Big 12 Offseason Burning Questions, Part I

Posted by Brian Goodman on April 11th, 2016

In sending three teams to the Sweet Sixteen, two to the Elite Eight and one to the Final Four, the Big 12 put together a solid NCAA Tournament, but it wasn’t enough to put to rest its reputation as a group of postseason underperformers. The 2015-16 campaign wasn’t without its highlights, though. The story of the season nationally was the prevalence of experienced veterans over one-and-done interlopers, and the Big 12 played a key role in that narrative with seniors Buddy Hield, Perry Ellis and Georges Niang leading their teams deep into March. With those three studs (among others) moving on, though, it’s time to examine the burning question that each Big 12 team faces this offseason. Today we review Oklahoma, Kansas, Kansas State, Baylor and TCU.

Oklahoma (29-8, 12-6)

Oklahoma faces a tough rebuild as it loses Big 12 all-time leading scorer and National Player Of The Year Buddy Hield. (David K Purdy/Getty Images)

Oklahoma faces a rebuild as it loses Big 12 scoring king and National Player of the Year Buddy Hield. (David K Purdy/Getty Images)

What will the identity of post-Hield Oklahoma become? Between Hield, Isaiah Cousins, Ryan Spangler and Dinjyl Walker, Oklahoma is losing 64 percent of the scoring from last season’s lethal offensive unit. That’s a lot. Though we trust that head coach Lon Kruger will find a way eventually, in the meantime, the Sooners will face a tough road in the wake of heavy roster turnover. Jordan Woodard and Khadeem Lattin are expected back and there are some intriguing newcomers arriving in Kameron McGusty, Christian Doolittle and former Ohio State commitment Austin Grandstaff. But it’s tough to suffer the level of production Oklahoma is losing and still be expected to perform at a level comparable to last season’s Final Four squad. Very few programs in college basketball can reload that quickly.

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Big 12 Quarterfinal Takeaways: Kansas, Baylor Advance

Posted by Greg Mitchell on March 10th, 2016

“Shadows” could’ve been the theme of the Big 12’s first quarterfinal session, as two teams (Baylor and Kansas State) faced opponents (Texas and Kansas) that, at least in the opinion of many Longhorn and Jayhawk fans, cast a long shadow over their respective intrastate rivals. Here are the main takeaways from lopsided wins by the Bears and Jayhawks.

Kansas got past Kansas State to set up a semifinal match up with Baylor (ksnt.com).

Kansas got past Kansas State to set up a semifinal match up with Baylor (ksnt.com).

Baylor: The Bears convincing 75-61 win over Texas was paced by Taurean Prince (24 points, 13 rebounds), whose aggressiveness on the glass contributed to a massive Baylor rebounding advantage (46-27 in total rebounds). The main takeaway, however, was a potential resurgence of Baylor’s zone, which held the Longhorns to just 38.3 percent shooting from the field. Perhaps more importantly, it prevented Isaiah Taylor from getting into the lane and creating offense. No matter what happens against Kansas in the semifinals, this defense-fueled victory was a confidence boost for a team that finished the regular season by losing three of four. Rico Gathers also generated some late season momentum (13 points, 9 rebounds) with his best game in over a month.

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Takeaways from the Big 12’s Opening Night

Posted by Greg Mitchell on March 10th, 2016

Over the last few years there has been at least one NCAA Tournament bid on the line during the Big 12 Tournament’s opening night. It was Texas making its case last season, with Marcus Smart and Oklahoma State before that. For better or worse, there was no such drama last night at the Sprint Center as the team with the shakiest prospects, Texas Tech, already seems safely in the field. The Red Raiders, however, may have dinged their seed with an upset loss to TCU. The games went on regardless, and Kansas State‘s win over Oklahoma State gives us a third game with Kansas in what will undoubtedly be a juiced Sprint Center this afternoon. Here are some quick takeaways on each team that played Wednesday night in Kansas City.

