The Understated Excellence of Kansas’ Perry Ellis

Posted by Chris Stone on March 3rd, 2016

In an era of college basketball that has been defined by NBA-ready one-and-done talents, this season has been an anomaly. Heralded by some as “the year of the senior,” the sport has become dominated by prolific four-year talents. The National Player of the Year race is focused on players like Michigan State’s Denzel Valentine, Oklahoma’s Buddy Hield and Virginia’s Malcolm Brogdon as columnists debate whether the likely top pick in this June’s NBA Draft, LSU’s Ben Simmons, deserves to be an All-American. Meanwhile, this year’s Big 12 has become a microcosm of the sport’s larger trend as the country’s best conference is dominated by seniors. Iowa State’s Georges Niang, a potential All-American, may be the biggest match-up problem in the game and Hield’s style of play has drawn favorable comparisons to current NBA MVP Stephen Curry. The league’s regular season champion, Kansas, is also headlined by a steady-handed senior, although his quiet demeanor doesn’t lend itself to frequent media mentions. If Hield is college basketball’s Curry, then the Jayhawks’ Perry Ellis is its Tim Duncan — the understated superstar who has consistently delivered for one of this year’s top teams.

Perry Ellis delivered another big performance against Texas. (KU Sports/Nick Krug)

Perry Ellis delivered another big performance against Texas. (KU Sports/Nick Krug)

The senior forward’s outing against Texas on Monday night was the quintessential Perry Ellis game. He scored with efficiency, needing just 11 field goal attempts to collect his 20 points. Bill Self called the performance “unbelievable,” but in reality, it was just another day at the office for Ellis. As a senior, he ranks eighth in the Big 12 in true shooting percentage, a statistic that measures the effects of all shooting statistics. And while he only collected four rebounds against the Longhorns, his outstanding offensive game — which most closely resembles the retired guy who shows up for the after school game at the local YMCA (Note: This may be because Ellis is actually the retired guy at the YMCA gym) — is what stood out. What he lacks in size and athleticism, he makes up for with old-school craftiness and a better-than-expected three-point shot.

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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 Power Rankings: It’s Practically March Edition

Posted by Nate Kotisso on February 26th, 2016

It is practically March, isn’t it? We’re just four days away. You can almost feel the bubble shrink as at-large hopefuls drop games they shouldn’t be dropping and simultaneously expand whenever a recent winning streak is validated with a big win. As of now, the Big 12’s bubble situation is relatively clear. Barring a flurry of wins from Kansas State within the next two weeks, the conference will send seven teams to the NCAA Tournament. The last team among the seven is Texas Tech. When Big 12 coaches picked them to finish 10th a few months ago, how could anyone have seen this coming?

THE EVIDENCE. (Big12Sports.com)

HERE IS THE EVIDENCE. LOOK AT IT. LOOK AT ITTTTTT (Big12Sports.com)

Texas Tech has eight conference wins at this point which bodes well with how the selection committee has historically treated eight-win Big 12 teams. Oklahoma State (twice) and Texas (once) made it safely into the field of 68 with that number in 2014 and 2015. Much has been written about the Red Raiders’ rise from rotten to respectable, and rightly so, but we shouldn’t forget that they’ve gone on this five-game winning streak without the services of starting center Norense OdiaseTubby Smith is the favorite for Big 12 Coach of the Year and is also creeping into National Coach of the Year discussions as well. Now let’s hope all seven clubs make it to the Sweet Sixteen.

Big 12 Power Rankings

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Big 12 M5: 02.24.16 Edition

Posted by Brian Goodman on February 24th, 2016

morning5_big12

  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

morning5_big12

  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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Big 12 M5: 02.19.16 Edition

