Big 12 M5: 03.04.16 Edition

Posted by Brian Goodman on March 4th, 2016

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  1. Jamari Traylor isn’t a career 1,500-point scorer and his future at the next level will likely be limited by his age and skill set, but those shortcomings won’t stop Bill Self from referring to him as one of his all-time favorite players. While Traylor’s presence isn’t always felt in terms of production (he has averaged just 2.8 points per game in Big 12 play), he embodies the physical toughness and vocal personality that Self values. Teammate Perry Ellis will be the star of the show during Kansas’ Senior Day festivities, but Self will no doubt be sad to see the Chicago native leaving as well.
  2. The last few weeks haven’t been kind to Oklahoma, as the Sooners have gone just 4-4 with their shooting cooling off and their defense allowing back-breaking runs that keep coaches up at night. So what’s been holding Lon Kruger’s team back? Two possible explanations being discussed are fatigue and lapses in focus. For all their offensive prowess, the Sooners don’t have very much depth and have had to make adjustments to their routine in order to stay fresh. It’s not realistic to expect Oklahoma to suddenly develop a more efficient defense or fashion better reserves out of thin air, so Kruger will have to hope that the sense of urgency that comes with postseason play sparks something that reverts them back to their earlier performance.
  3. While Kansas State is more experienced than many believe, its core of young players has spent all season developing together. That hasn’t translated to all that many wins, though, so head coach Bruce Weber has announced that his team will take an overseas trip to Italy and Switzerland for 11 days this summer. The trip will provide the Wildcats roster with additional practice time in addition to the games, hopefully giving them an early leg up on the Big 12 competition next winter.
  4. The upcoming graduations of Georges Niang, Abdel Nader and Jameel McKay from Iowa State mean that Steve Prohm is going to need frontcourt players who can contribute right away next season. In a piece of news that should help with that transition, the Cyclones secured a commitment from Northern Illinois graduate transfer Darrell Bowie. Bowie, a 6’7″, 220-pound forward, suffered a shoulder injury last March and sat out this season after leaving the Huskies in November, but posted averages of 9.8 points and 5.4 rebounds in 23.5 minutes per game as a junior. Along with returnee Deonte Burton, Bowie should become an immediate factor as the Cyclones start a new era this fall.
  5. West Virginia will follow in TCU’s footsteps with a long-overdue facilities project. Crews will start work on a variety of improvements at WVU Coliseum next week, including widened concourses, increased bathroom fixtures and new concession stands. Renovations more beneficial to the school’s athletes will take place elsewhere on campus, including a 12,000-square-foot strength and conditioning center for non-revenue teams. While not as large in scale as TCU’s improvements to Schollmaier Arena, the Mountaineers are clearly poised to take a step forward in the ever-present arms race that is life in the Big 12.
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Big 12 M5: 03.02.16 Edition

Posted by Brian Goodman on March 2nd, 2016

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  1. Oklahoma withstood a frantic second-half rally from Baylor to survive last night in Norman, keeping its chances of a #1 seed intact. The Sooners jumped out to a commanding 26-3 lead and led by as many as 26 points, but Baylor locked down Oklahoma’s shooters in the second half, enabling the Bears’ offense to make a run. Scott Drew’s team even took a brief lead on an Al Freeman layup, but timely responses from Isaiah Cousins and Buddy Hield helped the Sooners prevent a second straight come-from-behind loss. The takeaway here is that Oklahoma still needs to refine its defense, while Baylor, in spite of the loss, looks like a team that is capable of anything later this month.
  2. The race for the conference title may be over, but there’s another battle brewing as Buddy Hield and Georges Niang work their way up the Big 12’s all-time scoring list. Hield entered last night’s game trailing Niang, but a 23-point effort gave him a current total of 2,099 points, enough to pass Niang (2,089) as well as Kansas great Nick Collison (2,097) for fifth on the list. Next in both players’ sights is former Kansas State guard Jacob Pullen (2,132) with Baylor’s LaceDarius Dunn holding the all-time mark with 2,285 points. That’s certainly a number to keep an eye on if either the Sooners or Cyclones make deep NCAA Tournament runs this month.
  3. It’s been four long days since Texas beat Oklahoma in Austin. After his team was subsequently obliterated by Kansas on Monday, head coach Shaka Smart revealed that Isaiah Taylor has been suffering from increasingly painful plantar fasciitis. The junior is the team’s heart and soul in the locker room as well as on the floor — he leads Texas in both scoring and assists —  so while Texas has good depth at the guard position, it can’t afford for its leader to be at anything less than 100 percent the rest of the way.
  4. After Saturday’s loss at Kansas, Texas Tech looks to begin another winning streak tonight when it travels to West Virginia for a 7:00 ET tip in Morgantown. The matchup pits the league’s top foul-drawing teams against one another, so expect a healthy dosage of free throws all night long. The Red Raiders own the advantage in conversions at 76.1 percent in conference play compared with the Mountaineers’ much shakier clip of 66.2 percent, so that could be the difference. Tubby Smith’s team has been one of the league’s best stories this season, but it would still be a surprise to see it walk into Morgantown and pull the upset.
  5. Baylor received some good news on the recruiting trail yesterday when Alabama commitment Terrance Ferguson reopened his recruitment. The five-star 2016 talent is ESPN.com‘s #4 shooting guard prospect (#13 overall), and not long after the news broke, Jerry Meyer of 247sports.com listed the Bears among teams in the mix for Ferguson’s services. Kansas was also mentioned as a candidate. While both the Bears and Jayhawks should have strong backcourt depth next year with or without Ferguson, the chance to add another high-ceiling prospect is always worth considering.
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Big 12 M5: 02.29.16 Edition

