Ya, I know conference play began a week and a half ago. But then again, what good are preseason rankings? The last 10 days should prove they're similar to Tiger Woods' wedding ring: they look nice, but when it comes down to it it doesn't mean anything.
Therefore, without further delay, here are my initial Big 12 power rankings heading into Wednesday night's action. Be sure to check back every Monday, starting this Monday, for the weekly edition.
1. Kansas Jayhawks (17-1, 2-0)
No surprise here. KU remains the only team undefeated in conference play. They have opened up conference play with wins at Nebraska and against Texas Tech by an average margin of 19 points.
In the rugged Big 12, defense plus low post control equal success. KU allows the fewest points per game in the conference at 60.7 ppg and dominates the blocks. The Jayhawks' 6.8 blocks are good for first in the Big 12 and they are the third best rebounding team with 41.6 per game.
Their only loss came at the hands of No. 15 Tennessee, who are a perfect 10-0 in Knoxville, and are playing with a chip on their shoulder since leading scorer Tyler Smith has been dismissed from the team. Since that game, the Vols have opened up SEC play with a squeaky clean 3-0 record. This includes wins at Alabama, a 26 point dismantling of Auburn and an OT win against 13-4 Ole Miss.
One concern for the Jayhawks should be their free throw shooting, as they rank in the middle of the pack at 70 percent. This stat could prove huge on the road in close games located at hostile environments like Columbia, MO or Manhattan, KS. But if KU continues shooting 50 percent from the field and 42 percent from behind the arc, both best in the Big 12, KU shouldn't see too many close games.
2. Kansas State Wildcats (16-2, 3-1)
Along with all of ESPN, I am jumping on the Wildcat Express, as long as its conducted by head coach Frank Martin. Under the tutelage of Bob Huggins, Martin exhibits the same fire and passion for the game. And his team shows it.
Before the season started, I would like to see someone name more than two Wildcats. This scrappy bunch from Manhattan has posed, and will continue to do so all season, problems for all opponents. In their "upset" of Texas last Monday, the K-State frontcourt of Curtis Kelly, Dominique Sutton, Luis Colon and Jamar Samuels combined for 21 defensive rebounds.
More importantly, this stat held the two headed beast of Dexter Pittman and Damion James to three total offensive rebounds. K-State would be sitting atop the conference if not for dropping their opener at Missouri. The Wildcats gave MU all they could handle, though, as Missouri extended the nation's third longest winning streak at home to 30 games.
K-State's play early this season proves the Texas game was no fluke. They are 3-0 against ranked teams this year, beating then-No. 21 Dayton 83-75 on November 22 and then-No. 17 UNLV 95-80 on December 12. Most impressive, only the UT victory was at home. Since their meetings with the Wildcats, Dayton and UNLV are a combined 17-4. Throw in the fact they lead the Big 12 with 16 offensive rebounds per game and the Wildcats suddenly look like a contender for the Big 12 crown.
3. Texas Longhorns (17-1, 3-1)
Before conference play started, everyone was ready to punch the Longhorns ticket to Indianapolis. However, the 'Horns have looked anything but solid since. They struggled against a depleted Iowa State team, be it on the road in their conference opener then needed overtime to dispatch rival Texas A&M by five.
In their 90-83 win at Iowa State, Pittman tallied six points and eight rebounds. He followed that with a four point, two rebound effort in UT's 72-67 win over A&M. In the loss vs K-State, the big man had six points and seven rebounds. Conversely, in their victory over then-No. 10 North Carolina, Pittman dominated for 23 points and 15 rebounds. Take a closer look at the stats and one will see it will be on the 6'10'', 290-pound frame of Pittman to take UT to their first Final Four since 2003. Then again, they are Texas.
4. Baylor Bears (14-2, 1-1)
Aside from K-State, the Bears might be the biggest surprise of the conference. This can be thanks in large part to Michigan transfer Ekpe Udoh. After sitting out last year, the junior has made up for lost time by leading the Big 12 in rebounding at 11.4 per game to go with 14 points and 4.5 blocks.
Although they are second in the conference in rebounding and first in blocked shots, their 14-2 record may be a little inflated. They are one of only two teams in the conference yet to play a ranked team. Aside from victories over 11-6 South Carolina and 12-5 Xavier and throw in a loss to a bad Colorado team, the Bears have a lot to prove heading into the thick of conference play.
5. Missouri Tigers (14-4, 2-1)
Their 82.3 points per game is good for fourth in the conference. Many of those points come off of their high tempo, high pressure defense. MU ranks 1st in the Big 12 in steals and 1st in assists (12.5 and 17.2 respectively). However, their over-reliance on the three ball and lack of post presence can pose problems in close games down the stretch.
