3/30/03-Rodolfo Gonzalez/AMERICAN-STATESMAN: Texas' T.J. Ford, center, is hugged by his brother, Tim Ford, left, and sister, Karen Ford, 18, after defeating Michigan State 85-76 during the 2003 NCAA South Regional Finals held at the Alamodome in San Antonio, Texas, on Sunday, Mar. 30, 2003.

Men's Basketball

12 Things about Big 12 basketball: The race to the bottom and a conference history lesson

Posted April 7th, 2020

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12. The race to the bottom: What is going on at Iowa State?

In the last column I was pretty positive on Iowa State. But in what seemed like a few hours, their 2020-2021 outlook completely changed.

The Cyclones lost Tyrese Haliburton, which was expected, then lost Terrence Lewis, Zion Griffin and Caleb Grill. ISU had already lost Luke Anderson and Marcedus Leech to transfer — they were freshmen who left before the season started.

The roster has flipped.

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With five transfers, one early departure (three in two years) and two graduations, Iowa State has just nine projected scholarship players for next year.

There’s some good news. Because Iowa State is a “Power Five” program and one of the few programs in the conference who has a strong basketball reputation, the Cyclones should be able to land some transfers of their own. The two seniors exiting the program, Michael Jacobson and Prentiss Nixon were both transfers and ISU, even before Steve Prohm was the coach, has been a haven for transfers.

If you want to know who they could target, read this.

I think it’s fair to ask what is going on at Iowa State and wonder aloud if there are major issues in Prohm’s program. The previous season featured well-documented dust-ups between players that led to a fight during practice. Two freshmen left the team before season started this year. Cameron Lard’s situation was a wreck.

I think Iowa State has dropped to a team looking like a bottom Big 12 squad next season. Rasir Bolton and Solomon Young could lift it. It’s not as though the players who are transferring played a ton of minutes overall, but they did once Haliburton was injured.

I think Prohm — a coach who’s pretty impressive in-game — was already entering next year on the hot seat. ISU missed the tournament for the second time in three seasons — both losing seasons — and Hilton Magic was as mystical as a card trick this past season.

With four scholarships to hand out and probably not many impact high school players coming to Ames, Prohm needs to reel in one or two graduate transfers to boost 2021’s tournament hopes.

READ MORE: Peterson: Haliburton turning pro wasn’t just the right decision. It was a no-brainer decision.

11. The race to the bottom: Cartier Diarra transferring from KSU

I wasn’t a fan of Diarra’s junior season, but he was still a fearless scorer who bulldozed himself in becoming the No. 1 option for the Wildcats in 2020. He was an important part of KSU’s two successful seasons in 2018 and 2019 and there wasn’t much else to point to for next year as far as proven consistent production than him.

This was the most obvious transfer case in the league, because it was pretty clear Bruce Weber wasn’t a fan of Diarra’s season either. The moment the point guard and the coach barked at each other during a game, his name was probably in the transfer portal.

Diarra is reportedly testing his NBA prospects and if it doesn’t work out, he’s headed to Virginia Tech where former Kansas State assistant coach Chester Frazier now works.

That’s four players leaving KSU. One was hurt most of the year, James Love, and two other players transferred after playing just a combined eight games this season.

Even with Diarra on the roster I thought KSU was trending to be the No. 10 team in the Big 12 preseason poll. Even after Iowa State’s week, I feel like that’s still the case.

READ LAST WEEK’S COLUMN: 12 big things about Big 12 basketball: Where do we go from here — A look at 2020-21 teams

10. Moves: Texas Tech unsurprisingly reaching out to transfers

According to Jeff Goodman and others, Texas Tech is active in the transfer market this offseason. Alan Griffin (Illinois), Justin Turner (Bowling Green), Landers Nolley ( Virginia Tech) and Amauri Hardy (UNLV) are just a few names attached to Texas Tech.

The Red Raiders should have a good roster next year and the season has been over for two weeks and we’ve yet to hear news of Davide Moretti and Jahmi’us Ramsey’s NBA decisions.

READ MORE: Texas Tech’s Moretti focuses on basketball amid coronavirus outbreak in Italy

Ramsey is a much stronger bet to declare and stay in the draft than Moretti.

Landing any of those above players– or any other top transfers — would strengthen a top-10 case in the AP preseason polls that Texas Tech already legitimately has right now.
There hasn’t been much noise elsewhere. No head coaches are gone, though Texas and Kansas State have lost assistant coaches to head coaching jobs — KSU’s Brad Korn took the Southeast Missouri job and Texas’ Luke Yaklich is headed to Illinois-Chicago after a season in Austin. So far only Haliburton has decided to enter the draft from the Big 12.

