Big 12 M5: 03.19.14 Edition

Posted by Taylor Erickson on March 19th, 2014

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  1. After cutting down the nets in the Big 12 Tournament in Kansas City on Saturday night, Fred Hoiberg’s Iowa State team is riding high on confidence and momentum heading into the NCAA Tournament, as the Cyclones became the first Big 12 team to win the conference tournament while seeded fourth or lower. Travis Hines of the Ames Tribune took a look at how teams that have been in a similar situation after winning their conference tournament as a lower seed have fared in the Big Dance, and found that in all five instances, those squads have fallen in either the first or second round. More recently, however, we’ve seen a pair of teams from the old Big East use their performance in their conference tournament to fuel a run in the NCAAs. Those two teams are the Kemba Walker-led Connecticut team that cut down the nets in 2011, and the Louisville team that challenged Kentucky in the 2012 Final Four. There’s certainly a case to be made for Iowa State building on last week’s success, but they’ll need to continue to shoot the ball with confidence if they intend on writing their own March story.
  2. After a great start to the conference season which propelled them near the top of the league standings, Texas dropped four of its last six regular season games and were bounced in the second round of the Big 12 Tournament in Kansas City. If Rick Barnes’ team wants to stick around a bit longer this week, they will be best served by leaning on their elite ability to rebound the basketball, which ranks fourth in the nation in large part because of big man Cameron Ridley. As the Dallas Morning News points out, Texas isn’t really elite at anything else, from a statistical standpoint, outside of crashing the glass. In a Thursday match-up against Arizona State, this could be a big factor against a Sun Devils team that ranks ninth in the Pac-12 in rebounding.
  3. While our infatuation as a society with one-and-done college players seems to grow by the day, Rustin Dodd of the Kansas City Star points out that freshmen-led teams winning an NCAA title are still the exception, not the rule. Bill Self’s Kansas team has had freshmen play 55.6 percent of the available minutes this season, and only the Anthony Davis-led Kentucky team has won a national championship with freshmen contributing over half of their minutes. Last year’s Louisville championship team gave only 8.1 percent of its total minutes to freshmen, a number that resembles the allocation to this year’s Florida team. From an optimistic standpoint, you could argue that Kansas resembles the 2012 champs in the sense that two Jayhawks are also projected as the top two picks in June’s NBA Draft. But the obvious flaw to that argument is that one of those future lottery picks might not see the court for the rest of the season, as Joel Embiid continues to battle a stress fracture in his lower back.
  4. When the NCAA Tournament brackets were released on Sunday evening, nearly everyone in the nation pointed to a potential third round match-up between Wichita State and Kentucky. The Shockers haven’t seen much of the type of athleticism that John Calipari puts out on the floor in what could be a very interesting showdown. What many failed to realize, however, is that the Wildcats have to survive a tough opening round game against a pesky Kansas State team which, by the way, finished fourth in what might have been the toughest conference in college basketball. The inherent urge to overlook K-State might be the best thing that could happen to Bruce Weber’s team this week, as he will have no problem motivating his team Friday night. While Kansas State won’t have the surplus of athletes of Kentucky, their disciplined approach and motion offense might be the perfect counter to what has been an undisciplined team for a majority of the season.
  5. To say that this season hasn’t gone according to plan for Marcus Smart and Oklahoma State would be quite the understatement. Part of Smart’s motivation to return for his sophomore season in Stillwater was fueled by the Cowboys’ second round loss a season ago against a terribly underseeded Oregon team. Heading into Friday’s game against Gonzaga, Smart has a chance to leave one lasting impression on his short, often criticized career at Oklahoma State. Aside from his mediocre long range shooting ability, there’s no question that Smart is an outstanding talent who could carry a team through several rounds in March. Whether he can change our perception of his college career for the good, though, remains to be seen.
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Big 12 M5: 03.17.14 Edition

