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2016-17 Big 12 Post-Mortem

June 26, 2017 Columns, Conference Notes No Comments

Any other college basketball conference in the country would go gaga for what constituted as a down year for the Big 12 in 2016-17.

After two straight years as the top-ranked conference in the country in the RPI (some RPI data had it as three straight), the Big 12 slipped out of that spot-all the way down to second. Also, after three straight years with seven of its 10 teams in the NCAA Tournament, the league fell down-to six, sending merely 60% of its members to the Big Dance instead of 70%. And while the league’s incredible streak of 38 consecutive weeks of having at least five teams in the Associated Press Top 25 ended when just four were selected to the preseason poll, every single Big 12 team received votes in either the AP or coaches poll during the season, and six of them were ranked at some time.

That’s the face of a conference that didn’t meet some of its recent extremely lofty standards, but still was better than just about any other league out there. Even a 6-1 mark against the ACC-the only conference ranked above it-indicates a league that was only faintly weaker than it has been during what has become an incredible four-year stretch.

The Big 12 was ridiculously competitive in conference play. Seventy percent of league games were decided by 10 points or less. Other than Kansas-the outlier of all outliers when it comes to conference dominance-the remaining nine teams were separated by a combined seven games, none with more than 12 wins or less than five. While the league’s bottom two teams-Oklahoma and Texas-were worse out of conference than has been the Big 12’s norm, both were tough outs in league play, with a combined 17 of their 30 losses by 10 points or less.

Baylor was considered by many to be one of the surprise teams in the country, though it was hard to understand why. If anyone has been paying attention, the Bears have become a perennial national contender, still waiting for a Final Four breakthrough in the NCAA Tournament but a Top 25 regular and consistent contender in the Big 12. Anyway, Scott Drew’s team rose from unranked in the preseason to the top spot in the national polls by early January, actually beating Kansas to that spot before the Jayhawks eventually were ranked No. 1 for a total of four weeks and eventually were an easy 1 seed in the NCAAs.

Individually, the league again had plenty of star quality. Kansas guard Frank Mason swept just about every imaginable national player of the year award, while Iowa State’s Monte Morris was another senior star at point guard. Baylor’s Johnathan Motley was a consensus second team All-American, Kansas hotshot freshman Josh Jackson also made a number of All-American teams, and even Oklahoma State guard Jawun Evans picked up a couple third team All-America honors from national sources.

The relative downside for the Big 12 was that once again postseason success was mixed. The league went 9-6 in the NCAA Tournament, with three teams (Baylor, Kansas and West Virginia) getting to the Sweet 16. Baylor was knocked out by a lower-seeded team in the regional semifinals, though, and Kansas fell shy of the Final Four despite playing a near-home game for its regional final against Oregon. On the other hand, its win percentage of .600 was fourth-best of any league, and TCU also struck a blow for the league by winning the NIT.

Final Standings:

Big 12 Overall
Kansas 16-2 31-5
West Virginia 12-6 28-9
Baylor 12-6 27-8
Iowa State 12-6 24-11
Oklahoma State 9-9 20-13
Kansas State 8-10 21-14
Texas Tech 6-12 18-14
TCU 6-12 24-15
Oklahoma 5-13 11-20
Texas 5-13 11-22

Conference Tournament
The Big 12 Tournament has been held at the Sprint Center in Kansas City for the past eight years now. While it is a neutral site tourney in unquestionably Kansas territory, perhaps it should be renamed the Iowa State Classic. The Cyclones won the event for the third time in four years, including for the second time in that span as a No. 4 seed.

ISU emerged in a bracket that included some major upsets. While eighth-seeded TCU’s 82-63 first round win over No. 9 Oklahoma wasn’t a surprise, the Horned Frogs’ 85-82 win over sluggish top seed Kansas in the quarterfinals was a stunner. Tenth-seeded Texas also pulled off a surprise in the first round by defeating 7 seed Texas Tech 61-52, and while the Longhorns were knocked out in their next game (falling to No. 2 West Virginia 63-53), sixth-seeded Kansas State also pulled off a major surprise. Barry Brown scored 15 of his 21 points in the second half when the Wildcats took control in a 70-64 victory over 3 seed Baylor.

Iowa State shot a steamy 53.6% in out-running No. 5 Oklahoma State 92-83 in the quarterfinals, and the Cyclones then rolled past TCU 84-63 in the semifinals. West Virginia also edged Kansas State 51-50 in a grinder, the Mountaineers winning despite shooting just 26.7%, trailing by 12 in the second half and never leading in the game until Esa Ahmad hit the second of two free throws for the final point with 19 seconds left.

