We are now three weeks into the conference schedule and were starting to see some separation at the top of the conference. As we all expected going into conference play, Kansas, Missouri and Baylor have serparated themselves from the rest of the pack and should be competing at the end for the conference title. I think the Big 12 is a little down this year but I still think they get five teams in the NCAA tournament.
1. Kansas (16-3, 6-0)
As a Missouri guy, I hate to say it but Kansas just doesn't have down years. Everybody was saying all year that this was the least talented Jayhawks team in many years and that they were going to struggle to compete for another Big 12 title. Well here we are six games into the conference schedule and the Jayhawks are undefeated and are by themselves at the top of the conference. Tyshawn Taylor has been huge for Kansas averaging 19.8 points and 5.0 assists per game in conference play. I said it earlier in the year that Thomas Robinson might be the best player in the country but Taylor was the most important for Kansas if they wanted to win another conference championship. That's really showing up now and Kansas is starting to look like a legit Top 10 team.
2. Missouri (18-1, 5-1)
Missouri's road win against Baylor on Saturday was the first time since 1994 that the Tigers have beat a Top 5 team on the road. It was also very important to show that Missouri could beat great teams even if they are undersized. Missouri actually out rebounded Baylor which nobody would have believed going into the game. In a radio interview this morning Kim English said it perfectly. "Rebounding is not all about size. It's about effort." It's obvious coach Frank Haith has established that mindset into the players as they rank No. 3 in the conference in rebounding margin during conference play. I still think their lack of depth could be an issue in some games but I think it's clear that Missouri will be competing for a Big 12 title at the end of the season.
3. Baylor (17-2, 4-2)
It was a tough week for the Baylor Bears. After starting 17-0, the Bears went 0-2 last week getting blown out at Kansas and then losing at home to Missouri. Baylor averages 79.5 points per game in conference play which leads the conference but their defense is struggling. Their defense has given up 71.8 points per game in conference play and they rank No. 5 in rebounding which isn't good enough for a team with as much size as Baylor. The Bears have four players averaging over 13 points per game in conference play and I still think they are the most talented team in the conference but I need to see more aggressiveness out of Perry Jones III before I'll be convinced that Baylor can catch Kansas or Missouri.
4. Kansas State (14-4, 3-3)
Now is the time for the Wildcats to make a run and get back towards the top of the Big 12 conference. Starting last Saturday, five of their next six games are against teams in the bottom half of the conference. If Kansas State can be 7-4 or better in conference play at the end of that stretch then I think they would have separated themselves from Iowa State and Texas. Rodney McGruder has been on fire in conference play averaging 21.8 points and 6.5 rebounds per game.
5. Iowa State (14-5, 4-2)
Right now I think the Big 12 gets five teams in the tournament and at this moment Iowa State is that fifth team. The Cyclones RPI ranking is No. 53 and they still lack a real quality win but if they can finish above .500 in the conference I think they will be selected as an at-large team. One thing that could hurt Iowa State in close games is their free throw shooting. The Cyclones are shooting a Big 12's worst 60.8 percent from the free throw line. Royce White handles the ball a majority of the time for Iowa State but only shoots 53 percent from the free throw line which is a concern for me. If I'm coaching against the Cyclones, I'm making White beat me from the line.
6. Texas (12-7, 2-4)
The Texas Longhorns are currently in a brutal stretch of their conference schedule as they have played at Missouri, at Kansas State, and at home against Kansas in their last three games. Unfortunately it doesn't get much easier as they play this week at home against Iowa State and at Baylor. It's very possible that the Longhorns could be 2-7 in conference play at the end of January. If that's the case I think it's almost safe to say they will not make the NCAA Tournament.
7. Texas A&M (11-7, 2-4)
I went ahead and put Texas A&M over Oklahoma in this week's power ranking since they beat the Sooners on Saturday in OT. I think the Sooners and Aggies are pretty even but it wouldn't surprise me if Oklahoma finished ahead of Texas A&M in the end. I said it throughout non-conference play and it continues to be a problem for Texas A&M, they can't score. The Aggies average 58.7 points per game in Big 12 play which ranks No. 9 in the conference. Elston Turner leads Texas A&M with 15.5 points and 6.3 rebounds per game in conference play. The Aggies have a tough game tonight at Kansas but then have a winnable game Saturday at home against Oklahoma State.
8. Oklahoma (12-6, 2-4)
The Sooners have struggled so far in conference play and it's about to get even harder. Oklahoma's next five games will be against the Top 5 teams in the Big 12 standings. Two of those games will be back-to-back road games at Kansas State and Kansas. Andrew Fitzgerald has stepped up in conference play and leads the Sooners with 15.3 points per game. The Sooners have struggled on defense allowing 73 points per game in conference play which is last in the conference. I like what Lon Kruger is doing in Norman but it's going to be another year or two before Oklahoma is finishing in the top half of the conference.
9. Oklahoma State (9-10, 2-4)
The Cowboys got off to a 2-1 start in conference play but have since lost three straight. One of their losses was on a last second three-pointer at Iowa State. Keiton Page has led the Cowboys in conference play with 17.2 points and 2.67 assists per game. Oklahoma State has a big home game this week against Missouri and then travels to Texas A&M on Saturday. Outside of the Baylor game, Oklahoma State has been competitive in Big 12 play but I think they are going to struggle to finish better than No. 9 in the conference.
10. Texas Tech (7-11, 0-6)
I'm not going to spend a lot of time on Texas Tech. They are a terrible basketball team this year and there's not much else you can say about them. The Red Raiders average scoring margin through six Big 12 games is -17 and they are last in conference play shooting 35 percent from the field. We're getting close to the point of whether or not Tech will win a game in conference play. I think they find a way to win one or two games but there's no doubt that the Red Raiders will finish 10th in the conference.