Men's Basketball

12 Big things about Big 12 basketball: What to expect this week, month and moving forward

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Posted March 14th, 2018

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

12. The Big 12 Tournament and the Tweet of the Week

When Kansas announced Udoka Azubuike was not playing, I thought it was Kansas taking a pass on the Big 12 Tournament and being OK with a No. 2 seed in the NCAA Tournament. Yahoo! Sports writer Jeff Eisenberg tweeted this, and it’s my tweet of the week:

Kansas was going to hold Azubuike out and play a team in Oklahoma State in its first game that had just boat-raced them days earlier. Oklahoma State needed a third win over Kansas to get closer to the field (they actually needed a win over Kansas and Kansas State).

It didn’t happen. None of it happened. Instead, with Azubuike out, Kansas beat Oklahoma State, Kansas State and West Virginia by a combined 41 points and won the Big 12 Tournament in convincing fashion. They received a No. 1 seed.

That, really, was the only major story out of Kansas City. Had Texas lost to Iowa State, the Longhorns may not have made the field, but then again if I had changed majors in college, I might be the incoming Secretary of State today.

11. Where should the Big 12 Tournament be played?

Interesting chatter in Kansas City was the future home of the tournament:

And:

And then there was some noise from West Virginia fans, who had just seen their team lose in the championship game for the third year in a row, complaining about the tournament being in Kansas City– too close to Jayhawk Country — and being too far away from coal mines. The most comical take I saw was a West Virginia fan proposing a neutral site in Florida.

I think the most natural spot for the tournament is the most natural spot for all tournaments, Olympics and sporting events: the Dallas Metroplex. I’m not from Dallas. It’s a not a city that I dream of going to every day, but it’s a centralized location in the conference (and country) that the majority of the teams — the Texas schools and Oklahoma schools — can get to easily. It’s not too bad of a trip for Kansas schools and really no matter what the conference does, go look at a map, West Virginia is traveling a lot.

The thing I like the most about Kansas City, and one that Chuck Carlton cites, is that the community really embraces the basketball. And that’s because the two best Big 12 basketball fan bases– Kansas and Iowa State — are two of the closest schools to Kansas City. Kansas State and Oklahoma State round out the top five (in most seasons) fan bases and those schools are also relatively close to K.C.

I think the solution is a rotation of venues — Kansas City, Dallas, Oklahoma City and Houston/ San Antonio — would be pretty great. But, yeah, West Virginia, no matter what, you’re flying to a different time zone.

Oklahoma State forward Cameron McGriff (12) and Texas Tech guard Zhaire Smith, right, view for position in the second half of an NCAA college basketball game in Stillwater, Okla., Wednesday, Feb. 21, 2018. (AP Photo/Sue Ogrocki)

10. Did Oklahoma State get screwed by the committee?

Short answer is no, they didn’t.

It’s become standard Big 12 media talking point to complain about OSU’s exclusion and Oklahoma’s inclusion. But it was never between those schools. OSU needed Nevada and Rhode Island to win their tournaments to even have a shot at making it. Oklahoma was never a factor.

Oklahoma State shouldn’t blame the committee. They should blame their four conference home losses against Kansas State (by 10), Baylor (by 11), TCU (by 13) and West Virginia (by 6). You can’t lose three double-digit home games to schools that didn’t finish in the top three of the conference.

Oklahoma State should blame a non-conference schedule that lacked punch. The Cowboys have — had? — one of the best non-conference wins in the Big 12 with a road victory over Florida State. Losses to Wichita State, Arkansas and Texas A&M didn’t hurt them. But then you look at the other teams they played and beat — Tulsa is the best of the bunch — and you ask “why are you playing UT-Rio Grande Valley, Mississippi Valley State, Austin Peay, Houston Baptist and so on. To their defense, they had no idea Pitt was going to be this bad, and in most years the combo of the conference wins and wins over FSU and Pitt would be good enough to make the field in spite of a garbage schedule, but it wasn’t.

OSU didn’t have the RPI to make the field, even if they had the eye test to make.

Oklahoma State guard Brandon Averette (0) passes in front of Texas Tech guard Keenan Evans (12) in the first half of an NCAA college basketball game in Stillwater, Okla., Wednesday, Feb. 21, 2018. (AP Photo/Sue Ogrocki)

9. OSU’s schedule vs OU’s schedule

Since that seems to be the hot topic, when you blind resume OU and OSU, Oklahoma wins all the time.

