Kansas looking down at deep Big 12 Conference

February 12, 2002 6:18 AM
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Last week we talked about the Southeastern Conference. Without question the SEC is one of the deepest and toughest leagues in the country, but the Big 12 is equal both in depth and quality.

The Big 12 has one great team on top, Kansas, and then a number of very good teams, including Oklahoma, Missouri, Texas, Texas Tech and Oklahoma State. Even mediocre squads like Colorado and Baylor could cause the heavyweights considerable problems when the conference tournament rolls around. Figure those schools for the NIT.

Few teams around the country have been as consistent as Kansas. The Jayhawks lost their first game of the season at the Maui Classic to a good Ball State team, and many thought it would be another disappointing year in Lawrence. Instead, the Jayhawks had a 20-2 record at the time of this writing, and were a perfect 9-0 in the conference before their big game against Texas Tech this weekend.

Kansas has solid depth and one of the best players in the country in forward Drew Gooden. Gooden, averaging more than 20 points and 11 rebounds per game, gives the Jayhawks an almost unstoppable option in the post. He also has some help up front with center Nick Collison, the team’s second leading scorer and rebounder.

Kansas also has plenty of ability in the backcourt. The team’s starting guards, Kirk Hinrich and Jeff Boschee, are both solid athletes and outstanding long-distance shooters. Hinrich has been the big star, averaging about 15 points, five rebounds and six assists per game. Boschee is the team’s best ball handler and free throw shooter.

Throw in guard Aaron Miles, who is averaging six assists per game in limited minutes, and the Jayhawks have a host of outstanding options in crunch time. They may be the best passing team in the country, and could be a serious threat to dethrone Duke in the Final Four.

Oklahoma, with an 8-2 Big 12 record, looks like Kansas’ foremost competitor for the conference crown. The Sooners lost three starters from last year’s 26-7 squad, but brought in a number of fine athletes to replace them, and have not missed a beat. They are 19-3, thanks, in large part, to the play of shooting guard Hollis Price.

Price, one of Oklahoma’s top players last season, has become the team’s primary go-to guy. He is averaging almost 18 points per game, and making nearly 50 percent of his field goal attempts including over 42 percent from three-point range. The Sooners don’t have great size, but they have a number of interchangeable parts and should be tough team down the stretch.

Missouri was a trendy pick to win the conference before the season began, primarily due to the presence of Kareem Rush and Clarence Gilbert. While Rush and Gilbert are two of the top players in the conference, the rest of the roster has left something to be desired.

Rush and Gilbert are both outstanding shooters, but this season, neither has been on with their respective shots. Rush is hitting just 43 percent of his field goal attempts, although he is connecting on 42 percent of his threes. Gilbert has made just 38 percent of his field goal attempts.

One team getting very little publicity is Texas. The Longhorns began the season with losses in three of their first four games, knocking them off the national radar. They have been solid ever since, and should be in line for an at-large bid.

The most surprising team in the Big 12 has to be Texas Tech. With the addition of Bobby Knight on the bench, most expected the Red Raiders to be improved, but not in the Top 25. Tech played an easy non-conference schedule, and rolled up a strong record, but few could have expected how competitive it would be in league play.

Heading into the game against Kansas this weekend, Tech was 5-4 in the league, with wins over Oklahoma and Oklahoma State. The Cowboys look to be Big Dance-bound again.

Colorado and Baylor also have some outstanding players, like David Harrison and Stephane Pelle of the Buffaloes and Lawrence Roberts of the Bears. Both of those teams will have to get hot to knock any of the above six squads out of tournament consideration.

Big-12

Good

Team  

ATS

Texas Tech  

14-6

Kansas  

12-6 

Nebraska  

9-4-1

Texas  

11-8

Iowa State  

10-8-1

Oklahoma  

9-9

  

  

Top record  

SU

  

  

Kansas (21-2)  

10-0

Bad

Team  

ATS

Baylor  

6-10

Colorado  

 7-10

Texas A&M  

9-10

Kansas St  

8-10

Texas A&M  

9-10

Oklahoma St  

10-11

  

  

Worst record  

SU

  

  

Iowa St (9-15)  

1-9