Yes, the Jayhawks have some problems. Yes they haven't been very tough. Yes they've struggled defensively. But when the next 18 games are all said and done, I expect the Jayhawks to walk away as champs for the 10th year in a row.
The real reason (well, biggest reason anyways) why Kansas has looked so lost is their schedule. KU's non-conference SOS is 10th, and they're the only team in the top 100 of KenPom who had a top 20 non-conference SOS.
The biggest key for KU in conference play might just be Perry Ellis. The difference in his numbers in wins vs. losses is staggering:
|2 Point Shots (avg)||2 point%|
Ellis is taking three more shots per game (from two) in wins, and is shooting almost 20% higher from two in wins. There are other important factors to KU this year (namely, point guard play) but it is accurate to say that the play of Perry Ellis might be KU's biggest key going forward.
2. Oklahoma State
I wrote a quick piece over at Run The Floor on how the injury to Michael Cobbins will impact Oklahoma State, but the quick and dirty of it is that he and Kamari Murphy proved to be a very good defensive tandem down low, and now their depth is pretty much shot. No one else on the team is much of a rim protector, and the Cowboys are going to allow even more shots at the rim this year.
Backup PG Stevie Clark got busted with marijuana, and given his problems with the drug in the past, it might be his last straw as a member of the team. That leaves OSU with just one ballhandler, as opposing defenses would feast on Phil Forte if he had to play point guard for extended periods of time. It's going to put a lot of pressure on Markel Brown, LeBryan Nash and Marcus Smart to shoot efficiently.
Speaking of Smart, he's gotten better this year, but is getting less attention than he did last year. Some of that might be because of the great Freshmen, some of it might be because I am trying to tune out any and all writers who talk about narrative. But, while Smart still isn't a good shooter (31% from three, 25% two point jumpers) he's getting to the rim more and shooting about 15% better at the rim this year than he did last year. Some of that is probably due to schedule and I imagine it will regress, but some of it is genuine improvement. Even if he doesn't improve his assist/turnover numbers (and he hasn't really), Smart has gotten a lot more valuable by taking shots he can actually make.
I'll probably do a longer post on this at some point, and maybe not here since it doesn't really fit into a KU narrative, but Markel Brown might be the nation's most underrated player. He defends, he can shoot, he can get inside, he helps out on the glass and in assists, and this year he's not turning it over either.
3. Iowa State
In KenPom's "luck" standings, Iowa State sits in 20th. The next highest Big 12 team is Baylor at 38, and then Kansas State at 57. The Cyclones have certainly been getting lucky beyond the arc. Not offensively, mind you, where they're shooting a bit worse than I figured they would be, but defensively they are allowing opponents to shoot a ton of threes, yet they're only making 29% of them. As the quality of the shooting they face increases, so will the number of points beyond the arc they give up, and it will only further hamper their disadvantage inside defensively.
But offensively this might be the best team in the league. They're 2nd nationally in both turnovers and 2 point offense, and that's with Georges Niang shooting a bit worse than he did last year. But the biggest problem, from a KU standpoint, is that right now DeAndre Kane is far and away the best point guard in the conference.
Speaking of great point guards, I thought it would be nearly impossible to replace Pierre Jackson (who got robbed of first team all Big 12 last year) but Kenny Cherry is 23rd nationally in assist rate, is shooting 58% from two, and is also shooting 93% from the line.
I can't find a list of every 7 footer in college basketball, but you'd be hard pressed to find one who is worse at rebounding than Isaiah Austin. The Sophomore is at 9.8%(offense) and 13.8%(defense).
The Sooners lost Romero Osby and Steven Pledger, two of the better offensive players off last year's team, and currently have KenPom's 14th ranked offense. The problem, maybe, is that they are currently giving under 30% of their minutes to their bench, which is 289th nationally.
|Bench Minutes||National Rank|
It would appear from a quick glance that the teams who use their bench less are the ones who will be towards the top of the league. Does that mean that the less you have to use your bench, the better? Or is this just an aberration? We'll maybe find out in two months.
The Longhorns are the league's most confusing team. They won at North Carolina and then played Michigan State tough, but they also lost to BYU and squeaked out narrow wins over Mercer and South Alabama.
I'm going with Texas though because of rim protection. They currently lead the Big 12 in block percentage. The team that has led the league in block% has finished 1st, 1st, 3rd, 2nd, and 4th the last five years.
7. Kansas State
The Wildcats, like Iowa State, have gotten some three point luck. Opponents are shooting just 26% from beyond the arc and are taking roughly an average amount (and, after a brief film perusal, are getting the standard mix of good, OK and not great looks).
Still, Kansas State is (probably) only going to get better offensively. They are mixing in a lot of new faces, and have to replace Angel Rodriguez and Rodney McGruder. But, barring Thomas Gipson getting a million shots per game, I don't think K State will make it into the upper echelon of he conference.
8. West Virginia
9. Texas Tech
West Virginia might sneak up to as high as 6th, but I don't care about any of these teams.