Rushed Reactions: #13 Iowa State 70, #9 Kansas 66

Posted by Brian Goodman on March 14th, 2015

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In a Big 12 Tournament final for the ages, Iowa State wiped away yet *another* double-figure deficit to beat Kansas, 70-66, becoming the first non-Kansas team to repeat at the event since Oklahoma State in 2004-05.

Three Key Takeaways.

The Cyclones raise another Big 12 Tournament trophy. (Charlie Litchfield/Des Moines Register)

The Cyclones raise another Big 12 Tournament trophy. (Charlie Litchfield/Des Moines Register)

  1. Iowa State takes over in the second half: The Cyclones were flat-out dominant after halftime. After Kansas point guard Frank Mason buried three free throws to put Kansas up 17 early in the second stanza, the Cyclones went on a 32-11 run to take the lead with 7:04 remaining and eventually closed the game out. The absence of Cliff Alexander, the limited mobility of Perry Ellis in his second game back from a knee injury, and the inexperience of Hunter Mickelson and Landen Lucascaught up with the Jayhawks. The anatomy of the Cyclones’ comeback included a complete takeover of the paint by Georges Niang, Abdel Nader and Jameel McKay and numerous stops of Kansas’ guard-led attack. The most jarring angle of Iowa State’s comeback was the fact that they made only one three-pointer in the second half yet were able to erase their biggest deficit of the game in under 10 minutes. The Jayhawks had a chance to tie the game late, but Iowa State easily identified “Chop,” Kansas’ go-to play when they need a late three-pointer, and Dustin Hogue snuffed it out. The Cyclones have been the target of some light criticism for failing to end Kansas’ regular season Big 12 domination over the last several years, but they ultimately got the last laugh.
  2. Kansas’ defensive interior was exposed.  As mentioned, the Cyclones worked over Kansas in the paint without mercy. Iowa State’s movement was fantastic, leading to tons of close looks without the benefit of post touches. Whether it was MonteMorris or Niang bringing the rock down the court, their ball-handlers didn’t encounter any pressure, finishing the game with one of its lowest turnover rates all season (8.8%). Additionally, only one shot attempt was blocked by the Jayhawks. Torching them on the pick-and-roll, the Cyclones had no trouble getting into the lane. Self shook out his entire toolbox onto the Sprint Center floor, throwing a 3-2 zone, a 1-2-2 look and even a lineup featuring two centers in Lucas and Mickelson, but none of those defensive schemes were able to generate the stops necessary for Kansas to pull out the win today.
  3. Wayne Selden played another terrific game. Perhaps the biggest reason Kansas was able to build a significant lead in the first half was the tremendous effort and production from the second-year guard. On Friday, Selden mostly used his strength and aggressiveness to get things done, but tonight it was his jumper. The shots he attempted weren’t always smart, but he poured in a career-high 25 points on an efficient 12 shots (one of them being this tantalizing lob from Frank Mason). A deep tournament run may not ultimately be in the cards for the Jayhawks this month, but Selden’s effectiveness adds a wrinkle to Kansas’ attack and makes it reasonable to entertain the possibility of Kansas playing into the second weekend and, with a few breaks, beyond.

Quotable.

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Rushed Reactions: #13 Iowa State 67, #15 Oklahoma 65

Posted by Brian Goodman on March 13th, 2015

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Iowa State found itself mired in yet another early deficit, only to come back and squeak out a thrilling 67-65 win over Oklahoma to advance to the Big 12 championship game on Saturday.

Three Key Takeaways.

