Checking In On… the Big 12 ConferencePosted by Brian Goodman on February 6th, 2012
The Week That Was
- Fever Pitch, Columbia: The game of the year so far in the league ended with Missouri beating its archrival Kansas. The game was unfortunately marred by a questionable late charge call against Thomas Robinson as well as a 20-10 foul disparity favoring the home team, which has taken subsequent discussion away from the fantastic basketball that was played. Marcus Denmon had 29 points, shooting 6-9 from three, and Robinson had 25 points and 13 rebounds as each team showed why they’re among the best in the country. This might be the last meeting between the two schools in Missouri with the Tigers now moving to the SEC. Some fans of both schools want to see the rivalry saved, but, in basketball at least, it doesn’t make much financial or competitive sense for Kansas to play Missouri. Another sad consequence of conference realignment greed, but perhaps talks will revitalize after heads cool.
- Bears Try To Keep Pace: By holding serve, Baylor has crept back into the discussion, and the Bears are tied for the conference lead at 8-2 (there’s no head-to-head tiebreaker in the standings). They won by a total of seven points last week over Oklahoma State and Texas A&M so they certainly haven’t been impressive, but both wins came on the road and any road win is a good win. They still host Kansas and play at Missouri, so they are in control of their own destiny in the Big 12 race.
- Jury Still Out On Haith: Ken Pomeroy wrote an interesting post last week regarding Frank Haith’s deployment of a zone defense in the final possession against Texas. Haith has gotten a lot of Coach of the Year support, but I think it is a bit overblown. As Pomeroy notes, if Texas had scored on the final possession, people would be killing Haith for deviating from the norm. Also, it was his attempt to kill the clock starting with over four minutes left that let the Longhorns back in it in the first place. Also, though Texas looked a bit confused, Rick Barnes still had a timeout left and somehow chose not to use it. Perhaps he thought he would get six in the next game. Haith has done a good job not upsetting things in Missouri to be sure, but remember that Bruce Weber went to a national championship game in his second season at Illinois.
- Missouri (21-2, 8-2): Marcus Denmon broke out of his slump in a big way on Saturday. The senior came into the contest against Kansas shooting under 30% from three in Big 12 play, but he hit six of his nine shots from deep en route to a game-high 29 points. The 6’3” guard also led the team with nine rebounds and has established himself as one of the best rebounding guards in the country.
- Kansas (18-5, 8-2): Because they played Missouri so close on the road, I flirted with keeping Kansas at #1. However, some late execution problems dropped them down to #2, as the Jayhawks allowed Missouri to go on an 11-0 run to finish off Saturday’s marquee matchup. Kansas’ final play was reminiscent of the three to tie the game in the 2008 National Championship, but Elijah Johnson was torn between trying to get the ball to Conner Teahan in the corner or shoot, and that split-second of hesitation cost him, as an off-balance heave was all he could muster.
- Baylor (21-2, 8-2): Baylor’s only losses this year came three weeks ago when they lost to Kansas and Missouri in back-to-back games. This week they play… Kansas and Missouri in back-to-back games. The key player to watch for the Bears this week is Brady Heslip. He had just three points in Baylor’s loss to Kansas and went 2-6 from three (and 4-9 from the field) in the loss to Missouri. Baylor is the second-best three-point shooting team in the conference, but it’ll need all the threes they can get against this week, especially against the perimeter pressure of Missouri.
- Iowa State (17-6, 7-3): In maybe the weirdest box score of the year, Royce White, who has the highest usage rate in the Big 12, took only one shot on Saturday against Oklahoma. He helped the Cyclones in other ways though, dishing out seven assists in Iowa State’s 77-70 win over Oklahoma.
- Texas (14-9, 4-6): Rick Barnes strikes again! After erasing a 10-point deficit with 4:44 left, Texas found itself down just one with the ball on the final possession Monday. When Missouri unexpectedly came out in a zone, Barnes let Texas heave up a desperation shot rather than use his last timeout to call a play. Either it was a terrible sense of awareness, or a terrible job preparing his guys for a defense he thought might be coming, if his commentsare to be believed. With many of their toughest matchups already behind them, the Longhorns may be out of chances to garner tournament consideration.
- Kansas State (16-6, 5-5): Despite being sixth in eFG allowed, Kansas State is actually the second-best defensive team in the Big 12, allowing only .97 points per possession. The big reason for this is their absurd turnovers forced rate of 24.5%, the best in the league. Sadly for them, their helter-skelter style sticks with them on the offensive side, with the Wildcats having a nearly identical turnover rate themselves, ranking ninth in the league in that category.
- Oklahoma (13-7, 3-5): Steven Pledger is clearly glad to not have to play Kansas anymore. After struggling at home against the Jayhawks, he went just 4-11 from two in Allen Fieldhouse, though he did make a pair of deep threes that were guarded well. Oklahoma has a chance to defend its worst loss of the conference season when Lon Kruger and company host Missouri this week.
- Oklahoma State (11-12, 4-6): Despite outplaying Baylor, Oklahoma State suffered a narrow defeat thanks to its terrible rebounding. The Cowboys grabbed only 22% of the available offensive rebounds, but more importantly, they allowed the Bears to snag 40% of their misses. The Cowboys have no players with an offensive rebounding rate over 10% and just one player with a defensive rebounding rate above 16%. They might be the worst rebounding team in the country.
- Texas A&M (12-10, 3-7): He was supposed to be the Aggies’ savior, but Khris Middleton has been anything but. The junior is shooting just 48% from two, 26% from three and 63% from the line. Though he is 6’7”, he has only been to the line 27 times this year, and is turning it over roughly as much as he is dishing out assists.
- Texas Tech (7-1, 0-10): I thought Tech would have a shot against Oklahoma State, and they rewarded me by losing by 17 at home. Freshman Jordan Tolbert’s production has slipped a bit in conference play, with his turnover rate climbing close to 24%. But he has responded by getting to the line a lot more often, now drawing over six fouls per 40 minutes, and is still shooting 55% from two.
- Kansas at Baylor – Wednesday, Feb. 8 – A matchup between Big 12 co-leaders may be a must-win for the defending champs. Kansas dominated Baylor’s zone in the last meeting, so watch whether Scott Drew will employ the same strategy or call more man defense.
- Baylor at Missouri – Saturday, Feb. 11 – After losing by just one to Missouri in January, Baylor has a much-needed chance for revenge. Kim English went just 2-7 from three in the Kansas game, but the matchup to watch is definitely who gets the better of the Marcus Denmon-Pierre Jackson matchup.
- Kansas State at Texas – Saturday, Feb. 11– Kansas State bested the Longhorns by only four in Manhattan, so the smart money probably has to be on the home team here. While Rick Barnes won’t have a sixth timeout to work with, he will have the home court advantage: Texas has won all four of its conference games at home.
Caught on Tape
The spirit of the Border War knows no bounds – even heavy doses of auto-tune aren’t off-limits when it comes to weaponry.