Men's Basketball

12 Big things about Big 12 basketball: The league's best tournament weekend in 10 years

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Posted March 28th, 2018

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

First things first

12. This was the best Big 12 weekend since 2008

Kansas, Kansas State and Texas Tech all reached the Elite Eight and Kansas punched its ticket to the Final Four with an overtime win over one of  Vegas’ tournament favorites, Duke, on Sunday.

Four teams reached the Sweet 16, three advanced, and two of them had the biggest wins of the week: Kansas State’s upset of Kentucky in Atlanta and Kansas’s win over Duke in Omaha.

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The Jayhawks become the third squad to reach the Final Four from the conference since their national title 10 years ago. That was the peak of Big 12 basketball — you can argue 2002 and 2003 was the peak since the league sent two programs to the Final Four in back-to-back years, but the 2008 Kansas team won the whole thing — those other teams didn’t.

So, yes — this was the best tournament weekend the league has had in 10 years, regardless of its 1-2 Elite Eight record.

What’s more satisfying? The ACC, the Big 12’s chief rival in “best conference in America” arguments, had their Cadillac program, Duke, fall to the Big 12’s Cadillac program, Kansas to get in the Final Four.

How close was the league to getting three teams to San Antonio? Not close.

Kansas State was out of gas after beating Kentucky and Texas Tech ran into the tournament’s biggest odds-on-favorite following Duke’s loss, Villanova. Kansas State had the misfortune to running into the tournament’s best story since VCU and Butler both reached the Final Four in 2011, in Loyola-Chicago. No one outside of Big 12 junkies and Manhattan, Kan. were pulling for K-State.

It was revealed by Texas Tech senior star Keenan Evans that he was playing with a broken toe, which means he really is one of the toughest players in the country. He had played really well in the tournament up until struggling against Villanova. Here’s the thing about that game: Tech was a physical team all year, and the refs were calling a lot of things close in the first half that put Tech in trouble. The Red Raiders cut ‘Nova’s lead to five near the end, but Nova sprinted away.

None of these fan bases should be upset with losing in the Elite Eight. Kansas State was still a 9-seed. Texas Tech a 3-seed playing a 1-seed. Great seasons and great runs.

Kansas was always the most likely team to make the Final Four from this conference, even with their flaws that have been talked about over, and over again and even with an extremely difficult path. They still had the best players, best coaches and best pedigree. The way Kansas beat Duke — by out-rebounding a team with two forwards who are NBA top-10 draft picks — showed that Kansas (who had lost in this round two years in a row) wanted it a little more than the Blue Devils.

 Some goodbyes to..

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)

11. Oklahoma State Cowboys basketball

The Pokes lost in the third round of the NIT to Western Kentucky on March 21 in Stillwater. It put an end to a surprisingly strong season that started about as bad as any can — an assistant coach being arrested by the FBI.

Still, OSU overcame it. First-year coach Mike Boynton looks like a young star coach who had as strong of a case to make the tournament this year as any team that didn’t, although next year we suggest mixing in more Florida State, Wichita State games and fewer games against Pepperdine and Houston Baptist.

No one thought OSU would be a 21-win team and Oklahoma, Baylor and Texas would all fail to win 20 — a little unfair since Texas and OU did make the tournament — but still, it happened.

What’s back next year?

Well, so long to Mitchell Solomon and Jeffrey Carroll. Both will be graduating along with graduate transfer Kendall Smith. All three were intricate parts to this year’s OSU team. Tavarius Shine is a redshirt junior, which could mean he could always be on pace to graduate and move one, but somehow I think Shine– arguably the Cowboy’s best player next season– will not do so even if he does graduate.

Oklahoma State returns Shine, who despite averaging just 9.7 points this past season, had some his best games in OSU’s biggest wins, like the 20 he scored against Wichita State and the 17 against West Virginia. Also back are guard Lindy Waters, forward Cameron McGriff and 6-foot-11-inch big man Yankuba Sima.

Michael Weathers, the 2016-17 Mid-American Conference Freshman of the Year when he was at Miami (Oh.) is eligible. He’ll give OSU depth at point guard that not many teams will have.

