Eric Davis Jr. of the Texas Longhorns shoots a three-point shot during the game against the Texas Tech Red Raiders on January 31, 2018 at United Supermarket Arena in Lubbock, Texas. Texas Tech defeated Texas 73-71 in overtime. (Photo by John Weast/Getty Images)

Men's Basketball

12 Big things about Big 12 basketball: The halfway point of conference play

Posted February 1st, 2018

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

It’s halftime of the Big 12, it’s time to evaluate some things.

 Shai Gilgeous-Alexander #22 of the Kentucky Wildcats looks to pass against Sagaba Konate #50 of the West Virginia during last week’s win over the Mountaineers. (Justin K. Aller/Getty Images)

12. The SEC-Big 12 Challenge

The Southeastern Conference won the challenge for the first time last week with a 6-4 record. It took West Virginia blowing a 17-point lead, a double-digit halftime lead, at home and Oklahoma State senior Mitchell Solomon missing a shot under the rim at Arkansas for the SEC to win.

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Last week I wrote the Big 12 would go 8-2 in the challenge.

I was dead wrong.

Iowa State never showed up for its home game with Tennessee (but then beats WVU at home by 16), TCU lost to a 13-loss Vanderbilt team (now 14-loss team) and Oklahoma couldn’t build off the momentum of beating Kansas to top Alabama on the road. I’m not going to say the Big 12 is overrated because teams lost six times and three of those games could have easily gone the other way.

I will say that the “potential Final Four teams” in the Big 12 dwindled to two teams. West Virginia and Oklahoma are not them. Kansas never really had any issues with a talented, under-achieving Texas A&M squad still projected as an NCAA participant by Joe Lunardi, and Texas Tech won on one of the toughest home courts in the challenge, at South Carolina.

My faith in TCU as a strong tourney team is fading, even after the Frogs’ road win at Stillwater. Baylor doesn’t look like it wants to play postseason basketball, and Iowa State looks like a squad that can only win league home games.

The SEC-Big 12 Challenge revealed that while there are a lot of good teams in the Big 12, there aren’t a lot of elite teams.

Kansas head coach Bill Self during the first half of Monday’s game against Kansas State in Manhattan, Kan. (AP Photo/Orlin Wagner)

11. The first half All-Big 12 awards

My first team, by position:

C: Mo Bamba, Texas

PF: Dean Wade, Kansas State

SF: Kenrich Williams, TCU

SG: Svi Mykhailiuk, Kansas

PG: Trae Young, Oklahoma

My top 5 players, regardless of position:

1. Young

2. Devonté Graham, Kansas

3. Keenan Evans, Texas Tech

4. Mykhailiuk

5. Jevon Carter, West Virginia

Young is clearly having the best season in the Big 12. He leads the nation is scoring and assists — he scored 31 of his 44 points in the second half against Baylor on Tuesday. Bamba is the league’s best defender and center. Wade has been awesome this year for the league’s biggest surprise, Kansas State.

Go watch the last four games, and tell me if anyone outside Bamba is playing better than Mykhailiuk. He’s averaging 17 points in conference play while shooting 49.7 percent from 3-point range — that’s nine percentage points better than Young and first in the league.

Williams is the most important player for TCU and is second in the league in steals.

My other list is just to show how hard it is to make an All-Big 12 team as a guard when there are so many good players. The type of season Graham and Evans are having would win them most conferences’ player of the year honors while Carter isn’t disappointing in his senior season.

Player of the Year: Young

His sometimes inefficient play and poor shot selection could prevent his team from making the Final Four, but it’s not going to — nor should it — prevent him from winning nearly every POY award this season. He was not great against Alabama, but then he follows that with another 40-point performance in league play this week.

Defensive Player of the Year: Bamba

The blocks and the fear of the block is making him the best defender in college basketball. He had five blocked shots against Texas Tech on Wednesday to give 95 blocks this season, a Big 12 freshman record.

Newcomer of the Year: Dylan Osetkowski, Texas

Osetkowski has been so reliable for the Longhorns this season and is averaging 14.5 points and 7.3 rebounds.