  1. Iowa State survives another thrilling finish: Up two with nine seconds to go, Iowa State suffered a major defensive breakdown that allowed Oklahoma guard Jordan Woodard to feed a cutting Ryan Spangler underneath on the team’s final possession. To the shock of everyone, Spangler’s bunny wouldn’t fall and the Cyclones survived yet another close game in front of a raucous semi-home crowd at the Sprint Center. Spangler will be the goat for missing such a close shot, but terrible outside shooting (25%) and a 22 percent turnover rate also helped do the Sooners in tonight.
  2. Rough night for the Big 12 Player of the Year: Buddy Hield is the most dynamic player in the conference due to his ability to tear into defenses at will and carry the Sooners when needed, but there are times like tonight when he tries to do a little too much. Hield tied a season-high with 20 shot attempts, but converted only six of them. Even with Jameel McKay patrolling the paint, the Cyclones have been vulnerable inside, so it stands to reason that Oklahoma wouldn’t have come up short in this one if it had leaned a bit more on TaShawn Thomas or Spangler more than it did.
  3. Cyclones dig out of a big hole… again: Friday’s victory marked the fourth straight time that Iowa State allowed its opponent to build a significant lead before the Cyclones’ offense woke up and its defense forced just enough stops to get back into the game. Hoiberg and his players have repeatedly expressed the need to avoid those situations to begin with, but they are making a habit of needing big runs to squeak out these wins. Credit is due to Iowa State for having the poise and perseverance to get the job done, but it’s not a sustainable way for a program to do business in March, especially when your head coach and athletic director have significant heart conditions.

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Rushed Reactions: #9 Kansas 62, #16 Baylor 52

Posted by Brian Goodman on March 13th, 2015

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Here are some key takeaways from Kansas’ 62-52 semifinal win over Baylor in another game marked by shaky offense but highlighted by the return of Perry Ellis and a breakout effort from Wayne Selden.

Kansas (USA Today Images)

Kansas Comfortably Moved On to the Championship Game Tonight (USA Today Images)

  1. Perry Ellis showed his rust but found ways to be productive: Sporting a surplus of padding that would make Barry Bonds nod in great approval, Ellis showed some lingering signs of the knee sprain he suffered two weeks ago but he was still effective in contributing 11 points and six rebounds. It wasn’t the most efficient outing for the junior, but by hitting a three-pointer shortly after the opening tip, his return appeared to set the tone for the night. Ellis was confident in his shot, but as Baylor struggled to put points on the board, he could stay in the flow of the offense without taking many risks. In the second half, the Jayhawks maintained a big enough lead to allow head coach Bill Self to be cautious with his all-conference player, sitting him for the last 7:50 of action.
  2. Baylor’s three-point shooting failed them. The Bears have been a very good three-point shooting team all year, helping their offense stay above water in spite of making two-point shots look like a trip to the dentist. It seemed as though Kansas transmitted their three-point struggles to the Bears on Friday night, as they made just one of 10 tries from deep in the first half and finished the game an ugly 4-of-22 from distance. While head coach Scott Drew has had a fantastic year on the sideline, his fanilure to coax a positive adjustment from his team against a vulnerable Kansas frontcourt may have cost the Bears this game and and an appearance in the Big 12 Tournament final for the third time in the last four years.
  3. Wayne Selden broke out with a huge second half. When Wayne Selden arrived in Lawrence a year and a half ago, he was seen by many as a one-and-done type of talent. Between injuries and significant struggles on the court, however, the sophomore has had a tough time consistently producing. Tonight was a different story, as he stepped up with 16 second half points on his way to 20 overall to go along with a team-high eight rebounds against Baylor’s physical front line. The Massachusetts native was active all night, which couldn’t always be said for his career to this point. Effectiveness from Kansas’ backcourt can be difficult to find this year, so if Selden can continue produce, only good things can come of it.

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Kansas’ Three-Point Shooting Woes Continue to Mount

Posted by Brian Goodman on March 13th, 2015

At one of the most important times of the season, Kansas continues to go cold from deep. The Jayhawks pulled out an ugly, foul-plagued, over-officiated win versus an improved TCU team on Thursday, but their prolonged slump from beyond the arc also hit a new level of futility. For the second time in 10 days, the Jayhawks failed to hit a single three-pointer, making Bill Self’s club the only power conference team this season to go without a long ball in two separate games. Kansas’ dip hasn’t been confined to just those two outings, though. Over the Jayhawks’ last five contests, they’ve converted just 8-of-56 attempts for a ice-cold clip of 14 percent. With all due respect to Division I’s low-majors, you’re practically guaranteed to see eight threes find nylon if you flip on one of their games.

A return to normalcy from deep would put Bill Self more at ease.

