Big 12 Player of the Year: Frank Mason III, Kansas
Mason’s play this season makes him the no-brainer conference player of the year and perhaps the frontrunner for the national award. He’s averaging 20.5 points, 5.1 assists and 4.2 rebounds while shooting 48.8 percent from the field and a sizzling 49.3 percent from 3-point range for the potential No. 1 overall seed in the NCAA tournament.
Big 12 Coach of the Year: Bill Self, Kansas
There was a temptation to reward Brad Underwood for Oklahoma State’s turnaround, but it’s impossible not to recognize Self leading his program not only to a 13th-straight conference title, but doing it by four games in the country’s toughest league. Kansas may have the top talent in the league year in and year out, but Self’s presence on the sideline guarantees it comes together year in and year out. This season was no exception.
First-Team All-Big 12:
Frank Mason III, Kansas (POY)
Monte Morris, Iowa State: The nation’s leader in assist-to-turnover ratio is as consistent an elite presence on the floor as there is in the country.
Jawun Evans, Oklahoma State: The most dynamic and important piece of the country’s best offense, Evans averaged 18.7 points per game.
Josh Jackson, Kansas: Mason is Kansas’ MVP, but Jackson is the Jayhawks’ most difficult matchup and is a likely top-five NBA draft pick.
Johnathan Motley, Baylor: The big man doubled his rebounding output this season to average a double-double of 17.5 points and 10 rebounds per game.
The thought was coming into the year that the Big 12 would be down this season, but for the fourth-straight year it ranked as the country’s best conference by KenPom. Another thing that didn’t change was Kansas winning the league, making it 13 in a row for the Jayhawks. The league isn’t going to send a huge number to the NCAA tournament this season, but make no mistake, the conference’s round-robin schedule was a grind, making it all the more impressive Kansas cleared the league by four games.
The Jayhawks are clearly the class of the Big 12, winning the conference by its largest margin since 2010. Kansas isn’t invulnerable at the Sprint Center, as the rest of the league has more than enough firepower to threaten them, but there’s no argument that makes anyone else the favorite.
And if they lose?: West Virginia
The Mountaineers should have swept Kansas this year. They rocked them in Morgantown, but blew a late lead in spectacular fashion in Lawrence later in the season. Their Press Virginia style seems to seriously bother the Jayhawks, and it could make for a raucous title game.
Baylor: The Bears went 2-4 against the top-four of the conference, but their length and the talent of Johnathan Motley makes them an intriguing matchup
Iowa State: The Cyclones have won six of their last seven and three members of their core — Monte Morris, Naz Mitrou-Long and Matt Thomas — who have won two Big 12 tournament titles in their career. They’ve also have claimed wins against each of the other top teams in the league this year.
Sleeper: Oklahoma State
The Cowboys opened the Big 12 slate with six-straight losses, but then won nine of 10 before ending the season with losses to Iowa State and Kansas. Their defense is porous, but their top-ranked KenPom offense, led by point guard Jawun Evans, makes them a legitimate threat to reel off three wins in three days.
The Bubble Dwellers: One
Kansas State: Most projections have the Wildcats just on the bad side of the field of 68 line, which means they’ll probably have to score a win against Baylor in the quarterfinals to move the needle. Depending on what happens around the rest of the country, that one more win could be enough to earn a berth.
Defining moment of the season: Kansas erasing a 14-point deficit in the final three minutes at home against West Virginia. This is Peak Phog Allen.
CBT Prediction: Kansas
Motley plays big in No. 11 Baylor’s win over No. 10 West Virginia
Even as Baylor has floundered some down the stretch, the Bears have been able to count on Johnathan Motley being a monster. The 6-foot-10 forward has been putting up numbers and shooting up draft boards.
Against No. 10 West Virginia, he showed off all his skills – and it resulted in a win, as the 11th-ranked Bears topped the Mountaineers, 71-62, in Waco on Monday in a much-needed victory.
Motley was superb once again, going for 23 points, eight rebounds, three blocks and two assists in 35 minutes. He shot it well from the field, going 6 of 12, but was a perfect 11 of 11 from the free-throw line. It was a big-time performance, especially with point guard Manu Lecomte out with an ankle injury.
