The Big 12 teams have concluded their non-conference schedules and now it’s time for conference play to begin this week. The first games between the Big 12 teams begin Thursday.
Last year, six Big 12 teams qualified for the NCAA Tournament. That number put the conference in a tie for third for bids by conference.
While the conference is a little down in terms of rankings this year, it is still chock full of competition throughout.
According to the latest United Soccer Coaches poll, there are three ranked teams and two teams receiving votes.
“It is wide open as far as who could win the conference,” said Iowa State coach Tony Minatta.
Let’s take a dive into each team’s strengths and weaknesses heading into conference play.
Coach: Mark Francis, 21st season
National rank: No. 17
Big 12 Media Day projection: Sixth
Team strength: The Jayhawks boast the second highest goals against average (GAA) with .60. They have allowed six goals in ten games so far. At a conference low amount of saves with 21, it shows that there isn’t a lot of pressure being put on their goalie. Kansas has done a solid job thus far with not allowing offensive attacks to put shots on goal.
Biggest concern: Kansas has not put up the offensive numbers of the other ranked teams in the Big 12. For a team as highly ranked as the Jayhawks, 2.1 goals per game is not going to cut it. The Jayhawks may rely on their defense too much, which could lead to scoreless droughts. Especially because they're in a conference with high-scoring teams such as Texas Tech and Oklahoma State, Kansas can not afford to get behind early.
Coach: Colin Carmichael, 15th season
National rank: No. 18
Big 12 Media Day projection: Seventh
Team strength: The Cowgirls of Oklahoma State also possess one of the most potent offensive attacks in the Big 12. With 24 goals through nine games, they have the ability to run it up. Their 69 corner kicks and shot percentage of .179 lead the Big 12. This means that not only are they getting deep into enemy territory, but they are capitalizing on their chances. The Cowgirls also have shown their powers on the defensive side, shutting out six Big 12-leading opponents.
Biggest concern: Although they have not lost, the Cowgirls tied against Oklahoma and SMU. Their struggles against lower ranked non-conference opponents put them in danger of upset. Oklahoma State has not played stellar competition thus far, bringing about a concern of durability for the team. In the Big 12 schedule where every game could be a battle, the Cowgirls may wear down and give away a game or two that they shouldn’t.
Coach: Tom Stone, 13th season
National rank: No. 25
Big 12 Media Day projection: Fifth
Team strength: The Red Raiders lead the Big 12 in total shots (160) and goals (27). Their shot percentage of .169 ranks second in the conference. Against Diego State earlier in the season, Texas Tech scored an astonishing six goals. The Red Raiders have also put up four goals three times. With the offensive attack that Texas Tech boasts, the Red Raiders will certainly be difficult to contain.
Biggest concern: Texas Tech has 19 assists on the season. For a team that scores at the high rate that they do, that number is a little concerning. It means that Texas Tech is often dribbling through multiple defenders instead of passing to goals. While they have been able to succeed during the early season with that method, it could be more difficult to do that against tougher Big 12 conference opponents.
Coach: Eric Bell, eighth season
National rank: unranked (three votes)
Big 12 Media Day projection: fourth
Team strength: Along with the likes of Texas Tech and Oklahoma State, TCU boasts a top-of-the-line offensive attack for the conference. They have scored 23 goals (third) on the year on 149 shots (second). TCU has been able to consistently score from half-to-half, making that offense tough to contain. The Horned Frogs can score with the best of them, which will help them in conference play.
Biggest concern: Defense is a concern for the Horned Frogs. Eleven goals through nine games is not ideal, especially when they are projected to finish near the top of the conference. Their save percentage of .784 ranks third in the conference, leading to more shots on goal than desired. TCU will need to tighten up their back-line defense to be in top contention.
Coach: Nikki Izzo-Brown, 24th season
National rank: unranked (two votes)
Big 12 Media Day projection: first
Team strength: The Mountaineers’ three losses on the year have come against three top-15 ranked opponents. That said, their record and stats can be a little misleading. Their tie came in a tight 1-1 game against No. 8 Penn State. Nevertheless, West Virginia has shown that it can blow teams out. The team defeated Stony Brook by a score of 6-1. The Mountaineers have talent on both sides of the ball, as shown by their preseason projection. If the team can work out the kinks of a few lineup changes, it will be right in the mix.
