Over the past decade, one of the most consistent conferences in all of College Basketball has been the Big 12. They are headlined by one of the best regular-season collaborations with the Big 12/SEC Challenge. The Big 12 has won that competition four of the seven seasons. The only instance where the conference lost the competition outright was back in 2017-18, six to four.
The Big 12 is also responsible for being one of the deepest conferences in the NCAA. They have bolstered a greater than 60 percent conference winning percentage each season since 2012-13. Quite a bit was learned from the Big 12 as we take a look at the first week of action.
2020-21 Big 12 Week One Takeaways
Bottom Half of the Big 12 Looks Underwhelming
Starting with Kansas State, they would drop their season opener at home to Drake, 80-70. The Wildcats would be outscored by the Bulldogs 42-34 in the second half. They would turn around and get blown out a few days later by a Colorado team, that finished in the middle of the pack last season in the Pac-12.
It is clear that Bruce Weber’s squad is in the middle of a rebuild. They lost their best player last year, Cartier Diarra over the off-season to Virginia Tech. However, there is more work to do with this roster. At this rate, there is a low chance Kansas State make it out of the bottom of the Big 12.
Although it did not end up in losses, Iowa State was having their own struggles as they were losing at halftime to Arkansas Pine-Bluff. on just 21% shooting from beyond the arc and 45 percent shooting from the field, the lions still found a way to keep this game competitive.
Iowa State did end up pulling away late, with 17 points from Illinois and Depaul transfer guard Jalen Coleman-Lands.
The leading scorer for the Horned Frogs this season has been RJ Nembhard, brother of Florida and Gonzaga guard, Andrew. He has averaged 11 points per game but has shot very poorly from the field at just a 23 percent clip. By far, the best player for the Horned Frogs has been Kevin Samuel, as he averaged a double-double over the first week (1o points, 11 rebounds) and shot an impressive 61 percent from the field.
Fortunately, these teams have chances to improve with a very light schedule over the next week. The toughest game for this trio of teams comes on December, 11th. Iowa State will travel to face #4 Iowa.
Baylor Dominates in Vegas
Baylor’s 2020-21 season didn’t go to plan as they were expected to play elite competition. The Bears were slated to compete in the Mohegan Sun in a tournament involving #19 Arizona State and #3 Villanova. Then, Head Coach Scott Drew was diagnosed with COVID and the other three teams wanted Baylor out.
Just a few days later, Washington and Las Vegas would call and ask to set up a Tournament in Nevada. Over the course of the weekend, Baylor dominated both Louisiana and Washington, beating both teams by 30.
Baylor has depth up and down the guard position and was led in both games by All-Big 12 guards Jared Butler and MaCio Teague. It was encouraging to see other guards play well as junior, Davion Mitchell, filled up the stat sheet, with 18 points, four rebounds, and six assists against Louisiana Lafayette. In that same game, freshman LJ Cryer went for 17 points on five made three-pointers.
The biggest question coming into the season was how losing Freddie Gillespie and Tristan Clark would impact the team. It wouldn’t be much of one in the Washington game, as the Bears dominated the glass. Baylor had a +34 rebounding margin and 2o offensive rebounds in total. However, in games like the ones coming up, frontcourt play will become much more difficult.
The slate gets much more difficult for the Bears as they face two Top 5 teams in the span of four days. They will participate in the Jimmy V Classic, starting with #5 Illinois on Wednesday. They will proceed to play #1 Gonzaga on Saturday as that will be the first #1 vs. #2 matchup in program history for the Bears.
Kansas Looks Suspect on Defense
The Jayhawks finished last season, ranked in the top 10 in points allowed, giving up just over 60 points. The presence of Udoka Azubuike was felt in their loss against Gonzaga as there was little to no resistance. Gonzaga was only 33 percent from beyond the arc. but it was Drew Timme and Jalen Suggs that had their way in the paint.
Coming into the season, one of the major question marks was who is going to step up defensively. Not exactly a rim protector, but more of a player that can play stout defense in the paint. Although David McCormack and Mitch Lightfoot are veterans, neither of them could contain Timme and Joel Ayayi. Jalen Wilson was solid on offense with 11 points on 5-8 shooting. At 6’8, he could be what the Jayhawks need down low. However, it was not enough.
Kansas looked better, as they held Saint Joseph’s to just 34 percent from the field and 35 percent from three on an astounding 37 attempts. Normally, Kansas schedules a very difficult non-conference slate and this year is no exception. They get to square off against potentially four more Top 25 teams and two Top 10 programs, outside of Big 12 play. With more elite frontcourts to face still ahead, this can be a learning curve and a sign for progression with the trio of Lightfoot, McCormack, and Wilson.
The Jayhawks get national coverage on Tuesday when they square off against #20 Kentucky. Then, they have a home tilt with North Dakota State on Saturday.
West Virginia and Texas Stay Undefeated, Through Dicey Performances
Texas Tech is another team that did not play well, falling to top 15 ranked Houston. For West Virginia and Texas, they have been the definition of survive and advance.
A lot of the attention heading into the season was on the play of the big men down low in Oscar Tshiebwe and Greg Brown. However, those two are not the leading catalyst for each team. Over the course of the three wins, the Mountaineers have been headlined by Sophomore Miles McBride and Junior Derek Culver.
Culver completely took over in their wins of South Dakota State and VCU. He combined for 30 points and 29 rebounds in the two Mountaineer wins. Against Western Kentucky, he added another 15 points on 58 percent shooting from the field.
The Mountaineers’ bread and butter is outrebounding other teams and forcing turnovers. Although they have done those two things well, this team has clear areas that can be improved before their schedule begins to get tougher.
For Texas, they are coming off a two-point win over Davidson in the Camping World Maui Invitational. Although Brown has been very good for the Longhorns at 11 points and 10 rebounds, it has been the duo of Courtney Ramey and Matt Coleman that have been the leaders on the offensive end.
After putting up 20 against UT-Rio Grande Valley, Ramey would add 14 points on 4-11 shooting from the field. The Longhorns would have six players in double figures in Maui. However, the most alarming stat was Davidson’s 21-27 from inside the three-point arc.
Texas is meant to be known for their terrific defense inside the paint with shot blockers and height. With Villanova coming up on Sunday, the Longhorns have some time to regroup and focus on better defense and forcing more turnovers.
The Odd Team Left Out
The only team not mentioned was Oklahoma. The Sooners have gotten the worst of COVID-19 and their plans on beginning the season. The Sooners plan on starting their season on Wednesday against Florida. Sunday, they will jump into conference play with a road game in Fort Worth against TCU.
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