Kellis Robinett’s Big 12 Report (Jan. 31)

01/31/2012 5:00 AM

01/31/2012 6:57 AM

Given Billy Gillispie’s history, it’s easy to see how the man in charge of the Texas Tech basketball program could be frustrated with the way things are going.

Not only are the Red Raiders (7-13, 0-8) without a Big 12 win, they are struggling to stay competitive. Their closest defeat against a conference opponent is eight points. Three losses have come by more than 20.

But despite those struggles, he is staying upbeat.

“I’m really excited about the direction we’re heading,” Gillispie said. “In all areas.”

He remains optimistic, he said, because of the way his players approach practices. They want to get better.

That’s a combination he needs right now. When Gillispie came to Texas Tech in the offseason, he inherited a young roster low on talent. The Red Raiders don’t have an experienced ballhandler or significant size on the front line.

Not since his first year with Texas-El Paso, when he went 6-24, has his team been an underdog in so many games. With Texas A&M and Kentucky, his teams played in the postseason every year.

That won’t be the case this season. Texas Tech’s best shot at ending its long losing streak comes Tuesday against Oklahoma State, a visiting team with a losing Big 12 record. After that, the schedule is heavy with road games.

“It takes time,” Gillispie said.

He is giving his youngest players plenty of experience. His players, surprisingly, appear to be taking the same patient approach.

More than anything, that’s what keeps him upbeat. He says players remain committed in practice, even though it appears they are destined for a last-place finish.

“I think they knew what we were in for at the beginning of the season, especially Big 12 play,” Gillispie said. “You have to commend them for continuing to get better.”

Rising stock

Big 12 basketball made a statement last week. According to RPI numbers, the Big 12 is the second-highest rated conference, behind only the Big Ten. It features seven top 70 teams, and three of the top 10 teams in the Associated Press Top 25.

Everyone already knew the Big 12 was loaded at the top, but the bottom of the league showed its teeth. First, OSU upset Missouri at home. Then Iowa State proved it deserves consideration for the NCAA Tournament by knocking off Kansas. And Oklahoma completed a season sweep of Kansas State.

Midway watch list

Five players figure to be in the running for Big 12 Player of the Year: Texas’ J’Covan Brown, Kansas’ Thomas Robinson, Missouri’s Marcus Denmon, Iowa State’s Royce White and Baylor’s Perry Jones. The front-runner, at the moment, has to be considered Robinson, with Denmon and Jones right behind.

Jekyll and Nash

Does anyone freshman in the Big 12 mean more to his team than OSU’s Le’Bryan Nash? When the talented newcomer plays at his best, as he did while scoring 27 points against Missouri, the Cowboys can upset a top-10 team. When he plays poorly, as he did while scoring 13 points against Texas A&M, the Cowboys can lose to anyone. Oklahoma State will continue to be mediocre until coach Travis Ford can get his talented freshman to drop the Jekyll & Hyde act.

Power rankings

Before Monday’s game

1. Kansas (17-4, 7-1): One game up almost halfway through

2. Missouri (19-2, 6-2): Border War crowd should be crazy

3. Baylor (19-2, 6-2): Two road games this week could be hard

4. Iowa State (15-6, 5-3): Hilton Magic is back

5. Kansas State (15-5, 4-4): Will Spradling is in a slump

6. Oklahoma (13-7, 3-5): Lon Kruger loves coaching against his alma mater

7. Texas (13-8, 3-5): Playing tough, but not winning enough games

8. Texas A&M (12-8, 3-5): Won three in a row at home

9. Oklahoma State (10-11, 3-5): Big win over Missouri, ugly loss at Texas A&M

10. Texas Tech (7-13, 0-8): No team will go undefeated, but Red Raiders could go winless

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