Checking in on… the Big 12Posted by Brian Goodman on December 20th, 2010
A Look Back
- Finals week for most schools and that means a slow week in the Big 12. For the most part, the conference sat idle from Sunday to Friday with a few non-conference cupcake tune-ups played here and there.
- Saturday however, signaled a return to basketball with ten games and several intriguing matchups throughout the league. Kansas State played in the only battle between ranked teams as the Wildcats took on Florida as part of the Orange Bowl Classic in Frank Martin’s hometown of Miami. Unfortunately, the homecoming didn’t turn out the way Martin would have hoped with both teams playing an ugly brand of basketball and the Wildcats never put things together, scoring just 44 points in a 13-point loss to Billy Donovan’s Gators.
- Another Big 12 contender, the Baylor Bears, struggled as well in their first game against any form of true competition. The Bears took on the Gonzaga Bulldogs as part of The Showcase in Dallas. The Bulldogs sit 6-5 with four losses to top 25 opponents, but were able to pull away from the #9 Bears behind a 7-9 free throw shooting effort down the stretch. The loss was the first on the season for the Bears and exposed some of the vulnerabilities that were expected for a new look Baylor squad with plenty of talent but an assortment of new faces.
- The Texas Longhorns further solidified their top 25 ranking by heading on the road to a neutral site game that was hardly neutral when they played the North Carolina Tar Heels in Greensboro. In a great game from start to finish, the Longhorns would receive a boost from freshman Cory Joseph, who stepped up and knocked down the game-winning basket with just 1.4 seconds left on the clock. The game is another notch on the belt of a young Longhorn squad that has looked solid against good competition throughout the non-conference schedule.
- Another true freshman stole the show in Lawrence with the much-anticipated debut of Josh Selby in a Kansas Jayhawk uniform. The Jayhawks squared off against a USC team fresh off a win over fellow Big 12 team Texas. The Trojans added a guard to their lineup themselves, as transfer Jio Fontan entered the lineup for the first time all year and helped the Trojans take the game down to the wire. In the end, it was Selby knocking down a three pointer with just 26 seconds on the clock to go ahead by one and secure the Jayhawks’ 65th straight win in Allen Fieldhouse.
- Another team emerging in the contender category would be the Texas A&M Aggies. The Aggies took on the Arkansas Razorbacks as part of the The Showcase in Dallas and in a game that would feature a bench clearing brawl and extra five minutes of overtime, sophomore forward Khris Middleton would score 31 points and lead the Aggies to a nine-point win. Mark Turgeon has the Aggies playing a tough brand of basketball and A&M more and more looks to have the weapons to compete with anyone in the league.
- Elsewhere, Missouri would win a pair of games in impressive fashion against a pair of tune-up opponents. Oklahoma State continues to position themselves as a middle-tier team with a very real shot at being the fifth, sixth or even seventh tournament team in the Big 12. This is the role that many thought Colorado might fill, but the Cowboys seem to be better than expected.
- Speaking of Colorado, the Buffaloes would improve their record with two easy wins as the group in Boulder continues to improve and find themselves as a team. Iowa State would continue their run through the preseason extending their overall record to 10-2 as Scott Christopherson continues to fire at will. While the troubles in Lubbock and Norman show no sign of letting up.
- The news in Lincoln was good on the court with a win over Eastern Washington on Saturday, however Doc Sadler continues to struggle in keeping the talent happy, as Christian Standhardinger is the fourth player from the 2009 recruiting class to leave the Cornuskers.
- At this point the Big 12 is what it always seems to be in mid December. The contenders are separating themselves with big wins and marquee games against better competition. The pretenders and bottom half of the conference is padding the win loss column in hopes that they can hang on for a bubble birth come March.
- Kansas (10-0) – The Jayhawks moved to 10-0 in a nailbiter against the USC Trojans. The good news is the Jayhawks were not the only team in the conference to look sluggish after a long break and Josh Selby at face value looks like a player that can help some of the Jayhawk offensive weaknesses in a hurry.
