Here is the Heartland College Sports Big 12 men’s basketball power rankings as of January 4th, 2020.
This week’s power rankings feature the biggest shake-up of the season to this point. Yes, Baylor is still No. 1. But, as for the rest? Every team between Nos. 2 and 8 moved up or down. And the flux is a powerful reminder that the Big 12 is the country’s most competitive conference, top to bottom.
1. Baylor (9-0, 2-0) (Last Week: 1)
Results this past week: def. Central Arkansas, 93-56; def. Alcorn State, 105-76; def. Iowa State, 76-65.
Baylor won its two mid-week games and rather handily at that. Playing Central Arkansas, five players ended up in double figures, and the big news was the return of Adam Flagler, who had missed the previous two games before Christmas. Flagler had 10 points off the bench. But the Bears had four other players in double figures — MaCio Teague (20), Jared Butler (17), Matthew Mayer (13) and Jonathan Tchamwa Tchatchoua (13). JTT — that’s what I’m going to start calling him on second reference from now on — also had 11 rebounds. Davion Mitchell had 12 assists. The Bears kept the good times right on rolling against Alcorn State the next day. Six players hit double figures, including Mitchell, who had a double-double with 10 points and 10 rebounds. Teague had 18, Butler had 17 and Mayer had 14. A couple of freshmen played well too, including Zach Loveday with 10 points and Jordan Turner. That may be the most we hear from Loveday and Turner the rest of the season, barring injuries. Baylor had to fight off Iowa State, as they struggled at times shooting the ball (and Iowa State played a good game across the board). Jared Butler was one of four Bears in double figures with 21 points, but he worked hard for it. So did the rest of the team. I didn’t enter the Big 12 season thinking the Bears would go undefeated. They just won’t. But this is the charm of Big 12 play. The team that brought up the rear in our Power Rankings last week pushed the No. 1 team in our power rankings for a good 36 minutes before sputtering. The Bears are still the favorite to win this league. But they’re going to get everyone’s best shot every game.
2. Texas (8-1, 2-0) (Last week: 3)
Results this past week: def. Kansas, 84-59.
There is no question that Texas had to move up a spot this week (and the way the Baylor-Iowa State game was going, I was wondering if it was going to be two spots for a little while). These Longhorns look different this season. Part of that is Greg Brown, the Top 10 recruit who has had a solid start to the season. But he wasn’t much of a factor against Kansas, as he scored just 5 points and had 5 rebounds. When I talked with our HCS owner Pete Mundo for his weekly radio show, I talked about the balance Texas has now, and it was evident against the Jayhawks. With Courtney Ramey, Matt Coleman III and Andrew Jones all threats to hit double figures every game (and all three did against Kansas), you have to devote three legitimate perimeter defenders to handle them. So that means you can’t pack the paint to handle starter Jericho Sims (who had a double-double on Saturday) or sixth man Kai Jones inside (and Jones has the moxie to stretch you with the dribble on the perimeter). That presents matchup problems for opponents. Plus, the Longhorns the role players to roll in to help. What they did to Kansas wasn’t a one-off and it wasn’t lucky. It was the Longhorns telling the rest of college basketball that this season will be different in Austin.
3. Kansas (8–2, 2–1) (Last week: 2)
Results this past week: lost to Texas, 84-59.
Kansas only drops a spot after the loss to Texas, which was the worst loss at Allen Fieldhouse in the Bill Self era (and tied for the worst home loss of all-time). So, why only a spot? Well, when you see what happened behind Kansas, you’ll understand part of the rationale. This team isn’t going to drop out of the AP Top 10 with the loss to Texas, nor is it suddenly going to implode. It’s too talented to do that, led by Jalen Wilson (led the Jayhawks with 20 points), Christian Braun, Ochai Agbaji and Marcus Garrett. The real issue the Jayhawks have — besides spotty 3-point shooting — is their inability to defend the rim. No one expects David McCormack to be Udoka Azubuike, but his play has been inconsistent all season, and on Saturday Texas, along with Self going to a small lineup, rendered him a non-factor — 8 points and 5 rebounds in 14 minutes. The points are, honestly, irrelevant. The Jayhawks have the points. Kansas needs McCormack to get closer to double-digit rebounds per game (he’s averaging 6.0 per game) and be a better rim defender. If he can do that, the Jayhawks have a potential Final Four team. If he can’t, they’ll be vulnerable to teams like Texas that have great length and multiple big men inside. And McCormack has to come through because, frankly, the Jayhawks don’t appear to have any other options at the moment.
