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.

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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.

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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 »
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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)

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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 »
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Three Thoughts on Baylor’s Blowout Win Over Texas

Posted by Brian Goodman on March 14th, 2014

The match-up for the Big 12 Tournament final was set in Friday’s nightcap, which saw Baylor dismantle Texas 86-69 in Kansas City. The Bears continued their strong play of late after their midseason struggles, and as a result, they’ll attempt to become the first team to take the Big 12 Tournament crown by winning four straight games. Oddly enough, Baylor was the last team to attempt to pull off that feat in 2009, but the Bears fell to Missouri.

Baylor Outraced Texas on This Night

Baylor Outraced Texas on This Night

  1. Baylor continues to add strength to its resume. In early February, Baylor’s resume was falling apart. Wins over Kentucky and Colorado were neutralized by losses to Texas Tech and West Virginia, and a cloud of panic and disappointment started to settle above Waco when the Bears lost eight of their first 10 conference games. Now, though, Baylor has reeled off 10 wins in its last 11 games to silence the skeptics (of which there are certainly many). Not only is Baylor firmly off the bubble, but the team’s stock is rising rather quick. It isn’t difficult to picture enough things breaking for them to enter NCAA Tournament play as a #5 seed, provided they take care of business against Iowa State in the final. So what’s been the difference?
  2. The Bears’ offense is clicking. On Friday night, the Bears’ offense registered 1.37 points per possession, its highest mark since a 1.42 PPP showing at West Virginia on February 22. All told, Baylor’s offense has tallied at least 1.04 points per possession in each of its last 12 outings, while their defense has been steady if unspectacular. Cory Jefferson has come on especially strong and was fantastic tonight, notching a double-double with 20 points and 13 rebounds against Texas’ strong interior defense. Combine Jefferson with Isaiah Austin, one of the country’s top three-point shooters in Brady Heslip, and a highly capable supporting cast, and the result is a combination that is good enough to beat any team in the country. Read the rest of this entry »
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Three Thoughts on Iowa State’s Win Over Kansas

Posted by Brian Goodman on March 14th, 2014

The Big 12 Tournament’s first semifinal saw Iowa State turn Kansas away after two unsuccessful tries earlier this season. For all the talk of the Big East Tournament having a different look than years’ past, the Jayhawks’ loss ensured a Big 12 Tournament final that won’t feature either of Kansas or Missouri for the first time since 2005. For the fifth straight time against tournament-level competition, Kansas looked especially vulnerable, and tonight, the Cyclones were able to take advantage with yet another strong showing from their Big Three.

Georges Niang Feasted on the Kansas Interior Tonight (AP)

Georges Niang Feasted on the Kansas Interior Tonight (AP)

  1. Iowa State throws a paint party with Embiid out. In Kansas’ first two games against Iowa State (both wins), Joel Embiid was a complete menace, averaging 15 points and 10 rebounds per game, so it wasn’t hard to see Georges Niang‘s eyes light up as he went to work on inferior defenders like Perry Ellis and Jamari Traylor. The Cyclones scored 38 points in the paint, and a ton of credit is due to Iowa State’s versatile bigs who make defending them a nightmare for the vast majority of opponents. Niang emptied the toolbox on Kansas’ historically passive defense on his way to a team-high 25 points. I would be remiss if I didn’t mention Niang’s eight turnovers, but very few of them were careless.
  2. Andrew Wiggins’ shot goes flat while Perry Ellis has a career game. Andrew Wiggins played all 45 minutes of Kansas’ overtime win over Oklahoma State on Thursday night, and on Friday, his fatigue showed as he struggled to get any kind of momentum going until it was too late. Wiggins missed his first six shots, many of them close to the rim, and finished his night 7-of-21 from the floor. The star freshman flashed a couple explosive moves near the end of the game, but he wasn’t his usual effective self. He finished with 22 points, but he did so on a very inefficient 21 shots. While Wiggins may not be forced to shoulder such big a load should Embiid return, he may not get a chance if he’s so ineffective again. Meanwhile, while the loss was bad enough, it would have been much worse if Perry Ellis didn’t have perhaps the best half of his career. The Wichita native scored 19 first half points on his way to 30 total, with many of those coming in the space of a torrid 23-5 run midway through the first half.
  3. Cyclone bench runs thin: If there was anything to be concerned about regarding Iowa State’s attack tonight, it was their thin bench when it comes to the offensive end. Iowa State’s reserves scored just seven of their 94 total points, and while that was good enough to do the job against a familiar opponent, it’s fair to question what might happen if one of the Cyclones’ big three of NiangMelvin Ejim and DeAndre Kane has an off night, runs into foul trouble, or is matched up against tougher interior defenses. While this isn’t anything new for Fred Hoiberg’s team, it will be something to keep an eye on as we move deeper into March.
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Big 12 M5: 03.14.14 Edition

