The ninth week of Big 12 basketball action saw Texas improve Shaka Smart’s job prospect, Texas Tech honoring one of its own and a second opinion on West Virginia’s free fall. Here is this week’s Good, Bad and Ugly for Big 12 men’s basketball.
Two weeks ago we were trying to gauge Texas head coach Shaka Smart’s hopes of staying in Austin past this season. Now?
Just a question…— Matthew Postins (@PostinsPostcard) February 29, 2020
Does anyone want to play #HookEm right now? Beating #WreckEm today means they’ve won four straight and beaten two ranked teams in a row. 🤷🏻♂️#Big12MBB @Heartland_CS pic.twitter.com/SUR9LgNIOp
And then this analysis from our Heartland_CS Twitter account pretty much summed it up.
Beating TCU and Kansas State to snap a four-game losing streak is one thing. But beating two ranked teams in a row — West Virginia on Big Monday and then Texas Tech on the road in Lubbock — is something else. The Longhorns are now knocking on 20 wins and creating some NCAA Tournament buzz. With remaining games against Oklahoma and Oklahoma State, it’s possible for the Longhorns to ride into Kansas City on a six-game winning streak and with 20 wins this season.
How on earth did this happen?
Smart has had to tweak his lineup out of necessity. The back injury to Jericho Sims required him to go smaller. It required him to play Kai Jones more often off the bench and in the starting lineup. It even required him to dip deeper into his bench and play freshman Will Baker more often. Whatever inside game the Longhorns have had has been manufactured out of Jones, Baker, Royce Hamm Jr. and Brock Cunningham.
But what all of that has done is allowed the guards to play freer than they have all season, and it’s translated into some of the team’s most consistent play. If you’ve listened to my Postgame Periscopes I’ve said one thing consistently with Texas — they must shoot the 3 well in order to win. And that’s what Texas has done the past two weeks. Andrew Jones, Courtney Ramey and Matt Coleman III are pouring it in. The Longhorns are hopeful their fourth guard, Jase Febres, can return from injury at some point this season.
The Longhorns have shot at least 40 percent from the 3-point line the past four games. More importantly they’ve shot at least 50 percent from the floor in all four of those games. Since these Longhorns are not a great defensive team, nor one that plays with a ton of pace, the great shooting is a requirement. The last two weeks they’ve found a groove they need to maintain as we enter March.
As for Smart’s job security? Well, don’t take the bet on him staying just yet. But keep these factors in mind. His buyout is $10 million. The Longhorns may have to pay more in annual salary to his replacement. And this roster has one senior, and that senior doesn’t play. Basically every contributor the Longhorns have this season is expected to return. If Texas roars into the NCAA Tournament and wins a tournament game, wouldn’t you want to keep that consistency in place?
Those are all questions Texas will have to answer after the season.
KANSAS AT THE TOP
It’s looking that way, isn’t it? It appears as if the respite of Kansas not winning the Big 12 regular season title will only last a year. A week after beating Baylor on the road, the Jayhawks had a solid week, wrapping it up with a Sunflower State showdown win over Kansas State (that was plenty hard because, after all, it was a rivalry game). But, as that was going down in the Sunflower State, Baylor fell to TCU in their rivalry game with the Horned Frogs. So, with two games remaining, Kansas has a one-game lead in the conference.
As a reminder, Kansas State and Texas Tech shared the regular season title a year ago, snapping Kansas’ 14-year streak of winning or sharing the regular season league title.
OKLAHOMA STATE, TCU KEEP FIGHTING
The Oklahoma State Cowboys and the TCU Horned Frogs had the most to lose this past week when it came to postseason play. Neither team is going to the NCAA Tournament, unless they miraculously win the Big 12 Tournament. But both are good enough to go to the NIT, as long as they finish with winning records.
Entering this week, the Cowboys and Horned Frogs are right there.
Oklahoma State (15-14) had a 1-1 week, but that’s what it needed. The Cowboys weren’t beating Kansas in Lawrence, but they needed to hold serve against Iowa State on Saturday, and that’s what the Cowboys did with a 73-61 win. Cameron McGriff continues to play his best basketball of the season.
Beating Kansas State on Wednesday is a must. It would put the Cowboys two games over .500 with one game to play at Texas. The way Texas is playing, well, we’ll see. But the Cowboys need to be a game over .500 going into the Big 12 Tournament so they can use that first-round game as a springboard to win and get back to two games over .500. So a 1-1 week is essential, and K-State is Oklahoma State’s best opportunity.
Meanwhile, TCU has more wiggle room at 16-13. But the Horned Frogs are now locked in a battle with West Virginia for the No. 7 seed, which sounds absurd even as I’m writing this. But with the Mountaineers in complete free fall, it’s possible the Horned Frogs could end up bypassing the first day of the Big 12 Tournament entirely. Or, if they go 0-2 this week against Kansas and Oklahoma, they may not only fall back into the tournament’s first day, but they also risk falling to .500 overall with a loss on that first day. The NIT does accept teams with .500 records, but would they accept one that lost its last three games?
Neither team’s resume is great right now. But the NIT has to fill their field too. And I think they would take any Big 12 team that’s eligible. But Oklahoma State and TCU have chances this week and next to make the committee’s life a little easier.
