Here is the Heartland College Sports Big 12 men’s basketball power rankings as of Dec. 14.
This is one of those weeks where there wasn’t much movement. COVID issues in several programs upended the schedule, especially at the end of the week. But more Big 12 play is on the way so hopefully we’ll get back to a steady schedule this week … oh wait. You’ll see in a second.
1. Baylor (4-0) (Last Week: 1)
Results this past week: def. Stephen F. Austin, 83-52;
Baylor started the week by losing a game against Nicholls State due to COVID-19 concerns in the Nicholls program, and then scheduling a game with Stephen F. Austin within 24 hours of it being played. SFA, of course, beat Duke last year (as an SFA alum I am obligated to mention that until the day I die). But the Bears pulled away in the second half, thanks to five players in double figures (Adam Flagler led with 14 points) and the Baylor defense forcing (gulp!) 34 turnovers (my concerns have been noted to SFA coach Kyle Keller). SFA is a team that plays defense much like Baylor does, but the Bears just overwhelmed SFA with their depth. It ended up being good preparation for Texas, the Bears’ Big 12 opener … which didn’t happen. On Saturday the Bears announced that due to a COVID-19 positive test within the program that their Big 12 opener with the Longhorns would be postponed. Additionally, the Bears postponed their non-conference game with Tarleton State, which was scheduled for Tuesday. But, even with just one game and one win, there’s little to dissuade me from keeping Baylor at No. 1. They are, at this point, the most ‘together’ team in the Big 12 and their backcourt, honestly, is the best in the country. Yeah, I just wrote that.
Now, as we move to the next tier, it’s clear that the difference between Kansas and West Virginia right now is, frankly, infinitesimal (look it up — I like big words, and I cannot lie). The Jayhawks and Mountaineers have the same record entering this week and with both take their bow into Big 12 play this week (and have a Dec. 22 matchup in Lawrence, Kansas), which allowed me to take a step back and re-evaluate going into this week. We should never be afraid to re-evaluate power rankings from week to week.
So my research took me to CBSSports.com and its RPI page, which ranks every team in the NCAA based on a variety of factors.
Kansas is 2-1 against Top 25 teams (loss to Gonzaga, wins over Kentucky and Creighton). The Jayhawks had an RPI of 47 as of Sunday, and the RPI’s for their opponents are as follows:
Gonzaga, 1; Saint Joseph’s 202; Kentucky, 219; Washburn (D-2), No RPI; North Dakota State, 189; Creighton, 83; Omaha, 143. One team currently has a sub-100 RPI. The average RPI for the six opponents that have one is 139.5.
West Virginia is 1-1 vs. Top 25 teams (loss to Gonzaga, win over Richmond). The Mountaineers had an RPI of 9 as of Sunday, and the RPI’s for their opponents are as follows:
South Dakota State, 125; Virginia Commonwealth, 46; Western Kentucky, 116; Gonzaga 1; Georgetown, 95; North Texas, 177; Richmond, 172. Three teams currently have a sub-100 RPI. The average RPI for the seven opponents is 104.
See what I mean? You have to dig deep to find the differences between these two teams. But one clear difference to this point is that West Virginia has played a slightly more difficult schedule (hey, who knew Kentucky would be so bad this year?). So thank goodness we get an early chance to do an on-court tiebreaker in less than 10 days. But, FOR NOW …
2. West Virginia (6-1) (Last Week: 3)
Results this past week: def. North Texas, 62-50; def. No. 19 Richmond, 87-71.
West Virginia slides up a spot this week, based on what I spotlighted above. They can hold over Kansas, at least for now, a slightly better opponent RPI and a much better RPI of their own (WVU was at No. 9 on Sunday while Kansas was at 47). West Virginia managed to get a two-game week, but it was tough. The Wednesday game with Robert Morris was canceled due to COVID-19 protocols within the Robert Morris program. The Mountaineers didn’t want to go without any prep before Richmond, so they managed to cobble together a home game with North Texas on Friday, one they won, 62-50. The Mountaineers appears to have some energy issues, and that led head coach Bob Huggins to bench his two big men, Derek Culver and Oscar Tshiebwe, for most of the first half. Culver ended up with 10 points and 10 rebounds, while Tshiebwe didn’t score a single point in 13 minutes, but he had 7 rebounds and 1 assist. The big winners for West Virginia that night were guards Sean McNeil (15 points) and Taz Sherman (13 points). Gabe Osabuohein had 9 rebounds. That served as a springboard game into a matchup with ranked Richmond on Sunday. There were NO energy issues against Richmond. The Mountaineers had a 22-point lead at the break. It was probably their best shooting game of the season (58.1 from the floor and 57.1 from the 3) while Miles McBride scored 20 points on 9-of-11 shooting. Culver produced another double-double (10 points, 11 rebounds), while Sherman had 15 off the bench. McNeil and Tshiebwe had 12 points each. The Mountaineers look primed for their Big 12 opener with Iowa State. After that, it’s on to Lawrence to face Kansas on Dec. 22. I suspect the Richmond win moves West Virginia into the AP Top 10 this week (they were No. 11 last week).
