I thought last week – actually you could substitute almost any week since the turn of the new calendar year - was pretty wacky in Big 12 basketball, but what we’ve all witnessed in the last three days has taken “wacky” to an all-new level.
I knew that Big 12 men’s basketball this season was going to be as competitive as it has been in quite some time -perhaps the men took a lesson from the women’s side of the hardwood sport – but would someome please explain to me the on-the-court craziness and unpredictable outcomes we’ve seen in the conference games that took place Monday through Wednesday this week?
For those who may be out of the loop, as they say, on what has happened in Big 12 play, allow me to review for everyone.
Iowa State goes to West Virginia as the country’s 11th best team, according to the Associated Press college basketball voters. Don’t get me wrong, West Virginia is a much better team than it was earlier this season. The Mountaineers haven’t won four of their last five games if they don’t have something going right for them on the court.
It wasn’t unusual to think that the Cyclones would face a tough test against coach Bob Huggins’ mountain men, after all West Virginia was playing at home and had already won three games on the road in conference play, which believe me takes some doing any year, but especially in this unusual one.
So what happens? West Virginia goes out and shoots lights out in the opening half on Monday, while holding a good-shooting Iowa State team to a somewhat pedestrian 36-percent shooting performance in the first half. The Mountaineers led by 19 at the break, and they came out in the second half and shot even better, going 15 for 25 (60 percent) from the field and leaving the travel-weary Cyclones in their wake.
West Virginia ended up burying the 11th-ranked team from Ames by the totally shocking score of 102-77. It’s hard to imagine that the Mountaineers, who were once 2-3 in the league, are now at 7-5 and tied with the swooning Sooners of Oklahoma with a 7-5 record. That was game one of the new week. Little did I realize that it would serve as a forerunner of what was to follow.
League-leading and eighth-ranked Kansas and Kansas State were next up in a “Big Monday” national broascast on ESPN. The Jayhawks had beaten the Wildcats by 26 points early in January when the two teams met in Lawrence. The story was different in Manhattan on Monday, however. Kansas managed - somewhat miraculously, given the way they were playing – to tie the score at the very end of regulation, despite trailing the entire second half. Kansas State led by as many asnine points late in the second 20 minutes.
When Kansas grabbed the lead with the first basket of the overtime session, some might have thought K-State’s upset bubble was about to burst and that the momemtum had shifted to the side of the Jayhawks. But then, on the ensuing Wildcats’ possession, senior shooting guard Will Spradling calmly drained a long-range three-point shot, and the lead was back on the K-State side of the scoreboard.
And Kansas State held on from there to record the mild upset. I say mild because, although Kansas had beaten K-State 48 of the last 51 times the two teams had played, winning at Bramlage Coliseum, perhaps the loudest arena in the Big 12 next to Allen Fieldhouse at Kansas and Iowa State’s Hilton Coliseum, is an extremely difficult place to play for any visiting team. Kansas State is 13-1 and undefeated in the Big 12 at home this season.
OK, I missed with my Big Monday picks in those two games, But there were still three games by which to right my two wrong picks to begin the week.
Oklahoma State has been playing extremely poorly and gets my vote as the biggest surprise story (with a thumb pointed downward) in Big 12 basketball this season. The Cowboys have lost five of their last six games and have gone from a 13-1 record and a No. 6 ranking nationally to a 16-8 record overall and 4-7 in the Big 12. And now they’ve lost their best player, Marcus Smart, as well, to a well-publicized suspension.
I actually believed they would rally in the absence of their floor leader and play well at Texas on Tuesday. OK, I admit it, I was dead wrong on that one. It was fairly obvious to even the untrained observer that the Cowboys are rudderless without their floor leader. How silly of me to think otherwise. Anyway, Texas had no trouble disposing of the disheartened and rapidly deteriorating group from Oklahoma State.
With the loss by Kansas, the fast-charging Longhorns, this week the No. 19 team in the land, according toBoth AP and USA Today, moved to within a half game of the young Jayhawks in the conference rade. After Tuesday’s games, I was 0 for 3 in my picks to begin Week 15.
Baylor was at TCU on Wednesday. I had been waiting for Baylor to break out of the horrid free fall it had been in for the better part of the past seven weeks. Here is another conference team that was once ranked in the top 10 this season, only to lose six of its last seven games in Big 12 play and find itself close to the bottom of the league standings. After winning at Oklahoma State a couple of weeks ago, I thought the Bears had finally broken the horrible spell they seemingly were under. After that though, they went out and lost two more games.
I was expecting almost anything at TCU, despite the fact that the Horned Frogs had yet to win a conference game in 10 tries this season. I felt pretty comfortable in picking Baylor to win this one, and they did. I honestly did not expect the Bad News Bears to erupt for 91 points, though, and beat the living daylight out of the host Horned Frogs by a decisive 33 points. Final score: Baylor 91, TCU 58. I got this one right, but to be perfectly candid, this was somewhat of a no brainer, even if you were only using your left brain.
So with one more chance to prove my prognosticating skills, I picked the high-scoring Oklahoma Sooners to win at home, which they usually do, and sweep the season series over Texas Tech. For the record, Texas Tech had been playing very good basketball. The Red Raiders had won their last two games, including last Saturday’s dramatic finish and win over Oklahoma State and an apparently enraged Marcus Smart.
Nonetheless, I did not believe Tech had a chance in h— of upsetting a very goood Oklahoma team on its home court. I turned to the game on the Big 12 Network on Wednesday about 45 minutes after the opening tip-off, feeling confident I would validate the way I predicted the game to go. Shame on me. What I discoverd instead was that visiting Texas Tech was leading the 10-point-favored Sooners by 15 points late in the first half.
OU made a valiant comeback in the second half to get back in the game, but it was too little too late. Oklahoma lost the game, which no one, including yours truly, thought they would ever lose. The Sooners scored a total of 60 points in the game, 23 points below their season average. Credit to the Red Raiders. They dictated the flow of the game and, frankly, out-hustled and out-muscled the Oklahoma players on practically every rebound and every loose ball. If you could accurately pick those game variables, you probably would never lose.
Just another night…and game…in Big 12 men’s basketball this season. I’ve come to expect the unexpected. How else could I explain a 1-4 record in my predictions of the five conference games since Monday? But then, that was my question of you at the beginning of this piece, right?