Texas head coach Shaka Smart instructs his team during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game against Kansas in the Big 12 men's tournament Thursday, March 14, 2019, in Kansas City, Mo. [Chris Neal/The Capital-Journal]

Men's Basketball

12 big things about Big 12 basketball, Week 12 — SEC/Big 12 challenge is upon us

Posted January 24th, 2020

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12. Well that was hugely embarrassing

Silvio De Sousa lifted up a stool and probably would have hit someone had Kansas assistant coach Jerrance Howard not saved the day.

That’s the moment most people are going to remember most about Big 12 basketball this season. And there’s nearly two more months of Big 12 basketball season left.

If you think I’m going to dive in the hot take portal and say something dumb, remember this: Players who have been arrested for DUIs haven’t historically been suspended for longer than five games, so enough with the “rest of the season” talk.

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It’s not the same as the NFL’s Browns-Steelers melee a few months ago– Myles Garrett actually connected with his weapon. Let’s not act like this was nothing more than some incredibly dumb and stupid thing that happens in rivalry games. No, Silvio De Sousa shouldn’t be charged with a felony for picking up a stool and not doing anything with it. Punches thrown? Sure, suspended him.

Twelve games, the length of his suspension announced Wednesday, is appropriate.

Three more players, James Love (eight games to serve when medically cleared), Antonio Gordon (three games) and David McCormick (two games) were suspended. I’m not going to dive into the rabbit hole and blame either side for starting it, but it’s silly to think that after what happened in the Monmouth game in November, that final play wasn’t going to cause problems– and remember that Kansas and K-State have been doing things like that for years.

Kansas State’s tournament hopes are dead. The Wildcats are two games below .500 and last weekend’ blowout win over West Virginia was probably a fluke. Those suspension don’t matter for a team not going anywhere.

For Kansas? The suspensions hurt the Jayhawks’ depth, but that’s it. McCormick has started every game for KU, but he wasn’t playing starters’ minutes and Silvio De Sousa has barely played this season. Their actions overshadowed the biggest development of the week: Christian Braun becoming a potential star in Lawrence.

The Athletic’s C.J. Moore wrote the obvious: the suspension allows KU coach Bill Self to play his best lineup more.

I don’t think KU will miss McCormick much in the next two games (Tennessee at home and Oklahoma State, the last winless Big 12 team in the league).

11. Welcome to the Big 12-SEC Challenge — history, best performance, etc.

OK. Back to basketball. The SEC and Big 12 continue its rivalry this weekend. The Big 12 lost the Big East challenge emphatically in December. Big 12 teams are 35-25 in the challenge and won it 6-4 in 2019.

Ranking the games.

10. Oklahoma State (9-9, 0-6) at Texas A&M (9-8, 3-3), 3 p.m., ESPN2/U

Oklahoma State held a nine-point lead on Baylor at home last Saturday and lost by seven. They lost by seven again to Iowa State a few days later. Texas A&M has seven wins at home. Neither of these teams are on a tournament pace, but both of these teams could use this game as a springboard for a strong final two months and get back in the tournament conversation– Iowa State has the talent and the star to do so.

Pick: Iowa State.

READ MORE: Weber regrets K-State’s role in brawl

9. Kansas State (8-10, 1-5) at Alabama (11-7, 4-2), 5 p.m., ESPN2

The No.9 and No.10 games on here are coin flips as to which one is the worst, but I edge this one to nine because I think Alabama is better having beaten Auburn and lost close to Penn State and Florida this season. Before the fight happened, Kansas State looked lifeless against KU on Tuesday– the worst Sunflower Showdown, as I predicted, in years. The fight was a tricky way for the Wildcats to distract its fan base. I think this could be ugly.

Pick: Alabama.

READ MORE: Alabama gets big road win against Vanderbilt

8. Missouri (9-9, 1-5) at No. 14 West Virginia (15-3, 4-2), 11 a.m., ESPN

I expect West Virginia to walk away from this week with highest pair of margin of victory totals one team could have in a week. Mizzou is 9-9 overall and 12th in the SEC. The Tigers have lost three games in a row since their win over Florida at home and those loses have been by 27, 14 and two points (to Texas A&M).

I put this game here because of the back story. It’s the conference’s Sliding Doors. What if Missouri had never left the Big 12 and WVU went to the SEC, would this game still be played today? Considering the absolute trainwreck Missouri basketball has been since it left, the Big 12 scored big.

