When people say the Big 12 is the deepest conference in America, they are thinking of nights like Monday. No. 11 Iowa State, fresh off an impressive three-game winning streak, came into Morgantown and got their wheels blown off, losing 102-77 to West Virginia. No. 7 Kansas lost an 85-82 OT nail-biter to Kansas State in Manhattan.
It's not easy to win on the road in the Big 12. Two Saturdays ago, the Jayhawks were soundly beaten in Austin by the Texas Longhorns. A week later, Texas returned the favor in Manhattan, getting run out of the gym by Kansas State. The Wildcats' win last night, meanwhile, made them even for the 26-point loss to Kansas in Lawrence.
For Bruce Weber's team, the key was the play of SG Marcus Foster, who outplayed the more heavily hyped Kansas freshmen on both sides of the ball. Foster, who had 20 points and two assists and scored from all over the floor, is quietly making a backdoor run at the Big 12 Freshman of the Year Award.
In combination with the deafening crowd, Kansas State played a brand a tough, hard-nosed defense that kept Andrew Wiggins and Joel Embiid off their game for most of the night. Wiggins had 16 points but went 4-12 from the floor while Embiid played only 18 minutes, never really getting into the flow of the game.
Wiggins did come up with the biggest play of the game, getting a putback on his own miss that tied the game at the end of regulation:
While he didn't have the best shooting night, he was more aggressive in terms of getting to the rim and drawing fouls, as he took a whopping 15 free throws on Monday. Of course, if he had made more than eight, Kansas probably would have walked away with a huge road win.
For Bill Self, the most encouraging thing from the loss had to be the play of his bench, who combined for 26 points and picked up the slack for his starters. Jamari Traylor was benched for what Self called "inappropriate behavior," which opened up the first real playing time for freshman big man Landen Lucas.
Lucas is a skilled 6'10, 240-pound big man who was a four-star recruit in the class of 2012. He took a redshirt season last year and can barely get onto the floor in his second season in Lawrence. This is a guy who would start for 90 percent of the teams in the Big 12 and Self can't even find minutes for him.
You haven't heard much about Traylor and Lucas this season, but you can bet you will be hearing more about them in the coming years. Self does so many things well at Kansas, but perhaps his biggest strength is his ability to develop players at the end of his bench. That's why his teams never have down years; he's always prepared.
The story was much simpler in the other Big 12 game tonight. Iowa State got flat-out whipped by West Virginia; there's really no other way to say it. The Cyclones gave up 52 points in the first half and 50 points in the second; in a sport with 20-minute halves and 35-second shot clocks, that's hard to do.
Juwan Staten nearly had a triple double, putting up 19 points, seven rebounds and nine assists. A powerfully built 6'1, 185-pound guard with explosive speed, he plays like a younger version of Kyle Lowry, dominating the action on both sides of the ball and imposing his will on the game, even though he isn't a great three-point shooter.
Here's him absolutely wrecking Georges Niang's ankles on the fast break:
It wasn't just Staten either. Everyone on West Virginia was eating against Iowa State's defense. Remi Dibo had 20 while Eron Harris and Terry Henderson both had 16. Bobby Huggins has taken a page out of Fred Hoiberg's playbook, spreading the floor as wide as possible and letting his guards play with a ton of freedom.
After losing home games to Oklahoma State and Texas in early January, West Virginia has really turned things around in Morgantown, with wins over Kansas State, Oklahoma and now Iowa State. They have a lot of tough road games coming up, so their season might come down to a visit from Kansas on March 8.
The good news for the Jayhawks is their trip to Morgantown is one of only three road dates left on their schedule, so they are still in excellent shape to win their 10th consecutive Big 12 title. At this point, though, how the rest of the conference ends up shaking out is anyone's guess.