Posted February 15th, 2019
Here are 12 big things I’ve noticed this week about one of college basketball’s best leagues.
12. Kansas State is moving close to making this race non-competitive
Reality is Kansas State (9-2) is no where near clinching the Big 12 title.
But it’s getting close.
K-State’s back-to-back road games against Baylor (7-4) and Texas (6-6) were supposed to drop the Wildcats back to Earth.
While Baylor played the Wildcats tough at home without its two best players, King McClure and Makai Mason, the Wildcats won. Texas played a good game, but Kansas State still won.
In a league where winning on the road is at a premium, Kansas State has ensured itself a winning road record at 5-1.
The likelihood of another team doing that is slim.
Just for Kansas State to get to 5-4 on the road would mean losing to a downtrodden team in Morgantown on Monday.
For anyone to catch the Wildcats — including the defending 14-time champs of the league — KSU would have to lose two more games, at least, and the other teams would have to keep winning. For a team to win the league outright against Kansas State, the Wildcats would probably need to lose home games and road games.
Kansas State is 4-1 at home.
This weekend Kansas State plays Iowa State (7-4) at home. If the Wildcats win that one, their remaining schedule, at 10-2, would be:
At West Virginia; Oklahoma State; at Kansas; Baylor; at TCU; Oklahoma.
If K-State enters March at 12-3 in the league, the TCU game could decide the conference. We said last week winning in Fort Worth would determine the champion.
I thought 12-6 would win the league. Kansas State is on pace to shatter that. Kansas State can win in Allen Fieldhouse, but it’s less likely than winning in Fort Worth.
A huge four- or even five-way tie could still be in play, but that’s unlikely considering how many rematches there are between teams who are currently saddled with four Big 12 losses.
What a last few days it’s been for Big 12 rosters.
West Virginia (2-9) pretty much ensured itself a last-place finish with the dismissal of two players I fully expected to be all-league type of guys for the Mountaineers this season. Esa Ahmad and Wesley Harris were kicked off the team in a stunning move on Monday. Both had off-the-court issues in the past. Who knows what they did, but it certainly is surprising.
This news comes as WVU is already without James Bolden and Sagaba Konate
West Virginia wasn’t the only team with roster issues.
No Mason and McClure for Baylor helped Kansas State last weekend in Waco — a game that was closer than it should have been given those guys were out.
Kansas State, meanwhile, lost its best bench player and backup point guard possibly for the season in Cartier Diarra, meaning more pressure is on starting guard Kam Stokes and star Barry Brown.
Kansas (8-4) had Lagerald Vick take a leave last week to pile on its roster confusion (Kansas has just eight scholarship players available until Marcus Garrett returns from injury).
Oklahoma State (9-2) has just seven scholarship players to use.
TCU (5-6) is down four guys since the Christmas break, all of whom transferred.
Texas Tech (8-4) lost star freshman Khavon Moore for the season on Monday — he had played only two minutes.
Solomon Young was supposed to be a key post player for Iowa State (7-4), but he’ll be seeking a medical redshirt.
Stuff like this happens every year, but it’s not common for 80 percent of the league to go through something like this.
10. Thank you for this Kansas State’s official twitter account
Second, Kansas State:
( ) )
We don’t need a /__
Minister of Culture. / |
We have /____|
Big Daddy /
— K-State Men's Basketball (@KStateMBB) February 13, 2019
OK, now back to the column.
9. What do we think about Texas?
Tuesday’s loss to Kansas State has to be a letdown for Texas coach Shaka Smart. He busted out the McConaughey card and everything for the game.
It would’ve been the fourth win in a row and the second in three games over a team in the top-five of the conference standings.
It didn’t happen and it was the same old story at the end of the game.
You have to cringe that Texas’ go-to, need-a-basket-play in the final possessions were lobs to Jaxson Hayes. That’s a great play to run a lot, but it’s hardly an easy play to execute and we saw that in the final minutes as Kansas State was ready for it the second time seeing it in as many possessions.
Texas is 14-11 overall for a reason. The Longhorns are inconsistent because they don’t execute consistently.
When they do they can beat any team in the country. It’s why they have victories over a Purdue team that can win the Big 10 and a North Carolina squad that is hunting for an ACC title.
Inconsistent execution is also why they have some worst losses in the league, like to Radford and Georgia.
This isn’t new.
I don’t think Texas has to worry about not getting selected to the tournament, though in Austin some fans thinks its an outrageous notion. Even if Texas finishes below .500 in Big 12 play, which is very possible, they’ll still have great wins. The wins have meant more than the losses to the committee.
