Big 12 Power Rankings: Say a Prayer for the Sooners Edition

Posted by Big 12 Team on February 14th, 2017

There wasn’t any question what the college basketball world thought about Oklahoma a season ago. The Sooners were led by a likable All-American who was surrounded by a group of teammates that had played more than 100 consecutive games together. Even after a blowout Final Four loss to Villanova ended their season, conventional wisdom was that one poor performance wouldn’t diminish the tremendous gains and relentlessly bright future the program had ahead of it. Unfortunately, this season has made last year feel like the tail end of the Jeff Capel era. The returnees and freshmen have failed to mesh in any meaningful way, resulting in two seven-game losing streaks and looking like a finish in the Big 12 cellar is imminent. With leading scorer Jordan Woodard out for the rest of the season with a career-ending ACL injury, what seemed like an achievable 600 win threshold for Lon Kruger this season is increasingly looking like an impossibility. One bad season among several very good ones will not tarnish Oklahoma basketball in the long run, but it represents a reminder to those on the outside that no one is immune to a bad year every once in a while. This week’s power rankings are right after this goofy picture of Kruger.

Lon Kruger is two wins away from notching 600 wins as a collegiate head coach. The question is: will his wounded Sooners win two with a month left in the season? (AP Photo/Sue Ogrocki)

  • 1. Kansas — all voted 1st – “Aside from a few down games which should be expected of any high-major college player, Josh Jackson has lived up to the hype. In the seven games prior to an average outing against West Virginia (14 points, 11 rebounds, six turnovers) last night, though, he averaged 20.6 points on 56.3 percent shooting (53.6% 3FG), along with 7.6 rebounds in 34.4 minutes per contest. Kansas’ depth issues have led to some recent second-half struggles, but the Jayhawks’ freshman phenom is the primary reason the Jayhawks have been able to overcome them.” – Brian Goodman (@BSGoodman)
  • 2. Baylor — all voted 2nd – “Kansas has made a living in the Big 12 historically with its outstanding interior defense, and now Baylor is doing the same thing. Opponents have made just 44.5 percent of their twos against the Bears in conference play this season, with the next best mark Kansas and Oklahoma’s tie at 47.5 percent. Jo Lual-Acuil and Johnathan Motley have combined to make Baylor a realistic competitor even when its offense struggles.” – Chris Stone (@cstonehoops)
  • 3. West Virginia — all voted 3rd – “Per KenPom, West Virginia owns the seventh-best defense and 10th-best offense in college basketball. Despite a heart-breaking overtime loss in Allen Fieldhouse last night, the Mountaineers are still in contention for a top-two NCAA Tournament seed if they can finish strong in their last five games.” – 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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Kansas’ New-Look Defense Faces Biggest Test Yet

Posted by Brian Goodman on February 1st, 2017

Last Saturday, more than three million people tuned in to watch Kansas beat Kentucky at Rupp Arena, marking just the Wildcats’ third non-conference home loss in the John Calipari era. Bill Self‘s team completed the upset in part because it rolled up 52 second-half points, but also because it adequately defended the post thanks to a a mixture of zone looks limiting Kentucky’s Bam Adebayo to a mere 10 points while committing four turnovers –despite Carlton Bragg‘s suspension. While it would be silly to expect the Jayhawks to exclusively use zone defenses moving forward, Self’s thin rotation makes it reasonable to think it will continue to incorporate them to varying degrees, particularly against teams with legitimate post scorers. With Kansas ready to face one of the most versatile big men in the country tonight in Baylor‘s Johnathan Motley, we should get a litmus test of just how far the Jayhawks are willing to go to limit their opponents inside.

