Checking In On… the Big 12Posted by Brian Goodman on December 27th, 2011
The Week That Was
- Kansas Gets Exposed: For the second time in the last four years, Kansas suffered a surprising defeat to an overmatched team in Kansas City. This year’s victor was Davidson, who led nearly all game en route to an 80-74 upset over the Jayhawks. It was the third game this season where Kansas was held under a point per possession. This team might be the worst offensive team Bill Self has fielded at Kansas: there’s no real go-to guy like Marcus Morris, and the Jayhawks don’t have the three-point shooters to keep defenses from collapsing on Thomas Robinson in the middle. The turnovers are also an even bigger problem than last season, without the ability to score nearly at will to compensate.
- Undefeated Squads Hold Serve: Both of the undefeated teams in the league narrowly retained that status, with Missouri trying valiantly to give Illinois the Braggin Rights game and Baylor doing the same with West Virginia. Frank Haith’s team won a rare close game, eking out a 78-74 win, and Baylor narrowly defeated West Virginia 83-81 in overtime, after which Mountaineer coach Bob Huggins had a rare instance of losing his cool.
- Kansas State scored a tournament win over the weekend, downing Long Beach State on Christmas night to win the Diamond Head Classic. Angel Rodriguez was the star of the tournament, scoring 17 and 16 in the first two games. Rodney McGruder more than picked up his slack in the championship against Long Beach, scoring 28 on 10-11 shooting. Kansas State now has a pair of good wins in the non-conference season and look like they will be in the hunt for an NCAA Tournament bid.
Because the marquee non conference games are virtually over, this week, I thought I’d grade the teams. I’m grading on a curve, so an A for Missouri isn’t the same as one for Kansas State.
- Missouri (12-0) – Grade: A. Missouri is 12-0 and while I am still not sure about Frank Haith for the long haul, he has to get credit for coming to Missouri and not changing anything. He recognized what he had in Marcus Denmon, Kim English, and Phil Pressey and let them be who they are. Haith’s Miami teams regularly played games where the pace lingered in the low-to-mid-60s , but this year Missouri is at 70.5 trips per game, basically right in line with where it has been the past three seasons.
- Kansas (8-3) – Grade: A-. Kansas sits only at 8-3, but actually are the highest-rated Big 12 team in Ken Pomeroy’s ratings at 8, one spot ahead of Missouri and two ahead of Baylor. Some of that is due to beating a Jared Sullinger-less Ohio State, but a bigger factor has been Kansas’s stifling defense, which has held opponents to just 39.6% shooting from inside the arc. A year after losing two lottery picks and the very solid Brady Morningstar and Tyrel Reed, not to mention second-round pick Josh Selby, Bill Self is in the midst of maybe his best coaching job yet.
- Baylor (12-0) – Grade: Incomplete. Baylor has three good wins this year, over BYU, St. Mary’s, and West Virginia, but also played a couple too many games against the Bethune Cookmans and Texas Southerns of the world for my liking. Add Perry Jones’ suspension to start off the year and Baylor is just now getting into its groove. At this point, the Bears’ big weakness seems to be an inability to hold onto the ball, as the Bears turn it over on 21.6% of their possessions, extremely disappointing against their strength of schedule. That, of course, is the one weakness you absolutely don’t want to have.
- Kansas State (10-1) – Grade: A. I thought the Wildcats were going to struggle this year, and based on how their offense has looked at times, they still might, but a 10-1 record with nice wins over Alabama and Long Beach State is impressive. They play tough defense, with the seventh-best eFG against in the country, but don’t have a go-to guy on offense and their overall team offense leaves a lot to be desired. They struggle shooting the three and at the line, but I think they’re a solid top four-team in the league right now.
- Texas (9-3): Grade: B-. The Longhorns have done pretty much what has been expected of them this year, beating all the weaker teams on their schedule and losing to the better ones. Like Kansas, Baylor, and Kansas State they are winning with defense, with the 11th-best two point defense nationally. Freshman Myck Kabongo has shown great ability to get to the line and great athleticism, but another freshman, Sheldon McClellan, has been perhaps even better. McClellan is shooting 62%/37.5%/70.7% from two/three/free throw line, and is doing a good job of taking care of the ball. Conference play is a whole other animal however, so they still have a long way to go.
- Oklahoma (9-1): Grade: B-. Like Texas, the Sooners have done what has been expected, winning most of their games against a weak schedule, and losing to the lone good team they played. Still, there is 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. Oklahoma is shooting 41.3% from three and is the third-best offensive rebounding team in the country. They will need to continue both if they want to break into the top half of the league.
- Oklahoma State (6-5) – Grade: C. The Cowboys are the Big 12 winners of the “Team Better Than Its Record” award, as they have played a tough schedule so far, and are a very inexperienced team. For that, I can’t harp on the wins and losses too much, as Travis Ford will have them ready to go in Big 12 play. Surprisingly, for such a young team, turnovers aren’t the crux of Oklahoma State’s problems, as the Cowboys turn it over on just 17.6% of their possessions.
- Iowa State (9-3): Grade: C. The Cyclones have blended transfers Royce White and Chris Allen into their roster extremely well, and quietly have one of the better offenses around. Their eFG of 55% is among the best in the country, and they are taking tons of threes and making 38.4% of them. Defensively, they need some work, especially forcing turnovers, but if there is a team who I expect to outperform their projected conference record, it’s the Cyclones.
- Texas A&M (8-3): Grade: D. The Aggies are 8-3, but have an embarrassing non-conference schedule, and lost against the best three teams they played. Losing to Mississippi State is nothing to be ashamed of without Khris Middleton. Same with losing to Florida, even if it was by 20. But losing at home to Rice is inexcusable. Given the preseason expectations heaped upon them by seemingly everyone except me, there must be a lot of crow-eating going around.
- Texas Tech (5-5): Grade: F. I should leave it incomplete because I mostly feel sorry for them, but the Red Raiders are a bad, bad team. They’re projected to go 2-16 in Big 12 play and likely won’t be favored in any games. Even though I am reasonably sure they will win one, I have a tough time of seeing where it will come from right now. The Red Raiders shoot the three pretty well (38.1%), but shoot fewer threes than almost anyone in the country. They will need to fire more if they want to win some Big 12 games.
- Baylor vs. Mississippi State – Wednesday, December 28 – The Bears can pull off their fourth impressive non-conference win in five games when they welcome the Bulldogs. Sophomore Brady Heslip has been a star as of late, scoring 19 points in the win over West Virginia, making five of his seven threes.
- Virginia Tech at Oklahoma State – Saturday, December 31– The Cowboys have lost all of their statement games – to Stanford, Virginia Tech, Pitt, New Mexico, and Alabama. Now they will get a second crack at the Hokies when they host them on New Year’s Eve. The lack of scoring inside will be offset a bit by Virginia Tech’s relative inability to stop teams from scoring inside. This is a win Travis Ford needs to have badly.
- North Dakota at Kansas – Saturday December 31 – A bit of a personal game for me, as I am not only a current student at Kansas, but a native of North Dakota and alum of the University of North Dakota. Fortunately I won’t have to worry about which of my schools I should root for too much, as Ken Pomeroy gives the Fighting Sioux just a 1% chance of pulling the upset.