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2011 Big 12 basketball stock report: Sleepers, busts and contenders

With the Big 12 conference season starting today, it's time to carry on a tradition from last year: the Big 12 stock report.

So which teams does KU need to look out for? And which teams are due for quite a few losses in conference play?

The following is my list of sleepers, busts and contenders in the Big 12 from this point in the season forward. All advanced stats are from KenPom.com. Sleepers


Nebraska
http://www2.kusports.com/photos/2010/feb/06/186196/ Current record: 12-2
Preseason Big 12 coaches poll rank: 10th
Current AP/Coaches poll rank: Unranked

Reason to believe: So far, Doc Sadler's team has been spectacular defensively.

The Cornhuskers are ninth in the nation in adjusted defensive efficiency, giving them the third-best defense in the conference behind Kansas and Texas. In its first 14 games, NU has allowed 60 points or more in just two of its games.

Though Nebraska has been known as a short team in the past, this year's squad is defined by its height.

NU's Jorge Brian Diaz (6-11), Andre Almeida (6-11) and Brandon Ubel (6-10) have made it nearly impossible for opposing players to get decent shots inside. The Cornhuskers' two-point percentage defense is first in the nation (38.2 percent) and add that to an impressive three-point defense (27.6 percent, ninth nationally) and you have the recipe for a team that should surprise in the Big 12.

Reason for concern: Nebraska has played one of the worst schedules in the nation so far, as Kenpom ranks it 324th out of 345 teams. The 'Huskers have been blowing out most of their weak opponents by a wide margin, but sometimes blowing out bad opponents and beating good ones are two different skills entirely.

NU also has a tough opening to its Big 12 schedule, hosting Iowa State before playing at Missouri and Kansas. An 0-3 start would kill a lot of the positive momentum that the Huskers have built up.

Fearless Prediction: Nebraska goes 9-7 in conference play and earns its first trip to the NCAA Tournament since the 1997-98 season.

Iowa State

Iowa State guard Scott Christopherson celebrates a three-pointer in the second half against Iowa earlier this season.

Iowa State guard Scott Christopherson celebrates a three-pointer in the second half against Iowa earlier this season.

Current record: 13-2
Preseason Big 12 coaches poll rank: 12th
Current AP/Coaches poll rank: Unranked

Reason to believe: Much like Nebraska, Iowa State has gotten off to a strong start because of its defense.

Right now, the Cyclones' adjusted defensive efficiency is 22nd nationally, which gives them a better defense than Texas A&M, Kansas State and Baylor — three teams that were known for their defenses a year ago.

Iowa State forces a lot of turnovers (23.8 defensive turnover percentage, 44th nationally) and also rarely fouls, giving up only 0.25 free throws per field-goal attempt (ninth nationally). Six-foot-11 Jamie Vanderbeken gives the Cyclones a shot-blocker inside, and he's a big reason that ISU ranks in the top 10 nationally in two-point defense (40.1 percent, ninth nationally).

Reason for concern: Iowa State, like Nebraska, has feasted on some cupcakes early, playing the 321st-toughest nonconference schedule according to KenPom.

ISU also plays at a dangerously fast pace (46th nationally) for a team that is down to seven scholarship players and recently added two football players as walk-ons to the roster.

ISU also has the third-worst offense in the conference according to adjusted efficiency numbers, though that number is a bit misleading. The Cyclones play a risky offensive style, jacking up a lot of threes while trying to keep their turnovers to a minimum.

That kind of high-risk, high-reward offense should lead to inconsistency, but it also could lead to an upset or two if the Cyclones heat up against a better opponent in Big 12 play.

Fearless Prediction: Iowa State — the unanimous pick for last in the Big 12 — will finish the conference season 8-8 and pull off two Big 12 upsets against ranked teams.

Busts

Kansas State
http://www2.kusports.com/photos/2010/jan/30/185767/ Current record: 12-2
Preseason Big 12 coaches poll rank: 1st
Current AP/Coaches poll rank: 17th AP/17th coaches

[Not basketball-related I know, but have you guys seen this video? Tough crowd.]

Reason to believe: Kansas State was the pick to win the league a few months ago and hasn't been at full strength for most of the year. The Wildcats now have preseason first-team all-Big 12 selection Jacob Pullen back from a three-game suspension, and fellow first-teamer Curtis Kelly will be back from his six-game suspension on Jan. 15. KSU also has been playing better as of late, with 34- and 31-point blowouts in its last two games.

Reason for concern: The Wildcats, even with Kelly and Pullen on the floor, haven't performed nearly as well as they did a year ago. Pullen is not as efficient without the graduated Denis Clemente, as his three-point percentage has dropped from 39.6 percent last year to 34.2 percent this year.

