THE BIG 12 REPORT

Can the Big 12 shock the nation this weekend? Must watch games and players in week 3

TCU has a big matchup with Ohio State. Tom Pennington/Getty Images

The Big 12 came out looking strong in week 2 as eight of their 10 teams defeated their opponents and by considerable margins. Nationally ranked teams Oklahoma (5), Oklahoma State (24), TCU (15), and West Virginia (14) remained undefeated and Texas sneaked away with their first win of the season. Week 3 will be an eventful one for the Big 12, with a few of its most popular teams looking at nationally spotlighted matchups. Let’s take a look at exactly what you should look for this coming weekend.

Must watch games week 3

TCU (15) vs. Ohio State (4)

The top matchup to watch of week 3 in the Big 12 and arguably the nation is No. 15 TCU vs. No. 4 Ohio State. TCU has come out strong this season outscoring their opponents 97-15 through their first two games. The Horned Frogs and head coach Gary Patterson will have a chance to knock off one of the nation’s best teams and stamp their name in the college football playoff conversation. One big factor to recognize as a potential advantage for TCU is the fact that Ohio State head coach Urban Meyer will be serving the final punishment of his three game suspension. While Ohio State has looked unaffected by the absence of Meyer, TCU will be their first real challenge of the season and could take advantage of the missing leadership if things come down to the wire.

Texas vs. USC (22)

UT secured its first win of the season at home against Tulsa this past weekend, but things were far from perfect. The Longhorns walked away with a 28-21 victory, but Tulsa missed three field goals in the game that could have spoiled UT’s night. If Texas is not able to work out the kinks in practice this week, they could be looking at a long night vs. a talented USC team. The atmosphere should be electric Saturday night as Longhorn fans have not forgotten about how close their team came to stealing a win away from the Trojans in 2017, which should motivate Texas players to perform in front of their home crowd. This game could be a season defining one for coach Tom Herman, and UT team that received a lot of attention and praise heading into 2018.

Oklahoma State (24) vs. Boise State (17)

The final game I recommend keeping an eye out for is Oklahoma State vs. Boise State. Both teams have cracked the Top 25 early this season, but chances are that one will find themselves on the outside looking in after week 3. The Cowboys have won big in both of their games so far this season but have yet to face a formidable opponent. Boise State and their always reliable defense should provide a good test for an offensive heavy Oklahoma State, led by first year starting quarterback Taylor Cornelius.

Big 12 Players to watch week 3

Texas WR’s Lil’ Jordan Humphrey & Collin Johnson: The University of Texas has yet to find its groove in its first two games this season, and I believe a lot of their offensive struggles have to do with the inconsistent utilization of wide receivers Lil’ Jordan Humphrey and Collin Johnson. Humphrey and Johnson have combined for 287 receiving yard and two touchdowns so far this season and have arguably been the only sources of big play excitement for the Texas offense. If the Longhorns hope to upset the Trojans this coming Saturday, they will need to find life in the passing game by giving these two dynamic athletes opportunities to make plays down the field.

Texas Tech QB Alan Bowman: Texas Tech is looking at an interesting matchup in week 3 vs. a Houston team that seems to be hitting on all cylinders. While the Red Raiders had their way with Lamar University last weekend, they chose to lean on Freshman quarterback Bowman. Bowman finished with nearly 300 yards passing and 2 touchdowns while only throwing three incompletions. With that said Bowman will be facing a much different challenge against a Houston team that has impressed on both sides of the ball so far this season. Tech will have to hope Bowman continues his speedy maturation and can keep his composure against the cougars, who are sure to make things tough for the young quarterback.

TCU Defense: TCU has scored 97 points already this season, but on a considerably more impressive note, have only allowed 15 total points to opposing offenses. Looking ahead at their matchup with the Buckeyes in week 3, the Horned Frogs will need an impressive performance from their defense if they hope to keep up with an Ohio State team that has scored 129 points in their first two games. While it would be crazy for TCU to expect to run stride for stride with the top offense in the nation, the Horned Frogs may be able to grind out a close win if their defense is able to fluster Ohio state’s young quarterbacks. TCU has already collected 7 sacks this season, and will need to add a few more this weekend if they want any chance of taking down the national powerhouse that is Ohio State.

 

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Here's what to make of the Rockets free agency moves. Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

No NBA team with title aspirations entered the offseason with more questions than the Houston Rockets. Ironically, Houston's situation got more precarious as the offseason went along. From head coach Mike D'Antoni walking away after the season to general manager Daryl Morey following suit shortly after that, the Rockets have been a sinking ship in desperate need of stability. They found some of that once new head coach Stephen Silas was hired, but the boat took on more water when star players James Harden and Russell Westbrook demanded to be traded a couple of weeks later.

It's been a giant roller coaster and it was unclear how Houston would approach their free agency. Would they double down on contending for a championship to try and convince their star players to stay or would they be forced to rebuild?

It looks like Houston tried to thread the needle and accomplish both: They appear ready to rebuild if they can't convince James Harden to stay, but also addressed roster needs and acquired better fitting pieces for their stars. It's hard to say whether or not they got better, but they're certainly a lot younger and look to play a lot different. Let's take a look at each player and how they fit into the framework.

Christian Wood

Contract:

3 years, $41 million

Grade:

B+

If there's a signing that embodies Houston's offseason, it's Christian Wood. For obvious reasons and some subtle ones, Wood is the exact kind of player Houston had to acquire this summer. Let's start with the obvious: Wood is the perfect player to have alongside both James Harden and Russell Westbrook because of his unique set of skills. Wood can hit threes at a high clip for someone his size (36.8% for his career) and stretches the floor for the moments you want Russell Westbrook barreling to the rim or James Harden trying to break a trap.

