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

Posted by Nate Kotisso on December 2nd, 2016

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

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

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

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

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One Burning Question: Who Will Run Point For Shaka Smart?

Posted by Nate Kotisso on November 3rd, 2016

Last year’s Texas team was, more or less, the end of an era — the Rick Barnes Era. The Longhorns’ season ended on an incredible half-court heave from Northern Iowa in the NCAA Tournament, and 80 percent of Texas’ starting lineup on that day were made up of seniors. The other player, junior Isaiah Taylor, decided three weeks later that he would forgo his remaining year of eligibility and enter the NBA Draft. With Taylor gone, the two remaining scholarship players from the Barnes era are senior forward Shaq Cleare and junior guard Kendal Yancy. Taylor’s was the most painful departure of all, as he led the team in scoring (15.0 PPG), assists (5.0 APG) and games (33) last season. While it’s true that the Longhorns have an entire starting lineup to replace, head coach Shaka Smart‘s biggest concern is who he will direct to manage his offense on opening night. All we know right now is that it will be someone young who will have to learn the position on the fly.

Texas head coach Shaka Smart watches his young team in Nov. 2's exhibition game. (TexasSports.com)

Texas head coach Shaka Smart watches his young point guard Andrew Jones (#1) in November 2’s exhibition game versus Division II Angelo State. (TexasSports.com)

Election Day is almost here. In this vein, it appears that Smart is leaning in a particular direction but we may not have all precincts reporting just yet. Down three scholarship players in the Longhorns’ exhibition win last night, Smart started 6’4″ freshman Andrew Jones and he played well against a vastly inferior opponent. The Irving, Texas, native did what led to his meteoric rise at the tail end of his high school career — a little bit of everything. He scored 17 points, grabbed seven rebounds, dished five assists and, most importantly, turned the ball over only once in 33 minutes of game action. Whether he’s facing D-II competition or the powers in the Big 12, Jones should have a good size advantage at the point guard position that makes him especially difficult for defenses to both contain and cut off his passing angles.

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Big 12 Power Rankings: It’s Practically March Edition

Posted by Nate Kotisso on February 26th, 2016

It is practically March, isn’t it? We’re just four days away. You can almost feel the bubble shrink as at-large hopefuls drop games they shouldn’t be dropping and simultaneously expand whenever a recent winning streak is validated with a big win. As of now, the Big 12’s bubble situation is relatively clear. Barring a flurry of wins from Kansas State within the next two weeks, the conference will send seven teams to the NCAA Tournament. The last team among the seven is Texas Tech. When Big 12 coaches picked them to finish 10th a few months ago, how could anyone have seen this coming?

THE EVIDENCE. (Big12Sports.com)

HERE IS THE EVIDENCE. LOOK AT IT. LOOK AT ITTTTTT (Big12Sports.com)

Texas Tech has eight conference wins at this point which bodes well with how the selection committee has historically treated eight-win Big 12 teams. Oklahoma State (twice) and Texas (once) made it safely into the field of 68 with that number in 2014 and 2015. Much has been written about the Red Raiders’ rise from rotten to respectable, and rightly so, but we shouldn’t forget that they’ve gone on this five-game winning streak without the services of starting center Norense OdiaseTubby Smith is the favorite for Big 12 Coach of the Year and is also creeping into National Coach of the Year discussions as well. Now let’s hope all seven clubs make it to the Sweet Sixteen.

Big 12 Power Rankings

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Big 12 Bubble Watch: Giving It The Ol’ College Try Edition

