Checking in on… the Big 12

Posted by Brian Goodman on February 4th, 2011

Brian Goodman is an RTC editor. Owen Kemp, the RTC correspondent for the Big 12, will return on Monday.

A Look Back

  • It’s been a season full of surprises around college basketball, and the Big 12 is no different. There are surprises on both sides of the spectrum, but the possibility of sending merely four teams to the Big Dance looms large here in early February. On the disappointing side, Frank Martin looks like he’s losing his team, which was ranked third in the country to start the season. Forward Freddy Asprilla, recently reported as leaving the team to play in the professional ranks in his native Colombia, citing a need to take care of his family, wound up at Canisius, which is even farther from Colombia than Manhattan. Making matters worse, fellow big man Wally Judge, once a can’t-miss recruit, left the team last week.
  • The Baylor Bears have also underperformed, and could join Kansas State in the bubble watch if Scott Drew can’t turn his recruiting prowess into quality wins in a hurry. Losses to KSU, Iowa State and Oklahoma have marred the Bears’ postseason prospects, but there are still chances for Perry Jones and company to regroup.
  • Missouri, hopeful to challenge the Jayhawks and Wildcats in November, already have four conference losses to their name after dropping Wednesday’s tilt in snowy Stillwater. Aside from a big rivalry game against Kansas in Lawrence on Monday, though, the toughest of the Tigers’ schedule seems to be behind them, with their remaining road games coming against Iowa State, Kansas State and Nebraska.
  • Things aren’t all bad, though. Oklahoma, a laughingstock after losing to Chaminade in the Maui Invitational, have reeled off four straight wins, and lo and behold, they sit tied for third with Texas A&M at present. Texas and Kansas remain the cream of the crop in the Big 12, with the Longhorns absolutely rolling through conference play with nary a threat, largely thanks to their defense, which has allowed a measly 53.4 points per game through seven conference bouts. The Jayhawks continue to play with heavy hearts in the wake of the death of Thomas Robinson‘s mother, Lisa. With their lone loss coming against Texas after a long night of grieving and consoling, the Jayhawk faithful are hoping for a shot at redemption against the Longhorns in the Big 12 Tournament, and are taking care of business in the meantime.

Power Rankings

1. Texas (19-3, 7-0) – A combination of focus, team defense and a brutal non-con slate has shaped the Longhorns to an unblemished 7-0 conference mark. Jordan Hamilton continues to make his claim for Big 12 Player of the Year by averaging 18.4 points per contest over his last five. Luke Winn has a convincing take this week on how Texas has made things look easy on the defensive end.

2. Kansas (21-1, 6-1) – The close losses to teams the Jayhawks should have handled more easily could be a thing of the past, based on the events of this week. Kansas completely dismantled their in-state counterparts, handling the Wildcats with ease on Saturday in front of former Jayhawk great Wayne Simien, who had his jersey retired at halftime. Tuesday, Bill Self got a small monkey off his back by winning in Lubbock after three straight losses on Texas Tech’s home court since he took the helm in 2003. The Morris twins have continued their high-efficiency styles of play, and their lone weakness of interior defense has been boosted almost to the point of becoming a strength, with Thomas Robinson pouring in two straight 17/9 performances.

3. Texas A&M (17-4, 4-3) – When a team like the Aggies, sitting in third place, fails to crack 50 points in consecutive contests, you start to wonder just how good the conference really is. In fairness, the Aggies had the unenviable experience of having to play the Longhorns twice in two weeks, so their current stretch of having lost three of four is a little deceiving. They boast the conference’s second-best defense in terms of points allowed, but Khris Middleton can’t do it all on his own when it comes to scoring. A steady supporting cast is important if Mark Turgeon‘s crew wants to make noise in the top half.

4. Missouri (17-5, 4-3) – This is where things get really murky, and the difference between a system like power rankings and the more objective (and authoritative) conference standings is apparent. Does anyone in the conference want fourth place? Colorado’s lost to Baylor and Missouri, Baylor and Oklahoma have already split with one another, the Sooners have fattened up on the bottom rung of the conference, and Missouri fell to Oklahoma State this week, remaining winless on the road in conference play. Distinguishing the 4-7 spots at this point is nearly a futile exercise, but perhaps Missouri can make a statement about that with a big rivalry game coming up on Monday against KU.

5. Oklahoma (12-9, 4-3) – Give credit where it’s due to Jeff Capel‘s charges, but hold off judgement until they come out of this stretch: Saturday’s Bedlam battle against Oklahoma State in Stillwater, playing host to Texas on Wednesday, and taking to Columbia in a fight at Mizzou Arena.  Steven Pledger had a career performance against the Cyclones last Saturday, pouring in 38 points in 44 minutes on 12-20 shooting, including 7-13 from long range.

6. Baylor (14-7, 4-4) – With their own Big Three in LaceDarius Dunn (20.7 PPG, 42.7% 3FG), Perry Jones (14.1 PPG, 57.1% FG, 7.0 RPG) and Quincy Acy (13.0 PPG, 7.7 RPG), the Bears can be entertaining to watch (especially Acy’s dunk reel), but head coach Scott Drew’s passive scheduling methods could come back to cost his team a tournament bid; If anyone knows how a mid-February break from conference play with non-D-I Wayland Baptist on the 15th will help Baylor get ready for March, let me know. It would also be helpful if Drew picked a defensive style and stuck to it.

7. Colorado (15-8, 4-4) – Colorado’s twosome of Alec Burks and Cory Higgins almost topped the Bears this week before falling four points short. They took their angst out on the helpless Cyclones, winning 95-69, so the Buffs’ up-and-down season continues. If Colorado can sweep Missouri this weekend with a road win (they already beat the Tigers at home), I’ll be impressed. I’ll be more impressed if they don’t go on to lose three in a row, because once you think you have Tad Boyle‘s crew pegged, they turn around and completely change your mind.

8. Kansas State (15-8, 3-5) – There’s only so much yelling and screaming that Frank Martin can do before his players become desensitized and the environment becomes inhibitory, and that might be the case here. Between Jacob Pullen‘s comments about refusing to play if the Wildcats find themselves in the NIT field (a growing possibility) and the various defections and NCAA rules violations, distractions have also been eminent. It’s not all on the coaching though, as Curtis Kelly has been disappointing, though his 16-point performance in Wednesday’s big win over Nebraska could be a sign of a leaf turned over.

9. Nebraska (15-6, 3-4) – The Cornhuskers’ stout defense may be coming back down to Earth, and the offense has also let the team down over the last week. Nebraska has shown flashes that it can be good (such as a win over Texas A&M and a double-digit lead at Allen Fieldhouse that was eventually surrendered), but they can’t get it all together.

10. Oklahoma State (15-7, 3-5) – Breaking a 1-5 stretch with a win over Missouri is a big breath of fresh air for the Cowboys. Sometimes, it’s good to have a diverse scoring attack, but in OSU’s case, it could be more indicative of the lack of a reliable playmaker. Marshall Moses, Keiton Page, and J.P. Olukemi have taken turns leading the ‘Pokes in scoring the last three games, but all three have also pulled vanishing acts this season.

11. Texas Tech (11-12, 3-5) – The Red Raiders had a nice three-game spurt with wins over Nebraska, Iowa State and Oklahoma State, but crashed in a Groundhog Day blowout loss to the Jayhawks. Kansas went inside with ease and had no problems whatsoever, and even Kansas reserve Brady Morningstar was in double figures in the first half. Pat Knight may want to have a copy of the Geneva Convention at the ready when his team ventures to Austin on Saturday.

12. Iowa State (14-9, 1-7) – The Cyclones have fallen off a cliff, Wile E. Coyote-style, and we’re still waiting for the little “poof” that finally signals an impact. Fred Hoiberg‘s squad has allowed at least 82 points in each of their last five games, all losses.

A Look Ahead

Before Rivalry Week, there’s an intriguing set of games around the conference on Saturday. Colorado will hit the road to Missouri, where we might see that 4-7 knot get somewhat untangled. In a battle of Big 12 train wrecks looking to regroup, Iowa State will play host to the Wildcats. At the top of the conference, Kansas and Texas get what look to be a couple softballs against Nebraska and Texas Tech, respectively, but the Jayhawks will be on watch after the ‘Huskers put a small scare into them a few weeks ago.

Other action around the league includes Baylor taking on Texas A&M, and the Gallagher-Iba half of the Bedlam Series between the Sooners and Cowboys.

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Set Your Tivo: 01.25.11

Posted by Brian Otskey on January 25th, 2011

***** – quit your job and divorce your wife if that’s what it takes to watch this game live
**** – best watched live, but if you must, tivo and watch it tonight as soon as you get home
*** – set your tivo but make sure you watch it later
** – set your tivo but we’ll forgive you if it stays in the queue until 2013
* – don’t waste bandwidth (yours or the tivo’s) of any kind on this game

Brian Otskey is an RTC contributor.

