Another week of college basketball is in the books, and the Big 12 had some great games from some unexpected teams, and some terrible games by teams that were supposed to be at the top of the conference. Oklahoma struggled with Abilene Christian, while Iowa State could not pull away from Indiana State and dropped a game to a talented Gonzaga Bulldogs squad. The Texas Longhorns continued their shaky non-conference start with a loss to Colorado in their only game of the week. All of that faltering at the top was balanced by good play from Texas Tech, whose only loss came to a talented Auburn team, and Kansas State whose only loss was a nail-biter against a fringe top 25 Maryland team. None of these teams were good (or bad) enough to make the recap this week, where two teams, and one player, really stand out.
Player of the Week
Johnathan Motley, Baylor
What a week for Johnathan Motley and the Baylor Bears. The Bears took part in the Battle 4 Atlantis and came away looking like a real threat to the Kansas Jayhawks 13-year title reign. First up for the Bears was a very good VCU squad lead by head coach Will Wade. This was Motley’s best game of the week, where he racked up 19 points and 10 rebounds. More impressively, nine of those points came from the foul line, and five of those boards came as offensive rebounds. Motley did struggle with fouls this game, fouling out with 23 seconds left, but at that point the game was essentially over. Next up for the Bears in the Battle 4 Atlantis was a very talented (and very young) Michigan State team lead by star freshman Miles Bridges and head coach Tom Izzo. This game was never particularly close, and was Motley’s highest scoring output of the week, putting up 26 points and even knocking down his first three of the year, and only fourth of his college career. He was very aggressive on the offensive boards again, taking in four more offensive rebounds. The final, and most difficult, game of the week for Motley came against the Louisville Cardinals and Rick Pitino. Motley was not quite as prolific against the Cardinals, only scoring 15 points, but that still tied for the team lead in points. Motley’s improvement on the offensive end will be heavily tied to his draft stock. If Motley can develop an outside shot, he should shoot up draft boards by the time June rolls around.
Jamie Dixon and the TCU Horned Frogs
TCU may have been the most impressive team in the country this past week, especially considering where many, including myself, had the Horned Frogs projected to finish in the Big 12. TCU, currently sitting at 6-0 looks like a team that might find themselves in a postseason tournament when that time comes. They started the week with a nice win over UNLV beating the Rebels by a narrow four-point margin. The Horned Frogs only had two players reach double figures in scoring, but got at least 10 minutes from nine different players. Not to mention, the 18 rebounds that Kenrich Williams pulled down, accounting for nearly 50 percent of the team’s boards. The Horned Frogs’ really impressed when they went up against a very talented Washington Huskies team. The Huskies are lead by freshman Markelle Fultz, who will almost assuredly be drafted in the top five if he enters this year’s NBA Draft. Fultz was filling it up for Washington, scoring 27 points even though he fouled out with seven minutes to play. His play didn’t do much to dissuade the Horned Frogs, however, as they had five players score in double figures and a sixth with nine points. TCU was led by their transfer in from Texas A&M, Alex Robinson. Robinson had 24 points off the bench to lead TCU and did so on a highly-efficient 13 shots. Much of the credit must go to head coach Jamie Dixon, whose coaching ability is already shining in non-conference play. If Dixon and the Horned Frogs can ride the momentum, they could be a team to watch for some potential upsets over top teams in the conference like Kansas and Baylor.
Landen Lucas, Kansas
Another week, another Kansas big who can’t stay out of foul trouble. This week, the honor falls to Landen Lucas, who started for the Jayhawks against Georgia in the CBE Hall of Fame Classic. Lucas only managed 10 minutes, but still found a way to turn those 10 minutes into five fouls, fouling out of the game and forcing the Jayhawks to dig deep into the bench against the Bulldogs. This is starting to become a trend for the Jayhawks who have had seven players foul out in three important games against Duke, Indiana, and Georgia. Lucas, a 6-foot 10-inch senior, has also struggled to produce at all for the Jayhawks. Many believed that he would have to take on a larger role with the departure of Perry Ellis, but he has been unable to replace much of Ellis’ production. Lucas is averaging 4.5 points per game and 4.2 rebounds per game, which is actually a decrease from last year. Bill Self will have to turn to freshman big Udoka Azubuike if Lucas is unable to stay out of foul trouble. If Lucas has any hope of getting more than the 17.8 minutes per game that he is currently averaging (also a decrease from last year) he will need to start rebounding better and play defense without fouling. As for Kansas as a whole, all of their forwards will need to learn to defend without fouling if they hope to guard the forwards they will face in conference play.
Top Five Head Coaches
This one is pretty simple, I’m looking at the five best coaches. I’m picking these five based on who I would want coaching my team for the rest of the season and into an NCAA Tournament. Past performance is taken into account, but I also project with some younger coaches.
5. Lon Kruger, Oklahoma Sooners
Probably the most surprising position on this list will be that of Lon Kruger. Kruger has done a great job with the Sooners, having them constantly in contention for berths into the NCAA Tournament since he took over in 2011. But I want championships and with Kruger being 64 years old and only having two Final Four appearances entering his 31st season of coaching, his best years may be behind him.
4. Jamie Dixon, TCU
I really believe that Jamie Dixon is one of the most underappreciated coaches in all of college basketball. Entering his 14th year as a head coach, he has been to 11 NCAA Tournaments, including twice when he won the Big East, at a time when the Big East was far and away the best conference in college basketball. Dixon already has TCU humming as a team and could turn around his alma mater in a few short years.
3. Shaka Smart, Texas
Shaka Smart has received a lot of hype from his days coaching VCU, but that hype is well deserved. Smart preaches a HAVOC defense that forces teams to make mistakes and generating extra offensive possessions for his teams. Smart, who is entering his 8th season as a head coach, is only 39 years old and already has a Final Four appearance on his resume. The sky is the limit for him, and it would not be a surprise to see Texas fighting for Final Four berths in the near future.
2. Bob Huggins, West Virginia
Bob Huggins is this high on the list for very different reasons than the others. Huggins is entering his 35th year as a head coach, yet only has two Final Four appearances. However, Huggins has a way of contending year in and year out with a style of play that can lead to deep tournament runs. Press Virginia, as it has come to be known, puts an immense amount of pressure on opposing teams and can rattle players that lack poise. With an increase in young talent dominating college basketball, Bob Huggins has been a main stay with players that aren’t necessarily talented enough to make it to the next level. I made the mistake of doubting him this year in my season preview, and West Virginia already looks like they’ve proven me wrong and will once again be a force.
1. Bill Self, Kansas
This might be the least surprising thing I’ve ever written, but Bill Self is the best coach in the Big 12, and it’s not close. Self is going into his 24th season as a head coach with one of the best resumes in college basketball. Self has made 18 straight NCAA tournaments, eight Elite Eights, two Final Fours, and won a national title. Not only that, but he has won the Big 12 regular season championship 12 years in a row, as well as winning the Big 12 tournament seven times in that span. There isn’t much more to say about one of the best coaches in college basketball. Oh yeah, and he’s only 53.