Posted January 11th, 2018
Each week I give you 12 things to know about Big 12 men’s basketball. Here’s last week’s column.
Sad news in the middle of the week.
12. The news about Texas guard Andrew Jones
On Wednesday it was revealed that talented sophomore guard Andrew Jones was diagnosed with leukemia. This is heartbreaking news for anyone who covers the Big 12 and college basketball.
Let’s all send our prayers his way that he can defeat this terrible disease. Our own columnist Cedric Golden said it best:
There are much bigger things than basketball and Jones, an incredible young talent, is waging a real battle here. My prayers go out to his family and here's hoping for an eventual clean bill of health. He can beat this.
— Cedric Golden (@CedGolden) January 10, 2018
11. Big 12 Tweet of the Week
Every Big 12 basketball program responded with support to the Andrew Jones news. From Texas Tech to West Virginia. They were all heartfelt sincere messages that shows that the coaches and players in the Big 12 have a bond.
The Tweet of the Week comes from West Virginia coach Bob Huggins who summed the league’s unity best:
— Bob Huggins (@CoachHuggs) January 11, 2018
10. Who had the best week
Speaking of West Virginia, the Mountaineers had the best week since last Thursday.
Trae Young is going to have to blow a huge lead to not be named national player of the year. And if you just looked at the raw numbers (29 points, five assists and 10-of-13 from the free throw line), he was a key to Oklahoma against WVU on Saturday.
But West Virginia was all over him! Young shot 8-of-22 from the field, 3-of-12 from the 3-point line and committed eight turnovers. Essentially, West Virginia (No. 9 in adjusted defense at KenPom.com) flexed its muscles against Oklahoma’s superstar in a 89-76 win.
That was a big win over a Oklahoma team that was off to a hot start and went on to beat Texas Tech by double digits a few days later.
The Mountaineers followed OU by surviving a grinding game against a ready Baylor team, 57-54. The Bears had multiple chances to win, but West Virginia never relented.
This is big on a lot of levels. For starters, one reason a single team has won the Big 12 13 straight times is because the second-, third- and fourth-place teams have lost strange games they shouldn’t have or blown too many home games. Oklahoma was good enough to beat West Virginia at home. Baylor had the pieces to pull off the upset, but the Mountaineers maintained status quo in both games.
Now West Virginia heads to Lubbock on Saturday and plays Kansas after that.
9. Toughest week ahead
Kansas State is in some trouble.
The Wildcats are 2-2 in Big 12 play. They lost at home to West Virginia and lost on the road to Texas Tech. They’ve had a little luck in the schedule with Iowa State and Oklahoma State among their first four games and they pulled off a huge road win over Iowa State that may have locked the Cyclones into the last-place slot on the first day of conference play.
But now it gets tougher.
For starters, their best player on the year, junior Kamau Stokes, suffered an injury against Texas Tech and will be out for a while. He had started all 15 games prior to Wednesday. He was the best 3-point shooter on the team, led the team in assists and played the most minutes. He was the third-leading scorer.
Replacing him at point guard is redshirt freshman Cartier Diarra, who made his first start against OSU.
So that’s no good for the Wildcats. And now they play rival Kansas at Allen Fieldhouse on Saturday and host Oklahoma on Tuesday– two teams with two of the three best point guards and players in the league.
8. Big 12 Player of the Week
Against TCU on Saturday, Kansas sophomore Malik Newman scored just one point. One point. Newman is a former McDonald’s All-American who started his career at Mississippi State and struggled, entered the draft, withdrew from the draft, transferred to Kansas and sat out last season. He was credited with pushing Frank Mason and Devonte’ Graham in practice and coach Bill Self heaped praise on him last April.
For the most part, Newman has flopped at Kansas this year. That TCU game was a low point even after Newman lost the starting job to Marcus Garrett a few games earlier.
So why is he Big 12 Player of the Week? Because on Tuesday Newman bounced back and probably played the best game anyone not named Trae Young will play this week. And he did it on both ends of the court against an Iowa State team that may be winless in Big 12 play, but only those who haven’t seen them play would dismiss the Cyclones.
Newman was 10-21 from the field, 5-of-13 from 3-point range, grabbed eight rebounds (tied for the team lead) and scored 27 points in 34 minutes. He also blocked two shots — one coming in the waning minutes of Kansas’ 83-78 win, and another coming after he lost his shoe and blocked the shot with a shoe in his hand.
