Posted March 1st, 2018
Each week I give you 12 things to know about Big 12 men’s basketball.
12. Sorry, Big 12. No one knocked off the Jayhawks
All year long I’ve had our “Kansas de-throner power rankings.”
Texas Tech was at the top more than any other team, but once the Red Raiders lost a healthy Keenan Evans, its chances of winning the league dimmed. A loss to Oklahoma State on the road last week and a loss to Kansas at home, where they hadn’t been beat all season, sealed at least a share of the league for the Jayhawks.
On Monday Kansas made sure it wasn’t sharing with anyone. The Jayhawks jumped to an early lead and coasted the rest of the way for an 80-70 win.
Sometimes when I’m playing Madden or NBA 2K18, I get so good at the game that I go beyond increasing the difficulty level to make it tougher to win. I’ll use lower-rated players, I’ll trade good players for draft picks and then I’ll make the game so difficult that I can’t win, until I do. It keeps it more interesting.
I kind of thought of this when I saw a Kansas team win the league with a seven-man rotation and one true center. Kansas gave three scholarships last offseason to transfers who couldn’t play this year. They offered another scholarship to a 6-foot-9-inch graduate transfer hailing from William & Mary, Jack Whitman, only to see him leave the program in July. Before we even mention the 2017 McDonald’s All-American who wasn’t there, Billy Preston, Kansas starting the season with four transfers who couldn’t play (one became eligible in December) and an open scholarship. So, that’s five scholarships unavailable. Then Preston was held out, giving Kansas just seven scholarship players. Those seven players have been the rotation all year.
Kansas is now up to nine available scholarship players, but the two (Sam Cunliffe and Silvio De Sousa) hardly/never play. This type of roster crunch could have easily been avoided had Kansas planned differently, or not seen two players transfer out of the program at the end of last season (Carlton Bragg and Dwight Coleby).
It leads me to jokingly ask this:
Is Kansas getting bored winning this league?
They aren’t, I’m sure, but there seemed to be some, pardon the pun, Self-sabotage with this roster.
Then again, is there any doubt that Kansas’ five best players are better than every Big 12 team’s five best players? I guess coach Bill Self knew this all along.
11. Why Kansas wins the league every year
It starts with this: Name the other true-blue “basketball school” in the conference? And when I saw “true-blue” I mean a school where it’s football program clearly takes the backseat to basketball.
Iowa State? They love basketball, but do they love it more than their football program?
West Virginia? No, that’s a university that would prefer to be great at football and just OK at basketball– which is the opposite of what it is now.
All the other schools I could list are clearly football-centric
Kansas is the only basketball school in the conference.
Without focusing on the FBI investigation, the athletic department and boosters pump money into the program in terms of the facilities and coaches that far surpass any program in the league. Naively, I’ll say great talent flocks to Kansas because of quality coaches, great facilities and why wouldn’t you want to play in front of 16,300-plus people 15 or 16 times a year as opposed to, well, look at the attendance numbers in the Big 12.
Kansas wins the league every year because it consistently brings in great talent, has the best coach and best coaching staff and, frankly, cares more about basketball than nine other athletic departments in the league. And on the flip side, Kansas is the worst football program in a Power 5 conference, so all this is pretty clear.
I would bet if you dug in and looked at all 22 Big 12 preseason polls, Kansas is probably in the top three or four in more than 95 percent of them. If a team is picked in the top four of a conference preseason poll, it probably means they’re one of the favorites to win the league. Kansas winning a league most people expect them to win every year is a program consistently meeting expectations.
10. Is one team winning the Big 12 bad for the league?
No one ever says this about Oklahoma football, which has won 11 of the 22 Big 12 football championships, including the last three and seven since 2006.
It’s different, I know, but the league isn’t weak because one team wins every year and that one team just consistently does it better than the rest of the league. The most losses a team in the league had entering conference play this season was three. Most had two losses, two teams had one loss and one team was undefeated entering Big 12 play. The one-loss and undefeated teams weren’t Kansas.
Yes, Big 12 teams don’t always do well in the tournament, but that’s so silly to judge a conference by that standard– a single elimination tournament where success is usually based on matchups in one game doesn’t prove the conference is bad.
And that lack of tournament success is sometimes misleading. Two years ago the Big 12 sent three teams to the Sweet 16, two teams to the Elite Eight and one team to the Final Four. Last season three Big 12 teams reached the Sweet 16 and one reached the Elite Eight. It’s not the ACC, but then again, the ACC has more teams that its other member schools just roll over — see: Panthers, Pitt.
