The Big 12 might be very balanced and competitive this season, but its overall strength is not on par with the big three power conferences (ACC, Big East and Big Ten).
While the league has seven or eight teams that could be tournament-worthy, only Texas can be considered an elite team right now.
From what I've seen, Texas is at the top by a healthy margin and Baylor is at the bottom. The rest of the teams are evenly matched.
Scott Drew's team, already short on experience and talent, has had its rebuilding process further derailed by being denied non-conference games this season as part of its punishment for rules violations. The extra time to work on skill development and weight training will undoubtedly help his team, but the fruits of that labor will be seen more next season than this one.
In the meantime, Drew will keep his team focused on working hard and trying to get better. The team's leading scorer, sophomore guard Aaron Bruce, will shoulder the offensive load, but without much help, points and wins will be sparse.
Ricardo Patton rotates 11 players in a fast-paced environment. The result is a high-scoring offense that leads the conference in three-pointers.
On defense, Colorado holds teams to 41 percent shooting while enjoying a plus-4 turnover margin. Richard Roby is a smooth scorer who has averaged 21 points in three conference games. Chris Copeland is the other double-figure scorer at 14 ppg.
However, there's not much low-post scoring. Shot selection has been troublesome in conference games, leading to just 37 percent from the field and only 67 points per game. As a result, this team relies heavily on points off turnovers and from beyond the arc. When it comes up short in those areas, it struggles.
The Cyclones are also a perimeter-oriented team. Coach Wayne Morgan uses fullcourt pressure and an active zone defense to force turnovers that lead to fast-break points.
Curtis Stinson, Will Blalock and Rahshon Clark handle the bulk of the scoring, and all three are good perimeter scorers that are most effective driving to the hoop.
There isn't much of an inside scoring presence and the Cyclones are not a strong rebounding team; therefore they try to wear teams down with defensive pressure and guard play.
The playing rotation is about nine deep, but unless the Cyclones can find a consistent inside presence, I think it will be tough for them to be much more than a .500 team in Big 12 play.
The Jayhawks are a young team and show some promise, but they still struggle with consistency – especially on offense. An improved defense has Kansas near the top of the league (and the nation) in keeping opponents under control, but the Jayhawks are struggling to score. In the January 14 loss to Kansas State they really struggled against the Wildcats' zone.
Coach Bill Self plays seven freshmen and sophomores in his 10-man rotation, but none has proven to be a consistent and confident perimeter shooter. Leading-scorer Brandon Rush has the potential to be a terrific player, but he's just a freshman and needs time to polish his game. Mario Chalmers and Russell Robinson are making progress as point guards, and inside, Sasha Kaun, C.J. Giles, and Julian Wright have the potential to be effective point producers.
In their win at Kansas, the Wildcats impressed me with their poise, shot-making and defense. With leading scorer Cartier Martin battling foul trouble, they got big games from their role players as Clent Stewart, Schyler Thomas and Dramane Diarra all made big shots down the stretch.
The team's top two players, Martin and David Hoskins, are excellent scorers. Martin is an all-league caliber player and Hoskins isn't far behind. On defense Jim Woolridge's team will mix it up a bit and with quickness – the Wildcats don't give up a lot of easy looks.
Martin and Hoskins can create matchup problems for just about every team in the conference, but the key to the Wildcats' season will be consistent contributions from the other guys. In a season when there is only one dominant team, Kansas State could surprise and finish in the top half.
Quin Snyder has the conference's top scorer in Thomas Gardner, and two other double-figure scorers in Jimmy McKinney and Marshall Brown. All three can create their own shot, get to the hoop and shoot the three. But they're also solid on defense.
The Tigers do a good job of pressuring the basketball and getting into passing lanes. Like most teams they change defenses, but man-to-man is what they play most. To stay in the upper tier of the league, Missouri will need to become a better rebounding team – and it wouldn't hurt for Kevin Young, the team's top rebounder, to provide a little more low-post scoring.