Here’s a sequence late in the game:
— Kansan Sports (@KansanSports) January 10, 2018
Newman’s struggles have been real this season, and he’s not played well in Kansas’ three losses. A loss at home to Iowa State would have made Allen Fieldhouse sink, so his big night during a game in which Kansas’ best player (Graham) scored 15 points off his average (just 11 points on 4-of-14 shooting) is big.
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 lost on the road to Oklahoma, but that looked like a home court game. If Oklahoma is trailing at halftime in Lubbock, I think the Red Raiders win by double-digits.
But they lost and West Virginia had the Ivan Drago moment– when Rocky cuts the big Russian— on Trae Young.
Does Kansas matchup well with West Virginia? The Mountaineers played nine players against Baylor, but only six played above 15 minutes in the Baylor game, so while West Virginia has depth, they’re using a six man rotation. On Saturday West Virginia gets last season’s second-leading scorer, Esa Ahmad, back from suspension. So the rotation increases to seven players.
Kansas also plays a seven-man rotation so the depth comparison is a little misleading. The difference is West Virginia has options for their rotation, Kansas doesn’t.
It’s all about guard play. And before I saw Malik Newman go off against Iowa State, I would have predicted the Mountaineers could beat Kansas by 20 to 30 points in Morgantown. Graham would be smothered, Lagerald Vick has diminished in Big 12 play and Newman has been a no-show. But if Newman can be a third scorer to Graham and Svi Mykhailiuk, then maybe things are different.
That said, I think West Virginia is the best team in the Big 12, and it’s not that close.
However, there’s one thing Kansas is doing well, and it would be a word of caution for people writing them off in January: This team is winning away from Allen Fieldhouse.
It wasn’t too long ago (2014-15, with a 4-5 away record) when Kansas was terrible in Big 12 road games. In a small sample size, Kansas has not only won both its road games, but they controlled both for large stretches until late runs made the games close.
Kansas’ 88-84 win over TCU, and about a week earlier it’s 92-86 win over Texas, had Kansas and No. 2 West Virginia as the only teams 2-0 on the road (Texas Tech played its second road game on Tuesday, and lost to Oklahoma ). The Mountaineers’ two wins were in Stillwater and Manhattan.
Kansas is undefeated away from home and is 6-1 outside of Allen Fieldhouse this season. If Kansas all of a sudden becomes road warriors against the league’s best teams (like TCU), then can you really count them out when it’s a stretch to say Kansas will lose again at home?
6. Overlooked thing of the week
TCU now has what could be a must-win game against Oklahoma in Norman.
At 1-3 in Big 12 play, the AP No. 16-ranking TCU has doesn’t mean anything.
So I’ll get ahead of the curve here because if TCU loses at Oklahoma, everyone will be bantering on about TCU’s struggles. So I’ll remind people this because it’ll probably get overlooked: TCU has lost three Big 12 games by a combined six points. Oklahoma and Texas won by one point. TCU nearly completed a comeback against Kansas only to lose by four.
And to be fair, TCU could very well be 0-4 in Big 12 play considering its only win is a 3-point overtime victory against Baylor in Waco.
TCU could be this year’s tough-luck team in the conference. Last year it was Texas who lost so many one or two possession games that it sunk their season. The Horned Frogs are better than that Texas team was, so I don’t expect that to happen. Saturday’s win over Oklahoma will only make those three losses by a combined six points standout more.
5. Kansas State at Kansas, 11 a.m., ESPN
Wake up, eat breakfast, take dogs to the dog park then watch Big 12 basketball for 10 hours.
The Sunflower Showdown is usually only really competitive when Kansas goes to Manhattan, a site they once owned but have struggled during the Bruce Weber era. Thus, this game is at Allen Fieldhouse and, as we mentioned, Kansas State is going in there without a key player.
This could be the first double-digit Big 12 win of the season for Kansas and this could be the first time all year that Allen Fieldhouse really explodes because of the rivalry and the players start feeding off that — something Kansas coach Bill Self discussed after the Iowa State game.
Prediction: I don’t think Kansas beats any Big 12 team by 15 or more points this season. The defense and rebounding is just too inconsistent this year. I see a lot of 5- to 11-point wins that make every game feel like a grind. So Kansas wins, but they won’t cover whatever double-digit line Las Vegas gives them.
