Courtesy of Jim Feist
Tournament play is on the horizon! It's the start of a wild few weeks with conference tournament play helping to whittle the field. In the Big 12, Kansas has been the dominant team again, but there is a logjam of teams vying for the spots below the Jayhawks. Here's a look at some of the top teams of the Big 12.
Kansas: The Jayhawks have been a powerhouse team, tops in scoring (81 ppg) in the conference and a +8.5 scoring margin, though they have not been invincible with losses at Oklahoma State (67-62) and at West Virginia (62-61). Sophomore guard Frank Mason III (12 ppg) has led the way on a team with great balance, second in the conference in field goal shooting, tops in field goal defense.
He's not alone, of course, with 6-8 senior Perry Ellis (13 ppg, 7 rpg), 6-5 sophomore Wayne Selden (10 ppg) and 6-8 freshman Cliff Alexander blocking shots and grabbing rebounds. Kansas might not be as good as last year's squad with Andrew Wiggins, but they beat Utah (63-60) and Michigan State (61-56) in tough non-conference games, while getting blasted by Kentucky, 72-40 (who hasn't?).
Iowa State: The Cyclones are not big up front and not especially strong on defense. Yet, what a talented, deep team for Fred Hoiberg, deadly on offense, running opponents into the ground with a top 10 offense again. This is an experienced group led by 6-8 junior Georges Niang (14.7 ppg, 5.4 rpg), 6-4 junior Naz Long, 6-6 senior Bryce Dejean-Jones (12.5 ppg, 5.7 rpg) and 6-6 senior Dustin Hogue. This group is Top 5 in assists in the nation for the second straight year. Iowa State is on a 54-26-1 run over the total!
They are tops in the Big 12 in field goal shooting. One concern is road play, where they've struggled, especially on defense. They allowed 94 in a loss at Oklahoma and 89 at Kansas. Iowa State even allowed Texas Tech to hit 11 three-pointers in a 78-73 upset. Something to keep in mind come Big 12 tourney time: Iowa State is 47-32-1 ATS against the Big 12.
Oklahoma: Coach Lon Kruger has a run-and-gun Sooners squad that is tough, led by 6-4 junior Isaiah Cousins (11.7 ppg, 5 rpg) and 6-4 junior Buddy Hield (17 ppg). They can be relied on at the free throw line in close games, 74% at the charity strip (No. 1 in the Big 12). They are terrific on offense and the defense has improved, second in the Big 12 in field goal shooting allowing 38%, plus fourth at defending the three-pointer allowing .365% shooting.
A pair of 6-8 frontcourt forces in junior Ryan Spangler (11 ppg, 8 rpg) and TaShawn Thomas (11 ppg, 6 rpg) give the Sooners good balance all around. The frontcourt is not big, however, and they've lost to strong rebounding teams Baylor (69-58), Wisconsin (69-56), and Kansas (85-78). They also had 22 turnovers in an 86-65 loss at West Virginia.
Texas: The Longhorns are a young team for Rick Barnes with a monster frontcourt that few teams look forward to playing. Sophomore guard Isaiah Taylor (12.8 ppg) leads in scoring, but the rebounding muscle is fierce with 6-11 freshman Myles Turner (11.5 ppg, 6.6 rpg), 6-8 senior Jonathon Holmes (11 ppg, 6.5 rpg) and 6-9, 285-lb junior Cameron Ridley (8.6 ppg, 5 rpg). Texas is tops in the Big 12 in blocks and second in rebounding margin.
Even during their four-game mid-season skid they lost by 3 at No. 15 Iowa State and in overtime by a basket to Oklahoma State. They have wins over UConn and Iowa and lost in OT to Stanford. And in a loss at Kentucky (26-26 at the half) the Longhorns ended up with a 42-31 rebound edge, including 16-12 on the offensive glass. How many teams can say that after facing the mighty Wildcats?
Baylor: Few teams can pound the glass like Baylor, Top 5 most of the year in rebounds led by 6-7 junior Taurean Prince (13 ppg), 6-8, 280-lb junior Rico Gathers (11 ppg, 12 rpg) and 6-6 senior Royce O'Neale (6 rpg). Baylor lost both meetings with Kansas, but dropped a 56-55 thriller in one of them. The Bears were 8 of 15 on 3-pointers, but 10 of 38 inside the arc. They'd love a third shot at the Jayhawks in tourney play.
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