Big 12 Sports Articles

Five Biggest Takeaways from Week 11 of the Big 12 Men’s Basketball Season

NCAA Basketball: Iowa State at Texas Tech

The Big 12 Conference is done with Week 11 of the 2021-22 men’s basketball season. So let’s dive in and check out our five takeaways for the week.

The Cyclones Have Hit Their Ceiling

Entering Big 12 play, one of the things I wanted to see was when the Iowa State Cyclones might hit their offensive ceiling. I think it’s happened.

Iowa State has now lost four of its last five games. Izaiah Brockington continues to pour in points. He came to Iowa State because he wanted to be ‘The Man.’ And, on this team, he is.

But the man also needs help. I was curious to see where that help has come from in the last five games:


Oklahoma: Tyrese Hunter, 20; Tre Jackson, 12. (Brockington had 20)

Kansas: Gabe Kalscheur, 14; Tyrese Hunter, 12. (Brockington had 17)

Texas (win): Gabe Kalscheur 22, Tyrese Hunter, 13. (Brockington had 8)

Texas Tech: Caleb Grill, 17. (Brockington had 12)

TCU: No other players in double figures. (Brockington had 19)

So what to take from this? Brockington’s consistent help all season has come from Kalscheur and Hunter. This past week, when the Cyclones went 0-2, neither hit double figures.

But this isn’t an individual issue. In other words, it’s not on one player not scoring enough. It’s on several. We talk all the time about defense in this conference, and the defense is great. But you still must score points. And if you look at the Big 12’s conference-only statistics, the top three teams in the standings — Kansas, Baylor and Texas Tech — are the top three scoring teams in the Big 12. In other words, those teams are finding a way to overcome the great defense that everyone is playing.

Iowa State is averaging 61.9 points per game in Big 12 action, which is eighth in the league. The Cyclones just lost to the No. 9 team, TCU, and they’re preparing to face the No. 10 team, Oklahoma State. Guess which upcoming opponent is actually better in scoring defense than ISU right now? Yep, OSU.

Iowa State hasn’t learned how to do overcome great defense with offense consistently yet. The question is, can they at some point this season?


You Think The Big 12 is Tough?

During the Texas-Oklahoma State game on Saturday, ESPN showed a graphic of the Top 10 Division I teams in remaining strength of schedule.

Yes, you are looking at that correctly. Nine of the 10 teams on this list play in the same conference. In other words, the Big 12 is so TOUGH that its internal strength of schedule, plus its upcoming Big 12-SEC Challenge game, makes it the most challenging league. I can only assume that Kentucky worked its way in because it’s Big 12-SEC Challenge game is against … Kansas.

When I do radio shows, I’m sometimes asked if the Big 12 is the best league in college basketball. In previous years, I feel the need to hedge a bit and include the Big Ten and the SEC.

Not this year. Every possible metric, including the eye test, shows the Big 12 is the boss.


It’s Time for Chris Beard to Pick His ‘Ride or Dies’

I knew going into this season that it would take time for new Texas coach Chris Beard to work through his rotation. So many quality players, so many mouths to feed, so much depth.

The time has now arrived to close the playing time buffet line. He needs to pick the best eight or nine players that give him a chance to win and go to work.

Chemistry is this team’s biggest issue right now. The monster is, in some part, Beard’s own doing. He took in an immense amount of talent through the transfer portal, and part of that was need. He had to rebuilt Texas’ entire frontcourt.

But the chemistry issues seem to be more glaring in Big 12 play. The Longhorns are shooting 30 percent from the 3-point line. Their 3-point field-goal defense is third-worst in Big 12 play. Texas is an average rebounding team in Big 12 action (just a plus 2.4 in rebounding margin). Perhaps most problematic is they’re minus 0.43 in turnover margin and 0.87 in assist-to-turnover ratio.

