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Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Keegan

Opinion: Big 12 better than it seemed

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It happens every mid-March. College basketball coaches across America talk up the strength of their conferences often in hopes that their subliminal messages will lodge in the brains of NCAA Tournament selection committee members dispensing the berths and seeds.

Such talk usually sounds contrived. Not this year in the Big 12. Coaches don’t need to oversell because it’s obvious the league is loaded, so much better than it looked during the nonconference season.

To appreciate the strength of the league, reflect back on the play in which Baylor’s Pierre Jackson used a cross-over dribble to get around Elijah Johnson in the lane and finish with a dunk. Jackson busted that highlight move Saturday in an 81-58 rout of Kansas on his way to 28 points, 10 assists and six rebounds. He made 11 of 13 shots from the field, including two of three three-pointers.

Jackson was named the Big 12’s preseason player of the year. He led the conference in scoring and assists, so it can’t be said he had a disappointing season. He met expectations, but the elite-talent pool in the Big 12 was deeper than anybody could have imagined.

How deep? So deep that the Big 12 coaches didn’t vote Jackson onto the five-man first team. Oklahoma State’s Marcus Smart, Ben McLemore and Jeff Withey of Kansas, Kansas State’s Rodney McGruder and Oklahoma’s Romero Osby beat out Jackson. (The media gave Jackson the nod over Osby).

A check of two websites — NBAdraft.net and ESPN.com — that chart top draft prospects reveals that when Oklahoma State and Baylor meet, five players who are ranked among the top 40 prospects on one or both lists will share the floor. Again, Jackson is not one of them. Smart, Markel Brown and Le’Bryan Nash of Oklahoma State and Isaiah Austin and Cory Jefferson of Baylor are listed ahead of Jackson.

When that much talent is on the same floor, it usually means it’s a semifinal or final of conference tournament. In the Big 12 tourney, the schools meet in a quarterfinal game.

“The Big 12 conference is a league that has gotten much better as the year has gone on,” Baylor coach Scott Drew said when asked about his team’s chances of getting a bid with a 9-9 conference record. “There were several teams that were younger putting teams together. The Big 12 is as tough as it gets this year. Our nonconference record might not have reflected that.”

Drew also pointed to a victory at Kentucky early in the season as a point in favor of the Bears, the No. 6 seed in the conference championship that gets under way Wednesday in the Sprint Center for the bottom four seeds, Thursday for the top six.

“Personally, I’ve never seen the league better with more teams that can win our league tournament than we have right now,” 10th-year Kansas coach Bill Self said. “You go into the tournament in the past and you could say, ‘You know what? This team could win a couple of games,’ or, ‘This team could do well,’ or, “This could be an upset,’ but not very often do you go in and say, ‘I think that team could positively win three games in a row.’ And there are six teams that could win three games in row.”

Self added that he thinks Myck Kabongo’s return has made Texas a much better team and that West Virginia and Texas Tech are playing better. And he noted that TCU’s two conference victories (Kansas and Oklahoma) came against NCAA Tournament teams.

It’s a stretch to think any of the bottom four teams could win the four in a row required to make the NCAA Tournament. Oklahoma doesn’t quite have as much talent as any of the other five teams that earned a first-round bye, but this is a wide-open conference tournament that should result in several close games.

Comments

mikehawk 1 year, 1 month ago

Want to talk about the best conference? The NCAA tournament reveals all. Best players, best teams, toughest teams, best before now not noticed teams, most overrated players, teams, and conferences, and best conferences. No need to speculate. This ain't college football. We play this sucker.

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Tony Bandle 1 year, 1 month ago

Frankly, and don't get me wrong, I bleed Crimson and Blue, I feel the vast majority of you give the players too much credit and Coach Self not enough. I dare anyone to name one player on this team that doesn't have a weakness. Allow me to elaborate.

1] Jeff - defensive star, yet gets pushed around, an offensive game that is just adequate but defense is tremendous.

2] BenMac - Uber-talented yet disappears for long stretches, especially on the road..still doesn't drive nearly enough...defense a work in progress.

3] Elijah - Has done his best to play out of position but turnovers and bad knees have cost him efficiency and performance.

4] Travis - cannot create his own shot..best runnning out after block or rebound...despite effort sometimes just get's overwhelmed by his man.

5] Kevin - Hustle, motor and instincts allow him to contribute...when one of these is missing coupled with his deficient offensive game, he becomes a liabilty.

6] Naadir - speed a plus, size a minus....offensive consistency just no there.

7] Jamari - very rough around the edges...offense not yet developed.

8] Perry - Only now, 30 games into the season showing the promise of the preseason hype....still a possible late season breakthrough, but not there yet.

9] Need I go on??

Bill and his staff have taken this group of parts and fashioned a Top Ten team, a Conference Champion and a high-seeded NCAA contender. I previously made this point and was called absurd.......well, in hindsight it's absurd to think otherwise!!!

Bill has done one hell of a coaching job win, lose or draw from this point forward.

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Ralster Jayhawk 1 year, 1 month ago

(cont'd): Kansas (creating some real consternation amongst its fanbase, this roster has given starkly and wildly fluctuating performances, literally "looking" like they can beat anybody, and also getting beat by a nobody. Roster with usual Self-mix of high-recruits+developed guys. Tournament success this season will depend on consistent defensive effort and balanced production from all 5 positions. Nationally-acclaimed, rarified level of coaching, also bringing in a mega-recruiting class this summer.)