Posted by Kory Carpenter on March 17th, 2014

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  1. The Big 12 was considered by many to be the best conference in the country this season, and that might have been validated when seven of its 10 schools made the NCAA Tournament yesterday. The 70 percent acceptance rate was higher than any other conference, and as Wendell Barnhouse at Big12sports.com points out, it is the only power conference without a team seeded lower than ninth. As Committee chairman Ron Wellman explains to Barnhouse, Big 12 teams playing so many top-50 RPI teams this season helped improve resumes and likely pushed a potential bubble team like Oklahoma State into the field.
  2. If you like NCAA Tournament committee conspiracy theories, Gregg Doyel has an interesting article here on just that topic. Other than the NBA Draft, the NCAA Tournament selection and bracketing process brings out as many conspiracy theorists as any sporting event. Doyel brings up a few interesting points in this year’s bracket, namely that #1 seed and untested Wichita State will potentially face an underseeded #4 Louisville team just 90 minutes from its campus in the Sweet Sixteen, while #6 seed Baylor gets two de facto home games in San Antonio in the first two rounds. Me? I don’t buy them. There are so many interesting potential match-ups (Wichita State vs Kansas State in the Round of 32, as Doyel also points out) that you’re going to get a few of them. The law of averages tells us that. Besides, when the committee had the perfect chance to put Border Civil War members Kansas and Missouri against each other in the Round of 32 last season, #1 seed Kansas was in the South region while #9 seed Missouri was in the Midwest. No conspiracy there.
  3. Seven-seed New Mexico quickly became many people’s upset pick when a potential rematch against #2 seed Kansas became a possibility in the Round of 32. And with the way the Jayhawks have been playing without Joel Embiid in the lineup, it certainly makes sense. Kansas beat New Mexico 80-63 back in December thanks to Embiid’s 18 points, six rebounds, and four blocks, and as Rustin Dodd points out, the Lobos are hot right now. Ten-seed Stanford isn’t, however, and the Cardinal looks to be a better match-up for Kansas in the round of 32.
  4. ESPN’s Eamonn Brennan takes a look at all 68 teams in the NCAA Tournament and puts them into  categories ranging from bracket busters to favorites, and a few places in-between. Kansas State, Texas and Baylor fell in the “High-Major Meh” category, and it’s hard to argue with him. I don’t see any of those three teams surviving the first weekend. He has a little more faith in Oklahoma, thanks in large part to head coach Lon Kruger. Kansas is just outside the “Favorites” group because of the uncertainty of Joel Embiid’s back injury.
  5. One of the best players in the Big 12 is preparing for the first NCAA Tournament game of his career, and it has been a long time coming. But I’m not talking about freshmen Andrew Wiggins or Marcus Foster. Rather, Iowa State guard DeAndre Kane played four seasons in relative obscurity at Marshall before transferring to Iowa State for a fifth season. He led the Cyclones to the Big 12 Tournament championship and a #3 seed as the Cyclones have become a trendy pick to advance to the second weekend and beyond.
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NCAA Tournament Instareaction: Big 12 Teams

Posted by Brian Goodman & Taylor Erickson on March 16th, 2014

Sunday night, the Big 12 realized the rewards of an outstanding 2013-14 season. Back in November, the league was expected to top out at five NCAA bids, but a league record-tying seven schools heard their names called on Selection Sunday. The conference’s selection of NCAA Tournament participants run the gamut from national title contender (Kansas, if the Jayhawks live long enough to see the return of Joel Embiid) to trendy second weekend picks like Iowa State, Baylor and Oklahoma State, to a trio that not only outperformed preseason expectations but cemented their standings without needing extra wins over this weekend to do so (Texas, Kansas State and Oklahoma). The league may not have a team that you can feel great about locking in for an appearance in Dallas in early April, but you can say the same thing for most power conferences around the country.

