Exceeding Expectations

It was not a pretty week for the Big 12 outside of Lawrence, Kansas and even the Jayhawks had their share of struggles. Two teams not themselves out of the NCAA Tournament as things currently stand (more on that later) while Baylor and West Virginia continued to slide, both dropping a game this week. Kansas did manage to clinch the Big 12 regular season outright this week, but they had to come back in a big way to beat the worst team in the conference, the Oklahoma Sooners. They clinched the title with a surprise team in second place, the Iowa State Cyclones. Iowa State took over second after an undefeated week that included a win over Baylor. While Baylor may have lost to Iowa State, they still won two of three games, thanks in large part to this week’s player of the week.

Player of the Week

Johnathan Motley, Baylor

Johnathan MotleyJohnathan MotleyJohnathan Motley doesn’t go long without being mentioned in our weekly recaps, and that is for good reason. Motley is one of the best players in the Big 12 and one of the best big men in the country. He’s a strong candidate for the Big 12 Conference Men’s Basketball Player of the Year award and is still in consideration for the Wooden Award which is awarded to the nation’s best player. Motley has carried Baylor when they needed him most this year and this week it was much more of the same, averaging 23.7 points per game this week and 11.7 rebounds per game. That was in a week where the Bears took on two of their biggest conference foes in Iowa State and West Virginia, splitting the two games. Their first game of the week was a matchup with Oklahoma that was closer than it should have been with the Bears squeaking out a 60-54 victory. Motley had his best passing and rebounding performance of the week with 16 boards and five assists. He followed that with his best scoring output of the week with 27 points in a losing effort against Iowa State where he also tallied 11 boards and four assists. His final performance was his best of the week. Motley and Baylor took on a West Virginia press that suffocated them in their first matchup. That was not the case in Waco as the Bears won 71-62 and Motley had a fantastic game. He scored 23 points on only 12 field goal attempts, while also making all 11 of his free throws. Motley has proven time and time again that he is the leader of the Baylor Bears and worthy of any awards he receives. His continuing high-level of play will push the Bears in the postseason and should make them highly competitive no matter where they are seeded.

Who’s Hot

[Plauer: Jawun Evans], Oklahoma State

Oklahoma State is scorching hot as of late, winning five in a row and 10 of their last 11 and Jawun Evans is a big part of it. Evans has gone from a player who can put up points in bunches to more of an all-around point guard this season. Evans has struggled from three this season, making only 36.4 percent of his threes compared to 47.5 percent last year. He’s made up for this by increasing his assist output from 4.9 last year to an even six this year. He put his transformed game on display this week against Kansas State. Evans struggled from the field, making only four of his 16 field goal attempts. While he struggled from the field, he did manage to score 21 points thanks to making 11 of his 12 free throws. He also added nine assists to further contribute to the offense. Evans is a great scorer who has diversified his game in Brad Underwood’s offense, and that has allowed Oklahoma State to reach unexpected levels of play this year. If he keeps it up, they should be a popular surprise pick to make it to the Sweet Sixteen this season.

Who’s Not

Kansas State Wildcats

What looked like a wildly successful season has suddenly turned into a disaster for Kansas State. The Wildcats have lost eight of their last 10 and now sit on the outside looking in at the NCAA Tournament. They are 6-10 in conference play and must win their next two games to have a shot of making it without making a deep run in the conference tournament. Rock bottom came for the Wildcats this week in the form of an 81-51 blowout loss to Oklahoma, the worst team in the conference. Most of the Wildcats’ losses to that point had been close and had been to good teams, but this loss may have been the final nail in the coffin. While the next two games are winnable, it’s difficult to see them taking both with how poorly they played against the Sooners. The NIT looks to be calling Kansas State’s name after a brutal week for the Wildcats.

TCU Horned Frogs

Kansas State isn’t the only team to go ice cold at the worst time possible. TCU has lost five in a row and is also on the outside looking in for the NCAA Tournament as things stand. The Horned Frogs had a very difficult stretch of five games where they played the top five teams in the conference, three of which were on the road. That tough stretch ended with a heartbreaking one-point loss to West Virginia on a bad foul call that could have sealed their fate as a tournament team. For now, they need to do the same as Kansas State, either make a deep run in the Big 12 tournament, or win their last two regular season games. Fortunately for the Horned Frogs, they have two very winnable matchups. Their first game is at home against Kansas State, who has struggled mightily in recent weeks (see above) and their final game is against Oklahoma on the road. The Wildcats will also be fighting for their tournament life, but TCU is flat out the better team, while Oklahoma will be playing for absolutely nothing. Look for TCU to take both and hear their name called on Selection Sunday.

Freshman of the Week

Jarrett Allen, Texas

It was another bad week for the Texas Longhorns, as they lost the only game they played, but that wasn’t Jarrett Allen’s fault. Allen had a great performance against Kansas in a 77-67 loss for the Longhorns, playing efficiently on both ends of the floor. He scored 20 points on 13 field goal attempts, while pulling down 11 rebounds. Allen stayed out of foul trouble on the defensive end, only committing two fouls in his 35 minutes in the game. He continues to prove his worth in this down season for Texas, and will have a chance to do it again in the Longhorns’ final game this week as they take on Baylor and Johnathan Motley.

Top Five Final Four Contenders

This week we look at the five teams with the best chance to make a deep run in the NCAA Tournament. This isn’t in order of who are the best teams, rather, it’s in order of who is most likely to get hot in March based on numerous factors.

5. Oklahoma State Cowboys

Oklahoma State has the kind of guard play and scoring ability that can take a team deep into March. The Cowboys have hit their stride in Brad Underwood’s offense and I would not be that surprised to see them light up the scoreboard all the way to the Final Four.

4. Baylor Bears

While Baylor may be the second-best team in the conference, they’re also susceptible to an upset which drops them to four here. They’re clearly one of the top 16 teams in the country, even if they do get dropped before the third round. Their talent is too much to ignore, making it hard to drop them below Oklahoma State on this list.

3. West Virginia Mountaineers

The Mountaineers’ press can make life difficult for their opponents, especially when they haven’t seen it before. The NCAA Tournament is a fun time of year for a lot of teams, but it won’t be for the Mountaineers’ opponents. The chaos they cause on the defensive end of the floor makes them a strong candidate for a deep run.

2. Iowa State Cyclones

This spot on the list is all about two things: Monte Morris and three-point shooting. Morris is the kind of player that can win two or three games on his own in the NCAA Tournament, while they also have the shooting to put away really good teams without much of a fight. Iowa State in the Final Four would not be much of a surprise as the Cyclones are peaking at the right time.

1. Kansas Jayhawks

At this point, anything less than a Final Four run would be a disappointment for the Jayhawks, who are also peaking at the right time. That time, of course, is from November-March, as the Jayhawks always do. One of the best teams in the country, Kansas has the guards, the three-point shooting, and multiple players that can take over the game on offense to win games in March and April. Kansas is a near lock for a number one seed at this point, and will have championship aspirations once we reach March Madness.

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