Originally published January 13, 2009 at 12:00a.m., updated January 13, 2009 at 09:20a.m.
Did playing a game in East Lansing, Mich., Kansas University coach Bill Self was asked on Monday’s Big 12 conference call, get his players ready for what to expect in the Big 12?
Self paused and then gave the predictable affirmative answer. But the truth is Kansas already has scratched off the toughest game on its schedule. Tougher, even, than traveling to Norman on Feb. 2 to play Oklahoma, and heading to Waco on Feb. 23 to face Baylor.
Sure, KU has some difficult games ahead, not the least being a Feb. 9 date in Columbia and a March 8, season-ending game in Allen Fieldhouse against Texas. But the truth is, compared to most seasons, the Big 12 is down, not as deep as usual, not as experienced.
Beginning with tonight’s conference opener in Allen Fieldhouse against Kansas State, the “we’re young,” explanation for subpar performance won’t fly more often than it will.
The Big 12’s a young conference. Thanks to kenpom.com, a nifty Web site that tracks experience and just about everything else, we’re able to see just how young.
Baylor, the most experienced team in the conference, ranks 54th among 344 Division I schools. The rest of the Big 12: 90. Texas; 100. Nebraska; 106. Oklahoma State; 148. Oklahoma; 156. Texas A&M; 180. Missouri; 188. Texas Tech; 202. Iowa State; 250. Kansas State; 328. Colorado; 333. Kansas.
Not that experience is everything in college basketball. After all, Butler University, ranked 17th in the nation, is ranked 340th in experience. Not just its head coach, Brad Stevens, 31, is young. Obviously, the Bulldogs are an exception.
Throughout the Big 12, coaches are battling some of the same issues as Self: Uneven performances from young players, suspect shot selection, and especially, difficulty winning on the road.
Kansas State coach Frank Martin has a pair of ultra-fast guards in Denis Clemente and Jacob Pullen. When the K-State guards force turnovers, the Wildcats tend to win. When they turn it over too often, they tend to lose. The Wildcats are averaging roughly 18 turnovers in their losses, 12 in their wins. Both guards have been known to take wild shots.
“When you ask players to accept the responsibility of leadership, young players think it’s their job when the team is struggling to go create a basket, go take a shot,” Martin said. “It takes time. It takes experience. It takes the burden of that responsibility to understand why that’s not what you’re supposed to do, and they’ve gotten better at that.”
Taking care of the basketball is tougher on the road, especially for young guards. Turnovers often are the result of guards getting flustered, which happens more on the road. That’s why Kansas should win tonight and shouldn’t have much problem going, say, 7-1 at home in conference and at least 3-5 on the road, and maybe 2-1 in the Big 12 tournament, leaving the Jayhawks waiting for a bid on Selection Sunday with a 23-11 record.
Meanwhile, Kansas State has an identical 11-4 record to KU, but it lacks a marquee victory for the selection committee. (Kansas defeated Tennessee).
There are 16,300 reasons to believe that extra motivation won’t be enough for K-State to end KU’s 33-game Allen Fieldhouse winning streak.
Kansas 79, Kansas State 71.