Unfortunately for OSU, recruiting hasn’t been off-the-charts and because the program saw a lot of players leave or kicked off the team, OSU enters the spring needing to fill three scholarships– and that’s assuming no one but the seniors are leaving. OSU has two recruits, 6-9 forward Yor Anei of Overland Park, Kan. and 6-8 forward Duncan Demuth of Seminole, Fla. arriving on campus. OSU can  roll with three open scholarships– they did that this year if you count Weathers and two open scholarships, but if they want to not be picked last in the Big 12 preseason poll they should look to add a few more pieces.

OSU is my pick to finish last in the preseason Big 12 poll as it stands now. The loss of Carroll, their best player, and relying on Shine and Waters to emerge is too much. But I don’t know if they’ll finish last, I’m just projecting what coaches will think in October.

Sagaba Konate #50 of the West Virginia Mountaineers drives to the basket against Eric Paschall #4 of the Villanova Wildcats in the 2018 NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament East Regional at TD Garden on March 23, 2018 in Boston, Massachusetts. (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)

10. West Virginia Mountaineer basketball

For a time it looked like West Virginia and Villanova would provide the game of the weekend and possibly the tournament, but WVU lost its 6-point lead down the stretch and Villanova rolled to a 90-78 win.

West Virginia was a team went from being extremely elite when the press was working to being too loose on defense and too clunky offensively when the press didn’t. On their best night, West Virginia could have beaten any team in the nation this season– like Virginia. But its worst nights, they could lose to anyone– like Iowa State.

We saw West Virginia do what its done all year against Villanova, and that’s  be unable to play with a lead.

What’s back next year?

The Mountaineers lose their heart and soul of the last few seasons, Jevon Carter, as well as Daxter Miles, who has been a fixture since his freshman season. It’s a brutal graduation loss, but WVU is in good shape next season because they got serious dudes back.

Sagaba Konate will be the favorite to win Big 12 Defensive Player of the Year next season assuming the 6-8 forward who plays center for WVU doesn’t declare. Of all the Big 12 stars who could, he would be the one that would make me roll my eyes and cringe the most. He should be a four-year player at WVU.

Throw in starters Esa Ahmad and Wesley Harris along with part-time starter Lamont West and that’s a heck of a starting block for coach Bob Huggins to work with next season. Freshman Teddy Allen should be better in year two and James Bolden should easily step in and be the starting point guard.

West Virginia was headed toward a scholarship crunch with four incoming recruits putting them one over the limit, but then D’Angelo Hunter unsurprisingly announced he was transferring last week.  The recruiting class is highlighted by 4-star, 5-11, guard Jordan McCabe of Wisconsin.

I expect West Virginia to be a top three or four Big 12 team every year until Bob Huggins is no longer the coach and I expect this team to live in the AP Top 25 all year next season. Whether they remain “Press Virginia” or not is another story. It’s easy to forget that Carter’s arrival in Morgantown coincides with the birth of that style.

And as good as Carter was — and West Virginia will not be able to replace his defense — this team could be a better offensive team next year with the shooting threat that is Bolden (41 percent from 3-point range). Also, a full season of Ahmad could mean a sneaky All-Big 12 and conference POY run– he can be that good.

Kansas State head coach Bruce Weber hangs his head as his team falls further behind in the second half against Loyola in an NCAA Tournament regional final at Philips Arena in Atlanta on Saturday, March 24, 2018. Loyola advanced, 78-62. (Travis Heying/Wichita Eagle/TNS)

9. Kansas State Wildcat basketball

We mentioned the Wildcats’ Elite Eight loss already, so let’s look at that Kentucky win and say this: Is that the program’s biggest tournament win since reaching the Final Four in 1964? Sure, KSU reached the Elite Eight in 2010, but this team beat Kentucky in the South Region — in (C)Atlanta no less!

I’m not a K-State historian, but that has to be one of the five best wins since the Tex Winter era. Good for KSU.

