For Those About to Rock
It was a crazy week in the Big 12, and only two teams came out unscathed: the Oklahoma State Cowboys and the TCU Horned Frogs. Everyone else in the conference took at least one loss, including the big three at the top, Baylor, Kansas and West Virginia. Not only did Baylor lose but they were one of two teams to not win a game this week, with Oklahoma being the other. With Kansas dropping their second conference game of the year, the Bears had a chance to jump the Jayhawks in the loss column. Alas, they were unable to do so, and Kansas stayed at the top, lead by their uber-talented freshman.
Player of the Week
Josh Jackson, Kansas
Josh Jackson might be the hardest working player in college basketball. As a prospect, everyone was concerned with how he would shoot in college, and early on those concerns were warranted. Jackson struggled mightily with his shot, making only nine of his 37 attempts from beyond the arc through January 16th. Since then, Jackson has been great from deep, making 12 of his 24 three-point attempts, including making five of his 10 this week. Jackson’s biggest concern are his struggles from the free throw line, where he still only made 11 of his 21 shots. This is an indicator that his shooting may still need adjusting. That doesn’t take away from the outstanding week Jackson had for the Jayhawks. Jackson put up 23 points and pulled down 10 rebounds in the biggest game of the week against Baylor. Jackson did a lot of that rebounding damage on the offensive glass where he had six of his 10 rebounds. Those extra possessions were crucial as the Jayhawks eked out a five-point victory. Jackson followed that game with 15 points and 10 boards against Iowa State in a losing effort in overtime, and 18 points, but only three rebounds in a win against Kansas State. He’ll need to keep his rebounding effort high as he continues to play the four for Kansas’ depleted front court. He did a good job of it this week, especially when you consider that he was guarding Johnathan Motley for stretches against Baylor. With his defensive ability, and now his new-found stroke from deep, free throw shooting is his last obstacle to becoming an all-around player.
Johnathan Motley, Baylor
While Baylor didn’t play well, it wasn’t because of Johnathan Motley. Motley has been a force all year for the Bears and did nothing to change that this week. In the Bears’ biggest game of the year to this point, Motley had 16 points and 10 rebounds against Kansas in a close five-point loss. He followed that performance up with 17 points and 14 rebounds in a two-point loss to Kansas State. Motley has been a machine on the glass all year, averaging 9.8 rebounds per game, almost doubling his average from last year of 5.1 per game. Motley has been highly talked about, but does not get enough credit for the leap he has made on the court in the last year, as a college player and as an NBA prospect. Not only has Motley’s rebounding improved, but his shooting has as well. After shooting only two threes his entire sophomore year, Motley is averaging roughly one per game, making them at a 35 percent clip. The signs of an improved shot are also showing in his free throw shooting. Motley is shooting 71 percent from the line with about 5.5 attempts per game, up from 61 percent on 3.4 attempts last year. Motley needs to continue to work on extending his range and could make an excellent stretch four off of the bench on an NBA team.
Iowa State from Deep
Iowa State is never out of a game, and that is largely because of their three-point shooting. The Cyclones put on quite the display this week, making 28 of their 50 threes against Kansas and West Virginia. That includes making 18 of 34 attempts in the Phog. Naturally, with all of their three point attempts, the Cyclones took down the Jayhawks by three points. Their three-point onslaught came with their best shooter, Matt Thomas, missing all five of his five attempts from beyond the arc. Their shooting ability will always put them in a position to make comebacks, and could help vault them into the NCAA tournament. If the Cyclones can find their way into the NCAA tournament, they could be a team to watch. Teams that can get hot from deep can make quite the run, and seeing Iowa State in the Sweet Sixteen shouldn’t surprise anyone.
Ladies and Gentlemen, the Oklahoma State Cowboys are the hottest team in the Big 12. Oklahoma State came into the week on a three-game win streak, but started out with a close win against the Oklahoma Sooners that could make someone question how good they are. After all, Oklahoma is the worst team in the Big 12, and hasn’t done a whole lot to prove otherwise. So, what did the Cowboys do? They marched into Morgantown and took down West Virginia on their home court. That win made it five straight for the Cowboys, but they’ll face another tough task this week, as they take on Baylor in Stillwater. After looking dead in the water at the beginning of conference play, the Cowboys are now in a position to put themselves on the bubble of the NCAA tournament if they can win five of their final eight games this regular season.
Well, someone had to go here. With Baylor and Oklahoma being the only two winless teams this week, it was an easy choice. Baylor may have only lost their two games by a combined seven points, but the Sooners two losses are more par for the course than anything else at this point. Baylor’s two losses were an opportunity lost as well, as a win in either game would have brought them even in the loss column with Kansas. Of course, with one of the games against Kansas, winning that game would’ve put them in sole possession of first place in the conference. The road doesn’t get a lot easier for the Bears either, as they travel to Stillwater this week to take on Oklahoma State. They follow that with a home game against TCU and close the week in Lubbock to take on TCU. Baylor needs to win at least two of those games if they want to keep pace with Kansas.
Top Five “Glue Guys”
This week we take a look at everybody’s favorite, the top five “glue guys.” These five players may not stuff the stat sheet, or get a lot of recognition, but they’re crucial to their team’s success. These types of players are present on almost every successful team in college basketball.
5. Ishmail Wainright, Baylor
Wainwright is an ideal glue guy for Baylor, as he fits between their sharpshooting guards and their dominant big men. He provides a nice mix of both in this 27.7 minutes per game, shooting 30 percent from three and grabbing five rebounds per game. Wainwright is going to be very important for the Bears if they want to compete with Kansas, as he’ll have to compensate if anyone on the team has an off night.
4. Cameron McGriff, Oklahoma State
McGriff is another guy that does a little bit of everything for his team (most glue guys do), shooting 35.3 percent from three and getting 3.1 rebounds per game in only 16.1 minutes per game. McGriff could see more minutes as the season moves along and players like Jeffrey Carroll need more time to rest.
3. Xavier Sneed, Kansas State
I had pegged Sneed as taking over the reins of the Wildcats’ offense this season, but that hasn’t been necessary as several other players have stepped up. Sneed has, however, played an important role as the Wildcats’ best player off of the bench. He’s averaging 8.6 points per game shooting 38 percent from three on 3.5 attempts per game.
2. Jaylen Fisher, TCU
Fisher is an odd case as a glue guy, as he has the potential to be a lot more for the Horned Frogs if they make the postseason. For now, he’s the engine that makes TCU run. Fisher is the team’s best guard, but often defers to Alex Robinson to run the point. His unselfishness is a key trait in a glue guy.
1. Landen Lucas, Kansas
Not only is he Kansas’ glue guy, but Lucas might also be the Jayhawks most important player from here on out. Lucas seems to be the only big that Kansas can rely on, after Carlton Bragg got suspended. Lucas is the only big that gets a lot of minutes, even with Bragg returning. He will need to stay out of foul trouble and rebound at a high level. Part of what makes Lucas such a great glue guy is that his usage stays so low while he continues to crash the glass for the Jayhawks.