Big 12 Preview: Baylor’s Burning Question

Posted by Nate Kotisso on November 5th, 2015

This team preview is part of the RTC Big 12 microsite’s preseason coverage.

Burning Question: Will Baylor find consistent point guard play without Kenny Chery?

Rico Gathers made two free throws to give the Bears a 12-point lead with under three minutes to go in regulation. Baylor had finally built some separation from a pesky Georgia State squad after trading punches for much of the second half. It looked like this #3 seed — the conference’s other #3 seed, Iowa State, was already heading home — was going to advance to the Round of 32. Everything from that point happened so fast. R.J. Hunter scored 12 of Georgia State’s last 13 points, capped off by an insane three from an insane distance that gave us all a reason to remember Ron Hunter’s name forever.

Baylor's Lester Medford will be the replacement for Kenny Chery at point guard. (Cooper Neill/Getty Images North America)

Baylor’s Lester Medford will be the team’s new starting point guard. (Cooper Neill/Getty Images North America)

But that’s over and done with; this is a new season. Baylor returns a large portion of its rotation even though the loss of its veteran leadership — Royce O’Neale and Kenny Chery were first and second in minutes played on the team last season — looms large. O’Neale’s size and brilliance from the perimeter will be missed, but perhaps the biggest question mark on this year’s team will be in replacing Chery at the point guard position. While turnovers often plagued the two-year starter, Chery averaged 5.6 assists per game in 35 Big 12 contests. His replacement must be as steady at the controls as he was.

Without even looking at Scott Drew‘s roster, you could make a reasonable assumption that his frontcourt will be long, rebound, block shots and make basketball no fun for anyone who dares to enter the paint. Along with the senior Gathers, Johnathan Motley appears poised for a huge sophomore campaign. You knew him as a rebounder and last year’s leader in blocked shots, but the 6’9″ jumping jack is quickly becoming a reliable offensive player as well. In three international games over the summer in Canada, Motley averaged 20.6 points per game as his NBA Draft status continues to rise. Taurean Prince‘s star is also expected to shine brighter than ever during his senior season. In addition to leading Baylor in scoring, draft evaluators salivate over Prince’s wingspan (6’11.5″), his ability to shoot (39.5 percent three-point shooter in 2014-15), defend multiple positions, run the floor and crash the glass (8.5 rebounds per 40 minutes last season). DraftExpress lists Prince as a late first round pick in this June’s draft. He’s the NBA wing of the future, today.

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Big 12 Power Rankings: Baylor Demands Your Attention Edition

Posted by Nate Kotisso on February 3rd, 2015

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

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

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

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

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Big 12 Power Rankings: Kansas State’s in First Place??? Edition

Posted by Nate Kotisso on January 19th, 2015

The Big 12 is weird. It doesn’t even have twelve teams in it. This brown-suited man is their commissioner. Kansas State‘s best player was benched in its conference opener, a loss; and now, the same team that was 7-7 two weeks ago occupies first place in the whole dang league. Aside from weird, the Big 12 is still a very deep basketball league. Kansas State’s place atop the standings is evidence of this fact. But where did the Wildcats’ 4-1 start originate? Better end-game execution? A little bit, yes. Better effort on both ends of the floor? That’s part of it. But the transformation of K-State began with a change in mindset from their benched star, Marcus Foster. Foster came into his sophomore season with lofty expectations after bursting onto the scene last year. Some of those expectations were self-imposed and his focus was to meet them instead helping toward the greater good of the team. “Sometimes you do think to the future,” Foster told The Wichita Eagle last week. “You think about, maybe I can play in the NBA and maybe I need to start doing this. But I think my mindset is back to worrying about today and getting better at what you need to get better at every day. That is all it took for me to get in a few good games.” Following that January 3 loss to Oklahoma State, Foster scored 23 off the bench to help defeat TCU, hit the game-winning three at Oklahoma, led his team in scoring (14) and assists (four) to get by Texas Tech, and grabbed three steals in the weekend’s upset over Baylor. There is still a lot that this team’s resume needs between now and Selection Sunday, but as long as Foster continues to focus on the greater good over self, his team will have a chance. And that’s all it needs, really.

