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Oklahoma State, Kansas not alone in race for Big 12 title
Could there be room for a third or fourth team in the two-team race for the Big 12 title?
The return of Marcus Smart to Oklahoma State and the arrival of Andrew Wiggins at Kansas appeared to set up those two programs atop the Big 12 this season.
One thing is clear in the Big 12 so far: It won’t be that easy. Fred Hoiberg is again working his magic at Iowa State where transfers and an up-tempo offense have the Cyclones undefeated. After a win over Kentucky, Baylor is back on the upswing after an NIT appearance last season.
And even Texas, a program all but ignored in the preseason, shows it might be back where it belongs in the mix after a win in Chapel Hill, N.C., on Wednesday.
Early Season Report Card: Big 12
Bubble watch: Texas
Best win: Kansas 94, Duke 83
Worst loss: Longwood 82, TCU 79
Power rankings so far
1. Oklahoma State
3. Iowa State
6. West Virginia
8. Kansas State
9. Texas Tech
Important non-conference games remaining
Oklahoma State vs. Colorado (Dec. 21)
Georgetown at Kansas (Dec. 21)
Kansas State vs. Gonzaga (Dec. 21)
San Diego State at Kansas (Jan. 5)
This is why Smart returned for his sophomore season. After the way Smart began the year, it’s clear the NBA Draft will be there when he’s finished. The Cowboys point guard has been even better this season, averaging 18 points per game (up from 15.4 per game) despite playing fewer minutes. Smart’s 39 points with four rebounds, four assists and five steals against Memphis on Nov. 19 is one of the top individual performances of the season so far.
Top freshman: Andrew Wiggins, Kansas
Fellow Kansas five-star freshman Joel Embiid has received more run recently thanks to his ahead-of-the-curve offensive game for a rookie big man. But Wiggins is still the top freshman of the league and one of the best in the country. The recruiting experts warned us not to expect Wiggins to put up Kevin Durant-like numbers, but Wiggins still averages 15.9 points and 5.9 rebounds per game.
Top newcomer: DeAndre Kane, Iowa State
Thanks to Melvin Ejim and Georges Niang, Iowa State doesn’t need DeAndre Kane to be quite the focal point of the offense as Marshall did. Kane averaged 13.6 shots from the field in 37.1 minutes per game with the Thundering Herd. He’s averaging 9.5 shots in 28.4 minutes at Iowa State. The supporting cast and diminished work load have improved his efficiency numbers while he’s maintained 7.4 rebounds and 5.8 assists for a legitimate Big 12 contender.
Surprise player: Jonathan Holmes, Texas
Could Rick Barnes avoid the same fate as Mack Brown? That may be the case after Texas’ 86-83 win over North Carolina on the road legitimized a 10-1 start. Holmes, Texas’ lone upperclassman, entered the season with 45 starts and 6.8 points per game. After 15 points, 10 rebounds and three blocks against the Tar Heels, Holmes is averaging 13.1 points and 7.1 rebounds.
Early season flop: Tarik Black, Kansas
The transfer from Memphis was expected to be major contributor at Kansas, especially given Black’s status as a veteran on a young team. With the development of Joel Embiid, Black has had trouble cracking the regular rotation: Two minutes against New Mexico, six against Florida, three against Colorado and eight Villanova.
Lingering concerns: Kansas’ point guard issues
Point guard was a liability for Kansas last season and has been a question mark in the early going this year. The situation had become dire enough where Bill Self elected to start freshman Frank Mason on a road swing against Colorado and Florida over veteran Naadir Tharpe. Mason will probably be the point guard long term, but Tharpe returned to the starting role in Saturday’s win over New Mexico when he had nine assists and four turnovers.
Best NCAA resume: Iowa State
This is a tough one: Oklahoma State’s top win is over Memphis at home when less than two weeks later the Cowboys lost to the same Memphis team on a neutral floor. Kansas has two good wins over Duke and New Mexico, but losses to Villanova, Colorado and Florida. Baylor has a standout win over Kentucky, one loss to Syracuse and two wins over Division II teams. Let’s give the nod to Iowa State, the only undefeated team in the league. The Cyclones are 2-0 against two Big Ten teams likely to play in the Tournament (Michigan and Iowa) and have a road win over BYU.