By Wendell Barnhouse | firstname.lastname@example.org
When the 2012-13 men’s basketball season ended last April, the perception about the Big 12 Conference wasn’t great. Most assumed the league was headed for a “down” season.
That perception changed in April when Marcus Smart announced he would return for his sophomore season at Oklahoma State and when Kansas put the icing on its recruiting class cake by signing Andrew Wiggins, considered the nation’s best incoming freshman.
Still, much of the national attention focused on the fact that the Big 12 would have two heavyweights and eight teams of questionable worth.
Perception has become reality. The Big 12 is No. 1 in this week’s Ratings Percentage Index with six teams ranked in the top 40. Also, the Big 12 is the only Division I conference with every team at .625 or higher in winning percentage.
“Our league is off to an incredible start,” Oklahoma State coach Travis Ford said. “You’re starting to see the depth of our league. Every day we’re proving ourselves as one of the best leagues in America. We’re winning games against opponents from very good leagues.”
While the seventh-ranked Cowboys and the 13th-ranked Jayhawks are getting the most attention, the depth Ford referenced is evident.
No. 17 Iowa State has victories over Michigan (ranked No. 7 at the time) and at BYU. No. 14 Baylor's 8-1 record includes neutral-site wins over No. 11 Kentucky, No. 21 Colorado and No. 32 Dayton.
Oklahoma is 8-1 with the only loss to Michigan State, which was No. 1 at the time. Texas is also 8-1 with the only loss against BYU by four points on a neutral court. TCU, which finished at the bottom of the standings last season, has road victories at Washington State and Mississippi State.
New Texas Tech coach Tubby Smith has no doubt about the quality and depth of basketball in the Big 12.
“It’s pretty obvious this is the most competitive and best league in the country,” he said. “Having been coached the SEC and the Big Ten, the Big 12 is as balanced as any conference in the country.”
“I said before the season is that if TCU’s at the bottom this season then this conference is pretty strong,” TCU coach Trent Johnson said.
The Horned Frogs and West Virginia each struggled in their first season in the Big 12 but both teams appear to have improved. The Mountaineers are 6-3 going into Tuesday night’s game with No. 20 Gonzaga.
“The league’s a little scary,” West Virginia coach Bob Huggins said. “If I didn’t have to worry about playing everybody twice I think I’d enjoy it.”
Big 12 teams did not back down when it came to non-conference schedules. Kansas, which plays at No. 19 Florida Tuesday night, is playing perhaps the toughest non-conference schedule in the country.
Non-conference foes on Big 12 schedules include Kentucky, Syracuse, Michigan, Iowa, Colorado, Gonzaga, Michigan State, Duke, Memphis, North Carolina, Arizona, LSU, Pittsburgh, Arizona State, Missouri and Purdue. All of those schools could wind up in the NCAA Tournament.
Texas Tech has played at Alabama and at Arizona, which is now ranked No. 1. Next week the Red Raiders will face LSU and travel to Arizona State.
“Obviously (the schedule) is a little heavy,” said Smith, who took over a team that finished 11-20 last season. “With those types of teams on our schedule, if we didn’t have a veteran team, I’d be more concerned. I think we understand and know what it takes to compete in the Big 12.”
Another Cyclone Warrior
An undersized Iowa State forward was named Big 12 player of the week after averaging 19.5 points and 15 rebounds in two games last week. And it wasn’t Melvin Ejim.
Dustin Hogue, a 6-6 junior in his first year with the Cyclones, won the award with stellar performances against Auburn and Northern Iowa. He made 70.6 percent (12-of-17) from the field and was 3-of-6 on 3-pointers. Hogue is the third Cyclones player to earn Big 12 Player of the Week honors this season.
And Tuesday afternoon Hogue was named as the Oscar Robertson player of the week by the United States Basketball Writers Association.
Ejim, a 6-6 senior, has 23 double-doubles in his career. But with Hogue and senior guard DeAndre Kane, who is averaging 8.0 rebounds per game, Ejim has competition from his own teammates when it comes to grabbing missed shots.
“Dustin does a little bit of everything and he brings an element of toughness,” Iowa State coach Fred Hoiberg said. “He can play multiple positions. I love everything about him; he practices hard every day and he’s got a warrior mentality.
“When you can limit a team to one shot, you can get out in transition. We’re not the biggest team but we’ve got guys who will battle and compete on the glass.”
- It should be quite a Friday night in Hilton Coliseum when Iowa visits Iowa State for the annual meeting between the two rivals. The Cyclones are ranked No. 17 and the Hawkeyes are No. 23 in this week’s Associated Press poll. The last time both teams were ranked was during the 1987-88 season.
- Oklahoma wants to take advantage of its speed and quickness by playing at a fast pace. During an 8-1 start, the Sooners are averaging 86.7 points a game. Last season OU averaged 70.6 points per game.
- Kansas State has held six of its last seven opponents to their season-low in points, including 60 points or less on five occasions. The Wildcats lead the Big 12 in scoring defense, allowing 61.1 points per game.
- West Virginia coach Bob Huggins earned his 729th career win with the victory over Loyola on Dec. 2. It ties Huggins with Norm Stewart and Jerry Tarkanian for 16th on the NCAA Division I all-time coaching wins list.
- Oklahoma sophomore guard Je'lon Hornbeak will be out four to six weeks with a broken bone in his left foot. Hornbeak was averaging 5.7 points, 2.3 rebounds, 2.9 assists and 1.1 steals in 21.0 minutes per game off the bench.
Kansas State coach Bruce Weber:
“We learned a lot in November. It's a new team with a lot of young guys playing and older guys who have switched their roles. We had to learn about ourselves, and our young guys had to learn what college basketball is about. We talked about coming into December and making it a month when we take a big step. This is a big stretch for us and a chance to make some progress as a team.”
TCU coach Trent Johnson on his team playing better on the road that at home:
“Any time you win on the road, it gives you confidence. The bottom line for us is that we’ve competed well on the road. We need to do that at home and we’ve haven’t done that at home. … I’m trying to get to the bottom of it in a hurry. It needs to change and soon.”
Oklahoma State coach Travis Ford, whose team is third in Division I in scoring:
“We’ve shown we can score some points but I don’t get too concerned about our offense. There are nights we make shots and nights we don’t. If we execute the scouting report, play defense and rebound we’ll have a chance to win.”
Texas coach Rick Barnes, whose young team is off to an 8-1 start:
“I’ve said it all along, I like these guys. They want to compete and they want to be coached. We’ll see where it takes us.”