Posted by Brian Goodman on March 14th, 2014

morning5_big12

  1. Kansas State went one-and-done in the Big 12 Tournament, but they’re still headed for the Big Dance in what was supposed to be a down year. As much as yesterday’s loss to Iowa State hurts, that’s a pretty good situation to be in as a program, writes Sam Mellinger of The Kansas City Star. On Sunday, the Wildcats will crack the field for the fifth consecutive season, establishing a new program record for sustained success. Cynics may point to the fact that only two of those five bids belong to Bruce Weber, but to focus on that would be to lose sight of the mediocrity in which the program toiled until the last seven or eight seasons. Don’t hang your heads, Wildcats fans.
  2. ESPN‘s Myron Medcalf writes that everyone who keeps harping on Andrew Wiggins to show some emotion might be better served just calming down and appreciating the star freshman for what he is. It’s tough to disagree. There are plenty of guys playing this week and next who will gladly pop their collar after hitting a big shot, stare down their opponent or give a primal “AND-ONE” scream when driving to the bucket, but there aren’t many guys who will put up 71 points on 35 shots in the space of two games with his team’s game-changing center glued to the bench with a bad back. There are no more than eight chances left to see Wiggins do his thing at this level, so my advice is to sit back and enjoy it.
  3. Oklahoma was also sent home packing Thursday when the Sooners fell 78-73 to Baylor. Oklahoma simply dug themselves too big hole, falling behind by as many as 21 points. They would go on to mount a comeback, but came no closer than four points from tying the Bears in Kansas City. The Sooners should settle into the bracket around the five-seed line, while the Bears added a little more juice to their resume.
  4. The night ended with Texas snuffing out whatever fire was left from West Virginia’s upset win over Kansas last Saturday by blowing out the Mountaineers, 66-49. The game started with Texas racing out to a 12-0 start and nothing went right for the Mountaineers on either end. While West Virginia was a longshot for a bid coming into last night’s game, it was highly disappointing to see them come out as flat as they did with their season on the line.
  5. The best way to sum up Thursday’s action is that for the most part, the cream rose to the top. For all the talk about this being a wide-open tournament, three of the top four teams in the standings will play in tonight’s semifinals and even though Baylor was seeded seventh, the Bears have been playing much better lately than that seed suggests. Tonight should be another exciting slate of hoops: The teams with the league’s two best resumes square off at 6:00 CST, and in the nightcap, we’ll see a battle between two coaches in Rick Barnes and Scott Drew who have fought through multiple rounds of criticism (some deserved, some not) and have their squads playing some pretty good ball right now.
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Big 12 M5: 03.13.14 Edition

Posted by Brian Goodman on March 13th, 2014

morning5_big12

  1. Season accolades continued to roll in on Tuesday, as Andrew Wiggins was named as a second team All-American by the United States Basketball Writers Association. Wiggins is joined by fellow Big 12 member and countryman Melvin Ejim as well as Cleanthony Early, C.J. Fair and Sean Kilpatrick. Wiggins carries season averages of 16.8 points and 5.9 rebounds per game into the Big 12 Tournament, and he may have to bump that production even higher if Kansas is to overcome the loss of Joel Embiid this weekend and beyond.
  2. More reports continue to swirl around the back of Embiid. It was revealed yesterday that the big man dealt with similar (though not identical) back problems this time last year as a senior at The Rock School in Gainesville, Florida. While every situation is different, it’s worth pointing out that Emeka Okafor went through a similar pattern of rest and rehab to how the Jayhawks are treating Embiid and returned in time to lead Connecticut to the 2004 national championship. We wouldn’t expect Kansas’ situation to pan out the same way, but would it be that big a surprise if it did?
  3. Yesterday, we brought up the under-the-radar status of Marcus Foster, who has thrived even without the spotlight of Wiggins, Embiid or any of the rest of the country’s top freshmen. While Foster could break out nationally with a big postseason, it’s also worth bearing in mind that as a freshman, he isn’t used to his season running this long. Foster has learned what the college grind is all about, largely thanks to having upperclassmen like Shane Southwell, Will Spradling and Omari Lawrence along for the ride. You may remember that Foster was once a highly sought-after recruit, but conditioning problems led many prolific programs to pull back in their pursuit. Foster rewarded Bruce Weber’s loyalty by shedding some weight, and he’s enjoyed a great first year.
  4. Marcus Smart tends to get the majority of attention for Oklahoma, and most of the time, it’s well-deserved. However, there’s a very good argument to be made that it’s actually Markel Brown who is the leader of the Cowboys. The shooting guard endured two straight seasons where Oklahoma State missed the NCAA Tournament, and has improved every year he’s been on campus. After the Cowboys fell into an early 8-0 hole against the Red Raiders last night, Brown snapped his teammates out of the funk with long-range bombs, defensive stops and a highlight-reel dunk, just as he has most of the last two seasons. A much bigger test comes this afternoon in Oklahoma State’s rubber match against Kansas.
  5. With Oklahoma State’s win over Texas Tech last night, we bid farewell to the Red Raiders. At the time, Tubby Smith‘s acceptance of the job last spring was a head-scratching move, and we will still need a couple of years to see if he can recruit and develop enough talent to crack the occasional NCAA Tournament field, but this season, Tech was a much tougher out than many expected. The Red Raiders delivered upset wins over Baylor, Oklahoma State, Oklahoma, and Texas, and were competitive in losses to Kansas and Kansas State.
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Burning Questions Going into the Big 12 Tournament

