Big 12 M5: 01.28.15 Edition

Posted by Chris Stone on January 28th, 2015

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  1. Texas once again struggled on Monday in an 89-86 loss at Iowa State. The Longhorns trailed by double digits for the majority of the game, but mounted a furious second half comeback that included hitting 10 three-pointers. The story of the game, though, was the failure of the Longhorns’ zone defense. Iowa State led by 11 at the end of the first half by using Georges Niang at the free throw line to consistently break down the zone. Texas has a massive front line, but when their bigs are slow in rotation, it creates open looks for opponents at the rim. Although the zone was effective in non-conference play, Big 12 opponents are scoring 100.9 points per 100 possessions against the Longhorns so far.
  2. TCU has only won a single conference game at this point in the season, but that hasn’t stopped opposing coaches from taking notice of the Horned Frogs’ improvements. Ahead of their matchup on Wednesday, Kansas coach Bill Self said, “We know this will be a much different team than we’ve seen in the last couple of years.” The numbers say he’s right. Jesse Newell of The Topeka Capital-Journal pointed out that TCU is the only team in the top 50 of Ken Pomeroy’s efficiency ratings this year that ranked outside of the top 200 last season. The Horned Frogs’ 24th ranked adjusted defensive efficiency is a major factor in their improvement.
  3. One major criticism of college basketball this season has been the slow pace of games. Rush the Court’s Andrew Murawa wrote this fine piece on the subject recently. Tuesday night’s game between West Virginia and Kansas State did very little to silence the critics. The Mountaineers won a two-and-a-half hour marathon 65-59. The game featured 45 turnovers, 54 fouls, and 64 free throws. Bob Huggins called it “beautiful,” but reactions on Twitter painted a different picture. It took 14 minutes to finish the final 1:07 of the game. Perhaps it’s time for those in charge to listen to some of Andrew’s proposals.
  4. Oklahoma State picked up a big win over Baylor on Tuesday night. The Cowboys are fighting for a spot in the NCAA Tournament, and big man Michael Cobbins will be an integral piece of the puzzle. Although Cobbins only scored six points against Baylor, he grabbed 11 rebounds as Oklahoma State held the Bears below their conference average for offensive boards in the victory. Cowboys’ head coach Travis Ford is hopeful, saying, “We’re waiting for him to really hit his stride, and I think he has it in him and he will at some point.” Cobbins can provide Oklahoma State with an inside presence that they otherwise lack, so his continued improvement after returning from last season’s injury is something worth following.
  5. One final, somber note. Tuesday marked the anniversary of the January 27, 2001 plane crash that killed two members of Oklahoma State men’s basketball team, six members of the team’s traveling party, the pilot, and co-pilot. The team wore pregame shirts honoring those who lost their lives and Gallagher-Iba held a moment of silence prior to Tuesday’s game. The Cowboys’ athletic department spent the day remembering the victims of the accident. Consider this this author’s attempt to humbly do the same. Remember the 10.
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Big 12 Power Rankings: Bill Self is Smarter Than Me/You/Us Edition

Posted by Nate Kotisso on January 27th, 2015

Time to dust off a familiar narrative: Kansas is in control of the Big 12. The narrative doesn’t require much dusting off, really. The Jayhawks have won a share of the Big 12 regular season title in each of the last 10 seasons. Maybe the narrative needs a gentle wipe with a dry napkin. Or light tap-tap-taps with a clean towel. But it all starts at the top with Bill Self, the mastermind behind the operation. He’s certainly lauded in Lawrence and around the country as one of the top coaches but this season, Self has received criticism from some fans who question how he sends messages to his players. He, like few coaches do, has a good read on every player on his roster. Perry Ellis, the team’s current leading scorer, was inconsistent for much of the season. In advance of his team’s showdown with Iowa State, Self said that Ellis needed to be more aggressive and “believe that he’s the best player on the floor every night.” In the three games since, Ellis is averaging 16.3 points, eight rebounds and shooting 19-of-37 from the floor.

