The Baylor Bears lead off the Heartland College Sports Big 12 men’s basketball power rankings as of Jan. 18.
COVID-19 destroyed the Big 12 schedule last week, as just five games were played. This week, one game is already postponed. So, this week’s power rankings are … unusual. For this week, any team that DIDN’T play at all last week is included at the bottom and NOT ranked. I didn’t feel it was fair to move a team up or down if they didn’t play. So, if you’re looking for Iowa State and West Virginia, you’ll find them at the bottom. Once those programs play again (and it’s going to be a bit), they will enter the Power Rankings where they left.
1. Baylor (12-0, 5-0) (Last Week: 1)
Results this past week: vs. West Virginia, postponed; def. Texas Tech, 68-60
The Bears started the week by learning that their highly-anticipated game with West Virginia would be postponed due to COVID-19 issues in the Mountaineers’ program. The Saturday game with Texas Tech was, by far, Baylor’s toughest game of the season, but the Bears managed to prevail. It was the Bears’ first win of the season by fewer than 10 points, and they’ll need to get used to that as they get into the teeth of Big 12 play. Jared Butler had an off-game, scoring just 7 points (and that’s the second time in two weeks that’s happened). But Baylor’s depth at guard is immense and someone always picks up the slack. This time it was Davion Mitchell (19 points), Adam Flagler (15 points) and MaCio Teague (12 points). This is what makes the Bears so hard to deal with. The Red Raiders showed the Bears are vulnerable. The Bears showed they have the goods to shore up those vulnerabilities. The Bears will lose a league game at some point (it could be Monday when Baylor plays Kansas). But, right now, they remain the conference’s No. 1 team.
After Baylor, with the events of this past week, the Power Rankings get, well, weird. I have to keep reminding myself that Power Rankings are about where we are NOW, and where I think we’ll end up in March. With that in mind, and the emphasis that I’ve tried to put on head-to-head this season, the next few spots feature some significant movement.“ ”
2. Texas Tech (11-4, 4-3) (Last week: 5)
Results this past week: def. Texas, 79-77; lost to Baylor, 68-60.
The Red Raiders started the week by sending Texas to its first Big 12 loss, and the Red Raiders had to overcome a sluggish first 30 minutes of the game to do it. No matter what the Red Raiders tried they couldn’t slow down the Longhorns’ offense until the final 10 minutes. It was a combination of Tech’s vaunted defense and some conservative offensive play from the Longhorns. Mac McClung did the game-winning honors in the final seconds. The Red Raiders weren’t as lucky against Baylor, falling by eight points, 68-60. But the Red Raiders held the Bears to their fewest points of the season to this point. McClung had another great game. But I felt the Red Raiders were a bit too reliant on McClung in that game. Plus, their 3-point shooting hurt them once again. But, by sending Texas to its first Big 12 loss, I have to move the Red Raiders up, and it’s all the way to No. 2 when you consider how the rest of the results shook out this week. While I don’t feel certain No. 2 is where the Red Raiders will end up when it’s all said and done, that win over Texas was the ‘signature win’ the Red Raiders needed.
3. Texas (11-2, 5-1) (Last week: 2)
Results this past week: lost to Texas Tech, 79-77; def. Kansas State, 82-67.
Texas started the week by absorbing its first Big 12 loss to Texas Tech. Now, I wasn’t under the illusion that the Longhorns would go through Big 12 play without a loss. And there’s no shame in losing to a Top 15 team in Tech. Texas played well in this game, but it did expose a couple of things to work on. First, the Longhorns started playing conservative in the final 10 minutes. Texas shot better than 50 percent for 30 minutes, but Tech’s defense wore them down. Texas’ shot selection wasn’t that great down the stretch, either. Second, the Longhorns’ interior defense needs to be just a bit better, especially against mobile forwards.
But Texas may have some issues to deal with this coming week. Three players — forwards Greg Brown, Kai Jones and Brock Cunningham — missed the Kansas State game and were taken out of the game less than half an hour before tipoff. No reason was given at the time, but afterward we learned it was COVID-related. The Longhorns won the game easily, but Texas and Iowa State won’t play on Wednesday due to COVID-19 protocols.
4. Oklahoma State (9-3, 3-3) (Last week: 7)
Results this past week: def. Kansas, 75-70; vs. Oklahoma, postponed.
Oklahoma State showed some growth this past week, though the Cowboys had to put their fans through the wringer again to do it. OSU gave up a 16-point lead to Kansas in the second half on Tuesday, but the Cowboys’ young players made some big plays down the stretch to claim the win, their biggest of the season. Their most experienced player, junior guard Isaac Likekele, hit a game-tying 3-pointer, too. This game was played eight days after the Cowboys blew a 19-point lead to West Virginia and lost. So, that’s growth for this young team, and when you consider that the vast majority of the roster will return next year, learning how to deal with losing that kind of a lead, but finding a way to win, represents growth. Now, the next piece is to STOP losing those leads. With the victory, I had to move Oklahoma State past Kansas in the power rankings. But I suspect this will be a one-week bump. COVID-19 ended the Cowboys’ week. OSU’s COVID-19 pause postponed its game with OU on Saturday, and its Jan. 19 game with West Virginia was already postponed due to the Mountaineers’ COVID-19 pause.
5. Kansas (10-3, 4-2) (Last week: 3)
Results this past week: lost to Oklahoma State, 75-70. Vs. Iowa State, postponed.
