The last time we posted a Big 12 Report, we told you about Kansas' issues with NCAA eligibility and how that might affect the Jayhawks this season. We also noted that, while Kansas looks to be less formidable than in most years, they should still probably be considered the favorites to win their 55th (!) conference championship because the conference itself looked vulnerable. This week's Report is essentially a pure mea culpa: this is one heck of a basketball conference, and if KU wins it that will mean Bill Self's group has significantly improved between now and March. That's certainly still possible, but you can't call Kansas the favorite right now. And, in an indignity the Jayhawk faithful are simply not used to, one of the two teams they look to be chasing is the hated Missouri Tigers in their last Big 12 season.
The other squad that clearly has to be considered ahead of KU going into the conference slate is Baylor. The Bears have generally looked really, really good and have won even when they haven't looked so good. They stand at 10-0 and ranked 7th with a tough test against St Mary's coming up this week, and it's become clear that the road to the conference title will run through Waco. It's no secret that Baylor head coach Scott Drew is not held in particularly high esteem around these parts--and really around the conference--which makes the team's rise to prominence that much more difficult to stomach. Still, there's no denying the talent Drew is putting on the floor. Neither Baylor nor MIzzou is used to being a Big 12 favorite, so we'll focus on these upstarts this week.It's probably not fair to say MIzzou is not used to high expectations; it just seems like they're not used to those expectations still being alive as the new year looms. Yet here the Tigers sit, ranked one spot behind Baylor at #8 and undefeated through 11 games. These two teams are the national toast of the Big 12, yet neither has the conference's best win (that would be Kansas's victory over Ohio State, which the Jayhawks followed immediately with a bad home loss to Davidson). Probably the best win between the two is Missouri's 92-53 drubbing of then-#18 Cal a month ago; neither team has beaten a team that is currently ranked.
But that's not intended as a knock on their collective early-season accomplishments. Aside from Baylor's hard-fought three-point victory on the road at BYU, every single win so far by both the Bears and Tigers has come by double digits. While the usual way to announce one's presence with authority before the conference slate starts is to beat top teams, absolutely destroying marginal ones is also a pretty decent way to get the job done.
Mizzou's favored manner of destruction is to wear you down with flurries of points. They are second in the nation in both scoring (87.9 PPG) and shooting percentage (52.6%). One thing that bodes well for MIssouri's chances to exit the conference as its champion is that its offensive juggernaut is led by a pair of seniors at guard: Marcus Denmon, who leads the team with 19.6 PPG, and Kim English (16 PPG). More impressive than Denmon and English's general scoring numbers is their abilities from three point land: Denmon shoots 45.8% from 3, which would be jaw-dropping if English wasn't draining deep balls at a 53.2% clip. We doubt those numbers will stay quite so lofty, but the ability of two senior leaders to fill it up from outside gives Mizzou two huge advantages in big games: they can run away from you (as Cal about that), and if you get a big lead on them they're never out of contention.
Baylor is similarly effective shooting the basketball, though their states are somewhat more earthly. The team field goal percentage of 50.5% is pretty damn impressive and good for 8th in the nation. Unlike Missouri, though, Baylor is paced by a big man. Standing at an imposing 6'11" sophomore center Perry Jones III poured in 28 points against BYU to gut the Bears to their only close win on the season. He averages just under 17 a game in only 28 minutes per contest. Baylor's senior leader is forward Quincy Acy. Don't be fooled--he hasn't actually been there for a decade. It just seems that way. I blame the fact that A&M's Acie Law has such a similar name that it got confusing. In any event, Acy has been a stalwart for this incarnation of the Bears as well. So Baylor is led by a pair of big men while Mizzou takes its cues from two guards. Should make for a fun couple of games when these squads play on Jan 21 and Feb 11.
We'll get a better feel for how prepared Texas is to challenge the Jayhawks, Tigers, & Bears (oh my!) (sorry, couldn't resist despite the obvious cliche) tonight when they play Carolina. Hook 'em!