Big 12 M5: 02.10.16 Edition

Posted by Brian Goodman on February 10th, 2016

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  1. Kansas is back in first place in the Big 12 after a 75-65 win over West Virginia that pushed the Jayhawks into a three-way tie with the Mountaineers and Oklahoma in the standings. Perry Ellis led the team with 21 points, but Kansas also found help in the form of a cold shooting night from the Mountaineers. After a pair of uncharacteristically good outings where West Virginia shot a robust 44 percent from long range, regression reared its ugly head to the tune of a frosty 5-of-20 clip last night in Lawrence. Bob Huggins’ team also clearly missed the presence of suspended forward Jonathan Holton, from whose absence Jayhawks’ center Landen Lucas greatly benefited. The junior had a huge game on the glass, pulling down a career-high 16 rebounds while limiting second chances for the nation’s best offensive rebounding team. Up next for Kansas is another highly important game against Oklahoma in Norman on Saturday.
  2. Kansas State‘s journey back to the bubble will continue tonight when the Wildcats host Baylor in Bramlage ColiseumBruce Weber’s team lacks the shooters to extend Baylor’s zone and has struggled mightily with turnovers all season, but the Wildcats have shown they can set up teammates (57.9 percent of their field goals in Big 12 play come on assists) and convert during good possessions. Those skills will be important this evening, particularly if the defensive rebounding expertise of Rico Gathers and Johnathan Motley renders second chances tough to find. On the other side, Baylor needs a quality road win in addition to its early January win at Iowa State to bolster its resume.
  3. The only other Big 12 action tonight pits Iowa State against Texas Tech in Lubbock, where the Cyclones will hope to find their focus. Iowa State will be without suspended center Jameel McKay for the second consecutive game, but his absence may not matter as much since the Red Raiders’ best rim-protector, Norense Odiase, will also sit with a broken foot. The Cyclones are playing on the road for the third time in their last four games, but they’ve reeled off three straight Big 12 victories away from Hilton Coliseum and will be favored to add to that streak this evening.
  4. The emergence of Texas as a legitimate contender over the last few weeks is one of the conference’s biggest stories. Its recent performance caught the attention of Washington Post writer Matthew Giles, who takes a deep look at Texas’ expedited turnaround. We dove into the subject ourselves here on the microsite last week, and Giles echoes many of our sentiments around the Longhorns’ performance. In particular, he notes the tremendous value that Prince Ibeh has provided in the wake of Cameron Ridley‘s broken foot, as well as the contributions of Texas’ revamped guard play. The Longhorns have several tough road games ahead but they’ve been a virtual lock for an at-large bid since the beginning of February, a milestone few prognosticators saw coming upon Smart’s hiring last April.
  5. Oklahoma State‘s season hit a nadir in Fort Worth on Monday night when the Cowboys were embarrassed by TCU to fall into last place in the Big 12. While the Pokes have faced many hurdles in the form of injuries this season, it didn’t seem possible that they could find themselves in such a position. Travis Ford‘s team has plenty of time to climb out of the basement of the league standings, but that’s a pretty low bar to clear for a coach who is likely to find himself on the hot seat in March.
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Big 12 Power Rankings: West Virginia Is Finally Here Edition

Posted by Nate Kotisso on February 5th, 2016

West Virginia is a basketball team. A very solid basketball team, in fact. A team whose hallmark is to press the life out of opponents. A team that scores easy baskets off turnovers. A team that makes its fans cringe when it clangs jump shots off odd parts of the backboard. The Mountaineers started 4-0 in Big 12 play playing the good ol’ West Virginia way before losing back-to-back games at Oklahoma and at home to Texas. In the four games since those defeats, it appears that we’re seeing a different West Virginia team. Not only have the Mountaineers gone 3-1 in that span, but their three-point shooting has improved (35 percent in their last four games; 31 percent for the year) as well as their free-throw percentage (73.4 percent in their last four games; 66 percent for the year). Tuesday night’s win at Iowa State marked the first time a team other than Baylor or Kansas has defeated Iowa State in Ames since the start of the 2012-13 season. Bob Huggins‘ team now finds itself in a first-place tie with Oklahoma with nine games still to play. The Mountaineers are very good and they can no longer be ignored.