A return to normalcy from deep would put Bill Self at ease with Selection Sunday two days away. (USA Today)

What’s especially confounding is that Kansas is supposed to be a team stacked with shooters. Even amid its current streak of ineffectiveness, Self has six players who are hitting 35 percent or better on the season from distance. In the press conference following yesterday’s quarterfinal win, the head coach tried to spin another tough shooting day however he could, saying that this kind of a stretch can lead to sharper focus on defense and rebounding. To the Jayhawks’ credit, they defended well against the TCU offense and won the rebounding battle for the first time in three games against the Horned Frogs. Read the rest of this entry »

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Five Key Storylines Entering the Big 12 Tournament

Posted by Brian Goodman on March 11th, 2015

The Big 12 Tournament gets under way tonight at the Sprint Center in Kansas City with #8 Kansas State taking on #9 TCU followed by #7 Texas battling #10 Texas Tech. Five teams appear safely into the NCAA Tournament along with two other hopefuls, but the determination of how many bids the league will ultimately get is just one of several storylines to keep an eye on this week. Here are five others.

  1. Hobbled Kansas – The Jayhawks enter the week with the conference tournament’s top seed, but injuries to Wayne Selden and Perry Ellis (who sat out the team’s regular season finale) mean the team is playing at less than 100 percent. Cliff Alexander‘s NCAA case is also moving slowly and Bill Self is already planning as if he won’t return. Because of the strength of the teams the Jayhawks will be playing in Kansas City, it’s tough to picture Kansas falling to anything worse than a #3 seed in the NCAA Tournament. It’s also fairly certain that no matter what happens there, Kansas will only have to travel three hours to Omaha for the opening weekend. The 11-time Big 12 champions could certainly be in a worse position, but it will be interesting to see how the team adjusts to those personnel issues.

    Will the Cyclones repeat as Big 12 Tournament champs?

    Will the Cyclones repeat as Big 12 Tournament champs?

  2. Iowa State Looks to Protect Its Crown – The Cyclones had a solid season but it had to be at least slightly disappointing to fail to match Kansas in the league standings with a team that finally had a legitimate rim-protector and a strong returning core. All is not lost, though, as Fred Hoiberg’s team has an excellent chance to repeat as Big 12 Tournament champs. With three wins this week, it can become the first team to do so since Kansas pulled the trick in 2011 and the first non-Self team to pull it off since Oklahoma State in 2005. The Iowa State faithful turned out at the Sprint Center in huge numbers last year, so while Oklahoma is probably the second-best team in the Big 12, the ideal atmosphere would be a championship game pitting the Cyclones and Jayhawks. Read the rest of this entry »
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Big 12 Superlatives, Part II: Newcomer, Game & Play of the Year

Posted by Brian Goodman on March 11th, 2015

We continue our coronation of the Big 12’s best performers and performances with the back end of our annual award posts. If you missed Part I, which featured our contributors’ all-conference selections as well as Player Of The Year and Coach Of The Year honors, you can catch up here.

Newcomer of the Year

  • Brian Goodman: Jameel McKay – From the minute he became eligible on December 20, McKay gave Iowa State a defensive presence down low that it hasn’t had since Fred Hoiberg took the reins of the program. McKay currently ranks among the top 50 players nationally in block percentage (9.1%) and, despite not being very skilled offensively, draws a ton of fouls and finishes consistently. In the long-term, Kansas’ Kelly Oubre or Texas’ Myles Turner may have better careers, but neither did so at the level of McKay with the Cyclones.
Jameel McKay gave the Cylones a much-needed presence down low. (Andrea Melendez/The Register)

Jameel McKay gave the Cylones a much-needed presence down low. (Andrea Melendez/The Register)

  • Nate Kotisso: Jameel McKay – I’ve been a fan of McKay’s ever since the stories about him doing insane things in practice were made public. Once he became eligible, I wondered if he could live up to all the hype, but he has proven to be a game-changer in every sense of the word. He gives the Cyclones a dimension they haven’t had in the Fred Hoiberg era — a true big man who runs the floor well, rebounds with reckless abandon, and is a defensive menace with his 7’4″ wingspan. McKay averaged double figures this season but I still feel like there’s plenty of room for growth in his offensive game. I hope he comes back to Ames for another year.
  • Chris Stone: Jameel McKay – McKay has turned out to be yet another successful transfer under Iowa State head coach Fred Holberg. Over 487 minutes of action, McKay posted numbers of 16.8 points, 11.1 rebounds, and 3.7 blocks per 40 minutes. He was also named Defensive Player of the Year by the league’s coaches and was the one of the few bright spots on an otherwise poor Iowa State defense. McKay played well as Hoiberg’s first true rim-protector and helped lead the Cyclones to a #2 seed in the conference tournament.

