Chaotic Weekend Builds Drama for Regular Season’s Final Act

Posted by Bennet Hayes on March 3rd, 2014

It was a weekend that saw 11 ranked teams fall, an unlikely band of Shockers find a small slice of immortality (the regular season variety), and an already jumbled NCAA Tournament bubble grow exponentially more confusing. Ever predictably, the arrival of March meant great drama for college basketball fans. With one week now left in the regular season, here are three key storylines that emerged from a riveting weekend of action on the college hoops hardwood.

Last #1 Seed Up For Grabs

Syracuse Has Suddenly Lost Three Of Four After A 25-0 Start; Can Jerami Grant, Tyler Ennis, And Company Right The Ship In Time To Get Back On The #1 Seed Line?

Syracuse Has Suddenly Lost Three Of Four After A 25-0 Start; Can Jerami Grant, Tyler Ennis, and Company Right The Ship In Time To Get Back On The #1 Seed Line?

Presumptive #1 seeds Arizona, Florida and Wichita State were all able to avoid the upset bug this weekend, and barring multiple losses in the next two weeks, each seems adequately safe on the top line. But with Syracuse continuing its mini-slide in Charlottesville Saturday afternoon, that fourth #1 seed has no apparent owner heading into the season’s final week. By my count, no fewer than eight teams should still be in play for the honor, although scenarios for five of those squads — Creighton, Michigan, Wisconsin, Villanova and Virginia – would almost surely include winning out through their conference tournaments, and then also getting help from elsewhere. The trio with the firmest grasp on their own fate — Duke, Kansas, and the aforementioned Orange — may not be doing as much Championship Week scoreboard watching as those five teams, but all would still likely need to win out to earn that last #1 seed. But before those three schools face the gauntlet that will be the Big 12 and ACC Tournaments, there is still business to be tended to this week. Despite a date with surging rival UNC (at Cameron), Duke may have the easiest list of chores among the three: KenPom’s predictor gives the Blue Devils a 68 percent chance of finishing off the regular season with a pair of wins. Kansas faces Texas Tech at Allen Fieldhouse before concluding the regular season with a visit to West Virginia; the latter contest offers a challenge sufficient enough to leave KenPom predicting that a Jayhawks’ final week sweep will occur only 60% of the time (and that number probably does not account for the likelihood that Joel Embiid sits out). Syracuse shouldn’t look past Georgia Tech on Tuesday (don’t forget those Boston College Eagles!), but its Sunday trip to Tallahassee is a significant landmine — significant enough that the Orange are expected to polish off their regular season with two wins just 48 percent of the time. The margin for error is thin for all three of these teams; a loss – no matter where it comes from – would all but end dreams of that fourth #1 seed.

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Whats Trending: Tom Izzo Dancing, Baylor Getting Baptized, Marcus Paige, and More…

Posted by Nick Fasulo (@nickfasuloSBN) on February 28th, 2014

What’s Trending is a column examining the week that was in college basketball social media. Nick Fasulo (@nickfasuloSBN) is your weekly host.

Tom Izzo… Pony… Ride It

So Tom Izzo apparently appears in a new Werner Ladders TV commercial. That’s clever and funny and all, but SB Nation‘s Brian Floyd already made the remix for us because that is how he rolls… just laying beats over video and hitting the “UPLOAD TO YOUTUBE” button.

Yes, that would be the renowned R&B hit “Pony” by Ginuwine.

Baylor Bears Get Baptized

No for real. This is not a euphemism for getting shown up on defense while your opponent throws one down in your face. A handful of Baylor Bears were actually baptized last week. Isaiah Austin captured it all.

