Whether it was inside or outside of conference action, a lot was on the line in the Big 12 conference this week. It was the first week of conference play, and ten squads took to the floor for their first Big 12 game on Saturday. Each team looked to get momentum swinging in its direction in what looks to be a marathon going into March. Some upstart teams proved this week that in the Big 12, anyone is also capable of a surprising sprint. It’s still too early to tell who has what it takes to last for the long haul.
Colorado- The Missouri Tigers saw firsthand Saturday why Alec Burks shouldn’t have made it out of their backyard. A Kansas City area native, Colorado’s sophomore star was the 2009 Gatorade Player of the Year in the Show-Me State. However, he wasn’t heavily recruited. But Burks and the Buffs led a charge past the Missouri press, outpacing the Tigers in an 89-76 win. Burks went on to score a career high 36 points, 20 of which came in the first half, a half in which the Buffs went on two separate 15-2 runs and took a 12 point lead into the break. Senior point guard Cory Higgins added 18 points and 10 rebounds for Colorado, who broke some bad streaks with the win: 13 straight losses in conference openers and nine straight losses to Missouri.
Nebraska- The Huskers, also leaving the conference after this year, fared well in their last Big 12 opener. A little mystique surrounded the matchup between the Huskers and the Iowa State Cyclones, who both rode through the non-conference season with relative ease and came into the game with 13 wins. And the game did end up being quite intriguing, as Nebraska held on to win 63-62 in Lincoln. In the final moments, Nebraska’s Lance Jeter stripped the ball from the Cyclones, who were then obligated to foul as Jeter went up for a lay-up with under a second left.
Oklahoma State- One of the Big 12’s continuous early headlines has been Kansas State’s struggle to find itself—and the Wildcats (still without Curtis Kelly) did not get any warmer in their search Saturday in Stillwater. The Cowboys rose to the occasion in their first game against a ranked opponent thus far this season, beating K-State 76-62. Oklahoma State capitalized on poor shooting (35 percent), foul trouble (four players fouled out) and turnovers (21) from the Wildcats, and made a 27-7 run beginning near the 6:00 mark in the second half that took over the game. During this stretch, Kansas State went eight minutes without scoring a basket. Oklahoma State’s most notable effort came from first year post player Jean-Paul Olukemi, who set career highs with 21 points and 11 rebounds. The Cowboys’ leading scorer Marshall Moses added another 16 points.
Kansas- The Jayhawks, on the road for just the second time this season, did not venture into a conference opponents gym this week. Instead, they traveled to Michigan, where this talented squad’s most futile shooting effort did not hold them off from surviving overtime against the Wolverines. Both teams shot very poorly in this one. Kansas shot 35 percent from the field and was 4 for 24 from behind the arc; Michigan shot 33 percent and was 4 for 28. The Wolverines tough defensive play, which Kansas also struggled against in last year’s meeting, flustered the Jayhawks. Michigan was able to overcome a 40-28 second half deficit to force the overtime period. But for the Jayhawks, Markieff and Marcus Morris were double trouble once again, accounting for the first eight Kansas points in overtime, which led to the Jayhawks pulling away 67-60. Each twin finished with a double double; Marcus had 22 points and 10 rebounds, Markieff added 13 points and 11 rebounds. Kansas remains as one of five unbeaten teams in the country.
Texas- The Longhorns were presented with the challenge of stopping UConn PG Kemba Walker in a big non-conference showdown in Austin on Saturday. Texas learned that it may not only be impossible to stop Walker; it’s extremely difficult to slow him as well. Texas did just that in the first half, holding him scoreless for 17 minutes as they took a five point lead into the locker room. Nonetheless, Walker owned the second half and overtime period, scoring 17 of his 22 down the stretch as UConn battled through to win 82-81. The game’s most crucial play was Walker’s three pointer with one second to shoot that gave UConn an 80-77 lead in the extra period. Although Texas held the Huskies to 38 percent shooting, the Longhorns efforts at stopping Walker left the lane open for other UConn scoring ventures. The Huskies grabbed 23 offensive rebounds and scored 41 points in the paint in the game. A loss for Texas, but big games like this will surely prepare them for the conference run ahead.
Biggest Moment- Iowa State and Nebraska played weak non-conference schedules, but the Saturday showdown in Lincoln was the best chance thus far to see what these teams are made of. In the only conference game coming down to the wire this week, Nebraska’s Lance Jeter was fouled on a game winning lay-up attempt after stripping the ball from Iowa State’s Diante Garrett. The senior knocked down both free throws with 0.4 seconds to play to give Nebraska a win in their last Big 12 opener. The Huskers look next to upset the Missouri Tigers on Wednesday.
Player of the Week: The play of Alec Burks could make the Colorado Buffaloes contenders in the Big 12 this season. The sophomore has a legitimate NBA caliber skill set and is the most dominant and dynamic player Colorado has had in some time. Burks is averaging 20 points a game and gets the honors this week for scoring a career high 36 in Colorado’s upset of Missouri.
What to Watch For: The two biggest games to watch this upcoming week both involve the Texas A&M Aggies. The Aggies get good play from some big guys in Khris Middleton and David Loubeau, and rank 27th in the country in the RPI rankings, behind only Kansas in the Big 12. As Oklahoma State and A&M appear to have jumped Kansas State and Baylor in the league’s upper echelon, look for a Wednesday game in College Station to say a lot about both the Cowboys and Aggies and serve as the biggest league game this week. Texas A&M also plays host to a ranked Missouri squad Saturday. Mike Anderson is 0-4 at Mizzou against A&M and the Tigers will have a lot to play for to avoid a 1-2 or 0-3 start in league play.
This Week’s Games
Oklahoma @ Baylor
Texas @ Texas Tech
Colorado @ Kansas State
Nebraska @ Missouri
Kansas @ Iowa State
Oklahoma State @ Texas A&M
Missouri @ Texas A&M
Texas Tech @ Kansas State
Baylor @ Iowa State
Nebraska @ Kansas
Oklahoma @ Texas
Oklahoma State @ Colorado