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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Florida State Finds Its “X” Factor in Xavier Rathan-Mayes

Posted by Brad Jenkins (@bradjenk) on January 27th, 2015

For the most part, Florida State’s 2014-15 season has been a disappointment. Returning four starters from a 22-win NIT semifinalist, Leonard Hamilton had high hopes that this year’s Seminoles would return to the NCAA Tournament for the first time in three season, which at the time was the school’s fourth consecutive trip to the Big Dance. But early injuries and a big dismissal have hurt the team’s progress, and with a 10-10 record, meaningful postseason play does not look likely. However, there may now be a ray of light at the end of the tunnel for this Florida State squad. Despite Saturday’s 78-74 loss to North Carolina, a star appears to be emerging in Tallahassee.

Xavier Rathan-Mayes Exploded for 35 Points in the Smith Center on Saturday. (AP Photo / Ellen Ozier)

Xavier Rathan-Mayes Exploded for 35 Points in the Smith Center on Saturday.
(AP Photo / Ellen Ozier)

Saturday afternoon in Chapel Hill, Florida State fell behind by double-figures in each half, but both times rallied to make the game close. The driving force behind each comeback was Seminoles’ guard Xavier Rathan-Mayes, who put on a performance for the ages, becoming only the fourth opponent to score 35 or more points in the Smith Center’s 29-year history. Rathan-Mayes joins a select group that includes a pair of two-time ACC Player of the Year award winners, Len Bias and J.J. Redick, who each tallied 35 in the Smith Center in their senior seasons. The all-time opponent scoring record belongs to LaSalle’s Lionel Simmons, who scored 38 points in the new building in January 1988. All Simmons did in college was score 3,217 points (third all-time) and win a NPOY Award in 1990. So, you get the point – not bad company to keep. The redshirt freshman’s 35 points is easily the most by an ACC rookie this year, and ties Syracuse’s Rakeem Christmas for the league-high this season by any player. This performance by Rathan-Mayes did not totally come out of nowhere, as he came in to this contest ranked among the ACC’s top-15 scorers in conference games.

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O26 Weekly Awards: Albany, Saah Nimley, Ben Jacobson & Dartmouth…

Posted by Tommy Lemoine on January 27th, 2015

Throughout the season, the Other 26 microsite will run down our weekly superlatives, including team, player, coach and whatever else strikes our fancy in that week’s edition.

O26 Team of the Week

Albany. Last Monday, Albany learned it would be without leading scorer Peter Hooley indefinitely following the junior’s decision to return home to Australia to be with his ill mother. While the move was understandable and even encouraged by head coach Will Brown, it left the Great Danes – in the thick of an America East title race – without one of their most important players… just in time for a road trip to Stony Brook. With the preseason conference favorites on deck before games at Hartford and against UMBC, the week suddenly spelled ‘gut-check’ for Brown’s group. And boy, did they respond.

Without its top scorer, Albany grabbed control of the America East. (AP Photo/Kathy Kmonicek)

Without its top scorer, Albany grabbed control of the America East. (AP Photo/Kathy Kmonicek)

Not only did the Danes beat Stony Brook in the face of long odds (KenPom gave the home team an 82.3% win probability), they did so convincingly, jumping out to an early 10-point lead and never looking back. The team’s other top Australian, forward Sam Rowley, stepped up with 16 points, 13 rebounds, four assists and three blocks – outworking America East Player of the Year Jameel Warney underneath – and Albany scored 19 of its 64 points at the free throw line. Defensively, Brown’s 2-3 zone baffled Stony Brook all night long, holding the Seawolves to a season-low 0.77 points per possession. The final margin: a whopping 17 points. “I thought it was a gutsy effort tonight,” Brown said after the dominant victory.

But the week (and the winning) was far from over for the Danes. Next up was a trip to Hartford on Thursday to battle a talented-if-underachieving Hawks team also vying for a top-four seed. That game, tabbed as a coin-flip, played out much the same for Albany; Rowley was excellent (22 points, eight rebounds) and the team rolled, 62-53. The cherry on top for Brown’s short-handed unit came on Sunday, at home against UMBC, when four players scored in double-figures and the Danes again won big, topping the Retrievers by 14. A week that began with difficult news and could have gone in the opposite direction – again, Hooley leads the team in scoring – ended with Albany standing alone and undefeated atop the standings, in prime position to grab the America East Tournament’s top seed – a spot that means more than ever in 2014-15.

