Big 12 Survival Guide: Keys to Each First Round Matchup

Posted by Brian Goodman on March 16th, 2017

Despite Oklahoma‘s Final Four run last season, the Big 12 continues to fight a public relations battle for reasons both earned and not when it comes to NCAA Tournament success. Kansas State‘s win over Wake Forest in Tuesday’s First Four started things off on a positive note, but the league still has plenty of work ahead. Here are the keys to each of the conference’s six games taking place over the next couple of days.

Frank Mason looks to end his career with a national title (Getty).

  • #1 Kansas – Show up. The Jayhawks have had plenty of rest over the last couple of weeks, so Friday’s game is about shaking off the rust. A handful of #15 and #16 seeds over the last decade have hung with Kansas for 20 or so minutes, but UC Davis wasn’t competitive in its only game against a Power 5 school this season — an 86-61 loss to California in November. Additionally, the Aggies have only won their last three games by a combined nine points, so they’ve beaten long odds to even get to this point. There’s no need to overthink this.

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Rushed Reactions: West Virginia 51, Kansas State 50

Posted by Brian Goodman on March 11th, 2017

RTC’s Brian Goodman (@BSGoodman) is providing on-site coverage of the Big 12 Tournament.

West Virginia Pulls Off the Comeback (USA Today Images)

Three Key Takeaways.

  1. Offense was nowhere to be found in first-half slog. In their previous two meetings against the Mountaineers, Kansas State struggled to hold onto the ball, posting turnover rates above 20 percent. West Virginia’s press didn’t frustrate the Wildcats quite as much tonight, as Bob Huggins‘ team generated takeaways on just 18.3 percent of Kansas State’s possessions. Instead, it was poor half-court offense, inaccurate three-point shooting and a lack of offensive rebounds that set the Wildcats back early — scoring just 0.78 points per possession before halftime. Those struggles would have been a much bigger issue had West Virginia scored more than 0.50 points per trip itself.
  2. West Virginia’s defensive adjustment keys second-half rally. The Mountaineers’ defensive identity as a pressing team is firmly entrenched, but it’s tough to set it up if you don’t make shots. West Virginia shot an ice-cold 18.8 percent in the first half and failed to score a single point 0ff a Kansas State giveaway until the second half. Huggins switched things up down the stretch, deploying a 1-3-1 zone that worked all the way down to the final play, when Kamau Stokes picked up his dribble and had nowhere to go with his team needing a bucket to win. The Wildcats connected on just four shots over the final 13:26 of the game, buying just enough time for the Mountaineers to make up a 12-point deficit.
  3. Isaiah Maurice provides another big body. Two years into his career, Dean Wade is still mostly a one-way big man who struggles to defend similarly-sized players. D.J. Johnson can’t do it all down low, so Bruce Weber needs another option. Enter the unlikely Maurice, a redshirt freshman and former Old Dominion commitment. Maurice helped the Wildcats contain Johnathan Motley on Thursday and performed admirably on Friday in 20 minutes of action. West Virginia shot just 2-of-15 inside the arc in the first half, with Maurice holding down the paint and altering shots by Jevon Carter and Nathan Adrian. Until Wade becomes more assertive on the defensive end, expect Maurice to continue to play a key role in the Wildcats’ rotation.

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Big 12 Quarterfinal Takeaways

Posted by Brian Goodman on March 10th, 2017

Thursday’s quarterfinal round of the Big 12 Tournament in Kansas City had a little bit of everything. While #1 seed Kansas wasn’t at full strength with Josh Jackson out of the lineup, TCU pulled off what could be the upset of the week in college basketball in moving to the semifinals. The other afternoon game featured Iowa State’s Monte’ Morris and Oklahoma State’s Jawun Evans putting on an entertaining show as the Cyclones treated their big contingency of traveling fans to a win. In the evening session, West Virginia wore Texas down in the only game that lacked significant drama, but Kansas State made up for it by winning a game it absolutely needed to stay alive for an at-large bid. Let’s get to the biggest takeaways from the day that was.