OU’s worst game on the schedule is against one of these five teams: Omaha, Portland, North Texas, UTSA and Northwestern State. The Sooners played Oregon, Arkansas, Southern California, Wichita State, Northwestern and Alabama. The highlight moment was a 91-83 win over WSU on the road. People act as though OU lost every Big 12 game they played — close, but no — they beat Kansas, Texas Tech, Kansas State and TCU twice.

OSU needs to schedule better and not lose home games. OU was 13-2 in Norman this season compared to 13-5 record by OSU. Oklahoma was 7-2 in conference at home, Oklahoma State was 5-4.

Head coach Steve Prohm of the Iowa State Cyclones argues a call with the referee in the first half of play against the Texas Longhorns at Hilton Coliseum on February 13, 2016 in Ames, Iowa. (David Purdy/Getty Images)

8. The offseason of no coaching changes?

For the first time in several years, this offseason should yield no coaching changes in the Big 12. If it weren’t for Brad Underwood’s stunning decision to leave OSU after a year last season, it would have been two years in a row of no changes.

Bruce Weber was my pick for most likely coach to leave. But it seems as though Weber would be taking another job, maybe even a better/higher paying job, if he were to leave Kansas State (who should be one of the best in the conference next season) this offseason. Suffice it to say, he’s not getting fired.

With so many possible coaching changes this season — some from the recruiting scandals and others as a result from poor play — maybe you see a coach from the Big 12 leave. It would stun me if someone like Shaka Smart left when, like Weber at Kansas State, he’ll have his best team at Texas next season.

At this point I think old guards like Bill Self and Scott Drew are more likely to be buried at half court in their gyms than leave their programs. Same with West Virginia’s Bob Huggins, who seems more likely to run for governor than leave Morgantown.

Chris Beard appears to be a dude who loves Lubbock, although I’d be surprised if programs like Pittsburgh, Louisville or UConn didn’t check in on him during their searches.

Jamie Dixon is clearly in a happy place at TCU — always thought as a sleeping giant before he got there — with the program trending in the right direction. Mike Boynton won’t get coach of the year buzz from anyone. He should, but after one season, I can’t imagine a bigger program than OSU dumping money on him to entice him to leave Stillwater.

Oklahoma coach Lon Kruger, 65, is probably not leaving Norman until he decides to retire.

That leaves Steve Prohm at Iowa State. Frankly, I only see him leaving if two things happen: A job he really wants opens, like is alma mater Alabama — a program that has brushed with the national recruiting scandal and, second, Prohm takes another job just to stay out of the inevitable “Bring Fred Hoiberg back” buzz that could happen if the Chicago Bulls fire the former ISU coach and Prohm’s team gets off to a slow start next season.

That said, I think Prohm will, like Weber and Smart, have a great team next season if Lindell Wigginton returns to Ames.

Tournament Previews!

trae-young-oklahoma-sooners
Oklahoma guard Trae Young during an NCAA college basketball game against Baylor in Norman, Okla., Tuesday, Jan. 30, 2018. (AP Photo/Sue Ogrocki)

7. 10. Oklahoma (18-13) vs. No. 7 Rhode Island (25-7), Pittsburgh, 11:15 a.m., Thursday

A lot of people don’t give the slumping Sooners much of a chance against the A-10 regular season champs, the No. 49-ranked team in Kenpom. Las Vegas has the Rams favored by 1.5 points. I’d take the Sooners with points. Before people jump off the deep-end, let’s remember that Rhode Island did just lose to a 3-point dependent Davidson team and were crushed just a few weeks ago by St. Joseph’s.

In a recent podcast, ESPN analyst Seth Greenberg said he believes Trae Young damaged his relationship with his teammates when he took 39 shots in a loss to Oklahoma State. It does coincide with Oklahoma’s epic slide.

Let’s put blinders on and say that the A-10 has maybe two players in the league as good as Young (Jaylen Adams and E.C. Matthews). I think Young has a big game, but he’ll need to play like he did against Kansas in January for his team to win. In that game, Young racked up the assists (9) and controlled every facet of the game.

Too many people are dumping on Oklahoma right now, I’ll go against the grain and pick the Sooners to take on Duke. And that’s where they pack their knives and go.

Texas’ Jase Febres celebrates after the team’s NCAA college basketball game against Iowa State in the Big 12 men’s tournament Wednesday, March 7, 2018, in Kansas City, Mo. Texas won 68-64. (AP Photo/Charlie Riedel)

6. 10. Texas (19-14) vs. No. 7 Nevada (27-7), Nashville, 3:30 p.m. Friday

I may be crazy, but this game and the possible second round game they could play, matches up incredibly well for the Longhorns. If I was a great defensive team, like Texas is, I would want to play a great offense in the tournament. Great defenses tend to beat great offenses in these single game elimination tournaments. Nevada is a 1-point favorite, so Texas is sort of the underdog.

