Big 12 M5: Mid-June Edition

Posted by Brian Goodman on June 16th, 2014

morning5_big12

  1. There may not be a bigger question mark at any position for a given team in the Big 12 than the point guard spot at Kansas. After Naadir Tharpe left the program, paving the way for signee Devonte‘ Graham to enroll in Lawrence, the question moved from “who will play at the point?” to “how will the freshman fare?” First-year point guards have rarely led the way for Bill Self’s teams at Kansas, so Rustin Dodd of The Kansas City Star is here to give the lowdown on the winding story of how Graham and Kansas matched up with one another. If Graham doesn’t pick things up in the Jayhawks’ system early, Self will again be left to his backup options of Frank Mason and Conner Frankamp.
  2. A pair of Iowa State Cyclones have had some run-ins with the law recently, earning sophomore guard Matt Thomas and Southern Illinois transfer Abdel Nader indefinite suspensions after each was cited for driving while intoxicated at different points in the offseason. As stupid of a decision as it is to drive while drunk, it would be a surprise if head coach Fred Hoiberg held either player out of game action once the season gears up. Still, both players have opportunities to make big impacts for the Cyclones next season, so it would be in everyone’s best interests for them to remain out of trouble off the court.
  3. Roughly one year ago, Stevie Clark was unofficially anointed the point guard in-waiting of the Oklahoma State Cowboys. However, after encountering a couple of legal incidents himself, Travis Ford dismissed him from the team, leaving an opening for a new floor general. Former LSU point guard Anthony Hickey is set to join the Cowboys and could fill that role as a transfer, but it’s unclear whether he’ll be able to get a waiver to play immediately. He has some makeup questions of his own, but if he is ruled eligible and realizes the opportunity in front of him, he could play a big part in steadying the Cowboys’ ship after a disastrous 2013-14 campaign.
  4. Last week, Kansas State rolled out its finalized non-conference schedule for the 2014-15 season, and while it isn’t a juggernaut, it looks plenty daunting. The Wildcats have two true road games (at Long Beach State and at Tennessee), and Bruce Weber‘s team will head out to Hawai’i for the Maui Invitational. This year’s field will be competitive as usual, with Arizona, San Diego State, Pittsburgh and Purdue among the competitors, but another interesting potential showdown could involve former Big 12 member Missouri. Last season, the Wildcats had to make up for some embarrassing early losses, but with an improved squad, they’ll obviously look for a much better showing this time around as they get ready for what lies ahead later in the season.
  5. In another scheduling tidbit, Baylor learned the team it will face in its Thanksgiving tournament, as the Bears will square off against Memphis in the Las Vegas Invitational at Orleans Arena on November 27 and will face either Illinois or Indiana State the following evening. In the aftermath of the losses of Isaiah Austin, Cory Jefferson and Brady Heslip from last year’s team, the Bears will need to make hay early if they are to make consecutive NCAA Tournaments for the first time in the program’s history.
Share this story

Breaking Down the Top Five Big 12/SEC Challenge Match-ups

Posted by Brian Goodman on June 3rd, 2014

Over the last few years, college basketball has taken some big steps to become more relevant in the national consciousness before non-conference play. The second annual Big 12/SEC Challenge will attempt to drum up some early December interest in basketball before bowl season hits in earnest. The Big 12 won last season’s rendition with seven victories in 10 games and will look to pick up the pieces of its fractured national reputation after a middling March performance. Here’s a quick look at the top five match-ups of next season’s edition.

Cameron Ridley will look to build on an impressive 2013-14 campaign when Texas faces the prohibitive #1 team in the country. (Brendan Maloney/USA Today)

Cameron Ridley will look to build on an impressive 2013-14 campaign when Texas faces the prohibitive #1 team in the country. (Brendan Maloney/USA Today)