No matter how many games there are, no night is ever an off night in college basketball. Notre Dame legitimized itself as a Big East double-bye contender with a massive road win at Pittsburgh last night while Kansas State got their must win. What’s in store for us hoopheads tonight? All rankings from RTC and all times eastern.

#12 Purdue @ #1 Ohio State – 9 pm on ESPN (****)

It's a Battle of Player of the Year Candidates In Columbus Tonight

First place is on the line in the Big Ten as these two clubs meet tonight in Columbus. Ohio State has a one game lead over Purdue and can make it two plus the tiebreaker if they win. On the other hand, the Boilermakers can move into a first place tie and will hold the tiebreaker edge (for now) should they come out on top. Obviously the big-time matchup in this game is down inside as freshman Jared Sullinger goes up against senior JaJuan Johnson. Sullinger has a lot more bulk to push people around inside but Johnson has a game that extends out to mid range and even the three point arc on occasion. Look for Matt Painter’s big man to try and pull Sullinger away from the basket, opening up lanes for Purdue’s guards to get to the rim. Each team starts four guards, so Purdue won’t have as difficult of a time as you might think if Johnson is successful.

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Checking in on… the Big 12

Posted by Brian Goodman on January 24th, 2011

Owen Kemp of Rock Chalk Talk and SB Nation Kansas City is the RTC Correspondent for the Big 12 Conference.

A Look Back

For the Big 12, it was a week to start sorting out the contenders, the pretenders and a week where one team finally emerged as the conference favorite.

  • The week kicked off with a Big Monday doubleheader, the first match featuring Kansas State and Missouri both sitting at 1-2 as they squared off in Columbia.  While it might be too early to call this one a must-win, a 1-3 start in the conference is a lot different than a 2-2 start Missouri kept their hopes of a Big 12 title in their sights with a win while the Wildcats’ slow descent to a possible NIT bid continued.
  • The second game was a head-to-head matchup of across-the-board NBA talent. Thirty-five NBA scouts and 10 NBA GMs took in Kansas against Baylor in Waco and they didn’t leave disappointed.  Kansas looked as good for 40 minutes as they had all year and the Morris twins dominated in an impressive offensive performance.
  • On Tuesday night, the surging Colorado Buffaloes would find themselves exposed on the road against Doc Sadler’s hard-nosed Nebraska squad as the Husker defense shut down the Colorado offense and secured an 11-point win.  The loss was the first in conference play for Tad Boyle and the Buffs, but it wouldn’t be the last or the worst.
  • Wednesday night was highlighted by a matchup in Austin between two top 15 Texas schools and bitter rivals, the Aggies squaring off against the Longhorns.  Texas took an early step toward the conference title with a very impressive 21-point win over Mark Turgeon and the Aggies, snapping A&M’s 13-game winning streak.
  • And as usual, the Big 12 took center stage on Saturday, starting with a top-25 win by the Aggies over the Wildcats in College Station.  The win kept A&M in the hunt and further moved Kansas State to the back with a now 1-4 conference record.  A far cry from expectations for this team and things just aren’t pretty in Manhattan.
  • The story of the day though would end up being the Texas Longhorns.  Kansas hosted Texas in Lawrence, where Rick Barnes and the Horns had an overall 0-9 all-time record.  Kansas set out the way they left off in Waco, building an 18-3 lead to start the game.  Texas stormed back behind J’Covan Brown and Jordan Hamilton before securing an 11-point win in this one.  The game snapped a 69-game home court winning streak for Kansas, the longest then-active streak in D-I men’s basketball, and put Texas in sole possession of first place in the Big 12.
  • Elsewhere, Colorado would drop its second on the week in Norman.  The loss brings expectations in Boulder crashing back down to earth.  Missouri dominated Iowa State and looks like a juggernaut at home once again.  Baylor crushed Oklahoma State to get back on track, and last but not least, Texas Tech finally snagged a conference win over visiting Nebraska.

Power Rankings

Note: Power rankings are not meant to be a poll.  They are meant to reflect who is playing the best basketball at a given time.

  1. Texas (16-3, 4-0) – Sole possession of first place belongs to the Longhorns after a HUGE win in Lawrence on Saturday.  Texas played tough physical basketball and despite a pretty horrendous first half claimed a victory.  Of course, that was its second top 15 win of the week, having already beaten A&M on Wednesday.  Texas has earned the top spot without a doubt.  
  2. Kansas (18-1, 3-1) – One game, Kansas looked like an unstoppable force, the next they fell apart a bit.  In their defense, the Jayhawks received news of the death of forward Thomas Robinson’s mother late the night before the game against Texas, so the distraction is certainly understood.  Nonetheless, the Jayhawks are playing catch-up to a very good Longhorn basketball team.
  3. Texas A&M (17-2, 4-1) – A&M dropped one on the road against Texas.  There’s no shame in that.  The Aggies are still a good team and do get a chance to return the favor when the Longhorns come to College Station.
  4. Missouri (17-3, 3-2) – Two home games, two impressive wins for Missouri.  This team is one of Mike Anderson’s best and despite the two losses, anyone counting them out would be wrong.  The Tigers are a juggernaut at home and have the athletes and depth to make life difficult for anyone. 
  5. Baylor (13-5, 3-2) – For awhile, this looked like a very balanced league.  That might still be the case, but the drop-off from the top four to the next eight might be bigger than originally thought.  Baylor sits at five, but it’s not because they were overly impressive.  Just not as bad as everyone else on any given night.
  6. Oklahoma State (14-5, 2-3) – The Cowboys got a tough win at home against the Cyclones but couldn’t stay with Baylor on Saturday.  Again, this is a mediocre team at the moment and they have some work to do between now and March.
  7. Colorado (14-6, 3-2) – Colorado fell off a cliff a bit this week.  Road losses to Nebraska and Oklahoma aren’t good losses this year.  It’s still a talented team, but these two games put expectations back in perspective.  The Buffs host Kansas on Tuesday.
  8. Kansas State (13-7, 1-4) –  K-State is more talented than some of the teams at this level, but the wheels seem to have fallen off and they are also in the midst of a very difficult stretch of Big 12 play.  The biggest problem is that by the time they get done with Baylor and Kansas this week, it might be too late to salvage any outside shot at a day one bye in the Big 12 tourney.
  9. Oklahoma (10-9, 2-3) – Yes, it’s borderline shocking, but Oklahoma won back-toback games in the conference and moved to ninth in this week’s power rankings.  There are glimmers of hope in Norman as the Sooners get a win over Tech and Colorado in the same week and for the first time in a while have a little positive momentum on their side.  Hat tip to Jeff Capel.
  10. Nebraska (14-5, 2-3) – The Huskers get a win over Colorado, which is a solid victory, but then go on the road and lose to a pretty abysmal Tech squad.  Not good for the momentum.    
  11. Iowa State (14-6, 1-4) – A loss to Oklahoma State on the road is acceptable, and a loss to Missouri is certainly expected in Columbia.  But not showing the ability to compete isn’t going to get it done.  Perhaps the real Iowa State is starting to emerge.
  12. Texas Tech (9-11, 1-4) – Tech is on the board with a win over the Huskers.  Further proof that perhaps this is a top heavy conference with 6 or 7 mediocre teams at best providing the floor.

A Look Ahead

  • Another week with no shortage of marquee matchups across the conference as things kick off Monday in Manhattan with a matchup between Baylor and Kansas State.  Both teams are in need of a win to boost their position, with K-State perhaps the most desperate for anything positive to grab hold of and turn the tide.
  • Tuesday night, the Jayhawks will look to get back on track in Boulder against a Colorado team looking to do the same.  It’s a tricky game for Kansas, as Colorado has done some damage at home this season and Kansas is coming off an emotional weekend and a tough loss to Texas.
  • Two games are on the docket for Wednesday, as Texas Tech and Iowa State square off to decide the last place spot in the conference and Texas goes on the road against a pesky Oklahoma State squad that will play as physical as the Longhorns.
  • Saturday, all 12 teams return to the court.  Kansas welcomes ESPN’s College Gameday to Lawrence for a game that was expected to be a matchup of top 10 teams between K-State and Kansas.
  • Perhaps the game of the day, though, will take place in Austin, where two nationally ranked teams face off in Missouri and Texas.  The Tigers have been very good at home, but not always on the road.  Texas will present a big challenge for Mike Anderson once again and Texas will look to get another marquee win in the conference and take one more step toward the Big 12 title.
  • Elsewhere, Colorado heads to Waco to take on BaylorOklahoma looks to avoid a subdued Hilton Magic against Iowa StateTexas A&M goes on the road against a sometimes tricky Nebraska, and Oklahoma State looks to take advantage of a game in Lubbock to secure a conference road win.

