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Big 12 basketball nears and gears for the start of the real season: conference play

Kansas and Baylor are the men's and women's Big 12 basketball preseason favorites, and both are holding up their end of the bargain thus far, heading into the most important portion of the season schedule: Big 12 action.

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Jamie Squire

We're just about two weeks shy of the start of the real season in college basketball. That's when teams in major conferences, such as the Big 12, will stop beating up on lesser opponents and start beating up on each other as more competitive conference action gets under way, with much more at stake.

The conference season for Big 12 men will tip off on Saturday, Jan. 5 with eight of the 10 teams in action. As the nonconference portion of the schedule winds down through the holidays over the next couple of weeks, nine teams are within two and a half games of each other, with defending champion

Kansas and Oklahoma State sitting atop the standings with identical 8-1 records. Kansas is ranked eighth in this week's USA Today coaches' poll and ninth in the AP media poll. Oklahoma State is the only other Big 12 school in the top 25, checking in at the No. 24 slot in both polls.

Six league teams have seven or more wins so far this season, which is a big reason why the Big 12 has the second fewest losses of any conference in non-conference action. As of Sunday's games, the Big 12 has a cumulative record of 64-26 against other conferences. Big 12 teams have been especially good on their home hardwood, amassing a combined record of 45-6 at home, and seven league teams (Kansas, Oklahoma State, Kansas State, Oklahoma, Iowa State, Texas and West Virginia) boast unbeaten home records.

Over the past four seasons, dating back to 2009-10, Big 12 teams have combined for an impressive 340-16 home record against nonconference competition.

Nine of the 10 conference teams have a record of .600 or better entering this week's schedule. Only West Virginia, which is 4-5, owns a losing record this far.

As dominant as the men have been in Big 12 basketball, the women have been even more so as the head-to-head conference season approaches. To begin with, six conference teams are ranked in the most recent USA Today top-25 poll. The Lady Bears of Baylor are the highest ranked of the Big 12 teams at No. 3. The Cowgirls of Oklahoma State are next, coming in at Kansas and Baylor are the men's and women's Big 12 basketball preseason favorites, and both are holding up their end of the bargain thus far, heading into the most important portion of the season schedule: Big 12 action.No. 14, followed by Oklahoma (18), Kansas (19), West Virginia (20) and Texas (23). Iowa State also received votes.

Talk about tightly bunched, if things stay as they are currently, there will be complete mayhem when the Big 12 women's hoops race begins in a couple of weeks. Between the men and women's teams at Oklahoma State, the Cowboys have lost just once in 16 non conference outings combined, and that lone loss belongs to the Cowboy men. The Cowgirls stand a perfect 8-0 thus far, but there are five other league teams with just one loss and six schools that have a winning percentage at .800 or above at this stage of the season. All 10 women's teams have a winning record, the worst belonging to TCU at 5-3. The Big 12 is the only conference in which every team has three or fewer losses.

The .837 winning percentage compiled by Big 12 women this season, who are a combined 72-14, is the best in the country. Also, Big 12 women's basketball is the highest rated conference, according to both Collegiate Basketball News and Sagarin.

With five more wins, Big 12 women will record their 2,000 nonconference victory. Big 12 teams have led the country the past two seasons in home nonconference win percentage and are a collective 50-5 this season.

The Big 12 men tip off the conference schedule on Jan. 5 with a four-game slate, the best of which appears to be Oklahoma State (currently 8-1) at Kansas State (7-2). Baylor (7-3) also hosts Texas (6-4). Oklahoma opens Big 12 play in Morgantown, West. Va., a place the Sooners have never played. The Sooners and Mountaineers have already played once this season, an OU victory in the Old Spice Classic, but the all-time series is just three games, with Oklahoma holding a 2-1 edge.

Texas Tech at TCU is the final league game of the first weekend on the men's side. Kansas entertains Temple that same weekend, and will host Iowa State the following Wednesday in the Jayhawks' conference opener.

On the women's side, league play begins on Wednesday, Jan. 2 with a spotlight matchup between Oklahoma State and Texas Tech. The two teams have one loss between them currently after 16 games. The defending national champions and conference-champion Baylor Lady Bears will visit TCU to begin league play. In other women's conference openers on Jan. 2, West Virginia will be at Oklahoma, Kansas State is at Kansas in a Sunflower State Showdown and Texas travels to Iowa State.

The timing is perfect. Right about the time the college football bowl season comes to an end, the Big 12 head-to-head season will be in full swing. And by the looks of things heading into the New Year, it should get real interesting from here on out.

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