Not Every Big 12 Team Has Elevated Itself in Non-Conference Play

Posted by Drew Andrews on December 9th, 2016

The Big 12 has gotten off to a very good start in non-conference play, with several teams already notching important wins for Selection Sunday and the league sitting in the top spot in Ken Pomeroy’s conference ratings and second in the RPI. West Virginia beat Virginia in Charlottesville; Kansas knocked off Duke in the Champions Classic; and Baylor owns six top 100 wins including those over Louisville, Xavier and Oregon. As well as those three teams have represented the conference nationally, another trio of Big 12 schools — Oklahoma State, Kansas State and Texas Tech — are still looking for a signature win.

Oklahoma State's Best Win Came Against a Struggling Georgetown Program (USA Today Images)

Oklahoma State’s Best Win Came Against a Struggling Georgetown Program (USA Today Images)

Oklahoma State has started the season on a scoring tear. As expected, Jawun Evans leads the team in usage but he hasn’t had to go it alone. Phil Forte and Jeffrey Carroll are both top 100 offensive players nationally who can help Evans carry the scoring load. The concern for when the Cowboys get to conference play will be about how an already shaky defense can hold up against stronger competition. North Carolina scored 107 points in a blowout win in Maui, and, while the Cowboys rank fourth nationally in steal rate, that gambling style of defense has led to a surplus of open looks from three-point range (opponents are making 39.2 percent of their threes against the Pokes). A talent advantage has mostly masked these deficiencies to this point, but Big 12 play is likely to expose Oklahoma State if Brad Underwood doesn’t improve his defense.

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Feast Week Mission Preview: Kansas State in the Barclays Center Classic

Posted by Justin Fedich on November 25th, 2016

Kansas State is off to a strong start, going 4-0 with an average margin of victory of 21 points per contest. However, Bruce Weber’s team has neither faced a Power 5 opponent, nor played a game outside Manhattan yet. That changes tonight, when the Wildcats travel to Brooklyn for the Barclays Center Classic.

Catching Up: Kansas State’s undefeated record is in large part the result of a weak non-conference schedule. The four opponents the Wildcats have faced have combined to go 5-14 this season, with each one sitting below .500. Poor schedule notwithstanding, Weber has to be happy with a number of developments. Sophomore guard Barry Brown has made the biggest jump since last season, leading the Wildcats in scoring with 15.3 points per game. Brown was sixth on the team in scoring last year. The Wildcats have also enjoyed the return of versatile senior forward Wesley Iwundu, who is averaging 14 points, five rebounds and 3.5 assists per game. Sophomore Dean Wade has increased his scoring in each of the last three games, and totaled 13 points and nine rebounds in the most recent contest against Robert Morris. Kansas State will not be the most talented team in the Big 12 this season, but the fact that all five starters were on the Wildcats’ roster last season provides an unusual degree of continuity. Oh, and the other nice part of the weak early slate: Kansas State has been able to get its bench heavily involved. Against Robert Morris, 15 players saw action for the Wildcats.

Wesley Iwundu (25) And Barry Brown (5) Will Look To Help Kansas State Remain Perfect in Brooklyn (Photo: Wichita Eagle)

Wesley Iwundu (25) And Barry Brown (5) Will Look To Help Kansas State Remain Perfect in Brooklyn (Photo: Wichita Eagle)

Opening Round Preview: While Boston College will be Kansas State’s first Power 5 opponent this season, the Eagles don’t exactly fall under the quality opponent category. BC began its season with a home loss to Nicholls State, which sits at 317 in the KenPom rankings. The Eagles, like Kansas State, has yet to leave its home court all season. But while the Wildcat starters are all returning players, Boston College starts two sophomores, two graduate transfers and a freshman. The Eagles’ lack of proven talent gives the Wildcats a great chance to move to 5-0. The Wildcats, who rank 30th in KenPom’s adjusted defensive efficiency rankings, should be able to bottle up the Eagles, whose are just 201st nationally in offensive efficiency. Still, this will be the toughest opponent the Wildcats have faced all season. Read the rest of this entry »

