Big 12 Power Rankings: College Basketball’s Most Boring Conference? Edition

Posted by Nate Kotisso on February 17th, 2015

We’ve heard from fans and pundits alike this season that the Big 12 is the best conference in college basketball. SB Nation’s Mike Rutherford decided to do some homework on that discussion and released some findings in a piece he published on Monday afternoon. Before you get out your pitchforks and torches, though, Rutherford brings some strong evidence to suggest that maybe the conference is not all it’s cracked up to be. He samples the seven teams that have been ranked in the AP Top 25 during conference play — Kansas, Iowa State, Oklahoma, Baylor, Texas, West Virginia and Oklahoma State — and averaged out each team’s win/loss margin whenever a match-up between two ranked opponents occurred. For instance, in the eight games where a ranked Oklahoma team has faced a ranked Big 12 opponent, the Sooners’ combined average margin of victory (or defeat) was 14.6 points per game.

Is the Big 12 as difficult as the pollsters make it out to be? (Big 12 Conference)

Is the Big 12 as difficult as the pollsters make it out to be?

Rutherford then calculated the other average margins (accurate as of tip-off of the Kansas-West Virginia game) — Iowa State (7.9 PPG), Kansas (8.4), Baylor (10.4), Oklahoma State (12.0), Texas (17.4) and West Virginia (17.8) — and then argues that the scoring margins should be a lot closer that they actually are (aggregate scoring margin: 12.6 PPG). In this context, Rutherford is right. Big 12 basketball can be quite boring. But is that the fault of the teams? Some of it is, but the pollsters deserve the lion’s share of it. Many AP pollsters who don’t primarily cover college basketball sometimes paste together their Top 25s by skimming over how teams did the previous week. While that is clearly an important factor to consider, there are others at play too, such as performances earlier in the season or the severity of some losses. Case in point: Oklahoma was ranked #16 in the AP poll during the week of January 5 but the Sooners would go on to lose four of their next five games. In the January 26 poll released three weeks afterward, Oklahoma dropped from #16 to #24. Often a team that loses twice in a week is poised to completely fall out of the rankings, but the pollsters only punished the Sooners by eight spots following such a rough stretch. Another example is Texas, a team that dropped six of eight games at an early point in league play, falling from #10 to #25 in the AP poll over four weeks. Rankings are ultimately an exercise in aggregating how different people view the world around them, and speaking of which, here’s this week’s Big 12 Power Rankings.

