Big 12 preview: 4 undefeated teams tip off competitive conference with Texas-Baylor matchup up first

Texas (13-0), TCU (13-0), Baylor (11-0) and West Virginia (11-0) are four of the remaining 11 unbeaten Division I teams

Baylor guard Sarah Andrews shoots a 3-pointer against Utah guard Ines Vieira during their game on Nov. 14, 2023, in Waco, Texas. Baylor is one of four unbeaten Big 12 teams. (Chris Jones/USA TODAY Sports)
Baylor guard Sarah Andrews shoots a 3-pointer against Utah guard Ines Vieira during their game on Nov. 14, 2023, in Waco, Texas. Baylor is one of four unbeaten Big 12 teams. (Chris Jones/USA TODAY Sports)

It’s shaping up to be a competitive Big 12 season with four of the 11 remaining undefeated teams in Division I residing in the conference.

Texas (13-0), TCU (13-0), Baylor (11-0) and West Virginia (11-0) all enter Big 12 play with spotless records, but the group is about to break up. Texas and Baylor square off in Austin, Texas, on Saturday (2 p.m. ET, Fox) during the first day of conference action.

The pair notched two of the most significant nonconference wins of any team in the Big 12, a sign they have pieces to make a deeper run into the NCAA tournament. Texas upset then-No. 11 UConn. Baylor took down then-No. 4 Utah, plus added a win over then-No. 24 Miami this month. Kansas State defeated then-No. 2 Iowa within the season’s first 10 days.

Six Big 12 teams made the NCAA tournament last season, but only Texas, Baylor and Oklahoma made it to the second round. None made it out of the first weekend. That could be very different in 2024.

Big 12 outlook: Texas, Baylor lead

Texas floor general Rori Harmon, an All-America honorable mention and Big 12 Defensive Player of the Year in 2022-23 who was chosen as the preseason favorite by the conference’s head coaches, will miss the remainder of the season with a torn ACL in her right knee suffered during practice ahead of the conference season.

The Longhorns won a share of the regular-season title last season and lost to Iowa State in the tournament title game. The Longhorns return fifth-year guard Shaylee Gonzales and 6-foot-4 senior forward Taylor Jones (16.2 ppg, 71.3 FG%, 7.4 rpg, 1.3 bpg). Madison Booker, the No. 12-ranked recruit by ESPN in the 2023 class, settled quickly into starting at the college level and is averaging a second-best 4.2 apg and third-best 11.7 ppg on the team.

Baylor received the other two of 14 first-place votes in the coaches’ preseason poll in head coach Nicki Collen’s third season. The Bears return 6-1 sophomore guard/forward Darianna Littlepage-Buggs (11.5 ppg, 8.3 rpg) and 5-6 senior guard Sarah Andrews (13.4 ppg, 3.8 apg).

They also bring back 5-11 graduate guard/forward Aijha Blackwell (10 ppg, 7.3 rpg) and 6-foot graduate forward Dre’Una Edwards (12 ppg, 7.3 rpg), who are healthy and available for the first time in their Baylor careers. Blackwell played in eight games last season while dealing with a lower leg injury. Edwards was ineligible to play last season because it was her second transfer and she did not qualify as a graduate transfer.

Baylor, like Texas, feeds off its defense and ranks ninth in rebound rate (59.4%). The Bears won 12 straight regular-season titles until Texas and Oklahoma shared it last season. Their last title game was 2022, when they lost to Harmon and the Longhorns.

Big 12 competition is strong at the top

Kansas State (12-1) jumped into contention with the return of 6-6 senior center Ayoka Lee. Lee set the NCAA D-I single-game scoring record with 61 points in January 2022, but missed last season after undergoing knee surgery. She’s averaging a team-best 20.8 ppg, 8.2 rpg and 2.2 bpg. Fifth-year guard Gabby Gregory leads the team in assists, but has not been as efficient from beyond the arc (26%).

West Virginia has played an easier nonconference schedule and broke into the rankings this month after defeating then-No. 25 Penn State 83-65. The Mountaineers are averaging 80.7 ppg, nearly 10 points more than any team over a full season since at least 2009-10, per Her Hoop Stats.

The starting guard trio of JJ Quinerly (19.5 ppg), Jayla Hemingway (8.5 ppg) and Kyah Watson (7.4 ppg) return with Hemingway now playing off the bench. First-year head coach Mark Kellogg brought in transfer guards Jordan Harrison, who came with him from Stephen F. Austin, and Lauren Fields. Harrison, a 5-6 sophomore, was the WAC Freshman of the Year.

TCU broke into the AP rankings ahead of Christmas for the first time since 2020. The Horned Frogs are led by 6-7 graduate center Sedona Prince (21 ppg, 10.7 rpg, 3.3 bpg), a transfer from Oregon, and 5-11 junior guard Madison Conner (22.5 ppg, 3.4 apg, 1.2 spg), a transfer from Arizona.

Kansas (7-4) played a stronger schedule than teams like West Virginia and TCU, and came within one of defeating Final Four team Virginia Tech. The Jayhawks won the WNIT title, usually an indicator of a solid season to come. Five players average double digits, led by 6-6 fifth-year center Taiyanna Jackson (13.1 ppg, 9.8 rpg, 2.6 bpg, 1.4 spg) and 6-foot freshman guard S’Mya Nichols (14 ppg, 2.8 apg).

Iowa State (7-4) could also be a surprise even after the graduation of Ashley Joens, who finished her career ranking top 25 in all-time scoring. Lexi Donarski transferred to Duke and Stephanie Soares was out of eligibility. But the freshman-heavy squad held its own in a rivalry game against Iowa. They assist and rebound well, and could upset some teams at the top of the pile.

Under-the-radar player to watch

Quinerly led the Mountaineers in some of their biggest games last season, including scoring a combined 52 points in two games against a ranked Oklahoma squad. She finished eighth in the Big 12 in scoring (14.5 pg), third in steals (2.1) and fifth in field-goal percentage (41.6%).

West Virginia's JJ Quinerly stepped up in the biggest games last season and is a player to watch in the Big 12. (Photo by Greg Fiume/NCAA Photos via Getty Images)
West Virginia's JJ Quinerly stepped up in the biggest games last season and is a player to watch in the Big 12. (Photo by Greg Fiume/NCAA Photos via Getty Images)

Those numbers have only gone up for the 5-8 junior guard in West Virginia’s nonconference schedule. She’s fourth in scoring, trailing TCU’s duo of Conner and Prince and Kansas State’s Lee. Against Delaware State this month, she came close to the program’s first-ever triple-double with 25 points (9-of-13), 12 assists, eight rebounds and seven steals.

Quinerly was named to the Big 12 All-Defensive Team and was a unanimous selection to the Big 12 First Team in 2023.

Teams that could make noise in March

Texas reached the Elite Eight in the first two seasons of head coach Vic Schaefer’s tenure, but without Harmon, the Longhorns will have to adapt and prove themselves.

Baylor has more uncertainty so far given its schedule. Utah star center Alissa Pili was benched with two early fouls in their meeting, changing the rest of the game. A win is a win, but it doesn’t show what it would be if Pili played the entire game. The Bears have the talent to make a push to the second weekend of the NCAA tournament.

Kansas State is a completely different team with Lee back in the rotation, and TCU could always make a surprise entry with Prince in the lineup. Both are talented bigs and have inches on their competition. That can go a long way against teams not used to battling such height.

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