Men's Basketball

12 Big things about Big 12 basketball: And then there were 4

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Posted March 21st, 2018

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

Some goodbyes to …

12. Oklahoma freshman Trae Young and Texas freshman Mo Bamba

The Big 12 Freshman of the Year and one of the best offensive players college basketball has seen in a decade is headed to the NBA. Trae Young announced he was heading to the next level on ESPN. 

No one is surprised.

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“I’ve been preparing most of my life to join the NBA, and that time has come for me now: After an unforgettable year at the University of Oklahoma, I will enter the June NBA draft and fully immerse myself in the pursuit of a pro basketball career,” Young (or Adrian Wojnarowski) wrote.

So what is Young’s legacy in terms of the Big 12? Well, you can make the case that in the 22 years of Big 12 play, no player has been hailed and maligned as much as Young. He led the nation in scoring and assists (27.4 points and 8.7 assists), but he also took some of the worst shots a player can take and some suggested that Young lost his teammate’s trust because of it. Still, the numbers are the numbers and, yeah, Trae Young was great this season.

People talk about Oklahoma’s epic collapse as if the Sooners weren’t a young team coming off an 11-win season last year. Young is almost solely responsible for the the seven game improvement.

Obviously teams figured him out after the first round of conference play and that’s why Oklahoma went from a top-5 team to one many didn’t think deserved a tournament invite. They quieted those critics when they took the Atlantic 10 champion Rhode Island into overtime during a losing effort.

Most have Young going in the top 10 of the draft.

A few hours after Young declared, the better NBA prospect — I’m just saying announced he was leaving in Texas senior Mo Bamba. 

Again, no one is surprised.

The 7-footer from New York was one of the best recruits of the 2017 cycle and he lived up to it. Bamba was robbed as Big 12 Defensive Player of the Year after averaging nearly four blocks a game. He was a complete difference maker on that side. His offensive performance wasn’t helped by his team’s total lack of offensive identity during the season, but he’s probably the second greatest one-and-done Longhorn of all-time.

Most have Bamba going in the top five of the draft.

Baylor’s Mark Vital (11) tries to keep the ball from going out of bounds during the second half against West Virginia in an NCAA college basketball game in the Big 12 men’s tournament Thursday, March 8, 2018, in Kansas City, Mo. (AP Photo/Charlie Riedel)

11. Baylor Bears Basketball

We’ll drop in on the Not Invited Tournament, because unless you’re a die-hard Baylor fan, people reading this column probably didn’t know that the Bears were a No. 1 seed in the NIT and beat Wagner 80-59 in the first round.

Unfortunately, Baylor was upset in the second round at home by Mississippi State, so the season is over.

Few teams lose as much as Baylor will this offseason. The team’s best players, Jo Lual-Acuil and Manu Lecomte, are gone. So is Big 12 Sixth Man of the Year Terry Maston and one of Baylor’s most dangerous players this season, Nuni Omot.

Tyson Jolly is set to transfer according to reports.

Even with the addition of Austin Westlake product Matthew Mayer, Virginia product Flo Thamba, Florida product Darius Allen and Arkansas product Ibrahim Ali, Baylor is likely still needing to fill out their roster.

Leonard Allen didn’t play at all this season and his name has been removed from the roster page of the team’s site. So that means Baylor has four open scholarships as it stands now. According to 247 Sports, Baylor has some recruiting targets, but none of them are 4-star, difference making recruits on paper (Texas Tech’s 3-star guys from a year ago look pretty good in this tournament, right?).

With that many open scholarships, and a recruiting class that is already four deep, Baylor looks like a prime landing spot for a transfer and a graduate transfer or two.

Baylor has been so consistent under coach Scott Drew, but next year, with the team relying on Mark Vital, King McClure and Jake Lindsey as the best players, it could be a true rebuilding year in Waco.

