Bad News Bears
We’ve finally reached conference play and the first slate of games did not disappoint. Each team (minus Texas) only played one game this week, and the results gave a little more insight on where the season could be heading for the Big 12. Texas continues to severely disappoint, while teams like Kansas State and TCU continue to prove that they can battle with the rest of the conference, and that their non-conference successes may not be a fluke. Oklahoma State and Jawun Evans proved that they can score with anyone, but their defense will be an issue. West Virginia and Bob Huggins keep proving my preseason prediction wrong, as they kept rolling over a competitive Oklahoma State squad. Baylor once again showed why they are my choice to take the Big 12 regular season championship, and they are our source for this week’s player of the week.
Player of the Week
Johnathan Motley, Baylor
Johnathan Motley is the first player this season to win our player of the week, and there isn’t another player in the conference that deserves it more. Motley and the Baylor Bears faced a struggling Oklahoma team and did their best to crush the small amount of hope the Sooners have. Motley scored 19 points in a game where he was guarded by Khadeem Lattin at times, showing his dominance in the paint. Lattin may be the best defensive forward in the conference, and if he is unable to slow Motley, it does not bode well for frontcourts across the Big 12. Motley did his damage in only 22 minutes for the Bears, as his services weren’t needed for the majority of a game in which Baylor cruised to a 76-50 victory over the Sooners. He didn’t only score at will, he also crashed the glass and protected the paint, notching 13 rebounds and three blocks. Motley continues to shoot up draft boards, moving from a projected second round pick at the beginning of the season, to now being a first round caliber prospect. Part of that rise is his dominance in the paint, but another part is because of his increased willingness to shoot the three. Motley will crush his career high of 15 attempted threes, as he’s already shot 13 this season. He made one of his two attempts against the Sooners, another good sign for his stock. He doesn’t need to be a sharpshooter either, he just needs to be able to force teams to close out on him when he’s at the three-point line. With the NBA moving towards a more pace and space style of play, his high effort on the boards and newfound stroke from three could put him in the lottery discussion by the season’s end.
Vladimir Brodziansky, TCU
TCU battled until the final seconds with Kansas this week, and they can thank several players for that, especially Vladimir Brodziansky. Brodziansky has done a nice job for the Horned Frogs this year, especially as a defensive presence in the paint. He has increased his blocks per game from one last year to 2.3 this year and it has shown in the team’s play. On multiple occasions Kansas players appeared to be hesitant to take the ball at Brodziansky in the paint, often times trying acrobatic shots to avoid the big man. He was able to swat away three shots while also filling it up on the boards and the offensive end, scoring 28 points and gathering nine rebounds. His presence in the paint has given the Horned Frogs a bona last line of defense and has allowed the perimeter defenders to stay aggressive, knowing they have Brodziansky to protect them. He will be an important piece for the TCU as they look to keep up their high level of play.
Landen Lucas, Kansas
The battle between the Jayhawks and Horned Frogs was quite the showcase for big men, with Landen Lucas also having a big game for Kansas. Lucas caused problems all night on the glass for TCU, pulling down 17 rebounds including seven on the offensive end of the floor. Lucas was clearly the strongest player on the floor, often using his 6’10” 250-pound frame to outmuscle his opponents for rebounds. He still struggled with foul trouble, committing four of them in 30 minutes, but if he puts up 15 points and 17 boards every night, I’m sure Kansas will learn to deal with his propensity to foul in the paint. Of course, if he doesn’t learn to rebound and defend without fouling, he’ll limit his ceiling in the NBA to a rebounding specialist who can only be trusted with limited minutes.
Josh Jackson, Kansas
It wasn’t all good for Kansas, as Josh Jackson looked like a freshman for the first time this season. Jackson fouled out and was limited to 13 minutes of action for the Jayhawks, with one of his fouls being a technical. He received the technical for slamming the ball off the floor in frustration, then sprinting down the floor. Jackson appeared to be frustrated with the officials all night, and he allowed that to affect his play. His stat line was decently empty, especially considering his previous performances. He only had four points, three assists, and two rebounds in his limited action. Jackson will have games like this, as he is a freshman who doesn’t have a knockdown jumper to boost a poor performance. When he does play poorly, he needs to learn to take it in stride, rather than let his emotions get to him, because those technical free throws (and the ones that followed thanks to Bill Self defending him) could’ve been costly in a close game. With that said, Jackson will recover from this, and is still a top prospect. His emotions are usually running high when he plays, he just needs to learn to channel them into aggression during play, rather than at referees.
This week we’ll be introducing a new section to the weekly recap, with the freshman of the week. The freshman of the week will be a mix of players boosting their NBA draft stock as well as performance on the court. Without further ado, our first freshman of the week.
Freshman of the Week
Jarrett Allen, Texas
This week the Texas Longhorns went 0-2 with losses to Kansas State and Kent State, but it wasn’t all bad, as Jarrett Allen continues to do his best to keep the team afloat. Allen did what he does best this week, and that’s focusing in the paint on both ends of the floor. Allen averaged 15.5 points per game and 11.5 rebounds per game in the two contests while also contributing three blocks. He is not to blame for the team’s struggles, but he could do more to help himself and the Longhorns. If he can begin rejecting more shots, his stock will have a chance to prevail as the only stock on the Longhorns that is moving in a positive direction.
Top Five Must-Watch Conference Matchups
One game is in the books for everyone in conference play, but the best is yet to come with most of these matchups, even with the exciting Kansas-TCU game in the books. We look forward to the most exciting games yet to come in the Big 12.
5. TCU at Oklahoma State – January 23rd
This will be the first matchup between talented guards Jawun Evans and Jaylen Fisher. Fisher, who contributes across the board statistically, will look to slow down Evans, who is an offensive machine for the Cowboys. This will also be a big game for the trajectory of both teams who have outperformed expectations this season.
4. Baylor at West Virginia – January 10th
This game represents West Virginia’s first major test in conference play. It helps that the game will be played in Morgantown, but no matter where it is played, Baylor would have their hands full with the Mountaineer’s press. It will be interesting to see how West Virginia is able to deal with the dynamic post presence of Johnathan Motley and if they can rattle him with their defense.
3. Baylor at Kansas – February 1st
Well this will be a nice way to kick off the last full month of regular season basketball. The first of two regular season matchups between the Bears and the Jayhawks, this game will be a titanic matchup between two teams with Final Four potential. With both teams being littered with NBA talent as well as high level college players, there will be a great mix of athleticism and skill on display.
2. Kansas at West Virginia – January 24th
I’m sure you’re beginning to notice a common theme among these top five games, but the best three teams in this conference are hard to ignore. Kansas will travel to Morgantown in the middle of their conference schedule for a game that will be a major test for Josh Jackson and company. Jackson will be attacking a paint with two high-level shot blockers waiting for him in Johnathan Motley and [Player: Jo Lual-Acuil].
1. West Virginia at Baylor – February 27th
Multiple factors are at play here that make this the most exciting game left in the regular season for the Big 12. First, the obvious one is the ability of the two teams involved. Baylor and West Virginia should both be near the top of the Big 12 standings and will both be battling for the title. The next reason is the timing of the game. With this being the second to last regular season for both of these teams, it should have major conference champion and conference tournament (and NCAA tournament) seeding implications. That combination of the teams playing and the timing of the game make this the most must-watch game on the Big 12 conference slate.