It's not hard to look for the key to K-State's 4-1 start: Marcus Foster. (AP/Charlie Riedel)

It’s not hard to look for the key to K-State’s 4-1 start: Marcus Foster. (AP/Charlie Riedel)

Power Rankings

  1. Iowa State — 3 points (All voted 1st). Comment: “The Cyclones finally delivered the first punch in their attempt to end The Streak (TM). Three of their next four games come at home with the only road trip in that stretch set to take place at Texas Tech. This means that there’s a decent chance Fred Hoiberg’s team comes to Lawrence for the return game with a stellar 7-1 league record. However, if the first two weeks of Big 12 play have taught us anything, it’s that holding the fort in this conference is anything but a given.” – Brian Goodman (@BSGoodman)
  2. Kansas — 6 points (All voted 2nd). Comment: “The Jayhawks have the top-ranked offense and defense during conference play and only lost by five on the road at Iowa State. They could get back to the top spot with wins over Oklahoma at home and Texas on the road this week.” – Chris Stone (@cstonehoops) Read the rest of this entry »
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Big 12 Power Rankings: TCU, We Hardly Knew Ye Edition

Posted by Nate Kotisso on January 13th, 2015

TCU basketball is back! Or, at least, not where they used to be! The Horned Frogs went a perfect 13-0 in non-league play by beating up on bad opponents through the first two months of the season. Still, it was a welcome change for a team that typically struggles against anyone above, on or below their level of play. As a result, Associated Press voters rewarded TCU with a Top 25 ranking in December, a cool but misguided notion. Trent Johnson’s club won’t be a contender for Big 12 titles just yet, but it is taking the necessary steps into becoming a competitive program. They’ll likely win a handful of games in Big 12 play, and they’re making inroads in recruiting the Dallas-Fort Worth metroplex. For those reasons alone, the perception of the program will change and, who knows, perhaps in a few years we’ll be talking about TCU as a perennial NCAA Tournament team.

Guard Kyan Anderson has been a big part of TCU basketball's transition from doormat to competitive. (Steve Nurenburg/Fort Worth Star-Telegram)

Guard Kyan Anderson has been a big part of TCU basketball’s transition from doormat to competitive. (Steve Nurenburg/Fort Worth Star-Telegram)

Power Rankings

  1. Kansas — 3 points (All voted 1st). Comment: “The Jayhawks opened their Big 12 slate with a close road win at Baylor and followed that up with a 32-point thrashing of Texas Tech at home. Kansas leads the league in offensive efficiency and defensive field goal percentage through two games. Plus, Bill Self’s squad is the 10-time defending champion.” – Chris Stone (@cstonehoops)
  2. Iowa State — 6 points (All voted 2nd). Comment: “In a game where they committed 27 fouls and 18 turnovers, the Cyclones found a way to win at a West Virginia team with similar aspirations. If Kansas and Iowa State can remain undefeated until Saturday night, the winner of that game will have our top spot in next week’s rankings.” – Nate Kotisso (@natekotisso)
  3. Oklahoma — 9 points (All voted 3rd). Comment: “The Sooners have issues of their own, as they need to get Isaiah Cousins and Jordan Woodard back on track. Still, they’re just two big Marcus Foster plays away from being undefeated, so it’s hardly time to sound any alarms.” – Brian Goodman (@BSGoodman) Read the rest of this entry »
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Oklahoma’s Blowout of Texas Might Disrupt Big 12 Hierarchy

Posted by Nate Kotisso on January 6th, 2015

Nate Kotisso is a Big 12 microsite writer for Rush The Court. He covered Oklahoma-Texas in Austin last night. You can follow him on Twitter @natekotisso.

