Big 12 Observations After One Week

Posted by Brian Goodman on November 14th, 2018

Eight of the 10 Big 12 teams have played at least two games (Oklahoma State squares off at Texas-San Antonio tonight and West Virginia meets Monmouth tomorrow), so while it’s still too early to draw sweeping conclusions, it is a good time to take a look at some early revelations with Feast Week just around the corner.

Two games has been enough for Kansas fans to be treated to the full Dedric Lawson experience. (Nick Krug/Lawrence Journal-World)

  • Dedric Lawson’s been just okay. Just one week in and we’ve already seen some of the inconsistency for which the preseason All-American became known during his two years at Memphis. Even though Lawson struggled to a 5-of-18 shooting night against Michigan State, he was good enough to contribute 20 points along with 14 rebounds, two blocks and a pair of steals. In his Allen Fieldhouse debut against Vermont on Monday, however, he was a total non-factor from start to finish as the Catamounts pushed him around and held him scoreless for the first time in his career. Among his many skills, Lawson is a tremendous passer out of the paint, but Kansas’ insistence on running so much of its offense through Udoka Azubuike presents challenges in terms of fit and strategy when they’re both on the floor. The junior shouldn’t have any problems on Friday against Louisiana, whose rotation includes just one player taller than 6’6″, but it’s fair to have expected a little more from the big man in his first two games in Lawrence.
  • It might be a while before we know how good West Virginia is. There isn’t much shame in losing to mid-major darling Buffalo in overtime, but the fact that the Mountaineers put up a defensive turnover rate of just 12.8 percent at home and were fairly mediocre on the offensive glass in allowing a 13-point second half comeback should dispel any notions that this season will be business as usual in Morgantown. Bob Huggins‘ team will have opportunities to clean things up, but with this weekend’s Myrtle Beach Invitational lacking top-end competition and just one meeting against a KenPom top-50 team remaining (Florida in Madison Square Garden) before conference play, determining where this team belongs in both the Big 12 and national picture might take some time.

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Iowa State on the Rise?

Posted by Brian Goodman on December 20th, 2017

Last Friday, our very own Chris Stone noted the Big 12’s supremacy in Ken Pomeroy’s conference rankings. You should click the link and read through the analysis regardless, but the long and short of it is that the conference has spent the first month-plus of the regular season running roughshod over the rest of college basketball even more than it has in previous seasons. Not much has changed since last weekend, but one of the more interesting implications of the league’s sterling performance to date is how it could impact Selection Sunday. The Big 12 has sent seven teams to the NCAA Tournament in three of the last four seasons, but at this early juncture, it’s realistic to think that it could max out with eight bids because of the combination of several impressive victories in non-league play, a relative lack of head-scratching losses, and, unlike the other Power 6 conferences, the fact that the “worst loss” a Big 12 team will take in league play will not be horribly punitive from an overall resume standpoint.

Lindell Wigginton and Nick Weiler-Babb were supposed to take their lumps at the bottom of the Big 12, but a lengthy Iowa State winning streak could portend otherwise. (AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall)

If the Big 12 is going to outdo itself in terms of NCAA Tournament placement this season, the team to consider is Iowa State, which looked like an afterthought following early losses to Missouri and Milwaukee. The Cyclones will now almost assuredly enter league play with nine straight wins after tonight’s meeting with Maryland-Eastern Shore, and the biggest factor in their turnaround has been the emergence of Nick Weiler-Babb, one of the most improved players in the Big 12. After averaging just four points per game in a bench role last season, Weiler-Babb has remarkably produced at a similar level to his predecessor Monte’ Morris, averaging 13.5 points and 7.5 assists per game while playing a staggering 37.5 minutes each night. The junior transfer from Arkansas is also the team’s leading rebounder through 10 games, although that may change with the way freshman Cameron Lard has started his career.

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Big 12 Burning Questions: Iowa State Cyclones

Posted by Brian Goodman on October 24th, 2017

This preview is part of RTC’s Big 12 preseason coverage.

Will the new-look Cyclones gel in Steve Prohm’s first season without any holdovers from the Hoiberg era?

Iowa State’s 2017 graduating class of Monte’ Morris, Naz Mitrou-Long, Matt Thomas and Deonte Burton was one of the most decorated in program history. There weren’t any surefire NBA players in the bunch, but together, they helped former coach Fred Hoiberg revitalize the program and made it possible for successor Steve Prohm to maintain that success in his first two seasons. Now that core is gone and it’s time to see what Prohm can do with a roster composed completely of his own recruits. The Cyclones return just three scholarship players from last season’s rotation, and of the group, only big man Solomon Young started. The freshman was inserted into the lineup during the stretch run, with the Cyclones going 10-2 during that period — the only two losses coming against West Virginia in the regular season finale and against Purdue in the NCAA Tournament Round of 32. Of course, all of that success isn’t fully attributable to the insertion of Young into the starting lineup, but he was a clear upgrade from the pair of Merrill Holden and Darrell Bowie and should bring the same stability to this season’s rotation.

Steve Prohm will forge his own path after Iowa State graduated the last remaining players from the Hoiberg regime. (USATSI)

Senior guard Donovan Jackson didn’t play much at the point guard slot with the workhorse Morris standing in front of him, but he showed some intriguing offensive potential off the bench, especially in league play. Jackson played just 41.9 percent of the available minutes against Big 12 opponents, but his offensive rating (120.5), turnover rate (9.5%) and three-point shooting (44.5%) during those opportunities were top-notch. If this year’s Iowa State offense is to have any hope of matching its benchmark from the last few seasons, Jackson will have to increase his production with more playing time. The Cyclones’ other returning scholarship player is Nick Weiler-Babb, a wing whose role is still a bit hazy, but a player who possesses some versatility with an ability to make athletic plays and move the ball. Read the rest of this entry »

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One Burning Question: Will Steve Prohm’s Big Bet Pay Off?

Posted by Brian Goodman on November 1st, 2016

On the surface, the changes that Steve Prohm is asking Monte’ Morris to make this season seem rational. The Cyclones are coming off of a Sweet Sixteen appearance, but lost the Big 12’s fourth all-time scoring leader in Georges Niang and two other effective scorers in Abdel Nader and Jameel McKay. The thinking goes that someone has to pick up the slack, and who better to do so than a Preseason All-American and potential first round pick? Furthermore, recent history on both sides of the equation supports the notion that Prohm and Morris can pull this off. In 2014, Prohm’s offense turned Cameron Payne into a lottery pick at Murray State. The season before that, DeAndre Kane soaked up 27 percent of Iowa State’s possessions on the way to leading Iowa State to its first Sweet Sixteen in 14 years. So this should work too, right? I’m not so sure. In fact, there are a few reasons to be skeptical of how far Morris can carry this team, though admittedly, Prohm doesn’t have much choice.

Can Iowa State ride Monte' Morris back to the Big Dance? (AP/Charlie Neibergall)

Can Iowa State ride Monte’ Morris back to the Big Dance? (AP/Charlie Neibergall)

Perhaps the biggest difference between this Iowa State team and the last few versions is that opposing defenders will be locked in on Morris from the start. Matt Thomas and Naz Mitrou-Long are legitimate scoring threats who will divert some attention away from Morris, but defenses won’t be motivated to stay on them if they aren’t hitting their threes. Even if Thomas and Mitrou-Long pick up where they left off, though, it doesn’t necessarily mean that Morris — despite sporting an improved physique — will be able to successfully absorb the kind of volume the Cyclones hope to extract from him this season. Read the rest of this entry »

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