Kansas Wins Unprecedented 14th Straight Big 12 Title

Kansas basketball now has the longest streak for consecutive conference championships. The Jayhawks topped Texas Tech on Saturday, ensuring at least a share of the Big 12 regular season championship. A win in either of their final two games will give Kansas the outright championship and a #1 seed in the Big 12 tournament. It would also set Kansas up for a likely 1 seed come Selection Sunday.

For years now, the notion behind the Big 12 Conference was that it ran through Lawrence. This year seemed different though. The Big 12 was supposed to be bigger and badder than ever before. When Kansas got routed by Arizona State and Texas Tech on their home court early in the year, the Jayhawks looked vulnerable. If there was ever a year to beat the champs, this was it.

Kansas had question marks

They were waiting on the clearance of Billy Preston, their front court seemed embarrassingly weak and Bill Self was calling his team soft on defense. After losing to Texas Tech at home by 12, KU responded a close win at TCU, and nail biting wins at home against Iowa State and Kansas State. Wins, but not in a convincing fashion. Kansas was not looking like the all powerful program that owned with conference for the past 13 years.

Then the Jayhawks traveled to Morgantown, West Virginia. In what might be the second toughest environment to play in, second only to Phogg Allen itself, Kansas fell behind by 16 points to West Virginia. Again, not looking like a team primed for 14 in a row. At that point, the season changed. Kansas erased an improbable second half deficit and walked out of Morgantown with its fourth straight win.

They looked to have their swagger back…until they didn’t. Weeks later, Kansas would lose another game at home. Their third at Phogg Allen on the year, and fourth if you include the loss to Washington in Kansas City. After losing to Oklahoma State at home, Kansas got blown out at Baylor a week later. Again the Jayhawks looked vulnerable.

Enter Devonte’ Graham

No one has been more crucial to the success of the Jayhawks this season than Graham. He willed his team to a win Saturday night in Lubbock, scoring a game high 26 points and hitting every clutch shot when the Jayhawks needed it. With Graham conducting the offense, the Jayhawks look like their teams of old. Just like Frank Mason, Perry Ellis, Brandon Rush and many others before him, Graham looks poised and ready to lead his team through the rigorous March schedule.

As a Kansas fan myself, this season was, and is, nerve wracking. I had my doubts on whether the streak would continue or come to an end this year. This team is not complete as many Kansas teams before them. They do lack depth, especially in the post. They are a streaky three point shooting team, which can be a flaw in the tournament. But the streak lives, and a weight is lifted off the shoulders of this team. No team wants to be the team to end the streak, and this team won’t be that one.

With the streak living on, and a senior becoming more and more of a leader with every game minute he plays, there’s a confidence growing with this Kansas team. No one knows what they will do in March. One thing’s for certain though: the streak lives on.

Big12/SEC Challenge: Predicting Saturday’s Winners

via SECSports.com

The Big 12/SEC Challenge is a nice break in conference play for both fans and players. After a couple weeks of battling out with conference foes, it gives teams a break from their treacherous schedules and provides fans with some marquee in-season match ups we are not always accustomed to. Last year the conferences tied at five wins apiece. Prior to that, the Big 12 won the first three challenges, with an overall record of 20-10 in those three seasons. This year looks to favor the Big 12 again, but the SEC has a number of exciting players and teams. It should lead to fireworks on Saturday.

Baylor at Florida

No one may be happier to get a break from Big 12 play than Baylor. The Bears are 2-6 and tied at the bottom of the Big 12. In typical Big 12 seasons, this team would be middle of the pack, but in this year’s Big 12, they are struggling to win the close games against stiff competition. They will head to Gainesville to face a Florida Gator team that finds themselves a half game out of first in the SEC. The Gators, while falling in and out of the Top 25, are still waiting for consistent play from last year’s leading scorer, Kevaughn Allen. If they get that, this team can be SEC champion good. I like the Gators at home; I don’t think they will drop two games at home in the same week.

