Big 12 defectors both start strong
up. The league has not as many good wins as bad losses.”
The Ratings Percentage Index is often wildly inaccurate this early in the season, but to Self’s point it paints a troubling picture. Kansas is the only top-30 team. Baylor sits in the 50s. Kansas State, which is 7-1, resides at No. 110, and one has to go beyond the 150s to locate Texas.
The Big 12 is fifth in conference RPI, trailing the Big Ten, Big East, ACC and even the Mountain West. Head to head against the Big Ten, the Big 12 is 0-5.
Even the league’s two signature victories come with an asterisk. Baylor snapped Kentucky’s 55game home winning streak, but these aren’t last year’s Wildcats (yet); plus, the Bears sandwiched that with losses to College of Charleston and Northwestern. Oklahoma State thumped North Carolina State by 20, but the Wolfpack isn’t playing like the ACC preseason favorite.
Texas, no doubt, is the biggest disappointment. The Longhorns are not easy on the eyes. They are last in the league in turnover margin, last in assist-to-turnovers and ninth in scoring, fieldgoal shooting and freethrow shooting.
“Offensively, we haven’t figured it out,” said coach Rick Barnes, “but we’re playing well defensively. I’m a little bit baffled that we aren’t better than what we are. We’re gonna be good, though. There’s a long way to go.”
Texas is badly in need of point guard Myck Kabongo, who hasn’t suited up yet because of a lengthy NCAA investigation that is wearing thin on Barnes.
“It’s frustrating, it’s disappointing and it’s time we hear something,” he said.
Newcomers West Virginia and TCU aren’t helping the conference’s resume so far.
The Horned Frogs are meeting their low expectations — they have a No. 225 ranking in the Ken Pomeroy power poll while drawing 3,967 fans per home game.
“We knew our margin of error would be very slim, and we’ve had numerous injuries,” TCU coach Trent Johnson said. “Basketball here from the men’s side hasn’t been relevant for a long, long time.”
The Mountaineers, an NCAA tourney regular, are just 4-4 with a 34-point loss to Gonzaga. WVU already has lost to rebuilding Big 12 partner Oklahoma 77-70 in a Thanksgiving tournament consolation game.
“For my sanity, I hope things start to gel,” Mountaineers coach Bob Huggins said. “We’re playing a lot of guys who don’t have much experience. We may be better off having our big guys shoot from the outside and letting our guards rebound. They can’t miss any more shots than our guards have.”
It doesn’t help that the Big 12 defectors are off to great starts. Missouri (8-1) is ranked 12th; unranked Texas A&M is 7-1.
There are points of light in the Big 12.
Kansas has blended new talent, starting with guard Ben McLemore (16 points, 5.6 rebounds), with solid holdovers like Jeff Withey (13.8 ppg, 8.2 rpg) and Travis Releford (12.8 ppg, 3.4 apg). Withey, the 7-foot center, has the remarkable combination of 45 blocked shots and just seven fouls.
Oklahoma State is the only Big 12 team that’s clearly stronger than it was a year ago. The Cowboys’ McDonald’s All-Americans — point guard Marcus Smart and swing man Le’Bryan Nash — are delivering. Smart, a freshman wise beyond his years, is near the top in everything with 13.4 points, 7.4 rebounds, 5.1 assists and 2.6 steals. Nash is second in the league in scoring (16.3).
“It’s promising,” OSU coach Travis Ford said, “but we’re extremely young, starting three freshmen and a sophomore and we haven’t been healthy at all. We’ve had a lot of 4-on-4 practices simply for a lack of bodies.”
Baylor point guard Pierre Jackson, the preseason Big 12 player of the year pick, is living up to his billing, leading the league in scoring (19.6) and assists (6.4).
“Pierre is one of the most exciting players in the nation,” coach Scott Drew said. “As a team, we’ve been inconsistent, still trying to figure out rotations, who works best together. We’ve lost three times by a total of 10 points, so we need to do a better job of closing out games.”