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Big Ten Weekend in Review

Posted by Brendan Brody on January 27th, 2015

Two things that stuck out from a busy seven-game weekend in the B1G both involved Iowa. Fran McCaffery’s squad reentered last week’s Top 25 only to drop two games and potentially lose Aaron White to a shoulder stinger. Luckily, the team does not play again until Saturday in a rematch against Wisconsin. But the star senior may miss some time, becoming the fourth key upperclassmen to get injured once conference play has started. They may have lost to Purdue on Saturday anyway, but with White only playing seven minutes, things were made a bit more difficult for the Hawkeyes to steal a game in West Lafayette. Because of this result and that Nebraska beat Michigan State, there are now four teams tied for sixth place with identical 4-3 records and eight teams sit only two games behind first-place Wisconsin. While the league is down from the last couple years, there is still a great deal of parity within its midsection. Things have gotten even more equal with the injuries, making the last six weeks of conference play that much more interesting.

D'Angelo Russell continues notched a double-double on Sunday as Ohio State beat Indiana. (Kyle Robertson, Columbus Dispatch)

D’Angelo Russell continues notched a double-double on Sunday as Ohio State beat Indiana. (Kyle Robertson, Columbus Dispatch)

Player of the Weekend: D’Angelo Russell had just an all-around outstanding week, but Sunday was special in the fact that it didn’t seem so special. There was no dynamic outside shooting like the first half of the Minnesota game, nor were there any highlight reel no-look passes.Instead the freshman has become so good that he can quietly put up a line that includes 22 points and ten assists against a ranked team without it being much of a surprise anymore. He was able to get to the basket at will, he continued to be really proficient at helping the team on the boards (six rebounds), and he even chipped in with two steals. It also appeared that with the emergence of fellow first-year player Jae’Sean Tate, Thad Matta has decided that in order for this Buckeye unit to advance deep into March, he needs the freshmen more than his quintet of seniors who have failed to be consistent. With a 25.8 PPG average in his last four games, Russell has shown that he’s peaking at the just the right time.

Super Sub of the Weekend: Basil Smotherman had gotten lost in the rotation at Purdue, with Vince Edwards taking the majority of the minutes at the power forward slot. After starting 16 games as a freshman last season, Smotherman had only averaged a paltry 6.2 MPG in Big Ten games prior to Saturday’s matchup against Iowa. This changed as he notched an extremely productive 25 minutes Saturday. He scored a season-high 13 points on 5-for-6 shooting. He also added six rebounds, two of which came in the last minute of the game on the defensive backboards with Iowa attempting a furious comeback. Purdue has one of the deepest rosters in the whole league, and if they could ever get everyone playing well at the same time and contributing in different ways, this could still be a NCAA Tournament team.

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The SEC Week That Was: Volume IV

Posted by Greg Mitchell on January 27th, 2015

For the next nine weeks or so, we’ll run down a few weekly superlatives from league play, take a look at how conference teams look in the eyes of the NCAA Tournament selection committee, and anything else that merits discussion. Here is Volume IV, including games from January 19-25.

Team of the Week. Welcome to the party, Texas A&M. The Aggies are riding a four-game winning streak after beating Missouri (home) and Tennessee (road) last week. It’s their longest conference winning streak since joining the SEC, and the win over the resurgent Vols in Thompson-Boling Arena was a nice exclamation mark. Tennessee’s match-up zone had frustrated Arkansas, Missouri and South Carolina, but the Aggies – which have generally struggled to score in the Billy Kennedy era – were able to shoot 48 percent from the field in the victory. That’s obviously a good sign. Texas A&M’s development potential is also something to keep an eye on. Five key rotation pieces are playing their first year in College Station: Jalen Jones (transfer), Danuel House (transfer), Alex Robinson (freshman), Peyton Allen (freshman) and Tony Trocha-Morelos (freshman). Alex Caruso is again leading the conference in assists per game (5.3) and assist rate (36.7%), and the Aggies’ offense should continue to improve as he gets more experience playing alongside primary scorers Jones and House.

JJ Frazier had the self-described best game of his career in scoring 37 points against Mississippi State (ajc.com).

JJ Frazier had the self-described best game of his career in scoring 37 points against Mississippi State (ajc.com).

