With all of the madness going on in the Big 12 and college basketball in general, the Collegian staff posed the question, “Who has been the best men’s team in the Big 12 so far?” The Baylor Bears currently sit atop the conference standings with a 5-1 record in the Big 12, but does that mean sports editor Tim Everson and staff writers Liz Heath, Avery Osen and Riley Gates think they’re actually the best?
With how crazy the Big 12 season has been up to this point, predicting what team is going to come out of this Thunderdome of a conference is not something for the faint of heart.
If we’re looking at who has been the best team up to this point, however, it’s hard to ignore what head coach Lon Kruger and Oklahoma have done so far this season.
The Sooners are one of the top offensive teams in the country with the top scoring offense in the conference and the sixth best in the NCAA. Also, no one is more precise than Oklahoma from long range; the Sooners have the top 3-point field goal percentage in the country at 45.7.
Senior guard Buddy Hield ranks second in the country and first in the Big 12 in points per game with 26.1. Senior forward Ryan Spangler is second in the conference in rebounding and is in the top 20 in the country.
Plus, add in an upper-tier coach like Kruger, who has had success both in the regular and postseasons, and other high-level pieces like junior guard Jordan Woodard and senior guard Isaiah Cousins, and it’s easy to see why Oklahoma has been the best team over the first third of conference play.
With a conference as unpredictable as the Big 12, the title of “best team in the league” can change in one night. Oklahoma State, sitting at the bottom of the conference, just knocked off Kansas on Tuesday. It’s anybody’s game on any given night, and I think we’re in for a lot of tight games this season. If I had to pick the hottest team in the conference at this moment, I would choose West Virginia.
We all knew Oklahoma, Kansas and Iowa State were going to be decent this season, but West Virginia is playing like they are determined to get redemption after being crushed by Kentucky in the NCAA Tournament last year.
The Mountaineers have been hot, and I don’t see their 68-70 loss to Oklahoma keeping them down for long. Bob Huggins’ team has learned to play against tough competition, especially on their home court. And while their offense isn’t always the most impressive in the league, the Mountaineers know how to rattle their opponents on the defensive end.
They are the best team in the country at forcing turnovers, averaging 20 per game, and they have a scoring margin that ranks fourth in the country and first in the Big 12. On a night when the shots start falling and West Virginia takes full advantage of their possessions from turnovers, this team will be a force.
This isn’t an easy question, and there isn’t a simple answer. This isn’t a simple argument, but it’s one that we will discuss because this doesn’t happen every year.
I don’t think very many people are, but if anyone argues that the Big 12 is not the best conference in the country, they haven’t watched any of the games this season. The teams are high-paced, full of skilled players and display the best defense in the NCAA.
To much dismay of the Wildcat faithful, I think the Kansas Jayhawks are the team to beat this season, and I think they are the all-around best team in the conference, if not the country.
I think anyone could make a case that Oklahoma, West Virginia or Kansas is the best team, but I think the Jayhawks have shown they have the guard play, inside players and a great defense that will help them win the conference.
Head coach Bill Self is the best coach in the Big 12, and he will lead his players to where they need to be as we approach February and then postseason play.
As a trio, sophomore Devonte’ Graham, junior Frank Mason III and junior Wayne Selden Jr. are the finest guards in men’s basketball. They will step up and be the difference for the defending Big 12 Champions.
I think West Virginia will get tired later in the season and fall off a bit, which will leave the Sooners and Jayhawks to fight for first.
Kansas will get the sweep over the Sooners after a win in Norman, Oklahoma, giving the Jayhawks their 12th straight conference title.
I would make the argument that Huggins’ West Virginia Mountaineers are the best team in the Big 12 to this point.
When the Mountaineers came to Manhattan on Jan. 2, K-State gave them a hard-fought challenge and almost pulled the upset. I was thoroughly impressed with what they put on the floor in that outing, however.
In the matchup against K-State, senior guard Jaysean Paige was unstoppable for West Virginia. He scored 25 points and was crucial in the Mountaineers double-overtime victory battle. And although Paige was the top dog that day, he isn’t even the team leader when it comes to points.
There are four Mountaineers averaging double figures on the season. Junior forward Devin Williams averages 13.9 points (and 8.8 rebounds), Paige averages 13.2, sophomore guard Jevon Carter averages 11.7 and sophomore guard Daxter Miles Jr. averages 10.9. With so many players who are potent threats, the Mountaineers are a hard team to defend because you can’t zone in on one individual and shut him down.
West Virginia is currently third in the Big 12 with a 4-2 conference record and a 15-3 overall record. The Mountaineers’ nonconference loss is to Virginia, who sits at No. 13 in the top 25 polls. They also have impressive wins over the No. 3 Kansas Jayhawks and Virginia Tech, who is just two games out of first in the Atlantic Coast Conference.
The Mountaineers have quality wins, no bad losses and they are a four-headed monster on the offensive side of the floor. Couple all that with their suffocating full-court press that has earned them the nickname “Press Virginia,” and they could earn a high seed in the NCAA Tournament. And who knows? Maybe they even end Kansas’ Big 12 Championship streak.