If the selection committee posted its NCAA brackets on MLK Day, the Big 12 would be a six-bid league and Kansas would own a No. 1 seed. But with eight weeks and 14 conference games remaining, there’s time for much shuffling:
1. KANSAS (16-1, 4-0) RPI: 4
The Jayhawks, who remained perfect in Big 12 action last week with a home route of Baylor and a road comeback at Texas, now play the first leg of their home-in-home series against in-state rival K-State.
Bill Self expects the scene will be raucous in Manhattan, where the Wildcats are melding Bruce Weber’s motion offense with the defensive intensity of former coach Frank Martin.
“There’s some carryover to the intensity of when Frank was there — they look similar from the standpoint of effort, intensity and getting up under you defensively,” he said. “But I think they’re getting very hard to guard.”
2. KANSAS STATE (15-2, 4-0) RPI: 30
The Wildcats keeps winning conference games — 67-54 at TCU and 69-60 over Oklahoma — and Rodney McGruder keeps winning league player of the week honors (his fourth of the season).
The senior swingman is averaging 19.5 points during K-State’s eight-game winning streak, but within the program he’s known as much for his work ethic as his scoring.
“We try to get in a practice facility twice day — once for practice and once for shooting — and usually he comes a third time,” said coach Bruce Weber.
Now comes Tuesday’s megahyped home showdown against KU, and Weber is pumped to see Bramlage Coliseum rocking. “This is about first place — we’re both 4-0,” he said. “We’re at home and we need to protect our home court.”
3. OKLAHOMA (12-4, 3-1) RPI: 21
In the 69-60 loss at K-State 69-60, Oklahoma shot 47 percent and out rebounded the Wildcats 39-25. But OU lost the turnover battle 16-8.
“The game Saturday, you hate to lose, but it was a great one to learn from,” said coach Lon Kruger, whose team was prepping to host Texas in a “Big Monday” game.
“We did not take very good care of the ball, and that is entirely because the Kansas State defense was outstanding. They did a terrific job and dictated. We have not had that much trouble holding the ball on the season, so you have to credit Kansas State for that.”
4. IOWA STATE (13-4, 3-1) RPI: 39
After dodging a bullet at home by edging West Virginia 69-67, the Cyclones won Saturday at TCU 63-50. Those two wins marked the only games this season in which Iowa State has failed to score 70 points.
The Cyclones are off to the best conference start since 2000, though coach Fred Hoiberg said, “I look at it like we should be 4-0″ — still pained by the OT loss at Kansas 10 days prior.
Tyrus McGee scored 16 points at TCU, braking out of a three-game shooting slump. “He’s a guy that can heat up at any moment,” Hoiberg said.
5. OKLAHOMA STATE (12-4, 2-2) RPI: 37
In the days preceding Saturday’s 79-45 win over Texas Tech, coach Travis Ford put the Cowboys through a series of grueling 6 a.m. practices — the kind most coaches abandon after the preseason. Ford’s intention was to reignite the defensive fire his team had lacked in recent games.
“We went hard this week,” Ford said. “I don’t know if I’ve ever gone as hard as I went this week during this time of year. But I knew it was going to make us a better basketball team eventually.”
It worked: Texas Tech shot 18 percent in the second half and became the seventh OSU opponent this season that failed to reach 50 points.
The Cowboys were preparing to visit Baylor in a 4:30 p.m. MLK Day game.
6. BAYLOR (3-1, 12-5) RPI: 42
The Bears are coming off a 107-38 throttling of Hardin-Simmons, but last week’s most telling result was the 17-point loss at Kansas, which showed Scott Drew’s team is too inconsistent to be placed among the league’s elite teams.
Pierre Jackson was held to 10 points — about half of his 19.2 per-game average — as Baylor shot 23 percent and had no answer for KU’s stifling defense.
7. TEXAS (8-9, 0-4) RPI: 151
Why is a team winless in conference placed this high (“high” being relative)? Because the Longhorns nearly took down league kingpin Kansas on Saturday. Texas previously squandered late second-half leads of 13 points to WVU and eight to UCLA.
The difference in those close losses? “It’s execution, and not finishing possessions,” said Texas coach Rick Barnes. “We’re going to get it, it’s just a matter of when (the players) want to get it.”
Sheldon McClellan scored 18 points against Kansas after playing only one minute in the previous game at Iowa State.
The Longhorns were preparing for a “Big Monday” matchup against Oklahoma.
8. WEST VIRGINIA (8-9, 1-3) RPI: 92
Weeks don’t get much more disappointing then the one Bob Huggins just completed. The Mountaineers had numerous defensive breakdowns while falling behind by 18 at Iowa State, then erased the deficit in the final minute, before another breakdown led to an ISU layup with 2.5 seconds left.
Then came Saturday’s debacle in which WVU never gave itself a chance in a 79-52 loss at Purdue
“We’re giving up 44-percent field-goal percentage, and that’s not very good,” Huggins said. “Obviously we haven’t been consistent on offense, but defense is something that ought to be consistent.”
The Mountaineers host TCU, the league’s worst offensive team, on Wednesday night. If the Horned Frogs shoot 44 percent, Huggins might start bleeding from the eyes.
9. TEXAS TECH (8-8, 1-4) RPI: 235
Coach Chris Walker said “there was a lid on the basket” during Tech’s 79-45 drubbing at Oklahoma State. The Red Raiders shot 28 percent in losing their fourth straight — a string that included Baylor, Kansas, Oklahoma and Oklahoma State.
“We’ve played four NCAA tournament teams, in my opinion, in the last two weeks,” Walker said. “That’s pretty tough for where we are as a program. Obviously, I’d like to have a better showing.”
10. TCU (9-9, 0-5) RPI: 224
The Horned Frogs have no margin for error against Big 12 opponents, so their penchant for late first-half meltdowns has been too much to overcome against Baylor, Kansas and, on Saturday, Iowa State.
Coach Trent Johnson explained: “This has been three times now where we’ve gotten to a point, and I told them at the 10-minute mark. I said, now here is where we’ve collapsed. And then (Iowa State) went on a 14-4 run right before the half. And there’s your basketball game.”
Still, the Horned Frogs have not allowed any opponents to reach 70 points, a nod to Johnson’s team continuing to grind on defense.
“Every team I’ve ever had — good, bad or indifferent — is going to give maximum effort, and if they don’t they’re not going to be on the floor,” he said. “At some point, though, we just need to make a shot.”