Here are 12 big things about the Big 12 as we get closer to tournament and invitational season.
12. Best week
Texas not only had the amazing return of Andrew Jones to start the season (read this), the Longhorns also scored one of the best wins of the early season, nationally, and one that could, we don’t know for sure, wind up being one of the best non-conference wins of the season for a Big 12 team.
Purdue almost never loses inside Mackey Arena. They had the fifth longest home court winning streak at 18 games.
Texas beat them 70-66, one of the only games of the first week where a ranked team lost to an unranked team.
Texas looks like the team I thought they would look like when I picked them third in the Big 12. The Longhorns are deep and on paper look like a team that can win 25 games. So far it’s more than just “on paper.”
The fear is people delving too deep into the results of the first two games. And perhaps people shouldn’t go too bonkers after the Longhorns’ next two games, though Texas’ win over California Baptist wasn’t an easy win by any stretch.
We do know Duke is good, and if Texas beats Duke in a possible Nov. 22 game (Texas needs to beat an improved Georgetown team first), then I’ll happily let people jump on the hype train. I’ll do it because this team screams “they’re so fun to watch, it’s why I like college basketball” team.
The body of evidence will allow that distinction, this early, if they beat Duke.
But Purdue was a team regrouping after losing one of their best players (Carsen Edwards) and were ranked high partly because of the players they have but mostly because of the consistency of the program.
What would be the worst for Shaka Smart would be the locals getting very excited after a good first week only for Texas to look more like a good team playing early games and struggling a bit, like they did against CBU, and then fans getting disappointed and wondering what happened.
You don’t want to peak too early.
The good news though? After Texas gets by the Nov. 22 game, they’ll be favored to win every game for the rest of the calendar year before traveling to Waco and should have plenty of momentum.
11. Worst first week
It’s not that Kansas lost to Duke at the Champions Classic. It’s Kansas lost to Duke at the Champions Classic while committing 29 turnovers. But I covered that last week.
Kansas won its first game of the season a few days later, but things didn’t go all that well.
It wasn’t an easy game against, but a lot of that is because the University of North Carolina at Greensboro is a pretty solid mid-major that won 29 games last season. Kansas won by 12 points, 74-62. If that was all, it would hardly be worse than what happened to Iowa State at Oregon State.
Aside from the “two-big” lineup struggling again and Kansas needing to go back to the small-ball lineup, the Jayhawks got hurt.
The team’s highest-rated recruit, freshman Jalen Wilson, broke his ankle. He’s out for likely three months, but you have to wonder if, since Wilson was realistically unlikely to be a one-and-done type of player, if he just takes a redshirt. That would mean KU has three of the 12 players on scholarship redshirting this season.
Kansas City Star reporter Jesse Newell said on the KC SportsBeat podcast that while a redshirt is an option, he’s not sure Kansas will bother. Newell said it’s unlikely Wilson would be five-year player anyway at KU, thus him returning in mid-February could be on the table.
I’m not sure what this loss does for KU’s title chances. Wilson didn’t play significant minutes against Duke and it was clear freshmen Christian Braun and Tristian Enaruna were playing over him in the rotation, but it means the margin of error moving forward is slimmer because Wilson is a 6-foot-8-inch forward who can play inside and outside.
10. Player of the Year power rankings
Preseason pick Udoka Azubuike didn’t shower himself in glory in Week 1.
It’s clear that during the first week of play the guards are awesome in this league, and Iowa State sophomore Tyrese Haliburton probably edges out the field of Devon Dotson (can’t ignore the turnovers against Duke), Desmond Bane (one game against a Division III team) and Jared Butler (clearly had the second best week).
Haliburton exploded for a big game against Mississippi Valley State, the same team who *checks notes* followed that game by losing by 94 points. Yes, 94 (143-49) to Utah. But Haliburton scored 15 points with 12 assists and was once against three rebounds shy of a triple-double in the 80-74 loss to Oregon State.
9. Early signing period’s biggest win? Kansas
The No.19-ranked recruit in the nation Bryce Thompson picked Kansas on Tuesday. With the commitment, 247 Sports lists Kansas as the No. 11-ranked class in the cycle.
Thompson was the biggest recruiting battle in the Big 12 as it was clear both Oklahoma schools and Kansas had an edge over North Carolina. His father played for Bill Self at Tulsa. Oklahoma and coach Lon Kruger does well with guards and Oklahoma State had recruited him the the longest and last week landed the second-best player in the country, Cade Cunningham.
Thompson’s commitment to KU to play in what very well could be a lost season for the program in 2020-2021 if a postseason ban is levied by the NCAA this summer– who knows if that’s the punishment — or if head coach Bill Self receives a lengthy suspension, is a blow for people hoping Kansas would struggle in this recruiting cycle.
