Men's Basketball

12 Big things about Big 12 basketball: It was never going to be easy to end KU's streak

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Posted January 18th, 2018

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

They’ve won 13 of these in a row for a reason.

Kansas center Udoka Azubuike (35) attempts to block West Virginia guard Jevon Carter (2) during the second half of an NCAA college basketball game Monday, Jan. 15, 2018, in Morgantown, W.Va. Kansas won, 71-66. (AP Photo/Raymond Thompson)

12. Kansas piles on West Virginia’s bad week as Bill Self wears a windbreaker

Around the same time as the 2017 Dick Vitale Gala last May, at 3 a.m., Bob Huggins and Bill Self were reportedly sitting around drinking coffee (that’s their story) and the conversation about Self wearing a Huggins-inspired pullover during a Kansas-West Virginia game came about.

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Flash forward to Monday, there was Self wearing a black pullover. Then he pulled off one of the biggest wins of Big 12 play.

Trailing by double-digits with less than six minutes to go, Kansas finished the last five-and-half minutes of the game on a 20-6 run to knock off the Mountaineers in Morgantown, 71-66.

That win established Kansas as the once again team-to-beat in the conference they’ve won for 13 straight years. It wipes away any head start Texas Tech may have given the league when Kansas lost to the Red Raiders in the second Big 12 game. Kansas was projected to win that game. The were not projected to win that game on Monday.

And West Virginia was supposed to be the most likely team to beat Kansas this year for the league title.

Best laid plans and all.

Before the Mountaineers even hosted Kansas they were having a bad week. WVU was leading Texas Tech at halftime. They led Tech by 11 with 13 minutes to play. A three-minute scoring drought flipped the contest and the Red Raiders won 72-71.

West Virginia blowing two double-digit second half leads and being exposed offensively made the two game stretch rough for an AP top-10 team. WVU only beat Baylor by three points at home in a 57-54 game, so it’s not as if the Mountaineers’ offensive drop off was sudden.

Losing to Kansas at home though potentially cripples WVU’s chances at winning the league. They now can’t really afford to lose many — if any — more home games and it’s likely Kansas could do the same, so WVU needs to be pretty darn good to win the league.

Kansas isn’t god’s gift to basketball this year, so it’s not as if the Jayhawks will not have any more trip-ups, but the track record suggests they can navigate the league.

Why is that …

11. Tweet of the week

Why has Kansas won so many Big 12 titles? Because they are historically good in close conference games. Look at the last two years:

Kansas State players including Barry Brown (5) celebrate with fans following an NCAA college basketball game against Oklahoma in Manhattan, Kan., Tuesday, Jan. 16, 2018. Kansas State defeated Oklahoma 87-69. (AP Photo/Orlin Wagner)

10. Who had the best week?

Kansas State had the best week.

The Wildcats’ lost by one point in Allen Fieldhouse and had the ball with a dozen seconds left with a chance to win.

The play was snuffed out by Kansas and it led to an awful shot by guard Barry Brown. Then their coach, Bruce Weber, had one of the more epic embarrassing moments in a press conference when he told reporters to “Ask Fran Fraschilla about it! He can speak for us!” and then someone asked Fraschilla and Fraschilla was not as helpful as Weber would have liked. 

The problem here is Weber was mad at losing the game because his team had a better than average chance to win and kind of blew it. He was mad because a Wildcat team picked to finish in the bottom three of the league is playing better than anyone outside Kansas thought and missed an opportunity for the biggest win of the season. And in his anger, he overshadowed his team’s effort.

Kansas State’s loss at Kansas was a positive for the Wildcats.

Then they hosted No. 4 Oklahoma and sensation Trae Young. And they beat the you know what out of the No. 4 team in the nation.

Kansas State demolished Oklahoma by 18 points, 87-69. The Wildcats forced Young into by far the worst game of his college career and who knows if he’ll ever have another game that bad at Oklahoma.

Wildcats forward Dean Wade is averaging 15.3 points and 6.5 rebounds and putting a compelling case together for All-Big 12 first team. A team that was supposed to fall apart following the injury to their best player, Kamau Stokes, suddenly looks even better with the play of Cartier Diarra at point guard. Diarra has scored 11, 17, 18 and 16 points in his last four games.