This is what a coach can get away with when you dominate the Big 12 like Bill Self has done at Kansas. (Denny Medley/USA Today Sports)

This is what a coach can get away with when he dominates the Big 12 like Bill Self has done at Kansas. (Denny Medley/USA Today Sports)

In the Iowa State loss, fans didn’t understand why Self sat freshman Cliff Alexander for the final 14 minutes-plus of the second half. Self explained his reasoning for the move was Alexander’s lack of motor on a couple of plays early in the second half. In an important game with Big 12 title implications, it’s understandable for fans to wonder why that had to be done and at that particular time. But Self has no problem benching players if they’re not giving the effort he requires (see: Andrew Wiggins). In the two games since, Alexander recorded a double-double including a career-high in rebounds against Oklahoma (13) and scored a career-high 15 in a road win at Texas. Another season, another chance for Self to prove his worth as a future Hall of Fame coach. He’d have to stay away from videoboards, though. I think the Hall of Fame frowns on videoboard abuse.

Power Rankings

  1. Kansas — 3 points (All voted 1st). Comment: “Our Brian Goodman nailed KU’s gradual rise back into the driver’s seat (with bonus “Candy Shop” mention). They’re the number one team in the latest RPI in the number one ranked RPI conference with the strongest non-conference schedule among Big Five teams according to KenPom. Yes, they are in good shape. Thanks for asking!” – Nate Kotisso (@natekotisso)
  2. Iowa State — 6 points (All voted 2nd). Comment: “Last night’s win was closer than it should have been, but a bounce-back effort from the Texas Tech debacle keeps the Cyclones in second for another week. We’ll find out if they’re out of their offensive slump for good over their next two games when they take on TCU and Kansas, a pair of teams currently in the top half of the conference in defensive efficiency during Big 12 play.” – Brian Goodman (@BSGoodman)
  3. West Virginia — 11 points (Chris — 3rd, Brian & Nate — 4th) Comment: “The Mountaineers are an interesting case. They’ve got the worst effective defensive field goal percentage in the league, but they’re turning opponents over on 27 percent of their possessions. This week, they managed to hold serve at home by beating TCU in overtime.” – Chris Stone (@cstonehoops)
  4. Kansas State — 12 points (Nate — 3rd, Chris — 4th, Brian — 5th) Comment: “Although the Wildcats lost at Iowa State, they picked up a nice home win against Oklahoma State on Saturday. Bruce Weber’s team continues to improve their resume for March, but we’ll get a better sense of where his squad stands after games against West Virginia and Kansas this week.” – CS
  5. Texas — 16 points (Brian — 3rd, Chris — 6th, Nate — 7th) Comment: “If they were able to pull off the comeback shocker in Ames last night, they’re definitely in my personal top five. Beyond that, they blew a big opportunity by failing to beat Kansas in Austin on Saturday. Here was a team that most saw as the biggest challenger to Kansas to start the year but now are nearing the halfway point in league play with a sub .500 record.” – NK
  6. Baylor — 17 points (Chris & Nate — 5th, Brian — 7th) Comment: “Last Saturday, the Bears did something no Big 12 team has been able to do: Contain Buddy Hield. Five days after bringing the Sooners back from the dead against Kansas, Hield was held without a three-pointer for the first time all season on his way to a frustrating 6-17 outing and five turnovers. Kudos, Baylor defense.” – BG
  7. Oklahoma — 19 points (Brian & Nate — 6th, Chris — 7th) Comment: “Somehow, the Sooners maintained an AP top 25 ranking this week despite losing four of their last five. It will be interesting to see what Lon Kruger does with Isaiah Cousins who injured his wrist in Saturday’s game against Baylor. X-rays were negative and he is day-to-day but the OU coach should be careful about rushing an important piece back especially when they’re losing.” – NK
  8. Oklahoma State — 24 points (All voted 8th). Comment: “Although the Cowboys have the best defensive efficiency numbers in Big 12 play, they’re just 3-4 so far. They’ve got two big home games this week against Baylor and Oklahoma.” – CS
  9. TCU — 27 points (All voted 9th). Comment: “No longer a laughingstock, Trent Johnson’s team is playing hard and keeping things competitive to the point where they’re only one-point underdogs in Wednesday’s game against Kansas.” – BG
  10. Texas Tech — 30 points (All voted 10th). Comment: “Texas Tech is making a habit of winning games against teams they have no business beating. It happened again Saturday as the last-place Red Raiders beat the-then first-place Iowa State Cyclones in Lubbock. Next up on their schedule is a road game at Oklahoma on Wednesday night. TTU’s last road conference win was — you guessed it — Oklahoma last season.” – NK

