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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Big 12 Power Rankings: West Virginia Is Finally Here Edition

Posted by Nate Kotisso on February 5th, 2016

West Virginia is a basketball team. A very solid basketball team, in fact. A team whose hallmark is to press the life out of opponents. A team that scores easy baskets off turnovers. A team that makes its fans cringe when it clangs jump shots off odd parts of the backboard. The Mountaineers started 4-0 in Big 12 play playing the good ol’ West Virginia way before losing back-to-back games at Oklahoma and at home to Texas. In the four games since those defeats, it appears that we’re seeing a different West Virginia team. Not only have the Mountaineers gone 3-1 in that span, but their three-point shooting has improved (35 percent in their last four games; 31 percent for the year) as well as their free-throw percentage (73.4 percent in their last four games; 66 percent for the year). Tuesday night’s win at Iowa State marked the first time a team other than Baylor or Kansas has defeated Iowa State in Ames since the start of the 2012-13 season. Bob Huggins‘ team now finds itself in a first-place tie with Oklahoma with nine games still to play. The Mountaineers are very good and they can no longer be ignored.

Bob Huggins has won 711 games as a Division I coach. I feel like we don't say that enough. (Associated Press)

Bob Huggins has won 711 games as a Division I coach. We don’t say that enough. (AP)

  1. Oklahoma — 3 points (All voted 1st). Comment: “With most of the focus understandably on Buddy Hield’s National Player of the Year campaign, the evolution of junior guard Jordan Woodard — arguably the most improved player in the country this season — hasn’t received the attention it deserves. Having shed his responsibilities as the primary ball-handler, Woodard’s turnover rate has declined eight percent while maintaining his assist rate. It’s also opened up his own offensive game. Woodard is shooting 51 percent from deep and has already made 51 threes, more than he made in his first two seasons combined. Every good superhero needs a sidekick, and Woodard is filling that role nicely.” – Chris Stone (@cstonehoops)
  2. West Virginia — 6 points (All voted 2nd). Comment: Jonathan Holton‘s loss was Devin Williams‘ gain, at least in Monday’s win at Hilton Coliseum. Williams has been terrific all season long, but the absence of Holton — the Mountaineers’ second-leading rebounder behind Williams — due to a violation of team rules indirectly led to Williams pulling down a career-high 18 rebounds in the big win in Ames. – Brian Goodman (@bsgoodman) 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 Power Rankings: This League Is (Still) Off Its Rocker Edition

Posted by Nate Kotisso on January 22nd, 2016

We’re almost four weeks into league play, which typically means a select group of contenders have asserted themselves and are heading for the summit they call “Conference Champion Mountain.” It’s a grueling hike to the top, but totally worth it once you get up there. You get to look out at the rest of your conference mates with the knowledge that your better was better than their better. You think about that banner you get to hang in your arena’s rafters that will forever stamp just how good your regular season was. Then, all of a sudden, you realize that you’re up really high. You struggle to breathe. Now, you can’t breathe AT ALL. After fighting for breath, you fall off the mountain, not because of the altitude. No. You fall off the mountain because a scrappy No. 14 seed has ended your quest for a national championship before you had a chance to get out of the Tournament’s first weekend.

Or, at least that’s usually how it goes in the Big 12. This season, though, has brought a special kind of craziness – one none of us could have imagined even a few short weeks ago.

Womp womp. (Screengrab via ESPN.com)

Womp womp. (Screengrab via ESPN.com)

This is where we are now, so expect a wild and crazy edition of our Big 12 Power Rankings. Here we go.