With TCU coming to Manhattan this Saturday, Kansas State has a chance to end this week 4-3 in the Big 12.

Oklahoma guard Trae Young (11) is fouled by Kansas State guard Barry Brown, back, during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game in Manhattan, Kan., Tuesday, Jan. 16, 2018. (AP Photo/Orlin Wagner)

9. Toughest week ahead

Oklahoma is about to have the toughest week. The Sooners looked out of sorts against Kansas State, and that has as much to do with the Wildcats’ defensive gameplan than anything else.

But coming off an 18-point loss to a Kansas State team that lost 77-69 at home to West Virginia and 74-58 in Lubbock, Oklahoma missed an opportunity to pick up a road win.

Now they have a tricky game on the road against Oklahoma State. The Cowboys lost 109-89 on Jan. 3 in Norman. And the Cowboys have squarely moved into last-place zone in this league. After overcoming a double-digit deficit to Texas on Saturday, the Cowboys went to Waco and lost 76-60 on Monday.

Oklahoma State’s only home Big 12 loss is the opener against West Virginia, when they fell 85-79 in a game that it could have easily pulled off the upset.

Translation: Oklahoma State is way better inside Gallagher-Iba Arena and will give the Sooners a ball game in the Bedlam rematch.

After that? The Sooners play the league’s best road team: the Kansas Jayhawks on Jan. 23. Kansas is 3-0 on the road with wins over TCU, Texas and West Virginia.

Texas guard Kerwin Roach II (12) dunks the ball during a NCAA college basketball game against Texas Tech in Austin, Texas, on Wednesday, Jan. 17, 2018. (NICK WAGNER / AMERICAN-STATESMAN)

8. Here comes Texas

The Longhorns are starting to put it together, despite what happened at Oklahoma State.

Texas has to win that game in Stillwater last Saturday. Up double-digits on the road against what could be the worst team in the league, Texas blew that game and if anyone watched Kansas State play Kansas earlier that day, there’s no one who could honestly say Texas is  better than Kansas State.

I’m not sure if that has changed after what I saw Kansas State do to Oklahoma, but Texas handling Tech in Austin is the signature win of the Longhorns’ season.

Texas has waffled back and forth from looking like an NCAA Tournament team to an NIT team to a squad that would be out of the postseason all together. Beat TCU in double overtime: NCAA! Barely beat Iowa State and Tennessee State: NIT! Blow a lead to Oklahoma State: Are they going to make the tournament?

At this point, Texas not making the NCAA Tournament seems silly since it would mean Iowa State and Oklahoma State would have to beat the Longhorns in Austin, Texas would have lose more games at home (Kansas State winning in Austin could happen, but I’d favor Texas) and it assumes that Texas isn’t going to knock off some of the top teams at home and not win some type of marque road game.

This Texas team is too talented for that to happen and they’re starting to look the part– at least in Austin, where they are 8-2 this season.

Texas is No. 33 at KenPom, which means they are very likely to be in the tournament. They are No. 6 defensively and No. 114 offensively, so they are one of the least balanced teams in the Big 12, but they have learned to live with poor offense.

If Kerwin Roach’s 18-point performance against Tech isn’t an anomaly — and he is more like that player than the one Texas was getting before the hand injury (he was playing hurt in those games) — then Texas has “take off” potential.

However, Texas really can’t have many more — if any — brain farts like the one they had in Stillwater.

Mitch Lightfoot #44 of the Kansas Jayhawks reacts after dunking on Sagaba Konate #50 of the West Virginia Mountaineers (not pictured) putting Kansas up 69-66 at the WVU Coliseum on January 15, 2018 in Morgantown, West Virginia. (Photo by Justin K. Aller/Getty Images)

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:

Wait for it. 

It almost seems silly to name one this week as the only team to go 2-0 since last Thursday was Kansas, who opened up a game lead on Tech, WVU and Oklahoma. They have a two game lead Kansas State and Texas. They also are winners of four in a row. Like clockwork, once Kansas tied for the league lead, the other teams all lost.

However, by default it’s Texas Tech since the Red Raiders are the lone team to beat Kansas and did so in Allen Fieldhouse. But they may not be the same team.