Bob Huggins has won 711 games as a Division I coach. I feel like we don't say that enough. (Associated Press)

Bob Huggins has won 711 games as a Division I coach. We don’t say that enough. (AP)

  1. Oklahoma — 3 points (All voted 1st). Comment: “With most of the focus understandably on Buddy Hield’s National Player of the Year campaign, the evolution of junior guard Jordan Woodard — arguably the most improved player in the country this season — hasn’t received the attention it deserves. Having shed his responsibilities as the primary ball-handler, Woodard’s turnover rate has declined eight percent while maintaining his assist rate. It’s also opened up his own offensive game. Woodard is shooting 51 percent from deep and has already made 51 threes, more than he made in his first two seasons combined. Every good superhero needs a sidekick, and Woodard is filling that role nicely.” – Chris Stone (@cstonehoops)
  2. West Virginia — 6 points (All voted 2nd). Comment: Jonathan Holton‘s loss was Devin Williams‘ gain, at least in Monday’s win at Hilton Coliseum. Williams has been terrific all season long, but the absence of Holton — the Mountaineers’ second-leading rebounder behind Williams — due to a violation of team rules indirectly led to Williams pulling down a career-high 18 rebounds in the big win in Ames. – Brian Goodman (@bsgoodman) Read the rest of this entry »
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Big 12 M5: 02.05.16 Edition

Posted by Brian Goodman on February 5th, 2016

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  1. Oddly, just one Big 12 matchup on tomorrow’s five-game slate will pit top-half teams against one another, but it should be an entertaining one as first-place West Virginia plays host to Baylor, an outfit among the league’s three second-place teams. The main area to keep an eye on in this game will be the battle on the glass, especially on the Mountaineers’ end. West Virginia sports the Big 12’s top offensive rebounding percentage in league play (grabbing 38.6 percent of its misses), while Rico Gathers leads a Baylor back line that leads the conference in defensive rebounding percentage (holding opponents to one shot 73.1 percent of the time). Mountaineers forward Jonathan Holton will miss his third game due to suspension, so Devin Williams will likely have to follow up his strong outing against Iowa State with another one on Saturday.
  2. Jawun Evans’ excellent debut season for Oklahoma State was paused Wednesday night when the freshman suffered a shoulder injury during the first half of the Cowboys’ game against Texas Tech. Evans sat the rest of the night out, and as Berry Tramel of The Oklahoman writes, the Pokes can ill afford any kind of extended absence from their current and future floor general. Evans’ backup, sophomore Tyree Griffin, doesn’t look ready to take on full-time point guard duties, but if Evans’ injury turns out to be serious, he’ll have no choice but to try to adjust.
  3. Texas‘ emergence has been one of the league’s hottest topics this week, but they’ve mostly been getting it done against a relatively shaky set of Big 12 foesJeff Haley of Burnt Orange Nation examines the road ahead as tomorrow starts a key stretch where the Longhorns will face some of the best competition the Big 12 has to offer. Put simply, we’re going to learn a lot about the Longhorns very soon. Tomorrow’s opponent, Texas Tech, is a team that’s already beaten them once, and next week comprises road tilts in Norman and Ames. Your move, Shaka.
  4. Kansas State coach Bruce Weber had a tough time bottling up his frustration with the officiating crew during his team’s loss to Kansas Wednesday night. The Wildcats were whistled for 14 fouls in the first half, and there were a handful of calls just before halftime that contributed to the Jayhawks building a 10-point halftime lead. While a few calls could have easily gone Kansas State’s way, that was unlikely to happen with the young Wildcats playing on the road in a crazed Allen Fieldhouse.
  5. Big 12 administrators are currently meeting in Dallas to consider a number of potential moves. Most prominently included in the proposals are expansion and reinstating a conference championship game in football, but an interesting (if comparatively minor) item on the docket is the idea of launching a third-tier sports network akin to those utilized by the Pac-12, Big Ten and SEC. While it would obviously need to be financially viable in order for the league to move forward, we wouldn’t object to any development that would make it easier to catch all the Big 12 hoops action out there.
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Big 12 M5: 01.22.16 Edition