Tennessee at Iowa State

This is not a favorable game for Tennessee. It’s easy to look at Iowa State’s record and say the Vols should role, but the Cyclones are at home. Iowa State’s two conference wins come at home, and one is against Texas Tech in a game where they walked all over the Red Raiders. Lindell Wigginton is one of the best freshman that no one is talking about. That said, I’m not letting my Big 12 bias get the best of me. I’m going with the Vols. I think Tennessee has the advantage upfront and Grant Williams could have a big game. Give me Tennessee, but it will be close.

Texas A&M at Kansas

This is the most challenging game to predict, in part because Texas A&M has been hard to predict. Kansas is at home, they don’t lose at home. Except this year they’ve already lost twice at home, three times if you include their loss to Washington in Kansas City. Texas A&M hasn’t been able to put a full roster together yet this year, so they’re hard to evaluate. Their biggest advantage is playing Robert Williams and Tyler Davis together down low. They are two legit post players, and Kansas really only has one, Udoka Azubuike. Their advantage down low will be a disadvantage on the other end, trying to guard Kansas’ four guard perimeter attack. I’ll take Kansas at home, coming off a loss.

Georgia at Kansas State

Kansas State has been one of the biggest surprises in the country. The Wildcats are tied for second in the Big 12, and sit 15-5 overall. Of all the Big 12 stars, Barry Brown flies under the radar more than anyone. The junior is averaging close to 18 points a game this year. Georgia has the best individual scorer in Yante Maten, but he has zero support. Brown, along with Dean Wade will be more than enough for KSU to win at home.

Oklahoma at Alabama

This is the premier ‘match-up within the match-up’ game. Everyone knows about Trae Young, but Colin Sexton is one of the most exciting freshman in the country as well. A week ago I would have leaned Alabama after seeing the Sooners struggle. Seeing Trae Young bounce back Tuesday night against Kansas though, is making me take Oklahoma. Young didn’t force anything. He shot only nine shots and took exactly what Kansas gave him. He also had role players step up. I think he takes more than nine shots in this one, but continues to efficiently distribute the ball. Oklahoma wins.

Oklahoma State at Arkansas

Oklahoma State has the best player on the floor in Jeffery Carroll. Arkansas has the major advantage in the backcourt with Jayln Barford and Daryl Macon. If this game was at home, Oklahoma State would fair a little better, but I’ll lean towards a seasoned Arkansas team at home here. Oklahoma State can score, but I think Arkansas is good enough defensively to lock down anyone not named Jeffery Carroll. With no support, it would be tough for the Cowboys to pull off a win. Chalk one up to the SEC here.

TCU at Vanderbilt

This game is tough. Vanderbilt’s home court is a big advantage for them. But TCU is the better team in this game. Even without guard Jaylen Fisher, the Horned Frogs were able to top West Virginia at home this week. Alex Robinson has been great in place of Fisher though, averaging nearly 13 points and 11 assists in three games. Give me the better team and the better coach on the road in this one. The home court advantage could make it closer, but not enough to overcome TCU.

Mississippi at Texas

This may be the most lopsided game of the showdown. Texas is a strong home team, with a record of 9-2. Their only losses are to Kansas and Michigan, not bad opponents. They have one of the nation’s best shot blockers in Mo Bamba. His presence in the paint will be effective in keeping Ole Miss’s trio of guards out of the paint. Texas has had their best wins of late when Kerwin Roach is scoring. At home, I think Roach can tally 15+ and Bamba will protect the rim. Texas at home.

Texas Tech at South Carolina

Texas Tech is another team that has cooled off slightly after routing Kansas in Phogg Allen earlier in the year. The Red Raiders still have one of the nation’s best defenses, but have struggled at times to put the ball in the basket. It seems as if Keenan Evans isn’t scoring 20+ a game, TTU doesn’t have much on offense. South Carolina is similar in the sense that Chris Silva is the focal point of their offense. Whoever has the better game between Silva and Evans, their team has the edge. I think Silva will have a strong game, but Evans will be just a bit better. He will get just enough support and Texas Tech will squeak out the road win.

