(Meant to be published before Monday Night's action. Nasty head cold and single digit temperatures in Columbia prevented that. Sue me.)
Well, at least the eyes of Texas A&M. After a rocky start to conference play that saw them get shellacked at Kansas State and lose a nail-biter to rival Texas, the Aggies have won three straight and climbed to third place in the Big 12 standings. Where does that put them in G's Power Rankings? Read on...
1. Kansas Jayhawks (22-1, 8-0) LW: 1
For maybe the first time all year, the cream of the Big 12 looked semi-human. The Jayhawks needed overtime to beat Colorado in Boulder 72-66 before beating Nebraska in Lawrence 75-64. KU needed a 22-4 run in the middle of the second half to put away Nebraska and six points from sophomore Marcus Morris in overtime to beat CU.
Speaking of Morris, the sophomore has helped spark the Jayhawks to their stellar start. The Philadelphian tallied double digit scoring outputs in every Big 12 game this year. In comparison, first-team Big 12 teammates Cole Aldrich and Sherron Collins haven't even done that. Morris averages 17.5 points per and 8.5 rebounds per since conference play has started. As a result, Morris has seen his minutes top 30 the past three games.
2. Kansas State Wildcats (19-4, 6-3) LW: 3
The Wildcats reclaim their spot as Little Brother with a strong week. With no victory guaranteed in the Big 12, Coach Frank Martin kept his troops poised after a heartbreaking loss to KU. They went on the road to beat Nebraska 76-57 and Iowa State 79-75.
If Kansas State ever wants to claim the title of Big Brother, they absolutely have to do better at the free throw line. While not as bad as Texas (who is?), their 65 percent from the line nearly cost them the game at Iowa State. They may be able to scrape by with their lowly season average of 64 percent (good for ninth in the Big 12) this week against Colorado and Nebraska, it won't suffice as conference play turns into tournament play.
3. Texas A&M Aggies (17-6, 6-3) LW: UR
Some of you may have had beef with last week's power rankings featuring only the top six teams. None had greater beef than Texas A&M. They performed this last week as if they thought G would take another off week and rank the top six. All they did was beat Missouri in Columbia, snapping the second longest home winning streak in the nation at 32. They followed that with a victory over Baylor, 78-71, in College Station.
While a strong case can be made that Missouri lost that game instead of A&M winning, the Aggies took advantage of a discombobulated and quite frankly cocky Missouri team. In a 10:45 stretch, the Tigers did not hit a field goal and, despite being up the majority of this run, felt the need to shoot (and miss) five three-pointers, many off one pass or a few dribbles. A&M guards gave the Tigers a lesson in their own "fastest forty minutes" by taking these ill-advised misses up the court for high percentage shots.
They also dominated the glass, grabbing 15 offensive rebounds en route to enjoying a +13 rebounding margin over the House Cats. They needed this edge to offset 21 turnovers and a Texas Longhorn-like 53 percent free throw percentage.
They continued their glass cleaning against Baylor as they held Ekpe Udoh to only two offensive rebounds. However, A&M only received seven points off their bench in the Baylor game, a stat that will have to improve in the rugged and deep Big 12.
4. Missouri Tigers (17-6, 6-3) LW: 4
It was hard to put the Tigers this high in the rankings after they blew their game against A&M harder than a big brass band. The most disturbing part of the scoreless run for Missouri wasn't the unnecessary threes, but who took them. Up 55-52 after a momentum changing dunk by A&M, senior Zaire "Big Shot" Taylor heaved up a brick with 8:30 to play. Right after the Aggies trimmed the lead to one, fellow backcourt senior J.T. Tiller launched a three-point attempt that didn't touch the rim. You expect younger players like Marcus Denmon and Kimmie English to make these seemingly unintelligent moves, but not your starting backcourt.
But the Tigers avoided a letdown game in Boulder three days later when they faced CU, hot off their close game to Kansas. MU took care of business to the tune of 81 percent from the line, 44 percent from behind the arc, tallied 20 assists and even won the rebounding battle 32-31.
But if you're a Tiger fan, you don't dream of beating Colorado in mid-February. You dream of advancing deep into the tournament while relying on your seasoned guards. Those in Columbia better hope last Wednesday was a bad dream.
5. Baylor Bears (17-5, 4-4) LW: 3
The Bears continue to hover around the middle of the pack, refusing to sink to the bottom half but unable to stay in the upper half. They took care of business at home against Iowa State 84-63 before losing at upstart Texas A&M 78-71.