4. Oklahoma (6-2, 2-1) (Last week: 6)
Results this past week: def. West Virginia, 75-71.
We have to give Oklahoma some props here for defeating West Virginia. Nearly two weeks after falling just short to Texas Tech at home, the Sooners cleansed themselves with a huge 29-point game from Umoja Gibson, who hit eight 3-pointers. The Sooners struggled with their starting lineup until West Virginia closed the gap, and then De’Vion Harmon (10 points) and Austin Reaves (13 points) came out of the shadows to do enough to help the Sooners win. This is a team that has great potential, with enough length inside to give teams fits and enough perimeter scoring and defense to give the Sooners great balance. The real question is Brady Manek, who had his second-straight sub-par game, though to be fair his performance against West Virginia (7 points, 6 rebounds, 3 assists) was better than his performance against Texas Tech. If Manek can get it going, then this team becomes a real problem to deal with. Based on the past two or three games, there isn’t much difference between the Sooners at No. 4 and our teams falling all the way down to No. 8. That means there could be plenty of shuffling in this area in the weeks to come. But for the moment, the Sooners appear to be the team that’s playing the best of that bunch.
5. TCU (9-2, 2-1) (Last week: 7)
Results this past week: def. Prairie View A&M, 66-61; def. Kansas State, 67-60.
A hastily-scheduled game with one SWAC opponent to replace the cancellation of a game against another SWAC opponent certainly tested the Horned Frogs at mid-week. But perhaps that was because Jamie Dixon started an interesting starting lineup — Kevin Easley, Kevin Samuel, Taryn Todd, Mike Miles and PJ Fuller. So there was no RJ Nembhard for that one, but the Horned Frogs pulled it out, thanks to a double-double from Samuel — 12 points and 14 rebounds. Easley scored 14 points, and Miles had a whale of a game — 18 points, 9 rebounds and 6 assists. I’m quite interested to see how Miles withstands the rigors of Big 12 play. Nembhard was out for the Prairie View game with a groin injury. Then the Horned Frogs shot better than 60 percent from the floor in the first half against Kansas State and hung on to win, 67-60. Nembhard returned and had a great game, scoring 21 points. Kevin Samuel scored just 4 points, but he had 10 rebounds and defended the rim well. One key difference between Samuel and Kansas’ David McCormack is that even if Samuel’s scoring isn’t there, the defense and rebounding is. The Horned Frogs have developed a solid nine-player rotation now, and it came in handy against the pesky Wildcats. They move up two spots this week, but they’ll have to work hard to keep the spot.
6. West Virginia (8-3, 1-2) (Last Week: 4)
Results this past week: def. Northeastern, 73-51; lost to Oklahoma, 75-71.
The Northeastern game was notable for the resurgence of Oscar Tshiebwe, who was in a slump doing into the holidays. He played only 21 minutes against Northeastern, but he ended up with 12 points and 15 rebounds on 6-of-9 shooting. And then it became notable because it was the last game of Tshiebwe’s career at West Virginia. The other negative from that Northeastern game? The injury to freshman Isaiah Cottrell. The talented forward is now out for the season with an Achilles injury. Also against Northeastern, Derek Culver had 18 points and Emmitt Matthews Jr. had 13 points (a development that was also positive for the Mountaineers). Redshirt freshman Jalen Bridges directly benefited in playing time. He played 17 minutes against the Huskies. The problem with grading the Mountaineers after Saturday is that they’ve played one game with Tshiebwe, which was a loss to Oklahoma. Bridges had a fine game in his first start (19 points), Matthews had another fine game (11 points) and Taz Sherman came off the bench to pour in 19 points. But Culver found himself in foul trouble and the Mountaineers went from being down 18 at halftime to tying the game, but ultimately losing it. I loved the moxie, but they’re a team in flux right now and, until they figure that out, two losses in their last four games means the Mountaineers have to drop.
7. Oklahoma State (7-2, 1-2) (Last week: 8)
Results this past week: def. Texas Tech, 82-77 (OT).
The Cowboys played just one game, and it was a big one, as they got their first Big 12 win of the season, beating Texas Tech on the road in overtime. What stood out in this game was that freshman Cade Cunningham wasn’t the dominant force. He shot 3-for-12 from the field and scored 13 points (with 4 rebounds, 4 assists and 4 steals). But this team is far more than Cunningham. Point guard Isaac Likekele, Avery Anderson III and Bryce Williams, the last of which is another true freshman, all hit double figures in scoring. The bench came through with 16 points. And the Cowboys made some great plays down the stretch. Oklahoma State hasn’t been out of a single Big 12 game to this point, and even though they lost their first two, they played well. With their NCAA probation appeal still in progress, head coach Mike Boynton Jr. has the carrot of a potential NCAA Tournament berth to dangle in front of this team.