Posted by Brian Goodman on March 12th, 2014

The 2014 Phillips 66 Big 12 Championship is finally here, and the action begins at 6:00 CST tonight from Sprint Center in downtown Kansas City. To get you up to speed, our microsite team runs down the most important storylines around the conference.

Brian Goodman (@BSGoodman): We begin with Oklahoma State and Baylor as they look to take the final steps toward redemption. It’s been a longer road for both teams than we expected at the start of the season. The Cowboys endured a seven-game losing streak earlier this season, punctuated by Marcus Smart‘s three-game suspension for shoving a fan, and looked dead to rights just three weeks ago. Since then, not only has Smart returned, but he’s playing perhaps his best ball of the season, and the Pokes are riding high, having won four of their last five contests. In the other game tipping off tonight, Baylor will aim to remove any remaining doubt regarding their bubble status. After a 10-1 start to the season, the Bears went on to drop eight of their first ten conference games. The roller coaster went back up, though, with a 7-1 stretch to end the regular season (including a sweep of Kansas State). Considering their current resumes, Oklahoma State and Baylor may some wiggle room should they be forced to head back early to their respective campuses, but at the same time, it would be unwise of them to extend the bubble conversation by going one-and-done. Do the Cowboys and Bears take care of business? What happens on Selection Sunday if either team gets bounced before Friday’s semifinals?

Baylor guard Kenny Chery has provided a calming presence at the point. (Getty)

Baylor guard Kenny Chery has provided a calming presence at the point. (Getty)

Nate Kotisso (@natekotisso): It’s safe to assume that Baylor and Oklahoma State are firmly in the field of 68. Baylor saved their season just in time to finish 9-9 in the league and own eight RPI Top 50 wins, four of them coming on road or neutral floors. Normally, I would say the Bears could get away with losing their first game in the Big 12 tournament, but when the opponent is TCU, the last thing you want your resume to have is an “L” to a team with an RPI in the 200s. Oklahoma State is in a similar spot playing Texas Tech tonight. Could they get in with a loss? It depends, but they should take care of the Red Raiders to rid themselves of any nerves on Selection Sunday.