Here’s what I know about Nevada: They have the No. 10-ranked offense in the nation according to KenPom and the No. 105-ranked defense. They are overall No. 24 at KenPom. Twin brothers Caleb and Cody Martin are the best players with Caleb Martin, who averaged 20.2 points in conference play, being named the Mountain West Player of the Year and Newcomer of the Year. The Martins are transfers from North Carolina State.

San Diego State has the No. 36-ranked defense in the nation and just beat Nevada in the Mountain West Tournament by 17 points and led the Wolf Pack by 30 at halftime. Texas’ defense has played better offenses this season –Duke, Kansas and TCU all rank higher than the Wolf Pack and if you expand out, Texas has played two more top 15 offenses (Gonzaga and West Virginia — yea, I was surprised too).

Nevada has scored a lot, but against strong defenses in SDSU and Texas Tech, they have lost games.

You can look at all the stats, advances stats, rankings and schedules, but at the end of the day Nevada has not seen a team with a combo of Texas’ athletic ability, size and defensive pressure in a longtime. Offensively, Texas has really struggled, but all but one team in the Big 12 — ISU — has a worse defense than Nevada, and that includes TCU, who is the No. 104-ranked defense at KenPom. Texas, No. 94 at KenPom on offense, could find success.

Did I mention Mo Bamba is playing?

In a second round matchup, if I was the University of Cincinnati, I’d prefer to play the offensive team from the mid-major conference that my No. 2-ranked defense in the country can lock up, than the defensive team with size and athleticism from a power five conference that’s played almost exclusively tournament teams for three months. Oh, and we rarely bring it up, but Texas does have a coach who took a team to the Final Four once.  I’d probably still take UC to win, but it’s a terrible matchup for the Bearcats.

Kansas State guard Barry Brown (5) and forward Xavier Sneed (20) celebrate during the second half of the team’s NCAA college basketball game against Texas in Manhattan, Kan., Wednesday, Feb. 21, 2018. Kansas State defeated Texas 58-48. (AP Photo/Orlin Wagner)

5. No. 9 Kansas State (22-11) vs. No. 8 Creighton (21-11), Charlotte, 5:50 p.m. Friday

This is one of the best games of the first weekend — if Kansas State is healthy.

The Bluejays are two-point favorites. I like Creighton because of the Marcus Foster factor. What a terrible draw for Kansas State to have to play a former standout player — he averaged 14.1 points and hit 138 3-pointers as a freshman for K-State. That didn’t end well, and it was coach Greg McDermott who took a chance on Foster and he has been rewarded. The now junior guard averages 18.3 points per game and is one of the best guards in a league full of great guards.

Rough matchup for the Wildcats. If Dean Wade, who sat out against Kansas last week with a foot injury, isn’t 100 percent, I give the Wildcats little chance to beat a solid Big East team.

If Kansas State were to win and face the No. 1 overall seed in Virginia, who has significant injury issues, I think the run is over.

TCU guard Kenrich Williams (34) celebrates a three-pointer during a NCAA college basketball game against Texas in Austin, Texas, on Wednesday, Jan. 10, 2018. Nick Wagner/ American-Statesman

4.  No. 6 TCU (21-11) vs. either Arizona State or Syracuse, Detroit, 8:40 p.m., Friday

No matter who TCU plays on Thursday, it’ll be a tough matchup. Arizona State, who creamed Kansas in Allen Fieldhouse in December is a lot like the Jayhawks in that most of their starting lineup are guards. Syracuse also played Kansas, but the Jayhawks had little trouble with ‘Cuse.

Neither Syracuse or Arizona State have had a lot of mesmerizing moments in the last month and both of these teams are the most controversial tournament selections by the committee.

I would never want to play Jim Boeheim and Syracuse in the tournament. The zone defense, if you’re not ready for it, is just too tricky in March (look what happened to UCLA against St. Bonaventure on Tuesday). Baylor has a similar zone full of length and TCU beat Baylor 82-72 on Feb. 24 and 81-78 in overtime on Jan. 2 in Waco. With Desmond Bane, he of the best shot taken and made of the Big 12 Tournament last week, Kenrich Williams and Alex Robinson, TCU is a tough matchup. Syracuse has the No. 11-ranked defense in the nation according to KenPom. Read above for what I think of elite defenses against elite offenses, though Syracuse is system-based– they aren’t the 11th best defense if your offense torches zones.

