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Big 12 Basketball Week 1: The Good, The Bad and The Ugly

NCAA Basketball: Kansas at Iowa State

The first week of Big 12 basketball saw a surprising upset on the road, a trio of two-win teams and a pair of teams getting a late start to league play. But, even two games in, we’re already starting to see some separation between the top and the bottom of the league. Here is this week’s Good, Bad and Ugly.

The Good

Hilton Magic. Respect It.

Yeah, yeah, yeah we all know Iowa State can score. ISU is the highest-scoring team in the Big 12. The Cyclones poured it in against Kansas in that 77-60 win (45.9 percent from the floor and 52 percent from the arc). But let’s talk about the defense for a minute because that group is underrated. Iowa State forced 24 turnovers against Kansas. Some of that was undisciplined play the Jayhawks. Some of that was Iowa State’s young and athletic four-guard alignment guarding passing lanes with expert quickness. This starting lineup, which includes two freshmen, has been pouring on the offense. But if this group continues to be this effective on defense, then Big 12 teams have a real problem on their hands. This is a completely different team from a year ago. Nick Weiler-Babb is the only returning starter still in the lineup. Marial Shayok may be the conference’s best player. Michael Jacobsen is a solid interior presence who can score outside. The freshmen — Tyrese Halliburton and Talen Horton-Tucker — are long and have bought into playing defense. For now, they’ve relegated last year’s starters — Lindell Wigginton, Solomon Young, Cameron Lard and Zoran Talley Jr. — to the bench. That’s not necessarily a bad thing. Stuff is gonna happen. It always does. And last year’s starters will be well rested and ready to contribute (Wigginton, after all, has had double-figures off the bench in two of his first three games back from injury). Ladies and gentlemen, I present to you, perhaps, the deepest team in the Big 12.

 

Rolling Red Raiders

I love how this team plays defense. It just gets in the opponent’s face, whether it’s on the perimeter or inside, and just makes every pass and shot difficult. When you can do that in the half court consistently, you don’t have to press full court that often. Texas Tech escaped Morgantown with a win over West Virginia and then held Kansas State to 33.3 percent shooting in their Big 12 home opener in Lubbock. The Red Raiders have consistently been one of the best scoring defenses in the nation this season. But the offense is starting to do some interesting things. Big 12 play means that teams are going to start focusing all of their energy on Jarrett Culver. Despite that he scored 18 second-half points against West Virginia. But Culver only scored 9 against Kansas State. The Red Raiders covered for him. Davide Moretti had 19 points (including a trio of 3-pointers), Matthew Mooney had 14 points (including 7-of-8 from the free throw line) and Kyler Edwards and Tariq Owens each had nine points. That diversification of offense is going to help the Red Raiders on those nights against the true elite teams in this league. And guess what? The Red Raiders can be counted among those “true elite teams” in the Big 12 and, frankly, the country.

The Hard-to-Handle Longhorns

The Texas Longhorns are easily the most surprising team in the Big 12 through two games, and I think that’s partly because I’m not sure anyone had any idea which Texas team would show up — the one that beat North Carolina and Purdue or the one that lost to Radford and VCU? Well, we’re getting the former to start with. And it’s all about the shooting. The Longhorns have been a hot-and-cold team from the floor this season. But these first two games they’ve been impressive. Texas has shot basically nearly 50 percent from the field in its first two Big 12 games and the Longhorns’ 3-point shooting has hovered around 44 percent, which is worlds better than their 3-point shooting in non-conference. Sliding Jaxson Hayes and Elijah Mitrou-Long into the starting lineup is starting to look like a stroke of genius for head coach Shaka Smart. Plus, five different players have hit double figures in scoring for Texas in its first two games, which means the offense is flowing through multiple hands. You could say the Longhorns got lucky starting with a short-handed Kansas State and hosting winless West Virginia at home. But their field goal defense in both games was impressive. But we’ll learn a lot about Texas when it hosts Texas Tech next Saturday. Just don’t overlook Oklahoma State on the road.

