A fun first week of Big 12 play leaves us with some questions, but it gets even better this week.
12. Thoughts on the Texas Tech-Baylor game
The game of the first two rounds of Big 12 play went to Baylor. What’s interesting about the start of the Big 12 season is that there seems to be four teams that are head and shoulders better than the rest of the league, and we’ve already seen two games featuring them playing each other and will get two more games between them this weekend when Baylor travels to Kansas and Texas Tech to Morgantown.
After watching Texas Tech, surprisingly with ease, put Oklahoma State in its place on Saturday via a 35-point beatdown in Lubbock, I thought that Texas Tech was about to take the league by storm for the third straight season.
But there were things I noticed during the OSU game that concerned me about Tech’s ability to win the marathon Big 12 season. Ultimately, I don’t think it will keep the Red Raiders from being a Sweet 16 contender and prevent them from dropping out of the rankings, but it was worth jotting down in my notes.
I’m not 100% sure if Texas Tech can return to the Final Four without a true point guard running the offense. I also think that there will be nights when Texas Tech will need to attack the basket more because the mid-range jumpers won’t fall.
Against Oklahoma State, a team that actually rated well defensively at Kenpom, Texas Tech shot a blistering 58.6% in the deciding second half. They shot 37.5% from 3-point range, making nine. But a lot of the 50 2-point shots Tech took were jumpers, which many say is the least efficient shot in basketball.
I think it’s only in-efficient if you’re bad at them, and Tech wasn’t bad at them against OSU.
But against Baylor?
For starters, Baylor is really good at defense and lead Lawrence Journal World beat reporter Matt Tait to tweet this observation:
Big win by Baylor in Lubbock tonight, but a pretty sloppy finish by both teams. Don't know if they'll all be like this, but, with so many good defenses in the Big 12, the 60-point mark could be pretty key in the next couple of months. #KUbball gets No. 4 Baylor at AFH on Saturday
— Matt Tait (@mctait) January 8, 2020
Baylor has the No. 7-ranked defense at Kenpom, but that shouldn’t just make us ignore Tech shooting 7-of-25 from the floor in the first half against Baylor and 3-of-13 in the first half from 3-point range. The Red Raiders were much better in the second half, shooting 44.8% from the field and 4-of-10 from 3-point, but Baylor shot 50% from both spots. Sometimes you need easy buckets, not 15-footers.
The biggest issue offensively for Tech isn’t that I don’t think it has a true point guard, it’s that outside of what could be the best stretch big man in the league, T.J. Holyfield — who was sensational against OSU — Texas Tech doesn’t have another post player it can get easy baskets from.
When Davide Moretti is 3-of-11 from the field and Kyler Edwards 4-of-11 and Jahmi’us Ramsey needs 17 shots to score 20 points and the fourth guard, Terrence Shannon, scores just four points, combined with Holyfield having to contend with other talented posts, Texas Tech’s offense is going to have nights like the one at home against Baylor.
Luckily for Tech, they only play two other defenses in the league that are on or better than Baylor’s defense: Kansas (No. 2 nationally) and West Virginia (No. 4) — both of which have great post players like Baylor.
Hey, we’re picking nits here because Texas Tech nearly beat the No. 4 team in the nation.
While I lead with Texas Tech, Tuesday was actually about Baylor going into Lubbock and coming out with a win.
There’s no excuses like in 2018 when Kansas went into Lubbock during the final Saturday of the season and won as Keenan Evans was hardly 100%. If Tech isn’t nearly 100%, then we don’t know about it.
Baylor won despite being on the road. Baylor won despite Texas Tech holding Jared Butler to just five points on eight shots and MaCio Teague to seven on just four shots. The trouble with Baylor — and what makes them one of the best teams in the nation — is you can scheme your defense to stop guards like Butler and Teague, but what do you do about Davion Mitchell?
It’s death by a thousand cuts with Baylor sometimes. If Butler isn’t scoring 20 points, you get a game where Mitchell scores 14 while six other players score at least five points while the team destroys you on the boards.
Baylor’s rebounding is amazing. It had Texas coach Shaka Smart rethinking Monday’s practice last weekend. Then you watch Baylor out-rebound — admittedly a team that plays smaller — Texas Tech 44-25 and you don’t feel as bad for Texas.
A lot of it is my favorite player in the Big 12, Mark Vital, just being who he is. Vital had 13 rebounds against Texas Tech. Fredd Gillespie, one of the best personal journey stories in the league, added 10. Devonte Bandoo added seven. Ironically the Baylor player who played minutes against Tech who didn’t rebound a ball was Tristan Clark, who many felt was one of the most talented post players in the Big 12 entering the season — if he was fully back from knee surgery, which it doesn’t look like he is.
