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The Big 12 Is, Again, the Best Conference in Basketball as Cowboys Prep for League Opener

‘That’s why I came here — I came here to play Big 12 basketball.’



[Devin Wilber/PFB]

STILLWATER — The most daunting conference in all of college basketball tips off Saturday with a full slate of seven games.

If there was a wonder whether adding BYU, Cincinnati, Houston and UCF would dilute the Big 12, Houston and BYU (the Cougars and Cougars) enter Thursday ranked first and second in the NET, respectively.

Oklahoma State tips off the league season with Baylor at 2 p.m. Saturday in Gallagher-Iba Arena. The Cowboys enter conference play at 8-5 with losses to Abilene Christian and Southern Illinois, which makes it fair to wonder how the Cowboys will fare in a league that KenPom projects is, again, the best in the country.

But the Cowboys have been better as of late. They enter Saturday’s matchup with the Bears on a five-game winning streak, having beaten those opponents by an average of 13.4 points. If the Cowboys can find a way to clip the Bears on Saturday, it could be big in terms of momentum, not only for the team, but also for the fanbase.

“It certainly won’t hurt to get off to a good start, but you gotta kinda take it game by game,” Boynton said. “There’s an ebb and flow to conference. I believe Baylor started 0-3 last year. We don’t wanna do that. I’m not trying to do that, but you can’t get caught up. It’s a long road. You gotta try to block out the noise when you’re in your valley, and everybody in the league will be in a valley at some point. I think Kansas lost three games in a row at some point during conference play last year. It’s just the nature of going through the grind of the league.

“We just need to focus for 48 hours on preparing for Baylor. When that game’s over, we need to forget about it — no matter how it went. We can’t worry about a streak. We just gotta prepare the next day to be our best.”

Baylor is an offensive juggernaut, averaging 89.2 points per game while shooting a ridiculous 45% from 3-point range as a team. But the Bears do leave some to be desired defensively, ranking bottom of the league heading into conference play in opponent field-goal percentage, as teams are making 44% of their shots against the Bears.

If you haven’t watched the Cowboys to this point, they are a much different team than last season. Only three scholarship players returned from last year’s squad: Bryce Thompson, Quion Williams and John-Michael Wright. Boynton and his staff prioritized offense when building this roster, as the Cowboys enter Big 12 play as the league’s fourth-best 3-point shooting team. OSU is hitting 38% of its 3s; the Cowboys made 31% of their 3s last year, which was ninth-best in a 10-team league.

KenPom projects the Pokes finishing Big 12 play 5-13. The only team with a worse projection is West Virginia at 4-13, though Kansas State and UCF aren’t too far in front of the Pokes at 6-12.

Here is a look at the league with their NET and KenPom national rankings:

Team NET KenPom Record
Houston 1 1 13-0
BYU 2 4 12-1
Iowa State 8 18 11-2
Kansas 11 13 11-1
Baylor 17 15 10-2
Oklahoma 29 26 12-1
Cincinnati 37 40 11-2
TCU 44 34 11-2
Texas Tech 50 37 11-2
Texas 51 32 11-2
UCF 67 73 9-3
Kansas State 94 75 10-3
Oklahoma State 129 93 8-5
West Virginia 167 124 5-8

With all the new faces, it’ll be the first time a lot of the Cowboys experience the Big 12.

Javon Small, a point guard transfer from East Carolina, has probably been OSU’s best player to this point. He is averaging 15.2 points, 5.1 rebounds and 4.9 assists per game while shooting 44% from 3. Having spent time in the American Athletic Conference, Small will be familiar with Cincinnati, UCF and Houston. In his last game with the Pirates, Small had 23 points, four rebounds and five assists in a loss to the Bearcats. But Small has never played in a game against a traditional Big 12 team.

“I’m ready,” Small said. “I’m ready to go to Big 12 play. I’m ready.”

The Cowboys have five true freshmen on their roster, two of whom start — Eric Dailey Jr. and Brandon Garrison. Dailey enters Big 12 play as the Cowboys’ third-leading scorer, averaging 9.9 points a game. He has scored in double figures eight times and put up a pair of double-doubles in the noncon.

A 6-foot-8, 230-pound forward from Florida, Dailey has high aspirations for his game. He played at national high school power IMG Academy and has also played with USA Basketball. 247Sports listed Dailey as the No. 33 player in his recruiting class. The next step in his basketball journey is the daunting Big 12 gauntlet.

“That’s why I came here — I came here to play Big 12 basketball,” Dailey said. “Definitely not scared. I’m ready to play big games. That’s what we signed up for, so it’s show time.

“Every night is gonna be a dogfight, for sure. That’s the best part. Every night we’re going to have to bring our best, knowing the other team’s gonna bring their beset, as well. We can’t take nights off. We’re going to have to be consistent.”

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