Big 12 Saturday Preview

Posted by Brian Goodman on January 24th, 2015

This weekend’s slate of Big 12 action isn’t quite as loaded as last week’s in terms of games expected to have a significant impact on the league race, but with the conference being arguably the best one in the country, that’s all relative. The biggest match-up on Saturday’s schedule features league favorite Kansas traveling to Austin to take on the Longhorns, who are looking to reassert themselves in the conference race. 

Oklahoma State at Kansas State (12:00 EST) – The 3-3 Cowboys have a win over Texas in their back pocket, but on the whole, their resume isn’t particularly impressive. If the NCAA Tournament started today, they would almost certainly be in, but a rough go of it on the road has prevented Travis Ford’s team from compiling a stronger case for seeding. They’ll look to reverse their fortunes when they shoot for just their second true road win of the season (the first being a convincing victory over a mediocre Memphis team) with an early afternoon tilt in Manhattan. The Wildcats, meanwhile, are still trying to prove their worth as a potential NCAA Tournament team, and a big component of that equation is holding serve on their home court against competitive teams. The battle between Marcus Foster and Phil Forte should be a fun one, and whether Nino Williams (20 points per game in his last two contests) continues to emerge as a dependable complement to Foster could play a decisive role. Prediction: Kansas State 66, Oklahoma State 63.

Everyone is Waiting on Kansas State to Regress (USA Today Images)

Everyone is Waiting on Kansas State to Regress (USA Today Images)

TCU at West Virginia (2:00 EST) – It’s still crazy to believe that after missing the NCAA Tournament in consecutive seasons, the Mountaineers are just a few bounces away from 16-1. Their offense hasn’t been pretty, with sub-200 rankings in both two-point shooting and three-point shooting, but it’s still been one of the most effective units in the country thanks to an aversion to turnovers. Of course, there’s also West Virginia’s stifling pressure defense, which has created barrels of extra possessions for Bob Huggins’ team. They’ll look to speed up a TCU offense that is much more deliberate at 62 possessions per game, so the Horned Frogs will have very small margin of error as they try to get their second league win. Prediction: West Virginia 70, TCU 59.

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Big 12 M5: Day After Ballghazi Press Conference Edition

Posted by Nate Kotisso on January 23rd, 2015

morning5_big12

  1. It happened guys! While he wasn’t able to stop by Allen Fieldhouse, President Barack Obama spent some time at Anschutz Sports Pavilion on the Kansas campus, which is right next door to the Phog. There, Obama gave a speech and joked about his lack of success in the state (set-up here and punchline here). He also visited with the basketball team and got a commemorative Jayhawks’ #1 jersey (Selden transferring?). Due to time constraints, he wasn’t able to practice with the team, so we’ll never know how he’d handle such a tough environment, but in my opinion this means Jim Harbaugh is the best non-basketball person to ever set foot on the Allen Fieldhouse floor.
  2. So Baylor playing NAIA school Huston-Tillotson in the middle of conference play was weird, right? So here’s the story behind it and it’s quite a doozy. It revolves around longtime high school coach Ken Carter, the same Carter who was portrayed by Samuel L. Jackson in the 2005 film “Coach Carter.” The 56-year-old Carter was planning to coach for Huston-Tillotson during the 2014-15 season and Wednesday’s game was supposed to be a part of another film about Carter’s life, but that didn’t happen. I’m sure Baylor’s talking heads are telling the truth but I want to know what the stories are behind their other games of a similar ilk. What is the story behind Baylor playing Wayland Baptist, another NAIA team, in February 2011? Or Hardin-Simmons, a Division III school, after the start of Big 12 play in January 2013? There could be logical explanations behind the scheduling of all of these games, but I haven’t heard them.
  3. Are we talking about #1 seeds already? Yes we are, because Brian Spaen over at Clones Confidential has laid out his blueprint for Iowa State to get one of those four top seeds. The plan, of course, would have to include the Cyclones winning the Big 12 regular season and tournament titles, and I’m not sure Iowa State or any other Big 12 team can win both championships this season. If a team were able to pull off such an accomplishment, the committee would likely credit the Big 12’s depth enough to award that team one of those #1 seeds. If it happens for Iowa State on Selection Sunday, it would be the first top seed in program history.
  4. After cultivating a reputation as a reliable defender for three seasons, Kansas State forward Nino Williams is having his best all-around season as senior. After two previous subpar performances at Hilton Coliseum, Williams logged a career-high 22 points, eight rebounds, four assists and three steals in 31 minutes of action during Tuesday night’s loss at Iowa State. Compare those numbers to Williams’ two-game average in Ames of 4.0 PPG and 3.0 RPG in 15.5 minutes per contest and it’s easy to see his development. I’m sure he worked hard every summer but it’s games like these that put you on notice of certain players who put in a lot of extra work in the offseason.
  5. This last blurb is a tiny bit self-serving because I want to show love to one of my all-time favorite players in Big 12 basketball history. Andre Emmett — yes, the Texas Tech great best known in NBA circles for his cups of coffee with Memphis and the-then New Jersey Nets — was recently named the D-League Player of the Week. His career arc is amazing. Emmett was an early second-round pick in the 2004 NBA Draft, but only played eight games with Memphis. He left the Grizzlies to play overseas but always returned to the U.S. to try and win a roster spot in summer league and/or training camp. He returned to the NBA eight years later after signing a 10-day deal with the Nets (which released him after the 10 days completed). In a D-League dominated by players a decade or more his junior, the 32-year-old Emmett averaged 28.5 PPG on 55 percent shooting, 7.0 rebounds, 2.5 assists, 2.5 steals, and a block last week to take home the award. That guy has no quit in him.
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Silver Lining: Despite Loss, Iowa State Breaks Out of Offensive Funk