Kansas escaped Rupp Arena with a win, but Johnathan Motley presents a unique challenge tonight in Lawrence. (AP Photo/Eric Gay)

Motley’s ability to confidently operate in the mid-range as well as down low separates him from Adebayo and, for that matter, nearly every big man in college basketball. Per hoop-math.com, Motley has converted a steady 67.4 percent of his shots at the rim this season, but just 37 percent of his field goal attempts are considered close looks (compared to 67.3 percent for Adebayo). Farther from the hoop, Motley’s accuracy on two-point jumpers is an impressive 43 percent, and he attempts those more than half the time (55.2 percent FGA). Additionally, Motley’s 14.3 percent offensive rebounding rate ranks second in the conference, which means that Kansas’ zone will be even more vulnerable to putbacks than it would be against an average Big 12 team. Add it all up and you have a big dilemma for the Jayhawk defense: Collapse on Motley when the ball enters the post and become susceptible to backdoor cuts and clean looks from deep, or take your chances with Josh JacksonLanden Lucas or Dwight Coleby guarding Motley one-on-one and risk foul trouble and second-chance buckets?

With Kansas’ frontcourt rotation so depleted, there’s no easy answer for the Jayhawks to handle a zone-buster like Motley. To keep control of the Big 12 race, Kansas may have to simply outscore its shortcomings the way it has since losing Udoka Azubuike to a season-ending wrist injury. Self’s team will also have home court and history on its side, as Baylor has never won at Allen Fieldhouse and has especially struggled in recent years, losing its last five meetings in Lawrence by an average of 16.6 points per game. But if any one player can expose the Jayhawks’ lack of depth down low, it’s Motley.

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Big 12 Power Rankings: It’s Happening Again Edition

Posted by Big 12 Team on January 20th, 2017

Kansas had a big night on Wednesday and the Jayhawks didn’t even play. Despite being favored by 17 points, West Virginia lost in stunning fashion to Oklahoma, done in by a few clutch plays from Jordan Woodard. The loss dropped the Mountaineers two games behind the Jayhawks in the Big 12 standings, and with Kansas set to play Texas at home on Saturday while West Virginia travels to Kansas State, the deficit could grow even deeper before the pair square off in Morgantown on Tuesday. Whether they beat the Wildcats or not, West Virginia could theoretically climb back into the race by notching wins against its peers in the upper third of the conference, but Wednesday’s loss underscores the importance of winning at home when it comes to contending for the Big 12 title. For now, the focus shifts back to Baylor, which is set to take on a tough TCU team in Fort Worth this weekend. The Bears will be favored, but not by more than a few points, which means the wheels could be in motion for Kansas to create some serious distance in its pursuit of consecutive regular season title #13. With comments on each team are Big 12 microsite writers Drew Andrews, Justin Fedich, Brian Goodman, Nate Kotisso, and Chris Stone.

1. Kansas: “The Jayhawks are unblemished in league play because they’re one of the best teams in America. They’re led by a National Player of the Year candidate, they have a likely one-and-done lottery pick who is asked to do a lot, but not too much, and they’re coached by one of the best in the profession. It’s tough to beat that combination. But another reason why Kansas is currently 6-0 in league play is because they’ve had the league’s second-easiest conference schedule to this point. That’s about to change very soon, however. After Saturday’s game against Texas, the Jayhawks travel to Morgantown, take a break from Big 12 play by playing Kentucky at Rupp Arena, then resume conference action with home games against Baylor and Iowa State. This team will ultimately be defined by what it does in March, but if they beat the odds to make it through the rest of January unscathed, it may be time to start thinking about this season as one of Bill Self‘s best ever.” -Brian Goodman

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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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How Johnathan Motley’s Supporting Cast Has Elevated Baylor

Posted by Brian Goodman on December 1st, 2016

Three weeks into the new season, the best non-conference resume in college basketball belongs to Baylor. The Bears already have four wins against teams ranked among the KenPom top 50 thanks to a flawless run through the Battle 4 Atlantis tournament, and they’ll have yet another chance to score a victory over a marquee opponent when they host Xavier on Saturday afternoon. November served as a national breakout party for Big 12 POY candidate Johnathan Motley, whose length, footwork and range have keyed Baylor’s hot start. But one player — even someone the caliber of the 6’10” junior — doesn’t result in a 7-0 start with wins over Oregon, VCU, Michigan State and Louisville. While there’s no doubt Motley is keeping opposing coaches up at night, the unheralded pieces around him have helped the team flourish as well.