In the Iowa State game, the Bears got 21 points from their bench. Ekpe Udoh snapped a two game single digit output by tallying 19 against the Cyclones. Against A&M, however, Udoh's second consecutive 19 point performance wasn't enough to compensate for the Bears going 2-9 from the field in the final four minutes.
6. Texas Longhorns (19-5, 5-4) LW: 6
In a must win game on ESPN's "Big Monday" the Longhorns assured everyone in Austin that they were back on track. Sorta. They needed 27 points from reserve freshman Jordan Hamilton to beat Oklahoma State 72-60 to account for Dexter "Casper" Pittman's vanishing performance. Pittman disappeared from all action, logging only 10 minutes, good for two points and two rebounds. James Anderson, the Big 12's leading scorer, had 28 points but only four in the second half as UT pulled away with a 40-24 edge.
A few days later, the Longhorns shot below the Austin-Line from the free throw line at 37 percent, all but giftwrapping a 80-71 victory for the Oklahoma Sooners. (You've heard of the Mendoza line, below .200 BA in baseball. Well I'm declaring the Austin Line to be any free throw shooting percentage below 50 percent, in honor of the Longhorns.) Although Pittman tallied double digit rebounds for the first time in a month, Damion James' 4-13 from the line sealed the Longhorns' fate.
7. Oklahoma State Cowboys (16-7, 4-5) LW: 5
After a strong showing that had them climb as high as three in G's PR, three consecutive losses have the 'Boys from Stillwater reeling. They followed their January 30th loss to Missouri with losses to Texas and Texas Tech last week. Most signs point to James Anderson. Already having discussed his performance in the Texas game above, he scored just 10 points against Texas Tech with six of those coming off free throws.
For a team with a player the caliber of Anderson, the Cowboys need him to light it up from the floor like he did night in and night out in the beginning of conference play. However, his mini-slump may be predictable having been worn down by seeing team's best defenders every game. The Cowboys just don't have enough talent for Anderson to have off nights because when he's on, he creates for everyone around him.
This week they face Oklahoma in a crucial matchup that will either send the Cowboys plummeting Texas-status or allow them to re-enter tournament talk.
8. Oklahoma Sooners (13-9, 4-4) LW: UR
Only had one game last week, and they played like it. With Willie Warren still nursing an ankle injury, Cade Davis and Tommy Mason-Griffin combined for 44 of OU's 80 points in their 80-71 victory over Texas. OU used Texas's 6-17 1st half free throw shooting to build an 18-point lead that proved to much for the Longhorns to surmount.
Their matchup with Oklahoma State this week could help them build momentum for a last minute tournament run or cement their fate as an NIT invite.
9. Texas Tech Red Raiders (15-7, 3-5) LW: UR
An underrated team that ranks in the top half of the conference in scoring (78 points per/6th), free throw shooting (72 percent/4th), rebounding (37, 6th), and three-point shooting (38 percent, 6th), the Red Raiders are past their toughest part of conference play. Of their remaining eight conference games, four are at home where they are 13-1 and two road games are at Nebraska and Colorado (last and 11th respectively). If the Red Raiders can pull off an upset in their game at home against Texas or in one of their matchups versus Baylor, Texas Tech could be looking at a close to .500 conference record.
10. Iowa State Cyclones (13-10, 2-6) LW: UR
Well, at least the Cyclones competed at home against K-State, falling 79-75 after being smashed by Baylor 84-63 in Waco. Since Lucca Staiger's departure to Germany, the Paris Hilton-thin guard rotation of Iowa State has been their demise. Craig Brackens and Marquis Gilstrap can score all the points they want, but if no one can get them the ball, well that's about as effective as a priest at a porno convention. Of the three (yes three) Iowa State guards who average double digit minutes, they combine for six turnovers a game. This trio has increased Iowa State's turnovers to 14 per game, "good" for third highest in the conference.
11. Colorado Buffaloes (11-12, 2-7) LW: UR
Showed some competitiveness in taking KU to overtime last week, but then again who isn't going to give Kansas their best game? The Buffs need a reason to bring that competitiveness every night as Missouri crushed them 84-66 three days later. Bright spot? In those two games, CU's bench averaged 17 points per game. But then again, what does that say about who is starting in Boulder?
12. Nebraska Cornhuskers (13-10, 1-7) LW: UR
The 'Huskers are losing conference games by an average of 12 points. They rank last in the conference in scoring with 66.3 points per game. The question in Lincoln these days isn't when the next basketball game is, but when does Spring Practice start?