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Big 12 Basketball Power Rankings: Week 1

NCAA Basketball: Nicholls State at West Virginia

With the 2019-20 Big 12 Men’s Basketball season heading toward Big 12 play, here are the HeartlandCollegeSports.com power rankings as of Jan. 2. 

I had to take a few days off at the holiday, just like you did. In that time the Big 12 held steady with four teams in the Top 25 — Kansas (3), Baylor (6), West Virginia (16) and Texas Tech (22). Every team as a better than .500 record entering league action. But there was still some movement in our final power rankings before Big 12 play starts on Saturday. That means I’ll be on the road, covering the Texas-Baylor game on Saturday night. 

1. Baylor (Last rankings: 2)

The Bears may be ranked slightly lower than Kansas nationally, but the Bears, to me, are the conference’s most complete team right now. They’ve beaten three ranked teams, haven’t lost since the season’s first week, has looked dominant against the right teams and won close games against the ranked teams. It’s hard to find a weakness on this team at the moment. And I still think the best is coming from forward Tristan Clark, who is back after missing a couple of games with knee soreness. He played 19 minutes against Jackson State, scoring seven points and grabbing two rebounds. 

Next: The Bears host Texas in their Big 12 opener on Saturday.

2. Kansas (Last rankings: 1)

So, of course Kansas became the No. 1 team in the country after Texas Tech beat Louisville. And, of course, Kansas lost its next game to Villanova. Because it’s been that kind of season for whoever occupies the No. 1 spot. There is plenty to like about this team and the Jayhawks should be in contention for the regular-season title to the end of the league season in March. The Marcus Garrett injury worry was short-lived, as he returned for the Stanford game. KU is fully healthy going into Big 12 action. The engine scare during the team’s road trip to Stanford, thankfully, was only that – a scare. 

Next: Kansas hosts West Virginia to open Big 12 play on Saturday.  

 

3. West Virginia (Last rankings: 4)

All season for me it’s been “Yeah, but …” when it came to the Mountaineers. Why? Well the schedule wasn’t thrilling. No ranked teams. The best team the Mountaineers played and beat was Wichita State (and to be fair to the Mountaineers, the Shockers beat both Oklahoma and Oklahoma State). But it just felt like the Mountaineers hadn’t been tested, and I knew, even back in October, that test would come in Cleveland against Ohio State on Dec. 30. Well, the Mountaineers passed that exam by eight points. By beating the No. 2 team in the country, the Mountaineers proved beyond any doubt they’re a Big 12 contender now. That was the win they needed to show that to the entire country. Freshman guard Miles McBride led the way with 21 points, and that’s key. All season the attention has been on the frontcourt — Oscar Tshiebwe, Derek Culver and Emmitt Matthews Jr. — and rightly so. But McBride has done a terrific job as a true freshman of solidifying the Mountaineers’ backcourt, something that suffered last season with the departures of Jevon Carter and Daxter Miles Jr. In that sense, he’s been just as valuable as Tshiebwe. Bob Huggins has done a great job of balancing minutes in non-conference and keeping this team fresh for the rigors of Big 12 action. And it’s about to get rigorous.

Next: The Mountaineers are at Kansas on Saturday to open Big 12 play. 

4. Texas Tech (Last rankings: 3)

There is really nothing to be worried about at Texas Tech, from my perspective. Since the three-game losing streak the Red Raiders have won four straight, including a win over the nation’s No. 1 team at the time, Louisville. Jahmi’us Ramsey is back from injury. Four players are averaging double figures. Chris Clarke is a rebounding machine. TJ Holyfield has settled into a nice role inside. The Red Raiders slide back one spot this time around because, well, I had do move West Virginia up a spot after that win over Ohio State. Good news for the Red Raiders is they get a chance to balance that scale in about nine days in Morgantown. 

Next: Texas Tech hosts Oklahoma State in its Big 12 opener on Saturday.   

5. Texas (Last rankings: 5)

The Longhorns’ only losses to this point are to Big East teams — Georgetown and Providence. The Longhorns beat Purdue on the road, took care of Texas A&M on a neutral floor and are 1-0 against ranked teams. Right now they’re a Top 5 team in this conference, and the Longhorns’ guard combinations of Matt Coleman III, Andrew Jones, Jase Febres and Courtney Ramey are going to wear Big 12 teams out. All are averaging double figures and Coleman is shooting as well from the 3-point line as he is from the floor (47 percent). The only concern is inside. Jericho Sims has had a nice bounce-back season (8.8 points, 7.3 rebounds). But does Texas have the depth to bang around with the teams ahead of them in these power rankings? That’s what keeps me from nudging them higher.

Next: Texas travels to Baylor for its Big 12 opener on Saturday.  