Posted by Brian Goodman on January 15th, 2015

The first two weeks of Big 12 play have given us no shortage of storylines: Kansas’ maturation; Marcus Foster’s benching; Oklahoma State possibly being better without Marcus Smart and Markel Brown; West Virginia’s reinvention; Oklahoma’s quantum leap on defense; and Texas’ early rut are getting most of the attention nationally. But there’s one plot line that, for whatever reason, wasn’t getting as much publicity over the first two week’s of January. Iowa State‘s offense, typically a paragon of innovation and efficiency, was struggling entering last night’s game against Baylor. While the Cyclones had found ways to win close games against Oklahoma State and West Virginia, they were doing so with uncharacteristically disappointing offensive production. In its previous three games against South Carolina, Oklahoma State and West Virginia, Iowa State scored 0.82, 0.94 and 1.03 points per possession, respectively. To put that in perspective, the last time Fred Hoiberg’s group failed to score at least 1.04 points per trip in three straight games was in 2011, when he inherited a team with few viable pieces and finished in last place. As last night’s game got underway in Waco, it looked like the hole would only get deeper.

The Cyclones may have come up short on Wednesday, but the vaunted Iowa State offense could be back in gear at just the right time after a three-game slump. (AP/Tony Gutierrez)

The Cyclones may have come up short on Wednesday, but the vaunted Iowa State offense could be back in gear at just the right time after a three-game slump. (AP/Tony Gutierrez)

Baylor started the game on a 22-5 run, as four different Bears connected on three-pointers and the Cyclones couldn’t get anything going. They finally started to dig out, though, closing the gap on the shoulders of their three transfers – Jameel McKay, Bryce Dejean-Jones and Abdel Nader – before another Baylor run provided some separation entering halftime. That separation would hold until midway through the second half, when Baylor’s Kenny Chery had to leave the game with a shoulder injury.

Chery’s exit gave Iowa State the opening it needed, as Georges Niang finally got going and sharpshooter Naz Long went on a tear while the Bears cooled off. The Cyclones clawed all the way back to take the lead on two separate occasions before Chery returned to the game and hit a game-winning jumper that allowed Baylor to escape with the win, but there’s a silver lining for Iowa State.

The Cyclones’ offense seems to finally be off the schneid, and the fact that they were able to dig out of that slump, even in a losing effort, should give them some confidence moving forward. In a loaded Big 12, they will certainly need that confidence and rediscovered efficiency when they take on Kansas at Hilton Coliseum on Saturday night. The frenzied competitiveness of the league this season means that it would be silly to describe one game in mid-January as having the biggest implications on the race for the league title, but with College Gameday in town and tickets starting at a small fortune, it’s definitely going to be among the most anticipated games of the weekend.

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Big 12 Weekend Look-Ahead

Posted by Brian Goodman on January 9th, 2015

It’s a full Saturday in the Big 12 this weekend, with five games on the schedule spaced throughout the day. Let’s take a look at each, digging into what’s on the line during conference play’s second weekend.