Posted by Nate Kotisso on February 19th, 2016

big12m5

  1. The Flint Water Crisis is an American tragedy that ties in one very important member of the Iowa State basketball team. Monte Morris, a Flint native, cannot be with his family in one of the city’s darkest hours but help is indeed on the way. His school announced on Wednesday that Des Moines-based grocer Hy-Vee will send 11 semi-trailers (Monte’s jersey number) worth of water gallons and bottled water to Flint. Those trucks left Des Moines yesterday and will hopefully make it to Flint a bit later today to provide some much-needed relief.
  2. In not-so-life-threatening Iowa State-related news, the Cyclones held a players-only meeting on Thursday. If you’ve watched enough sports, you know players-only meetings typically aren’t held when things are going well. Steve Prohm’s team was expected to challenge Kansas for a Big 12 title, and while the Jayhawks have kept up their end of the bargain, Iowa State has sputtered in the last two-plus weeks. They are a sixth place team in the Big 12 right now, so we’ll see if the Cyclones can finish the regular season strong after their clear-the-air meeting.
  3. For those of us who are familiar with Big 12 basketball history, we must arrive at a consensus that many of us did not consider to be possible. Here is that reality: Baylor has become a basketball school. The Bears’ postseason success over the last eight years is better than any other Big 12 program other than Kansas. While we know this, does the city of Waco know this? The Waco Tribune-Herald tried to get at the heart of this problem. Last season, the Ferrell Center averaged 6,650 fans per game, good enough for eighth in the 10-team Big 12. That average was an attendance number fewer than such “powers” as Ohio, Old Dominion, Weber State and Penn State. As the Bears completed a season sweep of Iowa State earlier this week, only 5,556 people were in the building to witness it. This is as much confusing as it is nonsensical.
  4. Texas Tech basketball is back. Wednesday’s takedown of Oklahoma was definitely the school’s first reintroduction to the country since Bob Knight retired from the job eight years ago. And they’re doing this with yet another national championship-winning coach in Tubby Smith. While I didn’t doubt that Tubby would be able to make the team competitive, I wasn’t so sure it would happen by his third year. Then again, Tubby’s got different ideas. “We’re not overachieving, fellows,” Smith said to his team after Wednesday’s win. “This is where we belong.” With his Red Raiders picked to finish dead last in the Big 12’s preseason rankings, Smith is pretty much a shoo-in to take home Big 12 Coach of the Year honors. At least for now.
  5. It’s Sunflower Showdown hate week and, this might surprise you, but one side of this rivalry isn’t happy with the other. Brannen Greene‘s last-second dunk in the previous matchup is definitely on the minds of Kansas State players, especially senior Justin Edwards. Beyond this being a rivalry game, the Wildcats need to win at home to keep themselves in the NCAA Tournament at-large conversation. The Wildcats are 4-9 in the conference, so while it’s easy to assume strong emotions will be present on the K-State sideline, will the effort be there as well?
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Big 12 M5: 02.17.16 Edition

Posted by Chris Stone on February 17th, 2016

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  1. Texas defeated West Virginia on Tuesday evening in Austin, 85-78. Isaiah Taylor led the way with 23 points and freshman Eric Davis added 15 as the Longhorns turned it over just seven times in the win. Texas hasn’t lost a home game at the Erwin Center since December 29 and are one of only two Big 12 teams undefeated at home during conference play. In a league as tightly packed as this one this season, holding serve at home is vital to determining placement in the league standings. The Longhorns will be tested down the stretch, though, with home games still to come against Baylor, Oklahoma and Kansas.
  2. With the Mountaineers’ loss and its Monday night home win over Oklahoma State, Kansas now owns sole possession of first place in the Big 12. The Jayhawks, winners of seven straight, have been bolstered lately by the play of junior forward Landen Lucas. Lucas has collected 36 rebounds in the last three games and now ranks third in defensive rebounding rate (24.2%) and second in offensive rebounding rate (15.0%) in the Big 12. Although Lucas is not going to produce like former bigs Joel Embiid, Jeff Withey and Markieff Morris, Kansas will be happy to get any significant numbers from the center spot given the talent it has at the other positions.
  3. Congratulations are in order for Iowa State forward Georges Niang, who became the Cyclones’ third 2,000-point scorer on Tuesday night (passing his former head coach Fred Hoiberg in the process). Niang also sat down this week for a rather candid Q&A with ESPN’s Jeff Goodman in which he discussed the team’s coaching transition to Steve Prohm, which college basketball player he’d start a team with, and the best trash talkers. Niang is always a joy in interviews and this one is well worth your time.
  4. While Niang delivered 24 points for the Cyclones on Tuesday night, it was Baylor that walked out of the Ferrell Center with a 100-91 overtime win — the Bears’ second victory over an RPI top 25 team this season. Sophomore Johnathan Motley delivered a fantastic performance while senior Rico Gathers missed the game with an illness. Motley tied his career-high in scoring with 27 points on 17 shots and grabbed 10 rebounds. Baylor will have plenty of opportunities to pick up a few more quality wins with four games remaining against ranked opponents, but this one is certain to help its seeding come March.
  5. The final Big 12 game ahead of the regular Saturday slate pits Oklahoma against a rising Texas Tech squad in Lubbock. The Red Raiders are coming off of two straight wins over ranked opponents while the Sooners have lost two of their last three outings. The stakes in this one are high for both teams as Oklahoma needs a win to keep itself in the Big 12 title picture while a victory for Tech would add another big win to its NCAA Tournament resume. The fact that the Red Raiders are even in the bubble conversation after finishing 3-15 in the conference last season is a testament to the job head coach Tubby Smith has done rebuilding the program in such a short period of time.
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Big 12 M5: 02.15.16 Edition