Player of the Year Watch

Power Ranking Style and Based on Conference Play

  1. Jordan Hamilton, Texas – (19.3 PPG, 7.5 RPG) Trending Up: Hamilton led his team to wins over Texas A&M and Kansas in a single week.  That’s deserving of top billing for player of the year at the moment.
  2. Marcus Morris, Kansas – (22.5 PPG, 9 RPG) Trending Down: It was hard to imagine Morris could sustain his week one pace, but factor in the fact that he struggled against the physical play of Texas and Morris takes a bit of a dip this week.
  3. Khris Middleton, Texas A&M – (17.4 PPG, 3.4 APG, 2.2 SPG) Trending Up: Middleton is the player to watch when Texas A&M takes the court.  The team struggled in Austin, but Middleton and the Aggies rebounded nicely against K-State.
  4. Marcus Denmon, Missouri – (17.4 PPG, 45% 3PFG) Trending Up: Sure, Denmon’s numbers have taken a hit since the start of conference play, but that might have more to do with the emergence of other players for Missouri.  Denmon still is a difference-maker for the Tigers; he just isn’t left carrying as much weight on his shoulders in the backcourt as maybe he did a month ago.
  5. Alec Burks, Colorado – (21.0 PPG, 8.6 RPG) Trending Down: Statistically, he’s a very strong candidate.  From a wins and losses standpoint, two bad losses this week don’t help the cause.  A player of the year has to find a way to do more and lead his team in road games against Nebraska and Oklahoma.
  6. Jacob Pullen, Kansas State – (20 PPG, 2.8 APG) Trending Down: Preseason All American, preseason POY candidate.  It’s hard to imagine that can carry over to any postseason recognition based on the struggles in Manhattan. 

Fell Off: Diante Garrett – Iowa State, LaceDarius Dunn – Baylor

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The Week That Was: Jan. 11-Jan. 17

Posted by jstevrtc on January 18th, 2011

David Ely is an RTC Contributor

Only three undefeated teams are left in the nation after Duke and Syracuse suffered their first losses of the season within the past week. Who will be the next team to go down? Ohio State travels to Illinois on Saturday and Kansas hosts Texas. TWTW wouldn’t be shocked if San Diego State is the only unbeaten team remaining in this space next week.

What We Learned

Kemba Walker Is The Governor: He Always Saves You At the Last Moment (J. Woike/Hartford Courant)

When ESPN uses its full arsenal, it can put on a great day of college basketball. Monday (in honor of MLK Day) ESPN had a 24 Hours of Hoops Lite. They gave us four great games, three of which pitted two teams in the top 25 against each other, while the other featured a nice matchup in Kansas-Baylor.

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Set Your Tivo: 01.18.11

Posted by Brian Otskey on January 18th, 2011

***** – quit your job and divorce your wife if that’s what it takes to watch this game live
**** – best watched live, but if you must, tivo and watch it tonight as soon as you get home
*** – set your tivo but make sure you watch it later
** – set your tivo but we’ll forgive you if it stays in the queue until 2013
* – don’t waste bandwidth (yours or the tivo’s) of any kind on this game

Brian Otskey is an RTC contributor.

A few teams face key road tests tonight, one night after the home squads went 3-1 in the season debut of ESPN’s Big Monday. All rankings from RTC and all times eastern.

#19 Michigan State @ #18 Illinois – 7 pm on ESPN (****)

A Top 50 Rebounder, Green Has Been Solid Of Late For MSU (Excepting That 2-10 Against Penn State)

The Spartans needed overtime to dispatch their last two opponents at home, Wisconsin and Northwestern. Michigan State is doing just enough to get by as Korie Lucious and Durrell Summers have struggled lately. Lucious went 0-8 from the floor against Northwestern while Summers has scored just seven points in the last two games. For MSU to have any sustained success going forward, Tom Izzo must get these two players going somehow. Luckily for them, Draymond Green has stepped up, averaging 21/8.5 over the last two games.

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Checking in on… the Big 12

Posted by Brian Goodman on January 17th, 2011

Owen Kemp of Rock Chalk Talk and SB Nation Kansas City is the RTC correspondent for the Big 12 Conference.

A Look Back

  • The theme to the week in the Big 12 was “nothing comes easy”.  Headed into the season fresh off the league’s best showing in its history, the common thought was that many teams would be taking a step back.  That belief could probably be argued both ways at this point, but one thing is certain and that’s the fact that teams one through ten in this league can compete.
  • If a prediction were made today on what the final weeks of the season would hold, it would be twofold.  First, the battle for the league title; in years past, two losses this early on might have been a fairly damaging blow.  This year, there are two potential league contenders sitting at two losses (Missouri, Kansas State).
  • The second prediction for the final weeks is that there will be a dogfight for the final Big 12 spot in the NCAA Tournament.  Colorado, Oklahoma State, Baylor, Iowa State and even Nebraska have all had their moments, but you won’t see all of these teams representing the league and so the battle resumes.
  • Looking back at the week, the team with the best story right now might actually be the Colorado Buffaloes.  After an early upset victory over Missouri at home, the Buffs went on the road and pulled off back-to-back wins over Top 25 opponents with a win over Kansas State before returning home and grabbing what could prove to be a very important victory over the Oklahoma State Cowboys.  Colorado now sits at 3-0 in the league, and at 14-4 overall, Tad Boyle might find his team sitting near or even in the Top 25.
  • While Colorado was the story of the week, the game of the week took place Saturday in College Station.  Mike Anderson’s Missouri Tigers traveled to College Station to face the Aggies, and from the start, they were in attack mode.  Two newcomers to the conference, Phil Pressey and Ricardo Ratliffe, emerged as major players for the Tigers and for much of the game, these two teams were back and forth.  Late in regulation, Khris Middleton was able to get to the free throw line and secure overtime, where the Aggies would win by a narrow two-point margin in what was one of the early season battles between contenders in the league.  Right now, Mark Turgeon could have the inside track on coach of the year honors in the conference.
  • Elsewhere, the Kansas Jayhawks continue to flirt with a loss, as they escaped with a narrow victory in Ames against the Cyclones and an even closer win at home against the Nebraska Cornhuskers.  Neither win instills a tremendous amount of confidence, but both are wins and Marcus Morris is finding a way to carry his team when they need him, scoring 49 points and grabbing 25 rebounds in the two games.
  • After one full week of league competition, A&M, Colorado, Kansas and Texas all sit on top with undefeated records.  Baylor sits at 2-1 with the one loss coming to an Iowa State team that continues to show a lot of grit and great cohesiveness in Fred Hoiberg’s first year.  And just beyond Baylor, there are five teams sitting with two losses, including Missouri and Kansas State, who were and should still be viewed as contenders in a very balanced league.

Power Rankings

*Power rankings reflect who is playing the best basketball at a given time.

  1. Kansas (17-0, 2-0) – Plain and simple, the Jayhawks didn’t look great this week, but they are still undefeated and Marcus Morris is coming on strong just as he did a year ago.  What Kansas does that many teams don’t is win those tough games on the road.  Until someone else does that consistently or Kansas quits doing that, the Jayhawks will continue to be at or near the top of the league.
  2. Texas A&M (16-1, 3-0) – A&M dominated one game and managed a hard fought victory in another.  The Aggies do it with their size, they do it with experience and they have a player in Khris Middleton that can take control of a game.
  3. Texas (14-3, 2-0) – Texas  had a fairly soft start to conference play with games against Texas Tech and Oklahoma.  The Longhorns handled business with ease, but we learn a lot more in the next week as Rick Barnes and his Texas squad take on A&M and Kansas in a matter of days.
  4. Colorado (14-4, 3-0) – WOW.  That’s all you can say about what Colorado has done early, and yes, a big part of that is their history.  This isn’t a team or program that wins games like this, a road win over a ranked opponent and a big comeback at home over a pesky OSU team.  They sit 3-0 and are well-positioned to make a play at the NCAA Tournament.  Now it’s a matter of how much damage they can do on the way.  Buffs fans have January 25 circled and a final home game against the Jayhawks as a fellow Big 12 school.
  5. Missouri (15-3, 1-2) – Missouri played well against the Huskers at home and then put a big-time scare into the Aggies in College Station.  Fewer mistakes down the stretch and the Tigers manage a win.  As it stands, they have the players emerging with Phil Pressey and Ricardo Ratliffe taking control, and now they just need to get a few marquee wins to get the ball rolling.  After that, the sky is the limit; this is up there with Mike Anderson’s best teams.
  6. Baylor (12-4, 2-1) – Baylor remains a tale of two teams.  They are a group with great athleticism and big time talent, but they also manage to lose in Ames and struggle to score.  What’s the real Baylor?  That’s the question.
  7. Kansas State (13-5, 1-2) – K-State loses a home game to Colorado, loses a starter to the pros and then manages a pretty impressive 30+ point win, albeit against Texas Tech.  The Red Raiders might be just what the doctor ordered to get things back on track, but the Wildcats will get a chance to prove it as they enter a brutal week with a road game against Missouri and then a matchup with the Aggies in College Station.
  8. Oklahoma State (13-4, 1-2) Oklahoma State didn’t have a great week, but it certainly wasn’t an easy one on the schedule.  When you look at these next three it’s tough to say who deserves to be on top, but for now, the Cowboys still have the best in of the three, at least on paper.
  9. Nebraska (13-4, 1-2) – The Huskers have the head to head against the Cyclones and took the Jayhawks to the brink in Allen Fieldhouse.  That’s good enough for the nod at 9.   
  10. Iowa State (14-4, 1-2 Big 12) – Big win on Saturday evening against Baylor in Hilton.  The Cyclones are a team that is overachieving because of solid leadership from their coach and their upperclassmen.  They have a chance to do some damage and the Baylor game helps this team regain some confidence.  
  11. Oklahoma (8-9, 0-3 Big 12) – The only thing saving the Sooners from the bottom is that none of their losses came to the tune of a 30+ point scoring margin.  Anyone else looking forward to Tuesday’s must see matchup between OU and Tech in Norman?
  12. Texas Tech (8-10, 0-3 Big 12) – Lucky for Pat Knight, he’s coaching in Lubbock.  It’s a football school, a football state and even with those things playing in his favor, he’s likely coaching on borrowed time.    

