Conference Reset: KU down; Baylor, Mizzou on fire in competitive Big 12

by | CBSSports.com College Basketball Insider
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Thomas Robinson is looking for assistance, and the Jayhawks are a little down in that department. (AP)  
Thomas Robinson is looking for assistance, and the Jayhawks are a little down in that department. (AP)  

The Big 12 title is up for grabs. Kansas has been king of the league for most of the past decade, but this season the Jayhawks look vulnerable. No one can match the talent and length of Scott Drew's Baylor squad, but the Bears haven't been the most impressive team in the conference thus far -- that honor belongs to Missouri and new coach Frank Haith.

But don't count out Kansas State as long as Frank Martin has this group of somewhat anonymous Wildcats buying into his brand of basketball -- which means playing hard. Although Texas A&M has gotten off to a shaky start, the Aggies have legitimate excuses as they didn't have their coach for the preseason and played most of the early slate without their best player.

That's why this race may shape up as the most wide-open of any league in the nation.

Big 12

Maximum Teams Capable of Making the NCAAs (And We're Very Serious About This): Baylor, Missouri, Kansas, Kansas State, Texas A&M

The League's Most Memorable Moment So Far: Texas A&M coach Billy Kennedy's daughter, Anna Cate, screaming in the waning seconds while St. John's guard Nurideen Lindsey was at the free-throw line. The Red Storm needed only one free throw to tie, but Anna Cate's shrieks clearly threw Lindsey off his game -- and he missed both foul shots. Game over. Victory to the Aggies and Anna Cate.

Conference resets
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The Storyline You Were Too Busy to Notice: Frank Martin has Kansas State out to a 10-1 start following the Diamond Head Classic championship in Hawaii over Christmas.

Coach feeling the heat: Travis Ford and Oklahoma State are only 7-5, needed overtime to take care of SMU and while Ford shouldn't be in any trouble after this season, he's starting to feel some heat.

Still unproven: Oklahoma -- The Sooners are 9-1, but remain a mystery because of a fairly soft non-conference slate.

Player of the Year and All-League Team: Thomas Robinson, Kansas (POY); Marcus Denmon, Missouri; Phil Pressey, Missouri, J'Covan Brown, Texas, Will Spradling, Kansas State

What I loved: Seeing Texas A&M coach Billy Kennedy, who was recently diagnosed with the early stages of Parkinson's Disease, back on the court.

What I hated: Watching J'Covan Brown revert back to his old ways and pick up a technical against N.C. State that wound up costing the Longhorns a victory. Brown has been known to run his mouth -- and he did so to a referee after picking up a foul. He was hit with a technical, fouled out and then watched his team blow a huge lead to the Wolfpack.

1. Baylor

What's Gone Quite Right: The Bears scheduled nice and soft early in the season, especially knowing that talented forward Perry Jones III would be missing the first five games due to an NCAA suspension. Scott Drew's team has yet to slip up and remains undefeated. New Year's Resolution(s): Point guard play. There's no shortage of options, but Pierre Jackson (12 ppg, 4.5 apg) appears to be the most suited for the role.

MVP: Quincy Acy -- Since Jones missed five games, we're going with Acy, who is second on the team in scoring and leads the Bears in rebounding. Step Your Game Up: Quincy Miller. The talented frosh got into double-digits in four of his first five games, but has struggled since Jones returned and has reached double-figures only once in his past six games.

2. Missouri

What's Gone Quite Right: Difficult to imagine the start of the Frank Haith Era in Columbia going any smoother on the court. The Tigers are unbeaten and look like a well-oiled machine on the offensive end. New Year's Resolution(s): Matchups. It's all about who the Tigers go up against because of their lack of size. I worry when they face length and size up front -- teams like Baylor and Kansas.

MVP: Phil Pressey -- Most would say Marcus Denmon, whose numbers are phenomenal, but I'm going with the pint-sized point guard who is a difference-maker because of his speed and ability to create uncontested shots for teammates. Step Your Game Up: Honestly, no one. Everyone is playing extremely well -- and if they continue to play as they have thus far, the Tigers have a chance to win the conference.

3. Kansas

What's Gone Quite Right: Thomas Robinson has been as dominant a big man as there is in the country and Tyshawn Taylor's knee injury wasn't one that kept him off the court for long, because the Jayhawks don't have the depth to withstand any injuries this season. New Year's Resolution(s): Take care of the ball. Bill Self has made no secret that he isn't thrilled with the excessive turnovers. It starts with Tyshawn Taylor cutting down his miscues. MVP: Thomas Robinson -- If the Jayhawks' relentless big man had more of a supporting cast, he might be the clubhouse leader for National Player of the Year honors. He's averaging 17.4 points and 11.8 boards.

Step Your Game Up: Kevin Young. The former Loyola Marymount forward was thought to be a potential starter, especially given the lack of depth. He's been nothing more than a seldom-used role guy for the first part of the season.

