Each week I give you 12 things to know about Big 12 men’s basketball. Here’s last week’s column.
It’s finally here! The best conference in basketball is back:
12. Ken Pomeroy gives thoughts
The basketball analytical college basketball guru says this:
I think the Big 12 is a good basketball conference.
— Ken Pomeroy (@kenpomeroy) December 23, 2017
11. The team that had the best week
Texas had the best week. They beat the best team anyone played, Alabama, and straightened things out after an uneven performance against Tennessee State. Read more on this game here.
10. Kansas gets good news
News broke Friday that Silvio De Sousa was being added to the Kansas roster and was awaiting the NCAA greenlight to play in games. De Sousa is a 4/5-star prospect (considering if you’re a Rivals man or 247 Sports man) who is 6-foot-9-inches tall and 230 pounds. He’s beloved by a lot of recruiting experts, and you could take the scouting report on him and enter a number of names from the Bill Self-era at Kansas and it could easily be applied — raw, tough, athletic, strong, etc.
De Sousa is a nice pick-up, and Kansas would rather have him than not, but he isn’t quite the ultimate cure-all for Kansas’ ills. The kid was playing high school basketball a few days ago and will start Big 12 play with however many practices Kansas has from Dec. 26 to Dec. 29. It’s not a done deal he’ll play on Friday, but expect to see him soon.
As of today, there was no news on freshman Billy Preston, which would help Kansas more considering Preston has been on campus since the summer.
9. All-Big 12 Non-Conference team
Looking at just the non-conference games, here are my All-Big 12 players since November:
G: Trae Young, Oklahoma
G: Jevon Carter, West Virginia
F: Kenrich Williams, TCU
F: Lagerald Vick, Kansas
C: Mo Bamba, Texas
Take: Young has been the best player in the country and leads the nation in scoring, assists and “Steph Curry comparison.” (It’s OK to call him college basketball’s “version of Steph Curry.” It’s not OK to directly compare him to someone who is probably already one of the 25 best basketball players ever.)
Carter, who came to West Virginia with Jerry West in the 1950s, is averaging 18.2 points, 5.5 rebounds, 6.3 assists and 3.7 steals. Williams is averaging 14.5 points, 9.5 rebounds and is a big reason TCU is undefeated. Vick isn’t a forward, and in a traditional all-conference team Texas’ Dylan Osetkowski would get my vote, but Vick is playing small-ball four for Kansas and is leading the Jayhawks in scoring (17.1) and is grabbing 6.6 rebounds, throwing 3.9 assists, shooting 56.1 percent from the field on 148 shots-. Vick is also shooting 46.8 percent from 3-point range. While it’s tough to put Bamba over Baylor’s Jo Lual-Acuil, who is averaging 15.1 points and leads the Big 12 in rebounds with 10 a game, Bamba is getting .2 less rebounds than Lual-Acuil and while he’s scoring about five points less (10.9), Bamba is blocking 4.3 shots per game, erasing nearly nine points per game.
Like one-time Kansas sensation Andrew Wiggins a few years ago, the perception by some is Bamba is not having a standout year, but that’s bunk. The numbers show that Bamba, like Wiggins, is doing so many things to impact the game that don’t show up in stat sheets that people are sleeping on him. Would you like Bamba to do more? Sure. Just like Kansas fans would have liked Wiggins to be more aggressive on offense. If people didn’t know Bamba was a 5-star recruit and projected lottery pick, they’d be praising him a lot more instead of wanting more. And yes, I do think he needs to take more shots on offense, but that doesn’t mean I think he’s not the best center in the Big 12.
Quick second team:
G: Devonte’ Graham. Kansas
G: Keenan Evans, Texas Tech
F: Svi Mykhailiuk, Kansas
F: Dylan Osetkowski, Texas
C: Jo Lual-Acuil, Baylor
COY: Mike Boynton, Oklahoma State*
Freshman of the Year: Bamba (assuming Young will get POY and Bamba FOY)
Newcomer of the Year: Osetkowski
*This one is easy. As hard as it is on paper to pick a COY in a league were the most losses a team has is three, there was a question if Boynton was even going to be the coach in September when his top assistant was arrested in the FBI raid. Then his best player was suspended for the first few games, he didn’t have a major recruiting class and his second best player is…. Mitchell Solomon? Yet the Cowboys’ win over Florida State is one of the best of the league. So yeah, Boynton is easily the COY so far.
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:
I actually think Kansas matches up really well against Oklahoma, which is why I haven’t put the Sooners here yet. While not discounting what Young has done, I’ll be interested to see what happens against Graham and Self. Kansas could really struggle against a team with a good front court that plays tough defense (like Texas!) but Oklahoma has three great perimeter players (like Kansas) and shoots a lot of 3-pointers (320 on the year, 38.8 percent as a team), like Kansas.