Posted by Nate Kotisso on February 5th, 2016

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

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

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

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

Probably In

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

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

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Big 12 M5: 01.27.16 Edition

Posted by Nate Kotisso on January 27th, 2016

big12m5

  1. Fresh off another huge home win, this time against Kansas, Iowa State has another test in front of them when they face Texas A&M in College Station on Saturday. The Big 12-SEC Challenge has people, namely coaches, voicing their “excitement” about the event before ending their thought with an “is what it is.” Randy Peterson of the Des Moines Register is not a fan of the Challenge coming smack dab in the middle of Big 12 play and would much rather have the games played in December. The main problem here is television, namely ESPN. After the Big 12/Pac-10 Hardwood Series and SEC-Big East Challenge died, the Big 12-SEC Challenge became the baby they decided to make as a compliment to the Big Ten-ACC Challenge. As we know, the week of the B1G-ACC Challenge took up the Monday-Wednesday of the first full week of December while the Big 12-SEC Challenge took the Thursday-Saturday slots later that week. No matter the matchup, putting those games at the end of the week negatively impacted TV ratings. Now, with the advent of the Big Ten and Big East’s Gavitt Tipoff Games shared with FS1, scheduling the Big 12-SEC Challenge became even more of an issue. The idea of getting all the games on one day is a nice change, but cramming it in to the middle of league play has left coaches and writers alike scratching their collective heads. We’ll see how it all plays out on Saturday.
  2. Iowa State big man Jameel McKay remains a question mark for the A&M game this weekend. McKay had his left knee examined on Tuesday after leaving the Kansas game and did not return. “We’ll see,” McKay said after the game. “It’s something I’ve got to get over. I’ve got to start thinking about myself personally so I don’t know how much more I’ve got in me.” Coincidentally enough, the Aggies are dealing with an injured big man of their own, as freshman Tyler Davis has a lingering foot injury. As deep as the Aggies are, having a healthy McKay in the lineup will give the Cyclones more than a fighting chance in a difficult true road game.
  3. In our last M5, it seemed safe to say that Kansas was going through a bit of a rough patch. Now, it’s time to start freaking out. As the road losses have mounted, so has the lackluster play. On Bill Self‘s most talented team, littered with both young and veteran talent, who are the leaders of the team? That’s the question the Lawrence World-Journal is seeking to answer. The Jayhawks quest to win another Big 12 title is in doubt, perhaps more so than it ever has been under Self. Still, it’s not over. Sitting only a game back, KU still has time to right its wrongs.
  4. The Oscar Robertson Trophy is awarded annually to the top player in college basketball. Well guess what? Your favorite basketball conference, the Big 12, has four of the best 20 players in college basketball. Predictably, those players are Wayne Selden Jr., Buddy Hield, Georges Niang and Monte Morris. All have had special season to this point, as have the other 16 players on this list. The four players from the Big 12 was the most players from one conference, tied with the ACC and Big Ten.
  5. Texas took care of TCU again last night, 71-54, to join the four-team cluster at 5-3 in the Big 12. Before the game, Hookem.com compiled a list of the top five Texas-TCU tussles to remember. Yes, this is a serious list. Yes, this series had a few memorable moments.  Yes, reading up on this likely supplies you with trivia you might not need. But then again, you might need it. So read up.
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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 Power Rankings: Safe To Call Kansas State Good? Edition

Posted by Nate Kotisso on December 24th, 2015

Kansas State had chemistry problems all season long a year ago as the Wildcats stumbled to a miserable 15-17 record. The offseason then brought a multitude of departures that only further weakened a fan base’s confidence in head coach Bruce Weber. This season, however, with 10 newcomers — including seven freshmen — Weber’s team has already given Texas A&M and North Carolina difficult games. The Wildcats also beat Georgia, a better-than-average SEC team, on the road. So who are these Wildcats?

You might be alarmed to learn that Bruce Weber has the Kansas State Wildcats out to an 8-2 start. (Scott Sewell/USA TODAY Sports)

You might be surprised to hear that Bruce Weber has the Kansas State Wildcats off to an 8-2 start. (Scott Sewell/USA TODAY Sports)

Justin Edwards and Wesley Iwundu are the two highest scoring returnees, but it’s freshmen like last year’s Kansas Mr. Basketball Dean Wade (11.3 PPG, 5.8 RPG) and Kamau Stokes (9.1 PPG, 3.5 APG) who have led the Wildcats to a 9-2 record thus far. Is it too early to call them a good team? Probably. Still, it’s encouraging to see the Wildcats hang around with teams that are clearly better than them. Kansas State likely isn’t at the point of beating good teams just yet, but the Wildcats also aren’t nearly as far away as we expected them to be before the season began. Let’s see how they fared in our latest power rankings.