The Horned Frog Experience

Granted it’s just one game, but the TCU Horned Frogs look like the complete team I thought they were when I caught their game against Indiana State, and that’s saying something considering head coach Jamie Dixon was worried about the chasm between the team’s vets and newcomers. This team has blended together well. Dixon only played eight against Baylor, an 85-81 win, but seven of them scored at least 6 points each. Four of them hit double figures. Two had double-doubles (Alex Robinson with 18 points and 10 assists and JD Miller with 13 points and 10 rebounds). The defense held the Bears to 25 percent from the 3-point line. And TCU’s overall shooting line — 56.6 percent from the floor and 42.9 percent from the 3-point line — will keep them in every game. Now, the free throw shooting (55.9 percent) must get better and the defense needs to create more opportunities (Baylor had just 11 turnovers). But with trips to Kansas and Oklahoma this week, we’ll find out a lot more about the Horned Frogs.

The Sooners are Players

I admit — I wrote off Oklahoma a bit at the start of this season. But I didn’t count on the hard work Christian James would put in this offseason (and he had double-doubles in both games this week). I didn’t count on the senior transfers Lon Kruger recruited being such factors (though he certainly needed them to be). I also didn’t count on the Sooners finding way to compensate for the injured Jamuni McNeace. Going into Lawrence and losing to Kansas by 7 is no crime in my eyes. OU played well in that game but just couldn’t find an answer for Dedric Lawson (13 points, 15 rebounds). But, statistically, the Sooners were right there. So, to me, the emergence of Kristian Doolittle against Oklahoma State on Saturday could be big. His 16 points and 8 rebounds helped the Sooners win, 74-64. McNeace re-injured his ankle on Saturday, so the Sooners need to lean on Doolittle even more. He was the player I targeted during the offseason that really needed to improve. And his production is now starting to approach his freshman numbers, when he scored 9.1 points and had 6.8 rebounds in 25 minutes per game. Doolitte has hit double figures in his last four games and is now averaging 8.1 points and 6.1 rebounds per game. That’s music to Kruger’s ears, especially once McNeace is fully healthy.

 

The Bad

Rock, Chalked

Hmmmmm… Well that games in Ames, Iowa, certainly was interesting. Those 24 turnovers must have rocked head coach Bill Self to sleep Saturday night. I admit — I wasn’t bought in to what Udoka Azubuike meant to this offense. The theory is that Azubuike’s size sucks defenders to him when he has the ball and that opens up opportunities for wide-open mid-range and 3-point shots. Well against Iowa State I really saw it. ISU didn’t have to double anyone. They could allow their guards to hand with the Jayhawks’ guards, leaving ISU’s Michael Jacobson to defend Dedric Lawson. Jacobson did a serviceable job as Lawson recorded another double-double. But Kansas’ 30 percent shooting from the 3-point line demonstrates that the Cyclones were able to contest shots. It’s one thing to lose on the road in the Big 12. It happens. But losing by 17 when you’re considered a Top 5 team? That can’t happen. So this could be a wake-up call or a sign of a more troubling trend for Kansas. Against Oklahoma the Jayhawks shot 19 percent from the arc — and that was with Azubuike on the floor. Kansas’ 3-point shooting is in the middle of the pack in the Big 12 (34.1) percent and those are some game-changing plays the Jayhawks are missing out on. I don’t think there’s a ton of reason to panic. But Kansas clearly needs to recalibrate as Azubuike recovers from an injured wrist. Lawson and Devon Dotson can’t combine for 11 turnovers. And TCU, which comes to Lawrence next week, presents many of the same difficulties as Iowa State.

A Bummer of a Start for Baylor

I went back and forth about putting Baylor in the bad category this week. I mean the Bears only played one game and they played a tough one against TCU on the road. But when you get chances to win on the road in this conference you have to pounce, and the Bears didn’t. The thing is they played good enough to win. The Bears had four players in double figures (led by Tristan Clark’s 18 points). They held their own on the glass with TCU and received great production from freshman Matthew Mayer (17 points in 14 minutes). But the contest also exposed their depth issues. The Bears played seven (Flo Thamba and Devonte Bandoo played a total of 5 minutes) and that means a lot of wear and tear on that starting lineup in the long run. They would like to manage guard Makai Mason’s minutes a little more, but without solid guard depth that’s nearly impossible. This is where they miss guard Jake Lindsey, who is redshirting due to an injury. Still, if you get the chance to see Baylor pay attention to Clark, who, to me may be one of the Top 2 or 3 most improved players in this conference. He’s developed an above-average post game and will be a factor in every Baylor win. But I’m already starting to feel these Bears could be a bottom four team in the Big 12 Tournament.