Baylor has been the most impressive team in the league to date and if they can somehow beat Kansas — more on that later — this weekend, I believe the Bears deserve to be No. 1 in the Associated Press poll next week, because I doubt any team would have a pair of road wins as impressive, as of now and for the rest of the season, than Baylor would.
Texas Tech coach Chris Beard following the loss to the Bears. pic.twitter.com/OLXpSNaD6k
— Carlos Silva Jr. (@cmsilvajr) January 8, 2020
11. I guess Oklahoma State is bad… again… and what it means
After pushing Texas Tech in Lubbock for about 12 minutes on Saturday, and actually leading by seven points, they completely folded and lost by 35.
OK, I can accept that. Texas Tech is really good, it’s tough to win when a team shoots like the Red Raiders did and it was on the road.
It was the West Virginia game that bugged me on Monday. OSU took terrible shots against Texas Tech. Against West Virginia, OSU — which should have a strength at the 3-point line — was 1-for-20 from outside.
You can’t win shooting 5% from 3-point. You can’t win shooting 29.2% from the field. West Virginia is great at defense, but that’s not all on WVU.
Oklahoma State last made the NCAA Tournament after a slow start to the Big 12 season — 0-6 record at one point — so you can’t overreact too much to the 0-2 start, but it’s the way they’re playing that is so concerning. You look at the terrible losses they suffered in the non-conference and you wonder if this team isn’t a bottom three Big 12 team, again.
I think OSU coach Mike Boynton is a talented guy, but this is year three for him in Stillwater. OSU has kind of made it clear, at least to me, they don’t value basketball much any more. If they did, Brad Underwood would still be the coach. But you have to wonder if OSU is bad again, and Boynton returns as coach, is it all because of Cade Cunningham coming to campus next season? Or would OSU actually make a coaching change after two bad seasons?
OSU could reel off some wins when it plays teams they should beat from Iowa State, Kansas State and TCU. And heck, OSU always plays Kansas tough, so perhaps we’re not there yet on talking about the long term health of OSU.
10. Chatting top-10 recruit Greg Brown
One of the top recruits in the nation is playing high school basketball in Big 12 country in Greg Brown, who attends Vandegrift High School in Austin. Brown is a talented 6-foot-8 forward — some list him at 6-foot-9 — who can shoot the 3-pointer and also throw down some scary dunks.
247Sports’ Crystal Ball has Brown staying home and attending Texas. But those are just projections. Brown visited Memphis last weekend and will travel to Lexington, Ky. to spend three days in Big Blue Nation.
I talked to Brown a little on Tuesday, Here’s what Brown said about the weekends.
9. Dunk of the week
From the Kansas-Iowa State game on Wednesday:
DMack with the vicious putback 😤 pic.twitter.com/tDOU5wMDPr
— Kansas Basketball (@KUHoops) January 9, 2020
8. Oscar Tshiebwe is very good
You wondered how Tshiebwe would handle Kansas on Saturday with its two bigs. It didn’t take very long to wonder how Kansas would handle Tshiebwe. Here’s a nugget I found via the Kansas City Star and Kansas coach Bill Self:
“The first thing Silvio (De Sousa) said after the game was, ‘Coach, that dude ain’t 18 years old, he’s a man,’’’ added Self, who was convinced during the recruiting process that Tshiebwe would excel on both the college then someday the pro level.
Tshiebwe is averaging 9.3 rebounds per game and 12.1 points. He’s a big (6-foot-9, 245 pounds) physical post player that I think few teams in the Big 12 have the personnel to handle. If Kansas — who allowed Tshiebwe to score 17 points and grab 17 rebounds — it’s fair to wonder how teams not deep at the post, like Texas Tech and Oklahoma for starters, will handle him. It’s also important to note that he’s being helped by teammate Derek Culver, who at 9.8 rebounds a game is leading the conference.
7. TCU’s 2-0 start and the NCAA
Of all the teams in the Big 12, TCU had the easiest path to a 2-0 start. The Horned Frogs hosted Iowa State and traveled to Kansas State — the two worst teams in the Big 12. Give TCU credit though, they weren’t locks to travel to Manhattan and win and they scored at the buzzer to hang on 59-57 after the Wildcats had rallied from 10 points down to tie the game.