  1. Texas at Kentucky (December 5) – Just 12 months ago, Rick Barnes was squarely on the hot seat. Now he finds his team in the Challenge’s marquee game against last year’s national runner-up and what is sure to be the preseason #1 team in the country. Both squads will enter this game with crazy depth, so look for this one to be decided by how each team’s coach handles its pieces at this early juncture. The Longhorns will have a slight leg up on Kentucky in experience with Cameron Ridley, Jonathan Holmes and Prince Ibeh to side with blue-chip prospect Myles Turner,  but much of Kentucky’s frontcourt will be back too after Willie Cauley-Stein, Alex Poythress and Dakari Johnson announced their returns in surprising fashion. The guard battles will be nothing to sneeze at, either, with Javan Felix, Isaiah Taylor and Demarcus Holland going up against the loaded Kentucky backcourt of Aaron Harrison, Andrew Harrison and Tyler Ulis.
  2. Florida at Kansas (December 5) - Andrew Wiggins nearly led the Jayhawks to an improbable comeback in Gainesville last season, but Kansas ultimately fell short in that effort. They’ll have a chance to make it good at Allen Fieldhouse, where despite their overall struggles last season, was a relative safe haven for Bill Self’s team. Wiggins and Joel Embiid are of course now gone, but Kelly Oubre, Cliff Alexander and Sviatoslav Mykhaliuk will step in, and hopefully Bill Self will find a steady point guard who can be relied on to make everything come together. Florida’s Final Four core has moved on as well, so this will be a great chance to see how incumbents Michael Frazier, Kasey Hill, Chris Walker and Dorian Finney-Smith handle a big early test on the road. Read the rest of this entry »
Share this story

Naadir Tharpe Era at Kansas Comes to a Close

Posted by Brian Goodman on May 1st, 2014

Over the last two seasons, the hope for Kansas was that Naadir Tharpe would grow into a steady, reliable point guard after previous seasons had been characterized by up-and-down play from Tyshawn Taylor and Elijah Johnson. While he wasn’t without his positive contributions from time to time, Tharpe in three seasons cemented a legacy of ill-advised shots and other questionable on-court decisions (as well as a big one off the court), all of which came to a head in a 2-of-8, two-turnover dud in Kansas’ Round of 32 loss to Stanford in this season’s NCAA Tournament. Thursday afternoon, ESPN‘s Jeff Goodman tweeted that Tharpe will transfer out of Lawrence rather than return for his senior season, and head coach Bill Self confirmed the report to Kansas City Star beat writer Rustin Dodd later in the day.

Citing a need to be close to his daughter, Naadir Tharpe and The University of Kansas are parting ways.

Citing a need to be close to his daughter, Naadir Tharpe is parting ways with The University of Kansas.

Tharpe arrived at Kansas in 2011 as a four-star recruit from prep powerhouse Brewster Academy. While his playing time, assists and shooting percentages rose in each of his three seasons, he arrived at those numbers through a series of rollercoaster performances, and his erratic play and defensive lapses turned him into a lightning rod among fans and a source of constant frustration for Self. The Kansas head coach shuffled through his other options at the position, including Frank Mason and Conner Frankamp, in the hope that either could jump-start the Jayhawks’ offense, but they didn’t prove to be markedly better.

Read the rest of this entry »

Share this story

Baylor’s Frontcourt Depth Takes a Hit With Loss of Isaiah Austin

Posted by Brian Goodman on April 23rd, 2014

This year’s round of early entry decisions has almost come to a close. On Tuesday afternoon, Julius Randle announced that he was leaving Kentucky, and while we wait for official word from a few of his former teammates, we can officially say goodbye to another accomplished collegiate big man. Last week, Jason King of Bleacher Report reported that Baylor center Isaiah Austin planned to declare himself eligible for this summer’s NBA Draft, and on Tuesday night, Austin confirmed that he would leave Baylor to take the next step in his career.

Austin came to Waco in 2012 as a highly-touted recruit and put forth a solid freshman campaign. While Baylor as a team fell flat and missed the NCAA Tournament despite fielding a talented group, Austin was hardly the problem. He averaged 13.0 points and 8.3 rebounds per game, and while he did most of his damage down low, he also stretched defenses by hitting 33 percent of his three-point attempts.

Read the rest of this entry »

Share this story

Bryce Dejean-Jones Becomes Fred Hoiberg’s Next Reclamation Project

Posted by Brian Goodman on April 14th, 2014

It’s been a pretty good weekend for Iowa State head coach Fred Hoiberg. On Friday, Iowa State announced that it would give him a $600,000 annual raise on his current contract which runs through 2023, and on Sunday afternoon, former UNLV guard Bryce Dejean-Jones announced that he will join the Cyclones. Dejean-Jones is set to graduate from UNLV this summer, which would make him immediately eligible to suit up for Iowa State. Like DeAndre Kane before him, Dejean-Jones arrives in Ames with a history of incidents involving his attitude getting the best of him, so Hoiberg will have another opportunity to mold an embattled player into a key contributor.