Now, I saw this on Sunday, one day after Bruce Weber’s team lost to Loyola in the Elite Eight:

Zagoria, a trusted college basketball reporter and New York Times contributor, is the only one I saw report this. Pitt hired former Oklahoma coach and Duke assistant Jeff Capel on Tuesday, so it didn’t happen.

But Weber leaving this offseason really makes no sense — outside of millions of millions of dollars he could get, especially since he just received a hefty tournament bonus. The team potentially returns 12 scholarship players from an Elite Eight team including Dean Wade and Barry Brown. Now, maybe Weber knows something we don’t, and that’s Brown and Wade are going to test the NBA Draft and leave the program, but neither should actually leave K-State.

Why Weber would leave his best team yet — and now most experienced team — at Kansas State is puzzling. It’s not puzzling if, like I said, there are millions and millions and years and years on a contract being offered by another team.

I think Kansas State is the No. 2 team in the Big 12 preseason poll next year if people who should come back, come back to campus. Brown, Wade, Kamau Stokes, Xavier Sneed and Makol Mawien give this squad an awesome starting five. Throw in Cartier Diarra, Levi Stockard, Amaad Wainwright and Mike McGuirl and this team has  AP Top 15 — maybe even top 10 — preseason potential.

Three-star guard Shaun Williams of Missouri is the only signed recruit, so if there are players leaving the program, forget the above paragraph. If there aren’t, Kansas State has a stocked roster back.

Head coach Chris Beard of the Texas Tech Red Raiders reacts against the Villanova Wildcats during the first half in the 2018 NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament East Regional at TD Garden on March 25, 2018 in Boston, Massachusetts. (Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)

8. Texas Tech Red Raider basketball

We discussed the team’s loss to Villanova. Tech ran into one of the heavy tournament favorites and a valiant comeback fell short.

They did take care of business against Purdue. That game was sloppy and ugly to watch at times, but Tech cruised in the final 30 minutes to an easy win against the Boilermakers.

Here’s what we learned about this program: Chris Beard is more than just a one-hit wonder. It’s always dangerous to hire a mid-major coach who hadn’t been at a program very long (in Beard’s case one year at Arkansas State) who has a big upset (ironically over Purdue) and leaves that program weeks later.

Beard’s first year at Tech squashed any doubt I had in him. And his second year just confirmed what I kind of suspected: the guy is a star coach. Just look at the three-star gems he found in Zhaire Smith, who our own Kirk Bohls is picking as Big 12 Preseason Player of the Year next season, and Jarrett Culver.

Beard has something going already after two seasons. He should thank, and he has many times, Tubby Smith for giving him a head start (Hey, Bruce Weber, go ask Tubby if you should leave for another job with an unreasonable fan base).

Here’s what I fear though: Too much success too fast can trip up the Red Raiders. They’re an up-and-coming program, but outside of Kansas, no program is losing more pieces than Tech is this year. Evans is graduating. Justin Gray is gone.  Zach Smith, Tommy Hamilton and Niem Stevenson — all seniors. Zhaire Smith better play like conference POY, because Tech may struggle if he doesn’t. And that’s only if Smith returns to campus. 

Right now the starting five is probably Davide Moretti, Brandone Francis, Culver, Smith and Norense Odiase.

With Deshawn Corprew of Levelland, Texas, Kyler Edwards of Nevada and Khavon Moore — a 4-star forward who is one one the highest-rated recruits to ever commit to Texas Tech has a three quality players arriving. They still have four scholarships to hand out, which makes me think Tech could be a terrific landing spot for a graduate transfer along with freshmen who may have committed to a school only for a coach to leave for another job or whatever type of roster movement you can think of. Tech has some good vibes, hot coach and scholarships, players could flock to Lubbock.

Look for Tech to be a popular top 2 or 3 team in the Big 12 preseason poll, but I think they’ll find life with Evans extremely difficult, and we all know in the Big 12 if you don’t have strong point guard play, you may not do all that well.