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Big 12 M5: 03.12.14 Edition

Posted by Brian Goodman on March 12th, 2014

morning5_big12

  1. Over the years, the Big 12 Tournament has seen its share of jaw-dropping individual performers: Paul Pierce, Marcus Fizer, Kevin Durant, Mike Singletary, and Alec Burks, just to name a few. While we’re excited to see whether Andrew Wiggins steps up for Kansas and joins that list, you may also want to buy stock in Kansas State guard Marcus Foster. The freshman has come on strong lately, pouring in six 20-point games over his last 12 outings. Earlier this week, he joined Michael Beasley as the only freshmen in Kansas State history to be named to an All-Big 12 Team (Foster was selected to this season’s second team). His first test this week should be a fun one, as he will be matched up against DeAndre Kane and the Iowa State Cyclones tomorrow.
  2. The periphery of the NCAA Tournament bubble is not where West Virginia pictured itself at the beginning of the season, but November and December losses have come back to haunt the Mountaineers. Bob Huggins’ team won eight games in non-con play, but it’s the five losses outside of the league (to Virginia Tech, Wisconsin, Missouri, Gonzaga and Purdue) that are wearing heavy for the Mountaineers as they face the latest in a string of must-win games, Thursday’s Big 12 Tournament quarterfinal. At minimum, they need to get to Saturday’s final to warrant legitimate conversation. It’s do-or-die time for the ‘Eers.
  3. Last Saturday, Oklahoma State faced a textbook foul-or-defend scenario at the end of regulation against Iowa State. Cowboys head coach Travis Ford opted not to foul, and he ended up paying the price, as Cyclone Naz Long hit a three-pointer at the end of regulation to force overtime. As postseason play gears up, we may get the chance to find out if Ford learned his lesson. If Oklahoma State gets past Texas Tech tonight, it won’t be difficult to picture a quarterfinal meeting against Kansas coming down to a last-second tactical call. As the eight-seed, Oklahoma State is a wolf in sheep’s clothing, but what will happen when the pressure’s on?
  4. In all sports, including college basketball, the thought process behind Coach Of The Year awards can be a polarizing one. It’s usually reserved as a mea culpa for those who underestimated the winner at the start of the season even though there are times when picking a winner should be much simpler than that. While Rick Barnes and Lon Kruger brought home the hardware (depending on if you look at the Big 12 coaches’ vote or the AP vote), Gary Parrish of CBSSports.com contends that a case can be made rather easily for Bill Self even though everyone knew he had the most talent in the league coming into the season. It’s tough to deny Parrish’s arguments. After all, if winning the conference with the league’s best talent was so easy, why hasn’t Kentucky done it the last two years?
  5. Oklahoma was one of the biggest surprises in the Big 12, finishing in second place behind Kansas with a workmanlike season. With a brief lull between the end of the regular season and the Sooners’ quarterfinal game tomorrow, The Crimson and Cream Machine took a quick look at Oklahoma’s personnel for next season. The biggest thing that comes to mind is that sophomore Ryan Spangler is going to get some help down low. Lon Kruger is bringing three forwards into the fold, and all of them weigh at least 200 pounds. Cameron Clark and Tyler Neal may be on their way out, but Oklahoma should be even better next year thanks to some incoming reinforcements in the paint.
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Celebrating The Big 12 Top Performances and Most Improved Player

Posted by Brian Goodman on March 11th, 2014

Yesterday, we went around the Big 12 and named an All-Conference First team and tabbed our Player Of The Year and Coach Of The Year selections. Today, we’ll narrow our focus to the best individual game of the conference season, both by team performance and by individual player performance, but we’ll also take a moment to recognize the league’s most improved player. For a nice cherry on top, we’ll also honor the single enduring play of the 2013-14 season.

Game Of The Year

Iowa State 98, Oklahoma State 97 (3OT), February 3 at Gallagher-Iba Arena

With such little difference in quality between the second-place team and the eighth-best team, we were treated to intense, close games on a regular basis. Big 12 microsite contributor Taylor Erickson (tc_erickson) breaks down why he went with this thriller.

TE: In a year where arguably the most difficult conference in all of college basketball provided a handful of memorable contests, none was more compelling than the triple-overtime thriller that took place in Stillwater, Oklahoma, in early February between Iowa State and Oklahoma State. This one was back-and-forth for most of the night, and looked for a brief moment that it would end in double-overtime with an Oklahoma State victory before a DeAndre Kane rebound and kick-out to Naz Long led to a game-tying three-pointer with 1.4 seconds left. In the third overtime, Marcus Smart missed a fadeaway jumper in the final seconds that could have pushed the Cowboys in front, but instead saw the visiting Cyclones celebrate with a win in Gallagher Iba Area for the first time since 1988. The individual performances were equally as impressive as the game itself with Kane finishing just one assist shy of a triple double with 26 points, ten rebounds, and nine assists. Iowa State’s big three of Kane, Melvin Ejim, and Georges Niang combined to score 65 points in the winning effort. Oklahoma State was lead by the trio of Smart, Markel Brown, and Le’Bryan Nash who also dropped in 65 points. This setback for Travis Ford and company was the third straight loss in a streak that eventually stretched to seven games, and took place five days before the infamous Marcus Smart shoving incident at Texas Tech. And as if this wasn’t all enough, when these two teams hooked up again this past weekend in Ames, Iowa, they left us one hell of an encore that featured another Naz Long three-pointer as time expired to send the game to overtime. This conference has delivered so many awesome performances this season, and you can bet we’re likely to see more of the same later this week at the Big 12 Tournament in Kansas City.

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