  • Iowa State at West Virginia (8:00 ET) – The last time the Cyclones met the Mountaineers in Morgantown, an otherwise disappointing West Virginia team blew the doors off of Iowa State with a 25-point win. In the closing minutes, if you recall, Dustin Hogue let emotions get the best of him as he karate-kicked Nathan Adrian, causing former Mountaineer Eron Harris to respond by punching Monte’ Morris in the neck. This year, Bob Huggins’ team is fueled by a more controlled brand of chaos (not that scuffles like last year’s were regular occurrences), and it just so happens that Iowa State is in a mini-funk, having scored just 0.86 points per possession over its last two games. West Virginia has already brushed off Texas Tech and TCU, so this will mark the reinvented Mountaineers’ first game against a Big 12 team on their level both in overall effectiveness and pace. The best game of the day should make for a fun nightcap.
Bryce Dejean-Jones will try to dig Iowa State out of an offensive slump Saturday. (Cyclones.com)

Bryce Dejean-Jones will try to dig Iowa State out of an offensive slump Saturday. (Cyclones.com)

  • Texas at Oklahoma State (5:00 ET) – The Longhorns are talented and cohesive enough this season that Monday’s drubbing by Oklahoma should probably just be chalked up as a fluke, but it did underscore some questions about Rick Barnes’ roster. Isaiah Taylor is getting re-acclimated to the team (and vice versa) after returning from his wrist injury, and while the frontcourt is very deep it is also penetrable, at least until Myles Turner becomes a stronger defensive presence in the low post. I wrote in last week’s conference catch-up that Oklahoma State didn’t make much progress in its non-conference slate, but the Cowboys have since easily handled Kansas State at home and limited Iowa State’s offense at Hilton Coliseum (despite a loss). It’s therefore safe to stay that they’ve taken some steps in the right direction. Will they keep it up and notch what would be — to this point — their best win of the season? Tune in Saturday evening to find out.
  • Kansas State at Oklahoma (7:00 ET) – After a brief stay, Marcus Foster is out of Bruce Weber’s doghouse and it couldn’t come at a more important time. A win at Oklahoma, while impressive, wouldn’t undo all the harm the Wildcats have brought on themselves so far, but they need to get moving if they want to get back in the picture for an at-large bid. Wednesday’s win over TCU started a stretch when five of their next seven games will be played at home, so there will be plenty of opportunities to start making waves before desperation hits. Meanwhile, Oklahoma has clearly surged ahead of Texas as the top challenger to end Kansas’ reign of dominance with a decisive win over the Longhorns on Monday, so this is a game they should win decisively if they’re the dark horse Final Four contender some are claiming.

