Big 12 Season Wrap: the Highs, the Lows, All the In-Betweens

Posted by dnspewak on April 15th, 2013

In a big-picture sense, the Big 12 provided us with no surprises this season. Kansas won the league again, TCU finished in last place, five teams made the NCAA Tournament, and all was right with the world. It wouldn’t have taken Nostradamus to make those predictions. That doesn’t mean it wasn’t an interesting six months, however. There were flops–most notably from the state of Texas. There were overachievers–most notably from the state of Oklahoma. There were thrilling finishes, blown calls, standout freshmen and that one time Kansas somehow lost to TCU. Oh, and one team even won a championship this season in, well, the wrong tournament.

Game of  the Year: Kansas 68, Oklahoma State 67 (February 20)

This showdown in Stillwater was simultaneously the best and worst game of the Big 12 season. How’s that for logic? After the Cowboys stunned Kansas at Allen Fieldhouse earlier in the winter and literally celebrated by doing back flips on the court, this revenge game took on even more importance in the league standings. Had Oklahoma State won, it would have seized the proverbial driver’s seat along with Kansas State and would have made the Jayhawks’ path to the regular season title very difficult. We had drama. We had overtime. Two, actually. And we had a game-winner in the final minute of regulation by Naadir Tharpe, who shook off a rusty performance to hit the go-ahead jumper with 16 seconds to play. Instant classic, right? Certainly. The problem was, it was perhaps the ugliest game ever played by two top-15 opponents on the same floor. Kansas did not make a field goal in the first overtime and it did not make a field goal in the second overtime until Tharpe’s game-winner. That’s almost 10 minutes of basketball without a basket. In overtime! Overall, the two teams combined to shoot five for 32 from beyond the arc. Ben McLemore played 49 minutes, missed nine of 12 shot attempts and finished with seven points after barely touching the ball in the overtime periods. And that’s the best game of the year? We still stand by our decision. This was the game that changed the complexity of the Big 12 title race, and two free periods of basketball is never a bad thing.

Bill Self Won Another Big 12 Title (Photo credit: AP Photo).

Bill Self Won Another Big 12 Title (Photo credit: AP Photo).

Honorable Mentions:

  • Kansas 108, Iowa State 96 (February 25): Asterisk on this one. Kansas beat Iowa State in Ames — where the Cyclones hadn’t lost in more than a year — but it needed a blown call at the end of regulation to get the opportunity. You remember the situation. Elijah Johnson‘s charging toward the basket with five seconds left in the game, his team trailing by two points. Georges Niang sets his feet and takes what appears to be a pretty standard charge. But there’s no call, the ball bounces on the floor and the officials eventually blow the whistle on Niang during a scramble. That allows Kansas to tie the game and win in overtime behind Elijah Johnson’s epic 39-point performance. The Big 12 would later admit its referees should have called a charge, but that’s a moot point right now. It’s a shame we’ll remember this game as the No-Call Game as opposed to the Elijah Johnson Game.
  • Oklahoma State 74, Baylor 72 (March 14): The Bears needed a victory in this Big 12 quarterfinal to give themselves a chance for an at-large bid in the NCAA Tournament. Then they fell behind by 20 points. Dead in the water. Except Pierre Jackson started raining jumpers and floaters all over the place, and Baylor inexplicably tied the game in the final minute of regulation. But the officials made a controversial foul call (that’s a trend this year, across all conferences) and sent Phil Forte to the line, where he made both. That’s an exciting finish in and of itself. But it got even better: Nobody’s quite sure how it happened, but with just seconds left on a desperation, mad-dash possession, Jackson dribbled straight through two Oklahoma State defenders and found himself absolutely, completely wide open from three-point land. He had a chance to win at the buzzer. No hands contesting him, no defender in sight. He missed. That sent the Bears to the NIT, and at least they won that tournament. But Jackson’s failed buzzer-beater signaled the end of Baylor’s tourney chances, and it was another dark moment during an underachieving season.

