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 »

Share this story

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.
Share this story

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.
Share this story

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 »

Share this story

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 »

Share this story

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 »

Share this story

Big 12 M5: 12.28.15 Edition

Posted by Chris Stone on December 28th, 2015

morning5_big12

  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.
Share this story

Big 12 Power Rankings: We Don’t Know Anything Edition

Posted by Nate Kotisso on December 10th, 2015

Welcome to what is certain to be an exciting and perplexing year of our Big 12 Power Rankings. Most of the fun found in doing weekly power rankings is to watch the progression of each team from December to March. The other fun part is being given the license to be dead wrong in December because conference play hasn’t yet started. Since we’re less than a month away from league play, join us as we are free to drive off of the road with our rankings and crash into as many mailboxes before our front bumper is no longer a front bumper. Remember to buckle up.

We're not sure what Oklahoma coach Lon Kruger is telling his players at this moment. It's likely he is sharing something basketball related here but I wouldn't rule out Kruger explaining to him the lyrics of "Coconut" by Harry Nilsson. (CBS Sports)

We’re not sure what Oklahoma coach Lon Kruger is telling his players at this moment. It’s likely he is sharing something basketball related here but I wouldn’t rule out Kruger explaining to him the lyrics of “Coconut” by Harry Nilsson. (CBS Sports)

Power Rankings

1. Kansas (tie) — 6 points (Brian & Kendall — 1st, Chris & Nate — 2nd). Comment: Bill Self‘s best teams have been known for their intensity and defensive toughness, but this might be the best offensive team he’s ever had in Lawrence. The Jayhawks are shooting a white-hot 47.2 percent from three, mostly without the help of Brannen Greene, whose five-game suspension just ended.” – Brian Goodman (@BSGoodman)

1. Oklahoma (tie) — 6 points (Chris & Nate — 1st, Brian & Kendall — 2nd). Comment: “The Sooners absolutely demolished the Big East’s best team in a convincing 78-55 win over Villanova. Meanwhile, Buddy Hield is taking more shots and knocking them down at a more efficient clip than last season. Barring a major slip up, Oklahoma should enter Big 12 play still undefeated.” – Chris Stone (@cstonehoops) Read the rest of this entry »

Share this story

Big 12 M5: 12.09.15 Edition

Posted by Nate Kotisso on December 9th, 2015

morning5_big12

  1. West Virginia came into last night’s “all-Virginia-in-their-name” showdown with the Cavaliers with a sparkling 7-0 record. Things looked good initially with the Mountaineers taking a six-point lead into the dressing room… but then the second half happened. Second halves tend to occur in basketball and on this night, Bob Huggins’ team was not ready for it. The normally slow-tempoed Cavaliers put up 40 points in the final 20 minutes, fueled by London Perrantes’ 13 points for the half. Virginia is also known for its stingy defense, but once again, a major concern for West Virginia was finding any semblance of a functioning half-court offense. Playing a team like the Cavaliers is a good barometer to check where a team is three weeks before conference play starts.
  2. Consider the following sentence: Oklahoma head coach Lon Kruger is one of the most underrated coaches in college basketball. This is a true sentence but CBS Sports‘ Gary Parrish dives even deeper into why this is a true sentence. He’s been everywhere and he’s won everywhere (sorry, UT-Pan American). He’s taken a fringe top 150 recruit and turned him into the defending Big 12 Player of the Year. He’s also… well, it’s all in Parrish’s column, which is another true sentence.
  3. If you were to take a closer look at Monday night’s Iowa State win over Buffalo, you’d notice that there were a lot more connections between the two programs than you’d realize. Cyclones point guard Monte’ Morris played his high school ball at Romulus High School in Michigan for newly-minted Buffalo head coach Nate Oats. Iowa State assistant Charlie Henry worked on Oats’ staff at Romulus High as well while fellow assistant T.J. Otzelberger has been friends with Oats since their days working together at Division III Wisconsin-Whitewater. The best thing to emerge from these two teams meeting didn’t happen on the floor but off the floor. Chris Williams, a publisher for Iowa State fan site Cyclone Fanatic, created a GoFundMe for Oats’ wife, Crystal, who is currently battling double-hit lymphoma. The goal was set at $10,000 which covered the cost of medical expenses for Oats’ family. With the help of Iowa State fans, they raised more than $12,000 in just four days. Beyond the game played at Hilton Coliseum that night, Oats, Iowa State and their fans will have a bond that lasts for many seasons to come.
  4. Texas hasn’t had the best start in Shaka Smart‘s first season in Austin. Texas-Arlington took the Horns to overtime last week but this time, they would not face stiff competition from another University of Texas System team as Texas-San Antonio was outrun by Texas 116-50 at the Frank Erwin Center. Some other incredible stats from this game: the Longhorns led by as many 67 points; they made 65 percent of their field goal attempts; and they were somehow tied with UTSA for one minute and 16 seconds. Anytime the coach can look up at the scoreboard, see that his team is up a bunch and empty his bench as soon as possible is a good might for said coach.
  5. Hello, my name is Nate Kotisso. At the one month mark of the college basketball season, I am admittedly wrong on most fronts; now, I am free to admit that I was wrong about Kansas State. I pictured the worst basketball atrocities to occur to this team in 2015-16, and while there’s enough time for said basketball atrocities to occur, they haven’t happened as of yet. The Wildcats are 6-1 with a kinda solid win at Georgia last week and an admirable effort in their only loss to North Carolina. With Coppin State coming into Manhattan tonight, it is possible for K-State to go into Big 12 play with potentially nine or more wins. Considering the massive meltdown from a season ago, this is good! Enjoy the goodness while it lasts!
Share this story