Can the Jayhawks get past New Mexico in the second round if they'll need to do so without Joel Embiid? (USA Today)

The Jayhawks have national title aspirations, but can they get past a potential match-up against New Mexico without Joel Embiid? (USA Today)

Kansas (Brian Goodman)

  • Seed: #2 South
  • Quick First Round Preview: Kansas will square off against the 15-seed Eastern Kentucky Colonels, winners of the Ohio Valley Conference Tournament. The Jayhawks shouldn’t have much trouble handling them — even without Joel Embiid in the lineup — but Jeff Neubauer’s senior-laden team operates with the nation’s fourth-best effective field-goal percentage (57 percent) and turns opponents over at a rate of 24.2 percent.
  • Intriguing Potential Future Matchup: A second-round match-up against New Mexico will await the Jayhawks provided both teams take care of business. Bill Self‘s team beat Craig Neal’s in Kansas City just three months ago, but New Mexico forward Cameron Bairstow didn’t have much trouble against Kansas’ front line even with Embiid, as he led the Lobos with 24 points in the losing effort.
  • Final Word: The Jayhawks reap the rewards of their historically intense non-conference schedule and relative walk to their 10th straight Big 12 regular season title with favorable placement in St. Louis, just a five-hour drive from Lawrence. Traveling Jayhawks fans will be in for a treat, as they can catch Wichita State, Kentucky and fellow Big 12 member Kansas State all under one roof.

Iowa State (Kory Carpenter)

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Rushed Reactions: #16 Iowa State 74, Baylor 65

Posted by Brian Goodman on March 15th, 2014

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Brian Goodman is an RTC correspondent. He filed this report after Saturday night’s Big 12 Tournament final between Iowa State and Baylor.

Three Key Takeaways.

The Mayor Brings a Championship Home to Ames (AP)

The Mayor Brings a Championship Home to Ames (AP)

  1. Iowa State perseveres before finally getting over the hump. After Iowa State’s dominant shooting performance against Kansas, the Cyclones found scoring to be much more of a struggle in the first half against Baylor’s zone defense. Things couldn’t have started much worse for Fred Hoiberg’s squad, as they fell behind 11-1 to start the game and didn’t hit its first shot from the floor until more than seven minutes had passed in the first half. Iowa State’s Big Three of Melvin Ejim, DeAndre Kane and Georges Niang were stifled into a miserable 3-of-17 performance before intermission, and the team as a whole shot just 32 percent from the field in the first half. Baylor’s zone moved very nicely, doing an excellent job of denying the lane and closing out on the perimeter at the same time to keep the Cyclones at bay, even though the Bears weren’t doing so hot on offense themselves. Baylor extended its five-point halftime lead to eight midway through the second half, but the Cyclones slowly chipped away. Although Baylor quieted an Iowa State-dominant crowd for most of the second half by answering with buckets of their own, the Cyclones finally broke through with consecutive three-pointers by Naz Long and Ejim and sealed the win from there.
  2. Big second half propels Iowa State to the Big 12 Tournament crown. All told, the Cyclones were fortunate to only be down by five points at halftime. They shot poorly and had a hard time cleaning up their misses, but fortunately for them, Baylor didn’t fare much better, shooting just 34.5 percent from the floor in the first half themselves. The Cyclones simplified their attack in the second half, mostly relying on close looks and mid-range jump shots to keep the game close before going over the top with the aforementioned pair of three-pointers. A 69.6 percent shooting clip in the second half powered Iowa State past Baylor in the home stretch. Read the rest of this entry »
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Three Thoughts on Baylor’s Blowout Win Over Texas

Posted by Brian Goodman on March 14th, 2014

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

Baylor Outraced Texas on This Night

Baylor Outraced Texas on This Night

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

Posted by Brian Goodman on March 14th, 2014

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

Georges Niang Feasted on the Kansas Interior Tonight (AP)

Georges Niang Feasted on the Kansas Interior Tonight (AP)

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

Posted by Greg Mitchell on March 14th, 2014

Baylor’s rollercoaster season has been on the upswing for awhile, and that upward trajectory has continued in Kansas City. The Bears got off to a hot start (15-3) in their opener against TCU, and followed that up with a similarly hot start in the quarterfinal against Oklahoma (13-3). The difference? TCU was winless in conference play, while the Sooners came into the game ranked #17 and boasting one of the most efficient offenses in the country. Baylor came ready to play in both games, and is now headed to the semi-finals brimming with momentum. The Bears shredded the Oklahoma defense to the tune of a 54.8 percent shooting performance in the first half, and while that dipped in the second half, they did just enough to shoot 50 percent on the game.

