Fact One: Heading into this week, there were four teams tied atop the Big 12 standings with 4-1 records – Kansas, West Virginia, Texas Tech and Oklahoma. In three days, that changed.
Fact Two: The weather in Texas is known to change just as quickly. The saying is, “If you don’t like the weather, wait 30 minutes.” The northern part of the state experienced temperatures around zero Tuesday night and by Saturday the high temperature is expected to be in the 70s.
The only connection that can be drawn between these two facts is that predicting Big 12 basketball and the weather are both fools’ errands.
The team in first place heading into Saturday is … defending champion Kansas. Yes, the Jayhawks are still flapping their wings despite dire predictions of their demise. Kansas survived an upset bid by Kansas State Saturday then traveled to Morgantown and overcame a 16-point first-half deficit to defeat West Virginia. Your Veteran Scribe is old enough to not be surprised, but stunning the Mountaineers – especially considering the double-digit deficit – was totally unexpected.
That made West Virginia 4-2. Tuesday night, K-State bounced back from losing in Allen Fieldhouse by stifling Oklahoma. The Trae Young Scoring Circus turned into The Trae Young Traveling Bakery as the freshman produced a dozen turnovers in the Sooners’ 87-69 loss.
Then Wednesday night, Texas Tech’s shooting went cold and the Red Raiders – which had knocked off WVU in Lubbock Saturday – lost at Texas, 67-58. Maybe that upset should have been expected – Texas Tech has lost 22 consecutive trips to Austin.
From a four-way tie for first to a three-way tie (West Virginia, OU, Texas Tech) for second. Nearing the halfway point, Kansas has the pole position as it seeks a 14th consecutive title.
“I don’t’ know if that says a lot,” Kansas coach Bill Self said Thursday on the Big 12 coaches’ teleconference. “It’s early. You have one bad week and you can go from first to fifth or sixth. There has been talk about the streak from the media. But we don’t talk about it. We talk about winning the first with this group. We’re vulnerable and honestly we’ve been vulnerable just about every year. Hopefully this team will rally around that.
“But this league is so good this year. Anybody that wins the regular-season title this year, I think it would be the best win you could have.”
Dancin’, dancin’ … scorin’ machine
(Kids, this sub-head makes more sense if you click this link.)
Kansas State’s Cartier Diarra, a 6-4 redshirt freshman, is showing impressive moves on the basketball court. In three games since becoming a starter, Diarra (pronounced: JAW-arr-uh), has scored a total of 51 points. Until his freshman year of high school, his moves involved dancing instead of dribbling.
Diarra grew up in New York City and had dreams of becoming a professional dancer. But when he saw his middle school basketball team play a game in Madison Square Garden, Diarra was captured by the intensity of the players and the enthusiasm of the fans. His family moved to Florence, S.C., and as a sophomore he started working on his game.
“I just fell in love with basketball,” Diarra told the Kansas City Star. “I just wanted to be in that position. I wanted to be on the floor and play. I started working on my game. I just had a natural talent for it … I don’t dance anymore, I just play basketball.”
Diarra missed last season after suffering an ACL injury in July of 2017. Diarra and 6-3 junior Barry Brown have combined to help fill the gap of 6-foot junior point guard Kamau Stokes’ absence. In his last two games in Bramlage Coliseum, Brown has played 72 minutes and scored 62 points on 22-of-34 shooting.
- West Virginia’s Esa Ahmad, a 6-8 junior forward who was suspended by the NCAA for the first 16 games, has been back and played 62 minutes as a reserve and scored 33 points in the last two games. Teddy Allen, a 6-5 freshman forward, totaled 57 points in the Mountaineers’ first three Big 12 games but has played just 10 minutes and failed to score in the last three games. It was especially difficult for him to score Monday against Kansas – he didn’t play. Asked about the DNP-CD, WVU coach Bob Huggins was succinct: “Wasn’t happy with his attitude.”
- Texas plays at West Virginia Saturday and will try to follow up its upset of Texas Tech. Kerwin Roach II, a 6-4 junior guard, had a career-high 20 points. He had missed the previous two games with a broken wrist and Longhorns coach Shaka Smart noted Roach’s freshness. . “I think that’s one thing people overlook, the mental, physical and emotional fatigue on the players and how it can be wearing,” Smart said. “Snoop got some physical and emotional rest. He played with freedom and clarity. From a rest stand point, it would be great to take our guys and play laser tag. But that’s not realistic when you’re trying to prepare for West Virginia. I know that’s not what they’re doing.”
- TCU hoped to make the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 1998 but then started 1-4 in Big 12 play. Three of the Frogs’ losses came to Oklahoma (twice) and Kansas, both top 10 teams and the league losses were by a total of 11 points. Then Tuesday came word that sophomore point guard Jaylen Fisher, who leads the team in assists and is third in scoring, hurt his knee in practice and will likely miss the season after surgery. TCU, though, responded with an impressive rout of visiting Iowa State, 96-73, Wednesday night. Junior Alex Robinson stepped in at point guard and delivered a school-record 17 assists.
Said and done
West Virginia coach Bob Huggins gave Bill Self a windbreaker/pullover from the Huggins’ Collection to wear for the teams’ Big Monday game. Self was asked if he would reciprocate and provide Huggins a suit from the Self Line for WVU’s game in Lawrence.
“No. First of all, he didn’t pay for my windbreaker and if he did it cost 12 dollars, 50 cents, so it’d be a lot more expensive for me to provide a suit for him. So that’s out.”