Big 12 de­fec­tors both start strong

Big 12

Austin American-Statesman - - SPORTS - Ok­la­homa state guard mar­cus smart has helped the Cow­boys to a 7-1 start. Con­tin­ued from Guard Pierre Jack­son and his Bay­lor team­mates have been some­thing of a mys­tery. The Bears pulled a ma­jor up­set at Rupp Arena against Ken­tucky, then fol­lowed up with a

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.”

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