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Big 12 Team Preview #8: Oklahoma Sooners

Posted by KoryCarpenter on November 2nd, 2012

Over the next two weeks, we’ll bring you the obligatory team preview here at the Big 12 microsite. Oklahoma at the #8 position is next on our list.

The Skinny

  • 2011-12 record: 15-16, 5-13 Big 12
  • Key Contributors Lost: None
  • Head Coach: Lon Kruger
  • Projected Finish: 8th

Lon Kruger Enters His Second Season With the Sooners (Photo by ISportsWeb)

Every school in the country is one hire away from success or mediocrity. Take Kentucky’s handoff from Tubby Smith to Billy Gillispie to John Calipari, for example. So when Oklahoma fired Jeff Capel in 2011, two years after guiding the Sooners to the Elite Eight but failing to survive a tumultuous 2010-11 season, no one could really tell where the basketball program was headed. They had been to three Elite Eights since the turn of the century but it was nothing that could protect them from the wrath of a potentially bad hire. But in came Lon Kruger, the career journeyman who has coached in the Mountain West, Big 12, Big Ten, SEC, and the NBA. He took Florida to the 1994 Final Four and will surpass the 500-win mark this season. Last season in year one in Norman, the Sooners went 10-2 in the non-conference season thanks to a slate against teams like Idaho State and Santa Clara but struggled in the Big 12, finishing eighth and missing the postseason for the third straight year. There were a few bright spots between all the losses, though, like the 13-point victory over in-state rival Oklahoma State or the season sweep of Kansas State, an NCAA Tournament team. Luckily for the Sooners, they’re in a considerably better spot this season than Texas Tech and TCU, four should-be wins in the conference. Here’s why: Kruger returns every major contributor off last season’s team. Experience matters — just look at Missouri’s regular season last year. That experience could have a big effect on the program going forward as well. With four seniors in the starting lineup, an impressive season could boost Kruger’s recruiting going forward, which was so-so this year.

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Big 12 M5: 10.10.12 Edition

Posted by dnspewak on October 10th, 2012

  1. With Royce White out of the picture, Iowa State will need to adjust to its personnel and find different ways to facilitate offense. Instead of having White as a point-forward type of player, Fred Hoiberg will use Korie Lucious at the point and keep the ball in the hands of a traditional point guard. Losing White will change the entire dynamic of the team, but there’s one thing that might not change. The Cyclones can still fill it up from beyond the arc, even with the graduation of Scott Christopherson and Chris Allen. If you’re looking for one shooter to keep an eye on, it’s probably Tyrus McGee. The junior college transfer didn’t always play major minutes a year ago, but when he did, he always seemed to find a way to get his shots from beyond the arc. By the end of the year, he shot around a 40 percent clip from three as a reserve. His senior year could be even better, along with the rest of the Cyclones’ shooters.
  2. Bill Self’s newest commitment made a bold statement after choosing Kansas as his college destination on Tuesday. How bold? Well, Frank Mason says he wants to be the next Sherron Collins. “He was a great player and I’d like to do the same type things,” he told the Lawrence Journal-World. That’s quite the statement, but Collins certainly isn’t a bad guy to model yourself after. The one difference is Mason, a 5’11” point guard who originally committed to Towson but did not qualify academically a year ago, is actually a little under-the-radar. He’s ranked in the top-150 by Rivals.com, but he did not receive a KU offer until after he blew up in AAU ball in July.
  3. Andrew Fitzgerald played at four different high schools in four seasons. The forward then committed to play for Jeff Capel at Oklahoma — we all know how that worked out — and it turns out, he’s now entering his senior year of college without a single winning season to brag about. Talk about a chaotic decade for a basketball player. That’s why Fitzgerald has his sights set on a big finale season with the Sooners. Fitzgerald is a key part of Lon Kruger’s experienced nucleus, the kind of forward who can play a lot of different ways on the offensive end of the floor. Unfortunately, the big man disappeared at times in the scoring department during Big 12 play last season. Oklahoma’s poor conference finish wasn’t Fitzgerald’s fault, but it’s partly his job to develop his game and lead this team to an NCAA Tournament berth. After all, it’s his last chance.
  4. Oklahoma State fans are a demanding bunch. They’re not always mentioned in the national spotlight, but Gallagher-Iba Arena can be a ferocious place to play basketball. There’s no doubt these people love their hoops, which is why a columnist needed to defend coach Travis Ford in the face of criticism from Cowboys fans. As we pointed out earlier in the week, Ford’s program has slipped after qualifying for the NCAA Tournament immediately upon his arrival. Fortunately, recruiting players like Le’Bryan Nash and Marcus Smart should help Ford stick around for a while in Stillwater. Of course, there’s a burden of expectations that comes with recruiting top-notch prospects, and that’s what Ford faces in 2012-13.
  5. We heard a few interesting comments from Bill Self and Bruce Weber at a reception Tuesday for the Coaches vs. Cancer Season Tip-Off. First of all, Self says he thinks Kansas will be “OK,” a year after a team he expressed serious concerns about in the preseason damn near won the national championship. In our books, “OK” for Kansas means, well, another Big 12 Championship and deep NCAA Tournament run. Weber, on the other hand, talked about acclimating to Manhattan, as well as the importance of the Kansas/Kansas State series now that Missouri has moved to the SEC. Weber, who faced Missouri annually at Illinois, said the absence of the Tigers in the Big 12 means the Sunflower Showdown will become an even grander rivalry (as if it weren’t heated enough already). We can’t wait.
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Big 12 Summer Update: Oklahoma Sooners