However, in the two losses Kansas suffered, it was 3-point shooting and guard play of Arizona State and Washington that buried the Jayhawks, not the inside game. ASU guard Tra Holder scored 29 points in Allen Fieldhouse.
Oklahoma has nine players playing at least 14 minutes a game — relying less on the starting five — and the return of Kristian Doolittle (who was suspended for the first semester for an academic issue involving plagiarism) gives them yet another piece.
Young could be a transcendent college basketball player, and I’ll die on the “Lon Kruger is a Hall of Fame college basketball coach island.” Kruger’s best Oklahoma team went 0-2 against Kansas two years ago. The Jayhawks couldn’t stop Buddy Hield in Lawrence, but won. About a month later, Kansas slowed down Hield in one of Graham’s top games ever as a Jayhawk, so I think there’s some motivation for Oklahoma to top Kansas.
My problem with Oklahoma is more of a personal “I need to see it to believe it” thing. I’ve seen West Virginia beat Kansas and be up on KU by double digits in Allen Fieldhouse in the second half. I’ve been in the building when Texas crushed Kansas (Rick Barnes was sneakily good against KU). TCU beat Kansas in the Big 12 Tournament last year. While Kruger and OU have beaten Kansas during the last few seasons (2015 and 2013), those were teams that weren’t supposed to beat Kansas — they caught the Jayhawks off guard. And those games were in Norman. The best OU teams have not done it.
But the eye-test says OU is leaving non-conference play as the top team in the league, and Kansas, while good, has a lot of flaws.
7. Iowa State’s sneaky, sneaky December
The Cyclones lost to Milwaukee and Missouri to start the season. Since then they’ve won night straight games. In the month of December, Iowa State has wins over in-state rivals Iowa and mid-major darling Northern Iowa. While Iowa State’s schedule won’t make me a believer in their Big 12 title hopes, they enter league play with the third-longest win streak.
6. 5 Toughest places to play in the Big 12
1. Kansas (Allen Fieldhouse is the toughest play the nation)
2. West Virginia (Allen Fieldhouse of the East)
3. Iowa State (Hilton Magic)
4. Oklahoma State (when they’re winning this probably No. 2, as it was during entire Eddie Sutton era)
5. Kansas State (the Octagon of Doom)
5. Quick preview: West Virginia at Oklahoma State
A much more interesting matchup now than a month ago. Oklahoma State can score a major win if they can use Gallagher-Iba Arena’s atmosphere to trip up the Mountaineers. Still, if West Virginia loses this one, it would be a major upset. West Virginia has a top 15 KenPom defense. Oklahoma State has played several top-30 KenPom squads (Wichita State and Florida State).
Prediction: Press Virginia doesn’t have any trouble, and Oklahoma State’s win over FSU means that WVU won’t take this game lightly.
4. Quick preview: Kansas State at Iowa State
This game is one of the biggest games of conference play if you believe me, preseason polls and what you’ve seen. Both teams enter with great records (combined 19-4). K-State is the highest rated KenPom team Iowa State has played since Missouri (currently No. 54), and they lost 74-59 in that game. Kansas State is No. 43 in KenPom. Iowa State is No. 76. The Wildcats have played a lot tougher schedule.
Prediction: Hilton Magic gives the edge to the Cyclones. Prepare yourselves for ISU freshman Lindell Wigginton.
3. Quick preview: Baylor at Texas Tech
Under the radar game. If Tech can beat Baylor, it’d be their first win over a KenPom top-30 team and second top-50 KenPom win of the year. The Red Raiders’ only loss is to Seton Hall in New York, and this would strengthen my belief in Texas Tech’s tournament chances. For Baylor, a win over Tech would be one over the No. 11-ranked team in KenPom.
Prediction: Baylor will still be without Terry Maston, and Texas Tech is at home. Tech should win this game.
2. Kansas at Texas
This game was written about extensively here.
Prediction: Kansas wins close over a prepared Texas team.
1. Quick preview: Oklahoma at TCU
In November I would’ve been shocked if any opening game had been bigger than Kansas-Texas, but Kansas stumbled in early December and Texas’ best win so far is over Alabama and has three losses. Meanwhile, Trae Young has become Mr. Big 12 Basketball, and TCU has the nation’s longest winning streak.
The teams are a combined 22-2 this season with a combined winning streak of 25 games (17 straight for TCU dating back to last season).
Whoever wins this game will capture the imagination of national college basketball writers and will see a big jump in the AP Poll. I think Oklahoma has been tested more this season than TCU. But TCU has probably been scouting this OU offense all month and Jamie Dixon is one of the best coaches in the nation.
Prediction: I think OU scores a road win and hands TCU its first loss of the year. Young “struggles” at times in the game, but the supporting cast gives the Sooners a boost.