Big 12 Conference Catch-Up: Kansas, Texas and Iowa State

Posted by Brian Goodman & Chris Stone on January 2nd, 2015

As the Big 12 schools conclude their non-conference schedules, it’s a great time to catch up on where the league’s 10 teams stand entering conference play. Once again, Kansas has navigated an arduous schedule, but enough questions remain that we can at least consider the possibility that another team wins the conference. The Jayhawks’ closest challengers are a Texas team that has kept pace despite losing one of the best point guards in the country for an extended period of time, while Iowa State has another high-powered team with a newly-eligible big man who Cyclones fans hope will provide a needed lift on defense.

Kansas (via Chris Stone)

  • Key wins: at Georgetown, Utah (in Kansas City)
  • Key losses: Kentucky (in Indianapolis), at Temple
With two good outings recently, the game finally appears to be slowing down for Kelly Oubre, and that could be bad news for the rest of the Big 12. (Jamie Squire/Getty Images)

With two good outings recently, is the game finally slowing down for hyped Kansas freshman Kelly Oubre? (Jamie Squire/Getty Images)

It’s very easy to watch Kansas’s blowout losses to Kentucky and Temple and write off the Jayhawks as a Big 12 title contender. To do so, however, would ignore the rest of their resume. Kansas has five wins over teams ranked in the top 50 of KenPom’s efficiency rankings; Only Kentucky can match that total. Sophomore Frank Mason is providing Bill Self with his best point guard play since Sherron Collins left Lawrence five years ago. Mason is averaging 11.9 points, 3.8 rebounds, and 4.0 assists per game. Freshman Kelly Oubre is finally emerging as the potential lottery pick he was billed as before the season, having scored 20 points in two of the last three games. Still, those two losses linger. Kentucky dominated the Jayhawks in Indianapolis. Temple rocked Kansas at the Wells Fargo Center. The typical refrain surrounding Kansas has been to trust in Bill Self, the man who has won 10 straight conference titles, but Self is still tinkering with his starting lineup while trying to play through a frontcourt that has struggled to score inside. Kansas is shooting just 52.3 percent on shots at the rim, a number that is nearly 15 percent worse than last season’s mark, according to data from In particular, junior Perry Ellis has seen his shooting percentage decline by over 10 percent as he’s had a difficult time scoring against the size of teams like Kentucky, Georgetown, and Utah. The Jayhawks have their limitations and the losses to Kentucky and Temple showcased them. They’ve also had their triumphs that suggest an ability to compete for another Big 12 championship. Much depends on the consistency of Mason, the continued emergence of Oubre, and the play of bigs like Ellis and Cliff Alexander, but to write off Kansas is to also write off Self’s history and the quality of their non-conference resume. Big 12 coaches won’t make that mistake, and you shouldn’t, either.

Texas (via Brian Goodman)

  • Key wins: Iowa and California (in New York), at UConn
  • Key losses: at Kentucky, Stanford
Texas has a team good enough to dethrone Kansas, but it could depend on the play of Myles Turner. (USA Today)

Texas has a team good enough to dethrone Kansas, but it could depend on the play of Myles Turner. (USA Today)

The Longhorns cruised for the first two weeks of the season, winning their first five games by at least 14 points each. Unfortunately, a wrist injury suffered by point guard Isaiah Taylor on November 20 left Texas without its best point guard for ten games. They probably weren’t going to beat Kentucky at Rupp Arena with him, but without him, they still made it a game, which speaks to just how talented this team is. Jonathan Holmes may not have a defined role at the next level, but he’s been the heart and soul for the 11-2 Longhorns and is shooting a staggering 43.8 percent from three-point land. Cameron RidleyMyles Turner and Prince Ibeh round out a frontcourt that has allowed opponents to shoot just 45.9 percent at the rim. To beat the Longhorns, you either have to get the best of them down low (not likely) or be deadly accurate on jump shots, as Stanford was last week.

The top-to-bottom competitiveness of the Big 12 means that there are never any lulls in the schedule, but it’s worth pointing out that the Longhorns don’t play a road game against any team projected to finish in the top half of the conference until January 26, when they travel to Iowa State. While they’ll still be challenged on a nightly basis, that does buy a little bit of time for Taylor to get back to his usual productive self after he was cleared to return for Saturday’s conference opener against Texas Tech. Whether he has any lingering issues is one of the big questions facing this team, while the other is how consistently Turner performs against legit competition. The rangy 6’11” Turner has yet to log more than 28 minutes in a game and failed to crack double figures against Texas’ five toughest opponents (Iowa, California, UConn, Kentucky and Stanford), but he’s devoured the much less challenging teams on Texas’ schedule.

Iowa State (via Brian Goodman)

  • Key wins: At Iowa, Arkansas
  • Key losses: Maryland (in Kansas City)
Georges Niang leads another high-powered Cyclones squad.

A slimmed-down Georges Niang leads another high-powered Cyclones squad.

For the most part, the Cyclones’ season has gone according to plan: Carpet-bomb opposing defenses with outstanding spacing, transition offense and long-range accuracy and get just enough defense to make it all stand up. Iowa State leads the country in field goal percentage at the rim, converting 81 percent of their close looks, and they’re shooting 60.3 percent on twos overall. They’ve let six of their 11 opponents score at least one point per possession, though, which is an issue they hope can be remedied moving forward, but despite losing DeAndre Kane and Melvin Ejim, Iowa State is doing what they always do.

Perhaps the biggest challenge that’s kept Iowa State from winning more than 12 games in the Fred Hoiberg era has been the absence of a legit paint presence on the defensive end. The Cyclones have traditionally punted on blocked shots in favor of defensive rebounds leading to quick runouts, but that may change with the addition of Jameel McKay, a Marquette transfer who stands 6’9″ with a 7’4″ wingspan. McKay has only been eligible for two games against feeble competition, but he’s looked solid in brief stints. McKay is raw physically and isn’t enough of a two-way player to crack any all-conference lists, but as far as Iowa State’s Big 12 title (and perhaps NCAA Tournament) hopes go, he may be their most important player.

Brian Goodman (987 Posts)

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

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