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Big 12 M5: 02.16.15 Edition

Posted by Brian Goodman on February 16th, 2015

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  1. In the marquee game of Saturday’s Big 12 schedule, Kansas brushed Baylor aside to keep Scott Drew winless in Allen Fieldhouse and, more importantly, keep Iowa State and Oklahoma at bay in the standings. The Bears hit a ton of jump shots and threes in the early going, but they fell back down to Earth over the final thirty minutes. The Jayhawk defense played a big part in Baylor’s offensive regression in the second half, as the Bears shot just 5-16 on two-pointers and turned the ball over on roughly 24 percent of their possessions after intermission. Baylor is still a very good team, though, and I look for them to remain in contention for a five seed all the way up to Selection Sunday, which is now less than a month away.
  2. The takeaway for the Jayhawks, according to Kansas City Star columnist Sam Mellinger, is that in spite of some of the things that make this Kansas team different from previous ones — the lack of a dominant interior presence on either end of the floor, the absence of a clear-cut first team all-conference selection, a defense that has been effective but not suffocating like in years past — the Jayhawks are getting better with each passing game. About a month ago, their national perception wasn’t looking too hot; Now, enough time has passed and enough things have changed since the big Kentucky and Temple losses that the Jayhawks should no longer get overlooked in the national picture. Same as it ever was, right?
  3. While most of the country was watching the NBA All-Star Saturday festivities, Kansas State benefited from a curious rule on their way to a 59-56 win over #17 Oklahoma. Midway through the second half, Wildcat Justin Edwards hit a three-pointer, but television replays clearly showed that the ball didn’t leave his hand until after the shot clock expired. However, the shot counted because the officials couldn’t go to the monitors. Per the NCAA rule book, shot clock violations can only be reviewed inside the final two minutes of a game or during overtime, unless the issue is rooted in whether the shot clock started or reset on time (which was not the case here). While excessive monitor reviews have been a big issue in college basketball, it would probably be worthwhile to make plays like this reviewable since they can have a much bigger impact than many calls that are already reviewable. As it was, the inability of the officials to take Edwards’ three-pointer away was a monumental break for a Kansas State team that needs as many of them as it can get, and the shot set up Marcus Foster‘s heroics at the end of the game. On the other side of the coin, the loss makes the Sooners a long-shot to even share the Big 12 title with Kansas.
  4. The other major upset in the conference saw TCU beat what had been the league’s hottest team in Oklahoma State. While the Horned Frogs are much better than they were in their first two years of Big 12 membership, the Cowboys were still favored in this one. Trent Johnson’s team had a huge second half on Saturday, scoring 44 points without the benefit of a made three-pointer. All season, Oklahoma State’s success has depended on how much help they get from their bench, and they got just five points from their reserves in Fort Worth, but on the other hand, that wasn’t their only issue on Saturday. Le’Bryan Nash scored 17 points, but he also turned the ball over seven times, and the Horned Frogs locked Phil Forte into a rough 3-10 performance from the field. After TCU took many of its conference opponents to the brink before falling short, it was nice to see them get their first Big 12 victory since “Harlem Shake” topped the Billboard Hot 100.
  5. It’s been a frustrating year for those who expected Texas freshman Myles Turner to flourish from the get-go, but the big man played perhaps his best game of the season in a 56-41 win over Texas Tech in Austin. Turner scored a game-high 25 points (no other Longhorn scored more than six) on just 13 shots, pulled down 12 rebounds and swatted three shots. After losing four in a row, Texas has rattled off three straight wins against the dregs of the league, but now comes a stretch where they’ll play three of their next four on the road including meetings in Norman, Morgantown and Lawrence. Buckle up.
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Big 12 Weekend Preview

Posted by Brian Goodman on February 13th, 2015

As we move into mid-February, the dust in the Big 12 race may finally be starting to settle. Kansas at the head of the pack isn’t anything new, but recent games have brought us a little more clarity behind them after several weeks of volatility. Oklahoma has built a sliver of separation on Iowa State and Baylor while West Virginia‘s backloaded schedule looks like it’s starting to catch up to them. Of course, we’d be remiss if we didn’t mention Oklahoma State, which has done more in the last week to change its NCAA Tournament status than perhaps any other team in the country. Weekend #7 of conference play should continue to provide resolution, but you never know when things will get chaotic again.

Wayne Selden (left) and Brannen Greene (center) have made a living torching Big 12 opponents from deep. (Jamie Squire/Getty)

Is a reliable back-to-the-basket threat really that important when Wayne Selden (left) and Brannen Greene (center) are torching all comers from deep? (Jamie Squire/Getty)

  • Baylor at Kansas (1:00 ET) – Bill Self wants his team to shoot fewer threes, but the data suggests that it shouldn’t as Kansas ranks seventh in the country in three-point percentage (40.9%). In addition, the Jayhawks make post scoring look like pulling teeth at times, so a game against Baylor’s zone should dictate more long-range bombing. Also of note here is the development that Cliff Alexander will start consecutive games for the first time all season, so keep an eye on how he responds to the challenge of keeping the glass-eating Rico Gathers off the boards.
  • West Virginia at Iowa State (4:00 ET) – Losers of two of their last three, the Mountaineers are about to enter a scheduling gauntlet that starts tomorrow at less than full strength — sophomore Brandon Watkins availability is in question after he sprained his MCL against Kansas State. Iowa State is in a little bit of a rut themselves lately, having also lost two of their last three games. As welcome an addition as Jameel McKay has been for the Cyclones, their recent efforts on defense have been horrific, so perhaps a home game against the league’s seventh-ranked will cure what ails them.

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Musings on the Mountaineers: Just How Good is West Virginia?