Game of the Year

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Big 12 Season Superlatives, Part I: First Team, POY & COY

Posted by Brian Goodman on March 9th, 2015

This year’s Big 12 Conference will go down as one of the most memorable seasons in recent memory. Kansas held on to the championship belt despite fielding what most of its fans would admit was not Bill Self’s most talented team. The Jayhawks withstood challenges from a revolving door of contenders who were capable of outstanding performances at their best and mind-numbing displays at their worst. Over the course of the next couple of days, we’ll look back on the league’s best efforts, both on the floor and on the sidelines. Today: our RTC All-Big 12 Team followed by our POY and COY.

All-Big 12 First Team

Untitled

Player of the Year

  • Brian Goodman: Perry Ellis, Kansas – Somewhere along the line it became popular to criticize Perry Ellis for what he wasn’t than to accept him for what he was (I’m not afraid to admit that I was equally guilty of it). Ellis’ pro potential at age 21 is still a big question mark and his lack of any real back-to-the-basket game makes him very different than many of the terrific big men who preceded him in Lawrence, but none of that matters here. Ellis was the best all-around player in the Big 12 this season due to his craftiness inside, his range out to the three-point line (where he shot 37.5 percent in 40 attempts) and his very good rebounding. The junior also had to shoulder a bigger workload due to the inconsistent play of frontcourt teammates Cliff Alexander, Jamari Traylor and Landen Lucas.
Perry Ellis outpaced a slew of worthy candidates to take RTC Big 12 POY honors.

Perry Ellis outpaced a slew of worthy candidates to take RTC Big 12 POY honors. (AP)

  • Nate Kotisso: Buddy Hield, Oklahoma – If you were in a lab and your goal was to come up with the perfect basketball player, you’d have a laundry list of things to consider. He would have to be someone who can shoot the lights out, can get to the rim, will lead by example and become the classic “first to practice, last to leave” guy. Oklahoma’s Buddy Hield has been the most machine-like player in the Big 12 this season. He’s scored in double figures in all but three games on the season, and more often than not, you’ll get a premium effort from the junior wing.
  • Chris Stone: Perry Ellis, Kansas – Ellis is the most important player on the best team in the conference. While Buddy Hield has been a more impressive scorer in conference play, the gap between Hield (22.1 PPG) and Ellis (20.6 PPG) isn’t large when adjusted for efficiency. Ellis also ranks among the Big 12’s top 10 in defensive rebounding and top 20 in block percentage. While Kansas played well against Oklahoma on Saturday, it’s tough to imagine the Jayhawks making any sort of deep run in March without their star big man in the lineup.