Big 12 M5: 12.04.15 Edition

Posted by Brian Goodman on December 4th, 2015

morning5_big12

  1. On a team as loaded as Kansas, it can be tough to keep track of the squad’s best performers on a week-to-week basis. Enter Topeka Capital-Journal beat writer Jesse Newell, who yesterday introduced a Luke Winn-inspired Power Rankings column chock-full of Vines, screenshots, advanced stats and (of course) rankings to separate the wheat from the chaff on the Jayhawks’ deep and talented roster. From his most recent column, it is abundantly clear that Wayne Selden is on a mission to disprove his doubters, but a team with as many weapons as Kansas can lead to someone different stepping up in any given week.
  2. Oklahoma continued its early season dominance, annihilating Central Arkansas 111-68 in Norman last night. The Sooners could do no wrong, winning the rebounding battle by 25 boards while shooting an eye-popping 13-of-22 from deep. That long-range marksmanship was led by Jordan Woodard, who shot a white-hot 6-of-7 from behind the arc. Not surprisingly, the visitors also struggled to contain Buddy Hield, allowing 19 points and seven boards to the NPOY candidate. The Sooners are now 5-0 and rank ninth in KenPom’s national ratings with an average margin of victory of 24.4 points. Things get more challenging fast, however, as Oklahoma faces its biggest challenge of the young season on Monday when it squares off against fellow unbeaten Villanova in Hawaii.
  3. The Shaka Smart era at Texas is off to a somewhat rocky start after losses to Washington, Texas A&M, Michigan and a close call against Texas-Arlington. According to Smart (via Austin-American Statesman writer Cedric Golden), the Longhorns’ prospects would be better if one or more of his players took on a clear leadership role. On the surface, guard Isaiah Taylor has the tools and confidence to become that guy, but he’s been a disappointment at the free throw line in close games. The Longhorns have two more games to find someone to fill that role before North Carolina rolls into town next Saturday.
  4. Opportunities to step up abound on Kansas State‘s young roster, and the first few weeks have allowed JuCo transfer Carlbe Ervin to emerge as a steady backcourt contributor. Ervin provides Bruce Weber some much-needed versatility, as he is capable of both spelling starting point guard Kamau Stokes or playing alongside him if other members of the rotation aren’t performing. Ervin will be in action tonight when the Wildcats take on Georgia in their first true road game of the season.
  5. Iowa State got a surprise when former NBA head coach and current ABC/ESPN commentator Jeff Van Gundy rolled into Ames on Thursday. Van Gundy may be best known as the former coach of the New York Knicks and Houston Rockets, but it shouldn’t be forgotten that he cut his teeth at the college level, breaking in as a graduate assistant for Rick Pitino at Providence in the mid-1980s. Van Gundy leveled with the Cyclones about life in the professional ranks before drawing an interesting comparison between Steve Prohm‘s team and the current Golden State Warriors. He hinted that the Cyclones would do well to follow the Warriors’ lead, noting that it was Stephen Curry and his teammates’ emphasis on defense that took them from being a very good team to world champions.
Share this story