Big 12 Power Rankings: We Can See Clearly Now Edition

Posted by Big 12 Team on January 13th, 2017

With four games of conference action now in the books, we have good clarity on the league’s pecking order. The unblemished Jayhawks maintain their perch at the top of the standings, followed by West Virginia after its demolition of Baylor in front of a national audience. The middle is typically where things get jumbled, but Iowa State’s 3-1 start and Texas Tech’s head-to-head win over Kansas State this week made #4-#6 a fairly easy call. Rounding out the list of NCAA Tournament-caliber teams is TCU, followed by a trio of teams with just one combined win between them. Below is how our five Big 12 microsite writers — Drew Andrews, Justin Fedich, Brian Goodman, Nate Kotisso, and Chris Stone — see the conference stacking up entering the weekend.

  1. Kansas – “Roughly halfway through the regular season, Frank Mason is shooting better on three-pointers (54.9%) than he is on two-pointers (52.3%). Combine that staggering level of shooting efficiency with his flair for the dramatic against Duke and Oklahoma (not to mention his team’s status as the likely #1 team in America on Monday afternoon) and you have a recipe for a first-team All-American. Mason will have two chances to add to his legend when he goes toe-to-toe with Oklahoma State’s Jawun Evans and Iowa State’s Monte’ Morris over the next few days.” -Brian Goodman Read the rest of this entry »
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Quick Reactions to Tuesday Night’s Big 12 Action

Posted by Brian Goodman on January 11th, 2017

With college football season officially in the books, hoops took the baton last night with five of the Big 12’s best teams on display. Though only one contest came down to the last few minutes, there were several key takeaways from Tuesday’s three league battles. Here’s what we learned.

Jevon Carter put an early end to Baylor’s reign as the #1 team in America. (Ben Queen/USA Today Sports)

  • The battle for second place is officially on. It’s worth noting that top-ranked Baylor entered last night’s game against West Virginia as a six-point underdog, but the Bears were woefully unprepared for the Mountaineers’ press, turning the ball over on 35.7 percent of their possessions en route to their first loss of the season. Baylor’s resume still shows a tremendous set of wins, but the one thing Scott Drew‘s team lacks — and West Virginia does not — is a true road win against an NCAA Tournament-caliber team. In dominating the nation’s #1 team from start to finish, the Mountaineers effectively neutralized their close loss against a Texas Tech team that may end up on the bubble. Nathan Adrian and the rest of “Press Virginia” have a good chance to keep things rolling over the next week with upcoming games against the league’s two worst teams in Texas and Oklahoma, which is about as much of a breather as it gets in this conference.
  • These aren’t (exactly) last year’s Mountaineers. In the first two seasons of Bob Huggins‘ retooled running and pressing system, the Mountaineers paid a price for their intense defense by finishing dead last nationally in defensive free throw rate. Year Three of the experiment has revealed a slightly different story, as the Mountaineers rank a more respectable 273rd (40.5%) this time around. There’s a natural ceiling to how much a team can limit fouls while playing such aggressive defense, but West Virginia may be finding it. The team’s depth is still an asset that can prevent foul trouble from becoming an issue, but it always helps to be able to keep guys like Adrian, Esa Ahmad and Tarik Phillip on the floor as much as possible. Another area where the Mountaineers have improved is in three-point shooting, burying 36.7 percent of their attempts from distance — up from 32.5 percent last season, and 31.6 percent in 2014-15. While West Virginia will continue to rely heavily on points in transition, the long ball gives them a weapon on night when they either don’t generate turnovers or when a considerable ratio of the turnovers are of the dead-ball variety.

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Baylor: The Team Nobody Saw Coming…

Posted by Justin Fedich on January 7th, 2017

It’s only January 7, but with Baylor going into tonight’s game against Oklahoma State as one of two remaining unbeaten teams in college basketball, many are wondering where this team came from. The Bears started the season with a grand total of zero votes in the AP preseason Top 25, but through 14 games against an excellent schedule, no opponent has been able to touch them. Under longtime head coach Scott Drew, Baylor has never made the Final Four but his teams have gotten close. During a three-year stretch from 2010-12, the Bears made two Elite Eights but had the misfortune of playing the eventual National Champion on both occasions (Duke – 2010; Kentucky 2012). This year, Baylor is better equipped to make its first Final Four in school history, but it’s not because expectations in Waco will be high. On the contrary, it’s because expectations are not high, which is exactly how Baylor has thrived to this point of the season.

