Here is the Heartland College Sports Big 12 men’s basketball power rankings as of Dec. 28.
Even though there were games only on Monday and Tuesday of last week, the Power Rankings saw a significant shuffle in the Top 4.
1. Baylor (6-0, 1-0) (Last Week: 1)
Results this past week: def. Arkansas-Pine Bluff, 99-42.
Baylor got stuffed on a ‘Happy Meal’ before taking off the rest of the week for the holiday. The Bears were up 55-12 at halftime. That gave head coach Scott Drew plenty of opportunities to play his entire roster, and it may be one of the last times he has that luxury. Ten players received at least 11 minutes of playing time and no starter played more than 28 minutes (MaCio Teague, who had 13 points). Jared Butler had 14 points and 7 assists. Off the bench, three players hit double figures — freshman guard L.J. Cryer (15 points), junior forward Matthew Mayer (12 points, 3 rebounds, 3 assists) and forward Jonathan Tchamwa Tchatchoua (10 points, 8 rebounds). At this point, the Bears have a set starting lineup — Butler, Teague, Davion Mitchell, Mark Vital and Flo Thamba. Tchamwa Tchatchoua is the first forward off the bench and Adam Flagler is the first guard off the bench. However, Flagler hasn’t been available for two games, which has given Cryer opportunities to shine. The Bears face Central Arkansas on Dec. 29 and added a home game with Alcorn State on Dec. 30. That’s back-to-back prep games before traveling to Iowa State on Saturday. And, if you’re interested, the Bears don’t face Kansas until Jan. 18.
2. Kansas (8-1, 2-0) (Last week: 3)
Results this past week: def. West Virginia, 79-65.
Kansas head coach Bill Self wanted more 3-point shooting, and that’s exactly what he got against the Mountaineers. The Jayhawks made 16 3’s and shot 37 overall (43.2 percent). They actually shot more 3’s than 2’s in the contest. The formula worked, especially in the second half when guard Christian Braun caught fire, as he made six 3-pointers and scored 22 points. Jalen Wilson (17 points) hit four 3’s, Ochai Agbaji (11 points) hit three 3’s and Marcus Garrett (15 points) hit three 3’s. But the real note to me was the play of David McCormack, who had been spotty to this point in the season. Against West Virginia’s dominant inside game he had 10 points, 11 rebounds and 3 assists. McCormack has now scored double digits in three of his last four games and has double-doubles in two of his last three games. If this is the kind of play the Jayhawks get from McCormack consistently in Big 12 action then the Jayhawks are going to be difficult to deal with. The bench still isn’t there yet — Bryce Thompson was the only bench player that scored (4 points) — and all five starters had at least 30 minutes. So Self still has to work through finding the right guys off the bench. But this starting lineup right now looks primed to contend for the top of the conference. They slide up a spot with the win, and the Jayhawks don’t play until Saturday against Texas. Speaking of the Longhorns…
3. Texas (6-1, 1-0) (Last week: 4)
Results this past week: No games.
We’ll never know, at least for now, how Texas would have done against Baylor, thanks to the Bears’ COVID pause right before their Big 12 opener. But the Longhorns move up a spot this week, in part because of the Mountaineers’ loss. But that’s not the only reason. The Longhorns have a tremendous team right now, and the fact that they didn’t play this week gives us a chance to take stock. Four Longhorns are in double figures right now — Matt Coleman III (13.9 ppg), Courtney Ramey (13.1 ppg), Greg Brown (12.5 ppg) and Andrew Jones (11.6 ppg). Brown, the well-regarded true freshman, also leads the Longhorns in rebounds with 7.5 per game, but Jericho Sims isn’t far behind at 6.0. Coleman and Ramey are averaging eight assists combined. Brown also leads the team in blocked shots with 1.5 per game. The Longhorns have nine different players that are averaging more than 10 minutes per game. The guard rotation of Coleman, Ramey and Jones now has significant help. The presence of Brown at forward gives the Longhorns something they haven’t had on the wing, and the combination of Sims and Kai Jones have the freedom to rebound, block shots and defend. This is a dangerous team and it’s probably the most balanced team Shaka Smart has ever fielded in Austin. Now the Longhorns have to prove they can challenge the Bears, the Jayhawks and the Mountaineers once we return to Big 12 action, and Texas gets its chance on Saturday against Kansas.