However, if there’s one award I think could change between now and March it’s this one. Malik Newman at Kansas is starting to play like the former McDonald’s All-American he was in high school. Kansas State’s Cartier Diarra’s insertion into the starting lineup has coincided with Kansas State’s recent four-game winning streak that was snapped on Monday. He’s a red shirt freshman, so I’m not sure on the award rules. Also, Kansas sophomore Udoka Azubuike, who missed all of Big 12 play last season with a wrist injury, currently leads the nation in field goal shooting percentage and would break a conference record if he keeps his 76.4 percent steady.

Freshman of the Year: Young

He’s a freshman. He’s the also the Player of the Year. If he doesn’t get it, it’ll be political by the voters. If he doesn’t get it, Bamba should. But if Bamba is DPOY, who do you give it to? And if Bamba isn’t DPOY, does that mean Jevon Carter won it? I’ll just keep it simple and say if Young is the best player in the league, he’s the best freshman in the league.

Coach of the Year: Bill Self, Kansas

I had to do it. I waited to see what happened on Monday before writing this.

Kansas State coach Bruce Weber’s squad was picked eighth in the Big 12 preseason poll and yet they are 5-4 and in third-place. If Weber finishes above .500 in league play, he’s going to be voted as COY, but only if Tech drops off.

Chris Beard is going to win this award if Tech finishes second or better in league play.

However, we’ve spent the last two months lavishing this league with praise about how deep it is. And we’ve spent last two months saying how Kansas is flawed (they are) and has no depth (it’s gotten better). Yet, Kansas went 7-2 in the first half and sits alone in first-place with five home games left in conference play. If Kansas doesn’t win the league by multiple games with this much margin of error, don’t pick Self as the coach of the year.

But don’t dismiss the job he’s done because his team was unanimously selected to win the league and ranked in top five of the AP top 25 preseason poll. The Hall of Famer is 18-4 despite playing the majority of the season with a seven-man rotation. He’s faced off-court issues with Billy Preston, had a player go from high school hoops to college hoops in two weeks and has dealt with players underachieving, like Lagerald Vick and Newman, for long stretches during the season.

Self’s team has also won six games by six points or less in league play. And now Kansas looks like its improving with every game they play– they beat Kansas State by 14 in the Octagon of Doom on Monday.

Not taking Azubuike out of the game in the final minutes against Oklahoma was bad on Self. But it shouldn’t overshadow the fact that in a league where road teams are losing almost every night, Kansas is 4-1 in Big 12 road games.

Texas Tech fans celebrate after the team’s 73-71 overtime win over Texas Wednesday. (AP Photo/Brad Tollefson)

10. 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

Had Texas pulled off the win over the Red Raiders the Longhorns might have been here. But instead, Evans did this:

The Red Raiders are still the biggest threat to knock off the Jayhawks and end the streak. They have a senior playing at a high level, making big shots and leading his team to wins. I have a little concern that the Tech offense looks less diverse than a month ago — the Zach Smith injury may have something to do with that. As great as Evans is, the Red Raiders should probably avoid relying on one player for half of their points.

Texas Tech and Kansas play again on Feb. 24 in Lubbock.

The Longhorns beating Texas Tech would have moved them into a tie for third-place in the league and just two games out of first. It would have been the third win in a row.

There’s one problem in all this: Texas Tech isn’t quite humming like they were a month ago, West Virginia is crumbling and Oklahoma is 2-3 in its last five games. Kansas State was the hottest team in the league entering the week, but lost by double-digits at home. The team that’s improved most over the last three weeks is the team everyone is chasing, who beat K-State by 14 on Monday. A 5-point loss on the road to OU is the only loss Kansas has suffered since Jan. 2.

9. Tweet of the Week

Coach: Don’t shoot that. Don’t shoot that. Don’t shoot that. Don’t you dare shoot that. %$#@, he’s going to shoot it, isn’t he?

Coach: YES! I told him to him to shoot it!

8. GameDay to the Big 12

Texas will host GameDay on Saturday before the Longhorns play Oklahoma. Read more on this here. 

With just five more Saturdays following this week before the NCAA Tournament begins, are there any other programs that could host GameDay?