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Big 12 M5: 01.09.15 Edition

Posted by Chris Stone on January 9th, 2015

morning5_big12

  1. Kansas defeated Baylor by a single point in Waco on Wednesday night. The loss makes the Bears 0-2 in conference play, but their upcoming schedule at TCU, at home vs. Iowa State, and at Kansas State will give them an opportunity to pick up some wins. Baylor controlled the tempo as they have done all season, and the result was a game that featured only 52 possessions. While Baylor’s 17 offensive rebounds played a role in lowering the official possessions count, the low number also reflects a Big 12 trend this season. The conference ranks 21st in Ken Pomeroy’s adjusted tempo statistic, which measures the pace of play for a league’s teams, and puts the league behind the oft-maligned, plodding Big Ten. It’s time for college hoops officials to rethink the length of the shot clock in order to increase the number of possessions in a game and make it more exciting for the fans.
  2. Baylor and Kansas also shed light on another absurd college basketball rule – the block/charge call. With 3:06 remaining in the first half, Baylor’s Johnathan Motley unleashed the best dunk I have ever seen in person with a ferocious one-handed slam over the Jayhawks’ Jamari Traylor. Bears’ fans immediately broke into a frenzy without noticing that the official under the basket had simultaneously called the move a charge. Kansas’ Evan Manning even called it from the bench. The call took away what was the highlight of the night, and with the way the game finished, also ended up costing Baylor two points that could have made a difference in the game’s outcome. College basketball is meant to be fun and the block/charge call steals some of that from the fans. It’s time for a change.
  3. Also on Wednesday night, Kansas State picked up its first win of the conference season with a 58-53 victory over TCU. For Wildcats fans, that win will hopefully mark a turning point for sophomore guard Marcus Foster. After scoring only two points in 38 minutes in the prior two games, Foster exploded for 23 points on 5-of-11 shooting against the Horned Frogs. Bruce Weber may have finally lit the fire that he was looking for from Foster, which may help Kansas State rebound from its poor non-conference record with some wins during Big 12 play.
  4. It seems college basketball is back in the state of Oklahoma, as hoops competes against football for the time and attention of many Oklahomans during non-conference play and early in the new year. Berry Tramel of The Oklahoman argues that Oklahoma and Oklahoma State are making a case to the state’s residents to invest in basketball a bit earlier than usual. It’s hard to disagree with him. The Sooners defeated Baylor at home in their Big 12 opener and then picked up a huge road win against one of the league’s favorites, Texas, in their second game. And although the Cowboys lost at Iowa State on Tuesday, they had a chance to tie or win on the game’s final possession. Quality college hoops is definitely back in the Sooner State and it’s time for Oklahomans to start paying attention.
  5. The debate over the nation’s best conference rages on, with most people siding with either the Big 12 or the ACC for one reason or another. Either way, there’s no doubt that the Big 12 is going to provide viewers with a number of fantastic games this season. There have already been a number of one-possession games during conference play, and with six teams ranked in the Top 25, there are surely more to come. Our own Brian Goodman put it in perspective on Wednesday morning when he tweeted that there is at least one game between two of those six teams on 24 of the 34 days remaining on the Big 12 schedule. It’s a great time to be a Big 12 hoops fan.
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Three Things to Watch in Tonight’s Kansas-Baylor Game

Posted by Brian Goodman on January 7th, 2015

It’s only the Big 12’s first full week of conference play, but without a runaway favorite and as many as six teams with hopes to win the conference, nearly every Big 12 game is going to have an impact. Tonight’s headliner pits Baylor against Kansas at the Ferrell Center in Waco. The Jayhawks were the last team to beat the Bears at home nearly a year ago (February 4, 2014), so Baylor is looking to avoid a repeat performance. In this preview, Brian Goodman breaks down the elements most likely to decide the outcome of tonight’s important battle.

Frank Mason leads the Jayhawks on the road, where they'll have to neutralize Baylor's advantage inside. (Denny Medley/USA Today)

Frank Mason leads the Jayhawks on the road, where they’ll have to neutralize Baylor’s advantage inside. (Denny Medley/USA Today)

  1. Kansas’ lineups and rotations. Over the last five games, the lineup of Frank Mason, Wayne Selden, Kelly Oubre, Perry Ellis and Cliff Alexander has been the Jayhawks’ most effective one, but it hasn’t been the one Bill Self has most frequently deployed. Rather, Self has preferred a lineup with Jamari Traylor taking Alexander’s place, despite being an average rebounder and mediocre finisher (shooting just 41.5 percent from the floor). Thanks to his athleticism, Traylor can be an effective energy guy in spurts, but the Jayhawks have been at their best with the more efficient Alexander manning the paint alongside Ellis. This was the case during Kansas’ game-finishing run to put UNLV away on Sunday.
  2. Baylor’s bruisers. It’s no surprise that the Bears rank fourth nationally in offensive rebounding rate, corralling 43.7 percent of their misses on the season. That consistency is due in large part to the effort of Rico Gathers, who grabbed 15 rebounds over 39 minutes in Baylor’s two meetings against Kansas last season, and makes it easy for Baylor to generate offense despite suspect interior shooting. The Jayhawks had trouble creating separation against UNLV’s athletic core of big men until the last 10 minutes of Sunday’s contest and will struggle to leave Waco with a win if Gathers and freshman Johnathan Motley deprive Alexander, Ellis and Traylor of those opportunities.
  3. The battle of perimeter attacks. Sharpshooter Brady Heslip isn’t around to haunt Big 12 teams anymore, but the Bears still have some serious long-range bombers on their roster. Scott Drew’s rotation currently features five players who shoot at least 34 percent or better from beyond the arc, led by a 53.8 percent clip from Taurean Prince, perhaps the conference’s most improved player. On the other end of the floor, Kansas’ shooters have been streaky. One of the main reasons why Frank Mason has been such a huge asset this season has been his 51.4 percent three-point shooting, forcing defenses to guard him and in turn opening passing lanes. Kelly Oubre‘s smooth shot (48.1%) has been effective as well, and after a disappointing start to the season, Wayne Selden has embraced his role as a shooter (36.7%) who will occasionally attack off the bounce. Despite all of that shooting firepower, one of the things keeping Kansas’ offense from higher productivity has been a relative team-wide passivity from distance. The Jayhawks are the best three-point shooting team in the conference at 39.2 percent, but they take only 29 percent of their shots from beyond the arc, a level of frequency that ranks a dispiriting ninth in the Big 12 (and 292nd in the country). It therefore stands to reason that Kansas would benefit from centering its offensive attack on perimeter shooting rather than depending on Ellis and Alexander to generate most of the offense inside.
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RTC Weekly Primer: An Ode to the Big 12