TCU guard Desmond Bane hit three decisive free throws after being fouled by Svi Mykhailiuk with the game tied in the closing seconds. (Nick Krug/KUSports.com)

  • TCU stuns Kansas, but the Jayhawks are still in position for a #1 seed. Prior to Thursday afternoon’s upset, Jackson’s suspension didn’t seem like a deal-breaker. Kansas had swept TCU in the regular season, including a December 30 win in Fort Worth where the freshman wing scored four points and fouled out in 12 forgettable minutes. As it turned out yesterday, however, Kansas sorely missed Jackson’s presence, especially on the offensive glass. The Horned Frogs, playing for the second day in a row, rebounded 78.8 percent of Kansas’ misses, about 10 percent above their season-long rate. Still, despite the shock factor, this isn’t a devastating loss for Kansas. The Jayhawks won the nation’s top-rated conference by four games, beat Kentucky, Baylor and Iowa State on the road, and outlasted Duke on a neutral court. One thing to keep in mind, however, is that when Kansas begins its NCAA Tournament appearance on March 17, it will be playing in just its fourth game in 19 days, and Jackson will be playing his first game in almost two whole weeks. The Jayhawks could benefit from some rest and a #16 seed will provide a chance to shake off any rust, but it’s a very different stretch from what the team has grown accustomed to.

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The Big 12 Bubble Picture Remains Hazy

Posted by Nate Kotisso on March 8th, 2017

From now until Sunday evening, those viewing the various conference tournament games around the country will see a flurry of “last four in,” “first four out” and “next four out” graphics that will make you question whether you’ve lived your life the way you hoped. Let’s work under the impression that Baylor, Iowa State, Kansas, Oklahoma State and West Virginia are already safe bets to make the upcoming Field of 68. In order to lower the risk of convulsing at the sight of these graphics, here is a guide of where Kansas State, TCU and Texas Tech stand heading into the quarterfinals of the Big 12 Tournament. So make sure to bookmark this article for the rest of the week. Your life depends on it.

You might think this screencap from The Simpsons’ season three premiere episode “Stark Raving Dad” has nothing to do with college hoops. But you would be wrong. Above is Leon Kompowsky, an insane asylum roommate of Homer Simpson’s who was voiced by the late Michael Jackson. Here, Kompowsky (voiced by Jackson) takes out his pet monkey and says to it, “Bubbles, it’s gonna be a long night.” Hence, the bubble talk. (20th Century Fox)

*RPI and SOS numbers via CBSSports.com

Kansas State Wildcats

Record: 19-12 (8-10); RPI: 58, SOS: 53, Non-conference SOS: 223, KenPom: 32

  • What they have: Thank goodness for conference play. The Wildcats put together a respectable 11-1 record through Christmas but their only non-conference win during that stretch was on a neutral court against Colorado State. Kansas State recovered from its weak schedule by snagging several important Big 12 victories versus West Virginia and Baylor at home and Oklahoma State on the road.
  • Anything to add: One win at this week’s Big 12 Tournament would clinch it. Considering that the Wildcats’ first game would come against former #1 Baylor, a second victory over the Bears would provide plenty of justification. But it probably isn’t necessary. If K-State loses on Thursday, there is a distinct possibility that the Wildcats will still slide into the field on the overall strength of the Big 12.

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Four Storylines Heading into the Big 12 Tournament

Posted by Brian Goodman on March 8th, 2017

While the Big 12 figures to take a step back from 2016 in terms of NCAA Tournament participation, the league has once again enjoyed a stellar season. You could certainly look at Kansas winning the regular season championship by four games and conclude that it wasn’t all that great, but a look under the hood reveals a different stance. Of the 90 league games that were played this season, 43 were decided by five points or fewer (or in overtime) and just two were decided by 20 points or more. Although the majority of the league’s NCAA Tournament fates are already sealed, we should be in for more several more exciting finishes over the next four days. Here are the four biggest storylines worth following this week in Kansas City.

