For a coach who promotes daily competition, the end of last season was difficult on Bruce Weber. Though Kansas State made it back to the NCAA Tournament, its roster wasn’t healthy enough to properly prepare for the postseason.
The Big 12 has not been short on surprises in the last year.
On the football side, a league that appeared to have few top 10-caliber programs in the preseason produced one that spent much of the season there (Baylor) and another that finished there by defeating Alabama in the Sugar Bowl (Oklahoma).
In basketball, Kansas, as usual, is atop the standings, but the league has shown impressive depth with teams like Oklahoma, Texas, Kansas State and Iowa State all surprising through the course of the year.
At the end of January, Iowa State appeared to be falling back to earth after a 14-game wining streak to start the season.
After a 2-4 swoon, the Cyclones may be playing some of their best basketball of the season thanks in part to the play of Melvin Ejim.
Ejim set a Big 12 record with 48 points in an 84-69 win over TCU on Saturday, earning Athlon Sports National Player of the Week honors. By adding 18 rebounds, Ejim joined Blake Griffin and Michael Beasley as the only three players to have 40 points and 15 boards in a game in Big 12 history.
Five freshmen were among the midseason top 25 released by the Wooden Award earlier this week, but the nation’s top freshman — at least this week — was not among them.
Syracuse’s Tyler Ennis, Duke’s Jabari Parker, Kansas’ Andrew Wiggins, Kentucky’s Julius Randle and Arizona’s Aaron Gordon all made the watch list for the national player of the year. The Jayhawks’ Joel Embiid did not.
This weekend will feature only two games between ranked teams, but one of them is a doozy.
After Michigan defeated Iowa on Wednesday and Michigan State dodged Indiana on Wednesday, the top two teams in the Big Ten standings will meet in East Lansing.
Especially in this league, staying undefeated in conference play in late January is a major feat. Just ask Ohio State and Wisconsin. Certainly the two coaches meeting Saturday at the Breslin Center are feeling a bit lucky to be playing for the Big Ten lead.
No question the top storyline in 2013-14 for the casual fan — and even a handful of NBA fans — is the glut of elite freshmen.
Andrew Wiggins, Jabari Parker, Julius Randle and Aaron Gordon have become appointment viewing. Anyone paying close attention has ideas of who is delivering and who has work to do to live up to the recruiting rankings and NBA Draft stock.
Anyone just paying attention to those four — and other notables like Tyler Ennis at Syracuse and Noah Vonleh at Indiana — is doing themselves a disservice.
After that, ranking the Big 12 coaches is a chore. Three of the league’s most accomplished career coaches — Bob Huggins, Rick Barnes and Tubby Smith have more than 1,700 wins among them — are coming off of lackluster seasons. Smith was let go from his last job, and Barnes will be under pressure to turn things around at Texas in a hurry.