Big 12 Power Rankings: Baylor Demands Your Attention Edition

Posted by Nate Kotisso on February 3rd, 2015

It’s a near-consensus this season that the Big 12 is considered the best conference in college basketball. As we approach the halfway point of league play, drawing a line between NCAA Tournament contenders and the rest has become an easier task. We all expected Kansas and Iowa State to reign at the top and Oklahoma State, TCU and Texas Tech rounded out the standings (sorry, guys). But the middle five conference teams have been the tough to forecast all season long. West Virginia is 6-2 in league play but still somewhat unproven, with four of those six wins coming against the Horned Frogs and Red Raiders. Texas, Oklahoma and Kansas State have all left something to be desired. The only middle five team to exceed expectations so far has been none other than Baylor.

It's possible: You can respect Scott Drew's grind while laughing at how silly he looks in this photo. (Tom Pennington/Getty Images)

It’s possible: You can respect Scott Drew’s grind while laughing at how silly he looks in this photo. (Tom Pennington/Getty Images)

After finishing sixth last year, Big 12 coaches picked Baylor sixth again before the season began. At the moment, the Bears are in, you guessed it, sixth place. So how are they exceeding expectations? Because they lost Isaiah Austin, Cory Jefferson and Brady Heslip — three of their top four scorers from a year ago — and a slew of role players has been charged with taking on greater responsibility. Rico Gathers has been an anchor inside, grabbing more rebounds in a starter’s role (12.0 RPG) while sharing the wealth among veterans Royce O’Neale (6.3 RPG), Taurean Prince (5.7 RPG) and freshman Johnathan Motley (4.6 RPG). The graduation of sharpshooter Heslip left a gaping hole in the team’s outside shooting but that role has been supplanted by another trio of Bears. O’Neale has been a consistent outside shooting option since arriving from Denver (42.4%) and Prince is also capable from distance (40.5%), but the most improvement has come from point guard Kenny Chery (32.5% last season to 40.5%).

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Big 12 M5: 02.03.15 Edition

Posted by Brian Goodman on February 3rd, 2015

morning5_big12

  1. Kansas again has a stranglehold on the Big 12 race at the turn, but Bill Self’s defense is getting the job done in a slightly different manner than usual. One of the themes of this year’s team has been the lack of a classic rim-protector in the mold of Joel Embiid or Jeff Withey, but despite that fact, the Jayhawks have maintained a strong shot-blocking presence. Thanks to a collective effort from Cliff Alexander, Jamari Traylor and even Wayne Selden, the Jayhawks rank 37th nationally in block percentage. That mark is a departure from the top-20 groups of recent years, but for a team that rarely plays anyone taller than 6’8″ across the front line, it is impressive.
  2. After dropping a Big Monday game last night and potentially losing its only realistic shot at wresting away the conference crown from the Jayhawks, Iowa State has some reflecting to do. While winning in Allen Fieldhouse is without question one of the toughest tasks in college sports, the Cyclones will need to do a better job of holding onto the ball and diversifying their offense. Georges Niang is a terrific player, but he plays too big of an offensive role for a team that also boasts capable talents like Naz Long, Bryce Dejean-Jones and Dustin Hogue.
  3. Texas currently sits at a disappointing 3-5 in the Big 12, and since there are 18 games on the league’s schedule, the Longhorns are guaranteed to finish the first half of conference play with a losing record. As Jeff Haley of Burnt Orange Nation details, the main reason behind Texas’ struggles has been the poor play of the Longhorns’ defense. Haley correctly notes that, despite employing a zone defense for most of Big 12 play, Texas still allows way too many close shots. Correspondingly, opponents are also hitting 36.4 percent of their threes, but while vulnerability from distance is one of the risks of playing zone, it doesn’t make things any less frustrating for Rick Barnes. It was especially discouraging to see Texas in a zone on Saturday against an exceptional offensive rebounding and three-point shooting team in Baylor — in other words, the ideal zone-buster. Changing Texas’ defensive philosophy won’t transform the Longhorns into a top 10 team — they also struggle with ball-screen and transition defense — but it can definitely help them right the ship in time for a postseason run.
  4. If Texas’ struggles at the halfway point have been the league’s most disappointing result, the most impressive has to be the 6-2 start of West Virginia, thanks in large part to the leadership of Juwan Staten and Devin Williams. According to head coach Bob Huggins, the duo are responsible for getting the program back on track after the team had missed the NCAA Tournament in consecutive seasons for the first time in 15 years. It’s worth noting that the Mountaineers’ schedule has been heavily front-loaded by Big 12 standards — they’ve already played all four of their meetings against Texas Tech and TCU — but for the time being, West Virginia still has an outside shot of catching the Jayhawks, a concept completely unfathomable coming into the season.
  5. Ken Corbitt of The Topeka Capital-Journal writes that the classic Bill Parcells adage holds true when it comes to 5-4 Kansas State: “You are what your record says you are.” It’s tough to argue otherwise. The Wildcats’ conference season has been somewhat interesting with the stories of Marcus Foster‘s benching and the team rebounding nicely from a nightmarish trip through non-conference play, but all in all, Kansas State seems to define mediocrity this season. Better consistency is the goal for the second half of league action, but with four of the Wildcats’ next six meetings coming away from Bramlage Coliseum, that will be tough to realize.
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The Rematch: Kansas Seeks Revenge Tonight Against Iowa State

Posted by Chris Stone on February 2nd, 2015

Back on January 17, Kansas traveled to Ames and suffered its only defeat of the Big 12 season in an 86-81 loss to Iowa State. The Cyclones ran Kansas up and down the floor that day, leaving analysts wondering if this would finally be the year that the Jayhawks’ streak of 10 straight Big 12 regular season titles would come to an end. Flash forward two weeks and Kansas now sits alone at the top of the league standings with a 7-1 record. The Cyclones, meanwhile, have shaken off an embarrassing loss at Texas Tech with a pair of wins in their last two games. Tonight’s Big Monday showdown is a great opportunity for Iowa State to pull even with Kansas in the standings, but it’s also a chance for the Jayhawks to cement themselves as prohibitive title favorites. Fred Hoiberg recognizes the game’s meaning, saying recently, “It’s a heck of a challenge, but we’re chasing them right now. So it’s obviously an important game.”

Will Iowa State celebrate a second victory over Kansas on Monday? (Charlie Litchfield/The Register)

Will Iowa State celebrate a second victory over Kansas on Monday? (Charlie Litchfield/The Register)

A motive of revenge is in play for Kansas tonight. Asked after the team’s victory over Kansas State on Saturday how quickly he’d transition to thinking about Iowa State, freshman Kelly Oubre Jr. responded, “Right now. We owe them.” The game will feature the Big 12’s two best offenses, and if recent meetings are any guide, it’ll be an up-tempo, high-scoring contest. The key for Kansas will be getting back in transition to prevent the Cyclones from finding easy looks. In the last meeting, Iowa State scored 10 of its points on baskets in transition within within 10 seconds of a Kansas conversion. The Cyclones were simply outhustling the Jayhawks down the floor. Kansas junior Perry Ellis agreed, saying that the most important thing for his team is to “get back on defense and limit transition.” The Jayhawks will need freshman Cliff Alexander‘s motor running on all cylinders to keep up with Iowa State’s Jameel McKay, and the Kansas guards will have to find the Cyclones’ shooters in transition, where 41.4 percent of Iowa State’s shots come from behind the arc.

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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

morning5_big12

  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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