Big 12 best basketball league again, brutal half-season left
The Big 12 has the nation's No. 1 team in Oklahoma and half of the league's teams are ranked in the top 15 of the Top 25.
For the third season in a row, the conference has the best cumulative RPI with just more than a month to go before March Madness. And in a ''break'' from league play last weekend, the Big 12 won seven of 10 games against the Southeastern Conference in an event that used to be played in December.
''The league has clearly established itself as the best, year in and year out, in the country,'' Sooners coach Lon Kruger said. ''We're on a good run with really, really good young players and the success last weekend has pretty much validated what's being said about the conference.''
Now comes the second half of the league's brutal round-robin schedule, with each of the 10 teams exactly halfway through their 18 Big 12 games.
''First and foremost, everybody just wants to continue to get better,'' Baylor coach Scott Drew said. ''If you stop improving, you're not going to win games in that back half. ... It's important each and every day that you continue to get better, because other teams are.''
Drew reiterated that necessity, and talked about how quickly things could change.
Baylor (17-5, 6-3 Big 12) recently lost at home to Texas (15-7, 6-3), dropping the Bears out of first place after matching the deepest they had ever gotten into Big 12 play still atop the standings. The Bears and Longhorns, who have won six of their last seven games for first-year coach Shaka Smart, are a game behind Big 12 co-leaders Oklahoma (19-2, 7-2) and No. 14 West Virginia (18-4, 7-2).
Those Texas squads are tied with No. 7 Kansas (18-4, 6-3), which has won or shared the last 11 Big 12 titles and at this point last season had a two-game lead in the conference standings.
Here are a few things to know going into the second half of conference play in the Big 12's 20th season:
AWAY FROM ALLEN FIELDHOUSE
Kansas had lost three of five Big 12 games, all of those losses on the road, before winning its Big 12-SEC Challenge game in overtime Saturday night against No. 20 Kentucky.
''We needed something to kind of halt the negative momentum that we had,'' Jayhawks coach Bill Self said. ''Hopefully it's a springboard for more energy, more activity, just a newness going into February, which obviously becomes the dog days of your season.''
Kansas won at home over Kansas State on Wednesday night, but plays five of its last nine Big 12 games on the road. That includes the Feb. 13 rematch with Oklahoma, which was No. 2 in a 109-106 triple-overtime loss to the then-No. 1 Jayhawks.
LOOKING AHEAD TO MARCH
The Big 12 has sent seven teams to the NCAA Tournament each of the past two seasons - the only league with 14 bids in that span. In the latest RPI, there are five Big 12 teams in the top 17 and three others in the top 55. ... After the weekend games against the SEC, the Big 12 has a 105-23 record in non-conference games, the highest winning percentage (82) by any league in non-conference games since 2003-04. No other league can tout every team having at least 10 victories.
Kansas State, Oklahoma State and TCU are all 0-5 in Big 12 road games, and Texas Tech's only road win was at TCU.
''In any other league in America, there's several teams ... we might be sitting at 5-3 instead of 2-5 or 2-6,'' Oklahoma State coach Travis Ford said. ''Because of the league we play in and the caliber of teams in the league this season, your record may not look so good.''
In their preseason polling, Big 12 coaches correctly picked the top and bottom half of the standings so far, though not in order. There are four teams currently with losing records in conference play - Texas Tech, Kansas State, Oklahoma State and TCU - and those were picked as the bottom four. Kansas was the preseason favorite, followed by Oklahoma, Iowa State, Texas, Baylor and West Virginia.