12. Baylor ruling the college basketball world
Gonzaga plays bad teams in games when no one is awake.
Duke lost to Clemson.
North Carolina is 8-8 and 1-4 in the ACC.
Kentucky lost to South Carolina.
Baylor is currently ruling college basketball.
There were 31 AP voters who had the Baylor Bears (14-1, 4-0) No. 1 in the latest poll, that’s one more first-place vote then No.1 Gonzaga received.
Why the Bulldogs remained No. 1 after a week in which Baylor won at Texas Tech and then dominated Kansas in Allen Fieldhouse is as questionable as some of the choices the Academy of Motion Pictures made on Monday.
The Bears not only are the best team in the Big 12, they’re the only team in the country that looks like it could string together six straight wins in March and win the whole thing.
I’ve been on the Bears since the end of last season. They have so many options — you can’t zero-in on one guy defensively — and they have two players that few teams in college basketball have — Freddie Gillespie and Mark Vital.
It’s been impressive.
While Kansas’ last several home losses — which hadn’t happened in two years — have all seemed hopeless (Kansas was blown out at home in 2017-2018 by Arizona State, Texas Tech and Oklahoma State) this one seemed the worst because Baylor didn’t jump to a big lead and cruise. They got up by 10 and just stayed there for what seemed like 33 minutes of the game, pulling ahead to its largest lead in the final minutes before eventually winning by 12.
While I could pile on Kansas (13-3, 3-1) — the Jayhawks are 0-3 against the three best teams they’ve played this season — this wasn’t about the Jayhawks. I’m not really sure where the weakness is for Baylor.
Baylor is 25th in the nation in offense, 4th in defense at Kenpom. An injury — like the ones Texas Tech and Kansas have gone through — could change things. But you can write that about every team in the nation. The difference is Baylor is so deep that, unlike Texas Tech and Kansas two years and one year ago, Baylor seems to have a lot of interchangeable parts aside from Vital and Gillespie.
Which is the key.
The 6-foot-5 forward-center Vital doesn’t care about scoring — not unlike Texas Tech’s bigs the last few years — and Gillespie is having a breakout year following his breakout year. Gillespie’s per 40 minute stats are 13.7 points, 13.6 rebounds, 3.2 blocks, 1.7 steals and is shooting 56.1% from the field. His offensive rating — an estimate of points scored for his team or points produced by a player per 100 possessions — is 134.1, the highest on the team by more than 15. He has a Defensive Rating of 80.4, the highest of any player on Baylor who has played more than 18 minutes this season. Vital is right behind him.
I thought against Kansas Gillespie and Vital would be exposed, but that’s when Baylor’s biggest strength, its guards, shined.
I’m not sure when Baylor loses again, to be honest. Maybe West Virginia. Maybe Kansas comes in healthy and wins in Waco — the Jayhawks may not have the highest ceiling in the Big 12, but they have the most room for improvement in terms of going from good to elite.
For now, it’s the Bears’ world.
11. TCU and Oklahoma flop
TCU (12-4, 3-1) and Oklahoma (11-5, 2-2) had massive challenges this week with the Horned Frogs taking a perfect Big 12 record into Morgantown and with Oklahoma getting an injured Kansas team at home.
There’s no other way to say it when the teams combined to lose by 46 points. Oklahoma was at home and lost by 14 and Kansas looked as good as it has all season — more on that below. I wondered how OU would fare against teams with bigs. Kansas has the best one in the league in Udoka Azubuike, he was 7-of-10 from the field with 16 points and 14 rebounds.
TCU led once. Desmond Bane took just eight shots. Kevin Samuel took four. It was a butt kicking as WVU rounds into very-scary-four-seed-form in the NCAA Tournament.
These two teams play each other this weekend and the winner will improve its chances if both these teams are on the bubble in March.
10. Texas Tech rebounds
After losses to Baylor and WVU, we learned that Texas Tech (11-5, 2-2) is trending to be the fourth of the Big Four in the league this season. But the Red Raiders do look like a team that can handle every team outside of Baylor, Kansas and WVU with relative ease. Never once did I think Tech was losing to Kansas State, who trailed for about 44 seconds on Tuesday.
Can Texas Tech go a few games without an injury? Losing Terrence Shannon for a game is concerning. Now it has two games — one sneaky big game — before hosting a Kentucky team that has been good — Kentucky lost to who on Wednesday?
9. The eye-opening result in Norman and Ames
First, Iowa State crushing Oklahoma was stunning but predictable. There was no way ISU was going to have another stinker home game after losing by 26 to KU. The Cyclones dominated Oklahoma from start to finish and perhaps ISU is tired of people labeling them a Big 12 bottom-three team this season. If that’s what the Cyclones are going to do the middle teams of the league at home, then they could ruin a lot of bubbles in March.
The biggest result was what Kansas did Tuesday.