KSU is still a good offensive rebounding team, but doesn't get to the free-throw line nearly as often as last year. Even when the Wildcats are fouled, they're only making 56.6 percent of their free-throws, which is the third-worst mark in the country. The result is a team that has dropped 43 spots (13th to 56th) in adjusted offensive efficiency from last year to this year.

Fearless Prediction: The 'Cats are saying all the right things and still claiming that their goal is still to win a Big 12 title, but that won't happen this year. KSU will finish 9-7 in conference (tying with Nebraska) before picking up an eight seed in the NCAA Tournament.

Colorado

Colorado guard Alec Burks (10) reaches for the ball while covered by Texas Tech guard David Tairu (13) at the Big 12 Conference Tournament on Wednesday, March 10, 2010, in Kansas City, Mo.

Colorado guard Alec Burks (10) reaches for the ball while covered by Texas Tech guard David Tairu (13) at the Big 12 Conference Tournament on Wednesday, March 10, 2010, in Kansas City, Mo.

Current record: 11-4
Preseason Big 12 coaches poll rank: 9th
Current AP/Coaches poll rank: Unranked

Reason to believe: Colorado has two of the best guards in the conference: likely future first-round pick Alec Burks (22nd in the latest 2011 mock draft on Draft Express) and potential pro Cory Higgins. Because of this, CU was a popular darkhorse pick by analysts to challenge the top teams in the Big 12.

Reason for concern: Colorado is the worst defensive team in the Big 12, and it's not close. Though the Buffs' pace is barely above NCAA average, they still have allowed 80 or more points in six of their 15 games.

CU isn't big inside, and the Buffs have been giving up too many offensive rebounds to opponents. Burks and Higgins haven't guarded on the perimeter well either, as opponents are shooting 36.7 percent from three-point range against Colorado this season. That number looks worse when you consider that the Buffs' opponents have included Idaho State, Alcorn State, Texas Pan American, The Citadel, Longwood, Maryland East Shore, Cal State Bakerfield and Western New Mexico.

Fearless Prediction: The Big 12 North — though it doesn't technically exist in basketball — looks to be stacked this year. All those teams play each other twice, and it appears Colorado is the worst of the bunch. The Buffs will go 4-12 in their final year in the conference.

Contenders

Texas

Oklahoma State guard Obi Muonelo, right, pressures Texas guard J'Covan Brown.

Oklahoma State guard Obi Muonelo, right, pressures Texas guard J'Covan Brown.

Current record: 12-2
Preseason Big 12 coaches poll rank: 3rd
Current AP/Coaches poll rank: 12th AP/12th coaches

Reason to believe: Texas, more than any other Big 12 team this year, has proven it can beat good teams. The Longhorns have a neutral-court win over Illinois, an away victory against North Carolina (in Greensboro, N.C.) and a 33-point stomping of a good Arkansas team at home.

UT's strength is defense. The Longhorns' two-point defense ranks third nationally (38.6 percent) and their adjusted defensive efficiency ranks seventh. Texas doesn't get a ton of steals, but it does force teams to be selfish in their sets. UT allows assists on just 39.7 percent of its field goals allowed — the second-best mark in the country.

Reason for concern: Texas has talent, but it is still not an elite team offensively. The Longhorns don't shoot it particularly well, ranking 162nd in two-point percentage (47.9 percent) and 266th in free-throw percentage (65.1 percent). Texas has a great player in sophomore forward Jordan Hamilton, but as of now, the Longhorns don't have another player who can step in as an efficient, high-volume scorer. Freshman guard Cory Joseph could be the guy if he asserts himself a bit more.

Fearless Prediction: Texas will go 12-4, dropping a game it shouldn't somewhere along the way.

Missouri
http://www2.kusports.com/photos/2010/jan/25/185522/ Current record: 14-1
Preseason Big 12 coaches poll rank: 5th
Current AP/Coaches poll rank: 9th AP/8th coaches

Reason to believe: The Tigers might have the conference's player of the year in Marcus Denmon. He has posted 1.35 points per possession used, which is the second-best mark in the country among players who end at least 20 percent of their team's possessions. Denmon, who is averaging 17.2 points per game, has shot 86 threes this year and made exactly half of them (43).

MU continues to cause problems defensively with its pressure defense, forcing turnovers on 26.8 percent of its opponents' possessions (fifth nationally).

Reason for concern: Because pressing is such a high-risk, high-reward proposition, teams that use it often aren't as consistent with their performance from game to game. This could leave the Tigers open to some unexpected losses, especially on the road, where they lost four games in Big 12 play last year.

