Over the years, the Big 12 Tournament has seen its share of jaw-dropping individual performers: Paul Pierce, Marcus Fizer, Kevin Durant, Mike Singletary, and Alec Burks, just to name a few. While we’re excited to see whether Andrew Wiggins steps up for Kansas and joins that list, you may also want to buy stock in Kansas State guard Marcus Foster. The freshman has come on strong lately, pouring in six 20-point games over his last 12 outings. Earlier this week, he joined Michael Beasley as the only freshmen in Kansas State history to be named to an All-Big 12 Team (Foster was selected to this season’s second team). His first test this week should be a fun one, as he will be matched up against DeAndre Kane and the Iowa State Cyclones tomorrow.
The periphery of the NCAA Tournament bubble is not where West Virginia pictured itself at the beginning of the season, but November and December losses have come back to haunt the Mountaineers. Bob Huggins’ team won eight games in non-con play, but it’s the five losses outside of the league (to Virginia Tech, Wisconsin, Missouri, Gonzaga and Purdue) that are wearing heavy for the Mountaineers as they face the latest in a string of must-win games, Thursday’s Big 12 Tournament quarterfinal. At minimum, they need to get to Saturday’s final to warrant legitimate conversation. It’s do-or-die time for the ‘Eers.
Last Saturday, Oklahoma State faced a textbook foul-or-defend scenario at the end of regulation against Iowa State. Cowboys head coach Travis Ford opted not to foul, and he ended up paying the price, as Cyclone Naz Long hit a three-pointer at the end of regulation to force overtime. As postseason play gears up, we may get the chance to find out if Ford learned his lesson. If Oklahoma State gets past Texas Tech tonight, it won’t be difficult to picture a quarterfinal meeting against Kansas coming down to a last-second tactical call. As the eight-seed, Oklahoma State is a wolf in sheep’s clothing, but what will happen when the pressure’s on?
In all sports, including college basketball, the thought process behind Coach Of The Year awards can be a polarizing one. It’s usually reserved as a mea culpa for those who underestimated the winner at the start of the season even though there are times when picking a winner should be much simpler than that. While Rick Barnes and Lon Kruger brought home the hardware (depending on if you look at the Big 12 coaches’ vote or the AP vote), Gary Parrish of CBSSports.com contends that a case can be made rather easily for Bill Self even though everyone knew he had the most talent in the league coming into the season. It’s tough to deny Parrish’s arguments. After all, if winning the conference with the league’s best talent was so easy, why hasn’t Kentucky done it the last two years?
Oklahoma was one of the biggest surprises in the Big 12, finishing in second place behind Kansas with a workmanlike season. With a brief lull between the end of the regular season and the Sooners’ quarterfinal game tomorrow, The Crimson and Cream Machinetook a quick look at Oklahoma’s personnel for next season. The biggest thing that comes to mind is that sophomore Ryan Spangler is going to get some help down low. Lon Kruger is bringing three forwards into the fold, and all of them weigh at least 200 pounds. Cameron Clark and Tyler Neal may be on their way out, but Oklahoma should be even better next year thanks to some incoming reinforcements in the paint.
Yesterday, we went around the Big 12 and named an All-Conference First team and tabbed our Player Of The Year and Coach Of The Year selections. Today, we’ll narrow our focus to the best individual game of the conference season, both by team performance and by individual player performance, but we’ll also take a moment to recognize the league’s most improved player. For a nice cherry on top, we’ll also honor the single enduring play of the 2013-14 season.
Game Of The Year
Iowa State 98, Oklahoma State 97 (3OT), February 3 at Gallagher-Iba Arena
With such little difference in quality between the second-place team and the eighth-best team, we were treated to intense, close games on a regular basis. Big 12 microsite contributor Taylor Erickson (tc_erickson) breaks down why he went with this thriller.