Posted by dnspewak on July 18th, 2012

In an effort to remind you that college basketball does in fact exist during the summer, Big 12 microsite writers Danny Spewak (@dspewak) and Jeremy Pfingsten (@jeremylp21) will roll out three summer updates per week during the next month. The goal is to compile every bit of news and information from the summer months for each team and package it into neat, easy-to-read capsules for your convenience. Next on the list — Danny’s update on Oklahoma. 

Oklahoma Sooners

2011-12 Record: 15-16 (5-13)

Lon Kruger isn’t used to losing. He reached a Final Four at Florida, an Elite Eight at Kansas State, and qualified for seven combined NCAA Tournaments at Illinois and UNLV. This man has been everywhere and won everywhere — well, except for that failed NBA experiment with the Atlanta Hawks — but his first season at Oklahoma did not fare so well. After making promising progress against a fairly weak non-conference slate, Kruger’s team fell flat in Big 12 play. His tactical ability and coaching expertise allowed a roster with a few decent parts to hang tough for the most part, but an eighth-place finish and a losing record will not sit well with Kruger this summer. This is not a program in turmoil anymore, though, no matter how bad the record looks from a year ago. Kruger will indoctrinate his first true recruiting class this summer to mix with the return of his entire starting lineup. His cast of newcomers include a few stud freshman and, most importantly, Wyoming transfer Amath M’Baye, who just might be the biggest story of the whole summer in Norman.

Lon Kruger Has An Impressive Track Record

Summer Orientation: The early reviews on M’Baye are already flattering. The Wyoming transfer, who started every game as a sophomore in 2010-11, is an impact newcomer in every sense of the phrase. He brings worldly experience to the Sooners, having lived in France, Senegal, California and, of course, Wyoming. But his skills are as intriguing as his background. Kruger said M’Baye polished his game considerably as he sat out in 2011-12, improving as both a ball-handler and perimeter player. He’s no longer just a 6’9” forward with a mid-range game and post skills. Now, Kruger said he’s combining that tall, lanky frame with an ability to attack off the dribble and use his elite athleticism to his advantage. His teammates have had nothing but praise for M’Baye, who averaged 12.0 points per game as a sophomore, since he arrived on campus last year. Andrew Fitzgerald called him “very athletic and really competitive” while practicing against him last year, and says he “could be one of the best players in the Big 12.” It is easy to overrate Division I transfers, but M’Baye appears to add a new element to Oklahoma because of his unique versatility as an inside-outside type swingman.

