Pre-season prognostication suggested the Big 12 Race would be KU, then a clear gap, followed by everyone else. A few things have shaken out in two weeks of play but, sadly, nothing yet suggests that “repeat ad infinitum” prediction may be wrong.
But take heart. With so few games for each team contested and decided, we still have relatively few data points with which to measure our teams’ capabilities. It’s fair to say that, despite a few surprising falters, every conference team woke with reason for hope this Thanksgiving morning. The overall record of the conference? 37-4.
That number is somewhere near meaningless, given the quality of opponents the league has faced on most nights. RPI is presently no better measure. It shows Temple No. 1, Texas A&M No. 2, and Texas-Arlington No. 3. Texas-Arlington!
With the usual talking point crutches still useless, we accept license to make wild assertions without fear of retribution. We do know something about some teams. The rest is still guesswork.
It seems pointless to try ranking teams yet, so the summaries below are presented in no particular order.
The Red Raiders were picked 7th in the pre-season poll, one spot above K-State. This suggests they would be an NCAA bubble team.
Chris Beard’s team may be the league’s brightest surprise. Tech raced to a 5-0 start, and this week they logged an impressive 85-49 drubbing of No. 20 Northwestern to win the Naismith Memorial Hall of Fame Tournament. The 36-point win is a program record over a ranked opponent. This is one team that has been tested, and responded emphatically.
Senior guard Keenan Evans leads the way at 18.0 points per game. Nobody else averages double figures, but nine guys average between about 5 and 9. Balanced team. Maybe better than expected. I’d say more about them, but their athletic department so clutters the research page with idiotic tweets, that I refuse to delve any further.
Where does Scott Drew find all these tall guys, made of rubber bands, and seemingly with 1 1⁄2 arms per side? The Bears have those guys again, led by All-world-Name entrant Jo Lual-Acuil, Jr. They have used this length and their 2-3 zone to hold opponents to 59.4 points per game on 38.3% shooting, and to gain a 5-0 start to the season.
Four players average double figures, with Manuel LeCompte and Lual-Acuil leading at 19 and 14, respectively. Lual-Acuil also pulls down 11.2 rebounds per game, to average a double-double.
Baylor won the CBE Hall of Fame Classic in Kansas City, in the process beating Wisconsin and Creighton, two respectable opponents. Next up for them: Xavier and Wichita State. We already suspect they are for real. We should know very soon just how “real” they are.
Want further proof that the RPI lacks sufficient data to pump out anything meaningful yet? TCU is No. 16. That may not sound egregious, but its 4-0 record has been “earned” against Louisiana-Monroe, Tennessee Tech, South Dakota and Nebraska-Omaha. Their non-conference schedule doesn’t get any better, either. SMU is a good team. The rest? Even Bruce would be embarrassed.
We think TCU will be good. Since Jamie Dixon has chosen to keep just how good a secret until league play, I’m not going to pretend that any statistics or scores they’ve earned up to now deserve the effort it would take for me to wring them out.
OU has only played two games. Two! How is that possible? They won both, against Omaha and Ball State. They scored 108 in each game. Billy Tubbs would be proud. He would also say to get busy playing some more games.
Trae Young? Yeah, he’s good. He averages 18.5 points and an absurd 11.5 assists per game. Four others average double figures, which is to be expected when you have hung Benjamins in your only two games.
Shaka Smart has his team out to a 3-0 start against the Fighting Anonymouses, but they play Butler tonight at 7:00. The talk of Austin (you know, after 3,000 topics about football) is Mohammed Bamba. The 6-11 freshman averages 14 points and nine rebounds, and he has dazzled with his athleticism and range.
Point guard play has been the deficiency in this squad since Smart arrived. Freshman Matt Coleman turned down a Duke offer to fill the point guard void in Austin, and Texas fans are high on his potential. If the Longhorns get the top of the offense solved, look out. Tonight’s game should tell us more. Upcoming contests against VCU, Michigan and Alabama will give us a pretty good estimate of what threat Texas poses to the power structure before they open league play against Kansas on December 29.
Bob Huggins opened the season in Germany as part of the Armed Forces Classic. The local schnitzel must not have agreed with his club, as they fell 88-65 to Texas A&M in a game that was no contest from the opening tip. West Virginia was playing without Asa Ahmad, who has been ruled ineligible until the end of the semester (you know, when the important games start). But Texas A&M was without two starters, as well. It was not surprising that the Mountaineers lost, but the margin was alarming.
West Virginia has rebounded with big wins against American, Morgan State and Long Beach. Early disappointment aside, this should be a good team. Nathan Adrian is finally gone. But Daxter Miles, Ahmad, Jevon Carter and James Bolden are all seasoned veterans, and Huggins always seems to be able to run the rotation of a thousand robots to wear down the opposition with scarcely restrained brutality. They frustrated their own fans on opening night. They will frustrate Big 12 opposition soon enough.
The Cowboys were picked a distant last in preseason polls, owing at least in part to the FBI investigation and the turmoil focused specifically on Stillwater, since one of the indicted assistant coaches, Lamont Evans, was employed there. Guard Jeffrey Carroll was held out, pending a review of the program, and nobody knew whether he would play this season.
Carroll was cleared to play Monday in the Legends Classic against Pittsburg, and he vented his frustration with 29 points in a 73-67 win. The Cowboys are 4-1, with their only loss coming against the same Texas A&M squad that decimated West Virginia. They have a December 9 game against Wichita State, which will provide another measuring stick.
The Cyclones got off to an awful start, losing 74-59 to a Missouri squad that has turned out, so far, to be a disappointment itself without all-universe freshman Michael Porter, Jr. Three days later, Iowa State got thumped, 74-56, by Milwaukee. In Ames. And no, not the Milwaukee Bucks of the NBA. The University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee Panthers of the Horizon League.
That rock-bottom moment has led to a springboard, however. Iowa State now sits 3-2, with wins over Tulsa and Boise State to claim the Puerto Rico Tip-Off championship. We all knew Steve Prohm would have to retool substantially after so many graduations last year. Behind returners Nick Weiler-Babb (15.6 points per game, 7.6 rebounds) and Donovan Jackson (17.2 points per game), Iowa State may be ahead of schedule.
They’re good. Again. Beat Kentucky. Will be even better after they conjure an explanation for Billy Preston’s wheels. Ho-hum.
Like seemingly everyone else in the conference, K-State, at 4-0, believes it has reason to hope. Newcomers Makol Mawien, Mawdo Sallah and Levi Stockard, III appear to possess enough skill that the post will not be the black hole we feared it would be after the departure of DJ Johnson, who was in Manhattan long enough to earn a masters degree and grow a white beard. Dean Wade has shown a more aggressive penchant with the ball this year, and the four veterans have led every night.
But what does it mean? UC-Irvine should be a decent squad, but returned even less experience than K-State. None of the other opponents told us anything.
It gets real tonight, as we tip off against Arizona State, who is also 4-0, in the Continental Tire Las Vegas Invitational. The Sun Devils average 95 points per game. Styles will contrast. Fail in Vegas, and the Bruce Weber Hate Machine will stir back to life.