Posted by Brian Goodman on February 29th, 2016

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  1. Kansas clinched at least a share of a remarkable 12th consecutive Big 12 title on Saturday with a 67-58 win over then-streaking Texas TechThe Jayhawks were excellent defensively, holding the Red Raiders to 0.88 points per possession and 31.6 percent shooting, both season lows for Tubby Smith’s team. While Texas Tech contained Perry Ellis to the tune of just eight points, a white-hot Svi Mykhailiuk made them pay for giving him space, as the Ukrainian sophomore went 5-of-5 on three-pointers on his way to 17 points.
  2. With the regular season nearing the finish line, National Coach Of The Year chatter has started to bubble with no shortage of worthy candidates both around the Big 12 and nationally. While the accolade rarely goes to a coach whose team finished as it was predicted at the start of the season, a good case can be made for Bill Self even with the Jayhawks being predicted to win the conference back in October. According to kenpom.com, this year’s Big 12 is tied as the toughest of 390 total conference seasons played over the last 12 years, matching the Big Ten in 2010-11. Kansas is likely going to win the league outright, possibly by multiple games and without a probable first-round pick in the starting lineup. Self’s case isn’t without flaws and the COY award doesn’t mean much in the grand scheme of things (quick, name the last two winners without Googling), but it would be nice to see the collective vote driven by something other than a mea culpa on coaches who outperformed lower expectations.
  3. Regardless of whether or not he’s your COY choice, another candidate in Shaka Smart made his case Saturday afternoon as Texas beat Oklahoma in exhilarating fashion. The Longhorns trailed for much of the game, but used a stupefying 22-0 run over a six-minute stretch in the second half to pull ahead. Texas’ guards bullied their way into the paint and to the free throw line with regularity, with Isaiah Taylor and Kerwin Roach combining for 30 points, 14 of which came from the charity stripe. Oklahoma scored 40 points in the first half, but found itself limited to one shot on most of its possessions thanks to a 78 percent defensive rebounding rate from Texas, so when their shots stopped falling after halftime, the Sooners had no escape. On the plus side for Oklahoma, Buddy Hield notched his ninth 30-point game of the season, making him just the third major-conference player since the 2010 season to accomplish the feat. Unfortunately, Hield didn’t get the support he needed on Saturday as he outscored his teammates 33-30.
  4. Oklahoma’s loss paved the way for West Virginia to take sole possession of second place, which it did Saturday night by beating Oklahoma State 70-56 in Stillwater. The Mountaineers forced 19 Cowboy turnovers, including nine by point guard Tyree Griffin, which is the most by an individual Big 12 player against West Virginia since the press became its trademark at the start of last season. The game was also noteworthy as West Virginia, despite playing on the road and in a style that leads to many defensive fouls committed and very few fouls drawn, made 17 more trips to the free throw line than Oklahoma State did.
  5. Last Friday, Baylor‘s Rico Gathers announced that he would shift gears after the season to focus on his future on the gridiron. Gathers’ interest in football has been no secret, and with a family to support, it makes sense for him to start looking closer at his prospects for life after college, even if they may not involve basketball. While Gathers didn’t close the door to potential NBA opportunities, he’s certainly aware of how and where his physical gifts may best suit him. In the meantime, we encourage everyone to enjoy what’s left of Gathers’ hoops career.
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Big 12 M5: 02.24.16 Edition