Monday was nothing particularly special in terms of performance from Motley as he’s been consistently great during Big 12 play. He had 27 and 11 against Iowa State and 21 and 16 against Oklahoma just last week alone. He’s been overshadowed some by Baylor’s early season success – the story was the Bears and coach Scott Drew, not Motley – and that Frank Mason is not only the no-doubt Big 12 player of the year, but maybe the frontrunner for the national award as well.
He’s been really, really good.
Motley is averaging just short of a double-double with 17.3 points and 9.8 rebounds along with 1.0 blocks per game. He’s not the double-double machine of Caleb Swanigan, but he’s got nine during Big 12 play. He also put up 32 points and 20 rebounds against Texas. There aren’t many better performances than that around the country.
Against the Mountaineers, Motley struggled some early, going 1 of 5 from the field with just four points in the first half. He made five of his next seven shots, though, and made nine second-half free throws to score 19 after the break to get Baylor in the win column after a three-losses-in-four-games stretch.
Jo Lual-Acuil rightfully gets a ton of credit for being the anchor of Baylor’s defense, but pairing the 7-footer with Motley is what makes the Bears’ defense so stout. Teams have an effective field goal percentage of just 44.8 against the Bears and are making just 43.8 percent of their shots inside the arc. The length of Lual-Acuil and Motley is a huge reason why.
The game was somewhat rare for West Virginia as the Mountaineers forced 18 turnovers, which was at a rate of 26.5 percent (better than their Big 12 average), and still lost. Some of it certainly can be attributed to the absence of forward Esa Ahmad, who was out with a back injury, but 3 of 15 shooting from 3-point range was a killer overall.
West Virginia and Baylor are jockeying with Iowa State for second place in the Big 12, but if everyone holds serve, it’ll be a three-way tie in the country’s toughest conference. If the Cyclones can win in Morgantown on Friday, though, Steve Prohm’s group will claim the spot outright. If West Virginia wins, the most likely scenario (assuming Baylor beats Texas) puts the Mountaineers second, Baylor third and Iowa State fourth for the tournament in Kansas City next week.
VIDEO: Woodard game-winner topples No. 7 West Virginia
The Oklahoma senior, playing in his just third game back from injury, went coast-to-coast to hit a game-winning shot with under 3 seconds to play against West Virginia to give the Sooners an 89-87 victory in overtime.
The Sooners had just 12 turnovers against Press Virginia while shooting 49 percent from the field. Woodard had a chance to win the game in regulation for Oklahoma after he made a shot and was fouled, but the 86.7 percent free-throw shooter missed the shot from the charity stripe. He finished with 20 points.
West Virginia, which was ranked No. 1 by KenPom, shot 43.7 percent overall and 28 percent from 3-point range.
It may be just one loss, but it can only be considered a significant setback for the Mountaineers in their quest to finally be the team to end Kansas’ 12 year run at the top of the Big 12. Not only is losing a home game a blow, but losing one to a team the Jayhawks have already beaten in Allen Fieldhouse is a double-whammy.
West Virginia is now two games out of first place, and still has two games remaining against Kansas, which is either good news or bad news, depending on how you look at it. The Mountaineers will have to sweep the Jayhawks, steal a different one they aren’t expected to on the road or hope Kansas falters like they really haven’t in over a decade.
Yeah, there’s a lot of season left, but you don’t want the math and probability to work against you like it does with a loss like this. That is unless Oklahoma isn’t the same team it’s been through the first third of the Big 12 season, which lessens the blow some. Let’s investigate that.
Oklahoma was largely able to win this game based on its ball security. The Sooners only coughed it up on 14.6 percent of their possessions. West Virginia has been forcing turnovers at around a 25-percent clip in Big 12 play. Woodard presence made a huge difference there (even if he had five turnovers), and Oklahoma is now 2-1 with only a loss to Kansas since his return.
Are the Sooners still one of the Big 12’s weakest teams or does Woodard make them a serious contender amid the second tier of the league? If it’s the latter, a recalibration of expectations is probably in order for a conference already considered one of the most difficult give its 10-team, round-robin format.
The Mountaineers did two things this week that should impress you.
For starters, they absolutely crushed No. 1 and then-undefeated Baylor at home. The Bears committed 29 turnovers and lost by 21 points in a game that never felt like it was in doubt for WVU. Press Virginia has never looked so good.