With the sports world and schedule in complete disarray, the somewhat slowness of the early entrants announcements three weeks after the season ended could be because some are and were waiting to hear what new deadlines for announcing could be and perhaps some were waiting for news of winter sports senior eligibility. Now that the NCAA made clear seniors for basketball won’t receive another year, there should be more announcements.

READ MORE: Coronavirus fallout will ‘change’ collegiate athletics, KU AD Jeff Long says

9. Shaka Smart staying; No coaching changes

The pandemic caused for a slight pause on the coaching carousel. A lot may have to do with the sport taking a financial hit. The USA Today reported that the NCAA was slashing payouts to schools by $375 million. That’s a significant number for schools who want to fire their coaches with money and years left on the contract. Combined with the thrashing of the economy as a whole, I’m not even sure if a school would really want to make the public relations move of firing a coach while still paying him to work while some are considering — or have done so — to lay off normal everyday staff.

For the third year we probably won’t have any new coaches in the league. It’s both a great sign of stability but also a warning that what we saw this season– a down year with more disappointing teams than overachieving teams — may repeat itself.

Clearly the biggest name not moving is Texas coach Shaka Smart. Texas athletic director Chris Del Conte told Hookem.com’s Brian Davis the coach would be back last week.

When schools like Boston College and Wake Forest decided not to make coaching changes, it was a good sign to me that Smart was safe. For all the failings he’s had at Texas, Smart has been more successful than Jim Christian and Danny Manning have been — by quite a margin. Those two schools also could have been potential landing spots for him.

What is also clear: Next year’s carousel will be ridiculous. There are several coaches in the Big 12 who will be on the hot seat next year.

The Big 12 wrapped up its 24th year of existence. Here are historical big things.

Kansas Jayhawks forward Dedric Lawson, left, boxes out on a rebound against the Iowa State Cyclones during the 2019 championship game in the Big 12 conference tournament. [William Purnell/USA TODAY]

8. The best rivalry in the conference

Generally my thinking is this: the best rivalry is always whoever the second-best team in the league is against Kansas. But that’s really just looking at the last 16 years of league play where the second-best squad has seemed to be a different program every other season. Translation: No program has been all that consistent enough to really make Kansas sweat for more than a few seasons. It changes.

The most consistent program of the last 15 years has been Baylor, but that matchup has been a little one-sided. Perhaps we’re about to see the best of that rivalry over the next couple of seasons, especially since Drew just won in Allen Fieldhouse for the first time.

I love the Kansas-Iowa State rivalry. When the Cyclones are good, it’s the best pair of games in the league because of what’s on the court and the atmosphere both arenas create.

The best non-Kansas rivalry over the years is much more difficult to decide, but Oklahoma State and Oklahoma have, for the most part, been pretty good at basketball the last 23 years and played big games.

Texas and Texas A&M had two years that were incredible when Billy Gillespie was at A&M and Rick Barnes had the 2006 recruiting class powering the program.

7. Best season of Big 12 basketball

In 2003, two Big 12 teams reached the Final Four for the second year in a row. Kansas and Texas. It was more than just those two teams. This was back when the Big 12 actually had 12 teams in the conference and while Nebraska, Baylor, Kansas State and Texas A&M weren’t having a ton of success in basketball, the league was still stacked.

Kansas, who lost the national title game in 2003, starred two lottery picks (Nick Collison and Kirk Hinrich) and three players who would be the bases for Kansas’ first Big 12 title streak team under Bill Self (Aaron Miles, Wayne Semien and Keith Langford). They were also coached by Roy Williams.

Texas was in the thick of Barnes’ success and had the Naismith and Wooden award winner in T.J. Ford. The Longhorns also featured Brad Buckman, James Thomas, Royal Ivey and Brandon Mouton.

Four other teams made the tournament that season.

Oklahoma, who had reached the Final Four a year earlier along with Kansas, won the conference tournament and reached the Elite Eight. The conference was a game away from sending three teams to the Final Four. The Sooners team had one of the best players in OU history, Hollis Price, along with Ebi Ere and Kevin Bookout. Kelvin Sampson is probably the greatest coach to ever walk the Norman sidelines.

Oklahoma State, coached by one of the best ever in Eddie Sutton, lost in the second round of the tournament. A year later, OSU would reach the Final Four. The Cowboys, in 2003, had Tony Allen and Victor Williams.

Missouri made the tournament and lost to Dwayne Wade and Marquette in the second round. That’s five teams who lost in the tournament to squads who made the Final Four. Missouri fell in overtime, 101-92. Quin Synder’s team was led by Ricky Paulding, Arthur Johnson and Ricky Clemons.