Power Rankings

  • 1. Oklahoma (tie) — 6 points (Chris & Nate — 1st, Brian & Kendall — 2nd). Comment: “The Sooners still own the Big 12’s best win according to KenPom, a 23-point drubbing of Villanova on a neutral floor. They also have the country’s fifth-best defense. Sophomore Khadeem Lattin has helped fill the void left by the departure of TaShawn Thomas. His production on the defensive end, where he’s grabbed nearly 20.0 percent of the available rebounds and blocked 8.6 percent of the opposing shots, has been his biggest contribution.” – Chris Stone (@cstonehoops)
  • 1. Kansas (tie) — 6 points (Brian & Kendall — 1st, Chris & Nate — 2nd). Comment: Wayne Selden‘s development has fueled Kansas’ shot at winning a national title. Although Selden can’t shoot 54.0 percent from three-point range all season, he has also increased his field goal percentage at the rim by 10 percent from last season.” – Kendall Kaut (@kkaut)
  • 3. Iowa State — 12 points (All voted 3rd). Comment: “Yes, the Cyclones did not lose their first game until falling to Northern Iowa in Des Moines last week, but their imperfections have been noticeable for a little while now. They struggled to beat a clearly inferior Colorado team. They trailed by 20 at home to Iowa before coming all the way back to win that one in dramatic fashion. Now they’ve lost both a game and a major shotmaker in Naz Mitrou-Long for the season while they slowly work Deonte Burton into the rotation. So, naturally, they then go out and nip Cincinnati at the wire on the road.” – Nate Kotisso (@natekotisso)

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Big 12 M5: 12.11.15 Edition

Posted by Nate Kotisso on December 11th, 2015

morning5_big12

  1. In a game where Iowa led for 37 minutes and the game was tied for another two minutes and 21 seconds, archrival Iowa State found a way to win a game that looked like it was lost in Ames last night. The Cyclones ended the game on a 9-0 run, capped by Monte’ Morris’ game-winning floater with less than nine seconds remaining. On the backs of Jared Uthoff (32 points, nine rebounds) and Peter Jok’s (16 points in the second half) work, Iowa built a commanding 20-point lead only to have it erased in the final few moments. Iowa State remains undefeated as another thrilling chapter to the Cy-Hawk Series has been written.
  2. Well, it’s all fun and games until somebody gets hurt, right? As the buzzer sounded in Ames, Cyclones fans rushed the court in wild celebration. Randy Peterson, the Iowa State beat writer for the Des Moines Register, got caught up in the fracas, was knocked down and left Hilton Coliseum on a stretcher with a broken leg. So now the debate on whether college kids should or should not rush the court has picked up again. Our well wishes go out to Peterson as he begins to heal, and at least he apparently has a great sense of humor about things.
  3. A name familiar to Big 12 fans made his highly-anticipated debut with Wichita State on Wednesday night. Yes, Conner Frankamp, the former Kansas guard, checked into a game for the first time since the Jayhawks’ upset loss to Stanford in the 2014 NCAA Tournament. Frankamp, the all-time leading scorer in Wichita high school history, struggled shooting the ball (0-of-5 shooting), but he did hit two crucial free throws late to give the Shockers a two-possession lead with 21 seconds to play. He’ll need to be an important piece for Gregg Marshall’s team as it enters Missouri Valley play but my guess is that Kansas (91.0 PPG) isn’t missing his scoring punch all that much.
  4. Baylor’s Rico Gathers is aware of the fact that he is a very large person. He’s known this about himself for a little more than three years, at the very least. There’s almost no chance a low mid-major team like Northwestern State can adequately prepare for a player his size. Predictably, Gathers had his way with the Demons, scoring a career-high 31 points and outrebounding them by himself, 21 to 18, in the Bears’ 13-point win. He’s already the all-time rebounding king in the history of Baylor basketball with 938 and counting. It would be incredible if he gets to 1,000 boards before conference play opens versus Kansas on January 2.
  5. Texas’ gauntlet of a non-conference schedule continues this weekend as North Carolina will invade the Forty Acres on Saturday. After nailing 15 of 30 threes against UT-San Antonio, can the Horns conceivably put up another respectable effort from outside against a much stronger opponent? With a healthy Marcus Paige back in the Tar Heels’ lineup, Shaka Smart’s squad might need another one of those everything-is-going-through-the-net type of games in order to stay with one of the favorites to cut down the nets next April.
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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 »

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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!
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