The Big 12 sure did provide us with some action last night, didn’t it?
It started with No. 11 West Virginia who knocked off No. 1 Kansas for the third straight time in Morgantown, showing off that ‘Press Virginia’ brand en route to a court storm, an awesome rendition of ‘Country Roads’ and another $25k in the pocket of head coach Bobby Huggins.
The Mountaineers, believe it or not, currently sit all alone in first place of a conference that includes the No. 1 and No. 2 teams in college basketball.
Incredible, isn’t it?
But it got better from there, as No. 17 Iowa State went down to Austin and took a loss to a Texas team that has proven to be anything but consistent at this point in the season. They’ve now beaten the Cyclones and North Carolina this season. They’ve also lost at Texas Tech and TCU. The Longhorns have some talent on their roster — Isaiah Taylor is out here looking like a young Chris Paul; he had 28 points, six assists and six boards last night — but they’re also currently playing without Cameron Ridley, who was one of the best centers in the conference.
Winning on the road in league play is never an easy thing to do, particularly when you’re a team that is so reliant on youth and unproven pieces. The only surprise in Texas winning games at home and losing them on the road is that the Erwin Center is not exactly known for being raucous building. There’s a reason we don’t call it ‘Erwin Magic’.
That said, Shaka’s got his guys playing hard, and right now they’re trending in the direction of an NCAA tournament bid. There’s still quite a bit of work to be done — nine of the last 14 regular season games that Texas will play are against teams currently in the top 25, with five of those nine coming on the road — but the frame work is there for the Longhorns to make a run at it.
The more interesting side of this story may actually be Iowa State.
Is it time to be worried about this team? I say yes, for one major reasons: They don’t guard.
We’ve always known that the Cyclones aren’t a team that was built around defensive prowess — Fred Hoiberg was not exactly Tony Bennett — but this is as bad as it’s been since the Cyclones have been good. They’re currently 124th in defensive efficiency, according to KenPom, and they’ve given up 188 points in their last two games at a rate of 1.14 PPP, which is not the kind of number that a team with real Big 12 title aspirations.
And, for the record, the Cyclones are probably out of the running in terms of the Big 12 title race at this point. They’re 1-3 in the league right now and they still have to play Oklahoma, Kansas twice, West Virginia twice and pay a visit to Baylor. To be frank, the loss at Texas probably didn’t hurt them as much as the home loss to Baylor on Saturday did; in a race that is going to be as tight at the top as the Big 12, you cannot drop home games and expect to come out with a regular season title.
KenPom right now is projecting Iowa State to finished the regular season at 8-10 in the league, which, given a non-conference résumé that includes a win over Iowa, a win at Cincinnati and a loss to Northern Iowa, would probably have them closer to the bubble than anyone in Ames would feel comfortable with. That honestly seems a bit drastic to me; there’s no way that Iowa State remains this porous on the defensive end of the floor.
But as of now, it’s time to readjust our expectations for just what to expect out of the Cyclones this season.