Who Won the Week? Two Undefeated Teams, But Certainly Not The Third…

Posted by Kenny Ocker (@KennyOcker) on February 7th, 2014

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Who Won the Week? is a regular column that outlines and discusses three winners and losers from the previous week of hoops. The author of this column is Kenny Ocker (@KennyOcker), a Spokane-based sportswriter best known for his willingness to drive (or bike!) anywhere to watch a basketball game.

WINNER: Wichita State

Cleanthony Early was outstanding for the Shockers. (AP)

Cleanthony Early was outstanding this week for the Shockers. (AP)

The nation’s winningest team cleared its toughest conference hurdle Wednesday night in defeating Indiana State in Terre Haute, led by senior forward Cleanthony Early’s 19 points. From here on, the Shockers have better than 50 percent odds to go undefeated in the regular season, according to KenPom.com, and about 35 percent odds to make it to the NCAA Tournament unblemished. Wichita State’s reign over the Missouri Valley has been so strong this year that only two teams – Missouri State and Indiana State – have even finished within 10 points of them. Tomorrow’s game at Northern Iowa is the toughest remaining tilt for the Shockers, which also sandblasted Evansville 81-67 last Saturday.

(Related winners: Gregg Marshall, whose stock will never be higher, even if he never wants to leave; the Missouri Valley, which is certain to get some more NCAA Tournament win shares, even without Creighton in the conference. Related losers: Indiana State, the MVC”s second-best team, which probably has to win Arch Madness to make the NCAAs; Evansville, perpetually anonymous in purple.)

LOSER: Arizona

Of the triumvirate of teams that came into last weekend undefeated, only two came out unscathed. Unfortunately for the Wildcats, they weren’t one of them. Their road trip to California, the toughest game left on their schedule at that point, turned out to be undone by a last-second jumper from Golden Bears’ guard Justin Cobbs over center Kaleb Tarczewski, giving Cal a 60-58 win. That news was bad enough, but worse was what came after — that sophomore forward Brandon Ashley, a starter, had broken his foot during the game and would be out for the season. In Thursday’s 67-65 win over Oregon, Arizona looked disjointed offensively and saw star freshman Aaron Gordon injure his leg in a game in which he made just 2-of-11 free throws. The Wildcats actually trailed the disintegrating Ducks with just 90 seconds left before point guard T.J. McConnell made a three-pointer that gave them the lead for good. Sean Miller only played seven players, even accounting for Gordon’s injury, and its lack of depth could be problematic should more injuries arise or should fouls accumulate. It’s a shame to see this happen because a full-strength Arizona team looked to be head and shoulders above all but a few others around the country.

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Three Thoughts on Kansas’ Win Last Night at Baylor

Posted by Taylor Erickson on February 5th, 2014

After taking a drubbing from a Texas team in Austin on Saturday in a game that frankly looked like Kansas wanted to be anywhere but the Erwin Center, head coach Bill Self said it was important for his team to not let one loss turn into two or three as a result. Just a year ago, Kansas jumped out to an identical 7-0 record in league play before dropping three straight and inviting everyone back into the Big 12 title race. For those reasons, among others, last night’s match-up with a difficult-to-understand Baylor team that had beaten Oklahoma State in Stillwater was important for the Jayhawks to maintain their separation from the rest of the pack. After a back-and-forth first half, Kansas took an eight-point lead into the locker room after an Andrew Wiggins three-pointer from 50 feet, and eventually cruised in the second half to a 69-52 win in Waco. Here’s three takeaway thoughts from Tuesday night’s game.

Kansas point guard Naadir Tharpe had a huge game leading the Jayhawks with 22 points on a night that Kansas' big freshmen struggled.