Scottie Wilbekin Celebrates Like A Soccer Player

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Big 12 M5: 02.24.14 Edition

Posted by Taylor Erickson on February 24th, 2014

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  1. With his recent three game suspension behind him, Oklahoma State point guard Marcus Smart now has an opportunity to make one last impression on how we will remember his college career in Stillwater. At 5-9 in league play, the Cowboys are are the perfect example of a bubble team heading into the last few weeks of the season with games against Kansas, Kansas State, and Iowa State remaining. Given the talent on Travis Ford’s roster, it’s not a stretch to think this team could get on roll throughout both the Big 12 and NCAA Tournaments and pose an incredibly difficult match-up for most teams.
  2. Heading into this Big 12 season, most anticipated the aforementioned Oklahoma State would be the biggest challenge to end Kansas’ streak of nine regular season league titles, but with just four games remaining, Kansas holds a three-game lead on all other teams in the conference, and needs just one win to guarantee at least a tie for the league crown. As Mike DeCourcy writes, the streak by Bill Self and company is much more of a dynasty given just how dominant the Jayhawks have been for the last decade.
  3. For Kansas State this season, there has certainly been no place like home. On Saturday, Bruce Weber’s team continued to experience road woes in their blowout loss at Oklahoma. Wildcat forward Thomas Gipson said after the game that he didn’t know what they can do to win a game away from home. Kansas State has a difficult finish to their season and while their doesn’t appear to be a threat to their NCAA Tournament status just yet, they could vastly improve their seeding come Selection Sunday if they were able to show their ability to win away from home.
  4. Two of the most bubblicious teams in the Big 12 squared off on Saturday when Baylor visited West Virginia, and for the time being, it looks like they may be headed in different directions come Selection Sunday. Scott Drew’s Baylor team has now won four straight league games after topping the Mountaineers 88-75 in Morgantown. Baylor is now 6-8 in league play in their quest to finish .500 in the conference, which should be enough to get them into the dance given the strength of their non conference play. In the first meeting between these two teams, Baylor guard Royce O’Neale played just seven minutes in the Bears’ loss at home in Waco, but scored 22 on Saturday and has been valuable in the resurgence of Baylor as of late.
  5. While the spot at the top of the conference seems all but settled, the race for second place will come down to the last few weeks of the season between Iowa State, Texas, and perhaps Oklahoma, all of whom currently sit at 9-5 in league play. For the Cyclones, finding a way to position themselves second in the Big 12 would allow them to avoid a potential rematch with Kansas until the championship game, and would pair Fred Hoiberg’s squad in the second round with a team that played the previous day. Regardless of how the seedings play out, you can bet the competition in Kansas City will be highly entertaining.
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Big 12 Week In Review and Look Ahead: Don’t Mistake League’s Competitiveness For Superiority

Posted by Brian Goodman on February 21st, 2014

The Big 12 may be one of the most competitive conferences in the country, but this week hasn’t been the most glowing endorsement for the league’s case as the best conference in the country. Monday’s game between Baylor and Oklahoma State was supposed to be a battle of teams in the top half of the conference (if we go by preseason expectations), but instead was a fight for ninth place that only went to overtime because of a sequence that was, well, very fitting of a ninth-place battle:

The next day, Texas squared off against Iowa State in a game with major implications for the Longhorns’ Big 12 title chances, but they were able to lead only within the first five minutes. While Texas kept the game interesting with a run early in the second half, the Cyclones pulled away to hold serve at home.

Meanwhile, 925 miles south, Kansas needed another miracle from Andrew Wiggins at the end of regulation to get past a salty but mediocre Texas Tech team in Lubbock:

The only other game this week saw Kansas State quietly beat TCU by 12. The Wildcats’ two best players, Marcus Foster and Thomas Gipson, paired up for 29 points, 14 rebounds and six assists, but they also combined to shoot 34.6 percent from the floor and turned the ball over nine times. As a team, Kansas State had a staggering 18 turnovers at home against the worst power conference team in the country, needing a second half run to get away for good.

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RTC Bracketology: February 20 Edition

Posted by Daniel Evans (@bracketexpert) on February 20th, 2014

Daniel Evans (@bracketexpert) is Rush the Court’s resident bracketologist. He will update his brackets at least twice a week through the rest of the regular season here at RTC, but his updated brackets can be viewed daily at Bracketology Expert. As we approach March Madness, he’ll also provide occasional blind resumes. Evans has been ranked by the Bracket Matrix as the nation’s 11th-best bracketologist out of hundreds of entries. 

With Syracuse‘s surprising loss to Boston College Wednesday night, the Orange are still a top seed but they are no longer the top overall seed. I now have Florida, which has won 18 straight games after last night’s overtime victory over Auburn, as the top overall seed. The Gators have not lost this season while at full strength and their worst loss is at Connecticut on a buzzer-beater. Compared with a loss to a bad BC team in the Carrier Dome, that sounds very forgiving. Arizona also survived at Utah on Wednesday night  and remains on the top line,  although the Wildcats are playing with fire recently.