Posted by Chris Stone on February 13th, 2015

West Virginia has been one of this season’s biggest surprises in college basketball. Picked by the league’s coaches to finish in a tie for sixth in the Big 12, the Mountaineers are currently 7-4 and tied for third. Head coach Bob Huggins has fundamentally transformed the team’s playing style by adopting a high-pressure defense that aims to turn opponents over before they can set up their half-court offense. “We knew we could get teams to play different,” West Virginia assistant Larry Harrison recently told Bleacher Report. “Our goal is to get them out of their half-court offense. That’s what the goal was.”

The Mountaineers have opened the eyes of opponents with their up tempo play.

The Mountaineers have opened the eyes of opponents with their uptempo play this season.

The strategy has been successful. West Virginia leads the Big 12 in defensive turnover percentage, causing a turnover on 27.5 percent of its opponents’ possessions. Its high-paced, trapping defense has helped create steals on 14.5 percent of possessions in league play. Freshman Jevon Carter – an unranked, three-star recruit — has been a revelation, ranking 10th nationally in steal percentage by creating a turnover on 5.0 percent of possessions. Turnovers are an important part of keeping teams out of their half-court offenses and they’re necessary to West Virginia’s success. Because of it, the Mountaineers have the fourth-best defense in the Big 12 (allowing 98.8 points per 100 possessions) despite only having the league’s ninth-best defensive effective field goal percentage.

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Big 12 M5: 02.13.15 Edition

Posted by Nate Kotisso on February 13th, 2015

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  1. Last summer, Kansas assistant Jerrance Howard pled guilty to a charge of unlawful possession of marijuana in Peoria, Illinois. According to the Peoria Journal Star, Howard was ordered to pay nearly $1,200 in fines and legal fees and was placed under court supervision for six months. Somewhat coincidentally, the six-month court supervision period ends today and head coach Bill Self claims he did not have knowledge of the situation until Wednesday. Self responded by suspending Howard from team activities for two weeks, but this is pretty much a non-story. Howard had a lapse in judgment, a sentence was handed down, and it was served. Let’s all move on.
  2. TCU coach Trent Johnson announced yesterday that junior guard Charles Hill Jr. has been suspended indefinitely for “conduct unbecoming of a TCU men’s basketball player.” Hill has appeared in 14 games this season, averaging 2.6 points and 1.2 rebounds in a little over five minutes per game of action. As Frogs O’ War points out, Hill sent out a tweet following TCU’s 66-43 loss to Texas that may or may not have to do with his suspension. We probably won’t hear what he did to warrant punishment but kudos to Johnson, though, for working in “unbecoming” into a suspension announcement. Coaches and athletic departments typically reuse the same suspension statement ad nauseam. Finally, I feel smarter after reading one of these things!
  3. In West Virginia’s recent win over Kansas State, Mountaineers sophomore forward Brandon Watkins sprained the medial collateral ligament (MCL) in his left knee while having his best game of the season (14 points and nine rebounds in 17 minutes). Watkins is listed as day-to-day and therefore has a chance to suit up for the team’s massive road contest with Iowa State on Saturday. I hope he is well enough to play because heaven knows the ‘Eers haven’t had a good win since throttling Oklahoma a month ago.
  4. On Thursday, SI’s Luke Winn published the interweb’s most intelligent power rankings for your consumption. Seven Big 12 teams are ranked in the top 24 teams on his list, with Oklahoma making a seven-spot jump from last week, the sharpest increase of any team among his top 16. Winn asks whether the Sooners are the national title contender that we aren’t talking about, and it’s a valid question. They’ve played fantastic basketball lately but have still suffered a handful of head-scratching losses (Creighton, Washington, Kansas State at home and at West Virginia). I want to believe in the Sooners, I do, but I’m not totally confident in Lon Kruger’s team getting to the second weekend of the NCAA Tournament, much less Final Four weekend.
  5. West Virginia guard Juwan Staten was named as a finalist for the Lowe’s Senior CLASS Award on Thursday. Staten is just one of ten players in Division I to earn this distinction, given to the senior with “notable achievements in four areas of excellence: community, classroom, character and competition.” Staten is the Big 12’s lone representative. The Big East had three (D’Angelo Harrison – St. John’s; Matt Stainbrook – Xavier; Alex Barlow – Butler); the Big Ten had two (D.J. Newbill – Penn State; Frank Kaminsky – Wisconsin); the West Coast Conference had two (Kevin Pangos – Gonzaga; Tyler Haws – Brigham Young); while the Ohio Valley (Reece Chamberlain – Belmont) and Pac-12 (Chasson Randle – Stanford) conferences each had one representative per league.
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Big 12 M5: 02.11.15 Edition