We are four days into the start of Big 12 play, so naturally, now is the time to make quick declarations on how the conference will ultimately shake out. Until we make new ones on Saturday, that is. The box score will tell you that the Sooners played their most complete game of the season against one of their toughest opponents on Monday night. While it was an impressive victory, the reality is Oklahoma dominated Texas defensively in the first half and coasted in the second. The Sooners forced nine of Texas’ 12 turnovers, scored 11 points off those turnovers, outscored the Horns in the paint by 10, and held the Longhorns to 14 points total — all in the first 20 minutes. At the break, Texas was left with six players each making one field goal to account for their 6-of-30 shooting, while the Sooners’ Ryan Spangler and Buddy Hield equaled that number with three makes apiece. Their size advantage on Texas’ guards with Hield and Isaiah Cousins allowed the duo to shoot over them to the tune of 4-of-10 from the perimeter.

Texas guard Demarcus Holland attempts to grab the ball on this Longhorn possession. However, the game was out of UT's reach as they lost by 21. (Brendan Maloney/USA Today Sports)

Texas guard Demarcus Holland attempts to grab the ball on this Longhorn possession. However, the game was out of UT’s reach as they lost by 21. (Brendan Maloney/USA Today Sports)

Another important piece to this game for Oklahoma was the emergence of TaShawn Thomas. It’s common knowledge that the addition of Thomas has strengthened the team’s defense to a level that hasn’t been seen during head coach Lon Kruger‘s tenure in Norman. Competing against the athletic size of Cameron Ridley, Jonathan Holmes, Prince Ibeh and Connor Lammert, Thomas posted 15 points on 6-of-12 shooting and 10 rebounds, four of them offensive. While not nearly as efficient on the offensive end, Thomas contributed 12 points, 11 rebounds and led all players in offensive rebounds (four), two blocked shots and one nasty dunk that thwarted any chance of a Longhorns’ comeback early in the second half. The Sooners seem to have Texas’ number of late, winning four of the last five games in the series. Oklahoma has also recorded wins in Austin in consecutive seasons for the first time since the program last did so during the 2000-02 seasons. Read the rest of this entry »

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Big 12 M5: 11.19.14 Edition

Posted by Nate Kotisso on November 19th, 2014


  1. If you had the fortitude to sit through the afternoon games of yesterday’s marathon, perhaps you caught Baylor get by Frank Martin and an improved South Carolina team in Columbia. Redshirt freshman Johnathan Motley was the clear player of the game with 17 points and five rebounds, but what was most impressive for Baylor was its ability to win the game despite committing more turnovers and getting outrebounded by the Gamecocks. Games like these during the first week of the season are difficult to gauge, so while this was a true road game on an opponent’s home floor, the Gamecocks aren’t expected to make much noise in the SEC this year. It’s certainly a positive that the Bears won a game away from Waco, but let’s hold off on buying in just yet because a) we’re two games into the season; and b) the top half of the league is still better than Baylor. Steady as she goes, Bears fans.
  2. While the football team has stolen most of the headlines this fall, TCU still very much has a men’s basketball program. I’m not sure how many people were aware of this, but the Horned Frogs throttled Washington State (and new head coach Ernie Kent) by a score of 81-54 on Monday night. It is more than a little shocking that TCU put another Power Five team out to pasture, but this one was decided long before the final buzzer sounded. Using Baylor-South Carolina as a template, we’re not expecting TCU to contend for an at-large bid or anything this season, but perhaps we’re finally seeing just how competitive the Horned Frogs can look when they aren’t dealing with a rash of injuries.
  3. Here was a quote from Georges Niang following Iowa State’s season-opening win last Friday: “I think we played real well offensively, but it’s a little disappointing what we did defensively.” Apparently the Cyclones took those words to heart and put the defensive clamps on Georgia State’s high-powered offense on Monday night, winning 81-58. The Panthers shot 39.1 percent from the field for the game including a paltry 15-of-48 (31.3 percent) effort from the skilled guard trio of R.J. Hunter, Ryan Harrow and Kevin Ware. Niang himself struggled offensively (3-of-12) while Monte Morris (19 points, nine assists, zero turnovers) played his best overall game as a collegian. And remember, Iowa State is still missing Matt Thomas, Abdel Nader and two-time JuCo All-American Jameel McKay until December. Good grief.
  4. A big question going into this season surrounded the starting point guard position for Kansas State, but perhaps it’s possible that there are two answers to that question. Jevon Thomas has started the first two games of the season, performing admirably with 14 assists against only five turnovers, after showing flashes as a capable passer last year. Nigel Johnson (eight assists, two turnovers) has impressed as well. Whether Thomas or Johnson are in the lineup, the Wildcats shouldn’t have to worry too much about finding ways to get the ball to their top scorers in Marcus Foster and Justin Edwards. If you’re Bruce Weber, those are the kinds of dilemmas you want to have as a head coach.
  5. Four-star point guard Payton Pritchard gave a verbal commitment to Lon Kruger and Oklahoma on Tuesday. As quickly as he has been able to take the program from struggling to thriving, Pritchard is technically the highest-rated high school prospect to pledge to the Sooners in Kruger’s short tenure. This news is only the cherry on top for Oklahoma, as the Sooners also get Houston transfer TaShawn Thomas in his first game in crimson and cream against Creighton tonight in Omaha. Let that marinate for a bit.
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Big 12 M5: Still Awake For the Marathon Edition