Will Bryce Dejean-Jones find the same kind of success DeAndre Kane found at Iowa State?

Will Bryce Dejean-Jones find the same kind of success DeAndre Kane found at Iowa State?

Dejean-Jones led the Runnin’ Rebels in scoring last season (13.6 PPG), but his year ended on a sour note. He was suspended for the final game of UNLV’s regular season against Wyoming for a violation of team rules, and reportedly yelled at teammates following the team’s season-ending loss against San Diego State in the Mountain West Conference Tournament on March 14. We don’t know specifically what that outburst involved, but whatever it contained was enough for UNLV head coach Dave Rice to decide that a parting of ways was the best course of action for both parties.

Read the rest of this entry »

Share this story

Your Way-Too-Early 2014-15 Big 12 Power Rankings

Posted by Brian Goodman on April 9th, 2014

While the Big 12 catapulted a league-record seven teams into the Big Dance this season, the absence of a Final Four team among the ranks marked the latest in a series of missed opportunities for the conference to assert itself in the national conversation. The NCAA Tournament is chaotic by nature, but failing to send a single team to the final weekend eight times in the last 10 years is not the kind of distinction that the league’s administrators and coaches pride themselves on. Still, the Big 12 remains a very good league, and even though the statuses of a few NBA Draft hopefuls remain up in the air, there’s enough continuity remaining for us to ballpark the conference’s pecking order heading into next season. This is far from a predicted order of finish, but in the second week of April, here is how we think things stand.

1. Kansas

Betting against Kansas to win the Big 12 is a fool's errand, but if they want to make noise in March, they need to resolve their point guard issues.

Everyone knows that betting against Kansas to win the Big 12 is a fool’s errand, but if the Jayhawks want to make noise next March, they need to resolve their point guard issues.

  • Departures of Note: Andrew Wiggins, Tarik Black, Joel Embiid (probable)
  • Notable Returnees: Perry Ellis, Wayne Selden, Conner Frankamp, Naadir Tharpe, Brannen Greene, Jamari Traylor, Frank Mason
  • New Additions: Kelly Oubre, Cliff Alexander, Hunter Mickelson (Arkansas transfer)
  • Outlook: The back line should be very solid once again, especially if the Jayhawks can land Myles Turner. That possibility only figured to be an option if Joel Embiid left, and all indications are that the Cameroonian center will announce his departure later today. Perhaps of greater note is that there’s no imminent cure for the Jayhawks’ backcourt problems, though they do have options in Mason and Frankamp.

2. Texas

  • Departures of Note: None
  • Notable Returnees: Cameron Ridley, Jonathan Holmes, Isaiah Taylor, Javan Felix, Conner Lammert, Prince Ibeh
  • New Additions: Jordan Barnett, Obinna Oleka (JuCo transfer)
  • Outlook: The Longhorns figure to return everyone from the cohesive group that got Rick Barnes comfortably off the hot seat and in the direction of conference Coach Of The Year accolades. Texas will be good again next year, but swaying the commitment of in-state standout big man Myles Turner could provide the program the opening it needs to dethrone Kansas.

Read the rest of this entry »

Share this story

Oklahoma State AD Reveals Misgivings About Extending Travis Ford

Posted by Brian Goodman on April 1st, 2014

With a dearth of live games this week, the biggest stories around college basketball from the teams not prepping for a trip to Dallas this weekend have involved the annual rite of spring known as the coaching carousel. “One Shining Moment” won’t air for another six nights, but we’ve already seen switches at the top of several programs including Auburn, Virginia Tech, South Florida, Washington State and a handful of mid-majors, while leadership at other programs like Boston College, Wake Forest and California are in the midst of finding their next coaches. Meanwhile, in Stillwater, Oklahoma State athletic director Mike Holder has resigned himself to the fact that he’s bound to his current head coach Travis Ford because of an extension agreed to in 2009. Things have gone about as poorly as could be since then, and in an article by Berry Tramel posted Saturday for The Oklahoman, Holder was surprisingly candid about the struggles and shortcomings that have become all too pervasive for the Cowboys over the last five years.

