Men's Basketball

12 Big things about Big 12 basketball: OU, Trae Young and Wreck'em

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Posted January 4th, 2018

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

Texas Tech kind of stole Oklahoma’s thunder. Here are 12 big things:

Oklahoma guard Trae Young (11) shoots as Oklahoma State forward Mitchell Solomon, left, defends during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game in Norman, Okla., Wednesday, Jan. 3, 2018. (AP Photo/Sue Ogrocki)

12. Trae Young and Oklahoma’s week

Oklahoma freshman Trae Young is moving in the same direction Buddy Hield and Frank Mason traveled the last two seasons. It’s become apparent that not only is Trae Young the front-runner for all the national player of the year awards, but there doesn’t really seems to be a second option yet emerging. That wasn’t the case with Hield or Mason the last two years, they were just far superior than Grayson Allen and Caleb Swanigan.

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I’ve been writing the last few weeks that I was waiting for Young to play a solid team with a strong backcourt to really impress me. He did that last weekend when he broke Kevin Durant’s Big 12 debut scoring record (37 against Colorado in 2007) with 39 points in a 90-89 win over then No. 10-ranked TCU.

The wart for Oklahoma is that it needed 39 points from Young to beat TCU by one in Fort Worth. He’ll need help this weekend against West Virginia because while Jevon Carter may actually be 39, he won’t allow 39 points.

Also of note: Oklahoma State has spent the entire season playing teams close. The Cowboys had a lead on West Virginia last week in the Big 12  opener but couldn’t pull off the upset at home. Facing Oklahoma in Norman, I thought the Cowboys would give the Sooners a good game. Instead Young scored 27 and Oklahoma State’s last lead came with 15:24 left to play in the first half. Oklahoma took a 7-point halftime lead and increased it to 20, winning 109-89.

Sure, beating OSU isn’t going to send any more national writers running to their WordPress blogs, but a team that plays everyone tough just got wiped out by Oklahoma.

Texas Tech coach Chris Beard talks to his players during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game against Kansas on Tuesday, Jan. 2, 2018, in Lawrence, Kan. (AP Photo/Charlie Riedel)

11. Who had the best week

Texas Tech is 2-0 in Big 12 play and beat Kansas in Allen Fieldhouse by 12. This came after crushing Baylor 77-53. We’ll go with them.

10. Big 12 tweet of the Week

Gary Bedore of the Kansas City Star tweeted this following Texas Tech’s 85-73 win over Kansas:

9. Toughest week ahead

Oklahoma plays West Virginia on the road this Saturday and Texas Tech at home on Tuesday, Jan. 9. That’s the toughest week.

But let’s look at another team.

Iowa State is already 0-2 in conference play with two home losses. The Cyclones could fall to 0-4 before the week is done and unless they have a little 2016 Oklahoma State in them, they could be the first team to effectively be eliminated from conference title contention (they were never winning it) and it would be extremely difficult to say with a straight face “they have a chance for a winning season” let alone a postseason appearance after that.

Iowa State, who lost to Kansas State 92-86 and Texas 74-70 in overtime — both games with Hilton Magic– travel to Oklahoma State, another 0-2 team that has played well at home, and then travels to Kansas on Jan. 9, where a week before the Jayhawks lost by 12 and shook Kansas fans to the core. There are no easy games in this league and thus every team has a tough week, but if Iowa State loses in Stillwater, their season is officially in a tailspin.

On the flip side, win one of those games and Iowa State’s season gets a little jump start. Win both games (in this scenario the state of Kansas sends the national guard to Lawrence) and Iowa State is back in business.

Oklahoma guard Trae Young, center, drives against Oklahoma State guard Brandon Averette (0) and forward Mitchell Solomon, right, during the second half of an NCAA college basketball game in Norman, Okla., Wednesday, Jan. 3, 2018. Oklahoma won 109-89. (AP Photo/Sue Ogrocki)

8. Big 12 Player of the Week

Ha. (Says sarcastically): I wonder who that is? Young scored 66 points and threw 24 assists in the last two games. His team won both games.

Texas Tech’s Zhaire Smith (2) looks to pass the ball as Kansas’ Marcus Garrett defends during the second half of an NCAA college basketball game Tuesday, Jan. 2, 2018, in Lawrence, Kan. Texas Tech won 85-73. (AP Photo/Charlie Riedel)

7. 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:

Texas Tech

Pretty obvious, right? Tech just dominated Kansas start to finish on Tuesday in Allen Fieldhouse. Until further notice, Texas Tech will remain No. 1 on this list.

And they should. Tech looks like the best team in the conference.

Their defense was already one of the best in the nation and their offense has hummed in the first two Big 12 games of the season. Tech is No. 6 on KemPom and have the No. 26-ranked offense and No. 3-ranked defense.

It’s not just the Kansas game that has them here. They bashed Baylor to open the Big 12 season.

But it’s mostly about the Kansas game.

