Big 12 New Year’s Resolutions: Part I

Posted by Chris Stone on December 30th, 2015

The year 2016 is right around the corner and along with it comes Big 12 conference play, as the league gets underway with six games on January 2. Although we know that only a fraction of people ultimately keep their New Year’s resolutions, we figured it wouldn’t hurt to come up with a few challenges for teams in the Big 12 once the ball drops tomorrow night. This is part one of a two-part series.

Kansas: To give Devonte Graham the praise he deserves

Devonte Graham has brought a number of positive changes to Kansas. (Charles Riedel/The Associated Press)

Devonte Graham has brought a number of positive changes to Kansas. (Charles Riedel/The Associated Press)

The focus on Kansas to this point has reasonably and rightfully been on the improved play of Wayne Selden and the consistent performance of senior forward Perry Ellis. However, the Jayhawks’ most under appreciated asset may well be sophomore point guard Devonte Graham. Graham’s move to the starting lineup has been linked to Selden’s rise because it helped free him up offensively, but Graham has provided much more. The sophomore has helped increase the number of turnovers the Jayhawks are causing on defense while simultaneously decreasing the number of turnovers Kansas commits on offense by reducing his personal turnover rate from 20.1 percent to 9.9 percent. Graham’s sophomore emergence has made the Jayhawks a national title contender and he deserves more praise for the role he’s played.

Iowa State: To find rest and relaxation for the Cyclones’ rotation

Naz Mitrou-Long’s recovery from hip surgery hit the Cyclones hard. With Deonte Burton becoming eligible at semester, it looked like Iowa State was set to have a quality eight man rotation heading into conference play. Now that Mitrou-Long’s season is over, coach Steve Prohm has made it clear that he intends to stick with a seven man rotation for the remainder of the season. Iowa State ranks 347th in percentage of bench minutes played with just 21.4 percent of available minutes coming off the bench. Last season, Wisconsin reached the Final Four with similar numbers, so the limited rotation doesn’t rule out a trip to Houston for the Cyclones, but they’ll need all the rest and relaxation they can get on the way there.

Texas: To rediscover defensive rebounding

Cameron Ridley’s fractured left foot only emphasizes this need. Ridley has seen his defensive rebounding rate skyrocket nearly 10 percent in 2015-16. This season Texas has relied on quality shot defense to anchor their top 25 defense, but the Longhorns’ have made things more difficult on themselves by allowing opponents to rebound 33.9 percent of their misses according to KenPom. Last year, that number was a respectable 28.6 percent. While Conner Lammert has seen a moderate decline in his rebounding rate, the biggest change has been Texas’ starting lineup. Last year, the Longhorns’ front line was bolstered by the presence of 6’8” forward Jonathan Holmes. Now, with Shaka Smart regularly playing three guards, Texas is getting hurt on the offensive glass. The Longhorns will need some help from the guards or for Lammert to get back to form as the season goes on to limit second chances.

Kansas State: To maintain their non-conference defense 

Yeah, we are just as surprised as your are, Bruce. But your team is playing some quality ball right now. (USA Today Sports/Scott Sewell)

Yeah, we are just as surprised as your are, Bruce. But your team is playing some quality ball right now. (USA Today Sports/Scott Sewell)

After a difficult season in 2014-15 and a number of offseason departures, Kansas State has jumped out to a 9-2 start in 2015-16. For the Wildcats to make a run at an NCAA Tournament appearance, they’ll need their defense to hold up during conference play. Bruce Weber’s rebuilt squad currently has an adjusted deficiency rating that ranks in the top 25 nationally. They have succeeded by creating a few turnovers and holding opponents to a paltry 26.3 percent from three-point range. However, the Wildcats have played a relatively weak non-conference schedule and the Big 12 features a number of good three-point shooting teams that will put Kansas State’s defense to the test.

TCU: Don’t get fired

This resolution is more directed at Trent Johnson than the TCU team as a whole. The Horned Frogs saw some legitimate progress last season. They finished undefeated in non-conference play and won four games in the Big 12 after going winless in 2013-14. Now, though, it looks like TCU may be taking a step backwards. The Horned Frogs finished their non-conference slate with an 8-4 record and their best win came against a team ranked in the bottom half of Division I according to KenPom. Projected to once again finished 4-14 in the league, Johnson may need to find an upset or two to avoid the hot seat.

Chris Stone (136 Posts)

Chris Stone is a contributor to the Big 12 microsite. You can find him on Twitter @cstonehoops.

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