Big 12 Confidential (Week 4)

by Jonathan Wall | January 29th, 2008

Hot Topic:
Far be it for me to call the Kansas State Wildcats and star frosh Michael Beasley one of the biggest sleeper teams in college basketball, after all I’d only seen the team play a couple of times throughout the season, and a couple of those games happened to be two of their four losses. However, after taking the time this past weekend to catch both of their games against Colorado and Iowa State, I’m here to tell you that this team is the real deal.

In all honesty, Iowa State and Colorado don’t represent the creme de la creme of the Big 12, so it’s hard to gauge a squad until it plays the best in the conference on the road. But considering Kansas State currently sits at 14-4 overall and 4-0 in conference, the rest of the conference needs to start taking notice if it hasn’t already.

Wednesday’s 72-56 win at Colorado proved that while Beasley is the Ferrari engine that makes the Wildcats go, they still know how to handle teams on the road when the engine isn’t running at 8,500 rpm’s. With Beasley running cold in the first half, the Wildcats turned to their other talented freshman, Bill Walker, to get the offense going.

Walker kept the Wildcat offense alive, accounting for 12 of Kansas State’s 34 points, while leading the team to a 34-26 halftime lead.

From there Beasley found his rhythm, pouring in 26 of his team-high 29 points to lead the team to a 72-56 victory in the thin mountain air of Boulder, Colorado.

Saturday’s game was more of the same for Kansas State as Beasley had another “pedestrian” game with 33 points and 15 rebounds in a 82-57 blowout against cellar dweller Iowa State. In the end it was just too much Beasley and Walker that made the Wildcats too much to handle.

Most teams in the Big 12 have one player that on most nights could handle Beasley or Walker with the occasional double-team. But handling the inside and outside presence of both players has proven to be too much for most teams.

It’s almost like a game of Russian Roulette where if you gamble on containing one of them, the other is bound to make you pay the rest of the night.

To put it plainly: When Beasley and Walker are on, there are maybe four or five teams in the country that can handle both on a nightly basis.

I’ll admit that I was one of the known skeptics that thought Kansas State was a good, but not great team. They lost questionable non-conference games to George Mason and Oregon at home that made me wonder if a team relying on two freshman had enough moxie to make a tournament run. Well I’m here to say that I was wrong to make such a hasty assumption on the future of Kansas State.

In actuality, Beasley and Walker have proven themselves to be the perfect custodians of a once-embattled team.

After watching current West Virginia head coach Bob Huggins bolt from Manhattan last season, both players had the chance to stick with their scholarships or make alternative plans. Instead of leaving the Wildcats high and dry, both stars decided to keep their commitments to the school and stay for at least one season.

In a world where a person’s word is as strong as his or her bond, Kansas State has two true leaders willing their team back into the national spotlight.

Time will tell if Kansas State can make the tournament, but with Beasley, Walker, and a host of other role players leading the way, all signs points to the Wildcats making a giant roar come tournament time.

Big 12 Player of the Year candidates (After Week 3):

1. Michael Beasley, F (Kansas State): 62 points in two games last week. The big question is whether Beasley can handle a Wednesday night showdown with No.2 Kansas.

2. D.J. Augustin, PG (Texas): Continues to be the glue-guy that keeps Texas together. Had 26 points and three assists in a win against Oklahoma State on Wednesday, and 19 points in a 73-47 blowout of Texas Tech. If Beasley falters, then Augustin will be right there to grab the top spot.

3. Brandon Rush, G (Kansas): 28 points in two games last week might not be much to talk about; however, Rush continues to lead the Jayhawks with his constant leadership on the floor. Oh yeah, that 20-game winning streak might also have something to do with his high ranking.

5. Joseph Jones, F (Texas A&M): Scored 11 big points in a critical road win at Oklahoma State. He could have moved up the list farther had he not played so mediocre in the loss to Baylor.

5. Curtis Jerrells, G (Baylor): 36 points in a 5 OT win against Texas A&M will put any player on the top 5 list for a week. Followed up the big performance with 17 points in a tough home loss to Oklahoma.

Dropped out: Henry Dugat, G (Baylor)

Notables: Darnell Jackson (Kansas), Henry Dugat (Baylor), Bill Walker (Kansas State)

Big 12 Freshman of the Year candidates (After Week 3):

1. Beasley: Word coming out of Big 12 headquarters is that Beasley’s name is already on the trophy! (I’m kidding)

2. Bill Walker, F (Kansas State): Continues to keep the Wildcats storied season alive when Beasley isn’t hitting his shots. 28 points in two victories last week.

3. Blake Griffin, F (Oklahoma): Griffin was supposed to be out for the another three weeks with an MCL injury. However, that was before we found out that his threshold of pain fair exceeds the average human. Griffin missed one game before coming back to clock 22 minutes in a 77-71 win against Baylor. The best part? Griffin pulled down 17 points and 15 rebounds in the process. Talk about a gutty performance. Also added 15 points in a 64-61 win over Oklahoma State on Monday.

4. LaceDarius Dunn, G (Baylor): Scored eight points in a win against Texas A&M, and then follows that up with 7 points in a loss to Oklahoma. In all honesty, Dunn won’t see the floor much if the Bears are vying for a tournament spot down the stretch.

5. DeAndre Jordan, C (Texas A&M): Foul trouble continues to be the name of the game for the big center. His stock couldn’t be any lower than it is right now, and many are saying that another year in College Station might just be what he needs to make it in the NBA.

