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Thursday, April 17, 2014

Kellis Robinett’s Big 12 Report (Jan. 10)


Look who’s hot

It didn’t take long for Iowa State to emerge as the Big 12’s most surprising basketball team.

One week after conference play began and already the Cyclones own two wins over teams that were picked to contend for a league championship when the season began. First came a solid 77-71 home victory over Texas. Then came a jaw-dropping 74-50 blowout win against Texas A&M at Reed Arena.

Behind the play of Minnesota transfer Royce White, the Cyclones (12-3, 2-0 Big 12) sit atop the conference standings with Kansas and Baylor. Not bad for a group that most predicted to struggle through Big 12 play.

Next up is a showdown with No. 9 Missouri on Wednesday at Hilton Coliseum. Win that game and Iowa State’s already impressive start will be further validated.

Not that White, a 6-foot-8 forward who recorded the fourth triple-double in Iowa State history with 10 points, 18 rebounds and 10 assists against Texas A&M, thinks anyone is still questioning the Cyclones.

“We felt like it was a must-win,” he said afterward. “We needed to make a statement right here in the beginning of the Big 12 and let other teams know we are serious and you are going to be in for a dogfight when you play us.”

That has always been the case in Ames, where the locals say “Hilton Magic” makes the Cyclones hard to beat. Even during the past few years, when Iowa State has consistently been one of the worst teams in the league, it was tough at home.

But with an influx of transfers, and Fred Hoiberg’s coaching style beginning to work in his second year, it is now capable of winning on the road.

Along with White, Chris Babb, Scott Christopherson and Chris Allen all average more than 10 points. The Cyclones are balanced, and have depth.

“Bench play has been tremendous,” Hoiberg said on Saturday. “They’ve really given us a lift … You need everybody. The intensity goes up in these Big 12 games, and you need fresh bodies to go in there and give you a lift.”

Can they continue to lift the Cyclones as the season goes on? Not at the pace they have started with. But in a league that drops off after Kansas, Baylor, Kansas State and Missouri, Iowa State could be the next-best team.

Who’s not

If Iowa State is the hot team in the Big 12, Texas A&M is on the other end. The Aggies (9-5, 0-2) are off to a brutal start. Beginning conference play with a nine-point loss at Baylor is one thing. Falling at home by 24, regardless of the opponent, is unacceptable. Remember, this was a team the Big 12 coaches picked in a tie with Kansas to win the league. The conference’s new round-robin format allows the Aggies time to get back in the race, but they are in an enormous hole.

Still undefeated

Kansas State sent Missouri tumbling from the ranks of the unbeatens on Saturday, but the Big 12 still has unbeaten Baylor. The Bears (15-0) are ranked fourth in the latest Associated Press poll. Most of their wins have come against weak competition, but they will have the opportunity to prove themselves in the next two weeks when they play three ranked teams — K-State, Kansas and Missouri — in four games. Come out of that stretch undefeated and Baylor could find itself on top of the national polls as well as the conference standings.

More than complementary

Travis Releford can often be overlooked in the Jayhawks’ lineup, playing alongside Thomas Robinson and Tyshawn Taylor. But the junior guard proved he was more than a role player last week with a double-double against K-State and scoring 28 points against Oklahoma. Some have said Kansas would need a third player to step up in order for it to contend for a conference title this season. Perhaps Releford has become that player.

Game of the week

If you can only watch one game this week, make sure you tune into today’s game between K-State and Baylor at 7:05 p.m. Can the Wildcats beat an undefeated team for the second straight game? Are the Bears as good as their ranking indicates? Questions will be answered.

Power rankings

1. Baylor (15-0, 2-0): Last undefeated standing

2. Kansas (12-3, 2-0): Releford helps team’s dynamic

3. Missouri (14-1, 1-1): Struggles continue in Manhattan

4. Kansas State (12-2, 1-1): Bad loss to KU followed by great win over MU

5. Iowa State (12-3, 2-0): Cyclones are league’s hottest team

6. Texas (11-4, 1-1): Big game coming up with Texas A&M

7. Oklahoma (10-4, 0-2): Competitive at home, not on the road

8. Oklahoma State (8-7, 1-1): Mediocre basketball so far

9. Texas A&M (9-5, 0-2): Aggies need quick turnaround

10. Texas Tech (7-7, 0-2): Rough three-game stretch coming up

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