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Ralster Jayhawk 1 year, 1 month ago

jhox above raises an interesting comment about some BigXII teams not meeting the "Eye Test". That is pretty subjective, imho. Here's my half-cents: Baylor (looks the part, rarely plays like it, coaching generally awful). IowaSt (looks the part, playstyle like no other in the BigXII, almost NBA-like versatility, inconsistent W/L due to live&die by 3, coaching very good). OU (looks the part with all long-athletics, generally consistent play w/some close losses, coaching very good). OkieState (looks the part, generally consistent play, coaching level acceptable). Texas (generally does NOT look the part other than a few decent games, largely because of extreme youth, inconsistent play, coaching usually sub-par but the #2 ranked FG%defense is perplexing here). TxTech (generally NOT, but does look well-coached with a young teaching-type of coach. Recruiting will decide relevance). WVa (inconsistent play, perhaps down-year recruiting wise, coaching above average. Watch trajectory against BigXII foes). KState (this group of players (Frank's) are a tough, scrappy bunch, but issues in final-hump/must win games (KU x 2, at OkieSt for outright title), coaching TBD). TCU (athletic looking bunch but may hide talent gap. BigXII trajectory TBD, coaching very good (proven guy)). Will be an interesting coming few seasons...

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dfybaby21 1 year, 1 month ago

You guys aren't going to let Keegan forget that column, are you? Look, I'm a KSU fan and when I read that column, I thought he was dead on, except I thought he had given KSU way too much credit in our chances to finish second. I looked at the Kansas schedule and didn't see a single loss, let alone 4, especially when you've got a group of 27 year old 9th year seniors that's have been through the conference so many times. I would suggest calming down.

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William Blake 1 year, 1 month ago

I believe the B12 has always produced top-notch talent. What is starting to improve is the coaching quality.

I'll prove this statement over the next few years by predicting Baylor will continue to score big recruits but will never finish 3rd or higher in B12 league play because Drew is such a dud. And I'm doubtful that Texas will ever gain traction with Barnes at the helm.

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Born_And_Raised_A_KU_Fan 1 year, 1 month ago

Didn't Keegan say in January that everyone else in the league was playing for second place?

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LakeShawnee 1 year, 1 month ago

And here I thought this league was a race for 2nd...

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Jonathan Allison 1 year, 1 month ago

I was reading an article about how various basketball coaches utilize advanced statistics in scouting their opponents, and Brad Stevens had a good quote that even advanced statistics only tell you part of the story about an opposing team of player. They tell you what that player usually does, but they don't tell you what a team or player is capable of.

When coaches scout opposing teams, especially if you are a team that always has a target on your back, you have to be conscious of what the opponent is capable of, because you are likely going to get their best shot.

Take Baylor for example. Cory Jefferson's scouting report likely didn't say that you have to guard the three point line. Or look at Elijah Johnson and his performance against ISU. EJ's offensive rating was abysmal. His shooting charts were scary, but coaches know that he's a player who's capable of putting up big numbers and they have to prepare for him.

That's how I feel about the Big 12. When you try to pin down how strong the conference is as a whole it's tough to do, because most of the teams have been fairly inconsistent for much of the season. But when you look at the potential of the league, it's a strong league with a lot of talented players and coaches, and they are capable of big things.

The RPI may not list the big 12 as a top 2 or 3 conference in the nation this year, but there are 4 or 5 teams in the big 12 who are capable of beating any team in Division 1.

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magaggie 1 year, 1 month ago

I cracks me up that so many people feel the need to tell Keegan when he does a good job or a bad job. Seems like he has been working long enough to know when his work is solid or he puts in half and effort.

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thjhawk 1 year, 1 month ago

Where in the world is the complete bracket with start times? If KU wins Thursday, when would they play on Friday?

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Jonathan Allison 1 year, 1 month ago

The Big 12 should win the Most Improved Conference award for the teams that have gotten better from start to finish this season.

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jhox 1 year, 1 month ago

I don't buy it. Every coference out there, except the Big 10, feels they're underrated and unrespected. The TV guys like to talk about "the eye test" and I don't see many Big 12 teams passing my eye test. I also think college basketball, in general, is way down this year.

I believe the physical style of play in the Big 12 will hurt teams that can't adapt to tighter officiating in the NCAA tournament. One reason low level teams compete with high level teams in the Big 12 is the mugging style of defensive play conference officials allow. That will be a tough adjustment for Big 12 teams in the tournament, having to play with a little more finesse.

I think KU, OSU and KSU all have potential to go deep into the tournament, but far from locks to do that. Baylor, OU and ISU will likely be gone before round 3 if those schools make it in.

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Kent Richardson 1 year, 1 month ago

I'm not sure about how highly motivated each of the shoo-in schools will be (probably somewhat dependent on matchups). If it comes down to coaching and site advantage then OU or KU wins the Big 12. I can see deep runs by Hawkeyes, Cowboys, Bears and Jayhawks in the NCAA. Can we still hope for a Mizzou slugfest ancd would it take the starch out of the winner?

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Michael Luby 1 year, 1 month ago

Another good one TK. Excited and nervous for the Big 12 and NCAA tourneys

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nostradavid 1 year, 1 month ago

Good analysis, Keegs. You get the helix halo award!

It focuses orgone energy.

It focuses orgone energy. by nostradavid

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KULA 1 year, 1 month ago

Well the Big 12 is certainly a better conference than the ACC, PAC 12 and the SEC. Heck, the Mountain West and the Atlantic 10 are better than those conferences.

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