A Look Ahead

  • This week, the Big 12 is the main event as ESPN’s Big Monday kicks off with a quadruple-header starting in the middle of the afternoon.  First up will be a marquee matchup between two teams very much in need of a win.  Missouri and Kansas State both sit at 1-2 and whoever drops this one in Columbia will most certainly have an uphill climb when it comes to winning the league.
  • The second matchup is the late game with Kansas heading to Waco to take on the Baylor Bears.  These might be the two most athletic teams in the league, but while Kansas has managed to find some team chemistry, Baylor hasn’t been consistent at all.  The Bears will be looking to get a statement win on the season and the fans in Waco should step up to the plate for Kansas.  It’s a big early season game for both squads and whoever wins this one takes a big step forward.
  • Wednesday sees another pair of games that are important for different reasons.  Both contests tip at 9 EST with one on ESPN2 and the other on ESPNU.  The marquee matchup is going to be the Aggies of Texas A&M heading into Austin for a game against the Longhorns.  Early season games certainly don’t break your season, but they can go a long way toward making it and this one gives the winner a leg up in the South.  The other contest is between a pair of two loss teams and a pair of teams that could be battling down the stretch in the bubble watch.  Iowa State heads in this matchup for a game against the Cowboys.  The Cyclones are coming off a big win at home and the Cowboys are looking to get back on track after two straight losses.
  • All of that brings us to Saturday, which has become must-see television.  The early games include Colorado on the road in Norman to take on the Sooners and Kansas State, entering a brutal stretch, on the road at A&M.  What happens during the week will help shape the importance of the matchup between the Wildcats and the Aggies, but on paper it’s a big time battle in the Big 12.
  • The afternoon games include Oklahoma State heading to Waco for a game against Baylor.  The other is the one and only matchup between Texas and Kansas this year, the two teams many are picking as the frontrunners in the conference.  This one takes place in Lawrence, where Texas takes its turn at snapping the Jayhawks hefty home game winning streak.  Over the years, the battle between these two teams has been huge in terms of the league and this year doesn’t look to be any different.
  • Finally, the late games and the Huskers on the road against a struggling Texas Tech and Missouri hosting a pesky Iowa State Cyclone team in Columbia. The Big 12 is in full swing, and at the moment, there are very few games that aren’t worth a look.  The league is wide open, tournament spots are wide open and right now there are 8-10 teams in this league that are in a dogfight for conference titles and postseason spots.

Player of the Year Watch

Power Ranking Style and Based on Conference Play

  1. Marcus Morris, Kansas – (24.5 PPG, 12 RPG, 71% FG): Morris carried the Jayhawks in crunch time through to tight ball games this week and currently leads the league in points and rebounds, while ranking second in field goal percentage and offensive rebounds.
  2. Alec Burks, Colorado – (22.7 PPG, 8.7 RPG): Burks is the reason that Colorado is looking like a conference contender right now.  The sophomore guard ranks 2nd in the league in scoring and third in terms of rebounding.  The rebounding is key, because that is an area that was viewed as a potential weakness for the Buffs headed into the season.
  3. Jacob Pullen, Kansas State – (22.7 PPG, 4.3 APG): If K-State is going to rally and make a move this season, it’s going to take Jacob Pullen at his best.  So far through two games he’s stepped it up.  Now he has to carry his team through a tough week with two top 25 opponents.
  4. Diante Garrett, Iowa State – (20.3 PPG, 6.33 APG): Garrett is the point guard and leader of an Iowa State team that has exceeded expectations early on this season.  His 20.3 PPG ranks third in the conference while his 6.3 assists makes him the league leader.
  5. Marcus Denmon, Missouri – (20 PPG, 48% 3FG): Denmon was brilliant in non conference play and a 27 point career high effort against Nebraska helps carry that momentum into conference play.  The Tigers sit 1-2, Denmon will be a big part of turning the tide the right way in Columbia.
  6. LaceDarius Dunn, Baylor – (18.7 PP, 12 three-pointers in conference play): Right now, Dunn is still the leader for the Bears, but his numbers are starting to dip as Perry Jones furthers his emergence as the premier player for Baylor.
  7. Khris Middleton, Texas A&M – (17.7 PPG, 3 SPG, 58% FG): Middleton carried the Aggies in a big overtime win against Missouri early in the year and leads the league in steals per game.  His versatility creates mismatches on the court and he has the chance to make himself a contender for the POY and his team a contender for the league title.
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BGTD: Afternoon Games Analysis

Posted by jstevrtc on January 15th, 2011

Upsetus Interruptus. There have been some exciting games this afternoon, but if you were hoping for an upset Saturday like last weekend, except for Temple losing at Duquesne and South Carolina winning at Florida, you’ve been left wanting. A few of the big boys took a while to wake up but they all pulled through. Duke waited until around the 11-minute mark of the second half to begin asserting its will on Virginia, but ended up having no trouble with the Cavaliers (76-60). Kansas struggled in putting Nebraksa away — the Huskers actually had a three in the air to tie it in the last seconds — but what really struck us in this game was, despite looking just moderately interested for the first 30 to 35 minutes, how confident the Kansas players suddenly looked late in the game, even while tied or up by only 1-2. After taking on this confident air, the Jayhawks then scored on six straight possessions consisting of four dunks, a layup, and a put-back — in other words, six scores within 10 inches of the basket. Bill Self would probably disagree, but as we watched, we never felt like Kansas would lose that game.

Wish You Were There. Northwestern to the NCAA Tournament? Put it out of your mind. After that 8-0 start, the Wildcats have gone into a flat spin and dropped five of their last eight. The two games they dropped to Michigan State within a 12-day span were not just games they needed but games they should have won, including today’s overtime loss in East Lansing. The difference between 11-5 (2-4) and 13-3 (4-2) feels bigger than two games, especially considering that NU has five road games left and the biggest names they’ll travel to are Minnesota and Wisconsin. We want Northwestern to make it to The Dance as much as anyone. This isn’t the year. You’ll more likely see Roger Waters take a job sitting next to Steven Tyler as a judge on American Idol.

But We Like You Both. The game that was the most pleasing to the eye so far today was Missouri at Texas A&M. The more we watch these two teams, the more we expect from them in March.  Both teams knew they had a great shot for a resume’ win today and they stepped up and played a beauty: great passing, low turnovers, high intensity and hustle from both squads, and an exciting finish. Missouri’s highly-caffeinated, almost viral defense didn’t achieve its usual level of annoyance today, grabbing only three steals and forcing just nine turnovers out of the Aggies. What Mizzou fans should be worried about are the unforced errors the Tigers showed us late in the game when things were still in doubt. TA&M’s 13th straight win should put them into the top ten of the polls on Monday, including our own. At this point in the season, Texas A&M wins the award for the best team generating the least talk. Get ready to hear more about the Aggies, especially a certain Khris Middleton (28/7 on 9-16).

Getting Buff. Oh, we see you, Colorado. That’s a good Oklahoma State team you just beat and that’s a very cozy 14-4 (3-0) you’ve built for yourselves. The best part about watching the Buffaloes is that they’re driven by that stupendous guard tandem of Cory Higgins (23 pts) and Alec Burks (20/11), but yet those two gentlemen don’t settle for threes and love getting to the line — and they’re darn good at it (combined 21-22 today). Colorado played nine players against the Cowboys, seven of them guards, and still owned the offensive (14-5) and overall glass against OSU (34-22). Consider us impressed.

Two final notes: To Rick Majerus: good to have you back, Coach. And as far aswe’re concerned, this day of games is all about San Diego State going to the Pit to face Dairese Gary and a nice 13-4 New Mexico team (in progress, CBS College Sports). We’re going to learn a lot about the Aztecs tonight.

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Checking in on… the Big 12

Posted by Brian Goodman on January 11th, 2011

Owen Kemp of Rock Chalk Talk and SB Nation Kansas City is the RTC correspondent for the Big 12 Conference.

