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Dec 31, 2014 9:54 AM

Big 12 can back up claim as top basketball league

The Associated Press

DALLAS (AP) The Big 12 has plenty of positive statistics, and winning teams, to back up its claim as the nation's top basketball conference.

This is a league with its only undefeated team unranked, having fallen out of the Top 25 this week despite a 44-point win.

Still, no other league can claim six Top 25 teams. There was a league-record seven before TCU (13-0) was replaced in this week's poll by Georgetown.

After No. 13 Kansas and Oklahoma State won Tuesday night, the Big 12 has seven teams with at least 10 wins and an overall record of 101-20 (.835 winning percentage). That is the nation's best. No. 11 Texas, No. 17 West Virginia, No. 22 Baylor and Texas Tech also have won 10 games or more, with No. 9 Iowa State possibly joining that group Wednesday.

The Big 12 is on track to win at least 80 percent of its non-conference games for the first time in league history, and there was a two-week stretch earlier in December when its teams won 28 consecutive games.

There is a 24-14 record (.632) against the ACC, Big Ten, Pac-12 and SEC, helping push the Big 12 to No. 1 in RPI for conferences.

Here are a few other things to know about the Big 12, which opens league play Saturday:

RELOADED CYCLONES: Iowa State went into this season confident of replacing Big 12 player of the year Melvin Ejim and DeAndre Kane, an honorable on the All-America team. The Cyclones (9-1) are the Big 12's highest-ranked team and have five players averaging double-figure scoring. Junior forward Georges Niang leads the way with 16.9 points, 5.5 rebounds and 4.2 steals a game. Fred Hoiberg, the Ames native who played for the Cyclones before a 10-year NBA career, on Wednesday could become the fastest Iowa State coach to 100 wins.

FORWARD FROGS: After going winless in its 18 Big 12 games last season, TCU is off to the best start in school history after going 13-0 in its non-conference games. The Horned Frogs last week got into the Top 25 for the first time since January 1999, when Billy Tubbs was their coach and the season after their last NCAA tournament appearance. This is coach Trent Johnson's third season, coinciding with TCU's time in the Big 12. The Frogs have been bolstered by the addition of Division I transfers Trey Zeigler (from Pittsburgh) and Chris Washburn (from UTEP) and a mostly healthy roster. They open league play Saturday against West Virginia at home, which this season is a high school gym while their Fort Worth campus arena is being completely redone.

YOUNG JAYHAWKS: Kansas had a 32-point loss to No. 1 Kentucky a week into the season, then lost by 25 points at Temple in its last game before Christmas. The young Jayhawks have won their other 10 games. "That's one great thing about youth. They don't know. They can't remember," coach Bill Self said. The Jayhawks are led but junior Perry Ellis, but their next seven top scorers are sophomores or freshmen. The Jayhawks, still No. 2 in the latest RPI ratings, play UNLV at home on Saturday before their Big 12 opener at Baylor on Jan. 7.

RANKED OPENER: Baylor lost more than half of its scoring and rebounding from another Sweet 16 team, and senior point guard Kenny Chery was bothered at times this season by a foot injury, but the Bears (11-1) have dropped only an eight-point game against Illinois. They will get an early test in Big 12 play, opening Saturday at Oklahoma before facing Kansas it its Big 12 home opener next week.

EXPERIENCED SCORERS: While there are plenty of talented young players in the Big 12, the upper classmen dominated the league's top scorers going into this week. Oklahoma State senior Le'Bryan Nash led the Big 12 with 17.6 points a game. Of the top 13 scorers, six are seniors, six are juniors and the only sophomore is Kansas State's Marcus Foster, whose 15 points a game ranked seventh in the league.


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