12. Texas Tech takes down No. 1
The No. 1-ranked team is 6-4 this season, something the Kansas Jayhawks ought to be wary of when they play Villanova next week.
For the third time this season an unranked team beat the No. 1-ranked teams. For the second time this season, the No. 1-ranked team lost in Madison Square Garden. While so many college basketball scribes had been pushing for the latest hot Big Ten team to become No. 1 — last week it was Michigan and this week it’s Ohio State — Louisville was actually the top team but Texas Tech did what it does to most teams.
Smother them on defense. Make timely shots. Control the boards. Make a four-point lead feel like a 20-point and win the game by double digits.
The win snapped an odd three-game losing streak for the once No. 12-ranked Tech team, which lost on the road to DePaul in overtime and twice in Las Vegas during the preseason tournament slate.
Two of those losses you can pin on Tech being without its leading scorer and super freshman, Jahmi’us Ramsey. Against Iowa, Ramsey played 27 minutes and shot 3-of-10 and left the game with his team trailing, so that’s just a loss.
Coach Chris Beard figured it out though. Good coaches usually do.
On Tuesday, Tech — even without Ramsey — looked like the team most thought they would be in October. Even as Texas sits with an 8-1 record and West Virginia and Oklahoma have matching 7-1 records and Tech is tied for the most losses among Big 12 teams, the Red Raiders look like a team that can win the league.
11. Is this a deep league?
I saw a tweet Wednesday from the Big 12:
— Big 12 Conference (@Big12Conference) December 11, 2019
I think it’s a tad misleading.
When you look past Kansas, Baylor, Texas Tech and Texas, the rest of the Big 12 isn’t standing out.
Despite the records, there are only four teams in the league I’d put up against a No. 1 team in the country on a neutral floor and feel good about it.
Along with Texas Tech’s win, Baylor beat an undefeated Butler team and Kansas covered a 26-point spread and will likely be the No. 1 team in the nation on Monday. Texas has flaws but are deep, athletic and playing for something bigger than wins a losses — the coach’s job.
There’s nothing to worry about with those teams.
I’m wondering if there really is another no-brainer tournament team in the league. Outside of Iowa State’s win over Seton Hall and West Virginia’s win over Wichita State, those teams haven’t scored an impressive win yet — unless you count OU’s victory over Oregon State and Minnesota on neutral floors — and haven’t looked very great in a lot of wins they have gathered.
Oklahoma State has blowout wins over Power 5 schools, but unless you believe Syracuse and Ole Miss will turn their seasons around — and in that case you’re probably a Syracuse graduate who grew up in Oxford, Miss. and now lives in Stillwater — I don’t know what to take from those games.
Oklahoma is barely beating North Texas — I don’t care that the game was in Denton — and losing to Stanford. TCU lost to an average USC squad and has had a handful of close games. Kansas State, West Virginia and Oklahoma State have all dropped stinkers. Since beating Syracuse and Ole Miss, OSU has lost by five to Georgetown and 19 to Wichita State.
I’m not saying these are bad teams, and I’m not saying they will miss the tournament and not improve. I just think the league is starting to build its case as the best in basketball with a silly stat about winning percentage against the AP Top 25 but are ignoring that the league is losing 4-2 right now in head-to-head matchups with the Big East.
Many of the teams — not a one undefeated one — has yet to even play a ranked team: West Virginia, Oklahoma, Oklahoma State, TCU and Kansas State. Before Tech played Louisville, they were on that list.
Polls aren’t everything. But the tweet is misleading and mostly inflated by Baylor, which is 3-1 against ranked teams (wins over Villanova, Arizona and Butler). Iowa State’s win over Seton Hall is great. It also lost to Seton Hall by eight on a neutral floor and took a road loss to Oregon State.
That said, there will likely be at least six teams from the conference who will make the tournament, maybe even seven. I do think Iowa State and West Virginia are better than what I thought two months ago (ISU) and living up to expectations (WVU) I had for them.
League play will start, someone will beat Kansas — but not in Allen Fieldhouse — Baylor and a healthy Texas Tech and the committee will slot them in.
In years past the Big 12 has had seven or eight teams I felt comfortable playing any team in any other conference and winning. That doesn’t look like the case this year a little more than a month in.
10. Baylor and Iowa State score big wins in challenge
Marquette, St. John’s, Georgetown and DePaul gave the Big East monster wins in the first Big 12-Big East Challenge. Two of those wins came on Big 12 courts.
Baylor and Iowa State struck back.