Posted by Brian Goodman on February 24th, 2016

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  1. Kansas took another step toward its 12th consecutive Big 12 title last night with a gutty 66-60 win at Baylor. The Jayhawks overcame one of its worst performances on the defensive glass in recent memory thanks to yet another hot shooting night and some big plays from junior Wayne Selden. Kansas’ defense also put the clamps down on Baylor over the last 13:48 of the second half, allowing just 13 points from the Bears over that span. With a two-game lead over West Virginia and just one road game remaining, it would take an unforeseeable disaster for Kansas to even share this year’s Big 12 title.
  2. The Jayhawks also displayed their long range firepower in last night’s victory, burying eight of their 19 attempts from deep. As detailed by fivethirtyeight.com‘s Matt GilesBill Self appears to have at long last shown a willingness to tailor his team’s attack to the strengths of its personnel — in this year’s case, to its three-point marksmanship. Kansas has posted three-point attempt rates above 35 percent in six of its last seven games and is shooting a white-hot 40.5 percent from distance since its late January loss at Iowa State. That accuracy has been one of the key drivers of Kansas’ current eight-game winning streak. The long-distance game only makes things easier for the likes of Perry Ellis and Landen Lucas inside, so a continued embrace of that skill is vital to a deep NCAA Tournament run.
  3. Texas Tech put what could be the final touches on an at-large bid with an 83-79 win over TCU last night in Lubbock. Led by a combined 48 points from Zach Smith and Aaron Ross, the Red Raiders knocked off their fifth straight league opponent, a feat the program hadn’t accomplished since the all-time great 1996 squad pulled it off en route to a Sweet Sixteen appearance. Tech’s final three regular season games are at Kansas, at West Virginia and at home against Kansas State, which means that even if Tubby Smith’s team were to lose out, it would be nearly impossible for its resume to diminish enough to send them back to the bubble.
  4. Kansas State on Monday night fell to 4-11 in Big 12 play after a loss to Texas, leading Sam Mellinger of The Kansas City Star to weigh in on Bruce Weber‘s struggles during his fourth season in Manhattan. Just like at Illinois, Weber has failed to duplicate the success he had with his predecessor’s recruits, and Kansas State’s conference record has dipped every year since it shared the conference title with Kansas in 2013. While missing the NCAA Tournament is a near-certainty for the Wildcats this year, next season could present an opportunity to make some noise. The young trio of Dean Wade, Barry Brown and Kamau Stokes will have a year of experience under its belt, while current veteran teams like Oklahoma, Iowa State and Baylor are set to undergo significant personnel changes over the summer. Expecting Kansas State to contend for the Big 12 crown in 2017 might be a step too far, but a run at a top-half finish should be in the cards if they show improvement.
  5. Oklahoma State, losers of seven of its last eight Big 12 games amid myriad injuries, will look to pull a huge upset tonight when it travels to Norman. The Cowboys nearly did the unthinkable last month in a narrow loss to Oklahoma, but a last-second missed shot by Jeffrey Carroll instead sent Oklahoma State to another of its eight losses to come by five points or fewer. The Pokes are the only team nationally to close out the regular season with four straight games against ranked opponents, but that’s unlikely to garner any sympathy for Travis Ford from a fan base whose patience with him has already worn thin.
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Big 12 M5: 02.22.16 Edition