But Bob Huggins’ club followed that up on Saturday by going on the road, playing in an empty arena at Texas and overcoming a flu outbreak to land a come-from-behind win over the Longhorns. Let-down games are a real thing, especially when those games are played in arenas that don’t have the same kind of energy as a packed WVU coliseum.
We know what this team is and we know what they bring on a nightly basis. Their loss to Texas Tech puts them behind the eight-ball in a conference where Kansas is going to be so difficult to beat, but we need to take them as seriously as a Big 12 title contender as we do Baylor.
UCLA: The Bruins became just the fourth team since Utah and Colorado joined the Pac-12 to sweep the road weekend at the Mountain schools. UCLA hit 19 threes and scored 104 points at Colorado and followed that up with a come-from-behind win at Utah, a game where UCLA’s legs were clearly weighing on them. Worth noting: the other three schools to accomplish this feat both won the conference.
Mississippi State: For all the talk about Mississippi State’s struggles this season, they’re quietly looking pretty good this year. They’re 12-4 on the season and, after a win at Arkansas and a win over Texas A&M at home, are sitting at 3-1 in the SEC.
Louisville: The Cardinals shook off a slow start to ACC play this week, hanging on to beat Pitt despite 43 points from Jamel Artis and following that up with a win over Duke in the Yum! Center on Saturday. Anas Mahmoud played the best game of his career in the win over Duke.
Notre Dame: The Fighting Irish are now 16-2 on the season and 5-0 in the ACC after landing close wins at Miami and Virginia Tech this week. The Irish choked away big leads and lost a game down the stretch against both Villanova and Purdue. It looks like they may have shed those demons. Their five ACC wins are by a combined 23 points.
Cincinnati: The Bearcats asserted their dominance atop the American by beating SMU at home on Thursday night. They followed that up with a road win at an overmatched East Carolina. Cincinnati is one of the nation’s best defensive teams, and a team that we probably are not paying enough attention to right now.
Four takeaways from No. 1 Baylor suffering its first loss to No. 10 West Virginia
The top-ranked Bears were dominated by No. 10 West Virginia, 89-68, on Tuesday night in Morgantown in the program’s first-ever game being ranked No. 1 as they left Gonzaga as the country’s lone undefeated team.
West Virginia dominated for long stretches, but really put the Bears away in the second half, outscoring them 50-36. Press Virginia forced 29 Baylor turnovers.
Here are four things we learned from the game:
1. West Virginia is some bad dudes: I say that with the utmost respect, and certainly mean it as a compliment. West Virginia basketball is a 40-minute all-out assault. Forcing 29 turnovers from the nation’s No. 1 team is incredible. The Mountaineers’ intensity, aggressiveness and physicality makes them a nightmare for any team to play.
It also might be time to start looking at West Virginia as national title contender. As of this writing Tuesday evening, they’ve got a KenPom top-five offense and defense. The Mountaineers are shooting it better than other iterations of Bob Huggins’ Press Virginia teams, and that makes them dangerous.
They’ve now beaten Virginia by double-digits on the road and the country’s No. 1 team by 21 at home. That’s what Final Four teams look like.
2. This doesn’t really change anything about Baylor: Yes, the Bears are ranked as the No. 1 team in the country, but they were definitive underdogs in Morgantown. Getting beat in the WVU Coliseum, even by 21 points, doesn’t expose them as frauds or invalidate their heretofore perfect start.
It does, though, illustrate some weaknesses they have Outside of Manu Lecomte, the Bears’ ballhandling is pretty shaky and that’s what led to a lot of their troubles. You can’t be iffy with the ball against West Virginia and expect to keep it close, let alone leave with a win.
The Bears also didn’t respond well to the physicality of the game, either. West Virginia is just going to out-tough a lot of people this year, but Baylor just couldn’t respond at all. That’s a little concerning, but not by itself a major indictment given, as previously noted, West Virginia is some bad dudes.
3. The Big 12 is going to be a grind: The ACC probably has more really good teams, but the Big 12 is going to be an absolute monster for teams to navigate this season. West Virginia lost on the road to Texas Tech, which hasn’t finished higher than seventh in the league since Bob Knight was the coach, and then turned around and smashed No. 1 Baylor. There doesn’t look to be any gimmes in the league, especially when the likes of Oklahoma and Texas might be the weakest in the league.