 

The Ugly

Panic Time in Manhattan?

The good news for Kansas State was that Kamau Stokes was healthy enough to play off the bench on Saturday against Texas. The bad news was that it didn’t make a ton of difference as the Wildcats lost to Texas Tech, 63-57, to start Big 12 play 0-2. Stokes played 21 minutes and scored 7 points and had 2 assists. But for the second straight game the Wildcats didn’t shoot well from the floor (32.7 percent against Texas and 33.3 percent against Texas Tech). Without a healthy Dean Wade (who is still recovering from his injured foot) and with a hobbled Stokes defenses can completely focus energy on Barry Brown Jr., who went 5-of-17 from the floor against Tech, played every minute and scored 16 points. You could argue the best player on the floor for K-State the first two league games has been Makol Mawien, who had a double-double in the post against the Red Raiders (10 points, 11 rebounds). But that’s not a recipe for long-term success in the Big 12. The injuries to Wade and Stokes have exposed the one area of this team that concerned me going into the season — depth. Mike McGuirl has given them little the last two games. Shaun Neal-Williams could become something at some point. But head coach Bruce Weber needs some more help from those players, plus Xavier Sneed and Cartier Diarra, if they expect to ride out Wade’s absence. The game with West Virginia later this week is a huge game for both teams as they try to avoid having to play the first day of the Big 12 Tournament.

‘Stress’ Virginia?

But first, these words from Mountaineers head coach Bob Huggins.

First, if basketball really were like a girlfriend I’d have SO many more dates because I understand basketball SO much better than women. Second, Huggins’ logic here is essential to basketball and life — you have to put the work in. And maybe that’s his message to his team. You HAVE to put the work in.
Texas is a tough beat now, and West Virginia lost that game, 61-54, on Saturday for its second Big 12 loss in two games. Again, Huggins trotted out a starting lineup that I really don’t agree with. But he’s making do with what he has with Sagaba Konate out of the starting lineup and the lack of a true point guard. WBES host Brandon Lowe and I talked about that and other Mountaineer topics on Friday. You can hear our discussion below.

Jevon Carter is irreplaceable when it comes to Mountaineers basketball. But Huggins knew this was coming, and not having a true point guard groomed and ready to take the baton is on him and his staff. That’s recruiting and player development. Like the opener against Texas Tech the Mountaineers had a dearth of assists (just 7 as a team) and the starting lineup was generally ineffective (at least Esa Ahmad hit double figures this time with 10 points). This team is in trouble and it’s time for Huggins to take the starting lineup in a new direction. Slide Derek Culver in there (he had 17 points and 9 boards off the bench). Get James Bolden back in there. He’s not a true point but he’s the best you have. Or it’s going to be a long season in Morgantown.

The Cowboys are What We Thought They Were

Oklahoma State was last in the Big 12 preseason poll and they’re in last place in the Big 12 right now. I think we all knew this was going to be a tough year in Stillwater and head coach Mike Boynton Jr. acknowledged that during Big 12 media days. And while they’ve played two close games with Iowa State and Oklahoma, they lost both. The depth and development isn’t there yet. The Sooners soundly outrebounded the Cowboys, 51-39. Aside from Cameron McGriff the Cowboys lack a reliable inside presence on the glass. Michael Weathers gave them a fantastic game off the bench against the Sooners (13 points, 7 rebounds and 6 assists) and he hit double-digits against Iowa State. Perhaps it’s time to give the sophomore a place in the starting lineup.