Posted by Brian Goodman on February 22nd, 2016

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  1. Frank Mason led Kansas with 16 points in the Jayhawks’ 72-63 win over Kansas State on Saturday. The junior used 24 percent of his team’s possessions, which hasn’t always yielded great results. Before Saturday’s victory, Kansas had been just 1-4 when Mason consumed that percentage of possessions. One possible (and simple) explanation for Mason’s improved performance? Rest. He’s rarely left the floor for extended stretches in conference play, but he averaged “just” 29.5 minutes per game in the two previous contests, and he got four days of rest following last Monday’s win over Oklahoma State. A healthy and rested Mason could be huge for the Jayhawks’ postseason hopes, so his usage moving forward will be something to keep an eye on.
  2. Kansas got a big lift before its game even tipped Saturday when Oklahoma knocked off West Virginia in Morgantown to create a three-way tie for second place. The Mountaineers’ defense has not been as effective lately, as six of their last seven opponents have scored at least one point per possession against them. Five of those opponents have also neutralized “Press Virginia” by posting turnover rates under 20 percent, including Oklahoma’s stellar 13 percent mark over the weekend. Bob Huggins‘ team faces another big test tonight when it matches up with Iowa State’s high-powered attack.
  3. Speaking of the Cyclones, their high-wire act continued Saturday night as the outcome of their game against lowly TCU remained in doubt until the eight-minute mark of the second half. While they avoided an embarrassing home loss to the Horned Frogs, the cloud of uncertainty around center Jameel McKay re-emerged, with Steve Prohm (with minimal explanation) holding the reigning Big 12 Defensive Player Of The Year out of action for the third time in five games. Although Deonte Burton stepped up in McKay’s absence with 23 points and 14 rebounds, the lack of a second rim-protector — in addition to general depth challenges — makes the senior one of the Cyclones’ most important pieces.
  4. The Big 12’s (deserving) reputation as the nation’s toughest conference doesn’t leave much room for Cinderella stories, but you can find one in Lubbock this season where Texas Tech is putting a bow on an at-large bid. The league’s coaches picked the Red Raiders to finish dead last in the conference standings in October, but Tubby Smith‘s team has quieted the doubters with seven conference wins including the current four-game winning streak during which they’ve outscored opponents by 0.13 points per possession. To put that number in perspective, Kansas currently leads the conference with a 0.10 PPP advantage in conference play. It’s hard to say enough about the outstanding job the Red Raiders are doing right now.
  5. Just one week after getting blown out by Texas Tech at home, Baylor traveled to Austin and wiped the floor with Texas in a 78-64 win that wasn’t even as close as the score indicates. While the Bears assisted on just 12 of their 36 field goals, they shot 65 percent inside the arc and put together 1.15 points per possession. Baylor now owns the odd distinction of having a better in-conference record on the road (5-2) than it does at home (4-3), but the Bears will look to notch another important home win when they host Kansas on Tuesday night.
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Oklahoma And Kansas Meet With First Place At Stake

Posted by Brian Goodman on February 12th, 2016

Tomorrow’s 2:30 p.m. ET rematch between Oklahoma and Kansas has been on our radar since the conference schedule was released, but the anticipation skyrocketed when the final horn sounded late into the night following the two teams’ first battle on January 4. From there the hype has only increased, as the Sooners and Jayhawks have fought to a draw through 11 conference games. At the end of the regular season, we could end up looking back on tomorrow’s game as the day the Jayhawks’ decade-long grip on the conference finally loosened. Or, we could learn that the road to the Big 12 title still goes through Lawrence, despite Oklahoma’s deadly trio of shooters and National Player Of The Year frontrunner, Buddy Hield.

To answer two key questions facing each team, we brought in Big 12 microsite contributors Brian Goodman (@BSGoodman) and Chris Stone (@cstonehoops).

Perry Ellis and Buddy Hield will face one another for the eighth time in their careers. (Alonzo Adams/AP)

Perry Ellis and Buddy Hield face one another tomorrow for the eighth time in their careers. (Alonzo Adams/AP)

Two Questions Facing The Sooners:

Brian Goodman: Perry Ellis has been on a roll lately, converting 17 of his last 19 shots inside the arc. Last month, he carried Kansas after halftime in the instant classic and will be leaned upon heavily to have another big game tomorrow. Meanwhile, Oklahoma center Khadeem Lattin leads the Big 12 in blocks percentage during conference play, but he had trouble staying on the court in the Sooners’ last two games against Kansas State and Texas. What do you make of Lattin and Oklahoma’s chances of getting the better of Ellis the second time around?