Biggest concern: On the flip side of that, in the games against highly ranked opponents the Mountaineers gave up too many goals to win. Against No. 3 Stanford and No. 15 Georgetown, the team gave up three in each game. With a save percentage of .667 (tied for lowest in the Big 12), the team hopes to limit the shots they are allowing in the future. While they have seen great competition, it will be interesting to see if they can sustain defensively. West Virginia has not had a close game where it came down to the final minutes.
Coach: Paul Jobson, 11th season
National rank: unranked
Big 12 Media Day projection: second
Team strength: Baylor has been one of the most consistent teams across the board so far. The Bears are toward the middle of the pack in goals scored and opponent goals allowed. The Bears showed that consistency as they were able to tie against No. 2 USC 2-2. If they are able to keep their level of play similar throughout the game, it will make them tough to beat.
Biggest concern: With that consistency comes the concern of being able to generate a run. In the Big 12 Conference, goals will not come easy. Baylor could be in for a battle in most of its games. While there may be some tough games for every team, it has appeared that the Bears are especially prone to playing teams close, whether they be ranked higher or lower than them. For the Bears, their strength could easily turn into their biggest weakness.
Coach: Matt Potter, eighth season
National rank: unranked
Big 12 Media Day projection: eighth
Team strength: Half of Oklahoma’s games throughout the year have gone to overtime. The Sooners won two, lost two and tied one. Three of those went into double overtime. The Sooners have had to battle to earn some wins so far. Other teams in the conference have not had that edge. The close games that the team went through are sure to help them going forward.
Biggest concern: The Sooners lead the conference with a staggering 116 fouls. The team has been administered nine yellow cards thus far. With players getting in foul trouble, it could shift the momentum of the game easily. Not to mention that Oklahoma is not stellar offensively. It can be tough to recover from those mistakes. The Sooners will need to cut back on the fouls in order to be toward the top of the conference.
Coach: Angela Kelly, eighth season
National rank: unranked
Big 12 Media Day projection: third
Team strength: Texas has been adept at limiting their fouls this year. They have a conference low of 64. They also have only been awarded one yellow card on the season thus far. For a team that has the potential to be an under-the-radar pick, the Longhorns do a great job of playing clean. If they can continue to keep the flow of the game going in their direction, good things should happen for the Longhorns.
Biggest concern: With a save percentage of .667 (tied for lowest in the Big 12), the Longhorns look to limit the shots they are taking from the other team. This calls into question how well the team can handle a multitude of shots from the opponent. Texas' 28 saves on the season is third lowest in the conference. While this is usually a good thing, the low save percentage means the Longhorns are letting more goals go by when shots head their way.
Coach: Mike Dibbini, 14th season
National rank: unranked
Big 12 Media Day projection: 10th
Team strength: For having a 2-5-2 record, the Wildcats have been able to put up shots on goal. Their 164 shots so far is fourth in the conference. Kansas State seems to be controlling the ball, which is a huge part of the game. While the Wildcats have not been able to cash in on those opportunities, they are there nonetheless. If the Wildcats can find a way to convert on those chances, they will see a rise in their rankings.
Biggest concern: Kansas State has allowed a conference leading with 15 goals throughout the year. Simply put, the Wildcats cannot beat opponents if they are giving up more goals than scoring. They will need to step it up on the defensive end to have a chance of contending.
Coach: Tony Minatta, sixth season
National rank: unranked
Big 12 Media Day projection: ninth
Team strength: Iowa State has played one of the toughest non-conference schedules in the nation. With opponents such as No. 4 UCLA and No. 11 Memphis, the Cyclones have already seen tough competition. Some of their opponents that were unranked are in the top 50 of the Ratings Percentage Index (RPI). Against those tough teams, Iowa State showed glimpses of shine. It is evident that the Cyclones are executing better than they were at the start of the season. The team has already gone through the rigors of a tough schedule week in and week out, which can only benefit them going into conference play.
Biggest concern: The Cyclones have struggled to put two consistent halves together all season long. With a slew of lineup changes, they are struggling to find a rhythm early in the season. The youth of the team (11 freshmen) also brings adjustment concerns to Big 12 play. The Cyclones have only scored six goals on the year. The Cyclones will not win games if they cannot score.
“We’ve gone through a lot of adversity and seen ups and downs so we need to learn from those especially as a young team, and not do those things in conference play,” Minatta said. "If we do that, we have enough quality on the field that we will be in every game.”