January 11, 2008

Fritch's Big 12 Tour: Judging strength

The Big 12 enters its conference season with all of its teams owning a winning record. The ACC is the nation's only other league that can say as much. While No. 3 Kansas, No. 11 Texas A&M and No. 12 Texas remain atop the pack, Baylor is crushing school records while Nebraska and Oklahoma have fashioned impressive starts as well. D. Scott Fritchen reveals his power rankings heading into this weekend's action.

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A look at the Big 12 teams heading into league play.






Only the Jayhawks' 22-0 start in 1996-'97 is better than their 15-0 start in year five under Bill Self. Nebraska on Saturday might want to focus on cooling off hot-handed senior forward Darnell Jackson, who is shooting 73.3 percent (44-for-60) from the floor in the last eight games and averaged 17.0 points in the last four contests. Kansas holds winning streaks against its first five conference opponents, including Nebraska (won last eight), Oklahoma (has never lost to the Sooners at home in the Big 12), Missouri (won last three), Iowa State (won last four) and Kansas State (has never lost at Bramlage Coliseum).

The first six out of the gate: at Nebraska, Oklahoma, at Missouri, Iowa State, Nebraska, at Kansas State


Texas A&M

The Aggies are 14-1 for the first time since they started 16-1 to begin the 1921-22 season as Mark Turgeon is off to the best start for a first-year coach in school history. Doesn't get much better than beating LSU by 26 like the Aggies did at home in their last outing on Jan. 5, setting a school record for a regular-season non-conference home game with 12,255 packing the joint. Texas A&M could be cruising in its league season by the time it hosts Texas on Jan. 30.

The first six out of the gate: Colorado, at Texas Tech, at Kansas State, Baylor, at Oklahoma State, Texas



The Longhorns have won 13 of their first 15 games for the third time under Rick Barnes, who is a perfect 9-0 in Big 12 openers as Texas heads to Missouri on Saturday. It will look to extend winning streaks against the Tigers (won last nine) and Colorado (won last two) before a redemption game at Oklahoma State on Jan. 21. Nobody has recently been able to shut down sophomore guard D.J. Augustin, who has scored at least 16 points in each of the last 12 games and has 43 assists and just 17 turnovers in his last seven outings.

The first six out of the gate: at Missouri, Colorado, at Oklahoma State, Texas Tech, at Texas A&M, Baylor



Look who's headed up. The Bears' 12 non-conference victories are their most ever prior to Big 12 play and surpasses their overall win total for three of the last four campaigns. Scott Drew, whose team was picked to finish 9th in the preseason polls, has seen no opponent shoot better than 50 percent against Baylor, which is 24-7 at home dating back to the 2005-06 season and hasn't lost to Iowa State at the Ferrell Center since 2000. Freshman guard LaceDarius Dunn led the Bears in scoring three times before he erupted with career-highs in points (24), field goals (10) and 3-pointers (7) against Brown to end the non-conference season.

The first six out of the gate: Iowa State, Oklahoma State, at Nebraska, at Texas A&M, Oklahoma, at Texas



Freshman forward Blake Griffin looks to be as good as advertised coming off a career-high 26-point performance against Mount St. Mary's and eight straight double-digit scoring efforts for the Sooners, whose 12 non-conference wins ties for the most since 1994-95. Already Oklahoma has scored 70 points 10 times, matching its total from a year ago while holding opponents to 37.9 percent shooting, the program's best since 33.9 percent in 1959-60. It hasn't lost to Kansas State at home in Big 12 history, but will face a tremendous task at Kansas on Jan. 14.

The first six out of the gate: Kansas State, at Kansas, Texas Tech, at Baylor, Oklahoma State, at Texas A&M



The Huskers' 36-point pounding of Maryland-Eastern Shore was their 24th straight non-conference win at home, including 19 under Doc Sadler. But extending a 12-game home winning streak with Kansas coming to town will be a totally different challenge. The ability for the league's top scoring defense (53.5) to keep high-flying Kansas under its season average (84.0) could show what this squad is all about. After that, Nebraska will still play three of its next four on the road, including one at Kansas on Jan. 26 - its second go-around with the Jayhawks in four games. Freshman point guard Cookie Miller has 19 assists and one turnover in the last two games.

