With just three regular-season games remaining, there's still plenty at stake in Big 12 men's basketball including crowning a conference champion and jockeying for position in the league's postseason tournament. For the select five or six, a shot at higher glory awaits in the upcoming NCAA Tournament.
All of the ten league teams entered the Big 12 conference season with winning non-conference records, and all but two (Oklahoma State and Texas Tech) had at least ten wins by the beginning of January. For the second or third year in a row, the Big 12 amassed one of the best winning percentages against non-league foes among the six strongest conferences.
As it always does, Big 12 competition, which this season includes three teams (Missouri, Kansas and Baylor) that have spent most of the year in the top-ten nationally and a fourth team (Kansas State) in the top 25 at various points in the season, has taken care of the natural order of things as the season has worn on. They've separated the elite from the lesser players and everything in between. As we head down the homestretch in the 2011-12 season, it is clear that the conference stratification in men's basketball breaks down into three or four fairly distinct groupings of teams.
At the top of the conference you have Kansas and Missouri, both clearly a notch above Baylor and Iowa State. Then comes a fairly solid middle class in Kansas State and Texas, followed by three schools - Oklahoma State, Texas A&M and Oklahoma - that have played well in spots this season but, for a variety of reasons, border on the edge of poor. Bringing up the rear is Texas Tech, Bobby Knight's old team, that is in a class all by itself.
If I were to subdivide the Big 12 men's basketball year, using a loaf of bread as the analogy, I would segregate out Kansas, Missouri and Baylor and call them the Upper Crust of the conference. Iowa State, Kansas State and Texas would make up a grouping I would label the Inner Crust. The two Oklahoma schools and Texas A&M would constitute the Outer Crust, and Texas Tech would be classified as the Heel.
Big 12 Men's Basketball Power Rankings Entering This Weekend's Games
- 1. Kansas - Eight won't be enough to feed the Jayhawks' championship legacy.
- 2. Missouri - For most of the season the best team in the Big 12, if not the country.
- 3. Baylor - Didn't quite live up to expectations, but only because KU and MU are in same league.
- 4. Iowa State - Hardly resembled the bad Cyclone team that took the floor last season.
- 5. Kansas State - How do you explain two wins over Missouri and one at Baylor, yet two losses to Oklahoma?
- 6. Texas - A very young team (six freshmen) that is only going to get better.
- 7. Oklahoma State - A load of young talent, if only they could hit their shots (worst FG percentage in the conference).
- 8. Texas A&M - Injuries to key players have throttled this preseason co-favorite (with Kansas).
- 9. Oklahoma - Lon Kruger has made progress with Sooners, even though the record doesn't reflect it.
- 10. Texas Tech - Cupboard was bare in Lubbock this season.