Kansas point guard Naadir Tharpe had a huge game leading the Jayhawks with 22 points on a night that Kansas’ big freshmen struggled. (KUSports.com)

  1. Has Naadir Tharpe been given enough credit for Kansas’ success in league play? The junior point guard has quietly operated under the radar while his freshman counterparts have generated most of the buzz in Lawrence this year. Before the season began, the biggest question surrounding the Jayhawks was whether they had the necessary point guard play to win six games in a row in March. After last night, Tharpe is now shooting 55 percent from behind the arc in Big 12 play while operating at a 2.9 assist-to-turnover ratio. It’s those statistics that suggests that he is certainly capable of leading Kansas to a national title. That said, consistency is still an aspect of Tharpe’s game that is the most maddening for Kansas fans. As a team leader, he has to find ways to bring a positive impact on the game when he’s not scoring — that is, getting talented teammates like Andrew Wiggins, Joel Embiid, and Perry Ellis involved in the offense. Tharpe’s development has followed a similar path of former Kansas point guard Tyshawn Taylor, who for three-plus seasons looked like he would never be able to put it all together, before flipping the switch and leading Kansas (along with Thomas Robinson) to the national title game in 2012. While the play of Wiggins and Embiid will be under the spotlight down the stretch, it’s likely that Tharpe’s play will have the biggest effect on Kansas’ ultimate success. Read the rest of this entry »
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Big 12 M5: 02.05.14 Edition

Posted by Nate Kotisso on February 5th, 2014

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  1. Last night posed the opportunity for a letdown with Texas beating league-leading Kansas on Saturday and then turning around to face last-place TCU on the road. The Longhorns trailed by two points at the half and had committed their season average of 10 turnovers to that point, but the second 20 minutes were a completely different story. The Horns regrouped as Jonathan Holmes poured in 17 of his 20 points on their way to their seventh straight Big 12 win. The Horns did all of this without one of their better ball-handlers available, as Javan Felix was out of the lineup due to a concussion he suffered on Saturday. It looks like we’re seeing the young Longhorns grow up right before our eyes.
  2. Kansas’ win over Baylor last night might appear confusing on paper because the Jayhawks won easily despite Andrew Wiggins, Joel Embiid and Wayne Selden Jr. only combining for 23 points on 6-of-22 shooting. But the focus should be on point guard Naadir Tharpe, who had another good offensive game on the road. Oddly enough, Tharpe has had some of his better offensive performances away from Allen Fieldhouse. In the four Big 12 road games where he’s attempted at least one shot, Tharpe is averaging 16.2 points on 22-of-33 from the floor and 10-of-14 from downtown (71.4%). Statistical anomalies: Ya gotta love ‘em.
  3. Oklahoma State‘s defeat to Iowa State on Monday night could not have come at a worse time. The school had dedicated the night to longtime head coach Eddie Sutton; Gallagher-Iba Arena was half-empty; and then there was the whole triple-overtime loss. Sutton took some thinly-veiled shots at the fan base and perhaps even the team while attending the game. “It’s easier to play here [at GIA] now than it was before,” Sutton told the Tulsa World. “It was a lot louder.” Gee, he may have a point there. It is a little embarrassing when the head coach of a team with several NBA Draft prospects has to urge students to come to their games. Guess the thermometer on Travis Ford’s seat is heating back up again.
  4. It seems as though most pundits have Kansas State pegged as NCAA Tournament-bound at this point in the year, but with so many holes in this team can we really be so sure of it? The Wildcats haven’t won any important road games; they are hard to watch on offense; and they also rank dead last in the Big 12 in free throw percentage (64.4%). For a team that beats opponents by keeping games in the 60s, making free throws is all the more vital in creating some late-game separation. If they don’t fix this problem somewhat soon, the Wildcats’ life on the bubble will be a short one and the NIT is where they’ll be headed.
  5. This isn’t news to anyone at all, but Iowa State head coach Fred Hoiberg is very much winning in life. He played in the NBA; he is currently coaching his alma mater (and doing well); and now he is putting up high scores on the Flappy Bird app. Now I’ve heard the Flappy Bird game is the thing kids are into these days but I have no clue how it’s played (how does one go about flapping the bird or does the bird flap you somehow?). In any case, Hoiberg scored a 123 which is apparently very hard to do. More power to him.
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Who Won The Week? Sean Kilpatrick and the Bearcats, Andrew Wiggins, and the Likely NPOY

Posted by Kenny Ocker on January 31st, 2014

Who Won the Week? is a regular column that will outline and discuss three winners and losers from the previous week. The author of this column is Kenny Ocker (@KennyOcker), a Spokane-based sportswriter best known for his willingness to drive (or bike!) anywhere to watch a basketball game. But he’s not biking anywhere with a sub-zero wind chill.

