Kansas’ Frontcourt Management Remains a Concern

Posted by Brian Goodman on January 30th, 2015

Last weekend’s win at Texas gave Kansas some daylight in the Big 12 standings, and, as I discussed on Monday, that little bit of separation may be all it needs to bring home an 11th straight Big 12 title. While the Jayhawks still have three games remaining against what are currently their two closest challengers (West Virginia and Iowa State), they are the clear favorite now that they have built a one-game lead. Expectations in Lawrence, however, don’t end with winning the conference; a deep run in the NCAA Tournament is part of the deal, too. Despite Kansas’ talented rotation and clear improvement over the last few weeks, there’s reason to be concerned with how Bill Self has handled his frontcourt and its ultimate impact on the Jayhawks’ long-term ceiling.

Bill Self (USA Today Images)

Bill Self’s Frontcourt Rotations Have Been Curious (USA Today Images)

That questionable management reared its ugly head in Wednesday’s 64-61 victory over TCU. The game started favorably for Kansas. Sensing a mismatch in the post, Kansas called Perry Ellis‘ number and the junior delivered on the team’s first two possessions, scoring the Jayhawks’ first five points. When Ellis quickly picked up two personal fouls within the game’s first two minutes, though, Self pulled his second-leading scorer and leading rebounder for the rest of the half. The move was confounding not only because Ellis entered the game averaging 16.3 points per contest over his last three outings, but also because he’s been by far the least foul-prone of Kansas’ four regular big men this season, according to KenPom’s data.

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Big 12 M5: 01.30.15 Edition

Posted by Chris Stone on January 30th, 2015

morning5_big12

  1. Kansas defeated TCU on Wednesday night in a game that was much closer than the casual fan would have expected, and frankly, the Jayhawks were lucky to come out of DFW with a win. TCU attempted 20 more shots, grabbed 26 offensive rebounds, and went to the foul line nine more times than Kansas. After finishing the non-conference portion of their schedule undefeated, the Horned Frogs are certainly frustrated by a 1-6 Big 12 start, but their efficiency numbers are better than last year  and they’ve played enough close games to suggest that a big win is coming soon. The team is improving but it’s been a difficult journey. Mac Engal of The Star-Telegram said of the team’s future success: “It just won’t come without some pain, but there is a reason Vegas [4.5-point underdog] had TCU so close to Kansas.”
  2. TCU isn’t the only improved team in the Big 12 this season. Oklahoma has also made strides to become a more complete team, with the Sooners’ defense ranking among the nation’s top five in adjusted defensive efficiency. Oklahoma impressed in an 81-36 victory over Texas Tech on Wednesday night, setting a Big 12 record for fewest points allowed in a single game. Kruger credited the team’s focus in its most recent practices as a big reason for the superb performance — a 45-point victory that was a nice bounceback for a team coming off two straight losses. The Sooners face Oklahoma State on Saturday in the second half of this year’s Bedlam series.
  3. The rosters for the 2015 McDonald’s All-American game were announced on Wednesday afternoon, and two Big 12 teams will be represented in this year’s event. Oklahoma State commitment Jawun Evans will play for the Boys’ East team and Kansas commitment Carlton Bragg was selected to play for the Boys’ West squad. Although Evans and Bragg are the only two players in the game that have so far committed to a Big 12 school, the showcase will also feature a number of undecided players being recruited by the likes of Oklahoma State, Iowa State and Kansas.
  4. The Big 12 and SEC announced on Thursday afternoon that they have agreed to move the date of the Big 12/SEC Challenge to early January starting next season in an effort to draw more attention to the series. According to Big 12 commissioner Bob Bowlsby: “We are excited to move this event to January to provide the Big 12 a unique showcase and help ESPN give the Big 12/SEC Challenge the attention it deserves.” The move will require teams to create an open date in the middle of their conference schedules, but it will also allow the league to dodge the college football hysteria that overwhelmed the mid-December iterations of the event.
  5. The best conference in America debate continues to rage, with Randy Peterson of The Des Moines Register only the latest to weigh in on the issue. His conclusion? It’s debatable. If your criteria is which conference is the best from top to bottom, then you’re likely to choose the Big 12. If you’re more interested in which league will perform the best in March, then the ACC and its plethora of elite teams might be for you. At this point, we should all just be happy that we get to watch Top 25 basketball on a consistent basis with plenty of exciting finishes almost nightly in the Big 12.
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Big 12 M5: 01.28.15 Edition