Big 12 Video/GIF of the Week 

In a world where conference games have been sullied by realignment, it was nice to see two fans from two fan bases come together for absolute nonsense on national television. While there was a break in the action of Texas-Iowa State last night, ESPN went to a liveshot of Brent Musburger and Fran Fraschilla doing their thing. Behind them, a fan wearing an Iowa State logo (on the left) and a Texas fan (on the right, presumably) tried to have a little fun while they were on camera. (h/t Erin Sorensen)

https://vine.co/v/OTHm0XWX15p

This Vine leaves us with so many questions. Why is the Iowa State fan flashing Hook ‘em Horns? Why are they all of a sudden fist-bumping? Did these guys properly map out a plan of what they’ll do when they’re on camera? Of course they didn’t. That’s why this is great. Go Big 12, indeed.

Five Big 12 Games You Better Watch This Week

  1. Tuesday: West Virginia at Kansas State (6:00 PM CT, ESPN2)
  2. Tuesday: Baylor at Oklahoma State (8:00 PM CT, ESPNEWS)
  3. Wednesday: Kansas at TCU (8:00 PM CT, ESPNU)
  4. Saturday: Kansas State at Kansas (1:00 PM CT, ESPN)
  5. Saturday: Texas at Baylor (5:00 PM CT, ESPN2)
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Big 12 M5: Day After Ballghazi Press Conference Edition

Posted by Nate Kotisso on January 23rd, 2015

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  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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A Column of Enchantment: On Charter Planes, Losers & Bill Self Crazy Like a Walrus

Posted by Joseph Nardone on January 22nd, 2015

This past week was a good one in the world of college basketball. We had things ranging from last second shot attempts to schools imposing some “stiff” penalties on their own beings to finding out that the NCAA is incapable of properly booking flights. All in all, really, just some good ole fun courtesy of some unpaid labor doing terrific things and people who keep the unpaid labor from being paid being about as smart as a bag of rocks. Good times.

Obligatory. (USA Today Images)

Obligatory. (USA Today Images)

Those types of things are not trends, however. Rather, they are themes that seem to keep happening and happening. If this were the world of pro wrestling, it would be like fans who are all upset because John Cena has never left the title picture despite the odds always being stacked against him. Weird analogy, I know, but it truly seems like any person with any sort of resemblance to power in college basketball is doing the same thing over and over, none of them being that swell or beneficial to anyone but people in other power positions, yet there is nothing we can do about it because, well, the Sam Cassell Jr. if I know.

Arm-drag.

———

Holy charter planes, Batman! Reports have come out that teams may have to pack for an extra day when the NCAA Tournament begins. While it would be a lot funnier if this was because Mark Emmert didn’t know how to properly use Expedia, it is essentially as simple as there being more men’s and women’s teams traveling too near the same time as there will be a proper number of charter planes. So, yeah, some kids will have to stay a full extra day after they are eliminated from the Big Dance.

Never mind the fact, though, that these kids should have never been rushed to go back to school, home or wherever it is they go back to, to begin with. I was never comfortable with the NCAA using them for a single night, only to shuffle them away as quickly as possible. Like college football bowls, first dates and encounters with aliens from outer space, the NCAA Tournament should feel like an experience for these kids — not just a business trip. You know, because it isn’t a business, right Mark Emmert?