Frank Mason takes his POY campaign to Kansas City for the Big 12 Tournament (Reed Hoffmann/Getty Images)

  1. Kansas State has everything to play for. After losing eight of 10 games, the Wildcats rejoined the bubble conversation by closing its regular season with victories in must-win games against TCU and Texas Tech. Bruce Weber also appears to have received a temporary reprieve from the hot seat with athletic director John Currie stepping down, so things are trending in the right direction in Manhattan. A win over Baylor in Thursday’s quarterfinals should remove any lingering doubts over an NCAA Tournament bid, and senior D.J. Johnson is the most important piece of that puzzle. The injury-prone big man was healthy and, more importantly, productive in the team’s regular season finale, scoring 19 points on an efficient 8-of-11 shooting against the Red Raiders. He also helped contain standout Bears forward Johnathan Motley to 6-of-17 shooting in the Wildcats’ win over Baylor in early February.
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Big 12 Power Rankings: Iowa State Won A Bunch Of Games While You Weren’t Looking Edition

Posted by Big 12 Team on February 28th, 2017

Quick! How many games has Iowa State won this season? You vaguely remember the Cyclones beating Kansas a few weeks ago, so that must mean they’re doing well, right? At this point in the year, you’re probably thinking they have a nice, healthy number of wins. Like 22 or 23. Yeah, that sounds good. You’ll go with that. I’m sorry, however, but you are incorrect. The correct answer is 19. Having 19 wins on February 27 isn’t particularly noteworthy unless you note how Iowa State got to that number in the first place. First, Steve Prohm put together an ambitious non-conference schedule that produced two losses to very good basketball teams (Gonzaga, Cincinnati) and two other losses that he’d like to have back (Iowa, Vanderbilt). Add in a 5-4 start to Big 12 play — not to mention Oklahoma State’s herculean turnaround — and it was pretty easy to forget the Cyclones even existed. Now they’re on a five-game winning streak and, with two more wins, have a chance to clinch the #2 seed in next month’s Big 12 Tournament. I didn’t think I’d be typing that sentence a month ago. Power Rankings time!

Hey you! Remember me? I’m Monte, the preseason All-American dude from Iowa State. You know, I’m still doing All-American type things on the court. You should turn on one of my games some time. You’ll enjoy it! (photo: lanezphotography.com)

1. Kansas — all voted 1st – “The Jayhawks have won seven straight games since their home loss to Iowa State a few weeks ago. Along the way, Kansas also won its 13th straight Big 12 regular season title, one of the most impressive streaks in college basketball history.” – Drew Andrews (@DrewAndrews24)

2. West Virginia — average: 2.4 – “Saturday’s match-up against Iowa State will be the last game in Morgantown for hometown hero Nathan Adrian. Adrian was a sparsely used bench player last year, but he’s taken on Jonathan Holton’s role atop the press this year. He’s been excellent with the additional responsibility and figures to be missed at the Coliseum.” – Chris Stone (@cstonehoops)

3. Iowa State — average: 3.0 (not unanimous) – “The Cyclones’ rotation is not very deep, so it has helped that freshman forward Solomon Young has started to contribute lately. During Iowa State’s current five-game winning streak, Young has had multiple blocks in four of those games.” – Justin Fedich (@jfedich)

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Big 12 Power Rankings: The Big 12 isn’t the Best Conference, You Guys Edition

Posted by Big 12 Team on February 20th, 2017

We are now fewer than three weeks away from Selection Sunday and the committee has already had real conversations about which teams should be in, which teams should be out, where they should be seeded and where they will eat after the bracket is announced. The strength of each of the six power conferences is no doubt another topic the committee has discussed, which is why we need to have an honest talk with ourselves about where the Big 12 currently sits. The league has something of a body image problem. One year ago, the Big 12 was in the best shape of its life. It actually looked forward to leg day, but it’s been a different story ever since. Needless to say the league gained a few pounds during the holidays — just enough to notice it cannot fit into its favorite clothes anymore and needs to find a few good pairs of sweatpants. That’s all it is. Because the ACC is the best game going in 2017. The Big 12 is a little puffier in the midsection and its legs are hardly recognizable. But it’s great that we were able to talk this out. The power rankings are up next.