Posted by Brian Goodman on January 22nd, 2016

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  1. It’s no secret that Kansas has struggled to contain driving guards like Jaysean Tate and Jawun Evans in recent games, and it might not get any easier tomorrow as the Jayhawks welcome Isaiah Taylor and Texas to Allen Fieldhouse. While Texas is merely average when it comes to finishing at the rim, it’s still worth wondering if Taylor, Javan Felix, and Kerwin Roach will test Kansas’ ability to stop penetration early. Saturday’s matchup in Lawrence will also mark Shaka Smart‘s first game against Kansas since that fateful day in San Antonio, so it’s also natural to think about whether both coaches will be a little more amped up than usual for this one.
  2. Two of the Big 12’s three most efficient offenses square off tomorrow when Oklahoma pays a visit to first-place Baylor. While the Bears currently sit alone atop the Big 12 standings, there’s still some skepticism of their record due to their relative lack of marquee wins and the fact that they have had close calls against two of the league’s worst teams. One of the great things about the Big 12’s perennial depth is that there are always opportunities to make statements, and the Bears will have a big shot to quiet their doubters with a win over a top-five team.
  3. Luke Winn of SI.com released his weekly Power Rankings (stay tuned for ours), and his insight into Oklahoma has to do with the performance of the frontcourt core of Ryan Spangler and Kadeem Lattin. The Sooners’ efficiency takes a dive when Spangler and Lattin don’t share the floor, but Spangler has played a whopping 88.6 percent of available minutes in conference play, so effectively, the concerns for Lon Kruger are finding ways to keep Lattin in games and finding the right lineup for those times when the sophomore big man needs to catch a breather.
  4. Iowa State sophomore Hallice Cooke recently put himself in Steve Prohm‘s doghouse by being late to practice one day after Prohm instituted tighter policies for player conduct, but he is hoping to get back at it tomorrow against TCU. With Prohm shortening up his rotation, it may be tough for Cooke to find more than a handful of minutes per game moving forward, but he can start by playing well against the worst team in the conference.
  5. Oklahoma State is flying high after its big win over Kansas, which prompted Tulsa World columnist Darnell Mayberry to compile a list of Travis Ford‘s ten biggest wins in Stillwater. While the Pokes have mostly been an afterthought since the departure of Marcus Smart, one doesn’t have to dig too deep to find some truly impressive wins in Ford’s eight seasons at the helm.
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Big 12 M5: 01.20.16 Edition

Posted by Brian Goodman on January 20th, 2016

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  1. It’s tough enough to win on the road, but it’s even tougher when the home team makes 52.4 percent of its three-pointers. Kansas learned this fact in its 86-67 loss to Oklahoma State in Stillwater Tuesday night, but this was more than just a fluky shooting performance from the Pokes. Oklahoma State outscored Kansas in the paint 22-12 and outrebounded them 38-31, marking the upset as a true team effort. Freshman Jawun Evans continued his quest for conference Freshman Of The Year Honors, turning in his third straight solid performance with 22 points, six rebounds and eight assists to lead the Cowboys. The highly-touted recruit on the other side, Cheick Diallo, made his first career start, but was part of the largely ineffective Jayhawk back line. The victory marked the Cowboys’ third consecutive home win over Bill Self’s team, whose struggles continue to leave the door open for a team like Oklahoma or West Virginia to end their Big 12 title streak.
  2. To that point, the 4-1 Mountaineers will look to avoid falling back into a tie with Kansas and Oklahoma tonight when they host Texas. As successful as West Virginia has been with its pressure defense, you’d be hard-pressed to find someone who’s more familiar with that style of play than Longhorn coach Shaka Smart. We all know about Smart’s success with VCU, but on top of that, he actually consulted West Virginia during last season’s NCAA Tournament when the Mountaineers prepped for their Round of 32 tilt against Maryland (which they won 69-59). West Virginia is favored by a comfortable 12 points tonight, but Texas’ stingy offense, which currently sports the Big 12’s lowest turnover percentage in league play, could make this one closer than Vegas thinks.
  3. Don’t look now, but the roller coaster that is Baylor basketball is on the rise entering tonight’s home game against Kansas State. While the Bears aren’t typically mentioned among the squads with a shot at ending Kansas’ regular season conference title streak (nor should they be, necessarily), they’re tied with West Virginia for first place thanks to some excellent recent shooting and its great rebounding, which has been consistent all season. Meanwhile, Bruce Weber‘s team is still looking for dependability on the offensive end, especially when it comes to shooting. They’ll carry a frosty 47.3 percent team eFG% into the Ferrell Center tonight.
  4. CBS Sports’ Gary Parrish spent some time learning how Iowa State head coach Steve Prohm has managed during Prohm’s up-and-down debut season in Ames. The progression of Iowa State’s campaign to this point has been a little wilder than most expected. Prohm faced some tough criticism after the team’s 1-3 start to conference play, but wins over Kansas State and Oklahoma have put him and the team back on track. While Prohm knew the fierce expectations of the job going in, he’s learning firsthand that following a local icon with a team built to win now is no easy task when it comes to pleasing a die-hard fanbase.
  5. CJ Moore of Bleacher Report took an in-depth look at the rise in the number of one-and-done players entering the NBA Draft and wonders if the 2016 Draft (along with other factors, including but not limited to the NCAA’s recent extension of the declaration window) could turn the tide back towards more players returning to school. While age is still a key factor in the minds of evaluators, at least one pro scout told Moore that there’s still some good value in being able to project a player with four years of college experience under his belt (like Buddy Hield), as opposed to raw freshmen who may have higher upsides but also bring with them a wider swath of possible outcomes.
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Big 12 M5: 01.18.16 Edition