Posted by Nate Kotisso on February 11th, 2015

morning5_big12

  1. We now have repeat winners representing this week’s Big 12 Player and Newcomer of the Week. Baylor’s Rico Gathers takes Player of the Week after sharing the honor with K-State’s Nino Williams two weeks ago. It’s hard to deny the award to a guy who averaged 15.5 points and 17 rebounds in wins over TCU and West Virginia but that’s exactly what Gathers accomplished for the Bears. Oklahoma State’s Anthony Hickey wins his second Newcomer of the Week award after taking home the honors for the week of December 15. Hickey’s 15 points in a win at Texas and 15 more vs Kansas were instrumental in the Cowboys’ climb up the Big 12 ladder. Better make room in your trophy cases, fellas.
  2. Is Travis Ford the Big 12’s Coach of the Year thus far? ESPN’s Myron Medcalf thinks so and makes a compelling argument for the Oklahoma State coach. When you have the week the Cowboys have had sweeping the regular season series from Texas, a double-digit comeback victory versus Kansas and taking care of the also-streaking Baylor Bears, a question like this is bound to pop up. We have to remember that today is only February 11. Chaos has been commonplace nearly everywhere in the Big 12 except for the very top of the league and with six games to go, it’d be silly to expect the status quo to remain the status quo. We have to also remember that the only anxious people in Stillwater is, well, everyone because they’ve tasted fleeting success under Ford before only to see season after season end in disappointment. Who knows, maybe this is the year the Cowboys finish stronger than they usually do and Medcalf’s case makes a lot of sense. But at the same time, we wouldn’t be having this conversation seven days ago. Life can come at you fast.
  3. Down two of their top four scorers in Manhattan, Texas and coach Rick Barnes needed a spark. As Chris Hummer of Horns247 notes, Barnes went with a three-guard starting lineup for the first time all season and it worked out beautifully. With Javan Felix and Jonathan Holmes‘ statuses still up in the air as of now, this experiment by Barnes would be worth trying out again. The trio of Isaiah Taylor, Demarcus Holland and Kendal Yancy, spacing on offense was as good as it has been all year long. Taylor was at his best, keeping the K-State defense off balance by driving and finding teammates. At 4-6 in conference play, it could be time to tinker with the lineup even if Felix and Holmes are ready to go. The Longhorns may not have much time to right the ship completely before the Big 12 Tournament but they must turn it around to ensure a spot in the NCAA Tournament.
  4. The Lubbock Avalanche-Journal came out with a list of the 20 best players in the Big 12 earlier this week. In a league as talented as this one, you can’t possibly find 20 credible names without leaving some good ones off the list but there are a couple (Kenny Chery, Jonathan Holmes). As for the rankings themselves, I’d have some guys higher (Nash, Forte) and some lower (Spangler) but it’s not half bad. I’m curious to know what the thinking was by putting Kyan Anderson on the list. I’m all for showing TCU love whenever it warrants it but they haven’t done a lot of winning since the calendar turned to 2015. If you replace Anderson with Marcus Foster, who has been up and down for K-State, I wouldn’t see much change in the overall quality in the rankings. Then again, it’s just a list so whatever.
  5. Now at 12-12 on the season, Kansas State has now found itself playing the spoiler role. The Wildcats could throw a monkey wrench in the Big 12 race as they face West Virginia tonight and five other teams in the hunt for the NCAA Tournament — Oklahoma, Baylor, Kansas, Iowa State and Texas — before season’s end. A lot of said monkey wrench throwing depends on whether or not Marcus Foster and Malek Harris are taken off suspension in time for tonight’s game (sources told Kansas.com that they’d be both out vs West Virginia). This is the reality that Bruce Weber and his team must face.
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Thanks to Recent Hot Stretch, Oklahoma State Appears Tourney-Bound