Kentucky at West Virginia

This game has potential to be the ugliest game, but knowing this Kentucky team, they’ll step up just enough to keep it close. This game comes down to one thing. Kentucky is still looking for that point guard play that makes a Joan Calipari team thrive, and West Virginia has the best defensive point guard in the country in Jevon Carter. West Virginia is a scary place for any team to play, let alone the youngest Kentucky team Calipari has ever coached. I think Kentucky comes out with an edge coming off a loss, but this is too tall of a task for a young team on the road. I’ll take West Virginia.

So there are the ten games. My predictions have the Big 12 winning at 7-3. Couple games wouldn’t surprise me if they went the other way, but we’ll see how it pans out this weekend. It stinks that Auburn was left out, but it’s tough to anticipate them having the season they are when this schedule was made. It’s also unfortunate to see Tremont Waters left out of the challenge. He’s one of the most exciting players in the country. He’s also a Hoop Group alumni. Nonetheless it should be another fun day of basketball.

Oklahoma’s Scorching Offense Ready for Texas Tech’s Stifling Defense

The Big 12 Conference has arguably been the most exciting conference in college basketball this year. It’s almost guaranteed to have a ranked team play another ranked team every night the conference is in action. That will hold true tonight as #9 Oklahoma hosts #8 Texas Tech.

This will be the second straight game Oklahoma has taken on a Top 10 team. The Sooners traveled to West Virginia over the weekend and lost to Bob Huggins and the Mountaineers, nothing to hang your head on. Trae Young and company will now need to bounce back against the Big 12’s best defense. Not an easy task.

Numbers Don’t Lie

While West Virginia fans may have something to say about that last line, Texas Tech is in fact leading the conference in scoring defense. The Red Raiders allow just 59.2 points per game in 15 games so far this year. They are very legit; their only loss is to a talented and experienced Seton Hall team. They’re 3-0 in the Big 12 and have won all those games by double digits, including a 12 point win at Kansas where they led wire-to-wire.

Chris Beard has done a phenomenal job with this team. As seasoned as they are, they’ve gotten a huge boost from freshman Zhaire Smith, who is second on the team in scoring and fourth in the Big 12 in field goal percentage. The Red Raiders have also had strong play at the most crucial position, point guard, with Keenan Evans returning to lead the team in scoring and assists.

The moral of the Texas Tech story however, is defense. They are not a team that will run up and down with you. Despite Evans’ 17 points a game and Smith’s 11, they know they will not outscore their opponents. Instead they will contest every shot, limit transition chances and wear you down for 40 minutes. Ask the teams they’ve played, it’s not fun.

Different Story For The Sooners

On the other side, the Oklahoma Sooners are a tad different. Instead of suffocating their opponents defensively, the Sooners have been piling on the points, leading the conference with 94.4 points per game. Everyone knows about Trae Young and his insane 29 points per game, but the Sooners have more than just the freshman phenom.

They have a total of four players averaging 10 points a game, including Christian James and Brady Manek, both of whom have showed an ability to score in bunches in games this season. While the OU offense starts and ends with Young, Texas Tech will need to contain the entire Sooner offense.

Against West Virginia, Young had his worst game as a collegiate athlete. On paper he finished with 29 points, but that came on 8-22 shooting, his lowest shooting percentage since his first game of the year. He also had a negative assist-to-turnover ratio for the first time all season, finishing with 5 assists to 8 turnovers. If you watched the game you could see Young did not look as comfortable as he has most of the year. He has a chance to get back on track at home.

Despite the tremendous defense of Texas Tech, I like Young and Oklahoma to bounce back tonight with a home win and move to 3-1 in the Big 12. I know the numbers favor Tech, with them leading the conference in both defensive field goal percentage and three-point defensive percentage, but I don’t believe Young can have two poor games in a row. They will no doubt run Young off the three point line any chance they get, but that’s where I expect Young to take what they give him and become a distributor when necessary. I don’t think he will have a negative turnover-assist ratio again and I think that will be the difference.

It’s the conference’s number one offense versus the conference’s number one defense. Something has to give. Don’t miss this game tonight, 7PM on ESPN

Is This the Year the Big 12 Changes Hands?

