For those that haven’t payed much attention to the rest of the Big-12 this may be for you to get up to speed as we inch closer to conference play. I will go through each team labeling them Contender or Pretender. I’ve watched 2-3 or more games on each team so far. This may not play out to be accurate at season’s end but this should give a good idea of who stands in our way to #13.
Baylor. Ranking: #4 AP, KenPom- #11. Adj O- #15, Adj D- #14.
Maybe the most talked about Big-12 team besides KU this non-conference is Scott Drew’s Bears. 8-0 with big wins against Oregon, Xavier, Louisville and solid wins against VCU & Michigan St. Officially it says they have won against 4 ranked teams but we all know Izzo’s squad is not a Top 25 team this year.
Is Baylor for real? Yes they are.
Replacing their starting PG, do it all SF/PF & C should have led to growing pains but their replacements Manu Lecomte (Miami transfer) and Jo Lual Acuil Jr (red-shirted due to heart condition) both used the red-shirt year to develop their games. Jonathan Motley entering the starting lineup has also had a big effect on this teams efficiency at both ends of the floor. Last year he was a 6th man type, this year he’s their leading scorer and no questions asked best player. So far these three players have shown to be better then the guys they replaced from last years squad. That’s tough to say especially when Prince was drafted & Rico Gathers ended his career as one of the top rebounder’s in Big-12 history.
The win against Louisville is their biggest win so far. Winning in that weird ball-room place in the Bahamas (KU lost to Villanova a few years ago) showed a tough team. They were down 22 points and looked hopelessly beaten. They looked like a typical Scott Drew team that was folding playing top competition. But then the game changed and Baylor found a way to come back and eventually won. Louisville will be a solid top 10ish team all year, its a big win. The Oregon win looks good on paper as well as Xavier but both times Baylor got lucky playing them at home. Oregon was also short their best player and looks like a team that is still putting itself together. Xavier might not be a Top 10 team this year but it was another statement win.
The one question every KU fan and Big-12 fan knows though is can Scott Drew coach this team up in Big-12 play. Are they peaking now? Can the zone-match-up defense that gives teams fits in non-conference play hold up when teams who play them annually scout and pick apart game film to find weaknesses. Is Baylor’s home court atmosphere good enough to win big games against KU and others? If the answer to those questions is yes, then KU has perhaps its biggest challenger in years on its hands. OU & Iowa St looked poised to take KU down last year and just couldn’t survive the gauntlet that is Big-12 play. Holding serve at home and getting 1 or 2 lucky breaks on the road is absolutely needed to win this league. You have to play perfect almost every night.
West Virginia: Rank- #15 AP- KenPom #9- Adj O #16- Adj D # 8
I’m not sure which team I despise more: Huggy Bear’s slap attack or ISU’s weatherwax delusional clan. I guess they both can be on equal footing.
Huggins again has a team that can contend for the Big-12. The AP poll has them lower then KenPom which has them a solid Top 10 squad right now. They haven’t played a tough non-conference, just two games that even stick out. Temple is decent and had a huge lead over West Virginia in a neutral court game. Temple blew the lead like a lot of teams do facing non-stop pressure, WVU came back but didn’t have enough clutch shots in the end to get the comeback victory. Just this past week West Virginia went into Virginia and got a huge win on the road. It was a chippy low scoring slugfest. Pack-Line defense against nagging full court pressure. Virginia is not the Virginia of the past few years offensively- and without arguably their best player who was kicked off the team just a few games into the season for what sounds like a drug problem, UVA is 3rd or 4th best ACC team this year. Still a road win is a road win and it shows that no matter how much talent you have, a certain style of play can overcome weaknesses on a team.
As far as West Virginia’s players go, Devin Williams is gone (thank every basketball god out there) Paige is gone- he was a nuisance and Jonathan Holton who was the lead man on their press is also gone. Esa Ahmad a former top 100 player who had a typical freshman year last season has become their leading scorer. Their 2nd leading scorer- Nathan Adrian? Who? Now sports a made for TV haircut instead of his traditional buzz cut. Seems like he’s been at West Virginia half a century. Went from 4 pts a game to over 10. Juniors Jevon Carter who looks 50 with his hair-line and new dirty player of the year nominee Daxter Miles (see my thread about his dirty hit on a Virginia player) are still kicking around fouling people and launching 3’s.
I struggled with putting this team as a contender because I don’t think this years squad is that good. Their style of play dictates they can muddy up any game and keep them from losing games they might otherwise. Other than Virginia they haven’t played a team that wouldn’t beat a bottom dweller in the Big-12 so the jury is still out on how good they really are. Last years WVU squad would roll this years version by 20. But there is enough veterans on the squad to think they will find ways to win some games on the road and they always give KU their super bowl effort in Morgantown in which we always wonder if the ref’s drink the local water before the game, or they are secretly wearing West Virginia shirts under those zebra uniforms. Self has never figured out how to attack the press without us fans pulling our hair out. The home/away games will be tough especially with how they are scheduled.
