A Handy Preview of Big 12 Opening Friday

Posted by Brian Goodman on December 30th, 2016

Thought to be headed for a down year, the Big 12 opened the 2016-17 campaign by notching several high-profile victories in neutral-site events across the country and in the Bahamas. With a handful of exceptions, it’s been quiet since as teams have taken advantage of buy-game opponents to firm up their rotations and find their identities. Activity slowed even more over the Christmas weekend, but the season is finally back from its slumber with the first full slate of conference match-ups tipping off today. Here’s a breakdown of the five best angles and storylines to follow as you settle in for the New Year’s Eve-Eve Big 12 feast.

Jawun Evans and Oklahoma State have a chance to make a statement against #11 WVU. (Alonzo Adams/USA TODAY Sports)

Jawun Evans and Oklahoma State have a chance to make an early statement in Big 12 play against #11 West Virginia. (Alonzo Adams/USA TODAY Sports)

  • West Virginia at Oklahoma State (4:00 ET, ESPN2) – In this afternoon’s opener, Bob Huggins gets a chance to exact revenge on former assistant Brad Underwood after the latter’s Lumberjacks bounced the Mountaineers from last season’s NCAA Tournament. West Virginia and Oklahoma State both feature aggressive defenses, with Press Virginia still thriving and Underwood installing more of a half-court press-and-trap look. Both teams rank among the top five nationally in offensive rebounding and in the bottom 50 in defensive rebounding, so the team that makes the most of its second chances could be the difference here.
  • Texas Tech at Iowa State (6:00 ET, ESPNEWS) – The Red Raider defense has shown an interesting indifference to the deep ball this season, ranking 345th in opponent three-point field goal attempt rate and allowing a greater percentage of their opponents’ scoring to come from beyond the arc than all but three other teams. It hasn’t cost 11-1 Texas Tech to this point, but that record came against the country’s third-easiest non-conference schedule, so take it with a grain of salt. While Iowa State doesn’t let it fly under Steve Prohm like it did under Fred Hoiberg, the experienced core of Monte’ MorrisDeonte Burton, Naz Mitrou-Long and Matt Thomas are all shooting 35 percent or better from beyond the arc. An improved showing on the perimeter defensively will be crucial if Texas Tech is to notch an impressive road win in Ames.

  • Baylor at Oklahoma (7:00 ET, ESPN2) – As good as Baylor has been so far this season, the Bears haven’t played a team of significance since their resounding win over Xavier back on December 3. To boot, tonight’s tilt marks their first true road game of the season. On the other side, the Sooners haven’t lost four games in a row since February 2012 — Lon Kruger‘s first season in Norman. Baylor, however, isn’t the kind of team against which struggling teams can iron out their kinks. While Oklahoma may be slightly better than its middling 6-5 record suggests, the Sooners are catching the undefeated Bears at a bad time with Jordan Woodard recovering from a leg injury that caused him to miss last week’s game against Auburn, and a bench that has provided very little in the way of quality depth.
  • Texas at Kansas State (8:00 ET, ESPNEWS) – These two teams haven’t shown much of anything to this point, but that statement is meant in two different ways. Texas essentially lit its non-conference schedule on fire, dropping six of their first 12 games, including all four games that took place away from the Erwin Center. As RTC’s Drew Andrews wrote yesterday, the Wildcats look like a solid team, but their NCAA Tournament fate (and perhaps Bruce Weber‘s, as well) will rest on what they do against Big 12 foes. A win against a talented but lost Longhorns team would be a nice start on Kansas State’s journey to March.
  • Kansas at TCU (9:00 ET, ESPN2) – KenPom estimates the Jayhawks as “only” five-point favorites to win tonight’s game in Fort Worth, but it shouldn’t be that close. With the Horned Frogs’ football team playing in a bowl game this afternoon, packing Schollmaier Arena probably won’t be high on fans’ priority list. Dallas-area Jayhawk fans have turned out well for this matchup in recent years, neutralizing any presumptive home court advantage TCU may have expected, and I expect that to continue tonight. In terms of performance, Jamie Dixon‘s team is similar to Kansas State in that it has loaded up on cupcakes and dropped the only truly challenging game on their docket (SMU). TCU, also like Kansas State, looks like an improved team, but asking the Horned Frogs to knock off a national title contender, even at home, is above their weight level right now.
Brian Goodman (987 Posts)

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

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