4. Texas at Oklahoma State, 4 p.m., ESPNNews
Prediction: Because Texas beat TCU, there is a little less pressure on Texas to win this road game, but improving to 3-2 in Big 12 play would be big and, at least mathematically, keep Texas in play for a conference title. Oklahoma State has played everyone tough at home, so expect another close game for Texas. Longhorns win by a couple.
3. Baylor at Iowa State, 2 p.m., ESPNNews
If Iowa State has any plans to make the tournament and bounce back from an 0-4 conference start, it has to start at home against a good Baylor team that is 1-3 in conference play but has lost a handful of games close (TCU and West Virginia). Iowa State played Kansas down to the wire, and if Iowa State had a win or two in the league, a lot of people would be talking about Donovan Jackson. Baylor played pretty well defensively against West Virginia and had many opportunities to win that game.
Prediction: Iowa State pulls off the win at home and muddies up the conference’s deep middle even more. It just seems like Iowa State is due a win.
1B. West Virginia at Texas Tech, 1 p.m., ESPN
The game pitting West Virginia and Texas Tech will be for first-place or a share of first-place in the league. If West Virginia wins in Lubbock they will have a good argument for being ranked No. 1 in the nation on Monday. If they lose, then we can continue to say Texas Tech is legit and dismiss the 10-point loss to Oklahoma as life in the Big 12.
This is a type of game that can determine if a team is worthy of a No. 1 or No. 2 seed in the tournament in March. If West Virginia wins the league, and it’s between them and another program, you better believe “won at Texas Tech” will be listed as a “good win.” Same with Tech, who looks like a team that could also be in position for a No. 1 seed if they win the league.
How is this not No. 1 by itself? We’ll get there.
West Virginia has two road wins in the league, but they came in close games against two squads expected to finish at the bottom (K-State and OSU), so how they play against a program that is increasingly becoming unbeatable in Lubbock will be interesting. Also Tech needs to bounce back after a terrible second half against OU on Tuesday.
Prediction: West Virginia seems like a team that’s been flirting with a loss for a few games. I thought Baylor was going to clip them in your typical “just ranked No. 2 and get beat” type of game on Tuesday. That didn’t happen. Oklahoma also kept their game with the Mountaineers close, and, if it weren’t for the Mountaineers making OU one-dimensional on offense, the Sooners could have won that game. Having watched both teams play several time, I think Tech is the closest to West Virginia and should have the edge at home.
1A. TCU at Oklahoma, Noon, ESPNU
Had TCU beaten Texas on Wednesday, this wouldn’t No. 1. Solid No. 2, but not No. 1.
But they lost. And now the team that entered the league with a 17-game winning streak and undefeated is now 1-3 in conference play, and they are 1-3 in the most frustrating way.
TCU coach Jamie Dixon can’t be enjoying himself.
The Horned Frogs blew a second-half lead and lost to Oklahoma in the opener. Against Kansas, Jaylen Fisher was in foul trouble, and it disrupted the offense. Fisher had the same foul troubles against Texas, but TCU happened to play Texas on a night where the Longhorns would’ve given the Golden State Warriors a tough game.
TCU is 1-3, but six points is the difference between them being tied with West Virginia for first-place.
And now they have to play Oklahoma in Norman. Oklahoma beat TCU by one in Fort Worth two weeks ago, and we’re guessing they’ll be even better at home, just like they were against Texas Tech.
Young just played his two toughest games of the year against Tech and WVU, and now he gets a worse defense to attack. You have to imagine that Dixon will pour over those two games and create a strategy to make Young uncomfortable.
For TCU, having a scoreless half from Vladimir Brodziansky like on Wednesday should be illegal. He averages 17 points per game and is an All-Big 12 caliber big man. He played well in the second half when Mo Bamba went to the bench, and TCU nearly won the game.
TCU needs this one more than OU, who would drop to 3-2 in conference play with a loss.
Prediction: This is a turning point for TCU either the right way or the wrong way. A loss and we can throw out “player’s only meeting” around for TCU. A win, and I think TCU stays in the Top 25 and no one should panic. I think TCU wins the game based only on how they played OU for the first 28 minutes in game one and “the back against the wall” situation they’re in.