January 7, 2014

Throwdown in Ames

The Big 12 basketball season officially starts for Baylor on Tuesday night at the hostile Hilton Coliseum in Ames, IA against Iowa State. It's the first big game of the young conference season that has already gone through its first weekend. The game starts at 7:00 p.m. and is on ESPN2.
Baylor could not have had a better start at 12-1 including solid wins over Kentucky and Dayton. The only loss was to No. 2 Syracuse. So as we begin conference play, let's hit the reset button and update you on the conference.

No. 7/9 Baylor (12-1, 1-1): The Bears have seen their front court come together between Cory Jefferson, Isaiah Austin and Rico Gathers. Jefferson is averaging 14 ppg and 8 rpg per game. Gathers has been a force rebounding at 7.8. Kenny Chery has settled at the point guard spot at 5.2 helpers per game. Plus, Baylor's defense has been pretty impressive holding teams to just below 39 percent shooting. Of course, those numbers will be tested as conference play heats up.

No. 9/7 Iowa State (13-0, 1-0): The Big 12's only undefeated team, the Cyclones are off to their best start in school history. Melvin Ejim is having a monster year at 17.7 ppg and 7.7 rpg and likely has the early lead for Big 12 player of the year honors. This team isn't a fluke. Fred Hoiberg's squad already has great wins over Michigan, BYU and against Iowa. The Cyclones are a conference champion favorite.

No. 16/18 Kansas (9-4, 0-0): This is a team that is struggling to find quality guard play. The Jayhawks are 8th in the conference in the notable assists-to-turnover ratio at 1.17 and this team is -2 in the turnover margin. That's stunning. The nation's No. 1 recruit Andrew Wiggins is having a good season at 15.8 ppg but this team is really missing something. Last Sunday's 61-57 loss to San Diego St. at the Allen Fieldhouse snapped a 68 game nonconference home winning streak.

No. 25 Kansas State (11-3, 1-0): It was hard to know what to expect from Bruce Weber's team after some serious roster turnover if offseason including the loss of point guard Angel Rodriguez. After a blundering opening season opening loss to Northern Colorado, the Wildcats have bounced back with very good wins over Ole Miss, Gonzaga and most recently, the 74-71 upset of then-No. 6 Oklahoma State. Freshman Marcus Foster has been a godsend for this team averaging 14 points. Defense has also carried this team. KSU is first in the league in scoring defense (58.8) and 3-point defense (26 percent).

Oklahoma (12-2, 1-0): Someone needs to explain why the Sooners aren't ranked. Lon Kruger's team just won in Austin this past Saturday, 88-85. That said, we're going to know a lot more about this team because its next two games are at home against Kansas and Iowa State. Oklahoma does like the open floor game because it leads the league in scoring at 87 points but is last in scoring defense at 78 points. Cameron Clark has been deadly from 3-point range at 47 percent.

No. 11/12 Oklahoma State (12-2, 0-1):
Texas (11-3, 0-1): Rick Barnes' season of truth has been somewhat impressive with a big win at North Carolina followed by a respectable performance in a loss to Michigan State. The Oklahoma defeat may have caught people by surprise. But the Longhorns have had issues defensively surrendering 70 points per game. Texas has been a pretty good rebounding team at plus 7. Cameron Ridley and Jonathan Holmes have helped keep this team together but will it be enough over 18 conference games?

TCU (9-4, 0-1): In year two under Trent Johnson, the Horned Frogs are trying to feel good about something. They had a decent nonconference season that featured a road win over Washington State. However, the conference opening loss to West Virginia will be followed by meetings with Kansas State and Baylor. Top recruit Keviar Shepherd is at nearly eight rebounds per game. What's important is that big man Amric Fields is healthy. After missing most of 2012-13 with a knee injury, he's averaging 15 points per game.

Texas Tech (8-7, 0-2): Tubby Smith's debut season should be viewed by people as just hoping for the best. The Red Raiders aren't very deep and are going to have to try and outscore people. They are averaging 74 points per game but surrendering 69. To their credit, they have played a tough non-conference schedule which included at game at No. 1 Arizona. Junior Jordan Tolbert has been the most consistent player at 12 points and 7 rebounds per game.

West Virginia (10-5, 2-0): The Moutaineers played a really tough nonconference schedule against Wisconsin, Missouri and Gonzaga. There were also close losses to Purdue and Virginia Tech. But Bob Huggins' kids seemed to be strengthened through it because they opened up with road conference wins at TCU and Texas Tech. Winning conference road games is never easy. Sophomore guard Eron Harris leads the Big 12 in scoring at 18.5 points per game and is shooting 47 percent from the field and 45 percent from 3-point range.

Projected NCAA tournament teams: Baylor, Iowa State, Kansas, Oklahoma, Oklahoma State
Projected other postseason tournament teams: Texas, West Virginia, Kansas State
Projected to miss the postseason: TCU, Texas Tech

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