A Month Into the Season: Six Big 12 Revelations

Posted by Brian Goodman on December 10th, 2014

Nearly a month into the season, the Big 12 has enjoyed a standout non-conference campaign with several wins over Power Five opponents. For the most part, the conference’s best teams are living up to their hype, while the middle-tier teams are showing signs of  fulfilling their potential as well. While all eyes are on the title race between Kansas and Texas, here are six other storylines you might be missing.

Bryce Dejean-Jones has turned into a hyper-efficient shooter under Fred Hoiberg (sorry, UNLV fans). (AP/Charlie Neibergall)

Bryce Dejean-Jones has turned into a hyper-efficient scorer under Fred Hoiberg (sorry, UNLV fans). (AP/Charlie Neibergall)

  1. Bryce Dejean-Jones could be Fred Hoiberg’s best transfer yet. The Mayor has taken many a flawed transfer and turned him into an All-Big 12 selection. On its own this isn’t exactly a revelation, but you probably didn’t expect Bryce Dejean-Jones to be such a white-hot scorer. Through seven games, he’s shooting 56.8 percent from the floor, 41.7 percent from the three-point line and 89.7 percent from the free throw stripe. He’s also pitching in on the glass, corralling 6.9 rebounds per game. As if that isn’t scary enough for the rest of the Big 12, Dejean-Jones is the second option in the Cyclones’ offense, as Georges Niang hasn’t had any trouble picking up where he left off after getting hurt in last season’s NCAA Tournament. Dejean-Jones’ latest excellent performance came against UMKC on Tuesday night, as he put up 22 points on 9-of-12 shooting, including a 2-of-4 effort from beyond the arc.
  2. We need to be patient with Myles Turner. It’s tempting to look at Texas freshman Myles Turner’s numbers on the year (11.4 points, 6.9 rebounds and 2.9 blocks per game) and conclude that he’s coming along just fine, but if you dig deeper into his games against high-major competition, he hasn’t been nearly that good — averaging just 5.8 points, 5.5 rebounds and 1.8 blocks in games against Iowa, Cal, UConn and Kentucky. This is by no means a knock on the heralded freshman, who was a late bloomer on the recruiting circuit, but it’s become clear that when it comes to legitimate competition, Turner is going to need some time to develop into the rangy, efficient scorer who can lift Texas over Kansas in the Big 12 standings. He’s still in the process of realizing how good he can be, and with Texas’ surplus of big men on the roster, Rick Barnes is still figuring out how to best utilize his young phenom. On the plus side, you’ll be treated to a show if you have the means to watch any of the Longhorns’ next three games (vs. Texas State, Lipscomb and Long Beach State), as Turner hasn’t had any trouble showing off his tools and production against inferior competition.
  3. Kansas State’s defense could cost them an NCAA Tournament bid. The Wildcats were supposed to be at least as good as last year’s version thanks to the additions of Brandon BoldenStephen Hurt and Justin Edwards, but this season has not yet gone as planned. Kansas State’s offense has been acceptable, but the defense has taken a total nosedive, allowing a conference-worst 1.02 points per possession one year after fielding the Big 12’s stingiest defense. Opposing offenses are shooting over 50 percent on twos and 37 percent on threes, which simply isn’t going to cut it in the long run, Thomas Gipson has been a non-factor on the glass even by his low standards and the Wildcats are blocking only 7.2 percent of opponents’ shots. The intensity of Kansas State’s schedule has been a factor in the team’s 5-4 record as well, as Tuesday’s win over Bradley was just its third home date of the season, but while no rational coach would turn down an opportunity to participate in the Maui Invitational, it is fair to wonder if Kansas State overscheduled, and I think they did. Bruce Weber’s team stayed close with Arizona and beat Purdue in Hawaii, but apart from that, they’ve been much worse than advertised, and their streak of consecutive NCAA Tournament appearances could end at five if they don’t pick up the slack.

    Kansas State's abysmal defense has been the biggest disappointment of the Big 12's season. (USA Today/Brian Spurlock)

    Kansas State’s abysmal defense has been the Big 12’s biggest disappointment. (USA Today/Brian Spurlock)

  4. It’s time to board the Baylor roller coaster. According to KenPom, the Bears are among the top 15 squads in the country. They have two true road wins and their only loss, which came on a neutral court to Illinois, may have turned out differently if Kenny Chery had been available. On top of that, Rico Gathers has been a beast on the offensive glass, providing key second-chance opportunities for a team that hasn’t shot well inside the arc. If you aren’t a Scott Drew cynic, that should be enough to convince you to buy in on Baylor to round out the top half of the conference behind Kansas, Texas, Iowa State and Oklahoma. I can’t promise you the Bears won’t suffer a perplexing loss like the one to Texas Tech last season or against the Texas team that missed the NCAA Tournament in 2013, but in the early going, they’ve done more from a resume standpoint than West Virginia and Kansas State, which were picked by the Big 12’s coaches to have comparable or better years. That isn’t to disparage West Virginia, which I’ll get to in a bit, but Baylor looks the part. Buckle up, everyone.
  5. West Virginia is delivering on Bob Huggins’ promise. In October, the veteran coach vowed that the Mountaineers would “guard again” after their first two seasons in the Big 12 were defined by uncharacteristically mediocre defense, leading to a 30-35 record. Last weekend’s loss to LSU notwithstanding, West Virginia is defending efficiently enough to make a dynamic offense stand up. Juwan Staten and Devin Williams are getting most of the publicity surrounding the Mountaineers’ resurgence and deservedly so, but their contributions have come mostly on the offensive end. To sustain the successful pressure defense that West Virginia has been running (the Mountaineers lead the nation in defensive steals percentage and defensive turnover percentage), you need to have an active and opportunistic rotation, and while Staten has increased his steals average from 1.2 to 1.9 thefts per game, newcomers Jonathan HoltonJevon CarterTarik Phillip and veteran Gary Browne have bought in from the get-go. It’s realistic to expect the Mountaineers’ defense to regress with time, but with their depth — 10 players average at least 13.6 minutes per game — Huggins will have plenty of bodies to throw at the more potent teams in the conference.
  6. TCU is piling up the wins, but they haven’t all been empty. We see a similar drill every year: A cellar-dwelling team in a power conference gets some easy guarantee wins, leading many to think they’ll increase their lot in life, only to fall on their faces when the actual tests come. The regression may still be coming for the Horned Frogs, but with wins over Mississippi State and Ole Miss, they have more victories over top 100 KenPom opponents than, just to name a few, Ohio State, Utah, Georgetown, Minnesota, UConn and UCLA. Perhaps the biggest key for Trent Johnson has been that he finally has a healthy roster, with most of his players available for their team’s toughest challenges. Is this the year the Horned Frogs finally get out of the basement?
Brian Goodman (987 Posts)

Brian Goodman a Big 12 microsite writer. You can follow him on Twitter @BSGoodman.

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