Posted March 8th, 2018
Each week I give you 12 things to know about Big 12 men’s basketball.
12. The Big 12 postseason awards
Player of the Year: Devonté Graham, Kansas, senior
It became clear in the last two weeks of the regular season this was coming. It was surprising he was a unanimous selection, but then again, the coaches who voted were full of surprises.
Defensive Player of the Year: Jevon Carter, West Virginia, senior
I’m not sure why voters decided to give this to Carter when Mo Bamba was clearly the best defender and biggest difference maker on that side of the ball. Of all the voters who should know this, it should be the coaches.
Newcomer of the Year: Malik Newman, Kansas, redshirt sophomore
No surprise here. Newman was an incoming transfer who was an important part of Kansas’ offense. I thought Texas junior Dylan Osetkowski would get a look, but Newman’s team finished first and Osetkowski’s did not.
Coach of the Year: Chris Beard, Texas Tech and Bill Self, Kansas
We’re at the point now where this award should just be named after Self. He’s a six-time winner and has won the last two honors. Beard’s team was supposed to compete for a tournament spot and did that, but few thought they would be this good. In a vacuum, Self absolutely deserves this award and probably deserves it outright, but his team was picked to win it all at the start of the season and, again, no one saw Texas Tech being this good, so it a split seems fair. I thought Kansas State coach Bruce Weber, picked to finish eighth, was going to wind up taking this honor.
Freshman of the Year: Trae Young, Oklahoma, freshman
Sixth man on the Year: Terry Maston, Baylor, senior
*The league, I think, is not always honoring the best players for these award. Instead, it looks like they are just picking seniors. Thus why the Associated Press also awards players and coaches.
First team nitpicks: I won’t argue four of the first-team selections. Graham, Carter, Young and Keenan Evans all deserve to be there. Dean Wade had a sensational year for Kansas State, but Bamba’s season was better. This selection won’t age well, I think.
11. My beef with conference tournaments, and how I would fix it
Conference tournament are exciting and enjoyable to watch, but I think they suck.
Conference tournaments lessen the importance of the regular season of college basketball. Sure it gives teams with no chance a last shot at making the NCAA Tournament, but at the same time, it gives teams from one-bid leagues who roll through an 18-or-so conference schedule more pressure to win the tournament.
It’s a good warmup to the madness that begins next week — games in the middle of the day, last second shots — it’s fun. But it also opens the door for teams that honestly don’t deserve to make the field to make the field. Connecticut won the Big East Tournament out of nowhere one year and rode that wave, and Kemba Walker, to a title, so I know there is an alternative argument. But maybe UConn shouldn’t have underachieved all season to begin with.
In my opinion, the automatic qualifier should be the league’s regular season champion with normal tie-breakers to determine the AQ in the event of a tie. If there’s a two-way tie and the teams have split, there should be a one-game tie-breaker.
But I wouldn’t get rid of the conference tournament. And the TV and conference executives don’t either.
Image if they played the tournaments in early December? What if the Big 12 tournament begin on Tuesday of the football season’s championship week? There would be conference basketball games all week– four days of promoting the conference championship football game– with the tournament final being Friday night. The next day is the football game and the entire week it’s “Big 12 this” and “Big 12 that.” The tournament would be in the same city as the championship game, meaning a conference take over of a major market.
For the non-football conferences, the tournaments are held the next week when there is only one college football game going on and basketball can get on a big stage before bowl season.
Here’s the advantage/disadvantage: Your conference tournament record is the record you start league play with. It gives teams that advance a leg up on teams that lose early and lets the tournament champ start league play with a one-game lead. That way a good tournament showing is a must, but a bad tournament showing doesn’t sink your season to the depths of the NIT.
It’s a thought.
But again, the conference tournaments in March are exciting and I enjoy watching them.
10. A farewell to Iowa State
The Cyclones’ tournament streak has ended. The Longhorns averted disaster on Wednesday and beat the Cyclones.
Six straight seasons of NCAA Tournament appearances and I totally forgot the Forgettable Greg McDermott Era of Iowa State. Last season was truly the last of the Fred Hoiberg Era Cyclones. Even though the coach had been long gone, it was the final year of Monte Morris — Hoiberg’s second best recruit — and it was a year removed from George Niang’s reign.