PITTSBURGH, PA – MARCH 15: Trae Young #11 of the Oklahoma Sooners is defended by Fatts Russell #2 of the Rhode Island Rams in the first half of the game during the first round of the 2018 NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament at PPG PAINTS Arena on March 15, 2018 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Justin K. Aller/Getty Images)

10. Oklahoma Sooners basketball

Young scored 28 points and had seven assists as Oklahoma lost to No. 7 seed Rhode Island in the first round of the NCAA Tournament. They didn’t get blown out, as some suggested, and they even led at halftime, 35-31. Rhode Island rallied and forced overtime and wound up winning 83-78.

Had OU won they would have had to play No. 2 seed Duke in the next round. Duke dispatched Rhode Island 87-62.

If we’re talking just about on-court things, no coach had a more up-and-down season than Lon Kruger. His team trotted out to a marvelous 10-1 record, reaching No. 4 in the AP rankings. The problem is as more coaches, especially the ones in the Big 12, scouted Oklahoma, it became clear the Sooners didn’t have a good second option. It was obvious the Sooners weren’t good on defense and the offense was one dimensional. That’s on Kruger, but also it’s Kruger’s offensive system that helped Young dominate, so it’s hard to completely bury him.

Next year: Young is gone but Oklahoma may be in line for a good season.

Jamuni McNeace was sensational against Rhode Island. You couldn’t help but wonder if he had been involved like this all season, would Oklahoma’s record have been different? He scored 14 points on 5-of-8 shooting and grabbed eight rebounds. He also blocked two shots. He is back next year.

Gone is Khadeem Lattin, but that will allow McNeace, who will be a fifth-year senior, at 6-foot, 10-inches to the be the unquestioned starting center. Last year Oklahoma won just 11 games and played globs of freshman like Kristian Doolittle, Kameron McGusty and Jordan Shepherd. Those three took a step back to allow Young to do what he did. Next year — assuming none transfer — they’ll all be juniors with plenty of experience.

Brady Manek had a strong freshman season and senior-to-be Rashard Odomes is a playmaker, so Oklahoma will have plenty of guys who can help it return to the tournament.

The big key: Bigs. With McNeace at center and 6-foot-9-inch Manek at forward, I’d guess OU starts three guards in Odomes, McGusty and Doolittle. Matt Freeman and Hannes Polla, one from Australia and the other Finland, are 6-10 and 6-11, but neither played in the the NCAA Tournament.

The Sooners have two players set to join the roster, Kur Kuath from a junior college and Jamal Bieniemy of Katy Tompkins High School. That should leave one scholarship to give.

Head coach Shaka Smart of the Texas Longhorns reacts against the Nevada Wolf Pack during the game in the first round of the 2018 NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament at Bridgestone Arena on March 16, 2018 in Nashville, Tennessee. (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)

9. Texas Longhorns basketball

I broke down the Longhorns here.

The gist? Texas coach Shaka Smart should have his best team yet next season, which sets up to be a “fork in the road” type of season for him in Austin.

Alex Robinson #25 of the TCU Horned Frogs reacts during the second half against the Syracuse Orange in the first round of the 2018 NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament at Little Caesars Arena on March 16, 2018 in Detroit, Michigan. (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)

8. TCU Horned Frogs basketball

As soon as Syracuse beat Arizona State in the play-in game last week, TCU coach Jamie Dixon’s record against Syracuse popped up. He was 15-6 against the Orange during stints in the Big East and ACC at Pittsburgh.

But Syracuse’s coach, Jim Boeheim, is in the Hall of Fame for a reason and he muddied up the game with his zone. TCU led 28-27 at halftime, but Syracuse won 57-52 in a game where TCU’s one advantage against the zone, its ability to shoot from outside, was stymied by 3-of-17 shooting from beyond the arc. The Big 12’s best 3-point shooter, Desmond Bane, was just 1-of-5 from 3-point land.

It ended a landmark year for TCU that was years and two coaches in the making. Former coach Trent Johnson recruited many of the players on the TCU roster, like Vladimir Brodziansky and Kenrich Williams — the two best players. Dixon made them better and provided the final pieces. This year’s TCU team was the best in program history. If that’s just recency-hyperbole, it’s at the very least the best in 30 years. TCU went 21-12 and finished 9-9 in the country’s deepest league. They went 15-3 at home, establishing a home court advantage that wasn’t quite there before.

