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Big 12 basketball lacking depth this season

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Big 12 basketball lacking depth this season

The top of the Big 12 looks familiar, with Kansas in first place and ranked in the top 10.

The rest of the league doesn't appear to be nearly as deep as usual this season, its first with West Virginia and TCU instead of Missouri and Texas A&M.

No. 24 Oklahoma State (8-1) is the only other league team to join the ninth-ranked Jayhawks (8-1) in the Top 25 and nobody else received a single vote for Monday's poll.

This wasn't entirely unexpected, of course. Missouri won the conference tournament before bolting for the SEC and its currently ranked 12th. But beyond the Cowboys, nobody has emerged as a serious threat to the Jayhawks with non-conference play winding down.

Big 12 teams are just 2-10 against opponents ranked in the Top 25 and the league is seventh in overall RPI - behind the Atlantic-10 and the Mountain West. The inconsistent play of Baylor and Texas has a lot to do with that.

The Bears (7-3) were picked to finish second in the preseason poll, while the Longhorns (6-4) were slotted fourth. But Baylor has been up and down, while the Longhorns could find themselves at 6-6 at the end of the week.

Baylor's biggest win was about as big a resume builder as a team could ask for. The Bears knocked off Kentucky in Rupp Arena on Dec. 1, 62-55, snapping the Wildcats 55-game home winning streak. But Kentucky later fell out of the Top 25and Baylor lost at home to Northwestern.

The Bears have already lost to Charleston in Waco. But they've got a chance to pick up a pair of quality wins before meeting Texas in the league opener on Jan. 5. Baylor hosts BYU and plays at Gonzaga on Dec. 28.

Baylor coach Scott Drew said he saw positive signs after his team led by just two at halftime before rallying to beat USC-Upstate, 73-57.

``Early in the year I think that you are always adjusting, changing and tweaking,'' Drew said. ``I'm so pleased with this effort though because we were able to defend and still take care of the ball and win. I thought that we made some extra effort passes. We made a more conscious effort to get the ball inside. We're learning how to get more touches inside.''

Texas is scuffling in part because of a challenging schedule and the absence of point guard Myck Kabongo (NCAA eligibility investigation) and forward Jaylen Boyd (left foot injury).

If the Longhorns want to turn their season around, this would a good week to get started.

Texas, which doesn't have an upperclassman in its starting lineup, hosts No. 23 North Carolina on Wednesday and plays at No. 20 Michigan State on Saturday. A pair of wins would be a massive boost for a team that has lost to Division II Chaminade and by 23 points to No. 15 Georgetown.

``You've just got to go into it with a mindset of getting better every day. Build on the positive. And that's what we've been trying to do as a young group,'' Texas freshman guard Javan Felix said.

Of course, not everyone in the Big 12 is off to a slow start.

Kansas brought a seven-game winning streak into this week. Oklahoma State has already beaten Tennessee and North Carolina State behind freshman point guard Marcus Smart, who is averaging 13 points, seven rebounds and 5.2 assists a game and is on the short list of the game's top freshmen.

New coach Bruce Weber got Kansas State off to a respectable 7-2 start, and Oklahoma beat old foe Texas A&M 64-54 on Saturday to move to 7-2.

Iowa State (8-3), which was picked to finish eighth in the league, has lost to three quality opponents; Cincinnati, UNLV and Iowa.

Coach Bob Huggins led West Virginia to five straight NCAA tournaments out of the brutal Big East. Right now, the Mountaineers find themselves last in the Big 12.

West Virginia (4-5), fresh off a 15-point loss to No. 2 Michigan, is one of the nation's worst shooting teams at just 38.9 percent. The Mountaineers have lost to Gonzaga and fellow Big 12 team Oklahoma, but they've also fallen to Davidson and Duquesne.

``We'll win. We've won before and we'll win again,'' Huggins said. ``We've got to continue to guard better and we've got to continue to rebound the ball better.''

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Follow Luke Meredith on Twitter: www.twitter.com/LukeMererdithAP

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In addition to being an NFL player, Bryce Love can now call himself a Stanford graduate

In addition to being an NFL player, Bryce Love can now call himself a Stanford graduate

Bryce Love hopes he'll have the opportunity to carry many footballs in his NFL career. But this past weekend, the running back picked up something that'll be just as, if not more, valuable than the attempts he'll be getting on Sundays.