When one of the top recruits in the country still picks KU when they may not have a postseason chance next season, it means this scandal is unlikely to derail KU too much in the long term, even if Thompson’s situation was unique to Kansas with the family history.
“I was able to talk to the AD surrounding the whole NCAA situation. He cleared it up pretty much, it’s not going to be perfect, but I trust the coaching staff and that they are going to do what’s right.” https://t.co/RoOb4lMO4F
— Jayhawk Talk (@JayhawkTalk) November 12, 2019
It also means that Kansas — unless there’s a transfer exodus after punishments are handed out likely this summer — could have a terrific team next season, assuming only Devon Dotson, Isaiah Moss, Ochai Agbaji and Udoka Azubuike are the only real threats to not be on campus next season (Moss and Azubuike because they’re seniors and the others because they’re trendy NBA prospects).
Kansas bringing in three recruits, including a 5-star, to join possibly three, definitely two, redshirting players (Dejaun Harris, Mitch Lightfoot and maybe Wilson) along with a handful of players likely to return gives KU a good base for next season.
With Thompson off the board, Vandegrift forward and No. 8-rated recruit in the country Greg Brown is the highest-rated recruit likely to pick a Big 12 school as the hometown Longhorns, who have yet to receive a commitment from a 2020 player, appear to be the favorite to land him according to 247Sports. I wouldn’t be too alarmed that Texas doesn’t have a commitment yet as the current team has no seniors and just one scholarship to handout, and that scholarship is slated for Brown.
If Texas lands Brown it would be the first time Smart has reeled in the highest-rated in-state prospect.
Also on Tuesday, No. 22-ranked recruit Nimari Burnett picked Texas Tech, giving the Red Raiders their second top-50 recruit in two weeks. Michah Peavy, the No. 2-rated player in Texas and No. 43-ranked overall player picked Tech on Nov. 4.
— Nimari Burnett (@NimariBurnett) November 12, 2019
The Red Raiders now have the No. 6-ranked recruiting class in the nation and the top-rated in the Big 12, edging out Baylor who is at No. 8.
While Burnett is Tech’s highest-rated recruit, Baylor’s current top recruit is Dain Dainja, the No. 51-rated player in the class. Oklahoma State (Cunningham) and Kansas (Thompson) boast the highest-rated players committed to a Big 12 school.
Iowa State also had a good week in landing 7-foot center Xavier Foster, the No. 59-rated recruit.
8. Tuesday night basketball: Biggest story
While Evansville, with the help of former Big 12 player Sam Cunliffe (Kansas), was the biggest story on Tuesday with the upset of No. 1-ranked Kentucky, Oklahoma improved to 3-0 with a win over Oregon State at the Phil Knight Invitational in Portland.
Kristian Doolittle scored 19 points as four Sooners scored in double figures.
Doolittle missed the first game of the season for Oklahoma but has scored 19 and 10 points while grabbing 16 and 10 rebounds in the following two games, both of which came in wins over Power 5 teams (Minnesota and Oregon State). The Sooners are the only Big 12 team to play two Power 5 teams in the first week.
7. Desmond Bane is lights out
TCU’s success this season hinges on Desmond Bane being awesome and so far Desmond Bane has been awesome.
The senior sharpshooter scored 26 in the first game of the season against Division III Southwestern and then scored 25 in a 98-65 win Louisiana-Lafayette on Tuesday. Bane made seven 3-pointers and had seven rebounds and five assists.
If TCU, predicted to finish in the bottom of the league, is to beat expectations Bane needs to play at an All-League and All-American level.
Texas Tech coach Chris Beard loves to talk about Whataburger when he chats with the media and I believe he probably eats at or thinks of eating at Whataburger every day. I don’t blame him.
Texas Tech’s basketball schedule is as soft as an inside of a biscuit that comes with the honey butter chicken biscuit.
There’s as much empty calories in the Texas Tech schedule as a Whataburger No. 1 with a Dr. Pepper milkshake.
Texas Tech’s schedule is as sad as someone pulling into an In-and-Out Burger when there’s a Whataburger less than five minutes away.
It’s ridiculous that the hot “it program” of the Big 12, one that’s just a few months removed from nearly winning a national championship and winning recruiting battles nationally, won’t play its first non-conference Power 5 — hell, their first Power 5 or Group of Five — game until Nov. 28. That’s 23 days after the start of the season. OU has already played two in seven days — away from Norman!
