Big 12 Observations a Month Into the SeasonPosted by Taylor Erickson on December 6th, 2013
With a month of action in the 2013-14 college basketball season now under our belts, the natural question becomes what exactly have we learned so far? We’ve been treated to some impressive performances, by both Big 12 teams and individuals, and a good number of less-than-impressive efforts. And while the buzz of Christmas season is firmly upon us, we’re also in the meat of a non-conference slate with several high-profile games involving the Big 12’s elite, allowing us further opportunity to draw more concrete conclusions. For the time being, though, four weeks into the season, here are a few observations worth keeping an eye on.
- Marcus Smart is actually human after all. Seriously, after exploding for 39 points against Memphis, Smart followed that up with 25- and 30-point performances against South Florida and Purdue, and left many in college basketball wondering if he had transformed into some sort of Space Jam Monstar in the offseason. The Oklahoma State point guard struggled in the Cowboys’ second match-up with Memphis, finishing with 12 points and two costly turnovers in a close game down the stretch. I’m not sure there’s another player in college basketball who seems to be better at harnessing his emotions in a positive way than Smart, so if there’s one thing worth betting on this season, it’s that the sophomore from Flower Mound, Texas, will find a way to bounce back quickly from a disappointing performance.
- Kansas State will need to look more like a Frank Martin-led Wildcat team. After abysmal performances against Northern Colorado and Charlotte to start this season, it’s obvious that points for Bruce Weber’s squad will be at a premium. That’s not to say there isn’t hope, however, as freshman Marcus Foster has shown early he has the ability to put points on the board, but outside of he and senior guard Shane Southwell, there’s just not a ton of scoring to go around. K-State turned a Thursday night match-up against Marshall Henderson and Ole Miss into an ugly, can’t-hardly-stand-to-watch, grind-it-out-type of game that resulted in a 61-58 victory, not all that different from how the program’s previous coach (Martin) had them winning games year in and year out. That said, Weber’s motion offense took much of the non-conference season a year ago before things really started to gel, so perhaps by the time this conference season rolls around, Kansas State will be able to compete with the league’s elite.
- Kansas will not be exempt from experiencing growing pains. Bill Self’s Jayhawks began the season with one of the youngest teams in the nation, but made a statement early with a win against Duke in the Champions Classic. Home blowout wins over Iona and Towson suggested that Self and company would continue to breeze through their non-conference schedule before difficult road tests at Colorado and Florida. And then the Battle 4 Atlantis came, and lackluster performances resulted in a third-place finish in the Bahamas. Kansas will need to bounce back quickly as it enters a gauntlet of a schedule with road games at the aforementioned Colorado and Florida before home games against Georgetown and San Diego State with a neutral site (although only by name) against New Mexico in Kansas City sandwiched in between. If there’s one thing that’s certain, it’s that Self will use the non-conference to get his team to buy in to his philosophy and by the time Big 12 play rolls around, Kansas will be clicking.
- Will Baylor continue to be Baylor? Don’t get me wrong, the Bears are as talented as anyone in the league and have had more success in the NCAA Tournament under Scott Drew than anyone in the league except Kansas, but it almost always feels like Baylor can’t quite get over the hump of becoming an elite college basketball team. The first opportunity for that recognition presented itself in the Maui Invitational championship game where the Bears were bounced by Syracuse. Their second chance to make a statement will come this evening when they square off with Kentucky in the Jerry Dome in Arlington, Texas. This showdown should be entertaining for a variety of reasons, highlighted by the match-up in the frontcourt. Julius Randle for Kentucky has thrived early in the season by outworking and out-muscling less-talented bigs, but Baylor’s Cory Jefferson should be able to stand up to Randle from a physical standpoint. If Isaiah Austin is ready to compete at the NBA level, he’ll have the opportunity to prove that as he goes against what many consider a future lottery pick in Willie Cauley-Stein. A win against John Calipari and company would go a long way for Baylor as the Bears enter Big 12 play.
- TCU is going to beat several teams in the Big 12 this season. Trent Johnson’s squad certainly isn’t going to be flashy or wow you with their talent, but make no mistake about it, TCU is an improved team this go-round. There’s no doubt the Great Alaska Shootout field isn’t what it used to be, but the Horned Frogs finished second after losing to Harvard in the championship game with wins in the first two rounds against Alaska-Anchorage and Tulsa. Neither of the latter two are traditional basketball powers by any means, but for a program building from where they were when Johnson took over the helm, any win is a good win. TCU followed that performance up with a fairly convincing 10-point victory at Mississippi State on Thursday night in the Big 12/SEC Challenge. There will be times when they’ll be outmatched from a talent standpoint in league play, but sleeping on TCU on a trip to Fort Worth would be a poor decision, and if you don’t believe me, just ask Kansas last season.