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Gunnin' for that #1 Spot

We’re heading to the home stretch of non-conference play in college basketball, which means breaks for finals and the holidays. Unfortunately, that also means fewer games to watch and a limited slate of Big 12 games to talk about. With that said, some teams did a nice job of reinforcing their positions in the conference, while others continued to plummet. Two teams did their best to prove my preseason predictions wrong, and only one did so in a positive way.

Player of the Week

Josh Jackson, Kansas

Josh JacksonJosh JacksonLast week, Josh Jackson had to share a spot on the "Hot" list with three other players. Not this week. Jackson had a great week in helping the Jayhawks get two victories and keeps building upon his resume for the upcoming draft. Jackson began the week against UMKC putting up 19 points, 12 boards, and dishing out five assists. He followed that performance up with a 17 point, 6 rebound performance against Nebraska in an 89-72 victory. More impressively, he had five blocks and two steals against the Huskers. Jackson is everything that he was expected to be coming into the season. A Swiss army knife on the floor, he contributes everywhere. His elite athleticism helps him defend at a high level and pull down rebounds at both ends of the floor. His quick first step helps him get to the hoop and because of that, to the free throw line. In order to secure himself at the very top of the draft class, Jackson has one key weakness that he needs to improve upon, his shooting. Jackson was 0-3 from three this week, and even though he got to the free throw line 12 times, he was only able to convert six of them. Similar to a player who slipped all the way to the 15th pick in 2011, Kawhi Leonard, Jackson has an excellent all around game but needs to tweak his shooting form. If Jackson can raise his free throw percentage from 54.7 percent to around 70 percent, it will do wonders in giving teams faith in his shot. It will be interesting to see if he is able to do that as he further settles into college basketball. Like the title of the hoops documentary made by the late, great Beastie Boys member Adam Yauch, Jackson finds himself Gunnin' For That #1 Spot.

Who's Hot

Bill Self, Head Coach, Kansas

Self has been one of the best coaches in college basketball since he took over at Kansas, and this week he hit a milestone that furthered his standing. Self lead Kansas over UMKC and Nebraska this week, but only one of those is why he’s in this spot. When the Jayhawks beat the UMKC Kangaroos 105-62 they gave Bill Self his 600th win as a head coach. Self became the 94th head coach in men’s college basketball history to hit the 600 mark that night, but the 600 number isn’t even the most impressive part. That would be his winning percentage, which is .761. That means, on average, a Self-lead team would win 23.5 games in a 30 game season. That’s incredible. Self is the kind of coach that, if you dig long enough through his coaching record, you can find some astonishing feats. For example, five of the other nine teams currently in the Big 12 have never beaten Kansas when the game is played at Allen Fieldhouse. Those five teams (Baylor, Oklahoma, TCU, Texas Tech, and West Virginia) are a combined 0-25 against self at Allen Fieldhouse. Self’s success doesn’t end when players leave Kansas either. Since taking over the Jayhawks in 2003, Self has had 19 players drafted and 25 players be on an NBA roster. That list includes nine players that were taken in the lottery, including former number one overall pick Andrew Wiggins. Self will look to add another top pick in the draft in the 2017 NBA Draft in Josh Jackson, assuming he declares.

Who’s Not

Jarrett Allen, Texas

Allen entered the season as what I saw as the centerpiece of Shaka Smart’s HAVOC defense. Up until this week, he had been alright to good. That changed drastically this week, when Allen’s play was nothing short of atrocious. First up for Allen and the Longhorns was a matchup at Michigan. Allen struggled mightily against the wolverines, only playing 23 minutes because of foul trouble. That foul trouble lead to him fouling out of the game with 57 seconds left and the Longhorns clinging to a 50-48 lead. The lack of Allen’s presence allowed the Wolverines to pull in an offensive rebound on a missed layup and take a 51-50 lead, which was all they needed, winning 53-50. While Allen’s presence was missed on that play, he did not contribute much in the game, only scoring six points and pulling down four rebounds. He followed his poor performance against Michigan with a four point, six rebound showing against Long Beach State in a 71-65 victory. Long Beach State came into the game with a 2-9 record, so the victory isn’t impressive in the slightest, and neither is Allen’s play. He came into the season with the chance to be an offensive rim runner and a defensive stopper, and right now he hasn’t met those expectations. Allen wasn’t expected to havea skilled offensive game in the post, but he needs to be able to score using his length and athleticism, especially at the college level. If he can’t he may need to learn to shoot to have any value on the offensive end in the NBA.

Top Five Storylines

5. TCU’s Emergence

Coming into the season TCU was supposed to finish at the bottom of the Big 12. That still may occur, but TCU has been very impressive to this point in non-conference play. A lot of the credit must go to Jamie Dixon, who returned to his alma mater in the offseason. The Horned Frogs currently stand at 9-1 with a good shot of entering conference play at 11-1. If they can fight their way to a 9-9 conference record, TCU may find themselves playing in the NCAA tournament for the first time since 1998.

4. Press Virginia

This may only be a surprise to me, but I did not see the Mountaineers success coming. West Virginia lost a lot of production last year, and I was convinced that this year would be the year that Bob Huggins’ squad would take a step back. Instead, they have an 8-1 record and should cruise to 11-1 before conference play starts. At this point, it would be a surprise if they weren’t safely a tournament team at year’s end.

3. Jawun Evans

What a start for the sophomore guard. Evans was expected to be Oklahoma State’s primary scorer, but I never expected him to score this much. He’s currently sixth in the country with 23.6 points per game. Coach Brad Underwood has done a phenomenal job with Evans and it will be interesting to see how he plays when he begins to face a guard like Frank Mason and a defense like the one in West Virginia.

2. Baylor Bears

This is a team I’ve talked about plenty to start the year, but that doesn’t diminish how impressive their performance is. The Bears are 8-0 with five very impressive wins over Oregon, VCU, Michigan State, Louisville, and Xavier. They could finish the year with those five as their only quality wins and still make the NCAA tournament. Of course, that isn’t likely, as the Bears will have plenty of opportunities to build their resume. I expect them to continue to play at a high level and finish the year under consideration for a number one seed in the big dance.

1. Texas Struggling

The Longhorns, who I predicted would finish second in the Big 12, have been bad to say the least to start the season. Texas sits at 5-4 with no guarantees that they’ll get to conference play with 8 wins. Nobody on the team has stepped up as a primary scorer and Kerwin Roach has been very disappointing. The Longhorns will need Roach to play much better and Jarrett Allen to develop quicker than he is expected to if they want to make up for lost time. If they can’t turn things around, they could be on the outside looking in on selection Sunday for only the fifth time since 1998.

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