Posted by Chris Stone on January 18th, 2016

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  1. After two straight losses in which Iowa State gave up more than 90 points, the Cyclones picked up a 76-63 road win over Kansas State on Saturday. The lower point total was the product of both the Wildcats’ slower pace of play and a change in Steve Prohm‘s philosophy. After a slow start to conference play, Prohm explained that the Cyclones need to manage games in a way that limits the time they spend on defense. His theory is that Iowa State is so good on offense that the Cyclones would be better off spending a bit more of the game with the ball in their hands. The key, though, will still be for Iowa State to slow down opposing offenses. The Cyclones currently rank 114th in adjusted defensive efficiency–a stat which accounts for the quality of opponent and pace of play–and will be put to the test when Oklahoma comes to Ames tonight.
  2. Speaking of the Sooners, their 70-68 victory over West Virginia reopened the Big 12 race as four teams now sit at 4-1 in the conference. More importantly, though, the win may be a boon for the confidence of sophomore Khadeem Lattin. After missing the front end of a one-and-one that would have given Oklahoma a victory in Allen Fieldhouse two weeks ago, Lattin scored the game-winning bucket against the Mountaineers on a tip-in. “It was like a redemption,” Lattin told the media.
  3. Meanwhile at Allen Fieldhouse, Kansas bounced back from their loss in Morgantown on Tuesday with a 70-63 win over TCU. The Jayhawks’ two freshman big men, Carlton Bragg and Cheick Diallo, both got extended looks against the Horned Frogs. Bragg scored 10 points and grabbed four rebounds in 16 minutes, but it was Diallo’s performance that turned heads. After being featured only sparingly so far this year, Diallo played a season-high 21 minutes against TCU. His nine points, nine rebounds, and five blocks gave fans a taste of what Diallo can offer Kansas going forward. The improvement of the Jayhawks’ two freshman will be a critical component come March and it’s the reason Kansas is viewed as the title contender with the most upside going forward.
  4. Baylor‘s Lester Medford continues to come up big in key moments for the Bears. The senior point guard delivered a huge second half in Baylor’s win over Vanderbilt earlier this season, and on Saturday, he knocked down the game-winning three-pointer against Texas Tech. While most of the focus has been on Kansas, Oklahoma, and West Virginia, the Bears victory quietly pushed them into a four-way tie for first in the Big 12.
  5. Our final note comes from the recruiting world. Last week, four-star center Udoka Azubuike declared his intention to announce his college choice at the Hoop Hall Classic this weekend. Azubuike, who is choosing between Florida State, Kansas, and North Carolina, appeared to be leaning towards the ‘Noles, but by Sunday rumors were swirling that Florida State was out of the picture altogether. As Kansas and North Carolina picked up predictions in 247Sports’ Crystal Ball, Azubuike’s guardian announced that the high school senior would be pushing back his decision. Just the latest in a long line of strange recruiting stories, it looks like this recruiting battle will continue for a while longer.
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Big 12 M5: 01.11.16 Edition