At the end of the day, having watched both Syracuse and Arizona State play several times this season, I like TCU in both matchups. But in the second round they would possibly play Big Ten regular season champ — and popular tournament champion pick — Michigan State, so it’s go home time for TCU.

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. (Justin K. Aller/Getty Images)

3. No. 5 West Virginia (24-10) vs. No. 12 Murray State (26-5), San Diego, 3 p.m. Friday

The Mountaineers are 10.5 point favorites against a Racers team with only five losses, including a four-point defeat to SEC Champion Auburn (good for Bruce Pearl for taking the Tigers to Murray State). West Virginia has been shaky before in opening round games and Murray State is a decent 12 seed, the scariest of all double-digit seeds. The Racers are No. 56 in offense and No. 82 in defense and No. 59 overall at KenPom.

The Mountaineers have advanced past this game twice in three years, but last year they only beat Bucknell, a 14-seed, by six. In 2015, they beat Buffalo by six. In 2016 West Virginia was run out of the gym by Stephen F. Austin, 70-56. The press, if you have time to prepare for it, is beatable — it’s why you don’t see North Carolina, Duke and Kansas running it for 40 minutes. But when you don’t have time to prepare for it, can end your season, as West Virginia advanced with double-digit wins in 2015 and 2017.

I think West Virginia advances.

In the next game, it’s either Wichita State or Marshall. Even though Wichita State is by far the better team, I wonder if deep down WVU prefers the Shockers over in-state “rival” Marshall. The Thundering Herd would treat a game against WVU as the biggest in program history — not unlike Wichita State a few years ago when they played Kansas in the second round.

I like West Virginia’s chances to make the Sweet 16, but they aren’t beating No. 1 seed Villanova.

Keenan Evans #12 of the Texas Tech Red Raiders drives around Kameron McGusty #20 of the Oklahoma Sooners during the first half of the game on February 13, 2018 at United Supermarket Arena in Lubbock, Texas. (John Weast/Getty Images)

2.  No. 3 Texas Tech (28-6) vs. No. 14 Stephen F. Austin (24-9), Dallas, 8:27 p.m., Thursday

The Lumberjacks have the No. 178-ranked offense and the No. 69-ranked defense at KenPom and are 114th overall. Tech is No. 3 in defense and No. 46 in offense. Tech is justifiably an 11.5 point favorite and should cruise to the second round. Plus, there are a lot — like the most — Texas Tech alums in Dallas.

The next round Tech could play Florida or St. Bonaventure. Tech will be favored in both those games, but the most dangerous team would unquestionably be Florida. I see Tech making the Sweet 16, beating Purdon’t and falling to Villanova in the Elite Eight.

KU’s Udoka Azubuike (35) collects some high fives from his teammates after throwing down a dunk, giving Texas a good reason to call a timeout during the first half of Monday night’s game at Allen Fieldhouse on Feb. 26, 2018 in Lawrence, Kan. Kansas won, 80-70. (Rich Sugg/Kansas City Star/TNS)

1. No. 1 Kansas (27-7) vs. No. 16 Pennsylvania (24-8), Wichita, 1 p.m., Thursday

Stop it.

Kansas is not losing to Penn.

Is it a great matchup for Kansas? Not exactly. But even if Penn is statically good at shooting threes and limiting threes, and Azubuike may not be 100 percent, Kansas still has an overwhelming size and athleticism advantage and an overwhelming advance metric advantage:  Kansas is No. 9 at KenPom, No. 6 on offense and No. 46 on defense. Penn is No. 127 at KenPom, No. 203 on offense and No. 74 on defense.

Kansas has beaten West Virginia, Texas, Texas Tech, Oklahoma State, Kansas State and West Virginia again since late February, so yeah, Kansas looks like and is playing like a No. 1 seed.

The second-round game is much trickier for the Jayhawks. They’ll play either a N.C. State team that has beaten North Carolina and Arizona or Seton Hall, who beat Texas Tech and finished third in the Big East. Kansas matches up well with both teams — despite both having a good post player — because Kansas’ guards are superior.

Kansas’ potential second-round game could be more difficult than its possible Sweet 16 game (both Auburn and Clemson have suffered major injuries in the past few weeks and may not make the second weekend). Then Kansas would potentially play Duke or Michigan State in the Elite Eight. The No. 1 seed could be the underdog in both of those games. If Kansas plays Duke, the Jayhawks may not be going to the Final Four. But if Kansas plays Michigan State, Kansas may be going to the Final Four.

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