- Texas A&M (10-1) – A&M has gone from a team that was surprising to a team that has some serious talent developing. Khris Middleton, Nathan Walkup and David Loubeau are a trio of forwards that are physical, talented and leading the way from a scoring standpoint for Mark Turgeon. This may prove to be too high for the Aggies as the season goes on, but in the world of what-have-you-done-for-me-lately power rankings, they look as good as anyone in the South.
- Missouri Tigers (10-1) – The Tigers weren’t tested in two fairly sizeable wins, but they are disposing teams in the manner you’d expect from a good team. Mike Anderson’s team set a school record with a 116-point output on Saturday and they look like a group beginning to hit their stride. This week’s Bragging Rights game against Illinois will be a great measuring stick to gauge improvement since the early loss to Georgetown.
- Texas (9-2) – Rick Barnes and Texas have an argument for a higher spot without question. They’ve played a challenging schedule, for the most part they’ve played well, and they have a real opportunity to be a very difficult matchup as the players become comfortable in their roles. A big opportunity this week for Texas comes in the form of a game against Tom Izzo and Michigan State.
- Kansas State (9-2) – Something just doesn’t seem right in Manhattan right now. The Wildcats are still one of the toughest defensive teams in the conference and they’re going to make you earn every point, but on the offensive end, it isn’t clicking. Curtis Kelly hasn’t stepped up to the level expected and Jacob Pullen is doing well, but it’s difficult for him to completely carry the team when he’s the focus of every opposing defense. It’s hard to believe Frank Martin won’t get things going, but for now the Wildcats haven’t played to the level expected.
- Oklahoma State (10-1) – The Cowboys moved to 10-1 this week but they still lack a statement win. The good news for Cowboy fans is that different players are stepping up at different times and they‘re beating teams in different ways. They’re likely the seventh-best team in the conference in terms of talent, but they could cause some trouble in a wide open South.
- Baylor (7-1) – Everyone has been waiting for the Bears to play someone and in the first attempt to do that, they fell to Gonzaga in what was basically a home game. Gonzaga was due for a win, but they still don’t look like the top 15 Bulldog squad that was expected this season and they managed to handle the Bears even with Steven Gray hobbled from back spasms.
- Iowa State (10-2) – Scott Christopherson continues to have a green light and the Cyclones continue to win. Still there isn’t much in the way of competition against which to truly judge Iowa State. With three relatively soft games remaining in the non-conference docket, it’s possible Iowa State could enter conference play with 13 wins already under their belt, yet still sit ill-prepared for the gauntlet that awaits in Kansas, Kansas State and Missouri in the North.
- Colorado (7-3) – Two games, two easy opponents, two comfortable wins. Colorado was a team with high expectations early, but they fell flat and haven’t done enough to restore hope. A solid opponent awaits this week in New Mexico and a chance for Tad Boyle to restore some of the lost faith.
- Nebraska (9-2) – Nebraska sits at 9-2, which is a good record. Typically, they don’t do much to test themselves early, but the win over USC looks better and better every day. This is still a team that doesn’t jump off the page, but they very well could battle Colorado and Iowa State for fourth in the North. Still, at this point, it’s hard to see much that justifies the nod.
- Oklahoma (5-6) – After a two-game uptick, the Sooners fell to a decent Big East team in Cincinnati. It’s enough to give them the edge over Tech for now, but it’s still not pretty in Norman. Statistically speaking, they do very little that could be considered a strength, unless of course you want to give them credit for mediocre shooting.
- Texas Tech (5-6) – Texas Tech is on a three-game skid with the last two coming against mid-major talent. Tech had the offensive talent returning, but they needed to improve defensively and on the boards. Neither of those things have happened.
A Look Ahead
- This week’s Big 12 slate takes place on Tuesday and Wednesday before a long holiday weekend. All 12 teams play between the two nights with Kansas State kicking things off in a tough contest taking place at the Sprint Center in Kansas City. In the Wildcats’ third game in Kansas City this year, K-State will play host to another ranked opponent in the UNLV Runnin’ Rebels. Coming off the loss in Miami, the Wildcats and their fans will be anxious to see if the offense can get back on track.