For the past thirteen seasons the Big 12 has belonged to the Kansas Jayhawks. One of the more impressive streaks in all of sports, Kansas had won at least a share of the Big 12 the last thirteen years. Some seasons the Jayhawks have made light work of the competition, others they have been tested mightily. Every year though, the question remains the same: When will KU fall? This year the Big 12 Conference has stood out in non-conference play. The seat is hot as Kansas heads into conference play. Let’s look at factors that could keep Kansas short of their 14th conference title.


Bill Self’s short bench has been a highly discussed topic his year. That bench got a little deeper when the Jayhawks added Sam Cunliffe right before the holidays. Self and his staff are hoping to receive more good news in the new year to help solve his front court problem. Right now, with Cunliffe, Kansas rotates eight players, and a few of them are not ready for the major minutes they are receiving. If KU gets De Sousa cleared, and Billy Preston finds his way onto the court, it’s a mew ball game. But those are just ifs for now.

Three Point Reliant

Having such a thin front court, has cause Self to make changes over the past two seasons. Last year self went with a four guard lineup and allowed Josh Jackson to play the four. This year though, there is no Jackson, and Kansas has a very small four guard line up. This has them relying heavily on the three-point shot. The good news, is they currently rank 14th in the country in percentage. The bad news, is that when shots aren’t falling, you’re cooked. You saw it in the Elite Eight last year against Oregon. Not having a proper balance could hurt KU in conference play.

Trae Young

During non-conference play, Trae Young and Oklahoma received all the headlines, not Kansas. Young has taken the Sooners from unranked to number 12 in the nation. Their number one offense in the country is clicking at an insane rate. They are currently putting up 95 points per game. That’s better than Duke, Gonzaga, Arizona State, everyone. It’s this potent offense that poses a real threat to Kansas. The Jayhawks defense, though it’s improving, has not been up to Bill Self’s standards thus far. If Kansas tries to get into a scoring match with the Sooners, they will likely lose more times than they’ll win.

The Big 12 is Experienced

Outside the scorching hot Oklahoma Sooners, the rest of the Big 12 is, well, really good. Right now, West Virginia (7), TCU (10), Oklahoma (12), Baylor (18) and Texas Tech (22) all join Kansas (11) in the AP Top 25. Texas Tech and Texas have top ranked defenses in the country, and you can’t talk defense without mentioning West Virginia. Kansas has overcome deep Big 12 Conferences before, but this year seems different. There are explosive offenses like Oklahoma, well balanced teams like TCU and Texas Tech, and Bob Huggins always gives Bill Self fits. Add in Baylor and Texas and it will be a tall task for Kansas to repeat.

Kansas has faced its challenges. You don’t win thirteen regular season conference championships without a few obstacles. This season is shaping up to be no different. Kansas is not a finished product, they will hopefully add one, or hopefully two, more players to give Bill Self a deeper rotation to work with. Self usually gets his team to overcome. If he is to do it this year, it may be his best work yet.

Big 12 Basketball: 2017-18 Conference Preseason Preview

The Big 12 Conference is one of the toughest conference in college basketball year in and year out. The past 13 years have seen the same team come out on top after the regular season; Kansas has had a strong hold on the conference for over a decade. This year however, the Big 12 has it all. Lottery bound freshman, deep rosters, and some of the best coaches in the sport. Let’s look at how the Big 12 shapes up this year.

Projected Finishes (Voted by Big 12 Coaches)