No Devon Dotson, no problem. Marcus Garrett took over the point and looked like the best point guard in the league. Isaiah Moss was lights out and Kansas ran away from the Sooners in Norman — where the streak died last season.
Dotson was my pick to win the CPOY a few weeks ago, but this type of game — where Kansas shot 43.9% and committed only 11 turnovers, made eight 3-pointers on 57.1% shooting while holding Kritsian Doolittle and Brady Manek to a combined 9-34 shooting — was probably Kansas’ best win of the year.
I’ve written all season the important of Garrett to Kansas. Tuesday confirmed that Garrett’s best position isn’t small-ball four or the three– where he’s asked to be on the outside looking for shots– it’s point guard.
Bill Self confirmed it:
Bill Self said he believed Marcus Garrett hated that Dotson had to be out (hip), but loved the opportunity to show that he could be KU's point guard. "There’s no doubt who our point guard will be next year. You’ve got he and Dajuan (Harris), that’s a pretty good tandem."
— Jesse Newell (@jessenewell) January 15, 2020
He entered Big 12 play tied for the best assist-to-turnover ratio in the league and he threw five assists against OU. He’s second in assists-to-turnovers now.
What’s strange is the raw numbers tell me KU wasn’t really all that great against OU. Ochai Agbaji, who Self said was playing with a back injury, was 3-of-11 from the field, the bench yielded just four points as Kansas played eight guys and two of the three guards starting didn’t attempt a free throw. The numbers show why KU only scored 66 points.
Then you look at the second half stats alone: 50% from the field, 60% from 3-point, 6-of-6 from the free throw line, outrebounded OU 20-10. Scored 38 points. The only thing bad is that six of the 11 turnovers came in the final 20 minutes. Defensively KU allowed just 10 made shots from the field as KU lead by 17 at one point and what was a 1-point halftime lead turned into a stroll of a win over the Jayhawks.
I’m not sure what the lineup or roles will be once Dotson is back from the hip pointer injury that kept him out of the game — could be this weekend — but this result could change some things for KU.
8. The early fork in the road game
There are three tiers in the Big 12 developing:
The Big Four: Baylor, Kansas, West Virginia and Texas Tech.
The Middle: TCU, Texas and Oklahoma.
The Bottom Three: Iowa State, Oklahoma State and Kansas State.
In terms of making the tournament, the biggest games aren’t the Big Four playing each other — they don’t have to worry about making the tournament. But nearly every game The Middle play are important, especially when they play each other. Oklahoma scored a big win over Texas, but suffered an ugly loss to Iowa State and a bad loss to Kansas. TCU then was run off the court by WVU. They play this weekend. Other Middle matchups approaching? Texas travels to TCU on Jan. 29.
7. Texas turns and Oklahoma State stumbles
Last week I was — and most people who follow the team also were — very critical of the Longhorns, the future of the program and head coach Shaka Smart last week. They had just lost at home an 0-2 in Big 12 play Oklahoma team, who lost its next two games by double-digits.
Texas responded from a difficult first week of Big 12 play with back-to-back wins.
If you come away with anything but positives from the road win over OSU, you probably are hoping that Smart and the Longhorns continue to fail.
That was a great win for the team and an excellent performance from Kamaka Hepa, who was inserted into the lineup a few weeks ago and, for at least when Texas is playing OSU, is starting to find success.
The win changes things for Texas’ matchup against Kansas at home. Going into that game 1-3 off a loss might have led to a zombie crowd this Saturday. Coming in off a nice win, it could lead to an Academy Award winner sitting on the bench in an orange suit.
The other team in the Big 12 who wears a shade of orange has become the most disappointing team in the Big 12. Not only is OSU 0-4 in the Big 12, they have lost by 12, 12, 14 and 35 points in those games. They now rank 72nd at Kenpom, the defense that was so lauded in non-conference is still No. 26 in the country, but the offense is 177. The only Big 12 team worse is Kansas State at 197.
If you’re wondering when the Cowboys’ two-game stretch is — where they avoid the Big Four and have the type of week Texas just had — well it could be coming. After they play Baylor on Saturday they get two games against Iowa State and Texas A&M on the road — not easy games, but not great teams. Though they follow that with Kansas and at Oklahoma.
6. Road Warriors
If it seems like home-and-road venues don’t seem to matter as much this season in the Big 12, you’re totally wrong.
While the Bottom Three — Iowa State, Oklahoma State and Kansas State — are 0-6 on the road, the rest of the league is 9-11. That’s still a losing record, but seven teams have won at least one game on the road, two are undefeated and the margin of victories on the road games have been astonishing at 12.1 points. Only two of the nine wins were by single-digit points.