Pick: West Virginia

READ MORE: Uneven shooting continues to plague Tigers

7. Mississippi State (12-6, 3-3) at Oklahoma (12-6, 3-3), 1 p.m., ESPN2/U

There were big expectations for Mississippi State entering this season and the Bulldogs really haven’t lived up to them. They are 12-6 overall and 3-3 in conference. They lost three straight games in conference play and then rebounded to win three straight. The best team they’ve played this season, Auburn, was a 12-point loss. The other team, Villanova, won by seven.

However, they just beat Arkansas, who is 14-4, and they crushed– crushed!– Missouri (the 27-point win) and Georgia, a 32-point win. Meanwhile, Oklahoma played Baylor tough in Waco but still lost and are 1-3 since winning in Austin. This has the chance to be the best game of the day and pretty good showcase for Kristian Doolittle and Reggie Perry.

Pick: Oklahoma

READ MORE: OKLAHOMAN: Kansas basketball: This time, there’s no defending Silvio De Sousa

6. LSU (14-4, 6-0) at Texas (12-6, 2-4), 1 p.m., ESPN2/U

The popular criticism will be Texas whiffed on the hiring of Shaka Smart.

There is plenty of time left in the season to make Monday’s 38-point embarrassment just another loss on the road to the tournament, but the 30-7 West Virginia scoring run seemed like the Rubicon for Smart’s tenure at Texas.

It feels over for him unless something flips.

My guess is it won’t flip.

So now we’ll hear how Texas made a bad hire, Steve Patterson, the former athletic director at Texas, made a huge mistake and people retroactively down-grading the hire.

It’s all ridiculous. Texas didn’t drop the ball by hiring Shaka Smart.

Shaka Smart let– and is letting– down Texas.

If people want to complain about what followed, they should. But outside of being upset– like the gentleman that angrily chatted next to me as I walked out of the Frank Erwin Center on Saturday following the Kansas game– that Texas fired Rick Barnes to begin with, I don’t want to hear about how Texas didn’t hire the best coach in 2015.

Because in 2015 Shaka Smart was a sports car that blue blood programs, who already owned sports cars, ogled at and wondered how they would look driving it once their current sports car broke down.

Smart could have been the UCLA coach if he wanted to be the UCLA coach. There’s a number of schools that fall in that category. Smart waited to pick the job he wanted, and — because of the mythical “resources” that Texas has, even though its two most prominent sports teams continue to field mediocre squads, Texas was it.

Texas hiring Smart to replace Barnes — whose final five years were better than the five years we’ve seen from Smart, but not that much better– was a massive win for Texas and Patterson.

Who knew Smart would decide to change to fit Texas and not change Texas to fit him?

I highly doubt that someone in the athletic offices told Smart to change his defensive scheme, especially when West Virginia was already beating teams with that style in Big 12 play. I’m sure no one in the athletic office told Smart to prioritize and chase one-and-done players — one of the few successes he’s had at Texas– or tell him to chase players out of the program (Tevin Mack, James Banks and Jacob Young). Mack is unfair to place the blame at Smart. But Banks and Young have turned themselves into really good college basketball players at Georgia Tech and Rutgers.

What Texas hired away from Virginia Commonwealth was a energetic coach who guided one of the greatest –albeit somewhat forgotten — March tournament runs ever. From the First Four to the Final Four. And then showed it wasn’t just a one-year thing by taking VCU back to the tournament– as an at-large no less.

It wasn’t long ago, before one went to Boston and the other Austin, that Brad Stevens and Smart were interchangeable on the lips of people talking about the very best coaches in the game not at a blue blood or power five program.

Interchangeable.

Texas didn’t botch the Smart hire. There’s no one else the school could have hired in 2015 who would have impressed more– outside of reliable sports cars in the profession like Coach K, John Calipari, Bill Self and Roy Williams. In the moment, Tony Bennett wouldn’t have created more buzz than the Smart hire. There’s no way to know, but look at what the two coaches had accomplished in their careers up until that point.

If Texas loses by double-digits to a surprisingly not ranked 14-4 LSU team on Saturday at home– a team coached by former Smart assistant Will Wade–  decision time, but not action time– will be coming for Texas athletic director Chris Del Conte, who I just don’t see firing any coach mid-season.

That said, Texas doesn’t play again until Wednesday. That game is against TCU, Del Conte’s former employer and he hired Jamie Dixon to coach the Horned Frogs a few years ago. Needless to say, after everything above, but the next two games for Texas could determine what happens the rest of the season.