WINNER: Cincinnati

Sean Kilpatrick has been on a tear lately. (USA TODAY Sports)

Sean Kilpatrick has been on a tear lately. (USA TODAY Sports)

Maybe this should be “WINNER: Sean Kilpatrick.” But I don’t know if that’s fair to his teammates. Sure, offensively, the Bearcats were the Sean Kilpatrick Show this week, as they have been all season; the senior guard has led them in scoring in 19 of 22 games. But by more than just Kilpatrick’s accomplishments, Cincinnati has gotten to 20-2 this season, including back-to-back road wins against Temple and Louisville to go to 9-0 in the AAC. In Sunday’s 80-76 win against the Owls, Bearcats guard Troy Caupain had eight points and nine assists, and forward Shaquille Thomas had 15 points to complement Kilpatrick’s season-high 29 points and team-high eight rebounds. And in Thursday’s 69-66 win over the Cardinals, Thomas and fellow forward Justin Jackson both scored 11 points to complement Kilpatrick’s 28, which came with five rebounds. But what makes Cincinnati more than Kilpatrick and more than their secondary performances on offense, is its stingy defense. The Bearcats are in the top 10 nationally in steal rate, block rate and two-point field goal rate, and five players force steals on more than 2.5 percent of their possessions. The best ball thief is Jackson, who ranks in the top 50 nationally in steal rate, while also ranking in the top 50 in offensive rebounding rate and in the top 10 in block rate. Cincinnati’s only losses this season came on the road at New Mexico and to crosstown rival Xavier, and they’ve won 12 in a row, five of those on the road. Perhaps its time to treat them as a top-tier team nationally.

(Related winners: Kilpatrick; the American Athletic Conference, which has a surprisingly good number of teams that includes Cincinnati, Louisville, Connecticut, Memphis and Larry Brown’s SMU; Related losers: Louisville, which lost despite forcing 20 turnovers in a 65-possession game; Temple, which blew a 33-point performance from senior guard Dalton Pepper.)

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Kansas Offense Clicking on All Cylinders With Its Biggest Questions Answered

Posted by Brian Goodman on January 30th, 2014

Back in October, when we had nothing on which to evaluate the season but preview magazines and computer projections, the biggest questions surrounding Kansas were whether Naadir Tharpe would develop into a mature, trustworthy distributor, and how long it would take for Andrew Wiggins to mesh into Bill Self‘s balanced system. As we now near the halfway mark of conference play, the Jayhawks appear to have fully answered both of those questions. It’s why Kansas looks poised to lock down a #1 seed in the NCAA Tournament and why they have to be considered among the heavy favorites to cut down the nets in Arlington.

A newly-confident Andrew Wiggins has Kansas plowing through conference play. Again. (Denny Medley/USA TODAY)

A newly-confident Andrew Wiggins has Kansas plowing through conference play. Again. (Denny Medley/USA TODAY)

League play is supposed to be tougher than non-league play, but Tharpe apparently missed that memo. The junior has been terrific in seven games against Big 12 opponents, scoring 11.9 points and dishing out 5.6 assists per game to just 1.7 turnovers per outing. All of those numbers are better than his non-conference splits. While many of his made field goals have been the worst kind to take (long twos), he’s hit plenty of them, so while it may not be a sustainable method of shot selection, his execution has opened up space for his teammates, and there may not be a bigger beneficiary on the team than Wiggins. After exploding against TCU over the weekend, he he had another big night on Wednesday against Iowa State, scoring an efficient 29 points (a new career high) on just 16 shots. He looked more comfortable and confident than perhaps at any other point in the season, calmly making 4-of-6 three-pointers, and when Kansas needed to get some separation with the game in the balance late in the second half, he was there to provide it.