I think they’re moving to 3-0 this weekend (more on that soon) that would setup a big game against West Virginia on Jan. 14. TCU was more of a mystery team than anything else heading into conference, but you can’t overlook a team beating lesser teams on the road in Big 12 play when favored teams lose all the time on the road in this league.
If you’re keeping track at home, that’s now 30% of the Big 12 under investigation by the NCAA.
6. This is Texas… this is always Texas
I don’t know if DeLoss Dodds made a warlock angry in January 2010 or what, but since that month the two biggest revenue sports at Texas, which claiming the school has the “most resources” available in nation has become cliche, have been average and predictable.
And now we have to type the same thoughts I’ve written before in the three years I’ve done the column, but you can’t lose by 10 points your biggest rival and not feel like the Longhorns are in panic territory, so…
Here’s a question: Was there ever a point in Saturday’s loss at Waco when you felt Texas could actually beat the Bears? You even had Fran Fraschilla openly calling Jase Febres soft on television for not going harder at the basket.
Against Oklahoma on Wednesday, Texas was terrible on offense and lost to a rival that was determined to win on the road.
At some point, when do things change? When does the program click under Smart like it has in Lubbock for Chris Beard? Maybe it’s unfair to compare the two coaches, but Smart’s pre-Big 12 coaching resume towers over Beard’s.
If we’re going to question Mike Boynton’s job status in Stillwater after two awful games, we have to mention Shaka Smart’s in Austin.
I know the narrative on the 40 Acres is that it’s not going to happen because of the price of buyouts. But Texas has been the same type of team for three years. Smart has shown a willingness to change his scheme in response and he’s hired some of the best college basketball people in the game — strength coach Andrea Hudy and assistant coach Luke Yaklich — but what is he going to change this offseason outside of landing a 5-star recruit like Greg Brown?
Is time running out on Smart?
A lot of people think so. A lot of people thought so in October. I wasn’t one of those people. College basketball insider Jeff Goodman is.
The Shaka Watch:
Texas lost tonight against Oklahoma at home and the Longhorns have dropped 3 of their last 4. Now off to an 0-2 start in Big 12 play.
— Jeff Goodman (@GoodmanHoops) January 9, 2020
One Longhorn basketball follower I know sent me a few blind resumes at the end of last year. There were three and they were all very similar. They were Smart’s record in the first four seasons at Texas compared to John Beilein’s at Michigan and Mike Krzyzewski’s at Duke. There’s too many differences in the situations to really take that comparison seriously, but you have to wonder if Texas athletic director Chris Del Conte really wants to start another season with Smart if the Longhorns are on the bubble, flirting with .500 and falling behind or at least appearing to fall behind, Texas Tech, Baylor and TCU this season.
Del Conte didn’t give two TCU coaches that extra year and might have moved on from Trent Johnson too early because of the availability of Jamie Dixon. That was a smart move, but Johnson recruited a lot of the players Dixon used to take the Horned Frogs to the NIT Tournament title in year one and the NCAA Tournament in year two.
I think back to the blind resumes and I think back to how Johnson — who’s record at TCU meant he needed to go because it was terrible — was ousted because of Dixon. I then see how much of a disaster this Cleveland Cavaliers season has been and wonder if Beilein’s availability would push Del Conte to make a decision– especially when they can sell Yaklich as a possible head coach in waiting, similar to that of Larry Brown and Tim Jankovich at SMU a few years ago.
It’s early, but these coaching decisions are often formed in January and February and crystallized in March, but it’ still early. No one is going to think Smart will not be the coach at Texas if he beats Kansas, Texas Tech and Baylor at least once this season and makes the tournament. It would be foolish to write Texas off just yet, but this feels like a movie I’ve watched before with the same lame ending.
Five games to get excited about for the next week
5. Kansas State at Texas, 7 p.m., Saturday, Longhorn Network
This became an important game for Texas after its 0-2 start to the conference slate. Kansas State is 0-2 and 7-7 on the season and ranked 88th at Kenpom — the worst in the league. The Wildcats nearly beat Oklahoma last weekend and lost by just two points to TCU as Kevin Samuel hit a shot at the buzzer. Both of these teams are due after rough first slates.
Texas is better than Kansas State.
If Texas loses to the Wildcats at home it’ll be the worst three-game stretch in Smart’s tenure at Texas.
Matchup to watch: Jericho Sims vs. Makol Mawien. Sims has become perhaps the Longhorns’ best player and after a dreadful shooting night, maybe the Longhorns should get the big man more buckets. But it won’t be easy. Mawien is good, experienced big man.