Kansas State Moves On to Face Kansas on Thursday Afternoon (USA Today Images)

Kansas State Moves On to Face Kansas on Thursday Afternoon (USA Today Images)

Kansas State. Kansas State’s offense was not pleasant in its last game against Oklahoma State, as a miserable 0.85 points per possession performance resulted in a three-point loss that effectively killed any hopes of a late season run. The Wildcats’ first half on Wednesday night was a different story, as they did a great job utilizing Dean Wade in the high post and Justin Edwards (four first half assists) in keeping the offense moving. This allowed Kansas State to build a 17-point lead that proved insurmountable. Wesley Iwundu admitted after the game that the Wildcats got “too comfortable” with a lead and let Oklahoma State back into the game in the second half. Their date with the rival Jayhawks will not be comfortable, but Bruce Weber said that his team simply needs to “enjoy the opportunity” and compete with them. Replicating their free-flowing offensive effort from last night’s first half will be the only way to challenge a Jayhawks team that hasn’t lost a Big 12 Tournament opener since 2009.

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Big 12 M5: 03.04.16 Edition

Posted by Brian Goodman on March 4th, 2016

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  1. Jamari Traylor isn’t a career 1,500-point scorer and his future at the next level will likely be limited by his age and skill set, but those shortcomings won’t stop Bill Self from referring to him as one of his all-time favorite players. While Traylor’s presence isn’t always felt in terms of production (he has averaged just 2.8 points per game in Big 12 play), he embodies the physical toughness and vocal personality that Self values. Teammate Perry Ellis will be the star of the show during Kansas’ Senior Day festivities, but Self will no doubt be sad to see the Chicago native leaving as well.
  2. The last few weeks haven’t been kind to Oklahoma, as the Sooners have gone just 4-4 with their shooting cooling off and their defense allowing back-breaking runs that keep coaches up at night. So what’s been holding Lon Kruger’s team back? Two possible explanations being discussed are fatigue and lapses in focus. For all their offensive prowess, the Sooners don’t have very much depth and have had to make adjustments to their routine in order to stay fresh. It’s not realistic to expect Oklahoma to suddenly develop a more efficient defense or fashion better reserves out of thin air, so Kruger will have to hope that the sense of urgency that comes with postseason play sparks something that reverts them back to their earlier performance.
  3. While Kansas State is more experienced than many believe, its core of young players has spent all season developing together. That hasn’t translated to all that many wins, though, so head coach Bruce Weber has announced that his team will take an overseas trip to Italy and Switzerland for 11 days this summer. The trip will provide the Wildcats roster with additional practice time in addition to the games, hopefully giving them an early leg up on the Big 12 competition next winter.
  4. The upcoming graduations of Georges Niang, Abdel Nader and Jameel McKay from Iowa State mean that Steve Prohm is going to need frontcourt players who can contribute right away next season. In a piece of news that should help with that transition, the Cyclones secured a commitment from Northern Illinois graduate transfer Darrell Bowie. Bowie, a 6’7″, 220-pound forward, suffered a shoulder injury last March and sat out this season after leaving the Huskies in November, but posted averages of 9.8 points and 5.4 rebounds in 23.5 minutes per game as a junior. Along with returnee Deonte Burton, Bowie should become an immediate factor as the Cyclones start a new era this fall.
  5. West Virginia will follow in TCU’s footsteps with a long-overdue facilities project. Crews will start work on a variety of improvements at WVU Coliseum next week, including widened concourses, increased bathroom fixtures and new concession stands. Renovations more beneficial to the school’s athletes will take place elsewhere on campus, including a 12,000-square-foot strength and conditioning center for non-revenue teams. While not as large in scale as TCU’s improvements to Schollmaier Arena, the Mountaineers are clearly poised to take a step forward in the ever-present arms race that is life in the Big 12.
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Big 12 M5: 02.24.16 Edition