After the way the Jayhawks played on the road against Texas (hitting 17 3-pointers and winning 92-86), it looked like Kansas was on the right track. Then Texas Tech exposed all the flaws that were glaring in the Jayhawks’ two other loses– all of which were home losses (though the Washington loss was in Kansas City).

Keenan Evans, Zhaire Smith and Justin Gray played lights out for Texas Tech in Allen Fieldhouse and it’s obvious that the Red Raiders should be taken as serious as any team in the Big 12 and as serious as any team in the nation moving forward.

So now the question has to be asked: Is Kansas’ Big 12 streak ending this year?  

Two years ago, when Georges Niang was at Iowa State, Buddy Hield at Oklahoma and West Virginia was terrific, Texas was energized by Shaka Smart, Tubby Smith had Texas Tech playing lights out and Baylor might have had the best team, I thought Kansas’ streak was ending. That year Kansas started 3-0 in conference play then lost three out of five games including an 86-67 loss on the road to Oklahoma State, the worst team in the league. Two games later they followed it with an 85-72 loss to Iowa State.

They were 5-3 in conference and looked lost. The rotation was all messed up and there were a lot of articles quoting KenPom and the end of Kansas’ conference title streak.

What happened next? Coach Bill Self moved Landen Lucas into the starting lineup, shortened the rotation and Kansas beat Kentucky in its next game and didn’t lose again until the Elite Eight.

The point? There are 16 games left and Kansas already has a road win in conference play. Two of the three losses are to two AP Top 25 teams who are a combined 25-2. Throw in Washington and it’s a combined record of 36-6. I’m done writing about two players who Kansas could get between now and the end of the season, but that said lots could happen between now and the end of the month with that roster.

Are Kansas fans right to press the panic button? Absolutely. It’s puzzling how average Kansas is at home and they are perhaps the most flawed team in the league.

That said, it’s not time to write off the Jayhawks’ chances– like in 2016, 2015, 2012 and 2009 and probably a few other years in this streak.

Oklahoma center Jamuni McNeace (4) dunks in the first half of an NCAA college basketball game against Oklahoma State in Norman, Okla., Wednesday, Jan. 3, 2018. (AP Photo/Sue Ogrocki)

6. The overlooked thing of the week

Young is great at Oklahoma, but it’s time we highlight a few of his teammates. First Oklahoma has a crafty veteran in the post with Khadeem Lattin who could graduate from Oklahoma having played with three Big 12 Player of the Year winners and two separate national player of the year winners.

The Other Freshman, not unlike UCLA’s T.J. Leaf from last season, has been pretty darn good for Oklahoma as well. Brady Manek actually outscored Young against Oklahoma State with 28 points on 9-of-11 shooting and 6-of-8 from 3-point range.

Outside of Young and Manek, Kameron McGusty is the third scoring option and he scored 15 against Oklahoma State.

I entered the year liking Oklahoma big man Jamuni Mcneace, who I thought played outstanding last season for the Sooners, and he’s done nothing to change my mind. He has been another low post threat.

The reason Oklahoma has a real Final Four feel to them is they’re a complete team with a good bench, super star guard and some experience. And their coach, Lon Kruger, is one one the best in the business.

SATURDAY PREVIEWS:

Oklahoma State guard Tavarius Shine (5) chases a loose ball in the first half of an NCAA college basketball game against Oklahoma in Norman, Okla., Wednesday, Jan. 3, 2018. (AP Photo/Sue Ogrocki)

5. Iowa State at Oklahoma State, 3 p.m. on ESPNU

As we stated, this is a big game for Iowa State only because they’ve already lost two home games this Big 12 season. Hilton Coliseum is supposed to be its safe place.

They have a tough one against Oklahoma State, a team that is also 0-2 but lost to two AP top 10 teams in Oklahoma and West Virginia. The Cowboys nearly knocked off West Virginia at home to open league play. Iowa State didn’t play great against Kansas State, but they led Texas for most of Monday night until the Longhorns turned it on late.

Prediction: Oklahoma State romps to a big win over Iowa State. The Cowboys can be in the exact same situation Iowa State is already in with a second home loss in a gym that has traditionally been tough to play in. They avoid that.

Texas Tech’s Keenan Evans (12) celebrates after making a shot during the second half of the team’s NCAA college basketball game against Kansas on Tuesday, Jan. 2, 2018, in Lawrence, Kan. Texas Tech won 85-73. (AP Photo/Charlie Riedel)

4. Kansas State at Texas Tech, 3 p.m., FSW Plus

I guess an AP-ranked squad playing at home needs to be better than 13-1 to get a national ESPN game, but Iowa State and Oklahoma State gets on the U.

It would be very “Tech” of the Red Raiders to be on the cusps of an AP top 10 ranking and lose to Kansas State at home. I just don’t see it. Kansas State, like Oklahoma State, is playing teams tough. They lost at home 77-69 to West Virginia on New Year’s and hung on to beat Iowa State a few days earlier. But Tech ought to win.

