Progress Report: Big 12

Down the stretch they come … and the Big 12 is still a chaotic mess. With six teams still ranked (at least for now) in the AP Top 25, the conference tournament has the potential to be a free for all. Yes, Kansas still sits atop its familiar perch, leading the pack, but the distance between it and the rest of the pack is much more narrow than it usually is. Here’s a look at the wonderful mess that is the Big 12.

#8 Kansas

The Kansas Jayhawks (22-5, 11-3 Big 12) sit atop a deeper than usual Big 12 conference primarily behind their rebounding and defensive efficiency, and ability to shoot the three.  Kansas is 34th in the country with 4.9 blocks per game, and also rank 38th in the nation with an average of 25.9 total rebounds per contest. Offensively, the Jayhawks currently rank fourth in the Big 12 in scoring offense (72.1 PPG) and second in overall scoring margin (plus 8.9). Kansas also ranks first in the conference in three-point shooting as they convert 40.9 percent of its three-pointers.

The duo of junior forward Perry Ellis and sophomore guard Frank Mason III pace Kansas offensively. The highly touted Ellis leads the Jayhawks with 13.7 points per game and 6.9 rebounds per contest. Mason III averages 12.4 points per game and leads the team with 4.4 assists per contest.

  • Quality Wins: No. 11 Utah, No. 16 Baylor, No. 21 Oklahoma State, No. 17 Oklahoma, No. 14 Iowa State
  • Key Losses: Temple
  • Player to Watch: Perry Ellis, 13.7 PPG, 6.9 RPG, .468 FG percentage
  • Remaining schedule: at Kansas St. (Feb. 23), Texas (Feb. 28), West Virginia (Mar. 3), at Oklahoma (Mar. 7)

 

#14 Iowa State

Right behind the Jayhawks is, arguably, the most efficient offensive team in the conference. Iowa State’s (20-6, 10-4 Big 12) offense ranks first in the Big 12 and ninth nationally with 79.8 points per game. Iowa State has the most consistent ball movement to this point in the season, averaging 16.9 assists per game to rank eighth in the country.

Junior forward Georges Niang leads the Cyclones with 14.6 points per game and 5.4 rebounds per contest. UNLV transfer guard Bryce Dejean-Jones has posted 12.4 points per game and leads ISU with 5.5 rebounds per contest.

  • Quality Wins: No. 21 Oklahoma State, No. 21 West Virginia, No. 8 Kansas, No. 24 Arkansas
  • Key Losses: South Carolina, Texas Tech
  • Player to Watch: Georges Niang, 14.6 PPG, 5.4 RPG, .467 FG percentage
  • Remaining Schedule: Baylor (Feb. 25), at Kansas St. (Feb. 28), Oklahoma (Mar. 2), at TCU (Mar. 7)

 

#17 Oklahoma

Oklahoma (19-8, 10-5 Big 12) sits a game-and-a-half out of first place in the Big 12 despite the Sooners’ lack of ball movement and ability to limit turnovers. The Sooners are averaging 7.3 steals per game, but have turned the ball over 337 times this season, sitting behind Texas Tech’s Big 12-leading 395 turnovers. In terms of ball movement, Oklahoma ranks 161st in the country with 12.9 assists per game.

Oklahoma has a strong backcourt composed of junior guard Buddy Hield and Isaiah Cousins. Hield leads the Big 12 in scoring with 16.9 points per game, while also adding 5.1 rebounds per matchup. Cousins averages 12.1 points per contest and 4.9 rebounds per game.

  • Quality Wins: No. 18 Butler, No. 16 Baylor, No. 21 Oklahoma State, No. 21 West Virginia
  • Key Losses: Creighton, Washington, Kansas State
  • Player to Watch: Buddy Hield, 16.9 PPG, 5.1 RPG, .429 FG percentage
  • Remaining Schedule: TCU (Feb. 28), at Iowa St. (Mar. 2), Kansas (Mar. 7)

 

#23 West Virginia

West Virginia (21-6, 9-5 Big 12) has had more ups and downs in its season than the hills surrounding its Morgantown campus. The Mountaineers’ losses are usually in colossal fashion … just as its wins are spectacular. For instance, in back-to-back games in January, West Virginia beat then-No. 18 Oklahoma, 86-65, then lost to then-No. 20 Texas, 77-50. But the Mountaineers have won enough to find themselves right in the thick of the mess that is the Big 12 standings.

Senior guard Juwan Staten has led the way for the Mountaineers, averaging 14.8 points per game. Sophomore forward Devin Williams has been a force on the glass, averaging 8.2 rebounds per contest.

As many who remember West Virginia’s days in the Big East will tell you, never count out the Mountaineers come tournament season.

  • Quality Wins: No. 17 UConn, No. 18 Oklahoma, No. 8 Kansas
  • Key Losses: LSU, Texas
  • Player to Watch: Devin Williams, 10.9 PPG, 8.2 RPG, .433 FG percentage
  • Remaining Schedule: Texas (Feb. 24), at Baylor (Feb. 28), at Kansas (Mar. 3), Oklahoma St. (Mar. 7)

 

#20 Baylor

Defense and rebounding has carried Baylor (20-7, 8-6 Big 12) all season as the Bears sit three games out of first place in the Big 12 title hunt. Baylor is fifth in the country with a rebounding rate of 40.5 boards per contest. Defensively, Baylor holds its opponents to 58.8 points per game, good for 19th in the nation.

Baylor, arguably, has one of the more superior frontcourts in the Big 12, and NCAA. Junior forward Rico Gathers has been dominant in the paint and on the glass, averaging a double-double with 11.2 points per game and 12.1 rebounds per contest. Junior forward Taurean Prince compliments Gathers with 13.1 points per matchup and 5.5 rebounds per game.

  • Quality Wins: No. 14 Iowa State, No. 17 Oklahoma, No. 21 West Virginia
  • Key Losses: Illinois, Kansas State
  • Player to Watch: Rico Gathers, 11.1 PPG, 12.1 RPG, .455 FG percentage
  • Remaining Schedule: at Iowa St. (Feb. 25), West Virginia (Feb. 28), at Texas (Mar. 2), Texas Tech (Mar. 6)

 

#22 Oklahoma St.

Losing three straight isn’t exactly the best way to head down the stretch, but that’s exactly what Oklahoma St. (17-10, 7-8 Big 12) has done. Despite the rough stretch, most bracketologists still have the Cowboys in the NCAA Tournament field.  That’s probably because the wins Oklahoma St. has are impressive – sweeping the season series against Baylor and a statement win over Kansas.

The Cowboys are led by the tandem of senior Le’Bryan Nash and junior Phil Forte III, both of whom are averaging more than 16 points per game. Nash and fellow senior Michael Collins have been holding down the fort inside, pulling in more than 5 rebounds each.

With a rematch against West Virginia to close out the season, Oklahoma St. still has a chance to put together a nice run to end the regular season and head to the conference tourney. At this point, it’s almost a must if the Cowboys want to be guaranteed a berth in the big dance.

  • Quality Wins: No. 20 Baylor, No. 16 Baylor, No. 8 Kansas
  • Key Losses: South Carolina, Kansas St., TCU
  • Player to Watch: Le’Bryan Nash, 16.8 PPG, 5.6 RPG, .449 FG Percentage
  • Remaining Schedule: at Texas Tech (Feb. 28), TCU (Mar. 4), at West Virginia (Mar. 7)
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