Posted December 7th, 2017
Each week I give you 12 things to know about Big 12 men’s basketball. Here’s last week’s column.
12. Dylan Osetkowski and an early look at the All-Big 12 team
On Monday I wrote that Texas big man Dylan Osetkowski was making a case for All-Big 12 status.
Now, he could have made me look stupid if he had gone out and laid an egg against Virginia Commonwealth Tuesday. Instead, my man with the mop-top and impressive tattoos came up big.
The 6-2 Longhorns won 71-67 on the road and Osetkowski scored 17 points and grabbed seven rebounds in the win.
So who would I put on the first team All-Big 12 right now?
Here are my five (by position):
Guard: Trae Young, Oklahoma, freshman– 28.7 points per game.
Guard: Jevon Carter, West Virginia, senior (pretty sure he’s 55 with a Big 12 pension): 19.4 ppg., 4.2 spg., 5.7 apg.
Forward: LaGerald Vick, Kansas, junior: 17.9 ppg, 6.8 rpg, 4.6 apg. (Most important player for Kansas right now).
Forward: Osetkowski, Texas, junior: 14 ppg, 7.9 rpg. (Best all around player for Texas right now).
Center: Mo Bamba, Texas, freshman: 10.7 ppg., 10.1 rpg., 4 bpg
Who I think will be first team All-Big 12 at the end of the year based on what I think will happen between now and March: Young, Kansas’ Devonte’ Graham, TCU’s Kenrich Williams, West Virginia’s Esa Ahmad (he missed the first 16 games due to “failing to meet NCAA eligibility requirements” and will return just as Big 12 play begins, the junior will instantly become a difference maker underneath) and Bamba.
11. The most impressive win of the week
The Red Raiders of Lubbock (7-1) suffered its first loss of the year to Seton Hall on Nov. 30, then bounced back with a top 25 win over over No. 22 Nevada in overtime 82-76. West Virginia’s win over No. 15 Virginia is huge, but it’s the way Tech won its game against the Wolfpack.
The Red Raiders trailed by five at halftime, rallied to force overtime time then outscored the previously unbeaten Wolfpack 12-6 in overtime to win.
10. Early Big 12 Coach of the Year favorite
Chris Beard, Texas Tech.
Tech was nearly an NCAA Tournament team last season. This year many thought they would be no less than a fringe NCAA Tournament squad. I thought they had the pieces to do it. So far they’re looking like a team that can compete for a Big 12 crown, and second-year coach Chris Beard deserves some credit.
9. Team that had the best week
West Virginia’s 68-61 win over No. 15 Virginia is the best win any team picked up this week. The Mountaineers are starting to make people forget about that disastrous loss to Texas A&M on opening night. Next up for Bob Huggins: The Backyard Brawl against Pitt on Saturday.
A lot of great rivalries were destroyed by conference realignment. The one that never gets mentioned is the West Virginia-Pittsburgh Backyard Brawl. For people who have never been to the land of Steel and Moonshine, here is a history lesson.
8. This week’s ‘Kansas Dethroner Power Ranking Leader’:
Kansas has won 13 straight Big 12 titles. It’s ridiculous — especially on senior night at Phog Allen Field House when it takes a row of tables to contain all the trophies they trot out for postgame ceremonies (I’ve seen it live, it is indeed ridiculously impressive). But who is going to end it?
Here’s my No. 1 team in this week’s streak-ender power ranking:
Last week was Texas. The Longhorns did nothing to drop off the top spot. And Baylor did nothing for me to think they’re awesome. But after watching Kansas struggle against the zone defense, and length in a zone defense, and knowing Baylor loves the zone defense, I’m now convinced that the Jayhawks will never, ever, beat Scott Drew and the Baylor Bears again.
Seriously though, Baylor’s lengthy zone will cause trouble for the Jayhawks, and Baylor’s two loses are two Wichita State and Xavier– Xavier on the road. Baylor has played a tough schedule and it’ll pay off in Big 12 play. With steady point guard play and — again, can’t stress this enough– their love of zone defense, Baylor takes the top spot in the Kansas Dethroner Power Rankings this week.
7. Team that had the worst week
Baylor lost to No. 6 Wichita State, 69-62, so it’s not them.
Everyone one else picked up great wins– even Kansas who beat Syracuse 76-60 on Dec. 2.
But after Wednesday, Kansas is having the worst week after losing to unranked Washington 74-65 as a 22-point favorite. Also, not to be a conspiracy theorist here, but Kansas’ first loss of the season came a few days after the Jayhawks added a Kansas football player to the roster.
6. Team with the toughest week ahead
Iowa State plays rival Iowa tonight, outside of that, most of the Big 12 should be favored to win their games between Dec. 7 and Dec. 14.
Texas faces Michigan at home, but Michigan is 7-3 and could pick up another loss this weekend when it plays UCLA.
Our pick for toughest week: Oklahoma State.
The Cowboys host No. 6 Wichita State on Saturday. The Shockers could improve to 2-0 against the Big 12 with the win, while a Oklahoma State win could propel them into the AP top 25– shockingly (pun intended), if you believed the Oklahoma State preseason predictions.
5. An Elite Eight showdown in December
Kansas played so bad against Washington on Wednesday that I thought I was watching an NCAA Tournament Elite Eight game and needed to wake up my wife and ask her what our Easter Sunday plans were because, even though she told me, I have forgotten– hopefully it’s Chez-Zee again for brunch.
4. Game of the weekend
No. 16 Arizona State at No. 2 Kansas.
So how can the Jayhawks bounce back following a dreadful performance against Washington? How about beating a top 25 team that’s super hot? Kansas will have that chance on Sunday at 1 p.m. against the undefeated Sun Devils– shoutout to Devils Digest.