Posted by Brian Goodman on February 10th, 2015

Coming into the season, the recipe for Travis Ford to get Oklahoma State back to the NCAA Tournament was tough, but doable: Coax solid performances from the core of Le’Bryan NashPhil Forte and Michael Cobbins; ask transfer Anthony Hickey to pick up some of the slack from Marcus Smart’s departure and hope for good years from his capable but unproven role players. While Smart, Markel Brown and two other players left last year’s disappointing team, the remaining core has allowed for a somewhat smooth transition. Still, the Cowboys’ prospects in a loaded Big 12 this season were considered modest at best. Conference coaches certainly didn’t make much of their chances, voting them eighth in the preseason poll. Now, a few months later and with only six games remaining in the regular season, Oklahoma State is nearing lock status for an unlikely NCAA Tournament bid bid thanks to a recent stretch of high-quality basketball.

There's plenty of reason to smile in Stillwater (Mark D. Smith/USA Today Sports)

There’s plenty of reason to smile in Stillwater (Mark D. Smith/USA Today Sports)

Since suffering its worst loss of the season at Kansas State on January 24, Ford’s team has reeled off three straight wins against ranked teams and four of five overall, highlighted by last weekend’s comeback triumph over first-place Kansas and punctuated by a Monday night sweep of a very good Baylor team. The win over the Bears was especially noteworthy as it marked the Cowboys’ first sweep of Baylor since 2006, back when Baylor was barred from playing non-league games in the fallout from the Dave Bliss-Patrick Dennehy scandal. The Cowboys’ recently excellent play couldn’t have come at a better time. They had a successful if not overly impressive non-conference season with neutral court wins against Oregon State and Tulsa accompanied by a nice road win at Memphis, but they lost their two toughest tests before the new year — dropping a game at South Carolina and another to a resurgent Maryland team. The team appeared to have the potential to outperform the meager preseason expectations, but it was unclear whether they would pick up enough wins to make the necessary push for the Dance. Now that they’ve played seven games against the conference’s best teams, though, most of the grunt work is behind them.

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Big 12 Power Rankings: Oklahoma, Where Wins Come Sweeping Down the Plains Edition

Posted by Nate Kotisso on February 9th, 2015

The regular season can be a long, drawn out-proposition. Around 12 to 15 games are typically played during the pre-conference season, and even though it’s impossible to survey each team correctly, people like us try it anyway to avoid doing something else that’s actually mind-numbing. Case in point with Oklahoma. While some prognosticators pegged them as an early darkhorse to make the Final Four, no one told Creighton about that as the Bluejays beat the Sooners by two points in their second game of the season (RPI: #130). Lon Kruger’s team made up for that defeat by winning two of three out in its trip to the Bahamas, including a key neutral-court victory over a much-improved Butler team (RPI: #18). December resulted in another hiccup, though, with the Sooners losing to a ranked Washington group on a neutral court. The Huskies had started the year 11-0 with several nice victories before losing nine of their next 12 games. Now that loss is looking a lot more iffy (RPI: #80).

Don't be shy. Give it a try. (SoonerSports.com)

Don’t be shy. Give it a try. (SoonerSports.com)

Thank goodness for conference play, right? Every team welcomes the chance to start all over again. After beating Baylor and Texas by a combined 31 points to tip off Big 12 play, bad Oklahoma paid a return visit. Starting with a crushing home loss in the final seconds of overtime to Kansas State, the Sooners would move on to lose four of their next five contests. But in recent weeks, it now appears that good Oklahoma is back in action with a four-game winning streak. Through the ups and downs has been a talented crop of players but perhaps the best of this group is Big 12 Player of the Year candidate Buddy Hield. His game was far more perimeter-oriented last year, but Hield has become a dangerous offensive weapon from anywhere on the floor this season. So given all of these ups and downs, the Sooners are poise to leap into sole possession of second place in the Big 12 and become the newest challenger to Kansas’ throne. But they have to win tonight.