Posted by Nate Kotisso on February 15th, 2016

big12m5

  1. In the second meeting of the Big 12’s Game of the Century, Kansas persevered through Frank Mason III fouling out with 3:22 to go and completed a season sweep of Oklahoma. Not only did the Jayhawks join a first-place tie in the Big 12 with West Virginia but, as CBS Sports’ Gary Parrish points out, Kansas also notched its fifth RPI top 25 victory. No other team in all of college basketball has done that this season. Considering the questions around this team after they lost at West Virginia and Oklahoma State, The Streak™ looked to be in great jeopardy. Not so much now, as we’re three weeks away from the completion of conference play and again in the place we’ve always been around this time of year: marveling at Kansas atop the Big 12 standings.
  2. When you think about Iowa State, you probably think about this man as the team’s one and only All-American leader. Maybe you shouldn’t, though. As the Ames Tribune’s Travis Hines writes, the team’s starting point guard is performing at an All-American level as well. You may remember Monte’ Morris from his game-winners against Texas, Iowa and Oklahoma in the last calendar year, but he’s been a tremendous performer in all of phases of the game this season. The junior point guard is averaging 15.1 points, 4.0 rebounds, 1.9 steals and 7.0 assists per game (against 1.4 turnovers per game) while shooting 51 percent from the floor. As good as Kentucky’s Tyler Ulis and Providence’s Kris Dunn have been this year, it’s hard to argue against Morris being the best point guard in America when factoring in his offensive efficiency numbers. If the conversation for Morris to get All-American publicity hasn’t already started, let Hines be the one to get it going.
  3. Maybe Saturday night was your official wake up call, but Tubby Smith‘s Texas Tech squad has officially arrived. After fighting off Iowa State earlier in the week, Tech walked into Waco and ran over the Bears by 18 points in a convincing victory. It was the first time it had won back-to-back games versus AP Top 25 opponents in nine years. Because the Red Raiders gamed the RPI system and took down a few non-conference opponents that are at or near the top of their respective leagues, their recent wins could turn into fuel for an at-large bid. Now armed with league wins over Texas, Iowa State and Baylor, Smith’s team could get away with a 9-9 or even an 8-10 conference record and still actually sneak into the NCAA Tournament.
  4. Kansas State vs. Oklahoma State was a sad game for a few reasons. This nearly empty picture of Gallagher-Iba Arena and the “actual” attendance numbers told the story of a once-proud basketball program heading decisively in the wrong direction. On the flip side, Kansas State needed to win the game to join Texas Tech in the bubble picture, but the Wildcats were unable to score the road conference win. Two teams with two different mindsets are now inexplicably tied at 3-9 in Big 12 play — yet another wrinkle in a wild and confusing Big 12 standings.
  5. Before the Cowboys’ home game against the Wildcats, Travis Ford brought in former Oklahoma State dunking spacehuman Markel Brown to give the team a serious pep talk. Brown, now a guard with the Brooklyn Nets, had NBA All-Star Weekend off so he thought it was a good idea to take a trip back to campus. Gotta give it to the head coach, though. Even when the world is telling him he’s done at Oklahoma State, he’s still willing to try anything to get his players motivated. And hey, it worked.
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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 Power Rankings: Blowing Bubbles Edition