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Four Key Takeaways From a Wild Night In Lawrence

Posted by Brian Goodman on January 20th, 2015

It was a tale of two halves last night in Lawrence, as Kansas hit nine first half threes to sprint out to a commanding 51-32 halftime lead against Oklahoma, only to watch it disappear as the Sooners stormed back to take a four-point lead before collapsing at the end. Let’s consider four key takeaways from a game of several crazy swings.

Kansas and Oklahoma Took It Hard at Each Other Last Night (USA Today Images)

Kansas and Oklahoma Took It Hard at Each Other Last Night (USA Today Images)

  • Fiery start fuels Kansas’ first halfKelly Oubre got things going by connecting on a pair of early threes and the Jayhawks refused to let up on their way to 51 first half points. Although Oklahoma remained close for the first five minutes, Kansas would register a 16-0 perimeter barrage with nearly everyone contributing. This team is built to fire away from deep, but Bill Self has tried in vain to establish an inside presence even though he doesn’t have a true back-to-the-basket big man (however, Cliff Alexander may be developing into one, as we’ll discuss separately below). While Kansas’ scorching first half is a statistical outlier, it underscores the fact that the Jayhawks are at their best when they utilize their outside shooting prowess.
  • Don’t overlook Buddy Hield in the Big 12 POY race: This conference is filled with scorers from Marcus Foster to Phil Forte to Georges Niang, but the Sooners’ Buddy Hield may be the best of the bunch. His 26 points were a game-high and he’s now shooting a superb 60.5 percent on twos in league action in spite of his 6’4″ frame, along with a 44 percent clip from deep in Big 12 play. Hield isn’t without his warts, though, as he tends to rush shots (especially in transition) and he could stand to share the ball a little more often with talented and effective teammates like Isaiah Cousins and Ryan Spangler. Still, the junior is an undeniable star, as evidenced not only by his huge game in arguably the most intimidating environment in college basketball, but his play all season to date.

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Big 12 M5: 01.19.15 Edition

Posted by Nate Kotisso on January 19th, 2015

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  1. If you check to see who sits atop the Big 12 standings today, you’ll probably think there must be some mistake. But no, that is indeed Kansas State, winners of their last four after hanging on against Baylor, leading the league with a 4-1 record. While this start to their conference schedule is welcomed, we can’t ignore the fact that the Wildcats are returning seven of their top nine rotation players from last season. The problem is it’s January 18 and they have no margin of error. Their next four games to end January are as follows: at Iowa State, vs Oklahoma State, vs West Virginia and at Kansas. If they finish the month undefeated, their at-large status will improve. Personally, I’d like to see it all in the name of chaos.
  2. Saturday was a monumental day in the history of TCU basketball. Not only did they end a 23-game Big 12 losing streak which dated back to March 2013 but it was also their first ever road win in Big 12 play. As our Brian Goodman pointed out, winning a road conference game can do wonders for your KenPom profile. It’s little milestones like these that can change an entire culture around a program in so many ways. Eventually we’ll reach a point in the future when TCU puts together a winning streak in the Big 12 or contend for the NCAA Tournament without any of us batting an eye at the accomplishment. Someday soon.
  3. The most entertaining game of the weekend was undoubtedly Kansas-Iowa State on Saturday night. The Jayhawks were always a few possessions away from taking the lead away from the Cyclones but anytime KU strung baskets together, ISU was able to come back on the next possession and beat defenders down the floor for transition buckets. After being called out during the week by Bill Self, Perry Ellis answered the bell early but was unable to take the game over due to foul trouble and Frank Mason was perhaps even better than Ellis all game long. But Monte Morris did a little bit of everything (11 points, seven rebounds, three steals) while he continued his ungodly assist-to-turnover pace by piling on 10 dimes with just two turnovers. Can the Big 12 Tournament final get here already?
  4. Musiq Soulchild released the single “B.U.D.D.Y.” from his album Luvanmusiq eight years ago this month. Were you aware that the song was dedicated to Oklahoma guard Buddy Hield? Well, it wasn’t but it would’ve made for a fascinating story! Had this had been true and he did learn the song was dedicated to him before tipoff of #Bedlam, it would have been clear what inspired Hield to go 10-for-10 from the floor including 6-for-6 from three in the Sooners’ drubbing of Oklahoma State. In any case, Hield was stellar once again and OU gets revenge for their football team’s loss to the Cowboys last month.
  5. Jonathan Holmes summed up best Texasmindset going into Saturday’s game vs the Mountaineers, I think: “West Virginia wanted to come out and punk us, and we couldn’t let that happen.” And so, the Horns, who would have been the original punkees, instead became the punkers and made West Virginia the punkees following an 18-2 Texas run in the first half. Halfway through the second half, the Mountaineers were all punked out and the Horns ran away with the game. Holmes struggled shooting but was able to put his head down, drive to the basket, draw fouls and make 11-for-12 from the free throw line while also grabbing 11 rebounds. What lies ahead for UT is a game against TCU tonight in Fort Worth. Someone’s one-game winning streak will sadly come to an end.
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Kansas and Iowa State Clash Saturday With Big 12 Implications

