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Big 12 basketball: Five storylines as conference play kicks off

BY RYAN ABER, Staff Writer, Published: January 3, 2014

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.

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