Posted by Henry Bushnell on January 6th, 2015

Money talks. It’s an unavoidable and unfortunate truth. In almost any facet of life, money is persuasive. Whether indirectly or directly, visibly or otherwise, it influences the decisions we make, creates irresistible motives, and causes things to happen that are otherwise undesirable. It’s an unparalleled force. A few years ago, the Big 12 was a victim of the almighty dollar’s faculties. It succumbed to money’s authority. Between 2010-13, while the league went about its business playing collegiate sports in the midsection of America, it was relentlessly under siege. Driven by economic motives, the SEC, Big Ten and Pac-12 ravaged it, pilfering four of its 12 members and rearranging the landscape of college sports. During this period of extreme uncertainty, there were thoughts of dissolution. There appeared to be a significant chance that the Big 12 would soon cease to exist. At the very least, it had been weakened as it’s BCS brethren had beefed up. These were times filled with worry; with concern; with fear.

The Big 12 May Have Lost the Football Wars This Year, But It is Killing the Basketball Side (USA Today Images)

The Big 12 May Have Lost the Football Wars This Year, But It is Killing the Basketball Side (USA Today Images)

Several years later, with all of that uncertainty now in the rear view mirror, money seems somewhat irrelevant. It still talks, and the economic side of Big 12 sports might not be as lucrative as that of the Big Ten or SEC. But money doesn’t automatically result in good basketball. And in 2014-15, while the Big Ten and SEC are crammed with mediocrity, the conference that once looked in serious danger is thriving. Seven of the 10 conference teams currently rank in KenPom’s Top 25, while only eight from the Big Ten, Pac-12 and SEC collectively make the cut. In an age where money increasingly steps to the forefront of any discussions on college sports, there remains a majestic purity about this sport. And as conference play gets underway in the Big 12, that purity will be as enjoyable and as evident as ever. It’ll also produce night after night of high-quality basketball.

Three for the Money

Kansas at Baylor | Wednesday, 9:00 p.m. EST, ESPNU

Where else to start but with the Big 12? As will be the case many times this year, there are multiple mouth-watering match-ups in conference play, but any game that involves Kansas still draws extra attention. It’s an annual tradition around this time of year to pose the question, “Is this the year that somebody finally unseats Kansas atop the Big 12?” But this year, such an inquiry might just have a little more merit to it. Baylor isn’t necessarily one of the teams that could knock the Jayhawks from their perch — that responsibility should fall to Oklahoma, Texas and Iowa State. But the Bears are an outstanding example of the depth of the league. Picked sixth in the Big 12 preseason poll, Scott Drew’s squad has been steadily improving this season. Led by a physically imposing front line that pounds the offensive glass as well as anybody in the country, Baylor won’t be an easy out for anybody. And especially not for a Kansas team that, despite only two losses and several good wins, hasn’t looked vintage. It is important to note that we’ve seen the stage set like this before only to have the Jayhawks hit their stride in early February and run away from the pack. But the backcourt of Frank Mason and Wayne Selden is a far cry from what Self has had in Lawrence over the years. The interesting match-up here, however, is down low, where Kansas’ forwards, specifically Cliff Alexander, will have to brandish their Big 12 title winning credentials and show some requisite toughness.

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Oklahoma Just Too Much for Baylor

Posted by Eli Linton on January 5th, 2015

Eli Linton is a RTC correspondent. He filed this report after Oklahoma’s 73-63 win over Baylor.