Posted by Chris Stone on January 16th, 2015

Saturday January 17 figures to be one of the best college basketball days of the season with five top-25 matchups including N0. 4 Duke and No. 6 Louisville at 12:00pm ET, No. 16 West Virginia and No. 20 Texas at 6:15pm ET, and No. 8 Utah and No. 10 Arizona at 7:00pm ET. The cherry on top, though, is the night cap which features N0. 9 Kansas traveling to Ames, Iowa to face off with No. 11 Iowa State. ESPN’s College GameDay will be at Hilton Coliseum for the 9:00pm ET tip. Hilton has been home to a series of intense clashes in the past few seasons including Elijah Johnson’s controversial charge call and game ending dunk as well as Joel Embiid’s breakout performance last year.

Iowa State will look for some Hilton Magic when it faces Kansas on Saturday (AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall)

Iowa State will look for some Hilton Magic when it faces Kansas on Saturday (AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall)

Bill Self said Saturday’s matchup is “a game that deserves national attention” during his Thursday press conference, and GameDay ensures that the contest will receive its fair share despite the impressive slate of games scheduled. Fred Hoiberg agreed, calling it an opportunity to “showcase” the magic of Hilton Coliseum. The Cyclones will try to do just that as they host at least one recruit on Saturday. Travis Hines of the Ames Tribune reported via Twitter that 2016 recruit Amir Coffey will be in the building for an unofficial visit. Coffey, a 6-foot-6 shooting guard, is ranked 44th in the 2016 class, according to Rivals. The high school junior has chosen a good time to visit Ames, with Saturday’s contest having huge implications for the Big 12 title race.

Before the games played this week, Oklahoma, Kansas, and Iowa State shared nearly identical odds to win at least a share of the Big 12 title. Since then, Oklahoma got blown out at West Virginia and Iowa State fell to Baylor on Kenny Chery’s late jumper. Kansas now sits alone atop the Big 12 standings as the only remaining undefeated team in league play. Unfortunately, that doesn’t bring much clarity to the Big 12 title chase. Ken Pomeroy’s projections now predict three teams–Kansas, Iowa State, and West Virginia–to finish with identical 12-6 records in conference play.