Chris Stone: Ellis has averaged 18.5 points per game in four matchups against the Sooners since his freshman season (he wasn’t much of a factor in the Kansas offense back then), so how Oklahoma defends him will be a crucial factor in this game. In the first meeting, Lattin and Spangler did a good job of turning Ellis into an inefficient scorer. Although he finished with 27 points in the win, it took him 28 shots to get there. Don’t be surprised if we see a similar kind of night from Ellis in Norman. Bill Self is intent on making him the focal point of the offense, but if the game in Lawrence is any guide, Lattin’s length will make it difficult for Ellis to get as many of the easy buckets he’s used to.

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Big 12 M5: 02.10.16 Edition

Posted by Brian Goodman on February 10th, 2016

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  1. Kansas is back in first place in the Big 12 after a 75-65 win over West Virginia that pushed the Jayhawks into a three-way tie with the Mountaineers and Oklahoma in the standings. Perry Ellis led the team with 21 points, but Kansas also found help in the form of a cold shooting night from the Mountaineers. After a pair of uncharacteristically good outings where West Virginia shot a robust 44 percent from long range, regression reared its ugly head to the tune of a frosty 5-of-20 clip last night in Lawrence. Bob Huggins’ team also clearly missed the presence of suspended forward Jonathan Holton, from whose absence Jayhawks’ center Landen Lucas greatly benefited. The junior had a huge game on the glass, pulling down a career-high 16 rebounds while limiting second chances for the nation’s best offensive rebounding team. Up next for Kansas is another highly important game against Oklahoma in Norman on Saturday.
  2. Kansas State‘s journey back to the bubble will continue tonight when the Wildcats host Baylor in Bramlage ColiseumBruce Weber’s team lacks the shooters to extend Baylor’s zone and has struggled mightily with turnovers all season, but the Wildcats have shown they can set up teammates (57.9 percent of their field goals in Big 12 play come on assists) and convert during good possessions. Those skills will be important this evening, particularly if the defensive rebounding expertise of Rico Gathers and Johnathan Motley renders second chances tough to find. On the other side, Baylor needs a quality road win in addition to its early January win at Iowa State to bolster its resume.
  3. The only other Big 12 action tonight pits Iowa State against Texas Tech in Lubbock, where the Cyclones will hope to find their focus. Iowa State will be without suspended center Jameel McKay for the second consecutive game, but his absence may not matter as much since the Red Raiders’ best rim-protector, Norense Odiase, will also sit with a broken foot. The Cyclones are playing on the road for the third time in their last four games, but they’ve reeled off three straight Big 12 victories away from Hilton Coliseum and will be favored to add to that streak this evening.
  4. The emergence of Texas as a legitimate contender over the last few weeks is one of the conference’s biggest stories. Its recent performance caught the attention of Washington Post writer Matthew Giles, who takes a deep look at Texas’ expedited turnaround. We dove into the subject ourselves here on the microsite last week, and Giles echoes many of our sentiments around the Longhorns’ performance. In particular, he notes the tremendous value that Prince Ibeh has provided in the wake of Cameron Ridley‘s broken foot, as well as the contributions of Texas’ revamped guard play. The Longhorns have several tough road games ahead but they’ve been a virtual lock for an at-large bid since the beginning of February, a milestone few prognosticators saw coming upon Smart’s hiring last April.
  5. Oklahoma State‘s season hit a nadir in Fort Worth on Monday night when the Cowboys were embarrassed by TCU to fall into last place in the Big 12. While the Pokes have faced many hurdles in the form of injuries this season, it didn’t seem possible that they could find themselves in such a position. Travis Ford‘s team has plenty of time to climb out of the basement of the league standings, but that’s a pretty low bar to clear for a coach who is likely to find himself on the hot seat in March.
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Big 12 M5: 02.08.16 Edition