Tech is in some trouble after losing Zach Smith to a broken foot. They are 1-2 since the injury. Smith was one of Tech’s best players last season but he was only the fifth leading scorer this year. Still, he had the ability to stretch the defense since he was a big who could shoot. He’s also a senior. He had started 14 games for Tech before the injury. And the injury seems serious, like maybe he doesn’t return serious. Just read this from Saturday — a comically homer-ific piece from a Lubbock radio station.

Meanwhile, Kansas seems to have figured things out. At one point on Monday Kansas sophomore center Udoka Azubuike had a plus-minus of 19. In the second half, Svi Mykhailiuk and Devonte’ Graham looked like the two best players in the Big 12 as they led the comeback.

This Kansas team has warts, that’s for sure, but as I’ve written before, five of the seven guys they’re playing are five of the 30 best players in the league. The two other guys aren’t that far behind them and in basketball talent is king (which is why Texas is so dangerous).

Daxter Miles Jr. #4 of the West Virginia Mountaineers drives to the rim against the Kansas Jayhawks at the WVU Coliseum on January 15, 2018 in Morgantown, West Virginia. (Photo by Justin K. Aller/Getty Images)

6. Overlooked thing of the week

West Virginia’s terrible offense and Oklahoma’s terrible defense.

Advance stats have West Virginia ranked 41st offensively in KenPom. Those same stats have Oklahoma ranked No. 52 on defense.

Those rankings suggest that neither team has a terrible anything, but if you compare it to both team’s other unit, the balance is all off. West Virginia is No. 9 on defense and that defense is the big reason why the team scores points (point of off turnovers). Oklahoma is the highest scoring team in the nation, but the offense is actually ranked No. 14 in KenPom. Oklahoma has to score a lot of points to make up for a defense that’s average.

But to really understand the issues you’ve got to throw out advance stats and watch the games.

West Virginia ran some of the worst offense in the Big 12 against a Kansas team that has struggled in the second half on defense. Bad shot selection, taking what the defense is giving them but what the defense is giving them are mid-range jumpers to post players. The half court offense by West Virginia is what will get the Mountaineers beat in the tournament, just like in 2017.

Oklahoma, meanwhile, faced a top-20 offense in Kansas State and allowed 87 points. That’s not bad. What’s bad is OU allowed the No. 67-ranked offense, Oklahoma State, to score 89 in Norman. TCU is the fourth best offensive team in the nation and they scored 97 points against Oklahoma in 45 minutes last weekend.

The best defensive performance OU has had is limiting Texas Tech to 65 points in a 10-point win. Tech is No. 39 offensively in KenPom.

If you thought West Virginia and OU would be the most serious contenders to snapping Kansas’ Big 12 streak, remember that balanced teams are the best teams and no team is more balanced — including Tech, whose defense is 35 rankings better than its offense — than Kansas. The Jayhawks are No. 10  in offense and No. 30 in defense. They are the only Big 12 team ranked in the top 30 of KenPom in both offense and defense.

TCU’s offense is 120 rankings better than its defense (No. 5 to No. 125). Texas is No. 7 in defense but No. 123 on offense. The only team that’s as balanced as Kansas is in term of rankings is balanced in the most average way. Oklahoma State is No. 67 offensively and No. 87 defensively.

(KenPom rankings change daily, FYI)

Saturday’s previews

Oklahoma State’s Jeffrey Carroll (30) celebrates the Cowboy’s win over Texas during an NCAA college basketball game in Stillwater, Okla., Saturday, Jan. 13, 2018. (Sarah Phipps/The Oklahoman via AP)

5. Oklahoma (14-3, 4-2) at Oklahoma State (12-6, 2-4), 1 p.m., ESPN

This would be the upset of the week in college basketball if No. 4 Oklahoma lost to Oklahoma State in Stillwater. However, OK State has had some good mojo at home this season. The Cowboys are 6-3 in Gallagher-Iba Arena and 2-1 at home in the Big 12. The way the Cowboys rallied against Texas last weekend had me checking to see if Eddie Sutton was on the sideline.

He was there. But he wasn’t coaching.

I can’t think of a more chaotic thing that could happen to this Big 12 this weekend than OU dropping a second straight game and it being to the Cowboys, but Kansas once lost by 18 to an even worse OSU team two years ago in Stillwater, so it’s not that crazy.

