Previewing Opening Week in the Big 12

Posted by Brian Goodman on November 6th, 2018

It’s been a long offseason, but we made it, everyone. Tonight is the night the 2018-19 season gets under way. As per usual, preseason #1 Kansas will own the marquee as one of the four elite teams competing in the Champions Classic, but half the conference will be in action this evening with Texas, Iowa State, Texas Tech and Baylor beginning their seasons as well. TCU will tip its season off on Wednesday, and following an idle Thursday, Kansas State, West Virginia and Oklahoma open the weekend with Friday jumps while Oklahoma State takes the caboose on Saturday afternoon. KenPom likes all 10 Big 12 teams to win their openers, with only the Jayhawks favored by fewer than 10 points (vs. Michigan State) and just one other game (West Virginia vs. Buffalo) coming in at fewer than 15 points. Still, you never know when a team might unleash a surprise, and even if not, there’s always something to keep an eye on as the curtains open. Here’s what to watch for around the Big 12 over the next few days.

Tuesday

Look for Dedric Lawson to make a strong first impression in Indianapolis tonight. (Orlin Wagner/AP)

  • Kansas vs. Michigan State – As mentioned in last week’s team preview, Kansas will feature two bigs in Dedric Lawson and Udoka Azubuike one year after going very guard-heavy. On the other side of this specific frontcourt match-up, Michigan State lost Miles Bridges and Jaren Jackson to the draft and Gavin Schilling to graduation, so the Spartans will counter with junior Nick Ward and sophomore Xavier Tillman, who aren’t bad, but don’t hold a candle to a pair of lottery picks and a useful program guy. While I like Kansas to win this one in large part because of the mismatches up front, don’t be surprised to see Michigan State’s Cassius Winston expose the Jayhawks’ new-look backcourt on more than one occasion.
  • Texas vs. Eastern Illinois – Watching the Longhorns try to run offense last season was the ultimate test of will, as they finished dead last in the Big 12 in offensive efficiency. With four starters back this season, they absolutely have to get better. Their non-conference slate includes a neutral site date with Arkansas in addition to tilts against North Carolina, Purdue and Providence, so improved offensive cohesion will be important in the early going.

Get to know Lindell Wigginton before the rest of the country catches up. (Andrew Dieb/USA Today Sports)

  • Iowa State vs. Alabama State – There ought to be plenty of reps at the point guard position for both Nick Weiler-Babb and Lindell Wigginton. The Cyclones will be thin up front to start the season, though, with Solomon Young (injury) and Cameron Lard (suspension) both expected to miss tonight’s game. As a result, newcomers Michael Jacobson and George Conditt will be thrust into major minutes earlier than Steve Prohm would have liked. I don’t think that will be enough for the Hornets to make this game interesting, but it could make for a rockier ride than expected.
  • Texas Tech vs. Incarnate Word – Chris Beard faces off against one of his former employers tonight and it will be next man up with Keenan Evans, Zhaire Smith, Zach Smith and Niem Stevenson all having moved on to the next stages of their careers. A game against one of the 30 worst teams in the sport won’t decide whether Jarrett Culver is ready for the spotlight, but how he starts the season will tell us a lot about the Red Raiders’ fortunes in 2018-19.
  • Baylor vs. Texas Southern – The Bears will start the season as any rebuilding team of their caliber should, with four straight cupcakes. The first two weeks will be a great opportunity for Scott Drew’s squad to sharpen its defense after losing two of its best frontcourt defenders in Nuni Omot and Jo Lual-Acuil as well as an underrated perimeter defender in Manu LecomteBaylor’s going to feature smaller looks this year than what many are used to, which shouldn’t present any significant hurdles against the Tigers tonight, but is noteworthy going forward.

Wednesday

  • TCU vs. Cal State Bakersfield – The Horned Frogs’ backcourt doesn’t get a lot of headlines, but that could change soon, because there’s a lot to like about the trio of Alex Robinson, Jaylen Fisher and Desmond Bane. They’re experienced, they can create for themselves as well as others, and they can shoot it from deep. Their defensive chops aren’t where you’d like them to be, but there’s some untapped potential that will show itself this time around. Keep an eye on TCU’s frontcourt too, as it picks up the pieces from Vladimir Brodziansky and Kenrich Williams’s departures.

Friday

  • West Virginia vs. Buffalo – Aside from the Champions Classic, this is the only game of Opening Week whose outcome isn’t completely foregone, so it should be an interesting watch for those waiting to get back into the swing of things after the short Thursday break. You have a Mountaineer team that should be plenty good but not as good as last year’s edition facing the Bulls, who won the MAC by a country mile, embarrassed Arizona in last season’s NCAA Round of 64 and return nearly everyone, making themselves a strong favorite to repeat in conference. Will Bob Huggins‘ team be ready?
  • Kansas State vs. Kennesaw State – The Wildcats have a strong non-conference schedule that they’ll hope to parlay into a favorable seed come March, but their first two weeks will be more manageable and should offer Bruce Weber opportunities to explore the limits of his rotation. Dean Wade and Barry Brown are the names everyone knows and will be excited to see, but JuCo transfer Austin Trice will look to make his case for minutes as a strong rebounder off the bench.
  • Oklahoma at UT Rio Grande Valley – The Sooners are doing something a little different by starting the season on the road against two mid-majors. It’s admirable on Lon Kruger‘s part, but there isn’t much more to be said. Oklahoma will be among the league’s dregs despite being one of the oldest teams in the league, and they’re scheduled to play just two home games over the season’s first five weeks and won’t play their fifth home game until January 5. It’s setting up to be a long year in Norman.

Saturday

  • Oklahoma State at Charlotte – The Pokes also start the year on the road against a mid-major and aren’t projected to be very good this season. There’s not a lot returning on this team, so Mike Boynton will look to Cameron McGriffLindy Waters and Thomas Dziagwa to keep the ship from sinking early.
Brian Goodman (973 Posts)

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


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