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Big 12 Hoops Tracker: Kansas, Texas Tech riding high entering conference slate

Let’s check in on Texas’ opponents for the next three months

NCAA Basketball: Jacksonville State at West Virginia Ben Queen-USA TODAY Sports

Usually, the Big 12 hierarchy is easy to forecast. The conference ladder bleeds blue, with Kansas atop the conference as the 14-year Big 12 champion. But this season, aside from an abiding top-tier (Kansas), the Big-12 landscape has seen profound changes from the norm. So, what’s gone very wrong or surprisingly right in the Big 12 field?

West Virginia Mountaineers

Preseason Rank: 13

Current Rank: N/A

Record: 8-4

West Virginia has stumbled through their non-conference slate. It’s the epitome of underwhelming from the (former) 13th-ranked program in the nation. The first 12 games have acknowledged their many weak points. They’ve abandoned any defensive tendencies fostered from the last decade (just six steals per game and 174th in forced TOs per game), and as a substitute, welcomed turnovers with open arms (16 turnovers per game, 325th in division one). Offensively, Sagaba Konate and Esa Ahmad have combined for 28.4 ppg and 3.4 bpg, but Bob Huggins doesn’t have many more cards to deal.

Oklahoma Sooners

Preseason Rank: N/A

Current Rank: 23

Record: 11-1

Despite losing the most dominant statistical player in the last decade (Trae Young), Oklahoma is riding team basketball and fundamentals to an 11-1 record. They’re guided offensively by senior Christian James, who took the reins from Young in 2018. National recognition is still pending, as they’re narrowly within the AP top-25. The Sooners are a very dark horse in the Big-12.

Texas Tech Red Raiders

Preseason Rank: N/A

Current Rank: 11

Record: 11-1

Texas Tech’s seamless changeover from all-conference guard Keenan Evans to Jarrett Culver has helped them retain conference prestige and winning lust, as they’re 11-1 with a close loss to Duke their only misstep. Culver has averaged 19.6 points and 4.3 assists, warranting all-conference accolades. Under head coach Chris Beard, the face behind the mask for Tech this season, a conference championship seems completely tangible. Yes, Kansas is still king, but Tech is making a play for the throne.

Baylor Bears

Preseason Rank: N/A

Current Rank: N/A

Record: 8-4

Baylor has stayed competitive thus far with a 8-4 record on the year through a lukewarm non-conference schedule. The Bears have recent wins versus Pac-12 programs, Arizona and Oregon. But, they’ve seen their fair share of lowlights in losses to Texas Southern, Ole Miss, and Stephen F. Austin. Baylor will swim in dangerous waters come conference play. They need to play with the consistency seen in their Arizona and Oregon matchups to at least tread water in a conference with depth at the top-tier. They need to prove more to satisfy analysts’ doubts in a team with perennial mediocre tendencies.

Kansas Jayhawks

Preseason Rank: 1

Current Rank: 5

Record: 11-1

Kansas continues to do Kansas things — win. From top to bottom there are no holes in their program. Memphis transfer Dedric Lawson is averaging 19.6 points and 10.8 rebounds, LaGerald Vick is contributing 15.8 ppg, and the freshman Devon Dotson has been consistent offensively. The only threat to their conference monopoly this season would be the team in Lubbock, but that may still be a stretch.

Oklahoma State Cowboys

Preseason Rank: N/A

Current Rank: N/A

Record: 6-6

At 6-6 on the season, Oklahoma State sits in the basement of the Big-12. They are 1-3 against current or former top-25 programs and find themselves with a 5-3 record against non-power-five programs. This season will be a slow-moving storm for the Cowboys, likely a transitional season.

Kansas State Wildcats

Preseason Rank: 12

Current Rank: N/A

Record: 10-2

Omitting the Wildcats from the conference title conversation is an unfair appraisal bearing in mind the burning headline. As long as Dean Wade is out indefinitely with his foot injury, Kansas State looks incredibly mortal. But, Wade has played nine of the last eleven games, and the numbers are still ugly. Their offense scores only 67 ppg, which is 303rd nationally.

Iowa State Cyclones

Preseason Rank: N/A

Current Rank: N/A

Record: 10-2

The Cyclones are still unranked and unrepresented by AP voters. (Without my slant on the topic ruining credibility). They’ve yet to justify anything with wins. They lost their potential resume-builders in games versus Arizona and Iowa, and their best win is over the 8-3 Missouri Tigers. It’s a lusterless resume. That said, the Cyclones pass the eye test, especially with guard depth. Talen Horton-Tucker, Tyrese Haliburton, and Marial Shayok have been dominant, and the position only gets deeper with the return of Lindell Wigginton who is still out with injury.

TCU Horned Frogs

Preseason Rank: 20

Current Rank: N/A

Record: 11-1

TCU was a sleeper team last season, with potential for the same impact this year. Jaylen Fisher’s injury is the only string tugging at their potential. Once he returns, national attention will slowly become a real possibility. That said, they haven’t struggled in his absence, averaging 80 ppg en route to an 11-1 record.