Five games to watch this week
5. Oklahoma at Baylor, 8 p.m., Monday, ESPN
Perhaps I overreacted, but the moment I saw tweets about Devon Dotson being out against Oklahoma, then thinking about how OU played, when motivated, against Texas, I thought KU would lose. I overestimated Oklahoma. I won’t overestimate them moving forward. I think this game on the road in Baylor will be a trouncing but given who the head coach is and the experience OU does have, there could be another motivated performance from the Sooners.
It’s clear to me Baylor is the No. 1 team in the nation, but I doubt Gonzaga will drop the top spot this week. The biggest fear here is Baylor having stinker game, overlooking an OU team that may — may — be riding a three-game losing streak entering the road game.
I don’t think OU is a tournament team. Their unimpressive performances outnumber their impressive ones, but this is the type of win that gets you over the bubble hump on Selection Sunday.
Matchup to watch: Jamal Bieniemy and Jared Butler could be a nice matchup. I thought Bieniemy could be a breakout player in the Big 12 this season, but he’s not been too impactful with 5.3 points per game and going from a 40.3% 3-point shooter as a freshman to 21.3 this season — yikes. The talent is there and maybe he’ll be inspired by his uncle Eric, who is a win away from making the Super Bowl. His performance against one of the leading Big 12 POY candidates in Butler will be noteworthy if the Sooners upset Baylor in Waco.
4. Texas Tech at TCU, 7 p.m., Tuesday, ESPN+
What a big week this is for TCU.
After being whacked by West Virginia, TCU faces a game against a similar team — see below — on Saturday and then hosts one of the Big Four. Texas Tech went to Kansas State and won by double-digits but lost by 12 to WVU in Morgantown. They may be in line for another big win at home against Iowa State on Saturday — if the Raiders are healthy — but it’ll be interesting to see what TCU does against the Big Four at home and interesting to see what Texas Tech does against the Middle of the League on the road.
Let’s not forget, as well, that Tech plays Kentucky at home the very next game and —dare I say it — this is a textbook trap game.
Matchup to watch: Every game Texas Tech plays against a capable big man will be the matchup to watch because it only has one big, T.J. Holyfield, who is very good and a very tough matchup for traditional bigs. Traditional bigs like Kevin Samuel. So, like last weekend against WVU, the question will be how Texas Tech decides to play it.
Pick: Texas Tech.
3. Texas at West Virginia, 6 p.m., Monday, ESPNU
Rough two-game stretch, especially on the Saturday-Monday turnaround for Texas. How Texas plays in this game, I think, will be based on what happens Saturday.
Matchup to watch: Don’t be surprised if Texas plays small against the very big, very physical Mountaineers in order to get the matchups they want. After Kamaka Hepa scored 15 points against OSU, I’m curious to see what he does if he’s matchup against — I’m guessing —Jermaine Haley. If Texas tries to play big with WVU and have Hepa defend Derek Culver, then I don’t think that will end up well for UT.
Texas’ best win of the Big 12 season came as Jericho Sims scored six points and took four shots against OSU. This could be a game were we see more Royce Hamm.
2. TCU at Oklahoma, 1 p.m., Saturday, ESPN+
The fork in the road game, as mentioned above. Pretty simply, I think both of these teams will likely be on the NCAA bubble in March. Thus making this game important. A road win like this would give the Horned Frogs a massive confidence boost as it heads into an incredibly difficult part of the schedule: Texas Tech, at Arkansas, Texas, at Baylor.
For the Sooners, it’s all about who shows up. Is it the team that blitzed Texas in the second half last week? Or is it the one that got demolished by Iowa State in Ames?
Matchup to watch: Desmond Bane and Kristian Doolittle. Will one of them score 30 points?
1. Kansas at Texas, 1 p.m., Saturday, ESPN
What a strange season when Kansas State’s trip to Allen Fieldhouse on Jan. 21 isn’t one of the top five games of the week or the biggest game of the four-day stretch Kansas has. That’s on Kansas State for making this the least anticipated Sunflower Showdown in years.
That said, all eyes will be on Texas, who beat Kansas at home last season, as the Longhorns have a chance for a signature win of the season. Kansas though is flipping the script. We touched on it last week when Kansas — who was god awful on the road last season — is now 2-0 away from Lawrence with two rather easy wins. Baylor’s takedown in Allen Fieldhouse will likely be the biggest win of the season for a team in Big 12 play, but Kansas beating Oklahoma in Norman without Dotson and playing some of its best offensive basketball of the season is, well, go back and read the above note.
Texas needs this and considering this is a “McConaughey Game” I expect the usual near-sellout crowd when Kansas rolls in. If Dotson is out, Texas has a great shot at winning unless the Jayhawks have finally unlocked its best lineup — sans Dotson — as it looked like against Oklahoma.
Matchup to watch: I wish we knew if Dotson was playing, because Matt Coleman and Dotson would be fun. We don’t. I feel like Marcus Garrett is having a moment and he’ll be on Coleman.
My pick: Kansas