Not Every Big 12 Team Has Elevated Itself in Non-Conference PlayPosted by Drew Andrews on December 9th, 2016
The Big 12 has gotten off to a very good start in non-conference play, with several teams already notching important wins for Selection Sunday and the league sitting in the top spot in Ken Pomeroy’s conference ratings and second in the RPI. West Virginia beat Virginia in Charlottesville; Kansas knocked off Duke in the Champions Classic; and Baylor owns six top 100 wins including those over Louisville, Xavier and Oregon. As well as those three teams have represented the conference nationally, another trio of Big 12 schools — Oklahoma State, Kansas State and Texas Tech — are still looking for a signature win.
Oklahoma State has started the season on a scoring tear. As expected, Jawun Evans leads the team in usage but he hasn’t had to go it alone. Phil Forte and Jeffrey Carroll are both top 100 offensive players nationally who can help Evans carry the scoring load. The concern for when the Cowboys get to conference play will be about how an already shaky defense can hold up against stronger competition. North Carolina scored 107 points in a blowout win in Maui, and, while the Cowboys rank fourth nationally in steal rate, that gambling style of defense has led to a surplus of open looks from three-point range (opponents are making 39.2 percent of their threes against the Pokes). A talent advantage has mostly masked these deficiencies to this point, but Big 12 play is likely to expose Oklahoma State if Brad Underwood doesn’t improve his defense.
The issue for Kansas State the last two seasons has been a very poor non-conference schedule that did Bruce Weber no favors at the end of the regular season. This team’s strength of schedule to date (341st nationally) again gives the committee nothing to draw from an 8-1 record. The Wildcats really needed their one-point loss to Maryland to go the other way, but instead they’re left with victories over Nebraska-Omaha or Green Bay (take your pick) as their best non-conference wins of the season (Kansas State will draw a middling Tennessee squad in the Big 12/SEC Challenge, so that could end up as the best win). The good news for Kansas State is that going 11-1 heading into conference play will provide the team with great confidence, but it will take a 9-9 record and a strong showing against the top half of the league for Weber to get back to the NCAA Tournament.
Owning a strength of schedule ranked 339th to date, Texas Tech is in a similar position. Fortunately for new head coach Chris Beard, anything he accomplishes this season will be considered a boon. A home win over Rice doesn’t exactly inspire much confidence as the Red Raiders’ best victory, but the bigger problem is that Texas Tech does not have a non-conference opponent left on the schedule that can legitimately boost its resume. Beard is hoping that his roster’s experience of mostly juniors and seniors can continue its methodical (327th in tempo) and efficient offensive play (10th nationally in effective field goal percentage) to steal a couple wins against the most talented teams in the Big 12.
Each of these three teams have the requisite talent and experience to make some noise in conference play, but the pressure is on to defend home court and get those league wins in order for their programs to make the NCAA Tournament.