Most folks figured this season’s Big 12 race would come down to Kansas or Texas.
And it has, sort of.
Nearly every team from the Sunflower and Lone Star states seems intent on making a run for the Big 12 title, making for a crowd along with the Jayhawks and Longhorns.
The one with the inside shot at surprising everyone is Texas A&M, which has won three straight and five of six. The surging Aggies (17-6, 6-3 Big 12) opened this week tied with No. 9 Kansas State for second place in the conference.
Texas, ranked 14th just three weeks after being No. 1 in the nation, was tied for third on Monday, and No. 24 Baylor — picked 10th in the preseason poll — was fourth along with Oklahoma.
Top-ranked Kansas and Kansas State have lived up to lofty preseason expectations, but there is a surprisingly strong Lone Star feel to the 2009-10 season. Texas Tech (15-7, 3-5) is the only Texas team under .500 in the league — and the Red Raiders spent five weeks in the Top 25 this season.
“There’s a lot of talent in Texas and the surrounding area, and I think the schools have been able to keep that talent close to home,” Baylor coach Scott Drew said.
Home-grown stars like Donald Sloan and Bryan Davis were among the reasons Texas A&M was expected to be a factor in the Big 12 race this season. It seemed a stretch, though, to believe the Aggies had a legitimate shot at challenging for the league crown. But here they are after a grueling overtime loss to the Longhorns in Austin on Jan. 16.
Coach Mark Turgeon told his players after the game that he believed they were still a good team — and they’ve been playing like one ever since. Texas A&M took advantage of having four home games out of six by winning them all at Reed Arena, and followed a close win at Missouri by beating Baylor, 78-71, on Saturday.
With home games against both Kansas and Texas later this month, Texas A&M could have a major say in who wins the league crown.
“We’re executing offensively better. We’re shooting a higher percentage, we’re figuring out different ways to score,” Turgeon said. “We’ve done the little things in close games to win, and I think that’s kind of been the difference.”