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Big 12 M5: 01.29.14 Edition

Posted by Taylor Erickson on January 29th, 2014

morning5_big12

  1. As if things weren’t already going bad enough for the TCU basketball program this season, the Horned Frogs were dealt another blow early this week when it was learned that freshman forward Karviar Shepherd will miss an indefinite amount of time to undergo surgery on his non-shooting hand. Shepherd had been a bright spot for Trent Johnson this season, averaging over eight points and seven rebounds in his freshman season. Shepherd’s injury took place on Saturday night against Kansas and leaves TCU with just seven scholarship players remaining on their roster and it just another dose of bad luck in Fort Worth this season.
  2. Fresh off a four for six shooting performance from behind the arc against Kansas State, Iowa State freshman Matt Thomas spoke about the negative comments he heard during the Cyclone’s recent losing streak , one where Thomas struggled to just 1-11 from deep. Thomas was regarded as perhaps one of the best shooters in this year’s freshman class, but heard things like “Matt Thomas should never play” on social media throughout the last couple weeks. With those struggles behind him, Thomas is now focused on his team’s trip to Allen Fieldhouse tomorrow night to take on Kansas who is still undefeated in league play. The Cyclones were a banked Ben McLemore three-pointer away from pulling off the upset a season ago, and to bring home a win this year, Thomas will most certainly need to be connecting from the outside.
  3. If I would have told you before the season that Andrew Wiggins would have been the last of the trio of talented Kansas freshmen to win the Wayman Tisdale Player of the Week award this season season in college basketball, you probably would have called me a liar (if you didn’t ask what the Wayman Tisdale POY Award was first). Perhaps it’s because of the hype that was bestowed upon Wiggins was so great that most of his weekly performances left most somewhat underwhelmed. Regardless, on Tuesday Wiggins was the third Kansas freshman in a row to earn the weekly award after averaging 22 points for the week. Wiggins has now scored 17 or more points in four of his last five games, with the blip being the poor performance at home against Oklahoma State. If he continues his assertiveness in getting to the basket and drawing fouls, watch out.
  4. When Oklahoma State big man Michael Cobbins went down earlier in the season due to an achilles injury, it was expected that the Cowboys would go through some growing pains in trying to figure out how to replace Cobbins’ presence down low, but not many expected that mid-way through the conference season, Travis Ford’s squad would still be struggling this much. Against Oklahoma on Monday night, foul trouble was again another huge issue limiting stars like Marcus Smart and Le’Bryan Nash to just six and eight first half minutes, respectively. Smart battled foul trouble at home against West Virginia over the weekend, and for a player of his caliber, he has to be on the floor as much as possible. The Cowboys now sit at 4-3 in league play with wins over West Virginia twice and TCU and Texas at home. With three of their next five games against ranked opponents, Oklahoma State needs to develop an interior presence quickly.
  5. The way things began back in November and December for Bruce Weber and Kansas State were rough to say the least, but since that time, the Wildcats have slowly morphed themselves into a similar team to what Weber trotted out last season. What I mean by that is Kansas State has developed a reputation in just Weber’s second season in Manhattan as a team that for the most part beats the teams they are supposed to be on a consistent basis. After dropping two games last week on the road to Texas and Iowa State, Weber called this week “gut check time” for his team as they host stingy Texas Tech before going on the road to Morgantown for a tilt with West Virginia on Saturday. At this point, K-State should still be comfortably in the NCAA tournament, but a loss or two this week could be damaging to their resume, and in Monday’s bracketology, CBSSports.com listed the Wildcats as a potential bubble team.
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Big 12 M5: 01.28.14 Edition

