Big 12 Reset: Halfway Through the Non-Conference Slate

Posted by Brian Goodman on December 3rd, 2018

As we round the corner on the halfway mark of non-conference play, I can’t say I’ve been overwhelmed yet by the Big 12’s performance. Maybe that’s more of a testament to the league’s sterling performance over the last few years, but it’s the case nonetheless. There are certainly some things to be optimistic about, like Kansas’ unblemished 6-0 record despite not yet playing to its talent level, Texas Tech not just treading water but perhaps being better than last season’s group, and Iowa State and Oklahoma outperforming preseason projections. But there are some pockmarks around the league, too. Baylor looks completely dreadful even through the lens of what was expected, Texas’ offense has run hot and cold, and Kansas State was embarrassed over the weekend in its biggest test of non-league play. The metrics still show that this is the best conference in the land, but the eye test to date hasn’t always reflected it.

Lagerald Vick’s Big Three on Saturday Saved the Jayhawks (USA Today Images)

  1. Where would Kansas be without Lagerald Vick? Just six months ago, Lagerald Vick and Bill Self didn’t want any part of each other, but things have worked out wonderfully since. Put simply, the senior shooting guard looks like a completely different player. He’s embraced and delivered on key opportunities when other players haven’t and he’s playing with a looseness that was missing during his first three years. You can point to at least two games already this season that the Jayhawks would not have won without Vick getting hot, and his 59.6 percent on three-point shooting ranks 14th nationally (and first among high-volume shooters). His incredible outside shooting is bound over time to regress to the mean, but it’s hard to say enough about his hot start.
  2. Texas Tech is absolutely rolling. The Red Raiders didn’t assemble the intense non-conference slate that Kansas did this season, but Chris Beard’s team already looks fantastic in the early going. Texas Tech is undefeated at 7-0 — with their closest win coming by 11 points — and role players like Tariq Owens, Matt Mooney and Brandone Francis have been very supportive on the few nights where Jarrett Culver hasn’t been fully engaged. What sticks out most when watching the Red Raiders play is how well Beard has scouted his opponents. His team also plays with a chip on its shoulder, which makes sense when you remember how lightly several of the players on the team were recruited. Texas Tech’s meeting with Duke on December 20 is still a few weeks away, but it has a chance to be one of the best games of the season.
  3. Signs of trouble in Manhattan? When the preseason polls released in October, it seemed as if too much of Kansas State’s preseason hype was wrapped up in its postseason run to the Elite Eight. To this point, the Wildcats simply haven’t looked much different than last year’s group. Their defense has looked typically great, but it’s not a good sign that Missouri and Marquette — the only two power conference teams they’ve faced — both scored more than a point per possession. The offense is still overly stagnant, too. While Dean Wade has been good enough to start the season, he’s also experienced several rough patches in first halves against Lehigh and Marquette, and the team had no clue how to react when he was ineffective. The senior is going to bring it more often than not, but while Barry Brown and Kamau Stokes have had their moments, Bruce Weber needs to find an effective second scoring option in Manhattan.
  4. Iowa State continues to persevere. The Cyclones are one of just eight teams nationally that rank among the top 20 in both adjusted offense and adjusted defense — despite several key absences. Lindell Wigginton and Solomon Young have both been hurt, while Cameron Lard and Zoran Talley have yet to play a single minute due to suspensions. Opportunity knocks, however, and two big cogs have answered. Talen Horton-Tucker has emerged as a potential one-and-done prospect and Tyrese Haliburton, the afterthought of this year’s recruiting class, has latched on as an important rotation piece. While the Cyclones’ 30-point win over San Diego State in Maui was impressive, a bigger opportunity looms against intrastate rival Iowa this Thursday.
  5. Three-point happy Longhorns. Fueled by Kerwin Roach’s fast start to his senior season, Texas’ offense has been on the upswing even if it’s still not quite where it could be. The Longhorns take very good care of the ball, turning it over on just 15.8 percent of its possessions, but their shot selection has left something to be desired. Texas ranks 31st in three-point attempt percentage, but they’re shooting just 29.3 percent on those tries, a mark that’s flirting with 300th in the country. The Longhorns’ next five games all come at home, but with stout defenses like VCU, Purdue and Providence visiting Austin, they’ll really need to tighten the screws.
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