Power Rankings

  1. Kansas — 3 points (All voted 1st). Comment: “The Jayhawks control their own destiny despite Saturday’s loss in Stillwater, but the allocation of minutes across their frontcourt continues to baffle me. Cliff Alexander played 16 minutes and was fantastic around the rim while Jamari Traylor set a new career high in turnovers (six) in his 23 minutes of action. Meanwhile, Landen Lucas contributed a forgettable two rebounds and no points in 12 minutes.” – Brian Goodman (@BSGoodman)
  2. Iowa State — 7 points (Chris & Nate — 2nd, Brian — 3rd) Comment: “The Cyclones blasted Texas Tech 75-38 this week, as Jameel McKay found his way into the starting lineup due to Bryce Dejean-Jones’ tardiness. After finishing with 17 points and nine rebounds, McKay might be proving himself worthy of a permanent spot.” – Chris Stone (@cstonehoops) Read the rest of this entry »
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Big 12 M5: 02.09.15 Edition

Posted by Nate Kotisso on February 9th, 2015

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  1. The always entertaining Kyle Porter of Pistols Firing recapped Oklahoma State‘s upset win over Kansas on Saturday. The Jayhawks played the first half about as well as possible, running out to a double-figure halftime lead while shooting 7-of-9 from three. The second half, however, went in the opposite direction. Turnovers were a problem, as that number ballooned to 18 (Jamari Traylor had six miscues himself), and the Cowboys found the seam by driving to the basket and drawing fouls (20-of-26 on free throws). With only two Big 12 losses, Kansas is still in the driver’s seat for another conference crown but it will face stiff competition as Iowa State (one game behind) and Oklahoma (1.5 games behind) jockey for position down the stretch.
  2. West Virginia won the opening tap and scored the first two points of Saturday’s game against Baylor in Morgantown, but that would be the last time the Mountaineers would hold the lead as the Bears went on a 23-1 run to coast to an 87-69 blowout victory. Baylor beats you with its offensive balance, as Rico Gathers (17 points), Taurean Waller-Prince (15), Royce O’Neale (15), Al Freeman (11) and Kenny Chery (11) all registered double-figure scoring. In the Bears’ current three-game winning streak, they have shot a scorching 45 percent (22-for-49) from behind the arc. Unfortunately, we figured this would start to happen to West Virginia. The Mountaineers’ conference schedule is so backloaded that a major slide during the rest of the regular season is very much in play. Baylor, meanwhile, will be tested this week, facing upstart Oklahoma State in Waco followed by big, bad Kansas on Saturday afternoon in Lawrence.
  3. A not-such-a-big-deal thing and a hope-it’s-not-such-a-big-deal thing happened to the Cyclones over the weekend. We’ll start with the first thing as Bryce Dejean-Jones came off the bench in Iowa State‘s win against Texas Tech. Fred Hoiberg attributed Dejean-Jones’ benching to tardiness, which, again, is not such a big deal. In his place, Jameel McKay owned the game to the tune of 17 points, eight rebounds, three blocks and two steals in 25 minutes. The other thing that happened was that Georges Niang headed to the locker room in the first half after experiencing soreness in one of his Achilles’ tendons. Niang returned to the game but nevertheless should take extra special caution with the knowledge of how serious Achilles injuries can be. It’ll be something to keep an eye on in the Cyclones’ Big Monday game against Oklahoma tonight and West Virginia on Saturday.
  4. Some big news was released on Sunday night as Oklahoma big man TaShawn Thomas will play in tonight’s showdown with Iowa State. Thomas, who had eight points and 10 rebounds in his 27 minutes on the floor, left Saturday’s game against TCU after getting hit in the eye in the second half. With all hands on deck for both teams tonight, there should be some fireworks in Norman.
  5. The college basketball world lost a giant on Saturday as former North Carolina coach Dean Smith passed away at the age of 83. Smith was a huge success — on and off the hardwood — from his 879 career victories, 11 Final Fours and two national titles to being a fearless advocate for civil rights in a place and time that was not conducive to his views. The countless stories of the influence of Smith have been the most magnificent part of the weekend, including one that Oklahoma’s Lon Kruger told to the Tulsa World. I won’t spoil any of it here, but the piece further underscores how well he treated everyone. Even opposing coaches.
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Big 12 M5: 02.06.15 Edition