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Big 12 M5: 11.16.16 Edition

Posted by Brian Goodman on November 16th, 2016

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  1. Another huge game from Frank Mason fueled Kansas’ 77-75 win over Duke last night. Even though the Blue Devils were without three of its star freshmen, the Jayhawks withstood plenty of their own challenges — from foul trouble to ineffectiveness beyond the arc (2-of-16 3FG) to a bad night at the charity stripe (9-of-19 FT). The Jayhawks also blew a late double-digit lead, but it ultimately did not matter as Mason cashed in a game-winning elbow jumper with 1.8 seconds remaining, the last of his 17 second-half points. Beating Duke in any environment is a big deal, but this victory should yield some real dividends come March if the Blue Devils play to their lofty expectations once healthy.
  2. Entering the season, one of the key questions for Baylor aside from point guard play was how the Bears would account for the loss of Rico Gathers. It’s a remarkably small sample size, but through two games including a top-five opponent in Oregon, Jo Lual-Acuil has answered the bell, averaging 15.0 rebounds and 7.2 blocks per 40 minutes  in the young season. The junior will be challenged next week when the Bears head to the Bahamas and again in December when they host Xavier, so stiffer competition should give way to a more confident read on Lual-Acuil, but in the meantime, he’s been one of the big surprises around the conference.
  3. Switching gears from a surprise to a known quantity, how great is it to have Oklahoma State‘s Phil Forte back? I suppose you could ask head coach Brad Underwood, but he was still working for Stephen F. Austin when the senior suffered a shoulder injury last November. He’s probably grateful nonetheless. The Big 12’s new elder statesman has stormed out of the gates, averaging 27.0 points per game and converting each of his first 17 attempts at the free throw line. The Cowboys are still looking for answers inside, but Forte and Jawun Evans (28.5 PPG, 5.5 APG, 4.0 SPG) are showing why they should be mentioned among the conference’s best perimeter tandems.
  4. I’ve thought a little more about Kansas State‘s lax non-conference schedule, and while I still think it has a chance to backfire, it’s worth mentioning the potential benefits as well. Given that Wesley Iwundu and D.J. Johnson are the team’s only scholarship upperclassmen who have been with the program all four years, there’s a big drop-off to the younger core of sophomores Dean WadeBarry BrownKamau Stokes and freshman Xavier Sneed. This isn’t the most analytical viewpoint, but building confidence matters for a relatively young team, especially when its league schedule starts with a road game at Kansas sandwiched between home games against Oklahoma and West Virginia. Steamrolling the likes of Hampton, Robert Morris and Boston College wouldn’t lead anyone to picking the Wildcats to win at Allen Fieldhouse, but it can be helpful in the overall scheme with the league being deeper than it usually is. While I’d be remiss if I didn’t think there was at least a sliver of self-preservation by head coach Bruce Weber at play here as well, the general approach makes sense for a team looking to build some experience and confidence during the non-conference slate.
  5. Texas Tech will be shorthanded for a while as the school revealed over the weekend that big man Norense Odiase broke a bone in his left foot. While the Red Raiders have started 2-0 in spite of Odiase’s absence, it’s still a tough blow since he missed 12 games just last season with a similar injury to his other foot. For what it’s worth, Chris Beard doesn’t anticipate Odiase missing as much time as he did last season, which would be nice. The Red Raiders don’t have much time to adjust, though, with Auburn and a potential game against Purdue’s twin towers looming in next week’s Cancun Challenge.
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Big 12 Opening Weekend in Review

Posted by Drew Andrews on November 15th, 2016

Opening night of the college basketball season gave nine of the 10 Big 12 programs a chance to begin their seasons with easy wins. Those match-ups went according to plan, as only Kansas played a team inside KenPom’s top 250 and, as a result, took the only loss. However, there was another surprise that could ultimately spell trouble for one of the contenders to the conference title. Let’s take a look at one key takeaway from each team coming out of the opening weekend.

  • Kansas – The Jayhawks came into the season with questions about leadership, scoring in the post, and whether Josh Jackson could make the leap to superstardom. The loss to Indiana in the Armed Forces Classic on Friday night only provided a first piece of an answer to one of those questions. Frank Mason III exploded for 30 points and nine assists in the defeat, making it seem that he might be Bill Self‘s Option A for leadership and scoring this season. In the absence of the graduated Perry Ellis, Landon Lucas and Carlton Bragg will be asked to replace some of his frontcourt scoring load. Lucas proved that he could play the necessary minutes last year, but Bragg rarely saw the floor. After a meager 18-minute outing on opening night, it seems as if Self still has questions about the sophomore forward. Meanwhile, Jackson struggled to find a rhythm on both ends of the floor. Early foul trouble and questionable shot selection meant he saw more of the bench than expected, but it will be interesting to see how Self utilizes him in tonight’s clash with top-ranked Duke.
Josh Jackson struggled against Indiana. Can he break out against Duke in the Champions Classic? (Photo: Kansas City Star)

Josh Jackson struggled against Indiana. Can he break out against Duke in the Champions Classic? (Photo: Kansas City Star)

  • Iowa State  Monte’ Morris began his quest for conference and national honors with a bang against Savannah State (21 points and 11 assists), followed by a quieter but efficient outing (18 points and three assists) last night against Mount St. Mary’s. Steve Prohm started five seniors in both games, and if Iowa State hopes to again challenge Kansas for the Big 12 title, it will need every bit of experience and leadership from that group to get there.
  • TexasJarrett Allen certainly looked the part of star in the making in his debut for the Longhorns, but despite his 16 points and 12 boards, Texas was outrebounded on the offensive glass in its first two outings against Incarnate Word and Louisiana-Monroe. Shaka Smart‘s HAVOC defense certainly creates great energy and scoring opportunities via turnovers, but he has to be concerned that his players are giving up so many second chances to teams that were clearly overmatched in talent and size.

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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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