Grading the Big 12′s 2011-12 Season: Bottom HalfPosted by dnspewak on April 5th, 2012
With the 2011-12 campaign now just a memory, it’s difficult to actually remember all of the drama and agony the Big 12 experienced during the last five months. Kansas’ thrilling loss to Duke in the Maui Invitational seems like ages ago, as does the Jayhawks’ first loss to Kentucky at Madison Square Garden. Remember when Missouri and Baylor were only a few of the remaining unbeaten teams in college basketball? Or when Texas found a way to lose game after game in the most heartbreaking fashion? These memories are hard to digest, but you’ll probably never forget the Border War drama between Kansas and Missouri, nor will you forget Iowa State’s rise thanks to the brilliant play of Royce White. The Big 12 kept playing until the final game of the 2011-12 season, ending with Kansas’ loss to Kentucky in the title game on Monday. And with the conclusion of this wild campaign, the final grades are in. Kansas earns an A+. Big surprise. Texas A&M earns an F. Big surprise, too, but for different reasons. The other eight teams settled into a grade somewhere between those two extremes.
We’ll cover the bottom half of the league today, and the top half tomorrow.
10. Texas Tech (8-23, 1-17)
FINAL GRADE: D
The Red Raiders get a free pass in Billy Gillispie‘s first season. Playing almost exclusively with newcomers, Texas Tech had no chance this year. Robert Lewandowski was the only senior on the roster, but not even he could lead this team to any sort of success. Their inexperience was just too much to overcome. The Red Raiders were plagued by turnovers all season and they never got consistent point guard play. Jordan Tolbert emerged as the leading scorer in the frontcourt, and he played the most consistent basketball on the team from November through February. Still, even after a last-place finish, Texas Tech should not worry about the state of this program. Gillispie’s success at UTEP and Texas A&M proves he can win in this state, and he’ll have almost everybody back next season.
9. Texas A&M (14-18, 4-14)
FINAL GRADE: F
Sorry, A&M. You fail. Picked in the pre-season to win the Big 12, the Aggies suffered through a nightmare year, though there are extenuating circumstances to consider here. Coach Billy Kennedy learned of a Parkinson’s diagnosis in the fall, which kept him sidelined for fall practice and away from his team during critical teaching moments. As a first-year coach, Kennedy never had the chance to establish himself to his new players. Adding to the woes, many of those players missed time themselves with injuries. Star wing Khris Middleton had surgery on his knee in November and sat out part of Big 12 play. Point guard Dash Harris missed a handful of games, too, and his backup Jamal Branch transferred before conference play. Kourtney Roberson played only nine games before his season ended due to injury as well. As the troubles mounted, the losses began to pile up. The Aggies simply could not score because of all the roster turnover and the lack of creators on the offensive end. We thought this team could muscle its way to a Big 12 title by playing with the principles former coach Mark Turgeon instilled, but that never happened. Now, Kennedy must revamp this program and forget about the 2011-12 nightmare.
8. Oklahoma (15-16, 5-13)
FINAL GRADE: C-
Lon Kruger’s first season at Oklahoma began fairly promising. His team won 10 of 12 non-conference games against mostly mediocre competition, but the Sooners showed a new fight under Kruger. Unfortunately, that fight just wasn’t enough once the Big 12 season began. Right off the bat, the Sooners traveled to Columbia and lost by 38 points to Missouri, a game that immediately sent the message that Kruger’s team would probably be a bit overmatched this season. Despite a poor season, several Oklahoma players shined individually. That bodes well for Kruger’s second season. Sam Grooms is a hidden gem at the point guard position, and Romero Osby might be the top offensive rebounder in this conference next season. Steven Pledger also showed an ability to go off in the scoring department on any given night, and Andrew Fitzgerald is a talented big man who faltered as the season wore on. Almost every notable player returns next season, so these individual talents need to find a way to culminate into a collective effort.
7. Oklahoma State (15-18, 7-11)
FINAL GRADE: C
It’s tempting to give the Cowboys a “Not Applicable” grade. That’s because the Oklahoma State team you saw on the floor in 2011-12 could have looked much different had point guards Reger Dowell and Fred Gulley not transferred within two weeks of each other before Big 12 play. And remember, this team lost J.P. Olukemi to a season-ending knee injury, which left Travis Ford without his best athlete. With Keiton Page moving to his unnatural position of point guard, a lack of size and no bench to speak of, this season could have turned into a disaster in a hurry. Credit the Cowboys for not allowing that to happen. Page played great basketball at the end of his senior year, even torching Texas for 40 points. His leadership rubbed off on Le’Bryan Nash, the heralded freshman who struggled at first but recovered during the latter half of the season. The turning point for Nash was a home upset of Missouri in late January, when he set a career-high with 27 points and burned the Tigers for basket after basket in the second half. Without a true point guard, Ford’s team could not score consistently enough to really compete in this conference, and Page’s decorated career ended without a postseason bid. Still, considering the circumstances, seven victories in the Big 12 actually seems like a miracle.
6. Texas (20-14, 9-9)
FINAL GRADE: B
Young, young, young, young, young. They’re young. That’s all we ever talked about with this Texas team. They were too young to win, too young to reach the NCAA Tournament and too young to finally pull out a close game. Myck Kabongo was too young to lead this team. For most of the season, this was a fairly accurate depiction of the Longhorns. They blew two games against Oregon State and NC State in a November tournament, they got blown out of the water by North Carolina in Chapel Hill, and they lost close game after close game in Big 12 competition. In late February, it looked like Rick Barnes might miss the NCAA Tournament for the first time ever at Texas. Nobody was helping J’Covan Brown on the offensive end, and the Longhorns were playing into the self-fulfilling prophecy of youth. Thanks to a weak bubble, however, the Longhorns did just enough to stay in at-large contention until the Big 12 Tournament. In a must-win game against Iowa State in Kansas City, the Longhorns grew up. Kabongo played like a true floor leader as his team edged the Cyclones in an intense, back-to-the-wall atmosphere. Texas’ season ended without a victory in the NCAA Tournament, but at least it made it there.