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The Final Game: How a Star and a Walk-On Finished Their Careers in Kansas City

Posted by dnspewak on March 28th, 2012

Danny Spewak is a Big 12 Microsite writer. He wrote this piece after covering the first two days of the Big 12 Tournament in Kansas City.  You can follow him on Twitter @dspewak.

One senior exits the court at the Sprint Center with 53 seconds remaining, walking gingerly toward his coach as an entire arena stands to applaud his four years of contributions. He will be remembered in college for playing more minutes than any player in program history — 4,322 to be exact. He is a former high school legend who set a state record for most points in a single season, once totaling 61 points in a single contest. He is a star and always will be. A name nobody around his parts will or could ever forget.

A night earlier, another senior enters the court at the Sprint Center with 21.2 seconds remaining on the clock, jogging toward his teammates as a few supporters in the stands politely applaud his four years of contributions. He will be remembered in college for hardly ever playing any minutes — 111 to be exact. He is a former high school point guard who won a 2008 state title without even scoring five points per game for his team, a man who has never been a star and never will be. A name most people around his parts will immediately forget.

T.J. Franklin and Keiton Page played their last games in Kansas City, Mo. (Photos by Oklahoma Sooners and NewsOK.com)

From a statistical standpoint, Keiton Page and T.J. Franklin could not possibly be any different. At the same time, they could not possibly be more alike. They are two seniors beloved by their teammates and coaches. They are two seniors considered within their respective programs as unquestioned leaders, guys who always say and do the right thing. They are two seniors who represent the best of college athletics.

This is not a story just about a household name and a walk-on. It is a story about two seniors who saw their careers end in the span of 24 hours in Kansas City, Missouri. A story about what it’s like to pour your entire life into one sport and see it all evaporate in the matter of two hours. A story about how Page and Franklin are entirely different and yet entirely the same. Read the rest of this entry »

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The Breakdown: Wednesday Night in the Big 12 Tournament

Posted by dnspewak on March 7th, 2012

Danny Spewak is a Big 12 Microsite writer and will provide wall-to-wall coverage of the Big 12 Tournament from the Sprint Center in Kansas City this weekend. You can follow him on Twitter @dspewak.

Knowing most of you are probably not all that interested in reading about the league’s bottom four teams, I’ll try to be brief here. Here’s exactly what you need to know — and nothing more — about the first round of the Big 12 Tournament.

Game 1: (8) Oklahoma vs. (9) Texas A&M, 6 p.m CT.

Lon Kruger Needs to Work His Magic

With only one scholarship senior on the roster, Lon Kruger may actually have a decent roster to work with next year. So although Wednesday could be the final game of C.J. Washington‘s career, this could mark the beginning of a turnaround in 2012-13. The Sooners have not fared well in Big 12 play after a strong start in November and December, but they have an underrated point guard in Sam Grooms, a blossoming scorer in Steven Pledger and a couple of really good  forwards in Romero Osby and Andrew Fitzgerald. Osby has quietly played very well down the stretch for Kruger, helping offset Pledger’s inconsistency and Fitzgerald’s struggles. He’s one of the top offensive rebounders in the Big 12, which sets up a showdown with Ray Turner and David Loubeau. Billy Kennedy will need to rework his roster more than Kruger next year, but the Big 12 Tournament could still give him some valuable feedback on what needs to change in his program.

The key player is… Osby. When these two teams played on Saturday, he scored 24 points and looked virtually unguardable. Surprisingly, Texas A&M actually kept him off of the offensive glass, which is Osby’s main strength.