Posted by Brian Goodman on February 6th, 2015

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  1. Texas‘ overtime loss to Oklahoma State on Wednesday dropped the Longhorns to a disappointing 3-6 in conference play and ignited some talk of the possibility of the Longhorns missing the NCAA Tournament for the second time in three years. I’m here to tell you that that chatter is very premature. While Texas doesn’t have any business being this bad with its formidable blend of talent and experience, it’s way too early to be bringing the Horns into the bubble conversation. They still own wins over Iowa at Madison Square Garden and UConn in Storrs, as well as a home win over West Virginia. On the other side of the ledger, their losses, while numerous, aren’t particularly egregious for their resume — every team they’ve lost to is currently ranked in the RPI top 35. Lastly, as is always the case with these kinds of conversations, in order to leave Texas out of the Big Dance, you have to find a team with a better resume, and the bubble right now is just too soft to make a convincing argument for the Longhorns to be left on the outside. There’s no doubt Texas has fallen well short of expectations, but they aren’t in any danger of missing the Tournament – yet. If they lose two or more of their next three games (at Kansas State, at home against TCU and Texas Tech), then we can talk.
  2. It’s been an up-and-down few years for Oklahoma State, so when a season highlight presents itself, I don’t have any problem if its fanbase wants to milk it for all its worth. Kyle Porter of Pistols Firing dissects Le’Bryan Nash’s rim-shaking throwdown from Wednesday night in great detail, all the way from how the play developed to the always-fun bench reactions and Travis Ford getting greedy and lobbying for a foul call. Looking around the conference, there isn’t a player who is more important to his team’s postseason chances than Nash is to the Cowboys due to his high usage and ability to create plays for himself, so when a play of his goes viral, it’s definitely worth passing along.
  3. Luke Winn’s power rankings at SI.com are always a great read, and this week’s edition includes an interesting blurb about Cliff Alexander‘s presence on the interior. We’ve talked before about Alexander’s offensive rawness in the post, but Winn illuminates how much Alexander lags behind his peers in this department. Jahlil Okafor, Myles Turner and Karl-Anthony Towns have all been considerably more productive on the blocks, but in fairness to Alexander, the other three players are taller and should be expected to post better numbers. Alexander has the potential to develop a true back-to-the-basket game over time, however, so we’ll see what the second half of conference play and the postseason brings out of the freshman.
  4. Tomorrow’s match-up between Baylor and West Virginia is one of the more interesting games of the weekend. A Baylor win would pull the Bears even with West Virginia, allowing them to keep a sliver of hope in ultimately catching Kansas in the league standings. The Mountaineers’ press will look to speed up Baylor’s deliberate tempo, which is currently ranked 300th in the country with an average possession length of 19.7 seconds. Additionally, neither team shoots particularly well, but both rank in the top five nationally in offensive rebounding. Unless Baylor gets white-hot from beyond the arc (as they can get sometimes), you can expect the winner of this one to be determined by second-chance points.
  5. We’ll wrap up by giving Oklahoma credit for fielding the conference’s most efficient defensive unit in the first half of Big 12 play. Kansas has owned that title in each of the last three full seasons and nine of the last 10, so while there’s still a lot of basketball to be played, it says a lot about the progress Lon Kruger‘s team has made from last year’s shaky defensive performance. Buddy Hield has slightly improved his steals rate from 2.4% last year to 2.6% this year while committing just 1.8 fouls per game in conference play. Those marks would be impressive for any player, but it’s especially noteworthy for Hield because of the high workload he’s asked to shoulder (he’s averaging 34 minutes per game in Big 12 play). The Sooners have held their last three opponents to an average of 48 points per game and could be a decent bet to do the same when they face TCU in Fort Worth tomorrow.
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Suspensions Endanger Kansas State’s Postseason Hopes