Kansas Celebrates What Appears to be an Insurmountable Lead for Another Big 12 Title (USA Today Images)

1. Kansas — all voted 1st – “This team is good.” – Nate Kotisso (@natekotisso)

2. Baylor — average: 2.2 – “The Bears’ odds of becoming a No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament took a major hit with back-to-back losses to Texas Tech and Kansas. While Baylor isn’t likely to win the Big 12 regular season championship, the Bears are still firmly in position to challenge Kansas in the upcoming Big 12 Tournament and make some serious noise into late March.” – Justin Fedich (@jfedich)

3. West Virginia — average: 3.0 (not unanimous) – “There nothing more to say about the 14-point collapse at Allen Fieldhouse other than, ‘It is what it is.’ The Mountaineers held Kansas to 50 points and under 30 percent shooting for over 37 minutes before allowing 34 points over the final eight minutes of the game. It is exceptionally rare to see Bob Huggins teams lose intensity like that, but the one thing that is holding this team back has been a propensity to blow big leads.” – Drew Andrews (@DrewAndrews24)

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Big 12 Power Rankings: Saturday Lost Its Damn Mind Edition

Posted by Big 12 Team on February 7th, 2017

It took five weeks to get there, but the Big 12 finally returned to the wackiness that made it college basketball’s most entertaining league a season ago. At least for a day. All three of Saturday’s upsets encompassed a group of strangely similar qualities: the losing teams were ranked in the top 10; they dropped these games on their home floors; and the teams who won desperately needed to bolster their otherwise tame NCAA Tournament profiles. On the backs of the still surging Jeffrey Carroll and superhero guard Jawun Evans, Oklahoma State became the second Oklahoma school to hand West Virginia a home loss this season. Known for their insane comeback victories, Baylor was unable to overcome Kansas State’s 19-point first half lead, even in Waco. Finally, the Big 12’s best match-up gave us another game to remember. If you’ve enjoyed the previous editions of Iowa StateKansas since 2013, there is a great chance you also liked the Cyclones’ thrilling overtime victory in Allen Fieldhouse. What Saturday’s action proved is that a day, or even a week, full of surprises is still possible in the less chaotic 2017 version of the Big 12. Our rankings are coming your way.

Brad Underwood’s Cowboys scored a huge road win at West Virginia on Saturday. (USA Today Sports Images)

1. Kansas — all voted 1st – “The Jayhawks lost their first conference home game since 2013 on Saturday when Iowa State canned 18 three-pointers. It should have created an opening for both Baylor and West Virginia to make up ground in the title race, but both teams stumbled at home as well. KenPom ranks Kansas as the 65th luckiest team in the country, but the Jayhawks certainly had their horse shoes and rabbit foots on hand Saturday.” – Chris Stone (@cstonehoops)

2. Baylor — all voted 2nd – “The Bears were given a gift as Kansas couldn’t hold serve in its earlier home game, but the Wildcats entered Waco and walked out with a huge road win. The defense did its part but Johnathan Motley was the only Baylor player in double figures. Scott Drew’s team now has three straight games against bottom-half league teams before hosting Kansas in what could be a de facto regular season championship game.” – Drew Andrews (@DrewAndrews24)

3. West Virginia — all voted 3rd – “The gap between third and fourth place in the Big 12 has shrunken considerably in a matter of just a few days. With West Virginia’s second home loss to a sub-.500 team in league play and Iowa State’s road triumph in Lawrence, the Cyclones and Mountaineers are now both 6-4 in Big 12 play. What’s keeping West Virginia in third is its head-to-head win at Iowa State last Tuesday night.” – Nate Kotisso (@natekotisso)

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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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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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