The great news for the Jayhawks is that forward David McCormack looks like he’s here to stay. He had another great performance, this time against Oklahoma State — 24 points and 12 rebounds. He’s now averaging 20.7 points in his last three games. But the problem right now is that, outside of Ochai Agbaji, the Jayhawks can’t hit 3-pointers. The Jayhawks shot just 23.8 percent from the arc in their loss to Oklahoma State, and head coach Bill Self has been saying for weeks that the Jayhawks need to shoot better from distance. The final score was deceptive. The Jayhawks had to come back from 16 down, and while that’s laudable, it makes you wonder just how consistent they can be moving forward. The Jayhawks did not play on Saturday due to Iowa State’s COVID-19 pause. Kansas is expected to play Baylor on Monday. But for now the Jayhawks drop two spots. This conference is crazy, and we know this. But I think by season’s end the body of work will have Kansas ahead of Oklahoma State. But, remember — with Power Rankings it’s about NOW, not LATER.
6. Oklahoma (7-4, 3-3) (Last week: 6)
Results this past week: def. TCU, 82-46; vs. Oklahoma State, postponed.
The Sooners beat TCU like a drum on Tuesday, and did it without Brady Manek and Jalen Hill. Why? De’Vion Harmon scored 22 points, including four 3-pointers. The sophomore has been somewhat inconsistent this season, so hopefully this is a sign that he going to be that legitimate third scoring option the Sooners need to stay in the race for the NCAA Tournament. And there’s a reason you keep hearing head coach Lon Kruger talk about forward Kur Kuath. In a four-game stretch, capped by his performance against TCU, he’s averaged 7.8 points and 6.3 rebounds per game. Those aren’t insane numbers, but they’re steady, and that’s all that Kruger is asking for from his senior. The Sooners did not play on Saturday due to Oklahoma State’s COVID-19 pause. That gives Manek and Hill some additional time to return from their absence due to COVID-19 protocols. Amid all of this, the Sooners held steady at No. 6.
7. Kansas State (5-9, 1-5) (Last week: 9)
Results this past week: vs. Iowa State, postponed; lost to Texas, 82-67.
Kansas State started the week with its first COVID-19 related postponement of Big 12 play, as the Wildcats faced a COVID-19 issue within its program and had to beg off from its scheduled game with Iowa State. But Kansas State was able to play its game with Texas on Saturday, and as expected, they lost. But it wasn’t quite the blowout that TCU experienced against Oklahoma, and that’s why the Wildcats move up ahead of TCU this week. KSU didn’t have their best freshman guard, Nijel Pack. But forward Davion Bradford (14 points), guard Rudi Williams (12 points) and Mike McGuirl (11 points) all had solid games. DaJuan Gordon came off the bench to score 11 points. With Pack, against an undermanned Texas team, this could have been a really interesting game. The game was also notable in that freshman guard Luke Kasubke made his first appearance of the season. He had missed every game to that point with an injury.
8. TCU (9-5, 2-4) (Last week: 8)
Results this past week: lost to Oklahoma, 82-46; vs. West Virginia, postponed.
TCU has issues and I think they’re in trouble. That loss to Oklahoma was the Horned Frogs’ worst of the season. RJ Nembhard was the only TCU player in double figures. Now, this is the Big 12. Everyone is going to have an off night. But this was TCU’s third straight loss, and if you look back at last season, it’s starting to look eerily familiar. Last season TCU started with three straight wins, and then followed that with two losses in its next three games. After that, things got tough. The Horned Frogs lost their next six games and went 3-11 down the stretch, ending with a first-round loss in the Big 12 Tournament to the Kansas State Wildcats. The Horned Frogs are in a slide, and if they slide much further they may fall from this No. 8 perch behind the Wildcats, whom they have yet to play. The Horned Frogs did not play on Saturday due to West Virginia’s COVID-19 pause. For this week, at least, TCU brings up the ‘rear’ of the teams that played at least one game last week.
NR. Iowa State (2-7, 0-5) (Last week: 10)
Results this past week: vs. Kansas State, postponed; vs. Kansas, postponed.
Iowa State started the week with a double dose of bad news. First, the Cyclones’ game with Kansas State was postponed due to COVID-19 protocols. Then, freshman forward Xavier Foster had season-ending foot surgery. By Friday, the Cyclones were done for the week, as they were now dealing with their own COVID-19 issues and had to postpone their game with Kansas. On Sunday we learned That Iowa State’s game with Texas on Wednesday would be postponed. So that’s three straight postponed conference games. The Cyclones are the only team in the Big 12 without a league win, and it’s hard to see at this point when they’ll get one. But, they’ll get one. This is the Big 12. No team is safe.
NR. West Virginia (9-4, 2-3) (Last Week: 4)
Results this past week: vs. Baylor, postponed; vs. TCU, postponed.
We learned on Monday that the Mountaineers had COVID-19 issues within the program and they would not play Baylor on Tuesday. Then, on Tuesday, we learned that the Mountaineers weren’t playing their next two games, either. So that means WVU won’t play until at least Jan. 23 against Kansas State. So, this means that either the Mountaineers will be super-busy during that buffer time between the end of the Big 12 season and the start of the Big 12 Tournament, or that some of those games may not be played (that, to me, will depend upon whether the games matter to Big 12 Tournament seeding). This is unfortunate timing for the Mountaineers, as they getting into a nice groove, despite the departure of Oscar Tshiebwe.
You can find Matthew Postins on Twitter @PostinsPostcard. Send him a tweet with your question to be included in this week’s Big 12 Basketball Mailbag, which appears each Friday during the conference season.
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