TE: In a year where arguably the most difficult conference in all of college basketball provided a handful of memorable contests, none was more compelling than the triple-overtime thriller that took place in Stillwater, Oklahoma, in early February between Iowa State and Oklahoma State. This one was back-and-forth for most of the night, and looked for a brief moment that it would end in double-overtime with an Oklahoma State victory before a DeAndre Kane rebound and kick-out to Naz Long led to a game-tying three-pointer with 1.4 seconds left. In the third overtime, Marcus Smart missed a fadeaway jumper in the final seconds that could have pushed the Cowboys in front, but instead saw the visiting Cyclones celebrate with a win in Gallagher Iba Area for the first time since 1988. The individual performances were equally as impressive as the game itself with Kane finishing just one assist shy of a triple double with 26 points, ten rebounds, and nine assists. Iowa State’s big three of Kane, Melvin Ejim, and Georges Niang combined to score 65 points in the winning effort. Oklahoma State was lead by the trio of Smart, Markel Brown, and Le’Bryan Nash who also dropped in 65 points. This setback for Travis Ford and company was the third straight loss in a streak that eventually stretched to seven games, and took place five days before the infamous Marcus Smart shoving incident at Texas Tech. And as if this wasn’t all enough, when these two teams hooked up again this past weekend in Ames, Iowa, they left us one hell of an encore that featured another Naz Long three-pointer as time expired to send the game to overtime. This conference has delivered so many awesome performances this season, and you can bet we’re likely to see more of the same later this week at the Big 12 Tournament in Kansas City.
When it was reported late Sunday that Kansascenter Joel Embiid would seek out a second opinion on his ongoing back injury, it appeared that his diagnosis would be worse than what fans were hoping for. There’s an update on his status and it isn’t good. According to a statement released by Bill Self, Embiid will miss the entirety of the Big 12 Tournament this week and is a “longshot” to play in the opening weekend of the NCAA Tournament. The big man’s injury throws a big wrench into the Jayhawks’ postseason aspirations. It will be tough for Kansas to replace Embiid’s presence as a rim protector, and while the hole he leaves is in the frontcourt, the pressure will be on erratic point guard Naadir Tharpe to deliver consecutive strong outings, which is a dicey proposition. In any case, it’s always unfortunate to see an injury create a roadblock for a national title contender (fans of the 2012 North Carolina Tar Heels, 2010 Syracuse Orange and 2000 Cincinnati Bearcats know what I’m talking about), so it will be interesting to see how Kansas gameplans for life without its star center.
Four months ago, you could make the case thatTexas head coach Rick Barnes was coaching for his job this season. Twenty-two wins, a Big 12 COY honor, one probable NCAA Tournament berth and one photo with Justin Bieber later (okay, so maybe that last one isn’t such a big factor), Texas AD Steve Patterson announced that Barnes will return to lead the Longhorns next season. Texas’ turnaround has been one of the biggest stories around college hoops after their preseason projections looked tenuous, and Barnes will remain the longest-tenured head coach in the Big 12.
In the weekly Big 12 coaches’ teleconference, West Virginia head coach Bob Huggins voiced his opinion that his Mountaineers would be in “great shape” to secure an NCAA Tournament bid if they were to win two games in Kansas City this week. To that, I say not so fast. As big as last Saturday’s win over Kansas was, it doesn’t wipe out West Virginia’s batch of non-conference losses and mediocre record in Big 12 play. It’s easy to understand Huggins wanting to defend his team, and two more wins would be very helpful to West Virginia’s resume, but they will likely need some breaks on top of that to get off the bubble.
For college hoops purists, the Big 12′s double round-robin schedule is one of the last vestiges of utilitarian competition in a world of swelling conferences driven by that weird other sport – you know, the one with the “ball” that isn’t even spherical. The opportunity to play each team twice is one that hasn’t been lost on the league’s coaches, and it’s a big reason why they believe the Big 12 has been the toughest conference in the country this season. With the conference catapulting at least five teams and probably more into the NCAA Tournament, it’s tough to make a counterargument. No matter who cracks the bracket from the Big 12, we’ll know that they’ll have been battle-tested and ready for the challenges that await.
As Iowa State gets ready to be at its best at the Sprint Center this week, it was announced that the Cyclones will headline the venue’s November event, the CBE Classic, next season. Fred Hoiberg’s team will join Maryland, Alabama, and Arizona State on November 24-25 alongside the College Basketball Hall Of Fame’s annual inductions. The two-day tournament has hosted some of the country’s best teams, most recently the undefeated Wichita State Shockers, and while it’s tough to think about next season at a time like this, it’s reassuring to know that there will be a highly competitive Feast Week event in Big 12 Country next season.