Top 5 teams in the Big 12 (rankings will be updated every Tuesday):

1. Kansas (20-0, 5-0 Big 12): Gets to the 20-win mark before any team in the NCAA. Huge road game against Michael Beasley State–I mean Kansas State–looms large on Wednesday night.

Tournament bound? No question about it.

2. Texas (16-3, 3-1): Continues their assault on the Big 12 after falling at Missouri in their first conference game. Like Kansas, the ‘Horns have a critical road game against hated rival Texas A&M on Wednesday. Saturday home game against Baylor won’t be a pushover either.

Tournament bound? Two wins against Texas A&M and Baylor would greatly improve the Horns’ stock.

3. Texas A&M (16-4, 2-3): Call me a homer, but I still feel like the Aggies are a better team than Baylor. Losing in five overtimes on your home court is never good. But showing the character to turn it around on Saturday at Oklahoma State proved that the Aggies still have what it takes make a run in the Big 12.

Tournament bound? If the Aggies can find a way to hold court against Texas and Oklahoma, then the tournament picture becomes a lot clearer. Lose one or both of those games and the panic button needs to be punched once again.

4. Kansas State (14-4, 4-0): Could be the second hottest team in the Big 12 right now. If the Wildcats continue to play with the same intensity they should end up in the NCAA tournament. A home win on Wednesday against Kansas would be the jewel they need to make the committee take notice.

Tournament bound? They are in, but wins against Kansas and Missouri this week would catapult them into the national spotlight.

5. Baylor (16-3, 4-1): The overtime win against Texas A&M will go down as one of the most memorable wins in conference history, but the loss at home to Oklahoma has to hurt. Giving the excuse that your team wasn’t ready for a player  expected to still be in the mend (OU’s Blake Griffin) isn’t a good enough reason for getting beat.

Tournament bound? Still in for right now, but they need to keep the home losses to a minimum. Saturday road game at Texas is the next big test.

Best of the Rest: Oklahoma (15-5, 3-2), Missouri (12-8, 2-3), Iowa State (12-8, 2-3)

Game(s) of the week:

Texas (16-3, 3-1) at Texas A&M (16-4, 2-3) — Wednesday, 9:00 pm EST (ESPN2)
I spent the last couple of days trying to come up with something witty to summarize the rivalry between Texas A&M and Texas basketball, but instead of wasting my breath, I decided to just show this clip…. Yeah, so the game is just that big. After having a nonexistent rivalry for years, the Aggies have since become somewhat of a basketball power in the Big 12 by turning the Lonestar Showdown into a can’t miss game.

All you need to know about this series is that the home team has dominated. The Longhorns haven’t won a game at Reed arena 2003-2004 season, and judging by the team A&M has this year, that record could continue.

With the exception of Damion James (10 reb.) in the post for Texas, the team has relied heavily on the outside shooting of guards A.J. Abrams (20 ppg) D.J. Augustin (17 ppg) to keep them in games. The ‘Horns live by the three and die by the three mentality has worked well this season, but it still remains to be seen how they handle a real road game in conference after losing to Missouri.

For the Aggies it’s all about consistency. After starting the season out winning the preseason NIT in New York and dominating teams at home, they haven’t found their groove in conference play. The game against Texas couldn’t come at a worse time for a team that’s still trying to find it’s personality after a tight win on the road against Oklahoma State on Saturday.

A&M will rely on the leadership of forward Joseph Jones (11 ppg) and guard Dominique Kirk (3.8 apg) to keep the team in games. After Jones and Kirk, the Aggies will hope for big games from much heralded freshman DeAndre Jordan and forward Bryan Davis to make things happen in the post against a undermanned Texas unit.

For A&M to win they’ll need to pound the ball inside whenever they can and control the clock to keep Texas from turning the game into a track meet. However, if Texas finds a way to push the ball, then the Aggies could be in for a long night.

A&M continues their streak of home wins against their bitter rival with a critical victory.
Final Score Prediction: Texas A&M 70, Texas 67

Kansas (20-0, 5-0) at Kansas State (14-4, 4-0) — Wednesday, 8:00 pm EST (ESPN Fullcourt)
For those of us that don’t have the luxury of unlimited funds in the bank account, this game might be one to pull the ol’ pocketbook out for since it isn’t a nationally televised game.

A couple weeks back Kansas State looked to be a middle of the road team in the Big 12. With some bad non-conference losses to George Mason and Oregon, the team looked destined for a NIT berth.

My how things have changed.

The Wildcats’ have since found a way to play together while continuing to get stellar play from their dynamic duo of Michael Beasley (25 ppg/12 reb) and Bill Walker (15 ppg/6 reb) to rush out to a 4-0 start in conference. Wins against Texas A&M and Oklahoma have turned them into a sleeper pick coming out of the Big 12.

For Kansas, the word perfection comes to mind when thinking about the current roster. With Brandon Rush (12 reb.) and Mario Chalmers (5 ast.) leading the way from the perimeter, the Jayhawks’ have become a formidable team to cover. Throw in a killer post crew with Darnell Jackson and Darrell Arthur and you have one of the most complete teams in the nation. With a bench that’s five-deep, Kansas should give Beasley and Walker all they can handle.

For some reason I have a feeling Kansas’ run at perfection comes to an end against one of the hottest teams in the nation. Beasley hits a winner to send the Wildcat faithful into a frenzy. (Talk about going out on a limb!)
Final Score Prediction: Kansas State 78, Kansas 77

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