Posted by Nate Kotisso on November 18th, 2014


  1. Ah yes, it’s that wonderful time of the year when the Los Angeles Athletic Club releases its annual preseason top 50 for the Wooden Award. We’ll have more on this later this morning, but the Big 12 is well-represented with 10 players making the list. As important as the organization wants us to think the Wooden Award is, it really doesn’t mean all that much to college basketball fans and it means even less to those who start watching games in March. Also, why is a preseason list being released during the regular season? Doesn’t that defeat the purpose of the whole thing? Last year’s preseason list didn’t have Nick Johnson, Tyler Ennis, Nik Stauskas or Casey Prather on it, but lo and behold, there they were, announced as four of the Wooden Award finalists in March. Yesterday, our Chris Stone summed up this lunacy quite clearly in fewer than 140 characters. The solution: Throw out the preseason list and stick with announcing the 15 finalists in March. It’ll save us all a lot of grief.
  2. The NCAA announced the sites and hosts for its early and regional rounds of the NCAA Tournament from 2016-18, and the Big 12 Conference will serve as an official host in each of those years. In 2016, Oklahoma City’s Chesapeake Energy Arena will be home to first and second round games; in 2017, Kansas City is welcomed back to NCAA Tournament duties as the Sprint Center hosts the Midwest Regional; in 2018, Dallas’ American Airlines Center will be the home of first and second round match-ups. This doesn’t even include Iowa State hosting a site for 2016 first and second round games in nearby Des Moines. The last early or regional round hosted by a Big 12 school or the conference itself was in 2013, but now we’ll be getting three years in a row within the league’s footprint beginning in 2016. Season ticket holders, rejoice.
  3. Baylor made quick work of McNeese State in its season opener on Friday night, 80-39. The Bears’ two transfers, Deng Deng and Lester Medford, made instant impacts for their team, combining for 29 points on the night. But buried in the story, or the last sentence of this recap, is the news that Taurean Prince was suspended and did not play due to a violation of team rules. Outside of that, that’s all anyone seems to know. Whatever it is, the Waco media should probably look into it further.
  4. With West Virginia’s 2-0 start to the season, Bob Huggins has moved into 15th place on the all-time wins list in Division I men’s basketball history. Many think that this will be a bounce-back year for Huggins and West Virginia basketball, and after reviewing the Mountaineers’ numbers in their first two games, it might just be. West Virginia has shot the ball 66 more times than the opposition, scored 51 points off of 44 turnovers, and have 35 more rebounds. Granted, their competition level wasn’t very high with games against Monmouth and Lafayette, but those are similar to characteristics of past West Virginia teams that were regular participants in the NCAA Tournament. They’ve got to start somewhere.
  5. Kansas State also improved to 2-0 on the season with a nice win against UMKC on Monday. While that’s all fine and dandy, we must have another look at Brandon Bolden‘s blocked shot of Southern Utah’s John Marshall from over the weekend. It’s made its way around the web over the past few days and we at Rush The Court sincerely apologize for not commenting on this sooner. The block was so clean that it was dirty. Marshall took a spill on the floor afterward and Bolden leers at him, perhaps disappointed that he had to do Marshall like that. Go ahead, watch it a few hundred more times and create your own exposition of the play. It’s more fun that way.
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Big 12 M5: Halloween Edition (Boo!)

