Big 12 Notebook: Opening Weekend

Posted by Brian Goodman on November 13th, 2017

Most of the Big 12 started its season with resounding victories over the weekend, but the two exceptions were certainly glaring as they came in matchups that pitted teams against programs from other power conferences. After a solid start to the game, West Virginia completely fell apart against Texas A&M on Friday night in Germany. Back in America, Iowa State got much more than it bargained for when the Cyclones agreed to play a very different Missouri program a year ago as the Tigers soundly defeated their old conference foe in Columbia. Elsewhere around the league, two heralded recruits got their first tastes of Division I action and did not disappoint. Here are the three items that stuck out the most over the Big 12’s opening weekend.

1. West Virginia falls flat against Texas A&M.

Texas A&M handled West Virginia’s press with ease on Friday night. (Michael Probst/AP)

When the Mountaineer press is working and they’re crashing the offensive glass, West Virginia is incredibly tough to beat. This is not a new development, but it’s worth a reminder as the season tips off, because when they don’t do either of those things, it’s a very different story as we saw on Friday night. In an 88-65 blowout loss to Texas A&M, the Mountaineers generated turnovers on just 23 percent of the Aggies’ possessions and rebounded their own misses just 23 percent of the time. Disappointing results on those two fronts put the pressure on Bob Huggins‘ half-court offense to produce, but any chance of that was snuffed out by Billy Kennedy’s switch to a zone defense midway through the first half. Combine all of that with big shooting nights from the Aggies’ Admon Gilder (4-of-6 3FG) and JJ Hogg (4-of-5 3FG) and there was just too much to overcome. Huggins mentioned earlier this month that he may pull back on the press in spots, citing the team’s changing roster, and with the Mountaineers facing a relatively lax schedule over the next couple weeks, don’t be surprised if he utilizes those opportunities to do a little tinkering.

2. Iowa State’s inexperience shows against Missouri.

New-look Missouri may be even less experienced than Iowa State, but the talent disparity between the two teams was undeniable, even as Michael Porter, Jr., exited early with a hip issue in the 74-59 loss. Steve Prohm‘s team is in transition this season, and asking it to beat Missouri’s freshman studs in front of a packed house on Opening Night was going to be a tall order. The Cyclones didn’t have enough size up front to contend with the likes of Jeremiah Tilmon, Kevin Puryear and Jontay Porter, and shooting a paltry 31.6 percent from distance wasn’t even close to making up the difference. If anyone among the Iowa State faithful had notions about this team remaining competitive despite the departures of Monte’ Morris, Matt Thomas and the rest of last season’s graduating class, they shouldn’t any longer. It’s reasonable to expect the Cyclones to improve as the season progresses, but the current rebuild was always going to be a process and Friday night’s loss should lay that bare.

3. Highly-touted rookies shine in their debuts.

Trae Young’s Debut at Oklahoma Was Stellar (Norman Transcript)

Opening weekend gave us our first glimpses of Texas’ Mo Bamba and Oklahoma’s Trae Young against Division I competition, and while it’s inadvisable to invest too much stock in a pair of buy games (Texas throttled Northwestern State 105-59 while the Sooners handled Nebraska-Omaha 108-89), both prospects looked very comfortable in their debuts. Despite being double- and sometimes triple-teamed, Bamba barely broke a sweat while notching 15 points, eight rebounds, four blocks and a steal in 23 minutes. I mentioned in my preview of Texas that Bamba gets by with his athleticism and physical gifts more than with an arsenal of post moves, but there’s definite value in simply dunking everything you can. After all, how often do we see big men and athletic wings flub layups they should dunk and have those missed points come back to bite their teams? Bamba clearly knows his strengths and makes sure his opponent knows them, too.

A similarly confident talent made his debut in Norman over the weekend, as Young not only notched a double-double of 15 points and 10 assists but also threw in two blocks and a pair of steals for good measure. He didn’t shoot it very well, but he showed great vision in a game that had a staggering 87 possessions, which is tough for any point guard to do, let alone one in his first career game. After Young committed to the Sooners last February, some of the spotlight seemed to move away from him, which was unfortunate. Maybe that was because he picked Oklahoma over a blueblood like Kansas, or maybe it was because he chose to play for a more unassuming coach in Lon Kruger, or perhaps some combination of the two. In any case, as Oklahoma returns to relevance in the Big 12, people are going to start coming back around. You can get ahead of them by making sure to check Young out in the upcoming PK80 Invitational.

Brian Goodman (987 Posts)

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

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