It was another interesting week in America’s top conference for men’s basketball, highlighted by a big upset, a wild finish in Morgantown and the king of the conference hill reminding everyone of their place in the conference’s pecking order.
The Big 12 continues to be the highest rated conference in the land, as reflected by the average conference RPI rankings. The average conference RPI rankings of the conferences with at least one team in either the AP or USA Today Top 25 poll are below:
Big 12 48.70
Big East 55.40
Big Ten 62.64
PAC 12 74.42
Atlantic 10 114.43
West Coast 136.90
Missouri Valley 146.80
Mountain West 153.82
In looking at the top 6 teams in the Big 12 and the ACC, the Big 12 holds that advantage, too – 17.33 to 18.17. The Big East isn’t far behind at 22.50 for its top 6 teams.
The Big 12 has 6 teams in the AP Top 25 this week and 5 in the USA Today poll. Oklahoma is atop the “Other Receiving Votes” crowd in the USA Today poll. The ACC has 6 teams in each respective poll.
As the conference schedule nears its hallway point we are beginning to see some stratification within the conference’s teams. For talking purposes let’s establish three strata – upper, lower and middle.
In the upper layer is the usual occupant, the Kansas Jayhawks. In the conference pre-season media poll Texas was the only other team that received first place votes, so a logical candidate to join Kansas in the upper strata was the Longhorns, but Kansas dealt the Longhorns a punishing home loss in their only game of the week. Texas continues to be enigmatic, at times looking like it could challenge anyone and at times looking completely out-of-sync. At 3-4 in the conference Texas isn’t exactly playing like a team on a mission to dethrone Kansas like some in the media thought they could. There is still time for UT to jell and begin hammering opponents like Longhorns fans expected, but that time is growing shorter.
Another team expected to challenge Kansas and reside in the upper strata was Iowa State, but the Cyclones dropped the shocker of the conference season so far when they fell to the previous winless (in-conference) Red Raiders in Lubbock on Saturday. Like Texas, Iowa State appears to be a solid ball handling and shooting team that could give Kansas a shot and the Cyclones do own a victory over the Jayhawks at Hilton Coliseum. However, the loss in Lubbock proved the old adage “on any given night” can afflict the Cyclones as much as anyone. Despite the setback in west Texas at this point in the year ISU appears to be well positioned to give Kansas a run.
Picked to finish eighth in the conference in the pre-season poll, West Virginia stands in second place in the conference standings, tied with Iowa State, after wins this week over TCU and Kansas State. The finish in Morgantown on Saturday was wild and at multiple points it looked like the Horned Frogs were going to leave The Mountain State with a road win, but freshman Jevon Carter’s two free throws with 0.9 seconds left in overtime tied it and won it for the Mountaineers, who might just join that upper strata with a few more road wins
In the middle strata are (in no particular order) the Cowboys, the Bears, the Sooners and the Wildcats. Oklahoma State is a mirror reflection – 4-0 at home and 0-4 on the road. For the Cowboys to elevate their status they’ll need to score a few road wins while continuing to defend the home turf (er, hardwood). Baylor is similar to Oklahoma – 2-1 at home and 1-3 on the road and has a rebounding machine in Rico Gathers. Kansas State is the surprise team of the conference so far, given their out-of-conference record before starting conference play, but expecting the Wildcats to leap up into the upper strata is . . . well, an unrealistic leap of faith. Oklahoma like Baylor is 2-1 at home and 1-3 on the road. The impressive manhandling of Texas in Austin is starting to lose some of its luster, but with a veteran coach like Lon Kruger the Sooners probably aren’t in danger of slipping into the lowest strata.
In that lowest strata are TCU and Texas Tech. The Red Raiders are young and show promise, as the upset over the Cyclones demonstrated, but that promise is a year away. TCU continues to make strides but needs to get a few more wins – home or road – to avoid battling the Red Raiders for the basement.
So, in the upper strata are the Jayhawks (what else is new?) and, at this point in the season, Iowa State and West Virginia. Texas is either at the bottom of that upper strata or at the top of the middle one. Baylor, Oklahoma, Oklahoma State and Kansas State are in the middle strata, with KSU on the lower band of that group. TCU and Texas Tech occupy the bottom strata.
There’s plenty of conference games left to completely jumble the above stratification. Road wins will continue to be at a premium and whichever school can corral a few of those rarities will go a long way in improving their position in the conference.