The biggest surprise during the nonconference portion of the Big 12 basketball season so far, has been Iowa State's roll through their schedule. Outside of that, Oklahoma State and Marcus Smart have generally been as good as advertised, though there have been some rough patches of late; Oklahoma has been strong on the offensive end but lacking on defense; Kansas' young players have struggled at times but have also looked exceptional; and West Virginia, Texas Tech and TCU have looked like the lower-tier of the conference. Here are five storylines to keep an eye on entering Saturday's Big 12 openers (for most teams).
1. Iowa State is for real
In his fourth season, Cyclones coach Fred Hoiberg's teams have developed a reputation similar to Hoiberg's as a player. Iowa State has a nearly 2:1 assist-to-turnover ratio--the best in the country--and is off to its best start in school history. The Cyclones have done it with wins over Michigan, Iowa and BYU. Iowa State gets Kansas twice in the first seven games of Big 12 play but doesn't play Oklahoma State until the final 10 games of the season.
2. Kansas' youth improves
The Jayhawks have three losses, but Kansas has played a brutal schedule and the team is plenty young.
Kansas and freshmen Andrew Wiggins, Joel Embiid and Frank Mason figure to continue to improve as the season goes on.
With Oklahoma State playing the way it has and Iowa State and Baylor going strong, it won't be easy for the Jayhawks to win a 10th consecutive Big 12 title but it's certainly not out of the question either.
3. Player of the year race
Oklahoma State sophomore Marcus Smart and Wiggins came into the season with the most hype and both have been generally fantastic.
Smart is fourth in the league in scoring with 17.2 points per game, is averaging a league-leading 2.62 steals and has more than four assists per game. He's been fantastic in every role the Cowboys have needed him in all season.
Wiggins has gone through some growing pains but is still averaging 15.9 points per game.
There are other contenders, though.
Oklahoma's Cameron Clark has been phenomenal, leading the league in scoring. Iowa State's Dustin Hogue is nearly averaging a double-double per game
4. Oklahoma State's question marks
In the last week, the Cowboys, co-favorites entering the season, have taken quite the hit.
First, OSU lost post defender Michael Cobbins to a ruptured Achilles, ending his season. Then freshman guard Stevie Clark was arrested on suspicion of marijuana possession on New Year's Day after serving a suspension entering the season.
The Cowboys have played like favorites so far, losing only to Memphis--a team OSU Beat by 21 earlier in the season.
But Cobbins' injury and Clark's uncertain future mean OSU is going to have to make big changes just as the conference season gets underway.
5. Oklahoma's defensive struggles
The Sooners have the second-best scoring offense in the league but the worst scoring defense.
Oklahoma coach Lon Kruger said the Sooners' overtime loss to Louisiana Tech in the final non-conference game should serve as a wake-up call for his team defensively.
“We've won some ballgames where we haven't played as well defensively as we need to and it's sometimes hard to make progress or be totally convinced when you're winning ballgames,” Kruger said. “When you lose a ballgame, that part's driven home a bit more genuinely.
“We've got to do a lot better defensively. We just can't continue to not guard as well as we need to expect and win Big 12 games.”