The biggest loser Wednesday night was Minnesota, which lost to Illinois at home. The Gophers remain in the bracket, but barely. Baylor enters the field after a win over Oklahoma State, and the Cowboys hung on to their slot, although I’m not confident either one of those Big 12 teams will be in the field come Selection Sunday.

Last Four In: Oklahoma State, Saint Joseph’s, Baylor, Tennessee (note: #12 Georgetown was slotted down for bracketing reasons)
First Four Out: Dayton, BYU, West Virginia, Oregon

Bids by Conference: Big 12 (7), Pac-12 (6), Big East (6), Big Ten (6), Atlantic 10 (5), ACC (5), SEC (4), AAC (4), Mountain West (2)

bracketfeb20

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Three Thoughts on Baylor’s Monday Night Win Over Oklahoma State

Posted by Taylor Erickson on February 18th, 2014

Take a trip back in time to January 3, 2014. Baylor had just demolished lowly Savannah State at home in its final tune-up before conference play. Scott Drew’s team was 12-1, ranked 9th in the nation with neutral site, non-conference victories over a Spencer Dinwiddie-led Colorado team and a Kentucky squad that was ranked 3rd at the time. Baylor looked like one of the Big 12′s elite, possibly capable of threatening Kansas’ nine-year reign atop the league. On that same evening in early January, Oklahoma State was preparing for its first conference game of the season — a road contest at an up-and-down Kansas State group looking for a win to ignite its start in league play. The Cowboys, much like their fellow Big 12 competitors from Waco, had raced out to a 12-1 record to begin the season, and found themselves ranked 6th in the nation after non-conference victories over Memphis and the same Colorado team. Marcus Smart was averaging over 17 points per game, and perhaps even more so than Baylor, Travis Ford’s team looked like it had a legitimate shot to take down the then-shaky Jayhawks.

With a thin Oklahoma State front line, Baylor big men Corey Jefferson and Isaiah Austin proved too much inside.

With a thin Oklahoma State front line, Baylor big men Corey Jefferson and Isaiah Austin proved too much inside. (Waco Tribune-Herald)

At that time, a mid-February Big Monday battle in Waco between these two teams looked like must-see television. Boy, how quickly things can change. Instead of a match-up that could have (should have?) had serious league title implications, this game instead featured the eighth and ninth teams in the Big 12 standings, fighting for their NCAA Tournament lives. The winner of last night’s game would move to three games back of .500 in conference play; the loser would stare at a 4-9 record and the notion of having to win every game left just to break even. What took place for the better part of 30 minutes on Monday night looked exactly like a contest between two bottom-dwellers, regardless of the names on the fronts of the jerseys. And if that wasn’t enough, a comedy of head-scratching coaching decisions down the stretch left most observers wondering what the heck they just witnessed. Nevertheless, a 70-64 overtime win for Baylor proved to be a tremendous feat for a team clinging to hopes of an at-large bid. Here are three thoughts on the showdown that was in Waco Monday night.

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College Basketball by the Tweets: Bayloring, Brad Stevens & “Tyler Ennis” Unis for Sale

Posted by Nick Fasulo (@nickfasuloSBN) on February 18th, 2014

Nick Fasulo is an RTC correspondent who writes the column College Basketball By the Tweets, a look at the world of college hoops through the prism of everyone’s favorite social media platform. You can find him on Twitter @nickfasuloSBN.

Big/Fat Heads are all the rage in college basketball student sections these days. Personally, I believe that deviating from mainstream, easy-to-identify faces with more obscure mugs deserve bonus points. A tip of the cap, Seminole fans:

Brad Stevens is Probably a Great Person

By all accounts, The former Butler head coach is an incredible individual. Here he is visiting former player Andrew Smith after he was diagnosed with Non-Hodgkins Lymphoma. Yes, that means Stevens made an impromptu trip from Boston to Indy last week to check in on a friend.