Kenny Chery facilitated an efficient Baylor offense as the Bears outshot Oklahoma (baylorbears.com).

Kenny Chery facilitated an efficient Baylor offense as the Bears outshot Oklahoma (baylorbears.com).

What is the ceiling for this Baylor team? If the way they’ve played in Kansas City is any indicator, it’s pretty high. Steady point guard is usually a big part of a tournament run, and Kenny Chery looked the part against the Sooners. He didn’t shoot the ball well (3-of-11), but played virtually the entire game (38 minutes) and was the key factor in the Bears’ hyper efficient offense. His seven assists helped the Bears put four players other than himself in double figures. Despite three turnovers, Chery did a good job against Oklahoma’s press and created easy basket that way too. Cory Jefferson was another reason the offense kept whirring by effectively passing out of double teams numerous times.

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Big 12 M5: 03.14.14 Edition

Posted by Brian Goodman on March 14th, 2014

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  1. Kansas State went one-and-done in the Big 12 Tournament, but they’re still headed for the Big Dance in what was supposed to be a down year. As much as yesterday’s loss to Iowa State hurts, that’s a pretty good situation to be in as a program, writes Sam Mellinger of The Kansas City Star. On Sunday, the Wildcats will crack the field for the fifth consecutive season, establishing a new program record for sustained success. Cynics may point to the fact that only two of those five bids belong to Bruce Weber, but to focus on that would be to lose sight of the mediocrity in which the program toiled until the last seven or eight seasons. Don’t hang your heads, Wildcats fans.
  2. ESPN‘s Myron Medcalf writes that everyone who keeps harping on Andrew Wiggins to show some emotion might be better served just calming down and appreciating the star freshman for what he is. It’s tough to disagree. There are plenty of guys playing this week and next who will gladly pop their collar after hitting a big shot, stare down their opponent or give a primal “AND-ONE” scream when driving to the bucket, but there aren’t many guys who will put up 71 points on 35 shots in the space of two games with his team’s game-changing center glued to the bench with a bad back. There are no more than eight chances left to see Wiggins do his thing at this level, so my advice is to sit back and enjoy it.
  3. Oklahoma was also sent home packing Thursday when the Sooners fell 78-73 to Baylor. Oklahoma simply dug themselves too big hole, falling behind by as many as 21 points. They would go on to mount a comeback, but came no closer than four points from tying the Bears in Kansas City. The Sooners should settle into the bracket around the five-seed line, while the Bears added a little more juice to their resume.
  4. The night ended with Texas snuffing out whatever fire was left from West Virginia’s upset win over Kansas last Saturday by blowing out the Mountaineers, 66-49. The game started with Texas racing out to a 12-0 start and nothing went right for the Mountaineers on either end. While West Virginia was a longshot for a bid coming into last night’s game, it was highly disappointing to see them come out as flat as they did with their season on the line.
  5. The best way to sum up Thursday’s action is that for the most part, the cream rose to the top. For all the talk about this being a wide-open tournament, three of the top four teams in the standings will play in tonight’s semifinals and even though Baylor was seeded seventh, the Bears have been playing much better lately than that seed suggests. Tonight should be another exciting slate of hoops: The teams with the league’s two best resumes square off at 6:00 CST, and in the nightcap, we’ll see a battle between two coaches in Rick Barnes and Scott Drew who have fought through multiple rounds of criticism (some deserved, some not) and have their squads playing some pretty good ball right now.
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Rushed Reactions: #10 Kansas 77, Oklahoma State 70 (OT)

Posted by Greg Mitchell on March 13th, 2014

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Here are three key takeaways from Kansas’ thrilling win over Oklahoma State in the Big 12 quarterfinals.

Andrew Wiggins is heating up at the right time for Kansas (sportschump.net).

Andrew Wiggins is heating up at the right time for Kansas (sportschump.net).

