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Will Big 12 basketball bounce in a new direction (finally)?


Highlights

Kansas isn’t even the top choice in our 1st power poll.

Conference has the highest RPI and most ranked teams.

Oklahoma’s Trae Young and unbeaten TCU in featured opener.

This sounds like a broken record that’s spun every year about this time, but … Big 12 basketball has never looked so good.

Conference play opens Friday night with the Big 12 boasting:

  • A 102-16 record and .864 winning percentage that leads the nation. The Big East is the only other league above .800.
  • Tenth-ranked TCU is one of only three remaining unbeatens in the country and holds the nation’s longest winning streak at 17.

“All up and down our league, there are so many good teams. We know how tough every night is going to be,” said Oklahoma coach Lon Kruger, whose surprising 12th-ranked Sooners open at TCU on Saturday.

That game will mark the conference debut of precocious Sooners freshman guard Trae Young, who has emerged as the early Wooden Award front-runner for national player of the year.

Young, a five-star recruit who played high school ball just a few miles from the OU campus in Norman, leads the NCAA in scoring at 28.7 and assists at 10.4.

Texas freshman center Mo Bamba is considered a top-10 NBA draft pick, along with Young. Baylor’s 7-foot center Jo Lual-Acuil, averaging 15.1 points and 10.1 rebounds, is a fast riser.

The Big 12 doesn’t always deliver in March, but nobody questions its regular-season value, where Texas’ 9-3 record brings up the rear.

West Virginia’s salty senior guard Jevon Carter, first in steals, third in scoring and fourth in assists, remains one of the unshakable forces in the league. TCU senior guard Kenrich Williams is just a few rebounds shy of averaging a double-double.

So we’ve written 13 paragraphs and haven’t even mentioned the 13-time defending regular-season league champion.

Yes, Kansas is playing basketball this year, and the 11th-ranked Jayhawks are favored to make it 14 in a row. Yet without any NBA lottery types and carrying a shallow bench, the Jayhawks appear a tad more vulnerable than usual.

Kansas, facing Texas on Friday night at the Erwin Center, is given a 56 percent chance to win the conference by teamrankings.com and a 47 percent shot by Ken Pomeroy.

Pomeroy told the Kansas City Star that since he’s been doing advanced metrics on his site in 2001-02, the Big 12 ranks third out of more than 500 leagues.

“Top to bottom, it’s just super-strong,” Pomeroy said. “The easiest road game’s going to be at Iowa State, and that’s obviously not going to be very easy.”

Pomeroy’s computer simulations indicate that a 12-6 record might win the league title. A few other computer models forecast 13-5. The average winning mark this decade is on the high side of 14-4.

No. 7 West Virginia is the favorite of those not named Kansas, given a 17 percent chance by teamrankings.com. OU, Texas Tech and TCU are forecast to round out the upper half.

Tech tops the Big 12 in scoring defense and field-goal shooting defense, while TCU is soaring by shooting .527 from the field and .412 from three-point distance.

The Horned Frogs’ Jamie Dixon, who’s coached in the Big East and ACC, has a league-best five players averaging double-figures scoring, and he knows he’ll need that balance and those options in a conference with a double round-robin format.

“Just playing everybody twice, a smaller league, there is more familiarity,” he said.

Let the meat grinder begin.



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