Posted December 21st, 2017
Each week I give you 12 things to know about Big 12 men’s basketball. Here’s last week’s column.
Conference play begins on Dec. 29, and teams will play their last games of the traditional non-conference season between now and then. Here is the 12 Big Things about Big 12 basketball preview you may or may not have asked for Christmas:
12. But first: Team with the best week
Oklahoma beat Wichita State 91- 83 at Wichita State on Dec. 16. The Sooners followed the best win any team in the conference owns with one of their players recording the best game any Big 12 player will have this season in a win over Northwestern State. Trae Young, the obvious Big 12 Player of the Week and front-runner for conference POY, scored 26 points and tied a NCAA Division I record with 22 assists in a 105-68 win on Tuesday.
Last week (click the link above), we talked about Young and his dominance, so let’s talk about the more impressive thing: Young was just as good against one of the best teams in all of college basketball the game before. Young scored 29 points and threw 10 assists on the road against the Shockers. That came against All-American type competition like Landry Shamet, so I’m more impressed by what he did Saturday — against a back court he’s more likely to see in the Big 12 — than what he did on his historic night.
11. Best game of the weekend: Texas vs. Alabama
Kansas is in California tonight playing Stanford and Oklahoma is at home against Northwestern, but Texas’ matchup against Alabama is juicier and more interesting than anything else — giving the stink-eye to you, Oklahoma State, who plays Texas Rio Grande Valley on Friday.
Texas is in a massive funk. They scored less than 50 points in a win over Tennessee State the other night and didn’t play much better in a win over Louisiana Tech before that. Now, we have North Carolina losing to Wofford and Indiana losing to Fort Wayne, so Texas pulling out those wins shouldn’t be dismissed, but they should sound alarms.
The Longhorns haven’t played well since returning from Oregon and the PK 80 Tournament. And now they’re hurt. Eric Davis will likely be back for the Alabama game and Andrew Jones is a “who knows,” but Texas has enough talent and depth to score more than 47 points against Tennessee State.
Plus, I like this matchup because Collin Sexton is a really good, and the Big 12 has lots of good point guards. So Texas gets one more major primer for Big 12 play. Can they win? Sure. Can they get embarrassed? Sure. We’ll see.
OK, now the Big 12 predictions:
10. Iowa State (9-2)
The Cyclones have won eight straight games. They are 9-2. Take a picture of that record, Hilton Magic fans.
While a win over Iowa in Hilton is awesome, and the win over Northern Iowa in Des Monies is very solid, Iowa State is ranked No. 72 at KenPom. I can’t shake the 74-56 home loss to Milwaukee — the No. 170-ranked team at KenPom that is 7-5 on the year. The loss to Missouri (No. 48 at KenPom) in the season opener is understandable, but they lost 74-59. Those are the two worst loses of any team in the Big 12 given the margin of defeat and who beat them.
Why I’m wrong: Those losses came on Nov. 10 and Nov. 13. That was, in the world of basketball, a long time ago. Since then, Iowa State has won the Puerto Rico Tip-Off, won the Cy-Hawk game and beat the state’s favorite mid-major program. They are a young team, and no one is talking about Donovan Jackson and Lindell Wigginton (averaging 16.2 and 15.5 ppg.).
Why I’m right: Iowa State has played the 275th-toughest schedule in the nation according to KenPom. Missouri is the best team Iowa State has played.
9. Kansas State (10-2)
After watching Wofford upset North Carolina, I stayed tuned-in and watched the first half of the Kansas State-Washington State game. My colleague Chris Bils pointed out just how hard the Spokane Sports Commission worked to get the mammoth matchup of Washington State and Kansas State.
(That’s not a joke, that place was packed. The Erwin Center should hire them.)
Outside of that, Kansas State jumped to a big lead, led by 14 at one point late in the first half and held on to win 68-65 against the No. 173-ranked team in KenPom (yeah, I know I’m using KenPom too much).
I like Dean Wade and Kamau Stokes. They are the Wildcats’ best chances for All-Big 12 picks. But Kansas State’s best win is either that victory over Washington State or a 5-point win over Vanderbilt. Now, K-State is No. 44 in KenPom.
But remember, KenPom’s numbers can be skewed for teams who blowout a bad schedule. Kansas State has played the 326th-toughest schedule in college basketball and have dominated it. Sure a 86-49 win looks awesome, and guys are going to get numbers. But then you remove the blinders and that win against something called “South Carolina Upstate (home of the Spartans!)” and it’s not as impressive.
The best example of this: Kansas State has two losses. One is to Arizona State — a great team — and the other is to Tulsa, a 7-5 team.
Why I’m wrong: Bruce Weber is a good coach. The fact that Kansas State fans always want to fire a Final Four coach is beyond me. Weber always gets his teams playing slightly above their heads. His problem — and his problem at Illinois — was recruiting, not coaching. He’s a poor man’s version of Tubby Smith. I fully expect Kansas State to be a tough out at home. I expect them to play hard.
Why I’m right: Again, they lost to Tulsa and have played a bad schedule. And at the end of the day, I think it’ll come down not to the Xs and Os but the Jimmys and the Joes.
8. Oklahoma State ( 9-2)
I would have ranked Oklahoma State last on this list a week ago. Jeffrey Carroll is really good, and Mitchell Solomon is like a 95-percent, less talented Tyler Hansbrough type of big man, but I didn’t think Oklahoma State was very good. Not when they are playing the 293th- toughest schedule and losing by 17 against the best team they’ve played all year (Texas A&M), but there are two games that started to change my mind.
