Just in case Bruce Weber needed a reminder of the many challenges Kansas State will face in Big 12 games this season, Texas Tech basketball coach Chris Beard sent him a telling text message earlier this week.
“Man,” it read, “this is a scary league.”
Weber was quick to reply.
“I think it’s the best I’ve ever been part of,” Weber said. “You keep thinking the league can’t get better, but the depth is great. You have to play every game, you throw in Georgia coming in here (for the Big 12/SEC challenge) and then you play a Big 12 Tournament game, so you have 20 high-level games you have to deal with.”
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TCU is undefeated, Oklahoma has the nation’s leading scorer, Texas Tech is ranked and Texas is receiving votes in the national polls. And that’s just the four teams that missed the NCAA Tournament last season. Baylor, Kansas and West Virginia are all off to strong starts, while Iowa State and Oklahoma State have a combined record of 19-4.
To put all that in perspective, six Big 12 teams are currently ranked, seven sit in the RPI top 50 and nine sit in the top 50 of Ken Pomeroy’s national ratings.
Every Big 12 team can realistically dream about making the NCAA Tournament as conference play begins.
That makes for a drastic change in schedule strength for the Wildcats. Their nonconference schedule ranked 298th, with only Arizona State standing out as a quality opponent. K-State’s first three conference games (at Iowa State, vs. West Virginia and at Texas Tech) should be much more difficult. A home game with Oklahoma State could be a friendlier matchup, but then K-State plays Kansas (twice), Oklahoma, TCU, Baylor and West Virginia in the span of seven games.
No wonder Beard told Weber the league is scary.
“I would think every team thinks their schedule is the toughest one,” Weber said. “I don’t know how any one can’t be a tough one. If you’re looking at the top teams in the league, we’re going to play them all right away. It’s part of it. You have to play them sometime, but like Bill Snyder talks about, just one at a time. All we can worry about is Iowa State and then worry about the next opponent.”
K-State (10-2) appears to enter Big 12 play on solid footing. Other than a loss to Tulsa at Intrust Bank Arena, the Wildcats won the games as favorites. But they were favored a lot against a soft schedule. Its best wins came against Vanderbilt and Washington State, who are both expected to struggle in their conferences.
Are the Wildcats ready for what comes next?
“We’ll just have to see,” Weber said. “When we get to the league, how we deal with the league will be the telling tale.”
Kellis Robinett: @kellisrobinett