Posted by Taylor Erickson on January 28th, 2014

morning5_big12

  1. Early in the non-conference portion of the season, it looked like Kansas State was destined for a difficult season in year two of Bruce Weber’s reign as head coach in Manhattan. After losing talented players like Rodney McGruder and Angel Rodriguez from a season ago, many believe Shane Southwell would be the one to fill the scoring void. Absent from any top 100 recruiting list was Marcus Foster, a freshman guard from Texas. In an article on Bleacher Report Monday, Foster told Southwell last fall he thought he could score around six points a game this year for the Wildcats. Southwell set the talented newcomer straight, explaining that he could average at least 13 or 14 this year. That claim appears to be spot on as Foster has averaged exactly fourteen points a game and has been a huge reason why Kansas State has far exceeded most expectations this season.
  2. In yesterday’s Big 12 Morning Five, we discussed Marcus Smart‘s antics on Saturday in reference to an article in the Tulsa World. Smart issued an apology via Twitter saying Saturday was not one of his prouder moments and he lost his composure, something that wouldn’t happen again. A trio of ESPN college basketball writers discussed on Monday whether an apology from Smart was necessary heading into the Bedlam rivalry at Oklahoma last night. Sometimes, it’s easy to forget just how young some of these players are and that like everyone else, they’re subject to mistakes from time to time. Moving forward, for Oklahoma State to truly maximize their potential, Smart has to avoid falling into a similar frustration as he’s simply too valuable to the success in Stillwater.
  3. For Kansas, the magic number to claiming a 10th straight Big 12 title is ironically enough now 10. That means that some combination of Kansas wins and/or losses by those teams sitting at second place equaling the number 10 is what the Jayhawks would need to win or share another conference title. The Kansas City Star took a look at remaining schedules among the league’s elite in an effort to handicap the race for the conference title. While there is still the entire month of February to be played, after Oklahoma State’s loss at Oklahoma last night, if Kansas beats Iowa State at home at Texas on the road this week, this one might be all but over.
  4. For as good as Baylor was early in the non-conference portion of the season, the Bears have been equally as bad as of late. Neutral site wins over Colorado and Kentucky seem like a thing of the past for a team that has started 1-5 in league play. For Scott Drew, he’s using last season’s downfall where Baylor started 5-1 and finished 9-9 as an example for how quickly things can change in college basketball. And, as Chuck Carlton of the Dallas Morning News explained, Tuesday’s home game against West Virginia is about as must-win as it can get for Scott Drew and company this early in the season.
  5. Andrew Wiggins‘ best offensive output of the season came Saturday night in Fort Worth as the Jayhawks avenged the shocking loss they suffered a season ago at the hands of TCU. Wiggins scored 19 points in the first half and finished with 27 for the game, and did a much better job of attacking the rim drawing 10 free throw attempts for the game. Given his athletic ability, this is something that should be a staple in Wiggins’ offensive diet, but could Bill Self do a little more to make it easier for his star player to get to the rim? In a post on the Kansas SB Nation site, Self’s offensive spacing (or lack there of) is discussed in more detail and shows just how difficult it is at times for Wiggins to get to the basket. Perhaps as the season rolls on we will see more isolation calls for the talented guard because when he’s at his best attacking the rim, Kansas becomes that much more difficult to contain.
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Big 12 Power Rankings: Baylor is Losing its Mind Edition

Posted by Nate Kotisso on January 27th, 2014

Here was a team that was picked to finish third in the Big 12 by the league’s 10 coaches. They fought their way to the Maui Invitational championship game where they lost to a still-unbeaten Syracuse team. They didn’t seem phased by arguably the best recruiting class in decades against Kentucky, beating the Wildcats on a neutral floor in Arlington. But for whatever reason, Baylor currently stands at 1-5 in the Big 12 with two-thirds of league action still to play. Granted, two of those losses came at Iowa State and at Kansas, but the Bears haven’t been able to take care of business at home either, falling to Oklahoma on January 18 and Texas over the weekend. But hey, if it took six games to get us all freaking out over Baylor, it’s entirely possible they can turn their season around in the final 12 contests, right? (Right?!) Well last week, our power rankings had two groups of two that found themselves tied. We did better this time around: only one!