West Virginia owned the first 10 minutes of the title game, opening an early 16-8 lead. It was a different game from there, as Iowa State scored the next eight points and with five minutes left in the half took the lead for good on a three-point play by Darrell Bowie. ISU built a double-digit lead early in the second half and led the rest of the way, its 80-74 triumph punctuated by its third straight shooting performance of at least 53%. Monte Morris led four players in double figures and won tourney MVP honors in the Cyclones’ fourth-ever Big 12 tourney crown.

Postseason Awards
Player of the Year:
 Frank Mason, G, Sr., Kansas
Defensive Player of the Year: Jevon Carter, G, Jr., West Virginia
Freshman of the Year: Josh Jackson, G, Kansas
Newcomer of the Year: Manu Lecomte, G, Jr., Baylor
Sixth Man Award: Tarik Phillip, G, Sr., West Virginia
Coach of the Year: Bill Self, Kansas

All-Conference Team
Jawun Evans, G, So., Oklahoma State
Josh Jackson, G, Fr., Kansas
Frank Mason, G, Sr., Kansas
Monte Morris, G, Sr., Iowa State
Johnathan Motley, F, Jr., Baylor

Season Highlights

  • Kansas won its 13th straight Big 12 regular season title, tying the NCAA record for consecutive conference championships set by UCLA from 1967-79.
  • The Big 12 was home of the consensus national player of the year for the second straight year, as Kansas guard Frank Mason won every major national honor for best player, including the Naismith Trophy, Wooden Trophy and Oscar Robertson Trophy.
  • After three straight years as the top conference in the RPI, the Big 12 slipped out of the top spot but still finished second in conference RPI, behind only the ACC.
  • TCU won the NIT, completing a season where the Horned Frogs doubled their win total from 12 wins to 24 in Jamie Dixon’s first year as coach at his alma mater.

What we expected, and it happened: The Big 12 slipped (but only a little) from its perch of the previous three years as the Best Conference in the Country, regular season edition. Also: Kansas. Again.

What we expected, and it didn’t happen: We thought Texas Tech was positioned well to make a second straight NCAA Tournament appearance, but the Red Raiders slumped in Big 12 play and didn’t even get an NIT bid.

What we didn’t expect, and it happened: We knew Oklahoma would have a different look after losing so much from its Final Four team, and we knew Texas could slide some too. Never would we-or anyone else-have thought the two teams would win 11 games each and tie for the Big 12 basement.

Team on the rise: TCU. As easy of a call as there is in the country-in fact, the Horned Frogs might be atop national lists in this category. With nearly everyone back, expectations are building quickly in Fort Worth, so much so that anything less than the Frogs’ first NCAA tourney since 1998 just might be a disappointment. Which is unbelievable, if one thinks where the program was two years ago.

Team on the decline: Texas. Really? One of the biggest athletic department budgets in the country? Well, in the most literal terms, the Longhorns were in decline last year. But we also think it just might be a little tougher task to move back up than some think in this ultra-competitive league. Texas was a horrid shooting team last year, and while recruit Mohamed Bamba is being hailed as a savior, weren’t many saying the same of Jarrett Allen last year too?

2017-18 Big 12 Outlook
What changes for the Big 12? With TCU on the rise, Kansas State not a pushover and Oklahoma and Texas expected to rebound, the league should again be as tough as they come from top to bottom. Teams like Baylor and West Virginia aren’t going away. And Kansas will be Kansas.

The Jayhawks will be favored to win their 14th straight crown, as they should be. On paper, it’s a roster with plenty of question marks, but the same could be said last year too. The backcourt will be more than solid, and the frontcourt will find a way. Baylor, West Virginia and TCU are the initial challengers, with the Horned Frogs poised to make a big jump, and Oklahoma will be a chic darkhorse pick to return to prominence under Lon Kruger.

Iowa State will be a team to watch; the Cyclones will have a distinctly different look and no longer have stalwarts like Monte Morris, Deonte Burton, Naz Mitrou-Long and Matt Thomas. Steve Prohm appears to be relying a lot on newcomers and transfers. Kansas State will miss interior enforcers Wesley Iwundu and D.J. Johnson, but the backcourt looks stout. And where Texas Tech goes in Year No. 2 under Chris Beard will be intriguing to watch.

Twitter: @HoopvilleAdam
Email: hoopvilleadam@yahoo.com

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