Week 13 is officially in the books as the Big 12 Conference continued both the men’s and women’s basketball seasons for 2023-24.
The Big 12’s new teams (not Houston) are flexing their muscles, the Oklahoma women have risen to the top, but not on the strength of their offense and Baylor is not happy with officiating.
Here are the good, bad, and ugly from Week 12 in Big 12 men’s and women’s basketball.
While Houston was getting its tail handed to it by Kansas on Saturday, the other three new Big 12 schools were claiming victories.
BYU went into Morgantown, where West Virginia was undefeated at home in Big 12 action, and won, 86-73. Cincinnati, which was coming off a heartbreaking loss at WVU at mid-week, went into Lubbock and beat Texas Tech, 75-72. And, UCF, which was at home and coming off a loss to Baylor, defeated Oklahoma, 74-63.
With that, all three now have four league wins as the Big 12 reaches the mid-point (BYU has only played eight games).
What’s interesting is that none of the three are feeding on lower-tier teams to win games in this conference (one could argue that there are no lower-tier teams, given how this league stacks up). They’re stacking up against ranked teams. The Bearcats have three ranked wins now — BYU, TCU and Texas Tech. What’s incredible is that their four league losses against ranked teams are by a combined 14 points.
UCF has wins over two ranked teams, both at home. One was the win over OU. The other was their incredible win over Kansas. The Knights were within five points of beating BYU, too. BYU only has one win over a ranked team in league play, as the Cougars defeated Iowa State in Provo.
Entering this season I knew Houston would fit in, and as good a fit as Houston is the Cougars have three league losses after nine games. But halfway through league play, BYU, Cincinnati and UCF are proving to be snug fits, too.
OU Rises To The Top
At the start of Big 12 women’s action, I wasn’t sure what to make of Oklahoma. At the time the Sooners were 6-5 and had lost five of their last six games. Life without Taylor Robertson, Ana Llanusa, and Madi Williams was looking rough.
Now? The Sooners have won nine of their last 10 and they are looking down at everyone else in the Big 12. How?
Well, forward Skylar Vann has been herself. Vann leads the team with 15.8 points and 7.2 rebounds per game. Guard Nevaeh Tot runs the offense to perfection and averages 4.1 assists per game. Transfer Payton Verhulst (11.1 points) has given the Sooners an offensive boost and freshman Sahara Williams (9.8 points, 5.7 rebounds) has quickly grown into a tremendous option in the paint.
But the reality is that OU’s defense is doing the trick. When I talked with OU coach Jennie Baranczyk at media day two years ago I asked her about the defense. In her first season, the Sooners gave up 76.9 points per game. She said she was working on it, and the Sooners were marginally better last season, giving up 75.4 points per game.
This season? The Sooners are giving up 68.1 points per game. That’s a significant drop. And it’s not addition by subtraction. It’s good old-fashioned addition by taking in a player that has changed their defense — Lexy Keys.
Keys transferred in from Oklahoma State before the season. With the Cowgirls last season, she took a bit of a back seat offensively but gave the Cowgirls a stopper on defense. She averaged 1.1 steals per game.
This season she’s leveled up. Entering the week she’s averaging two steals per game. That’s in the Top 5 of the conference.
That infusion on the perimeter, along with the combined two blocked shots per game of Kiersten Johnson and Verhulst, has changed the Sooners’ defense just enough to take them to the top of the Big 12.
Just Consistent Officials, Please
Baylor athletic director Mack Rhoades was none too happy with men’s coach Scott Drew being tossed on Saturday due to two technical fouls. It was the first time that Drew had been tossed in 21 seasons at Baylor.
Here was his statement after the game.
“Tonight was an embarrassment for this league,” Rhoades said. ”Scott (Drew) said it, we have the best basketball league in the country. And the officiating tonight did not match that. Period, end of story. This league needs to get better when we think about our officiating. And we have some great, great officials. But this particular crew tonight did not match the level of this game, and that shouldn’t happen in this league.”
So here’s what happened. Drew was assessed two technical fouls, both for stepping on the court. The first was in the first half and Drew was definitely on the floor.
The second came in the second half and here’s the video. Did Drew step out of the coach’s box? Well, yes. But, I mean, really?
Drew didn’t go after the officials after the game because, well, it’s Drew and he doesn’t do that.
“You pour so much into it, and if you’re the reason you lose, there’s no worse feeling,” Drew said. “And I thank God he didn’t make me feel that tonight, because I know if we’d have lost, and those technicals, those points, they add up. I’ve got to do better.”
When I was at Big 12 media days the directors of officiating talked about monitoring coaches and their time on the floor was a point of emphasis this season. What they want is for coaches to stay in the box and off the floor. I’m good with that. There’s no reason for coaches to wander out of the box. They can do their jobs from there.
But, well, someone needs to explain why this didn’t get a technical foul back in December.
There was an official right there as Marquette’s Shaka Smart wandered onto the floor as if he was playing defense. He’s not in the coach’s box because he’s on the floor. But no technical.
Oddly, what officials did with Drew on Saturday was consistent. He wandered out once and got a technical. He wandered out again, albeit briefly, and got another. And if you ask 100 coaches they’ll tell you all they want is consistency.
But every coach wanders out of the box from time to time and it’s barely policed. The referees give them leeway. I get it.
But don’t talk about it being a “point of emphasis” if you’re going to let Smart play defense and not do anything about it.
Kansas State’s Tumble
There was always going to come a point where the Kansas State women were going to lose a game, with or without center Ayoka Lee. Going into this past week’s games with Oklahoma and Texas, my gut said the Wildcats would find a way to split.
Instead, Kansas State lost both games. The Wildcats went down to the wire in their 66-63 loss to OU and they rallied late to try and overtake Texas but fell short, 61-54. Basically, the Wildcats lost by 10 points to two ranked teams (Oklahoma will be ranked come Monday) without their center. It’s not a moral victory, but it’s proof of how deep this team is.
Serena Sundell, Jaelyn Glenn, and Brylee Glenn have played for K-State for three years. Gabby Gregory is in her second year with the Wildcats. Transfer Zyanna Walker has fit right in. Freshman Taryn Sides has given them toughness off the bench. Gisela Sanchez and Eliza Maupin have accelerated their developments over the past two weeks.
Plus, it’s likely not to stay ugly for long.
Lee is on her way back. A full-strength Kansas State will be a dangerous Kansas State.
You can find Matthew Postins on Twitter @PostinsPostcard.