Making my way into Sprint Center on Thursday morning, I tweeted something to the effect of Day 2 is when it’s time to put the big boy pants on and go to work. The top teams did that, and then some; each effectively marking their territory…all over their opponent.
Here’s what we learned:
In the day’s first game, Baylor showed why so many folks thought this would be the year that talent finally outweighed any suspect coaching. From the start, it was pretty clear that the Bears were running at a speed that Kansas State flat couldn’t match even if it wanted to. Perry Jones III was “No. 1 pick in the NBA draft” good; Baylor kept Jamar Samuels from collecting a single rebound; and the Wildcats were done in the quarterfinal round of the conference tournament for the fourth time in five years under Frank Martin.
What we learned about Baylor: Upside. Frankly, even though the Bears had put up 25 wins coming into the K-State game, there was still some question at how good Baylor really could be. On paper, they are an NBA scout team. In real life, they showed it against the Wildcats. Jones was stupid good, so good that really nobody even noticed Jordan Henriquez’s 22 points and 14 rebounds. Pierre Jackson ripped off eight assists against two turnovers and the Bears muted K-State’s tenacity by overpowering it with its own. IF Scott Drew can get his guys to keep the performance at that level, Baylor’s looking at a seriously fun NCAA Tournament run.
What we learned about Kansas State: Back to square one. Frank Martin was “surprised” at his team’s performance after a good week of practice leading into Kansas City. If a team can surprise its coach after 31 games, I’m (finally) convinced we should quit trying to guess how the team is going to play on any given day, regardless of opponent. Also, we learned that Jamar Samuels probably didn’t really turn any huge corner the past few weeks. His play had been phenomenal of late, but all it took was a little bit of physical play early on for him to disappear. Zero rebounds from your senior forward in 29 minutes…I’ll let you fill in your own blank. Will Spradling’s shot is broken, seriously broken. I talked with someone before the game, someone who knows this team better than most, who watched Will warm up. The ball wasn’t going in then, and it didn’t go in (again) during a 2-of-9 shooting performance. Not that it wasn’t an issue already, but he’s got a lot of soul searching to do this summer. In the short-term, K-State is likely now an eight or nine-seed. Yikes.
In the day’s second game, Kansas slugged it out for awhile with Texas A&M, but it really wasn’t much of a game even by halftime, when KU lead by 12. The Aggies did their best to muddy up the waters, but Elijah Johnson went fishing from deep, hitting five threes. He finished with a career-high 26 points, leading four Jayhawks in double figures in the relatively easy win.
What we learned about Kansas: Seasoned. Forget all the ups and down, this team is a full-fledged Bill Self, ready-for-March bunch. On its good days, the team is unselfish (three players had four assists against TAMU); Thomas Robinson finds his double-double (19 and 10); and Jeff Withey shuts off the rim (four blocks). None of that is earth shattering. But, it was worth noting that KU’s bench scored just four points against A&M. We know the team’s depth isn’t great, but it needs to be better than Kevin Young’s two baskets. Also, Bill Self now has 17 Big 12 Tournament wins, which ties him with Kelvin Sampson for second all-time. Number one on that list? Rick Barnes with 19 after his team’s come-from-behind win over Iowa State.
What we learned about A&M: Khris Middleton was finally healthy. It took him all season, but he played this tournament without any sort of brace or wrap on his knee. Seeing his struggle all year, not to mention his team’s, it was awesome to watch him get back to where he was comfortable running the break, working the post, shooting outside jumpers and doing all of the other things that had him listed as a favorite on a lot of preseason awards lists. We also learned that the Aggies dancers looked very good in their outfits…enough that, for that reason alone, I’ll miss the maroon and white.
In the day’s third game, Missouri went from zero to fifth gear in about 30 seconds, Oklahoma State missed some early threes, and that was that. The Tigers are on a mission to meet KU in the final; that’s evident. Flip Pressey is a mad man on defense right now, which fits in just fine with Marcus Denmon, Kim English and the rest of the Tigers, who all still seem like they feel that nobody takes their smaller lineup seriously.
What we learned about Missouri: Nothing we didn’t already know. Seven guys run Frank Haith’s system, and run it well. Phil Pressey is going to set the school’s season record for steals very soon, and when the team rebounds as well as it did against OSU (+20), forget it because, remember, rebounding was the one issue that most thought the Tigers would have all season. Oh, and yeah, after how the quarterfinals went, the MU/BU matchup is even more of a must-see than it already was…times about 100.
What we learned about Oklahoma State: There wasn’t much to learn here, either. Without Philip Jurick or LeBryan Nash, OSU really didn’t have a chance in the game unless it hit 15 threes. As it went, the Cowboys were 9-of-23 from long range, and the loss marked the end to Keiton Page’s career. He got a well-deserved standing ovation from the mixed fan bases at the end.
“It’s going to be tough,” Page said in postgame about playing his last game, “especially coming from a guy that’s wnated to be a Cowboy since he was little.”
In the final game of the day, Texas tried, and tried, and tried, and tried to come back against stingy, experienced Iowa State. And, finally, after a 7-0 ISU run to start the second half, it did. Texas’ guards came to life and sliced up the Cyclones defense to get a win that likely means six Big 12 teams will make the NCAA Tournament. Excellent.
What we learned about Iowa State: Almost, but not quite there. I like ISU’s make-up. The guards are big, physical and can shoot. Royce White, when he’s zoned in, is the mother of all X-factors. But, Texas proved that the Cyclones are susceptible to lapses in help-defense. It was most apparent at the end of the game when guys were falling back to hopefully intercept a pass along the baseline instead of stepping up to take a charge or at least protect the rim. That’s not good, and it won’t cut it in the NCAA’s. The good news for ISU is that it has time to look at film, and focus on correcting what you hope is just a mistake and not a team tendency.
What we learned about Texas: This team has continued to mature throughout the season and is obviously at the point now that it can handle a hostile environment (Sprint Center held no fewer than 9,000 ISU fans) and a rough start. Myck Kabongo’s game from a control standpoint is now a weapon as he was vocal on the floor…and most important…his teammates were listening. If the ‘Horns can hone their athleticism into efficient offense early in games until J’Covan Brown heats up, they are going to be a tough, tough out in the NCAA tourney.
That’s it from Sprint Center today, folks! We pick it back up tomorrow for the Big 12 Tournament semifinals!