Iowa St: Rank- #25- KenPom #23- Adj O #31- AdjD #19
In what should be Iowa St.'s last year as a Big-12 contender for a while, Prohm has 6 seniors in his rotation. Gone is George slow-mo Niang and Predator clone McKay from last years squad. Niang was not replaceable and Prohm went the transfer route to try and replace some of the production lost.
Monte Morris has taken over this team and is the leading scorer. Deonte Burton has really come on in recent games and is a match-up nightmare for most squads who don’t have an undersized athletic forward roaming around on their team that weighs 240. Naz Long comes back for his 17th season after medically red-shirting with a hip injury. He’s been terribly inefficient so far shooting the 3 ball. Matt Thomas is one of those 4 year players that you love to have on your team and hate to play against. Iowa St literally has no one on the team over 6’8. Josh Jackson is as tall as their tallest guy. That in a nutshell has exposed their biggest problem this year- post size and depth. They have neither and Prohm is forced to play mid-major small in a power 5 conference.
Schedule wise Iowa St has played 3 teams with a pulse and lost 2 of them. Miami is rebuilding, Iowa St beat them on a neutral court then lost to still Undefeated Gonzaga 2 days later in a hard fought 2 point game. Monte Morris blew a chance for a game winning shot by not even getting one off in time, which for a Senior leader is inexcusable. Gonzaga is a top team again this year so the loss isn’t the end of the world. Last week Iowa St dropped an OT game against Cincinnati in which both teams were allergic from putting the ball into the basket. A 55-54 OT game. Cincinnati usually makes every game they play a fall asleep type affair but this game was filled with lots of missed shots.
The #'s so far say Iowa St is a better defensive team then offensive team. That is usually the opposite as Iowa St spreads the floor and takes jumpers whenever they feel like it. I feel a lot of it is due to Niang being gone. He was such an offensive juggernaut from all over the court and his point forward ability allowed ISU to have 2 PG’s on the floor at all times. Without that guy on the floor who could get a basket anytime he wanted ISU has had to rely on other individual talents. Because of the Seniors on this team I still have them as a contender and with the 2nd best home-court advantage in the league they always have the ability to hold serve for 9 games in-conference. This isn’t ISU’s best squad and it will show in road games where they struggle to get timely buckets and lack size to protect the rim and rebound.
Oklahoma- Rank- None- KenPom #42 Adj O #59 Adj D # 35
No team lost more from last year then this squad. 3 starters, Buddy Hield, Cousins, Spangler. They had a banner year making the Final 4 and playing one of the best games in Allen Fieldhouse history. Left is PG Jordan Woodard-their leading scorer and C Kadeem Lattin a defensive player with an emerging offensive game as he’s averaging double figures now. Christian James has emerged as their 2nd leading scorer and is trying to follow in the footsteps of Hield, similar game and player. 3 Freshman are contributing and 2 other Sophomores who played sparingly last year. Young squad, definite rebuilding year.
So far they have dropped an OT game against Northern Iowa, beaten an okay Clemson squad and got blown out by Wisconsin on the road. OU looked promising early against Wisconsin but then the Badgers took over the game after halftime and made the final margin of victory look like a blowout. That game to me signaled that they are going to struggle at times in Big-12 play. They have talent, more so then 80% of the league but its going to take Kruger time to get them to play together. I think they could upset a few teams and make the NCAA’s because we all know the coach is good and has a proven track record for developing his team. They are still shooting the 3 ball well as a team and they are lucky that 4 year starter Woodard is still around to take pressure off the rest of the squad. They look like a 11-7 to 9-9 Big-12 squad this year.
Texas Tech: Rank- None- KenPom #31 Adj O- #33- AdjD #38.
This might be the toughest team to get an early season prediction on because they have played literally nobody so far. Auburn is a young squad with some talent but probably an SEC afterthought again so the 2 point loss to them doesn’t bode well for them making the NCAA’s without some marquee Big-12 wins. The #'s so far say they are better then average but seriously who wouldn’t look good beating Houston Baptist, North Texas, Eastern Kentucky, Utah St, Incarnate Word, Rice, UT San Antonio. So far its the 11th worst out of conference schedule of 351 teams. They play nobody until traveling to Iowa St to start conference play.
New head coach replacing Tubby Smith is Chris Beard who got Arkansas Little Rock into the NCAA’s and knocked off Purdue in one of those epic first round games. Beard inherited a good team that made the NCAA’s themselves but stood no match for Butler. Starting Center Odiase has not even played this season but Texas Tech is 8-1 anyway. A key graduate transfer in Anthony Livingston is providing solid scoring so far and overall they have 7 guys averaging 8 points or more a game.