Prediction: Texas Tech gets a tough game from a Bruce Weber coached team, but at the end of the day Tech , who plays Oklahoma on Tuesday, avoids the letdown game and sets up a monster night in Norman.

Iowa State guard Nick Weiler-Babb (1) drives to the basket over Texas forward Mohamed Bamba (4) during the second half of an NCAA college basketball game, Monday, Jan. 1, 2018, in Ames, Iowa. (AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall)

3. Texas at Baylor, 1 p.m., ESPNU

The third 0-2 team in the Big 12, Baylor, got Jo Lual-Acuil back from a foot sprain in time for a game against TCU on Tuesday and nearly handed the Horned Frogs a second loss, losing 81-78 in overtime– an overtime period that featured a remarkable 31 combined points.

Texas is also coming off an overtime game, one that they won and played very well in the final 10 minutes, but the other 35 minutes, Iowa State was feeding off a home crowd and led by eight with 12 minutes to go.

While the two  games below are very big, this should be a great game. Mo Bamba and Lual-Acuil is going to be one of the best 1-on-1 matchups in the league because both guys are just psychically impressive in terms of height and length. Will they just spend the whole game blocking each other’s shots? They are Nos. 1 and 2 in that stat category in the Big 12.

There are other great matchups. Manu Lecomte and Matt Coleman– I wouldn’t be surprised if Texas switches that and Kerwin Roach draws the assignment. Terry Maston was scoreless against Texas Tech , but went for 20 against TCU in his second game back from a broken hand. Dylan Osetkowski may get that defensive assignment.

Prediction: Baylor is the best equipped team to fall to 0-3 in conference play and still finish above .500. But I don’t think they fall to 0-3. A Bear squad that was finally at full strength nearly beat a 1-loss TCU team the other night at home. If Baylor drops into it’s 2-3 zone and dares Texas to shoot it, not unlike Kansas, then Texas will have to resist the urge to launch up 3-pointers. Baylor wins close.

TCU guard Jaylen Fisher (0) is guarded by Baylor guard Manu Lecomte (20) during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game Tuesday, Jan. 2, 2018, in Waco, Texas. (AP Photo/Jerry Larson)

2. Kansas at TCU, 8:15  p.m., ESPN 2

Had Kansas beaten Texas Tech, this game would probably be “1B” not plain old No. 2.

To think this game is all about Kansas is false. TCU has had back-to-back close games and gone 1-1. They pulled off a win that just plain never happened before when they won in overtime on the road against a quality Big 12 opponent. The Horned Frogs didn’t win those games in the past.

Now they have a wounded squad coming into a place where Kansas — whether it was Jamie Dixon or Trent Johnson coaching– hasn’t played great at.

With blinders on, this is a game TCU should win– despite what ESPN’s predictor says. TCU should be favored to win. They have the more complete team, better post game and are 13-1.

However, this is a game Kansas has won time and time again over the last 100 years. And it’s not as though Texas Tech ran away from Kansas. The game was played between the six and 10 point range for 12 minutes with Kansas blowing opportunities left and right to get the game to a single possession. Kansas shot 6-of-26 from 3-point range. The Jayhawks makes four more shots– still a terrible percentage — and the game is different.

Plus, strangely enough, Kansas is undefeated outside of Lawrence and the Kansas City area.

Prediction: Kansas gets off to a slow start and TCU builds a lead. Kansas roars back in the second half, but TCU hangs on to win by three. Kansas leaves Fort Worth a little more confident after its second half rally but TCU shows that it’s ready to make serious noise in the Big 12 and in the national conversation.

West Virginia forward Sagaba Konate, left, speaks with guard Jevon Carter during a NCAA college basketball game in Stillwater, Okla., Friday, Dec. 29, 2017.(AP Photo/Brody Schmidt)

1. Oklahoma at West Virginia, 6:15 p.m., ESPN2

The game of the weekend both in the Big 12 and nationally. No. 7 Oklahoma visits No. 6 West Virginia.

No. 12 North Carolina and No. 8 Virginia play, so do Arkansas and Auburn and Kentucky and Tennessee, but there’s nothing like West Virginia and Oklahoma.

If Young can have a big night against coach Bob Huggins and the Mountaineers, then I don’t see a single Big 12 game where he doesn’t score more then 20 points. However, if there’s one team that can make him look human, it’s West Virginia.

On the other side, West Virginia needs Carter to be good on offense to win. If he’s wearing himself out on defense that could impact things. West Virginia will press Oklahoma, but with Young and McGusty, I don’t know if they’ll have a lot of issues with the press. Oklahoma’s defense hasn’t been much to write about, No. 40 in KenPom, but they should give West Virginia’s offense, No. 21 in KenPom, some trouble.

Let’s be honest: This is all about Trae Young and what he can do against the No. 11-ranked defense in college basketball.

Prediction: West Virginia defends the home court. Young scores a lot of points, but the Mountaineers cut off the rest of the supporting cast. West Virginia remains unbeaten in Big 12 play.

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