Coming into the year, the thought was the Big 12 was going to take a step back. It’s clear that’s not the case.
4. Get rid of the hanging-on-the-rim technical foul: It’s time, right?
Daxter Miles, Jr. got tagged with a T for pulling himself up on the rim some on a tip-dunk that put the exclamation point on the evening in a statement performance by West Virginia. It looked awesome and was awesome. So, of course, Miles got penalized for it with a technical foul and some less than happy words from Huggins.
The spirit of the rule has its heart in the right place to preserve sportsmanship, but in 2017, it feels a little antiquated. For a sport that needs as much pizzazz and buzz as possible, adding a little extra flair to a dunk isn’t a bad thing.
Saddling a guy with an extra foul and giving the opposition free throws seems like overkill as a punishment anyway. If a team sees a guy swinging on the rim, get the ball and get down the floor for a transition opportunity. That seems like punishment enough.
And as an avowed #TeamTrashTalk member, I can only heartily endorse a player emphasizing the awesomeness of his dunk.
Bob Huggins became the just the 10th person to win 800 games at the Division I level on Saturday, and he did it in the typical manner of his West Virginia teams: Press, Press, Press.
The No. 12 Mountaineers forced 27 turnovers in a 112-67 win over UMKC. ‘Press Virginia’ is a machine these days, one that can’t even be slowed down by a team losing their two best scorers, best rebounder and most versatile defender to graduation.
This program that Huggs is overseeing these days is the most unlikely development in a career that never seemed like a given. Huggs has won 800 games despite spending the majority of his career viewed as something of a black sheep by those outside the coaching business, and he did it at these schools: Walsh, Akron, Cincinnati, Kansas State and now West Virginia.
Those aren’t exactly blue-bloods in the sport.
So the fact that he’s had this much success, period, is something of an upset.
But what makes joining this club – which also includes Mike Krzyzewski, Bob Knight, Jim Boeheim, Dean Smith, Adolph Rupp, Jim Calhoun, Jim Phelan, Eddie Sutton and Rollie Massimino — so incredible is that Huggins is winning at West Virginia after totally overhauling his style of play. He’s coaching ‘Press Virginia’ now, but he was never a pressing coach before he returned to Morgantown.
So how did that happen?
Below you’ll find the story we published on that very subject last November.
A SHIFT IN PHILOSOPHY LED BOB HUGGINS TO BUILD ‘PRESS VIRGINIA’
by Raphielle Johnson Published: 11/5/15
Nothing motivates change in sports more than losing.
After struggling in their first two seasons as a member of the Big 12, West Virginia underwent a change that represented quite the departure from their head coach’s usual defensive approach, because that head coach was not accustomed to losing.
In Bob Huggins’ first five seasons at his alma mater, West Virginia won an average of 24 games. The 2010 team won 31, reaching the program’s first Final Four since 1959.
To get an idea of just how long ago that was, Fidel Castro came into power in Cuba in 1959. The Mountaineers went five full decades without seeing a Final Four before the 6-foot-8 West Virginian showed up. Huggins always seems to have a negative connotation thanks to bad boy brand he built around his powerhouse Cincinnati program in the 90’s and early 00’s, but understand this: the man has won 765 games in his career. That didn’t happen by accident. He can coach.
But things changed upon the Mountaineers’ arrival in the Big 12 in 2013. They won just 13 games in their debut season and 17 the following year. While there were some close defeats during those two seasons, the common theme was that the Mountaineers didn’t defend with the aggressiveness many had come to expect from Huggins-coached teams. Part of that was having to adjust their personnel to fit their new conference home.
“(The Big 12) was a different style of play,” Huggins said, “more of a ‘play off the bounce’ kind of league.”
But the main thing was that in those two seasons, the Mountaineers could not get the stops they needed to close out games. And that was a departure from what many are used to seeing from Huggins-coached teams.
“If you know Coach Huggins and his philosophy, he’s always been a ‘defense-first’ coach and prides himself on his teams playing very good team defense,” WVU associate head coach Larry Harrison, who’s been a member of Huggins’ staffs for 17 years at both WVU and Cincinnati, said. “Those two years where we had the losing season and then went to the NIT, it got to a point where when we needed a stop we just didn’t do it as a team and we didn’t have one individual we felt we could depend on defensively to get that stop.”