Despite another disappointing season from Travis Ford, the Cowboys are bound to him for another five seasons.   (Mark D. Smith/US Presswire)

Despite another disappointing campaign from Travis Ford, the Cowboys are bound to him for another five seasons. (Mark D. Smith/US Presswire)

Oklahoma State fans may want to look away for this next part, even though they’re probably already familiar with what has happened since Holder locked up Ford following the 2009 NCAA Tournament. Despite the intervening gift of two years from Marcus Smart and solid seasons from the complementary core of Markel Brown, Le’Bryan Nash and Phil Forte, Oklahoma State has suffered a pair of NCAA Tournament misses followed by three straight losses in the Big Dance. This season in particular brought further indignities: Smart’s suspension for shoving a fan; a season-ending injury to Michael Cobbins; promising freshman Stevie Clark’s run-ins with the law resulting in dismissal. This season, anything that seemingly could have gone wrong went wrong, whether it was due to bad luck or other reasons, but a quick turnaround doesn’t appear to be in the cards.

“We certainly expected a better season than what we had. There are multiple reasons people are frustrated. I don’t think anyone foresaw it playing out like it did.”

Read the rest of this entry »

Share this story

Reflecting on the Andrew Wiggins Era at Kansas

Posted by Brian Goodman on March 31st, 2014

There was never a shred of doubt that this would be Andrew Wiggins‘ only season at Kansas, but with his time in Lawrence officially coming to a close at today’s news conference, we can now safely look back at the mark he left in Lawrence over the last five months. To start off, it’s necessary to frame Wiggins’ season in the context of proper expectations coming into the season. Wiggins was never going to be a Durant-like scoring superstar that many thought he could be when he committed to the Jayhawks last May. Bill Self’s philosophy of sharing the ball and using a balanced offensive attack doesn’t allow a single player to contribute eye-popping stats, no matter how good he might be. There’s a reasonable discussion to be had over whether Self should have done more to take advantage of a unique individual asset like that of Wiggins, but that’s a separate conversation. As much fun as it would have been to see Wiggins running repeated isolations and pick-and-rolls, anyone who has followed Kansas during the Self era knows that that’s just not how the head coach does things. He wasn’t going to make significant changes to a system that has led him to 10 consecutive Big 12 titles, a national championship, and future Hall of Fame status.

Andrew Wiggins handled the spotlight well in his first and only season at Kansas, despite an early tournament exit. (Nick Krug/KUSports.com)

Andrew Wiggins handled the spotlight well in his first and only season at Kansas, despite an early NCAA Tournament exit. (Nick Krug/KUSports.com)

What we did see, though, was a very successful season for a freshman in a program that has had mixed results with one-and-done talents. Wiggins was the leading scorer at 17.1 points per game for a team that won its conference (again) and he gave us quite a few eye-popping reasons why scouts have been drooling over his potential for years. Like most freshmen, he needed some time to get used to his role within the offense, ultimately settling in despite some unfair criticism as the young team navigated a brutal non-conference schedule. Once he became more comfortable, he became a more consistent player, one that allowed him to make the all-Big 12 first team at season’s end. Whether he was finishing lobs in traffic, coming from out of nowhere to get an offensive rebound and putback, willing his team back from impossible deficits, or putting the brakes on the opposition’s top scorer as Kansas’ best defender, he did nothing to dissuade us from the idea that he is a top-tier talent with a legitimate chance to become the top overall NBA Draft pick in June. That Wiggins was able to accomplish so much for a team that was highly unstable at the point guard position only raises the impression he left with us over the course of a single collegiate season.

Read the rest of this entry »

Share this story

No Matter What Happens Tonight, Scott Drew Deserves a Fair Shake

Posted by Brian Goodman on March 27th, 2014

Ever since Baylor blew the doors off of Creighton on Sunday, the public tide has started to turn in Scott Drew’s favor. He hasn’t shaken all of the criticisms — that he’s underachieved with top-flight talent in previous seasons and that he’s toed a fine line with his recruiting strategies (as if other programs don’t)  – but with every postseason win he continued to chalk up, the noise has definitely quieted. On Wednesday night alone, CBSSports.com‘s Dennis Dodd and Yahoo!‘s Jeff Eisenberg posted columns detailing why the doubters have it all wrong about Drew. While Dodd and Eisenberg aren’t the first to defend the Baylor head coach, their points remain that regardless of what you think about his tactics, the results he’s produced deserve acclaim among some of the best coaching jobs in the country — no matter what happens tonight against Wisconsin.