Baylor is Off to One of Its Best Starts Ever (USA Today Images)

Baylor is Off to One of Its Best Starts Ever (USA Today Images)

Baylor had plenty of question marks coming into this season. Senior forward Johnathan Motley was a preseason All-Big 12 pick, but beyond that was mostly unknown. The most notable concern was how Miami transfer Manu Lecomte would fare in his first season with the Bears. The answer is so far, so good. Lecomte is leveraging his additional time in Drew’s lineup by averaging 5.1 assists per game, ranking among the nation’s top 60 in assist rate at 32.3 percent. As outstanding as the possible Big 12 Transfer of the Year has been, he hasn’t even been the most pleasant surprise on the team. Junior center Jo Lual-Acuil Jr. has gone from relative anonymity to averages of 11.0 points and 7.6 rebounds per game, pairing with Motley to create a formidable frontcourt that no team in the Big 12 — not even Kansas — wants to face. The starters have been exceptionally consistent to this point, and a bench of which little was expected continues to get better as the season rolls along. Sophomore wing Jake Lindsey contributed his first double-figure game of the season against Iowa State on Wednesday night.

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Who is the Big 12’s Fourth-Best Team?

Posted by Brian Goodman on January 5th, 2017

It didn’t take long for the Big 12 hierarchy to crystallize, at least at the top of the standings. Kansas took the early driver’s seat, as expected, and despite a few noticeable flaws that could ultimately snap The Streak if left uncorrected, the Jayhawks are still the team to beat. Just a notch under them, Baylor and West Virginia are both capable of chasing down the Jayhawks, but no other teams are in that camp. Below the Bears and Mountaineers but above Oklahoma State, Texas and Oklahoma is the murky middle, where the differences between teams at the top and bottom of this tier is tough to discern and could come down to a mere handful of possessions, if the first week of conference action is any indication. With two league games under each team’s belt, here’s how the race for fourth place in the Big 12 is shaping up.

Kansas State center Dean Wade gives the Wildcats an early edge on the middle of the Big 12 pack. (Statesman.com)

Kansas State center Dean Wade gives the Wildcats an early edge on the middle of the Big 12 pack. (Statesman.com)

  • Kansas State — Lost in the aftermath of all the traveling jokes and memes from Tuesday night’s game against Kansas is that the Wildcats came up with a truly impressive offensive performance. Bruce Weber’s team posted 1.22 points per trip at The Phog, marking one of the best outputs by a Jayhawk opponent in recent years. The Wildcats appear to be gelling, but one reason why the last couple seasons in Manhattan have been so disappointing is because they’ve had a tendency to play inspired ball in marquee games only to go flat in subsequent efforts, so consistency will be a key. Still, judging solely from the first six weeks of the season, nothing from this team’s resume suggests that Kansas State isn’t capable of pulling it off. Fourth-place probability: 40%.

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Carlton Bragg vs. Landen Lucas: Who Deserves More Minutes?

Posted by Chris Stone on January 3rd, 2017

After freshman center Udoka Azubuike suffered a wrist injury that will force him to miss the remainder of the season, the logical replacement in Kansas’ four-guard lineup was senior big man Landen Lucas. Defaulting back to the 6’10” center made good sense as he had been the Jayhawks’ starter during conference play last year and at the beginning of this season. Lucas has also performed admirably in his first two games without Azubuike, averaging a near double-double of 9.5 points and and 14.5 rebounds per game against lowly UNLV and rising conference foe TCU. Those are undoubtedly great numbers, but what if Kansas head coach Bill Self has an even better option sitting on his bench?