If Trae Young needs 21 shots to score 19 points and turns the ball over 12 times again — or even if he turns the ball over nine times like he did in the game before against TCU (an overtime win for Oklahoma at home) — then the upset is in play.

Prediction: Young goes for 40 points again, barely turns the ball over and has a redemption game. Oklahoma winds up winning by 10, needing a second half rally.

Texas forward Jericho Sims (20) fights for position with Texas Tech center Norense Odiase (32) and guard Niem Stevenson (10) during a NCAA college basketball game in Austin, Texas, on Wednesday, Jan. 17, 2018. NICK WAGNER / AMERICAN-STATESMAN

4. Texas Tech at Iowa State, 1 p.m., ESPNU

Iowa State has now assumed last-place position in the Big 12. Their no-show against TCU on Wednesday was a little disappointing considering how they pushed Kansas in Allen Fieldhouse, beat Baylor convincingly at home and the Horned Frogs had just learned that Jaylen Fisher would be out for possibly the season.

Iowa State losing 96-73 and dropping to 10-7 on the year and 1-5 in Big 12 play means they are the first Big 12 team I’m eliminating from the NCAA Tournament contention.

Clearly, Monte Morris, Georges Niang  and Fred Hoiberg aren’t walking through those Hilton Coliseum doors.

But they can prove me wrong and say I’m dumb if they beat Texas Tech this Saturday!

Texas Tech is still the No. 8 team in KenPom after the loss to Texas and their defense is No. 4 and the offense No. 39. Iowa State has the worst defense in the league at No. 154 in KenPom and offensively No. 80. Altogether, they’re ranked No. 109 at KenPom.

Prediction: I’ll put it this way: If Tech loses at Iowa State on Saturday it’ll tell me way more about the Red Raiders than the Cyclones. I don’t  think that happens. Tech wins by eight.

Baylor head coach Scott Drew directs a play against Oklahoma State in the second half of an NCAA college basketball game, Monday, Jan. 15, 2018, in Waco, Texas. Baylor won 76-60. (Rod Aydelotte/Waco Tribune-Herald via AP)

3. Baylor at Kansas, 5 p.m., ESPN

Every game the Bears play will be one of the three most interesting games of the Big 12 slate.

Why? Because Baylor is good enough to beat any team in the Big 12 but flawed enough to lose to any team in the Big 12. They lost in Hilton last weekend to Iowa State. But they crushed Oklahoma State at home. They beat Texas in a runaway second half, but lost by three on the road to WVU.

So what are they going to do against Kansas in Lawrence (or as I call it when Scott Drew is in town: The Drew Dungeon)?

Drew has famously done some weird stuff to avoid the Phog-itis in the first half.  From earplugs to taking his team off the court, Drew has tried everything to avoid getting run out of Allen Fieldhouse. It never works.

Scott Drew has never won at Allen Fieldhouse. Drew is the longest tenured coach in the Big 12. Before this season, Drew and Kansas coach Bill Self had the same amount of losses in Allen Fieldhouse (10). Self, who coaches more than half his games in the building every year, finally has more losses in Allen Fieldhouse than Drew (12).

In fact, Baylor as a whole has never won at Allen Fieldhouse, 0-15 all-time.

How can Baylor finally win there? Kansas is not the same team without Azubuike. The 7-foot, 280 pound center has the nation’s best field goal percentage and has one of the best plus-minus stats in college basketball. Without him on the floor against West Virginia, Kansas was trailing by double-figures almost the whole game. With him on the floor, Kansas was rolling. Saturday he faces third best center in the league in Jo Lual-Acuil, the 7-foot, 225 pound senior.

However, the true stat to look at is Baylor’s 3-point defense. The Bears are fifth in the Big 12 in that category holding teams to 32.9 percent. Kansas shoots 41.1 percent from three. Kansas is second in the league in that category, the first-place team is TCU. The Horned Frogs beat Baylor in Waco 81-78 in overtime and were 1-of-12 against Baylor from 3-point range. That’s good perimeter defense. If Baylor plays like that, they’ll be fine.

If not?