Eventually the field will end Kansas’ streak. The Jayhawks have had so much luck in the last 14 seasons with injuries both on its roster and on other rosters. The only significant injury that comes to mind the Jayhawks endured was Joel Embiid’s in 2014, and yet that hurt Kansas’ tournament hopes more than its league chances. On other teams, if Keenan Evans doesn’t get hurt this season, does Texas Tech win the league? If Blake Griffin doesn’t get hurt, do the Sooners win the league? What about Texas’ LaMarcus Aldridge’s injury in 2004-2005, in year one of the streak?
Also, I will say the “Kansas gets all the calls” excuse isn’t a reason they win it every year. It takes more than that to win a league. Bad calls in the Big 12 go both ways in every game — the officiating in the league for basketball and football has had major issues for years. The fact that no Big 12 team gets more high-profile, prime time games than Kansas just makes people more aware of it.
Kansas winning the league every season and thus making it a bad league is only true if you don’t look at the numbers and you don’t think Kansas would be this dominant in other leagues. Would Kansas do this in the ACC? Probably not. Would Kansas be one of the favorites to win the ACC every year if they were? Probably.
9. Big 12 postseason awards
This could be a weird year where the National Player of the Year comes from a conference where he didn’t win conference player of the year. I don’t think Trae Young is going to win National Player of the Year anymore. Not when players from elite teams like Villanova, Xavier, Kansas, Texas Tech, Michigan State and Ohio State may have better candidates.
I think the conference player of the year honors were wrapped up in Lubbock on Saturday when Kansas senior Graham willed his team to victory. His stats are good, but it’s more than that. He trails Young in scoring and assists averages, but he also is the reason his team won the league.
If Young really believes he’s being scouted and defended differently than any player in the country — as he said after a loss to Texas on Feb. 17 — he should have been paying attention in the Kansas film study, because Graham gets similar treatment. The difference is Graham doesn’t settle for 35-foot prayers that stopped going in during the month of February.
That said, here is who I would pick:
Player of the Year: Devonte Graham, Kansas, senior
Coach of the Year: Bruce Weber, Kansas State
I can make an argument for Chris Beard and Bill Self, but Weber entered this season as the most likely coach to be shown the door at the end of the season. The team had low, low, low expectations, which normally I wouldn’t factor that into my coach of the year honors — it’s thinking like that that gives Tubby Smith a conference coach of the year award despite a sub .500 league record. But Weber turned this quagmire of a team into a solid top-half of the league squad. He also has them positioned to challenge for the league title next season, as most of these players are back.
Defensive Player of the Year: Mo Bamba, Texas
Freshman of the Year: Trae Young, Oklahoma
He could still win National Player of the Year and does lead the nation in scoring and assists per game averages.
Newcomer of the Year: Malik Newman, Kansas/ Dylan Osetkowski, Texas
I’m not sure who is going to win this award. Both Osetkowski and Newman are transfers who emerged as important role players for their teams. It would be odd for the league to give multiple individual awards to a Texas team that could finish outside the top five of the standings, but if they deserve them, they deserve them.
Also look at Texas Tech’s Brandone Francis, a Florida transfer, who has performed at a high-level of the Red Raiders but not as high as Osetkowski and Newman.
Of course they could go with another freshman here which would probably be Lindell Wigginton of Iowa State or Zhaire Smith or Jarrett Culver of Texas Tech.
All-Big 12 first team (the league didn’t care about positions last season, so here we go):
Guard: Graham, Kansas
Guard: Young, Oklahoma
Guard: Evans, Texas Tech
Guard: Jevon Carter, West Virginia
Center: Mo Bamba, Texas
Guard: Sviatoslav Mykhailiuk, Kansas
Forward: Kenrich Williams, TCU
Forward: Dean Wade, Kansas State
Center: Udoka Azubuike, Kansas
Center: Jo Lual-Acuil, Baylor
Guard: Manu Lecomte, Baylor
Guard: Wigginton, Iowa State
Guard: Jeffrey Carroll, Oklahoma State
Forward: Vladimir Brodziansky, TCU
Center: Sagaba Konate, West Virginia
8. The FBI and the Big 12
Kansas, Oklahoma State and Texas have all been caught up in the FBI investigation. Jeffrey Carroll was held out of several games earlier this season when the school announced they where looking further into his situation, but he was quickly, relatively, cleared soon after and has not been directly named in any of the reports. Of course a Cowboy assistant coach was arrested in October, so they are heavily involved.
Texas has lost the services of junior guard Eric Davis Jr. for the time being after a Yahoo! Sports report last week. Former Kansas guard Josh Jackson was also named in the report along, but Kansas also had issues with freshman Billy Preston earlier this season that haven’t been directly linked to the FBI case.
As of now, it looks like only Texas is dealing with a current player being named but that could change if another news dump by ESPN or Yahoo! surfaces.
