Checking In on… the Big 12 ConferencePosted by Brian Goodman on December 19th, 2011
The Week That Was
- Denmon Scorching: The Big 12 Player of the Year race will come down to who does what in conference play, but at the midseason point I would be hard-pressed to pick anyone other than Missouri’s Marcus Denmon. The senior is averaging 19.6 points per game, and is doing it extremely efficiently, with a 52.8% eFG. He’s also getting to the line a decent amount, and shooting 91.7% once he gets there. Despite taking more shots than anyone on the team, and using his fair share of possessions, Denmon has been great at taking care of the ball as well: his 4.2% turnover rate is best in the entire country. Not only is he the best player in the league at this point, he might be the best in the country entering conference play.
- Coaches Jockeying: Coach of the Year, on the other hand, is a much more muddled situation. At Kansas, Bill Self has taken a Kansas team savaged by graduations and early departures and led them to a 7-2 record, including a big win over Ohio State. There were some snickers when Missouri hired Frank Haith, but the Tigers are 11-0 and will likely be favored in their next month’s worth of games. Frank Martin has taken a Kansas State team without much offensive talent but has ridden defense to a 7-1 record, including a win over a good Alabama team. Their lone loss came in double overtime to future conference foe West Virginia.
- Tolbert Under The Radar: While Quincy Miller, Deuce Bello, and LeBryan Nash have received more publicity and probably have brighter NBA futures, how about some love for Texas Tech’s Jordan Tolbert? He’s taking 34.1% of the team’s shots while on the floor, but has not wilted in the face of having to carry an offense as a freshman. Quite the opposite in fact as he’s shooting 63% and drawing an impressive five fouls per 40 minutes. Once at the line, he’s shooting 83.3%. He also leads the Red Raiders in both offensive and defensive rebounding percentage. Texas Tech probably will finish last in the league this year, but it won’t be because of Tolbert.
- Missouri (10-0): The Tigers start 10-0 for the first time since joining the conference. They haven’t played the toughest of non-conference schedules, however, and will be trying to avoid a repeat of last year’s second half swoon when they lost eight of their final 14 games. I mentioned how great Marcus Denmon has been already, but don’t sleep on Kim English either: the senior is shooting 52.5% from three and has the tenth-best eFG in the country.
- Kansas (7-2): Kansas didn’t play last week due to pesky finals week, but while they will be hoping for good news off the court in the form of good grades, it looks like they will get a piece of good news on the court as senior guard Tyshawn Taylor, who had surgery on a torn meniscus and was expected to be out a minimum of two weeks, is now expected to play in Kansas’s game Monday against Davidson. Thomas Robinson had a similar procedure as Jayhawk with a comparable recovery time, for what it’s worth.
- Baylor (9-0): Baylor is 9-0 for the first time in the Scott Drew era, and while they have been doing it with defense for the most part the offense showed up in a big way in a big road win against BYU, as Baylor scored 86 points in 76 possessions. Perry Jones has been perhaps even better than advertised since his return, averaging 18.8 points on 68.9% eFG shooting.
- Texas (9-2): J’Covan Brown gets most of the publicity (and the workload, taking 31.6% of the team’s shots) but freshman point guard Myck Kabongo has been good in his own right. The Canadian isn’t a very good shooter, but he has a 36.2% assist rate (and I’m assuming a very good hockey assist rate as well) and he covers up some of his shooting deficiencies by showing a great ability to get to the line. He is, however, shooting just 66.7% from the charity stripe.
- Kansas State (7-1): Don’t look now, but the Wildcats are 7-1 with solid wins over Virginia Tech and Alabama and their only loss is of the double overtime variety to West Virginia. They certainly haven’t been doing it offensively, as only two starters have an offensive rating over 100, but they’re allowing just .89 points per possession defensively, which should keep them in a lot of games once conference play starts. One other interesting note: Will Spradling and Rodney McGruder have attempted more threes than the rest of the team combined.
- Oklahoma (8-1): The Sooners haven’t played the toughest of schedules, but there’s something to be said for winning games. It will get tougher in a hurry once Big 12 play starts as Oklahoma plays the conference’s two best teams in its first two Big 12 games. The Sooners and Wildcats would have a good team if you combined them, as Oklahoma is getting it done mostly offensively, particularly Steven Pledger, who has the fifth-best eFG in the country at a pretty astounding 72%.
- Oklahoma State (6-4): Though they have the second worst record in the league, the Cowboys don’t have a bad loss, losing to the 21st (Stanford), 33rd (Pittsburgh), 34th (New Mexico) and 45th (Virginia Tech) ranked teams in KenPom. I feel like I harp on LeBryan Nash every week, but he deserves it: letting a freshman who has a 40% eFG and an offensive rating of 83.1 shoot 32.5% of your shots and use more possessions than all but 18 people in the country doesn’t seem like the best way to win games.
- Texas A&M (8-2): The Khris Middleton honeymoon lasted all of one game, as the junior struggled in A&M’s 20-point loss to Florida. Picked among the Big 12 favorites at the start of the season by most pundits, the Aggies are scoring just one point per possession. A big problem has been the guard play: Dash Harris is shooting at just a 30.6% eFG clip and Jamal Branch has a 31.9% turnover rate. In fact, eight Aggies have a turnover rate of 20% or higher.
- Iowa State (8-3): The Cyclones had a one game week this week, narrowly defeating Central Michigan on Sunday. Despite some defensive struggles, Iowa State is one of the more potent offensive teams in the country, with the 14th-best eFG in the country at 55.4%. Perhaps most impressive however has been their work on the glass: they are 249th nationally in effective height, but are the 35th-best defensive rebounding team in the country. All hail the Mayor!
- Texas Tech (5-4): The Red Raiders also had a singular game week, and like fellow bottom of the league dwellers Iowa State, the Red Raiders are much more advanced offensively than defensively (Hail Tolbert!). Texas Tech is ranked 201st by Ken Pomeroy, so it perhaps shouldn’t be a surprise when a player is having a bad year, but I have been surprised at Robert Lewandowski this year. The senior, who I thought would make a run at an all-league team, has just a 42.2% eFG and an ugly 33.3% turnover rate.
- Missouri vs. Illinois – Thursday December 22 – The annual Bragging Rights game should be a good one, as Illinois is really the first team with the size to perhaps take advantage of Missouri’s main weakness. Illinois hasn’t rebounded terribly well as a team but 7’1” Myers Leonard is having a good year both rebounding and scoring.
- Oklahoma State vs. Alabama – Wednesday, December 21 – The Cowboys are 0-3 on neutral courts this year, and have just one away win. They will have a chance for another in Birmingham. The Crimson Tide, meanwhile, are 3-0 in true neutral games and are playing this one in a semi home environment, so the Cowboys have their work cut out for them.
- Texas at North Carolina – Wednesday December 21 – While Kendall Marshall will most likely be too much offensively for Texas to handle, it will be interesting to see whether he guards J’Covan Brown or Myck Kabongo and how much that player can take advantage. Texas is the tenth-best two-point shooting team in America, but I doubt that holds up against John Henson, Tyler Zeller, and company.
Caught on Film
On Monday, Kansas takes on Davidson in a rematch of the 2008 Elite Eight game that was one of the best NCAA Tournament games in recent memory. In case you don’t remember, Davidson was down two with a chance to win, and Kansas did a great job defensively to force Stephen Curry to give up the ball and make Jason Richards take a 30 foot or so three pointer to win it.
Kansas fans all remember that the Jayhawks of course went on to win the national championship. Davidson fans certainly have a fond memory of that day and that shot, despite the loss.