Looking Ahead To The Big 12’s Most Important Games This WeekendPosted by Brian Goodman on January 17th, 2014
This week has been highly entertaining for Big 12 fans. Whether it’s Kansas winning in a return to Hilton Coliseum, Kansas State putting the clamps on Oklahoma‘s high-energy offense, or the most recent development — Texas Tech springing the biggest upset of league play by beating Baylor on Wednesday night — storylines have emerged with each passing game. No school has played more than four games yet, but the Jayhawks are the only team still unscathed in conference play. After a quiet Thursday and Friday, the action resumes tomorrow with four match-ups that will have big implications on the conference race as well as teams’ NCAA Tournament resumes going forward.
Oklahoma State at Kansas (4:00 EST, CBS) – Remember way back in October when Marcus Smart had some interesting — if correct — things to say about Andrew Wiggins? It feels like ages ago, but two of the conference’s best players will finally get a chance to battle it out on the court. Most recently on Wednesday, Smart continued to make his case as the Big 12 POY with a great night against TCU (20 points, eight rebounds, five assists) as the Cowboys rolled the Horned Frogs, while Wiggins posted 17 points and 19 rebounds against Iowa State in a performance that still left some wanting more. Kansas will have its massive homecourt advantage behind it in this one, and the Jayhawks’ frontcourt has to be licking its chops at the idea of battling the Michael Cobbins-less Oklahoma State forwards on the glass. If Brian Williams and Kamari Murphy can’t get comfortable inside, the Cowboys will need to make up for the shortfall in other ways, whether through Smart rising to the occasion, Phil Forte raining threes, Le’Bryan Nash putting up one of his patented hyper-efficient scoring nights, or some combination of the three.
Iowa State at Texas (4:00 EST, ESPN3) – Already down two games in the loss column, Iowa State now has some catching up to do. How will the Cyclones follow up Monday’s lackluster effort on the boards against another big team in the Longhorns? ISU will also need to be concerned with Texas’ size with regard to getting shots up, as the Longhorns block 18 percent of opponents’ field goal attempts, a rate which ranks them fourth in the nation. Meanwhile, Texas could use a big win since its victory over North Carolina doesn’t have the luster it had when the Longhorns knocked off the Tar Heels in Chapel Hill last month. Cameron Ridley and Jonathan Holmes will have the size advantage down low, but Rick Barnes will need big games from its backcourt rotation of the up-and-down Javan Felix, Isaiah Taylor and Demarcus Holland.
Oklahoma at Baylor (2:00 EST, ESPN2) – Like Texas, Baylor has an NCAA Tournament resume that is reliant on a couple of wins over teams that don’t look quite as good now as they did then: Kentucky is still one of the best teams in the country, but they aren’t the world-beaters many thought they could be, and Colorado will have an uphill battle to stay in projected brackets due to recent injuries to Spencer Dinwiddie and Tre’Shaun Fletcher. Head coach Scott Drew, however, can’t worry about other teams, as he has enough to be concerned with on his own squad in Waco. Baylor’s defense in league play has been awful, surrendering 1.10 points per possession in three games, and that includes tilts against TCU and Texas Tech. The Bears could be in for a long afternoon against Oklahoma’s potent offense, which is hoping to bounce back after Monday’s loss to Kansas State. Look for Cameron Clark and Buddy Hield to pace the Sooners on offense, but the outcome could rest on how much success Ryan Spangler has on the glass against the likes of Cory Jefferson and Rico Gathers.
West Virginia at Kansas State (1:30 EST, ESPN3) – Five days after putting the brakes on Cameron Clark and company, Kansas State will have to lock down another team capable of putting up some gaudy numbers. West Virginia has a top-40 offense, but the Mountaineers are very reliant on making threes to be successful. When they don’t get hot from deep, there just isn’t enough else for them to fall back on, as we’ve learned any time Bob Huggins‘ squad has lost to a decent team. That bodes well for Kansas State, which is holding opponents to a frosty 26.7 percent clip from distance. On the other end, the Mountaineers’ defense has been mediocre at best, and if they don’t get the kinks worked out in Bramlage Coliseum, Marcus Foster, Shane Southwell and Thomas Gipson can make them pay. West Virginia needs a win here more than Kansas State does, but losing two of three in advance of road trips to Austin and Ames would be a tough hole for the Wildcats to survive.