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

NCAA Basketball: West Virginia at Kansas

The first week of Big 12 basketball saw the home teams go a perfect 5-0, a tilt between ranked teams in Kansas and West Virginia and an overtime win for the TCU Horned Frogs. Here is this week’s Good, Bad and Ugly. 

THE GOOD

THIS EARLY BIG 12 SCHEDULE

If you love great basketball, you have to love the gift the schedule-makers have given us for the first three sets of games in the Big 12. On Saturday we got a matchup of two ranked teams (West Virginia at Kansas), a pair of Texas-based teams that don’t particularly like each other (Texas at Baylor) and a couple of tight contests with teams trying to prove themselves outside of the league’s regular viewers (Kansas State at Oklahoma and Iowa State at TCU). Only the Texas-Baylor game was a real disappointment from an excitement standpoint. And, well, yeah, Oklahoma State at Texas was a real dud.

But this coming week? 

On Tuesday it’s another pair of ranked teams in Lubbock when Baylor travels to Texas Tech. On Wednesday Kansas goes to Iowa State, and we know how much they LOVE each other. Plus, Oklahoma is in Austin to face Texas. Again, lots of love between those two.

Then the weekend set features all four currently ranked teams facing each other — Baylor at Kansas and Texas Tech at West Virginia. 

Man, it’s like the Big 12 schedule makers knew what was coming and know what we like. Love it.

 

 

THE GAME OF THE DAY

I wish I could have watched West Virginia at Kansas live, but I was driving to Waco to cover the Texas-Baylor game. Hey, I have to be somewhere on opening night. But I rewatched the game on Sunday morning and it certainly lived up to the hype of a pair of ranked teams playing each other on the conference’s first weekend. 

I put together three quick takeaways for each team:

WEST VIRGINIA

THESE MOUNTAINEERS ARE DEEP. There’s so much to love about this team that by season’s end the talent will help even out the missed opportunities they experienced on Saturday. Oscar Tshiebwe is a force underneath. Derek Culver’s athleticism makes the high-low game work inside. The perimeter players complement each other well. Miles McBride coming off the bench can give them instant offense. Ten different Mountaineers played at least 12 minutes. That will keep this team well-rested. 

WHO’S GOING TO REBOUND OFFENSIVELY BETTER THAN WVU? I don’t see a team in the Big 12 that can rebound on the offensive glass like WVU. Tshiebwe had much to do with that (8 of his 17 rebounds were on the offensive side). But Culver had seven and the team had 21. Culver talked at the start of the season about the emphasis on team rebounding and it’s paying off.

EMMITT MATTHEWS JR. CAN’T DISAPPEAR LIKE THAT. On Saturday he had just 2 points in 29 minutes. Matthews should be the third scoring option on this team. His ability to slash to the basket is vital to creating space in the lane for the bigs. 

KANSAS

I THOUGHT THIS TEAM WAS GOING TO BE BETTER FROM THE ARC? That’s part of what transfer Isaiah Moss was supposed to bolster. Additionally, Devon Dotson and Marcus Garrett were supposed to be improved in that area. It didn’t translate consistently on Saturday, as the Jayhawks were 3-of-17 from the arc. Moss tried two and missed both. Dotson hit two. Ochai Agbaji, a player you don’t expect to hit 3-pointers, had one. With Udoka Azubuike on the floor teams have to account for him and defenders are likely going to sag on the perimeter to help with the big man. Kansas has to make those outside shots more often. They’re third in 3-point shooting percentage in the Big 12, but they’re tied for the third-fewest made. If they’re not going to have the volume, the percentage must get better.

MORE CHRISTIAN BRAUN, PLEASE. The Jayhawks started the game with Azubuike and David McCormack on the floor. McCormack only played 10 minutes. Braun, a guard, played 30, scoring 6 points, grabbing 5 rebounds and snagging 2 steals. During my rewatch I was impressed with his defense and his energy. That was a solid adjustment by head coach Bill Self. With Azubuike on the floor, Kansas probably doesn’t need two bigs on the floor too often (and it didn’t seem to work against the Mountaineers). This time could be given to Moss, as well, but Braun’s had a palpable impact in the second half, even if the box score doesn’t necessarily show it.

THE ‘DOKE’ FACTOR. I’m still not totally in love with Azubuike’s game, but his impact on floor spacing and defense is clear (he had six blocks on Saturday). He also had 11 rebounds, to go along with 17 points, and there’s little excuse for him to not have a double-double every night. He’s not a talented free-throw shooter, but if he can hit 50 percent consistently, as he did on Saturday (5-of-10), Self will likely take it at this point.