Last year’s group got back to those defensive principles, only in a slightly different manner: their use of tenacious, full-court pressure that forced turnovers on a nation’s best 28 percent of their opponents’ possessions.
And while the Mountaineers’ effective field goal percentage defense (52.7 percent) was worse than the numbers produced the previous two seasons, that was actually by design. The goal of this new defense, of this press, was to raise hell, take risks and force turnovers that led to layups and open jumpers in transition; easy points that come before defenses get set. When an opposing backcourt was able to beat the press — when West Virginia’s gambling defense didn’t pay off — they got better looks at the rim, only they got less of them.
The end result: 25 wins, a Sweet 16 appearance, and a new identity.
“Press Virginia” was born.
* * *
While attributes such as athleticism, length and quickness get mentioned when discussing pressure defense, the most important key has little to do with physical ability. The key for any successful pressure defense is that the team buy into the concept; that no matter what everyone is on board with the system and won’t abandon ship at the first sign of tumult.
“I thought we needed to change the style that we played,” Huggins said. “I spent time with Kevin Mackey, who I thought did the best job of anybody at the college level with pressure defense. I thought our guys embraced it, and that was probably as key as anything. They really did embrace that style of play.”
Mackey, whose been in basketball for more than four decades, made note of in his conversations with his longtime friend before the start of last season. Now a scout with the Indiana Pacers, Mackey used pressure defense to take 14th-seeded Cleveland State to the Sweet 16 in 1986. And in his view West Virginia’s personnel and the current status of the college game lent itself to the Mountaineers being able to successfully utilize pressure defense. But none of that would have mattered had the head coach not bought into the change himself.
“A number of people told me he won 13 games more than he should have last season,” Mackey noted. “Kids who should have won 13 or 14 games won 25, went to the Sweet 16. In my own opinion Bob’s a hall of fame coach, he’s a great defensive coach. He had the fundamentals down cold 35 years ago, and it was a matter of his adjusting his thinking to go to the full-court (pressure) all the time.”
Just as important as the mindset was the personnel, something West Virginia didn’t have in their first two seasons in the Big 12. Having the pieces needed to be more aggressive defensively allowed the coaching staff to move forward with its plan, with the hope that the defensive intensity would return as a trademark of the program.
“I was with him at Cincinnati in the 90s when we did press quite a bit, more three-quarter court, a lot of 2-1-2 pressure rather than the full-court that we’re doing now,” Harrison said. “Since we’ve been at West Virginia we’ve been trying to get back to that point, we just didn’t feel like we had the personnel to do that.”
“Going into last season with the number of guards we had, we felt we’d be really competitive. And the depth we had, we felt that this was the time because they all wanted to play. That’s the thing that (Huggins) told the guys. ‘If you want to play, then I need all you guys to play as hard as you can for as long as you can and then we can rotate you in and out and then everybody will play.’ But you have to buy in.”
That buy-in is key not only for the beginnings of a new system, but also throughout the course of a season. Turning into a high-level pressure defensive team doesn’t happen overnight.
“The kids can tell if you’re really committed to it,” Mackey continued. “Bobby committed to it. When you first start to teach [a press], it’s a fourth grade press and that’s the best it is. And then after a week it’s a sixth grade press, and after three weeks it’s a high school press.”
“I saw them at the beginning of the season against LSU, which was really gifted physically and had a couple NBA guys, and West Virginia lost by one. I told Bobby it’s a high school press. I then saw him in December at Madison Square Garden against NC State and he had a big-time college press.”
Perhaps most important, however, is actually winning. It’s true with any style, really, but it is particularly important when trying to instill a new style of play into a program. Winning is what the kids and the coaches — hell, everyone that’s involved with or supporting the program — care about. When a team is stacking Ws, the players start to realize: ‘Hey, maybe coach knows what he’s talking about.’
West Virginia won 14 of their first 15 games to start the 2014-15 season, the lone defeat being that one point loss to LSU. It was clear that West Virginia was taking to its new defensive style. One of those watershed moments came in West Virginia’s win over UConn in the title game of the Puerto Rico Tipoff, as they harassed the Huskies into committing 19 turnovers on the night.
And while UConn may not have finished the season as an elite team, that program has an elite name and an elite brand. They were the reigning national champions, after all. Beating them gave the Mountaineers an early indication that this new system could be successful.
