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.

Depth

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.