Colorado was the sixth team to make the tournament. Led by two future NBA players in David Harrison and Chris Copeland, the leading scorer actually ended up being Michael Morandais. Coach Ricardo Patton was at Colorado from 1995-2007 and reached the tournament twice. The Buffaloes lost to Michigan State in the first round.

Those were the only teams who finished with winning records in the league, though Texas Tech, in year two under Bob Knight, finished 22-13 and won the NIT title.

Texas A&M’s Melvin Watkins had his only non-losing season in College Station and Larry Eustachy was still a few months away from being fired for partying with college students.

The end of this season came with a lot of change.

The darkest scandal in NCAA basketball history brought the end of Dave Bliss’ career and Baylor hired Scott Drew and would eventually become one of the best programs in the league. Iowa State parted ways with Eustachy and spent the rest of the decade in mediocrity until Fred Hoiberg rebuilt the program.

The biggest change was that the best coach in the then-conference’s tiny history, Williams, left for North Carolina. Kansas hired the coach who, with no rivals, is the best coach in the history of the league (in basketball at least) in Bill Self.

Oklahoma forward Blake Griffin, right, looks to pass as Texas center Dexter Pittman defends during the 2009 season. [Harry Cabluck/The Associated Press]

6. The biggest ‘what ifs’ in the history of the league

It clearly happened this season.

Kansas and Baylor were championship favorites, no one wanted to play Texas Tech, West Virginia had a great defense and Oklahoma and Texas, if they made the tournament, had enough talent to stun people in the first week.

Putting that to one side, here is my pick:

Oklahoma in 2009: If Blake Griffin doesn’t get hurt during his sophomore and final season, Kansas doesn’t win the league, thus no historic streak, and maybe a Griffin at 100% late in the year is even better than the 30-6, No. 2-seed, Elite Eight team OU wound up being. OU lost to eventual national champion UNC 72-60 and Griffin scored 23 points on 9-of-12 shooting, so it’s not as if he wasn’t incredible in that game.

Still, the Sooners lost four games from Feb. 21 to March 12, including a home game to Kansas in which Griffin didn’t play. The game before OU lost at Texas by five points and Griffin played only 11 minutes. You take away those losses and Oklahoma is probably a No. 1 seed and avoids UNC until the Final Four.

Oklahoma probably makes the Final Four in 2009 had Griffin, who went No. 1 in the draft a few months later, stays healthy.

5. The best Big 12 team, Kansas edition

The 1997 Kansas Jayhawks and the 2010 Kansas Jayhawks are the two best teams in the history of the league. Yes, the 2008 team won the national title, but we’re only looking at Big 12 play, it’s the 1997 and 2010 teams, but my edge goes to the 1997 squad.

Kansas went 30-2 in the first two seasons of Big 12 play. That’s back-to-back 15-1 seasons. The first-ever Big 12 season probably had the best team ever. Kansas went 34-2. Six players would play in the NBA, including future basketball Hall of Famer Paul Pierce.

Raef LaFrentz is one of the 10 greatest Jayhawks of all-time and he was flanked by one of the greatest point guards in KU history in Jacque Vaughn. Scott Pollard (that’s four future first-round picks now) was the center. Kansas started two 6-foot-11-inch guys.

Jerrod Haase and C.B. McGrath were on the team and both are — or were in McGrath’s case — now NCAA head coaches.

When Kansas lost by three to Arizona in the Sweet 16 that season it sent shockwaves through the sport.

Oklahoma State guard John Lucas rips down a rebound in front of teammate Jason Miller during a game versus Texas Tech in the 2004 Big 12 conference tournament. [LOUIS DeLUCA/DALLAS MORNING NEWS]

4. Best team, non-Kansas edition

The T.J. Ford-led Texas team in 2003 was terrific and the Buddy Hield team from 2016 was fun. Both went to the Final Four. Texas as a No. 1 seed, something that OU in 2016 didn’t do.

The 1999-2000 Iowa State team featured Big 12 Player of the Year Marcus Fizer and standout point guard Jamaal Tinsley. It won the league, something 2003 Texas and 2016 Oklahoma teams didn’t do. It was Eustachy’s second year in Ames and the Cyclones went 32-5 and 14-2 in the Big 12. They were a No. 2 seed in the tournament and lost in the Elite Eight to eventual champion Michigan State 75-64. ISU’s 80-56 drubbing of UCLA in the Sweet 16 was a low moment in the Bruins basketball history.

That team won the league and won in Allen Fieldhouse. Of the five loses that ISU team suffered, two were overtime league losses on the road. One was to preseason No. 1 Cincinnati — a team most believe would have beaten Michigan State that year. Only the loss to Drake 48-44 in the first game of the season was a stunner.

However, I think the answer is Oklahoma State in 2004.