4. West Virginia (7-2, 1-1) (Last Week: 2)
Results this past week: lost to Kansas, 79-65.
Well this is not what the Mountaineers were hoping for in their first matchup with Kansas in Big 12 action. Allen Fieldhouse remains the code head coach Bob Huggins can’t crack. But this game wasn’t about Huggins. It was about a horrible second half by the Mountaineers who clearly struggled with their shooting and their defense in the final 20 minutes, being outscored 44-29. That overshadowed a hot first half for WVU guard Sean McNeil, who hit six 3-pointers en route to 20 first-half points, but he ended up with just 24 for the game. Miles McBride had 19 points, but like the rest of the team he struggled in the second half. The most notable piece of the game for me was the inside play, which for the first time this season really struggled across the board. Derek Culver had 8 points and 8 rebounds, but had difficulty being a factor. Gabe Osabuohein had 8 rebounds and 5 assists, but no points. Oscar Tshiebwe is in a significant slump, has he played just 18 minutes and scored only 3 points and had 5 rebounds. That’s not an isolated thing right now. Tshiebwe has struggled for the past few weeks. Osabuohein has helped the Mountaineers pick up that slack. But the goal for the next week has to be solving Tshiebwe’s ineffectiveness because WVU needs his clout in Big 12 action. With the loss, WVU falls two spots this week. But don’t expect them to stay there very long. The Mountaineers host Northeastern on Tuesday and resume Big 12 action at Oklahoma on Saturday.
5. Texas Tech (7–2, 1-1) (Last week: 5)
Results this past week: def. Oklahoma, 69-67.
For the second straight time, the Red Raiders had a game in Big 12 play decided by a basket or less. This time, the Red Raiders managed to win the game, defeating Oklahoma by two points. Sometimes you have to get a bit lucky, and the Red Raiders were in this case, escaping the Sooners’ furious last-minute comeback. The Red Raiders seem to have a ‘Big Three’ now — Terrence Shannon Jr. (21 points), Mac McClung (16 points, 4 assists) and Marcus Santos-Silva (18 points, 7 rebounds). This sort of production from Santos-Silva is exactly why head coach Chris Beard had hoped for from the former Virginia Commonwealth standout. After some minor bumps, he’s emerging as a solid piece inside. Micah Peavy did not have a good game in this one, as he failed to score a point. Those bumps are expected from a true freshman. The interesting piece in this game was moving Kyler Edwards to the bench in favor of transfer guard Jamarius Burton. Neither had a particularly good game, but after Edwards failed to score a point against Kansas, this might have been Beard’s way of seeing if a different starting lineup might yield a different outcome. Burton had 6 points. Edwards had 3 points (but 9 rebounds). The Red Raiders need both to be competitive in the Big 12. They hold steady here for another week. The Red Raiders host Incarnate Word on Tuesday and resume Big 12 action on Saturday against Oklahoma State in Lubbock.
6. Oklahoma (5–2, 1-1) (Last week: 6)
Results this past week: lost to Texas Tech, 69-67.
This was an odd game for the Sooners, who probably shouldn’t have been as close as they were to the Red Raiders down the stretch. But they were a tip-in away from sending it to overtime. Austin Reaves missed that tip-in, and while he scored 13 points, he really didn’t get going until the final 10 minutes of the second half. Guard De’Vion Harmon probably had the best overall game, scoring 17 points. Umoja Gibson scored 10 points off the bench. But the awfully interesting piece of this game for the Sooners was Victor Iwuakor, who played 25 minutes off the bench and scored 8 points and grabbed 10 rebounds. That’s the kind of development head coach Lon Kruger has been hoping for. The development he couldn’t have liked was Brady Manek’s awful night — 2 points and 2 rebounds in 23 minutes. Let’s hope that’s just a one-game blip because the Sooners have a huge stretch coming up in Big 12 play — the next three games are against West Virginia (Jan. 2), Baylor and Kansas. Right now, the Sooners stay at No. 6, in part because their league win is over the team at No. 7.
7. TCU (7–2, 1-1) (Last week: 7)
Results this past week: def. North Dakota State, 89-82.