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Big 12 M5: 03.06.15 Edition

Posted by Brian Goodman on March 6th, 2015

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  1. Late last night, Yahoo! Sports’ Pat Forde reported that the NCAA is investigating Kansas big man Cliff Alexander for ties to an agent and possible impermissible benefits received by his family. Alexander has sat out Kansas’ last two games in the interests of protecting his eligibility while the NCAA works with Alexander to resolve the matter. Aside from the nature of the possible benefits, the big question is how long Alexander will continue to be sidelined. According to Forde’s sources, the freshman has hired an attorney, a move which, while may be advisable for Alexander, is reportedly slowing the investigative process. As we’ve said ever since news of the investigation first broke last Saturday, Alexander’s availability is important if Kansas is to make a deep postseason run, but while the team would prefer to get a resolution soon, you just never know with the NCAA.
  2. The legend of Baylor big man Rico Gathers continues to grow. Gathers is a focal point in two national stories that have dropped recently. The first is a terrific piece by CBSSports.com‘s Matt Norlander chronicling his experience (along with those of other players) balancing the grueling demands of NCAA competition with the challenges and blessings of fatherhood. The second is an in-depth look by Bleacher Report‘s Jason King that touches on Gathers’ fantastic season to this point, his outstanding athleticism and the attention he’s drawn as a potential NFL prospect. Both are well worth your time. While there has been no shortage of storylines in the Big 12 this season, Gathers’ emergence into the national spotlight has been one of the year’s highlights, with his play crucial in keeping the Bears relevant in the face of significant roster turnover. The odds are that Gathers will be around for another season, but the sooner you appreciate everything he brings to the table both on and off the court, the longer you’ll have to enjoy it.
  3. Ames Tribune beat writer Travis Hines emptied out his Iowa State mailbag, providing some great insight into the state of the Cyclone program as the team gears up for the postseason. While some have been quick to label Iowa State as fraudulent due to their inability to pass Kansas in the Big 12 standings with a roster that had the chance to do it, fans (or rather, fans whose questions Hines took a crack at answering) seem pretty optimistic, with many of their inquiries focusing on the Cyclones’ tournament ceiling, their chances of landing big recruit Cheick Diallo and the makeup of next year’s team. The Iowa State faithful brought a huge contingency to Kansas City for the Big 12 Tournament last season, so with another strong team this March, you can expect a similar level of support next week.
  4. Between widespread transfers and the appeal of the NBA, it’s become increasingly rare for a player to stay at one school for all four years, argues Ryan Aber of The Oklahoman. As such, Senior Day festivities don’t always carry the weight they once did, even in the case of Oklahoma, which has three players — James Fraschilla, D.J. Bennett and TaShawn Thomas — set to play their final home game tomorrow against Kansas. Of the trio, only Fraschilla, a walk-on, played all four years in Norman, as Bennett was a juco transfer and Thomas only came aboard this fall after spending his first three years with Houston. Whatever the case may be, Fraschilla, Bennett and Thomas should be extremely proud of what they’ve accomplished.
  5. While the Big 12 champion has been determined, a whopping seven of the other nine spots are still in question entering the final weekend. If you’re into seeding scenarios, Aber did the grunt work for all of us just prior to Wednesday’s Oklahoma State-TCU game. The Sooners and Cyclones could finish anywhere between second and fourth, Baylor can finish anywhere between second and fifth, West Virginia can finish in either fourth or fifth, Oklahoma State will finish either sixth or seventh, Kansas State can finish anywhere between sixth and eighth, and Texas will end the regular season in either seventh or eighth place. If you’ve watched even a half of Big 12 action, you know that predicting how everything will shake out is a fruitless exercise, so our advice is to just sit back and watch the madness unfold. We’re going to get four more weeks of it anyway.
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Big 12 M5: 03.04.15 Edition

