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: 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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Big 12 Power Rankings: Big 12/SEC Challenge Edition

Posted by Big 12 Team on January 31st, 2017

College basketball’s several interconference challenges are largely the same, but the Big 12 and SEC’s decision to turn theirs into a one-day event smack dab in the middle of conference play is a great way of differentiating itself. Most fans and pundits seem to agree with this opinion, unless, of course, you believe that the Big 12/SEC Challenge should move to December for carefully researched reasons like “just because.” What instead might lead to the challenge’s demise is not when the games are played during the season, but the lack of watchable games provided to the viewers. For example, there is no good explanation for 17-4 South Carolina to be left off this year’s schedule in favor of 10 other SEC teams. And even if it’s understandable that the challenge wants to avoid a number of potential conflicts  — such as Baylor‘s Scott Drew not wanting to play his brother Bryce Drew‘s team at Vanderbilt; Frank Martin having no interest in taking his Gamecocks to Kansas State; Texas tussling with Texas A&M; or Rick Barnes squaring off with the Longhorns — the fans want to see the most compelling match-ups. In any case, a fresh batch of power rankings is ready for your consumption. (caution: do not eat them all at once)

Maybe it was the Yeezys. Whatever it was, Bill Self and Kansas were able to hand Kentucky its second home loss of the season. (Mark Zerof/USA Today Sports)

1. Kansas — all voted 1st – The Jayhawks had not lost back-to-back games since December 10, 2014. The last time Kentucky, on the other hand, had lost consecutive games was just last season, when it fell to Kansas and Tennessee in succession. This year the order was reversed, but the Jayhawks delivered the Wildcats the same fate. If there was any concern about Kansas after its Tuesday night loss to West Virginia, that quickly evaporated with the win at Rupp Arena, where Frank Mason continued to make his case for National Player of the Year.” – Justin Fedich (@jfedich)

2. Baylor — all voted 2nd – “The Bears seem to have lost some steam in the national conversation but they still have one of the five best defenses in the country and the best of the Big 12. Their length inside has held opponents to 43.2 percent shooting on two-pointers in conference play. That’s a recipe for success in this league.” – Chris Stone (@cstonehoops)

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

Posted by Chris Stone on January 3rd, 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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Big 12 Freshmen Update: The Names You Know & The Names You Should

Posted by Nate Kotisso on December 2nd, 2016

Last season was like a dream for the Big 12, as junior and senior-laden teams produced some of the best basketball the conference has seen in its 20-year history. Seven teams made the NCAA Tournament, and unlike years past, multiple members other than Kansas made it to the second weekend and beyond. With much of that experience from those teams now gone, many Big 12 teams are looking to their freshmen to lead this season. There are a few schools with freshmen who did not make the cut for several reasons. Those particular teams either did not have compelling enough freshmen just yet (i.e., Baylor and West Virginia), have good contributors who haven’t played in every game (i.e., Iowa State’s Solomon Young) or don’t have any scholarship freshmen at all (Texas Tech). Let’s take a look at the top eight freshmen in the league to this point in the season.

I doubt a better picture of KU super freshman Josh Jackson in the known universe. (Jamie Squire/Getty Images)

I doubt a better photo of KU super freshman Josh Jackson exists in the known universe. (Jamie Squire/Getty Images)

  • Jarrett Allen, center, Texas (10.5 PPG, 7.8 RPG, 1.3 BPG in 29.7 MPG): Allen being on this list is both a blessing and a curse. The Round Rock, Texas, native currently ranks first in rebounds and blocked shots on the team and is third in scoring. However, Allen has to this point logged better field goal shooting (52.2%) than he has at the charity stripe (51.7%). Still, the season is young and this freshman is a rising star for the Longhorns.
  • Udoka Azubuike, center, Kansas (5.0 PPG, 5.0 RPG, 1.3 BPG in 13.7 MPG): Azubuike is the latest in Bill Self’s successful recruit-17-year-old-basketball-prodigies program. His measurements — an energetic 6’11” big man with a 7’5″ wingspan — are what get NBA scouts excited, but it is clear that the freshman has some game. Self clearly is buying in, given that Azubuike has started each of Kansas’ last two games. Prepare for more impressive numbers from this precocious big man after we ring in the New Year.

