Big 12 Contenders Slip While Middle Tier Shows Improvement in Holiday EventsPosted by Brian Goodman on December 3rd, 2013
The conclusion of last week’s barrage of holiday tournaments is as good a checkpoint as any to take stock of the Big 12. Overall, it wasn’t a good week for the conference, as its membership failed to pick up a single exempt-event crown despite some great opportunities. The league’s heavyweight contenders sputtered out while teams in the conference’s mid-pack seemed to come away with the biggest boosts going forward. There’s a lot to go over, so let’s take a look at the week that was.
Kansas - The Jayhawks had a frustrating time in the Battle 4 Atlantis, as they failed to make the championship round of the event. Kansas hit some timely shots as it came back against Villanova in the semifinals, but the Jayhawks were done in by a Ryan Arcidiacano three in the final minute. They left the island with a pair of wins, but victories over Wake Forest and UTEP weren’t what Bill Self was counting on as the highlights of the trip; and lukewarm performances by Andrew Wiggins will only fuel the skeptics even though his overall numbers are still very good. The Jayhawks have a high ceiling, but they’re still a ways from reaching it. Kansas buried just 10 three-pointers over three games in the tournament, or, put another way, as many as Chaminade’s Christophe Varidel canned on Monday night alone. The Jayhawks are also allowing far more two-point buckets than even the flimsiest of Bill Self’s defenses have let up. It doesn’t help that KU’s defensive rebounding fell back to earth after an otherworldly start in that category. It isn’t time to panic in Lawrence, but it doesn’t get any easier as Kansas will square off with even higher-profile teams (including Florida and Georgetown) before conference play tips off in January.
Oklahoma State - The Old Spice Classic was one long wake-up call for the Cowboys, a team that hadn’t been seriously tested coming into the event. Sunday’s loss to Memphis, underscored by Marcus Smart‘s inauspicious night, is still fresh in everyone’s mind, but it’s worth pointing out that Oklahoma State had trouble in the first two rounds as well. The Cowboys struggled to put Purdue away, giving up 58 second-half points to the Boilermakers, and on Saturday they had to hold on for dear life against Butler while both teams lit their final possessions on fire. Like their biggest challengers to the Big 12 title, Oklahoma State came home with a pair of wins, but they didn’t do much to inspire confidence going forward.
Baylor - Scott Drew‘s team captured a pair of wins at the Maui Invitational before coming up short against Syracuse in the finals. While the Bears weren’t favored to beat the Orange, they had plenty of opportunities to come out on top, but as we’ve seen from Baylor in so many big games over the years, careless mistakes came back to bite them. The trip wasn’t all for naught, though, as their win over Dayton on Tuesday will earn the Bears some mileage when it comes to NCAA Tournament seeding. Isaiah Austin and company have one last big non-conference test this Friday evening when they play Kentucky in Dallas before facing a lineup of cupcakes to wrap up non-league play.
Texas – The Longhorns performed slightly better than expected in the CBE Hall of Fame Classic in Kansas City, but didn’t come away with any resume-building victories. Texas trailed BYU by just a point on Monday night with less than a minute to go when Tyler Haws hit a back-breaking runner to put them away, but they responded by punishing DePaul on Tuesday. The loss to BYU could be impactful in the sense that it caused the Longhorns to miss out on a chance at a marquee win over Wichita State, but it’s hard to be too disappointed if you’re a Texas fan. One positive takeaway is that Cameron Ridley is no longer stuck in the mud after a pair of fantastic individual performances down low.
Oklahoma - The Sooners are another team that split their holiday meal, leaving Brooklyn with a close win over Seton Hall and a loss to Michigan State. Oklahoma obviously would have liked to return to Norman with a shiny win over the number one team in the country, but the Sooners are still a group that will bite better teams if they are not taken seriously. Cameron Clark helped the Sooners get out to a 22-11 lead against the Spartans and his refined shooting stroke has been huge for OU, the only team in the conference that has scored at least 80 points in all of its games.
West Virginia - This season’s crew might be the best shooting team that Bob Huggins has fielded in his seven-year stay in Morgantown. The Mountaineers under Huggins have never been known for their firepower beyond the arc, but they scalded the nets to the tune of a 19-of-40 clip in Cancun last week and are now shooting a ridiculous 46.5 percent from long distance on the year. West Virginia gave Wisconsin a good fight on Wednesday after beating Old Dominion a day earlier, but ultimately fell to the Badgers. The Mountaineers will need to get their offensive rebounding and free throw shooting back to where Huggins likes it if they want to break into the top half of the conference.
Kansas State - Kory Carpenter assessed the Wildcats’ early season struggles, which includes two losses in the Puerto Rico Tip-Off that ended last Sunday, so we won’t go into much detail here, but we also can’t let their performance get lost in the shuffle. Their loss to Charlotte doesn’t look quite as bad as it first looked since the 49ers went on to beat Michigan, but the trip was still a disappointment. The Wildcats took out their frustrations by blowing out Central Arkansas on Sunday, but crushing one of the worst KenPom teams won’t disguise any of the numerous issues facing Kansas State as it tries to snap out of a month-long funk.
Texas Tech - The Red Raiders couldn’t stay close with Pittsburgh at the Barclays Center, but they did come home with a win over Houston in the team’s first victory in three tries against top-200 teams. Last Monday’s game against the Panthers was the first one in which they weren’t competitive, and if Tubby Smith‘s team can just get to the line more often (four players are shooting at least 75 percent from the charity stripe, but Tech currently owns the league’s worst free throw rate) and improve their three-point shooting, they’ll have a chance to pull a couple of stunners come league play.
TCU - The slow rebuild continues in Fort Worth after TCU beat a mediocre Tulsa team and was run out of the gym by Harvard in Anchorage. That’s okay for now, considering the laundry list of injuries that the Horned Frogs are dealing with and their current position on the developmental curve, but hopefully they’ll be more competitive against NCAA Tournament-level teams as they get their personnel back.