Johnathan Motley Has Had a Lot to Celebrate This Season (USA Today Images)

Johnathan Motley Has Had a Lot to Celebrate This Season (USA Today Images)

Motley makes the whole thing go in the paint, but junior center Jo Lual-Acuil has also been a force. The JuCo transfer owns the nation’s third-best shot block rate (15.6%) and already has 29 rejections on the year. For most big men, there are two potential costs to chasing blocks: foul trouble and getting caught out of position for the rebound. But Lual-Acuil is the rare breed of player who has both avoided the whistle (2.3 fouls per 40 minutes) and remained a presence on the defensive glass (team-leading 25.1% defensive rebounding rate). Big 12 play may cause some regression when Lual-Acuil faces players willing to challenge him at the rim, but that doesn’t make him any less important. On the offensive end, the attention Motley commands opens a number of close looks that Lual-Acuil is converting at an incredibly high rate. Two-way threats at the five don’t come around very often, but Baylor has one of them.

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Oregon vs. Baylor is the Best Daytime Marathon Game and That’s Fine

Posted by Nate Kotisso on November 15th, 2016

One of the virtues of having a winning basketball program is when a school fearlessly schedules its non-conference slate of games. Participating in a multi-team tournament where the weather’s warm? Most definitely. How about playing a true road game or two before January? You betcha. After paying a trip to Eugene as part of last year’s ESPN Tip-Off Marathon, Baylor is set to host a top-five Oregon team in an otherwise blasé daytime portion of the event (3:30 PM ET, ESPN2). The Ducks, which return much of its Elite Eight squad from a season ago, can do just about everything and they aren’t even healthy yet — leading scorer Dillon Brooks (16.7 PPG) is still recovering from foot surgery. Both teams enter today’s game at 1-0. Oregon didn’t play its best against Army but did enough to keep distance in a 14-point win. Baylor wasn’t at full strength against Oral Roberts either, playing without the services of preseason First Team all-Big 12 forward Johnathan Motley (suspension), but still came away with a 15-point victory.

Baylor's Manu Lecomte (#20) had himself a night in Friday night's season opener versus Oral Roberts. (Rod Aydelotte/Waco Tribune-Herald)

Baylor’s Manu Lecomte (#20) had himself a night in Friday night’s season opener versus Oral Roberts. (Rod Aydelotte/Waco Tribune-Herald)

There are a lot of ways a match-up like this can be sliced, but three-point defense is the key variable here. After making nine threes against the Black Knights on Friday, Oregon will trot out a slew of outstanding shooters headlined by Tyler Dorsey (career: 40.8%) and Payton Pritchard (40.0%). Baylor, which made 10 threes of its own against the Golden Eagles, counters with the likes of Manu Lecomte (career: 42.6%) and Al Freeman (37.4%). The team that closes out on shooters effectively will triumph in this game. If neither team can stop the other from canning double-figure threes, however, then it will be a high-scoring, fast-paced game that will end after a minimum of two overtimes. Or six. The point here is that we, the viewers, cannot lose with a game like this.

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Big 12 Superlatives, Predictions and Storylines

Posted by Big 12 Team on November 11th, 2016

The 2016-17 Big 12 season is going to be an interesting one despite Kansas being the prohibitive favorite to win the conference yet again. The battle for second appears to be a three-horse race between Iowa State, Texas and West Virginia, while the middle and bottom tiers of the league will still feature teams capable of contending for NCAA Tournament bids. We’re beyond excited to see it all unfold, and with that, we unveil our Big 12 preseason predictions and superlatives (written by each voter).