  1. How about that for a follow up performance from Andrew Wiggins? After scoring 41 in a loss to West Virginia last Saturday, the freshman scored 30 points on 9-of-17 shooting in his third, and likely final, game against Oklahoma State. For most of the game the Cowboys did a good job in taking the baseline away from Wiggins and forcing him to beat them with his jump shot. And beat them he did, going 3-of-6 from three, and hitting a stepback jumper to tie the game at the end of regulation. Wiggins found more space going to the rim in the second half, and finished off an elevator of an alley-oop. He was also tasked with guarding Markel Brown the majority of the game, and forced the senior into a 5-of-13 shooting afternoon. This occurred after Brown had an efficient 20 points on 5-of-9 shooting the night before. In these last two games Wiggins has played the type of basketball that can carry a team deep into the postseason. That’s pretty good timing on his part.
  2. Wiggins took the headlines today, but the bigger story is how Kansas fared against a quality opponent without Joel Embiid in the lineup. Tarik Black and Jamari Traylor combined for 21 rebounds, 13 points and two blocks, and production like that will go a long way in allowing the Jayhawks to weather the absence of the seven-foot difference-maker. It’ll need to be an all hands on deck mantra for the Kansas big men, and it was this afternoon. Embiid is a dynamic defensive player, but Kansas may feel his loss just as much on the offensive end. Foul trouble limited Perry Ellis to just eight second half minutes, and without him in the game the Jayhawks had no one to draw the Cowboys’ defensive attention in the low post. If not for Wiggins’ scoring heroics, Kansas likely wouldn’t have been able to weather the Oklahoma State comeback. Though raw offensively, Embiid still demands attention, and that will be missed for as long as he’s out.
  3. Number one seeds now might be able to breathe a sigh of relief. The Cowboys’ late season surge (with wins over Kansas and Kansas State), paired with their solid performance this afternoon, may have served to bump them off of the rumored #8/#9 seed line. Given their star power and reputation going into the season, it wouldn’t be surprising if the committee gives them the benefit of the doubt this weekend. That’s good news for any potential top seed. As Bill Self said after the game, if the Cowboys avoid foul trouble, they are good enough to play with just about anyone in the country. Neither Brown nor Marcus Smart shot the ball well today, but Le’Bryan Nash displayed why he’s a such a tough match-up problem. He’s developed into a capable low post scorer, but by nature is more of a slasher. Contending with both of these styles is a tough task for any big man attempting to guard him.

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Oklahoma State & Baylor Shored Up NCAA Bids Wednesday in KC

Posted by Greg Mitchell on March 13th, 2014

Call it redemption, call it taking care of business. Whatever you call it, Oklahoma State flew by its first round test last night at the Sprint Center by beating Texas Tech 80-62. Back in October, having to suit up on the tournament’s first night would’ve seemed ridiculous for a team picked to share the regular season Big 12 title. But here the Cowboys were, needing to beat Texas Tech to set up a Thursday afternoon rubber match with Kansas. Even more, the Cowboys didn’t want to test the committee and pick up loss number twelve to a team with a RPI north of 100. Recent wins over Kansas and Kansas State cured a lot of ills, but beating the Red Raiders was the surest path to a stress-free Selection Sunday.

Oklahoma State forced Texas Tech into 17 turnovers, including six steals by Marcus Smart (okstate.com).

Marcus Smart’s six steals helped Oklahoma State dispatch Texas Tech in the first round of the Big 12 tournament (okstate.com).

The Cowboys were able to do just that by attacking the basket early in the game and building a lead Texas Tech would never threaten. The Red Raiders got off to an 8-0 start, but the Cowboys punched back with a 26-5 run keyed by multiple and one’s. Attacking the basket would be a theme for the entire night, as Oklahoma State got to the free throw line 26 times in the first half, and 37 times for the game. This ability to grind out offensive possessions and create easy looks should allow the Cowboys to weather poor shooting spells in any tournament-setting, and makes them a dangerous team going forward. Marcus Smart, LeBryan Nash and Markel Brown are all in the top ten in the Big 12 in free throw makes too.

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Big 12 M5: 03.13.14 Edition

Posted by Brian Goodman on March 13th, 2014

morning5_big12

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

Posted by Brian Goodman on March 12th, 2014

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

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

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

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

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

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