Saturday’s premier matchup — and the country’s only game between ranked opponents — featured #22 Baylor at # 18 Oklahoma in what amounted to two of the nation’s top defenses, and possibly the two best frontcourts in the Big 12. Baylor was the underdog surprise of the season going in. The Bears were selected to finish sixth in the Big 12 preseason poll, but came into Saturday’s Big 12 opener sporting an 11-1 record, including six straight wins. This was the perfect opportunity to showcase their great talent that has helped them rise above expectations. Instead, what we ended up watching was total control by Oklahoma, who won 73-63. The Sooners are starting to pile up wins against quality teams, and are looking more like one of the NCAA’s elite.

Oklahoma forward TaShawn Thomas (35) celebrates a basket against Baylor in the first half of an NCAA college basketball game in Norman, Okla., Saturday, Jan. 3, 2015. Oklahoma's Jordan Woodard is at right. (AP Photo/Sue Ogrocki)

Oklahoma forward TaShawn Thomas (35) celebrates a basket against Baylor in the first half of an NCAA college basketball game in Norman, Okla., Saturday, Jan. 3, 2015. Oklahoma’s Jordan Woodard is at right. (AP Photo/Sue Ogrocki)

Oklahoma has been beating up on Baylor seemingly forever, leading 42-11 in the all-time series between the two programs. The Sooners have been even more dominant when the contest is played in Norman as Oklahoma has won 21 of 25 all-time meetings. Still, this was a matchup of two teams that were considered very close by comparison. Baylor, like Oklahoma, plays tough defense and relies on its talented forwards, junior Rico Gathers and freshman Johnathan Motley. But the touted Baylor zone couldn’t stop Sooners’ guard Buddy Hield or forward TaShawn Thomas, who found a way to lead their team to 73 points again a Bears’ defense that hadn’t allowed more than 66 points in a game all year. Read the rest of this entry »

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Big 12 M5: 01.05.15 Edition

Posted by Chris Stone on January 5th, 2015

morning5_big12

  1. Big 12 conference play got under way over the weekend and the biggest story line was the return of point guard Isaiah Taylor to the Texas lineup in the Longhorns 70-61 victory over Texas Tech. Taylor had missed the last 10 games with a wrist injury. He was rusty on the offensive end, hitting only two of his ten field goal attempts, but his defense proved impactful. The sophomore recorded four steals in the game as Texas forced the Red Raiders to turn the ball over on 22.4 percent of their possessions. Texas has one of the best defenses in the country, but has been unable to create turnovers in Taylor’s absence. His return should provide the Longhorns with an even more effective defensive scheme in league play.
  2. In their final non-conference game, Iowa State fell 64-60 to unranked South Carolina at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn on Saturday. The Cyclones are shooting 34.5 percent from behind the arc this season, but connected on only one of 18 attempts against the Gamecocks in Brooklyn. Given that Fred Hoiberg’s squad is shooting 40 percent of their field goal attempts from behind the three-point line, that’s not a recipe for success in Big 12 play. As Randy Peterson of The Des-Moines Register pointed out, Iowa State may be able to survive against the bottom of the league with their “B-games,” but in order to compete for a conference championship, the Cyclones must knock down their three-pointers and match the physicality of the other top teams in the Big 12.
  3. Baylor entered conference play as one of the more intriguing teams in the Big 12. Despite losing three of their four leading scorers from last season, the Bears have found themselves ranked highly in Ken Pomeroy’s efficiency ratings, but Baylor lost their conference opener on Saturday to Oklahoma, 73-63. The Sooners were able to shoot 8-for-22 from behind the three-point line in the win. Bears’ wing Taurean Prince noted after the game, “We did a poor job of limiting their 3s. We have to do a better job of closing out defensively on the perimeter. We missed some defensive assignments and made some bone-headed plays that we normally make.” Closing down the three-point line will be an important component of Baylor’s defense in the near future. The Bears take on a Kansas team that is shooting 39.2 percent from behind the arc on Wednesday night.
  4. Speaking of Kansas, the Jayhawks closed out their non-conference slate with a 76-61 victory over UNLV on Sunday afternoon. Kansas was paced by point guard Frank Mason who finished with 18 points, seven assists, four rebounds, and four steals in the win. During the Jayhawks’ loss to Temple, NBC Sports‘ Rob Dauster called Mason a “mid major PG,” but the sophomore has been much better than that. Since their loss to Kentucky, Mason is providing the Jayhawks with 12.9 points, 4.9 assists, 4.3 rebounds, and 1.8 steals per game. The sophomore is giving Bill Self his best point guard play since Sherron Collins was in Lawrence. Self will need Mason to continue to play at such a high level if Kansas is to compete for an 11th straight Big 12 title.
  5. Finally, Bleacher Report’s Jason King created a bit of a stir amongst Big 12 fans on Twitter Sunday night when he proclaimed that he’s not buying the league as the best conference in America. King is a graduate of Baylor and was a longtime writer for The Kansas City Star, so he’s certainly familiar with the Big 12. However, the numbers tell a different story than the one King is crafting. KenPom’s efficiency ratings suggest that the Big 12 is tops and it’s not particularly close. The gap between the Big 12 and King’s favored conference, the ACC, is larger than the gap between the ACC and the fifth ranked conference, the SEC. The Big 12 looks poised to send over half of the league’s teams to the NCAA Tournament for the second season in a row. Despite King’s claims about the top tier of the ACC, the Big 12 remains the best conference in America.
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A Farewell to the Big 12 Network (1996-2014)

