As seasons play out, rankings like these can get a little tedious as movement up or down the list wanes. Football was there for me. But, that's over now. Bring on the first BOTC Big 12 hoopy buckets rankings! This first edition will have more discussion with each team than will future rankings, just because we haven't taken a look at the teams yet.
And, off we go ...
1. Oklahoma St. Cowboys (8-1) — When the Cowboys are at their best (see 11/19 v. Memphis), they are national championship caliber. Travis Ford's group has great size, fantastic team speed and, at least so far, has played with the most consistent level of urgency of any Big 12 teams I've watched. Why is that?
Experience. OSU has what is so often talked about and dismissed in the same breath. All you have to do is look at KU, K-State and other similarly aged teams around the country to see just how much of a benefit it is. How that benefit manifests itself is different for each team, but, for OSU, it is allowing a potential Naismith Award winner to work on pieces of his game, in games, while the team keeps rolling.
2. Iowa St. Cyclones (7-0) — If you haven't seen the fightin' Hoibergs yet, you've missed out. The Cyclones are averaging a nation-best 91.7 ppg (according to ESPN.com), and they do it almost all through a frenzied transition game. Their performances have already caught the attention of league coaches, with Bill Self saying ISU is probably the biggest surprise of the early year.
ISU is a bit undersized in terms of what would be considered an elite front court, but all of that is made up through athleticism, hustle and a little know-how.
As long as this team stays healthy, it will be a force.
3. Kansas Jayhawks (6-3) — First, the Jayhawks are fine ... if we're talking about how KU stacks up in the Big 12. Pure talent alone, and its coach, will keep KU toward the top of these rankings all season. But, switch this conversation to an NCAA Tournament resume, and suddenly the Jayhawks look pretty ordinary on paper as the non-conference winds down.
The Duke win will stand out all season, but losses to Villanova, Colorado and Florida are filling up a side of the ledger that the team, and its fans, aren't used to seeing. It has been a tough slate for a young team, but hey, it's Kansas — a team that was still among the favorites to win a title as recently as a month ago.
A couple of things need to happen. Andrew Wiggins should start taking over games more. Naadir Tharpe should try taking over big moments
less never. The guards, in general, should recognize the sheer embarrassment of riches KU has along its front court and use it.
4. Baylor Bears (8-1) — Ridiculous recruiting classes helped form the idea that Baylor is one of those one-and-done factories, but it isn't true. Instead, some of those elite players - because of underwhelming first seasons - returned (Isaiah Austin) to go along with senior studs (Cory Jefferson) and another wave of young talent (Ish Wainright). Throw in Drew's ability to continue to find junior college point guard speedsters (Kenny Cherry), and the Bears are a mix good enough to roll the ball out and take down Kentucky.
Do we get to keep all of our Baylor coaching punchlines in our back pockets? Sure we do. But, BU is no slouch, either.
5. Oklahoma Sooners (8-1) — OU just lost Je'lon Hornbeak to a broken foot for the next 4-6 weeks, but the Sooners should still be able to continue to put the final touches on Lon Kruger's program rebuild that began two years ago. Hornbeak is in a group of talented guards that are now sophomores and features scoring dynamo Buddy Hield.
Cameron Clark's game and body both were reshaped and have allowed him to become a solid banger underneath while keeping the quickness that he once like to display on the wing under Jeff Capel.
Additionally, Kruger is on par with anybody in the Big 12 when it comes to finding and then exploiting individual matchups. His days in the NBA serve his team well when the Sooners spread the floor and leave whatever poor defending soul alone on an island.
This team's overall quickness continues to improve, and as Kruger's principles continue to soak in, OU will likely knock off a couple of the teams ranked ahead of them here. That's not the scary part. As one story goes, a Sooners assistant has told his recruiting peers out on the trail they better get Oklahoma this year because the team feels it will be among the Big 12 elite beginning next season.
6. Texas Longhorns (8-1) — After a season that left some folks wondering if Rick Barnes was done in Austin, Texas appears to have at least found a little stability in its back court — something it never did in 2012-13. The 8-1 record is flashy, but the teams on that slate aren't, which leaves plenty of room for speculation whether these are paper Longhorns that will melt under the upcoming Big 12 deluge.
Do I like this team? I'm certainly not sold on it; how about that? I'd like to think we'll have some answers in a three-day stretch between Dec. 18-21, when Texas plays North Carolina and Michigan State, but the No. 18 Tar Heels are an
over-hyped, soft, Roy masterpiece enigma themselves. Beat the Spartans on 12/21, and we'll talk.
7. West Virginia Mountaineers (6-4) — I admit, by now, I thought Bob Huggins would have had a little more impact in the Big 12 than has happened. Maybe it's the home-comfort factor. Maybe it's the travel. Maybe the Big 12 is better than the old Big East. (I couldn't help it ...)
Regardless, Huggins' Big 12 results have been average while he's dealt with guys leaving the program early via transfer. His team this year is putting up some points (82.8 - 35th nationally), and there might be a little cause for optimism after a nine-point loss to Missouri in Columbia and a four-point defeat to Gonzaga.
The schedule is noticeably lighter between now and the start of Big 12 play, however, so we'll see.
8. Kansas St. Wildcats (6-3) — Take out the outlier 87 points scored against Central Arkansas, and the Wildcats have been above 64 (!) just twice in their other eight games. They are ranked an old-school UMKC-like 312th in the country at 65.3 ppg. Considering the point averages we're seeing put up by other teams in the conference, that doesn't seem to bode well in the coming months, now does it?
A bright spot — outside of Marcus Foster and Wesley Iwundu, at times — has been the consistent defense we've seen from the Wildcats, effective enough to overcome the offense's repeated dry heaves.
The seniors have been disappointing thus far, which leaves me, personally, believing K-State would be better off in the long-term by letting freshmen PG Jevon Thomas (when he joins at semester), SG Foster, SF Iwundu and PG Nigel Johnson (if his minutes aren't cut to near nothing with Thomas coming on board) go ahead and use the Big 12 season as a live-fire learning environment.
None of that will sit well with those fans who continue to believe K-State is above needing a year or two to grow.
9. Texas Tech Red Raiders (6-3) — I wasn't particularly enamored with the Tubby Smith hire when it happened, and I thought interim Chris Walker had shown enough to earn a full chance. But, he wasn't the supposed splash hire that it seems TTU has fallen in love with over the last decade or so, and so Smith it is.
Now, he will make this program better — even if the upside isn't all that high (NCAA Tourney every three or four years), and it takes a long time to get there (because Billy Gillispie burned it down).
TTU doesn't shoot all that well, and it doesn't rebound very much, either. It has built a reasonable record thus far really because of the teams it has played. Really, there just isn't much going right now in Lubbock.
10. TCU Horned Frogs (5-3) — Ah, it's about time I get to again wonder out loud: "what the hell was Kyan Anderson thinking???" I mean, I know what the answer is because I asked TCU folks last year (he thought he was going to play in the Big East ... remember that with TCU?), but still ...
Damn, man ...
Outside of that, I suppose we could look at 67.6 ppg (with Anderson getting 13.6 of those), or hope out loud that wins against Washington St. and Mississippi St. are signs of better days ahead. But, I think we're lying to ourselves if we do that.
It might just be more fun to wonder if, somehow, TCU could beat Kansas two years in a row. (K-State hasn't done that since the 1987-88/1988-89 seasons.)