Bayloring

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Big 12 M5: 02.18.14 Edition

Posted by Kory Carpenter on February 18th, 2014

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  1. With a healthy Joel Embiid in the lineup, Kansas is a national title contender. Without their 7’0” freshman center from Cameroon, however, the Jayhawks would be fortunate to make the Elite Eight. Embiid has become the most important player on Bill Self’s team this season. So when a few nagging injuries finally caught up with him in last week’s loss to Kansas State, it was wise of Self to sit his big man against TCU on Saturday. He looks to be back in the lineup for tonight’s game versus Texas Tech, so it’s safe to say that his recent knee and back problems were nothing a little time off couldn’t fix. At least that’s what Jayhawks fans everywhere are hoping.
  2. As Ken Corbitt points out here, Bruce Weber doesn’t generally like to foul when down three points late in the game. And whether he was a proponent of that strategy or not, Corbitt correctly points out that Kansas State’s double-overtime loss Saturday to Baylor wasn’t a good time to foul anyway. Baylor was down three but shot the ball too soon for Kansas State to foul. The Bears kept grabbing offensive rebounds, though, and in the confusion, Brady Heslip ended up with the ball and drained a three-pointer to send the game to its first overtime. If you’re going to foul, its best to do so with under six seconds remaining. There is no game-planning strategy available for an early three-point attempt followed by multiple offensive rebounds and a kick-out three.
  3. If you watched last night’s Baylor vs. Oklahoma State game on ESPN, you might recall that they showed a Big 12 Tournament bracket if the season had ended today. Last night’s opponents would be the #8/#9 match-up while Texas Tech – yes, Texas Tech — would be the No. 7 seed. The Red Raiders are currently 5-7 in league play and KenPom has the team as just five-point underdogs tonight against Kansas. A lot of that has to do with two people: head coach Tubby Smith and senior forward Jaye Crockett. Smith admits that he felt the need to win Crockett over after he was hired last year. It seems to have worked, as Texas Tech sits at 13-12 overall and should manage to win enough games to play in some sort of postseason tournament next month.
  4. Speaking of Baylor and Oklahoma State, last night’s game prompted both teams to appear on CBSSports.com’s most recent “Poppin’ Bubbles” segment. As Jeff Borzello points out, Baylor now has five top-50 wins this season and is riding a three-game winning streak. The Bears are 17-9 and could realistically get to 20 wins if we include the Big 12 Tournament. Oklahoma State, on the other hand, has lost seven straight games with and without Marcus Smart in the lineup. They have two winnable games coming up against Texas Tech and TCU, but end the season against Kansas, Kansas State and Iowa State. The Cowboys might be NIT-bound.
  5. Like every other Big 12 team has experienced at some point, Oklahoma is entering a brutal stretch of games, beginning this weekend. The Sooners will face Kansas State, travel to Kansas and play host to Texas in a span of eight days. At 19-7 overall, the Sooners look to be on the right side of the NCAA Tournament bubble, but a late-season losing streak (no matter how much the committee claims recent performances don’t carry more weight) could hurt their chances next month. They end the season at TCU, but the aforementioned trio of games followed by West Virginia should keep Sooners fans on their toes for now.
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Big 12 Gears Up for a Bubblicious Weekend

Posted by Brian Goodman on February 14th, 2014

Big 12 teams continued to beat up on each other this week, with Kansas State prevailing in overtime over their in-state foes, West Virginia thrashing Iowa State and Texas Tech rising up to take down Oklahoma. As Kansas figures to hold serve at the top when they welcome TCU to Allen Fieldhouse on Saturday, the focus this weekend will shift to teams further down in the standings as they look to strengthen their tournament resumes. Big 12 microsite writers Brian Goodman (@BSGoodman) and Kory Carpenter (@Kory_Carpenter) took some time to discuss what the league’s four biggest bubble teams need to do, starting with this weekend’s slate, to crack the field.

The Mountaineers look to become just the second Big 12 team to beat Texas at home when they head to Austin on Saturday. (WVUSports.com)

The Mountaineers look to become just the second Big 12 team to beat Texas at home when they head to Austin on Saturday. (WVUSports.com)

BG: Let’s start off with the hottest team among those in the hunt for a bid, and that’s West Virginia. As they get ready for a big game on the road against Texas tomorrow, what do you make of their resurgence? Given that they went so long without an important win, what do you think they need to do the rest of the way to get back into the NCAA Tournament after a one-year absence?

