Big 12 conference among country's best

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Kansas defeated Baylor on Monday evening in a top 10 matchup in the Big 12. The two squads are a big part of the overall strength of the conference that has nine teams with winning records and three teams in the top five.

Photo Credit: The Associated Press

The current Big 12 format will be in place for this season only, a shame considering the conference is among the most competitive nationally from top to bottom.

The Big 12 is the only league with three teams in the Top 10: No. 3 Baylor, No. 5 Missouri and No. 7 Kansas. BU and Mizzou are each 17-1, and the Bears’ first defeat came against the Jayhawks Monday night at Allen Fieldhouse.

“I think we made a big statement,” said KU senior Tyshawn Taylor after his team dominated Baylor, 92-74. “I don’t know if people are sleeping on us — they know we’re good — but I don’t know if people knew what we could do.”

Kansas has already exceeded expectations in the opening weeks of conference play and the Jayhawks (15-3) sit atop the league standings at 5-0, followed by Baylor and Mizzou at 4-1. The Jayhawks had a wake-up call against Davidson, a six-point loss in mid-December, but Bill Self’s squad is on an eight-game win streak as they prepare for a visit to the Frank Erwin Center on Saturday.

Kansas State is ranked No. 25 despite losses to KU, BU and Oklahoma on Saturday. The Wildcats, though, proved they were a legitimate threat with a decisive, 75-59 drubbing against Mizzou on Jan. 7.

“That’s what’s great about this league,” Baylor head coach Scott Drew said. “Night in and night out, you’re going to face good teams, and if you don’t play well and they play well, you’ve got no chance.”

K-State hosts Texas tonight.

The Longhorns, along with Iowa State and Oklahoma State, are 2-2 in the Big 12 and fall among the conference’s second-tier. Still, any of these teams can challenge the elite squads like Kansas, Baylor and Mizzou.

The biggest surprise, though, has been preseason favorite Texas A&M — and not for good reason. The Aggies limped out to a 1-4 mark in conference and haven’t gotten much offensively aside from star forward Khris Middleton, who missed eight games with a torn meniscus.

But the Aggies have a terrific head coach in first-year man Billy Kennedy. He went 54-14 at Murray State over the last two seasons, and the Racers (18-0) are one of two undefeated teams left this year — top-ranked Syracuse is 20-0. But Kennedy’s been battling early-onset Parkinson’s disease since September. It’s been a challenging season for A&M so far, but they were picked to win the league for a reason. Don’t count them out just yet.

Kennedy isn’t the only coach new to the Big 12. Mizzou’s Frank Haith inherited a team that went .500 in conference last season and has turned them into a viable contender to win the league.

“He came in and figured out the best way for these guys to play — and it is the perfect way for them to play,” said UT head coach Rick Barnes, who hired Haith as an assistant in 2001. “They’ve got a good team, they really do.”

While the Aggies were picked to win the Big 12 in their final season in the league, it could very well be the Tigers who take home the hardware before both schools exit for the Southeastern Conference later this year. But no matter what unfolds in 2012, enjoy it while it lasts because a new era in the Big 12 is soon to begin.

Printed on Wednesday, January 18, 2012 as: Top heavy Big 12 difficult to navigate from night to night