Seton Hall, the darling of the Big East for how well its played in losses — yes that’s a dig — suffered an injury to Sandro Mamukelashvili early against Iowa State in Ames and hung tough with the Cyclones, who it beat a little more than a week earlier, but lost. Iowa State’s Tyrese Haliburton (17 points, six rebounds, five assists) was a star and George Conditt looks like he could be a difference maker for ISU later this season as he scored, along with transfer Rasir Bolton, 17 points.
While it’s tough to top DePaul-Tech last week, Butler and Baylor went nose-to-nose and Baylor grounded out a win against an undefeated Butler team that was ranked No. 18. It will be one of the best games of the slate. Butler had a chance to win in the final moments in what would have been a crushing loss to the Big 12, but Baylor hung on. The Bears winning a game in which their offense struggled (35% from the field and 22.2 % from 3-point) makes me like this team even more.
9. The curse of the column bump?
Last week Oklahoma State and West Virginia were riding high, undefeated and playing great. They went 0-3 since then. I decided to write about Oklahoma State after it took apart Syracuse and Ole Miss, but had to make major edits when it lost at home to Georgetown last week. I was curious how they would bounce back against Wichita State at home and I figured they would roll. Instead they got rolled.
I declared WVU for real. Then I wrote how they had a tough game on the road. They lost.
Hopefully it’s just a bad week for them and the column curse is on to another program.
8. Tweet of the week
Baylor sophomore Jared Butler shot 1-of-6 from 3-point and 3-of-12 from the field against Butler. His team won and it was a second-straight big win over a top-25 team. The sophomore celebrated this way:
#Baylor just wrapped up a knock down drag out game with another Top 20 team in Butler and it’s Jared Butler after the game inside the practice facility taking one shot after another after another and on and on. pic.twitter.com/HeBDuKdRUT
— David Smoak (@DavidSmoak) December 11, 2019
7. Texas Tech or Texas, what’s the better job?
Following the Red Raiders’ win over Louisville, reporter Jeff Goodman caught up with Texas Tech athletic director Kirby Hocutt and talked about coach Chris Beard, his contract and other jobs.
It’s no secret that there’s a lot riding on this season for the Texas Longhorns and coach Shaka Smart. It’s also no secret that athletic directors rarely ever talk about other jobs that aren’t open or that could be open.
Here’s what Hocutt told Goodman about rumors that Beard, a Texas grad, would become the Texas coach:
Chris Beard signed a 6-year deal worth $27 million last April, but Texas Tech AD Kirby Hocutt knows the Texas speculation won’t stop.
Hocutt addressed it head-on last night after Beard’s latest masterpiece:
“WE HAVE A BETTER JOB.”
Full story from MSG: https://t.co/6t9MZkHtR4
— Jeff Goodman (@GoodmanHoops) December 11, 2019
In a vacuum, he’s obviously right. But we don’t live in vacuums.
Beard is crushing it on the recruiting trail. He’s beating the very best programs in college basketball, he’s taken Tech to the Final Four and there’s no reason to believe this program will slide.
And what is Hocutt going to say if he doesn’t say “no comment?”
He’s certainly not going to tell the truth. Texas could probably pay Beard more if they wanted to. Texas is building a new arena. Texas is located in the heart of the state in its most livable city. Texas can recruit top players no matter who the coach is. There’s only one job in the whole conference that’s more appealing with more earnings potential and that job is in Kansas.
Saying Texas Tech is a better job overall than Texas, which is something I don’t think Hocutt is really saying, is not accurate. In the present, with Beard, with the fit — and I don’t think Beard is a perfect fit in Austin — it is better program.
Take the star coach away, and, well, did you think Bob Knight’s Red Raiders or Tubby Smith’s Red Raiders were better programs than Texas?
Some programs make the coach and other coaches make the program.
6. Team look: Kansas State
Kansas State head coach Bruce Weber was named the 2019 USA Basketball Co- National Coach of the Year award on Monday for his efforts in the FIBA U19 games this summer.
It’s an award that was well-deserved considering how terrible Team USA and Gregg Popovich were.
Weber’s Wildcats beat Alabama State 86- 41 on Wednesday and will play a giant game Saturday against Mississippi State.
Overall, one half of the reigning Big 12 co-champions enter the stretch without a signature win and is tied for the most loses– along with the other reigning Big 12 champ. The loses are the worst in the league. Pittsburgh, a bottom ACC team, and Bradley, a good mid-major team that reached the tournament last season but its still Bradley.
