Big 12 reset: How KU and K-State look heading into conference play
KANSAS CITY, Mo. (KCTV) - Conference play in the Big 12 begins Saturday with the Jayhawks hosting Oklahoma State while the Wildcats get a visit from West Virginia. Here’s what to know about the Jayhawks and Wildcats before league play begins.
The Big 12 remains the toughest conference in college basketball. The league has produced the last two national champions and all 10 teams rank in the top 52 in KenPom’s college basketball adjusted efficiency metric. Simply put, there will be no off-nights in league play for either the Wildcats or Jayhawks.
With the league adding Houston, Cincinnati, UCF and BYU next year, this will be the last season with a true double round-robin league schedule. KU and K-State will play in Manhattan on Tuesday, Jan. 17 and in Lawrence on Tuesday, Jan. 31.
No. 4 Kansas: 11-1
As is typically the case, Kansas scheduled one of the toughest non-conference slates in the nation. Without Bill Self to start the year as the KU head coach served a school-enforced suspension, the Jayhawks started the season 4-0. The Jayhawks were led by assistant coach Norm Robert, who guided them past Duke in the Champions Classic.
When Self returned for the Battle 4 Atlantis tournament, the Jayhawks lost their first game of the season in the tournament championship. They struggled to score with their lowest offensive output of the season in a 64-50 loss to No. 22 Tennessee. It was the first loss for Kansas in 17 games, a mark that was best in Division 1.
Following the departures of first-round picks Ochai Agbaji and Christian Braun, the Jayhawks have seen the elevated play from fourth-year forward Jalen Wilson. The 6-foot-8 forward from Denton, Texas, is averaging 21.1 points and 9.0 rebounds per game. Wilson’s scoring average ranks 11th in the nation.
Along with Wilson, Kansas has seen the emergence of freshman guard Gradey Dick, who came to Kansas after earning Gatorade National Player of the Year honors as a senior at Sunrise Christian Academy in Wichita, Kansas. Dick has starred shooting the ball from 3-point range, averaging 15.4 points per game while shooting 48.6 percent from deep. His 3-point percentage ranks 11th among Division 1 players and is best among all freshmen.
In 11 non-conference games, Kansas defeated two ranked opponents. KU had five of their 11 wins against teams in Power 6 conferences.
Kansas State: 11-1
The first season in Manhattan for head coach Jerome Tang has been an overwhelming success so far. The only holdover on the roster from Kansas State’s final season under Bruce Weber is senior guard Markquis Nowell.
Nowell, a 5-foot-8 guard from the Bronx, New York, is proficient in the assist department. He’s averaging 8.3 assists per game this season, which is second in the nation among Division 1 players. He’s also one of two active players in Division 1 with at least 1,000 points, 500 assists and 200 steals.
The Wildcats went to the Cayman Islands Classic in November and won their multi-team event, defeating LSU 61-59 in the tournament’s championship game.
Kansas State’s lone loss of the season came in a road trip to Butler. The Wildcats trailed early and often against the Bulldogs, who handed Tang his first loss as a Division 1 head coach in a 76-64 defeat.
One of the feel-good stories in college basketball has been the return of wing Keyontae Johnson, who transferred from Florida to Kansas State after missing most of the last two seasons due to a heart problem. He collapsed to the court during a Florida-Florida State game during the 2020-21 season. In his return, Johnson is averaging a KSU-leading 17.7 points per game.
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