BIG 12 STANDINGS Conf. All
Texas Tech (11) 2-0 13-1
Iowa State 2-0 12-2
Texas 2-0 10-4
TCU 1-0 12-1
Kansas (5) 1-1 12-2
Oklahoma (23) 1-1 12-2
Baylor 0-1 8-5
Kansas State 0-2 10-4
West Virginia 0-2 8-6
Oklahoma State 0-2 6-8

RESULTS

Wednesday, Jan. 2
Texas Tech 62, West Virginia 59
Iowa State 69, Oklahoma State 63
Texas 67, Kansas State 47
Kansas 70, Oklahoma 63

Saturday, Jan. 5
Texas Tech 63, Kansas State 57
Oklahoma 74, Oklahoma State 64
TCU 85, Baylor 81
Iowa State 77, Kansas 60
Texas 61, West Virginia 54

NEXT GAMES (all times CST unless noted)

Tuesday, Jan. 8
Texas at Oklahoma State, 6 p.m., ESPNU
Iowa State at Baylor, 6 p.m., ESPN News
Oklahoma at Texas Tech, 8 p.m., ESNP News

Wednesday, Jan. 9
West Virginia at Kansas State, 6 p.m., ESPNU
TCU at Kansas, 8 p.m., ESPN2

Saturday, Jan. 12
Oklahoma State at West Virginia, noon EST, ESPNU
Kansas State at Iowa State, 11 a.m., ESPN2
TCU at Oklahoma, 1 p.m., FSSW
Texas Tech at Texas, 1 p.m., LHN
Kansas at Baylor, 3 p.m., ESPN

SUPERLATIVES

20-point games: Jase Febres, Texas, 23 (vs. Kansas State, Jan. 2); Marial Shayok, Iowa State, 24 (vs. Kansas, Jan. 5); Lamont West, West Virginia, 22 (vs. Texas Tech, Jan. 2),
10-rebound games: Jaxson Hayes, Texas, 11 (vs. Kansas State, Jan. 2); Christian James, Oklahoma, 12 (vs. Kansas, Jan. 2), 11 (vs. Oklahoma State, Jan. 5); Michael Jacobsen, Iowa State, 11 (vs. Kansas, Jan. 5); Dedric Lawson, Kansas, 15 (vs. Oklahoma, Jan. 2), 12 (vs. Iowa State, Jan. 5); Brady Manek, Oklahoma, 11 (vs. Kansas, Jan. 2); Cameron McGriff, Oklahoma State, 13 (vs. Iowa State, Jan. 2),
5-assist games: Jamal Bieniemy, Oklahoma, 6 (vs. Oklahoma State, Jan. 5); Barry Brown Jr., Kansas State, 5 (vs. Texas, Jan. 2); Matt Coleman III, Texas, 7 (vs. Kansas State, Jan. 2); Myles Garrett, Kansas, 5 (vs. Oklahoma, Jan. 2); Talen Horton-Tucker, Iowa State, 5 (vs. Kansas, Jan. 5); Cameron McGriff, Oklahoma State, 5 (vs. Iowa State, Jan. 2); Alex Robinson, TCU, 10 (vs. Baylor, Jan. 5); Michael Weathers, Oklahoma State, 5 (vs. Oklahoma, Jan. 5).
4-block games: Jaxson Hayes, Texas, 4 (vs. West Virginia, Jan. 5).
4-steal games: Devon Dotson, Kansas, 4 (vs. Oklahoma, Jan. 2); Brandone Francis, Texas Tech, 4 (vs. West Virginia, Jan. 2); Tyrese Halliburton, Iowa State, 4 (vs. Kansas, Jan. 5); Nick Weiler-Babb, Iowa State, 4 (vs. Kansas, Jan. 5).
Double-doubles: Christian James, Oklahoma, 11 points, 12 rebounds (vs. Kansas, Jan. 2), 14 points, 11 rebounds (vs. Oklahoma State, Jan. 5); Dedric Lawson, Kansas, 13 points, 15 rebounds (vs. Oklahoma, Jan. 2), 13 points, 12 rebounds (Jan. 5 vs. Iowa State); Brady Manek, Oklahoma, 16 points, 11 rebounds (vs. Kansas, Jan. 2); Makol Mawien, Kansas State, 10 points, 11 rebounds (vs. Texas Tech, Jan. 5); Cameron McGriff, Oklahoma State, 15 points, 13 rebounds (vs. Iowa State, Jan. 2); JD Miller, TCU, 13 points, 10 rebounds (vs. Baylor, Jan. 5); Alex Robinson, TCU, 18 points, 10 assists (vs. Baylor, Jan. 5).

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