8. Texas Tech (8–3, 1–2) (Last week: 5)
Results this past week: def. Incarnate Word, 79-51; lost to Oklahoma State, 82-77 (OT).
Yes, the Red Raiders took a steep drop in this week’s Power Rankings. I don’t expect them to stay this close to the bottom for long, and it probably seems incongruous with the fact that they’ll likely be in the Top 25 this week. But the Red Raiders have now lost two of their first three Big 12 games, and they had to steal one in Norman to get that win. Thing is, they’re a talented bunch and the adjustments that head coach Chris Beard has made in the past couple of games — namely moving Kyler Edwards to the bench and getting Nimari Burnett more playing time — will pay off. Edwards is still getting starter’s minutes, and giving Burnett the type of time he got against Oklahoma State (22 minutes) is going to accelerate his development. Sliding Kevin McCullar into the starting lineup, now that he’s healthy, will, eventually help the Red Raiders be an eight- or nine-deep team. The problem with Tech right now is that they’re having trouble closing the deal. Their three losses are quality losses. But they’re losses nonetheless, which means the Red Raiders have some soul-searching to do. The good news is they have a great coach in Beard and the talent to figure it out.
9. Kansas State (5–6, 1-2) (Last week: 9)
Results this past week: def. Omaha, 60-58; lost to TCU, 67-60.
HCS Contributor Joe Mathieu and I had a conversation about K-State during their loss to TCU on Saturday. He said that the fan base is weary of the reboots the program has undergone under Bruce Weber (and I’m paraphrasing a bit here). So, he’s looking at it through the lens of Weber’s long career at K-State. I’m looking at this team through the lens of this season, and this team is incredibly young, but picking up steam. The Wildcats started the week by getting back to .500 by slipping by Omaha. At one point the Wildcats were down by 11 points, but in the final 10 seconds a 3-pointer by freshman Selton Miguel lifted the Wildcats to the win. That was a great building moment for this young team, which continues to start three true freshmen. Senior Mike McGuirl led the way with 13 points, while Miguel scored 11 points. Davian Bradford, another true freshman, had 10 rebounds, along with sophomore DaJuan Gordon. With the play of Carlton Linguard Jr. and Rudi Williams off the bench, the Wildcats appeared to have a solid 7-man rotation moving back into Big 12 action. Then on Saturday against TCU the Wildcats had no Antonio Gordon, got Montavious Murphy back, fell behind by double digits early and came back furiously to nearly overtake TCU. DaJaun Gordon had 18 points, Bradford had 14 points and 9 rebounds, McGuirl had 13 points and Nijel Pack had 12. They’re going to have games like this, where they come up just short despite good play. But the development is definitely happening. But here’s my one quibble — Weber leaned on six players on Saturday. That’s a habit he’s had during his time in Manhattan, and he needs to get out of it. Leaning on just six players, when there are nine or 10 that need the development, won’t help the program long-term.
10. Iowa State (2–5, 0-3) (Last week: 10)
Results this past week: lost to Baylor, 76-65.
The Cyclones don’t budge from the bottom this week. They only played one game, but it was a good game for nearly 40 minutes. The Cyclones shot as well in a game as they’ve shot all season, played some solid defense and had four players in double figures, led by Javan Johnson’s 17 points. Solomon Young had a great game — 15 points and 4 rebounds — before fouling out. Rasir Bolton added 14 points and Jalen Coleman-Lands had 12 points. This was a very good effort for the Cyclones, similar to the effort on the road against West Virginia in their Big 12 opener a few weeks ago. But it’s time for the Cyclones to tweak a couple of things. First, I don’t understand the attraction of Darlinstone Dubar in the starting lineup. His playing time isn’t consistent and I think he would benefit from getting time off the bench. Slide Tre Jackson (who just returned from an injury) in there and give him some run. He played 36 minutes against Baylor, and while he only scored 3 points, there was something the Cyclones must have liked out of having him on the floor. Perhaps with Jackson back that moves Dubar out of the starting five. Or, get Xavier Foster out there more, the 7-foot freshman. He didn’t play against Baylor and I can’t tell why (I see no stories of injuries out there). The Cyclones are unlikely to reach the NCAA Tournament, or even the NIT, this year. At least Foster gives the Cyclones a matchup that might benefit them. Plus, he gets playing time to develop.
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