“The UConn game gave us some credibility as a team, and also made the players feel much better about what we were doing,” Harrison noted. “You beat the defending national champs, and you do it by playing our style. One of the really big keys is that they would get up, then we would get up, and the players started to see the effect that our style of play was having on our opponents.”
Ten players averaged at least 12.9 minutes per game last season, with guard Juwan Staten (31.2 mpg) leading the way while also pacing the Mountaineers in scoring (14.2 ppg) and assists (4.6 apg). Forwards Devin Williams and Jonathan Holton, with the latter playing at the head of the WVU press, were among the key contributors as well, and the team’s depth and activity helped them mask deficiencies in other areas.
The most notable issue for this group was their lack of quality shooters. They shot 40.8 percent from the field and 31.6 percent from three, finishing the year with an effective field goal percentage of 46.1 percent. Their shooters are more streaky than prolific, and that bore itself out in the percentage numbers West Virginia put up last season. But even with those low percentages West Virginia still managed to finish 45th nationally in adjusted offensive efficiency per Ken Pomeroy’s rankings.
Because they were one of the nation’s best offensive rebounding teams, grabbing more than 40 percent of their own misses. The Mountaineers attempted 512 more shots from the field than their opponents.
Quantity over quality.
“They have guys like Jevon Carter, (Jaysean) Paige, among others, who can certainly heat up and make shots. But the end result of this style is they create more turnovers and more offensive rebounds,” ESPN analyst Fran Fraschilla said. “The fact that they get way more field goal attempts than their opponents, it makes up for the very streaky shooting. I always say, ‘you have to create an offense with a missed shot in mind,’ because even if you shoot 45 percent from the field 55 percent of the shots are coming off as misses.”
“Their offense is designed with the missed shot in mind. In other words, they’re not worried about making or missing jump shots,” Fraschilla continued. “If they go in, great; if guys heat up, great. But they’re also very cognizant of the fact that a missed shot [can be] a pass to Jonathan Holton or Devin Williams or Elijah Macon. That’s how they look at it. You can analyze [the shooting] until the cows come home, but the fact is they get way more field goal attempts than their opponents.”
“They make up for their lack of shooting with their effort both offensively and defensively.”
This season, eight of West Virginia’s top ten players in minutes return; Staten and fellow guard Gary Browne being the departures. Add in a four-member recruiting class that includes four-star forward Esa Ahmad, and the Mountaineers have the experience, depth and talent needed to pick up where they left off a season ago.
“This year that mindset is already there, whereas last year we had to develop it. We had to convince the guys that this was the way we were going to play,” Harrison said. “Now, when our guys are in individual workouts or even in open gym, they’re trapping and picking up full court. It’s kind of like, ‘this is the way it is, you’re at West Virginia, you’re playing for Bob Huggins and this is the way we play.’ It’s caught on, and the new guys are getting used to it as well.”
There are adjustments to be made, however, especially with the renewed emphasis on physical play in college basketball. West Virginia committed more fouls than any team in the country a season ago — 821 to be exact, or 23.5 fouls per game. While there are risks to be taken in the type of defensive system West Virginia employs, they can’t afford to send opponents to the line at a similar clip even with the depth that they enjoy.
And then there’s the need to account for the loss of Staten. While he was the team leader in points and assists, Staten also provided the Mountaineers with a security blanket of sorts down the stretch. With the game in the balance they had a finisher, someone who more times than not made the play that needed to be made. And after going through two seasons in which they struggled to close out games on both ends of the floor, that’s a big deal.
“I think the biggest challenge is going to be finishing games,” Huggins said when asked about how they’d account for the loss of Staten. “He was virtually impossible to trap, he didn’t turn the ball over, and for the most part he made free throws. So there was a guy who you could always put the ball in his hands and trust him with the ball.”
But thanks to their experience, West Virginia does have options capable of assuming that role, namely Jevon Carter.
“He has really embraced that position,” Huggins said. “I think he wants the ball.”
For all of the different areas from which coaches look to extract some kind of motivation, there’s no greater catalyst for change than losing. After two seasons of struggling in the Big 12 West Virginia was faced with a choice: either adapt or continue to languish on the periphery of their new conference. Huggins and his staff adapted, embracing an approach that was a departure from what he’s done in the past.