If the threes aren't falling, don't look for the Tigers to get many second chances either. Away from Mizzou Arena, if MU doesn't establish their tempo early, they are often doomed as they can easily erase home deficits feeding off the home crowd. But without the Zou Crew behind them, MU often digs themselves into holes on the road that they struggle to get out of. The young guards of Kimmie English, Marcus Denmon and Michael Dixon Jr must stop watching on the defensive glass and help out the undersized forwards of Mizzou.
6. Texas A&M Aggies (13-5, 2-2)
Of their five losses, four have come to ranked teams. In fact, the Aggies have played the most ranked teams out of anyone in the Big 12 (6, 2-4). This battle-tested squad gave Texas all they could handle in Austin. And aside from a 23 point blowout at the hands of K-State, the Aggies lost to ranked teams West Virginia, Minnesota, and Washington by an average of six points.
They total some of the fewest turnovers in the conference at 12 per game. Throughout the rest of conference play, A&M must lean on the senior guard tandem of Donald Sloan and Derrick Roland who combine for 28 points per game.
7. Oklahoma State Cowboys (13-4, 1-2)
Although they lost to Oklahoma 62-57 in overtime at Norman, the Cowboys bounced back to play a solid game against then-No. 24 Baylor, albeit an 83-70 loss. OSU could have very well pulled off the upset if not being outscored 44-30 in a second half in which the Cowboys shot 34 percent from the field. The Cowboys will be competitive for the rest of the conference season as long as they keep their league low 11 turnovers/game around that number. But they must improve on their league low 43 percent field goal shooting.
8. Texas Tech Red Raiders (12-5, 0-3)
Despite a rocky start to conference play, Pat Knight's Red Raiders have shown they can play. They lost by two points to Wichita State back on December 19, a team that just knocked off No. 21 Northern Iowa. They showed heart in a valiant comeback, taking 14-4 Missouri to overtime before losing 94-89.
Facing a 41-29 halftime deficit, TTU lost the second half by only 3 points to then-No. 17 New Mexico at New Mexico. Consistency will be TT's biggest obstacle all year. After that strong road showing against UNM, the Red Raiders were blown out by Ok. St at Stillwater 81-52. They failed again to parlay any momentum from the Missouri game, getting smashed by Kansas 89-63 three days later.
9. Oklahoma Sooners (11-7, 2-2)
Six players account for 60 of the Sooners' 74.5 points per game. Guards Willie Warren and Thomas Mason-Griffin account for over nine assists per game and must continue to make it happen for OU to have a chance. The most disturbing things about the Sooners seven losses? None have been to a ranked team. In fact, the Sooners are the only other team aside from Baylor yet to play a ranked team. However, the Sooners are 9-4 after a rough 2-3 start.
10. Colorado Buffaloes (10-7, 1-2)
After falling 103-86 at Texas in their conference opener, the Buffs returned to Boulder to face Baylor and K-State back-to-back. They responded with a 78-71 victory over the Bears and hung tough with the Wildcats before dropping the game 87-81. To establish any momentum and tempo in conference games, the Buffs must improve on their 29.1 rebounds per game, more than 3 boards behind the second to last team. They must also tighten their defense as they are allowing the second highest point total in the Big 12 at 72.3 points per game.
11. Iowa State Cyclones (12-5, 1-1)
Now many of you may argue with the Cyclones low ranking. But let's take a closer look at their roster. Third leading scorer, junior Lucca Staiher, bailed on ISU on Tuesday to play professionally in his homeland of Germany, leaving the cyclones devastated at the guard position.
Two other guards on the team will be sitting for some time. Junior guard Charles Boozer will miss the remainder of the season after tearing his ACL in ISU's matchup with Texas. Boozer averaged 10 minutes and four points off the bench. Freshman guard Chris Colvin has been suspended until February for breaking team rules. Colvin saw averages of 13 minutes, 4 points and 2 assists off the bench. Of the remaining five guards, only Scott Christopherson and Diante Garrett play considerable minutes and two others are freshmen who have yet to see time this year. Danke Shoen, Lucca.
12. Nebraska Cornhuskers (12-6, 0-3)
Last in the Big 12 in scoring (68 ppg), 2nd to last in rebounding (32.4), and a loss to a depleted Iowa State team. With two games still remaining against K-State and Missouri and one each against KU, Baylor and UT, The Huskers 0-3 start to conference play starts to look a little more helpless. The Huskers do, however, have 12 players averaging double digit minutes. The problem? Only one (senior guard Ryan Anderson) averages double digit point totals.