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Slow start shows for Big 12 in rankings

  • Kansas City Star
  • Published Tuesday, Dec. 11, 2012, at 7:06 a.m.

December’s lack of power brings March wallflowers, or something like that.

The Big 12’s basketball teams have broken slowly from the gate. Only two teams — Kansas and Oklahoma State — are ranked, and not since the 2008-09 season has the league treaded so lightly in the polls.

The league is 2-8 against the AP top 25, 4-9 against the RPI top 50 and ranked seventh among Division I conferences, trailing the Mountain West and Atlantic 10.

With that kind of start, March Madness won’t spread through the league as thoroughly as in recent seasons. Last year, six schools made the NCAA Tournament. A guess is no more than four would be invited if the selection committee decided today.

“Once January gets here, the league will be as good as it’s been,” Kansas coach Bill Self said.

Perhaps. But unless there’s a strong closing kick in nonconference action, the only way for the Big 12 to rack up a high NCAA Tournament participation rate is for teams to score several upsets in league play. No small task.

Entering this week’s light schedule, because of exams, half of the Big 12’s membership stands 100th or worse in the ratings percentage index.

Newcomer TCU entered the conference as struggling program, with one winning record in the last 11 years. There was little expectation of improvement this season and the Horned Frogs, 6-4, lost a game 55-31 last month.

But TCU (No. 196) isn’t last among Big 12 teams in the RPI. That’s Texas Tech (No. 256), which has been led by coach Chris Walker since Oct. 4, two weeks after Billy Gillispie resigned. In the Red Raiders’ only game against a major opponent, they lost by 28 to Arizona in Lubbock.

Tough circumstances for both programs, but the bottom isn’t the only place to look for answers for the league’s sluggish start. Gaze up in the standings.

Look to offensively challenged Texas, with a 5-4 record that includes a loss against Chaminade; to Baylor, which followed its resounding victory at Kentucky with a home loss against Northwestern; and to West Virginia, Iowa State and Oklahoma, who have a combined 1-5 record against RPI top 50 opponents.

“Our league has had some losses … we’ve contributed to that,” Self said.

KU’s only loss was to Michigan State in Atlanta, but no shame in that. Same for Oklahoma State’s loss at Virginia Tech after the Cowboys defeated Tennessee and North Carolina State.

But statement victories have been few for the league, which lost plenty of star power from NBA draftees — Kansas All-American Thomas Robinson, Iowa State’s Royce White and Baylor’s Perry Jones III. Missouri’s departure to the Southeastern Conference removed a team that’s currently ranked No. 12 in the AP poll.

Some marquee matchups remain. Kansas visits Ohio State and Kansas State meets Florida at the Sprint Center this month. The Wildcats, Baylor and Oklahoma State all play Gonzaga. Texas faces North Carolina in Austin and plays at Michigan State. West Virginia takes on Michigan.

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