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RTC Gametime: Key Questions in Duke vs. Kansas

Posted by Chris Stone & Brad Jenkins on November 15th, 2016

College basketball got underway with a pair of hotly contested Top 25 match-ups on Friday night. The heat will rise tonight as the ESPN Tip-off Marathon reaches its climax with the Champions Classic in Madison Square Garden. Because we’re so excited about what tonight’s headliner has to offer, we’ve gotten the ACC and Big 12 microsites together to preview the event’s evening contest between Duke and Kansas. Questions and answers were provided by Brad Jenkins (@bradjenk) and Chris Stone (@cstonehoops).

Questions for Kansas

Frank Mason looks like Bill Self's man at point guard. (USATSI)

Bill Self and Frank Mason against a talented Duke team? Sign us up. (USATSI)

The Blue Devils look vulnerable in the paint given all their current injuries. Bill Self teams have traditionally been dominant in the post, but is Kansas equipped to take advantage of Duke’s depleted frontcourt?

Unless something surprising happens, probably not. This game should ultimately be a battle of the backcourts. Although the Jayhawks have historically feasted on the interior by utilizing Self’s high-low offense to find open looks near the rim, Kansas doesn’t have the frontcourt players required to do that this season. Big men accounted for just 19.7 percent of Kansas’ total field goal attempts against Indiana last week, even as starters Landen Lucas and Carlton Bragg shot a combined 9-of-11 from the field. Don’t expect that pair to suddenly become high usage players tonight. Lucas is fundamentally sound and more than capable of sealing off defenders for easy looks, but he lacks the post game necessary to be a go-to option. Bragg’s repertoire of post moves is considerably more complete, but his best offense is still played in the mid-range. With a full complement of talented perimeter players, look for Self to base his offense tonight around the likes of Frank Mason and Devonte Graham rather than Lucas and Bragg. Read the rest of this entry »

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On the Predictive Power of Top 10 Rankings…

Posted by Will Ezekowitz on November 8th, 2016

The college basketball season is right around the corner, but all we have to amuse ourselves until tip-off this Friday night are the myriad published projections and preseason polls. I am a big fan of preseason polls, and have written extensively in the past about both their predictive power and their biases. This year I decided to focus on the preseason and postseason top 10s (note that only the USA Today/Coaches Poll publishes its final poll after the NCAA Tournament has completed). I was curious if there was any continuity between the two and the corresponding likelihood of a team finishing in the postseason top 10 given their inclusion in the preseason top 10.

Duke is Back in the Top 10, But the Blue Devils Didn't Finish There Last Season. Does it Matter? (USA Today Images)

Duke is Back in the Top 10, But the Blue Devils Didn’t Finish There Last Season. Does it Matter? (USA Today Images)

First, a quick note about each poll. A natural first instinct is to dismiss the preseason Top 25 as little more than idle speculation, but it has proven over time to be a useful predictive tool. In a sport with relatively little year-to-year continuity, the projections of the preseason polls are useful proxies for the objective talent of a team, which is notoriously difficult to quantify. The postseason poll (i.e., the poll taken after the conclusion of NCAA Tournament) is functionally irrelevant in college basketball, but it is a good metric of holistic season success. The Tournament exerts its weighty influence on the judgment of those teams, but it seems harsh to factor the entire perception of teams on a few games in March. The postseason Top 25 represents a season-long assessment. For example, Michigan State, a strong #2 seed that many pundits and fans alike projected into the Final Four, shockingly lost to #15 seed Middle Tennessee State in the First Round. The Spartans were therefore ranked seventh in the postseason poll, which ultimately felt about right.