4. Kansas at Oklahoma, 8 p.m., Tuesday, ESPN/ESPN2
If Kansas beats Baylor at home Saturday, this sets up as a textbook trap game for the Jayhawks. If Kansas loses at home to Baylor, this game becomes the most interesting of the week because of the quickish turnaround — Kansas has had a lot of days in between its two other losses this season — and travel to Oklahoma. The last few years Kansas has been pretty bad on the road, where losses to TCU and Oklahoma last season were the games that more than others really ended KU’s streak.
Kansas whupped Iowa State on Wednesday and now maybe KU won’t be as bad on the road this season. Oklahoma has had a strange season. The Sooners have some good wins, but they’re sluggish at times. OU also plays rather small with four guards, so the cat and mouse game will be who adjusts first: Will Kansas go small or will OU try to match size with what they have?
The difference is Kansas is still pretty good when it goes small.
Matchup to watch: Brady Manek vs. David McCormick. Manek is a stretch four who is playing center. David McCormick is a center playing the four. I’m not sure how KU will defense OU — maybe a zone? — but I expect this to be the matchup because Marcus Garrett will be defending Kristian Doolittle.
3. TCU at West Virginia, 8 p.m., Tuesday, ESPNU
After starting the season with two road games against Kansas and Oklahoma State, West Virginia gets back-to-back home games. But this isn’t about WVU.
TCU can move to 3-0 in the Big 12 on Saturday with a home game against Oklahoma State. The Horned Frogs could even garner some AP buzz if that happens. But the real test to what we can expect from them comes next week. They don’t have to win to make me feel better, they just have to be up to the task to win– they can’t get blown out if I’m supposed to take them seriously moving forward.
Matchup to watch: West Virginia’s inside game has been so strong that you kind of forget about the other pieces, but guardd Mile McBride has emerged as one of the top freshmen in the league. Meanwhile Desmond Bane, R.J. Nembhard and Samuels have been good for TCU, that you forget about Jaire Grayer. The guard matchup will be fun.
Pick: West Virginia
2. Texas Tech at West Virginia, 5 p.m., Saturday, ESPN2
It’s great that in one week we’re seeing the four best teams play each other in three games — Kansas and Texas Tech play for the first time on Feb. 1— and this will be the biggest test of the season for Texas Tech.
Sure the Red Raiders have already played Louisville and Baylor, but those were at home or on a neutral court. And Texas Tech’s lockerroom celebration video went somewhat viral last year after the Red Raiders won in Morgantown. Yes, I think Bob Huggins will remember that. If there’s a fatal flaw for Tech it’s one that’s not terrible to have: a lack of post players. In today’s game of picks, screens, switches and 25-foot shots, you don’t need a traditional lineup to be great. Tech has a lineup that can switch at most positions and offensively has a big man who can shoot.
West Virginia has a traditional team and will bully you. Plus, Tech shoots a lot of jumpers, and sometimes jumpers don’t travel.
Matchup to watch: Not going to overthink this one: Tshiebwe/Culver vs. Holyfield. I’m not sure how WVU is going to defend the stretch big man, but it’ll need someone who can defend on the perimeter. But I’m not sure who Holyfield is going to matchup with that won’t put him in foul trouble on defense.
Pick: West Virginia
1. No. 4 Baylor at No. 3 Kansas, noon, Saturday, CBS
Baylor rolled into Lubbock and knocked off Texas Tech in front of a sold out arena on Tuesday.
Then Kansas went into Hilton Coliseum — a place they didn’t played well at the last decade — and won by 26, but might have won by 40 if coach Bill Self want.
Texas Tech is a lot better than Iowa State, but it’s been a long time since I’ve seen Iowa State that defeated at home against Kansas, a blood rival for Cyclone fans. There’s so many layers to this game. It’s the game I’ve most wanted to watch since last April.
I don’t see how any team can be ranked ahead of Baylor in the AP poll if the Bears win in Lubbock and Lawrence in the same week. Kansas probably isn’t moving either way in the polls, but any doubt you had in KU after the sloppy losses to Villanova and Duke are mitigated with a win over the Bears.
It’s also going to be a defensive showcase and could resemble an old school, 1980s basketball game as Baylor’s bigs play Kansas’ bigs.
But we know this game is going to come down to guard play, and Kansas has the best guard tandem in the conference — Marcus Garrett and Devon Dotson.
Matchup to watch: So many to choose from, but I’m picking the MaCio Teague- Ochai Abgaji matchup as the one that will decide the game because Jared Butler-Devon Dotson is too obvious.