RTC is interested in learning how to improve our Checking In On… series in each conference.  Let us know in the below poll where we can improve this weekly piece (feel free to add specific comments).  Thanks.

A Look Back

This week signaled the beginning of conference play in the Big 12 as ten of the league’s 12 teams tipped things off on Saturday, with Kansas and Texas as exceptions.

  • All in all, it wasn’t a good day to be a favorite.  The Kansas State Wildcats, the preseason pick to win the conference, were the first to fall.  Frank Martin took his team into Gallagher-Iba Arena to take on Oklahoma State and after a close game for much of the contest, the Wildcats went cold down the stretch and the Cowboys managed a solid victory over Kansas State.
  • It wouldn’t take long for the next, and possibly biggest, upset of the day to occur as Missouri would stumble in Boulder against a Colorado team that certainly opened some eyes on Saturday.  The Tigers were behind by a hefty margin for most of this one before closing it to eight at one point late.  In the end, Colorado would ride a 36-point effort from Alec Burks to a comfortable win over the number eight team in the country.
  • The win was a coming out party on the year for Burks, a statement win for head coach Tad Boyle and Colorado once again looks like a team that will be playing for a spot in the Tournament if they can maintain Saturday’s level of play.  As for Missouri, the press did little to trouble the Buffs for the majority of the contest and once again, the halfcourt offense left plenty to be desired.
  • Elsewhere in the league, the favorites held serve as Texas A&M handled Oklahoma with relative ease and despite a tight game early in the second half, Baylor proved too much for Texas Tech.
  • One game that didn’t receive much fanfare, but might have been a bit surprising to a few, occurred in Lincoln.  The Cyclones of Iowa State took on the Huskers and both teams had shown solid starts to the year without too much in the way of competition.  In a lot of ways, Iowa State passed the eyeball test and was more of a surprise this year, while Nebraska looked like the same old Nebraska year after year.  Turns out Nebraska walked away with a one-point win and showed the ability to hang their hat on defense once again.

All in all, the lesson of the day is that parity is alive and well in the conference and the Big 12 looks to be one of the deepest and most competitive in the country once again.  Road wins will come at a premium and there are easily eight or nine teams that can realistically point to the NCAA Tournament as a goal right now.  They won’t all make it, but it’s there if any given team can find a way to win the games in front of them.

Outside of conference play, there were two more games of note.  Saturday, Texas dropped one at home to the ninth ranked Connecticut Huskies late in overtime by just a point.  Right now, the sense is that the Longhorns have solved the concerns from a year ago, but this Longhorn team actually sits at a worse record than the team that collapsed so epically last season.

Lastly, on Sunday, Kansas went to Michigan and prevailed over a Big 10 opponent, though not without some difficulty.  Michigan isn’t expected to be particularly competitive in the Big 10 this year, so the result was not expected.  Both Texas and Kansas will tip conference play on Wednesday night.

Power Rankings

Note: Power rankings are are meant to reflect who is playing the best basketball at a given time.   Early conference play can and did create quite a shakeup based on some telling head-to-heads, but things tend to balance out as the games add up.

  1. Kansas (15-0) – Kansas continues to flirt with a loss, and after looking to have things rolling in the right direction, they took a small step back with a nailbiter in Ann Arbor against a young Michigan team.  The title still looks to run through Lawrence, but it’s far from a given for the Jayhawks this year.  
  2. Texas A&M (14-1, 1-0 Big 12) – A&M was the one ranked Big 12 team that took care of business in conference play on the opening weekend.  Mark Turgeon and the Aggies also appear to have the attention of the college basketball world as they should continue to move up the top 25 rankings.
  3. Texas (12-3) – Texas lost to the 9th-ranked team in the country in overtime – that’s not a bad loss.  They continue to look like a solid team, and despite the hiccup this week, Rick Barnes still has the group playing good basketball
  4. Colorado (12-4, 1-0 Big 12) – It’s a power ranking and this week at this moment, Colorado looks as good as anyone.  The Buffs handed it to Missouri at home, and Tad Boyle has the team playing well since a few early season losses.  Will CU finish this high?  Probably not, but a power ranking is meant to be a judge of who’s playing the best basketball at a given moment, so hats off to Colorado.
  5. Missouri (14-2, 0-1 Big 12) – Missouri stumbled a bit, and more than anything, they ran into a buzzsaw in Colorado.  The Tigers are still a very good team, but they’ll need to find a way to dial up the pressure earlier and some sense of a half court offense is a must.
  6. Oklahoma State (13-2, 1-0 Big 12) – Oklahoma State upset the Wildcats of Kansas State in a Gallagher-Iba Arena with plenty of empty seats.  This is a tournament caliber team that beats you by outworking you and the Cowboy fans need to take notice.
  7. Baylor (11-3, 1-0 Big 12) – Baylor opens conference play with a win in Lubbock.  The game was close briefly, but Baylor showed glimpses of why many expected them to compete for the conference crown.  Throw in LaceDarius Dunn’s string of success and this is going to be a team in the mix.
  8. Kansas State (12-4, 0-1 Big 12) – Kansas State has Jacob Pullen back, but they still have some issues to address.  The loss to Oklahoma State is just another example of how difficult life on the road in this conference is, but K-State needs to get things going in the very near future.
  9. Nebraska (13-2, 1-0 Big 12) – The Huskers got a big win for them in the early going and did it with their staple, which is defense.  Things get a little tougher this week with a matchup against the Missouri Tigers, but maybe, just maybe, Doc Sadler can make some waves this year.
  10. Iowa State (13-3, 0-1 Big 12) – On paper, there wasn’t much differentiating Iowa State and Nebraska, but the return of Fred Hoiberg and an overachieving nature early led to some goodwill in the rankings department for the Cyclones where the Huskers struggled.  A one-point loss in Lincoln isn’t all that bad in reality, but it’s a loss to give Nebraska the edge. 
  11. Texas Tech (8-8, 0-1 Big 12) – Tech almost provided some nervous moments for Baylor Bear fans but continue to find plenty of struggles on the offensive end.  It’s a team that’s better than Oklahoma, but that’s about all that can be said.  
  12. Oklahoma (8-8, 0-1 Big 12) – Oklahoma loses the opener against the Aggies and things don’t get any easier from here on out.  It’s exactly what was expected from the Sooners and the morale behind and confidence in Jeff Capel has to be hurting.

A Look Ahead

Twelve conference games on the docket this week and every single one will be important considering the parity that showed this week.

  • Tuesday night, the Big 12 South is the feature as Texas takes on Texas Tech and Baylor welcomes Oklahoma.
  • Wednesday features four games across the league, with Kansas opening play against Iowa State and Nebraska heading into Columbia, where the Tigers will look to rebound from their opening game loss.
  • The two games that look to be the most interesting on the night are Colorado at Kansas State and Oklahoma State at Texas A&M.  Both Colorado and OSU are coming off statement wins in their respective openers and both head on the road against a ranked opponent (if K-State remains ranked) with a chance to cement themselves as a potential NCAA tournament representative for the Big 12. A loss doesn’t hurt either team all that much, but a win does wonders.  Furthermore, Kansas State is in a situation where they almost have to feel like Colorado is a must-win in order to get things back on track.
  • Jumping ahead to Saturday, all 12 teams across the conference are in action. The highlight of the day has to be Missouri heading into College Station to take on the Aggies. This represents the first real head-to-head for two conference “contenders” and both teams stand to make an early statement in that hunt with a win.
  • Another game to watch is once again in Boulder, as Oklahoma State takes on the Buffaloes.  These two teams fall into the must-watch category because both teams made some noise on the opening weekend, and when push comes to shove come March, these could be two teams in very similar situations in terms of tournament hopes.
  • Elsewhere, Kansas hosts Nebraska, Oklahoma heads to Texas, Iowa State takes on Baylor at home, and Texas Tech heads into Manhattan for a game against the Wildcats.