How's a college diploma from Stanford sound? Pretty solid, right?

Oh, how about a college diploma from Stanford in human biology? Yeah, probably something worth hanging up on the ol' fridge, huh?

Well, that very hard-earned and impressive degree is what Love is now in possession of:

Drafted by the Redskins in late-April and walking across the stage at Stanford in mid-June, Love is doing well for himself recently. He passed up the chance to enter the draft early to ensure he graduated, and now he has.

His college GPA isn't known, but once you find out his high school GPA was 4.5 (that's apparently possible) and add that to the fact that he was able to finish up school out west while also churning up yards for the Cardinal, you can imagine it was very, very good. And if his yards-per-carry average as a pro matches or exceeds it, then the Redskins will be thrilled.

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Nationals introduce first round pick Jackson Rutledge, who is ready to work

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Nationals introduce first round pick Jackson Rutledge, who is ready to work

WASHINGTON -- Jackson Rutledge may still be years away from the majors, but as the Nationals' 2019 first round pick toured the team's ballpark for the first time on Monday, he sure looked the part as a big leaguer.

At 6-foot-8, Rutledge towers over everyone currently on the Nationals' roster. He's got prototypical pitcher size with a fastball that reaches triple digits.

Like any pitcher recently drafted, no matter the round, there is a good chance Nationals fans will not hear Rutledge's name again for quite some time, if they hear it again at all.

In the previous eight years, the team used their first pick in the draft on a pitcher six times. Only two of them - Lucas Giolito and Erick Fedde - have pitched in a Nationals uniform, and only Fedde is currently on their roster.

Rutledge, 20, will begin his journey with the Gulf Coast League Nationals. He heads there on Friday, hoping it will not be long before he is back in Washington.

"This is my first time in D.C.," Rutledge said. "Amazing stadium."

Rutledge signed his first contract with the Nationals on Monday and passed a physical in the morning. In the afternoon, he walked around the clubhouse and on the field during batting practice, introducing himself to manager Davey Martinez and players who could be his future teammates.

Rutledge has said in various interviews since being drafted earlier this month that he looks forward to playing with Max Scherzer, Stephen Strasburg and Patrick Corbin, the Nationals' three ace starters. 

This was his first glimpse at them in-person.

"Meeting all the big league guys was really cool," he said. "I just want to be one of those guys that has that success."

If there was any impression Rutledge left on Monday, beyond his height, it was his eagerness to learn. He cited several of his mentors over the years, former big leaguers like Andy Benes who coached him in summer ball and Woody Williams, an assistant coach at San Jacinto Community College. He mentioned Tom Arrington, head coach at San Jacinto, and his attention to detail.

Rutledge even had praise for Ross Detwiler, a former Nationals pitcher whom they took in the first round of the 2007 MLB Draft. He explained how Detwiler taught him a changeup grip during an offseason workout that he has continued to use.

Those are the people, he says, who helped him arrive at this unexpected place in his life as a first-round draft pick.

"If you asked me a year and a half ago where I would be, I probably wouldn't say the first round. It worked out really well because of how hard I worked," Rutledge said.

His college numbers were certainly impressive. Rutledge held a 0.87 ERA with 134 strikeouts in 13 starts. As a freshman at Arkansas before transferring, he posted a 3.45 ERA in 12 starts.

Rutledge is now looking forward to taking the next steps in his development. He said working on his curveball and changeup will be the focus while he's in the GCL. He wants to add weight and muscle to prepare for next year, his first full pro season. 

Assuming he does someday return to Washington as a big league pitcher, Rutledge said to expect a guy who likes to work fast but without a lot of emotion.

"When things are going well, I really feel in control of the game. I feel like I'm setting the game at my own pace and hitters feel uncomfortable because of that," he said. 

"I'm not a guy that's going to get up and start yelling and give energy like that, I'm more of a consistent kind of flat body language sort of guy."

Nationals fans will hope to get to know him better someday. For now, it's down to the minors to learn the ropes as a prospect.

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