Posted by Chris Stone on January 28th, 2015

morning5_big12

  1. Texas once again struggled on Monday in an 89-86 loss at Iowa State. The Longhorns trailed by double digits for the majority of the game, but mounted a furious second half comeback that included hitting 10 three-pointers. The story of the game, though, was the failure of the Longhorns’ zone defense. Iowa State led by 11 at the end of the first half by using Georges Niang at the free throw line to consistently break down the zone. Texas has a massive front line, but when their bigs are slow in rotation, it creates open looks for opponents at the rim. Although the zone was effective in non-conference play, Big 12 opponents are scoring 100.9 points per 100 possessions against the Longhorns so far.
  2. TCU has only won a single conference game at this point in the season, but that hasn’t stopped opposing coaches from taking notice of the Horned Frogs’ improvements. Ahead of their matchup on Wednesday, Kansas coach Bill Self said, “We know this will be a much different team than we’ve seen in the last couple of years.” The numbers say he’s right. Jesse Newell of The Topeka Capital-Journal pointed out that TCU is the only team in the top 50 of Ken Pomeroy’s efficiency ratings this year that ranked outside of the top 200 last season. The Horned Frogs’ 24th ranked adjusted defensive efficiency is a major factor in their improvement.
  3. One major criticism of college basketball this season has been the slow pace of games. Rush the Court’s Andrew Murawa wrote this fine piece on the subject recently. Tuesday night’s game between West Virginia and Kansas State did very little to silence the critics. The Mountaineers won a two-and-a-half hour marathon 65-59. The game featured 45 turnovers, 54 fouls, and 64 free throws. Bob Huggins called it “beautiful,” but reactions on Twitter painted a different picture. It took 14 minutes to finish the final 1:07 of the game. Perhaps it’s time for those in charge to listen to some of Andrew’s proposals.
  4. Oklahoma State picked up a big win over Baylor on Tuesday night. The Cowboys are fighting for a spot in the NCAA Tournament, and big man Michael Cobbins will be an integral piece of the puzzle. Although Cobbins only scored six points against Baylor, he grabbed 11 rebounds as Oklahoma State held the Bears below their conference average for offensive boards in the victory. Cowboys’ head coach Travis Ford is hopeful, saying, “We’re waiting for him to really hit his stride, and I think he has it in him and he will at some point.” Cobbins can provide Oklahoma State with an inside presence that they otherwise lack, so his continued improvement after returning from last season’s injury is something worth following.
  5. One final, somber note. Tuesday marked the anniversary of the January 27, 2001 plane crash that killed two members of Oklahoma State men’s basketball team, six members of the team’s traveling party, the pilot, and co-pilot. The team wore pregame shirts honoring those who lost their lives and Gallagher-Iba held a moment of silence prior to Tuesday’s game. The Cowboys’ athletic department spent the day remembering the victims of the accident. Consider this this author’s attempt to humbly do the same. Remember the 10.
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Big 12 Power Rankings: Bill Self is Smarter Than Me/You/Us Edition

Posted by Nate Kotisso on January 27th, 2015

Time to dust off a familiar narrative: Kansas is in control of the Big 12. The narrative doesn’t require much dusting off, really. The Jayhawks have won a share of the Big 12 regular season title in each of the last 10 seasons. Maybe the narrative needs a gentle wipe with a dry napkin. Or light tap-tap-taps with a clean towel. But it all starts at the top with Bill Self, the mastermind behind the operation. He’s certainly lauded in Lawrence and around the country as one of the top coaches but this season, Self has received criticism from some fans who question how he sends messages to his players. He, like few coaches do, has a good read on every player on his roster. Perry Ellis, the team’s current leading scorer, was inconsistent for much of the season. In advance of his team’s showdown with Iowa State, Self said that Ellis needed to be more aggressive and “believe that he’s the best player on the floor every night.” In the three games since, Ellis is averaging 16.3 points, eight rebounds and shooting 19-of-37 from the floor.