The home loss to Marquette was another dagger, but Marquette is a team that will be in the tournament this season.
I still think there’s enough in Manhattan for the Wildcats to become a tournament team and I trust the consistency of Weber to get this team playing better as the season rolls on.
Here’s what I like about the Wildcats: They play great defense. KSU is allowing less than 60 points a a game at 58.1 and holding teams to 31.5 percent from 3-point range and are forcing more than 19 turnovers a game.
Here’s what I don’t: The Wildcats are getting outrebounded, slightly, by opponents and while the defense is causing turnover, KSU isn’t taking advantage because they turn the ball over about 15 times a game.
Also, I think you have to talk about junior guard Cartier Diarra. He’s shooting 20.2 percent 3-point range and 37% from the field. He’s also taking the second-most shots on the team at 99. It’s not as though team-leader Xavier Sneed is doing that much better, shooting 43.8%, but at least he’s shooting 34% from 3-point range. The third part of the mini Big 3 KSU has is Makol Mawien, and he’s playing just 22 minutes a game. He’s their best big man on the team and I imagine the goal is to get him on the floor more moving forward.
5. Central Michigan at Texas, 1 p.m., Saturday, LHN
It’s easy to dismiss this game but of all the mid-major non-AAC teams Big 12 squads play this week, Texas has the trickiest one. Central Michigan (7-3) is ranked No. 191 at Kenpom. Texas ought to win by double-digits and cover whatever spread the game closes at, but this is the highest ranked mid-major a team plays over the next week, thus the most interesting of the paycheck games.
4. Oklahoma at Wichita State, 5 p.m., Saturday, ESPN2
The Shockers went to Stillwater and won by 19. OSU is No. 40 at Kenpom and Oklahoma is No. 42, so the Sooners have their work cutout for them. Make matters worse, this will be one of the biggest home games WSU will host all season and I expect the “Gregg Marshall is still a great coach” buzz to continue. For the Sooners, you don’t want to ever apologize for wins, but they’ve played up and down all year by surviving games against William & Mary and North Texas but are also 3-1 against Power 5 schools. WSU isn’t ranked, so OU has still yet to play an AP Top 25 squad, but they have played a top 100 Kenpom non-conference slate (No. 83).
Still, I think WSU, 8-1 and ranked No. 39 at Kenpom, is better.
My pick: WSU
3. Oklahoma State at Houston, 2 p.m., Sunday, ESPN2
The Cougars are No. 29 at Kenpom at 6-2 overall. They have the nation’s 19th best offense and 68th best defense. Quentin Grimes is 16.9 points per game and like DePaul’s Charlie Moore, looks nothing like the player he was at Kansas last season.
I’m not sure where you rank the importance of a non-conference game against amid-major, OSU needs this one to avoid a three-game losing streak against teams not in the Power 5. After getting ranked last week, it’s concerning that OSU couldn’t handle success. That changes. I think OSU bounces back.
My pick: Oklahoma State
2. Kansas State at Mississippi State, 10:30 a.m., Saturday, ESPNU
The Wildcats are No. 78 at Kenpom at 6-3. Mississippi State is No. 62 and 6-2 overall. This game won’t change the national perception for either team with a win, but it will give both wins that could better in March than in December. Kansas State going to an SEC arena and picking up a win makes up for a loss to Pitt on a neutral floor and could be the first step in changing my opinion on the next five teams in the Big 12.
If this was in Manhattan, I’d feel better.
My pick: Mississippi State.
1. Oklahoma at Creighton, 7:30 p.m., Tuesday, FS1
This is here because the Big 12 needs to start winning more of these challenge games and has already lost at home twice and dropped two road games.
Here’s the scorecard:
Georgetown 81, Oklahoma State 74
DePaul 65, Texas Tech 60
St. John’s 70, West Virginia 68
Marquette 73, Kansas State 65
Iowa State 76, Seton Hall 66
Baylor 53, Butler 52
The remaining games:
Tuesday, Dec. 17
Oklahoma at Creighton
Saturday, Dec. 21
Kansas at Villanova
Texas at Providence
Sunday, Dec. 22
Xavier at TCU
If Oklahoma doesn’t win at home, there’s a good chance the league goes 8-2 in the challenge because Kansas and Texas have difficult road games and KU has a massive target on its back and Xavier is No. 23 in the AP poll right now.
Creighton is 7-2 and No. 58 at Kenpom. The Sooners can win in Omaha.
My pick: Oklahoma