Here the two best guess:

West Virginia at Kansas, Feb. 17: If GameDay comes to Lawrence this year, this is it because it’s the last Saturday home game of the year following this week’s game against OSU. Not sure if College GameDay would do a West Virginia game again, and who knows if the Mountaineers will even be ranked at that point.

Kansas at Texas Tech, Feb. 24: This is the biggest game of the season if both Kansas and Texas Tech continue stay at the top of the rankings. The chances of GameDay being in Lubbock for this one are very good.

West Virginia forward Logan Routt walks off the court after the team’s 93-77 loss to Iowa State Wednesday. (AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall)

7. West Virginia needs to get off these rough country roads

Oh, my, West Virginia.

The classic tale of one loss turning into two might be responsible for West Virginia’s latest flop to Iowa State in Ames, 93-77.

Life has been tough in West Virginia since they rose to No. 2 in the AP rankings. They are 1-5 since the return of second leading scorer from last season, Esa Ahmad, on Jan. 13, which makes it even stranger.

It reminds me of Texas in 2009-2010. 

West Virginia is offensively challenged. They are the classic tale of how sometimes advanced metrics lie.

At KenPom, West Virginia has the No. 30-ranked offense. But at Joe Harrington’s eyeballs, that offense looks like it could have trouble scoring in junior varsity basketball game.

This is why teams comeback on the Mountaineers. They have to score points to set up the press, and when the offense stalls and they miss shots, the press can’t get set up — and I feel like we write that every year for Press Virginia. The Mountaineers sometimes look clueless on offense if their pressure defense doesn’t work.

And that’s another issue. West Virginia has such a reputation for defense and pressing that people forget that this team can really struggle in half court sets defensively. It’s why West Virginia has gone from being No. 10 at KenPom in adjusted defensive efficiency to No. 30 in a matter of a few weeks.

I think West Virginia is a team that, in a tournament setting, will have a tough first game, but if they win, could easily get to the Sweet 16. If you’re prepared to play West Virginia, the Mountaineers can be beat. If you haven’t prepared — or prepared well — West Virginia can demolish teams. It’s why Big 12 teams are having success against them.

TCU guard Desmond Bane lays up a shot Tuesday’s 79-66 TCU win over Oklahoma State. (AP Photo/Brody Schmidt)

6. TCU and the NCAA Tournament

ESPN’s Joe Lunardi has TCU landing as a No. 8 seed. 

CBS’ Jerry Palm has TCU as a No. 9 seed

KenPom ranks TCU as the No. 20 team in the nation. 

They are safely in. And their record of 16-6 is really good. But TCU was 3-5 in the Big 12 entering the week and couldn’t afford to lose to Oklahoma State on the road Tuesday, they won by double figures. Entering the second half of league play, they have five home games left.

That means nothing, apparently. TCU is 2-2 at home in the Big 12, tied with Iowa State and Baylor for the worst in the league. They are 2-3 on the road. They’ll play Texas Tech twice in nine games and they have road games against Kansas and West Virginia in the second half.

If you looked at the schedule, it looks like TCU would have to steal a handful of games where they’d be the heavy underdog in to finish .500. That should be enough to get a team in the tournament. Where they’ll be seeded is another story.

Weekend Previews

Kansas’ Devonte’ Graham drives during the first half of Saturday’s game against Texas A&M. (AP Photo/Charlie Riedel)

5. Oklahoma State at Kansas, 11 a.m., CBS

Oklahoma State just lost at home 79-66 and now the Cowboys travel to Lawrence to play Kansas, who just snapped Kansas State’s 4-game winning streak in Manhattan.

The game is a national one for CBS. The Network of Stars knows how to pick’em.

Prediction: If Kansas is going to beat a Big 12 team by 20 points this is it.

Baylor guard Manu Lecomte (20) shoots as Oklahoma forwards Kristian Doolittle (21) and Brady Manek (35) defend during the second half of an NCAA college basketball game in Norman, Okla., Tuesday, Jan. 30, 2018. (AP Photo/Sue Ogrocki)

4. Iowa State at Baylor, 7 p.m., ESPN2

Just when I’m always ready to declare Iowa State’s NCAA Tournament dreams over, the Cyclones go out and beat a ranked team. Following the Tennessee game, there was no way Iowa State was still within earshot of the tournament. Then the Cyclones beat West Virginia by 16 at home — a few weeks removed from beating Texas Tech at home by 18 — and we’re back to wondering if, at 12-9 overall and 3-6 in conference play, Iowa State can work itself in the field.