Posted by Brian Goodman on February 8th, 2016

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  1. Kansas State shook up the Big 12 with an upset of Oklahoma at Bramlage Coliseum Saturday night. Three-point shooting was the difference as the Wildcats went six of 12 from deep while the Sooners launched themselves into a hole from which they couldn’t recover by making just six of their 24 three-point attempts. Buddy Hield finished with 23 points, but Wesley Iwundu did a really solid job defending him throughout the game, forcing several bad shots by the NPOY frontrunner. The loss drops Oklahoma into a second-place tie in the league, leaving West Virginia all alone at the top. Lon Kruger’s team suddenly has a critical week in front of them, as they’ll host Texas tonight ahead of the sequel to their triple-overtime thriller against Kansas.
  2. The win was huge for the Wildcats, too, as it awakened Kansas State’s hopes for an at-large bid. Bruce Weber‘s team is now 40th in the RPI, although the Wildcats are just 1-9 against the top 25. They are undefeated against teams ranked outside of the top 25, however, and Kansas State’s upcoming schedule gives them a solid shot to bolster the resume. Three of its next five games are at home (against Baylor, Texas and Kansas), while the two road games in that stretch are against a pair of bottom-half teams in Oklahoma State and TCU. If the Wildcats can go 3-2 or better leading into their February 27 trip to Iowa State, those at-large hopes will get very real.
  3. West Virginia had its best offensive performance of conference play against Baylor Saturday night, scoring 1.19 points per possession in an 80-69 win. The Mountaineers’ success was due in large part to a hot night from beyond the arc that saw them make half their tries from long range. Any day is a good day to shoot that kind of percentage, but it was especially helpful on Saturday because West Virginia’s trademark press wasn’t nearly as effective as usual. The Mountaineers generated turnovers on just 14.9 percent of Baylor’s possessions, well off the Mountaineers’ season average of 26.2 percent. Bob Huggins’ team will seek its fifth conference road win of the year tomorrow when it visits Kansas, a team that does a generally solid job holding onto the ball.
  4. Iowa State‘s season hasn’t lacked for drama this year, and that theme continued Friday night when Travis Hines of The Ames Tribune reported that Jameel McKay hadn’t traveled with the team to Saturday’s game against Oklahoma State (which the Cyclones would go on to win). Soon afterward, Iowa State confirmed that McKay had been suspended, and while the player and Steve Prohm gave conflicting messages as to how long the suspension would last, the head coach affirmed after Saturday’s game that the reigning Big 12 Defensive Player of the Year is on the shelf indefinitely. No matter how long the suspension lasts, McKay’s absence leaves a big hole in the Cyclones’ already-thin frontcourt. He isn’t the first player to land in Prohm’s doghouse this season, but he’s one of the team’s most important pieces in its quest to make a run in March. It will be interesting to see if and when he and Prohm can get back on the same page.
  5. Texas took care of business at home against Texas Tech despite Prince Ibeh being saddled with foul trouble for most of the game. They were able to do it with a big game from Javan Felix, who has been a versatile and valuable presence in Shaka Smart‘s first year in Austin. Felix’s ball-handling ability as the off-guard alongside Isaiah Taylor has made him a natural fit in Smart’s offense. The senior has played 75.6 percent of available minutes during conference play, but has turned the ball over on just 9.7 percent of possessions – a big turnaround from last season when he turned the ball over 18.5 percent of the time in conference play despite shouldering a smaller workload in terms of minutes. Felix can still score when called upon (he scored 20 points against Tech on Saturday), but his ability to succeed as both a ball-handler and scorer makes him an important piece of the Longhorns’ attack.
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Big 12 M5: 02.05.16 Edition

Posted by Brian Goodman on February 5th, 2016

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  1. Oddly, just one Big 12 matchup on tomorrow’s five-game slate will pit top-half teams against one another, but it should be an entertaining one as first-place West Virginia plays host to Baylor, an outfit among the league’s three second-place teams. The main area to keep an eye on in this game will be the battle on the glass, especially on the Mountaineers’ end. West Virginia sports the Big 12’s top offensive rebounding percentage in league play (grabbing 38.6 percent of its misses), while Rico Gathers leads a Baylor back line that leads the conference in defensive rebounding percentage (holding opponents to one shot 73.1 percent of the time). Mountaineers forward Jonathan Holton will miss his third game due to suspension, so Devin Williams will likely have to follow up his strong outing against Iowa State with another one on Saturday.
  2. Jawun Evans’ excellent debut season for Oklahoma State was paused Wednesday night when the freshman suffered a shoulder injury during the first half of the Cowboys’ game against Texas Tech. Evans sat the rest of the night out, and as Berry Tramel of The Oklahoman writes, the Pokes can ill afford any kind of extended absence from their current and future floor general. Evans’ backup, sophomore Tyree Griffin, doesn’t look ready to take on full-time point guard duties, but if Evans’ injury turns out to be serious, he’ll have no choice but to try to adjust.
  3. Texas‘ emergence has been one of the league’s hottest topics this week, but they’ve mostly been getting it done against a relatively shaky set of Big 12 foesJeff Haley of Burnt Orange Nation examines the road ahead as tomorrow starts a key stretch where the Longhorns will face some of the best competition the Big 12 has to offer. Put simply, we’re going to learn a lot about the Longhorns very soon. Tomorrow’s opponent, Texas Tech, is a team that’s already beaten them once, and next week comprises road tilts in Norman and Ames. Your move, Shaka.
  4. Kansas State coach Bruce Weber had a tough time bottling up his frustration with the officiating crew during his team’s loss to Kansas Wednesday night. The Wildcats were whistled for 14 fouls in the first half, and there were a handful of calls just before halftime that contributed to the Jayhawks building a 10-point halftime lead. While a few calls could have easily gone Kansas State’s way, that was unlikely to happen with the young Wildcats playing on the road in a crazed Allen Fieldhouse.
  5. Big 12 administrators are currently meeting in Dallas to consider a number of potential moves. Most prominently included in the proposals are expansion and reinstating a conference championship game in football, but an interesting (if comparatively minor) item on the docket is the idea of launching a third-tier sports network akin to those utilized by the Pac-12, Big Ten and SEC. While it would obviously need to be financially viable in order for the league to move forward, we wouldn’t object to any development that would make it easier to catch all the Big 12 hoops action out there.
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Texas: Rising Fast But Not Yet a Big 12 Contender

