Checking In On… The Big 12Posted by Brian Goodman on January 9th, 2012
The Week That Was
- Missouri played a relatively soft non-conference schedule, and got dominated in a tough road environment losing by 16 at Kansas State. All year long people, questioned whether the Tigers had the toughness inside to be one of the elite teams in the country. In Manhattan they grabbed only 21% of their available offensive rebounds and allowed the Wildcats an offensive rebounding rate north of 40%. What’s more, 6’3” Marcus Denmon was the team’s leading rebounder in the game.
- Lon Kruger’s Oklahoma Sooners sprinted out to a 10-2 record outside of league play, but reality set in a bit for the Sooners as Big 12 play started, losing 87-49 at Missouri and 72-61 at home against Kansas. Oklahoma is getting 18 points per game from Steven Pledger but only have two other players scoring over 8.5 per contest. They are also struggling defensively, allowing just under a point per possession this year against a fairly soft schedule.
- The Big 12 has been much better than expected this year as they are ranked second according to the Pomeroy rankings. The Big 12 has five teams in the top 30, which is second only to the Big 10 who has 6. Even the Big East, with 16 teams, has only five. It has been the five teams (Kansas, Missouri, Baylor, Kansas State, and Texas) that I expected to carry the load, but it nonetheless has been impressive what the Big 12 has done this year.
- Baylor (15-0, 2-0): Baylor almost suffered a potential Big 12 title-killing defeat this weekend, beating Texas Tech by only 13 on Saturday, pulling away late. The Bears turned it over 14 times in a 64 possession game, which is right in line with their season average. If their turnover rate, which ranks 235th nationally, doesn’t improve, I can’t see them competing for the Big 12 title, especially because their quality of competition will increase.
- Kansas (12-3, 2-0): The Jayhawks jumped out to a big lead against rival Kansas State and, though it got close in the second half, they managed to win by 18 points, a win that looked even better after what Kansas State did to Missouri. Thomas Robinson continues to be fantastic, with a 15/14 effort against the Wildcats, but the Jayhawks’ best player has been someone most fans haven’t heard much from. More on him later.
- Missouri (14-1, 1-1): A look at how bad Missouri’s non-conference slate was: after two conference games, their strength of schedule moved from 324th to 296th. Missouri’s defense continues to be a problem, but they also scored only 59 points in 68 possessions against Kansas State. Marcus Denmon struggled, scoring 17 points, but needing 14 shots to do it. He also led the team in rebounds, which is a problem in and of itself.
- Kansas State (12-2, 1-1): Rodney McGruder was the star of the show against Missouri, scoring 20 points, going 9-16 from two. Lightly-used junior Jordan Henriquez-Roberts played 26 minutes in the game and grabbed a game-high eight rebounds. In all, five Wildcats grabbed four or more rebounds in the game. It wasn’t all a great week for the Wildcats, though: they allowed archrival Kansas to grab nearly 60% of its misses and head coach Frank Martin joked that he almost called timeout when Kansas State was up 1-0 because he was so happy to have a lead in Allen Fieldhouse.
- Texas (11-4, 1-1): The Longhorns have been two totally different teams in their first two conference games. First they scored a point per possession in their loss at Iowa State and then rode a great defensive effort, allowing only 49 points in 66 possessions in a win over Oklahoma State. Myck Kabongo is coming around, as he scored 15 points and dished six assists while turning it over only once in the win over the Cowboys.
- Iowa State (12-3, 2-0): The Cyclones beat Texas head-to-head, but I’m keeping them a spot below them for another week because it was a home win and a relatively close one at that. Chris Babb had five 3-pointers in the Cyclones win over Texas, and Royce White has 14 and 10 points in his first two conference games. But more impressive than that has been the balance: five Cyclones were in double figures in the win over the Aggies. The Cyclones host a surely angry Missouri team before visiting Allen Fieldhouse, so we will find out more about whether or not they are for real shortly.
- Oklahoma (10-4, 0-2): Oklahoma dominated the offensive glass against Kansas, which has to be viewed as a positive, but their defense has struggled big time in Big 12 play: they allowed 87 points in 60 possessions against Missouri and 72 points in 65 possessions against Kansas. In addition, they allowed a career-high 28 points from Kansas’ Travis Releford.
- Oklahoma State (8-7, 1-1): The Cowboys struggle mightily on offense, with just a 45.8% eFG (267th nationally) and it should get even worse after junior JP Olukemi tore his ACL in a New Year’s Eve loss to Virginia Tech and will miss the rest of the season. Oklahoma State will have to win with its defense if they want to make the NCAA tournament. Fortunately they may have the ability to do that as their eFG allowed is 22nd-best in the country.
- Texas A&M (9-5, 0-2): It’s hard to believe that a team with the fifth-best eFG% allowed in the entire nation could be so bad, but that’s what happens when you can’t scor. Texas A&M is shooting 48.8% from two and just 28.4% from three. The Aggies have come out flat in both Big 12 games, losing by nine against Baylor and getting blown out 74-50 at home against Iowa State.
- Texas Tech (7-7, 0-2): The Red Raiders nearly had the upset of the Big 12 year, trailing by only five against Baylor as late as 5:30 to go in the game. It doesn’t get much easier, with the Red Raiders hosting Kansas next, but they do go to Texas A&M on Saturday, representing one of their best chances to get a Big 12 win. As Utah has shown, it’s extremely tough to go through a conference season without a win so the question seems to be when rather than if.
- #5 Baylor at #18 Kansas State – Tuesday January 10 – The Wildcats will try to knock off its second unbeaten in two games when they host the Bears. Baylor has the 12th-best adjusted defense in the country, and with the Wildcats having a poor offense it will be interesting to see whether the Wildcats can score enough to pull the upset. Though given how well they did defensively against Missouri they might not need to.
- #9 Missouri at Iowa State – Wednesday January 11 – We will know a lot more about how good the Cyclones are when they host Missouri, who should be out for blood after their loss to Kansas State. Missouri has struggled with size this year, so watch how Royce White and Melvin Ejim are able to exploit that.
- #18 Kansas State at Oklahoma – Saturday January 14– The Sooners have one of the more docile environments in the Big 12, but that seems to help them as they built a halftime lead against Kansas. Kansas State seems to feed off the energy of the crowd a lot more than most Big 12 teams, so they could be ripe for an upset on Saturday.
Spotlight on….Travis Releford
If we were handing out a Big 12 Player of the Year award, assuming it was only for conference games, the winner right now would be a Jayhawk, but not the one you think. Travis Releford has set a career-high in points in each of his last three games, with 28 being his current mark. What’s more, he set that career-high in the flow of the offense, going 6-8 from two and 3-5 from three in the win over Oklahoma. The best part about his game, however, is that even if he’s not scoring he still can impact the game by grabbing a few rebounds, dishing out a couple of assists, and making a couple of steals. He also is the best perimeter defender on the team and one of the best in the country. His emergence has Kansas fans thinking of perhaps a Cinderella run to the Final Four, and when they are getting the defense they have been from Releford and now the added offense, why not?