No matter what happens tonight, it's time to evaluate Scott Drew with fairness. (AP)

You don’t have to like Scott Drew, but it’s past time to evaluate his tenure at Baylor with fairness. (AP)

The Bears are one win away from a chance to play in the Final Four for the third time in five seasons, so if they beat the Badgers this evening, they’ll have cracked the Elite Eight with three very different teams. While one of the prevalent knocks on Drew is that last season’s group — which had a similar look and feel to this year’s team in terms of roster construction — failed to make the NCAA Tournament, it’s also true that three of his best players this season were guys who were passed over by bigger programs. In other words, if you’re going to penalize Drew for missing out on a Dance card with Isaiah Austin, Cory Jefferson and a senior Pierre Jackson, that’s fine; but if you’re going to do that, it’s only fair to also credit him for getting the most out of Kenny Chery and Royce O’Neale and parlaying that player development into postseason success. Going back even further, he’s offset the lukewarm contributions of hyped recruits Perry Jones and Quincy Miller by getting great value from low-level prospects like Jackson, Quincy Acy and Ekpe Udoh, all three of whom are now playing professionally.

Even if Drew loses tonight, he’ll still find himself among rarefied air in the coaching community. Only six other programs have made the Sweet Sixteen three times in the last five years: Arizona, Florida, Kentucky, Louisville, Michigan State and Wisconsin. Not Kansas, not Duke, not Syracuse, not Connecticut. Not bad for a guy who arrived in Waco 11 years ago with the unenviable task of rebuilding a D-I program from essentially scratch. No matter what the narrative says you should think about him, stop thinking it. The guy can coach.

Share this story

Assessing Three Key Big 12 Matchups in the Sweet Sixteen

Posted by Brian Goodman on March 26th, 2014

The Big 12 has had a rough go of things in this season’s NCAA Tournament, but the conference is very much alive with two teams still playing. To briefly recap how we got here, Kansas returned to campus earlier than expected, Oklahoma State failed to carry its improved play into the Tournament, and Oklahoma fell victim to a #12 seed darling in North Dakota State. It’s safe to say that those teams underperformed relative to expectations both at the beginning of the season and after Selection Sunday, but the damage doesn’t end there. Kansas State was also bounced by Kentucky in the second round and Texas fell to Michigan in the round of 32 after needing a buzzer-beating putback to get past a mediocre Arizona State squad. While some attrition is to be expected whenever a large percentage of a conference makes the field, it was reasonable to believe that more than two teams from the Big 12 would emerge from the frenzied opening weekend. Still, what we’re left with are two proud programs in Baylor and Iowa State that have been playing well for about six weeks now. As the Cyclones and Bears get ready for their next tests against UConn and Wisconsin, respectively, here are the three key match-ups worth your attention.

After a performance for the ages in the Round of 32, DeAndre Kane will need to be at his best against UConn. (USA Today)

After a performance for the ages in the Round of 32, DeAndre Kane will need to be at his best yet again against UConn. (USA Today)

  1. DeAndre Kane vs. Shabazz Napier - The country’s two best do-everything guards lock horns in Madison Square Garden Friday night with a spot in the Elite Eight on the line — what could be better? After stepping up in a huge way with 24 points, 10 rebounds and seven assists against North Carolina Sunday, Kane will likely need another large performance to offset the loss of Georges Niang if the Cyclones are to make their first Elite Eight since 2000. On the other side, Napier was fantastic against Villanova, shaking off foul trouble and a tweaked leg on his way to 25 points on 9-of-13 shooting. The MSG crowd will certainly be pro-UConn, and Napier will have a chip on his shoulder after the Cyclones ended the Huskies’ NCAA Tournament defense a couple of years ago. While Kane and Napier may not be matched up against each other when they step onto the court, it stands to reason that whichever team gets the best performance from its stud guard will play for a chance to cut down the nets in New York. Read the rest of this entry »
Share this story