Player of the Week. Quick, who is Georgia’s best player? If you didn’t say J.J. Frazier than you’re probably wrong, at least as far the previous week is concerned. The Bulldogs’ point guard gets the nod almost solely for what he did in staving off Mississippi State last Saturday. The sophomore scored 37 points, including a blistering seven-for-seven from three. He told the AP that it was the best game of his career, and it came at a big moment for surging Georgia. The Bulldogs got just 24 points combined from Kenny Gaines, Charles Mann, Marcus Thornton and Nemanja Djurisic. That kind of production, or lack thereof, from a team’s main horses almost always results in a loss. And a loss to Mississippi State would’ve been bad for Georgia’s tournament hopes. But Frazier didn’t let it happen, and he may be battling Armani Moore for the title of most improved player in the conference. He is second in the league in true shooting percentage (65.3%), and is taking care of the ball very well (1.4 turnover per game) despite seeing his role as primary ball handler drastically increased over what it was last season.

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ACC Weekend Review: 01.27.15 Edition

Posted by Brad Jenkins (@bradjenk) on January 27th, 2015

This was easily the most entertaining weekend of ACC hoops so far this season. Of course, the league’s most important result was probably Duke’s win over St. John’s in New York’s Madison Garden, giving Mike Krzyzewski his 1,000th career win. The Blue Devils’ win also gave the ACC an important midseason non-conference victory on the road against a decent Big East team. Comebacks and exciting finishes were the norm as six of the seven league games were decided by four points or fewer. Conference leader Virginia needed to stage a late comeback to win at pesky rival Virginia Tech, while Notre Dame rallied from a huge early deficit to force overtime and eventually outlast N.C. State in Raleigh. In other close games, Miami won at Syracuse, Boston College edged Georgia Tech in Atlanta, Clemson beat Wake Forest on a putback at the buzzer, and North Carolina held off a furious Florida State rally on Saturday before itself rallying against Syracuse on Big Monday. In the only game that wasn’t in doubt in the final minutes, Louisville picked up a road win against struggling Pittsburgh. Here are some other highlights from over the weekend in the ACC.

Florida State's Xavier Rathan-Mayes explode for 35 points in Chapel Hill on Saturday. (Photo: Grant Halverson / Getty Images)

Florida State’s Xavier Rathan-Mayes exploded for 35 points in Chapel Hill on Saturday.
(Photo: Grant Halverson / Getty Images)

  • Most Outstanding Player: Redshirt freshman Xavier Rathan-Mayes single-handedly kept Florida State competitive in its 78-74 loss at North Carolina on Saturday, as his 35 points tied the second-highest total ever scored by a UNC opponent in the 29-year history of the Smith Center. The Seminole guard connected on 14-of-26 field goals, including five three-pointers, three of which came in the game’s last 35 seconds to make the Tar Heels sweat down the stretch. Rathan-Mayes was more than just a scorer, though, as he grabbed five rebounds, handed out four assists, and had two steals in the contest. He has a great chance to become Leonard Hamilton’s next special player in Tallahassee.
  • Best Win: While Duke’s win over St. John’s was important for the obvious historical reasons, we will instead honor the top performance in a conference game here — Notre Dame’s overtime win in Raleigh on Sunday night. It’s not just that the Irish won a hard-fought victory in a tough venue, but it’s the way that the Irish did so that makes this win the best of the weekend. With under four minutes remaining in the first half, N.C. State was ahead by 18 points and cruising. But Notre Dame closed the half with a mini-run that cut the lead to 12, giving the Irish some momentum to carry into the second half. After finally catching the Wolfpack with 13 minutes left, the Irish fell behind again before rallying to force overtime and win the game. Star guard Jerian Grant led the way with 25 points as the Irish won their seventh ACC game in eight tries. Notre Dame hosts Duke Wednesday in a huge game for both teams in the conference standings.

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Big East Weekend Wrap: Vol. IX

Posted by Justin Kundrat on January 27th, 2015

The Big East Weekend Wrap covers news and notes from the previous weekend’s games.

The Big East now finds itself squarely in second place of KenPom’s rankings, and the reason lies in the sheer depth of the conference. Eight teams are ranked among the top 100 and seven can be found in the top 50. With DePaul (5-2) pulling its own weight this season and both Creighton and Marquette playing increasingly competitive basketball, there have been only a handful of games in conference play that were blowouts. Of the 37 conference games played to date, 13 (35%) have either gone to overtime or been decided by four points or fewer, ranking the Big East first overall for competitiveness. Given that fact, every weekend’s action features close, down-to-the-wire finishes. Below are three key takeaways from the past weekend of Big East action.