Posted by Chris Stone on February 5th, 2015

Things continue to get worse for Kansas State. The Wildcats entered Wednesday having lost three of their last four games, but a road trip to Lubbock to face league-worst Texas Tech seemed like just the break Weber’s team needed. Shortly before game time, however, the head coach announced in a statement that freshman Malek Harris and sophomore Marcus Foster had been suspended for violating team rules. “Our players have expectations and there are consequences when you don’t live up to those expectations,” the statement said. “Hopefully, they will learn from this experience and make the necessary progress to rejoin our team.” For those scoring at home, this is the second time Foster has found his way into Weber’s doghouse this season. The sophomore was also benched by his coach earlier in Big 12 play. Harris, a top-100 recruit, is averaging 13.6 minutes per game. While he doesn’t fill up the stat sheet, the 6’8″ freshman has provided the Wildcats with additional frontcourt depth this season.

K-State's leading scorer, Marcus Foster was suspended Wednesday. (Scott Sewell/USA Today)

Kansas State’s leading scorer Marcus Foster was suspended on Wednesday. (Scott Sewell/USA Today)

The bigger loss is Foster, the team’s leading scorer and best player. In his second season, Foster is averaging 14.0 points per game and he was pegged as a potential Big 12 Player of the Year candidate over the summer. Although Foster hasn’t lived up to those lofty expectations this season, he’s still been the team’s most important player and his absence showed on Wednesday night. Texas Tech smashed the Wildcats by 17 points in the team’s second biggest loss of the year. The Wildcats looked helpless offensively against the Big 12’s worst defensive team, scoring just 0.94 points per possession (PPP) and becoming the only team to post a number below 1.00 PPP against the Red Raiders during conference play. The Wildcats also suffered their worst defensive game of the season, allowing a bad offense to score 1.28 PPP and shoot 53.7 percent from the field against them.

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Can Any Big 12 Team Stop Kansas From Lucky Number 11?

Posted by Chris Stone on February 4th, 2015

We’ve now arrived at the halfway point of the Big 12 season and the league standings certainly have a familiar feel to them. After winning at least a share of the regular season title in each of the last 10 seasons, Bill Self’s Kansas group once again sits atop the conference with a remarkable 8-1 record. The Jayhawks currently hold a two-game lead over their closest competitors, Iowa State and West Virginia, so even at this midway point, it’s already worth asking if another team can stop Kansas from snagging a share or an outright 11th straight regular season title. Ken Pomeroy’s ratings system currently projects Kansas to finish Big 12 play with a league-best 14-4 record. The Jayhawks are expected to be favored in all but two of their remaining games — road trips to West Virginia and Oklahoma are the pair of outliers. Because Pomeroy’s system factors in the cumulative probabilities of winning each game, he expects Kansas might drop one other unnamed game along the way.

Brannen Greene celebrates with fans after the Jayhawks' win over Iowa State. (Nick Krug/KU Sports)

Brannen Greene celebrates with fans after the Jayhawks’ win over Iowa State. (Nick Krug/KU Sports)

The Jayhawks’ season will turn on their final five road games, something Self is keenly aware of. “If you’re able to go steal another game or two on the road, then you’ll be in better shape.” he recently said. “But hey, we’ve got five road games left and if we don’t go and play well, we’ll go 0-5.” That scenario, of course, is extremely unlikely with a road game against league-worst Texas Tech coming up. Kansas is also likely to win its four remaining home games (Baylor, TCU, West Virginia and Texas). Pomeroy gives them at least a 70 percent win probability in each and Kansas is on a 20-game winning streak at Allen Fieldhouse. Even if the unthinkable occurs and the Jayhawks lose their four remaining road games, that would likely put them at 13-5 in Big 12 play to end the season.

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