7. Big 12 Tournament seedings
If the tournament started today, and this weekend’s games could change things, here would be the seedings based on standings:
- Kansas (13-4)
- West Virginia (11-6)
- Texas Tech (10-7)
- TCU (9-8)
- Kansas State (9-8)
- Baylor (8-9)
- Oklahoma (7-10)
- Oklahoma State (7-10)
- Texas (7-10)
- Iowa State (4-13)
Only Kansas and Iowa State are locked into their seeds. Everything else is pending on Saturday and likely to need second or third tiebreakers.
Kansas would play the winner of Texas-Oklahoma State. Iowa State, meanwhile would play Oklahoma. The rest of the matchups would be Texas Tech-Baylor and Kansas State-TCU. Again, that can all change starting this Friday.
The top four teams in the league will all play next Thursday, semifinals are on Friday and the championship game on Saturday.
Who’s my pick to win it all? If Keenan Evans is back to being Keenan Evans, my money is on Texas Tech. West Virginia has not been great away from Morgantown this year and teams in the league have beaten that press on the road. Kansas is playing for a No. 1 seed, but they have the smallest bench, so three games in a row — can Devonte Graham play 120 minutes in three days? — is not ideal.
My darkhorse team to win it is Baylor. The Bears play a tricky zone, have great shot blockers and a solid backcourt.
Biggest “need to win to make the Big Dance game” of the tournament? If Texas has to play Oklahoma State on Wednesday, given what we saw in the first two games, I expect that to be one of the best games in Kansas City. Texas wins and they, no matter what happens on Saturday, move closer to the dance with a game against Kansas coming up. If OSU wins, they’ll play Kansas for the second time in five days on Thursday and third time since the start of February– another win over Kansas ought to make them a tournament team, right?
6. What was the story of the year in Big 12 play?
The reaction of the league following Andrew Jones’ leukemia diagnosis is the story of the year in Big 12 basketball. The league came together and supported him and put aside rivalries. It was cool to see. Also, there was great, great, wonderful news this week:
— Texas Men's Basketball (@TexasMBB) February 26, 2018
On the court, Kansas’ streak aside, the story of league play is the rise and crash of Oklahoma. A team that was a top-5 squad in the nation at one point lost nine of 11 games and was 1-7 in the final month. The Sooners and Young went from the talk of the college basketball world to the bubble, where they remain the talk of the college basketball world.
OU’s win over Kansas State at home this past weekend snapped a six-game losing streak. But then the were blown off the court for the third time in three games when Baylor beat the Sooners 87-64 on Wednesday.
I’m not ready to eliminate them from the tournament yet. Not when Texas and Baylor have either the same record or one more win than Oklahoma. The difference is Texas and Baylor spread their losses out over the season. Oklahoma has lost seven of its 12 games in one month. Oklahoma has one bad loss on the resume, and that’s just because Iowa State has to be considered a bad loss now that the Cyclones are likely to finish below .500 this season.
A second loss to Iowa State, and Oklahoma needs to win a game in the Big 12 Tournament to get back in the field of 68.
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The final slate of Big 12 regular season games
5. Kansas at Oklahoma State, 3 p.m., ESPN
Means more to Oklahoma State, but Kansas probably wants a No. 1 seed. Also, Bill Self has never been swept in Big 12 play.
4. Iowa State at Oklahoma, 8 p.m., Friday, ESPN2
If Oklahoma loses at home to the last-place team in the league, the Sooners may not make the tournament.
3. TCU at Texas Tech, 3 p.m., ESPN2
Texas Tech has lost four games in a row, including one at home. It won’t matter, though, if Evans is healthy or not, Tech is loaded with seniors and they won’t let this team lose on Senior Night (Senior Day?).
Pick: Texas Tech.
2. Baylor at Kansas State, 1 p.m., ESPN
Probably the best game of the day, but Baylor is closer to a tournament lock than some think, especially after a dominating performance on Wednesday. Kansas State has one senior, so the emotions won’t be as high as usual. But Baylor is hot right now.
1. West Virginia at Texas, 11 a.m., ESPN
Maybe it’s all the terrific journalism I’m reading right here on Hookem.com telling me that this is the ultimate game for Texas to win. I think that’s a bit dramatic. Texas can lose this game and still enter the Big 12 Tournament as a likely NCAA team. They won’t get punished for losing to a very good West Virginia team hitting its stride. But a win here does lock up a seed, meaning that the potential OSU game in Kansas City won’t matter much. West Virginia has not been great away from Morgantown, and Mo Bamba has all week to get treatment. Also, is it just me or is Texas playing more confident in the last two games?