Men's Basketball

12 Big things about Big 12 basketball: TCU, West Virginia and looking at losses

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Posted December 15th, 2017

Each week I give you 12 things to know about Big 12 men’s basketball. Here’s last week’s column. 

12. The worst dribbler in the Big 12 is…

Svi Mykhailiuk, Kansas senior

 

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This happened more than once in Kansas’ 95-85 loss to Arizona State at home. Coach Bill Self even pointed it out in postgame interviews. 

Texas Tech’s Norense Odiase (32) rebounds the ball away from Zach Smith (11) and Kennesaw State’s Bryson Lockley (24) during an NCAA college basketball game against Texas Tech, Wednesday, Dec. 13, 2017, in Lubbock, Texas. (AP Photo/Brad Tollefson)

11. Two weeks ’til Big 12 play

We’re two weeks away from Big 12 play, and teams are a combined 76-16 on the season.

Texas forward Mohamed Bamba (4) fights for position with Michigan forward Moritz Wagner (13) during a NCAA basketball game in Austin, Texas, on Tuesday, Dec. 12, 2017. NICK WAGNER / AMERICAN-STATESMAN

10. Early Big 12 Defensive Player of the Year favorite

Mo Bamba, Texas freshman

Bamba is a future lottery pick and is one of the best freshmen in the nation.

It’s not because of his offensive game — even though he’s better than I thought he would be. Bamba leads the Big 12 in blocked shots. He has 32 on the year and averaging 4.0 per game. Second on the list is Sagaba Konate of West Virginia.

Bamba is also tied for the Big 12 lead in rebounding with 58 of the 81 rebounds he’s grabbed being on the defensive end.

A player who blocks a ton of shots makes every teammate of his a better defender. Shot blockers make offensive players think twice about what they do, they make great players think they have to settle for jump shots instead of driving because getting blocked is too embarrassing.

Like this.

9. Team that had the best week

We have more on TCU coming, but in a week of mostly terrible games, the Horned Frogs’ 84-80 win over a ranked Nevada team in Los Angeles is the best of the bunch.

West Virginia’s Sagaba Konate (50) blocks a shot by Pittsburgh’s Shamiel Stevenson during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game, Saturday, Dec. 9, 2017, in Pittsburgh. (AP Photo/Keith Srakocic)

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 post-game 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:

(OK, the two teams I’d put on here, we’re going to talk about a lot below, so this is actually my third team on the power ranking.)

West Virginia.

The Mountaineers are, once again, very good at defense and run, once again, the press.

There are flaws with teams that run the press the whole game, and West Virginia has lived by the press and died the by the press over the last several years — but the dying doesn’t come easy.

Here’s a fact: Had West Virginia not collapsed against Texas A&M in the first game of the season — a game they led by double digits before losing 88-65 — West Virginia would be ranked in the top five of the AP Poll. They’ve won every game since.

Why and how they beat Kansas: Jevon Carter, 15-year Big 12 veteran (the Perry Ellis Award), is really good and, because of Devonte Graham and Trae Young, is being forgotten about in the Big 12 point guard conversation. The man is tremendous. He’s second in the Big 12 in scoring with 19.4 point per game and leads the league in steals with 3.8 (because of course he is). West Virginia is deep and will get better by the time Big 12 play begins with Esa Ahmad returning just in time. They’ll be able to throw waves of players at the thin Jayhawks while also pressing.

Plus, go watch that Mykhailiuk dribble again.

Why they won’t beat Kansas: Graham, LaGerald Vick and Malik Newman can all handle the ball and if they break the press, then Udoka Azubuike will dunk in the paint.

Texas guard Andrew Jones sits on the bench with a fractured wrist during a NCAA basketball game against Michigan in Austin, Texas, on Tuesday, Dec. 12, 2017. NICK WAGNER / AMERICAN-STATESMAN

7. Team that had the worst week

It’s Kansas. And it’s Texas.

First, Kansas: The Jayhawks lost at home — in Allen Fieldhouse — to Arizona State. It was their second loss in a row. They looked terrible for the second game in a row.

That answer was too easy.

Second, Texas: I include Texas because they had awful injury news (a fractured wrist to Andrew Jones) then played its worst game of the season against just an OK Michigan team.

Texas’ defense is NCAA championship level. They gave up just 59 points to Michigan. Whenever a defense is allowing the other team to score near 60 points a game, Texas is allowing 63.2 points (only Texas Tech is better at 61.1), it’s an elite unit. The blocked shots, defensive rebounding, the turnovers — it’s all there, Texas is great on defense.

Offensively, after nine games, it’s safe to say that side of the court will be an issue for the Longhorns (again). Texas is averaging a league-low 75.3 points per game. That’s eight games with Andrew Jones, the team’s leading scorer. The one game without him, Texas scored 53 points.