Iowa State guard Lindell Wigginton steals the ball from Maryland-Eastern Shore guard Ahmad Frost, left, during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game, Wednesday, Dec. 20, 2017, in Ames, Iowa. (AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall)

7. Iowa State freshman Lindell Wigginton and OU’s 2018-19 backcourt

Lindell Wigginton would be a sleeper conference player of the year pick (I actually like his game more than Zhaire Smith, who one mock draft has going No. 20 overall). That said, last week Wigginton submitted his name to the NBA Draft. It’s a smart move for him to do it, and he hasn’t hired an agent . He can go to the combine in May and see what his status looks like.

Before people scoff and think he has no chance at being drafted, remember this drafted isn’t completely loaded with guards. The top players– Marvin Bagley, DeAndre Ayton, Michael Porter and Mo Bamba are all forwards. If Wigginton gets invited to the combine and makes the kind of plays he did during the Big 12 season, he could easily jump up on draft boards.

I expect Wigginton to return to school and develop. If he does, and ISU brings back a lot of players and adds two good transfers eligible to play next season in Marial Shayok and Michael Jacobson (Virginia and Nebraska transfers). Iowa State could be back where they were before its last-place season this year, and that was in the top four of the league.

Even if Wigginton stays in the draft, I’d expect ISU to be decent next year, but Oklahoma’s future took a hit this week.

Last week I wrote the return of Jordan Shepherd and Cameron McGusty — along with Christian James and Kristian Doolittle — gave OU a strong set of guards to build on to replace Trae Young. I thought OU would be better than people think.

Well, with Shepherd and McGusty transferring, OU has lost their potential starting point guard in Shepherd and the durable 6-5 McGusty — once the highest-rated recruit of the Lon Kruger era before Young arrived. Both of these players had better numbers as freshmen, especially Shepherd, who only played 11.4 minutes per game. McGusty, from Katy, was OU’s fourth leading scorer at 8.0 points per game and averaged 18.5 minutes per game.

Oklahoma probably knew Shepherd’s transfer was coming, hence why they have been pursuing point guards this recruiting cycle. This gives OU two more open scholarship spots and three altogether.

Lagerald Vick #2 and Malik Newman #14 of the Kansas Jayhawks kiss the tropy after defeating the Duke Blue Devils with a score or 81 to 85 in the 2018 NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament Midwest Regional at CenturyLink Center on March 25, 2018 in Omaha, Nebraska. (Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images)

All-Big NCAA Tournament teams/ awards

6. The first team

The five best Big 12 players from this tournament:

G: Malik Newman, Kansas

G: Barry Brown, K-State

G: Keenan Evans, Tech

G: Svi Mykhailiuk, Kansas

C: Udoka Azubuike, Kansas

Kansas made the Final Four, so don’t complain that there’s three players on here, especially since Devonté Graham could easily be in the top five. Kansas doesn’t beat Seton Hall or Clemson without Azubuike. Newman is two wins away from being named MVP of the whole tournament and Mykhailiuk has hit one of the 10 biggest shots of the tournament and outplayed possible No. 1 overall pick Marvin Bagley on Sunday.

Evans’ performance against Florida alone gets him on here, and Brown (and honorable mention Xavier Sneed) is the reason Kansas State was able to get a game away from the Final Four despite missing their best player, Dean Wade.

Head coach Bill Self of the Kansas Jayhawks walks off the court after his team defeated the Duke Blue Devils in the 2018 NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament Midwest Regional at CenturyLink Center on March 25, 2018 in Omaha, Nebraska. The Kansas Jayhawks defeated the Duke Blue Devils 85-81. (Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images)

5. Coach of the Tournament

Come on. It’s Bill Self. The man just beat a team that starts five NBA Draft picks, four of whom just maybe go in the first round, and a coach some consider the greatest in the sport’s history.

That said, he was a No. 1 seed. So we’ll give shout out to, yep, Bruce Weber.

Kansas State was probably a longshot in a lot of people’s eyes to beat Creighton in the first round. And that’s when we thought Wade’s injury wasn’t as serious.

