By Bob Hertzel
Times West Virginian
When West Virginia’s football team moved into the Big 12 this year there was much anticipation, for it appeared that there really wasn’t a great national power among the teams, which should have boded well for WVU.
The first part of that played out, Kansas State being the best of the best and rising as high as No. 1 in the nation, but when they finished playing no Big 12 team could make it to the national championship game.
Now basketball is upon us and it looks like it might be more of the same, no one showing any sign of national dominance, although Kansas, as always, is the team to beat. The Jayhawks have gotten off to a 7-1 start.
Kansas State and Oklahoma State also are 7-1, but Kansas has won six in a row since dropping its second game of the season to Michigan State.
The Kansas coach was asked to give a Self analysis of the conference as a national player this year.
“I think it’s going to be good,” he said. “From a national perspective, we will be better in January, February and March than we have been to here.”
Bill Self was saying the league had not found itself yet.
“Our league has had some losses that aren’t great and we’ve contributed to that,” he said. “The league has had some good wins, but not as many as losses.”
That doesn’t bother him so much because the league is so young from top to bottom, West Virginia being a perfect example.
“When you are young you will be up and down,” Self said. “We haven’t had as many good non-conference wins as in the past.”
The problem is that making up ground late in the season for tournament rankings is sometimes difficult when league teams are knocking each other off.
“It’s hard to make up a lot of RPI points when you are playing in the league,” he said.
Kansas may be beginning to hit its stride, having just put together its best game of the year against Colorado.
“I think we are making progress,” he admitted, “but sometimes it’s two steps forward, one back.”
While the Colorado game had him singing a happy tune, he hardly felt his team had arrived.
“One game doesn’t make it,” he said. “We still need to rebound the ball. There’s a ton of things to work on and put in.”
Oklahoma State has been the surprise team in the conference under Travis Ford, jumping off to the 7-1 start with a couple of impressive victories over Tennessee of the SEC and North Carolina State of the ACC, but they could not handle the same Virginia Tech team that WVU edged over the weekend.
OSU is doing it with defense, ranking second in the conference in opponent’s shooting percentage, while also leading the conference in free throw shooting to help down the stretch of close games.
While Le’Bryan Nash and Markel Brown are leading the way scoring, Nash ranked second in the conference at 16.3 points a game, Marcus Smart has been the glue that has held the team together at the point.
“He has given a big lift to the team as a point guard and leader,” Ford said. “He does so many things and affects the game in a lot of different ways.”
What makes the Cowboys’ start all that more spectacular is that they have been without three starters, two of which should be back sometime this season to give them depth.
In case you were wondering, WVU ranks last in the Big 12 in field goal shooting percentage, the only team under 40 percent at 39.8.
Somewhat surprisingly, WVU ranks eighth out of the 10 teams in defense, giving up 66 points a game.
Like West Virginia, TCU is new to the Big 12, but unlike West Virginia, they are not expected to make much of a splash.
Coach Trent Johnson says he’s been so involved with his team that he hasn’t cast an eye toward conference play yet, that beginning in January.
“Quite frankly I haven’t looked at a lot of the teams in the league. I’ve been consumed with our team and am trying to get us to play through some mental toughness and physical toughness. We know our margin of error is thin,” he said.
Pierre Jackson of Baylor is the top scorer in the conference at 19.6 points a game while also leading in assists at 6.8 per game, rare double.
“Last year a lot of people saw what he was capable of, especially at the ends of games,” Baylor coach Scott Drew said. “This year he’s taking better care of the basketball. As far as his leadership role, he is spending time trying to become a better leader.
“He’s improved as a player and become one of the most exciting players in the nation.”
Email Bob Hertzel at email@example.com or follow him on Twitter @bhertzel.