Power Rankings

1. Oklahoma — 3 points (All voted 1st). Comment: “The Sooners have two losses in Big 12 play, but both of them came on the road against upper echelon competition. Buddy Hield is continuing to play like a National Player of the Year and he has Oklahoma in position to be KenPom’s favorite in the Big 12.” – Chris Stone (@cstonehoops)

2. Kansas — 6 points (All voted 2nd). Comment: “Defensive struggles were at the heart of Tuesday’s upset at the hands of Oklahoma State, but the Jayhawks have been in a bit of a rut offensively, too, averaging only an even 1.00 point per possession over their last four games. One of the biggest factors has been the regression of Wayne Selden, who is scoring just 9.5 points per contest on 37.8% shooting since opening conference play with 24 and 21-point outbursts. The Jayhawk’s depth, along with Bill Self‘s coaching ability, is strong enough that I trust Kansas to get back on track sooner rather than later.” – Brian Goodman (@BSGoodman) Read the rest of this entry »

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Big 12 M5: 01.20.16 Edition

Posted by Brian Goodman on January 20th, 2016

morning5_big12

  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: 01.11.16 Edition

Posted by Brian Goodman on January 11th, 2016

morning5_big12

  1. It wasn’t pretty, but Kansas bested Texas Tech 69-59 in Lubbock Saturday night to move to 3-0 in conference play. The key stretch for the Jayhawks came late in the second half. Up by just two points, the Jayhawks used three-pointers by Wayne Selden and Frank Mason to power an 11-4 run from which the Red Raiders couldn’t recover. Tubby Smith’s team was also done in by a rare poor night at the stripe: The Red Raiders, who shoot 72.2 percent at the line, hit just 9-of-19 free throws. It would have been nice for Texas Tech to post a big win to show just how improved they are from a couple seasons ago, but they’ll have plenty of other chances.
  2. West Virginia made easy work of Oklahoma State with a 77-60 win in Morgantown, setting up a matchup of 3-0 teams when the Jayhawks visit WVU Coliseum tomorrow night. Mountaineer senior Jonathan Holton had one of the best games of his career, scoring 15 points to go with nine rebounds, three assists, two steals and zero turnovers. The Cowboys weren’t expected to be very competitive in Morgantown, but with home games against Oklahoma and Kansas and road games at Texas and Kansas State coming up, things in Stillwater are likely to get worse before they get better.
  3. One of the key takeaways from last week’s classic between Oklahoma and Kansas was the importance of the league’s contenders winning their home games. Apparently, Iowa State missed the message, because they were dropped by Baylor at home on Saturday afternoon. Bears forward Johnathan Motley came up huge with a career-high 27 points and 13 rebounds against the Cyclones’ porous interior defense, but he wasn’t the only one who had a big day. Taurean Prince had a double-double (18 points and ten rebounds) and Lester Medford had a surgically efficient 16 point, 11 assist night, all without a single turnover. Iowa State is by no means done in the Big 12 race, but three of their next four games come on the road, with the only home game in that stretch coming against Oklahoma. The Cyclones definitely have their work cut out for them.
  4. Oklahoma bounced back from its tough loss at Kansas with a comfortable home win over Kansas StateBuddy Hield had another outstanding game, notching his third 30-plus point game in his last four outings and his sixth such performance this season. Oh, and he also had eight rebounds, five assists, two blocks and a pair of steals. His games are quickly becoming must-watch programming, and your next shot to see him do his thing comes Wednesday night when the Sooners take on intra-state rivals Oklahoma State on ESPNU.
  5. Jeff Haley of Burnt Orange Nation took a deep analytical dive into Texas’ rocky start under Shaka Smart, which may have hit a low point over the weekend with a loss at TCU. One particularly interesting point has to do with Smart’s deployment of the trademark press that connected him to every big coaching vacancy over the last few years. While the Longhorns don’t press very often, its lack of efficiency on the other end significantly reduces its margin for error when it tries to force turnovers in the backcourt. The logic there is that good teams will be able to beat the press and get easy looks, which in turn only makes the offense’s job more of a challenge than it already is. The piece is definitely worth your while.
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Cameron Ridley’s Injury May Keep Texas Out of the NCAA Tournament

Posted by Chris Stone on January 8th, 2016

On December 28, Texas’ season took a dramatic turn for the worse when it announced that center Cameron Ridley fractured his left foot during practice and would be out indefinitely. In the team’s first 11 games, Ridley had finally realized the potential that had made him a top-10 recruit in the 2012 recruiting class. The senior was putting together the best year of his career, averaging 12.7 points and 9.7 rebounds per game. What’s more, it seemed like the Longhorns were also turning a corner. After three early season losses, they had won six in a row that included an 84-82 thriller over North Carolina. In Shaka Smart’s first season, Texas appeared to be building a resume fit for an NCAA Tournament team. And then Ridley was injured.

