More size needed for Big 12 hoops’ teams
By Kyle Salomon,
For much of the year, the nation’s best college basketball conference was thought to reside in the heartland of the country.
Now, after the first weekend of the NCAA Tournament, the Big 12 Conference, which started the big dance with seven teams, has seen its large number of tourney participants dwindled to just two heading into the sweet 16 round.
With power schools such as Kansas, Texas, Oklahoma and Oklahoma State looking to lead the way for the Big 12, many college basketball experts thought the conference would have a strong showing in the tournament, but first-round upsets from OU and OSU and second-round knockouts by Kansas and Texas have tarnished those dreams.
Only two teams remain in play for the big prize. Iowa State and Baylor are headed to the sweet 16 after pulling off two victories in the opening weekend of the dance.
Iowa State won its first-round game with ease, but lost star forward Georges Niang to a broken foot for the remainder of the tournament. Many thought the Cyclones, who finished third overall in the conference standings and won the conference tournament, were going to go down to North Carolina in the second round because the loss of Niang would be too much to overcome.
Instead, ISU pulled it together for at least one more game and got a victory over the Tar Heels, advancing them to the sweet 16, where they will take on Connecticut with a good chance to win.
Baylor has had the definition of a roller-coaster season. The Bears started the season off red hot as they looked like a top 10 national team taking everyone they played behind the woodshed, but midway through the year the wheels fell off and Baylor had to scratch and claw just to get into the NCAA tournament discussion.
The Bears got hot for their stretch run and earned an at-large bid into the big dance. Baylor took down Nebraska in round one and then shocked the country with a 30-point beat-down of higher-seeded Creighton in the second round.
Despite the success of Iowa State and Baylor, the Big 12 has been a disappointment this March. The common theme in all of the conference losses has been the mismatches in the post for the Big 12 teams.
It’s hard to imagine mid-majors and even low-majors having more size than the likes of Oklahoma and Oklahoma State, but it’s the truth.
North Dakota State dominated the Sooners in the paint. The Bison controlled the boards on both ends of the floor and took OU out of its run-and-gun style of play.
The Cowboys could never get into a rhythm against Gonzaga. The Zags knew they weren’t going to win an up-tempo style of game against OSU, so they slowed it down and pounded the rock inside to their big guys, who dominated the undersized Oklahoma State frontline.
The average size for a starting frontline in major college basketball is 6 feet 9 inches through 6 feet 11 inches.
Here are the sizes of all of the starting frontlines for the Big 12:
Oklahoma started Ryan Spangler and Cameron Clark in the paint this season. Spangler stands 6 feet 8 inches, and Clark was an undersized 6 feet 7 inches down low for OU.
The Pokes started the season with Michael Cobbins and LeBryan Nash starting in the post. Cobbins stands 6 feet 8 inches, and Nash is 6 feet 7 inches. Cobbins went down halfway through the season with a torn ACL, which knocked him out of the rest of the year. Kamari Murphy came into the starting lineup to replace Cobbins. Like Cobbins, Murphy also stands 6 feet 8 inches.
Kansas had the most talented starting frontline when fully healthy, but that was a rare case this season. Joel Embiid is considered by many as a top five pick in this year’s NBA draft if he decides to opt out early. Embiid struggled with back problems throughout the season, including the entire postseason. Embiid stands at 7 feet. Perry Ellis also starts down low for the Jayhawks. Ellis stands 6 feet 8 inches. When Embiid is out of the lineup, KU went with Jamari Taylor at 6 feet 8 inches.
Texas had good size down low this season, but the Longhorns didn’t have the year they had hoped for in the preseason. Cameron Ridley and Prince Ibeh started in the paint for Texas. Ridley stands 6 feet 9 inches and Ibeh is 6 feet 10 inches.
Baylor has the best overall size out of any Big 12 team, which is probably why they are still alive. The Bears go with Isaiah Austin and Cory Jefferson in the post. Austin stands 7 foot 1 inch, and Jefferson is 6 feet 9 inches.
Kansas State had a strong season, but its NCAA Tournament appearance came to an end in the first round with a beating at the hands of Kentucky. The Wildcats started 6-foot-11 Brandon Bolden and 6-foot-7 Thomas Gibson in the paint this season.
It’s surprising Iowa State has made it this far in the tournament when you look at its overall size in the post, but they have tremendous guard play, which doesn’t hurt. The Cyclones started Niang at 6 feet 7 inches and Melvin Ejim at 6 feet 6 inches, but without Niang, ISU will go with 6-foot-9 Jameel McKay.
West Virginia did not make the tournament, but had a short run in the NIT. The Mountaineers started Elijah Macon at 6 feet 9 inches and Jonathan Holton at 6 feet 7 inches in the paint.
Texas Tech had a season to forget in Tubby Smith’s first year with the program. The Red Raiders started Clark Lammert and Jordan Tolbert down low. Lammert stands 6 feet 8 inches and Tolbert is 6 feet 7 inches.
TCU had a miserable season in year two in the league and didn’t get a conference win this season. The Horned Frogs started Amric Fields and Devonta Abron in the post. Fields stands 6 feet 9 inches and Abron is 6 feet 8 inches.
The Big 12 is a deep and talented league, but if it plans on having a true national title contender anytime soon, the league needs to get bigger and stronger, not smaller and quicker. Just ask the SEC in football.