The loss of the NCAA Tournament and March Madness got you down? At Heartland College Sports, we get it. We’re down about it too. Well, leading up to the night that would have been the 2020 national championship game, April 6, we will rewind what happened to the Big 12 in March Madness for each year of its existence. Today, we dissect 2015.
THE BIG 12 IN 2015
In 2014-15 the watchword in the Big 12 wasn’t dominance. It was balance.
Kansas may have won the Big 12 regular-season title for the 11th straight year, but the Jayhawks lost five games doing it. In fact, the league’s Top 5 teams were bunched within two games of each other when the regular season ended. But the Jayhawks remained on top.
Kansas started the season No. 5 in the nation in the preseason AP Top 25, but by the end of the season the Jayhawks were No. 10. At 27-9, 13-5 in league action, Perry Ellis led Kansas with 13.8 points and 6.9 rebounds per game, followed by Frank Mason (12.6 ppg). Wayne Selden, Kelly Oubre and Cliff Alexander all had fine seasons for Kansas. Plus, head coach Bill Self had recruited a pair of players who needed time to develop, but would be a big part of Kansas basketball for years to come — Devonte Graham and Sviatoslav Mykhailiuk.
Iowa State was one of two Big 12 teams to finish a game behind in league action at 12-6 (25-9 overall). The Cyclones started the season at No. 14 and ended it at No. 9 in the nation. Fifth-year head coach Fred Hoiberg returned an experienced outfit led by Georges Niang (15.3 ppg), Monte Morris (11.9 ppg), Bryce Dejean-Jones (10.5 ppg) and Nazareth Mitrou-Long (10.1 ppg).
Oklahoma continued its rise in head coach Lon Kruger’s third year, as the Sooners won 24 games overall and went 12-6 in league play. The Sooners were in the Top 25 all season, ending at No. 13. Buddy Hield, in his third season, led the way with 17.4 ppg and 5.4 rpg. Isaiah Cousins (11.7 ppg), and TaShawn Thomas (11.6 ppg) also averaged in double figures for the season.
In West Virginia’s third season in the Big 12, Bob Huggins has his Mountaineers back in the mix for conference titles and the NCAA Tournament. WVU went 25-10, 11-7 in the Big 12, and Juwan Staten (14.2 ppg) and Devin Williams (11.6 ppg, 8.1 rpg) led the way. But Huggins had secured a couple of freshman that he put his trust in early and often that season, and for the next three years — Jevon Carter and Daxter Miles. By season’s end the Mountaineers were in the Top 15 in the AP poll.
Also finishing at 11-7 in Big 12 action that year was Baylor (24-10 overall). Baylor finished the season in the AP Top 25 and Taurean Prince (13.9 ppg, 5.6 rpg) finally came into his own. So did Rico Gathers (11.6 ppg, 11.6 rpg), while Royce O’Neale (10.1 ppg) and Kenny Chery (11.3 ppg) gave the Bears four solid scoring options all season. Along with Prince and O’Neale, freshman Johnathan Motley had an NBA future, too.
Oklahoma State, Texas and Kansas State were in a logjam at 8-10 in league play, though Texas was the only one to crack 20 wins for the season. The Longhorns started the season at No. 10, rose to as high as No. 6, but exited the Top 25 before the end of the season. Freshman Myles Turner (10.1 ppg, 6.5 rpg) and senior Jonathan Holmes (10.3 ppg, 6.1 rpg) had fine seasons, but sophomore Isaiah Taylor led the way with 13.1 ppg. Oklahoma State had Le’Bryan Nash (17.2 ppg, 5.7 rpg) and Phil Forte (15.0 ppg) leading the way.
Kansas State was under .500 for the season under Bruce Weber, who was in his third season. Marcus Foster (12.5 ppg) led the Wildcats, but a recruiting class to remember was coming to Manhattan.
TCU and Texas Tech brought up the rear, although TCU finished the season at 18-15, despite only four Big 12 wins.
The regular-season award winners included Hield (player of the year), Iowa State’s Jameel McKay (defensive player of the year), Thomas (newcomer of the year), Turner (freshman of the year), Prince (sixth man) and Huggins (coach of the year). The All-Big 12 First Team included Gathers, Niang, Ellis, Hield and Staten.
At the Sprint Center in Kansas City, the Big 12 Tournament went to script. The Top 4 seeds advanced from the quarterfinals to the semifinals, and the Top 2 seeds – No. 1 Kansas and No. 2 Iowa State — advanced to the championship game. For the second straight year the Cyclones won the title game, defeating the Jayhawks, 70-66. Niang was the tournament’s most outstanding player, while Morris, Gathers, Selden and Hield were on the All-Tournament team.