TCU loses Williams and Brodziansky and four other seniors, but Ahmed Hamdy is the only other scholarship senior. Back is Alex Robinson, who had a mini breakout season for the Horned Frogs. Bane is a junior and could be the team’s top scorer next year. Kouat Noi scored 10 points per game and is back and JD Miller, 7.9 per game, is also back.

The biggest question mark is talented guard Jaylen Fisher, who was TCU’s biggest difference maker this season before a season-ending knee injury in late January derailed him. Will Fisher be ready for next season? If he is, TCU will absolutely be in the running to return to the NCAA Tournament.

Another factor will be the addition of three red-shirt freshmen RJ Nembhard, Lat Mayen and Kevin Samuel. Samuel and Mayen are from Barbuda and Australia, though Samuel played prep basketball in Texas and Nembhard is from Keller, Texas. Samuel and Nembhard were 4-star prospects, according to Rivals.com, out of high school.

TCU’s 2018 class is deep. Angus McWilliam of New Zealand is already on the roster for TCU. Arriving on campus this fall are 4-star guard Kaden Archie of Midlothian and 3-star guard Kendric Davis of Houston Sam Houston High School. Russell Barlow of Richardson Berkner and the top junior college basketball prospect in the nation, Yuat Alok, are also in Fort Worth next year.

Unfortunately for Texas fans, if there’s one program from the Lone Star State that should put fear in Kansas’ streak next season, it’s TCU. The Horned Frogs lose their two best players, but the incoming pieces, the returning parts and the international pipeline Dixon brought with him from Pitt make TCU a program on the rise.

Still playing ball

7. The tweet of the week:

Texas Tech beat Florida to advance to the Sweet 16 in Boston.

If it’s Boston, it’s Neil Diamond:

6. The best Big 12 performance of the first weekend

Young dropped 28 and seven against Rhode Island and lost. Texas Tech freshman Zhaire Smith did this:

Kansas senior Devonte’ Graham had 29 against Penn and fellow awesome senior point guard, Tech’s Keenan Evans, scored 22 points and completely took over against Florida in the final minutes.

Malik Newman, the Big 12 Newcomer of the Year, scored 28 points and was 4-of-8 from 3-point land against Seton Hall.

But the best Big 12 player last week was West Virginia senior Jevon Carter who scored 21 and 29 points in two lopsided wins that propelled his team to the Sweet 16. He also had five steals and five assists against Marshall and six steals and eight assists against Murray State.

KANSAS CITY, MO – MARCH 08: Head coach Mike Boynton of the Oklahoma State Cowboys reacts from the bench during the Big 12 Basketball Tournament quarterfinal game against the Kansas Jayhawks at the Sprint Center on March 8, 2018 in Kansas City, Missouri. (Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images)

5. Oklahoma State is still playing basketball

The Cowboys beat Stanford on Monday 71-65 to advance to the NIT quarterfinals and will play Western Kentucky on Wednesday in Stillwater. The winner will advance to the semifinals in New York next week.

TCU won the NIT last year.

The Big 12 Sweet 16 preview

South region

Xavier Sneed #20 of the Kansas State Wildcats dunks on the UMBC Retrievers during the second round of the 2018 NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament at Spectrum Center on March 18, 2018 in Charlotte, North Carolina. (Photo by Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images)

No. 9 seed Kansas State vs. No. 5 seed Kentucky, 8:37 p.m. Thursday in Catlanta … oh, sorry, Atlanta

The biggest upset in NCAA Tournament history, UMBC over Virginia, gave Kansas State and coach Bruce Weber a chance to reach the Sweet 16 and they did just that. The most amazing thing is K-State is doing this without their best player, Dean Wade, who said he’s 98 percent sure he’ll play against Kentucky. We shouldn’t overlook Kansas State’s 10-point win over Creighton, an upset win where the Wildcats completely dominated.

But now all these teams in the Atlanta region have the difficult task of beating a Kentucky team in a town notorious for UK fans owning. “Catlanta,” as many SEC basketball fans know it, gives the Wildcats as good of a fan advantage as any in the tournament —  even more so than Kansas in Omaha.