From the Andrew Wiggins hype (and exchanges of backlash) to the rise, fall and rise again of Oklahoma State and everywhere in between, it’s been a dramatic season in the Big 12. The conference has been and always will be an exciting one to follow, but it’s tough to remember a year with as many storylines as there have been throughout this season. As we get ready for what figures to be an incredibly competitive conference tournament at the Sprint Center in Kansas City, it’s time for the Big 12 microsite writers to remember the good, look back, and hand out some season accolades.
All-Big 12 First Team
For the sake of transparency, we’ve included each of the four Microwriters’ selections below, with asterisks denoting our picks for Big 12 Player Of The Year:
Player Of The Year
Melvin Ejim, DeAndre Kane and Andrew Wiggins are your consensus All-Big 12 First Team members, with other votes going to a variety of players who were fantastic as well. There were legitimate cases for a handful of honorees this season, but in the end, the freshman Wiggins took the honors. Taylor Erickson explains why:
Among a stable of worthy candidates, Andrew Wiggins emerged to take RTC Big 12 POY honors.(AP/Andrew Ferguson)
“Wiggins didn’t put up the type of scoring numbers that others like Melvin Ejim of Iowa State and Juwan Staten of West Virginia did, but he was the best player on the team that won the conference with room to spare. Some will be quick to claim that the freshman from Canada has failed to live up to the expectations bestowed upon him before the season began, but those expectations were unrealistic. Consider the fact that Wiggins failed to score at least 14 points in a conference game just three times, and in some ways, his individual statistics are a victim of Kansas’ depth and ability to score from so many different positions on the floor — whether down low with Joel Embiid and Perry Ellis, or in the backcourt with Wayne Selden and Naadir Tharpe. As good as Wiggins has been on the offensive end, his impact on the defensive end of the floor may be even greater given the significant difference in the number of points per possession Bill Self’s squad surrenders with him in the lineup. You can go ahead and make a case for several other players in this league, and there’s a plethora of good ones, but for me, I’ll take Andrew Wiggins every time.”
The Kansas City Star reported that Kansas center Joel Embiid is in California getting a second opinion on his lingering back problems. Embiid has already missed three games due to back ailments and has been hampered in others, and his status for the Big 12 Tournament and beyond is in significant doubt. It would be a shame for the freshman to miss out on the most important games of his collegiate career, but it looks like Bill Self will have to hope for the best and plan for the worst as the Jayhawks look to get their postseason house in order.
Iowa State forward Melvin Ejim has enjoyed a terrific season to this point, and his efforts were rewarded on Sunday by the league’s coaches, who tabbed him with the Big 12 Player Of The Year honor. Ejim finished the season ranked second in the conference in scoring (18.2 PPG) as well as rebounding (8.6 RPG), and his regular season campaign was highlighted by a 48-point outburst against TCU back on February 8. He’s a very deserving candidate, and there are legitimate cases for several other players as well. The RTC Big 12 Microsite contributors will have more on Ejim, Andrew Wiggins, DeAndre Kane and several other top performers later today.
Whether you roll your eyes at Marcus Smart‘s flopping or embrace it as just one more thing by which to remember the season, there’s no doubt that the Oklahoma State point guard has garnered his share of headlines. When the Cowboys paid a visit to Hilton Coliseum on Saturday, IowaState students mocked Smart in a coordinated effort to try to distract him at the free throw line by dramatically falling into their seats. They had instructions printed out and everything. Cyclone fans have earned a deserving reputation as some of the most hostile and passionate ones in the conference, so while Smart or Travis Ford may not have appreciated their idea of fun, it’s another reminder of how it’s not just the players and coaches that make college basketball worth following.