But the real masterpiece, maybe even more so than beating Kentucky, is beating UMBC. The Retrievers had just accomplished something people will remember for all time. They beat Virginia. I thought K-State would beat Creighton and then lose to the No. 1 overall seed Virginia, but UMBC scrapped that. With a nation behind them and its social media account getting almost as much buzz, Kansas State was the No. 9 seed ready to play the role of David but found itself as Goliath despite never, ever being consider a Goliath this season and in the past.

Plus, what type of scouting did K-State really do on UMBC before the tournament started?  That win, as terrible of basketball as it was, is impressive by K-State even if they were probably playing Selection Sunday’s worst team in the tournament (UMBC proved it was decidedly not that).

So congrats, Bruce Weber. But we’re still giving this fake honor to the guy who led his team to the Final Four.

Zhaire Smith #2 of the Texas Tech Red Raiders attempts to dunk the ball against Mikal Bridges #25 of the Villanova Wildcats during the second half in the 2018 NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament East Regional at TD Garden on March 25, 2018 in Boston, Massachusetts. (Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)

4. Five tournament moments from Big 12 teams we’ll remember

  1. Mykhailiuk’s 3-pointer + Grayson Allen’s shot dropping the wrong way on him and sending the game into overtime.
  2. Kansas State knocking off Kentucky in front a bunch of Kentucky fans.
  3. This Zhaire Smith dunk.
  4. Texas leading Nevada by 14 in the second half only to lose it in the most 2017-18 Texas way possible.
  5. West Virginia’s game against Villanova.

3. Tweet of the week

Kansas’ win over Duke in overtime, 85-81, is so far the best game of the tournament. Both teams threw haymakers at each others and both teams responded. At the end of the day, Kansas made more defensive plays and ended a game that had 18 lead changes and 11 ties.

The tweet(s) of the week comes from ESPN college basketball writer Jeff Goodman:

Things about the Final Four

2. Make it 5 for Kansas

The Jayhawks have now been to five Final Fours since the Big 12 was established 22 years ago. Roy Williams took the Jayhawks to back-to-back Final Fours in 2002 and 2003. In both of those seasons KU was joined by two other Big 12 teams, OU in 2002 when Kelvin Sampson was the coach, and Texas, of course, when Rick Barnes was running the program. Since then the league has only sent three different Big 12 teams to the Final Four. Eddie Sutton’s OSU team, behind Baylor transfer John Lucas, in 2004, Kansas in 2008 and 2012 (the champion and runner-up those seasons) and Oklahoma in 2016.

No team is more consistent in the tournament than Kansas and no team has been more successful in the last 15 years in the tournament than Kansas. Under Self, Kansas has won a title and been to two more Final Fours now. Only twice has Kansas failed to win a tournament game under Self and only three other times has Kansas failed to reach the Sweet 16.  In those 10 Sweet 16 appearances, Self’s Jayhawks are 8-2–10-3 counting his stops at Illinois and Tulsa. His one bugaboo was the Elite Eight, but now he’s 3-5 in that round. His Final Four record is 3-1 at Kansas.

Devonte’ Graham #4 of the Kansas Jayhawks hoists the regional championship trophy after his team defeated the Duke Blue Devils in the 2018 NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament Midwest Regional at CenturyLink Center on March 25, 2018 in Omaha, Nebraska. The Kansas Jayhawks defeated the Duke Blue Devils 85-81. (Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images)

1. Can Kansas win the national title?

Of course they can. They’re in the Final Four!

Villanova has been great all year, but so has Kansas. The two programs lived in the AP top 10 all season and both were preseason top 10 teams. The two teams are incredibly similar — awesome point guard, mostly 3-point shooters and a dominant big — which should make for an amazing national semifinal game on Saturday.

That’s a coin-flip game.

If Kansas wins, the Jayhawks definitely matchup worse with Michigan — not because Loyola is a mid-major, but because Michigan is a tough matchup for every team they play. What college basketball team has a center who can guard a stretch-5 — a stretch-5? — like Moritz Wagner?

I’m not out on a limb here, but I do think the winner of the national championship game is going to be the winner of the Kansas-Villanova game.

Thanks for reading all season long!

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