  1. Kansas – No surprise here. Kansas has sat atop the conference with at least a share of the regular season championship for 13 seasons. Expect Devonte’ Graham to be the next Perry Ellis/Frank Mason and Udoka Azuibuke to make a strong (literally) impact after missing most of last year with a wrist injury.
  2. West Virginia – The Mountaineers will spend the first half of the season without Esa Ahmad, but he will be back in the rotation during the thick of Big 12 play. With returning Defensive Player of the Year, Jevon Carter, West Virginia will still be a tough out in the conference.
  3. TCU – Jamie Dixon had his team firing on all cylinders at the end of last season. TCU upset the top seeded Jayhawks in the Big 12 Tournament and played their way to a NIT Championship. The Horned Frogs return a large majority of last year’s team, including Vladimir Brodziansky, who averaged 14 points a game last season. TCU could be eyeing a tournament bid this year.
  4. Texas – This could be one of the better teams in Austin in recent years. With future pro Mo Bamba manning the paint and Andrew Jones returning for another year, Shaka Smart has weapons. The X-factor for this team will be Matt Coleman running the point; Coleman could be the best PG the Longhorns have had since since DJ Augustin.
  5. Baylor – The Bears struggled at the end of last season, in part due to injury. They lose Jonathan Motley to the NBA, but still return solid producers in Manu Lecomte and Jo Lui-Acuil. The issue for the Bears may be their depth this season. This could keep them in the middle of the pack.
  6. Oklahoma – Lon Kruger brings back a team that was very green last year. He replaces Jordan Woodard with Trae Young, who could be the best freshman in the confernce this year. No disrespect to Bamba, who affects the game on both ends, but Young has the ability to put 40 up on a given night. The Sooners should improve on their 5-13 conference record last year and be fun to watch.
  7. Texas Tech – Texas Tech returns a good nucleus of last year’s team that played better than their 6-12 record indicated. The challenge for the Red Raiders this season will be how they fair on the road. Zach Smith, Keenan Evans and company will need to find ways to win away from home if they want to take a step forward.
  8. Kansas State – Bruce Weber is going to have to earn the contract extension he received this year with the Kansas State team. Weber has a nice trio of juniors in Dean Wade, Barry Brown and Kamau Stokes. Overall, the Wildcats do not have the fire power to compete with the top of the conference.
  9. Iowa State – Iowa State put all their chips in last year’s basket, and it paid off when they won the Big 12 Tournament. Now the Cyclones will have a bit of a rebuild this year. Donovan Jackson will have a strong senior year, and Lindell Wigginton will get Ames excited for the future.
  10. Oklahoma State – It will be a new look back-court for the Cowboys with no Jawun Evans or Phil Forte. A lot of attention will focus around Jeffrey Carroll, who averaged 17 and 6 last season.

Preseason Awards (Voted by Big 12 Coaches)

Player of the Year – Devonte’ Graham (Kansas)

I said above expect Graham to have a senior year similar to Frank Mason or Perry Ellis. Graham has been one of KU’s biggest keys the last two seasons. When he goes, Kansas tends to roll. You can look back to his match ups versus Buddy Hield two years ago, their incredible comeback against West Virginia last year, or their Elite Eight loss to Oregon. Graham’s production directly correlates to the Jayhawk’s success in those games.

Freshman of the Year – Mo Bamba (Texas)

Mo Bamba will be a lottery pick in the 2018 NBA Draft. He’s 7’0 and has arms that just go on forever. I expect him to edge Luil-Acuil for most blocked shots in the Big 12 this season. Bamba also has the ability to step out and hit from mid range. I mentioned Trae Young possibly being the best freshman, but Bamba’s ability to impact the game on both ends gives him the nod.

Newcomer of the Year – Malik Newman (Kansas) 

Newman sat out the 16-17 season after transferring from Mississippi State. Having spent a year practicing against Frank Mason and Josh Jackson, and alongside Graham, Newman should be able to jump into the line up and look comfortable right away. He is a former McDonald’s All-American and ESPN Top 10 recruit. Newman will look to regain his high draft status after a somewhat poor freshman year at Mississippi State.

After a year of practice with KU, Malik Newman should fit in well in the Jayhawk back court

All Big 12 Teams

First Team (Voted On)

Devonte’ Graham – Kansas

Jevon Carter – West Virginia

Jeffrey Carroll – Oklahoma State

Zach Smith – Texas Tech

Vladimir Brodziansky – TCU

Second Team (Prediction)

Trae Young – Oklahoma

Svi Mykhailiuk – Kansas

Manu Lecomte – Baylor

Mo Bamba – Texas

Esa Ahmad – West Virginia

So that’s it. A complete breakdown of the Big 12 before any action takes place. Preseason is always fun to look at. You have expectations and predictions, but you never truly know what will happen until conference play starts and you see teams play one another. It’ll be interesting to look back and see who was left off, who was over-hyped and who played as anticipated. 3 more weeks.