NCAA Tournament Instareaction: Big 12 Teams

Posted by Brian Goodman & Taylor Erickson on March 16th, 2014

Sunday night, the Big 12 realized the rewards of an outstanding 2013-14 season. Back in November, the league was expected to top out at five NCAA bids, but a league record-tying seven schools heard their names called on Selection Sunday. The conference’s selection of NCAA Tournament participants run the gamut from national title contender (Kansas, if the Jayhawks live long enough to see the return of Joel Embiid) to trendy second weekend picks like Iowa State, Baylor and Oklahoma State, to a trio that not only outperformed preseason expectations but cemented their standings without needing extra wins over this weekend to do so (Texas, Kansas State and Oklahoma). The league may not have a team that you can feel great about locking in for an appearance in Dallas in early April, but you can say the same thing for most power conferences around the country.

Can the Jayhawks get past New Mexico in the second round if they'll need to do so without Joel Embiid? (USA Today)

The Jayhawks have national title aspirations, but can they get past a potential match-up against New Mexico without Joel Embiid? (USA Today)

Kansas (Brian Goodman)

  • Seed: #2 South
  • Quick First Round Preview: Kansas will square off against the 15-seed Eastern Kentucky Colonels, winners of the Ohio Valley Conference Tournament. The Jayhawks shouldn’t have much trouble handling them — even without Joel Embiid in the lineup — but Jeff Neubauer’s senior-laden team operates with the nation’s fourth-best effective field-goal percentage (57 percent) and turns opponents over at a rate of 24.2 percent.
  • Intriguing Potential Future Matchup: A second-round match-up against New Mexico will await the Jayhawks provided both teams take care of business. Bill Self‘s team beat Craig Neal’s in Kansas City just three months ago, but New Mexico forward Cameron Bairstow didn’t have much trouble against Kansas’ front line even with Embiid, as he led the Lobos with 24 points in the losing effort.
  • Final Word: The Jayhawks reap the rewards of their historically intense non-conference schedule and relative walk to their 10th straight Big 12 regular season title with favorable placement in St. Louis, just a five-hour drive from Lawrence. Traveling Jayhawks fans will be in for a treat, as they can catch Wichita State, Kentucky and fellow Big 12 member Kansas State all under one roof.

Iowa State (Kory Carpenter)

Read the rest of this entry »

Share this story

Rushed Reactions: #16 Iowa State 74, Baylor 65

Posted by Brian Goodman on March 15th, 2014

rushedreactions

Brian Goodman is an RTC correspondent. He filed this report after Saturday night’s Big 12 Tournament final between Iowa State and Baylor.

Three Key Takeaways.

The Mayor Brings a Championship Home to Ames (AP)

The Mayor Brings a Championship Home to Ames (AP)

  1. Iowa State perseveres before finally getting over the hump. After Iowa State’s dominant shooting performance against Kansas, the Cyclones found scoring to be much more of a struggle in the first half against Baylor’s zone defense. Things couldn’t have started much worse for Fred Hoiberg’s squad, as they fell behind 11-1 to start the game and didn’t hit its first shot from the floor until more than seven minutes had passed in the first half. Iowa State’s Big Three of Melvin Ejim, DeAndre Kane and Georges Niang were stifled into a miserable 3-of-17 performance before intermission, and the team as a whole shot just 32 percent from the field in the first half. Baylor’s zone moved very nicely, doing an excellent job of denying the lane and closing out on the perimeter at the same time to keep the Cyclones at bay, even though the Bears weren’t doing so hot on offense themselves. Baylor extended its five-point halftime lead to eight midway through the second half, but the Cyclones slowly chipped away. Although Baylor quieted an Iowa State-dominant crowd for most of the second half by answering with buckets of their own, the Cyclones finally broke through with consecutive three-pointers by Naz Long and Ejim and sealed the win from there.
  2. Big second half propels Iowa State to the Big 12 Tournament crown. All told, the Cyclones were fortunate to only be down by five points at halftime. They shot poorly and had a hard time cleaning up their misses, but fortunately for them, Baylor didn’t fare much better, shooting just 34.5 percent from the floor in the first half themselves. The Cyclones simplified their attack in the second half, mostly relying on close looks and mid-range jump shots to keep the game close before going over the top with the aforementioned pair of three-pointers. A 69.6 percent shooting clip in the second half powered Iowa State past Baylor in the home stretch. Read the rest of this entry »
Share this story