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Big 12 M5: 01.07.15 Edition

Posted by Chris Stone on January 7th, 2015

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  1. Texas fell to Oklahoma in its Big 12 home opener on Monday night, and the 21-point margin of defeat was unexpectedly large, causing both head coach Rick Barnes and his players to afterward challenge the team’s effort and pride. Effort and pride may certainly have played a part in the defeat, but the loss to Oklahoma may be symptomatic of a larger problem for a Longhorns squad that shot just 30.o percent from the field. Texas hasn’t shown an ability to score at an elite level this season, posting an adjusted offensive efficiency of 106.0 that ranks 61st nationally, according to KenPom. Part of the problem? According to Barnes, the players can’t remember their plays. “I don’t even know if we can be a good offensive team or not,” Barnes said. “We can’t even remember the play half the time.” That responsibility, of course, falls on the head coach who will need to give his players some mnemonic devices or other forms of memory training in order to make a deep run in March.
  2. While Texas struggled, Oklahoma continues to improve. Lon Kruger pulled off what may turn out to be the most important transfer move in the Big 12 this year with the addition of senior TaShawn Thomas. He has provided the Sooners with a legitimate inside threat and is becoming an increasingly important part of the Oklahoma offense. He finished with 12 points and 11 rebounds against the Longhorns, which marks the sixth time in the last seven games that he has scored in double figures. Although the transfer wasn’t very efficient in getting his numbers, the fact that he attempted 17 shots in the game suggests that he’s becoming a robust option inside. Thomas also came through with an early contender for best dunk during conference play with a big finish on a couple of Texas bigs, resulting in a fantastic bench celebration from the Sooners’ reserves.
  3. Kansas will open its Big 12 season tonight on the road at Baylor, and while the Jayhawks have won at least a share of the last 10 Big 12 regular season titles, the odds seem somewhat stacked against them this year. Ken Pomeroy’s conference predictions currently project Texas, Oklahoma, and West Virginia to finish ahead of Kansas in the league standings this season. The biggest worry for head coach Bill Self at this point is the Jayhawks’ defense. Self’s teams have always prided themselves on being one of the better defensive teams in the conference and country, but Kansas is entering league play with a field goal percentage defense that ranks eighth among Big 12 teams. That number will need to improve in order for Kansas to win an 11th straight Big 12 championship in what is shaping up to be the most competitive league in the country.
  4. In what is a bit of an odd arrangement, TCU is playing its home games this season at Wilkerson-Greines, which is an off-campus athletic facility owned by the Fort Worth school district. Daniel-Meyer Coliseum, the usual home of the Horned Frogs, is currently undergoing renovations. On Monday, TCU head coach Trent Johnson defended his team from critics who have suggested that the change of venue is the reason behind the Horned Frogs’ improved defense. “The rim is 10 feet,” Johnson said, “The only advantage we have, if any, is that if we come out and play extremely hard and rebound. It creates an advantage against certain teams regardless of where you play or when you play.” The Horned Frogs have the sixth-best field goal percentage defense in the country, allowing opponents to shoot only 34.7 percent on the season. If Johnson’s guys are able to keep that up, they’ll be able to pick up a great number more conference wins than last season.
  5. Oklahoma State’s Phil Forte was named the conference’s player of the week after scoring 41 points on 14-of-24 shooting in the Cowboys’ wins over Missouri and Kansas State. Forte has always been a knock-down outside shooter for Travis Ford’s squad, but his offensive role has increased so that he is finishing five percent more of the Cowboys’ possessions and his 17.3 points per game is tied with teammate Le’Bryan Nash for the Big 12 lead. If Oklahoma State is to make it back to the NCAA Tournament this season, Forte must continue to exhibit a high level of play over the next couple months of action.
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Big 12 Conference Catch-Up: Kansas, Texas and Iowa State

Posted by Brian Goodman & Chris Stone on January 2nd, 2015

As the Big 12 schools conclude their non-conference schedules, it’s a great time to catch up on where the league’s 10 teams stand entering conference play. Once again, Kansas has navigated an arduous schedule, but enough questions remain that we can at least consider the possibility that another team wins the conference. The Jayhawks’ closest challengers are a Texas team that has kept pace despite losing one of the best point guards in the country for an extended period of time, while Iowa State has another high-powered team with a newly-eligible big man who Cyclones fans hope will provide a needed lift on defense.