KC: West Virginia might need to win out in the regular season, for two reasons. They are 15-10 and only have three RPI top 50 wins, all of which came at home. They need more top 50 wins and they have four more opportunities in the regular season: At Texas, at Iowa State, at Oklahoma, and Kansas at home. Winning those four might give them enough quality wins to impress the tournament committee. The two remaining games are Baylor at home and TCU on the road. Losing either of those would kill their at-large chances. Speaking of Baylor, half of their wins have come against teams outside of the RPI top 100, and they have only four wins over top-100 RPI teams. They have five games left against RPI top-50 teams. Do they need to win all five to have any chance at an at-large bid?

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Big 12 M5: 02.14.14 Edition

Posted by Brian Goodman on February 14th, 2014

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  1. Media members are currently gathered in Indianapolis for the annual mock selection process, and while the seeding component won’t be finished until later today, the field was finalized Thursday night and it contained six Big 12 teams: Kansas, Texas, Iowa State, Kansas State, Oklahoma and Oklahoma State. The results aren’t too surprising, but it’s important to note that the process doesn’t project any results from the remainder of the season (aside from assuming current first-place teams will win their automatic bids). With that in mind, West Virginia and Baylor may have something to say about it before all is said and done, and it’s not hard to picture Oklahoma State tumbling out of the picture.
  2. With the Cowboys floundering, the contributors of Oklahoma State blog Pistols Firing called a roundtable meeting. The main points of discussion were the employment status of Travis Ford, what might constitute a breaking point for athletic director Mike Holder, and the idea of luring CBS Sports‘ Doug Gottlieb away from the microphone and onto the sideline should Holder decide to move on (it’s not as farfetched as it sounds to the casual college hoops fan, but it’s still a dream). The complicating issue is that Ford’s contract, which runs through the 2018-19 season, is heavily back-loaded, and a buyout just doesn’t sound feasible at this point.
  3. While Kansas State would be in the NCAA Tournament’s field of 68 if the season ended today, the Wildcats have fallen short of their maximum potential. Head coach Bruce Weber believes that if his team could just get its two best scorers other than Marcus Foster going at the same time, the Wildcats’ postseason prospects would be much more secure. The peaks and valleys of Shane Southwell and Will Spradling‘s seasons have coincided with one another, and with seven games remaining in the regular season (including four on the road), the Wildcats don’t have much time to get both clicking simultaneously.
  4. Contrary to popular belief, there’s measurable interest in college hoops in the state of TexasDallas Morning News writer Kevin Sherrington took some time to give his takes in a chat on Wednesday, and he provided some interesting insights about the Lone Star State’s teams. It’s nice to see that Texas Tech‘s improvement in the first year under Tubby Smith hasn’t gone unnoticed outside of this website, and with the Longhorns and possibly Baylor in the NCAA Tournament picture (plus Big 12 outsiders SMU), we should continue to see some great stories emerge from the great state of Texas.
  5. Lastly, there are a couple of minor but noteworthy updates out of Lawrence. Kansas center Joel Embiid is feeling better, and Jayhawks fans can exhale after an MRI revealed no structural damage stemming from his recent health problems. His status for Saturday’s game against TCU remains up in the air, though. On another note, Self removed all doubt when it came to the status of forward Jamari Traylor, who was held out of Monday’s game against Kansas State for disciplinary reasons. Self indicated that the sophomore will play on Saturday, ushering in his return to the rotation. Those items won’t take Naadir Tharpe and Wayne Selden’s defensive issues out from under the microscope, but they should help Kansas fans breathe a little easier.
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Big 12 M5: 02.13.14 Edition