Posted by Nate Kotisso on February 11th, 2016

When the calendar turns to February, it is required that everyone must talk about bubbles. When engaging in bubble talk, we are obliged to have serious discussions about big bubbles, small bubbles, dish soap, glycerin and various bubble wand shapes. But you must also make mention of the nervous teams on the fringe of the NCAA Tournament bracket. Last week, we discussed the Big 12 bubble picture at considerable length. While we thought that teams like Kansas State and Texas Tech still had some life left in them, we weren’t so positive that they could change their fortunes so quickly. Down starting point guard Kamau Stokes, the Wildcats knocked off #1 Oklahoma on Saturday because Wesley Iwundu decided the offense would run through him. (He also accurately decided his man-to-man defense on Buddy Hield would give his team a better chance at slowing down Oklahoma’s potent offense.) The Red Raiders had solid computer numbers going into last night’s game against Iowa State (RPI: 54, non-conference SOS: 59, two RPI Top 50 wins) but a 3-7 conference record is not where a team wants to be in mid-February. Texas Tech then proceeded to take down the Cyclones in overtime, adding another feather in the cap of a potential at-large profile.

Texas Tech head coach Tubby Smith might have received help from above in last night's upset victory over Iowa State. (Michael C. Johnson/USA TODAY Sports)

Texas Tech head coach Tubby Smith may have received some help from above in last night’s upset victory of Iowa State.
(Michael C. Johnson/USA TODAY Sports)

What does this all mean? It means there are 23 days until the final day of the Big 12’s regular season on March 5. Some teams will rise, some will fall, and some will be Kansas. If you are not Kansas, you, a Big 12 conference member, have been sentenced to death in the wings of a flightless bird. They may not fly, but they sure can claw.

All hail the mighty Jayhawk.

The power rankings are below.

1. Oklahoma — 4 points (Chris & Nate — 1st, Brian — 2nd). Comment: “This is the first week that Brian, Chris and myself have not unanimously voted the Sooners No. 1 in quite some time. I might be turning myself into #thatguy, but… something’s clearly up with Oklahoma, right? The Sooners’ somewhat sluggish play might be because of the rough 48-hour turnaround that Saturday-Big Monday games will do to players, but Texas outscoring the Sooners by 14 in the paint isn’t good. Texas owning the paint with just one legitimate big man inside isn’t good. Oklahoma going ice cold late in a game (sans Buddy) in Norman isn’t good. Am I making a bigger deal from probably nothing? Maybe, but then again, maybe not.” – Nate Kotisso (@natekotisso)

2. Kansas — 5 points (Brian — 1st, Chris & Nate — 2nd). Comment: “The much-maligned Landen Lucas was the most active defensive player for Kansas Tuesday night, hauling in 16 rebounds and blocking four shots. It was the first such performance by a Jayhawk since Jeff Withey in the 2013 Round of 32, when Kansas knocked off North Carolina behind Withey’s 16 points, 16 rebounds and seven blocks. It will probably be a while before those two are mentioned in the same sentence again, so Jayhawk fans are advised to print out these rankings and display them in their offices.” – Brian Goodman (@bsgoodman)

3. West Virginia — 9 points (All voted 3rd). Comment: “Has the Big 12 finally discovered some cracks in the Mountaineers’ press? West Virginia’s last eight opponents have all registered turnover rates below the Mountaineers’ season-long defensive average of 26.1 percent. If coaches are doing a better job of scouting West Virginia, and it looks like they are, the Mountaineers will need to find a way to adjust if they want to stay in the thick of the race.” – BG

4. Texas — 12 points (All voted 4th). Comment: “Weird trivia time! Had Texas knocked off the Sooners a few days ago, they would have been just the second Big 12 team since West Virginia and TCU joined the league to win at Baylor, at West Virginia and at Oklahoma in the same season. The first team to pull this off was 2012-13 Kansas State. Perhaps losing in Norman was for the best.” – NK

5. Baylor — 15 points (All voted 5th). Comment: “With Rico Gathers unavailable because of illness, the Bears got pummeled on both backboards against Kansas State Wednesday night, so they turned to an unlikely source for help: the free throw line. While Baylor had excelled at getting to the stripe this season, entering the game ranked second in the Big 12 in offensive free throw rate, they also entered it ranked just sixth in free throw shooting. Led by Lester Medford‘s 11-for-11 effort, though, Baylor calmly hit 29-for-30 attempts in the 82-72 win, quieting the talk of Kansas State’s narrow chances for an at-large bid – at least for now.” – BG

