Big 12 basketball lacking depth this season

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The top of the Big 12 looks familiar, with Kansas in first place and ranked in the top 10.

The rest of the league doesn’t appear to be nearly as deep as usual this season, its first with West Virginia and TCU instead of Missouri and Texas A&M.

No. 24 Oklahoma State (8-1) is the only other league team to join the ninth-ranked Jayhawks (8-1) in the Top 25 and nobody else received a single vote for Monday’s poll.

This wasn’t entirely unexpected, of course. Missouri won the conference tournament before bolting for the SEC and its currently ranked 12th. But beyond the Cowboys, nobody has emerged as a serious threat to the Jayhawks with non-conference play winding down.

Big 12 teams are just 2-10 against opponents ranked in the Top 25 and the league is seventh in overall RPI _ behind the Atlantic-10 and the Mountain West. The inconsistent play of Baylor and Texas has a lot to do with that.

The Bears (7-3) were picked to finish second in the preseason poll, while the Longhorns (6-4) were slotted fourth. But Baylor has been up and down, while the Longhorns could find themselves at 6-6 at the end of the week.

Baylor’s biggest win was about as big a resume builder as a team could ask for. The Bears knocked off Kentucky in Rupp Arena on Dec. 1, 62-55, snapping the Wildcats 55-game home winning streak. But Kentucky later fell out of the Top 25and Baylor lost at home to Northwestern.

The Bears have already lost to Charleston in Waco. But they’ve got a chance to pick up a pair of quality wins before meeting Texas in the league opener on Jan. 5. Baylor hosts BYU and plays at Gonzaga on Dec. 28.

Baylor coach Scott Drew said he saw positive signs after his team led by just two at halftime before rallying to beat USC-Upstate, 73-57.

“Early in the year I think that you are always adjusting, changing and tweaking,” Drew said. “I’m so pleased with this effort though because we were able to defend and still take care of the ball and win. I thought that we made some extra effort passes. We made a more conscious effort to get the ball inside. We’re learning how to get more touches inside.”

Texas is scuffling in part because of a challenging schedule and the absence of point guard Myck Kabongo (NCAA eligibility investigation) and forward Jaylen Boyd (left foot injury).

If the Longhorns want to turn their season around, this would a good week to get started.

Texas, which doesn’t have an upperclassman in its starting lineup, hosts No. 23 North Carolina on Wednesday and plays at No. 20 Michigan State on Saturday. A pair of wins would be a massive boost for a team that has lost to Division II Chaminade and by 23 points to No. 15 Georgetown.

“You’ve just got to go into it with a mindset of getting better every day. Build on the positive. And that’s what we’ve been trying to do as a young group,” Texas freshman guard Javan Felix said.

Of course, not everyone in the Big 12 is off to a slow start.

Kansas brought a seven-game winning streak into this week. Oklahoma State has already beaten Tennessee and North Carolina State behind freshman point guard Marcus Smart, who is averaging 13 points, seven rebounds and 5.2 assists a game and is on the short list of the game’s top freshmen.

New coach Bruce Weber got Kansas State off to a respectable 7-2 start, and Oklahoma beat old foe Texas A&M 64-54 on Saturday to move to 7-2.

Iowa State (8-3), which was picked to finish eighth in the league, has lost to three quality opponents; Cincinnati, UNLV and Iowa.

Coach Bob Huggins led West Virginia to five straight NCAA tournaments out of the brutal Big East. Right now, the Mountaineers find themselves last in the Big 12.

West Virginia (4-5), fresh off a 15-point loss to No. 2 Michigan, is one of the nation’s worst shooting teams at just 38.9 percent. The Mountaineers have lost to Gonzaga and fellow Big 12 team Oklahoma, but they’ve also fallen to Davidson and Duquesne.

“We’ll win. We’ve won before and we’ll win again,” Huggins said. “We’ve got to continue to guard better and we’ve got to continue to rebound the ball better.”

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Follow Luke Meredith on Twitter: www.twitter.com/LukeMererdithAP

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