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Baylor Rights the Ship, Not About To Collapse Again

Posted by dnspewak on January 25th, 2012

After losing ground in the Big 12 title race by losing to Kansas and Missouri in the span of five days last week, Baylor got back to the basics on Tuesday night in a 77-65 win at Oklahoma. This didn’t look like the same team that lost the rebounding battle in its two previous games, and it didn’t look like the team that showed serious several defensive deficiencies. Instead, the Bears outlasted a pesky Sooner squad by refocusing and playing tougher basketball. Early in the game, Perry Jones looked like a completely different player as he brought more aggression and assertiveness against a decent group of bigs. Thanks to Pierre Jackson‘s penetration skills, Jones got a lot of high-percentage looks and converted nine of 15 field goal attempts on the way to a double-double (21 points, 12 rebounds). That’s the key for Baylor: Great guard play, team ball movement and a big game from Jones.

Scott Drew's Team Rebounded in a Big Way On Tuesday

This was a vintage performance from Baylor offensively, but Scott Drew‘s team’s new commitment to defense and the boards Tuesday night made all the difference. And that’s why any talk of a Baylor collapse this season is unfounded, even after two losses to the league’s best teams last week. Oklahoma’s lack of scorers and three-point shooters kept it from pulling the upset, but the Sooners’ tough night from the perimeter had a lot to do with Baylor’s defense. The Bears’ guards forced Steven Pledger to settle for a lot of threes, and they got a little lucky when Andrew Fitzgerald missed several gimmes in the first half. Romero Osby did his work on the boards, but he’s one of the better individual rebounders in the conference. Otherwise, as a team, Baylor did a better job limiting Oklahoma’s damage on the boards with a +4 margin overall.

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Big 12 Morning Five: 1.20.12 Edition

Posted by dnspewak on January 20th, 2012

  1. Surprise! Kansas is the only undefeated team remaining in the Big 12 and has already defeated one of its main rivals for the league title (Baylor) at home. That leaves Kansas in a strong position in the conference right now, although it’s still too early to hang any banners. The Jayhawks still need to travel to Waco, Columbia, Manhattan, and Ames, but Bill Self’s teams have traditionally played well on the road. As even Self has admitted, though, this year’s team is not a vintage Kansas team, so it will be interesting to keep an eye on how this team fares. After seven years of either sharing or winning the Big 12 outright though you have to give the Jayhawks the benefit of the doubt here. It’s unlikely this team, which still features a Wooden Award front-runner in Thomas Robinson, will fall apart on tough road environments.
  2. Sometimes, it’s nice to have a little fun with All-Conference teams. Commentator Mitch Holthus put together several different teams, all of which had nothing to do with basketball. We don’t have any arguments with most of his picks, but where is Ricardo Ratliffe on the WWE team? He’s as chiseled as it gets in the Big 12. And with regards to that coaching card game, let’s try to find a spot for Fred Hoiberg. Just to liven things up a bit.
  3. Frank Haith would also have an interesting story to tell at that card game if Holthus selected him. You are probably sick of reading the Frank Haith reclamation stories, but it has been awhile since we have posted one. And this article is particularly well-written, weaving his days at Miami along with the scandal and the controversial hiring at Missouri. If the Tigers keep winning, you will be reading a lot more of these pieces especially from the national media. Haith is an underdog, and that is something America will never have enough of.
  4. Oklahoma did not begin Big 12 play with a bang, but it could actually take control of fifth place in the Big 12 with a win this weekend at Texas A&M. It’s a winnable game for the Sooners, who have won two straight league games after an 0-3 start. It’s only a matter of time before Lon Kruger works his magic, and there’s no reason this team can’t sneak into at least the NIT. Steven Pledger is learning to deal with the pressure of expectations, according to the article, and Andrew Fitzgerald and Romero Osby can cause a lot of problems for Big 12 teams when they play well. Kruger’s program will only continue to improve given time, but his first team isn’t a pushover by any means.
  5. And staying with the Sooners, sophomore Cameron Clark is embracing his new role as a reserve. Clark seemed like a definite starter heading into the season, but Kruger’s decision to bring him off the bench has helped his game. Clark scored 10 points in 14 minutes against Kansas State and added 10 against Texas Tech. That’s the sign of a mature player. Clark probably did not expect to lose his starting role, but he’s responding well to his coach’s decision whether he likes it or not. One day, Clark will probably find his way back into the starting lineup. For now, though, OU will be just fine if he keeps up this kind of production.
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Checking In On… The Big 12 Conference