The margins are small, compared to the rest of the Big 12. But when your chemistry isn’t there, those small margins get bigger. I’ve watched Kansas State and Texas twice in the past three game cycles and, honestly, K-State’s team chemistry is better than Texas’.

Employing a tighter rotation can help the Longhorns. But nearing the midway point of the Big 12 season, the time is now for Beard to make his choices.

The No-Middle Solution?

One of the reasons the Big 12 is such a great conference defensively is because many of the teams are playing what they call ‘no-middle’ defense. Texas Tech plays it, obviously, as current head coach — and before that Tech assistant coach — Mark Adams helped perfect. Chris Beard took it with him to Texas. When Baylor moved away from its zone defense a couple of years ago, the Bears started using it (and Adams joked at Big 12 Media Day that the Bears play it better than the Red Raiders do).

This defense is part of the reason Kansas State Wildcats head coach Bruce Weber said he needed new ‘offensive ideas’ when his team played Texas Tech.

The no-middle’s principles are simple — force ball handlers to the sideline or baseline, prevent ball drives to the paint and slow down or stop ball screens. When balls do get near the paint, that’s the time to take a charge or to defend the rim. Bryson Williams and Kevin Obanor executed this to great effect in a play against West Virginia on Saturday. Williams funneled a West Virginia player to the baseline and Obanor took the charge.

Many of these words ring true to me. When I played in high school (or perhaps more appropriately, when I sat on the bench and watched my teammates play) we were a man-to-man defensive team that played help-side and man-side principles. Those principles are a part of no-middle as well. Our coach always told us the sideline was ‘our friend.’ Same goes for the no-middle.

It’s had an impact on conference play. In non-conference, four Big 12 teams averaged 70 or more points on offense, and everyone averaged at least 60 points. In Big 12 play, Only two teams are averaging 70 or more points, and two teams are averaging fewer than 60 points.

Solutions can be hard to come by. But, thanks to Jesse Newell, who covers the Jayhawks for the Kansas City Star and does as good a job as anyone of breaking down on-floor action, there may be one. He saw it on Saturday.

Newell re-tweeted this from Jordan Sperber, who is part of the Hoop Vision Substack. He broke down three clips from Purdue-Fort Wayne, which plays in the Horizon League. The Mastadons have found a way to use the tendencies of the no-middle against it to create spacious outside shots.

In three successive clips, Sperber breaks down the same play. A low post sets an away-from-ball pick for a guard, who comes up to get the ball on the wing. The guard then does what the no-middle wants. He drives baseline until he’s cut off. While that’s happening, the post slides out, and the guard set up on the opposite block runs up to the top of the key. As the ball handler stops and pivots back, the post slides down and the guard curls over to replace him on the wing, and he sets up to take a 3-pointer. He’s wide open.

Why? By setting up on the opposite block, his defender is playing inside of him on the mid-line because his offensive player is away from the ball. He’s playing help side. When the ball handler drives, he has to commit to helping the on-ball defender because he’s closest. His defensive assignment takes advantage and slides up to the perimeter. By the time the ball is sent out to the perimeter, the defender is trapped. The only one that can help is on the opposite side, playing mid-line because his player is on the opposite wing, but the play doesn’t involve him. He’ll only move when the ball goes up and not before.

The second clip shows this to even better effect. By the time the driver pivots back to pass, four of the five Robert Morris defenders are in the paint and the top-side defender is too far away to help.

The third clips shows how it can be done using the swing pass around the perimeter that many Big 12 teams use. It eventually leads to the same thing — baseline drive, kick out and an uncontested outside shot.

Newell’s retweet read “How many Big 12 teams will run this by February?”

I set the over/under at 5.5.

Three Games That Intrigue Me This Week

Texas Tech at Kansas, Monday: Duh. Here’s our preview.

Texas at TCU, Tuesday: How pesky can the Horned Frogs be? Very. Ask Iowa State.  

Iowa State at Oklahoma State, Wednesday: This now feels like a must-win for Iowa State.

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