Now, the game was tight well before Tshiebwe drew his back-to-back fouls midway through the second half. But I was asked on Twitter for my opinion on the two fouls after my rewatch. So here it is. 

First foul (13:29): Azubuike goes up for an alley-oop and Tshiebwe is underneath him a bit. There wasn’t much contact. I feel like that was a play-on. I’ve seen that as a play-on plenty of times. 

Second foul (12:45): Braun drives and Tshiebwe slides over to defend his drive and draws the foul. Again, I’ve seen that as a play-on plenty of times. The one aspect of that play officials have told me in the past that leads to the call is that Tshiebwe is moving with the driver and making contact. But, boy, he didn’t make much contact. 

The factor, if you’re looking at this from a West Virginia perspective? Tshiebwe had 15 points and 10 rebounds at halftime. He had 17 points and 17 rebounds and the end of the game (and those 17 points were scored before the back-to-back fouls). But it wasn’t just the fouls. Kansas played better on defense, too (Self said after the game, when it came to Tshiebwe, the Jayhawks played defense in the second half the way they were supposed to in the first half). The Jayhawks shot better in the second half and made the shots they needed to down the stretch. Distilling the loss to those two calls is an overreach because Tshiebwe played for much of the second half after those fouls. This Mountaineers team had enough weapons to overcome it. But the Jayhawks have the experience, especially in that building, to get it done.

BAYLOR DID IT THE UGLY WAY

I expected a more exciting game in Waco on Saturday night. Or at least a better played game. But, as Baylor head coach Scott Drew said after the game, “Sometimes you have games like that.”

Like what? Well, 31 percent shooting, including a woeful second half. But in reality it just showed me why Baylor is so good. Their man-to-man defense is exceptional (and they’re playing more of it this year due to personnel, not a philosophy shift on Drew’s part). Yes, they gave up some open baskets and Texas has to hit those. But they ran the Longhorns ragged all over the floor and forced three shot-clock violations. Texas itself shot 34 percent and had 14 turnovers. The Bears had 21 second-chance points to Texas’ 5. They dominated the glass. The Bears have the talent to win with explosive offense. The great news long-term is the have the grit and physicality to win this way, too.

THE OTHER WINNERS

Texas Tech rolled over Oklahoma State by outscoring the Cowboys 49-20 in the second half. It was a great tone-setting with for the Red Raiders with those ranked opponents coming up. … Oklahoma did a great job overcoming a double-digit deficit in the second half to beat Kansas State by five. Forward Kristian Doolittle was in our Starting Lineup this week, but tip the hat to guard Austin Reaves (21 points) and forward Brady Manek (9 points, 9 rebounds), who each hit big shots down the stretch. … TCU’s overtime win over Iowa State, frankly, was a bit of a stunner to me. But the Horned Frogs found a way to overcome Tyrese Halliburton’s triple-double to beat Iowa State. That’s TCU’s biggest win of the season to this point. 

 

 

THE BAD

IS THIS THE SAME OLD TEXAS?

I’ve felt like all season that the Texas Longhorns have the best stable of guards in the Big 12. But in Big 12 play it’s going to have to start reflecting in how they shoot night-in and night-out. What Texas struggled with last season from the outside was consistent scoring. It happened against Baylor and head coach Shaka Smart needs to hope it isn’t an omen for the Big 12 season.

 

Texas shot 34 percent from the floor, but the shooting by the guards — Andrew Jones, Matt Coleman III, Jase Febres and Courtney Ramey — was just plain bad. It was a combined 12-for-38, including 3-for-13 from the 3-point line.

Last year, when I watched the Longhorns, their outside shooting always seemed streaky. One game it was on — and when Texas is on, they’re ON. But the next they were off, and it impacts their entire offense. On Saturday, against a Baylor team shooting 31 percent, even just a few additional made baskets would have made the game much tighter and given Texas a chance to win, or at least make it a closer game. I’m curious to see if this game ends up being a one-off in Big 12 play or if it remains a trend like last year. It may be a trend. Texas has been in the middle of the Big 12 in field-goal percentage and 3-point percentage all season.