This year was always going to be difficult. Partly because coach Steve Prohm was still trying to find his groove in recruiting and roster building, but mostly because that’s what happens when teams lose two of the best players (Morris and Deonte Burton) the program has had in the last 10 years.
Lindell Wigginton — if he returns to school — is a great player to build around next season. And Nick Weiler-Babb gives ISU a great backcourt tandem. The addition of transfers Marial Shayok and Michael Jacobson will provide instant help and no one should expect the Cyclones to be down long.
Tournament predictions for the 9 teams I see getting in
Can they reach the second weekend?
9. Oklahoma State (18-13, regular season)
The Cowboys beat Oklahoma to advance to in Big 12 Tournament on Wednesday, and it was the win they needed. They play Kansas on Thursday. A win there and they become close to a lock to make the tournament.
OSU is a tough matchup for any team. They have shooters, size and play a pressing defense and fast-paced offense. However, they are the most inconsistent team in the league, hence their record.
Can they reach the second weekend? No. Oklahoma State, outside of November and early December, has not strung three wins in a row together. The Cowboys followed their win at Kansas with an 11-point loss at home to Baylor. They followed their 88-85 win at West Virginia with a 10-point loss at home to Kansas State that followed a 20-point loss at TCU. They beat Texas Tech by eight, but lost to Texas the next game.
8. Oklahoma (18-12 regular season)
While the Sooners struggled like no other team has struggled in a long time in the month of February there are some positives here: Trae Young’s bad games are still pretty good. This defense is terrible and the offensive game-plan isn’t the best, but it’s never a bad thing to have a dude like Young in the tournament.
Can they make the second weekend? No. Oklahoma will win its first game in the NCAA Tournament, and Young will have a moment. But at the end of the day, the second game will be extremely hard for them. The Sooners will probably play a decent team in that round — ESPN Joe Lunardi has them as a nine seed, so a potential No. 1 seed in the second game is worst-case scenario. A good defense will not only beat Oklahoma, but could potentially make it a laugher.
7. Baylor (18-13 regular season)
The Bears are slated by many to be a play-in team but that can change if they have a good a Big 12 Tournament, but it won’t change their seed that much.
Baylor has length, a tricky zone and solid point guard play– all recipes that have made Syracuse such a good tournament team over the years. Baylor reached the Sweet 16 last season, so there is some experience there.
Can they reach the second weekend? No. While this team has played awesome at times against great teams, they’ve been blown out or looked average too many times for me to think they can go 3-0 or 2-0 next week.
6. Texas (18-13 regular season)
The Longhorns’ tournament run doesn’t necessarily hinge on Mo Bamba’s availability, to me. The Longhorns have looked different with Bamba out and fellow freshman Jericho Sims taking a bigger role in the offense is part of it. But there’s no doubt that having Bamba on board makes them an incredible tournament story.
And yeah, sometimes you watch games, like Wednesday against Iowa State, and wonder if Texas even wants to make the NCAA Tournament, until they decide at the last minutes that they do, they really, really do.
Good tournament teams find ways to score when shots aren’t falling and that means scoring easy underneath. Those points aren’t east with a Bamba-infused Texas.
Can they reach the second weekend? No. While the defense is very good and can definitely win this team two games or three games next week, the offense is too much of a problem for me to see them as a Sweet 16 squad.
5. TCU (21-10 regular season)
The Horned Frogs have finally gotten to the tournament! Not only did TCU make the perfect coaching hire almost two years ago (Jamie Dixon), the Horned Frogs look like a program on its way to being an annual player in the league. Kenrich Williams, Alex Robinson and Vladimir Brodziansky give this squad as a good of a top three as any in the league (probably second behind Kansas).
They are bad defensively. Like really bad. But with Brodziansky down low and a shooter like Desmond Bane in the wings, they have one of the elite offenses in the nation.
Can they make the second weekend? Yes. It all depends on the matchup. I like more balanced teams to make runs in the NCAA Tournament, and if you aren’t balanced, I always favor good defenses. But TCU doesn’t have to rely on its shooters. It can score inside, which makes them different from other great offenses. Lunardi has them as a No. 6 seed, meaning to advance they’ll have to beat a top-4 seed. That’s doable for a 21-win group.
Can they reach the Final Four?