The Cowboys went 14-2 in league play, 31-4 overall. They won the league’s regular season title and conference tournament and capped the season with a Final Four appearance. Tony Allen, John Lucas, Joey Graham and Ivan McFarlin all averaged double-figures. Allen, who became one of the great NBA defenders of his generation, won Big 12 Player of the Year.

3. Best hire

An easy answer is Self at Kansas because of what he’s done, but he did take over a team coming off back-to-back Final Fours.

The correct answer here is Drew at Baylor. Baylor was a bad program even before the Bliss scandal, Drew inherited the worst situation in the history of college basketball.

For the last 12 years, Baylor has been one of the best programs in college basketball, let alone the league. Drew’s early years were surrounded by recruiting battles with Barnes at Texas and building what some thought were super teams with big-time recruits, but his best teams have been made of under-the-radar players and he’s often been at his best when his squads have been discounted. The flip side is he’s had some let downs with teams that were expected to be great.

Overall though, when Baylor hired Drew they probably didn’t expect the Indiana native to be its coach for 17-plus seasons nor did they think one day they’d probably have to name a basketball facility or something after him — the court should be named after Kim Mulkey.

2. The craziest time of Big 12 basketball

In 2006- 2007, here’s the landscape of Big 12 basketball:

Kansas: Bill Self was on the hot seat and the biggest choker in college basketball.

Texas A&M: Aggies have the hottest coach in the country (Gillispie) and lottery pick guard (Acie Law).

Texas: They have a future Hall of Famer and the best player in the country, Kevin Durant.

Kansas State: Only season under Bob Huggins.

Texas Tech: Coached by Bob Knight.

Missouri: First season under Mike Anderson.

Oklahoma State: First season under Eddie Sutton’s son, Sean.

Iowa State: First year season Doug McDermott’s dad.

Oklahoma: First season under Jeff Capel, who would land the future No.1 pick.

Nebraska: First season under Doc Sadler, who they hired in August of 2006 after Barry Collier left to be the Butler (heard of them?) athletic director.

Baylor: Last bad season under Drew.

Colorado: Final season under Patton.

This year sticks out because as hard as it is to believe, Self had some legit heat on him after the Jayhawks, despite winning the league, were eliminated in back-to-back years in the first round of the tournament by Bucknell and Bradley. Kansas entered the year preseason No. 3. It would be another 12 years before anyone ever thought Bill Self was on the hotseat. The Jayhawks reached the Elite Eight and won the national title the next season.

Huggins in his one year at Kansas State brought with him assistant coach Frank Martin, who landed Michael Beasley in the 2007 recruiting class.

Knight made his final NCAA Tournament appearance in 2007. Perhaps the greatest coach to ever coach in the Big 12, it’s always a struggle for me to envision Knight coaching anywhere but Indiana.

Had Mike Anderson never left Missouri, is Missouri a basketball power right now? He had Missouri 31-7 and in the Elite Eight by his third season in Columbia and left the program just before Frank Haith went 30-5 in his first year in 2012.

Perhaps the big “what if” moment in the Big 12 involves Greg McDermott’s time at ISU. His son would go on to be one of the great college basketball players of the last 20 years, but perhaps had McDonald’s All-American Harrison Barnes, an Ames resident, chosen to go to ISU instead of UNC, everything is different. Doug McDermott and Harrison Barnes are on ISU and the Hoiberg rebuild never happens.

It’s crazy to think that Kentucky once hired Texas A&M’s coach, but that’s how good A&M was in 2007.

Of course that season will always be remembered by Kevin Durant at Texas. The Longhorns had a sensational recruiting class and two of the best players in program history on the same roster. Yet maybe there was some foreshadowing with how the next decade would go because Texas was blown out of the water by USC in the second round of the tournament.

Texas post James Thomas, right, and Kansas forward Nick Collison battle for a loose ball during their team’s matchup in 2002 in Austin. [Rebecca McEntee/American-Statesman]

1. The all-time All-Big 12 team

Here’s my all-time Big 12 starting five:

Nick Collison, Kevin Durant, Michael Beasley, Buddy Hield, T.J. Ford

Nick Collison is perhaps the best player in Big 12’s first 10 years (1996-2006). He was a four-year starter and led Kansas to back-to-back Final Fours.

Kevin Durant had the single most jaw-dropping season of any Big 12 player I can remember.

Michael Beasley and Buddy Hield were volume scorers.

The three best point guards in Big 12 history are T.J. Ford, Sherron Collins and Frank Mason. Ford, though, carried his team to the Final Four. Mason had, perhaps, the second greatest single-season by any Kansas player ever in 2016-2017, but the tie breaker is that he lost in the Elite Eight. Collins, a two-time All-American, won the title in 2008, but came off the bench.

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