Cameron Ridley was having a career season before breaking his foot. (Eric Gay/Associated Press)

Cameron Ridley was having a career season before breaking his foot. (Eric Gay/Associated Press)

One day after the announcement, UConn picked apart a Texas defense playing without its best shot-blocker (Ridley owned a 13.9 percent block rate, third-best nationally). The Huskies made 15 of their 22 shots at the rim en route to handing the Longhorns their first of two more defeats. Not having to deal with the big man’s 3.4 blocks per game clearly made a difference. With Ridley in the lineup, opponents shot just 40 percent inside the three-point arc. In the three games since, with Prince Ibeh playing in a starting role and no clear backup, Texas’ opponents are attempting 6.3 percent more field goals from two-point range, according to data compiled from sports-reference.com. They are also converting those attempts at a much higher rate, making 51.4 percent of those two-pointers. Without Ridley’s looming presence in the paint, opponents have been able to find and convert easy attempts against a Texas defense no longer able to field a semi-permanent rim protector. Read the rest of this entry »

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Big 12 New Year’s Resolutions: Part I

Posted by Chris Stone on December 30th, 2015

The year 2016 is right around the corner and along with it comes Big 12 conference play, as the league gets underway with six games on January 2. Although we know that only a fraction of people ultimately keep their New Year’s resolutions, we figured it wouldn’t hurt to come up with a few challenges for teams in the Big 12 once the ball drops tomorrow night. This is part one of a two-part series.

Kansas: To give Devonte Graham the praise he deserves

Devonte Graham has brought a number of positive changes to Kansas. (Charles Riedel/The Associated Press)

Devonte Graham has brought a number of positive changes to Kansas. (Charles Riedel/The Associated Press)

The focus on Kansas to this point has reasonably and rightfully been on the improved play of Wayne Selden and the consistent performance of senior forward Perry Ellis. However, the Jayhawks’ most under appreciated asset may well be sophomore point guard Devonte Graham. Graham’s move to the starting lineup has been linked to Selden’s rise because it helped free him up offensively, but Graham has provided much more. The sophomore has helped increase the number of turnovers the Jayhawks are causing on defense while simultaneously decreasing the number of turnovers Kansas commits on offense by reducing his personal turnover rate from 20.1 percent to 9.9 percent. Graham’s sophomore emergence has made the Jayhawks a national title contender and he deserves more praise for the role he’s played.

Iowa State: To find rest and relaxation for the Cyclones’ rotation

Naz Mitrou-Long’s recovery from hip surgery hit the Cyclones hard. With Deonte Burton becoming eligible at semester, it looked like Iowa State was set to have a quality eight man rotation heading into conference play. Now that Mitrou-Long’s season is over, coach Steve Prohm has made it clear that he intends to stick with a seven man rotation for the remainder of the season. Iowa State ranks 347th in percentage of bench minutes played with just 21.4 percent of available minutes coming off the bench. Last season, Wisconsin reached the Final Four with similar numbers, so the limited rotation doesn’t rule out a trip to Houston for the Cyclones, but they’ll need all the rest and relaxation they can get on the way there. Read the rest of this entry »

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Injury to Cameron Ridley Throws Wrench Into Texas Plans

Posted by Brian Goodman on December 29th, 2015

Texas suffered a big setback in practice over the weekend when Cameron Ridley broke his foot. The injury requires surgery — scheduled to take place today — and will place the senior out of action indefinitely. While Texas’ press release on Monday gave no specifics on a timetable for his return, the general amount of time needed for recovery from such an injury reportedly tends to fall in the range of 6-8 weeks. What this ultimately means is that Ridley will miss most of Big 12 play but could be on track for a return near the end of the regular season and into postseason play. In the meantime, though, his absence down low creates a major challenge for Texas’ immediate future.