As best told by this photograph, there are a lot of things not going Scott Drew's way lately. (Rod Aydelotte/Waco Tribune-Herald)

As best told by this photograph, there are a lot of things not going Scott Drew’s way lately. (Rod Aydelotte/Waco Tribune-Herald)

1. Kansas — 4 points (previous: 1st; Brian, KoryNate & Taylor: 1st)

Comment: “What can be said about the Jayhawks that hasn’t already been said? Wayne Selden Jr. has been a different player since Big 12 play began and Andrew Wiggins had a career-high of 27 points against TCU. Curious to know how Joel Embiid’s knee is after bruising it in the second half Saturday. Based on how little media coverage it got after the TCU game, it probably isn’t serious.” – Nate Kotisso (@natekotisso)

2. Oklahoma State — 10 points (previous: 2nd; Brian, Nate & Taylor-2nd, Kory-4th)

Comment: “Marcus Smart played his worst game of the season, as this chair would tell you if it could, you know, talk. No matter, though, since the Cowboys still beat the Mountaineers.” – Brian Goodman (@BSGoodman)

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Big 12 Game of the Year: Previewing Oklahoma State at Kansas

Posted by Taylor Erickson on January 18th, 2014

Saturday afternoon’s tilt between Big 12 powerhouses Kansas and Oklahoma State in Allen Fieldhouse has long been circled on the calendar as one of the most anticipated games in college basketball this season, thanks in large part to the two games that took place last season. In case you need a refresher, Oklahoma State strolled into Lawrence last February and snapped Kansas’ 33-game home winning streak. As if the victory alone wasn’t enough to disappoint Jayhawks Nation, Smart followed his 25-point performance with a beautifully executed backflip on the center of James Naismith Court, much to the chargin of the 16,300 fans in attendance. Kansas returned the favor two-and-a-half weeks later, when the Jayhawks won in double overtime in Stillwater thanks to a Naadir Tharpe bucket in the final seconds to push the Jayhawks ahead, although no backflip was performed.

Marcus Smart pulled off a backflip in Allen Fieldhouse a season ago while Jayhawk fans and Elijah Johnson look on in disbelief. (Emily Wittler/KANSAN)

Marcus Smart pulled off a backflip in Allen Fieldhouse a season ago while stunned Jayhawk fans and Elijah Johnson look on in disbelief. (Emily Wittler/KANSAN)

Now, fast forward eight months to October. During that time, Marcus Smart decided to return to Oklahoma State for a sophomore season, and the highly touted high school recruit Andrew Wiggins had decided to go to school at Kansas. While Wiggins was the focus of nearly every preseason magazine, Smart had a few choice comments on Big 12 media day for the heralded Jayhawk freshman, saying,  “A lot of people are saying he’s the best player now in college basketball.  All I’m saying is how can you be the best player in something you haven’t even played yet?” To be perfectly honest, Smart’s comments were probably fairly justified. Had Wiggins chosen to play his college basketball in a different location, Smart would have instead been the toast of the conference, but he was now forced to answer questions about a kid in Wiggins who had plenty to prove at the collegiate level. Smart would go on to say about Wiggins, “If he’s the best player like people say, if that’s the case, in order for me to be the best, I have to beat the best, right?  If he’s the best player, fans will get their money’s worth when we play Kansas.”

This showdown certainly has all the makings of must-see television on Saturday afternoon, and to get you ready for this action, I discussed some of the more intriguing aspects of this one with Kyle Porter, creator of the Pistols Firing Blog (@pistolsguy) and a must-follow for all Oklahoma State fans. Let’s take a look at the most anticipated game in the Big 12 so far this season.

Taylor:  Kyle, first off, thanks a bunch for getting together to preview this Big 12 showdown that will take place tomorrow in Allen Fieldhouse. To get us started, one of the more intriguing aspects of this game are the defensive match-ups that will be featured. Marcus Smart and Markel Brown put as much pressure on the opposing guards on the offensive end of the floor than maybe any team in the nation, and it’s no secret that Naadir Tharpe lacks on defense. Conversely, the injury the Michael Cobbins has left Oklahoma State fairly thin up front, and with the emergence of Kansas big man Joel Embiid, I’m curious on your thoughts of how Travis Ford will choose to defend Kansas in the frontcourt?

