Ten For Ten: Impressions of Each Big 12 Team From Its OpenerPosted by dnspewak on January 5th, 2012
Congratulations, Big 12 teams. You’ve all now played one-eighteenth of your conference schedule. For the next two months, you will suffer through hard-fought battles week after week until this wild league sorts itself out. After one game, it’s impossible to tell what exactly will happen from now until the first weekend in March. But each Big 12 opener at least gave us a little insight into this crazy conference. In alphabetical order, here’s what you need to know about Opening Week:
- Baylor has not played flawless basketball this season, but don’t exactly take that as a criticism. The Bears are undefeated and off to the best start in school history, and yet they still have a lot of room for improvement. Although it handled Texas A&M from start to finish in Waco on Monday, Scott Drew’s team still finished with 16 turnovers and shot just 2-12 from beyond the arc. Guard play in particular was a problem: Pierre Jackson finished with seven turnovers, and Brady Heslip did not score. And yet the Bears’ 61-52 victory was hardly in doubt until a modest comeback by the Aggies at the very end of the game. Perry Jones, who did not play well in a win over Mississippi State on national television last week, redeemed himself with a double-double as BU’s frontcourt overpowered the normally physical Aggies. The guards will make the difference this season for Drew, and though they struggled in the Big 12 opener, that trend should not continue. Jackson, Heslip, A.J. Walton and Gary Franklin are an underrated group.
- Iowa State is not a pushover this season. These guys can really shoot the heck out of the basketball, and they won their first Big 12 opener in five seasons by knocking off Texas 77-71 on Wednesday night. Yes, the Longhorns have problems of their own– more on that later– but Fred Hoiberg‘s team defended well, played with outstanding energy and got every shot it wanted on the offensive end. Iowa State made 10-of-21 three-pointers, and not a single trey came from Scott Christopherson, one of the top three-point shooters in Big 12 history from a percentage standpoint. Chris Babb and Anthony Booker combined to make eight of those shots, but forward Royce White controlled this game by getting to the free throw line and posing a matchup problem for UT. The Longhorns are small on the front line, and White exploited them by using his quickness. He announced to the Big 12 that he will not be easy to defend this winter.
- Kansas looked like a Big 12 champion again by spanking Kansas State at the Phog on Wednesday night. Sure, the Jayhawks cooled off after building an early 18-point lead, and the Wildcats jumped back into the game in the second half. By the end of the contest, though, KU had run away with this rivalry by beating Frank Martin at his own game. Kansas State thought it could rattle the Jayhawks with its high-pressure style and tenacious rebounding, but Thomas Robinson proved once again that he’s not afraid of anybody. Forget the loss to Davidson. Tyshawn Taylor may turn the ball over too much, and the offense may not always look crisp, but Bill Self‘s team will defend and it will not back down from a challenge. 17 offensive rebounds and a +24 margin on the boards against a Frank Martin team is proof of that.
- Kansas State needs to burn this game tape and prepare for Missouri on Saturday. Martin is surely embarrassed by his team’s lack of poise and toughness at Allen Fieldhouse, but it’s basically impossible to win a basketball game in Lawrence. Even the toughest of the tough can look like lambs in front of that crowd, so it’s not time for KSU fans to panic. If the Wildcats’ half-court offense looks that disheveled against MU, though, then they have permission to run wild in the streets of Manhattan. The early part of that first half was not pretty for KSU, as even the open looks were not falling. Credit Martin’s team for overcoming a horrid start to at least make things interesting. That’s more than most teams can say after playing in Lawrence.
- Missouri is unstoppable at home and one of the most entertaining teams in college basketball. Oklahoma did not have a chance against the Tigers, who used a balanced approach and a barrage of threes to down the Sooners by 38 points at Mizzou Arena. Even MU’s supposed weakness (rebounding) turned into a plus, as the Tigers murdered OU on the boards by overwhelming the Sooners’ forwards with their speed. Kim English, Matt Pressey and Marcus Denmon combined for 21 rebounds, and the entire team pitched in to limit OU to one shot on the offensive end. With that “weakness” under control, the Tigers conformed to a half-court setting and passed with a purpose, as the ball moved everywhere and seemed to find its way into an open shooter’s hands. Missouri won’t rebound like this on the road, and it won’t get easy looks like this, either. But in Columbia, it’s hard to envision anybody beating Mizzou this season.
- Oklahoma, like KSU, needs to erase all memory of its Big 12 opener. Lon Kruger knew his team wasn’t perfect, even after a surprising 10-2 start in non-conference play. It was surprising to see Romero Osby make no impact on the boards, and it was even more shocking that Steven Pledger did not make a basket until the game was out of hand in the first half. Pledger finished with 11 points, but Missouri really keyed in on OU’s star and did not allow him many open looks. The difference in talent and athleticism on the floor at Mizzou Arena on Tuesday seemed astonishing, but keep in mind only two teams (Kansas and Texas A&M) have won in Columbia since 2008. Things could certainly turn out differently in Norman. Oklahoma did not have the scoring punch to match Missouri, and it seemed to have trouble even getting a shot off against the quick Tiger defenders. There was one bright spot in the first half, though, as Andrew Fitzgerald scored almost all of his 18 points before halftime. Fitzgerald settled into a groove with his mid-range game and seemed to be the only comfortable player in the Sooners’ half-court offense.
- Oklahoma State has averted disaster. With two point guards transferring and a season-ending injury to J.P. Olukemi, the Cowboys found two heroes in Keiton Page and LeBryan Nash on Wednesday. The senior guard and freshman wing combined for 43 points in the 67-59 win, and that’s exactly the recipe for Travis Ford‘s team to win basketball games this year. Page is playing out of position as a point guard, and Nash doesn’t have a whole lot of support, but these two players are capable of 20-plus points on any given night. The Cowboys may not have a great point guard or a lot of size, but they have Page and Nash. That might be enough to at least spring a few upsets.
- Texas needs to keep fighting. The young Longhorns fell behind by double-digits on two occasions to Iowa State on Wednesday, but they battled back both times to stay somewhat competitive in Ames. Myck Kabongo was not productive in 30 minutes of play, shooting 2-9 and committing four turnovers. And UT had no answer for ISU’s shooters or Royce White on the block. Still, you get the sense this team will figure it out eventually. When the second scorer behind J’Covan Brown emerges, Rick Barnes will have a different team on his hands. Maybe that guy is Clint Chapman, the forgotten veteran forward who scored 19 points to tie Brown for the team lead.
- Texas A&M is a real disappointment right now. After capping non-conference play with a home loss to Rice, the Aggies were pushed around by Baylor on Monday night. Billy Kennedy has his guys defending like Mark Turgeon did, but they just can’t score right now. The Aggies shot 29 percent from the field and got no offense outside of Elston Turner, who finished with 21 points. Khris Middleton needed 17 shots just to score 14 points, and BU’s size bothered forwards Ray Turner and David Loubeau all night. Nobody expected A&M to win in Waco, but this team needs to find a way to generate some half-court offense.
- Texas Tech just needs to focus on getting a little better in small increments. Billy Gillispie does not have a lot to work with right now. His team, which consists almost entirely of newcomers, turns the ball over at an alarming rate and does not rebound well. Freshman Jordan Tolbert has come out of nowhere to lead the team in scoring, but offense is still hard to come by. Ever the competitor, it has to be frustrating for Gillispie to watch his team play, but he also has a chance to nurture these youngsters and build for the future without high expectations. Texas Tech probably will not win more than a few Big 12 games this season, but Gillispie will have a chance to evaluate players on an individual basis and prepare for next season, when most of the roster will return.