Posted by Nate Kotisso on January 2nd, 2015

Early 2003.

The Big 12 Network syndicated slate of conference games ended its broadcasts in March 2014.

The Big 12’s slate of syndicated conference games, known as the Big 12 Network, ended its over-the-air broadcasts in March 2014.

I was eight years old then which, by rule, meant I was in a time of life where most kids began sampling the world around them, figuring out what they do and do not like. Mostly, I liked eating and running my mouth in school. But on one lazy Saturday afternoon, while waiting for something to grab my attention as I flipped through the channels, something finally did. Growing up without cable TV, finding something even mildly amusing was rare on a Saturday. This was a basketball game, of some kind. I knew that for sure. One of the teams playing was from Texas. In fact, it was Texas and they were blowing out another Big 12 team. My first impressions of them: Wow, they look like they’re pretty good. And hey, I’m from Houston. It felt like a natural fit to become a Texas Longhorns fan. So I did.

I wasn’t able to catch the Longhorns on TV every Saturday but when I did, I began to learn most of the names on that Texas team. The first was T.J. Ford, the point guard who I heard the announcers talk about almost all the time. Then Brandon Mouton who I remember wearing a beard. James Thomas, their big man in dreds. Royal Ivey because how are you gonna forget a name like that, and so on. The more they played, the more they won and the happier I got. But I also got used to watching other teams too through the years like Kansas’ reign atop the Big 12 from Hinrich to Wiggins, the death and resurgence of Iowa State and the birth of a second basketball power in the state of Texas.

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Big 12 Conference Catch-Up: Baylor and Oklahoma State

Posted by Brian Goodman on December 31st, 2014

We continue our breakdown of the Big 12 with the part of the league that will likely determine whether the conference matches its high water mark from last season, when it sent seven teams to the NCAA Tournament. If you missed it yesterday, you can find our thoughts on the bottom rung of the conference here.

Baylor

  • Key wins: at South Carolina, vs. Memphis (in Las Vegas), at Vanderbilt
  • Key losses: vs. Illinois (in Las Vegas)
Rico Gathers leads a Baylor rotation that dominates the glass.

Rico Gathers leads a Baylor rotation that dominates the glass.

People love to hate on Scott Drew, but the dirty secret is that the Bears have been one of the country’s most consistent offenses, finishing among the top 20 in adjusted offense in six of the last seven seasons. They’re trending that way again this year, which is especially impressive when you recall that they lost over half of their offensive production due to the departures of Isaiah Austin, Brady Heslip and Cory Jefferson. The strange thing is that despite their performance so far, the Bears have not been a good shooting team, with an effective field goal percentage of just 50.7 percent, but they have the nation’s best offensive rebounder in Rico Gathers leading a core of strong, athletic players who are just relentless on the glass and get tons of second-chance opportunities. Throw in a stingy defense and four regulars that shoot at least 34 percent from deep and the result is a team that will be able to hang with the best teams in the conference.

I wrote earlier this month that it’d be wise to buy in on Baylor to make it back to the NCAA Tournament, and I still believe that, but there are a couple of things keeping the Bears from breaking into the top tier of the Big 12. Their free throw shooting has been horrific, and in a conference as competitive as the Big 12, I worry about that flaw impacting their ability to close out games. I also think that when the Bears get into conference play, their rebounding, while still strong, will regress some and force the team to get more creative on offense, which will be tough to do on the fly. I don’t think the Bears are as good as their #12 KenPom ranking suggests, but they’re definitely no slouch either.

