With the nonconference season (almost) over, it's time to take a look at the Big 12 as a whole and attempt to make some predictions as to how the conference will shake out:
First off, it was a pretty rough nonconference season for the league as a whole. Kansas's win at Ohio State was the league's best, with Baylor winning at Kentucky and Kansas State beating Florida on a neutral (semi home) court close behind. Overall though, I would say that this is the weakest the conference has been in at least five years.
As it stands, it looks like the league has one elite team, two or three really good teams and then a lot of mediocrity. If I had to guess how many NCAA bids were coming for the Big 12 this year I would say five, but that is only because the Pac 12 and ACC (outside of Duke) are pretty bad, and we already know the SEC is only getting three. I even think that more bids are possible, but more on that later.
A brief explanation before getting to the power rankings: This isn't how I see the teams now, but moreso is an attempt to predict how the final Big 12 standings will look. Perhaps that makes the title of this post misleading, but for symmetry's sake I went for it.
We discuss them enough obviously so I won't get too into it, but a couple of quick notes: Bill Self is going to have his 8th straight top 10 defensive team and, other than 2011, Kansas has been no worse than fourth best nationally in two point defense over that stretch. This year they are of course first, allowing opponents to shoot just 37.1% from two, thanks to some good perimeter defending as well as some Withey guy.
2. Kansas State
I am probably the only person to have not Oklahoma State here - even Pomeroy gives them the 5th best chance in the league to win it - but other than Angel Rodriguez and Thomas Gipson they are running out a lot of players with experience, and I still expect Rodney McGruder to get a lot better. His eFG has dropped almost 10% from where it was the last two years, and improvement from him will go a long way to helping an offense stuck in the 200s in both 2pt% and 3pt%.
Defensively, though, the Wildcats are ranked 24th in PPP allowed. And what's more, I have to expect they will improve even more from that mark: currently K State ranks 88th in 2pt% allowed, but finished no lower than 70th (and only twice outside the top 60) under Frank Martin.
If I were considering only the talent level I would have Baylor #2, but they're 3 as a testament to Scott Drew. Drew has had loads of talent in his time in Waco, but the results haven't lived up to the billing (although, to stick up for him a bit, he took Baylor from the biggest disaster in the Big 12 to perennial challenger in the league and a top 20 program in the country. Say what you want about his in game coaching skills, that's impressive).
Still, in just the last three years Baylor has had 4 NBA draftees, including a lottery pick, and they've finished tied for second (and lost the tiebreaker to K State), 8th and 3rd. Not that that is horrible, but they were the most talented team in the league two years ago and went to the NIT. Drew also helped turn Perry Jones III from a top 5 pick to barely a first rounder. So while I am putting them third and I respect their talent, I am also wary of what Scott Drew is going to do.
4. Oklahoma State
There has been a bit of an intellectual battle going on between people who think Marcus Smart is good and those who think he is not good. There's no doubt that Smart is a tremendous talent: he has a good basketball IQ, he's athletic enough to where he will probably be a first round pick next June, and he's taken on the challenge of trying to carry Oklahoma State.
But at the same time he takes too many bad shots and doesn't make enough of them. He's shooting just 47% from two and 28% from three on the year. As John Gasaway pointed out, the fact that Smart has a relatively high shot volume does not excuse him for his poor percentages. He's been good at a lot of things, but shooting the ball isn't one of them.
Beyond not believing in Smart (or LeBryan Nash for that matter) I don't believe in the Cowboy defense. They're currently 8th in adjusted PPP allowed, but have never finished in the top 50 under Travis Ford. They're doing it partially thanks to forcing a lot of turnovers against overmatched opponents, but those will be less easy to come by in Big 12 play.
Speaking of coaches who get hammered for their coaching decisions, Rick Barnes has very quietly built a mini defensive powerhouse in Austin. So far this year they rank 3rd in adjusted PPP allowed, and they have the best eFG allowed in the country. From an admittedly small sample size of viewings though, they are probably getting a little lucky from beyond the arc: opponents are shooting just 22.6% from three but they are getting (fairly) good looks and shooting quite a few threes against the Horns. Still, Texas is the second best 2pt defense in the country right now and have only allowed one opponent to score more than a point per possession this season (ironically enough, that opponent is Chaminade)
Texas will also get Myck Kabongo back in February. Kabongo didn't shoot it great last year but had a high assist rate and drew a ton of fouls. He'll help take the pressure off Javan Felix who also has a high assist rate (39.6%, 18th nationally) but can't shoot (31.4% eFG)
6. Iowa State
The Cyclones are 10-3, but have really only beaten BYU. They're also playing really fast this year, leading the big 12 with an adjusted tempo of 71 possessions per game. In fact, only Iowa State, Texas Tech and Kansas are in the fastest 100 teams in the co untry, meaning there could be a lot of low scoring affairs in the league this year.
Much like his previous two years in Ames, Fred Hoiberg has a team that both takes and makes a lot of threes. They were in the top 20 in terms of threes taken last year, and probably will be again. Oddly enough, the Cyclones are also grabbing a lot of their own misses, 39.8% of them in fact, which goes against the normal construct of a team that takes a lot of threes.
The Sooners have a lot of veterans back, but the Freshmen who were supposed to supplement that group have underperformed. No one has an assist rate over 16%, and Lon Krueger is spreading out the minutes way too much. Steven Pledger is playing in just 64% of the team's minutes, a number that will likely climb during Big 12 play. They'll have to lean on him and fellow Senior Romero Osby to have any chance of breaking into the top half of the league.
8. West Virginia
The first of the two newcomers absolutely cannot shoot the ball. They rank 281st in shooting twos and 302nd in shooting threes. True to Bob Huggins, they're pounding the offensive glass to score points, grabbing 38.6% of their own misses. That percentage ranks 25th in the nation right now, but they have finished the previous four years with similar percentages and ranked 7th, 6th, 2nd and 5th.
Also of note: the Mountaineers have lost to Oklahoma twice already, first in the Old Spice Classic and on Saturday in Morgantown. Assuming they also lose in Norman they have an outside shot to become the first Big 12 team to ever go 0-4 against an opponent.
9. Texas Tech
Both of these teams are awful. TCU might go 0-18 in league play and Texas Tech might go 2-16. The Red Raiders are 8-4 which is nice but only 3 of those wins came in teams ranked in the top 200 of KenPom.