Posted by Brian Goodman on February 24th, 2016

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  1. Kansas took another step toward its 12th consecutive Big 12 title last night with a gutty 66-60 win at Baylor. The Jayhawks overcame one of its worst performances on the defensive glass in recent memory thanks to yet another hot shooting night and some big plays from junior Wayne Selden. Kansas’ defense also put the clamps down on Baylor over the last 13:48 of the second half, allowing just 13 points from the Bears over that span. With a two-game lead over West Virginia and just one road game remaining, it would take an unforeseeable disaster for Kansas to even share this year’s Big 12 title.
  2. The Jayhawks also displayed their long range firepower in last night’s victory, burying eight of their 19 attempts from deep. As detailed by fivethirtyeight.com‘s Matt GilesBill Self appears to have at long last shown a willingness to tailor his team’s attack to the strengths of its personnel — in this year’s case, to its three-point marksmanship. Kansas has posted three-point attempt rates above 35 percent in six of its last seven games and is shooting a white-hot 40.5 percent from distance since its late January loss at Iowa State. That accuracy has been one of the key drivers of Kansas’ current eight-game winning streak. The long-distance game only makes things easier for the likes of Perry Ellis and Landen Lucas inside, so a continued embrace of that skill is vital to a deep NCAA Tournament run.
  3. Texas Tech put what could be the final touches on an at-large bid with an 83-79 win over TCU last night in Lubbock. Led by a combined 48 points from Zach Smith and Aaron Ross, the Red Raiders knocked off their fifth straight league opponent, a feat the program hadn’t accomplished since the all-time great 1996 squad pulled it off en route to a Sweet Sixteen appearance. Tech’s final three regular season games are at Kansas, at West Virginia and at home against Kansas State, which means that even if Tubby Smith’s team were to lose out, it would be nearly impossible for its resume to diminish enough to send them back to the bubble.
  4. Kansas State on Monday night fell to 4-11 in Big 12 play after a loss to Texas, leading Sam Mellinger of The Kansas City Star to weigh in on Bruce Weber‘s struggles during his fourth season in Manhattan. Just like at Illinois, Weber has failed to duplicate the success he had with his predecessor’s recruits, and Kansas State’s conference record has dipped every year since it shared the conference title with Kansas in 2013. While missing the NCAA Tournament is a near-certainty for the Wildcats this year, next season could present an opportunity to make some noise. The young trio of Dean Wade, Barry Brown and Kamau Stokes will have a year of experience under its belt, while current veteran teams like Oklahoma, Iowa State and Baylor are set to undergo significant personnel changes over the summer. Expecting Kansas State to contend for the Big 12 crown in 2017 might be a step too far, but a run at a top-half finish should be in the cards if they show improvement.
  5. Oklahoma State, losers of seven of its last eight Big 12 games amid myriad injuries, will look to pull a huge upset tonight when it travels to Norman. The Cowboys nearly did the unthinkable last month in a narrow loss to Oklahoma, but a last-second missed shot by Jeffrey Carroll instead sent Oklahoma State to another of its eight losses to come by five points or fewer. The Pokes are the only team nationally to close out the regular season with four straight games against ranked opponents, but that’s unlikely to garner any sympathy for Travis Ford from a fan base whose patience with him has already worn thin.
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Big 12 M5: 02.22.16 Edition

