Big 12 Season Recap and Postseason PreviewPosted by Brian Goodman on March 7th, 2012
Conference Tournament Preview
The big attraction this year for many fans is the chance to see one more Kansas–Missouri battle before the Tigers leave for the SEC. If Kansas reaches the final, they will likely be a #1 seed in the NCAA Tournament, and there’s still a chance Missouri can nab one if they win the Big 12 Tournament as well. Given the general lack of depth on both teams it might behoove them to lose early and rest up for the NCAA Tournament, but their competitiveness and seed chasing will probably lead to one last matchup.
The Big 12 has likely locked up five bids in the tournament, with a sixth possibly going to Texas. The Longhorns will need to beat Iowa State Wednesday night to have a shot, and with how soft the bubble is this year, that will probably be enough.
Elsewhere, Baylor can potentially get a #3 seed if they make a run (though with their new uniforms I am wondering if there is a way we can keep them out of the postseason altogether) and Iowa State can probably get away from the dreaded #8/#9 game if they do so as well. Kansas State‘s seeding could range widely depending on its performance this week, but the Wildcats are soundly in the Dance.
A Look Back
Kansas won its eighth straight Big 12 title after a stirring comeback against Missouri on February 25. Kansas lost just two conference games, exceeding even my most optimistic projections, but that’s why Bill Self is Bill Self. Kansas fought off a charge from Missouri, which beat the Jayhawks in Columbia, and but for matching up horribly against Kansas State might have come away with the league crown. Speaking of the Wildcats, Kansas State was probably the biggest surprise outside of Iowa State. Their sweep of Missouri helped them to finish fifth in the league and that, combined with wins over Baylor, Alabama (before their suspensions) and Long Beach State, will get them into the NCAA Tournament.
Whether the NCAA Tournament features five or six Big 12 teams will likely depend on the performance of Texas. The ‘Horns played one of the toughest schedules in the country, but their best non-conference win was over Temple and they finished just 9-9 in Big 12 play and the only teams who finished above them that they beat were Kansas State and Iowa State. With a win over Iowa State in the conference tournament the Longhorns will likely be dancing, and we should all cheer for that as we all deserve to see J’Covan Brown do his thing on a national stage.
The most disappointing team in terms of where they were picked in preseason polls was easily Texas A&M, picked as co-favorites with Kansas at the start of the season. The Aggies struggled in the non conference slate, and had to deal with junior Khris Middleton being out with injuries in the early going. As a result, the Aggies finished ninth in the league, going 4-14 in conference play.
On a personal note, my biggest disappointment was Oklahoma State. Led by Keiton Page and welcoming in hyped freshman Le’Bryan Nash, the Cowboys looked to make a push towards the upper half of the conference. Instead, JP Olukemi hurt his knee and Nash was ineffective, causing the Cowboys to finish with a 7-11 record and a seventh-place finish in the Big 12.
Coach Of The Year – Fred Hoiberg, Iowa State: Start with the number three, as that is the number of wins that Iowa State had in Big 12 play last year. Fast forward to this season, and it’s the seed they bring into the 2012 Big 12 Tournament, as the Cyclones tied for third in the league with Baylor. Hoiberg has brought in some talented players, most notably Royce White, but a lot of things had to go right to get the Cyclones to this point: He had to have the foresight to give some troubled players a second chance; he had to convince them to buy into his system; and he had to get them to gel together.
As for the two who didn’t win this award, Bill Self is basically a victim of his own success. Even though Kansas returned just two (or perhaps two and a half) major contributors from his 2011 team and had one of the thinnest benches in the nation, the Jayhawks were still picked to win the league. That they did it is definitely a credit to Self and his staff, and this may be his best coaching job yet, but he is punished a bit by perennially high expectations in Lawrence.
Frank Haith may get some love in national awards, but I have two points to make about his exclusion: First, I thought Missouri would be a contender for the Big 12 title this year. I picked them third in my preview, and probably would have picked them second except if I hadn’t foolishly trusted Scott Drew, so why do I need to act surprised that Missouri is good? Haith has done a good job to be sure, but this is more about good players improving than anything else. Secondly, I think Haith ironically has a better case for national coach of the year because while I saw Big 12 success, I didn’t see them fighting for a #2 seed in the NCAA Tournament by any means.
Player Of The Year – Thomas Robinson, Kansas: I briefly considered Tyshawn Taylor because he is, to use an old metaphor, the engine driving the car that is the Kansas offense. But it can’t be anyone other than Robinson. Robinson’s personal story is as compelling as it is well-chronicled: He lost two grandparents and his mother within the span of a month last year, and is now playing to make enough money to be able to take care of his little sister.
But his story on the court is fascinating as well. Stuck behind Cole Aldrich and then the Morris twins in his first two seasons, Robinson exploded onto the scene this year, leading the Big 12 in double-doubles and usage rate, and leading the country in defensive rebounding. Robinson has been the best player on the best team in the league all year long, and he has done it all offensively: He can back a defender down in the post, face up, even leads the break from time to time. He’s also raised his free throw percentage from 51% to 68% this year. Bill Self said Robinson worked out three times a day in the summer, and it looks like that hard work paid off.