Posted by Brian Goodman on January 11th, 2016

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  1. It wasn’t pretty, but Kansas bested Texas Tech 69-59 in Lubbock Saturday night to move to 3-0 in conference play. The key stretch for the Jayhawks came late in the second half. Up by just two points, the Jayhawks used three-pointers by Wayne Selden and Frank Mason to power an 11-4 run from which the Red Raiders couldn’t recover. Tubby Smith’s team was also done in by a rare poor night at the stripe: The Red Raiders, who shoot 72.2 percent at the line, hit just 9-of-19 free throws. It would have been nice for Texas Tech to post a big win to show just how improved they are from a couple seasons ago, but they’ll have plenty of other chances.
  2. West Virginia made easy work of Oklahoma State with a 77-60 win in Morgantown, setting up a matchup of 3-0 teams when the Jayhawks visit WVU Coliseum tomorrow night. Mountaineer senior Jonathan Holton had one of the best games of his career, scoring 15 points to go with nine rebounds, three assists, two steals and zero turnovers. The Cowboys weren’t expected to be very competitive in Morgantown, but with home games against Oklahoma and Kansas and road games at Texas and Kansas State coming up, things in Stillwater are likely to get worse before they get better.
  3. One of the key takeaways from last week’s classic between Oklahoma and Kansas was the importance of the league’s contenders winning their home games. Apparently, Iowa State missed the message, because they were dropped by Baylor at home on Saturday afternoon. Bears forward Johnathan Motley came up huge with a career-high 27 points and 13 rebounds against the Cyclones’ porous interior defense, but he wasn’t the only one who had a big day. Taurean Prince had a double-double (18 points and ten rebounds) and Lester Medford had a surgically efficient 16 point, 11 assist night, all without a single turnover. Iowa State is by no means done in the Big 12 race, but three of their next four games come on the road, with the only home game in that stretch coming against Oklahoma. The Cyclones definitely have their work cut out for them.
  4. Oklahoma bounced back from its tough loss at Kansas with a comfortable home win over Kansas StateBuddy Hield had another outstanding game, notching his third 30-plus point game in his last four outings and his sixth such performance this season. Oh, and he also had eight rebounds, five assists, two blocks and a pair of steals. His games are quickly becoming must-watch programming, and your next shot to see him do his thing comes Wednesday night when the Sooners take on intra-state rivals Oklahoma State on ESPNU.
  5. Jeff Haley of Burnt Orange Nation took a deep analytical dive into Texas’ rocky start under Shaka Smart, which may have hit a low point over the weekend with a loss at TCU. One particularly interesting point has to do with Smart’s deployment of the trademark press that connected him to every big coaching vacancy over the last few years. While the Longhorns don’t press very often, its lack of efficiency on the other end significantly reduces its margin for error when it tries to force turnovers in the backcourt. The logic there is that good teams will be able to beat the press and get easy looks, which in turn only makes the offense’s job more of a challenge than it already is. The piece is definitely worth your while.
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Big 12 M5: Weekend Preview Edition