Kansas (via Chris Stone)

  • Key wins: at Georgetown, Utah (in Kansas City)
  • Key losses: Kentucky (in Indianapolis), at Temple
With two good outings recently, the game finally appears to be slowing down for Kelly Oubre, and that could be bad news for the rest of the Big 12. (Jamie Squire/Getty Images)

With two good outings recently, is the game finally slowing down for hyped Kansas freshman Kelly Oubre? (Jamie Squire/Getty Images)

It’s very easy to watch Kansas’s blowout losses to Kentucky and Temple and write off the Jayhawks as a Big 12 title contender. To do so, however, would ignore the rest of their resume. Kansas has five wins over teams ranked in the top 50 of KenPom’s efficiency rankings; Only Kentucky can match that total. Sophomore Frank Mason is providing Bill Self with his best point guard play since Sherron Collins left Lawrence five years ago. Mason is averaging 11.9 points, 3.8 rebounds, and 4.0 assists per game. Freshman Kelly Oubre is finally emerging as the potential lottery pick he was billed as before the season, having scored 20 points in two of the last three games. Still, those two losses linger. Kentucky dominated the Jayhawks in Indianapolis. Temple rocked Kansas at the Wells Fargo Center. The typical refrain surrounding Kansas has been to trust in Bill Self, the man who has won 10 straight conference titles, but Self is still tinkering with his starting lineup while trying to play through a frontcourt that has struggled to score inside. Kansas is shooting just 52.3 percent on shots at the rim, a number that is nearly 15 percent worse than last season’s mark, according to data from hoop-math.com. In particular, junior Perry Ellis has seen his shooting percentage decline by over 10 percent as he’s had a difficult time scoring against the size of teams like Kentucky, Georgetown, and Utah. The Jayhawks have their limitations and the losses to Kentucky and Temple showcased them. They’ve also had their triumphs that suggest an ability to compete for another Big 12 championship. Much depends on the consistency of Mason, the continued emergence of Oubre, and the play of bigs like Ellis and Cliff Alexander, but to write off Kansas is to also write off Self’s history and the quality of their non-conference resume. Big 12 coaches won’t make that mistake, and you shouldn’t, either.

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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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Big 12 M5: 12.29.14 Edition