I guess they could? I think what Iowa State is showing is that Steve Prohm and his staff do a good job scouting the Big 12 and the home court atmosphere gives the team an added spark to go from looking terrible on the road (lost 96-73 loss at TCU) to beating Tech and WVU.

If ISU wants to make the tournament, they have to beat a Baylor team that’s becoming very hard to figure out.

Had Baylor scored the upset over Oklahoma this week, they lost 98-96 in Norman, this would be a different story. But the Bears have the worst overall record, 12-10, and the worst Big 12 record, 2-7. This may not be coach Scott Drew’s year to make the tournament. Baylor would have to win this game at home and the rest of their home games (four after this one) to really have a chance.

That would be wins against Kansas, Oklahoma, Texas Tech and West Virginia. I don’t think Baylor is going 4-0 in those games.

Predictions: Iowa State is not good on the road, 1-5 on the year and 0-4 in Big 12, Baylor is 9-3 in Waco. Baylor wins this game.

TCU Horned Frogs head coach Jamie Dixon talks to his team during a time out against West Virginia in an NCAA basketball game In Fort Worth, TX Monday, Jan. 22, 2018. (AP Photo/ Richard W. Rodriguez)

3. Texas Tech at TCU, 1 p.m., ESPNU

Pretty great game here. Texas Tech is coming off a terrific win over Texas with a buzzer-beating shot in over-time. TCU had a nice bounce back win on the road against Oklahoma State on Tuesday.

TCU needs this win more than Texas Tech. They already beat West Virginia at home — but everyone is beating West Virginia these days — and another win over a ranked team could help them get off the 8-9 line of the bracket and into a better seed.

Prediction: TCU holds steady at home.

FILE – In this Monday, Jan. 22, 2018, file photo, West Virginia head coach Bob Huggins reacts during an NCAA college basketball game against TCU in Fort Worth, Texas. Over the past three weeks, West Virginia went from the nation’s longest winning streak to its worst slump in four years. The Mountaineers have lost four of their last five games, including surrendering double-digit leads in the second half in losses to No. 10 Texas Tech, No. 7 Kansas and No. 21 Kentucky.
(AP Photo/Richard W. Rodriguez, File)

2. Kansas State at West Virginia, 3 p.m., ESPN2

The bleeding has to stop at some point for West Virginia.

Kansas State is No. 76 in defense at KenPom. West Virginia isn’t going to play a lot of teams with defenses that bad the rest of the year. It’s all about that side of the ball. If WVU can’t make shots, they can’t set up the press following the make and they aren’t as good defensively when they are forced to play half-court defense.

For Kansas State, the loss to Kansas may have been a jolt they needed. After barely surviving Georgia in the SEC-Big 12 Challenge at home the Wildcats were thumped by the Jayhawks in the Final Sunflower Showdown game.

Prediction: West Virginia has to wake up sometime, and I think if one loss could lead to a second loss, Kansas State could be in trouble. Mountaineers get this one.

Texas guard Eric Davis Jr. (10) shoots 3-pointer during the Longhorns’ win over TCU earlier in the month. (Nick Wagner/American-Statesman)

1. Oklahoma at Texas, 5 p.m., ESPN

I wrote about this game on Monday. I still feel Texas matches up well against Oklahoma.

But I feel less confident about it.

Texas allowed 38 points to Evans on Wednesday. Against Texas, WVU guard Jevon Carter scored 22, Baylor’s Manu Lecomte scored 17, TCU guards Jaylen Fisher and Alex Robinson combined for 27 and Kansas guard Devonté Graham scored 23.

How many points is Trae Young going to score on this Texas team? He just scored 31 in a half against Baylor and 44 for the game.

Texas is No. 4 in KenPom on defense, and OU has struggled against good defenses all season.

But as we know, OU coach Lon Kruger is not afraid to foul teams and put them on the line if they can’t make them, Texas is shooting a league-low 66 percent on the stripe and just lost a game because of it.

Prediction: I still like Texas in this game.

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