Player of the Year Watch (no particular order)

Power Ranking Style and Conference Statistics Consideration Beginning Next Week

  • Jacob Pullen – (17.4 PPG, 3.8 APG, 43% FG) Trending Up: Pullen is back on the court and stepping up his game for the Wildcats.  Something still seems to be missing, but it’s more in the way of chemistry and the supporting components than Pullen.
  • Marcus Morris – (15.2 PPG, 6.1 RPG, 61% FG) Even: Morris continues to be extremely efficient and leads the #3 Jayhawks.  Now he needs to step up in the leadership department and start playing smarter as a player in order to take the Jayhawks and his chances at the POY to the next level. 
  • Alec Burks – (20.1 PPG, 4.9 RPG, 51% FG) Trending Up: Monster opening weekend for Burks with a 36-point, eight-rebound effort in an upset win over #8 Missouri.  Based on one game, which is way too early, he’s the leader.
  • Jordan Hamilton – (19.6 PPG, 7.1 RPG) Even: After the loss to UConn, conference play begins Tuesday for the Horns, and that’s where Hamilton will need to lead his team in order to win this award.
  • LaceDarius Dunn – (23.1 PPG, 4.7 RPG, 2.4 APG, 44% FG) Trending Up: Dunn seems to be hitting his stride after the early season suspension.  A 43-point output in the non conference finale was the highlight of the week.
  • Marcus Denmon – (17.2 PPG, 2 SPG, 50% 3P%) Trending Down: If you handed out the award for play in the nonconference, Denmon might just win it.  So far in the one conference game, both Denmon and the Tigers struggled.
  • Khris Middleton – (15.4 PPG, 4.8 RPG, 2.8 APG) **New**: It’s really a team effort in College Station, but right now Middleton is the leader on arguably the second best team in the league.  Actually, the team in the league with the most Top 25 wins.  A&M deserves a representative in the conversation.
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BGTD: Early Games Analysis

Posted by jstevrtc on January 8th, 2011

With the first weekend of major conference action upon us, we’re back with another weekend edition of Boom Goes the Dynamite.  The idea behind this is that we’ll update after each three-hour (or so) block of games with some instant analysis on what we’ve seen so far today.  So here goes…

  • Georgetown Moves to 1-3 We’ve been touting Georgetown for most of the early part of this season, but it’s obvious that the Hoyas have some serious identity problems at the halfway mark. By that, we mean that they have to find a way to succeed when Chris Wright is off his game. Wright had a miserable shooting day in today’s loss against West Virginia (65-59), going 3-13 from the field, including 1-7 from three. The other problem is that they have to learn how to finish games. Four straight turnovers at the end of the game doomed the Hoyas, but losing the battle on the offensive glass 15-4 and coughing up 18 turnovers will ruin you every time, too. Even the effort of Jason Clark (16/6) couldn’t offset the poor play of Wright and Austin Freeman today. Casey Mitchell continued his excellence for the Mountaineers (28 pts on 10-18) and showed that WVU will be a force in the Big East this year despite very little early season talk about them.
  • Upset Saturday? Looks like we have a little bit of an Upset Saturday brewing. Oklahoma State beats Kansas State by 14, right as people were starting to regain a little confidence in the Wildcats. What’s odd is that OSU was able to win despite showing just 40.4% and 2-10 from three. The defense was the story here for the Cowboys, snagging eleven steals and forcing 21 turnovers. KSU only got production fron two players, namely Jacob Pullen (20/5, but on 4-11 from the field) and Rodney McGruder (19/6 on 7-11). Oklahoma State showed up in force, placing four players in double-figures, led by reserve Jan-Paul Olukemi’s tasty double-double of 22/11 on an efficient 7-9 from the field. At 13-2 and a win over a ranked K-State team, you’ll see Oklahoma State grab some votes this week.
  • MSU Continues to Lapse.  We’re trying, Tom Izzo. We’ve defended your Michigan State squad pretty loudly this year. We know that you guys usually save the best for last. But it’s getting tougher. Yes, life on the road during conference play is tough, especially in the Big Ten. But if we’re going to keep backing you, you have to pull out games like this one you just dropped at Penn State (66-62). Talor Battle drilled a jumper with 18 seconds to seal the win for the Lions, who put four players in double figures, as opposed to Sparty’s two. Looks like there’s a little road team virus going around the country this weekend.
  • Another Top Ten Loses.  If you require further evidence for that diagnosis, we give you Missouri, who got shelled, 89-76, at Colorado. Of course when Alec Burks loses his mind on you with 36/8, where you’re playing matters a lot less. The Buffs owned the Tigers on the boards, 46-31, and the Missouri defense, known for forcing opponents into frustrated turnovers, could only coax 11 out of Colorado. Not a bad way to start your final Big 12 campaign, Buffaloes.
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Set Your Tivo: 01.07-01.09

Posted by Brian Otskey on January 7th, 2011

***** – quit your job and divorce your wife if that’s what it takes to watch this game live
**** – best watched live, but if you must, tivo and watch it tonight as soon as you get home
*** – set your tivo but make sure you watch it later
** – set your tivo but we’ll forgive you if it stays in the queue until 2013
* – don’t waste bandwidth (yours or the tivo’s) of any kind on this game

Brian Otskey is an RTC contributor.

The first big hoops weekend of 2011 features many important games across the land. Here are five key games followed by a host of others. All rankings from RTC and all times eastern.

Cleveland State @ Butler – 7 pm Friday on ESPNU (****)

With Butler’s loss at Milwaukee on Monday, folks in the Horizon League used to the Bulldogs’ dominance are excited that this may be the year someone else takes the title. Cleveland State leads the league by a game over Detroit and Wright State while holding a one and a half game lead over Butler heading into tonight’s game. Should the Vikings win on the road tonight and plow through the rest of their Horizon schedule, expect to see Cleveland State win the league. Obviously we’re a long way off from that but CSU is currently in a nice position. Butler’s problems have been on the defensive end. The Bulldogs have given up an average of 73.6 PPG in their losses while their defensive efficiency has dropped significantly from their top five ranking of a year ago.

The Bulldogs Need Mack Back On Track Tonight, And From Now On

Read the rest of this entry »

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Checking in on… the Big 12

Posted by Brian Goodman on January 4th, 2011

Owen Kemp of Rock Chalk Talk and SB Nation Kansas City is the RTC Correspondent for the Big 12 Conference.

A Look Back

The two-week holiday stretch has come to a close and teams across the Big 12 are wrapping up those few final tune ups and preparing to dive head first into the conference season.  A time of year that sometimes tends to be slow in the college basketball world proved rather interesting in Big 12 country as a few teams that were once viewed as contenders, now look like pretenders and vice versa.

  • To start things off, the Baylor Bears have gone from a team that may have been exposed to one searching for solid footing.  After the eyebrows were raised in a loss to Gonzaga, the Bears would lose two of their next three with a narrow win over Texas Southern on Sunday.  The Bears are still a team with a high ceiling and tons of athleticism, but they are definitely seeking an identity after losing much of what made the team tick a year ago.
  • On the opposite end of the spectrum sit the Missouri Tigers.  Mike Anderson has his team playing at a very high level and Missouri is being talked about as a team that could make a run at the Big 12 title and perhaps put together an impressive March.  A win over a ranked Illinois team highlighted the break, but the Tigers were just as impressive in blowout wins over Northern Illinois and Old Dominion.
  • Another team solidifying its place in the conference hunt was TexasRick Barnes went on the road and came away with wins over North Carolina and Michigan State before routing Coppin State on New Year’s Eve.  The win against Michigan State was the most impressive, as the Horns dominated Tom Izzo’s group in Lansing, giving the Spartans their first non-con loss at Breslin since 2003.
  • Over in Lawrence, the Kansas Jayhawks continued to defend its home court winning streak while also getting a win in ugly fashion on the road at Cal.  Kansas remains undefeated on the season, but hasn’t looked overly impressive until getting back on track Sunday with a win over Miami of Ohio.  Josh Selby who joined the team just before the break has looked every bit the part of a top recruit and has already worked his way into a starting role with Kansas.
  • The other team in Kansas, the one originally expected to win the conference, has fallen on some hard times.  Senior leaders Curtis Kelly and Jacob Pullen were both suspended for a portion of the season following improper benefits taken from a local department store.  The loss of the players was met with a loss on the court to UNLV in Kansas City.  The good news is that since that point, the team seems to have responded and new players have stepped into larger roles for the Wildcats.  Now we’ll see how they respond with Pullen’s return.
  • Elsewhere Texas A&M, Nebraska, Oklahoma, Iowa State and Colorado all held steady against a splattering of tune up opponents and at the moment the Big 12 actually has 9 teams with double-figure wins and Baylor sits just a game out.  Marquee wins out of the group include a road victory by the Cyclones over an ACC opponent in Virginia, and Colorado handling Indiana in a holiday tournament.
  • Oklahoma State dropped their first major test when they lost by a wide margin to a surging Gonzaga Bulldogs team that was left for dead after a 4-3 start to the season.  Rounding out the bottom of the conference, both Oklahoma and Texas Tech did little to change the opinions of their skeptics.  Both teams enjoyed wins over the break but neither beat anyone of any substance and so it went, life in the bottom of the Big 12.

Power Rankings

1. Kansas (13-0) – Kansas struggled a bit and played to the level of their opponent in two of three games over the break, but in a win over Miami of Ohio, they once again looked like a team that has all the tools to win a seventh straight Big 12 conference title.

2. Texas (11-2) – Texas went to Greensboro and defeated North Carolina and then took a trip to East Lansing where few come away with a victory against Tom Izzo and the Spartans. Now this is the point last year where the Longhorns fell apart, but at the moment they look to be well positioned for a run at the conference title.