Posted by Brian Goodman on February 13th, 2014

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  1. Without any official update on center Joel Embiid‘s status for Saturday’s game between Kansas and TCU, Benton Smith of The Lawrence Journal-World discussed how the Jayhawks might utilize their lineup to make up for Embiid’s absence. While Kansas doesn’t have anyone with Embiid’s combination of shot-blocking ability and creativity in the paint on offense, they certainly have the tools to compensate at the end of the day. With tilts against TCU and Texas Tech in the near future, the Jayhawks should be able to get by, but Andrew Wiggins needs to continue to be aggressive and hunt buckets.
  2. The student-run Iowa State Daily has a terrific feature on guard Monte Morris. If you click the link, you’ll learn how the freshman guard came into contact with a Big Ten coaching legend at the ripe age of ten and went on to grow into a role as a confident, vocal leader in high school. Looking back, it’s not hard at all to see what inspired Fred Hoiberg to plug Morris into his starting lineup a couple weeks ago (beyond his’ microscopic turnover numbers, we mean).
  3. If you’re still wondering how West Virginia was able to hold a potent Iowa State team to 1.03 points per possession on Monday night, don’t ask the Mountaineers, because they are not sure either. If you ask us, though, holding Melvin Ejim to six points on 1-9 shooting would be a good place to start. Even though the “organized chaos” approach worked on Monday, it would be advisable for the Mountaineers to have a more cohesive idea of what they’re doing on defense as they head into a three-game stretch where they’ll face Texas and Baylor before making the return trip to Ames.
  4. At this point in the season, it’s a pretty good bet that the Big 12 will get at least five teams into the NCAA Tournament. Four of those squads (Kansas, Texas, Kansas State and Iowa State) are confident plays. Beyond them, though, it’s anyone’s guess, because the Big 12′s bubble situation grew even foggier on Wednesday night as Oklahoma was upset by Texas Tech in Norman. The Sooners have now lost three of their last four games after winning four in a row, but while their tournament chances aren’t in serious danger, they could ultimately look back on Wednesday’s game as one that costs them, whether it’s from the perspective of being in or out or a couple spots on the seed line. Meanwhile, the Red Raiders may not have the firepower to knock off any of the conference’s heavy hitters just yet, but at 5-6 in the Big 12, Tubby Smith is definitely up to something in Lubbock.
  5. It’s been another confounding year for Baylor, but as most Big 12 teams have done this season, they took their frustrations out on TCU with an easy win. The Bears laid waste to the Horned Frogs in a 91-58 blowout, paced by Brady Heslip’s eight three-pointers, which tied a personal career high. As if that weren’t enough, the Bears hit eight other threes, including two each from Gary Franklin and Royce O’Neal. Don’t expect it to last, however; The Bears will be in for a heat check on Saturday when they face a top-15 defense in Kansas State.
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Big 12 M5: 02.10.14 Edition

Posted by Brian Goodman on February 10th, 2014

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  1. The Big 12 moved swiftly in the aftermath of Saturday night’s altercation between Marcus Smart and Texas Tech fan Jeff Orr by handing down a three-game suspension to Smart. The suspension also keeps Smart away from game day activities and team travel, although he will be allowed to continue practicing with Oklahoma State. It may not be easy for the sophomore, but some time away from game action could do him some good. Though it’s hard to count on it at this time, it would be quite the story to see Smart regroup and lead the Cowboys to the second weekend of the NCAA Tournament.
  2. By the incredibly high standards of a Bill Self-coached team, Kansas came into last week struggling on defense, entering last Tuesday’s game against Baylor with the nation’s 39th-ranked defense according to KenPom.com. Just two games later, however, Kansas’ defense has improved considerably and is now up to 22nd in the country after bottling up the Bears and stifling West Virginia. Naadir Tharpe and Wayne Selden are still prone to lapses, but as was detailed in Luke Winn’s power rankings last week, Selden did a very good job of putting the clamps of long-range bomber Brady Heslip.
  3. Kansas State freshman Marcus Foster is on a certified hot streak, having nailed 23 of his last 32 shots over his last two games. In a conference stacked with talented freshmen, Foster has flown relatively under the radar, but it’s safe to say the secret is out. Tonight, he will have to keep it up against a Kansas team that locked him down to a 3-of-12 shooting dud earlier this season. It stands to reason that with the home crowd behind him, he’ll fare a little better this time around.
  4. Lost in the shuffle of everything that went down with Marcus Smart was a rather impressive win by the upstart Texas Tech Red Raiders in front of a packed house. Over 15,000 fans showed up to United Spirit Arena for the first time in seven years to see their team pull the upset, and many of them rushed the floor when the final buzzer sounded. With high-energy guys like Jaye Crockett, Dejan Kravic and a heck of a ballhawk in Robert Turner, don’t be surprised to see Tubby Smith’s team make some more noise before the season is over.
  5. Baylor‘s struggles to this point and the stretch run facing the Bears were the focal points of an article over the weekend by ESPN‘s Andy Katz. Without a marquee win since a December victory over Kentucky, Scott Drew’s team has more work cut out for it than it imagined having when the season started. With eight games left, plenty of opportunities remain, but whether the Bears capitalize on them is a completely different question.
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