Butler (USA Today Images)

Butler Easily Dispatched the Hall Over the Weekend (USA Today Images)

  1. Seton Hall continues its stumble, posting a 20-point blowout loss to Butler. After racing off to a hot start in Big East play, the Pirates have come crashing down in a manner similar to St. John’s, dropping three straight games and four of their last five. If it wasn’t for a Sterling Gibbs game-winner at Creighton, the Pirates would be on a brutal five-game losing streak following their monumental home court win over Villanova. There are a number of reasons for the Hall’s recent struggles, the biggest being the absence of freshman Isaiah Whitehead, whose playmaking ability is sorely missing when Gibbs struggles to find his shot. Additionally, Jaren Sina and Brandon Mobley have provided inconsistent scoring, putting the onus on the freshmen to step up. Seton Hall was once a top 10 team nationally in three-point shooting, but in conference play they are now a Big East-worst 27.2 percent. The good news is that the season is far from over and Kevin Willard has repeatedly stated that Whitehead is on pace for a full recovery. Read the rest of this entry »
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ACC M5: 01.27.15 Edition

Posted by Matt Patton on January 27th, 2015

morning5_ACC

  1. Charlottesville Daily Progress: Justin Anderson woke from his slumber with seven minutes left and saved Virginia from a truly horrendous Sunday loss at Virginia Tech. Anderson has been unreal this season, shooting over 50 percent from three on the year. After a five-point mini-run from Anderson, Tony Bennett unveiled his secret weapon: a drawn-up lob for his junior wing. Apparently Anderson has been lobbying Bennett for lob plays since he got to Charlottesville, and with more and more teams going to zones, you have to wonder if Bennett will start to look his way more often.
  2. Savannah Morning News: In addition to asking if Virginia can go undefeated (Ken Pomeroy predicts the Cavaliers will finish with one loss, with a 26 percent chance of finishing unblemished), it’s time to start asking harder questions about Georgia Tech and Virginia Tech. They are a combined 0-13 in ACC play, but the good news is that there are plenty of games left to play (including against each other in Blacksburg). Incidentally, Pomeroy puts the odds of either going winless in the ACC at less than two percent. The Yellow Jackets are actually favored in four straight games but that won’t make Brian Gregory feel any more secure in his job. Recent quotes from athletic director Mike Bobinski definitely haven’t quieted rumors that Gregory is on the hot seat, but it remains to be seen whether the department is willing to pay enough money to find an upgrade.
  3. Louisville Courier-Journal: Florida State president John Thrasher said that the goal is to have an ACC Network ready by 2016. I’ve made my case before in this space but I’ll make it again. Going after a network now may be the wrong time if things start moving in the direction of a la carte broadcast shopping. What should make the league revenue no matter what is more games getting shown, but the days of windfall profits from the likes of the Big Ten Network are numbered. Soon it won’t be every house paying two dollars per subscriber because cable forces them to do so, but people will be able to subscribe to individual networks and stream them online. That likely means less revenue than a network in the short run, but it would still be a big boost over what the league gets right now.
  4. Fayetteville Observer: NC State (kind of got jobbed) lost a weekend heartbreaker to Notre Dame, but it was classic Wolfpack to blow a big second half lead. Still, there were some positives to take away from the loss, as freshmen Cody and Caleb Martin both gave Mark Gottfried good minutes. Had they won, NC State would have been in the driver’s seat for an NCAA bid; instead, the Wolfpack may still have work to do. Assuming they win the games they should the rest of the way, though, everything will probably be OK. But this team has been up and down already with a few head-scratching losses. One person the game didn’t look good for is Cat Barber, who only played two minutes in the loss.
  5. Syracuse Post-Standard: Looks like the old local paper jinx. In a statistic surprising absolutely no one, North Carolina doesn’t shoot many threes (other than Marcus Paige) but Nate Britt was feeling it in the Tar Heels’ win last night over Syracuse, going 4-of-5 from long range. Britt hadn’t hit a single three in his last four games, and the team (other than Marcus Paige) had only hit 11 threes in conference play. He didn’t carry the team alone (North Carolina feasted against the Orange in the paint), but his shooting played a big role in the win. Side note: Rakeem Christmas put up a cool 22/12.
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Pac-12 Weekly Honors: Week Ten

Posted by Andrew Murawa on January 26th, 2015

Each week the Pac-12 microsite will run down our weekly superlatives, which typically will include a Team, Player and Newcomer of the Week, along with our weekly Power Rankings.