Posted by Brian Goodman on February 22nd, 2016

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  1. Frank Mason led Kansas with 16 points in the Jayhawks’ 72-63 win over Kansas State on Saturday. The junior used 24 percent of his team’s possessions, which hasn’t always yielded great results. Before Saturday’s victory, Kansas had been just 1-4 when Mason consumed that percentage of possessions. One possible (and simple) explanation for Mason’s improved performance? Rest. He’s rarely left the floor for extended stretches in conference play, but he averaged “just” 29.5 minutes per game in the two previous contests, and he got four days of rest following last Monday’s win over Oklahoma State. A healthy and rested Mason could be huge for the Jayhawks’ postseason hopes, so his usage moving forward will be something to keep an eye on.
  2. Kansas got a big lift before its game even tipped Saturday when Oklahoma knocked off West Virginia in Morgantown to create a three-way tie for second place. The Mountaineers’ defense has not been as effective lately, as six of their last seven opponents have scored at least one point per possession against them. Five of those opponents have also neutralized “Press Virginia” by posting turnover rates under 20 percent, including Oklahoma’s stellar 13 percent mark over the weekend. Bob Huggins‘ team faces another big test tonight when it matches up with Iowa State’s high-powered attack.
  3. Speaking of the Cyclones, their high-wire act continued Saturday night as the outcome of their game against lowly TCU remained in doubt until the eight-minute mark of the second half. While they avoided an embarrassing home loss to the Horned Frogs, the cloud of uncertainty around center Jameel McKay re-emerged, with Steve Prohm (with minimal explanation) holding the reigning Big 12 Defensive Player Of The Year out of action for the third time in five games. Although Deonte Burton stepped up in McKay’s absence with 23 points and 14 rebounds, the lack of a second rim-protector — in addition to general depth challenges — makes the senior one of the Cyclones’ most important pieces.
  4. The Big 12’s (deserving) reputation as the nation’s toughest conference doesn’t leave much room for Cinderella stories, but you can find one in Lubbock this season where Texas Tech is putting a bow on an at-large bid. The league’s coaches picked the Red Raiders to finish dead last in the conference standings in October, but Tubby Smith‘s team has quieted the doubters with seven conference wins including the current four-game winning streak during which they’ve outscored opponents by 0.13 points per possession. To put that number in perspective, Kansas currently leads the conference with a 0.10 PPP advantage in conference play. It’s hard to say enough about the outstanding job the Red Raiders are doing right now.
  5. Just one week after getting blown out by Texas Tech at home, Baylor traveled to Austin and wiped the floor with Texas in a 78-64 win that wasn’t even as close as the score indicates. While the Bears assisted on just 12 of their 36 field goals, they shot 65 percent inside the arc and put together 1.15 points per possession. Baylor now owns the odd distinction of having a better in-conference record on the road (5-2) than it does at home (4-3), but the Bears will look to notch another important home win when they host Kansas on Tuesday night.
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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 M5: 02.08.16 Edition

Posted by Brian Goodman on February 8th, 2016

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  1. Kansas State shook up the Big 12 with an upset of Oklahoma at Bramlage Coliseum Saturday night. Three-point shooting was the difference as the Wildcats went six of 12 from deep while the Sooners launched themselves into a hole from which they couldn’t recover by making just six of their 24 three-point attempts. Buddy Hield finished with 23 points, but Wesley Iwundu did a really solid job defending him throughout the game, forcing several bad shots by the NPOY frontrunner. The loss drops Oklahoma into a second-place tie in the league, leaving West Virginia all alone at the top. Lon Kruger’s team suddenly has a critical week in front of them, as they’ll host Texas tonight ahead of the sequel to their triple-overtime thriller against Kansas.
  2. The win was huge for the Wildcats, too, as it awakened Kansas State’s hopes for an at-large bid. Bruce Weber‘s team is now 40th in the RPI, although the Wildcats are just 1-9 against the top 25. They are undefeated against teams ranked outside of the top 25, however, and Kansas State’s upcoming schedule gives them a solid shot to bolster the resume. Three of its next five games are at home (against Baylor, Texas and Kansas), while the two road games in that stretch are against a pair of bottom-half teams in Oklahoma State and TCU. If the Wildcats can go 3-2 or better leading into their February 27 trip to Iowa State, those at-large hopes will get very real.
  3. West Virginia had its best offensive performance of conference play against Baylor Saturday night, scoring 1.19 points per possession in an 80-69 win. The Mountaineers’ success was due in large part to a hot night from beyond the arc that saw them make half their tries from long range. Any day is a good day to shoot that kind of percentage, but it was especially helpful on Saturday because West Virginia’s trademark press wasn’t nearly as effective as usual. The Mountaineers generated turnovers on just 14.9 percent of Baylor’s possessions, well off the Mountaineers’ season average of 26.2 percent. Bob Huggins’ team will seek its fifth conference road win of the year tomorrow when it visits Kansas, a team that does a generally solid job holding onto the ball.
  4. Iowa State‘s season hasn’t lacked for drama this year, and that theme continued Friday night when Travis Hines of The Ames Tribune reported that Jameel McKay hadn’t traveled with the team to Saturday’s game against Oklahoma State (which the Cyclones would go on to win). Soon afterward, Iowa State confirmed that McKay had been suspended, and while the player and Steve Prohm gave conflicting messages as to how long the suspension would last, the head coach affirmed after Saturday’s game that the reigning Big 12 Defensive Player of the Year is on the shelf indefinitely. No matter how long the suspension lasts, McKay’s absence leaves a big hole in the Cyclones’ already-thin frontcourt. He isn’t the first player to land in Prohm’s doghouse this season, but he’s one of the team’s most important pieces in its quest to make a run in March. It will be interesting to see if and when he and Prohm can get back on the same page.
  5. Texas took care of business at home against Texas Tech despite Prince Ibeh being saddled with foul trouble for most of the game. They were able to do it with a big game from Javan Felix, who has been a versatile and valuable presence in Shaka Smart‘s first year in Austin. Felix’s ball-handling ability as the off-guard alongside Isaiah Taylor has made him a natural fit in Smart’s offense. The senior has played 75.6 percent of available minutes during conference play, but has turned the ball over on just 9.7 percent of possessions – a big turnaround from last season when he turned the ball over 18.5 percent of the time in conference play despite shouldering a smaller workload in terms of minutes. Felix can still score when called upon (he scored 20 points against Tech on Saturday), but his ability to succeed as both a ball-handler and scorer makes him an important piece of the Longhorns’ attack.
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Kamau Stokes’ Knee Injury a Real Downer For Kansas State