Posted by Kendall Kaut on January 8th, 2016

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  1. Iowa State hosts Baylor on Saturday as the Cyclones hope to defeat the only team that won a Big 12 game in Hilton Coliseum last season. The Bears, however, enter the game 0-3 on the road this season. One way Scott Drew’s team was able to win in Ames a year ago was on the strength of its shooting, but Taurean Prince will have to return to his road form of last season because he’s only shooting 25 percent away from Waco. Iowa State may now be down to a seven-man rotation, but the Cyclones have been able to survive so far in large part because of the lowest defensive free throw rate in the country. If Deonte Burton continues to play so well — the transfer is averaging 11.0 points in just 18 minutes per game — the Cyclones will have a great chance at a top-three finish in the Big 12 race.
  2. Texas Tech has been the surprise of the season thus far, but it will have a huge task ahead on Saturday in Lubbock. Fresh off a triple-overtime win against Oklahoma, Kansas will be looking to avoid a letdown. The Red Raiders played Iowa State close on Wednesday night, but struggled to stop Matt Thomas late in the game. That challenge will be heightened against a Kansas team that ranks second nationally in three-point offense at 45.7 percent. In his third season with the Red Raiders, Tubby Smith seems to have made a leap with this team (#6 RPI; #39 KenPom). If they can pull off the upset, it could be a really nice Selection Sunday two months from now.
  3. After a legendary 46-point, eight-rebound, seven-assist performance from Buddy Hield against Kansas, the Sooners will host Kansas State on Saturday. The Wildcats have been much better than many expected this season, but because of scheduling and some bad luck they are staring down an 0-3 start in league play. Bruce Weber’s team managed to beat Oklahoma twice last season, which should prevent the Sooners from overlooking them.
  4. West Virginia can start 3-0 in Big 12 play with a win over Oklahoma State on Saturday. The Mountaineers’ vaunted press has put the team second nationally in three-point defense and first in opponents’ turnover percentage. With games coming against Kansas and Oklahoma next week, West Virginia’s schedule will ramp up soon, which is why it’s so important to win the games in which you’re favored. In contrast, Oklahoma State has been killed by the recent news that Phil Forte is probably out for the season, but Jawun Evans has shown how special the Cowboys’ backcourt can be a year from now. Evans had nine assists against Baylor and got to the line 10 times against TCU.
  5. Life has been difficult without big man Cameron Ridley, but Texas can get to 2-1 in Big 12 play with a win at TCU on Saturday. Javan Felix‘s 48 percent shooting from three-point range and Isaiah Taylor‘s average of 26.0 points per game in the first two Big 12 games give the Longhorns hope. With Trent Johnson at the helm and an investment in upgraded facilities, the future appears bright at TCU. However, TCU’s offense ranks 236th in KenPom, and with road trips to Baylor and Kansas next week, a loss to the ‘Horns could put the Horned Frogs at major risk of starting 0-5 in Big 12 play.
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Big 12 M5: New Year’s Day Edition

Posted by Chris Stone on January 1st, 2016

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  1. West Virginia closed out its non-conference schedule with an 88-63 road win over Virginia Tech on Wednesday night. The Mountaineers were led by sophomore guard Jevon Carter who finished with 18 points. With Juwan Staten’s graduation, Carter has played a much larger offensive roll this season. He’s scoring 13.0 points per game and has improved his outside shot in 2015-16. Already a pesky defender, Carter could be positioning himself for an All-Big 12 type season.
  2. Monte Morris continues to impress. His 10-point, 11-assist, zero-turnover performance in Iowa State’s 104-84 win over Coppin State is Morris’ latest quality outing. While Morris isn’t leading the NCAA in assist-to-turnover ratio for a third straight season (that honor belongs to Pitt’s James Robinson), he is still averaging nearly six assists per turnover. His impressive distribution is keeping teammates on their toes. “Just get to an open area,” Georges Niang told the media after the Cyclones’ win, “because I know he’s going to zing one past someone’s head and hopefully it doesn’t hit me in the face and it hits me in the hands.”
  3. Big 12 play begins Saturday and as usual the five game slate offers up some interesting matchups. There are two games between top 25 teams to open the conference season. Baylor will travel to Lawrence for an opening day contest against Kansas. While the Bears have a nice home win against Vanderbilt on their resume, they failed to pick up other quality wins during non-conference play. They’ll need to find a few resume builders over the remainder of the season if they want a high seed in the NCAA Tournament and there would be no better place to start than with an upset of the Jayhawks in Allen Fieldhouse.
  4. The other Top 25 matchup on the schedule pits Iowa State against Oklahoma in Norman. The big question is whether or not the Cyclones will be able to generate enough defensive stops. Iowa State is giving up 81.3 points per game over their last three contests and opponents are now converting 35.7 percent of their threes against the Cyclones. That may not bode well against the Sooners who are shooting 46.2 percent from behind the arc this season. If both Oklahoma and Kansas pull of the victories as expected, we could be treated to a matchup between #1 and #2 in Lawrence on Big Monday.
  5. The remainder of the Big 12 slate pits Texas Tech against Texas, West Virginia against Kansas State, and Oklahoma State against TCU. The Red Raiders are looking for their first win versus the Longhorns since 2014. Meanwhile, the Mountaineers will be looking to start off conference play with a road win after going 4-5 away from home in the Big 12 last season. The battle between the Cowboys and the Horned Frogs will give both teams an opportunity to pick up what may be one of their few Big 12 wins this season.
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Big 12 New Year’s Resolutions, Part II

Posted by Brian Goodman on December 31st, 2015

With 2016 mere hours away, it’s time for Big 12 teams to make some resolutions. We covered Kansas, Iowa State, Texas, Kansas State and TCU yesterday; here’s what the Sooners, Mountaineers, Bears, Red Raiders and Cowboys need to resolve in the coming year.