3. Kansas (6-1) (Last week: 2)
Results this past week: def. No. 8 Creighton, 73-72; def. Omaha, 95-50;
It’s kind of amazing that Kentucky is dragging down the Jayhawks’ RPI. I’ve already outlined why I’m sliding Kansas down a spot this week (it’s more about West Virginia than Kansas at this point). I’ve also made the point that we’re quibbling, based on how even I think Kansas and West Virginia are (have I mentioned that I can’t wait for that game on Dec. 22 so we can settle this, to some degree). But that’s 2020 for you. Kansas faced its second test against a ranked team in seven days against Creighton, and once again Jalen Wilson delivered. The redshirt freshman hit the 3-pointer that gave the Jayhawks the cushion they needed to withstand the Blue Jays in the final minute. But he also had another double-double with 10 rebounds. Two things were interesting to me in this game. First, David McCormack had a nice game inside (13 points, 7 rebounds). That’s exactly what Kansas needs from him each night but hasn’t gotten nearly enough of to this point. Second, Marcus Garrett didn’t hit double figures for the fourth straight game. But Garrett isn’t all about scoring and we know this. The Naismith Defensive Player of the Year is contributing on defense and in passing, too. But it may be time to acknowledge that this is Wilson’s team offensively, even at this early stage of the season, and that could help Garrett in the long-run. The game with Omaha on Friday saw four Jayhawks in double figures, led by Ochai Agbaji’s 18 points, and 13 Jayhawks hit the floor in a game Kansas led by 23 at the break. It was your typical mid-December happy mean (everyone gets one or two). Kansas had one other game scheduled with Tarleton State for Sunday, but the game was canceled after a COVID case was discovered within Tarleton’s program. Kansas has a tough start to Big 12 play when it faces Texas Tech this week.
4. Texas (4-1) (Last week: 4)
Results this past week: def. Texas State, 74-53.
Texas got in its final tune-up for the Baylor conference opener by dismantling Texas State. Freshman Greg Brown had a great game, scoring 18 points. But guards Courtney Ramey and Andrew Jones had 11 points each. Jericho Sims had one of his best games of the season to that point, scoring 8 points and grabbing 9 rebounds. The Texas shooting hash that night — 43.9/31.8/85.0 — is something the Longhorns will take every night (well, maybe a little better from the 3-point line). Texas didn’t get its shot at Baylor on Sunday, as it was hoping. Due to a COVID-19 positive within the Baylor program, the game was postponed. So we’ll hold the Longhorns steady at No. 4 right now. This team looks really together right now, something one would expect from a team that only has one new player on the roster (Brown).
5. Texas Tech (6-1) (Last week: 5)
Results this past week: def. Abilene Christian, 51-44; def. Texas A&M-Corpus Christi, 77-57.
Texas Tech had to flat out survive against ACU, as the Red Raiders shot 27.9 percent from the floor (double-checked that. It’s not a typo). Somehow the Red Raiders pulled this out with some good defense and timely shooting late in the game. Guard Kyler Edwards helped, too, with 19 points, 7 rebounds, 1 assist, 2 steals and 1 block. Just keep touching all five columns of the box score, already, Kyler. Nimari Burnett scored 10 off the bench. This game required the Red Raiders to overcome some significantly sub-par play, so call it a character-building win. The Red Raiders got it together against TAMU-CC, especially with a 20-4 turnover margin on the Islanders. Terrence Shannon Jr. showed up with 15 points, while Marcus Santos-Silva and Micah Peavy had 12 points each. The shooting was about 10 percent better than the ACU game. From here, Big 12 play begins and the Red Raiders start by taking their shot at Kansas. This Red Raiders team is undeniably talented and it’s starting to come together. But, like last year’s team, it may be January before we see this team’s steady-state ability in full.
6. Oklahoma State (6-0) (Last week: 6)
Results this past week: def. Oral Roberts, 83-78; def. Wichita State, 67-64.
The Oral Roberts game was a close one. ORU got a huge game from Max Ambas, as the guard had 36 points, 6 rebounds and 9 assists. But the Cowboys withstood the challenge. Cade Cunningham had a great game with 29 points. Keylan Boone didn’t hit double figures (he scored just 6 points), but he had 12 rebounds. Kalib Boone pitched in 11 points in the starting lineup. Matthew-Alexander Moncrieffe had 15 points off the bench. And, of course, guard Isaac Likekele had another intriguing line — 7 points, 8 rebounds, 2 assists. The win came on a night in which the Cowboys shot just 28.6 percent from the 3-point line and were outshot on made 3-pointers 16-4. But they exploited ORU for a plus-10 margin on the glass and a plus-6 margin on turnovers. Then the Cowboys went on the road and pulled out a win against a great Wichita State team. Cunningham only had 10 points in the game, but his last basket was a 3-pointer with 9 seconds left to win the game. It was an ice-cold jumper, too. Rondel Walker came off the bench to give the Cowboys big minutes, something he’s been doing a lot lately, while Likekele had another great game. The Cowboys appear ready for Big 12 action and the opener is this week against TCU. I’m not prepared to say that Oklahoma State is better than Texas Tech at this point, but the Cowboys are closing in.