- Another game to watch in the conference on Tuesday will pit the Oklahoma State Cowboys against Stanford in Stillwater. The Cardinal hasn’t been particularly impressive, but it is a name opponent from a name conference and a chance to learn a little more about the Cowboys.
- Wednesday night is a big night if you’re a Big 12 basketball fan. The highlight of the night will likely take place in St. Louis, as the Missouri Tigers square off against the Illinois Fighting Illini in a matchup of two top 25 teams. The game lost a little luster when the Illini fell flat against Illinois-Chicago this weekend, a loss that will drop them from top 15 status, but it’s a big game and a heated rivalry nonetheless.
- The game just prior to Missouri and Illinois on ESPN2 will be another big opportunity for the Big 12, as Texas heads back out on the road for a big game against Michigan State. The game is another example of the bold scheduling approach taken by Rick Barnes and a big time opportunity for the Longhorns to reassert themselves on the national stage.
- Rounding out the night will be Kansas heading to Berkeley for a road game against a Pac-10 opponent. The Jayhawks have had their struggles against the Pac-10 conference this year but have managed to slip by every challenger.
- Another good one to keep an eye on will be New Mexico in Boulder against the Buffaloes. This is a game that Tad Boyle needs to start rebuilding some of the confidence and excitement that was lost after the stumble out of the gates in the early season.
Stats, Quotes and other Notables
- 21 Points on 5-8 Shooting from three – Debut line for Kansas freshman Josh Selby.
- 11 points in 11 minutes – The offensive drought that ultimately doomed the Kansas State Wildcats against the Florida Gators.
- 4-22 from three – Just one example of the mediocrity taking place on the offensive end for the Oklahoma Sooners.
- 7 Players Scoring in Double Figures – The Missouri Tigers are balanced, they showed that against Central Arkansas with this impressive stat.
- “We were sleepwalking, [The scuffle] seemed like it really changed the game for us.” – Texas A&M head coach Mark Turgeon talks about his team coming to life after a rare bench-clearing scuffle at mid court against Arkansas.
Player of the Year Watch (No Specific Order)
- Jacob Pullen – (16.3 PPG, 3.8 APG, 40% FG) Even: Pullen is doing everything he can, but the loss of Denis Clemente is clearly being felt. From a numbers standpoint, Pullen is maintaining pace, but the Wildcats are looking like a team slightly lost offensively.
- Marcus Morris – (16.3 PPG, 6.3 RPG, 62% FG) Even: Morris wasn’t great against USC, but he got a lift with the addition of Josh Selby. Morris still looks like a player that can sometimes score at will, it’s just a matter of getting the team chemistry back where it needs to be.
- Alec Burks – (20.3 PPG, 51% FG) Even: Burks is slowly becoming a smarter player on the offensive end and his efforts on the defensive end aren’t going unnoticed. Statistically it’s pretty much the same player, but he’s improving day to day.
- Jordan Hamilton – (19.4 PPG, 7.2 RPG) Even: Texas could be turning a corner. The players around him are doing more, but Hamilton is still the most explosive option for the Longhorns.
- LaceDarius Dunn – (21.4 PPG, 4.4 RPG, 2.6, 2.2 SPG, 48% FG) Trending Up: Baylor loses to Gonzaga, but Dunn is looking like one of the more complete and impactful players for his team.
- Marcus Denmon – (16.8 PPG, 1.9 SPG, 51% 3P%) Trending Up: He continues to be the best player on a VERY deep team. Denmon is turning into the leader for the Tigers and he seems like a player that has even more to give.
- Scott Christopherson – (16.5 PPG, 55% 3P%) New**: Christopherson’s chances are probably slim unless he can somehow lead the Cyclones to a surprisingly successful season and a top 3 finish in the North. Still, he’s a player whose early-season efforts deserve a mention and he’ll be a thorn in everyone’s side in conference play.