4. West Virginia (22-9 regular season)
I’m putting them as the team with the fourth-best chances to advance because I think West Virginia is an average team if they can’t turn the ball over. If they play a transition basketball game, they’ll win and maybe even make the Final Four. But if you make them play in the half court, anyone can beat the Mountaineers (like Iowa State) and why many teams — Kansas (twice), Texas A&M and Kentucky — have staged big comeback wins.
Can they advance to the Final Four? No. They are one of only two teams to beat Virginia this season, but the Mountaineers have real stretches were they look terrible. The offensive performance by both Texas and West Virginia in their regular season finale was unwatchable at times. Sometimes you wonder if WVU practices nothing but the press because if they’ve run a lot of set plays in the games I’ve seen, I didn’t notice them. The key to their run won’t be Jevon Carter’s defense, it’ll be his sometimes spotty offense. Of the top four teams in the league, they — even with Kansas State being coached by Bruce Weber — are the one I trust the least to make the Final Four.
3. Kansas State (21-10 regular season)
I feel like I overvalue Kansas State and they’ve let me down over and over again this season. But the Wildcats have pieces that can get them to the second weekend. I may not like the Dean Wade first team all-Big 12 pick, but he is good and a forward who can shoot. The Wildcats have two point guards who are talented, Kamau Stokes and Cartier Diarra and Barry Brown is one of the most overlooked players in the league.
Can they advance to the Final Four? Bruce Weber is still the coach, and it’s not 2005, right?
2. Texas Tech (23-8 regular season)
A healthy Texas Tech team is the team I like the most in the tournament– like more than most teams in the tournament. The Red Raiders have as good of a guard as any in the nation in Evans. They have size, depth, an athletic freak like Zhaire Smith and some players, like Zach Smith, are just getting back on the court after a long injury. This team has playmakers, stretch fours and play the best defense in the conference.
The problem? Their offense really struggles sometimes to score and their offense really, really struggles if Evans is not healthy or just having a bad game. They are way more trustworthy than West Virginia, but they still can be upset the first weekend if they drawl a tough matchup. Lunardi has them as a No. 4 seed with a possible matchup against Ohio State in the second round. I’d take that if I was Tech.
Can they advance to the Final Four: Yes, if Evans is playing like he’s 100 percent even though he may not be 100 percent. However, you don’t see many team who don’t a have a ton of tournament history go from NIT to the Final Four a lot. I think that’s a little overrated — tournament experience to me isn’t as important as the matchup and the talent on your team.
1. Kansas (24-7 regular season)
They are so consistently good that somehow a program that has made at least the Elite Eight eight times in 15 seasons under Bill Self is viewed as a “under-performing tournament team.”
Sure, Kansas has failed to get out of the first round of the tournament five times under Bill Self, but a national title, a national championship game appearance, six Elite Eights and two Sweet 16s are good finishes. If any other program in the Big 12 had that, the court would be named after him. The tournament choker tag steams from Kansas being at least a No. 1 or No. 2 seed almost every year.
I’ve written about Kansas’ flaws, most national college basketball writers have written about the flaws, but no one seems to write about what Kansas is good at. Kansas shoots a lot of 3-pointers– but Kansas makes a lot of 3-pointers. Kansas is too guard oriented– but how many teams have guards as good as Kansas’ guards? The bottom line is Kansas has one of the two or three best point guards in college basketball (Graham)– who is definitely one of the best all-around players in the nation.
They also have a center who shoots 77 percent from the floor. While Udoka Azubuike will not play in the Big 12 Tournament this week, he should be good to go next week after suffering a grade 1 MCL sprain.
Kansas can lose by 15 in the second round of the tournament and I wouldn’t be too surprised. At the same time, Kansas can be a matchup nightmare for every team in the tournament. If Lagerald Vick is making shots, Kansas has four 3-point threats on the floor. What people also haven’t realized is how well freshman forward Silvio DeSousa has looked in his limited minutes over the last four games of the regular season. If Kansas has a third reliable big man in the rotation, do they have depth issues any more?
Also. Kansas is going to be either a No. 1 seed or a No. 2 seed, so that helps.
Can they advance to the Final Four? Yes. Kansas is led by two seniors who have lost in the Elite Eight in back-to-back years, so the lights are not going to be too bright. Yes, at the end of the day the best college basketball program in the Big 12 still has the best chance to make the Final Four.