6. Oklahoma (Last rankings: 8)

When all else fails, break the tie with head-to-head. Oklahoma beat Oregon State, which beat Iowa State. Oklahoma beat Minnesota, which beat Oklahoma State. By that nudge, I put Oklahoma at No. 6 this time around. To be fair, I think OU, OSU and ISU are right at the same level and the continued great play from Kristian Doolittle at forward makes these Sooners dangerous every night. Guard Austin Reaves gives the Sooners one of the best 3-point shooters in the conference and Brady Manek has really taken head coach Lon Kruger’s challenge to heart about being a more physical player. The place I worry is at point guard, where Jamal Bieniemy only has 2.8 assists per game. They’re distributing the facilitation right now (De’Vion Harmon and Reaves are also averaging at least two assists per game). We’ll see if that continues.

Next: The Sooners host Kansas State in their Big 12 opener on Saturday. 

 

7. Oklahoma State (Last rankings: 6)

I don’t like a team that isn’t on a good streak going into conference action, and that’s where Oklahoma State is right now. The Cowboys have lost three of their last five. Now, granted, the competition has been solid — losses to Georgetown, Wichita State and Minnesota. But, those losses were by an average of 15.3 points. That’s troubling. This could just be a trough — after all, OSU has wins over Syracuse, Ole Miss and Houston, the last of which was on the road. Plus, the Cowboys have five players averaging nine or more points per game. The emergence of guard Isaac Likekele as this team’s engine has been wonderful to watch. But it’s a chasm after that, in terms of contributions from the bench. The Cowboys don’t exactly get an easy start to Big 12 action, either, with two ranked teams in their way.

Next: The Cowboys open Big 12 play at Texas Tech on Saturday.

8. Iowa State (Last rankings: 8)

I actually had the Cyclones slightly ahead of the Cowboys before that loss to Florida A&M on New Year’s Eve. After that, I had to move the Cyclones back to No. 8. The Tyrese Halliburton show has been a blast to watch (he leads Iowa State in three of the five major statistical categories). A wrist injury forced Halliburton to miss the Florida A&M game, but he should be back for Big 12 action. But it’s the steadiness of forward Solomon Young, who has creeped up into double figures in scoring (10.2 ppg) that has really provided some ballast for this team. The physical nature of his play hasn’t translated into rebounds consistently yet, but I think that happens in Big 12 play. The emergence of Rasir Bolton and Prentiss Nixon as quality scoring options as helped on the perimeter, and Michael Jacobson as settled into the right role for himself in this offense. Six players are averaging more than nine points per game. Between their perimeter and interior play, the Cyclones may have the most balanced rotation of a team’s Top 6 players in the conference. 

Next: Iowa State opens Big 12 play at TCU on Saturday.  

9. Kansas State (Last rankings: 9)

K-State has me a little worried now. Losing three of your final five games is now how the Wildcats wanted to end 2019. Granted the losses were against quality teams — Marquette, Mississippi State and Saint Louis. But two of them were at home. The other two wins were against Alcorn State and Tulsa, and the win over the Golden Hurricane was by just two points. This is not the momentum head coach Bruce Weber was hoping for. By record, the Wildcats are the “worst” team in the Big 12 at 7-5. But we also know “worst” in the Big 12 is a relative term. The Wildcats still have Xavier Sneed and Cartier Diarra as their two leading scorers. Forward Makol Mawien is more of a factor now. And guard Mike McGuirl has developed a nice shot from distance (45 percent from the 3-point line thus far). Seven Wildcats are averaging 5 points or better per game. Hopefully the losses, all to quality opponents, has helped K-State prep for Big 12 action. 

Next: The Wildcats are at Oklahoma on Saturday. 

10. TCU (Last rankings: 10)

It looks good on paper, doesn’t it? The Horned Frogs are 9-3. Guard Desmond Bane is averaging 17.1 points and 7 rebounds per game. Guard RJ Nembhard has emerged as a legit third option. Center Kevin Samuel is a legit double-double threat every night. After that … hmmm. I worry that the Horned Frogs will have to lean on these three players too much. TCU is a guard-heavy team right now (Bane shouldn’t have to be their second-leading rebounder at 6-foot-6) and it will be interesting to see how players like Edric Dennis and Jaire Grayer handle Big 12 play. The biggest problem I see is that TCU is 0-3 against the Power 5 and the Big East. That doesn’t bode well for the gauntlet that is the Big 12. The future got a little brighter, though, as Jamie Dixon landed Lancaster (Texas) guard Mike Miles, a Top 150 player in the country.

Next: TCU opens Big 12 action Saturday against Iowa State. 

Note: Our next update will come on Jan. 6.

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