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November 14, 2013

Breakdown: Forte pacing Pokes

With a new college hoops season tipping off, it's time to debut a new weekly Big 12 basketball column: the Big 12 Breakdown. Each week, I'll spotlight a Prime Performer and a Rising Rookie from the past week, and highlight what teams are climbing or falling in the league pecking order. And for those of you hoops junkies that watch more than just the Texas Tech games, I'll help you book a date with your DVR for some can't-miss Big 12 hoops action on the horizon.

PRIME PERFORMER: Marcus Smart, Andrew Wiggins, Isaiah Austin, Cory Jefferson, etc. will fill this space a lot this year, so let's go with two sharp-shooting three-point specialists who aren't on any Wooden Award watch lists or receiving much preseason ink.

Oklahoma State has been led in scoring in both games by sophomore shooting guard Phil Forte. He paced the Pokes in a blowout of Mississippi Valley State with 22 (4-of-7 from three) on Friday, and followed it up with a team-high 19 more (4-of-8 from three) against Utah Valley on Tuesday.

Baylor's Brady Heslip has already nailed nine three's this season and is shooting 56 percent from beyond the arc while averaging 15 points per game in Baylor's two season-opening wins. He poured in 18 (5-of-10 from three) on Tuesday in a 66-64 victory over South Carolina.

Strong honorable mention props go to Kansas sophomore Perry Ellis who turned in 24 points and nine rebounds versus Duke on a huge stage Tuesday night in Chicago.

RISING ROOKIE: It's hard not to go with KU's Andrew Wiggins given that his efforts on Tuesday contributed to the Big 12's biggest win thus far and likely the biggest victory a Big 12 club will post this non-conference season -- unless Baylor beats Kentucky on Dec. 1. While Chicago-native Jabari Parker of Duke may have outshined Wiggins individually, the consensus No. 1 recruit got the last laugh in Kansas' 94-83 win and had several key buckets down the stretch to help the Jayhawks pull away. Were it not for foul trouble in the first half, Wiggins may have even outscored Parker (27 points), but instead settled for 22 points on 9-of-15 shooting and eight rebounds.

Texas Tech's Rob Turner deserves a mention as well as he scorched the nets of the United Spirit Arena on Monday night, hitting his first five three-pointers en route to a career high 21 points, four assists and turnovers against Northern Arizona. He's already giving Tech two things it lacked a year ago from the point guard spot: a threat from downtown and a healthy assist to turnover ratio at 3-to-1 so far (Josh Gray was essentially 1-1).

STOCK REPORT: In October, Kansas was a co-favorite to win the league with Oklahoma State and through two games, the Jayhawks' talented collection of rookies have certainly lived up to the hype. The win in Chicago over a legit top-5 team in Duke is KU's current trump card over the Cowboys, and thus earns them a slight rising distinction. Oklahoma State has notched a pair of blowout wins after spending the first week on Valley Alley (117-62 over Mississippi Valley State and 93-40 over Utah Valley). A real test comes next week against No. 13 Memphis.

Texas Tech could join the ranks of the rising with a win tonight at Alabama. The Crimson Tide lost to Oklahoma 82-73 on Friday in Dallas, but for a Tech team that didn't play a non-con road game at all last season, this would be a significant triumph and a chance to prove the Red Raiders are capable of climbing several spots higher than their preseason ninth-place prediction by the league's coaches.

In addition to beating the Crimson Tide, Oklahoma also has wins over North Texas and Idaho and is the league's only 3-0 team at the moment. Give them a narrow bump since K-State -- with whom the Pokes were picked to tie for fifth in the leagues' preseason poll -- has struggled. Fifth place seems like their ceiling this year though. Baylor hasn't done enough to climb higher than it's preseason No. 3 spot on the Big 12 totem poll, but give the Bears an atta-boy for logging two wins over major conference teams (72-60 over Colorado and 66-64 over South Carolina) and new guard Kenny Cherry settling in nicely.

K-State's stock obviously took a hit with a 60-58 home loss to Northern Colorado last Friday. While the upset was certainly a surprise, a slow start should not be. Angel Rodriguez is gone to Miami and Jevon Thomas won't be eligible until Dec. 21. Plus, the 'Cats were without Thomas Gipson, who has missed the first two games with an undisclosed injury. KSU bounced back with a 71-63 win over Oral Roberts Wednesday, behind 25 points from freshman Marcus Foster.

TCU is 0-2 but, when picked last in the league, it's hard to say they're falling. Texas has escaped against both Mercer (76-73) and South Alabama (84-77). On Tuesday, they trailed at home by 14 at the half before rallying to outscore the Jaguars 53-32 in the second frame. Jonathan Holmes went for 23 to spark the comeback.

MUST SEE TV: The must see game of the week already happened on Tuesday night when No. 5 Kansas beat No. 4 Duke at the Champions Classic in Chicago. This weekend be sure to tune in on Sunday at 4 p.m. CT when Iowa State hosts Michigan. Dick Vitale will be on the call and Melvin Ejim is hoping to return (hyper-extended right knee) as the Big 12's preseason No. 4 team hopes for some Hilton Magic against the nation's seventh-ranked Wolverines. Also don't miss Memphis at Oklahoma State next Tuesday.

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