They certainly have the experience back and players to finish in the upper half of the league but its hard to predict that with them playing such a soft schedule so far. When they played a Power 5 school they lost and they had a chance to tie the game with 4 seconds left but Aaron Ross- their leading scorer’s shot was blocked. Until this team proves itself in conference they could be a team that finishes 11-7 to 7-11. The ceiling is there for them to continue off last years success with a 1st year coach.
TCU: Rank- None- KenPom- #51 Adj O- #67- Adj D- #54
First year coach Jamie Dixon comes back to his Alma-Mater after a successful stint at Pittsburgh where he routinely made the NCAA tourney. TCU was undefeated until last night when SMU blew them out at home. SMU is a tough place to travel and win but the margin of victory says that TCU still has a long ways to go. There was some chatter they would be ranked but good thing this game gave everyone thinking that a wake up call. The two wins against Washington- a perennial underachieving team with NBA talent are probably not going to be substantial resume wins by end of season.
Dixon has some talent leftover from the previous regime and he did land a Top 40 PG in Jaylen Fisher who has been solid so far 11ppg, 4 assists. Alex Robinson a transfer from Texas A&M has been their leading scorer. Perennial disappointment Karvier Shephard is still around, Kenrich Williams is back from a knee injury and is averaging a double/double so far. Brodziansky- a twig post has also become one of their leading scorers in his 2nd year with the team. TCU plays 10 guys on the regular and has depth to stay in games. Can a good coach make that much of a difference in 1 year to change the winning culture around the program. Will fans show up and support the new coach and updated facilities? They should do better than 2-16 but its more likely 7-11 would be a big turnaround for this squad. KU does travel down to TCU for the Big-12 opener so we’ll get to see soon if TCU is improved…
Oklahoma St: Rank- None- KenPom- #47 Adj O #27 Adj D #81
First year coach Brad Underwood brings an exciting style of play to OSU that Travis Ford never did. I think this was the best hire in the Big-12 in the off-season that has 3 new coaches. So far OSU is top 10 in tempo- they play fast and take lots of shots. Offensive numbers have been staggering so far but when they have played better competition they have come back down to earth. UNC absolutely destroyed them when some people were starting to take notice of this team.
Future NBA Sophomore Juwan Evans leads the Big-12 in scoring at 23 ppg. His shooting #'s so far are impressive and some TV guys have compared his game to Chris Paul. I think his usage % is near 34% so he’s getting big numbers while also getting a lot of opportunities. Phil Forte is back for his senior year after having his year cut short last season with injury. Just another guy your like “he’s still around”. Never been a fan of this guy and every-time he plays KU its his Super Bowl. Jeffrey Carroll might be the guy who’s benefited the most from the switch in style and coaches as he’s doubled his scoring average from 8 to 16 this year. Oklahoma St has 3 guys averaging 14 pts or more a game so they definitely want to score the basket. OSU plays 11 guys in its regular rotation and has 7 guys who have attempted 15 or more 3’s on the season.
Schedule wise they have dropped games to UNC as mentioned before in Maui & a 1 point loss to Maryland who’s in a down year from past squads. Otherwise their best win is against a struggling Georgetown team and a injury stricken Uconn squad down to 6 or 7 healthy bodies. OSU has 1 more chance before conference play to get a big win traveling to Wichita St next weekend. Style wise this team might surprise in Big-12 play by scoring but the biggest issue is this is a team that doesn’t defend anything. When Central Arkansas & Rogers St (must be a Div-2 squad) can score over 85 points against them imagine what KU and others will put up. Of course the last game of the regular season- traveling to Stillwater is the annual Bill Self can’t win in Gallagher Iba reunion. This year we don’t travel in February, its the 18th game of the schedule so maybe this will break the curse that has followed this team in that gym.
Kansas St: Rank Never, KenPom- Overrated Adj O # false Adj D # biased
Did I mention yet that K-St sucks? If not then I am saying it now. Just how delusional are K-St fans. They have actually had a discussion I’ve seen that says their talent is a wash at most positions this year with KU. The water in Manhattan must have a nice spike to it. I don’t expect anything less from them because its typical, so typical that all you can do is laugh. Hey some K-St fans still think Dean Wade is the next Larry Bird. It would be like them to have the worst coach in the Big-12 with that pip-squeak voice that follows when he opens his mouth. How many more years does Bruce Weber get. They could have had Underwood- instead they get mediocrity- at best.
What else is there to say about this team. They have played a bunch of YMCA squads at home, lost a 1 point game to Maryland- not the only Big-12 school to do that so far. Cream puff central so far in out of conference play. Not wasting anymore time discussing them. They will finish last in the league in my opinion and I’ll be so happy if that does happen
I forgot Texas.
At this point Texas is a pretender. Shaka has a lot of work to do with this squad and at 4-4 they are struggling mightily to win games. I think we’ve talked up Texas enough over the weeks. I see them as a bottom level Big-12 team unless they figure out chemistry and the PG mess they got going on.