6. Iowa State — 18 points (All voted 6th). Comment: “While Steve Prohm hopes Jameel McKay‘s suspension will help the Cyclones in the long run, it’s certainly not helping in the short run. Without its sole rim protector against Texas Tech on Wednesday, Iowa State blocked just two shots, allowed the Red Raiders to shoot 80 percent (12-of-15) at the rim and hauled in just 62.5 percent of available defensive rebounds.” – BG

7. Texas Tech — 22 points (Chris & Nate — 7th, Brian — 8th). Comment: “It feels like it might be a while before the Red Raiders move up in our rankings because their 4-7 Big 12 record isn’t close enough to .500. But if it does, we’ll gladly oblige an ascension.” – NK

8. Kansas State — 23 points (Brian — 7th, Chris & Nate — 8th). Comment: “From off the bubble to on it to back off it in the span of five days, it’s been a busy week for the Wildcats. Then again, if you told Bruce Weber this time last year that flirting with an at-large bid would constitute a busy week, chances are he’d take it in a heartbeat.” – BG

9. Oklahoma State — 28 points (Brian & Chris — 9th, Nate — 10th). Comment: “From the Kansas win to Monday’s loss at TCU, these last few weeks have encapsulated Oklahoma State’s tenure under Travis Ford: numerous moments of failure mixed in with brief moments of brilliance. The end is near.” – NK

10. Texas Christian — 29 points (Nate — 9th, Brian & Chris — 10th). Comment: “I voted ninth for the Horned Frogs this week because: a) they share identical conference (2-9) and overall records (11-13) with Oklahoma State; and b) they have a head-to-head win over the Cowboys. The climb out of the Big 12 cellar is nearly complete.” – NK

Big 12 Video/GIF of the Week

This week’s winner was a late entry but wound up being the best regardless. With 1:34 left in overtime and two seconds remaining on the shot clock, Texas Tech’s Keenan Evans grabbed the inbounds pass and hoisted a desperation three from the Southwest Texas area of the midcourt map that smoothly banked in. It’s one of those shots that, when it drops, gives your team a boost. For the other team, however, it represents a dagger to the heart. (h/t The Cauldron)

Five Big 12 Games You Better Watch

  1. Saturday: Kansas at Oklahoma (1:30 PM CT, ESPN)
  2. Saturday: Texas Tech at Baylor (7:00 PM CT, ESPNU)
  3. Saturday: Texas at Iowa State (7:30 PM CT, ESPN2)
  4. Monday: Oklahoma State at Kansas (8:00 PM CT, ESPN)
  5. Wednesday: Oklahoma at Texas Tech (8:00 PM CT, ESPNU)
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Three Thoughts From Kansas vs. West Virginia

Posted by Chris Stone on February 10th, 2016

Entering February, it looked like KansasBig 12 title streak was in serious danger, as the Jayhawks brought three double-figure road conference losses into the season’s shortest month. Now, with a few fortuitous bounces — i.e., Kansas State’s upset of Oklahoma over the weekend — and last night’s home win over West Virginia, Kansas is, along with the Sooners and the Mountaineers, part of a three-way tie atop the Big 12 standings at 8-3. One of those teams will suffer its fourth loss on Saturday in Norman when Oklahoma welcomes Kansas in the rematch of early January’s triple-overtime classic. Before that, though, let’s consider a few thoughts from the game last night that deadlocked those three teams into the top spot.

Landen Lucas delivered in Kansas' 75-65 win over West Virginia. (Nick Krug/KU Sports)

Landen Lucas delivered in Kansas’ 75-65 win over West Virginia. (Nick Krug/KU Sports)

  1. Kansas could use that Landen Lucas more often. Without freshman Cheick Diallo living up to his considerable preseason hype, head coach Bill Self has struggled to find production out of the center position. He has started four different players there this season, but Lucas’ Tuesday night performance (nine points, 16 rebounds, four blocks) will likely solidify his role in the starting lineup. Matched up against all-Big 12 candidate Devin Williams, Lucas delivered the best performance of his career. Although it is both unfair and unlikely to expect the junior to post similar numbers again, Self only needs a modicum of production going forward from his center spot. Lucas showed last night that he can deliver. Read the rest of this entry »
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