3. Missouri Tigers (13-1) – Missouri might be playing as well as anyone right now and the win over Illinois certainly makes a statement.  The Tigers are up to #8 in the national polls and could probably make a solid argument for a ranking higher than Texas.  At this point, the marquee road win by the Longhorns wins out, but Missouri is a scary team as the Big 12 slate creeps closer.

4. Texas A&M (13-1) – A&M still looks like a very strong team but they haven’t jumped off the page of late like the teams in front of them have.  A January 15 trip to Columbia should be circled on the calendars of basketball fans, as both of these teams should be ranked and looking for an early edge in the conference hunt.

5. Kansas State (12-3) – Things have seemed off for the Wildcats through much of the early season and that came to a head with the suspension of Jacob Pullen and Curtis Kelly.  Interestingly, those suspensions seemed to have help a few more players to emerge for the Wildcats and when both return this should still be a team very much in the mix if Frank Martin can find the leadership and chemistry he’s been looking for.

6. Iowa State (13-2) – The Cyclones have managed a 12-2 record when many expected them to struggle.  Yes, things will get much more difficult with the start of conference play, but right now they deserve some respect with a pair of road wins against rival Iowa and a nine win ACC team in Virginia.  This is very much a reward for the moment as this “power” ranking probably won’t be expected to hold.

7. Oklahoma State (12-2) – The Cowboys went on the road and get handled by Gonzaga. The Bulldogs are good so there is no shame in the loss, but losing by 21 and struggling offensively does raise questions as does the rest of the resume.  The Cowboys are likely a middle-tier Big 12 team that could cause problems for one or two frontrunners along the way.

8. Baylor (9-3) – Before the break Baylor failed its first major test in Gonzaga. Since then they have dropped two more and right now the pieces aren’t fitting the way they did last year.  Scott Drew will work at it and this team has a very high ceiling, but the Bears might take a few lumps along the way.

9. Colorado (10-4) – Colorado definitely looks like a middle to lower tier team in the conference.  The early season hopes that they could make a run at the NCAA Tournament might have been a little bit of an overreaction to the return of Alec Burks and Cory Higgins.  One more chance at a non-conference win and then the team will likely need to get ten wins in conference, a feat which doesn’t appear likely as of today.

10. Nebraska (11-2) – Nebraska looks like a virtual clone of last year and almost every year with Doc Sadler.  Today they sit at #12 nationally in defensive efficiency, but don’t let that fool you, they’ve done it before.  Once conference play starts they will make it ugly and they’ll force teams to earn it, but the Huskers won’t have the firepower to keep up and that defensive ranking will slowly drop.

11. Texas Tech (7-7) – Tech goes 2-1 over the break, and believe it or not, the one loss showed some promise as they almost managed to clip a decent New Mexico team that sits 10-3 and recently beat fellow Big 12 team Colorado.  That’s enough to move Tech ahead of Oklahoma and provide just a glimmer of hope that the offensive talent on this team might buy into the defensive effort that’s going to be necessary to win a few in the conference.

12. Oklahoma (8-6) –  Oklahoma wins two over the break and now has wins in four of their last five.  Problem is, none are anything to lend any more confidence to what this group can do.  The conference season kicks off with A&M , Baylor and Texas, which represents the stretch that should end the Sooners hopes of any major strides this season.

A Look Ahead

This week signals the start of the conference season as five games set for Saturday pairing conference foes.  Kansas State and Oklahoma State could be a highlight as Jacob Pullen returns, but the Wildcats will still be without Curtis Kelly in a dangerous first game.  Missouri heads on the road for the second time this year when the play in Boulder and take on the Colorado Buffaloes.  The Tigers have looked very good of late, and they travel well to Boulder so it might be a nice way to ease into a tricky Big 12 road schedule.  Also on the docket are Iowa State vs. Nebraska, Baylor vs. Texas Tech and Texas A&M vs. Oklahoma.

Even with ten teams playing in conference games, the one to watch is outside the conference and once again it’s Texas.  If there’s one thing you have to give Rick Barnes credit for, it’s challenging his team.  The Horns will welcome ninth-ranked Connecticut on Saturday in another game that could help cement Texas as not just a Big 12 title contender but also a national title contender.  What’s more impressive is that this game completely overshadows a good contest on Tuesday night, when Texas takes on a 10-2 Arkansas team.

Player of the Year Watch (No Specific Order)

  • Jacob Pullen – (16.5 PPG, 3.8 APG, 40% FG) Trending Down.  First, Pullen was just facing questions about his numbers being down.  Now, he’s facing questions about his focus and leadership qualities.  Not a good recipe for a player of the year award.
  • Marcus Morris – (15.5 PPG, 6 RPG, 62% FG) Trending Down.  Morris comes off the bench for two straight games while his coach called him out for letting the Cal game get under his skin.  Both times he responded, but he’ll need to prove he can carry the burden consistently to take Big 12 POY honors.
  • Alec Burks – (19 PPG, 51% FG) Trending Down.  Burks is leveling off, as is Colorado.  This team will need to show another level if Burks is going to continue to get consideration.  Fact is, you don’t win POY awards when your team isn’t in the hunt.
  • Jordan Hamilton – (19.8 PPG, 7.2 RPG) Trending Up.  Hamilton continues to be the leader of a team with arguably the best set of wins in the conference.  If Texas makes a run in the conference, Hamilton could be the favorite.
  • LaceDarius Dunn – (21.2 PPG, 4.6 RPG, 2.0 SPG, 43% FG) Even.  Statistically, Dunn is still performing, as a team Baylor is not.  That’s the difference at the moment.
  • Marcus Denmon – (17.6 PPG, 2 SPG, 52% 3P%) Trending Up.  If the season ended today, this is my vote.  Problem is, conference play hasn’t started yet.  Without a doubt Denmon will be in the running though.
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Checking in on… the Big 12

Posted by Brian Goodman on December 20th, 2010

Owen Kemp of Rock Chalk Talk and SB Nation Kansas City is the RTC Correspondent for the Big 12 Conference.

A Look Back

  • Finals week for most schools and that means a slow week in the Big 12.  For the most part, the conference sat idle from Sunday to Friday with a few non-conference cupcake tune-ups played here and there.
  • Saturday however, signaled a return to basketball with ten games and several intriguing matchups throughout the league.  Kansas State played in the only battle between ranked teams as the Wildcats took on Florida as part of the Orange Bowl Classic in Frank Martin’s hometown of Miami.  Unfortunately, the homecoming didn’t turn out the way Martin would have hoped with both teams playing an ugly brand of basketball and the Wildcats never put things together, scoring just 44 points in a 13-point loss to Billy Donovan’s Gators.
  • Another Big 12 contender, the Baylor Bears, struggled as well in their first game against any form of true competition.  The Bears took on the Gonzaga Bulldogs as part of The Showcase in Dallas.  The Bulldogs sit 6-5 with four losses to top 25 opponents, but were able to pull away from the #9 Bears  behind a 7-9 free throw shooting effort down the stretch.  The loss was the first on the season for the Bears and exposed some of the vulnerabilities that were expected for a new look Baylor squad with plenty of talent but an assortment of new faces.
  • The Texas Longhorns further solidified their top 25 ranking by heading on the road to a neutral site game that was hardly neutral when they played the North Carolina Tar Heels in Greensboro.  In a great game from start to finish, the Longhorns would receive a boost from freshman Cory Joseph, who stepped up and knocked down the game-winning basket with just 1.4 seconds left on the clock.  The game is another notch on the belt of a young Longhorn squad that has looked solid against good competition throughout the non-conference schedule.
  • Another true freshman stole the show in Lawrence with the much-anticipated debut of Josh Selby in a Kansas Jayhawk uniform.  The Jayhawks squared off against a USC team fresh off a win over fellow Big 12 team Texas.  The Trojans added a guard to their lineup themselves, as transfer Jio Fontan entered the lineup for the first time all year and helped the Trojans take the game down to the wire.  In the end, it was Selby knocking down a three pointer with just 26 seconds on the clock to go ahead by one and secure the Jayhawks’ 65th straight win in Allen Fieldhouse.
  • Another team emerging in the contender category would be the Texas A&M Aggies.  The Aggies took on the Arkansas Razorbacks as part of the The Showcase in Dallas and in a game that would feature a bench clearing brawl and extra five minutes of overtime, sophomore forward Khris Middleton would score 31 points and lead the Aggies to a nine-point win.  Mark Turgeon has the Aggies playing a tough brand of basketball and A&M more and more looks to have the weapons to compete with anyone in the league.
  • Elsewhere, Missouri would win a pair of games in impressive fashion against a pair of tune-up opponents.  Oklahoma State continues to position themselves as a middle-tier team with a very real shot at being the fifth, sixth or even seventh tournament team in the Big 12.  This is the role that many thought Colorado might fill, but the Cowboys seem to be better than expected.
  • Speaking of Colorado, the Buffaloes would improve their record with two easy wins as the group in Boulder continues to improve and find themselves as a team.  Iowa State would continue their run through the preseason extending their overall record to 10-2 as Scott Christopherson continues to fire at will.  While the troubles in Lubbock and Norman show no sign of letting up.
  • The news in Lincoln was good on the court with a win over Eastern Washington on Saturday, however Doc Sadler continues to struggle in keeping the talent happy, as Christian Standhardinger is the fourth player from the 2009 recruiting class to leave the Cornuskers.
  • At this point the Big 12 is what it always seems to be in mid December.  The contenders are separating themselves with big wins and marquee games against better competition.  The pretenders and bottom half of the conference is padding the win loss column in hopes that they can hang on for a bubble birth come March.