Tech’s only road game before Big 12 play will be a trip to Chicago to play DePaul, a team that’s off to a strong start, but a team who’s only preseason rankings came on coaching hot seat lists.
Schedules aren’t made years in advance like football. Some home-and-home games are scheduled in advance and some are part of conference deals, but for the most part a lot of these schedules are put together over the summer.
And even if some of these games were agreed upon in advance, Texas Tech has been good for two years now going on three. The Red Raiders need to step up to the level of other marquee programs.
Texas went to Purdue last week. Kansas opened the season with Duke. Baylor flew to freaking Anchorage, Alaska, to play Washington. There’s a more than likely chance Texas will play Duke next week, Kansas will try to run the gauntlet in Maui and Baylor could potentially play Villanova, Mississippi State and/or Utah at the Myrtle Beach Invitational next week.
Baylor and Kansas, the two favorites in the league, will play monster December games. Kansas travels to Philadelphia for a matchup with Villanova. The Jayhawks will end December on the other coast, playing Stanford. Baylor hosts Arizona and Butler. After Tech plays what could be the best game of the month, Louisville at the Jimmy V Classic, Tech retreats to another three game stretch of blah games.
Texas Tech should have a good game against a rebuilding Iowa team at the Las Vegas Invitational later this month, but that will lead to games against either San Diego State or Creighton — good programs, but not near what the three other top Big 12 teams will play.
The Red Raiders likely have the best chance to go undefeated these first two months, but if they lose a handful of games in conference, and let’s say lose close to Louisville next month, there’s not much they can show from the first two months to justify moving up a seed on Selection Sunday.
This makes their January non-conference game against Kentucky more important.
I’m not saying Texas Tech needs to load up like North Carolina has in the past or Seton Hall has this season, but if you’re going to pay a coach like a you’re a basketball school, you should schedule like you’re basketball school.
Note: The gold standard of scheduling in this conference has been schedule-makers in Austin and Lawrence.
Texas got some flack for this year’s schedule, but traveling to Purdue, playing Providence, facing Texas A&M on a neutral court and playing in an invitational where you’ll face Georgetown and likely Duke is better than what Tech will play. We can argue all day if Louisville on a neutral is a tougher game than Purdue on the road, but it isn’t. Because home court matters more in college basketball than just about any sport.
Kansas’ secret isn’t that they always schedule three-to-four major non-conference games, it’s that even the games against low-and-mid-majors are usually against teams predicted to finish in the top three of their conference, which is why Kansas nearly always ranks high both inside the conference and nationally at Kenpom in strength of schedule.
Five games to watch until next Thursday
5. Monmouth at Kansas, 7 p.m., Friday ESPN+
It’s a light week of games. KU’s two-big front needs to start showing some improvement in these tune-up games or the Jayhawks may need to scrap it. Monmouth isn’t great but did beat Lehigh to open the season.
4. Air Force at TCU, 8 p.m., Monday, FSSW+
This will be TCU’s toughest game so far and it’ll be interesting to see if Bane can continue to scoring at a high-level.
3. Texas State at Baylor, 8 p.m., Friday, ESPN+
The Bobcats have quietly built a good low-major program under coach Danny Kaspar. The Bobcats won 24 games last season and are 2-1 so far. The Bobcats lost 78-71 at Air Force on Nov. 9 but scored 91 and 103 points in their first two games. This shouldn’t be a difficult game for Baylor, but at least it’s better than Texas Tech playing Tennessee State.
2. Yale at Oklahoma State, 1:30 p.m., Sunday ESPN+
Yale went 22-8 last season and reached the NCAA Tournament. They’re one of the best Ivy League programs out there and oddly enough this is the season in which the Ivy League could actually — don’t laugh — push for two bids with Harvard receiving 24 votes in the preseason AP poll. That won’t happen if Yale or Harvard can’t upset multiple Power 5 for Group of Five teams, so from that point, the Bulldogs traveling to Stillwater is at least interesting.
Yale is legitimately the best team OSU has played so far, beating out Oral Roberts for that title.
1. Texas vs. Georgetown, 6 p.m., Thursday (Nov. 21), at Madison Square Garden, ESPN2
The Longhorns have one more tune-up before heading to New York next week, Prairie View A&M, who lost to Texas State on Tuesday 75-48. Assuming UT gets by, they’ll play Georgetown, coached by Patrick Ewing, with the winner playing Duke the following day.
Hopefully Texas isn’t looking ahead, because the Hoyas should be the best squad Ewing, now in his third season, has put together. They play Penn State at home today which should help better gauge the type of team they’ll be.
Personally, it would be pretty cool if Ewing can bring Georgetown back to prominence but I think Texas will be favored in this one and should win.