Here’s the remaining schedule for Texas: Oklahoma State; at Oklahoma; at Baylor; Iowa State; at Texas Tech; TCU.
At 6-6 right now, I’m guessing Texas goes 9-9 with wins over Oklahoma State, Oklahoma and TCU. Though if Texas really wanted punch its ticket, Baylor, Iowa State and Texas Tech are winnable games even if two are on the road.
If Texas was really bad, we would never use the word “winnable” in any of the stories at Hookem.com.
8. Is Kansas starting its peak?
The Jayhawks moved to 8-4 on Monday with an overtime win over TCU. It was the first and so far only overtime game of the Big 12 season. It was a game between the two squads who were undefeated at home.
It was Kansas’ second road win of the season. It was Kansas’ second-straight win since losing senior Lagerald Vick to a leave of absence and also was the fourth game without defensive standout Marcus Garrett.
It was the fourth game in a row — since losing to Texas in Austin — that Kansas played decidedly better than it did in the month of January.
Everything was set up for TCU to win. From the momentum coming from Saturday’s dynamite performance in Ames, to the rally in the second half from 12 down to take a four-point lead in a packed house in the final minutes. But TCU didn’t do it.
This was Kansas’ second-most difficult road game remaining and the Jayhawks pulled out the win in-spite of everything.
This is the kind of game that has started to turn the conference back to Kansas after late January and early February dalliances with another program winning the league.
Kansas plays one game between now and the Feb. 23 matchup against Texas Tech. Win there, and the path to another conference title is in sight, but it still needs Kansas State to hit a skid and the Jayhawks need to go undefeated at home.
7. Will 2019-2020 will be the best Big 12 season ever?
It’s a bold hot take, but one I’ll throw out: next year could be the best in conference history with the most title contenders since Roy Williams, Rick Barnes, Kelvin Sampson and Eddie Sutton were coaching in the league.
Here’s a rundown:
While Kansas State and Texas Tech could potentially take steps back, I expect West Virginia to return to form with Derek Culver back. I think there’s a decent chance Konate returns. I expect West Virginia to make changes to the game-plan this offseason.
Oklahoma State is the bad team this year, but I hope that Cameron McGriff returns and Lindy Waters gets the star senior season Barry Brown is getting this season. If OSU can land some more players via transfer or recruiting, it has pieces to finally give its very talented head coach, Mike Boynton, a tournament run.
I couldn’t predict Oklahoma even if I knew what the roster was going to look like.
Kansas State will be decimated after this season with graduations, but that’s why all the eggs are in this season’s basket.
Texas Tech will need to replace Jarrett Culver and a bunch of seniors and hope Khavon Moore (the highest-rated recruit to ever come to Lubbock) will be healthy and build around Davide Moretti. I can also see Lubbock being the hot-spot for graduate transfers as long as Chris Beard is the coach.
Texas, even with losing Kerwin Roach, Dylan Osetkowski and probably Hayes, has, once again, a chance to be really good next season with more from Courtney Ramey and Matt Coleman. Hopefully players like Kamaka Hepa and Royce Hamm stick around and we’ll see more from Gerald Liddell and Brock Cunningham next season. Combine a good recruiting class (currently ranked 11th in the nation at 247 Sports) and the return of senior Elijah Mitrou-Long, and Texas– we’ve heard this before— under Smart could be ready to emerge nationally.
Baylor is adding the best transfer we know of so far in Davion Mitchell, who was a key member of last season’s surprise Auburn team. He joins a group that should return all but two players on the current roster,including injured players like Jake Lindsey and Tristan Clark.
Baylor could have one of its best teams ever next season.
TCU could potentially bring back Desmond Bane and Kouat Noi and Kevin Samuels. There’s only two seniors on TCU’s current roster, which means the Horned Frogs have at least six scholarships to hand out this offseason. Maybe they have point guard issues, but the back up Kendric Davis has looked liked a star the last two games.
TCU could have one of its best teams ever next season.
Iowa State could be elite if Marial Shayok returns with Tyrese Haliburtton, Talen Horton-Tucker and Lindell Wigginton. Throw in Michael Jacobson returning and there’s little reason to believe ISU won’t be a preseason top 25 team and legit national title contender.
Iowa State could have one of its best teams ever next season.
Of course the team most likely to be really good is Kansas. Not just because it’s the case every year, but it’s likely all four of the freshmen Kansas started on Saturday and Monday (Devon Dotson, Quentin Grimes, Ochai Agbaji and David McCormick — three McDonald’s All-Americans and a rising potential 2020 lottery pick) are back.