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Player Of The Year

  • Drew Andrews: Monte’ Morris, Iowa State — While you could easily look at freshmen phenoms Josh Jackson and Jarrett Allen as potential Big 12 Player of the Year candidates, Monte’ Morris should win the award next March. With the departures of Cyclone stalwarts like Georges Niang, Abdel Nader and Jameel McKay, Morris will be asked to bring a huge amount of the magic to Hilton Coliseum this season. The senior will need to carry more of the scoring load in addition to his league-leading 6.9 assists per game and second-place 1.8 steals per game if Iowa State wants to make its sixth straight NCAA Tournament appearance.
  • Justin Fedich: Josh Jackson, Kansas — Unlike last season, the pick for this year’s Big 12 Player of the Year isn’t as obvious. I’ll take the most talented player on the best team, Kansas freshman Josh Jackson. The 6’8” wing from Detroit will benefit from playing with the experienced backcourt duo of Frank Mason and Devonté Graham. He might have some early growing pains, but Kansas will need someone to replace the void left by Wayne Selden and Perry Ellis, the top two scorers from last season’s team.

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One Burning Question: Is Baylor Due For A Rebuilding Year?

Posted by Nate Kotisso on October 31st, 2016

The fickle nature of the NCAA Tournament once again revealed itself to Baylor last season. After collapsing late in its 2015 Round of 64 game against Georgia State, the Bears dropped another early round game to a double-digit seed last season — Yale, this time around. On the heels of that disappointing upset and several important pieces departing, it brings up a worthwhile question: Is Baylor due for a rebuilding year? Most programs — even the high-major to elite ones — undergo a rebuilding process at some point. For many, a strong recruiting class gets things back on track; for others, the process can take a while longer. Between Elite Eight appearances in 2010-11, the Bears went 18-13 and finished seventh in the Big 12. With Taurean Prince, Rico Gathers and Lester Medford all now gone from Waco, this season appears to have more questions than answers.

Big 12 coaches named former Miami (FL)/ current Baylor sharpshooter Manu Lecomte as the league's Newcomer of the Year. (Rich Barnes/Getty)

Big 12 coaches named former Miami (FL)/current Baylor sharpshooter Manu Lecomte as the league’s 2016-17 Newcomer of the Year. (Rich Barnes/Getty Images)

The burning question for the Bears this time one year ago was whether they’d get consistent point guard play from Medford. Not only did he provide that support but he dropped more dimes (6.5 APG) than anyone in the Big 12 other than Iowa State’s Monte’ Morris (6.9 APG). As for this season, Baylor’s starting point guard situation is still in doubt. Scott Drew has not yet decided who his on-floor leader will be, but it’s not a stretch to assume sophomore guard Jake Lindsey is the front-runner. Lindsey averaged 6.3 assists per 40 minutes last year, which is a statistic Drew will surely contemplate. The other guard positions appear more certain: Preseason Big 12 Newcomer of the Year Manu Lecomte is expected to fill in the Brady Heslip-like role after nailing 43.4 percent of his three-pointers in two years at Miami (FL); Al Freeman on the wing is the team’s best returning scorer (11.3 PPG) and three-point shooter (38.2%).

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Handing Out Big 12 Superlatives

Posted by Brian Goodman on March 7th, 2016

To say that the Big 12 had a good year would be a massive understatement. According to KenPom‘s advanced metrics, the league was the nation’s toughest. Not a fan of advanced metrics? That’s fine too, because the conference treated us to a surplus of intense games and is home of one of the two top contenders for National Player of the Year. Furthermore, the Big 12 is expected to propel seven good teams to The Big Dance — including a prohibitive favorite for the top overall seed — for the third straight season. It was a banner year regardless of what happens next, but before we look ahead to the postseason, let’s take some time for the Big 12 microsite to hand out some hardware.

All-Big 12 Team Selections

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Player Of The Year – Buddy Hield (unanimous)

Chris Stone: Perry Ellis and Georges Niang are a pair of worthy contenders, but everyone in the Big 12 is playing for second behind Oklahoma’s Hield. The Oklahoma senior averaged 25.1 points per game during Big 12 play and finished with a league-leading 65.2 percent true shooting rate, all while logging the conference’s second-highest usage rate. For a guard to attempt nearly 31 percent of his team’s shots while making them as efficiently as Hield did is exceptional, especially when you consider that almost 60 percent of his field goal attempts came from behind the three-point arc.”

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