Questions pile up in the Big 12 as conference play takes its toll across the league
Look what fratricide has done to the Big 12. Most of the league has developed the wobbles.
The oddly-timed sojourn with the SEC over the weekend – smack in the middle of a sweltering conference season – did not go well. The Big 12 lost the series for the first time, 6-4. Now the league can return to its regularly scheduled program.
Eating its own.
In a conference of constant frenzy – 21 of the first 40 league games were settled by six points or fewer – karma can turn in a hurry. What was it TCU coach Jamie Dixon said after one of the Horned Frogs’ early flip-flop games? “Welcome to the Big 12.”
Welcome, indeed. And consider all the questions created by league carnage.
The Sooners were once 12-1 and on the way to a No. 4 ranking. Then the world began to discover the antidote for Trae Young. They dropped three of five in the Big 12, and now add the loss to Alabama, when the Crimson Tide threw more defenses at Young than Nick Saban has in his playbook, holding him to 17 points.
Young’s wild ride lately has included 12 turnovers against Kansas State, putting up 39 shots to score 48 points in a loss to Oklahoma State, turning into a passer to help beat Kansas, and then the silent treatment in Tuscaloosa. Being the sudden face of the sport can be daunting. And his team’s fortunes have followed; it’s dangerous to have so much tied to one freshman.
“We’ve got to get tougher,” coach Lon Kruger said.
So you wonder about Oklahoma.
The Mountaineers won 15 in a row to climb to No. 2, their highest ranking since 1959. Then they blew an 11-point lead at Texas Tech, a 16-point lead against Kansas, and were beaten at TCU. They squandered a 17-point advantage against Kentucky Saturday and were outrebounded by 16 in the second half.
That makes four defeats in five games. Suddenly, their stifling pressure defense isn’t so stifling, the offense is struggling with shot selection and Bob Huggins is frustrated. “I’ve got some guys I can’t trust. When you have guys you can’t trust, how are you going to trust to put them on the floor?”
He also mentioned they had been facing better opponents. “You guys are acting like we just played Mount St. Mary’s or somebody,” he said to the assembled media. “I shouldn’t have said Mount St. Mary’s, because they could probably beat us right now.”
So you wonder about West Virginia.
The Horned Frogs were once 12-0, but they seldom meet a close game they can’t lose. They dropped five of their first seven Big 12 games by one, four, one, five and five points. New to the list is Saturday’s three-point loss at Vanderbilt, when they became only the third team in the nation this season to go a game without shooting a free throw.
What was 12-0 is now 15-6 – the six defeats by a combined 19 points. That, plus losing guard Jaylen Fisher for the season with a knee injury, suggest the basketball gods are no Frog boosters.
“We shot 56 percent and outrebounded (Vanderbilt) by 15,” Dixon said. “It’s hard to lose a game when you do those two things, but we found a way.”
So you wonder about TCU.
The Cyclones won nine in a row and were 9-2. But in nine depressing days in the Big 12, they lost two games in overtime and by five points at Kansas. That can wear on a team. Now, they’re 2-6 in the league and they have lost seven of nine overall – the last three by 23, 16 and 23 points.
“Soft. One word, that’s all it is. We played soft,” Iowa State’s Donovan Jackson said after Saturday’s whipping by Tennessee, the Cyclones’ fourth loss at home this season. “Hilton (Coliseum) is supposed to be our safe haven. We’re disrespecting Hilton right now.”
So you wonder about Iowa State.
The Bears started 10-2 and were ranked as high as No. 16. Then they lost six of eight in the Big 12, were pounded 81-60 Saturday at Florida, getting outscored 42-9 from the 3-point line, and have faded to 12-9. Shots just would not fall in Gainesville.
“That’s what happens when you lose a couple of games and you start to lose confidence,” coach Scott Drew said. “When you’re winning, you make those plays. When you’re losing, you don’t.”
So you wonder about Baylor.
The Cowboys were 10-2, but then went 3-5 in the Big 12. And two of the wins were in overtime, so they’re not that far from 1-7. A late tip-in beat them 66-65 at Arkansas Saturday, in a game they led by 13. They had beaten the Razorbacks in 10 of their last 11 meetings.
So you wonder about Oklahoma State.
There have been trials everywhere. Texas Tech soared to a 14-1 record and No. 8 ranking – its highest in two decades – then lost three of four in the league. Texas had to go overtime for its first two Big 12 wins. Lose those, and the Longhorns would have started 0-5 in conference play. Kansas State dropped three of four Big 12 games in a stretch, including an excruciating one-point loss at Kansas, where the Wildcats were so close to ending 10 years of futility.
Does that leave anyone out? Oh, yeah. The conference leader.
Kansas is 17-4 and has a one-game lead in the standings, but not a minute of it has been easy. The Jayhawks are 6-2 in the league, and the average margin of those six wins is four points. The 11-point victory over Texas A&M Saturday must have felt like a day at the beach.
Now it’s back to the Big 12 treadmill for all of them. Back to the conference season that has taken its toll. Five different teams – Kansas, West Virginia, Oklahoma, Texas Tech and TCU – have appeared in the Associated Press top 10 this season. Come Monday, Kansas might be the only one left.
The Jayhawks step right back into the hotbox Monday night, at Kansas State. And as Bill Self said of life in this league, “You have one bad week, and you can go from first to fifth.”
The various computer power ratings love the Big 12. So as the conference of fickle fate recommences, here’s what you wonder: Are the recent scores reflective of teams starting to show flaws, or the inevitable bleeding when you go swimming with sharks?
Even the team going for its 14th consecutive Big 12 title understands the peril afoot.
“We don’t talk about trying to win 14 in a row, we just want to try and compete for our first with this group together,” Self said. “Trust me, our players understand, because they’ve heard the rhetoric enough about the streak. I’ve got to be honest with you, we have been vulnerable. I think we’ve been vulnerable just about every year, and somehow kind of rallied around that.
“For anybody that wins the league this year, it would be the best win that anybody’s had during our entire streak, I think the league is that good.”
And has the battered teams to prove it.