So we're going to switch things up a little bit today. Instead of stretching out an entire piece about TCU, which nobody wants to read (and I most certainly don't want to write), we're going to take a look at the Big 12 at the half-way point, touch on the Rashad Vaughn announcement and briefly look at Saturday's game against Horned Frogs.
Let's kick things off by first looking at the conference landscape.
The Big 12 Mid-Season Report
Every team in the conference has played at least nine conference games and separation has already set in. Some things never change, as Kansas sits atop the league standings and looks poised to capture yet another conference championship. The conference is full of both good surprises (Texas, Oklahoma, West Virginia) and disappointments (Baylor and Oklahoma State), but the biggest story in the conference by far has been the overall strength of the league.
The Big 12 is the top conference according to RPI rankings and is being recognized nationally as the best conference from a pure depth standpoint. Kansas might be the only team truly capable of cutting down the nets, but there are plenty of teams that are good enough to make tournament runs and advance beyond the first weekend.
Between losing many of its young stars to the NBA as a result of the one-and-done era, conference realignment and a never-ending carousel of coaching turnover, the Big 12's basketball reputation had taken a major hit in recent years. This year however, we're seeing a revival of the on-court product and there are plenty of reasons why.
Above all else, the conference is full of coaching stars. Six of the league's coaches have coached in a Final Four (Bill Self, Bruce Weber, Rick Barnes, Bob Huggins Lon Kruger, Tubby Smith) and except for Trent Johnson, all have led their current school to an NCAA berth. You can argue that at least seven of the schools in the conference have the "right guy" in place and although Scott Drew and Travis Ford are not enjoying the type of seasons they'd hoped for, neither appear to be in serious jeopardy of losing their job after this season concludes.
There's also been an influx of developed talent in the league. Sure, guys like Andrew Wiggins and Joel Embiid will likely be top five picks in June, but nearly every roster in the conference is being built with four-year stars that are behind the resurgence. And if you think the league is good this year, just wait until next year when teams like Texas, Oklahoma, West Virginia, Iowa State, Kansas State and yes, Kansas, return a good share of their talent.
But enough about the overall league strength. Let's look at what truly matters - some no-name blogger's mid-season all-conference picks. Without further adieu...
C Joel Embiid - Freshman, Kansas
F Melvin Ejim - Senior, Iowa State
F Andrew Wiggins - Freshman, Kansas
G DeAndre Kane - Senior, Iowa State
G Marcus Smart - Sophomore, Oklahoma State
F Georges Niang - Sophomore, Iowa State
F Le'Bryan Nash - Junior, Oklahoma State
G Buddy Hield - Sophomore, Oklahoma
G Markel Brown - Senior, Oklahoma State
G Juwan Staten - Junior, West Virginia
F Jonathan Holmes - Junior, Texas
F Ryan Spangler - Sophomore, Oklahoma
G Marcus Foster - Freshman, Kansas State
G Eron Harris - Sophomore, West Virginia
G Javan Felix - Sophomore, Texas
Perry Ellis - Sophomore, Kansas
Thomas Gipson - Junior, Kansas State
Jaye Crocket - Senior, Texas Tech
Kyan Anderson - Junior, TCU
Brady Heslip - Senior, Baylor
Cory Jefferson - Senior, Baylor
Cameron Ridley - Sophomore, Texas
Player of the Year: DeAndre Kane
Freshman of the Year: Andrew Wiggins
Coach of the Year: Rick Barnes
Also, as far as predictions go, at this point, I see Kansas, Iowa State, Oklahoma, Texas, Oklahoma State and Kansas State in the NCAA field. West Virginia and Baylor are on the bubble and have some work to do, but either could get on the right side of the bubble between now and Selection Sunday.
The Rashad Vaughn Decision
On Tuesday, Vaughn tweeted that he would announce this weekend where he'll attend school next year. As one of the few elite, uncommitted prospects available, Vaughn has been highly sought after and had recently narrowed is list of finalists to Iowa State, UNLV, Kentucky, North Carolina and Kansas. The decision by Vaughn to announce this weekend came as a surprise to everyone in the college basketball world. For months, Vaughn had indicated that he would wait until later in the spring to announce, so Tuesday's tweet has brought about wild speculation.
Now, if you've followed this site for any period of time, you probably know that we don't delve too much into the recruiting realm. It's an exhausting vice and while entertaining and fun to talk about it, nobody really knows where these kids are going to until they sign on the dotted line.
In Vaughn's case, however, it's hard not to get sucked in by the story and consumed by every tweet and story that's coming out. Vaughn is a special talent. With him in the fold, Iowa State goes from being a top 20 team next year to potentially a top 10 team. He's that type of difference maker.
I don't have the first clue what he's going to announce and I don't pretend to know anything more than anyone else, but I do have a few thoughts about how this weekend's announcement will be beneficial for Iowa State regardless of Vaughn's decision.
First off, and most importantly, with Vaughn announcing this weekend, the staff will at least know. If Vaughn chooses the Cyclones, then that's fantastic, but if not, Hoiberg and the staff can move on to focusing on other players and turning their full attention elsewhere. Let's say for a second that Vaughn opted instead to announce in mid April and he chose another school. That would mean that Iowa State spent another two months on Vaughn's cause and still came away empty-handed. Just think of how many guys could have potentially committed elsewhere during that time that Iowa State might have never even had a chance to seriously look at. We all want Vaughn, but even if he doesn't commit to Iowa State, his timing could open some other recruiting doors.
The other angle to this weekend's announcement and easily the most debatable is who in fact it puts in the lead for Vaughn's services. Surprisingly, Vaughn is effectively cancelling visits to Kentucky and North Carolina as well as Kansas, meaning that most believe this is battle that will come down to Iowa State and UNLV. If that's the case (and most believe it is), do you like Iowa State's chances because they've been in on Vaughn since the beginning, or do you favor UNLV, who's only become a player in the last six months?
I'm not going to make a prediction, but I'll say this; if Vaughn is just looking for a place to bide his time until declaring for the draft and wants to toil away in obscurity, away from the national spotlight, then by all means, choose UNLV. But if he wants to play for a program that's on the rise and is going to be in excellent shape next year and is led by a coach that will maximize his talent and growth as a player, then you have to like the Cyclones' chances. We shall see.
Looking At TCU
This is a game that Iowa State should win easily. The Frogs are abysmal and Ken Pomeroy gives Iowa State a 96% win probability in this one. The Frogs are 0-9 in conference play and are one of the worst teams offensively in the country. Their effective field goal percentage of 45.5% puts them at 321st nationally and it gets worse. TCU is getting outscored by nearly 15 points per game in conference play and is getting abused on the glass as opponents are grabbing just over 14 more rebounds per game. They also average more turnovers than assists and...I'm just going to stop.
They're not very good. Still, this is a team that did challenge Oklahoma in Norman and gave Texas a game on Tuesday. Kyan Anderson is a guy that can get hot in a hurry and Amric Fields is another guy that's more than capable of filling it up.
TCU is going to do everything in their power to grind out possessions keep this game low-scoring, but Iowa State is averaging just under 80 points per game at home in conference play and will not have much trouble hitting that number on Saturday.
This is a game that Hoiberg should be able to use his bench and get guys like Naz Long, Sherron Dorsey-Walker, Percy Gibson, Daniel Edozie and dare I say, Bubu Palo, some minutes.
I see the Cyclones cruising in this one.
Iowa State 86 - TCU 68