Posted by Brian Goodman on March 4th, 2015

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  1. Tuesday night was the coronation of Kansas as Big 12 champions for the 11th consecutive season as the Jayhawks erased an 18-point deficit to outlast West Virginia in overtime at Allen Fieldhouse. Terrible rebounding and rushed offense due to the Mountaineer press put Kansas in an early hole, and a sprained knee that sidelined Perry Ellis for slightly more than half the game compounded the Jayhawks’ troubles, but as per Big 12 bylaws, the finish was about as thrilling as it could get. Kansas chipped away throughout the second half, with big plays by Frank Mason on offense and Jamari Traylor on both ends ultimately putting them over the top in what Bill Self called his “best win at Allen Fieldhouse.”
  2. While the Jayhawks have the Big 12 title in their trophy case, there’s some cause for concern regarding Ellis’ status. Following Tuesday’s win, Self said that Ellis would be “a longshot” for Saturday’s regular season finale against Oklahoma in Norman, but that a return for next week’s conference tournament in Kansas City seemed reasonable. Ellis has been Kansas’ most valuable player over the last few weeks, and without Cliff Alexander, the team will continue to lean on him as long as he can play. Without much to gain by playing their standout junior on Saturday, it would probably be in Kansas’ best interests to play it slow .
  3. Earlier in the week, Texas kept its NCAA Tournament hopes alive by beating Baylor in Austin. The game was marred by a scuffle that led to seven ejections of players for leaving their team’s benches, but Jeff Haley of Burnt Orange Nation provides a detailed review of how the Longhorns’ ball screen defense put the Bears on their heels. Texas’ perimeter defense had been about as disappointing as its interior defense has been dominant, but for one night, that changed. There’s still work to be done for Rick Barnes‘ team, as the search for a Tournament bid continues Saturday against Kansas State.
  4. Following Texas’ win but before Kansas’ clincher, Iowa State stormed back from a 20-point deficit at Hilton Coliseum to beat Oklahoma. The tide turned early in the second half when Sooner guard Isaiah Cousins picked up a quick technical for taunting, and the free throws that followed ignited a run of 22 unanswered points by Fred Hoiberg‘s squad. Iowa State’s insane home court advantage is one of its biggest assets, but the Cyclones have been a very different team outside of Ames. Their focus will again be tested on the road when they wrap up the regular season at TCU.
  5. The storm of meaningful action rolls on tonight when TCU travels to Oklahoma State to face a Cowboys team in dire need of getting back on track. If the Pokes, losers of four straight, were to drop another game tonight, they would have some serious work to do in Kansas City, though probably not quite as much as Kansas State or Texas faces. There should be no shortage of motivation at Gallagher-Iba Arena tonight, but at the very least, one would think that the Cowboys would want to send seniors Le’Bryan NashMichael Cobbins and Anthony Hickey out with a bang.
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Big 12 M5: 03.02.15 Edition

Posted by Brian Goodman on March 2nd, 2015

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  1. Kansas moved one win closer to clinching an amazing 11th straight conference title with a close win on Saturday over Texas, but questions abound as to the nature of a potential NCAA eligibility case involving freshman forward Cliff Alexander. According to Sports Illustrated, Alexander is represented by Arthur McAfee, a Washington, D.C.-based attorney with significant experience working with the NCAA from both sides of the table. McAfee, Alexander and Kansas head coach Bill Self are pulling for a quick resolution so Alexander can be eligible for the Jayhawks’ remaining games, but as we’ve come to learn from all sorts of NCAA cases, it’s incredibly tough to predict when a resolution will be reached.
  2. Once 3-4 in Big 12 play, Oklahoma finds itself with a decent chance of sharing the Big 12 title with Kansas and a small chance of winning it outright. While there’s no doubt the Sooners are an incredibly good team, they’ve also benefited recently from a few breaks, winning their last three contests by a combined 13 points including Saturday’s seven-point win over TCU. The Sooners will look to stay alive in the hunt for the Big 12 crown tonight when they head on the road to face a scuffling Iowa State squad.
  3. Kansas State‘s sudden surge of strong victories have many asking a question that seemed absolutely insane last week: Do the Wildcats have any chance of making the NCAA Tournament? The Sporting News‘ Mike DeCourcy remains bearish on Bruce Weber’s team due to its incredibly high number of losses (15) for a team with Tournament aspirations, particularly the low-level opponents that felled Kansas State in the non-conference slate. With some back-of-the-napkin math, it looks like Kansas State still needs to win its last game against Texas, which won’t be a walk in the park, and leave Kansas City with at least two wins next week to even get back in the conversation.
  4. It’s danger time for Oklahoma State, which saw its losing streak balloon to five games with an untimely loss to Texas Tech. The Cowboys are back on the bubble with two games remaining, but since this is the Big 12, opportunities still abound. This week they’ll play host to TCU on Senior Day before going on the road to wrap up the regular season against West Virginia. The ceiling has never been very high for this year’s Pokes due to its reliance on standouts Le’Bryan Nash and Phil Forte, but the same team that swept Baylor, won at Texas and bested Kansas at home needs to return soon.
  5. In a touching moment on Saturday, Oklahoma honored the memory of a young fan, Reat Griffin Underwood, who was killed along with his grandfather, William Corporan, in an attack last April just outside of Kansas City. Underwood had dreamed of singing the national anthem at a Sooners’ sporting event growing up, and on Saturday, the university paid tribute to him by playing a video of him doing just that prior to the tip of their game against TCU. Several of Underwood and Corporan’s family members were on the court at the Lloyd Noble Center as the video played. A special tip of the cap goes out to Oklahoma’s event staff for a classy gesture.
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NCAA Eligibility Issue Shelves Kansas’ Cliff Alexander: Impacts