The first six out of the gate: Kansas, at Colorado, Baylor, at Kansas, at Missouri, Iowa State


Kansas State

Michael Beasley expects the Big 12 to be tough. The nation's top freshman shouldn't be disappointed at Oklahoma. The Big 12 leader in points (24.3) and nation leader in rebounds (13.3) will face his first good team since a forgettable five-point, 12-rebound outing in a 26-point loss at Xavier. Frank Martin will enter his first game as a Big 12 coach along with at least six players from a squad that has reached 75 points in six straight games, something no K-State team has done since 1976-77. In search of more statement games, the Wildcats could make one with a win at Oklahoma for the first time since 1995-96.

The first six out of the gate: at Oklahoma, Texas A&M, at Colorado, Iowa State, Kansas, at Missouri



The Tigers have lost two of their last four and a 59-58 loss versus Illinois was their third suffered by four or fewer points. Missouri has won 12 straight at home. Of course, Texas will have something to say about that. Missouri hasn't topped Texas since 1999 and the Longhorns and a date against Kansas sandwich a road trip to Iowa State to start the league season. Senior guard Stefhon Hannah became the second Big 12 player this season to record a double-double in points and assists with 13 points and a season-high 11 assists against UMKC and will be relied upon heavily as the Tigers look to prove themselves against the Big 12 higher ups.

The first six out of the gate: Texas, at Iowa State, Kansas, at Texas Tech, at Colorado, Nebraska


Texas Tech

Needing quality wins on its resume, Texas Tech blew a seven-point halftime lead in a 62-61 loss to Stanford in Dallas on Dec. 22. Since then, the Longhorns have won three straight, but their last two against Lamar (77-75) and UTEP (75-68) were closer than expected. Coupled with three straight road losses (Butler, Centenary and New Mexico), this could spell big trouble heading to Oklahoma State. Streaks and trends didn't seem to matter last season as a Texas Tech win (59-57) redeemed an earlier double-overtime loss to the Cowboys (93-91). Senior guard Martin Zeno is averaging 26.5 points in his last two games and has reached 20 points five times this season.

The first six out of the gate: at Oklahoma State, Texas A&M, at Oklahoma, Missouri, at Texas, Oklahoma State


Iowa State

Only a 83-68 loss at Alabama prevents the Cyclones from entering the Big 12 on a eight-game winning streak. Starting off at Baylor will be different from the likes of Albany, USC-Upstate and North Dakota - Iowa State's last three foes. Interestingly, the Cyclones have beaten both the Bears and Missouri the last time the teams met, but a 3-0 league start would be ideal as they visit Kansas and Kansas State in a three-day span. Senior center Jiri Hubalek is averaging 15.8 points and 7.5 rebounds in his last eight games.

The first six out of the gate: at Baylor, Missouri, Oklahoma State, at Kansas, at Kansas State, Colorado


Oklahoma State

It's not that the Cowboys have flopped, but they were predicted to finish 7th in the preseason and push for the postseason. They currently find themselves looking up with back-to-back losses at Pittsburgh (85-68) and versus Oral Roberts (74-59) overshadowing their final four non-conference games against nobodies, including a 62-53 win against powerhouse Rogers State. After Texas Tech, Oklahoma State gets consecutive road games at Baylor and at Iowa State before home dates against Texas and Texas A&M. Ending the non-conference last in the Big 12 in field goal percentage (43.8) and field goal percentage defense (43.3) isn't the way to go.

The first six out of the gate: Texas Tech, at Baylor, at Iowa State, Texas, Texas A&M, at Oklahoma



Congrats goes out to senior Richard Roby, who is the Big 12's active career scoring leader (1,689) and has rediscovered his stroke in averaging 22.4 points and 7.8 rebounds in the last five games. Although the Buffaloes passed its victory total with a win against SMU, a 81-68 loss to Tulsa at home provides a setback entering a daunting Big 12 season in which wins will be difficult to come by. Jeff Bzdelik has his team making paper rally caps.

The first six out of the gate: at Texas A&M, Nebraska, at Texas, Kansas State, Missouri, at Iowa State

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