Posted by Chris Stone on February 5th, 2016

Last spring, Kansas State’s roster was in turmoil. The Wildcats’ leading scorer Marcus Foster was dismissed from the team along with freshman Tre Harris. Thomas Gipson and Nino Williams, the squad’s second and third leading scorers the year before, had graduated, and freshman Jevon Thomas had transferred to Seton Hall. After the veritable Moses-style Exodus from the Little Apple, it was understandable to wonder how much time coach Bruce Weber had left in Manhattan. Yet, although this season hasn’t been the Wildcats’ most successful campaign, it has given some hope for Weber’s tenure after all. Kansas State is currently 13-9 overall and 2-7 in the Big 12, but the Wildcats are ranked among KenPom’s top 50, featuring one of the toughest defenses in the country (#16). Senior Justin Edwards and junior Wesley Iwundu have anchored a cohesive roster that is heavily reliant on three up-and-coming freshmen — Barry Brown, Dean Wade, and Kamau Stokes. The one unfortunate aspect is that Stokes, the Wildcats’ starting point guard, suffered a right knee injury in last Saturday’s win over Ole Miss that will keep him out “for a while,” according to Weber.

Kamau Stokes will miss extended time after suffering a right knee injury. (Bo Rader/The Wichita Eagle)

Kamau Stokes will miss extended time after suffering a right knee injury. (Bo Rader/The Wichita Eagle)

Stokes’ absence was immediately noticeable in a 77-59 loss to Kansas on Wednesday night. Without their starting point guard, the Wildcats turned it over 23 times, allowing the Jayhawks to convert into 30 points. Stokes is not the most sure-handed guard around, but he had reduced his turnover rate by nearly three percent in conference play so the large number of miscues didn’t surprise. Kansas State will also miss Stokes’ proven ability to score (he has nine double-figure scoring games on the season). Forward Stephen Hurt described him as “one of our best shooters” after the Kansas loss, and indeed, Stokes is one of just two players on the Wildcats’ roster shooting over 30 percent from behind the arc (34%). He’s converted 35 of his team leading 103 attempts, but Kansas State finished 5-of-18 (27.8 percent) from distance on Wednesday night without him in the lineup. 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: 01.20.16 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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