The Bears haven’t made consecutive NCAA Tournaments at any point in their history and have been on an every-other-year pattern since 2008, but I like their chances to break that routine and go dancing as a #7 seed this year. Their ceiling will be closer to a #5 f they can shore up their free throw shooting and withstand the other rigorous frontcourts the Big 12 has to offer.

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Big 12 M5: New Year’s Eve Edition

Posted by Brian Goodman on December 31st, 2014

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  1. Figuring out how best to utilize his team’s athleticism has been one of Kansas head coach Bill Self‘s biggest challenges this season, but he made a concerted effort to allow his Jayhawks to push the pace in transition during a 78-62 win over Kent State last night. After mustering just 18 points in the paint against Temple last week, Kansas scored 44 from that area on Tuesday. The adjustment (dare we call it a tweak?) also led to Cliff Alexander becoming more active, and as a result, more productive than we’ve seen in recent weeks. Kelly Oubre also continued his stellar play with four three-pointers on his way to a second 20-point performance in three games. The lefty finally appears to have a solid grip on one of the wing spots, which is a big step in the team’s development. The Jayhawks host UNLV in their final non-league game on Saturday before Big 12 play revs up, so it will be interesting to see if they keep the new look.
  2. Oklahoma State spent the first six weeks of the season putting together a decent resume with wins over Tulsa and Memphis away from Gallagher-Iba Arena, but they nearly negated that good will in a close call against Missouri in Kansas City last night. Up three with eight seconds remaining in regulation, Travis Ford instructed his team to foul in order to prevent Missouri from attempting a game-tying three, but they didn’t catch the Tigers in time and Tramaine Isbell sank a three-pointer at the buzzer to send the game to overtime. Faced with the same scenario in the closing seconds of the extra period, Oklahoma State successfully fouled Johnathan Williams to send him to the line for a pair of free throws, but the Cowboys failed to rebound the intentional miss on the back end. Luckily, DeAngelo Hall missed a close look at the buzzer and Oklahoma State escaped with the victory. We’ll have more on the Cowboys later today, but it looks like they’ll be involved in more than their fair share of close finishes this season, which means their NCAA Tournament fate could lie in the hands of a whistle here or a lucky bounce there.
  3. To this point, Baylor hasn’t been a very good shooting team, instead deriving a lot of their offense from second-chance points, but in their final tune-up before Big 12 play, the Bears got hot to the tune of a 68.8 percent shooting performance in the second half en route to a 92-51 drubbing of Norfolk State. Royce O’Neale led Baylor with 23 points on just nine shots thanks to a 5-of-6 effort from beyond the arc and Rico Gathers notched his sixth double-double of the season with 13 points and 11 rebounds. There isn’t much to take away from a beatdown over Norfolk State, but if Baylor can find a way to keep up a more consistent level of shooting in conference play, they likely won’t have to scramble in late February to make the NCAA Tournament the way they’ve had to in recent years.
  4. In their last game of the non-conference season, West Virginia overcame a sloppy first half filled with turnovers and fouls and turned their game against Virginia Tech into an 82-51 rout. The Mountaineers locked down the Hokies during a huge run during which Buzz Williams’ team scored just four points over a span of 10 minutes and 23 seconds. West Virginia wraps up non-league play with a 12-1 record and they’re far and away the most improved team in the Big 12, featuring an exciting defense and a potent (if sometimes unorganized) offense led by one of the best all-around players in the conference, Juwan Staten.
  5. On Monday afternoon, Texas struggled but ultimately pulled away in a 66-55 win over Rice. The most troubling sign for the Longhorns was that 6’7″ Rice junior Seth Gearhart gave Texas’ vaunted frontcourt a lot of trouble. Myles Turner received his first start of the year, with Rick Barnes sending Cameron Ridley to the bench, and while the blue-chip freshman continues to show exceptional promise, his identity on this team is still a question mark. For someone who can be an absolute force inside, Turner floats to the perimeter an awful lot on offense as well as on defense, and it’s kept him from being a more effective player. If that issue can be remedied and Isaiah Taylor can return to the team without skipping a beat, there won’t be anything keeping the Longhorns from making a run at Kansas at the top of the standings.
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