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Defending Champion Kansas Off To Strong Start
January 03, 2013
By Wendell Barnhouse | Correspondent

During non-conference play, defending Big 12 champion Kansas has done nothing to dissuade those who believe the Jayhawks are strong favorites to win their ninth consecutive regular-season title.

But, as league play gets started Saturday, the Big 12 as a whole has fared well

Seven Big 12 teams are ranked in the top 75 of the latest RPI. It's the highest percentage of teams for any conference in the country. The Big 12 is one of two conferences nationally where every team has a .583 winning percentage or better. Seven of the 10 teams have posted a mark of .667 or higher.

The future also appears bright. Nine of the top 20 scorers and eleven of the top 20 rebounders are freshmen, sophomores, or newcomers to their team. The men opened the season with a 14-0 record before dropping its first game of the year, and every team is holding its opponents to 70.9 points per game or less.

With conference play starting, here is the predicted order of finish in the preseason poll voted on by the coaches: 1, Kansas; 2, Baylor; 3, Oklahoma State; 4, Texas; 5, Kansas State; 6, West Virginia; 7, Oklahoma; 8, Iowa State; 9, Texas Tech; 10, TCU.

Baylor Bears
Record: 8-4
Big 12 opener: vs. Texas Saturday.

So far: The Bears have been on a roller coaster. Their victory at Kentucky was impressive and they pushed Gonzaga to the brink on the road. The flip side for Baylor has been home losses to College of Charleston and Northwestern. To assure an NCAA Tournament bid, the Bears will probably need to finish in the top half of the standings.

Numbers: Junior center/forward Cory Jefferson has scored 158 points in 12 games. In his first two seasons at Baylor, he scored 148 points in 55 games.

Leaders: Scoring Pierre Jackson 19.6; Rebounding Cory Jefferson 8.6; Assists Pierre Jackson 6.3.

Notable: Senior guard Pierre Jackson has scored in double figures in 20 consecutive games, the longest active streak in the Big 12 ... Baylor's first three Big 12 contests are against teams from the state of Texas (UT, TCU, Texas Tech). The Bears were 6-0 versus Big 12 teams from Texas last season.

Iowa State Cyclones
Record: 10-3
Big 12 opener: at Kansas Wednesday.

So far: The Cyclones' three losses (Cincinnati, UNLV, Iowa) have come to teams that will probably be in the NCAA Tournament. Iowa State should continue to improve as it meshes newcomers and replaces three starters from last year's NCAA team.

Numbers: When 6-6 junior forward Melvin Ejim is on the court he grabs 27.1 percent of available defensive rebounds. That's the top percentage in the Big 12.

Leaders: Scoring Will Clyburn 14.1; Rebounding Melvin Ejim 9.2; assists Korie Lucious 5.4.

Notable: Iowa State is averaging 82 points a game and is the only Division I team that has scored 70 or more in each game ... Tyrus McGee leads the Big 12 in 3-point shooting percentage and 3-pointers made. He has made a 3-pointer in 13 consecutive games ... The Cyclones have won 15 consecutive games at Hilton Colisuem. Their first Big 12 home game this season will be Jan. 12 against Texas.

Kansas Jayhawks
Record: 11-1
Big 12 opener: vs. Iowa State Wednesday.

So far: The Jayhawks have again established themselves as the team to beat in the Big 12. Kansas, which is seeking its ninth consecutive Conference title, has only lost to Michigan State in the second game of the season. In a five-game stretch against Oregon State, Colorado, Belmont, Richmond and Ohio State, KU outscored those opponents 84.8 to 63.4.

Numbers: Kansas senior center Jeff Withey is second nationally in blocked shots with nearly five per game. His presence along with more depth has helped the Jayhawks defensively; they're fifth national in field goal percentage defense.

Leaders: Scoring Ben McLemore 15.8; Rebounding Jeff Withey 7.9; Assists Elijah Johnson 4.9.

Notable: Over the last five games, Kansas opponents have attempted 23.6 3-pointers per game ... Kansas faces Temple, the Jayhawks' final non-conference regular-season game, in Lawrence Sunday ... Sophomore guard Naadir Tharpe has 22 assists with zero turnovers in his last four contests.

Kansas State Wildcats
Record: 11-2
Big 12 opener: vs. Oklahoma State Saturday.

So far: Under first-year coach Bruce Weber, the Wildcats have retained their toughness in rebounding and on defense. They're starting to adapt to Weber's motion offense. All the pieces fit in a 67-61 victory over No. 8 Florida in Kansas City's Sprint Center. The losses have come to ranked teams Michigan State and Gonzaga.

Numbers: Kansas State leads the Big 12 in turnover margin and is second in assist/turnover margin. The Wildcats are 11-0 this season when outrebounding their opponent.

Leaders: Scoring Rodney McGruder 13.7; Rebounding Thomas Gipson 6.7; Assists Angel Rodriguez 4.3

Notable: Senior Rodney McGruder has now seen action in 89 consecutive games dating back to his sophomore season, including 80 straight starts ... Kansas State's victory over Florida was the Wildcats' first regular season nonconference win over a Top 10 opponent since defeating No. 8 Minnesota on Dec. 21, 1981 by the score of 62-52.

Oklahoma Sooners
Record: 9-3
Big 12 opener: at West Virginia Saturday.

So far: The Sooners have yet to hit their stride but there's potential to finish in the top half of the Big 12 standings and reach the NCAA Tournament. Oklahoma's only "bad loss" was a home-court defeat by Stephen F. Austin. OU has lost to Gonzaga on a neutral site and at Arkansas.