This is what a coach can get away with when you dominate the Big 12 like Bill Self has done at Kansas. (Denny Medley/USA Today Sports)

This is what a coach can get away with when he dominates the Big 12 like Bill Self has done at Kansas. (Denny Medley/USA Today Sports)

In the Iowa State loss, fans didn’t understand why Self sat freshman Cliff Alexander for the final 14 minutes-plus of the second half. Self explained his reasoning for the move was Alexander’s lack of motor on a couple of plays early in the second half. In an important game with Big 12 title implications, it’s understandable for fans to wonder why that had to be done and at that particular time. But Self has no problem benching players if they’re not giving the effort he requires (see: Andrew Wiggins). In the two games since, Alexander recorded a double-double including a career-high in rebounds against Oklahoma (13) and scored a career-high 15 in a road win at Texas. Another season, another chance for Self to prove his worth as a future Hall of Fame coach. He’d have to stay away from videoboards, though. I think the Hall of Fame frowns on videoboard abuse.

Power Rankings

  1. Kansas — 3 points (All voted 1st). Comment: “Our Brian Goodman nailed KU’s gradual rise back into the driver’s seat (with bonus “Candy Shop” mention). They’re the number one team in the latest RPI in the number one ranked RPI conference with the strongest non-conference schedule among Big Five teams according to KenPom. Yes, they are in good shape. Thanks for asking!” – Nate Kotisso (@natekotisso)
  2. Iowa State — 6 points (All voted 2nd). Comment: “Last night’s win was closer than it should have been, but a bounce-back effort from the Texas Tech debacle keeps the Cyclones in second for another week. We’ll find out if they’re out of their offensive slump for good over their next two games when they take on TCU and Kansas, a pair of teams currently in the top half of the conference in defensive efficiency during Big 12 play.” – Brian Goodman (@BSGoodman)
  3. West Virginia — 11 points (Chris — 3rd, Brian & Nate — 4th) Comment: “The Mountaineers are an interesting case. They’ve got the worst effective defensive field goal percentage in the league, but they’re turning opponents over on 27 percent of their possessions. This week, they managed to hold serve at home by beating TCU in overtime.” – Chris Stone (@cstonehoops)
  4. Kansas State — 12 points (Nate — 3rd, Chris — 4th, Brian — 5th) Comment: “Although the Wildcats lost at Iowa State, they picked up a nice home win against Oklahoma State on Saturday. Bruce Weber’s team continues to improve their resume for March, but we’ll get a better sense of where his squad stands after games against West Virginia and Kansas this week.” – CS
  5. Texas — 16 points (Brian — 3rd, Chris — 6th, Nate — 7th) Comment: “If they were able to pull off the comeback shocker in Ames last night, they’re definitely in my personal top five. Beyond that, they blew a big opportunity by failing to beat Kansas in Austin on Saturday. Here was a team that most saw as the biggest challenger to Kansas to start the year but now are nearing the halfway point in league play with a sub .500 record.” – NK
  6. Baylor — 17 points (Chris & Nate — 5th, Brian — 7th) Comment: “Last Saturday, the Bears did something no Big 12 team has been able to do: Contain Buddy Hield. Five days after bringing the Sooners back from the dead against Kansas, Hield was held without a three-pointer for the first time all season on his way to a frustrating 6-17 outing and five turnovers. Kudos, Baylor defense.” – BG
  7. Oklahoma — 19 points (Brian & Nate — 6th, Chris — 7th) Comment: “Somehow, the Sooners maintained an AP top 25 ranking this week despite losing four of their last five. It will be interesting to see what Lon Kruger does with Isaiah Cousins who injured his wrist in Saturday’s game against Baylor. X-rays were negative and he is day-to-day but the OU coach should be careful about rushing an important piece back especially when they’re losing.” – NK
  8. Oklahoma State — 24 points (All voted 8th). Comment: “Although the Cowboys have the best defensive efficiency numbers in Big 12 play, they’re just 3-4 so far. They’ve got two big home games this week against Baylor and Oklahoma.” – CS
  9. TCU — 27 points (All voted 9th). Comment: “No longer a laughingstock, Trent Johnson’s team is playing hard and keeping things competitive to the point where they’re only one-point underdogs in Wednesday’s game against Kansas.” – BG
  10. Texas Tech — 30 points (All voted 10th). Comment: “Texas Tech is making a habit of winning games against teams they have no business beating. It happened again Saturday as the last-place Red Raiders beat the-then first-place Iowa State Cyclones in Lubbock. Next up on their schedule is a road game at Oklahoma on Wednesday night. TTU’s last road conference win was — you guessed it — Oklahoma last season.” – NK

