Evaluating the Big 12 top-to-bottom after the first weekend of conference play (with RPIs as of late Sunday night):
1. Kansas (12-1, 0-0 Big 12) RPI: 4
The Jayhawks, who don’t open league play until Wednesday night, survived a rugged game Sunday against Temple, prevailing 69-62 for their 30th consecutive home win. Not that Bill Self was satisfied after watching KU go up by 12 in the first half only to wind up trailing in the second half.
“When we started playing bad and it started getting away from us, we played dumb and tried to make home run plays,” he said. “We tried to make great passes after the play was broken down. We shot three pitiful threes on consecutive possessions that were all terrible shots.”
Got to love Self’s fire, considering his team is a few points away from being unbeaten after playing what currently ranks as the nation’s 14th-toughest schedule.
2. Kansas State (12-2, 1-0) RPI: 40
Rodney McGruder showed why he’s a candidate for Big 12 player of the year, scoring 26 of his 28 points in the second half of a 73-67 win over Oklahoma State in Manhattan.
“He got us going, there is no doubt,” K-State coach Bruce Weber said. “When you beat the real good teams, usually you have to have someone be special. And Rodney was special.”
I’m already looking forward to the rematch in Stillwater, which closes the regular season on March 9.
3. Oklahoma State (10-3, 0-1) RPI: 32
Don’t deny yourself a chance to see Cowboys freshman point guard Marcus Smart, who scored 25 in Saturday’s narrow loss at K-State, which followed up his 23-point, six-assist performance in a 69-68 loss to Gonzaga.
OSU has squandered some talented teams in recent years, but this one could reach its potential, especially of coach Travis Ford finds some offensive help for Smart and Markel Brown.
4. Baylor (9-4, 1-0) RPI: 31
With Texas in town, Bears coach Scott Drew served the first of a two-game suspension for violating NCAA recruiting rules. He missed a suspenseful game, won by Baylor 86-79 in overtime.
Pierre Jackson scored 11 of his 24 in OT for the Bears, who continue to carry a talented but inconsistent stigma.
5. Oklahoma (10-3, 1-0) RPI: 18
The Sooners’ RPI seems inflated, especially for a team that lost at home to Stephen F. Austin, but the
Fighting Krugers showed some grit in Morgantown by knocking off WVU 67-57 behind a 16-2 finishing run.
“I am really proud of our guys,” said Oklahoma coach Lon Kruger. “Anytime you play a good West Virginia club at their place and you are down 12 early in the second half, it is a tough challenge. I thought our guys really responded very well and did just a terrific job of rebounding the basketball on both ends of the floor.”
6. Texas (8-6, 0-1) RPI: 119
The Longhorns nearly stole a big win in Waco but had to settle for merely showing how much progress they’ve made since several embarrassing early-season losses.
Freshman point guard Javan Felix, still keeping the spot warm until Myck Kabongo returns from a 23-game suspension, finished with 26 points and nine assists.
7. Iowa State (10-3, 0-0) RPI: 81
The Cyclones had the weekend off, part of an odd stretch in which they play only two games in 24 days. Fred Hoiberg’s crew is the only team in Division I to score at least 70 points in every game. Let’s see if that string continues Wednesday at Kansas.
8. West Virginia (7-6, 0-1) RPI: 103
The Mountaineers had a 12-point second-half lead on Oklahoma but squandered a golden opportunity to turn around their disappointing season.
OU had beaten West Virginia 77-70 in a neutral-court nonconference matchup in November, but as WVU point guard Juwan Staten said: “This one feels a little bit worse, because we had the game and we gave it up.”
9. Texas Tech (8-4, 1-0) RPI: 260
While the Red Raiders won’t challenge for first place in the Big 12, they took a big step toward proving they won’t finish last, winning at TCU 62-53. Tech also guaranteed it would avoid repeating last season’s 0-9 mark in league road games.
One heartwarming storyline involved Jordan Tolbert providing 11 points and nine rebounds in a return to his hometown of Fort Worth, where 100 family members and friends attended — with one big omission. His dad, James, passed away in October at age 40.
10. TCU (9-5, 0-1) RPI: 219
The Frogs lost their Big 12 home debut, and perhaps their best shot at getting a conference win, because top scorers Garlon Green and Kyan Anderson combined on 3-of-22 shooting.
Said TCU coach Trent Johnson: “As I told our players in the locker room, (this Big 12 schedule) is an 18-round heavyweight fight, and in Round 1 we got staggered a little bit.”
The next 17 rounds could get really ugly.