Posted by Brian Goodman on December 29th, 2014

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  1. In one of the worst late-game collapses you’ll see this season, Kansas State gacked up a four-point lead over the final 3.8 seconds to lose a stunner on Sunday to Texas Southern. The madness started when Wildcats guard Jevon Thomas fouled Tonnie Collier on a three-point attempt. Collier buried the first two tries, and, after a Kansas State timeout, intentionally missed the third, which was corralled and put back by Texas Southern forward Chris Thomas to tie the game at 56 with 0.9 seconds remaining. On the ensuing inbounds pass, the Wildcats threw the ball out of bounds along the sideline to give Texas Southern one last possession under its own basket. On that play, Madarious Gibbs found Jason Carter rolling to the hoop, and Carter buried a short jumper to give the Tigers the improbable win in regulation. There was some doubt as to whether the clock operator started time correctly on the final play, but with the help of review and a stopwatch, the shocking game-winner was upheld. The home loss means trouble for the Wildcats, who now have very little to show for their non-league slate. While the conference schedule will certainly afford them plenty of good opportunities, they’ll have to outperform what we’ve seen so far in order to make it to the NCAA Tournament for a sixth straight year.
  2. After an impressive run of success over the season’s first five weeks, the Big 12 somewhat regressed last week. On top of Kansas State dropping a game it had no business losing, and Kansas getting pounded by Temple,Texas lost a home game to Stanford and Texas Tech lost a neutral court battle to Houston. The Longhorns and the Cardinal were close throughout their Tuesday night game, but Rick Barnes’ team was done in by a disappointing showing on the defensive glass and a spotty 31.6 percent performance beyond the arc. Home losses are always tough to stomach, but the Longhorns can take some solace in the possibility of Isaiah Taylor returning to play for Texas’ Big 12 opener on January 3.
  3. After a holiday respite, Bill Self finally reviewed film from the Jayhawks’ brutal 25-point loss to Temple and came away with some insights that weren’t terribly different from what we saw as the upset played out last Monday. Kansas’ defense certainly isn’t as bad as the results in Philadelphia suggested, but it’s beyond apparent that these aren’t the usual Jayhawks who lock down the perimeter and have an NBA-level enforcer to alter every shot within five feet of the basket. Kansas has two more tune-ups before conference play gears up, and fortunately, both are at Allen Fieldhouse, where the Jayhawks have lost just one non-conference game since 2007.
  4. The Waco Tribune named former Baylor star Isaiah Austin its Sportsman of the Year for his contributions and perseverance following his diagnosis of Marfan Syndrome just days before last June’s NBA Draft. Austin is currently in Waco completing his business degree, after which point he has an open job offer from the NBA. Recently, NBA Live 2K15 unveiled a feature that made Austin playable in the popular video game and has had many other honors bestowed upon him, so he’s getting plenty of love, but this is just one more well-deserved accolade for the likable seven-footer.
  5. Iowa State is in the home stretch of an 11-day break between games, which is as good an opportunity as any to take stock of the Cyclones. As Travis Hines of the Ames Tribune writes, the program is riding an unprecedented wave of success, and the best may still be yet to come. Among other metrics, the Cyclones have been ranked in the AP Poll for 25 consecutive weeks, which is a team record, and the Iowa State faithful have packed both Hilton Coliseum and the Big 12 Tournament in Kansas City at unforeseen clips over the past few seasons. On the recruiting trail, Fred Hoiberg is making Iowa State a destination school, which has only made the team’s success more sustainable in the long run. There will always be the looming possibility of The Mayor returning to the NBA in some capacity, but until that happens, there’s plenty for Cyclones fans to enjoy.
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Three Thoughts on Kansas’ Second Obliteration of the Season

Posted by Brian Goodman on December 23rd, 2014

Brian Goodman filed this report right after Temple’s stunning 77-52 upset over #10 Kansas Monday evening in Philadelphia.

  1. When the Jayhawks get the bad Perry Ellis, the wheels come off quickly. The junior forward that many were counting on to lead the Jayhawks has been a total no-show over the last two games, going a combined 3-of-16 from the floor. He’s been fighting off an illness, which excuses part of his play, but Kansas was expected to win last night’s game without too much trouble despite being on the road. It may not be completely fair that Ellis needs to shoulder so much of the load, but until Cliff Alexander and Jamari Traylor start producing in the paint, he’s all Kansas has there, so when nobody produces, this is what happens. During the game, there was some talk on Twitter about the need for point guard Frank Mason to become a more vocal leader. That may be true to an extent, but if an unheralded point guard already playing above expectations in his first year as a full-time starter is a primary source of your disappointment with this team, you’re looking at the wrong guy.

    It was party time in Philly after one of the more improbable blowouts in recent history. (AP)

    It was party time in Philly after one of the more improbable blowouts in recent history. (AP)

  2. There was more to it than Temple just getting hot (although the Owls were). The Owls came into last night’s game as the AAC’s third-worst shooting team inside the arc and the worst-shooting team outside of it, but they shot a season-best 58.3 percent from the floor in the upset win. However, that may not be the most telling thing about this game. Had Temple merely shot its pedestrian season averages from the field, they still would have prevailed, which is another indictment of Kansas’ rough offensive performance (0.80 PPP). The Jayhawks’ defense isn’t nearly as bad as it looked last night (giving up 1.18 PPP), but the margin by which they got outscored in the paint (34-18) was just staggering. Kansas went on to pack it in down the stretch, which allowed the Owls to turn the unlikely upset into a full-on party. Read the rest of this entry »
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