Big 12 Video/GIF of the Week 

In a world where conference games have been sullied by realignment, it was nice to see two fans from two fan bases come together for absolute nonsense on national television. While there was a break in the action of Texas-Iowa State last night, ESPN went to a liveshot of Brent Musburger and Fran Fraschilla doing their thing. Behind them, a fan wearing an Iowa State logo (on the left) and a Texas fan (on the right, presumably) tried to have a little fun while they were on camera. (h/t Erin Sorensen)

https://vine.co/v/OTHm0XWX15p

This Vine leaves us with so many questions. Why is the Iowa State fan flashing Hook ‘em Horns? Why are they all of a sudden fist-bumping? Did these guys properly map out a plan of what they’ll do when they’re on camera? Of course they didn’t. That’s why this is great. Go Big 12, indeed.

Five Big 12 Games You Better Watch This Week

  1. Tuesday: West Virginia at Kansas State (6:00 PM CT, ESPN2)
  2. Tuesday: Baylor at Oklahoma State (8:00 PM CT, ESPNEWS)
  3. Wednesday: Kansas at TCU (8:00 PM CT, ESPNU)
  4. Saturday: Kansas State at Kansas (1:00 PM CT, ESPN)
  5. Saturday: Texas at Baylor (5:00 PM CT, ESPN2)
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Steady Improvement Puts Kansas in Big 12 Driver’s Seat Again

Posted by Brian Goodman on January 26th, 2015

For all the chaos and cannibalization taking place in the Big 12 this season, the top of the conference sure is in a familiar state after three weeks of play. With a 75-62 win that was as complete a performance as we’ve seen from Kansas all year long — and timed with Texas Tech’s upset of Iowa State — the Jayhawks on Saturday swung the odds of an 11th straight Big 12 title solidly back to their side. Bill Self’s teams always seem to make a significant leap around the holiday break, and this year’s group appears no different. In fact, you could take it one step further and argue that the Jayhawks have noticeably improved just in the last week since losing to Iowa State at Hilton Coliseum.

Cliff Alexander and the Jayhawks are ahead of the pack after a big win in Austin and some help from Texas Tech. (KUSports.com/Nick Krug)

Cliff Alexander and the Jayhawks are ahead of the pack after a big win in Austin and some help from Texas Tech. (KUSports.com/Nick Krug)

After getting benched for a lack of hustle, Cliff Alexander has burst forward with activity, averaging 14 points and 11 rebounds per game in last week’s outings on his way to Big 12 Newcomer Of The Week honors. He still doesn’t have much of a post arsenal, but he makes up for it with outstanding strength and athleticism. In Austin, he got the best of fellow blue-chipper Myles Turner, outworking him for rebounds and slipping by him for close looks. Alexander’s motor was on display on one defensive trip in particular, when he successfully keeping Turner out of the low post, making the big freshman receive the ball just off the elbow and forcing a bad shot.

Alexander’s frontcourt teammate, Perry Ellis, is also coming back around. Ellis had been benched two weeks ago after committing four early turnovers against Oklahoma State, exacerbating the limitations that made him a target of criticism both to Kansas fans and more objective observers. In the three games since, he’s averaged 16.3 points and eight rebounds per contest with just three total turnovers. Ellis’ turnaround has come predominantly from getting the ball in better spots and improved execution in his footwork near the basket. He may not be the classic Kansas power forward who can back down his man from 15 feet in, but his face-up game over the last two weeks has been effective enough to maintain his status as a weapon.

