Big 12 stock report: Sleepers, Busts and Contenders
The Big 12 conference season begins today, and already the league is full of interesting storylines.
Kansas and Texas are still undefeated and ranked Nos. 1-2 in the country. Kansas State is in the top 10, and Texas Tech is off to an impressive start at 12-2, while Oklahoma has struggled to 9-5.
Things can change quickly once the conference season begins, though.
So what teams does KU need to look out for? And which teams are due for quite a few losses in conference play?
The following is my list of sleepers, busts and contenders in the Big 12.
Current record: 12-3
Preseason Big 12 coaches poll rank: 7th
Current AP/Coaches poll rank: Unranked
Reason to believe: Turns out Mike Anderson had a legitimate gripe at Big 12 media days while wondering aloud why an Elite Eight run last year couldn't get his team picked higher than seventh in the conference. The coach has his 40-minutes of hell style rolling once again in Columbia to the tune of seven straight wins, and the Tigers shouldn't be a sleeper for too much longer.
So what's going right with MU? Turnovers, baby. The Tigers lead the nation, forcing turnovers on 29.7 percent of their opponents' possessions, which is the best mark in the nation. They also look to be balanced, ranking 32nd in adjusted offensive efficiency and ninth in adjusted defensive efficiency on KenPom.com.
Reason for concern: MU doesn't have any household names. We saw Sherron Collins carry KU against Cornell when it was struggling. Dexter Pittman and Damion James can do that for Texas. Who will that be for Missouri? Looks like guard Kim English, who has shot 33.3 percent of his team's shots when he's in the game, is at least trying to be that guy.
Fearless Prediction: Missouri will beat Kansas State today and finish tied for third in the conference with Kansas State.
Current record: 12-1
Preseason Big 12 coaches poll rank: 10th
Current AP/Coaches poll rank: Receiving Votes/Receiving Votes
Reason to believe: Six-foot-10 transfer Ekpe Udoh (top right above) has transformed this team. Suddenly, with the big man's help, the Bears are a defensive force, ranking 49th in adjusted defensive efficiency (The Bears were 103rd a year ago). Udoh is ninth nationally in block percentage (with blocks on 13.2 percent of the opposing team's two-point attempts when he's in there), while he's also boosted Baylor's interior defense; the Bears' two-point percentage defense (36.8 percent) ranks second nationally.
Reason for concern: The Bears still don't force many turnovers, and their free-throw percentage (64.6 percent) leaves something to be desired.
Fearless prediction: Twenty wins and an NCAA Tournament berth for the Bears.
Current record: 9-5
Preseason Big 12 coaches poll rank: 3rd
Current AP/Coaches poll rank: Unranked
Reason to believe: Big names like Willie Warren and Tiny Gallon would make you think the Sooners could still turn it around. I'm not holding my breath.
Reason for concern: The Sooners don't play any defense. None. They rank 212th in adjusted defensive efficiency after ranking 36th last year and 32nd two years ago. Opponents are especially having success from deep against OU, making 36.6 percent of their threes against the Sooners — and that's while shooting nearly 17 three-pointers per game against the poor perimeter defense. Ouch.
Fearless prediction: A 6-10 conference mark and 15-15 final record for the Sooners.
Current record: 12-2
Preseason Big 12 coaches poll rank: 9th
Current AP/Coaches poll rank: 22nd/Receiving Votes
Reason to believe: Just look at the record. No one expected the Red Raiders to be 12-2 at this point, and an overtime home win against Washington looks good on the resume. Mike Singletary (15.8 points per game) has been a bright spot as well.
Reason for concern: Defense. I heard that on an earlier KU TV broadcast, ESPN analyst Bob Knight wasn't impressed with one of Texas Tech wins, griping that the Red Raiders shouldn't give up that many points to an opponent, win or loss. Pat Knight's father is correct to be worried about TTU's defense. The Red Raiders have given up 70-plus points to eight straight opponents, and their adjusted defensive efficiency (100th nationally) is third-worst in the conference.
Fearless prediction: Texas Tech falls short of an NCAA Tournament bid.
Current record: 14-0
Preseason Big 12 coaches poll rank: 1st
Current AP/Coaches poll rank: 1st/1st
Reason to believe: Right now, KU is the most balanced team in the country. The Jayhawks are second in adjusted offensive efficiency and third in adjusted defensive efficiency. The Jayhawks have few weaknesses. KU is top 11 nationally in three-point percentage (43.4 percent, fourth), two-point percentage (55 percent, 11th) three-point percentage defense (27.3 percent, 10th) and two-point defense percentage (37.8 percent, fourth). They also have three legitimate All-America candidates that can all score in different ways.
Reason for concern: It's nitpicking for sure, but KU's free-throw percentage (68.9 percent) is just barely above the NCAA average. Thomas Robinson (16-for-38, 42.1 percent) needs the most work.
Fearless prediction: A share of their sixth straight Big 12 championship. Unfortunately for KU, it looks like the imaginary Big 12 north division (the teams KU plays twice) are a bit tougher this year than the south division (the teams UT plays twice), so the Longhorns might be able to gain a game on the Jayhawks simply because of their schedule.
Current record: 14-0
Preseason Big 12 coaches poll rank: 2nd
Current AP/Coaches poll rank: 2nd/2nd
Reason to believe: Right now, the Longhorns are the best defensive team in the country. UT leads the nation in adjusted defensive efficiency and is especially stout inside the three-point line, where opponents have made just 37.8 percent of their shots (fifth nationally).
Reason for concern: The Longhorns are good offensively (23rd in adjusted offensive efficiency), but still could stand to be better, especially from the outside. UT has made just 33.2 percent of its threes and might face a flurry of zones if it can't improve. The Longhorns also have been dreadful (62.9 percent) from the free-throw line.
Fearless prediction: A share of the Big 12 crown with Kansas, along with a No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tourney.
Current record: 13-1
Preseason Big 12 coaches poll rank: 4th
Current AP/Coaches poll rank: 11th/10th
Reason to believe: Those believing that Kansas State is a fluke and not worthy of a national ranking are kidding themselves. I'll be the first to admit that I questioned K-State's quick hiring of Frank Martin a few years ago, but I'll also be the first to admit I was wrong. Martin has done a masterful job with the Wildcats this year (Big 12 coach of the year is his to lose right now), and KSU has been especially impressive offensively. KSU is 12th in adjusted defensive efficiency, and has dominated in two areas: offensive rebounding (getting offensive boards on 42.9 percent of possessions, third nationally) and getting to the free-throw line (averaging more than 33 free throws attempted per game). K-State's defense also has forced 17.8 turnovers per game.
Reason for concern: The Wildcats could take care of the ball better, as they've averaged more than 15 turnovers per game — and the defenses are about to get tougher in conference play. Like KU and UT, Kansas State's free-throw percentage (64.9 percent) needs some work.
Fearless prediction: KSU will earn a top-four seed in the NCAA Tournament.