Carlton Bragg could help Kansas if he replaces Landen Lucas' minutes. (Photo Credit: Nick Krug/KUSports)

Carlton Bragg could help Kansas if he replaces Landen Lucas’ minutes. (Photo Credit: Nick Krug/KUSports)

Sophomore forward Carlton Bragg was expected to step in as a reasonable replacement for departed senior Perry Ellis this season. As a freshman, Bragg had shown an ability to operate from the high post in Self’s offense, capable of knocking down mid-range jumpers with potential to expand his range beyond the three-point arc. It hasn’t exactly turned out that way. With Kansas playing four guards to maximize its backcourt strength, Bragg’s time on the floor has increased but not spiked. He played just 15 and 16 minutes, respectively, in recent games against UNLV and TCU, finding himself behind Lucas in the frontcourt pecking order.

That move is understandable on its face. With four guards surrounding the post, Self needs a big-bodied center who can bang with opponents’ size, clean up the boards and provide a modicum of rim protection. The head coach at this point clearly favors the upperclassman experience of Lucas for that role. The problem is that Bragg has been better than Lucas this season in most relevant metrics. Using their respective statistics per 40 minutes in order to adjust for time spent on the court, here’s a look at how the two big men compare.

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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.

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Finding a Path to the Madness for Big 12 Bubble Teams

Posted by Shane McNichol on December 29th, 2016

The top of the Big 12 is off to a hot start this season with Kansas, Baylor, and West Virginia all ranked among the top 12 of the AP poll and the current KenPom ratings. These three teams have a combined 34-2 record that includes wins over Duke, Virginia, Louisville and Xavier. The class of the league appears as strong as ever, but if the Big 12 has notions on putting seven teams back into the NCAA Tournament for the third consecutive year, trouble arises further down the standings. With a mix uninspiring victories and troubling losses, the middle of the pack is full of teams that will need to earn their chops in conference play to sufficiently impress the NCAA Tournament Selection Committee. Texas and Oklahoma appear in trouble, so let’s focus on the five teams with the best resumes to date.

Iowa State Hasn't Shined as Much as Hoped This Season (USA Today Images)

Iowa State Hasn’t Shined as Much as Hoped This Season (USA Today Images)

  • Iowa State. The Cyclones entered the season with high expectations given that head coach Steve Prohm returned four key contributors. To date the Cyclones have yet to really impress or disappoint. Iowa State’s three losses have all been understandable — dropping games to Gonzaga, Cincinnati and rival Iowa — but the rest of the schedule has consisted of mostly cupcakes save for a nice win over Miami (FL). The key for the Cyclones in Big 12 play will be their performance on the road. Hilton Magic should result in a minimum of six or seven home wins, but that means Iowa State will need to win three or four road games to feel confident about an NCAA Tournament berth. With no sign of a true bottom-feeder in the conference this year, that will be much easier said than done.
  • TCU. Despite sporting an 11-1 record, Jamie Dixon’s Horned Frogs have yet to create any real buzz in part because TCU’s best wins came in an odd scheduling quirk, beating Washington in back-to-back contests. Aside from those two victories, their next best win came against Illinois State — not exactly something to write to the Selection Committee about. Whereas Iowa State is more concerned with taking care of business and keeping the status quo, TCU needs a big win or two in conference play as well as a plus-.500 Big 12 record. Going 9-9 with six losses to Kansas, Baylor and West Virginia isn’t likely to be enough.

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Kansas Remains a Contender Even Without Udoka Azubuike

Posted by Brian Goodman on December 22nd, 2016

Kansas‘ transition to small-ball this season was a product of three primary factors: 1) the Jayhawks’ surplus of quality shooters and ball-handlers; 2) Josh Jackson‘s versatility; 3) a collection of big men who each brought something different to the table but none of whom possesses a well-rounded game. The Jayhawks have been getting by inside with centers Landen Lucas and Udoka Azubuike sharing the workload, but while a season-ending wrist injury to the freshman Azubuike is a clear setback, it doesn’t dispel Kansas’ status as a legitimate national title contender.

