Commentary

Much like football, Big 12 offenses are up, defenses down

Originally Published: December 24, 2008
By Dana O'Neil | ESPN.com

Favorite: The Red River Rivalry extends into the winter. Like football, Texas and Oklahoma are clearly the class of the conference. The good news in hoops? Whoever plays for the Big 12 crown will be determined on the court, not in the computers.

Most surprising team: Missouri. The pasting at the hands of Illinois was something of a disturbing eye-opener but there's still no arguing the Tigers, rid of the drama and off-court issues, are better. They're 9-2 with a great tandem in Leo Lyons and DeMarre Carroll. To be NCAA good, however, the swarming defense that bills itself as part of the fastest 40 minutes in college basketball, needs to be about 300 percent better than it was against the Illini.

[+] EnlargeDonald Sloan
AP Photo/Bob LeveyDon't sleep on Texas A&M in the Big 12. Donald Sloan and the Aggies are off to a 10-1 start including wins over LSU and Arizona.
Most disappointing team: Kansas State. OK, so the Wildcats lost Michael Beasley and Bill Walker, but c'mon. The schedule reads like a "Who's that?" instead of a who's who. K-State played one Division II team (Emporia State), two Summit League schools (Oakland and Centenary), and one each from the MEAC (Florida A&M), Ohio Valley (Southeast Missouri State) and Big South (Gardner-Webb). In all, the less-than-wild Cats have faced three teams from the BCS conferences -- Kentucky, Oregon and Iowa -- and lost to all three of them.

Mystery team: Oklahoma State. With a coaching and philosophy change, the Cowboys are going to be something of an enigma. They haven't taken any bad losses -- Gonzaga, Michigan State and Washington -- but haven't grabbed that headline-making win yet, either. Travis Ford's guard-heavy, up-tempo offense could give people fits in the league, but will need to keep the turnovers down.

Best player: Following in the footsteps of Beasley and Kevin Durant, Blake Griffin isn't just the most dominant player in his league; he might be the best in the country. Griffin leads the nation in rebounding (14.1 boards per game) and is on pace to top the OU single-season mark of 13.3 held by Alvin Adams. He's also No. 12 nationally in scoring (23 points per game) and fourth in field-goal percentage (68.3).

Top performance: Blake Griffin vs. Gardner-Webb (35 points, 21 rebounds, 5 assists, 3 steals, 1 block).

Strangest score: Texas Tech 167, East Central 115. Apparently Bob Stoops and Gary Pinkel were calling the defenses.

What you might not have realized: Texas A&M has quietly rolled to a 10-1 record, including wins against Arizona, Alabama and LSU. The Aggies have just one senior (Josh Carter) but have been buoyed by more steady play from point guard Donald Sloan. A year after struggling to replace Acie Law, Sloan's assists are up and his turnovers are down.

Reason to brag: The hoops teams have followed the leads of their pigskin peers. Five of the 12 league teams are ranked among the top 30 nationally in scoring offenses. Making Mike Leach proud, Texas Tech is the highest-ranked (fifth in the country), and sure to put a smile on Chase Daniel's face, Missouri is close behind in eighth, tied with Oklahoma State.

Reason to worry: The hoops teams have followed the leads of their pigskin peers. Not much defense going on in this league. Only Nebraska, ranked fourth in the nation, is among the top 40 schools in scoring defense. Making Leach blanch, Texas Tech is 312th.

Who's going dancing: Texas, Oklahoma and Baylor are in. Kansas should be, but it's inconsistency (losing to a sub-par UMass team plus Arizona) could send the defending champs to the bubble. Off-radar A&M is quietly building a strong case. Missouri will need strong conference play to erase the mess against Illinois after finally cracking the Top 25

Dana O'Neil covers college basketball for ESPN.com and can be reached at espnoneil@live.com.

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