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Big 12 M5: 01.26.15 Edition

Posted by Chris Stone on January 26th, 2015

morning5_big12

  1. Coming into the season, Texas looked like the team that would finally end Kansas’ streak of 10 straight Big 12 titles. The Longhorns’ roster combines NBA talent like Myles Turner with hardened veterans like Jonathan Holmes, but in the teams’ first meeting on Saturday, Kansas bullied the Longhorns in a 75-62 win at the Erwin Center. Rustin Dodd of The Kansas City Star called it, “Kansas’ most complete victory in a season-long hunt for an unprecedented 11th straight Big 12 title.” The Jayhawks only turned the ball over three times in the entire game; Cliff Alexander (15 points and nine rebounds) was the best player on the floor; and Jamari Traylor made the best play Bill Self’s seen in his time at Kansas. Perhaps we all made a mistake in underestimating the Jayhawks.
  2. The most surprising game of the weekend happened in Lubbock where Texas Tech knocked off Iowa State, 78-73. The Red Raiders entered the contest as the only team without a win in the Big 12 and had spent most of the conference season looking like they’d finish that way, but a hot start allowed them to jump out to big lead against the Cyclones. Now, the calls for change are coming. Jameel McKay has been a revelation for Fred Hoiberg, and his energy levels are causing some to wonder whether he should be inserted into the starting lineup. It’s a reasonable consideration given McKay’s play, but the timing makes this feel like a bit of an overreaction. McKay is a very good player and perhaps he deserves a chance to start, but basing those decisions off of one loss doesn’t seem like the Hoiberg way.
  3. After a rough ride during their non-conference schedule, Kansas State now sits just a half game back of the top spot in the Big 12 standings after a 63-53 win over Oklahoma State. The Wildcats have been playing much better defense in conference play, as Bruce Weber’s squad currently has the fourth best defensive efficiency rating in the Big 12. Phil Forte spoke of Kansas State’s aggressiveness and physicality saying, “Any time you play K-State, you know you’re playing against one of the best defensive teams not just in the league but in the country.” We should get a better sense of where the Wildcats stand in relation to the rest of the league this week when they take on West Virginia and Kansas.
  4. Oklahoma is now just 3-4 in Big 12 play after losing at Baylor on Saturday, having now lost four of their last five including their two most recent games. Although Oklahoma’s defense has slipped in league play — now allowing 100.4 points per 100 possessions — it’s not time to panic just yet. The Sooners played a good non-conference schedule and picked up some nice wins before Big 12 play began. They have also played their conference road games at Texas, West Virginia, Kansas, and Baylor already, and have yet to play a game against either Texas Tech or TCU. Oklahoma will surely find its way into the NCAA Tournament and Lon Kruger’s team has the talent to make a run once it gets there.
  5. Tonight gives us another fantastic matchup in the Big 12 as Texas travels to Ames to take on Iowa State. Both teams are coming off of a loss and will need a win to stay in the race for the regular season title. It’s a fantastic contrast of styles with the Cyclones’ high tempo offense and the Longhorns’ stout defense anchored by their massive front line. Be sure to tune into ESPN at 9:00 PM ET to catch the action — just another loaded week of games in the best basketball conference in America this season.
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Big 12 Saturday Preview

Posted by Brian Goodman on January 24th, 2015

This weekend’s slate of Big 12 action isn’t quite as loaded as last week’s in terms of games expected to have a significant impact on the league race, but with the conference being arguably the best one in the country, that’s all relative. The biggest match-up on Saturday’s schedule features league favorite Kansas traveling to Austin to take on the Longhorns, who are looking to reassert themselves in the conference race. 

Oklahoma State at Kansas State (12:00 EST) – The 3-3 Cowboys have a win over Texas in their back pocket, but on the whole, their resume isn’t particularly impressive. If the NCAA Tournament started today, they would almost certainly be in, but a rough go of it on the road has prevented Travis Ford’s team from compiling a stronger case for seeding. They’ll look to reverse their fortunes when they shoot for just their second true road win of the season (the first being a convincing victory over a mediocre Memphis team) with an early afternoon tilt in Manhattan. The Wildcats, meanwhile, are still trying to prove their worth as a potential NCAA Tournament team, and a big component of that equation is holding serve on their home court against competitive teams. The battle between Marcus Foster and Phil Forte should be a fun one, and whether Nino Williams (20 points per game in his last two contests) continues to emerge as a dependable complement to Foster could play a decisive role. Prediction: Kansas State 66, Oklahoma State 63.

Everyone is Waiting on Kansas State to Regress (USA Today Images)

Everyone is Waiting on Kansas State to Regress (USA Today Images)

TCU at West Virginia (2:00 EST) – It’s still crazy to believe that after missing the NCAA Tournament in consecutive seasons, the Mountaineers are just a few bounces away from 16-1. Their offense hasn’t been pretty, with sub-200 rankings in both two-point shooting and three-point shooting, but it’s still been one of the most effective units in the country thanks to an aversion to turnovers. Of course, there’s also West Virginia’s stifling pressure defense, which has created barrels of extra possessions for Bob Huggins’ team. They’ll look to speed up a TCU offense that is much more deliberate at 62 possessions per game, so the Horned Frogs will have very small margin of error as they try to get their second league win. Prediction: West Virginia 70, TCU 59.

