It's our bi-monthly look at Big 12 basketball from the play-by-play voice of the Red
Raiders, Brian Hanni.
PRIME PERFORMER: Cameron Clark has the Oklahoma Sooners on the
right side of the NCAA tournament bubble as projected by ESPN's Joe Lunardi. The
Sooners are amongst Lunardi's last four in in his projected field of 68, making
the Big 12 a five-bid league.
Clark has been integral to OU's 10-1 start. Last week he averaged 18.5 points in
a pair of wins over George Mason and Tulsa and then he erupted for 31 Tuesday
night in a 91-89 squeaker over UT-Arlington. His 18.9 points per game on the
season currently leads the Big 12; Iowa State's Melvin Ejim checks in next at
18.7 points per outing. Of course, it's not only Clark that's clicking in
Norman. He's had great help from Buddy Hield, Ryan Spangler and Jordan Woodward.
A week ago, Dustin Hogue of Iowa State was garnering major praise following his
distinction as the Oscar Robertson National Player of the Week. The award looked
at games Dec. 2-8 and in that stretch Hogue average 19.5 points and 15 rebounds
in a pair of wins over Auburn and Northern Iowa.
RISING ROOKIE: Since our last column two weeks ago, Texas
freshman guard Isaiah Taylor has scored 15 points in a win at Temple, 15 in a
home victory over Texas State and 16 Wednesday night in a victory at No. 14
North Carolina. The performance in Chapel Hill didn't include the greatest
shooting line (5-of-16) but it's clear that Taylor has been a key cog in the
midst of Texas' six-game winning streak that has them up to 10-1 on the season
and finally getting some respect thanks to a win in the Dean Dome.
Elsewhere, OU freshman guard Jordan Woodward posted a career-high 24 points in
the Sooners' 101-91 win over Tulsa en route to Big 12 Rookie of the Week honors
and Wayman Tisdale National Freshman of the Week honors. Seventeen of his 24
points came from the free throw line as he hit 17-of-22 foul attempts. Woodward
backed that effort up with 12 assists on Tuesday night on an evening when his
shot was off (2-of-9) but he found other ways to help OU get by UT-Arlington. He
now has posted double figures in four of his last six games.
In Waco, JUCO transfer Kenny Cherry continues to impress. After pouring in 18
points in Baylor's upset of Kentucky on Dec. 6, he came back with 20 points and
10 assists in Wednesday night's overtime victory over Northwestern State.
And give KU's Joel Embiid another attaboy following a second half on Saturday in
which he erupted 16 points, three blocks and three steals en route to a
career-high 18 points against New Mexico. He's started the last two games for
Bill Self and could become a mainstay in the starting lineup. He's projected as
the No. 4 pick in June's NBA draft by some outlets.
STOCK REPORT: The Oklahoma and Texas fan bases might be more
pleased to see their programs rising in football right now but, truth be told,
Lon Krueger's and Rick Barnes' hoops teams are two of the better stories in the
league so far. Oklahoma's RPI is 33 after a 10-1 start, earning them a projected
11 seed in ESPN's Bracketology. Their lone loss was to Michigan State in New
York and a chance at a quality win comes Saturday against Texas A&M in Houston.
10-1 Texas got its big quality win on Wednesday night, topping the Tarheels in
Chapel Hill 86-83. It was the signature victory Barnes' team needed to turn some
heads around the country and with the way they're rebounding right now
(plus-9.6) they may stay in the spotlight for some time to come. Obviously,
Baylor's 9-1 start -- including an upset of No. 3 Kentucky -- has them climbing
both in the polls and in the Big 12 pecking order as well.
Kansas took a tumble to No. 18 in the polls after a stretch in which the
Jayhawks lost three of four games. Self is leaning on five freshmen in his
primary rotation and sophomore Perry Ellis has been the team's second-leading
scorer (14.1 points per game) behind Andrew Wiggins (15.9). Self has admitted
that the strength of KU's non-conference schedule was perhaps overly ambitious
for such a young team, but no one will sleep on or feel sorry for the nine-time
defending Big 12 champs. They may be tumbling in the polls, but any Big 12 coach
to a man would rather be facing the Baby Jays right now in December before they
presumably grow up considerably in January and February. There are five Big 12
teams with fewer losses than Kansas right now and two others tied with them in
the loss column, but a team with two of the top four projected NBA lottery picks
won't likely continue to sputter as the year goes on.
MUST SEE TV: If you missed UT's 86-83 upset at No. 14 North
Carolina on Wednesday night, fear not. The Horns host No. 5 Michigan State
Saturday at 3 p.m. on CBS. If they win that one, they'll not only be ranked on
Monday but could go from receiving no votes to flirting with the top 15.
It's one of several marquee matchups on Saturday. Others include some neutral
court delights: No. 7 Oklahoma State vs. No. 24 Colorado in Las Vegas in an
old-school Big 8 / Big 12 revival. Another blast from the past: Oklahoma vs.
(8-2) Texas A&M in Houston, and I'll also be DVRing K-State vs. Gonzaga in
Georgetown and all 350 pounds of Joshua Smith visits Kansas and Texas Tech
travels to face 9-2 Arizona State lead by Jahii Carson's 19.9 points per game.
The Sun Devils are a projected 11-seed and would represent Tech's biggest win of
the non-conference portion of the schedule.