Posted by Brian Goodman on February 3rd, 2016

Monday night night, Texas rolled into Waco and beat Baylor, 67-59, earning one of those quality road wins that are so critical for NCAA Tournament resumes. For such a low-scoring game, it was an intense and fun matchup. The Bears and Longhorns fought to a draw in points in the paint (22 each) in a game that was highlighted by an entertaining and occasionally chippy battle between Rico Gathers and Prince Ibeh. In the backcourt, Javan Felix and Isaiah Taylor dissected Baylor’s zone with precision to the tune of 14 assists against just two turnovers. While big games from Gathers and Taurean Prince kept the Bears alive until the final minute, a Connor Lammert three with 44 seconds remaining ultimately sealed the win. The victory thrust Texas into a heap of second-place teams in the Big 12, a dogpile that also includes Kansas, Iowa State and Baylor. It also left some to wonder whether the Longhorns may now have a realistic shot to win the conference. It’s not a completely crazy thought, but while Texas under Shaka Smart has taken some important first steps over the last few weeks, a back-loaded league slate will leave the Longhorns with more work to do before they can be taken seriously as Big 12 title contenders.

The Longhorns are on the rise, but don't call them Big 12 contenders just yet.(John Rivera/Icon Sportswire)

The Longhorns are on the rise, but don’t call them Big 12 contenders just yet. (John Rivera/Icon Sportswire)

First, let’s acknowledge all the positives. Perhaps the biggest key to the Longhorns’ season thus far has been their improved ball-handling. Texas currently leads the Big 12 in offensive turnover percentage during league play and ranks 24th nationally, a year after finishing a dreadful 245th. The turnaround in that category is made all the more impressive in that Jonathan Holmes and Myles Turner — the two rotation players that Texas lost from last season — were actually the team’s most reliable ball-handlers in 2015. In other words, the Longhorns have reversed their turnover fortunes this year with largely the same personnel that made turnovers such a huge issue a year ago. Smart preached good decision-making with the ball while at VCU, and the Rams finished with top 30 offensive turnover percentages in four of his six seasons in Richmond. He’s been successful in bringing that same discipline with him to Austin.