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Looking Ahead To The Big 12’s Most Important Games This Weekend

Posted by Brian Goodman on January 17th, 2014

This week has been highly entertaining for Big 12 fans. Whether it’s Kansas winning in a return to Hilton Coliseum, Kansas State putting the clamps on Oklahoma‘s high-energy offense, or the most recent development — Texas Tech springing the biggest upset of league play by beating Baylor on Wednesday night — storylines have emerged with each passing game. No school has played more than four games yet, but the Jayhawks are the only team still unscathed in conference play. After a quiet Thursday and Friday, the action resumes tomorrow with four match-ups that will have big implications on the conference race as well as teams’ NCAA Tournament resumes going forward.

It's been a long team since a visiting player won two games in Allen Fieldhouse.  Will Marcus Smart pull it off? (Stephen R. Sylvanie/USA TODAY)

It’s been a long time since a visiting player won two games in Allen Fieldhouse. Will Marcus Smart pull it off? (Stephen R. Sylvanie/USA TODAY)

Oklahoma State at Kansas (4:00 EST, CBS) – Remember way back in October when Marcus Smart had some interesting — if correct — things to say about Andrew Wiggins? It feels like ages ago, but two of the conference’s best players will finally get a chance to battle it out on the court. Most recently on Wednesday, Smart continued to make his case as the Big 12 POY with a great night against TCU (20 points, eight rebounds, five assists) as the Cowboys rolled the Horned Frogs, while Wiggins posted 17 points and 19 rebounds against Iowa State in a performance that still left some wanting more. Kansas will have its massive homecourt advantage behind it in this one, and the Jayhawks’ frontcourt has to be licking its chops at the idea of battling the Michael Cobbins-less Oklahoma State forwards on the glass. If Brian Williams and Kamari Murphy can’t get comfortable inside, the Cowboys will need to make up for the shortfall in other ways, whether through Smart rising to the occasion,  Phil Forte raining threes, Le’Bryan Nash putting up one of his patented hyper-efficient scoring nights, or some combination of the three.

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Award Tour: Doug McDermott Strengthens Grip on POY

Posted by Jameson Fleming on January 17th, 2014

AwardTour

Jameson Fleming is an RTC columnist who also works for CBSSports.com as the site’s social media editor. You can follow him on Twitter @JamesonFleming.

As usual, there are many candidates knocking on the door of the Player of the Year race. Florida’s Casey Prather dropped out temporarily after missing the last two games with an injury. He’ll likely be back in the rankings at some point as he’s Julius Randle’s top competition for SEC Player of the Year. After a few rough games, UMass’ Chaz Williams is back on track thanks to a 26-point, eight-assist performance in the Minutemen’s thrilling win against George Mason. Andrew Wiggins is inching closer to the rankings after a monster double-double game against Iowa State, with 17 points and 19 rebounds against the Cyclones. Michigan State’s Gary Harris and Keith Appling have also picked up the slack for the injured Adreian Payne as Sparty continues to roll on.

It's a safe bet that these three guys will be in the mix for POY honors.

It’s a safe bet that these three guys will be in the mix for POY honors.

Player of the Year

10. Russ Smith – Louisville. Last Week: 10
2013-14 stats: 18.1 PPG, 4.9 APG, 113.4 oRTG

Russ Smith hasn’t put together a complete game in a while and that trend continued Thursday night against Houston. He hasn’t scored fewer than 18 points since December 17, but his turnovers are out of control. He has committed 19 miscues in his last four games including five more against the Cougars. He’s logged at least four turnovers in seven of Louisville’s last eight games after doing so well with just three times in the Cardinals’ first 10 games. With Chane Behanan’s dismissal and Chris Jones’ recent struggles (10+ points in just one of Louisville’s last nine games), Smith’s production has to remain elite WITHOUT turnovers for Louisville to be considered a national title threat.

