Commentary

Big 12 tips: Primer to conference games

Updated: January 9, 2010, 12:13 AM ET
By Jeff Caplan | ESPNDallas.com

With conference play about to tip off, here's a quick glance at the Big 12:

Top contender: Kansas

It seems crazy that Texas is 14-0 and No. 2 in the county yet not even the favorite in its conference. At 14-0, Bill Self's Kansas Jayhawks enter Big 12 play as the nation's top-ranked team. Led by 6-foot-6 freshman guard Xavier Henry (16.1 points a game), senior guard Sherron Collins (15.1), sophomore forward Marcus Morris (10.9) and junior center Cole Aldrich (11.2, 10.0 rebounds), Kansas is averaging 86.3 points and holding opponents to 58.6 and a suffocating 33.9 percent shooting.

Team on the rise: Baylor

Coming off an NIT championship game appearance, coach Scott Drew's team is 12-1 and on the brink of breaking into the Top 25 after a two-game SEC road sweep at Arkansas and South Carolina followed by a final home tuneup victory over Morgan State. Baylor's lone loss was at Alabama, but the Bears followed it up with wins over Xavier and Arizona State. Guard LaceDarius Dunn and Tweety Carter are tearing it up from the outside. Dunn is averaging a team-high 17.6 points and shooting 37.6 percent from beyond the 3-point arc, and Carter is averaging 16.3 points and shooting 42.4 percent from 3-point land with and 4.5 assists. Inside strength is coming from Ekpe Udoh, a 6-foot-10, 240-pound junior transfer from Michigan who is averaging 14.2 points and 11.5 rebounds.

Team to pull for: Texas A&M

The Aggies suffered a devastating blow when senior guard Derrick Roland of Seagoville suffered a gruesome broken leg at Washington, ending his season. That puts even more scoring responsibility on senior guard Donald Sloan, Roland's high school teammate and good friend. Sloan leads the team with 17.4 points. Roland was averaging 10.5 points, and 5-11 junior guard B.J. Holmes is the only other player scoring in double figures (10.3). A&M will need to find more scoring production from post player Bryan Davis and others if it hopes to extend its streak of NCAA tournament appearances to five.

Team with renewed hope: Texas Tech

In his second full season at the helm, Pat Knight has found his balance after serving as an assistant for years under his dad, Bob Knight. The Red Raiders (12-2) broke into the Top 25 in December and boast more quickness, athleticism, freedom to attack the rim and more dependable depth than in years past. Currently No. 22, Tech's fortunes begin with the junior trio of Mike Singletary (15.8 points, 5.9 rebounds), guard John Roberson (13.9, 5.6 assists) and D'Walyn Roberts (8.6, 7.4 rebounds). Guard David Tairu is averaging 12.2 points. The Red Raiders open conference play with a tough task at Oklahoma State.

Team under the radar: Oklahoma State

With the Sutton era (Eddie and son Sean) having come to an end, second-year head coach Travis Ford is quickly winning over a fan base whose frenzied reputation had begun to wane. Ford returned the Cowboys to the NCAA tournament in his first season, and he followed that up by bringing in a nationally recognized recruiting class. At 12-2 -- including wins over Stanford, LaSalle and Utah -- Oklahoma State is beginning to receive some votes in the Top 25 poll. Junior guard James Anderson leads the Big 12 with 21.5 points per game. Three others are scoring in double figures, including 6-7 junior forward Marshall Moses (11.2 points and 10.2 rebounds).

Jeff Caplan covers colleges for ESPN Dallas. You can follow him on Twitter or leave a question for his weekly mailbag.

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