7. Oklahoma (3–1, 1-0) (Last week: 7)
Results this past week: lost to Xavier, 99-77; def. Florida A&M, 85-54.
The loss to Xavier was a rough one, but there isn’t much you can do against a team that shoots 57.1 percent from the floor, 59.4 percent from the 3-point line and 80 percent from the free-throw line. I mean, that’s just a game where you have to tip your hat to the opponent and move on. Five Sooners were in double figures — Brady Manek (17 points), Austin Reaves (13), De’Vion Harmon (11), Alondes Williams (10) and Victor Iwuakor (10). The emergence of Iwuakor is significant for the Sooners, as they could use his size inside more consistently. The Sooners bounced back against Florida A&M, 85-54. The Sooners got plenty of players on the floor, and all five starters hit double figures — Kur Kuath (14 points), Reaves (12 points), Manek (10 points), Williams (10 points) and Harmon (10 points). Freshman Trey Phipps is developing into a nice piece off the bench, especially from behind the arc. OU stays at No. 7, largely on the back of its win over the team at No. 8.
8. TCU (5–2, 0-1) (Last week: 8)
Results this past week: lost to Providence, 79-70; def. Texas A&M, 73-55
TCU started the week with a nine-point loss to Providence, and did so in spite of the Horned Frogs shooting a blistering 60 percent from the floor. Most nights that will win you a game. But, Providence kept up, shooting 52.4 percent from the floor, outrebounded TCU by 13 and was plus-7 in turnover margin. No matter how hard TCU tried, they couldn’t close the game. RJ Nembhard had his best game of the season to that point — 25 points, 7 rebounds, 7 assists and 1 steal. I wrote in last week’s Power Rankings that the performance of freshman Mike Miles against Oklahoma may have earned him a spot starting nod over then-injured Chuck O’Bannon. Well, even though O’Bannon was back, Miles started and scored 20 points. Kevin Samuel had 10 points and 6 rebounds. Missing from that game was PJ Fuller, who has been steady for TCU this season. Fuller’s foot was in a boot during the game. The following game, against Texas A&M, Fuller was back, coming off the bench and scoring 13 points. The Horned Frogs were 43.5 percent from the 3-point line and Nembhard (16 points) and Miles (15 points) led the way. Samuel nearly had a double-double (8 points, 9 rebounds). This team’s top options are starting to solidify — Nembhard, Miles, Fuller and Samuel. The Horned Frogs could use a consistent fifth.
9. Iowa State (1-2) (Last week: 9)
Results this past week: lost to No. 3 Iowa, 105-77.
Iowa State’s only game of the week came against No. 3 Iowa, and it turned into a rout. When you play the No. 3 team in the nation, you have to slow down their best player, and the Cyclones couldn’t. Hawkeyes center Luka Garza had 34 points. Now, in the midst of this lopsided loss, a few Cyclones did have good games — Javan Johnson with 20 points, Rasir Bolton with 18 points, 5 rebounds and 5 assists, and Jalen Coleman-Lands with 17 points and 6 rebounds. The Cyclones slid transfer Tyler Harris out of the starting lineup and freshman Darlingstone Dubar into the starting lineup. Dubar’s only statistic was two turnovers. Harris had 8 points off the bench. So did freshman seven-footer Xavier Foster. Perhaps it is time to slide Foster into the starting lineup, go big, and see what happens. Iowa State only played one game this past week, but given K-State’ loss early last week, I just can’t drop the Cyclones into the bottom spot.
10. Kansas State (2–4) (Preseason Start: 10)
Results this past week: lost to Fort Hays State, 82-69; def. Milwaukee, 76-75.
Fort Hays State, based in Hays, Kansas, came right into Bramlage Coliseum and just pounded K-State. Now, historically Fort Hays State is a quality Division II program (yes, that’s right, Division II). The Tigers have won three national titles and are Top 10 all-time in wins. But these Tigers entered the game with three losses to Division II teams. And they just upended the Wildcats (at one point K-State was down 18). This shows just how far the Wildcats have to go this season. I don’t care how bad your D-I program might be. You simply shouldn’t lose to a D-II program. K-State should have done some soul searching after that. The Wildcats wrapped up the week with a one-point win over Milwaukee, which was playing its first game of the season. Junior Rudi Williams had a great game off the bench, scoring 16 points, with 4 rebounds and 3 assists. Four other K-State players hit double figures, including three freshmen — David Bradford with 18 points and 7 rebounds, Selton Miguel with 17 points, 3 rebounds and 1 assist, and Nijel Pack with 12 points, 6 rebounds and 5 assists. Only time will tell if head coach Bruce Weber will devote more time to the underclassmen as Big 12 play starts this week. With two injuries in the frontcourt, Weber doesn’t have much of a choice.
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