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Big 12 M5: 02.15.16 Edition

Posted by Nate Kotisso on February 15th, 2016

big12m5

  1. In the second meeting of the Big 12’s Game of the Century, Kansas persevered through Frank Mason III fouling out with 3:22 to go and completed a season sweep of Oklahoma. Not only did the Jayhawks join a first-place tie in the Big 12 with West Virginia but, as CBS Sports’ Gary Parrish points out, Kansas also notched its fifth RPI top 25 victory. No other team in all of college basketball has done that this season. Considering the questions around this team after they lost at West Virginia and Oklahoma State, The Streak™ looked to be in great jeopardy. Not so much now, as we’re three weeks away from the completion of conference play and again in the place we’ve always been around this time of year: marveling at Kansas atop the Big 12 standings.
  2. When you think about Iowa State, you probably think about this man as the team’s one and only All-American leader. Maybe you shouldn’t, though. As the Ames Tribune’s Travis Hines writes, the team’s starting point guard is performing at an All-American level as well. You may remember Monte’ Morris from his game-winners against Texas, Iowa and Oklahoma in the last calendar year, but he’s been a tremendous performer in all of phases of the game this season. The junior point guard is averaging 15.1 points, 4.0 rebounds, 1.9 steals and 7.0 assists per game (against 1.4 turnovers per game) while shooting 51 percent from the floor. As good as Kentucky’s Tyler Ulis and Providence’s Kris Dunn have been this year, it’s hard to argue against Morris being the best point guard in America when factoring in his offensive efficiency numbers. If the conversation for Morris to get All-American publicity hasn’t already started, let Hines be the one to get it going.
  3. Maybe Saturday night was your official wake up call, but Tubby Smith‘s Texas Tech squad has officially arrived. After fighting off Iowa State earlier in the week, Tech walked into Waco and ran over the Bears by 18 points in a convincing victory. It was the first time it had won back-to-back games versus AP Top 25 opponents in nine years. Because the Red Raiders gamed the RPI system and took down a few non-conference opponents that are at or near the top of their respective leagues, their recent wins could turn into fuel for an at-large bid. Now armed with league wins over Texas, Iowa State and Baylor, Smith’s team could get away with a 9-9 or even an 8-10 conference record and still actually sneak into the NCAA Tournament.
  4. Kansas State vs. Oklahoma State was a sad game for a few reasons. This nearly empty picture of Gallagher-Iba Arena and the “actual” attendance numbers told the story of a once-proud basketball program heading decisively in the wrong direction. On the flip side, Kansas State needed to win the game to join Texas Tech in the bubble picture, but the Wildcats were unable to score the road conference win. Two teams with two different mindsets are now inexplicably tied at 3-9 in Big 12 play — yet another wrinkle in a wild and confusing Big 12 standings.
  5. Before the Cowboys’ home game against the Wildcats, Travis Ford brought in former Oklahoma State dunking spacehuman Markel Brown to give the team a serious pep talk. Brown, now a guard with the Brooklyn Nets, had NBA All-Star Weekend off so he thought it was a good idea to take a trip back to campus. Gotta give it to the head coach, though. Even when the world is telling him he’s done at Oklahoma State, he’s still willing to try anything to get his players motivated. And hey, it worked.
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Big 12 Bubble Watch: Giving It The Ol’ College Try Edition

Posted by Nate Kotisso on February 5th, 2016

Today is the first Friday in February, which means March is approaching as quickly as bubble discussion is intensifying. So lets frame the Big 12’s bubble situation as it stands now. Thankfully, the Big 12 isn’t the most complicated conference in this respect. We aren’t talking about a league like the ACC, where the second and tenth place teams are separated by just 2.5 games. In any case, the Big 12’s true bubble teams are down to four after West Virginia, who is currently tied for first in the conference, all but locked up its tournament spot by taking down Iowa State this week at Hilton Coliseum. The other three teams considered locks for the NCAA Tournament are obvious ones: the aforementioned Cyclones, Kansas and Oklahoma.

Now it’s time to dive into the four teams who have the best shot at snagging those coveted at-large bids. What have they done so far? What must they do in the future? Should you eat more of a balanced diet? Two of these questions will be answered on this edition of Big 12 Bubble Watch. (RPI numbers via NCAA.com; SOS via CBSSports.com; Kenpom via Kenpom.com). Numbers are as of February 4.

You won’t need to watch out for Lucille. She already has an eye on the Big 12 bubble picture.

You won’t need to watch out for Lucille. She already has an eye on the Big 12 bubble picture.

Probably In

Baylor: 17-5 (6-3); RPI: 26, SOS: 43, Kenpom: 29

Analysis: There was a 30 for 30 on a great Bears team last night (er, somebody’s Bears) but this year’s team is just kinda plain. They’re vanilla. A likable flavor with likable qualities. Lester Medford has dished out 75 assists compared to 25 turnovers in the last 10 games. Rico Gathers Sr. is a man with “Sr.” in his name and continues to dole out punishment to anyone who has to guard him. Taurean Prince is still a prospect NBA executives are drooling over. So what’s missing? The Bears’ lone win against a sure-fire tournament team came on the road at Iowa State, which is obviously nice. Outside of that, Baylor’s other wins are fairly hollow. Fortunately, they’ve got nine games to go and a golden opportunity at another good road win when they travel to West Virginia tomorrow. There is very little to worry about right now in Waco.

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