There are zombies descending on Kansas City. No, The Walking Dead hasn’t suddenly changed locations, but the resurrected versions of Oklahoma State and Baylor are on the prowl and looking to do some damage this week, as detailed by USA Today’s Nicole Auerbach. After miserable starts to conference play, the Cowboys and Bears revived their NCAA Tournament chances with strong finishes to the regular season. Both teams are good bets to lock down bids regardless of what happens at the Sprint Center this week, but losing their first games and putting their fate in the hands of the selection committee would not be advisable for either squad.
It’s been a rough go for Trent Johnson and TCU this season. A laundry list of injuries has hampered Johnson’s rebuilding effort, and despite fielding a promising big man in freshman Karviar Shepherd, the Horned Frogs couldn’t avoid becoming the first Big 12 team in 10 years to go winless in conference play. TCU dropped to 0-18 in league action, ending the regular season with a 30-point shellacking at the hands of Oklahoma. Johnson’s team will look to play spoiler when it faces a Baylor squad looking to cement an NCAA Tournament bid Wednesday night in Kansas City.
Impact transfers (DeAndre Kane, Ryan Spangler, Tarik Black)
Coaches who have done remarkable jobs getting their teams to buy in (Bill Self, RickBarnes, FredHoiberg and LonKruger)
The Big 12 is trending towards history, and we’re not talking about Kansas’ vice grip on the crown. (John Rieger/USA Today Sports)
That’s not to say that the season hasn’t had its low points (Marcus Smart getting popped for three games after shoving a fan; West Virginia shooting itself in the foot with early season losses; TCU’s continued struggle to make any discernible noise), but all in all, it’s been a fantastic year for the Big 12. The most impressive thing about the conference, however, doesn’t have as much to do with the here and now as it does with what could be on Selection Sunday: A league record-tying seven NCAA Tournament bids.
At the beginning of the season, most prognosticators pegged the Big 12 as a five-bid league. Granted, at the time, Oklahoma State and Baylor weren’t believed to be the teams that would need wins at the end of the regular season to earn bids, but that’s how things have shaken out as Kansas State, Texas and Oklahoma have overachieved as the Cowboys and Bears struggled. But with Travis Ford and Scott Drew’s teams now clicking again, the odds of the conference squeezing not five, not six, but seven teams into the NCAA Tournament, are rising. If seven bids come to pass, it would tie a league record set in 2010, but if we’re nitpicking, seven bids in 2014 would be even more impressive than seven bids in 2010, and I’ll explain why.
As the final seconds of Oklahoma State’s upset win over Kansas ticked down Saturday night, fans rushed the floor, and with good reason. The Cowboys had a great second half, overcoming a late 10-point deficit to beat the Big 12 champions. It was the kind of night the Cowboys and their fans drew up back when the season started, with Marcus Smart, Markel Brown and Le’Bryan Nash doing the majority of the damage and Smart taking over when the team needed him to do so. Granted, back at the beginning of the season, a win over Kansas was supposed to be more relevant to the Cowboys’ Big 12 title hopes than their NCAA Tournament status, but it was a huge victory nonetheless, as our very own Eli Linton broke down. It also didn’t reduce the moment when Smart (misguidedly) insinuated after the game that had Kansas won, head coach Bill Self would have cut down the nets in Stillwater.
Will Marcus Smart and Oklahoma State have another win to celebrate tonight? (USA Today)
As huge as Saturday’s win was, Oklahoma State doesn’t have much time to bask in the glow, as Kansas State makes the trip to Gallagher-Iba Arena tonight. The Wildcats are coming off a big win themselves, having put away Iowa State on Saturday to remove any realistic doubt about their postseason prospects. Kansas State won the first meeting against the Cowboys back on January 4, and while slightly less than two months doesn’t seem like that long ago, here’s where both teams were at that point:
Oklahoma State was ranked sixth in the country.
Kansas State had its work cut out, needing to counteract early season losses to Northern Colorado, Charlotte and Georgetown.
The Cowboys were playing their first game without big man Michael Cobbins.
