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The Big 12 is Absolutely Loaded and the Conference Race is Must Watch, Top-25 Rankings

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Make no arguments about it, the Big 12 is the best conference in college basketball and frankly it’s not that close. It’s been talked about quite a bit but the worst team this year is Iowa State, meaning the easiest place to get a road win is at Hilton Coliseum. Yes, arguably the second toughest place to play at in this league is now deemed the easiest place to get a win for the 2017-18 season. That’s how loaded this conference is, which has another must-watch game tonight.

The Big 12 has been dominated by Kansas and that’s rightfully the storyline with this thing. Can anyone finally stop Kansas from winning another Big 12 regular season title? It’s all they do. That said, they are already a little bit behind the eight-ball due to the home loss to Texas Tech. Right now there’s a four way tie on top of the standings with Kansas, Texas Tech, West Virginia and Oklahoma. I went in depth the last two weeks on Texas Tech and West Virginia in the Contender Series, but it still may not do justice to just how good this league is.

Let’s just think for a second. Those are four legit title contenders. There’s the National Player of the Year in Trae Young. There’s an All-American in Jevon Carter. There are two of the best defenses in the country in West Virginia and Texas Tech. There’s Bill Self, Bob Huggins, Lon Kruger, Jamie Dixon, Chris Beard and Shaka Smart. There’s Scott Drew’s ability to develop underrated bigs. There’s Steve Prohm’s ability to develop guards. There’s West Virginia getting Esa Ahmad back. There’s Kansas getting Silvio De Sousa and possibly Billy Preston on the floor. Oh, there’s Devonte Graham, Mo Bamba and Lindell Wigginton. What I’m getting at is just how deep this conference is and why every conference game is now must watch TV.

That’s especially true tonight with Kansas heading to Morgantown to play West Virginia. Right now Texas Tech is in the drivers seat for the conference due to the fact they got the road win at Phog Allen. If you want to win this conference outright you must win all home games and steal 1-2 road wins. That’s what Kansas needs to do tonight if they want an outright conference title again. Tonight’s game against West Virginia is fascinating to me because of the style of play.

Kansas isn’t a tough team. They want to beat you by spacing you out, taking you off the dribble and kicking for open threes. They don’t want to bang down low or play physical. They don’t have that guy like they’ve had in the past with a Landen Lucas or Josh Jackson that initiates the contact and really gets after you. West Virginia, well, you know West Virginia. They will dare refs to call fouls on every play. They will grab, push and bump you until every single player fouls out. They absolutely take away your legs with the pressure and the physicality which leads to turnovers, especially later in games.

Kansas has lost at West Virginia each of the last four years and what’s more impressive is how West Virginia has beat them. They beat them in the 60s and scoring 92. They also just flat out kicked their ass last year. So what can you expect this game?

First, one of two things has to give when Kansas has the ball. Kansas takes care of the ball (37th in the country in TO rate) and shoot a bunch of threes at high clip. The Jayhawks shoot 41.5% as a team from behind the arc, which is good for 8th in the country. West Virginia obviously forces turnovers at a ridiculous rate – 2nd in the country at 27%. But, they also do a good job of contesting threes. They give up a bunch of looks from the 3-point line, which isn’t ideal. Part of the reason for that is the fact that they are pressing and then putting someone back in the lane so when teams attack they are getting open looks. However, West Virginia is letting teams shoot just 34.7% from the 3-point line. If Kansas can beat the press and get into a 3v2 or a 4v3, especially if Newman has the ball, look for them to drive and kick. Svi will stay out by the 3-point line and if he hits his first couple, it could be a big night for Kansas.

For West Virginia, will they get the same production from Esa Ahmad in his second game back? I was incredibly shocked that not only did Ahmad play 34 minutes in his first game, but he put up 18 points and 6 rebounds and didn’t look rusty at all. If Ahmad can continue to attack offensively, especially in the halfcourt, the outlook for this West Virginia team is vastly different. The other thing to keep an eye on in this game is how much West Virginia attacks the offensive glass. They are one of the best offensive rebounding teams in the country and Kansas, well, Kansas stinks at getting defensive rebounds. They rank 237th in the country in defensive rebounding percentage while WVU is 9th in offensive rebounding. Perhaps this is where Silvio De Sousa can truly help out Kansas and at least provide a big, physical body on the boards. Again, I know people will freak out because West Virginia lost to Texas Tech, but I want to remind people. Losing on the road in conference play happens. This isn’t football, where teams go undefeated and run through the season. A road loss isn’t abnormal.

Top-25

1. Villanova

2. Virginia

3. West Virginia

4. Oklahoma

5. Texas Tech

6. Wichita State

7. Duke

8. Purdue

9. Seton Hall

10. Xavier

11. Michigan State

12. Kansas

13. Arizona

14. Kentucky

15. Gonzaga

16. Auburn

17. Arizona State

18. Cincinnati

19. Ohio State

20. Michigan

21. Tennessee

22. Miami

23. Clemson

24. TCU

25. Nevada