Several Big 12 basketball teams will make their final tune-ups tonight before the start of full-blown conference play on Saturday.
As has been the case in recent years, Big 12 teams have padded their records by feasting on mostly safe, non-conference opposition that goes on the road for a big pay day.
Seven of the 10 teams have zero, one or two losses. In fact, those teams are a combined 68-9.
However, there aren’t many signature wins the conference can boast about nationally. Even Kansas, the Big 12’s flagship program, lost its most high-profile game against Michigan State, the No. 1 team in the country.
Given the various strengths of schedules by the teams, it’s somewhat difficult to accurately assess how the conference race is going to play out. But here’s a guess:
1. Kansas — When a team has won or shared 11 straight championships and is loaded with veterans, how can you not pick it? Also, Kansas has been such a dominant team at venerable Allen Field House, as it never seems to slip up there against one of the lesser lights. This could be Bill Self’s deepest team, the only concern is lack of rebounding as he constantly rotates big men to find the right combination.
2. Oklahoma — By a sliver over Iowa State. Buddy Hield will be the Big 12 Player of the Year and it’s a veteran team. Like KU, not much of an inside game outside of Ryan Spangler. The Sooners play at a fast pace, though they still have questionable depth.
3. Iowa State — It will be interesting to see how much the Cyclones miss coach Fred Hoiberg now that Big 12 play starts. “The Mayor” was one of the most revered coaches in the conference and his pro style was hard to combat. The loss of multi-dimensional Naz Long to an injury is a big blow.
4. Baylor — Now it starts to get tricky. If Scott Drew would ever ditch that ratty zone defense I think the Bears could make a run at the Top 3. They’ll be tough to beat at home and Rico Gathers gives them an inside force. Three-point shooting could be a drawback.
5. West Virginia — I liken the Mountaineers to a baseball infielder who carries the tag of “good-field, no-hit.” They have a lot of glove men on the defensive end with their disruptive style, but need some shooters.
6. Texas — New coach Shaka Smart doesn’t have the type of players he wants for his helter-skelter system yet, but a win over North Carolina was a signal that this team can be dangerous. The loss Monday of Cameron Ridley to a broken foot is huge though.
7. Kansas State — Maybe the hardest team to peg. The Wildcats win ugly and start two freshmen, which could be telling when they play at Allen Field House, Hilton Coliseum or Noble Arena. Going 9-2 so far means they’ll probably have to win at least nine games in the conference to have a chance for the NCAA.
8. Oklahoma State — The Cowboys have fallen off and they’re now in the lower tier. Where have all their players gone?
9. Texas Tech — The Red Raiders will be a spoiler, beating one of the good teams at home. But I don’t see more than four or five wins.
10. TCU — The Horned Frogs forever seem to be stuck in neutral. They did topple Kansas at home one year, but they can’t live off that forever.