All-Conference First Team:
- F Thomas Robinson, Kansas: Robinson led the league in double-doubles, and was the only player in the conference to average one all season.
- F Royce White, Iowa State – White led the Cyclones in scoring, assists and steals as the transfer from Minnesota often lined up at point guard despite standing 6’8”.
- G J’Covan Brown, Texas – Brown led the league in scoring at 20.5 points per game, and played in 89.6% of the team’s minutes. The junior was also selected to the Big 12’s All-Academic Team.
- G Tyshawn Taylor, Kansas: After inconsistency plagued Taylor in his first three years, Taylor matured on and off the court for the Jayhawks this season. He was third in the league in scoring and had the fourth-best eFG in the conference.
- G Marcus Denmon, Missouri: Denmon shot 42% from three and finished with the 11th-best offensive rating in the entire nation.
- C Jeff Withey, Kansas: The conference’s defensive player of the year, Withey has the second best block rate in the country and scored 15.9 points per 40 minutes.
- F Ricardo Ratliffe, Missouri: Ratliffe led the nation in effective shooting at an astonishing 70.8%.
- G Pierre Jackson, Baylor: It was a close call between Jackson, who was eighth in eFG, and Royce White for the newcomer of the year.
- G Rodney McGruder, Kansas State: McGruder was the only Wildcat to play in 80% of the team’s minutes, and he shot 39% from three on the season.
- G Keiton Page, Oklahoma State: In conference play Page shot 39.8% from three and 87.8% from the line while finishing second in the conference in scoring.
- G Michael Dixon, Missouri: The only non-starter on the teams, Dixon was fourth in the league in points per 40 minutes with 20.5.
- G Steven Pledger, Oklahoma: The lone bright spot for the Sooners, Pledger shot 39% from three in Big 12 play.
- F Quincy Acy, Baylor: Acy was third in the league in eFG at 58.7%, and placed eighth in the league in offensive rebounding.
- G Scott Christopherson, ISU: Christopherson led the league in three-point shooting at 49.4%.
- G Jordan Tolbert, Texas Tech: A bit of a personal cheeseball pick, Tolbert was everything to the Tech offense, taking the fourth most shots in the conference. Despite playing on a terrible team, he managed a 51% eFG and scored 14 points per 40 minutes in league play.
- Kansas: Kansas has the inside track on a #1 seed and possibly being able to ride an Omaha-St. Louis route to the final four. They are one game of foul trouble by Tyshawn Taylor or Thomas Robinson away from being bounced early, but they are also one of the most talented teams in the country. I could see them playing on the season’s final weekend, but I could see them losing in the second round as well.
- Missouri: The Tigers have a slight chance at a #1 seed, but probably will be a #2. Guards win in March, so it’s great news for the Tigers that they have some fantastic ones. They rely on jump shooting a lot, so they could get stunned early, but they also have what it takes to make a final four run.
- Iowa State: The Cyclones will need to lean heavily on Royce White if they want to advance to the second weekend. Scott Christopherson can shoot the Cyclones into any game, and Fred Hoiberg has gotten his kids to play hard and smart all year. With Royce White’s struggles shooting lately I don’t think they’ll advance past the first round, but they should be lauded for just making the tournament.
- Baylor: Once again, Baylor had perhaps the most talent in the country. Once again, they underachieved. Perry Jones struggled in seemingly every big game, and Pierre Jackson, as good as he is, can’t win games by himself. Because Baylor is so good against inferior teams they’ll probably make it to the Sweet 16, but I’d be shocked to see them advance any farther.
- Kansas State: The Wildcats probably don’t have the offense to advance past the first round in the NCAA tournament, but they have the defense to frustrate any team they play. If they play a team without solid guard play their big men can rebound enough on offense to perhaps score enough points to pull off a first round upset.
- Texas: Again, Texas needs to beat Iowa State to make the tournament, and again you should be rooting for that so J’Covan Brown can show his stuff on a national stage. With Alexis Wangmene out with an injury, the Longhorns will lack depth on the interior, but Brown can shoot Texas into (and, to be fair, out of) any game.
- Oklahoma State: The clear problems for the Cowboys were losing JP Olukemi and LeBryan Nash’s freshman struggles. Nash took almost 30% of their team’s shots, but had an eFG of just 41.8% on the season. He also shot only 23% from deep.
- Oklahoma: Steven Pledger was a bright spot, as the Junior posted a 56.4% eFG, but his teammates couldn’t help him out enough as Oklahoma finished with the worst 3 point offense and second worst 2 point offense in the league.
- Texas A&M: A&M’s big problem was that they couldn’t score. They scored just .93 points per possession in league play, ranking ninth, and had just two players shoot over a 50% eFG clip.
- Texas Tech: The Red Raiders were last in the league in offensive and defensive efficiency, and were 344th in the nation in turning the ball over. One bright spot was Jordan Tolbert, who shot 52% from two and nearly a 20% defensive rebounding rate.