Texas has won back-to-back games against Big 12 teams ranked in the AP Top-25, with victories over Iowa State and Kansas State. But while both teams have had excellent seasons, both struggled to contain a mismatch down low, a likely result of the fact that both teams employ a 6-foot-7 center against Texas tower Cameron Ridley. Though never known for his polish, Ridley averaged 17 points, 8.5 rebounds and four blocks per game over those two contests.
That led me to one question: In a league that appears to have gone smaller down low, what's the value of being big?
I went into this project with one goal: find out how much it pays to be big (and good) in the Big 12 conference. And as you'll see below, two of the league's biggest centers in Ridley and Kansas's Joel Embiid, are among its two best.
First, let's look at size.
1) Joel Embiid, Kansas — 7-foot-0
3) Cameron Ridley, Texas — 6-10*
9) Georges Niang, Iowa State — 6-7
9) Thomas Gipson, Kansas State — 6-7
* Ridley is listed at Texas at 6-9, but the Longhorns are one of only a few programs in the country that lists heights when the players are standing in bare feet. All, or almost all, of the heights above are with players wearing shoes, and Ridley measured 6-10 in shoes at the McDonalds All-American Game as a high school senior.
1) Ridley, Texas — 285 pounds
2) Gipson, Kansas State — 265
3) Williams, West Virginia — 255
4) Embiid, Kansas — 250
5) Niang, Iowa State — 240
6) Kravic, Texas Tech — 235
7) Spangler, Oklahoma — 232
8) Shepherd, TCU — 225
9) Jefferson, Baylor — 220
9) Murphy, Oklahoma State — 220
1) Embiid, Kansas — 7-foot-5 wingspan
2) Ridley, Texas — 7-4
3) Gipson, Kansas State — 7-2
4) Jefferson, Baylor — 7-0
4) Kravic, Texas Tech — 7-0
6) Shepherd, TCU — 6-11
6) Williams, West Virginia — 6-11
8) Niang, Iowa State — 6-8.5
N/A — Spangler, Oklahoma; Murphy, Oklahoma State
* Wingspan is by far the hardest thing to find of the height/weight/length measurements. Most teams don't list it. Most of these measurements come from their DraftExpress.com profiles, with some of those measurements occurring at high school all-star games. Others, I had to be more creative, finding coach interviews. With Spangler and Murphy, there were references to their wingspans being "around 7-feet", but without an exact measurement, I just listed them as not available.
Now we've seen how the centers in the Big 12 match up from a height/weight/length standpoint. But anybody can be big and tall. How well have they used that size? To determine that, we'll look at three categories that make up three different parts of the game. To look at offense, we'll look at KenPom's Offensive Rating, a catch-all rating of a player's offensive efficiency. I've also looked at rebounding rates to see how well they've done on the glass, and block rate to determine how well they do at protecting the rim on defense.
1) Spangler, Oklahoma — 129.6*
2) Embiid, Kansas — 115.3
3) Jefferson, Baylor — 115.2
4) Murphy, Oklahoma State — 113.9*
5) Ridley, Texas — 111.8
6) Niang, Iowa State — 109.5
7) Kravic, Texas Tech — 108.2
8) Gipson, Kansas State — 107.9
9) Shepherd, TCU — 103.4
10) Williams, West Virginia — 94.4
* All of the players with * by their names are using less than 20 percent of their team's possessions, meaning the fall below the "Significant Contributors" tag, per KenPom. What that means is that they don't shoulder the level of offensive burden that the other players on the list do. Spangler (16.6 percent of possessions used) and Shepherd (16.1) fall into the "Role Players" category, while Murphy (14.8) is a "Limited Role" player.
Combined Rebounding Rates*
1) Embiid, Kansas — 36.8
2) Spangler, Oklahoma — 36.0
3) Williams, West Virginia —34.1
4) Jefferson, Baylor — 33.8
5) Ridley, Texas — 31.3
6) Kravic, Texas Tech — 27.4
7) Gipson, Kansas State — 27.1
8) Shepherd, TCU — 26.4
9) Murphy, Oklahoma State — 25.3
10) Niang, Iowa State — 14.7
* This combines both the offensive and defensive rebounding rates from KenPom into one rate. So if you grab 9.0 percent of the available offensive rebounds and 18.0 percent of the available defensive rebounds, your combined rate would be 27.0
1) Embiid, Kansas — 12.7 percent
2) Ridley, Texas — 10.6
3) Kravic, Texas Tech — 7.6
4) Shepherd, TCU — 6.7
5) Murphy, Oklahoma State — 6.3
6) Jefferson, Baylor — 5.3
7) Spangler, Oklahoma — 4.0
8) Gipson, Kansas State — 2.3
9) Niang, Iowa State — 1.6
10) Williams, West Virginia — 1.1
As you can see, Ridley's height, size and length would appear to give him (and Kansas's Embiid, for that matter) a significant advantage. Among players who use at least 20 percent of their team's offensive possessions, Ridley was third in the league in offensive rating. He was fifth in the league in rebounding rate, and Ridley is second only to Embiid in block rate. Embiid is the only other Big 12 center who appears in the top five of each category.
The Big 12 has gone small this year. After the Cowboys lost Michael Cobbins, Oklahoma State has spent time with LeBryan Nash (6-7 235) as its de facto center while Texas Tech's most frequently used lineup over the past five games includes Jordan Tolbert (6-7 225) at the five. It trickles down as well, with Melvin Ejim (6-6 220), Marcus Smart (6-4 225), Jaye Crockett (6-7 230) and Cameron Clark (6-7 211) all spending at least some time playing the four.
In short, it pays to be big in the Big 12 this year. And in Cam Ridley, Texas has a player well-equipped to take advantage of those size discrepancies.