Texas will be without its best big man for most of the Big 12 season. (Eric Gay/AP)

Texas will be without its best big man for most of the Big 12 season. (Eric Gay/AP)

Hailed as a top-10 recruit by ESPNU when he arrived in Austin in 2012, Ridley had endured an up-and-down career under Rick Barnes but had really started to take off this season. The senior big man capitalized on his improved physique to become one of the nation’s leading shot-blockers as well as a more reliable finisher, converting 75 percent of his shots at the rim, per hoop-math.com. Through 11 games, Ridley ranked second on the team in minutes played (26.0 MPG) and scoring (12.7 PPG), and led the Longhorns in rebounding (9.7 RPG). Apart from possibly Isaiah Taylor, he was the most important player on the Longhorns’ roster. While it’s always tough to see anyone sidelined for an extended amount of time, it especially hurts when it happens to a senior like Ridley who had finally started to turn potential into production. Read the rest of this entry »

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Big 12 M5: 12.28.15 Edition

Posted by Chris Stone on December 28th, 2015

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  1. On Christmas Day, Oklahoma defeated Harvard to win the Diamond Head Classic in Honolulu. The Sooners were led by senior Buddy Hield, who scored 34 points on 11-of-14 shooting from the field. It was the senior’s fourth 30-point game of the season and only the latest addition to his National Player of the Year portfolio. To say Hield’s season has been impressive would be quite an understatement. He is currently using 31 percent of Oklahoma’s possessions and scoring 24.9 points per game while performing even more efficiently than he did a year ago. Hield finished last season with an effective field goal percentage of 50.5 percent; he’s at 62.4 percent this year. On pace for a 50/50/90 season, it’s no wonder Hield is a legitimate NPOY contender.
  2. Hield isn’t the only Big 12 player in the NPOY race. After last week’s 24 points and 10 rebounds in a true road win over Cincinnati, Iowa State’s Georges Niang is also in that picture. As Travis Hines of the Ames Tribune points out, Niang is posting career high numbers nearly across the board for one of the country’s top teams, and he’ll have even more opportunities to showcase his skills on the national stage against the toughest conference in the nation come January.
  3. After a poor performance in Baylor’s 80-61 loss to Texas A&M, senior Taurean Prince bounced back with a huge game in the Bears’ subsequent 85-70 victory over New Mexico State. Prince hung 34 points on the Aggies in the win, but most importantly, he needed just 19 shots to get there. After a wildly efficient campaign last year, Prince’s efficiency numbers this season have lagged largely due to a subpar performance inside the three-point arc. Prince is shooting nearly seven percent worse on two-point shots this season. Thus, his 10-for-15 shooting on two-pointers against New Mexico State is a welcome sight for Baylor fans looking for the senior to find his groove.
  4. After a limited slate of college basketball games during the recent holidays, things will get back to normal this week. Nine of the ten Big 12 teams have games remaining ahead of the start of conference play on Saturday. The league’s headliner will likely come on Tuesday night when Connecticut travels to Austin to face Texas. Shaka Smart’s Longhorns have already collected one resume-building win (an 84-82 thrilling victory against North Carolina) at the Erwin Center this season. The key to the game will likely be Texas’ ability to limit the Huskies’ two-point offense. Connecticut ranks eighth nationally in two-point percentage and has scored 57 percent of their points inside the arc. The Longhorns, though, figure to be up to the task. They’ve allowed opponents to shoot just 40.5 percent on two-point shots this season.
  5. In the most recent iteration of his power rankings, Sports Illustrated’s Luke Winn pointed out that college basketball lacks truly elite teams this season. But that hasn’t stopped the Big 12 as a whole from putting together an impressive year. Oklahoma and Kansas currently occupy the top two spots in the KenPom ratings and the league is once again ranked as his toughest conference based on adjusted offensive and defensive efficiency ratings. In fact, if the Big 12 holds, the league’s .8342 rating will be the highest achieved by any conference since the Big Ten turned the trick in 2012-13.
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