Oklahoma – Dethrone Kansas and earn a No. 1 seed

Note to Buddy Hield and Oklahoma: If you come at the king, you best not miss. (David K Purdy/Getty Images)

Buddy Hield and Oklahoma are ready to give Kansas their best shot. (David K Purdy/Getty Images)

Before we go any further, it should be clarified that this is a resolution for undefeated Oklahoma, not a prediction on our end. Kansas is, will and should be predicted to win the Big 12 until someone else does it, but that being said, what’s the point of making a resolution if it isn’t a challenge? Buddy Hield is getting the NPOY momentum he deserves thanks to his scorching 51.5/52.9/90.0 accuracy rates from the field, three-point range and free-throw line, but his teammates deserve some attention as well. Ryan Spangler is averaging a double-double; Jordan Woodard has games where he gets even hotter than Hield and Isaiah Cousins has transitioned admirably into the point guard role. While it’d be silly to predict an undefeated run through the Big 12 with the conference being as deep as it is, the trick for the Sooners is to sustain that strong performance all the way through March and do what Kevin Durant, Blake Griffin, Marcus Smart and Fred Hoiberg couldn’t.

West Virginia – Become better road warriors

The Mountaineers are off to a slightly surprising 10-1 start despite the loss of Juwan Staten and the new style of officiating that in theory, should hold pressing, physical teams like West Virginia back. The next challenge for Bob Huggins‘ team is to avoid the road struggles that kept it in the second tier of the Big 12 a year ago. Last season, the Mountaineers won zero road games against the top six teams in the Big 12, with especially painful losses at Kansas and Baylor. Those struggles away from WVU Coliseum limited the Mountaineers’ seeding in the NCAA Tournament, indirectly leading to the Kentucky loss that cannot be accurately described without invoking some pretty horrific imagery. As of now, there’s a clear line between Kansas, Oklahoma, Iowa State and the rest of the league, but while it looks unrealistic to expect WVU to join the conference’s elite, improved results away from Morgantown will cement an increased standing in the league — and in March. Read the rest of this entry »

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Big 12 M5: 12.30.15 Edition

Posted by Chris Stone on December 30th, 2015

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  1. There will be very few easy games in the Big 12 this season. One of the criticisms of the conference last year was that the bottom of the league wasn’t very good. That should change in 2015-16. On Tuesday, Texas Tech picked up their fourth win over a team ranked in the top 100 on KenPom with an 85-70 victory over Richmond. The Red Raiders lone non-conference loss came against a quality Utah team. Tech is predicted to finish 8-10 in the league which would be the school’s best mark under head coach Tubby Smith. The Red Raiders also have a chance to pick up a road win against Arkansas in the Big 12/SEC Challenge. If things fall in their favor, they could find themselves with a shot at their first NCAA Tournament birth since 2007.
  2. Kansas State will also contribute to a deeper Big 12 in 2015-16. With a dominating 75-47 win over Saint Louis on Tuesday, the Wildcats pushed their non-conference record to 10-2. Kansas State’s calling card has been its defense and that was no different in the win over the Billikens. Saint Louis scored a meager 0.67 points per possession in Manhattan. While the Wildcats don’t have the same quality wins that Texas Tech has, a few upsets in Big 12 play could push them onto the bubble come March.
  3. Texas announced that senior center Cameron Ridley will be out 8-10 weeks due to a fracture in his left foot. In the Longhorns’ first game without Ridley, Texas fell 71-66 to Connecticut in Austin. Ridley’s absence was felt on both ends of the floor. The Huskies outscored Texas 40-28 in the paint on Tuesday. Ridley’s replacement, Prince Ibeh, played just 18 minutes and picked up his fourth foul with nearly nine minutes remaining. Without Ibeh or Ridley on the floor, opponents will be able to challenge the Longhorns inside and UConn did so successfully. Forced to rely on a more perimeter oriented attack, Texas floundered. The Longhorns shot 39 percent from the field and 6-of-23 from three-point range. How Shaka Smart adapts to Ridley’s absence early in conference play will be crucial to Texas’ Big 12 success.
  4. Kansas beat UC Irvine, 78-53, to close out its non-conference schedule, but for the second season in a row the story out of Lawrence is becoming the playing time of a highly touted freshman. Cheick Diallo is averaging only 11.2 minutes per game so far and played just six minutes against the Anteaters. Bill Self told the media afterwards that he thinks “our experienced guys are playing better.” While that may be true at the moment, there’s no doubt that Diallo has a higher upside than just about anyone in the Jayhawks’ frontcourt rotation. Allowing Diallo to develop now could benefit Kansas in March, but with Baylor and Oklahoma on tap to open Big 12 play, it seems unlikely the freshman will be seeing significant playing time in the near future.
  5. There are two Big 12 games remaining ahead of the start of conference play on Saturday. Iowa State should cruise against Coppin State tonight, but West Virginia has a much more interesting matchup. The Mountaineers will play their first true road game of the season when they travel to Blacksburg, VA to face Virginia Tech. West Virginia is favored in the contest, but road games are always tricky. Whatever the result, the experience in a hostile environment should prove useful as the Mountaineers open their Big 12 schedule with road trips to Kansas State and TCU.
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Big 12 M5: 12.28.15 Edition