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The Big 12’s Most Important Transfer? Iowa State’s Jameel McKay

Posted by Chris Stone on January 24th, 2015

The Big 12 began the season with a couple high profile transfers projected to make big impacts on their respective teams. Oklahoma received word that TaShawn Thomas would be immediately eligible, and he has helped the Sooners round out their starting five after leading former team Houston in points and rebounds last season. Fred Hoiberg snagged another potential gem in Bryce Dejean-Jones, a player who led UNLV in scoring a year ago. Hoiberg was also sitting on Marquette transfer Jameel McKay, a 6’9″ forward who played his first two seasons at Indian Hills Community College before committing to the Golden Eagles in 2012. McKay left Marquette without playing a game, but that didn’t stop Iowa State from being optimistic about the transfer. “He’s going to impact the game the minute he steps on the floor,” Hoiberg told the Ames Tribune in November, “because he can protect the rim and he can run.”

McKay has helped the Cyclones to a 4-1 Big 12 record. (Andrea Melendez/The Register)

McKay has helped the Cyclones to a 4-1 Big 12 record. (Andrea Melendez/The Register)

After sitting out the first nine games of the season, McKay has made the immediate impact on both ends of the floor that Hoiberg was expecting. Defensively, he is the first true rim-protector that The Mayor has had in Ames. McKay has blocked 12.4 percent of opponents’ shots when he’s been on the floor, a number that would rank in the top 20 nationally if he had the minutes to qualify. Additionally, despite a step up in competition, the Cyclones are also doing a better job of guarding shots at the rim. According to data from hoop-math.com, opponents’ are shooting 5.7 percent worse on those chances in games that McKay has played.  He’s earned the respect of other coaches in the league as well. “I thought he did a good job of protecting the rim,” Bill Self said in the aftermath of the Jayhawks’ defeat last week, as McKay blocked three shots against Kansas.

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Big 12 M5: Day After Ballghazi Press Conference Edition

Posted by Nate Kotisso on January 23rd, 2015

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  1. It happened guys! While he wasn’t able to stop by Allen Fieldhouse, President Barack Obama spent some time at Anschutz Sports Pavilion on the Kansas campus, which is right next door to the Phog. There, Obama gave a speech and joked about his lack of success in the state (set-up here and punchline here). He also visited with the basketball team and got a commemorative Jayhawks’ #1 jersey (Selden transferring?). Due to time constraints, he wasn’t able to practice with the team, so we’ll never know how he’d handle such a tough environment, but in my opinion this means Jim Harbaugh is the best non-basketball person to ever set foot on the Allen Fieldhouse floor.
  2. So Baylor playing NAIA school Huston-Tillotson in the middle of conference play was weird, right? So here’s the story behind it and it’s quite a doozy. It revolves around longtime high school coach Ken Carter, the same Carter who was portrayed by Samuel L. Jackson in the 2005 film “Coach Carter.” The 56-year-old Carter was planning to coach for Huston-Tillotson during the 2014-15 season and Wednesday’s game was supposed to be a part of another film about Carter’s life, but that didn’t happen. I’m sure Baylor’s talking heads are telling the truth but I want to know what the stories are behind their other games of a similar ilk. What is the story behind Baylor playing Wayland Baptist, another NAIA team, in February 2011? Or Hardin-Simmons, a Division III school, after the start of Big 12 play in January 2013? There could be logical explanations behind the scheduling of all of these games, but I haven’t heard them.
  3. Are we talking about #1 seeds already? Yes we are, because Brian Spaen over at Clones Confidential has laid out his blueprint for Iowa State to get one of those four top seeds. The plan, of course, would have to include the Cyclones winning the Big 12 regular season and tournament titles, and I’m not sure Iowa State or any other Big 12 team can win both championships this season. If a team were able to pull off such an accomplishment, the committee would likely credit the Big 12’s depth enough to award that team one of those #1 seeds. If it happens for Iowa State on Selection Sunday, it would be the first top seed in program history.
  4. After cultivating a reputation as a reliable defender for three seasons, Kansas State forward Nino Williams is having his best all-around season as senior. After two previous subpar performances at Hilton Coliseum, Williams logged a career-high 22 points, eight rebounds, four assists and three steals in 31 minutes of action during Tuesday night’s loss at Iowa State. Compare those numbers to Williams’ two-game average in Ames of 4.0 PPG and 3.0 RPG in 15.5 minutes per contest and it’s easy to see his development. I’m sure he worked hard every summer but it’s games like these that put you on notice of certain players who put in a lot of extra work in the offseason.
  5. This last blurb is a tiny bit self-serving because I want to show love to one of my all-time favorite players in Big 12 basketball history. Andre Emmett — yes, the Texas Tech great best known in NBA circles for his cups of coffee with Memphis and the-then New Jersey Nets — was recently named the D-League Player of the Week. His career arc is amazing. Emmett was an early second-round pick in the 2004 NBA Draft, but only played eight games with Memphis. He left the Grizzlies to play overseas but always returned to the U.S. to try and win a roster spot in summer league and/or training camp. He returned to the NBA eight years later after signing a 10-day deal with the Nets (which released him after the 10 days completed). In a D-League dominated by players a decade or more his junior, the 32-year-old Emmett averaged 28.5 PPG on 55 percent shooting, 7.0 rebounds, 2.5 assists, 2.5 steals, and a block last week to take home the award. That guy has no quit in him.
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Big 12 M5: 01.21.15 Edition