9. Lamar Patterson – Pittsburgh. Last Week: Not Ranked
2013-14 stats:  17.6 PPG, 4.6 APG, 123.4 oRTG

It’s a gamble to add Lamar Patterson to the Player of the Year rankings considering Pitt basically hasn’t played anyone all season. The Panthers’ first major challenge comes Saturday in the Carrier Dome against Syracuse. This weekend will be Patterson’s chance to show he has in fact emerged as one of the best players in the country. He’s currently tearing it up in Oakland to the tune of 58 percent from two, 43 percent from three, and a studly 123.4 offensive rating on a 27.5 percent usage rate. He’s the main reason Jamie Dixon’s squad is the second best team in the ACC.

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Big 12 M5: 01.16.14 Edition

Posted by Brian Goodman on January 16th, 2014

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  1. The Big 12 is one of the two best conferences in the country, so it comes as no surprise that a handful of players from the league made The Sporting News’ midseason All-American teams, which were released on Wednesday. Marcus Smart cracked TSN‘s first team, while Andrew Wiggins and DeAndre Kane made the second and third teams, respectively. The absence of Joel Embiid is a testament to the quality of the top-shelf individual talents around college basketball, but with half a season left, there’s plenty of time for the heralded phenom to make himself a bigger part of the discussion.
  2. With this June’s NBA Draft being hyped as perhaps the best since 2003, NBA scouts are constantly on the move from venue to venue to get a close look at the next wave of pros. DraftExpress gave us a peek behind the curtain of how scouts take in college games, surveying personnel and executives on their experiences and how they develop relationships with prospect-laden programs. It’s a fascinating look at which schools are most accommodating to scouts and which ones leave more to be desired, as well as the prolonged effects of something as seemingly small as being given a sub-optimal seat at a college game. As far as the Big 12 is concerned, Kansas, Baylor and Iowa State were cited as having the most welcoming support staffs for pro personnel, while the setups and Oklahoma State and Texas drew ire for a relative lack of hospitality.
  3. In by far the biggest upset of conference play so far, Texas Tech topped Baylor in Lubbock last night, 82-72. What was most surprising about the Red Raiders’ effort was that the team wasn’t the least bit fazed by the Bears’ zone, attacking the paint with alacrity and getting offensive rebounds when their initial shots didn’t fall. Baylor made a few small runs in the second half, but never got it close. Dejan Kravic led the way with a great all-around game, posting 14 rebounds, nine boards and six assists off the bench. Baylor was never as good as its 12th-ranked spot in the ESPN poll suggested, but this is a bad loss for the Bears, even on the road. The conference as a whole benefits, since the victory catapulted Texas Tech from 103rd to 90th in Ken Pomeroy’s rankings. The Big 12 now has nine of its ten teams in KenPom’s top 100.
  4. In recent years, alternate uniforms have played a key role in generating buzz for schools, whether it’s among the fan bases or on the recruiting trail. Kansas has sported two distinct throwback threads this season, and during Bill Self‘s weekly radio show, the head coach announced that Kansas’ alternate uniforms will be kept in the rotation for next season. The announcement is somewhat surprising, given the Jayhawks’ reputation as a blue-blooded program with a very distinct yet classic look that doesn’t change very often, but in the currently competitive landscape, teams have to keep up with one another. As long as the Jayhawks continue to win in the new unis, it’s tough to foresee much resentment from the fans.
  5. Jeff Haley of Burnt Orange Nation breaks down advanced metrics about as well as anyone, and he has some interesting insights about Texas‘ last two games and about the Big 12 in general. One nugget that seems to be flying under the radar is about the Longhorns’ strength on the glass, which has allowed them to pull out some games they otherwise wouldn’t have won. Rick Barnes‘ team is one to keep an eye on as we advance into the heart of conference play, and they’ll likely need a scalp or two from the top tier of the conference to crack the NCAA Tournament field this year.
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