With the non-conference schedule in the books, we have a better idea of how the Big 12 conference schedule lines up. We all had our opinions when the schedule was first released, but some teams have been better than many expected (K-State, TCU), while some have had a rough time (Oklahoma, Texas). Is the KU schedule backloaded, frontloaded, or fairly even? Take a look for yourself:
at TCU (December 30)
At first glance, this looks like a gimme to start out Big 12 play, but TCU deserves a second glance. With Jamie Dixon back in town, this time as a coach, there’s a renewed excitement in Ft. Worth. Trent Johnson never brought the level of play needed to make Schollmaier Arena a rocking venue, and it’s still likely that there will be a large number of crimson-and-blue clad fans present Friday, but TCU is on its way to changing that. They sit at 11-1, ranked 37th nationally by KenPom, but it’s worth noting that the best team they’ve beaten is Illinois State, and the only time they met a top 50 team this year was a double-digit loss to SMU.
vs Kansas State (January 3)
Another one that looks easy, but could be a challenge. KU fans probably shouldn’t lose much sleep over a game against an unranked opponent in Allen Fieldhouse, but there is quality on this Kansas State team, who ranks 31st in KenPom. K-State plays slow, holds teams to a low shooting percentage from both inside and outside the arc, and is getting good guard play from Barry Brown and Wesley Iwundu. Meanwhile, D.J. Johnson has developed into a legitimate post man, scoring efficiently while putting up great numbers on the boards and as a shot-blocker. K-State’s SOS does call into some question their quality though. The only decent team they’ve played is Maryland, and they lost that one on a neutral court.
vs Texas Tech (January 7)
Yet again, a game that sounds easier than it is. There will be a lot of those in the Big 12 this year. Tech is actually ranked 27th by KenPom right now, with dangerous shooting numbers from everywhere on the court under new coach Chris Beard, and they’re the top defensive rebounding team in the country. They also slow the game way down, which can muddy things up and make comebacks tough if the Red Raiders are shooting well. The same caveat that applies with TCU and KSU applies here, though: Tech has only played one team in the KP top 100, and it was a loss to Auburn.
at Oklahoma (January 10)
Oklahoma is having a tough time adjusting to life without Buddy Hield, Isaiah Cousins and Ryan Spangler. As of today, they’ve lost three straight to Wichita State, Memphis and Auburn. Decent teams, but not murderer’s row. They sit at 6-5, and their best win is over a Clemson team on whom the jury is still out. Depending on whether KU’s first three opponents live up to their non-con performances, Oklahoma may be the worst team Kansas faces through the first few weeks of Big 12 play.
vs Oklahoma State (January 14)
Oklahoma State seems to have picked up Brad Underwood’s style of play very quickly. They look to be kind of a West Virginia lite this year. They play fast, they turn you over, they hit the offensive boards, and they foul a lot. They also shoot pretty well, but there are some holes on this team, especially defensively, and especially down low. Look for the Cowboys to be a much tougher team in Stillwater than they are on the road.
at Iowa State (January 16)
We all thought Iowa State would fall off after losing Niang, McKay and Nader, and that’s exactly what’s happened. It should be noted that they haven’t fallen off the map, and the loss of McKay hasn’t tanked their defense the way some expected, but this team only put together one decent win in the non-con (17 point win over Miami). It should also be noted that while ISU sits at three losses, they were all by single digits, and two of them (Cincinnati and Gonzaga) were by a combined three points. If a couple balls bounce the other way, they could be 10-1, and we’d likely be talking about them a bit differently. This is a Big Monday game, so even if this is a down year for Steve Prohm’s bunch, Hilton will no doubt be rocking for this one.
vs Texas (January 20)
So far, Texas looks like they’re likely among the worst teams in the conference. They have the lowest KP rank (69th) and they have five losses, albeit to teams ranked no worse than 62nd. They haven’t been wreaking much “HAVOC” this year, forcing very few turnovers and playing at a pedestrian pace. They have a few guards who have looked pretty good, but it’s tough to find much to brag about on this 6-5 team, whose “signature win” so far has been a home game against Alabama. This should be one of the easiest conference games KU plays unless Texas turns things around in a hurry.
at West Virginia (January 24)
This is the first Big 12 game Pomeroy has KU pegged to lose as of this writing. Fortunately it’s not a Big Monday game, as traveling to Morgantown to play the Huggins press on one full day’s rest would be brutal. West Virginia was expected to dip this year after losing key players JaySean Paige and Devon Williams, but it doesn’t seem to be hurting them much so far. They have a signature win over Virginia, but the rest of their schedule has been very suspect, as has a neutral court loss to Temple.
Despite the Virginia game, I’m in wait-and-see mode on West Virginia, and though they’re ranked 7th by KenPom, KP has been known to overrate teams that beat up on bad competition. Throw in gaudy turnover and offensive rebounding numbers against said competition and there’s a chance this team is a bit overrated. Then again, Huggins knows how to coach and playing the Mountaineers in Morgantown is always a struggle.
vs Baylor (February 1)
This will take place after KU’s haphazard Big 12-SEC challenge game at Kentucky. That one is likely to be an emotional game, so it’s impossible to predict what KU’s mindset may be coming into this one. Baylor has probably been the biggest surprise in the conference so far this year, notching wins over Lousiville, Oregon, VCU, Xavier and Michigan State en route to an undefeated season to date. Scott Drew had to bring in some transfer help to replace guys like Rico Gathers, Taurean Prince and Lester Medford last year, but he seeems to have succeeded. This is in Allen Fieldhouse, and Self has owned Scott Drew over the years, but this Baylor team has shown they can play with just about anyone.