Posted by Nate Kotisso on January 21st, 2015

morning5_big12

  1. By now you’ve heard plenty about Jameel McKay, the forward at Iowa State. His fame grew a little more in last night’s win against Kansas State, tying career highs in points (15) and rebounds (seven) while blocking three shots in just 26 minutes of action. McKay brings what no big has brought to the Cyclones since Fred Hoiberg arrived back on campus five years ago. He’s a match-up nightmare. McKay is the guy who out-hustles opponents to make them look bad but has the physical gifts to make them look much worse. You’ll hear more and more about McKay as the season goes along. And you’ll love it.
  2. Aided by his 10-for-10 shooting game against Oklahoma State, Oklahoma‘s Buddy Hield was awarded Big 12 Player of the Week for the second time this season after getting the honor on November 17. Speaking of repeat winners, Kelly Oubre, Jr. of Kansas won Big 12 Newcomer of the Week after taking home the award on December 22. Oubre averaged 12 points and seven rebounds in a week where the Jayhawks split two games against two nationally-ranked teams in Oklahoma State and Iowa State. This season, Oklahoma, Oklahoma State, Kansas, Kansas State, Iowa State, Baylor and West Virginia have all combined to represent 20 of the 22 total Player or Newcomer of the Week awards in the Big 12. Amongst Texas, Texas Tech and TCU, those teams have combined to produce two players who won Player or Newcomer of the Week and that occurred in the same week: November 24. Methinks the league office will get on that.
  3. Kansas is eagerly awaiting for President Barack Obama’s scheduled visit to Lawrence tomorrow and that includes head coach Bill Self. ““We’re trying to get that worked out,” Self told the Lawrence Journal-World. “I’ve been in contact with somebody out of his staff or office. It would mean a lot to everybody in our program, certainly our players. We understand his schedule is tight.” We all know the President is a little bit of a basketball fan and it would make sense to swing by one of the cathedrals of the game. If he can pull one of these out of his hat while he’s there, we’re talkin’ about upgrading him to legendary presidential status here!
  4. It seems like Texas has hopped back on the right track with two convincing wins against West Virginia Saturday in Austin and at TCU on Monday night. While it wasn’t far-fetched to say the Longhorns would win those games, it might be in order to win the next two. For the second week in a row, UT was dealt with the Saturday game-followed-by-a-Monday-game schedule. These two games, home against Kansas and at Iowa State on Big Monday, are only against the teams who are currently tied for first place in the conference. These tests will hopefully paint a clearer picture on where Texas stands in the hierarchy of this year’s Big 12. Until, of course, something totally unexpected happens and sends us back to the drawing board once again.
  5. If you are someone, performing as a college mascot, it is difficult to draw the line between zany and disrespectful behavior. Oklahoma deemed the behavior of one of their mascots as disrespectful. During #Bedlam on Saturday afternoon, one of OU’s mascots was harassing Oklahoma State fans at the Lloyd Noble Center by blocking their view of the game, taunting them and spilling popcorn on them according to sources who told NewsOK.com. One of those OSU fans taunted happened to be Heather Ford, the wife of Cowboys coach Travis Ford. I guess we all know now that mascots aren’t as untouchable as we thought they were.
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Four Key Takeaways From a Wild Night In Lawrence

Posted by Brian Goodman on January 20th, 2015

It was a tale of two halves last night in Lawrence, as Kansas hit nine first half threes to sprint out to a commanding 51-32 halftime lead against Oklahoma, only to watch it disappear as the Sooners stormed back to take a four-point lead before collapsing at the end. Let’s consider four key takeaways from a game of several crazy swings.

