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Coaches realize there are no walkovers this year

Tuesday, January 13, 2004 | 12:00 a.m. CST; updated 12:19 p.m. CDT, Saturday, July 5, 2008

No team has played more than two conference games and two teams have not started league play. Only a week into the conference season, Big 12 Conference coaches are praising the strength of the league.

“I think, from top to bottom, it’s the best it has ever been,” Oklahoma State coach Eddie Sutton said.

“Some of the teams at the top might not be as good as the one or two teams the last couple of years, but when you get to the lower half of the conference the teams are much better. There is nobody you can play and go out and assume a victory.”

No team looks capable of dominating the league as Kansas did the past two seasons. The No. 14 Jayhawks are adjusting to life without coach Roy Williams and boast a young squad. No. 18 Texas has lacked consistency at point guard after T.J. Ford entered the NBA Draft after his sophomore season.

No. 11 Oklahoma was undefeated before taking an 86-59 thumping at No. 1 Connecticut on Sunday. Missouri has struggled under the weight of preseason expectations and an ongoing NCAA investigation.

The result is a conference with no clear leader. The Big 12 is eighth in RPI, a ranking of the wins of the conference’s members weighed against the opponents they faced. Missouri’s loss to Belmont on Dec. 30 and Baylor’s struggles against nearly every opponent have significantly reduced the conference’s standing.

Ten teams have started a freshman at least once, and the conference’s youth shows its potential to improve, Texas coach Rick Barnes said.

“I think you’ll see guys emerge as the year goes on,” Barnes said. “I think you’ll see a lot of new faces. As the year goes on, the league will continue to get better and better. There are no ‘gimme’ games in this conference.”

Iowa State, predicted to finish in the middle of the pack, has made an early impact and leads the Big 12’s North Division at 2-0, with home wins against Missouri and Nebraska. Coach Wayne Morgan was surprised when he was told his team topped the division.

“Are we? I didn’t even realize that,” he said.

Morgan said he thinks his Cyclones might not be ready to be an elite team in the conference.

“I think we’re beginning to reach the point where we can compete with teams in the upper division, but I don’t think we can beat them yet,” he said. “We’re good, but I wouldn’t count my chickens or anything like that.”

BEDLAM AWAITS

: Wednesday brings the first Bedlam matchup of the season, for Oklahoma travels to Oklahoma State. Both coaches said they thought the home crowd was a powerful influence, especially in such a heated rivalry.

“I think it’s as big as any rivalry you’ll find in the country, not just in basketball but in all sports,” Sutton said. “And through the years it has become more intense.”

Oklahoma coach Kelvin Sampson pointed to the Sooners’ Sugar Bowl matchup with LSU on Jan. 4 as an example of a crowd determining the outcome of a game. (The Sooners struggled to overcome a partisan crowd in New Orleans and eventually lost 21-14.) Sampson said that atmosphere was similar to one his team experienced in the Elite Eight of the NCAA Tournament last season, a 63-47 loss to Syracuse.

“Our football game against LSU, I could have told them exactly what that felt like because of the Syracuse game in Albany (N.Y.),” Sampson said. “And when you get in the Bedlam game, it’s a huge advantage. Unless you’re a coach or player, you might not understand it.”

PLAYERS OF THE WEEK

: Texas Tech senior Andre Emmett became the first player to earn three consecutive Big 12 Player of the Week honors Monday.

Emmett scored a season-high 32 points in an 83-62 win against Oklahoma State on Saturday and is leading the conference at 22.2 points per game. Emmett has been named the conference’s top player four times this season, tying a Big 12 record.

Iowa State freshman Curtis Stinson was named Rookie of the Week for the second time. He totaled 37 points in wins against Missouri and Nebraska last week.


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