I watched some of that Oklahoma State-Wichita State game in Stillwater and was more impressed by the Cowboys than the Shockers in the first half. The Shockers wound up winning 78-66, but it was 26-23 at halftime, and Oklahoma State was making them work. WSU pulled away in the second half, but not until the final 10 minutes. The next game, and the reason I think Oklahoma State has a chance to make the NCAA Tournament as the eighth team in the Big 12, (the conference will break eight this year) is that win over Florida State this past weekend.
Had Oklahoma not beaten WSU on the road, OSU’s win would have been the best of the week by a mile. Remember, Florida State was a hot team after dismantling rival Florida on the road earlier this month. The Cowboys went to the Sunshine State and handed the Noles a 71-70 loss and led for much of the game.
They followed that win with a 71-59 win over Tulsa, a team that beat Kansas State.
Why I’m wrong: Oklahoma State has a returning first team All-Big 12 player, Carroll, and a home court that can be the second best in the league if the team is somewhat competitive.
Why I’m right: Those two games were fool’s gold and Oklahoma State will crumble when playing Kansas, West Virginia, Oklahoma, Texas et al. Then they’ll struggle and drop games against either Iowa State or Kansas State on the road and finish last.
Also, the FBI thing comes back around.
7. Texas (8-3)
No one can watch the Longhorns the last three games and feel great about their Big 12 chances. The injury to Andrew Jones will be the big difference maker. If Jones can come back and be the best version of himself following a fractured wrist — a sometime fickle injury for basketball players — then Texas can — NO JOKE — win the league title.
That’s how good this defense is. Top 10 in KenPom (No. 6), the defense has been amazing for the Longhorns. I won’t make the obvious comparison that football was the same way — I’m sure Brian Davis, Kirk Bohls and Cedric Golden will do it at some point — but Texas proved that it doesn’t need to be a viable Division I offense to win games.
But it can get them beat. Texas would have lost — maybe lost badly– had they played any Big 12 team on Monday and not Tennessee State. That was without Eric Davis as well as Jones, but Davis isn’t exactly The Microwave out there on offense. I’ve never won a college basketball game that wasn’t played on a Sony Playstation, but the problem seems pretty clear: Texas shoots too many 3-pointers and doesn’t force the ball inside more on offense.
I don’t see many issues — if any at all — on defense. Texas doesn’t play the havoc defense the whole game and that’s actually a good thing because in small doses it’s more effective, especially if we’re talking about Big 12 play when Texas is facing Trae Young, four Kansas ball-handlers, Jevon Carter and Jaylen Fisher and Alex Robinson.
Why I’m right: Texas’ offense will cost them games on the road, when the home crowd gets teams going and the officiating favors the offense. If Texas gets in foul trouble playing tough, great defense, then they’re in trouble. We haven’t mentioned how Texas has had issues in the first 10 minutes and last 10 minutes of basketball games (Lipscomb and VCU).
Why I’m wrong: I thought Andrew Jones was looking like an All-Big 12 performer before he got hurt, and I thought that he was Texas most important player (Mo Bamba and Dylan Osetkowski are the best players). If Jones can come back and be the same type of player, does it solve Texas’ 3-point struggles? No. Does it help with Matt Coleman’s turnover issue he’s had the last week? Yes. Does it open up other things on offense? Yes. Jones is the key to the Longhorns’ offense. Texas is as good as any team in the league if their offense becomes just 50 percent better. Also, Texas has played the second-toughest schedule in the league, 124th, according to KenPom.
6. TCU (11-0)
“Whoa, is this guy crazy? TCU is sixth?”
I may be crazy. I accidentally left the stove top burner on all night a few days ago, so something is wrong with me. But TCU finishing outside the top 5 isn’t that crazy when you look at things.
The Horned Frogs’ best win is a close one on a neutral court against Nevada, a good team but one that is still a non-power 5 league team on the AP top 25 fringes (the Wolfpack lost to Texas Tech just before playing TCU).
TCU is No. 19 in KemPom. They have played the 186th-toughest schedule (which looking at the numbers, isn’t terrible for this league). For all the grief college basketball writers give Duke, Kentucky and Kansas for never scheduling true road games in November and December, TCU hasn’t played a single road game yet. They won two games on neutral courts in Florida and one in Los Angeles.
Not even Kansas can say that. At least the Jayhawks went to Nebraska and are playing Stanford in Sacramento. TCU is turning the corner as a basketball program, no denying that, but after one NIT championship, they didn’t schedule a single road game?
Now, that said: TCU is the most balanced starting five in the Big 12. Kenrich Williams, Vladimir Brodziansky, Desmond Bane and Jaylen Fisher is as good a top 4 as any in the Big 12 and Williams and Brodziansky should end up on either the first or second all-conference teams by March. Alex Robinson is a great second point guard, and I like TCU’s line up when he and Fisher are on the court together. This team can either go 9-9 in conference play and it wouldn’t surprise me or be the ones that break the streak.
Why I’m wrong: Forget the schedule. TCU is undefeated and beaten every team they’ve played. The ones that should have been blowouts were (but man, that Texas Southern final is a little misleading) and the ones that were close should have been close.
Why I’m right: They play Oklahoma at home next Wednesday. That’ll be the toughest game they’ve played since last year’s Big 12 Tournament. They follow that with their first road game of the year against Baylor. Good luck. TCU’s lineup is experienced and everything you want in a college basketball starting five. Their bench isn’t that deep and it’s tough to win on the road. It’s even tougher to win league road games.