MU has some good size, but it still isn't a good defensive rebounding team. The Tigers also have put their opponents on the free-throw line quite a bit, which is one of the risks with going to an extreme pressure defense.

Fearless Prediction: After going 10-6 in conference last year, Missouri improves a game and goes 11-5 this year to finish in third.

Kansas

Kansas players Tyrel Reed (14) and Travis Releford (far right) congratulate Tyshawn Taylor during a timeout in the first half against UMKC on Wednesday, Jan. 5, 2011 at Allen Fieldhouse.

Kansas players Tyrel Reed (14) and Travis Releford (far right) congratulate Tyshawn Taylor during a timeout in the first half against UMKC on Wednesday, Jan. 5, 2011 at Allen Fieldhouse. by Nick Krug

Current record: 14-0
Preseason Big 12 coaches poll rank: 2nd
Current AP/Coaches poll rank: 3rd AP/3rd coaches

Reason to believe: The stats are on the Jayhawks' side. Ken Pomeroy recently ran simulations for each conference, and KU won the Big 12 in 8,352 of his 10,000 simulations.

The Jayhawks have changed their image drastically from a year ago. Following a season when KU relied on center Cole Aldrich to alter shots in the middle (KU was first in defensive two-point percentage last year), the Jayhawks have succeeded defensively this year by pressuring the opponent into mistakes. After finishing 198th in defensive turnover percentage last year, the Jayhawks are 38th nationally in the stat this year. KU also has the second-best three-point defense in the nation (25.7 percent). Add it all up, and KU is leading the nation in adjusted defensive efficiency at this point in the year.

Offensively, KU is a great shooting team, partly because it is a great passing team. The Jayhawks lead the nation in two-point field-goal percentage (59.8 percent) while also making 40.2 percent of their threes. They have posted assists on 62 percent of their field goals, which ranks 31st nationally.

Reason for concern: The Jayhawks have had their best games against their weakest foes. KU squeaked out a one-point home win against UCLA and a two-point home victory against USC, and while those two teams aren't bad, one wouldn't expect them to have a chance to win at Allen Fieldhouse. Though KU's turnover percentage number isn't horrible (19.2 percent, 96th nationally), the Jayhawks have some wild guards in Josh Selby and Tyshawn Taylor that are sometimes careless. The potential is there in any game for KU to struggle because of its own mistakes.

Fearless prediction: KU wins the Big 12 outright with a 14-2 record.

Comments

Jesse Newell 3 years, 11 months ago

Good question. I'll go with Texas at home and at Missouri. Other danger games are at Kansas State (the crowd there is absolutely crazy when KU comes to town), at Nebraska, and yes, even at Iowa State.

3 years, 11 months ago

Places we don't lose: AFH and in Manhattan...

We will probably drop a couple games at some point neither of them will be at home or against KSUck...we own the grapes.

Dirk Medema 3 years, 11 months ago

at ISU at Baylor at CU at TT at NU at Oklahoma

Not at home and not a rival, otherwise pick 2, any 2, plus or minus 1 loss. It is rather bound to happen that they will get tired from school, practice, winter, travel, ..., something thru the course of the season and will overlook one of the teams (though KU will never be overlooked) enough on a nite the opponent gets hot, and there you have it. Check the history. Unfortunately, it is not uncommon.

dylans 3 years, 11 months ago

Not to mention that someone will have the night of their life. Some reserve player that averages 4pts/ game will go off for 25. Someone who has only shot 1 three all year will make 4 against KU. You see it happen every year.

Steve Corder 3 years, 11 months ago

Yes, what about Baylor or OSU? OU is a bottom feeder. Can the Hawks remain undefeated at home this year?

Jesse Newell 3 years, 11 months ago

I guess Baylor and OSU fall in the "other" category ...

Baylor has fallen off quite a bit in its last few games, so at this point I wouldn't label the Bears as a "contender." They aren't a bust or a surprise, either. I'd guess they'd finish about fourth or fifth. They have a Big Monday game against KU, but two years ago they had the same thing, and the crowd was, frankly, pretty weak. I like KU's chances in that one.

Oklahoma State slots somewhere around Iowa State, which wouldn't really make the Cowboys a "surprise" or a "bust."

KU_FanSince75 3 years, 11 months ago

Texas at KU could be interesting---our home streak could be jeopardy if we don't play well. The K-State game on Jan. 29th---a lot of folks say that will be a close game----I say it will be a blowout and Digger Phelps, if you want to be a K-State lover, just go West, young fella!

KU at Oklahoma State---Iba arena has been a "House of Horrors" for us lately.