The angriest man in Tempe, Ariz. on Wednesday might have been Arizona State coach Bobby Hurley. Kansas almost never loses at Allen Field House. Even more rare, Bill Self coached Kansas teams almost never lose back-to-back games– only six times in 15 seasons has Kansas lost back-to-back games.
3. TCU can’t be beat
The Horned Frogs can’t lose. They are 9-0– the last undefeated team in the Big 12– and have not lost since the 2017 Big 12 Tournament. On Tuesday, TCU picked up its best win of the season so far when they beat SMU 94-83 in Fort Worth. They’ll play a good Nevada team on Friday. If they win, there’s a great chance TCU will enter its Dec. 30 game against Oklahoma undefeated.
2. Let’s really delve into that Kansas loss on Wednesday
The Kansas basketball Big 12 run is paved by dominant post play– this isn’t up for debate– but there’s something that has been essential during this 13-year run of Big 12 titles. And Kansas doesn’t really have it this year — or at least they don’t have it yet.
Sure, in the last 13 years Kansas has been one of the best defensive teams in the nation on an annual basis. That’s not it. Sure, Bill Self said following the 74-65 loss to Washington that Kansas doesn’t have the “dog in them” like they had last year with Frank Mason, Josh Jackson and Landen Lucas. That’s part of it, but it’s not what I’m talking about.
What Kansas lacks this year is something that many Kansas fans have moaned about constantly during the Bill Self era.
Kansas doesn’t have a guard (or wing player) who has no fear at attacking the basket, and it’s making the offense one dimensional and passive.
It’s lazy analysis to blame it all on Kansas’ 7.5 man rotation.
Devonte’ Graham may be an All-Big 12 First team shoo-in by the end of the year, but he’s the first true point guard Kansas has had in years– he’s averaging 7.6 assists per game. He’s a great shooter (on most nights) and he’s an elite defender, but he’s not cut from the same cloth as Frank Mason, and before him Ben McLemore and before him Tyshawn Taylor and before him Josh Selby and before him Sherron Collins. These are all players who were (except for Selby) beloved by Kansas fans but also made them yell “What is he doing” every time he wildly drove to the basket and put up a contested shot.
The one guy Kansas has with type of mentality, I think, is LaGerald Vick, but he’s playing the “four” in Kansas’ four-guard lineup. Svi Mykhailiuk and, thus far, Malik Newman aren’t attacking the basket. This is forcing Kansas to settle for threes, which works when the team is shooting above 40 percent and in the top three nationally in 3-point shooting, but fails miserably when the shots don’t fall, see Wednesday night.
Why does this matter? Why is it good to have a player who attacks the basket, sometimes on a fools errand? Frank Mason, last year’s National Player of the Year, attempted 238 free throws in 2016-2017. Josh Jackson attempted 173 free throws.
Last year Graham attempted 92 free throws. Mykhailiuk 47. Mason made more than twice as many free throws as Graham even attempted!
This year Graham has gone to the line 28 times and made 24. Kansas hasn’t needed him to attack the basket yet because the Jayhawks haven’t trailed in a close game until Wednesday. Against Washington, when Kansas’ offense was stalled and the Jayhawks needed him to just drive to the basket, suck the zone to him and draw fouls, Graham went to the line just twice– and those were on technical fouls late in the second half.
As a team, Kansas attempted just eight free throws. It’s not because they weren’t getting calls– Washington was almost in the bonus before Kansas was called for its first foul in the second half. It’s because Kansas didn’t–and doesn’t– attack the rim.
Yes, the post play and lack and depth can be a factor in this as well, but the addition of Billy Preston from whatever it is that is keeping him from playing, and the arrival of Sam Cunliffe in about a week will not change how these guards are currently playing. (Remember, Kansas started the four-guard lineup in its three exhibition games when Preston was available).
That said, who knows what the Washington game really means? Maybe we’re overthinking it. Washington played well, Kansas didn’t make shots and the Huskies played a zone defense a few days after Kansas played the Syracuse zone– but the Kansas problems listed above were happening in the other Kansas games, they were just masked by tremendous 3-point shooting.
1. Fran Fraschilla Tweets, I react
The voice of the Big 12 tweeted this on Tuesday:
Huge, huge night for @Big12Conference. Every win, so far, over potential postseason team. Now 68-11 (86%). All 10 teams could end up in postseason.
— Fran Fraschilla (@franfraschilla) December 6, 2017
“All 10 teams could end up in the postseason.”
First, he said postseason, not NCAA Tournament. Will that happen?
Yes. Between the NCAA Tournament, NIT and CBI, and because the Big 12 teams that will likely struggle in conference play have played weaker schedules (look, Kansas State, Iowa State and Oklahoma State have beaten all the teams they should have and not lost a to a team they shouldn’t have), I’m not sure if any of the teams will end the season with below .500 records.
That said, Kansas State, Iowa State and Oklahoma State need to enter conference play with at least 10 wins to do that. Of those three teams, who do I think has the best chance to emerge as an NCAA Tournament team?
Well, Iowa State has an 18-point loss to Milwaukee at home, so I don’t have much faith in their ability to beat Iowa tonight (this hit take has a short life). Oklahoma State’s lone game against a good team (Texas A&M ended in a 72-55 loss, so maybe we wait till after games against Wichita State and Florida State.
I’m going with Kansas State. They have the coach I trust the most out of the three (congrats, Bruce Weber) and if Arizona State beats Kansas in Lawrence this weekend, K-State’s 92-90 loss on a neutral floor to Arizona State looks better. A win over Vanderbilt in Nashville is the best any of these three teams have so far.