of suckers.
Bill Self and his blossoming Jayhawks spent recent games erasing nearly every doubt with this team, as KU shot out to the early conference lead, with an impressive win at Ames on Monday to cap off the quick start.
Overall, *only* half the conference is ranked in the AP Top 25 this week, and, after Kansas, the margin between spots 2-7 seems to be pretty thin at this point.
1. Kansas Jayhawks (12-4, 3-0) — Did it take a bit longer this season for a young group to undergo the annual "Self"-transformation? Yep. Do Joel Embiid, Andrew Wiggins and USBWA "Wayman Tisdale Freshman of the Week" winner Wayne Selden Jr. all now look like the NBA Draft lottery picks they were supposed to be? Yep, with conversation creeping in that Embiid's explosion may have him knocking on top overall selection consideration ... along with Wiggins. Jeez.
2. Iowa St. Cyclones (14-2, 2-2) — DeAndre Kane's ankle is the big concern, but to point at that as the reason for ISU dropping back-to-back games isn't right. He played the majority of both games against Oklahoma and KU; the Cyclones just got beat because the team is 10-of-51 (.196) from 3-point range over those games. Those numbers include some wide open looks, and when that improves, ISU will be back to its winning ways.
3. Oklahoma Sooners (13-3, 2-1) — OU gave Kansas all it wanted in Norman and then beat Iowa St., leaving Lon Kruger and company right about where we thought they would be. They're exciting to watch, and they're competitive enough to cause headaches. Rebounding has improved, but until the team defense follows suit, this team will be fun but frustrating for fans in close games.
4. Kansas St. Wildcats (12-4, 2-1) — Up to No. 2 last week, KSU drops back a couple of spots after a dismal showing against Kansas. Yes, it was a matchup nightmare for the Wildcats, in a place they never play well. But, if you're going to stay at the top of these rankings, you have to show way more fight than what we witnessed. KSU needs to recover some of that defensive swagger and prowess immediately as the high-scoring Sooners are on tap.
5. Oklahoma St. Cowboys (14-2, 2-1) — The Cowboys had to survive, and I mean barely drag themselves out of Morgantown with a win. Lesson learned? Forward Kamari Murphy, who put up seven points and five boards in 39 minutes, isn't Michael Cobbins. The stars on this team will get theirs, but will it be enough?
6. Baylor Bears (13-2, 1-1) — Like this team a lot. After getting speed-bumped against Iowa St., the Bears responded by thumping TCU. Good win, and another cupcake is on tap in Lubbock.
7. Texas Longhorns (13-4, 2-2) — The Longhorns swarmed West Virginia late in the first half on Monday and never looked back, giving what I think is an eventual bubble team a needed conference road win after struggling against Texas Tech. Now, though, the next four games come against teams either in or just outside the Top 25.
8. West Virginia Mountaineers (10-7, 2-2) — The 'Eers have been more competitive lately but missed a dandy opportunity for a marquee win against Oklahoma St. All you can ask for are more opportunities like that one ... and finish them.
9. Texas Tech Red Raiders (8-8, 0-3) — A couple of three-point losses to West Virginia (in OT) and Texas are going to have to serve as reason for optimism inside of a recent 2-6 stretch. This group has veterans in Jaye Crockett and Jordan Tolbert, so game-to-game consistency and improvement should happen the rest of the way. Wins, however, might be a different story.
10. TCU Horned Frogs (9-6, 0-3) — Three straight losses to open conference play, and No. 9 Oklahoma St. is up next before a bottom-feeder deluxe against Tech in Fort Worth. It's just not a good year to be a below average team in the Big 12.
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