Team of the Week: Arizona

Sometimes this stuff is pretty easy. My philosophy is that if you go on the road in the Pac-12 and come away with a pair of wins for the week, odds are good you’re going to be the Team of the Week. All of our voters this week agreed, rewarding the Wildcats for an impressive two-win trip to the Bay Area. While all the questions about this Arizona team aren’t exactly put away quite yet, we’ve definitely seen this team turn the corner and accelerate its progress since the stunning loss at Oregon State. The scary thing is that there’s still plenty of improvement to come from this bunch. Oh, and watch out, conference, because it looks like Stanley Johnson is in the middle of a tear.

Stanley Johnson and Arizona Are Beginning To Round Into Form (Rick Scuteri, AP Photo)

Stanley Johnson and Arizona Are Beginning To Round Into Form (Rick Scuteri, AP Photo)

Player of the Week: Gary Payton II, Junior, Oregon State

Back when he was doing this sort of thing in non-conference play against Corban, Mississippi Valley State and Grambling, we could be forgiven for having taken a wait-and-see approach. Now, when he’s posting full stat lines and occasional double-doubles against Power Five teams? It’s crazy, but Payton is in the conversation for all-Pac-12 consideration. And not that weird 15-person “official” All-Pac-12 team, but a legit, five-person only all-Pac-12 team. He’s already on the very short list of best defenders in the conference, with averages of three steals and a block per game. In fact, he’s third in the nation in steal percentage, which notes the rate at which he ends an opponent’s possession with a steal. Plus, at a slender 6’3”, he’s grabbing a defensive rebound 20 percent of the time that one is available to be grabbed. This week it was just more of the same. Against UCLA on Thursday he was the best player on the court, scoring 18 points, grabbing seven boards, handing out six assists and swiping five steals; and then he backed that up against USC by double-doubling: 21 points, 10 boards.

(Also receiving votes: Stanley Johnson)

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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 Ten M5: 01.26.15 Edition

Posted by Eric Clark on January 26th, 2015

morning5_bigten

  1. Illinois has dealt with a multitude of injuries this season, and Andy Patterson of Big Ten Powerhouse has broken down how the Illini have performed since they lost their star, Rayvonte Rice. Illinois’ best win of the season came the day after Rice’s inury was announced, a 64-57 home upset of Maryland. Since that point, though, they’ve gone 3-3 with losses to Nebraska, Indiana and Purdue. Kendrick Nunn’s scoring has skyrocketed but the team is getting little production from Nnanna Egwu. If Illinois wants to ultimately make the NCAA Tournament, he’s got to turn his season around; but with a loss in any of their two upcoming games against Penn State and Rutgers, they should consider themselves toast.
  2. Northwestern had a program-defining win over Maryland in College Park slip right through its fingers on Sunday night, blowing an 11-point lead in the final 4:32 of game action. The Wildcats are no strangers to close losses, having dropped their last three games by a total of five points. With such a young team, head coach Chris Collins should be worried that all of these heartbreaking defeats are killing his team’s morale. This team has shown several flashes of brilliance, but those moments have rarely occurred in the final minutes of the second half.
  3. Ohio State notched its first win over a ranked opponent this season on Sunday, topping No. 23 Indiana, 82-70. The Buckeyes used an unconventional method to grab their most impressive victory of the season by employing a smaller-than-usual lineup, replacing starting lineup mainstays Amir Williams and Marc Loving with smaller forwards Anthony Lee and Jae’Sean Tate. While Lee would only log six minutes, Tate scored 20 points on 9-of-10 shooting from the field. The smaller lineup came in part as a response to Indiana’s lack of center Hanner Mosquera-Perea – and head coach Thad Matta said his future lineups would hinge on the unique match-ups presented by other Big Ten foes, despite the success of this weekend’s lineup.
  4. Michigan took Wisconsin to the brink on Saturday night, eventually falling 69-64 to the Badgers in overtime. The loss, though, came with many positives for the Wolverines. Freshmen Mark Donnal, Ricky Doyle, and Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman all showed obvious improvement against a team likely to grab one of four No. 1 seeds in March’s NCAA Tournament. Derrick Walton and Zak Irvin led Michigan on the scoring front, but seemed to run out of gas in overtime. John Beilein’s team is showing solid improvement after losing players to both injury and the NBA, and this team should be very, very good in the near future.
  5. Nebraska’s Walter Pitchford was ejected during the Cornhuskers’ win over Michigan State on Sunday after throwing a punch at Matt Costello, but he won’t be looking at mandatory bench time meted by the Big Ten. At the time, the loss of Pitchford was seen as a major blow to Nebraska’s chances of beating the Spartans – he dropped 18 points in last season’s win – but the Huskers would prevail without him by a score of 79-77.
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