OKLAHOMA GETS A BOOST
Like the aforementioned Texas Longhorns, the Oklahoma Sooners needed a boost this week and they got it, beating two ranked teams — Texas Tech and West Virginia — to improve to 18 wins for the season and, likely, taking themselves off the NCAA Tournament bubble (for now). With Texas and TCU left, plus the Big 12 Tournament, another 20-win season is possible for the Sooners and their head coach, Lon Kruger. If it happens, it will be Kruger’s 18th 20-win season and his sixth at Oklahoma.
It was a bad week for the Texas Tech Red Raiders, as they lost both games. But, on Saturday against Texas they took the time to honor one of their own, Andre Emmett, who died last year in a shooting in the Dallas area. Emmett left Texas Tech as one of the program’s leading scorers and a consensus All-America selection in 2004. It’s clear Emmett’s family and his Texas Tech family miss him.
The family of #andreemmett as he is honored during halftime of the .@TexasTechMBB game. His mother Regina Oliver, sister Darra and his two daughters Zara and Kennedy.— Dorothy J. Gentry (@DorothyJGentry) February 29, 2020
WEST VIRGINIA’S FREE FALL CONTINUES
A month ago the West Virginia Mountaineers were considered one of the Top 16 teams in the country. Now, they could be playing on the first day of the Big 12 Tournament in Kansas City as a No. 7 seed.
Now, their homecourt advantage has disappeared. The Mountaineers have now last two of their last three games at home, and have lost six of their last seven games. WVU has a lot of problems right now, but as I was talking with Pete Mundo during our weekly radio show it really boils down to two things — poor outside shooting and the last of a consistent point guard who can run the offense possession to possession. Those two things, at this point in the season, aren’t going to change too much. So the Mountaineers have to find ways to live with it. And, right now, they’re not. The adjustments that head coach Bob Huggins is making are falling short.
But could there be other issues? A contributor at SI West Virginia, Zach Campbell, explored that in a piece after the Mountaineers loss to Oklahoma. Campbell says it’s time for the Mountaineers to win. Period.
BAYLOR FALLS TO TCU
As mentioned in our Kansas portion, Baylor fell to TCU on Saturday, moving the Bears one game back in the Big 12 Standings. Now the Bears have lost two of their last three games. Should they be worried? Not yet. This is still a great team with a chance to go to the Final Four. But how the Bears finish the season bears monitoring. They have the hardest wrap to the Big 12 slate with games against Texas Tech and West Virginia. While both are coming off 0-2 weeks, they’re still hard to handle. If I’m Scott Drew and the Bears, I want to win both and go into Kansas City without having to answer questions about stumbling down the stretch.
LET’S NOT BOO SPORTSMANSHIP, SHALL WE?
We all saw the brawl between Kansas and Kansas State the first time they played this season. We all know it was a bad look for the game. Well, before the game the two teams met at midcourt and shook hands as a way of saying bygones. The fans in Manhattan weren’t having it.
K-State and KU players came together and shook hands in a sign of sportsmanship before starting lineups. The fans booed.— Kellis Robinett (@KellisRobinett) February 29, 2020
I get that it’s a rivalry game, but if the players are going to make an effort, then you can too.
IOWA STATE AND KANSAS STATE
Despite beating TCU at home last week, Iowa State is on its way to a losing season for the second time in three years. I talked a bit about Steve Prohm’s job security with Trent Condon and Ken Miller on KXNO Radio in Des Moines last week. I don’t think that Prohm is going anywhere. But there is more to this slide than just the loss to Tyrese Haliburton, and that has to be addressed this offseason.
Kansas State, meanwhile, has already clinched a losing season and has lost nine straight games. The Wildcats have games with Oklahoma State and Iowa State to finish the season, so there’s a chance for a win for the Wildcats this final week. Kansas State is trying to avoid a season of fewer than 10 wins. The last time that happened was the 1999-2000 season under Tom Asbury.
BIG 12 NOW GAMES THIS WEEK
TCU faces Kansas on ESPN Plus on Wednesday, plus the Baylor-West Virginia game on Saturday. And you know that ESPN Plus and Big 12 Now also has baseball, softball and women’s basketball streaming, right?. So, if you don’t have the subscription to ESPN Plus, here’s the link. We’ve made it really easy to sign up.
|BIG 12 STANDINGS||Conf.||All|
|Texas Tech (22)||9-7||18-11|
|West Virginia (20)||7-9||19-10|
Monday, Feb. 24
Kansas 83, Oklahoma State 58
Texas 67, West Virginia 57
Tuesday, Feb. 25
Iowa State 65, TCU 59
Baylor 85, Kansas State 66
Oklahoma 65, Texas Tech 51
Saturday, Feb. 29
Texas 68, Texas Tech 58
Kansas 62, Kansas State 58
TCU 75, Baylor 72
Oklahoma State 73, Iowa State 61
Oklahoma 73, West Virginia 62
NEXT GAMES (all times CST unless noted)
Monday, March 2
Texas Tech at Baylor, 8 p.m., ESPN
Tuesday, March 3
West Virginia at Iowa State, 8 p.m., ESPNU
Texas at Oklahoma, 8 p.m., ESPN2
Wednesday, March 4
TCU at Kansas, 7 p.m., Big 12 Now on ESPN Plus
Kansas State at Oklahoma State, 8 p.m., ESPNU
Saturday, March 7
Baylor at West Virginia, 1 p.m. EST, Big 12 Now on ESPN Plus
Kansas at Texas Tech, 1 p.m., ESPN
Oklahoma State at Texas, 3 p.m., ESPN2
Iowa State at Kansas State, 3 p.m., Big 12 Now on ESPN Plus
Oklahoma at TCU, 5 p.m., ESPN2
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