Posted by Chris Stone on December 28th, 2015

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  1. On Christmas Day, Oklahoma defeated Harvard to win the Diamond Head Classic in Honolulu. The Sooners were led by senior Buddy Hield, who scored 34 points on 11-of-14 shooting from the field. It was the senior’s fourth 30-point game of the season and only the latest addition to his National Player of the Year portfolio. To say Hield’s season has been impressive would be quite an understatement. He is currently using 31 percent of Oklahoma’s possessions and scoring 24.9 points per game while performing even more efficiently than he did a year ago. Hield finished last season with an effective field goal percentage of 50.5 percent; he’s at 62.4 percent this year. On pace for a 50/50/90 season, it’s no wonder Hield is a legitimate NPOY contender.
  2. Hield isn’t the only Big 12 player in the NPOY race. After last week’s 24 points and 10 rebounds in a true road win over Cincinnati, Iowa State’s Georges Niang is also in that picture. As Travis Hines of the Ames Tribune points out, Niang is posting career high numbers nearly across the board for one of the country’s top teams, and he’ll have even more opportunities to showcase his skills on the national stage against the toughest conference in the nation come January.
  3. After a poor performance in Baylor’s 80-61 loss to Texas A&M, senior Taurean Prince bounced back with a huge game in the Bears’ subsequent 85-70 victory over New Mexico State. Prince hung 34 points on the Aggies in the win, but most importantly, he needed just 19 shots to get there. After a wildly efficient campaign last year, Prince’s efficiency numbers this season have lagged largely due to a subpar performance inside the three-point arc. Prince is shooting nearly seven percent worse on two-point shots this season. Thus, his 10-for-15 shooting on two-pointers against New Mexico State is a welcome sight for Baylor fans looking for the senior to find his groove.
  4. After a limited slate of college basketball games during the recent holidays, things will get back to normal this week. Nine of the ten Big 12 teams have games remaining ahead of the start of conference play on Saturday. The league’s headliner will likely come on Tuesday night when Connecticut travels to Austin to face Texas. Shaka Smart’s Longhorns have already collected one resume-building win (an 84-82 thrilling victory against North Carolina) at the Erwin Center this season. The key to the game will likely be Texas’ ability to limit the Huskies’ two-point offense. Connecticut ranks eighth nationally in two-point percentage and has scored 57 percent of their points inside the arc. The Longhorns, though, figure to be up to the task. They’ve allowed opponents to shoot just 40.5 percent on two-point shots this season.
  5. In the most recent iteration of his power rankings, Sports Illustrated’s Luke Winn pointed out that college basketball lacks truly elite teams this season. But that hasn’t stopped the Big 12 as a whole from putting together an impressive year. Oklahoma and Kansas currently occupy the top two spots in the KenPom ratings and the league is once again ranked as his toughest conference based on adjusted offensive and defensive efficiency ratings. In fact, if the Big 12 holds, the league’s .8342 rating will be the highest achieved by any conference since the Big Ten turned the trick in 2012-13.
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