The Horned Frogs have the potential to be a really interesting team in Big 12 action, in part because of the rise of freshman guard Mike Miles. He had 26 points against North Dakota State, and this is the third time in five games in which he has scored at least 20 points. His rise has given the Horned Frogs a second perimeter weapon to go along with RJ Nembhard, who had 22 points, 6 rebounds and 5 assists. Center Kevin Samuel had 14 points, 6 rebounds and 4 assists. If this is going to be their ‘Big Three’ moving forward, then it’s time to dig into other players can help the Horned Frogs. Keep an eye on Kevin Easley (11 rebounds against NDSU), PJ Fuller (who is emerging as a fine defensive presence) and Taryn Todd (8 points in just 13 minutes off the bench). Combine in Jaedon Ledee and Chuck O’Bannon and the Horned Frogs have a solid 8-player rotation entering January. This team is going to make life difficult for the Top 5 in the conference. TCU added Prairie View A&M to its schedule for Wednesday, and then resume Big 12 action Saturday at Kansas State.
8. Oklahoma State (6-2, 0-2) (Last week: 8)
Results this past week: No games.
The Cowboys hold steady, despite not having a game this past week. Frankly, they’re more talented than the two teams below them there, and part of that is evident by a roster that has some of the most balanced scoring in the Big 12. Yes, Cade Cunningham (19.1 ppg) and Isaac Likekele (10.1 ppg) lead the team, but the next seven players on the roster are averaging at least six points per game. It’s brilliant the depth that head coach Mike Boynton Jr. has cultivated in just a month, and that will come in handy in Big 12 action. And, while the Cowboys have two Big 12 losses, they’re by a combined four points. This team isn’t going anywhere. The Cowboys are off until resuming Big 12 action on Saturday at Texas Tech.
9. Kansas State (4–5, 1-1) (Last week: 9)
Results this past week: def. Jacksonville, 70-46.
This was a nice way for the Wildcats to go into the holiday, not only with a win but with wins in two of their final three games before the break. Two freshmen, Davion Bradford and Selton Miguel, played less than 20 minutes against Jacksonville, and that seemed to open up time off the bench for Antonio Gordon, Rudi Williams and the return of Carlton Linguard Jr., who can give the Wildcats some help inside. The Wildcats shot nine percent better from the floor than Jacksonville and were plus-23 on the glass. Giving up 19 turnovers to Jacksonville’s 17 turnovers probably rankled head coach Bruce Weber. Still, guard Nijel Pack set a new season high with 16 points, along with 6 rebounds and 5 assists. DaJuan Gordon had another double-double, scoring 13 points and grabbing 12 rebounds. Senior guard Mike McGuirl scored 12 points and had 7 assists. Linguard had a promising return with 7 points and 3 rebounds in just 11 minutes. The Wildcats aren’t at full-strength just yet. But it’s not time for Weber to turn his back on his young starting lineup. I feel that Bradford, Miguel and Pack have earned the right to remain starters, even with the return of Linguard (also a freshman) and the expected return of Kaosi Ezeaku. Weber should see how far he can get with this group once the break ends. The Wildcats’ only remaining tune-up before Big 12 play resumes is against Omaha on Dec. 29. After that the Wildcats host TCU on Saturday.
10. Iowa State (2-4, 0-2) (Last week: 10)
Results this past week: No games.
Iowa State had a game with Chicago State scheduled for Dec. 22 but the game was canceled because Chicago State didn’t have enough players. In the release, Cyclones head coach Steve Prohm indicated that the program looked forward to taking the floor next against Baylor on Jan. 2. The Cyclones don’t have a tune-up scheduled before resuming Big 12 play. This does give us a chance to take stock of the Cyclones, who are led by guard Rasir Bolton (15.7 ppg), transfer guard Jalen Coleman-Lands (13.5 ppg) and senior forward Solomon Young (10.8 ppg). All three are the Cyclones’ Top 3 rebounders, too. Guard Javan Johnson has turned in some nice games as well and is averaging 9.8 ppg. Tyler Harris lost his starting job to Darlinstone Dubar, but Harris continues to play more minutes off the bench. What the Cyclones need right now is to commit more time to youngsters like Xavier Foster, Jaden Walker and Dudley Blackwell. The Cyclones have just seven players averaging more than 10 minutes per game, and five of them are averaging at least 25 minutes per game. The depth isn’t there, and with just six games the Cyclones haven’t had the time to cultivate it, something they would have had 10-12 games to do in a ‘normal’ season. Right now, there’s no question the Cyclones are bringing up the rear in the league.