1. The Big 12 is the deepest basketball conference in America. After a 2-5 bowl season, I admittedly overvalued the Big 12 on the football scene. But, when it comes to hoops, it’s not close. Seven of ten teams were ranked in the top 25 last week. And with the way the early conference schedule has shook out, with teams beating each other up, this is going to be a thrilling six weeks for Big 12 fans.
When we discuss these match ups, it’s important to mention that this is quite possibly the best group of coaches in the country. Fred Hoiberg, Bill Self, Lon Kruger, Bob Huggins, Bruce Weber, and Tubby Smith lead the way in X’s and O’s, and then there’s the group of really good recruiters, with something to prove on the sidelines, led by Travis Ford, Scott Drew, and Rick Barnes. It’s all adds good storylines to a compelling conference season.
2. That being said … I don’t believe the Big 12 has a legitimate Final Four contender. It is possible that the rugged Big 12 schedule will prepare one of the teams to make a deep run in the NCAA Tournament. But, as talented as all of the teams in the conference are, I believe the top half falls somewhere between the 10th-25th ranking in the country. Now, this ability and talent being so even is what will make the conference so exciting this season. But, the fact no team is complete enough to make that deep run could be the Big 12’s downfall. My best bets to make that run as of now: Iowa State, Oklahoma, Kansas.
3. The biggest reason Kansas won’t win their 11th straight Big 12 title: lack of an interior presence on defense. Bill Self has always had that guy(s), from the Morris twins, to Thomas Robinson, Cole Aldrich, Joel Embiid and others. That player doesn’t exist on this Kansas team. Highly recruited freshman Cliff Alexander has a chance to be the man for the job. But, Bill Self has had issues with Alexander’s motor at times (i.e. Saturday’s second half benching vs. Iowa State). We’ll see if that puts a fire under Alexander for the rest of the season.
4. Speaking of Saturday against Iowa State, what a great scene College GameDay was in Ames, Iowa. It was the show’s first trip there, and the Iowa State fan base and community did not disappoint. I have a feeling that it won’t take too long for the show to return the Hilton Coliseum. My favorite GameDay sign of the day: A white poster board that simply said “MY FRIEND IS THAI”.
5. I mentioned the parity and depth of the Big 12, so after non-conference play, who would’ve thought it’d be Kansas State currently in sole possession of first place at 4-1. But, you know who I’m confident won’t win the Big 12? Kansas State. The come from behind win against Baylor on Saturday was impressive, Marcus Foster is a really nice player, and Bruce Weber is a top notch coach. But, I don’t think the team has the depth to compete in the grueling 18 game double round robin schedule. K-State got 12 points from their bench on Saturday against Baylor, 5 against TCU, and 11 against Oklahoma State.
6. As we discuss the depth and quality of the Big 12, and the disappointing finish of the football season, is it possible the Big 12 is now a basketball conference? No chance. It’s a nice thought, but outside of the fan base at Kansas, and maybe Iowa State, there is no doubt that every other fan base would prefer a nationally competitive football team to a nationally competitive basketball team.
I’ll give you a small example to prove this. If you read the site often, you know we have an Instagram account (@HeartlandCollegeSports) where we share fan photos from various games. The feedback and photos we get from football, far exceed that of basketball. I know, I know, but there are more fans at football games. But, I’m telling you it’s not close. The passion for Big 12 fan bases is still heavily football. Having a good basketball team is a consolation prize for most.
7. West Virginia was crushed by Texas 77-50 on Saturday. That drops Bob Huggins’ Mountaineers to 0-4 in their last 4 games against the Longhorns. I have watched Bob Huggins at WVU since his Big East days, and one of the teams that gave him the most trouble there was Syracuse, who he was 1-4 against. Texas and Syracuse are similar. They both slow down the pace and have an incredible amount of length. This is not an ideal match up for Huggins style, which is to press, cause chaos, and use their athleticism to force turnovers and create easy buckets. If they can’t control the pace, then a team like Texas (or Syracuse) will slow it down, and pound them inside. Texas outscored WVU in the paint 30-14.
8. The more I learn about Sooners new offensive coordinator Lincoln Riley, the more I love the selection from Bob Stoops. He’s an outsider. But, an outsider with ties to Stoops, since Riley learned the air raid offense under Mike Leach at Texas Tech (Bob Stoops one-time offensive coordinator at OU). Of course, Riley’s track record is very pass heavy, but he is also able to use and adapt to the personnel he has, and has had plenty of success running the ball, which is currently the Sooners strength.
Stoops has stepped outside his comfort zone, and hired a kid, by coaching standards, for the job. Riley is 31 years old, and Stoops is trusting him with the offense going forward. I’ve often been hard on him recently, so kudos to Stoops is in store here.
9. So Jay Norvell, one of the co-offensive coordinators fired by Bob Stoops, is heading to arch rival Texas to become their wide receivers coach. Norvell mentioned the opportunity to work with Charlie Strong, his values, vision, and more. Fair enough. But, I’m sure there was plenty of joy in “sticking it to Stoops and OU” that didn’t hurt his heading to Austin. Norvell can recruit. He was instrumental in bringing in Dorial Beckham-Green via transfer from Missouri, and he did coach up Sooner wide outs Ryan Broyles and Kenny Stills. But, the recent lack of overall production and recruiting at WR hasn’t been good.
10. Our tweet of the week. Just hilarious. By the way if you want the top 5: Mississippi, Alaska, Alabama, Louisiana, and South Carolina.
11. Former Oklahoma State standout Tyreek Hill was in court last week and his lawyer, Cheryl Ramsey, said, “My client is innocent, there is no question about that.” Ramsey requested Hill’s next trial hearing to be set for 9 a.m. on March 9, which was approved. I suppose everyone deserves to make a living, and yes, everyone deserves a chance to defend themselves, but some of these defense attorneys I have a hard time respecting. Knowing just some of the facts in this case that have been leaked, I have no idea how Ramsey accepted it. I guess money really does talk.
12. Last week Texas coach Charlie Strong was thrilled to have received verbal commitments from the “Florida 5”. They were five stud recruits from Florida that Strong thought were coming to Austin. Well, it’s now down to the “Florida 4”, after safety Tim Irvin flipped his commitment to Auburn. Other than those that are in the trenches of college football (or basketball) recruiting, I’m sure these next two and a half weeks can be beyond sketchy, to put it politely. If I were a head coach, especially in today’s world of outside influences and social media, I’d have little confidence I actually have a player locked up, until I see him sign the dotted line. Dirty, dirty business.