Jesse, nice youtube clip on Synder. When I was watching it, I thought it would be nice to substitute Bo Pelini in there. You know, the guy chewed on some bad gum and has gone wild!

RokChlk 3 years, 11 months ago

Not to nitpick here but I believe KU plays Okie ST at AFH this year so we won't have to worry about that one.

Joe Joseph 3 years, 11 months ago

That Bill Snyder video is borderline offensive.

Still funny though.

hi_c21 3 years, 11 months ago

Jesse,

For Nebraska it is Brandon Ubel, not Udel.

TommySmithElbow 3 years, 11 months ago

Interesting to look at Texas in the 2010 article and see the parallels with the "defense" praise between last year and this year. Of course, last year had Texas looking like a Wile E. Coyote rocket car that just ran out of fuel and KU (aka, "the Road Runner") just turned it up a notch (beep, beep).

That aside, defense is generally what wins championships (with a respectable dose of offensive scoring), so that is why Texas, and even Mizzou, could pose problems (and possibly, even K-State if they ever fully get it together, but the way FRESHMAN Kyrie Irving torched Pullen time after time in the Duke game makes that doubtful, and we have some very nice guard speed.)

Ultimately, Mizzou maintains its athletic department legacy of choking on the slightest hint of prosperity (and lack of a team-wide offense), and as always, the Jayhawk's quest for a conference championship (7th straight!) will be fun to watch. Forget for now obsessing on what awaits us in April, and enjoy the ride! Rock Chalk!

TommySmithElbow 3 years, 11 months ago

P.S. Great article, Jesse! Thanks for the analysis! Fun read.

Alohahawk 3 years, 11 months ago

Just posted on another thread: Colorado beat Missouri. Oklahoma State beat Kansas State. Heck of a way to start the Big 12 season. Next week's national rankings are going to take a hit.

Dirk Medema 3 years, 11 months ago

It's not Big12, but add to it PennSt over MichSt.

actorman 3 years, 11 months ago

"as always, the Jayhawk's quest for a conference championship ..."

Which Jayhawk are you talking about? I would have thought the whole team would be after a conference title, not just one of them. Just wondering ...

actorman 3 years, 11 months ago

Guess that Colorado bust prediction is looking a little shakier now, huh? Was that just a fluke (or a typical Misuse choke job) or are the Buffs going to be stronger this year?

Jesse Newell 3 years, 11 months ago

Yep. Not a good start. I did say Mizzou's style was prone to inconsistency, and that appears to have been on display today.

Also, the KSU bust call is looking OK after game one. Obviously, it's early.

Steve Gantz 3 years, 11 months ago

Texas lost at home to Uconn.
Would like to see this article reposted after the big 12 season and see how it turned out. Of course injuries/suspensions/arrests etc. can change a lot of these. Since KU is undefeated, it would be cool to see that continue!

Ross Cargo 3 years, 11 months ago

Tad Boyle (KU grad) is off to a good start at CU. I think they will defend the home decently, but struggle on the road. I think they may be more like 6-10 or 7-9. Tad is working on off the court stuff to improve the program. He may also do a better job recruiting, although he inherited Higgins and Burke.

Hawk1969 3 years, 11 months ago

Pullen was quoted as saying "it's our league to lose" and after a loss to Okie State I'd say the putty tats are well on there way to losing it.

KU_FanSince75 3 years, 11 months ago

Hawk1969---- That's what happens when the putty tats have big mouths, the coach screams at the top of his lungs at players with an "R" rated conversation and the players call their coach by his first name. Good riddance K-Suck! So much for starting the Big 12 Conference on the right foot!

jimcdenver 3 years, 11 months ago

Any other Jayhawk fans at the CU v MU game Saturday? Since this is CU's last season in the Big 12, I bought season tickets to see all the old stalwarts come to Colorado one last time (and it was actually less than buying the three game package they make you buy if you want CU v KU tix). Usually, the CU hoops crowd is small and quiet, but Saturday it was actually a great crowd--no Allen FH, but a good college BB environment for once.

I must say that the earlier CU games I have seen this season made me agree w Mr. Newell's prediction for CU above, but after seeing the game CU played against MU Saturday, they easily looked like a national top ten team, at least for one day. They destroyed the Mizzou press for most of the game. They would have beaten the 'Hawks too if we played like we did against Michigan--they were that good. Alec Burks was a monster, scoring 36 points on deep threes, pullup jumpers, slashing drives and near perfection at the line (how did we overlook this KC area kid?). It will be interesting on Wednesday to see if they fold against K-State or can keep up the intensity on the road.

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