A Quick Look at the Big 12’s Opening Weekend

Posted by Brian Goodman on December 29th, 2017

It’s not very often that the performance of a single conference as a whole is extensively discussed before the start of league play, but the manner in which the Big 12 asserted itself over the first six weeks of the 2017-18 season was nothing short of impressive. Nine of the conference’s 10 teams are ranked among the top 50 of KenPom‘s current rankings, and no team took more losses than Texas‘ three (of which two came in overtime against very good Duke and Gonzaga teams). In fact, the league finished non-conference play by ripping off 27 straight victories. Yes, there were some cupcakes in there, but there were also road and semi-road meetings against teams like Wichita State, Florida State and Nebraska. It’s gotten to the point where there’s been reasoned discussion on this site and others of the Big 12 sending 80 percent of its membership to the NCAA Tournament come March. Even if an underperforming team squelches that possibility, this conference will have meaningful games practically every night from now until March, beginning with tonight’s action. Here’s a quick look at each of the weekend’s five games.

Kansas remains the Big 12 favorite, but its competition is tougher than ever. (AP)

  1. West Virginia at Oklahoma State (Friday 7:00 ET, ESPNU) – The Cowboys project as one of the league’s worst teams, but West Virginia is just a 3.5-point favorite, which should tell you something about the Big 12’s parity and the intense challenge that the road represents this season, no matter the gym. Since installing the press prior to the 2014-15 season, Bob Huggins has not lost in Stillwater, and I expect that to continue tonight. Oklahoma State’s 10-2 start in the wake of Brad Underwood’s unexpected departure is a nice story, but the Cowboys are lacking in the three key areas needed to get the best of the Mountaineers: Ball control (117th nationally), defensive rebounding (174th) and drawing fouls (291st). Those will have to change if the Cowboys are to pull the upset.
  2. Baylor at Texas Tech (Friday 8:00 ET, Fox Sports Regional) – The Red Raiders stunned the Bears in Lubbock last season to give then-first year head coach Chris Beard a big home win. Three Baylor players fouled out of that game, which saw Texas Tech head to the foul line 43 times over the course of the night. That probably won’t be the case this time around, as Baylor ranks second in the country in foul avoidance. It also means that Texas Tech will need to find a fallback plan quickly if Baylor’s zone keeps Keenan Evans, Zach Smith and Zhaire Smith from attacking the rim as effectively as they have to this point in the season.
  3. Kansas State at Iowa State (Friday 9:00 ET, ESPNU) – Neither of these teams did much to help themselves in the non-conference slate, but if one team needs this win more badly than the other, it’s probably the Wildcats, who could use a nice win to counteract an unexpected loss to Tulsa earlier this month. Another motivating factor ought to be the fact that Bruce Weber has yet to win at Hilton Coliseum in his five-plus seasons as the Wildcats’ head coach. With Iowa State’s students on break and the Cyclones heading into tonight’s tilt with an ailing roster, however, this could be the night.
  4. Kansas at Texas (Friday 9:00 ET, ESPN2) – Kansas has done all it can to fast-track former 2018 signee Silvio De Sousa into availability, but the NCAA hasn’t cleared the five-star freshman, which means that Udoka Azubuike could be in for a long night against Mohamed Bamba, who has wasted little time in asserting himself as the elite rim-protector of the conference. It’s also worth noting that for all of the ability in the Jayhawks’ guard-heavy lineup, it’s had some shooting struggles away from Allen Fieldhouse this season, hitting just 31 percent of their threes in five such games on the year. Kansas again looks like the best team in the league, but if those issues continue in Austin, it wouldn’t be unreasonable to see the unranked Longhorns coming out on top in this battle of top-10 defenses.
  5. Oklahoma at TCU (Saturday 2:00 ET, ESPN2) – Between Trae Young’s must-watch status and TCU’s undefeated start, it’s crazy to remember that both these teams missed last year’s NCAA Tournament. Suffice it to say that things are much different this season with both squads looking better thanks to vastly improved offenses driven by bucket-getters up and down their respective rosters. This should be the most entertaining game of opening weekend. Make sure you set aside a couple hours in a busy holiday weekend to have a look.
Brian Goodman (965 Posts)

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

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