Power Rankings

  1. Kansas (10-0) – The Jayhawks moved to 10-0 in a nailbiter against the USC Trojans.  The good news is the Jayhawks were not the only team in the conference to look sluggish after a long break and Josh Selby at face value looks like a player that can help some of the Jayhawk offensive weaknesses in a hurry.
  2. Texas A&M (10-1) – A&M has gone from a team that was surprising to a team that has some serious talent developing.   Khris Middleton, Nathan Walkup and David Loubeau are a trio of forwards that are physical, talented and leading the way from a scoring standpoint for Mark Turgeon.  This may prove to be too high for the Aggies as the season goes on, but in the world of what-have-you-done-for-me-lately power rankings, they look as good as anyone in the South.
  3. Missouri Tigers (10-1) – The Tigers weren’t tested in two fairly sizeable wins, but they are disposing teams in the manner you’d expect from a good team.  Mike Anderson’s team set a school record with a 116-point output on Saturday and they look like a group beginning to hit their stride.  This week’s Bragging Rights game against Illinois will be a great measuring stick to gauge improvement since the early loss to Georgetown.
  4. Texas (9-2) – Rick Barnes and Texas have an argument for a higher spot without question.  They’ve played a challenging schedule, for the most part they’ve played well, and they have a real opportunity to be a very difficult matchup as the players become comfortable in their roles.  A big opportunity this week for Texas comes in the form of a game against Tom Izzo and Michigan State.
  5. Kansas State (9-2) – Something just doesn’t seem right in Manhattan right now.  The Wildcats are still one of the toughest defensive teams in the conference and they’re going to make you earn every point, but on the offensive end, it isn’t clicking.  Curtis Kelly hasn’t stepped up to the level expected and Jacob Pullen is doing well, but it’s difficult for him to completely carry the team when he’s the focus of every opposing defense.  It’s hard to believe Frank Martin won’t get things going, but for now the Wildcats haven’t played to the level expected.
  6. Oklahoma State (10-1) – The Cowboys moved to 10-1 this week but they still lack a statement win.  The good news for Cowboy fans is that different players are stepping up at different times and they‘re beating teams in different ways.  They’re likely the seventh-best team in the conference in terms of talent, but they could cause some trouble in a wide open South.
  7. Baylor (7-1) – Everyone has been waiting for the Bears to play someone and in the first attempt to do that, they fell to Gonzaga in what was basically a home game.  Gonzaga was due for a win, but they still don’t look like the top 15 Bulldog squad that was expected this season and they managed to handle the Bears even with Steven Gray hobbled from back spasms.
  8. Iowa State (10-2) – Scott Christopherson continues to have a green light and the Cyclones continue to win.  Still there isn’t much in the way of competition against which to truly judge Iowa State.   With three relatively soft games remaining in the non-conference docket, it’s possible Iowa State could enter conference play with 13 wins already under their belt, yet still sit ill-prepared for the gauntlet that awaits in Kansas, Kansas State and Missouri in the North.
  9. Colorado (7-3) – Two games, two easy opponents, two comfortable wins.  Colorado was a team with high expectations early, but they fell flat and haven’t done enough to restore hope.  A solid opponent awaits this week in New Mexico and a chance for Tad Boyle to restore some of the lost faith.
  10. Nebraska (9-2) – Nebraska sits at 9-2, which is a good record.  Typically, they don’t do much to test themselves early, but the win over USC looks better and better every day.  This is still a team that doesn’t jump off the page, but they very well could battle Colorado and Iowa State for fourth in the North.  Still, at this point, it’s hard to see much that justifies the nod.
  11. Oklahoma (5-6) – After a two-game uptick, the Sooners fell to a decent Big East team in Cincinnati.  It’s enough to give them the edge over Tech for now, but it’s still not pretty in Norman.  Statistically speaking, they do very little that could be considered a strength, unless of course you want to give them credit for mediocre shooting.
  12. Texas Tech (5-6) – Texas Tech is on a three-game skid with the last two coming against mid-major talent.  Tech had the offensive talent returning, but they needed to improve defensively and on the boards.  Neither of those things have happened.

A Look Ahead

  • This week’s Big 12 slate takes place on Tuesday and Wednesday before a long holiday weekend.  All 12 teams play between the two nights with Kansas State kicking things off in a tough contest taking place at the Sprint Center in Kansas City.  In the Wildcats’ third game in Kansas City this year, K-State will play host to another ranked opponent in the UNLV Runnin’ Rebels.  Coming off the loss in Miami, the Wildcats and their fans will be anxious to see if the offense can get back on track.
  • Another game to watch in the conference on Tuesday will pit the Oklahoma State Cowboys against Stanford in Stillwater.  The Cardinal hasn’t been particularly impressive, but it is a name opponent from a name conference and a chance to learn a little more about the Cowboys.
  • Wednesday night is a big night if you’re a Big 12 basketball fan.  The highlight of the night will likely take place in St. Louis, as the Missouri Tigers square off against the Illinois Fighting Illini in a matchup of two top 25 teams.  The game lost a little luster when the Illini fell flat against Illinois-Chicago this weekend, a loss that will drop them from top 15 status, but it’s a big game and a heated rivalry nonetheless.
  • The game just prior to Missouri and Illinois on ESPN2 will be another big opportunity for the Big 12, as Texas heads back out on the road for a big game against Michigan State.  The game is another example of the bold scheduling approach taken by Rick Barnes and a big time opportunity for the Longhorns to reassert themselves on the national stage.
  • Rounding out the night will be Kansas heading to Berkeley for a road game against a Pac-10 opponent.  The Jayhawks have had their struggles against the Pac-10 conference this year but have managed to slip by every challenger.
  • Another good one to keep an eye on will be New Mexico in Boulder against the Buffaloes. This is a game that Tad Boyle needs to start rebuilding some of the confidence and excitement that was lost after the stumble out of the gates in the early season.

Stats, Quotes and other Notables

  • 21 Points on 5-8 Shooting from three – Debut line for Kansas freshman Josh Selby.
  • 11 points in 11 minutes – The offensive drought that ultimately doomed the Kansas State Wildcats against the Florida Gators.
  • 4-22 from three – Just one example of the mediocrity taking place on the offensive end for the Oklahoma Sooners.
  • 7 Players Scoring in Double Figures - The Missouri Tigers are balanced, they showed that against Central Arkansas with this impressive stat.
  • “We were sleepwalking, [The scuffle] seemed like it really changed the game for us.” – Texas A&M head coach Mark Turgeon talks about his team coming to life after a rare bench-clearing scuffle at mid court against Arkansas.

Player of the Year Watch (No Specific Order)

  • Jacob Pullen – (16.3 PPG, 3.8 APG, 40% FG) Even: Pullen is doing everything he can, but the loss of Denis Clemente is clearly being felt.  From a numbers standpoint, Pullen is maintaining pace, but the Wildcats are looking like a team slightly lost offensively.
  • Marcus Morris – (16.3 PPG, 6.3 RPG, 62% FG) Even: Morris wasn’t great against USC, but he got a lift with the addition of Josh Selby. Morris still looks like a player that can sometimes score at will, it’s just a matter of getting the team chemistry back where it needs to be.
  • Alec Burks – (20.3 PPG, 51% FG) Even: Burks is slowly becoming a smarter player on the offensive end and his efforts on the defensive end aren’t going unnoticed.  Statistically it’s pretty much the same player, but he’s improving day to day.
  • Jordan Hamilton – (19.4 PPG, 7.2 RPG) Even: Texas could be turning a corner.  The players around him are doing more, but Hamilton is still the most explosive option for the Longhorns.
  • LaceDarius Dunn – (21.4 PPG, 4.4 RPG, 2.6, 2.2 SPG, 48% FG) Trending Up: Baylor loses to Gonzaga, but Dunn is looking like one of the more complete and impactful players for his team.
  • Marcus Denmon – (16.8 PPG, 1.9 SPG, 51% 3P%) Trending Up: He continues to be the best player on a VERY deep team.  Denmon is turning into the leader for the Tigers and he seems like a player that has even more to give.
  • Scott Christopherson – (16.5 PPG, 55% 3P%) New**: Christopherson’s chances are probably slim unless he can somehow lead the Cyclones to a surprisingly successful season and a top 3 finish in the North.  Still, he’s a player whose early-season efforts deserve a mention and he’ll be a thorn in everyone’s side in conference play.
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