MISSED OPPORTUNITIES

Kansas State and Iowa State missed great opportunities to steal road wins on Saturday. K-State was up by double-digits on Oklahoma until the Sooners roared back. Now, I only saw the final six or seven minutes, but the Wildcats made uncharacteristic mistakes down the stretch, including turnovers and defensive lapses, that gave the Sooners chances to overcome the lead. As for Iowa State, well, if you’re going to waste a triple-double by Tyrese Halliburton and an exceptional game off the bench from George Conditt IV against a beatable team like TCU, well that’s a problem. 

BILL SELF TO THE SPURS?

Kansas head coach Bill Self isn’t here for any talk about him taking over the San Antonio Spurs.

 

BTW, did you know the Spurs’ general manager, R.C. Buford, was in Self’s wedding, and Self was in Buford’s? Random.

THE UGLY

OKLAHOMA STATE

The one team that was truly blown out on Saturday was Oklahoma State, a team that is clearly better than a 35-point loss, even if it is to the Red Raiders. I didn’t see the game, but the Cowboys aren’t going to win any league games with 28.8 percent shooting, 14 turnovers and a minus-10 rebounding deficit. The hard part for OSU is that West Virginia comes to town on Monday, both are wounded after league-opening losses and both need a win. I want to see the Cowboys play with a little desperation and urgency on Monday.

THE GOOD AND THE BAD

BIG 12 NOW

I get it. Some of you aren’t thrilled with the whole ESPN+ Big 12 now thing. Here’s the Good and the Bad as I see in it (and I’ve used it several times since it started in August).

THE GOOD: The experience is exactly the same. Some teams stream their games and you can tell the production value, announcers and viewer experience is different. That’s not the case here. It’s portable. It plugs right in as part of the ESPN app you probably already have on your phone. Everything is archived if you need to watch it later. I don’t experience buffering (I’m in a major metro area with a solid internet connection, so it could be a different experience in less populated areas). Sports like volleyball, women’s basketball, baseball and softball that don’t get much attention until playoff time have a place here. 

THE BAD: It’s another thing to subscribe to. I get it, and for some people that’s a big negative. If you’re a Big 12 team that isn’t part of the arrangement yet (like West Virginia), you had to sign up or go someplace where they had signed up, to watch the game (WVU is part of the arrangement next school year). That’s frustrating. And I would imagine that some fans feel second-rate as a result of this. Also a reasonable feeling.

I cut the cord last year. It was time. I love DirecTV but I couldn’t pay what they were asking anymore. I went to their streaming service, DirecTV Now, and love it. I get exactly what I need. As for ESPN+, well, I’ve actually had a version of it for a few years (ESPN3) because my alma mater Stephen F. Austin, has its home games featured on the network. So it wasn’t a big deal for me. But for your average Big 12 viewer, how much will you use it? That’s a reasonable question to ask when you decide whether or not to sign up.

But this fits what the conference wants. They didn’t want to do a linear cable network like the SEC or the ACC because they knew the landscape of television — and viewership, for that matter — was changing quickly. This gives the league the flexibility to adjust to that changing landscape. It also gives you, the viewer, the power to choose whether to sign up or not. 

I personally love it, but I love this conference too and, frankly, I need ESPN+ to do my job covering the league. I recommend it. If you decide to sign up, please check out our link where you can cancel any time and help Heartland College Sports in the process.

 
BIG 12 STANDINGSConf.All
Baylor (6) 1-0 11-1
Kansas (3)1-011-2
Texas Tech (22)1-010-3
Oklahoma1-010-3
TCU 1-0 10-3
West Virginia 0-1 11-2
Texas 0-1 10-3
Oklahoma State 0-1 9-4
Iowa State 0-1 7-6
Kansas State 0-1 7-6

NEXT GAMES (all times CST unless noted)

Monday, Jan. 6
West Virginia at Oklahoma State, 8 p.m., ESPN2

Tuesday, Jan. 7
Baylor at Texas Tech, 8 p.m., ESPN2
TCU at Kansas State, 8 p.m., ESPNU

Wednesday, Jan. 9
Kansas at Iowa State, 7 p.m., ESPN+
Oklahoma at Texas, 8 p.m., ESPN2

Saturday, Jan. 11
Baylor at Kansas, noon, CBS
Oklahoma State at TCU, 1 p.m., ESPN2
Texas Tech at West Virginia, 6 p.m. EST, ESPN/2/U
Oklahoma at Iowa State, 7 p.m., ESPN/2
Kansas State at Texas, 7 p.m., LHN

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