Player of the Week
Umoja Gibson, Oklahoma
In a week filled with upsets throughout the Big 12, Gibson’s play shined the brightest. A reserve for the Sooners, the 6’1 guard was averaging less than 10 points and one assist per game this season. However, in Oklahoma’s biggest win of the season, he was the catalyst. Oklahoma defeated No. 9 West Virginia 75-71 for their first win against a ranked team this season. The North Texas transfer scored a game-high 29 points, the second highest total of his career, by shooting 10-14 from the field and 8-11 from deep. Gibson’s percentages were even more crucial considering the entire Oklahoma starting lineup combined to score just 36 points while shooting 36% from the floor. When Oklahoma desperately needed a spark, Gibson (pictured) ignited. Despite playing against one of the most ferocious defenses in the country, Gibson barely missed, and carried his team to their best victory of the season. He also contributed five rebounds, two assists and two steals in the victory.
Shaka Smart, Texas
With a tumultuous start to his tenure with the Longhorns, Smart needed to show his team could shine on the biggest stages and prove he could turn them into title contenders. He proved, with a resounding win against No. 3 Kansas, that he was the man for the job. Going into Allen Fieldhouse and winning is almost impossible; playing and utterly obliterating Kansas is almost unthinkable. His Longhorns did just that, beating them 84-59, while leading for the entire game. Even without fans, the feat is significant. Texas had only won one of their previous 17 games there, and the blowout tied for the biggest margin of victory against Kansas in their own building. Smart had some big recruiting success over the past two years with players like Greg Brown and Kai Jones, and now he is turning those wins on the recruiting trail into wins on the court. The Longhorns are now ranked fourth in the country.
Kansas losing at home, even to a top ten foe was shocking enough. Then on the same day, No. 9 West Virginia lost to Oklahoma, and No. 13 Texas Tech fell to Oklahoma State. It was a pleasant day for everyone in Oklahoma, but it was startling to the rest of the conference. Anyone, on any night, on any floor, can fall. While Iowa State is not winning the conference, and it will be tough to dethrone Baylor, Saturday still left a message. The depth of the conference is real and going through this gauntlet of a conference schedule will be extremely challenging. Even the best teams need to come ready to play against unranked competition, because if they don’t an upset can occur.
The Jayhawks have only lost two games this season, are ranked number six in the country, and Jalen Wilson has quickly blossomed into one of the most complete and versatile players in the country. So why are they on the “Who’s Not” list? Because when you win at least a share of every regular season conference title every year but one since 2005, expectations are raised. They were just demolished by Texas, at home. Kansas didn’t put up enough of a fight against No. 1 Gonzaga to show they could contend with them. They won’t win every game but losing badly in both of their most difficult games puts an ominous outlook over the rest of the season. With Texas and Baylor growing stronger and being undefeated in conference play, the Jayhawks most likely will not win the regular season conference title. Coming in second or third is a fine consolation prize, but when the bar is set at excellence, this season has been disappointing.
Top Five Games to Watch Over Next Two Weeks
No. 6 Kansas at No. 2 Baylor (January 18, 9:00 P.M. EST)
Despite not meeting expectations recently, Kansas has a chance to prove they can contend in this top ten matchup. Kansas can show themselves and the country that they can beat top ten teams, and eventually make a run at the national title. On the other side of the court, this game holds great importance too. Baylor can potentially put a nail in the coffin of the Jayhawks conference title aspirations with a win. This game also features four of the top nine scorers in the conference. With plenty of individual star power, and championship aspirations on the line, this game could be one for the ages.
No. 4 Texas at No. 14 West Virginia (January 9, 9:00 P.M. EST)
Texas has had a truly impressive start to the season but will continue to face ranked foes throughout conference play. One of the most intriguing games on their schedule is against the Mountaineers. Both teams have a plethora of talented bigs, and both play with tremendous defensive hustle and energy. With the defensive fronts both teams deploy, it will be up to leading scorers Matt Coleman and Miles McBride to lead their teams to an important victory.
No. 14 West Virginia at No. 2 Baylor (January 12, TBA)
Another ranked matchup for the Bears, this will be a vital fixture to showcase their defensive versatility. Loaded with four guards who average double figure scoring, the Bears will need to find a way to utilize their offensive firepower against a team that starts forwards who are 6’9 and 6’10. There is no question that the Bears have a more potent offense, but will they change their lineup to defend the Mountaineers’ imposing frontcourt? It should be one of the more enticing games of the year because of the variety in the systems of the two teams.
No. 18 Texas Tech at No. 4 Texas (January 13, 9:00 P.M. EST)
It is always enjoyable to watch in-state rivalries. Plus, Mac McClung is a highlight reel by himself. The Longhorns play the Red Raiders, and this game should be explosive. Two dynamic big men, who are second and third in the conference in blocks per game, will square off. Marcos Santos-Silva versus Greg Brown will be a fascinating matchup, along with high scoring guards competing. Texas Tech has two guards that are in the top 11 in the conference in scoring, while Texas has three that are in the top 17. The individual matchups, as well as the overall game should be incredibly entertaining.
No. 6 Kansas at Oklahoma State (January 12, 8:00 P.M. EST)
It would be hard to write a complete list of best games coming up in the Big 12 that does not include star and leading scorer Cade Cunningham. The Cowboys may have a challenging time keeping up with the Jayhawks, but Cunningham is worth watching. The presumptive number one pick is simply poetry in motion. The 6’8 point guard creates havoc with his size, athleticism, handles and shooting ability. At times he has been tasked with keeping Oklahoma State afloat as a freshman and is capable of just that. He is a dynamic and extremely talented player and will be worth watching against one of the premier teams in the conference.