Most of the Big 12’s teams were at tournaments across the country, as far west as California and as far south as the Caribbean. So let’s dig in.
Here are the good, bad, and ugly from Week 3 in Big 12 men’s and women’s basketball.
Oklahoma’s Strong Start
I admit it — the Oklahoma men were one of the teams I was not high on going into the season. I looked at their roster and their experience and thought, “I just don’t see it.”
Well, early on, I was wrong. The Sooners are 6-0 and they did something on Friday that Kansas State couldn’t do — beat ranked USC on a neutral site. The Sooners won, 72-70, at the Rady Children’s Invitational in California, which was basically in USC’s backyard.
After feasting on cupcakes, the Sooners beat Iowa and USC back-to-back out in California. Forward Otega Oweh’s tip-in with 1.4 seconds lifted the Sooners past the Trojans.
I figured Oweh, who was their top recruit in the Class of 2023, would be the Sooners’ leading scorer, and he’s averaged 15 points per game. But the transfers have made an impact, too. Guard Javian McCollum is averaging 13.3 points and forward John Hugley IV is averaging 11.5 points.
In fact, eight different Sooners are averaging at least seven points right now. Forward Sam Godwin has made progress as a rebounder (a team-leading 6.7 per game) and guard Milos Uzan is running a quality point (4.5 assists per game).
The Sooners look deep, but more tests are coming. In a four-game span starting Dec. 5 they host Providence, face Arkansas and face North Carolina, the latter two at neutral sites.
If the Sooners win two of those three and win the rest, they would be 12-1 going into Big 12 play against Iowa State on Jan. 6 and set themselves up well to compete in the conference and get to the NCAA Tournament for the first time under coach Porter Moser.
Tech Women Rolling
The Texas Tech Lady Raiders are 7-0 after their two-game stint in Las Vegas. Good news? They actually got to play in an arena this year. Bad news? FloHoops’ production values still leave a lot to be desired.
But the Las Vegas Thanksgiving Classic was a tournament I marked down because it was Tech’s first shot at a Power 6 team and it defeated Rutgers, 79-72. It was an important benchmark game for the Lady Raiders, because the only other one in non-conference is against Oregon State on Dec. 20. But the potential for an undefeated 13-0 non-conference slate remains possible.
The holdovers are leading the way thus far. Guards Jasmine Shavers and Bailey Maupin have combined for 33 points per game this season.
Guard Kilah Freelon, who only scored 100 points last year as a freshman, has upped her game and is averaging 8.9 points and 6.6 rebounds per game. Forward Jordyn Merritt, the Florida transfer, is averaging 8.4 points and 5.3 rebounds.
Two players to watch are Elina Arike and Rhyle McKinney. Arike, a transfer forward, is only averaging 5.4 points but is a 40 percent 3-point shooter. McKinney is a holdover from last season and is shooting 46 percent from the 3-point line but is only averaging 15 minutes and 4.3 points. Something tells me that evens out come Big 12 play.
RaeQuan Battle Speaks
I’ve slotted this in the bad category because I think the NCAA has made a bad move here when it comes to West Virginia guard RaeQuan Battle’s waiver. I promised a story on why and after emerging from a turkey coma I’m working on it.
For the most part, Battle has remained silent after having his waiver denied, and then denied again. But, in the midst of football on Saturday, Battle dropped this on social media and, as one might expect, he went right after the NCAA.
It’s a long post but it’s worth your time.
As I said, more forthcoming on why this has been completely botched by the NCAA. But read the paragraph about his initial decision to follow his Montana State coach, Danny Sprinkle, to Utah State. Note the ‘why’ he chose not to go there. I think it’s part of the reason the NCAA would like to curtail multiple transfers, but also part of the reason it needs to give current student-athletes that have transferred multiple times some grace.
Cyclone Struggles Continue
I made the point a couple of weeks ago that the Iowa State Cyclones are young and are going to struggle. That continued at the South Point Shootout in Las Vegas.
The Cyclones lost both games, falling to Vanderbilt, 68-53, and Syracuse, 81-69. If this were last year’s team, those might have been games the Cyclones would have won.
But as the status of guard Emily Ryan remains unclear (she’s out indefinitely with an injury), the main veteran ballast on this team is Nyamer Diew, and she’s assumed that mantle with a career-high 11 points per game, along with 5.6 rebounds and 2.8 assists.
Another vet, Izzi Zignaro, left the program in November to focus on graduating in May, per the Des Moines Register.
So the freshmen have led them. Center Audi Crooks is averaging a team-high 16.8 points in just under 21 minutes per game. Forward Addy Brown is averaging 13.4 points, 7.0 rebounds and 4.4 assists.
Transfer Hannah Belanger is averaging eight points, while transfer center Isnelle Natabou is averaging 6.6 points and 5.6 rebounds.
The balance in playing time is interesting. Brown and Diew are the only players logging more than 30 minutes per game. Six more are averaging at least 18 minutes.
This could be a team that comes together in Big 12 play and becomes really hard to deal with in February. But, for now, the Cyclones are going to take some lumps we’re not used to seeing them take.
Cincinnati Women’s Schedule
I’m not sure a Big 12 women’s program sought to challenge themselves more in non-conference than Cincinnati. With a first-year coach, in this case Katrina Merriweather, there’s usually an effort to calibrate the schedule to give the team some opportunities for confidence early in the season (see TCU).
Well, Cincinnati didn’t go that route. The Bearcats played four Power 6 teams in their first six games — and three of them were ranked.
The Bearcats lost all three games against ranked teams — No. 17 Louisville (77-59), No. 3 Colorado (77-60) and No. 10 NC State (79-45).
If there is a silver lining, it’s that Cincinnati won the other game, beating Kentucky, 65-41. Now, Kentucky isn’t what it used to be. The Wildcats are 2-5. But, the Bearcats will take the win — and the confidence that comes with it.
The only other Power 6 game left for Cincinnati is against Xavier on Dec. 10. So the Bearcats have some time to gather some steam before their Big 12 opener against Kansas State on Dec. 30.iframe src=”https://app.e2ma.net/app2/audience/signup/1986400/1964875/” width=”510″ height=”500″ frameborder=”0″>
You can find Matthew Postins on Twitter @PostinsPostcard.