Pick: LSU.

LISTEN: On Second Thought Ep 165: Brian Davis on the Shaka Watch; Texas legend Cat Osterman on her number retirement

5. Iowa State (9-9, 2-4) at No. 16 Auburn (16-2, 4-2), 11 a.m., ESPNU

Auburn was one of the last perfect teams in college basketball, record wise, this season. If Iowa State goes to Auburn and wins, it’s a season-changing game. It firmly pushes the Cyclones, despite a 9-9 overall record, into The Middle tier of Big 12 teams and would give them some badly-needed juice heading into next week’s home game against Baylor on Jan. 29. Iowa State plays Baylor, at Texas and at West Virginia. It’s a brutal four-game stretch, but a 2-2 record in the next four games would be gigantic before playing Kansas State, at Oklahoma and Texas before traveling to Lawrence.

A loss to a very good Auburn team would not change a thing for the program. ISU lost by 20 to the last good team it played, Texas Tech, and I think it’ll be more of the same this weekend.

Pick: Auburn.

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4. TCU (13-5, 4-2) at Arkansas (14-4, 3-3), 3 p.m., ESPN2/U

It would have been fun if Arkansas had not lost to Mississippi State.This game became one of the best of the slate when TCU knocked off Texas Tech at home and now heads into a stadium that is suddenly– thankfully– alive again in Fayetteville.

Arkansas is 14-4 and on a two-game losing streak. Still, it looks like first-year coach Eric Musselman has things heading in the right direction. TCU is one of the best teams the Razorbacks have played this season. In Kenpom’s world, it’s not that evenly matched. TCU is No.60, Arkansas is No. 34.

This is the type of road game — much like the last two games on this list– that the winner swings the outcome of the whole challenge.

Pick: TCU.

3. Tennessee (12-6, 4-2) at No. 3 Kansas (15-3, 5-1), 3 p.m., ESPN

Forget the game. Tune in Saturday morning just see how loud and how long the crowd boos ESPN analyst Seth Greenberg during ESPN’s College Game Day for any number, probably mainly this one, of comments he’s made about Kansas recently.

Pick: Kansas

READ MORE: Bohls: Misbehaving Jayhawks strike again, must make this right

2. No. 15 Kentucky (14-4, 5-1) at No. 18 Texas Tech (12-6, 3-3), 5 p.m., ESPN

The worst thing that could have happened for Kentucky is Chris Beard’s team losing to TCU this week. Kentucky is 2-1 on the road this season, 14-4 overall, and have some of the most stunning losses on college basketball this season. While Beard is no stranger to losing back-to-back games, I’d be stunned if Texas Tech is ready to beat to the Los Angeles Lakers– let alone the Kentucky Wildcats– on Saturday.

Pick: Texas Tech.

READ MORE: Not meeting expectations: No. 18 Red Raiders unable to contain Bane, fall to Horned Frogs

1. Baylor (16-1, 6-0) at Florida (12-6, 4-2), 7 p.m., ESPN

The last two games Baylor has played, the No.1 ranked Bears have looked more human than ever this season. Two closer-than-you-would-think games– one in which they trailed by nine points at halftime– is usually a sign that a loss is coming.

On the road, ranked No.1, against a talented but woefully inconsistent Florida team is about as textbook as it gets. Especially this season. ESPN analyst Fran Fraschilla, who tweeted this earlier in the week, picked Florida to win during Tuesday’s Kansas-Kansas State game.

There’s little doubt in my mind that if these two teams played in a vacuum it would produce a Baylor win 10-out-of-10 times. But lost amongst the 61-57 win over Oklahoma on Monday, a game in which the Baylor defense held OU to 35% shooting was Baylor shooting 34.9% and was 23.1% from 3-point range.

Two days earlier in Stillwater, where Baylor needed a 48-point second half to overcome what had been a double-digit deficit in the first half, Baylor was 2-for-12 from 3-point range and 11-of-31 at halftime.

So maybe there’s some mid-season fatigue settling in from Baylor. Having almost an entire week of rest before heading to Gainesville will be good for the Bears.

Florida is 12-5 overall and 7-1 at home. A preseason top-10 team, the Gators have been a colossal disappointment.

But they did beat previously undefeated Auburn at home by 22 points on Jan. 18, so the Gators can beat any team in the country. A win over Baylor at home will almost certainly get them back in the rankings and could improve a seed line.

Pick: Florida.

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