Prediction: One of the greatest Kansas players ever died this week, Hall of Famer JoJo White. He’s best remembered for his NBA career with the Celtics, but White may be the best Jayhawk to play in the 1960s. He was tremendous. I say this because Kansas will likely honor him before the game, the crowd will feed off it and coming off Monday’s win in Morgantown, there’s a chance we could see most confident KU team of the season on Saturday. Also, Baylor is 0-4 on the road this season. I stand by my assessment last week when I wrote that Kansas won’t blow anyone out of the water, they’ll win a lot of games in the 5-11 point range, and that’s what I’m predicting: Kansas by 11.

Texas Christian’s Alex Robinson (25) puts up a a shot against Iowa State at Schollmaier Arena in Fort Worth, Texas, on Wednesday, Jan. 17, 2018. TCU won, 96-73. (Richard W. Rodriguez/Fort Worth Star-Telegram/TNS)

2. TCU at Kansas State, 3 p.m., ESPNU

What a mega showdown no one saw coming at the start of the season. TCU blowing the doors off Iowa State is a good kick-starter for a possible run at high-seed in the NCAA Tournament. At No. 24 in the nation, TCU’s rough start to Big 12 hasn’t impacted their AP ranking and suddenly the Horned Frogs find themselves in position to pick up a win that could have March implications.

Who thought that would be the case in October when K-State was projected as one of the worst teams?

This should be an incredible game. As stated earlier, Kansas State’s Wade is playing like one of the best players in the league. TCU is also adjusting to life without Fisher, but they looked really good against Iowa State on Wednesday.

Let’s look at stats: TCU is not good defensively. They are No. 130 in that area. But offensively, they are No. 4, which means they are the best in the league. It’s why Trae Young’s two best Big 12 games have come against TCU.

Kansas State is a little more balanced. They are No. 19 on offense and No. 99 on defense.

So far TCU’s offense looked pretty good for the most part against Texas’ top-10 defense, in fact they scored 98 points in the overtime loss to Texas. But their defense was so bad they allowed one of the worst offenses to score 99 points.

Kansas State’s statistically poor defense has been pretty good against elite offenses. They held Oklahoma to 69 points and Kansas to 73 points, so that’s weird.

Prediction: Kansas State is 9-1 at home this season. TCU is 1-2 on the road and the one win was an overtime victory at Waco. In fact, all three of those road games went into overtime for TCU (OU, UT and Baylor). The most Kansas State thing ever would be the Wildcats losing at home following the OU win. But I think K-State holds serve and beat TCU and just to follow the trend, I’ll say it’s an overtime game.

Texas head coach Shaka Smart shouts to his players during a NCAA college basketball game against Texas Tech in Austin, Texas, on Wednesday, Jan. 17, 2018. NICK WAGNER / AMERICAN-STATESMAN

1. Texas at West Virginia, 1 p.m., CBS

The first Big 12 game played on a national network will feature Texas and West Virginia. Sadly for the Big 12, the national TV audience maybe getting a rock fight in this one. WVU has the No. 9-ranked defense. Texas has the No. 6-ranked defense. Let the games begin!

The Longhorns maybe playing for an AP top 25 ranking while WVU will be playing to save their conference title hopes.

Texas pulled off its biggest win of the season against Texas Tech on Wednesday. West Virginia has now lost two games in a row since reeling off 15 straight wins and rising to No. 2 in the AP poll. A third loss in row looks as unlikely as Texas going 2-0 against Texas Tech and WVU following last weekend’s dud in Stillwater.

But here we are.

If Texas coach Shaka Smart is paying attention, WVU had a lot of blocked shots against Kansas, but they also really struggled when Kansas had their 7-foot center in the game controlling the paint. In a national TV game, Texas freshman Mo Bamba has a chance to shine against WVU. However, a freshman point guard going against WVU in Morgantowm? You could say the same thing about West Virginia senior point guard Jevon Carter.

Prediction: The Mountaineers have had the entire week to prepare for Texas. They also just lost at home. Before the Kansas game, they were 9-0 there. Texas is 2-2 on the road. I don’t envision this Bob Huggins team losing three games in a row and I really don’t see them losing to an all-freshman back court — assuming Texas starts Jase Febres and Matt Coleman. The old adage is you beat a pressing team by pressing, but that adage makes no sense when both teams like to press. I’m going with WVU to snap back to form and pull off the win.

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