Is the Big 12 the best basketball conference in the country?
Top to bottom, at least for the first month of the season, it sure looks that way.
The league ranks No. 1 in the latest rating percentage index rankings, with six league teams ranked in the top 40.
The Big 12 has clinched a victory in its inaugural Big12-SEC Challenge, with a 6-2 edge and two games remaining on the slate. Overall, the league is off to a 67-18 start.
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“It’s been unbelievable,” Kansas coach Bill Self said. “Everybody has had quality wins. Our league is going to be far better than what a lot of people anticipated. I’ve heard an expert analyst say that we have a chance by the end of the year to maybe have four or maybe five teams as good as any conference. I’m pleased with how TCU is playing, and Texas Tech. It’s been pretty fun to watch.”
All 10 teams have winning records, and the bottom four teams in winning percentage so far — Texas Tech (6-3), West Virginia (6-3), Kansas State (5-3) and TCU (5-3) — are a combined 22-12. Tech’s three losses are against No. 1 Arizona, undefeated Pittsburgh and Alabama, all on the road. It’s the only league in the country with all its teams with a winning percentage of .600 or higher.
“If we’re at the bottom, this conference is pretty strong and we all know what is at the top and the middle,” TCU coach Trent Johnson said. “I like our conference in terms of how strong it is top to bottom.”
It’s a validation for some coaches who thought the league was undervalued in the preseason.
“Our league is off to an incredible start,” Oklahoma State’s Travis Ford said. “I think you’re starting to see the depth of our league. I know there were a few questions before the season started, but I think pretty much every day and every week we’re proving ourselves to be one of the top leagues in America. Teams are not only winning games but teams in our league are winning games over top opponents from very good leagues.”
It’s not surprising to Texas coach Rick Barnes, whose Longhorns are one of four teams off to an 8-1 start.
“Our league has been good for a really long time. Am I surprised? No, because I have such respect for the coaches in our league. They find ways to make their teams competitive,” Barnes said. “Our league will always be right there because of the caliber of coaches in it.”
Chery on top
Baylor keeps finding point guards. Kenny Chery, a junior college transfer from State Fair Community College in Missouri, is off to a fast start for the 14th-ranked Bears, averaging 11.6 points and leading the team with 44 assists.
“Kenny Chery is a very diligent, hard-working player,” Baylor coach Scott Drew said. “He’s very respectful. I’ve been very pleased with how he’s handled himself.”
Chery received helped from some of Baylor’s past point guards, including A.J. Walton and Pierre Jackson.
“He learned from them and he’s off to a good start because of it,” Drew said.
Big 12 Players of the Week
Player of the Week
F Dustin Hogue, Iowa State: The junior had double-doubles in wins against Auburn and Northern Iowa, including career-highs of 22 points and 16 rebounds against the Tigers. He shot 70.6 percent (12 of 17) from the field for the week.
Newcomers of the Week
G Kenny Chery, Baylor: The junior transfer led the Bears with 18 points on 8 of 15 shooting in Friday’s 67-62 win over third-ranked Kentucky, the highest-ranked opponent in The Associated Press poll that Baylor has ever beaten. Chery also had five assists and made a jumper with 41 seconds left to extend the Bears’ lead to 65-61.
F Ryan Spangler, Oklahoma: The sophomore averaged 13 points, 11.7 rebounds per game in the Sooners’ three wins last week, including career highs of 20 points and 13 rebounds against Mercer. He also had four blocks and four assists during the week.
7.2Assists per game for West Virginia’s Juwan Staten, who ranks fifth nationally and tops the Big 12.
“I don’t think enough has been said about our defense. For our defense to hold any team to 15 points in a half, especially an SEC team, I think says a lot about how we started the game.” — Oklahoma State coach Travis Ford on the Cowboys holding South Carolina to 15 first-half points in Friday’s 79-52 victory.
“It’s a little scary for me ... and I’m sure for every coach. We knew the top three teams would be very good. I told the team the other day, I don’t know if you’re paying attention, but our league is really good.” — Kansas State coach Bruce Weber on the Big 12.