So it’s been a while. Here are three things that Oklahoma State needs to focus on tonight if the Cowboys want to win their fourth straight game and inch ahead of the rest of the NCAA Tournament bubble: Read the rest of this entry »
With three games to go, the Big 12 race is over. Since Kansas clinched at least a share of the crown for the tenth straight year with a win over Oklahoma on Monday, the conversation in the conference has shifted to other things. Those topics chiefly include tournament positioning and what Bill Self thinks of Wichita State, but there’s another fascinating storyline to parse through as the regular season wraps up, and that is the Big 12 Player Of The Year race. There are several legitimate candidates running the gambit from a one-and-done sensation to a fifth-year senior to a guy who hadn’t even started playing basketball when that fifth-year senior began his college career. Our Big 12 microsite writers took some time to run down this season’s top candidates.
Andrew Wiggins (Taylor Erickson)
After All the Criticism, Is Wiggins the Big 12 POY? (Denny Medley/USA TODAY)
While there’s certainly no shortage of worthy Big 12 Player of the Year candidates, I believe the honor should go to Andrew Wiggins of Kansas. While Wiggins hasn’t put up the type of scoring numbers that others like Melvin Ejim of Iowa State and Juwan Staten of West Virginia have, he has been the best player on the team that holds a three game lead in the conference standings with three games to play. Some will be quick to claim that the freshman from Canada has failed to live up the expectations bestowed upon him before the season began, but those expectations were also unrealistic. Consider the fact that Wiggins has failed to score at least 14 points in a conference game just three times, and in some ways, his individual statistics are a victim of Kansas’ depth and ability to score from so many different positions on the floor, whether it be down low with Joel Embiid and Perry Ellis, or in the backcourt with guards like Wayne Selden and Naadir Tharpe. As good as Wiggins has been on the offensive end, his impact on the defensive end of the floor for Kansas may be even greater given the significant difference in the amount of points per possession Bill Self’s squad surrenders with him in the lineup. You can go ahead and make a case for several other players in this league and there’s a plethora of good ones, but for me, I’ll take Andrew Wiggins every time.
Lon Kruger’s Oklahoma team is soundly in the field of 68. In some years, that’s considered enough, but with three games still to play, the Sooners have room to improve their seeding. Oklahoma should be able to fatten up. To wrap up the season, Oklahoma hosts Texas and West Virginia before heading to Fort Worth to play TCU. In other words, Monday’s game at Kansas was the final serious road test for the Sooners before the Big 12 Tournament tips off in two weeks.
CBSSports.com‘s Matt Norlander crunched some numbers to illustrate the amazing continuity and eye-popping stats that Bill Self and Kansas have been able to compile over the Jayhawks’ reign of Big 12 dominance. Perhaps the most amazing factoid that Norlander pulled out is that eight Big East coaches have won their league over the last ten years while only Kansas has held court in the Big 12. Inevitably, someone will pick against the Jayhawks next season, but don’t look at us.
Back on Big 12 Media Day in October, the league’s coaches named Iowa State forward Melvin Ejim to the preseason all-Big 12 First Team. Ejim was coming off a solid year, but since he was only named an honorable mention at the end of the 2012-13 season, it looked curious. Fast forward a few months, though, and not only can one make the argument that he belongs on the All-Big 12 First Team, but his conference player of the year case is strong as well – or so says Fred Hoiberg. Hoiberg is understandably biased, but Ejim’s numbers (18.9 points and 8.4 rebounds per game) on a very good Iowa State team speak for themselves.
Speaking of Iowa State, the Cyclones soundly beat the Mountaineers 83-66 in front of a packed house at Hilton Coliseum. Georges Niang led all scorers with 24 points while Monte Morris dished out 12 assists without committing a single turnover. West Virginia was done in by poor ball-handling and a lack of tenacity on the glass. The Mountaineers have made a decent run in league play to make up for their lackluster showing in non-con play, but it’s looking more and more like they’ll have to do some damage in Kansas City to feel good about their chances for a tournament bid.
In other Big 12 action, Baylor made things interesting on the road at Texas, but ultimately fell to the Longhorns, 74-69 to end the Bears’ four-game winning streak. Aided by five three-pointers from Javan Felix, Texas led by 15 at the end of the first half. The Bears had a chance to surge ahead in the last two minutes, but couldn’t hit shots down the stretch. In the final minute, a driving lay-up from Kenny Chery was rejected by Texas center Cameron Ridley and the Longhorns finished Baylor off from there. Projections on Baylor’s postseason future are mixed, as they currently sport a 6-9 record in league play with three games left. At this point, the Bears probably need to go 2-1 to finish off the regular season. Any less and they’ll likely need to win a game or two in the conference tournament.