Posted by Brian Goodman on January 16th, 2012

Steve Fetch is the RTC correspondent for the Big 12. You can also find his musings online at Rock Chalk Talk or on Twitter @fetch9.

Reader’s Take

 

The Week That Was

  • Two Big 12 teams notched their first wins of the conference season this week with Oklahoma defeating Kansas State and Texas A&M downing Texas Tech. Andrew Fitzgerald had a season-high 21 points to key Oklahoma’s first win as the Sooners overcame a double-double from Rodney McGruder. A&M meanwhile overcame a poor day on the glass to beat Texas Tech with five players in double figures. It doesn’t get any easier for the Aggies, as they have Missouri and Kansas in their next three games.
  • The conference’s two top defenses will meet tonight in Allen Fieldhouse when unbeaten Baylor visits Kansas. The Bears are allowing 0.908 points per possession and a 44% eFG, each mark bested only by Kansas. The Jayhawks are allowing opponents only 0.839 points per trip and an eFG allowed of 38.2%. They both have been very accomplished in Big 12 play offensively as well, but I wouldn’t expect it to be a very high-scoring affair on Big Monday.
  • At roughly the halfway point, the Big 12 leader in both points per game and points per 40 minutes is Texas junior J’Covan Brown. Brown is scoring 19 points per game and 22.9 points per 40 minutes. Brown has grown into and embraced his role as a scorer, going from playing in 53% Texas’s minutes last year to over 80% this year, and from taking roughly a fourth of the shots available all the way up to nearly a third this season.

Monday's Showdown Pitting Perry Jones And The Bears Against Kansas In Allen Fieldhouse Could Be The Best Game Of Conference Play. (Aiken/Getty)

Power Rankings

  1. Baylor (17-0, 4-0): The Bears narrowly avoided their first loss of the year by surviving 75-73 at Kansas State. Lest you wonder about them getting caught looking ahead to the showdown with the Jayhawks on Monday, they thumped Oklahoma State 106-75 over the weekend. While NBA scouts must be drooling about seeing Perry Jones match-up with Thomas Robinson, I’m more interested in the guards: Pierre Jackson has gotten a lot of ink lately for his stellar play (and it’s warranted, as he’s shooting 49% from three and has the 24th-best assist rate in the country), but he’ll have to go up against some good defensive guards for the Jayhawks, and with Jackson turning it over at a rate of 30% that could provide some easy buckets for the Jayhawks.
  2. Kansas (14-3, 4-0): The Jayhawks trailed nearly all game on Saturday against Iowa State (looking ahead to the Baylor game perhaps?) before finally pulling away at the end to win 82-73. Tyshawn Taylor had a career-high 28 points, and chipped in six assists and four steals. After the game, Iowa State’s Chris Allen was none too complimentary, remarking “I honestly can say that we did what we had to do to win,” Allen said. “I don’t want to make any excuses, but you watched the game like we all watched the game. It’s our fault we let the refs keep them in the game and had a couple of (bad) calls that kind of made us sink down a little bit.” Not that this is the be all end-all method of determining referee favoritism, but the Cyclones actually attempted one more free throw than the Jayhawks, and that was even with the intentional fouling at the end as Iowa State tried to play catch-up late. Read the rest of this entry »
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Big 12 Weekly Primer: Jan 9 – 11

Posted by dnspewak on January 9th, 2012

Kansas State has a rare opportunity this week to ruin two teams’ undefeated seasons in consecutive games. Just three days after handing Missouri its first loss at Bramlage Coliseum, the Wildcats will host 15-0 Baylor on Tuesday night in a battle of two of the Big 12′s top frontcourts. There are a few other games to keep an eye on this week, too: Oklahoma and Oklahoma State will meet tonight in a Bedlam game, though the series is hardly enticing right now with both programs struggling. And on Wednesday, MU will need to recover quickly from Saturday’s smackdown with Iowa State looming in Ames.