Lob threat

The Rockets didn't have a big man with that capability on the roster last year, so they had to resort to trading for Robert Covington and going small so they could properly space the floor. However, in doing that the Rockets lost their best lob threat and limited themselves on offense even further. This is where Wood solves the second problem: He may not be as good of a lob threat as Clint Capela, but he's damn close.

Over the past few years, the Rockets have slowly phased out pick and roll out of their offense and resorted to isolation. Part of it is because of how teams have defended the pick and roll, but part of it is also them not having the option anymore. James Harden is too good of a pick and roll ball handler for it to not be a part of the Rockets' attack. Adding more pick and roll to Houston's offense should be a priority next season, regardless of what else Silas decides to do.

Clint Capela was the perfect center for James Harden. P.J. Tucker was the perfect center for Russell Westbrook. Christian Wood is the perfect center for both.

Defensive rebounding

Another weakness Houston needed to address this offseason was their defensive rebounding (26th in NBA last season). It got to the point where it was a rarity that Houston would win the rebounding battle against good teams. This was partly by design and partly because of roster weakness. Houston was so porous at rebounding in the beginning of the season, they decided to emphasize turning over opponents to even the possession battle. If Houston were to even marginally improve in defensive rebounding, it could have a drastic positive impact on their defense.

Per 36 minutes:

22.0 PPG

10.6 RPG

1.5 BPG

65.9% True Shooting

Houston also replenished their coffers in the process of acquiring Wood. By flipping Robert Covington to the Blazers, the Rockets netted two draft picks back after losing two the prior offseason in the Westbrook trade. It may not matter in the grand scheme of next season, but these assets could be especially useful if Houston pivots to a rebuild. They could also be useful to upgrade the roster at the trade deadline if Houston gets Harden's buy-in. (As an aside, the series of transactions that led to Wood are impressive and reflect well on new GM Rafael Stone's ability to get deals done.)

The subtle reason Wood embodies their offseason is his age, 25 years old. Wood would immediately become the youngest starter on the team and be a building block piece on the next iteration of the Rockets. He's also old enough to make an immediate impact should Houston acquire a ready-made blue chip prospect in a James Harden trade. With the 76ers rumored to be a team interested in Harden's services, it probably isn't a coincidence that Ben Simmons (24 years old) falls neatly into Wood's age group. It also probably isn't a coincidence that the ideal team for Simmons has always been imagined to be a team that can spread the floor at the four other positions on the court. Having Wood is great start to try and accomplish that.

David Nwaba, Sterling Brown, and Jae'Sean Tate

Contracts:

Negligible

Grade:

B-

Nwaba, Brown, and Tate are all being placed in one category because it's quite clear what the Rockets are trying to accomplish: Take bets on young, cheap wings on the market and hope one pans out enough to make the final rotation for Stephen Silas.

While David Nwaba technically wasn't signed this offseason, he's essentially a free agency signing because the Rockets signed him up a few months ago with the knowledge he wouldn't be able to play in the first year of his deal. He's the oldest of this group (27 years old), has the largest wingspan (7'0"), and has logged the most NBA minutes (3295). Because of all this, he's probably the safest bet to make Houston's final rotation. However, just because he's the 'safest bet' doesn't mean he's a 'safe bet' per se.

Nwaba suffered a season-ending achilles injury on December 9th of last season and has spent the past year rehabbing. It's unclear how he will respond from this, but before the injury, Nwaba had found a nice role in Brooklyn as a combo forward who could shoot well enough from beyond the perimeter (34.4% for his career). The Rockets have desperately needed competent perimeter defenders off the bench since their 2017-18 campaign and a healthy Nwaba was just that.

Sterling Brown, 24, found his way on the fringes of the Bucks' rotation the past few seasons and gained the trust of head coach Mike Budenholzer enough to play nearly 15 minutes a game. Brown is a pesky defender and average three-point shooter (34.5% for his career) and like the other wings in this category, he doesn't need the ball. He's probably the second most proven wing here and if he cracks the rotation, it's unlikely he will have to play more than he did in Milwaukee.

Jae'Sean Tate, 25, is probably the most intriguing prospect of this bunch as he's never played in the NBA before. Tate played under new Rockets assistant coach Will Weaver on the Sidney Kings and averaged 16.4 points, 5.8 rebounds, and 2.0 assists on 66.0% shooting from the field last season while earning first-team All-NBL honors. He's 6'4" with a 6'8" wingspan and was considered to be one of the top basketball prospects outside the NBA before signing with Houston. The Rockets appear to be quite high on him considering they used part of their mid-level exception to sign him to a three-year deal.

The Rockets already have much of their rotation locked in:

James Harden and Russell Westbrook will likely play at least 35 minutes a piece, P.J. Tucker will probably play around 32 minutes, and finally Danuel House and Christian Wood will likely play around 30 minutes each. That leaves 78 minutes for a bench that already has Eric Gordon and Ben McLemore. Also, Houston will probably sign another center before the season starts. Now, the Rockets may try to ease the load off of some of their older starters, in which case there might be more time available. However, whatever way you slice it, they really only need one of these wings to crack the rotation for regular season purposes.

It's unlikely all three signings end up backfiring for them, but we'll see. Stranger things have happened.

It's also convenient that all three of these players are 27 years or younger should the Rockets decide to trade Harden at the trade deadline. Like Wood, these signings give Houston the option to pivot in another direction. Because of Houston's lack of room under the apron, they didn't have the option to use their full mid-level or bi-annual exception. Ring-chaser types also weren't going to sign with the Rockets for the minimum given the uncertainty surrounding their stars. This was a nice way for Houston to hedge their bets while also filling out the roster with possible contributors.

The Rockets aren't done making moves yet, but they're close. Understanding the circumstances, it's hard to be too critical of what they did in free agency.

Overall Grade: B

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