But it’s more complex than just raw numbers. Bamba took just two shots in the first half on Tuesday and 10 for the game. One of those first half shots was a made 3-pointer — he took three of those. The coaching staff wants Bamba to get more shots, they want those shots down low in the paint.

Obviously the team’s free throw shooting is a problem, but teams can still win the league with bad free throw shooting.

Texas is now ninth in rebounding margin — despite having the league’s leading rebounder. Texas is last in assist to turnover ratio with 12 assists per game to 11.2 turnovers.

So if Texas can find a sweet spot offensively and make the tournament, the defense is good enough to win them games, but the offense could keep them from even making the postseason (I don’t see that happening).

Prediction: I still like Texas to make the Sweet 16 this year. Don’t worry about the offense just yet, there’s a lot of Big 12 teams Texas should be able to score on, especially if Jones is back.

Kansas State guard Kamau Stokes, front, is fouled by Tulsa guard Elijah Joiner, back, during the second half of an NCAA college basketball game in Wichita, Kan., Saturday, Dec. 9, 2017. (AP Photo/Orlin Wagner)

6. Team (s) with the toughest week ahead

The state of Kansas.

Kansas travels to 7-4 Nebraska this Saturday then heads to Sacramento next week for a neutral floor game against a bad Stanford team. Kansas ought to win both games.

The other Sunflower State team is Kansas State. They are coming off a terrible loss to Tulsa — sure, great record Big 12, but reaaaaaalllly look some of those 16 losses (The good: Duke, Texas A&M, Gonzaga, Wichita State x2, Xavier and Arizona State; the sort of Bad: Missouri, Michigan; The ugly: Milwaukee, Tulsa and Washington) and it’s not all sunshine and charge taking.

Kansas State should roll Southeast Missouri State on Saturday, but if the Wildcats lose to Washington State in Spokane on Dec. 20, they may secure the spot as the most likely last-place team in the Big 12 this season. (Yes, Washington State is 6-3. Its three losses, in a row: UC Davis, Idaho and UTEP).

Especially since Oklahoma State held their own against Wichita State last weekend. Speaking of…

Wichita State center Shaquille Morris, left, defends Oklahoma State forward Mitchell Solomon (41) in the second half of an NCAA college basketball game in Stillwater, Okla., Saturday, Dec. 9, 2017. Wichita State won 78-66. (AP Photo/Sue Ogrocki)

5. Maybe the Big 12 should put Wichita State in the league

The Shockers are 2-0 in Big 12 play with wins over Baylor and Oklahoma State. If they beat Oklahoma this weekend, they’ll have three Big 12 wins, which, hey, may be more than Iowa State, Kansas State and Oklahoma State get this season (I kid, I kid).

Head coach Lon Kruger of the Oklahoma Sooners reacts to a lead over the USC Trojans after a timeout with Trae Young #11 and Khadeem Lattin #3 during the Basketball Hall of Fame Classic at Staples Center on December 8, 2017 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)

4. Game of the weekend

Oklahoma at Wichita State on Saturday.

Credit to Lon Kruger and Oklahoma for being brave enough to play the Shockers in Wichita. This is a home-and-home series, so Wichita State will travel to Norman next year. This isn’t the Big 12 team Wichita State really wants to play, but Oklahoma has to be high on the list.

And that old silly argument that “X Big 12 team gets nothing out of playing Wichita State” is done. One could argue that if Wichita State loses more in this game than Oklahoma considering its the Shockers who are highly ranked and have national championship aspirations and it’s Oklahoma coming off an 11-win year last season.

Plus it’s great for Oklahoma to schedule tough road games, something that one team that Wichita State really wants to play doesn’t (Nebraska at Nebraska? Stanford on a “neutral floor” in Sacramento? ).

Arizona State guard Remy Martin (1) and Kansas guard Malik Newman (14) during the second half of an NCAA college basketball game in Lawrence, Kan., Sunday, Dec. 10, 2017. Arizona State defeated Kansas 95-85. (AP Photo/Orlin Wagner)

3. What we learned about several losses from Big 12 teams (not just Kansas)

Oklahoma State pushed Wichita State before collapsing at the end. The Cowboys will now be my pick to finish eighth in the league, above Iowa State and Kansas State.

Kansas State lost to Tulsa, which means that the Wildcats’ 92-90 loss to Arizona State is no longer an “impressive loss” and Kansas State officially hasn’t defeated any good teams — maybe Vanderbilt, but Vandy is 3-5 overall, so no.

Kansas lost to undefeated Arizona State at home and the defense looked terrible a few days after the offense looked terrible in a loss to Washington State. Kansas gets a player this week in Sam Cunliffe, who is finally eligible after transferring in mid-season in 2016. Kansas fans should lightly have a finger on the panic button because I don’t think depth is true reason for the struggles (see last week’s column).

We spoke about Texas’ loss to Michigan. Two ways to look at it:

A) Texas wins with Andrew Jones healthy and likely cracks the top 25 next week if they had. Don’t worry about it.