GAME OF THE WEEK

  • Baylor at Kansas State, Tuesday, 7 p.m. CT (Big 12 Network)

Facing an undersized Missouri team this weekend, Kansas State frustrated Ricardo Ratliffe and punished the Tigers with a physical frontline. Jamar Samuels and Jordan Henriquez combined for seven blocked shots and Rodney McGruder attacked the basket at will as Frank Martin‘s team exposed MU’s main weakness in the paint. Unfortunately for KSU, it won’t be able to bully Baylor like that on Tuesday night. The Bears, who have been rebounding better lately, can throw any number of forwards at the Wildcats’ post defenders, including Big 12 Player of the Year candidate Perry Jones and starters Quincy Acy and Quincy Miller. They can’t play effectively unless their guards get them the basketball, though, so  it’s important for Pierre Jackson in particular to play well in a road environment. He has turned the ball over at a fairly alarming rate this year, but he has provided the missing piece for Baylor’s offense this year as a facilitator off the bench. Still, Kansas State’s half-court intensity on the defensive end may give the guards some problems, and this game could turn ugly if they can’t hold on to the basketball. In fact, for all of the talk about the forwards in this game, the guards will make the difference. Brady Heslip can provide BU with another element if his outside shots are falling, and starter A.J. Walton and reserve Gary Franklin cannot be outplayed by Will Spradling, Angel Rodriguez and the rest of KSU’s deep and balanced backcourt. When BU has looked shaky offensively this season (for example, in a two-point win over Mississippi State), turnovers and a lack of ball movement has held it back. Baylor may have been able to edge MSU on a neutral court during a cold shooting night, but it won’t be able to recover from an off game in Manhattan.

Rodney McGruder Is a Difficult Matchup For Baylor

The key individual matchup is… Perry Jones vs. Jordan Henriquez. Filling in for the struggling Thomas Gipson, Henriquez earned the start against Missouri on Saturday and did not disappoint. The seven-footer blocked four shots and played one of his most complete games of the season with 10 points and eight rebounds. Now a junior, Henriquez no longer plays like a project anymore. He has the size and defensive ability to frustrate Jones, who has struggled against elite big men like Arnett Moultrie (MSU) and Kevin Jones (West Virginia) this season.

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Ten For Ten: Impressions of Each Big 12 Team From Its Opener

Posted by dnspewak on January 5th, 2012

Congratulations, Big 12 teams. You’ve all now played one-eighteenth of your conference schedule. For the next two months, you will suffer through hard-fought battles week after week until this wild league sorts itself out. After one game, it’s impossible to tell what exactly will happen from now until the first weekend in March. But each Big 12 opener at least gave us a little insight into this crazy conference. In alphabetical order, here’s what you need to know about Opening Week:

  1. Baylor has not played flawless basketball this season, but don’t exactly take that as a criticism. The Bears are undefeated and off to the best start in school history, and yet they still have a lot of room for improvement. Although it handled Texas A&M from start to finish in Waco on Monday, Scott Drew’s team still finished with 16 turnovers and shot just 2-12 from beyond the arc. Guard play in particular was a problem: Pierre Jackson finished with seven turnovers, and Brady Heslip did not score. And yet the Bears’ 61-52 victory was hardly in doubt until a modest comeback by the Aggies at the very end of the game. Perry Jones, who did not play well in a win over Mississippi State on national television last week, redeemed himself with a double-double as BU’s frontcourt overpowered the normally physical Aggies. The guards will make the difference this season for Drew, and though they struggled in the Big 12 opener, that trend should not continue. Jackson, Heslip, A.J. Walton and Gary Franklin are an underrated group.
  2. Iowa State is not a pushover this season. These guys can really shoot the heck out of the basketball, and they won their first Big 12 opener in five seasons by knocking off Texas 77-71 on Wednesday night. Yes, the Longhorns have problems of their own– more on that later– but Fred Hoiberg‘s team defended well, played with outstanding energy and got every shot it wanted on the offensive end. Iowa State made 10-of-21 three-pointers, and not a single trey came from Scott Christopherson, one of the top three-point shooters in Big 12 history from a percentage standpoint. Chris Babb and Anthony Booker combined to make eight of those shots, but forward Royce White controlled this game by getting to the free throw line and posing a matchup problem for UT. The Longhorns are small on the front line, and White exploited them by using his quickness. He announced to the Big 12 that he will not be easy to defend this winter.

    Bill Self's Team Made a Statement On Wednesday Night

  3. Kansas looked like a Big 12 champion again by spanking Kansas State at the Phog on Wednesday night. Sure, the Jayhawks cooled off after building an early 18-point lead, and the Wildcats jumped back into the game in the second half. By the end of the contest, though, KU had run away with this rivalry by beating Frank Martin at his own game. Kansas State thought it could rattle the Jayhawks with its high-pressure style and tenacious rebounding, but Thomas Robinson proved once again that he’s not afraid of anybody. Forget the loss to Davidson. Tyshawn Taylor may turn the ball over too much, and the offense may not always look crisp, but Bill Self‘s team will defend and it will not back down from a challenge. 17 offensive rebounds and a +24 margin on the boards against a Frank Martin team is proof of that. Read the rest of this entry »
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New Look Oklahoma Sooners Thriving Under Lon Kruger

Posted by dnspewak on December 15th, 2011

Nobody’s going to hang a banner at the Lloyd Noble Center for Oklahoma‘s modest 7-1 start, especially considering the Sooners’ non-conference strength of schedule ranks 100th in the nation. Keep in mind that OU has not yet played a true road game. It lost to the best team on its schedule (Saint Louis) by 20 points. It arguably has not faced an NCAA Tournament team yet and its second-leading scorer transferred earlier this month.

But so what? Compared to last season’s 14-18 campaign, these Sooners are playing with an entirely different attitude on both ends of the floor under first-year head coach Lon Kruger. Despite the slip-up against SLU in the 76 Classic finals, Oklahoma appears to have improved in almost every facet of basketball, thanks in part to a higher overall level of maturity and the addition of two impact transfers. Kruger’s team manhandled Arkansas and Washington State, and it overpowered a good Santa Clara team by dominating the rebounding margin.

Oklahoma Already Has Half As Many Wins As 2010-11

From both a basketball and statistical standpoint, Oklahoma is a new team with point guard Sam Grooms (junior college) and forward Romero Osby (Mississippi State). It’s not hyperbole to suggest they are both lifesavers at their respective positions, and they’ve filled missing links by contributing in other areas besides scoring. Grooms, for example, doesn’t look to score much, but that’s not his role on this team after unseating Carl Blair as the starting point guard. Instead, he’s found his groove as the lead guard by deferring to Steven Pledger, who is enjoying a breakout junior season. Pledger has averaged nearly 18 points per game without forcing anything, and a lot of that has to do with Grooms’ efficiency at the point guard spot. Pledger also has less pressure thanks to the productivity of a several other scorers like Osby, Andrew Fitzgerald, Cameron Clark and, most recently, Tyler Neal, whose minutes have skyrocketed after Calvin Newell‘s transfer. The individual scoring totals for these players don’t matter much, though. Most importantly, with Grooms leading the way, Kruger’s team shares the ball, takes good shots, and has limited its turnovers. That’s a complete turnaround from the 2010-11 season, when the Sooners ranked dead last in the Big 12 in several offensive categories.

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