Kansas and Oklahoma Took It Hard at Each Other Last Night (USA Today Images)

Kansas and Oklahoma Took It Hard at Each Other Last Night (USA Today Images)

  • Fiery start fuels Kansas’ first halfKelly Oubre got things going by connecting on a pair of early threes and the Jayhawks refused to let up on their way to 51 first half points. Although Oklahoma remained close for the first five minutes, Kansas would register a 16-0 perimeter barrage with nearly everyone contributing. This team is built to fire away from deep, but Bill Self has tried in vain to establish an inside presence even though he doesn’t have a true back-to-the-basket big man (however, Cliff Alexander may be developing into one, as we’ll discuss separately below). While Kansas’ scorching first half is a statistical outlier, it underscores the fact that the Jayhawks are at their best when they utilize their outside shooting prowess.
  • Don’t overlook Buddy Hield in the Big 12 POY race: This conference is filled with scorers from Marcus Foster to Phil Forte to Georges Niang, but the Sooners’ Buddy Hield may be the best of the bunch. His 26 points were a game-high and he’s now shooting a superb 60.5 percent on twos in league action in spite of his 6’4″ frame, along with a 44 percent clip from deep in Big 12 play. Hield isn’t without his warts, though, as he tends to rush shots (especially in transition) and he could stand to share the ball a little more often with talented and effective teammates like Isaiah Cousins and Ryan Spangler. Still, the junior is an undeniable star, as evidenced not only by his huge game in arguably the most intimidating environment in college basketball, but his play all season to date.

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Big 12 Power Rankings: Kansas State’s in First Place??? Edition

Posted by Nate Kotisso on January 19th, 2015

The Big 12 is weird. It doesn’t even have twelve teams in it. This brown-suited man is their commissioner. Kansas State‘s best player was benched in its conference opener, a loss; and now, the same team that was 7-7 two weeks ago occupies first place in the whole dang league. Aside from weird, the Big 12 is still a very deep basketball league. Kansas State’s place atop the standings is evidence of this fact. But where did the Wildcats’ 4-1 start originate? Better end-game execution? A little bit, yes. Better effort on both ends of the floor? That’s part of it. But the transformation of K-State began with a change in mindset from their benched star, Marcus Foster. Foster came into his sophomore season with lofty expectations after bursting onto the scene last year. Some of those expectations were self-imposed and his focus was to meet them instead helping toward the greater good of the team. “Sometimes you do think to the future,” Foster told The Wichita Eagle last week. “You think about, maybe I can play in the NBA and maybe I need to start doing this. But I think my mindset is back to worrying about today and getting better at what you need to get better at every day. That is all it took for me to get in a few good games.” Following that January 3 loss to Oklahoma State, Foster scored 23 off the bench to help defeat TCU, hit the game-winning three at Oklahoma, led his team in scoring (14) and assists (four) to get by Texas Tech, and grabbed three steals in the weekend’s upset over Baylor. There is still a lot that this team’s resume needs between now and Selection Sunday, but as long as Foster continues to focus on the greater good over self, his team will have a chance. And that’s all it needs, really.

It's not hard to look for the key to K-State's 4-1 start: Marcus Foster. (AP/Charlie Riedel)

It’s not hard to look for the key to K-State’s 4-1 start: Marcus Foster. (AP/Charlie Riedel)

Power Rankings

  1. Iowa State — 3 points (All voted 1st). Comment: “The Cyclones finally delivered the first punch in their attempt to end The Streak (TM). Three of their next four games come at home with the only road trip in that stretch set to take place at Texas Tech. This means that there’s a decent chance Fred Hoiberg’s team comes to Lawrence for the return game with a stellar 7-1 league record. However, if the first two weeks of Big 12 play have taught us anything, it’s that holding the fort in this conference is anything but a given.” – Brian Goodman (@BSGoodman)
  2. Kansas — 6 points (All voted 2nd). Comment: “The Jayhawks have the top-ranked offense and defense during conference play and only lost by five on the road at Iowa State. They could get back to the top spot with wins over Oklahoma at home and Texas on the road this week.” – Chris Stone (@cstonehoops) Read the rest of this entry »
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