Posted by Nate Kotisso on October 31st, 2014


  1. TCU made some recruiting news earlier in the week as 2015 recruit Jalon Miller gave his verbal commitment to the Horned Frogs on Sunday. Miller, a 6’8″ four-star small forward (according to ESPN) from Seagonville High School in the Dallas area, is the first pledge in that class for head coach Trent Johnson. Getting a verbal from Miller is huge for Johnson on two levels: 1) Miller is a pretty good player; and 2) Miller saying ‘yes’ to TCU sends a message to other top prospects in the Metroplex that the Horned Frogs are to be taken seriously in recruiting. Think about it: Talented players are pledging to schools like TCU and SMU. Welcome to 2014.
  2. For two seasons at Baylor, Isaiah Austin and Cory Jefferson were together a lot on and off the basketball floor. When Austin announced to the world that Marfan’s Syndrome would end his NBA career before it had a chance to begin, Jefferson decided to make sure that he and his college teammate would always be on the floor together. Jefferson, of course, was the final pick in June’s NBA Draft, eventually made the Nets’ final roster, and contributed eight points and two rebounds in his NBA debut Tuesday with Austin in attendance. This might be the best non-LeBron story of NBA’s opening week.
  3. Oklahoma guard Isaiah Cousins was in his hometown of Mount Vernon, New York, in late May when he was shot in the shoulder. Miraculously, Cousins was fully participating in practice less than a month later. Cousins opened up on his experience for the first time since everything went down, saying that doctors decided to leave the bullet in his shoulder simply because it’s lodged in between his shoulders and can’t really move. Opposing coaches will now be forced to add “superhero” to Cousins’ scouting report. You’d be foolish not to.
  4. West Virginia might be the most fascinating team in the Big 12 this season. Since arriving in the conference, they’ve been a big disappointment, and my wandering mind has wondered about how much job security Bob Huggins has. He’s done a lot of winning and he’s a native son in Morgantown, but how much will it take athletic director Oliver Luck to consider making a change at the top of his men’s basketball program? Fortunately for everyone involved, that’s probably not a decision that will need to be made. Huggins has perhaps his most talented team since joining the Big 12 and can put those matters to bed with a run to the NCAA Tournament in 2014-15.
  5. Bill Self and his some of his coaching staff did a very cool thing for Kansas students on Thursday. Self went to the Underground, an on-campus food court, and bought lunch for everybody there. Eventually, word got around campus through social media and students flocked because there was free food. There isn’t much Self has to do win the favor of the students because of all the winning he’s been able to do on the floor. But now, even the few Kansas students who don’t watch Jayhawks basketball can’t find beef with him because, dude, he just bought y’all lunch.
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Big 12 Season Preview: Baylor Bears

Posted by Nate Kotisso on October 30th, 2014

Throughout the preseason, the Big 12 microsite will preview each of the league’s 10 teams, from worst to first. Today: Baylor.