Among college basketball’s top teams, this week has been a quiet one. We’ve seen Kansas clinch its 10th straight league title and Florida escape another close call against an inferior team, but otherwise, the slate at the top has been a little dry. The same can’t be said for bubble teams like West Virginia, however, where every game down the stretch is hugely important as the Mountaineers try to inch closer to scoring an NCAA Tournament bid this season. The Mountaineers have dropped three of their last four contests, but in the Big 12, another good opportunity is always just around the corner. Tonight, the Mountaineers head on the road to face Iowa State, a team that is safely in the field of 68, but would like to tighten its chances of locking down a protected seed. Here are the three biggest storylines to keep in mind as you get ready for tonight’s battle in Ames.
Winning at Hilton Coliseum has proven extremely difficult for opponents, but it may be necessary for Juwan Staten and West Virginia as they seek an NCAA Tournament bid. (WVUSports.com)
West Virginia Looks to Sweep: On February 10, the Mountaineers humiliated the Cyclones by 25 points in Iowa State’s worst loss to a conference opponent in three years. The game got chippy at the end when West Virginia guard Eron Harris threw a punch at Iowa State guard Monte Morris and Cyclones forward Dustin Hogue kicked Kevin Noreen in mid-air while trying to secure a rebound. In terms of coverage, the incident obscured the fact that the Mountaineers, one of the Big 12′s worst defensive teams, held Iowa State to 36 percent shooting, locking them down from both inside and out. A sweep of the Cyclones wouldn’t necessarily guarantee a bid for the Mountaineers, but it would be a major step in the right direction. Read the rest of this entry »
The Big 12 may be one of the most competitive conferences in the country, but this week hasn’t been the most glowing endorsement for the league’s case as the best conference in the country. Monday’s game between Baylor and Oklahoma State was supposed to be a battle of teams in the top half of the conference (if we go by preseason expectations), but instead was a fight for ninth place that only went to overtime because of a sequence that was, well, very fitting of a ninth-place battle:
The next day, Texas squared off against Iowa State in a game with major implications for the Longhorns’ Big 12 title chances, but they were able to lead only within the first five minutes. While Texas kept the game interesting with a run early in the second half, the Cyclones pulled away to hold serve at home.
Meanwhile, 925 miles south, Kansas needed another miracle from Andrew Wiggins at the end of regulation to get past a salty but mediocre Texas Tech team in Lubbock:
The only other game this week saw Kansas State quietly beat TCU by 12. The Wildcats’ two best players, Marcus Foster and Thomas Gipson, paired up for 29 points, 14 rebounds and six assists, but they also combined to shoot 34.6 percent from the floor and turned the ball over nine times. As a team, Kansas State had a staggering 18 turnovers at home against the worst power conference team in the country, needing a second half run to get away for good.
In the weekly Big 12 coaches teleconference on Monday, Texas head coach Rick Barnes emphasized his team’s chemistry and his players’ focus on the current mission at hand (rather than looking to the next level) as the reason for the Longhorns’ improved play this season. Coming into Tuesday night’s game at Iowa State, Texas was just one game behind Kansas in the loss column in the Big 12 standings, with Barnes’ preseason hot seat having cooled significantly.
Melvin Ejim Dominated Texas Last Night (Austin American-Statesman)
Iowa State is another team that prides itself on making its pieces fit together well rather than relying on future lottery picks. While opinions of mock drafts are certainly worth your scrutiny, it’s also worth pointing out that the first round of DraftExpress.com‘s latest mock draft doesn’t include a single player from either Texas or Iowa State. But yet, here’s where we are: Both teams are challenging for a top-three finish in the Big 12. Earlier this season, Texas knocked off four ranked teams in a row; and Iowa State trails only Kansas in top-50 RPI wins. With NCAA Tournament bids now down to a matter of formality for both teams, how could we not have been in for an entertaining battle between the Longhorns and Cyclones on Tuesday night?