I have no idea what both Lawson brothers will do, but I don’t think it’s completely out of the question for Dedric Lawson to return after this All-American season, it just depends on the NBA Combine feedback he gets. I believe he’s gone.
Udoka Azubuike may want to return to Kansas for a senior season after losing most of his junior year to an injury. I can’t imagine Azubuike’s draft stock is any better than it was four months ago.
With two players already signed, who knows what recruiting will be like this spring because of the FBI saga. But 5-star, McDonald’s All-American, Matthew Hurt is strongly considering Kansas and recently took a visit.
Even if Azbuike leaves, K.J. Lawson leaves with his brother, that potential lineup next season is probably going to have KU ranked in the top 15 at the very least.
The Big 12 has had years where seven teams get in the tournament. It once sent two teams to the Final Four in the same season. I’m not sure the league can do that next year, but Kansas, Baylor, Iowa State and TCU could all have legit Final Four aspirations if — and it’s a big if — guys who should be back return.
6. Don’t forget about the Red Raiders this season
To be fair, their last two games were against Oklahoma and Oklahoma State, so it’s not like they won two road games like Kansas State did over the last week. But the fact that since losing at Kansas, the Red Raiders have just been killing teams. A 31-point win over West Virginia, a 12-point win at Oklahoma (led by as many as 23 points in the second half) and a 28-point thumping of Oklahoma State on Wednesday.
It’s easy to dismiss those three games because those teams aren’t elite or even average, but hey, you have to win those games to win the league, so you might as well win them impressively.
However, here’s the last six games for Texas Tech. Baylor; Kansas; Oklahoma State; at TCU; Texas; at Iowa State.
Games to watch
5. Can Oklahoma State stun Texas again on Saturday?
Texas lost a one-possession game in Stillwater, the Cowboys’ lone Big 12 home win. OSU was up big and Texas stormed back. It’s not the best matchup for Texas because OSU shoots a league-leading 38.1 percent from 3-point range, and Texas is ninth in the league at 35.1 percent in 3-point defense.
Then again, woof, I watched OSU’s game on Wednesday against Texas Tech.
Unless something goofy happens, Texas should roll to a win.
4. Does Oklahoma make the tournament if they lose to TCU on Saturday?
Oklahoma lost to Baylor in Waco on Monday 59-53. Oklahoma was kind of ran out of the gym in Norman last weekend by Texas Tech. The Sooners have lost five straight games and the only Big 12 win they have since Jan. 23 is against Oklahoma State.
In a recent tournament projection, Joe Lunardi still had OU in the tournament. I think that’s laughable.
Because TCU’s tough stretch, beating teams in the bottom half of the league is a must, and the Horned Frogs can get to .500 in the standings with a win.
3. Is Saturday’s Baylor-Texas Tech game secretly the most important game of the weekend?
Baylor is 7-4. Texas Tech is 7-4. With Kansas State winning at Texas, losing a fifth game will make it difficult, not impossible, to catch the Wildcats.
Mason returned to the lineup against Oklahoma and played 35 minutes. But he scored just six points on 2-of-14 shooting and 0-for-5 from 3-point. Baylor will not win this game, or hardly any other games this season, if Mason is playing like that. He clearly is not healthy.
Texas Tech’s offense is so average that playing a good 2-3 zone is a nightmare for the Red Raiders. Like the last time they played Baylor.
I expect this to be the least fun game to watch this weekend (if you think scoring points is fun), but it just may be the most important game this weekend.
2. Big game 1: Baylor at ISU, Tuesday
It’s one of the biggest games of Big 12 play if both teams win over the weekend. This can also really be a stinker if both teams lose and are in a funk.
Iowa State can regain some of it favorite status if they win at Manhattan and then take down Baylor at home. Both are rematches of games the Cyclones lost in the first round.
1. Iowa State at Kansas State, Saturday
All eyes are suddenly on the biggest game of the year and it’s probably the first “game of the year in the Big 12” not to feature Kansas in a long time.
You probably have to go back to Rick Barnes’ Texas teams playing Kelvin Sampson’s Oklahoma teams — or any of those teams playing Eddie Sutton’s Oklahoma State teams– of the mid-2000s to say that.
I’m still not convinced the league won’t be decided in Allen Fieldhouse when Kansas hosts K-State later this year, but that depends a lot on KU.
For now, this game is it.
Iowa State’s conference title hopes took a dip when they lost to TCU last weekend in blowout fashion. At home. Which means they need to recoup that loss. They can do that here.
Kansas State can move closer to virtually clinching a league title with a win. The Wildcats can lose both at Kansas and TCU and win the league if they don’t lose at home the rest of the season.