4. Kansas State

What's Gone Quite Right: The post-Jacob Pullen Era appears just fine in Manhattan. There's no one star, but plenty of balance with holdovers Rodney McGruder, Will Spradling, Jamar Samuels and Jordan Henriquez as well as freshmen Thomas Gipson and Angel Rodriguez. New Year's Resolution(s): Frank Martin to stay the same. I know he won't change, but he's a riot to watch on the court -- especially knowing how mellow he is off the court. MVP: Will Spradling. Vastly underrated is the sophomore point guard. He does it all for Frank Martin -- scores, distributes and defends. Step Your Game Up: Jordan Henriquez clearly has improved from a year ago, but the long and talented big man can give the Wildcats even more.

5. Texas A&M

What's Gone Quite Right: Aggies head coach Billy Kennedy, who has battled health issues leading into the season, on the court and coaching his new program. The former Murray State coach took the job in the offseason and was diagnosed with early stages of Parkinson's Disease. He missed the first few games of the season, but it back on the sidelines. New Year's Resolution(s): Health and happiness for Kennedy -- and for the rest of the team, which was without star Khris Middleton for much of the non-conference slate because of a knee injury. MVP: With Middleton out, these guys haven't really had anyone emerge as a star. Washington transfer Elston Turner is averaging 12.3 points and has proven to be more than just a shooter. Step Your Game Up: The Aggies need more from veteran point guard Dash Harris. He's just not a threat to score -- and this team could use another guy who can put the ball in the basket.

6. Oklahoma

What's Gone Quite Right: I don't care what the schedule has brought the Sooners. No one figured Oklahoma would win nine of its first 10 games in the Lon Kruger Era. New Year's Resolution(s): Continue to rebound. The Sooners have been surprisingly good on the glass. Will this continue in conference play?

MVP: Junior guard Steven Pledger has been outstanding, averaging 19 points and shooting 49 percent from long distance. Step Your Game Up: Sophomore wing Cameron Clark is extremely talented and should be averaging more than 9.8 points.

7. Texas

What's Gone Quite Right: Except for the train wreck in New Jersey, in which Texas lost to Oregon State and N.C. State, the Longhorns have been fine -- especially considering their youth. Nine wins -- including victories at UCLA and against Temple -- is probably right where this team expected to be at this point. New Year's Resolution(s): Maturity. The Longhorns are so young this season and it's just going to take time for these guys. Myck Kabongo is the perfect example as the talented freshman has struggled out of the gate. MVP: Setting aside the stupid technical that cost his team a game against N.C. State, J'Covan Brown has been phenomenal. He's got an old-school game and really knows how to play. Brown is averaging 19 points has a near 2-to-1 assist-to-turnover ratio. Step Your Game Up: I know veteran big man Clint Chapman and Alexis Wangmene are what they are, but they still need to give Rick Barnes more on the offensive end -- especially Chapman.

8. Iowa State
What's Gone Quite Right: While the Cyclones have lost a couple (at Drake and Northern Iowa at home) that may have surprised some, this is a team that has nine victories -- and my guess is Fred Hoiberg would have taken that at this point in the season with so many new faces. New Year's Resolution(s): Cohesiveness. When you throw so many transfers together, it's going to take some time for them to figure it out. MVP: Royce White is nearly averaging a double-double at 14.2 points and 9.6 boards per game and also leads the team in assists. Has been as good as advertised. Step Your Game Up: The Cyclones need to become tougher on the defensive end of the floor. Teams are shooting 43 percent from the field. That's just not good.

9. Oklahoma State

What's Gone Quite Right: Not a whole lot. The Cowboys needed overtime just to beat UTSA and get to New York -- where they lost a pair to Stanford and Virginia Tech. Travis Ford's team has dropped three of its last four straight and is only 7-5 overall following an overtime win against SMU. New Year's Resolution(s): Consistency. Travis Ford is going to lose some hair this season with enigmatic freshmen like Le'Bryan Nash and Cezar Geurrero. MVP: I'm not sure I could honestly pick someone, but if I am forced I'll go with Markel Brown. The sophomore guard has been solid and versatile.

Step Your Game Up: I know Le'Bryan Nash's numbers look fine (13.1 ppg, 5.1 rpg), but the talented freshman needs to be more consistent with his effort and production.

10. Texas Tech

What's Gone Quite Right: No outlandish Billy Clyde Gillispie stories have surfaced. Yet. New Year's Resolution(s): For Gillispie to treat people with respect. He's already run a ton of people out of Lubbock -- from coaches to managers to secretaries.

MVP: Jordan Tolbert. Who the heck is this kid averaging 15.8 points and 6.5 boards in Lubbock? He's a 6-foot-7 forward from a small school in Fort Worth who has been a bright spot thus far. Step Your Game Up: Robert Lewandowski. The 6-foot-10 senior has seen his scoring and rebounding numbers drop from a year ago.

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