This post concludes my preview of the Big 12 basketball season. The first post looked at Kansas, Oklahoma State, and Iowa State, while the second examined Baylor, Oklahoma, Texas, and West Virginia. So now let's dive into the rest.
8. Kansas State
Bruce Weber's team enters conference play with a 10-3 record. After scuffling to start the season, the Wildcats have won eight games in a row, including a victory at home against Gonzaga. But those three losses weren't good ones; K-State started off the year losing at home to Northern Colorado, dropped a neutral site game against Charlotte, and suffered a double digit beating at the hands of Georgetown.
What I like: Defense. Kansas State currently has the 12th best defense in the nation per the Kenpom.com ratings. Now, I have some real concerns over how sustainable this is (see below), but the results, at least so far, have been impressive.
Coach Bruce Weber's reputation seems more tied to his motion offense than it does to his defense. But Weber's teams have always defended well. The Wildcats are currently in the top 25 nationally in both effective field goal percentage defense and in opponent turnover percentage. That is a good combination.
What worries me: Shooting, both that of Kansas State and its opponents. The K-State offense has not been particularly good this year. Among Big 12 teams, only TCU ranks lower in the Pomeroy offensive ratings. The reason is poor shooting. Kansas State has made only 30 percent of their three point attempts and 63 percent of their free throws. Both of those totals are costing the Wildcats.
Last year, Shane Southwell connected on 48-110 of his three point attempts; so far this season he is 15-52. Will Spradling, another solid shooter last year, is currently 18-57 from long range. The only Wildcat currently shooting a decent percentage from long range is freshman guard Marcus Foster, who has hit 35 percent of his threes.
Now, I think the shooting of Southwell and Spradling is likely to turn around. But even if it does, Kansas State doesn't seem to have enough fire-power. Weber's team will have to win with their D.
Which brings us to the following concern. Kansas State has held opponents to 0.90 points per possession so far this year. That is an outstanding number. But much of their success comes from the fact that opponents have made only 26 percent of their three pointers and have only hit 62 percent of their free throws; both of these totals fall in the bottom ten of D-I.
And both aren't likely to persist. Over the long haul, opponent three point percentage and free throw percentage tend to revert towards the mean. If these numbers do reach the mean, K-State will give up roughly 7 more points per 100 possessions.
9. Texas Tech
Under first-year head coach Tubby Smith, the Red Raiders have gone 8-5 against a fairly rigorous non-conference schedule. Tech has played against, and lost to, Alabama, Pitt, Arizona, LSU, and Arizona State. The Raiders are an improved basketball team, but don't yet have any signature wins to show for it. The best victories have been against South Dakota State, Houston, and Texas Southern.
What I like: This is a significantly improved team compared with a year ago. The 2012-2013 Red Raiders were bad at everything that a basketball team can be bad at. The Raiders are better this year because they are doing the sorts of things that Tubby Smith's teams typically do. They are crashing the offensive glass, with an offensive rebounding percentage that ranks in the top 30 nationally, and are forcing turnovers and blocking shots. For a team that seemed rudderless a year ago, Smith has stabilized things.
Jaye Crockett and Jordan Tolbert are thriving under Smith, who has a track record of getting results out of these sorts of players. Crockett is currently posting a true shooting percentage of 0.628, while Tolbert is at 0.664; for both players these numbers are career highs by a significant margin. In Tubby Smith's offense, both of these players get a large percentage of their shots very close to the basket; Crockett has so far converted 65 percent of his twos, while Tolbert has hit 67 percent. Neither player had come close to this level of effectiveness previously in their careers.
What worries me: I am a hopeless Tubby Smith fan-boy, but even I recognize the limits of this roster. The turmoil of the previous few seasons has left things in bad shape in Lubbock. Thankfully for Tech, Smith is a fairly effective recruiter.
Poor TCU. The Horned Frogs are a better team than they were a season ago, but they still aren't good enough to compete very well in the Big 12. Trent Johnson's team enters conference play with a 9-3 record; their best win was a road victory against Washington St.
What I like: The Horned Frogs are defending pretty well, sitting just outside the top 100 in Ken Pomeroy's defensive ranking. That is pretty good for what has historically been an awful basketball program.
Additionally, TCU is young, which suggests they might be able to improve over the next few years. A lot of minutes are going to freshman, the best two of whom are 6-6 wing Brandon Parrish (he has a pretty decent outside shot), and 6-10 center Karviar Shepherd.
Junior point guard Kyan Anderson has also played well to start the season. He is currently a big part of the reason that TCU only turns the ball over in 17 percent of its possessions.
What worries me: This team still has a hard time scoring. A healthy Amric Fields would help. Fields missed most of last season with a torn ACL. Fields sat out the first few games to start this year, before returning to action against Washington State; he had a solid game in his return, and was a big part of the reason that the Frogs were able to pull off the road upset.
But four games later, Fields broke his hand in a loss to Harvard. Last Sunday he returned to action, and played 29 minutes against Texas Southern.
The Big 12 looks to be a rather competitive league this season -- even the bad teams aren't all that bad. While I don't think TCU will win many games, Texas Tech might, and there will be a large heap of teams fighting to make it to the top half of the conference.
At the very top of the conference, Kansas will face a serious challenge from Oklahoma State, and my also have to fend off Iowa State. The Jayhawks have better players than everyone else in the league, but they still need to gel defensively to be truly great.