Posted by Brian Goodman on February 28th, 2015

All season long, the play of Kansas forward Cliff Alexander has been a divisive topic among hoopheads. His tempo-based stats paint the picture of a dynamic, impactful big man on a team that has struggled to find a solution on both ends, yet he’s been benched for mental lapses and early foul trouble that indicaes a tough-love approach from Bill Self. Wherever you fall on that spectrum, it’s tough to argue that Alexander’s presence would have been helpful for Kansas in today’s match-up against a big Texas team, but the Jayhawks were dealt a blow when the NCAA reportedly brought a potential eligibility issue to Kansas’ attention, essentially forcing the team to bench the freshman for today’s game against the Longhorns.

The oft-criticized Cliff Alexander played well against Texas last month, but will sit out today's game against the Longhorns. (AP Photo/Michael Thomas)

The oft-criticized Cliff Alexander played well against Texas last month, but will sit out today’s rematch. (AP Photo/Michael Thomas)

In the short term, the Jayhawks are likely to miss Alexander against a team that thrives on its rebounding and shot-blocking ability. While Landen Lucas and Jamari Traylor have received the lion’s share of minutes alongside Perry Ellis, they could be overpowered against Texas’ vaunted front line. It’s certainly worth pointing out that in the first match-up between these teams on January 24, Alexander posted perhaps his best line of the season (15 points, nine rebounds and zero turnovers in 27 minutes) while Traylor scored just two points and grabbed four rebounds in 20 minutes and Lucas didn’t see any action. While it remains a fool’s errand to bet against the Jayhawks in Allen Fieldhouse, Lucas, Traylor and seldom-used Hunter Mickelson will have to step up in order to neutralize Texas’ frontcourt attack.

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Big 12 Weekend Preview: Road Map to the Most Thrilling Finish Possible

Posted by Brian Goodman on February 27th, 2015

For roughly 46 hours between Kansas State’s upset over Kansas on Monday and Iowa State‘s deflating loss to Baylor on Wednesday, the Big 12 race had more intrigue than at any point in the season. But after the Bears took down the Cyclones at Hilton Coliseum thanks to some deadly shooting down the stretch, the standings returned to an all-too-familiar position: the Jayhawks all alone at the top with a logjam behind them. The race isn’t yet over, but Iowa State’s loss definitely removed some of the buzz surrounding the finish. As it stands, Oklahoma, West Virginia and Iowa State — each one game behind Kansas — all need to take care of business and get some unlikely help if any of the three wants to make history. The Sooners still have a game left against the 10-time defending conference champs — their home finale on March 7 — but they will likely have to win their next two games in order for that match-up to mean something. More on that in a minute.

It will take a home loss by Kansas for the Big 12 race to become a race again.

The Big 12 race isn’t over, but it will take a Kansas loss in this building to restore the chaos that has encapsulated the conference all year long.

West Virginia also has a game left against Kansas, but with two of its last three games coming on the road — including next Tuesday’s tilt against the Jayhawks — the Mountaineers are at a big disadvantage. Lastly, not only do the Cyclones not have any remaining games against the Jayhawks, but they’ll also play two of their last three games on the road. Meanwhile, Kansas plays two of its last three games in the cozy confines of Allen Fieldhouse, so the odds of Bill Self’s team winning that 11th straight Big 12 title in outright fashion look favorable.

As great a story as that would be, however, where’s the fun? As a die-hard college hoops fan, I want as much meaningful basketball as possible. Sure, if Kansas puts a bow on it by this time next week, everyone will still be playing for valuable postseason seeding; we’ll still watch; and then the postseason will be here. But throughout its relatively young history, the Big 12 has lacked a climactic final day of action in the truest definition.

I’m talking about one game to decide the conference race and the fate of the Jayhawks’ Big 12 title streak all wrapped up in one tidy package.

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