Plus, this is Kentucky. It’s an overwhelming matchup for KSU against a UK team that is peaking — though Buffalo did push them at times in the round of 32.

The winner of this game will face either Loyola-Chicago or Nevada with a Final Four at stake.

Bottom line: Kansas State will need Wade to play and provide a matchup problem for Kentucky’s defense. Barry Brown will need play well. Kentucky has athletes and they’re gelling at the right time. A lot of that has to do with the guard play coming around. Kansas State’s defense is good at forcing turnovers, but at the same time they commit too many. Also, the age and experience factor that usually bites Kentucky’s freshmen-dominated rosters is a non-factor. Kansas State has one senior on the team. Kentucky wins.

East region

SAN DIEGO, CA – MARCH 18: Jevon Carter #2 of the West Virginia Mountaineers shoots against Ajdin Penava #11 and Jon Elmore #33 of the Marshall Thundering Herd in the first half during the second round of the 2018 NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament at Viejas Arena on March 18, 2018 in San Diego, California. (Photo by Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images) *** BESTPIX ***

No. 5 seed West Virginia vs. No. 1 seed Villanova, 6:27 p.m., Friday, Boston

West Virginia’s two tournament games look more like No. 1-seed performances than No.5-seed performances. That will happen when the No. 4 seed in the region, Wichita State, is upset by the Conference USA Tournament champion Marshall. West Virginia did their in-state counterpart wrong with a 94-71 win in the round of 32 that followed an 85-68 win over Murray State.

Jevon Carter’s 49 combined points in the first two games, and 11 combined steals, was impressive and it seems as though some are sleeping on the Mountaineers.

Good thing Villanova, arguably the biggest favorite of the entire tournament after its first two games, has an entire week to prepare for the West Virginia press. Still, the Wildcats haven’t seen anything like it all season. As for West Virginia, the Mountaineers have played a team that’s a lot like Villanova three times this season and led in all three of those games before losing all three to Kansas.

The Wildcats are No.1 offensively in KenPom, Kansas is No. 5. The difference is ‘Nova is a top 20 defense, while Kansas is No. 46 (then again, Kansas’ defense played much better offenses this season, which is why their numbers are way different).

Villanova took 41 3-pointers against Alabama and made 41.5 percent of them. West Virginia’s 3-point defense was one of the worst in the Big 12, ninth. And if a true measure of a team’s 3-point defense is how many they allow, West Virginia allowed 734, the fifth fewest in the Big 12.

I’ve written all season that when West Virginia isn’t turning teams over they become average on defense and average on offense. The numbers back that up. But this isn’t Big 12 play, where teams have game planned and scouted that press for months.

The winner of this game plays either Purdue or Texas Tech.

Bottom line: The only team Villanova has played since December that’s as good as West Virginia is Xavier, who they destroyed in Cincinnati. ‘Nova has three awesome guards, including Jalen Brunson, who could be the National Player of the Year winner. But I think Mikal Bridges is as good if not better than Brunson, and Donte DiVincenzo off the bench and gives the Wildcats something no other team in the nation has: An All-American-caliber guard off the bench. West Virginia’s offense in the halfcourt scares me and the ‘Nova defense is good. I think the Wildcats advance.

Jarrett Culver #23 of the Texas Tech Red Raiders celebrates after beating the Florida Gators 69-66 in the second round of the 2018 NCAA Tournament at the American Airlines Center on March 17, 2018 in Dallas, Texas. (Photo by Tom Pennington/Getty Images)

No. 3 seed Texas Tech vs. No. 2 seed Purdue, 8:57 p.m., Friday, Boston

Purdue has lost 7-footer Issac Haas for the tournament — unless he can get a big bulky brace cleared — and that really hurts against Texas Tech. The Red Raiders have really struggled against big guys this season and it’s their biggest flaw. The perimeter players on Texas Tech are absolutely  fantastic and Purdue definitely has the fourth-best guards in this region, which isn’t saying much since Villanova, Texas Tech and West Virginia have three of the four best point guards left in the tournament.

