Grading the Big 12’s 2011-12 Season: Top Half

Posted by rtmsf on April 6th, 2012

Yesterday we gave you our season grades for the bottom half of the Big 12. Today we bring you the top half.

5. Kansas State (22-11, 10-8)

McGruder Led a Surprising K-State Team This Season


Despite all of the personnel question marks and the graduation of star Jacob Pullen, you had the sense Frank Martin would figure something out. He certainly did, as his team weathered a mid-season swoon to finish strong and reach another NCAA Tournament. Martin may have left for South Carolina after the season, but his final Kansas State team fought hard in 2011-12 despite a load of adversity. A December championship at the Diamond Head Classic helped the Wildcats enter the Top 25 before Big 12 play, but poor offensive execution and a lack of consistency on the defensive end doomed the Wildcats during the winter. They weren’t playing like Martin’s teams usually did. They weren’t tough, and it showed, starting 1-3 in Big 12 play and dropping four home games in Manhattan. Oklahoma swept them. Things were getting ugly, and they hit rock bottom after a home loss to Kansas on Big Monday on February 13. That’s when Martin turned this thing around and solidified an NCAA Tournament berth. The Wildcats got back to the basics: defense, rebounding and delivering a knockout punch to opponents. Rodney McGruder stepped up his play as the team’s star, helping it win four of five games to close the season, including road wins at Baylor and Missouri. The controversial suspension of Jamar Samuels left Kansas State without its best forward in an NCAA Third Round game against Syracuse, but it’s impressive that this team even reached that point. With McGruder presumably returning next year, first-year coach Bruce Weber will have a lot to work with. Angel Rodriguez should be even better as a sophomore, and Will Spradling and Jordan Henriquez should grow, too.

4. Iowa State (23-11, 12-6) 


The Transfer Effect worked to Iowa State’s benefit this year. In December, we wrote a piece questioning Fred Hoiberg’s recruiting tactics, as he’d brought in four Division I transfers this season. It took a while for everybody to get acclimated, resulting in a couple of losses to Drake and Northern Iowa during an inconsistent non-conference stretch. But once league play began, this team took off. Royce White took the nation by storm with his wild hair and versatile play, showing an ability to run the Cyclones’ offense as a sort of point-forward. He emerged as one of the most fascinating and entertaining players to watch in college basketball, but the team around him helped add to the fun. These guys shot lights-out from beyond the arc, including senior Scott Christopherson, who finished with the highest three-point percentage in the Big 12 (45.5%) for players with more than four attempts per game. Hoiberg added a fresh energy to this program, leading ISU to a victory over Connecticut in the NCAA Tournament. His team even briefly competed against Kentucky before falling apart late in that matchup. There was no fairy-tale March run for The Mayor, but given time, his program may eventually reach those heights. The 2011-12 season marked a major turning point for the Cyclones.

3. Baylor (30-8, 12-6)


For some reason, both media and fans seem to find enjoyment in piling on to Scott Drew. Supposedly, Drew is not a coach but one who amasses talent, and his team’s are said to play undisciplined and selfish basketball. During a 17-0 start, that talk subsided somewhat. But it arose again when the Bears began to lose in Big 12 play, even though they never really suffered a bad loss at any point in time. By the end of the season, though, Baylor began to find its groove. Pierre Jackson, a star from the junior college ranks who entered the year with a lot of expectations, made the difference at the point guard position. A year before his arrival, Perry Jones, Quincy Acy and the rest of the crew had nobody to facilitate offense for them. But Jackson’s presence changed that, as did Brady Heslip‘s shooting ability and the arrival of freshman Quincy Miller. When the NCAA Tournament rolled around, Drew’s team looked a lot like the team that won its first 17 games. The Bears ramped up their defense by disrupting opponents in a zone with their ridiculous length, and they rode that strategy all the way to the Elite Eight. This team’s season ended with a valiant effort in a loss to eventual champion Kentucky. What more can you ask for from a team that is supposed to be selfish and a coach who supposedly can’t coach?

2. Missouri (30-5, 14-4)

Marcus Denmon Had an All-America Season


For five months, the Tigers’ season resembled a script straight out of Hollywood. Before it even played a game, MU 1) hired an unsuccessful coach in April to replace the departed Mike Anderson; 2) later learned the NCAA would investigate that coach’s former team for rampant violations; 3) lost its top returning forward to an ACL injury; 4) lost a reserve to transfer; and 5) fielded a team with seven scholarship players in the rotation including only two forwards. New head coach Frank Haith found a way to rally his team around all this adversity, even without Laurence Bowers and Ricky Kreklow. His team was small, but that hardly mattered. Led by All-American Marcus Denmon, Kim English and the dynamic Michael Dixon/Phil Pressey point guard duo, these high-flying guards shot their way to a 14-0 start. Despite a few hiccups in Big 12 play — mostly when big man Ricardo Ratliffe got into foul trouble — the Tigers were still able to split with rival Kansas and won the Big 12 Tournament as a two seed. Ascending all the way to the top-five of the national rankings, Haith cried on national television after his team won that tourney title. Then, in an instant, it all fell apart. 15th-seeded Norfolk State stunned the Tigers in the opening round of the NCAA Tournament, exposing Missouri’s lackluster defense and lack of size. In two hours, five months of work fell apart, tarnishing Haith’s first season in Columbia. One game does not define a season, so it’s perfectly fair to keep Missouri in the “A” range for a successful regular season, but the NCAA Tournament is part of a team’s legacy too. And that portion of the season turned into an embarrassment for the Tigers.

1. Kansas (32-7, 16-2) 


So much for a down year. For all of the talk about how Bill Self‘s recruiting had slipped and his Jayhawks were playing without top-flight talent this season, the masterful head coach helped develop Thomas Robinson into an All-American and rode him all the way to the national title game. Tyshawn Taylor capped his career by emerging as a dedicated senior leader, and Jeff Withey and Elijah Johnson‘s improvement each served as a pleasant surprise. It wasn’t always easy for Kansas, of course: It lost to Davidson in Kansas City in November, and a loss to Missouri in February put its streak of Big 12 titles in doubt. Somehow, even a team with two walk-ons in the regular rotation continued to defend as well as any team in the nation, and Robinson’s offensive production catapulted the Jayhawks to another regular season championship and a Final Four appearance. Considering preseason expectations, we wish we could give this team a mark higher than A+.

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