Commentary

Kansas, Texas haven't disappointed

Originally Published: December 23, 2009
By Dana O'Neil | ESPN.com

Xavier HenryDenny Medley/US PresswireKansas -- and freshman Xavier Henry -- are 11-0 and have held onto their preseason No. 1 ranking.

Favorite: Kansas, by the slimmest of margins over Texas. The preseason No. 1 team has done nothing in the early going to prove it's not worthy of its ranking, so it's hard to knock out the Jayhawks. Still, anyone who hasn't circled Feb. 8 (at Texas) better do so right away.

Most surprising team: Texas Tech
Pat Knight promised at Big 12 media day that his team would be better. He wasn't lying. The Red Raiders are 9-1, their hottest start in 70 years. And this is no false improvement built on patsies. Texas Tech exposed Oregon State, considered to be a good team in the Pac-10, and upset Washington for its first win over a nonconference ranked opponent since 2007.

[+] EnlargeAvery Bradley
Matthew Emmons/US PresswireKU-Texas on Feb. 8 is already shaping up to be one of the season's best games.

Most disappointing team: Oklahoma
Maybe unfair. After all, you don't just lose Blake Griffin and keep chugging along. But the early three-game skid to VCU, San Diego and Houston was still surprising and disappointing, and the recent near escape against Northern Colorado doesn't do much to quell the concern, either.

Mystery team: Iowa State
With Craig Brackins back and Marquis Gilstrap added to the roster, this shaped up as a breakout season for the Cyclones. That could still happen, but the three-game skid against Northwestern, Northern Iowa and Cal was something of a puzzler.

Best player: Ugh. An impossible choice with too many worthwhile candidates but, for the moment, my money is on Xavier Henry. On a Kansas team loaded with talent, he's standing out, averaging nearly 18 points per game. He's reached double figures in every game of his young career and shooting 53 percent from the floor.

Top performance: Jacob Pullen, Kansas State
In a statement game for the Wildcats, Pullen made the loudest remark, torching UNLV for 28 points, including seven 3-pointers. The win vaulted K-State to its highest AP ranking since 1988 and put teams on notice that the Wildcats are for real.

Strangest score: Houston 100, Oklahoma 93
When they gave up 100 points, you realized just how much the Sooners miss Blake Griffin, especially on the defensive end. And if the final score in this one wasn't strange enough, it's how OU got there that was really puzzling. A game after being upset by San Diego, Oklahoma squandered an 18-point lead.

What you might not have realized: Texas is off to its second 10-0 start in three years but this one is even more impressive than the one that ended up with the Longhorns in the Elite Eight. Texas has won all of its first 10 games by double digits, including five by 30 or more.

Reason to brag: The league that looked pretty deep at the start of the season still looks pretty deep. Kansas and Texas rightfully sit atop the Top 25 polls and K-State is having the sort of eye-opening season people predicted. More important, the surprise early success of Texas A&M and Texas Tech has added to the conference's overall cache.

Reason to worry: Texas Tech and Kansas State both started hot last year before tapering off come January. The Red Raiders went from 7-2 to 11-11 and the Wildcats from 11-3 to 11-7. Both teams are more well-equipped to handle the rigors of the conference season, so that's not as likely to happen.

Who's going dancing: If the bracket was filled out tomorrow, Kansas and Texas are battling for the No. 1 of the No. 1 seeds. Kansas State, Texas A&M and Texas Tech have the sort of quality wins that should earn them entry (barring a conference collapse). Oklahoma State has a nice record, but could use a signature win to secure its standing. Everyone else has some work to do.

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

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