College Sports

Big 12 basketball off to strong start with five teams ranked inside AP Top-25 poll

TCU head coach Jamie Dixon has led the Horned Frogs’ basketball team to its best ranking in 20 years.
TCU head coach Jamie Dixon has led the Horned Frogs’ basketball team to its best ranking in 20 years. mfaulkner@star-telegram.com

The 2017 college basketball season isn’t even a month old, but the Big 12 currently has five teams ranked in the latest Associated Press Top-25 poll.

Compared to the other major conferences, the Big 12 trails only the ACC (6) for the most teams ranked inside the top-25.

Led by head coach Bill Self and point guard Devonte Graham, who was a second-team All Big 12 selection last season, No. 2 Kansas looks to be the class of the league and a national title contender once again. The Jayhawks are currently 6-0 and have won almost every game by 30 points or more. Self’s team also showed real grit when it outlasted No. 7 Kentucky, 65-61, at the State Farm Champions Classic in Chicago on Nov. 14. The Jayhawks next contest against a ranked opponent will take place when they host No. 20 Arizona State on Dec. 10.

No. 16 Baylor, meanwhile, has battled through a really tough stretch of its non-conference schedule. The Bears were 5-0 through their first five games, including a five-point win over Wisconsin and a six-point win over Creighton, a team that is now ranked 25th in the AP Top 25. But on Tuesday night, head coach Scott Drew’s group fell at No. 21 Xavier, 76-63. They also lost the services of sixth-man Terry Maston, who will also be out until at least January after breaking his right hand.

Things don’t get any easier for the Bears when they host No. 8 Wichita State on Saturday afternoon.

Since they received a thorough 88-65 beat-down from then-No. 25 Texas A&M (now ranked 9th) in the season opener, No. 23 West Virginia has produced an undefeated record against its six other unranked opponents. Going forward, head coach Bob Huggins will continue to rely on senior guards Jevon Carter and Daxter Miles Jr., who lead the team in scoring with 18 and 16 points a game respectively. The Mountaineers will have another tough test when No. 18 Virginia drives up to Morgantown on Dec. 5.

In April of 2016, Chris Beard was introduced as the 17th head basketball coach at Texas Tech, and in year two of his tenure, the program seems to have taken a leap forward. The 22nd-ranked Red Raiders are currently 6-0, and although they’ve only beaten one ranked team thus far (then-No. 20 Northwestern), this group has gotten contributions from a solid nine-man rotation. Tech likely won’t play another ranked team until late December when they face a brutal start to their Big 12 slate that includes a Dec. 29 home game against No. 16 Baylor and a Jan. 2 road game at No. 2 Kansas.

Last season, Jamie Dixon led the program to an NIT title in his first season as head coach. And up to this point in the 2017 season, the Horned Frogs have achieved their highest ranking in almost 20 years. Under Dixon’s guidance this team has found success in sharing the basketball, as TCU is currently tied for the 8th most assists per game in the country (19.8). The Horned Frogs, owners of the nation’s longest winning streak of 12 games, will face their first difficult test when cross-town rival SMU makes the short drive to Fort Worth on Dec. 5.

The TCU Horned Frogs received their NIT championship rings before the season opener against ULM, celebrating their title in coach Jamie Dixon's first year.

It’s also worth mentioning that, even though they aren’t ranked, Texas should eventually find their way into the Top-25. The Longhorns are currently 5-2, but Shaka Smart’s team managed to take No. 1 Duke and No.17 Gonzaga to overtime in the PK80-Phil Knight Invitational before dropping both games.

Freshman big man Mohamed Bamba, a likely top-5 pick in the 2018 NBA Draft, and talented sophomore guard Andrew Jones should give Smart the tools he needs to challenge Kansas’ historic 13-year reign of dominance.

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