All about the Big 12: Baylor living up to hype

You’re forgiven if you looked at the main preseason polls and chuckled softly to yourself when you saw Baylor at No. 12, the highest ranking of any Big 12 team.

After all, didn’t the Bears go into the 2008-09 and 2010-11 seasons with high expectations, only to fall short of even making the NCAA tournament each time?

Well, it turns out the pollsters were on to something this time. Baylor improved to 16-0 Tuesday night with a thrilling 75-73 victory at Kansas State. The Bears are one of just three unbeaten teams, along with Murray State and Syracuse.

[Related: How Baylor compares to college basketball’s elite]

Baylor coach Scott Drew was happy with the Bears' hard-fought win at Kansas State.
(US Presswire)

Tuesday’s victory was the Bears’ second consecutive road win, which means they’ve already tied their conference road-win total from last season.

This win, though, came at one of the tougher venues in the Big 12. K-State had won 14 in a row at Bramlage Coliseum, and Baylor is just the 10th team to win at “The Octagon of Doom” since Frank Martin became the Wildcats’ coach in 2007.

“We all know the Big 12, you win on the road – that is something that does not happen often,” Baylor coach Scott Drew said after the game.

K-State’s most recent home game was a 16-point rout of Missouri on Saturday, which was the Tigers’ first loss of the season. For a good portion of Tuesday’s game, it appeared K-State was going to hand Baylor its first loss, too. Baylor had five players with four fouls, and K-State shot eight more free throws than the Bears. Baylor also rallied from deficits of 10 points in the first half and nine points in the second half.

“The big thing is sometimes people question our team’s toughness, and I think tonight we showed how tough we have been all year long,” Drew said.

Baylor standout Perry Jones III also was impressed with how he and his teammates rallied.

“It showed we’re able to stay together as a team when times are tough,” he said. “Guys don’t get mad at each other and guys still play basketball the way we play.”

[Related: K-State’s Frank Martin did not take losing to Baylor well]

Last season, Baylor started 12-3, then fell apart, finishing 18-13, including 7-9 in Big 12 play. That team relied heavily on free-wheeling guard LaceDarius Dunn, a gifted offensive player but also a player who never met a shot he didn’t think he could make.

Dunn tossed up 425 shots last season, 130 more than anyone else on the team, but he made just 39.5 percent of them. He also had 60 assists but 100 turnovers, which means he fit right in with the rest of the Bears: Baylor had 122 more turnovers than assists last season.

This season, the Bears have five players averaging in double figures, and they have all taken between 111 and 124 shots. While the Bears remain turnover-prone, committing 15.2 per game, they at least have a 1-to-1 assist-to-turnover ratio, as they also average 15.2 assists.

In addition to having five guys averaging double figures in points, the Bears have 10 players averaging at least 10 minutes per game. That depth came in handy Tuesday night.

“Our depth is our biggest strength,” Drew said. “Our leadership and depth allow you to overcome a night when you do have foul trouble.”

Baylor is off to just its third 3-0 conference start in the Big 12 era (since 1996) and also is the proud owner of the first 16-game winning streak in program history. Baylor welcomes in Oklahoma State (9-7) on Saturday, which means the Bears should be 17-0 when they head to Kansas for a Monday night showdown. The Bears follow that up with a home game against Missouri on Jan. 21. Those contests will be two of the biggest league games this season.

Baylor is the only Division I school in the nation that has both an unbeaten men’s team and an unbeaten women’s team. The Bears admit to being proud of their record.

“We try not to pay attention to that, but it is hard not to,” Bears senior forward Quincy Acy said Monday. “Last year, we got a little fame and we got embarrassed a couple times.

“Going through that last year, I really stressed with our guys that we really should not get caught up in the rankings. We have to play like we have something to lose and like we have a target on our back.”

3 to watch

Iowa State at Kansas, Saturday, 4 p.m., Big 12 syndication/YES network/Altitude2/ESPN FullCourt: This is another chance for Iowa State to prove that it’s for real. Kansas has won 12 in a row in this series, and just two have been decided by single digits. Iowa State first played in Lawrence in 1909 – but has won there just 15 times. Including this contest, KU plays four of its next six at home.

Texas A&M at Missouri, Monday, 5:30 p.m., ESPN: Think of this as a sort of last stand for the Aggies, even if it’s on the road. Truthfully, this isn’t a good week for exciting league games.

Baylor at Kansas, Monday, 9:30 p.m., ESPN: The second of two big back-to-back games for KU. The Jayhawks are 16-2 all-time against Baylor, including 7-0 at home.

Who’s hot?

Kansas State G Rodney McGruder: McGruder, a junior, has been an offensive force of late. He has scored 107 points in the past five games, shooting 61.9 percent (39-of-63) from the field and 56.3 percent from 3-point range (9-of-16) during that span.

Missouri F Ricardo Ratliffe: Ratliffe, a senior forward, has shot 66.7 percent or better in all but one contest this season. He has eight games where he has missed one shot or less and leads the nation in field goal percentage (.769).

Kansas G Travis Releford: Releford has 70 points and 23 rebounds in his past four games, shooting 54.8 percent (23-of-42) from the field in those outings.

Who’s not?

Oklahoma’s offense: The Sooners are averaging 73.3 points and shooting 43.2 from the field overall, but in three league games, OU is averaging just 58.3 points and shooting a sickly 34.3 percent from the field. Not surprisingly, the Sooners are 0-3 in the league and have lost those games by an average of 18.7 points.

Texas A&M: The Aggies are off to an 0-3 start in league play, their worst since the 2003-04 season – when they finished 7-21 overall and 0-16 in league action. A&M is used to sluggish starts; it has lost at least half its first six league games in six of the past seven seasons but has rallied to make the NCAA field in five of those six. But this season seems different; this team is in trouble.

Texas Tech F Robert Lewandowski: Lewandoski, a 6-10 senior, averages 25.7 minutes, but he has almost as many fouls (53) as rebounds (63). He averages 4.3 rebounds and 3.8 fouls. He has fouled out four times, which leads the league.

Good win last week

Kansas State 75, Missouri 59. K-State handed Mizzou its first loss of the season, and the Wildcats did so in dominating fashion. K-State did a great job defensively, holding Mizzou to a season-low point total, and pounded the smaller Tigers on the boards.

Bad loss last week

Iowa State 74, Texas A&M 50. Getting drilled by 24 at home isn’t a good thing. A&M really is struggling, and the Aggies look nothing like a potential NCAA team right now. Can they turn it around?

Numbers game

Iowa State junior F Royce White recorded just the fourth triple-double in school history with 10 points, 18 rebounds and 10 assists against Texas A&M. It was the 12th triple-double in Big 12 history and the sixth in a league game. White’s triple-double was Iowa State’s third since the Big 12 began play in 1996-97, tied with Baylor for the most of any league school. But Iowa State is the only school with multiple triple-doubles against conference opponents.

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Mike Huguenin is a Yahoo! Sports college sports editor. Send Mike a question or comment for potential use in a future column or webcast.
Updated Thursday, Jan 12, 2012