- After some non-conferences losses as their young players adjusted, the road to the Big 12 title once again looks like it will run through Lawrence, Kansas. Bill Self’s Jayhawks are playing as well as any team in the country, and as one of the nation’s youngest teams, will likely improve through the next month. They are a legitimate title contender.
- Lon Krueger and Rick Barnes have defied expectations and taken two young teams to the upper half of the Big 12. Oklahoma’s defense has been suspect at times, but Krueger has gotten his team to lock down when they needed to in Big 12 play. Barnes’ Texas team has had their problems on offense, but they don’t back down from anyone and will look to force teams into an up-and-down game.
- West Virginia hasn’t had it easy since moving to the Big 12, but Bob Huggins has his team competing every night. While it’s hard to fathom them finishing the year at .500 or better in the conference, they have made great strides this season.
- The disappointments can all be lumped into one group here. Scott Drew’s Baylor team was supposed to be in the mix for a Big 12 title this season, but have been atrocious in conference play, starting the season 1-6. Both the offense and defense are a mess right now and veteran players just haven’t been pulling their weight. Oklahoma State was another team supposed to be far ahead of where they are right now (16-4, 4-3) with the return of Marcus Smart. Smart should be able to put the team on his back for a short time, but the other veterans need to step up consistently to get the Cowboys back in contention. After a perfect start in non-conference play, Iowa State has had some defensive issues which have caused them to get off to a 3-4 start to conference play. Both Oklahoma State and Iowa State have two of the best offenses in the conference, but it doesn’t matter much if you don’t get stops.
- Kansas freshmen Andrew Wiggins and Joel Embiid have played a huge role in getting the team on track in conference play. Wiggins seemed to be deferring early on in the season, but is now putting his immense talent to better use by being aggressive. He has set career high in points his past two games, and even has a 19-rebound game to his credit. Embiid is a still-developing seven-footer who has very good instincts and athletic ability. Though raw, he is learning more and more as the season goes on, and is now in the mix to be the #1 pick in the NBA Draft.
- I mentioned Marcus Smart earlier, and though a likely Top 5 pick in the NBA Draft, he returned to school. Though still fighting some inconsistencies, he is one of the most valuable “go-to” players in the country.
- Iowa State duo DeAndre Kane and Georges Niang provide a little bit of everything for the Cyclones on the offensive end. Kane has a great ability to get into the lane and create or score, and Niang is an undersized post who can force bigs to guard him away from the basket or uses his crafty style around the basket.
- West Virginia guard Juwan Staten has been one of the best point guards in the conference this season, and his stat line is hard to believe for someone 6’1. He is scoring 17 points, grabbing 6 rebounds, and dishing out 6 assists per game, while shooting over 50% from the field.
NCAA Tournament teams?
Kansas, Oklahoma, Oklahoma State, and Texas all seem well on their way to the tournament. Iowa State will likely get back on track soon to grab their bid. Kansas State and West Virginia may battle for a 6th bid from the conference, though it isn’t far-fetched to see 7 teams get in from the country’s best conference.