With the holiday season and most of the nonconference games behind us, we check out the strengths the Big 12 programs have shown. We have notes on the improvements we’d like to see going into January.
BAYLOR Gifts we liked: Quincy Acy and Percy Jones have shown they can rebound, which Baylor must do to stay near the top of the conference. It’s also good to see LaceDarius Dunn still has his three-point stroke (41%).
New Year’s Resolution: The Bears must play better away from home than they have so far (1-3).
COLORADO Gifts we liked: It’s hard to learn much from statistics until conference play starts, but at least the Buffs’ scoring is balanced with four players averaging double figures. Alec Burks and Cory Higgins have been leaders like they need to be. December has been a much better month than November was.NYR: They were outrebounded in all four of their losses (Georgia, San Francisco, Harvard and New Mexico). This must change, or the Buffaloes will finish where everyone expects them to – near the bottom.
IOWA STATE Gifts we liked: Without Craig Brackins, Iowa State has managed to play respectable basketball. There were times last year that seemed unlikely. They beat lousy Iowa, but hey, a rival is a rival.
NYR: Obviously, they lean heavily on Diante Garrett as well as Scott Christopherson, whose 53% three point shooting is bound to cool off. Against strong teams, someone else will have to contribute more. Taking the opener in Lincoln would be a great start, too.
KANSAS Gifts we liked: Seeing Josh Selby carry the Jayhawks to victory against USC let everyone know how valuable he will be. Kansas is now a complete team that just needs to get better. This team also passes and shoots very well.
NYR: KU needs to break its habit of playing down to weaker competition in low-pressure situations. Both the UCLA and USC games should have been losses.
KANSAS STATE Gifts we liked: Will Spradling has played well at point guard when called upon. It’s nice to see a guard capable of ballhandling and running the offense when Pullen is cold or in foul trouble.
NYR: This team’s lack of depth is starting to show and needs to be remedied. Also, can someone make a free throw? Did I mention it would be nice to still have Denis Clemente around?
MISSOURI Gifts we liked: The win over Illinois was exciting and might help later for seeding purposes. Michael Dixon has played very well at guard, and it’s been nice seeing a true inside presence from Ricardo Ratliffe. The more he can do underneath, the better.
NYR: Kim English would be better off taking fewer and better shots. Versatility is nice, but comes more naturally for other players like Marcus Denmon. The Tigers pass too well for anyone to force tough shots.
NEBRASKA Gifts we liked: The USC win was impressive, especially considering how Kansas and Texas faired against the Trojans. Mostly, the Huskers have won the games they should have, and lost to Vandy and Davidson.
NYR: I know Nebraska’s style is to limit the number of possessions, but that will require the excellent FG percentage (49%) to be maintained. And there won’t be as many open shots as there are now.
OKLAHOMA Gifts we liked: Let’s be fair – Oklahoma’s schedule has been horrid. The Sooners were just not good enough to reasonably expect to beat Kentucky, Arizona or Cincinnati. After 5 straight losses (all away from home), they have beaten Oral Roberts and two other teams in Norman.
NYR: Conference play starts with 3 opponents all currently ranked. Similar to Colorado, no one on the team is a great rebounder. Teams like Baylor would get WAY too many second-chance points if OU played them today.OKLAHOMA STATE Gifts we liked: Keiton Page is small but he’s a good player. He takes good shots and he’s able to play a lot of minutes. After struggling against DePaul and Virginia Tech, OSU has gotten its act together. I look forward to seeing more of this team.
NYR: The Cowboys need to be ready for conference play Jan. 8 when they host K-State. Losing there ahead of a College Station trip might mean an 0-2 start, which would be too bad because I think OSU is pretty underappreciated.
TEXAS Gifts we liked: The UNC victory was a solid effort, but the win at Michigan State was what showed everyone Texas should not be considered overrated. Getting a win in East Lansing is as tough a win as the Longhorns will get all year. The young players, including prominent freshmen Tristan Thompson and Cory Joseph, have been both promising and reliable.
NYR: Don’t blow it like last year.
TEXAS A&M Gifts we liked: A&M has shown it can win close games (beating Temple 54-51, Washington 63-62 and Arkansas in overtime). Khris Middleton was great in the Arkansas game, scoring 31 points. He also has almost as many assists this year as he did all of last year. A&M is another underappreciated team to watch, similar to OSU.
NYR: The Aggies could get even better by cutting down on their 15 turnovers a game. They have four tough games between Jan. 12 and Jan. 22.
TEXAS TECH Gifts we liked: Hardworking Mike Singletary is taking care of the Red Raiders again this year without much help. He got 29 points and 13 rebounds against Oral Roberts to break up what might otherwise have been a six-game losing streak. D’walyn Roberts plays enough to help ease the rebounding troubles now that he’s available.
NYR: This team had no business losing to South Florida, or at home to TCU. Tech has two warmup games after the New Year before opening conference play against three ranked teams. If they don’t find who to go to outside of Singletary and forward Brad Reese, Big 12 play won’t be fun.