Haas is good low post offensive player, but some who follow the Boilermakers suggest he slows them down too much and Purdue plays better without him. That’s probably a little dumb.

The key for Purdue winning this game is not by playing up-and-down basketball, but playing half court basketball. Purdue has the second best offense in the nation and the 32nd best defense. Texas Tech is No. 4 in defense and No. 48 in offense. The only team that goes on worse dry spells on offense still playing is West Virginia. The difference is, and we saw this in the Florida game, Evans has the ability to take over and win Tech the game.

Bottom line: I think Texas Tech ends Purdue’s season. Butler nearly beat them in the first game without Haas and the center’s replacement, Matt Haarms, may be 7-foot-3-inches tall and 250 pounds, but he’s not the offensive player Haas is at 7-2, 290.

Midwest region

Udoka Azubuike #35 of the Kansas Jayhawks and Angel Delgado #31 of the Seton Hall Pirates fight for a ball during the second round of the 2018 NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament at INTRUST Arena on March 17, 2018 in Wichita, Kansas. (Photo by Jeff Gross/Getty Images)

No. 1 seed Kansas vs. No. 5 seed Clemson, 6:07, Friday, Omaha

Clemson trounced Auburn in the round of 32. Before people start getting excited about Clemson, let’s remember that Auburn went 1-2 in their last three regular season games and was beaten 81-63 in the SEC Tournament to Alabama. Auburn also won its round of 64 game after one of the worst non-calls of the first weekend. Let’s not take anything away from Clemson, who won by 31 points, but Auburn was the weakest of the No. 4 seeds in the tournament and was clearly running on fumes at this point.

I say this because an ESPN article suggests Clemson is the third best team in the tournament right now.

It’s that type of dismissive-ness of the regular season that drives me crazy. Sure teams come in cold all the time and make runs, but Clemson lost to Virginia by 14 in the ACC Tournament and lost three in a row in the month of February.

Now Clemson plays No. 1 seed Kansas, which that ESPN article says — and this is where it goes off the rails — is the 10th best team left in the tournament. Kansas beat two of the four Big 12 Sweet 16 teams less than two weeks ago (Kansas State and West Virginia). Since Mid-February, Kansas has two wins over West Virginia and wins over Oklahoma, Texas Tech, Texas and Oklahoma State. They beat the “best No. 16 seed ever” by 16 points in Penn and beat a team with four seniors from a top-four league in the second round, Seton Hall.

Sure Kansas hasn’t made it look pretty and its coach, Bill Self, said they didn’t play all that well. But Kansas is the favorite against Clemson and Kansas is the better team, with the better guards and the best point guard in the region.

The winner of this game plays either Duke or Syracuse.

Bottom line: Clemson beat Auburn by 31 and never really sweated against New Mexico State in the first game. Kansas was definitely pushed in both its opening games, but a lot of that had to do with both teams being built to beat a team like Kansas. Penn defended the 3-point line. Seton Hall had a dominant center. Clemson’s strength is their guards, like Gabe DeVoe who scored 22 against New Mexico State and Shelton Mitchell who added 23. Clemson, a transfer-heavy roster, has a top-10 defense, but they were ninth in the ACC in 3-point defense. They allowed 739 3-point attempts, if you believe that’s the best way to judge 3-point defense. Only six of the 15 ACC teams allowed more attempts. Kansas is going to shoot a lot of 3-pointers. Clemson was a middle of the pack rebounding team in the ACC, ranking ninth in total rebounds, fourth in opponent rebounds and fifth in rebound margin. If Clemson beats Kansas it’ll be the rebounding that gets it done. Unfortunately for Clemson, Kansas has one of best plus-minus players in the nation in 7-footer Udoka Azubuike (Kansas was +21 against Seton Hall with him, -17 without him) and the Tigers have no one who can size up against him — and barely anyone who can match size with Silvio De Souza or Mitch Lightfoot (Clemson’s tallest player is 6-9). Oh, and the game is in Omaha. Kansas will win and Bill Self will improve to 10-3 in Sweet 16 games.

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