Kansas will miss Udoka Azubuike, but the Jayhawks' championship aspirations remain intact. (Michael Reaves/Getty)

Kansas will miss Udoka Azubuike, but the Jayhawks’ championship aspirations remain intact. (Michael Reaves/Getty)

For all of Azubuike’s upside as a five-star recruit with an NBA-ready body, he’ll end this season averaging a fairly modest 5.0 points, 4.4 rebounds and 1.6 blocks in just under 13 minutes per game. That’s not to say that he’s been a disappointment in his first season, or that Kansas won’t drop a game or two that it otherwise wouldn’t have, but it is to say that a team as talented and efficient as Kansas can replace his level of production. Recall that in the preseason, Azubuike wasn’t projected to play a major role this season, but it didn’t stop many in the national media from tabbing the Jayhawks to win the national title. Yes, Azubuike miss out on chances to develop in the throes of Big 12 play, and his presence in the pain will be missed against bigger teams like Baylor and West Virginia, but his rawness also made him prone to turnovers (26.6% TO), fouls (8.7 fouls per 40 minutes) and struggles at the stripe (38% FT).

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Oklahoma Already Looking Bubbly Going into Last Pre-Conference Game

Posted by Justin Fedich on December 21st, 2016

If college basketball games ended after the first 20 minutes, Oklahoma would be one of seven remaining unbeaten teams in Division I and presumably ranked among the top 10 or 15 teams in the nation. Unfortunately for the Sooners, which currently stand at 6-4 and have led at halftime in all four of their losses this season, there are still two 20-minute halves in college basketball. Unless Lon Kruger‘s team can figure out how to be as successful in the second halves of games as they are in the first, Oklahoma is likely to miss its first NCAA Tournament since 2012. In its four defeats this season to Northern Iowa, Wisconsin, Wichita State and Memphis, all but one of those contests came down to the wire. The excuse of the loss of NPOY Buddy Hield, who could knock down big shots late in the game, is no longer an excuse as Jordan Woodard has proven more than capable. Rather, it has been the inconsistency among Woodard’s supporting cast that has caused Oklahoma’s struggles in putting together a complete performance against good competition.

Lon Kruger has a built a serious Final Four contender in his fifth season with Oklahoma. (AP Photo/Brandon Dill)

Lon Kruger’s squad is still trying to find its groove. (AP Photo/Brandon Dill)

The Sooners have fielded a different starting lineup in all four losses as Kruger has searched to find a formula that will work for his young, inexperienced team. This is evidenced most recently by the inclusion of freshman guard Jordan Shepherd into the lineup. Shepherd played eight combined minutes in Oklahoma’s first three losses but he led the team with 37 minutes and contributed 18 points in last Saturday’s overtime loss against Memphis. If his emergence in the backcourt is a sign of things to come, the Sooners may have finally found a workable rotation that includes Woodard, Christian James and Rashard Odomes. The frontcourt, however, is holding Oklahoma back. Khadeem Lattin, the only returning starter other than Woodard from last season’s Final Four team, has scored in single digits in five of his last six games including an anemic four points against Memphis and three points against Wichita State. While Lattin hasn’t been a consistent scoring threat at any point in his career, Oklahoma needs to find more scoring from the post. Khristian Doolittle and Jamuni McNeace are promising young frontcourt prospects, but Lattin as the more experienced player needs to provide more than the 6.7 points and 5.5 rebounds per game he contributed in the four defeats.  Read the rest of this entry »

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A Coaching Tree Grows in Stillwater…

Posted by Brian Goodman on December 21st, 2016

West Virginia’s renaissance under Bob Huggins is by now a familiar story — perennially relevant hoops brand endures an uncharacteristic drought of postseason success, only to right itself with an overhaul of the team’s identity focused on frenzied defense, relentless offensive rebounding, a rare degree of unselfishness and staggering depth. Some 1,100 miles away, though, Brad Underwood – a former disciple of Huggins — is hard at work resurrecting Oklahoma State in a similar fashion.

Brad Underwood is Up to Plenty of Good in Stillwater (USA Today Images)

Brad Underwood is Up to Plenty of Good in Stillwater (USA Today Images)

Last Saturday, Underwood’s Cowboys dominated Wichita State 93-76 at Intrust Bank Arena to move to 9-2 on the season. The result didn’t get much national attention because of a surplus of good games that afternoon, but Oklahoma State dismantled a team that had gone 116 home games without allowing so much as 80 points to an opponent. The victory gave a significant boost to Oklahoma State’s non-conference resume in the wake of missed opportunities against North Carolina and Maryland, and come Big 12 play, opponents would be ill-advised to overlook the Cowboys in much the same way they overlooked the Mountaineers two seasons ago.

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