On Selection Sunday the Big 12 received seven invitations to the NCAA Tournament for the second straight season — Kansas (No. 2), Iowa State (No. 3), Baylor (No. 3), Oklahoma (No. 3), West Virginia (No. 5), Oklahoma State (No. 9) and Texas (No. 11)
Only three of the Big 12’s seven invitees saw victories in the first round of the NCAA Tournament. Kansas handed New Mexico State a decisive 75-56 victory. Oklahoma bested Albany, 69-60, while West Virginia outlasted Buffalo, 68-62.
The other four Big 12 teams didn’t fare nearly as well.
Iowa State was primed for a much longer run, but the Cyclones ran into UAB in the first round and fell, 60-59. Monte Morris led ISU with 15 points, while Georges Niang had 11 points and Jameel McKay had 10 points and 12 rebounds. But the Cyclones shot 36.9 percent from the floor and UAB’s Robert Brown had 21 points as the Blazers overcame their own shooting woes (34.8 percent).
It was an upset that would haunt the Cyclones for some time.
Baylor had a big opportunity, too, as the Bears faced Georgia State in the first round. But the Bears lost, 57-56, in one of the most iconic upsets in recent NCAA Tournament history. Baylor’s Taurean Prince was the only Bear in double figures with 18 points, but he also had 15 rebounds. R.J. Hunter led the Panthers with 16 points, hit the game-winner and his father celebrated like crazy when the Panthers won.
Oklahoma State took an early exit with a 79-73 loss to Oregon. Le’Bryan Nash led the Cowboys with 18 points, while Anthony Hickey added 17 points and Phil Forte added 12 points. Joseph Young led the Ducks with 27 points. Texas also fell, 56-48, to Butler. Johnathan Holmes scored 15 points for Texas and Isaiah Taylor added 14 points. Kellen Durham led the Bulldogs with 20 points.
And by next season, two of those four programs that lost in the first round would have new coaches.
Oklahoma found itself handed a helpful matchup when No. 11-seed Dayton advanced to the second round to face the Sooners. OU won that game, 72-66, with Buddy Hield scoring 15 points. But Jordan Woodard added 16 points and Ryan Sprangler crashed the glass for 12 rebounds.
A 13-0 run by the Sooners late put the game away, as you can see here.
West Virginia was out for a Sweet 16 berth of its own, and the Mountaineers took care of No. 12 Maryland, 69-59. Juwan Staten didn’t have a great game (6 points), but the rest of the starting lineup came through — Devin Williams (16), Gary Browne (14), Daxter Miles (12) and Jonathan Holton (12). Jevon Carter, of course, had six steals.
But Kansas wouldn’t be joining either the Sooners or the Mountaineers. The Jayhawks ran into the Wichita State Shockers in the second round. Perry Ellis led Kansas with 17 points, while Frank Mason added 16 points. Devonte Graham, a freshman, poured in 17 points off the bench, while Landen Lucas had 10 rebounds. But the Shockers shot nearly 50 percent from the floor and all five starters hit double figures, led by Tekele Cotton’s 19 points and Fred VanVleet’s 17 points. The Shockers won going away, 78-65.
For the second straight year the Jayhawks would fail to reach the Sweet 16, despite being a No. 2 seed.
The Mountaineers hadn’t been to the Sweet 16 since the 2010 Tournament when the Mountaineers reached the national semifinals. The Sooners hadn’t been to the Sweet 16 since the 2009 Tournament when OU lost in the regional final.
Both teams reached the end of the line in two nights.
First, West Virginia experienced an offensive outage when it faced Kentucky, losing 78-39. KU had a 44-18 lead at halftime and it was impossible for the Mountaineers to catch up. Juwan Staten was the only Mountaineer in double figures with 14 points, while Trey Lyles led five players in double figures with 14 points. But the momentum Bob Huggins was building in Morgantown was starting to pay off.
Oklahoma drew a tough draw, facing Michigan State in the Sweet 16. The Spartans won a close one, 62-58. Travis Trice led the Spartans with 24 points, while Denzel Valentine had 18 points. Oklahoma’s Buddy Hield led the Sooners with 21 points, while TaShawn Thomas added 16 points. The Spartans, of course, would reach the Final Four that season, so the Sooners shouldn’t feel too bad. And there was greatness ahead for these Sooners in 2016.