Thus far, Barry Collier's team is getting the job down with defense and a balanced attack.
Nebraska is holding teams to just 38 percent from the field and outrebounding teams by four a game. With a pair of 6-foot-10 frontliners, easy shots are hard to come by against the Huskers.
On offense they run a disciplined attack and have three players averaging double-figures (Jason Dourisseau, Wes Wilkinson and Joe McCray). McCray averaged 16 points per game last season and is an excellent outside shooter, but he's struggling so far this season.
The Cornhuskers are solid from three-point land, and that helps open things up for big men Wilkinson and Aleks Maric. The development of Maric has been a pleasant surprise.
Nebraska's defense and discipline on offense will typically keep it in games, but to win consistently I think the team's 42 percent field goal shooting will need to improve.
The Sooners appear to be a team that is searching for an identity despite having some experience and pretty good talent. Inconsistent play at the point has impacted perimeter shooting and contributed to untidy defense.
Oklahoma is shooting just 44 percent and allowing its opponents to shoot the same. Not good. From the three-point line the Sooners are being outshot, and on the season Oklahoma has about as many turnovers as it has forced.
Forwards Taj Gray and Kevin Bookout are both averaging double figures and shooting over 60 percent from the field, but the other guards are coming up short. Kelvin Sampson needs better backcourt play for the Sooners to emerge as a title contender.
The young Cowboys are the best shooting team in the conference and one of the best in the nation – and that's with the team's best perimeter shooter, JamesOn Curry, hitting just 42 percent.
Eddie Sutton's team takes high-percentage shots and has a number of players that shoot the ball well. Curry, Mario Boggan and Torre Johnson lead the way with double-figure scoring.
The Cowboys do a solid job on the glass, but are just average defensively. The recipe for success is improvement on defense and taking better care of the ball. When the Cowboys don't turn it over, they make most of their good shots.
The Longhorns are one of about 10 teams in the country that have the look of a national champion. They have reasonable depth, talent and versatility. They are defending very well and can win pretty (high scoring) or ugly (low scoring). They are near the top of the league in field-goal offense and field-goal defense – and that is an uncommon combination.
LeMarcus Aldridge and P.J. Tucker are forces inside. Between them they have 15 double-doubles and average 35 points per game. On the perimeter, Kenton Paulino and Daniel Gibson have become a potent.
Brad Buckman has battled injuries, but when healthy is a nice complement to Aldridge and Tucker. The bench is not potent, but Rick Barnes gets adequate production from A.J. Abrams, Conner Atchley, and Mike Williams.
This team should win the Big 12 comfortably, could be a No. 1 seed in the NCAA tournament and has a chance to win it all.
For the Aggies to build on the impressive season of a year ago, junior Acie Law and sophomore Joseph Jones will have to play big on offense every game. So far, so good. In conference play they are averaging a combined 37 points per game while shooting over 50 percent from the field.
Billy Gillespie plays just two seniors in his eight-man rotation and does not have much size, especially on the perimeter. The lack of a consistent third scorer is also a concern, but soph Dominique Kirk (an excellent all-around player, but a reluctant scorer) could fill that void.
In conference play, the Aggies have allowed the opponents to shoot 49 percent from the field, and have been out-rebounded by two per game. They have, however, found a way to force an average of 18 turnovers.
This is a scrappy team with two of the best players in the league carrying its offense. A lack of depth means the margin for error is small. Very efficient play will be required for Texas A&M to get to the .500 level in conference play.
The backcourt of Jarrius Jackson and Martin Zeno is one of the Big 12's best. Both are very good scorers, combining for an average of 36 points per game in the Big 12. The inside scoring, however, has been spotty. But in Darryl Dora, Bob Knight has a big guy who is capable of double figures.
Perhaps more encouraging is the potential of freshman Dior Lowhorn. He's long and active and is gaining confidence with every game.
The development of some inside scoring and cutting down on the turnovers will give Texas Tech a chance finish above .500.