B) Texas may not win a single game until Jones returns and may not look good on offense the rest of the season. Worry about it.

Trae Young #11 of the Oklahoma Sooners drives on Jonah Mathews #2 of the USC Trojans in an 85-83 Sooner win during the Basketball Hall of Fame Classic at Staples Center on December 8, 2017 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)

2. Comparing Trae Young to other great Big 12 freshmen of all-time (OK, we’ll rank them)

The two greatest Big 12 freshmen ever are Kevin Durant and Michael Beasley.

Durant was surrounded by more talent at Texas than Beasley, but was more dominant and clearly a better player.

Beasley was nearly as dominant, less athletically gifted and didn’t have an NBA lottery pick point guard at Kansas State.

Durant is the best freshman ever in Big 12 history (sorry Texas fans, the best modern-day freshman ever is Carmelo Anthony and you can @ me on Twitter if you’d like).

Now, let’s talk about  Trae Young.

The Oklahoma point guard is averaging 28.8 points per game. He also leads the Big 12 in assists with 8.8 per game. He’s fourth in steals with 2.3 per game. He is averaging 3.6 made 3-pointers per game.

If he keeps this pace up, he’ll be the third greatest freshman in Big 12 history, possibly second.

Young’s shooting percentage is nearly identical to Durant’s at 47 percent, but Young is actually shooting a better 2-point percentage than Durant (59.7 percent to 50.5 percent). On 3-pointers, Durant shot 40 percent to Young’s 37 percent.

If you trade Durant’s 11.1 rebounds for Young’s 8.8 assists, the two are having very comparable seasons.

Here’s the thing: Young has to douse the Big 12 in gasoline and set every arena on fire before he passes Durant as the greatest Big 12 freshman ever. He also needs to take Oklahoma to the second weekend of the tournament. I don’t think all of that will happen.

The Big 12 has too many elite point guards for Young to consistently put up these numbers in league play. Carter at West Virginia, Graham at Kansas and the TCU point guard tandem of Alex Robinson and Jaylen Fisher are going to throw wrenches in Young’s stats at some point.

But he’s by far the favorite for POY in the conference.

For fun, here’s my rankings for best Big 12 freshman, sans Young.

1. Durant

2. Beasley

3. Andrew Wiggins, Kansas

4. T.J. Ford, Texas

5. Marcus Smart, Oklahoma State

6. Josh Jackson, Kansas

7. Marcus Fizer, Iowa State

8. D.J. Augustin, Texas*

9. Willie Warren, Oklahoma

10. Brandon Rush, Kansas

*Only player on the list that didn’t win Big 12 Freshman of the Year, but that’s because he played with Durant as a freshman. 

JD Miller #15 of the TCU Horned Frogs gets help getting up from Kenrich Williams #34 after a made jump shot and a foul in the game against the Nevada Wolf Pack during the Basketball Hall of Fame Classic at Staples Center on December 8, 2017 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)

1. We need to talk about the greatest basketball team ever, the TCU Horned Frogs

TCU is undefeated at 9-0. They have won 14 straight games, the longest active winning streak in college basketball.

So, how should we really view the Horned Frogs, who are 9-0 with a sub top 50 RPI and Strength of Schedule?

TCU’s best win is a neutral floor victory over Nevada, who was ranked when TCU beat them, but were coming off a loss.

Entering the season I thought TCU would be one of the three best teams in the Big 12 (Kansas and West Virginia were my top two). TCU has one of the best starting fives in the nation. Their alpha dog is Kenrich Williams, who is the leading scorer, but I think their best player is big man Vladimir Brodziansky. They do a Bill Self thing with two points playing at the same time in Fisher and Robinson at times.

The starting lineup is the most traditional-looking one in the Big 12. Brodziansky and J.D. Miller in the front court,  Williams at the three and Desmond Bane and Fisher in the backcourt.

Robinson plays 23.5 minutes per game, so he’s like a second starter.

The bench also includes Kouat Noi and Ahmed Hamdy. Four-star center Kevin Samuel remains out with eligibility issues.

Here’s thing I won’t buy: “TCU can’t win the Big 12 because they’ve never done it before.” I think most teams embody their coach’s personality and demeanor. Jamie Dixon is one of the best coaches in college basketball and a veteran of the old Big East battles that he won multiple times. I don’t think this team will get deer in the headlights in February.

Verdict: TCU should be undefeated when they play Oklahoma in the Big 12 opener. As far as if this team can win the Big 12 and make noise in the tournament, I think fans should wait till mid-January to buy copious amounts of stock in the Horned Frogs. It’s not because of the players or coaches or voodoo, it’s because Kansas, Oklahoma, Texas and West Virginia have played better teams and beaten better teams so far this season. It’s a test thing. TCU needs to prove they can beat Power 5 programs consistently for me to go all in.

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