Rankings may not hold the greatest significance in college basketball, but they certainly provide plenty of discussion.
Despite the start of the Big 12 Conference schedule tonight, the focus of the first Big 12 coaches’ teleconference of the year centered on Duke jumping past Texas Tech and Texas to the No. 1 spot in the Associated Press Top 25 on Monday.
Following the Blue Devils stunning 68-67 road win against previous No. 1 Connecticut on Saturday, Duke (10-1) vaulted from No. 4 to No. 1 after receiving 20 first-place votes. Texas Tech also received 20 first-place votes but stayed at No. 2 because Duke edged the Red Raiders with 1,104 overall points while Texas Tech finished with 1,091.
The exclusion of Texas Tech, which began the season ranked No. 7 and has since gone 14-0, and Texas (12-1), which is the only team to beat Duke this season, was enough for some coaches to claim the Big 12 is not given proper recognition.
“I don’t know that the Big 12 has gotten quite the respect that we deserve,” Texas Tech coach Marsha Sharp said. “That’s not necessarily only what we’ve done, but when you look at (the Big 12) across the board, I think that, if I’m not mistaken, there are five or six of us that have one loss or less going into conference play.
“That is pretty incredible and it is going to talk about the strength of the conference as we go through the season.”
Meanwhile, Texas Tech earned the No. 1 ranking in the USA Today/ESPN coaches poll, which was released Tuesday after the coaches’ teleconference. The selection makes the Red Raiders the first Big 12 team to be ranked No. 1 in either poll since the conference’s inception in 1996.
Duke jumped from No. 4 to No. 2 in the coaches’ poll while Texas remained No. 3, but Texas coach Jody Conradt stressed that although polls are fun to follow, what each team does on the court is the most important factor.
“After you’ve been in this business a long time you don’t put a lot of stock in the polls,” Conradt said. “They’re fun and they’re exciting for your team and they are a reward for good work.”
Regardless of where teams are ranked, there is no question that the Big 12 is one of the toughest conferences in America. Big 12 team’s are 113-27 against non-conference opponents this year, which gives the Big 12 the highest winning percentage (.807) against non-conference opponents.
Six teams are ranked heading into Big 12 play with No. 11 Kansas State, No. 14 Colorado, No. 15 Oklahoma and No. 24 Baylor joining Texas Tech and Texas in the AP top 25.
Kansas State, Colorado and Nebraska are each riding seven-game winning streaks heading into the conference season, but Texas may be the team to beat in the coming weeks.
Led by balanced scoring and the outstanding play of Tiffany Jackson, a 6-foot-3 freshman that is averaging 12 points and 8.1 rebounds off the bench, the Longhorns are playing as they did last season when they advanced to the Final Four.
Aside from beating Duke 85-77 in November, the Longhorns also beat No. 5 Tennessee on the road and No. 12 Georgia. Texas’ only loss came on the road against No. 9 Penn State.
Sharp said she thinks Texas deserves to be the No. 1 team in the polls instead of Duke or her Red Raiders.
“I’m going to be honest with you and tell you that the one that I felt like all along probably was the number one team in the country is Texas,” Sharp said. “I think that the fact that they beat Georgia in one spot, but also the fact that they beat Tennessee and Duke both probably gives them a lot of credence there.”
PLAYERS OF THE WEEK: Texas’ players are also getting plenty of recognition this season. Jamie Carey, the Longhorns’ 5-6 point guard earned Big 12 player of the week honors last week for the second time this season.
Carey played a major role in engineering the Longhorns 70-60 comeback victory against Tennessee on Dec. 28 by scoring nine of Texas’ final 15 points. Against New Mexico on Saturday, Carey made five 3-pointers in Texas’ 92-47 win.
Jackson earned Big 12 rookie of the week honors last week for the second time this season after scoring 17 points and grabbing nine rebounds against Tennessee and finishing with 13 points and 12 rebounds against New Mexico.