Baylor Bears

We’re seven months removed from the 2013-14 season ending and I still feel as if Baylor underachieved. The Bears had a lot of the qualities that normally consist of a Final Four-type team: NBA talent, experience, rebounding, good-enough defense. They were brilliant in non-league action, started 2-8 in conference play, went on a late run, and finished with a loss to Wisconsin during the second weekend of the NCAA Tournament. Most are unsure of what to expect from Baylor this time around — the Bears were picked sixth in the Big 12 preseason coaches poll, marking the second time in the last seven seasons that the Bears have been picked to finish outside of the Big 12’s top four. Scott Drew’s team was picked 10th in 2009-10 and eventually found itself in the Elite Eight. But now, three of the Bears’ top scorers are gone and a slew of young players will take over in an, gulp, odd-numbered NCAA Tournament year.

Scott Drew goes into the 2014-15 season with the task of replacing three starters. (USA Today Sports Images)

Scott Drew goes into the 2014-15 season with the task of replacing three starters. (USA Today Sports Images)

Strengths: The Bears lost Isaiah Austin and Cory Jefferson yet the bigs they’ll have available still appear worthy of opponents’ game-planning. Let’s start with junior Rico Gathers, who managed to average the same number of points as rebounds (6.4) off the bench. It’d be silly to expect anything other than the 6’8″, 280-pound Gathers be a bully down low by giving him starter’s minutes. Perhaps the biggest question mark lies with redshirt freshman forward Jonathan Motley. Motley has bulked up with 15 pounds of muscle and will be counted on as the defensive enforcer that Austin and Jefferson have been over the past two seasons. On the wing, having Royce O’Neale grab a guaranteed five rebounds at 6’6″ isn’t too shabby either. It also helps to have a senior point guard like Kenny Chery returning in a deep point guard league like the Big 12. Read the rest of this entry »

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Ranking the Big 12’s 2015 Big Monday Games

Posted by Nate Kotisso on August 12th, 2014

ESPN and the Big 12 Conference released the schedule for their 2015 Big Monday slate of games on Monday afternoon with a small twist. On March 2, 2015, the last Big Monday of the regular season, ESPN will select between two Big 12 games to put in its 9:00 PM time slot. The two options will be Baylor-Texas and Oklahoma-Iowa State, with the less interesting game airing on ESPNU. Most of the usual conference suspects are featured in this year’s slate, including Kansas, Oklahoma and Iowa State, each of which can make up to four appearances. Texas will make up to three Monday games while Baylor, Kansas State and West Virginia will each be on once at the most.



Now to some numbers. The 2013 version of this schedule featured eight conference members, which included three games involving West Virginia, leading to forgettable match-ups against Kansas, Texas and Kansas State. Consequently, last year’s Big Monday schedule was tightened to just six teams and ESPN/Big 12 is following a similar format for 2015. Also worthy of note: Baylor, a Sweet Sixteen team just five months ago, finds itself with just one *maybe* Big Monday date against the Longhorns. Meanwhile, Kansas State boasts Marcus Foster, one of the most exciting point guards in America, and somehow gets only one game. Another NCAA Tournament team from 2014, Oklahoma State, was left off the schedule altogether.

The only thing left to do now is to hopelessly rank each game from worst to best. This will almost assuredly be used against me in the future. Enjoy it, Internet!

8. Kansas at West Virginia on February 16, 2015

Outlook: All respect to the Mountaineers fans out there, but I can’t figure out why West Virginia made it on the schedule. They finished one game above the .500 mark at 17-16 last year, and two of their top three scorers in 2013-14 — Eron Harris (17.2 PPG) and Terry Henderson (11.7) — decided to transfer to Michigan State and NC State, respectively. Juwan Staten is the only name you might recognize but WVU will have to count on guys who played sparingly last season or are waiting to become eligible. But you’ll watch this game anyway. You’ll tune in either to see Cliff Alexander and Kelly Oubre fly around the court or to hear the TV announcer say, “Here comes Billydee Williams, checking in for the Mountaineers!” (I fall into the latter category.)

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