Big 12 Season Wrap: the Highs, the Lows, All the In-BetweensPosted by dnspewak on April 15th, 2013
In a big-picture sense, the Big 12 provided us with no surprises this season. Kansas won the league again, TCU finished in last place, five teams made the NCAA Tournament, and all was right with the world. It wouldn’t have taken Nostradamus to make those predictions. That doesn’t mean it wasn’t an interesting six months, however. There were flops–most notably from the state of Texas. There were overachievers–most notably from the state of Oklahoma. There were thrilling finishes, blown calls, standout freshmen and that one time Kansas somehow lost to TCU. Oh, and one team even won a championship this season in, well, the wrong tournament.
Game of the Year: Kansas 68, Oklahoma State 67 (February 20)
This showdown in Stillwater was simultaneously the best and worst game of the Big 12 season. How’s that for logic? After the Cowboys stunned Kansas at Allen Fieldhouse earlier in the winter and literally celebrated by doing back flips on the court, this revenge game took on even more importance in the league standings. Had Oklahoma State won, it would have seized the proverbial driver’s seat along with Kansas State and would have made the Jayhawks’ path to the regular season title very difficult. We had drama. We had overtime. Two, actually. And we had a game-winner in the final minute of regulation by Naadir Tharpe, who shook off a rusty performance to hit the go-ahead jumper with 16 seconds to play. Instant classic, right? Certainly. The problem was, it was perhaps the ugliest game ever played by two top-15 opponents on the same floor. Kansas did not make a field goal in the first overtime and it did not make a field goal in the second overtime until Tharpe’s game-winner. That’s almost 10 minutes of basketball without a basket. In overtime! Overall, the two teams combined to shoot five for 32 from beyond the arc. Ben McLemore played 49 minutes, missed nine of 12 shot attempts and finished with seven points after barely touching the ball in the overtime periods. And that’s the best game of the year? We still stand by our decision. This was the game that changed the complexity of the Big 12 title race, and two free periods of basketball is never a bad thing.
- Kansas 108, Iowa State 96 (February 25): Asterisk on this one. Kansas beat Iowa State in Ames — where the Cyclones hadn’t lost in more than a year — but it needed a blown call at the end of regulation to get the opportunity. You remember the situation. Elijah Johnson‘s charging toward the basket with five seconds left in the game, his team trailing by two points. Georges Niang sets his feet and takes what appears to be a pretty standard charge. But there’s no call, the ball bounces on the floor and the officials eventually blow the whistle on Niang during a scramble. That allows Kansas to tie the game and win in overtime behind Elijah Johnson’s epic 39-point performance. The Big 12 would later admit its referees should have called a charge, but that’s a moot point right now. It’s a shame we’ll remember this game as the No-Call Game as opposed to the Elijah Johnson Game.
- Oklahoma State 74, Baylor 72 (March 14): The Bears needed a victory in this Big 12 quarterfinal to give themselves a chance for an at-large bid in the NCAA Tournament. Then they fell behind by 20 points. Dead in the water. Except Pierre Jackson started raining jumpers and floaters all over the place, and Baylor inexplicably tied the game in the final minute of regulation. But the officials made a controversial foul call (that’s a trend this year, across all conferences) and sent Phil Forte to the line, where he made both. That’s an exciting finish in and of itself. But it got even better: Nobody’s quite sure how it happened, but with just seconds left on a desperation, mad-dash possession, Jackson dribbled straight through two Oklahoma State defenders and found himself absolutely, completely wide open from three-point land. He had a chance to win at the buzzer. No hands contesting him, no defender in sight. He missed. That sent the Bears to the NIT, and at least they won that tournament. But Jackson’s failed buzzer-beater signaled the end of Baylor’s tourney chances, and it was another dark moment during an underachieving season.
The “What In the World” Moment: TCU over Kansas
It was one of those “Where Were You?” moments: Where were you when TCU beat Kansas? I was at a restaurant with a few co-workers. One of them got an update on his phone that said Kansas had 13 points at halftime and trailed by nine. Say what? That’s when I, and the rest of the country, turned on ESPNU to tune into the end. There was no way that the Horned Frogs, who hadn’t even yet won a single Big 12 game in their inaugural season, could knock off the Jayhawks. As the second half wore on, though, Kansas continued to sputter. It shot 29.5 percent from the field, bricked three-pointers left and right and wound up being on the wrong side of a miracle. The student section then participated in the most predictable and encouraged Rush the Court in college basketball history.
Biggest Surprises: Oklahoma and Oklahoma State
It wasn’t surprising that Oklahoma State had a good year. With the addition of freshman Marcus Smart to team with sophomore Le’Bryan Nash, just about everybody figured this team had the guards, athleticism and intangibles to at least make the NCAA Tournament. That would have been just fine for Travis Ford after a losing season in 2011-12, but the Cowboys went above and beyond those expectations. For all the hype Smart got in the preseason for his leadership abilities, he managed to shatter even those insane expectations and developed into one of the steadiest point guards in the country. He was a dual-threat player who could guard anybody, knock down shots and run his team. The Cowboys slaughtered North Carolina State in the Puerto Rico Tip-Off in November, entered the Top 25 and never looked back, despite a rough stretch at the beginning of the Big 12 play. Their in-state rival Oklahoma never cracked the polls, but Lon Kruger also had a surprising second season in Norman. It wasn’t easy to gauge this team in the pre-season. Kruger had a lot of experienced players returning, but they’d never really won anything. Thankfully, his influx of freshmen guards helped energize this team. He benched Sam Grooms and Andrew Fitzgerald, remade his rotation and relied heavily on freshmen like Buddy Hield and Je’lon Hornbeak. Something worked. His veterans and young guys blended perfectly and found a way to win 11 Big 12 games and qualify for the NCAA Tournament for the first time since the Blake Griffin days. It wasn’t easy to watch the Sooners go cold at times on the offensive end, and they closed the season by losing at TCU, blowing a big lead in the quarterfinals of the Big 12 Tournament against Iowa State and bowing out to San Diego State in the NCAA Tournament. Still, all things considered, you couldn’t ask for anything more out of Kruger.
Biggest Busts: Texas and Baylor
Texas got jobbed with the Myck Kabongo ruling. Rick Barnes has an excuse with that, and he also had a roster consisting entirely of freshmen and sophomores. That’s not a recipe for success, but this team appeared to have a lot of individual ability and could have at least contended for an NCAA Tournament berth. We learned immediately that would not happen. The Longhorns didn’t just lose to Chaminade in Maui, but they got blown out of the gym. That was in November. It never got better, not until Kabongo returned in mid-February. At that point, Barnes’ team was 11-12. The season was over. As frustrating as that must have been for Texas, it wasn’t as disgraceful as Baylor’s performance this season. It returned the league’s best player in point guard Pierre Jackson and had a new line of studs in the frontcourt, but Scott Drew‘s team dropped some head-scratchers in non-conference play and never found its groove once January rolled around. Even with Isaiah Austin and Cory Jefferson averaging nearly double-doubles, Baylor finished 9-9 in league play and missed the NCAA Tournament. It’s nice to see the Bears regrouped to win the NIT, but even that title won’t make up for a sixth-place finish in the Big 12.
Quote of the Year
”It was the worst team that Kansas ever put on the floor, since Dr. Naismith was there. I think he had some bad teams when he lost to Topeka YMCA and things like that in the first couple years.” — Bill Self after the TCU loss