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Big 12 M5: 02.01.16 Edition

Posted by Brian Goodman on February 1st, 2016

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  1. Saturday’s headliner between Kansas and Kentucky lived up to its considerable hype, with the Jayhawks eventually outlasting the Wildcats in overtime, 90-84. After the game, CBS Sports’ Matt Norlander called for the two blue-blood programs to meet every year. College basketball took a big step forward when the Champions Classic began in 2011, ensuring a steady stream of high-profile matchups between Kansas, Kentucky, Duke and Michigan State. As memorable as those games have been, however, the neutral atmosphere has sterilized them to a certain degree. Norlander’s suggestion of rotating games between Rupp Arena and Allen Fieldhouse in the seasons when Kentucky and Kansas don’t meet in the Champions Classic is something both schools should explore. Given each program’s tendency to schedule aggressively, such an agreement wouldn’t be nearly as far-fetched as it sounds at first blush.
  2. The story from the game itself was Wayne Selden‘s 33-point explosion, as the junior wing finally looked like the aggressive player who led Kansas (er, Team USA) to a gold medal in the World University Games last summer. After Selden’s hot start to this season regressed, it was nice to see him step up with a huge performance on a big stage. Of course, the issue throughout his career has always been one of consistency rather than talent; with the Jayhawks set to take on a pair of weaker opponents in Kansas State and TCU this week, perhaps Selden can gather some confidence and momentum for the Big 12 home stretch.
  3. The undercard game was a fun matchup, too, with Oklahoma surviving against LSU in Baton Rouge behind yet another 30-point game from All-America guard Buddy Hield. Isaiah Cousins deserves plenty of credit as well for contributing 18 points of his own, including the game-winning jumper with four seconds remaining. While the Tigers are a borderline NCAA Tournament team, the drawing power alone of superstar freshman Ben Simmons allowed plenty of casual fans to tune in and watch the front-runner for National Player of the Year steal the show.
  4. It’s tough to win on the road, but it’s even tougher when two of your three best players are hobbled and the third hasn’t been able to catch a breather. That was the reality for Iowa State on Saturday, as the Cyclones fell to the best Texas A&M team since Billy Gillispie roamed the sidelines and Acie Law IV was burying threes. Jameel McKay put forth a gutsy effort, playing through knee trouble to finish with nine points and 14 rebounds, while Georges Niang — despite 15 points and six rebounds — was limited by a bruised hip and foul trouble. Lastly, the Aggies’ backcourt did a nice job in defending Monte’ Morris, who registered his third 40-minute effort in the last four games. Morris likely won’t get much rest in the Cyclones’ next game either, as Iowa State plays host to the physical, fast-paced pressure of West Virginia on Tuesday.
  5. Texas took another step toward an NCAA Tournament appearance with a decisive 72-58 win over a Vanderbilt team that is among the most disappointing teams in the nation. Prince Ibeh continued to look comfortable in filling in for Cameron Ridley, as he finished with his second straight double-double. Meanwhile, freshmen Kerwin Roach and Eric Davis have really come on as of late. The two paired up to score 28 points off the bench on Saturday and have now averaged a combined 23.3 points per game over the Longhorns’ last three contests. Texas may not have much of a ceiling this season, but it’s not hard to see Roach, Davis and a senior Isaiah Taylor as the Big 12’s most lethal backcourt in 2017. Of course, they’ll need inside help, but that’s a discussion for another day.
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Rushed Reactions: #14 Iowa State 85, #4 Kansas 72

Posted by Brian Goodman on January 26th, 2016

It seems like since the minute Missouri bolted for the SEC, Iowa State has stepped into the role of Kansas’ biggest rival in the conference. The Jayhawks and Cyclones have matched up for some memorable high-stakes battles over the last few seasons, and Monday night was no different. #14 Iowa State laid the wood to #4 Kansas in the second half en route to an 85-72 victory in Ames. Monte’ Morris was equal parts poise and electricity, leading the Cyclones with 20 points, nine assists and zero turnovers. Here are three key takeaways from what was a huge win for Iowa State, and perhaps more importantly in a crowded Big 12 race, the Jayhawks’ third straight loss on the road.

Georges Niang And The Cyclones Delivered An Inspired Second Half Performance Monday Night (Photo: USAT Sports)

Georges Niang And The Cyclones Delivered An Inspired Second Half Performance Monday Night (Photo: USAT Sports)

The Big 12 race opens up for Oklahoma. While one can’t easily pick against Kansas winning the Big 12 until someone else knocks them from its perch, the Jayhawks’ margin for error is thinning by the game. They’re just one game behind Oklahoma, West Virginia and Baylor in the loss column, but they still have trips to Norman and Waco left on the docket. The Sooners continue to be the biggest threat to end The Streak not just because of the strength of their team, but also because they’re 5-2 and have already paid visits to Kansas, Iowa State and Baylor. Meanwhile, Kansas still has to make those trips to Oklahoma and Baylor. The Jayhawks are still one of the best teams in the conference, but unless they get some help in the form of an underdog or two beating Oklahoma, their quest for a 12th straight conference title could hinge on their February 13 trip to the Lloyd Noble Center. Read the rest of this entry »

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