Numbers: Oklahoma has nine players averaging 17 or more minutes per game and seven players who are averaging 6.3 points or more per game.

Leaders: Scoring Romero Osby 12.6; Rebounding Romero Osby 6.3; Assists Sam Grooms 2.5

Notable: Romero Osby has made his last 25 free throw attempts; the school record is 37 ... Oklahoma coach Lon Kruger won the 500th game of his career when the Sooners defeated Northwestern State on Nov. 30 ... In an odd scheduling twist, OU owns a non-conference victory over West Virginia. The Sooners beat the Mountaineers in the third-place game of the Old Spice Classic on Nov. 25.

Oklahoma State Cowboys
Record: 10-2
Big 12 opener: at Kansas State Saturday.

So far: The Cowboys have two impressive victories with triumphs over Tennessee and North Carolina State coming in the first two weeks of the season. Oklahoma State's losses have come at Virginia Tech and at home to Gonzaga.

Numbers: Oklahoma State's top five scorers are three freshmen, one sophomore and one junior.

Leaders: Scoring Le'Bryan Nash 14.4; Rebounding Phillip Jurick 6.9; Assists Marcus Smart 5.2.

Notable: Freshman Marcus Smart scored a career-high 23 in Oklahoma State's New Year's Eve loss to Gonzaga ... Smart's high school teammate, freshman guard Phil Forte, has hit at least one three pointer in every game this season; he is 11-of-19 (.579) over the last two games from long range ... Oklahoma State is seventh nationally in free throw percentage at 76.8 percent ... Oklahoma State is one of three teams in the Big 12 Conference that has three different players ranked among the league's top 16 in scoring (Baylor and Kansas are the other two.)

TCU Horned Frogs
Record: 9-4
Big 12 opener: vs. Texas Tech Saturday.

So far: TCU is over halfway to reaching its victory total of last season. New coach Trent Johnson has had to deal with a series of injuries. Post players Amric Fields and Aaron Durley went down with knee injuries in November while guard Jarvis Ray was recently sidelined with a broken foot.

Numbers: TCU has scored over 75 points against a Division I opponent only once this season (76 against UAB) and have reached the 70 point mark only once, as well (73, also against UAB).

Leaders: Scoring Kyan Anderson 13.0; Rebounding Adrick McKinney 6.8; Assists Kyan Anderson 3.7.

Notable: TCU leads the Big 12 in scoring defense, allowing 54.5 points per game ... Senior forward, Garlon Green, who has averaged 20.5 points in his last four games, and is just 19 points away from reaching 1,000 for his career ... TCU has overcome second half deficits in six of its nine victories.

Texas Longhorns
Record: 8-5
Big 12 opener: at Baylor Saturday.

So far: The Longhorns have faced one of the nation's top non-conference schedules with one of the nation's youngest teams. Texas lost two of three games – one to Division II Chaminade – in the Maui Classic but the Longhorns displayed promise with a victory over North Carolina and a hard-fought loss at Michigan State.

Numbers: Texas leads the nation in field goal percentage defense, allowing opponents to make just 33.7 percent of their shots. The Longhorns are one of three Big 12 teams in the top 11 in that category. UT is also second nationally in 3-point field goal percentage defense.

Leaders: Scoring Sheldon McClellan 15.2; Rebounding Johnathan Holmes 7.8; Assists Javan Felix 6.5.

Notable: During the Rick Barnes Era, Texas is 12-2 in Big 12 openers ... Freshman PG Javan Felix leads the Big 12 in assists (6.5 per game) and minutes played (35.7 per game). Felix also leads all NCAA freshmen in assists.

Texas Tech Red Raiders
Record: 7-4
Big 12 opener: at TCU Saturday.

So far: Considering the tumultuous off-season, the Red Raiders have done well. They're one victory away from matching last season's total. Interim head coach Chris Walker has Texas Tech playing with energy and enthusiasm. The question in Big 12 play is: Will that be enough?

Numbers: The Red Raiders are averaging 77.1 points per game and scored 80 or more points in the first five games. Last season Texas Tech averaged 59.5 points per game during an 8-23 season.

Leaders: Scoring Jaye Crockett 15.2; Rebounding Jaye Crockett 9.2; Assists Josh Gray 2.8.

Notable: Freshman Josh Gray is second in the Big 12 in steals, averaging 2.2 per game. Texas Tech leads the Big 12 in steals, averaging 9.9 per game ... The Red Raiders played a school-record 11 consecutive home games to open the season ... Texas Tech's four losses came in a five-game stretch in December and the Red Raiders averaged just 64 points in those losses.

West Virginia Mountaineers
Record: 7-5
Big 12 opener: vs. Oklahoma Saturday.

So far: The Mountaineers have struggled trying to find the right combination as they try to mix in three transfers who sat out last season. While Bob Huggins has sounded perplexed even after victories, one has to assume the veteran coach will figure out a way for West Virginia to make some noise in its inaugural Big 12 season.

Numbers: West Virginia has faced the 43rd-toughest strength of schedule in the nation. No team in the Big 12 has played fewer home games to this point in the season than West Virginia.

Leaders: Scoring Juwan Staten 11.1; Rebounding Aaric Murray 7.8; Assists Juwan Staten 2.8.

Notable: Sophomore Gary Browne, who scored a career-high 17 points in his last game, is averaging 21.4 minutes off the bench, He has made 19 of his last 21 free throws. ... Bob Huggins posted a 10-6 Big 12 record during his one season at K-State (2006-07).
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