Oklahoma And Kansas Meet With First Place At Stake

Posted by Brian Goodman on February 12th, 2016

Tomorrow’s 2:30 p.m. ET rematch between Oklahoma and Kansas has been on our radar since the conference schedule was released, but the anticipation skyrocketed when the final horn sounded late into the night following the two teams’ first battle on January 4. From there the hype has only increased, as the Sooners and Jayhawks have fought to a draw through 11 conference games. At the end of the regular season, we could end up looking back on tomorrow’s game as the day the Jayhawks’ decade-long grip on the conference finally loosened. Or, we could learn that the road to the Big 12 title still goes through Lawrence, despite Oklahoma’s deadly trio of shooters and National Player Of The Year frontrunner, Buddy Hield.

To answer two key questions facing each team, we brought in Big 12 microsite contributors Brian Goodman (@BSGoodman) and Chris Stone (@cstonehoops).

Perry Ellis and Buddy Hield will face one another for the eighth time in their careers. (Alonzo Adams/AP)

Perry Ellis and Buddy Hield face one another tomorrow for the eighth time in their careers. (Alonzo Adams/AP)

Two Questions Facing The Sooners:

Brian Goodman: Perry Ellis has been on a roll lately, converting 17 of his last 19 shots inside the arc. Last month, he carried Kansas after halftime in the instant classic and will be leaned upon heavily to have another big game tomorrow. Meanwhile, Oklahoma center Khadeem Lattin leads the Big 12 in blocks percentage during conference play, but he had trouble staying on the court in the Sooners’ last two games against Kansas State and Texas. What do you make of Lattin and Oklahoma’s chances of getting the better of Ellis the second time around?

Chris Stone: Ellis has averaged 18.5 points per game in four matchups against the Sooners since his freshman season (he wasn’t much of a factor in the Kansas offense back then), so how Oklahoma defends him will be a crucial factor in this game. In the first meeting, Lattin and Spangler did a good job of turning Ellis into an inefficient scorer. Although he finished with 27 points in the win, it took him 28 shots to get there. Don’t be surprised if we see a similar kind of night from Ellis in Norman. Bill Self is intent on making him the focal point of the offense, but if the game in Lawrence is any guide, Lattin’s length will make it difficult for Ellis to get as many of the easy buckets he’s used to.

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Three Thoughts From Kansas vs. West Virginia

Posted by Chris Stone on February 10th, 2016

Entering February, it looked like KansasBig 12 title streak was in serious danger, as the Jayhawks brought three double-figure road conference losses into the season’s shortest month. Now, with a few fortuitous bounces — i.e., Kansas State’s upset of Oklahoma over the weekend — and last night’s home win over West Virginia, Kansas is, along with the Sooners and the Mountaineers, part of a three-way tie atop the Big 12 standings at 8-3. One of those teams will suffer its fourth loss on Saturday in Norman when Oklahoma welcomes Kansas in the rematch of early January’s triple-overtime classic. Before that, though, let’s consider a few thoughts from the game last night that deadlocked those three teams into the top spot.

Landen Lucas delivered in Kansas' 75-65 win over West Virginia. (Nick Krug/KU Sports)

Landen Lucas delivered in Kansas’ 75-65 win over West Virginia. (Nick Krug/KU Sports)

  1. Kansas could use that Landen Lucas more often. Without freshman Cheick Diallo living up to his considerable preseason hype, head coach Bill Self has struggled to find production out of the center position. He has started four different players there this season, but Lucas’ Tuesday night performance (nine points, 16 rebounds, four blocks) will likely solidify his role in the starting lineup. Matched up against all-Big 12 candidate Devin Williams, Lucas delivered the best performance of his career. Although it is both unfair and unlikely to expect the junior to post similar numbers again, Self only needs a modicum of production going forward from his center spot. Lucas showed last night that he can deliver. Read the rest of this entry »
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Big 12 Power Rankings: West Virginia Is Finally Here Edition

Posted by Nate Kotisso on February 5th, 2016

West Virginia is a basketball team. A very solid basketball team, in fact. A team whose hallmark is to press the life out of opponents. A team that scores easy baskets off turnovers. A team that makes its fans cringe when it clangs jump shots off odd parts of the backboard. The Mountaineers started 4-0 in Big 12 play playing the good ol’ West Virginia way before losing back-to-back games at Oklahoma and at home to Texas. In the four games since those defeats, it appears that we’re seeing a different West Virginia team. Not only have the Mountaineers gone 3-1 in that span, but their three-point shooting has improved (35 percent in their last four games; 31 percent for the year) as well as their free-throw percentage (73.4 percent in their last four games; 66 percent for the year). Tuesday night’s win at Iowa State marked the first time a team other than Baylor or Kansas has defeated Iowa State in Ames since the start of the 2012-13 season. Bob Huggins‘ team now finds itself in a first-place tie with Oklahoma with nine games still to play. The Mountaineers are very good and they can no longer be ignored.

Bob Huggins has won 711 games as a Division I coach. I feel like we don't say that enough. (Associated Press)

Bob Huggins has won 711 games as a Division I coach. We don’t say that enough. (AP)

  1. Oklahoma — 3 points (All voted 1st). Comment: “With most of the focus understandably on Buddy Hield’s National Player of the Year campaign, the evolution of junior guard Jordan Woodard — arguably the most improved player in the country this season — hasn’t received the attention it deserves. Having shed his responsibilities as the primary ball-handler, Woodard’s turnover rate has declined eight percent while maintaining his assist rate. It’s also opened up his own offensive game. Woodard is shooting 51 percent from deep and has already made 51 threes, more than he made in his first two seasons combined. Every good superhero needs a sidekick, and Woodard is filling that role nicely.” – Chris Stone (@cstonehoops)
  2. West Virginia — 6 points (All voted 2nd). Comment: Jonathan Holton‘s loss was Devin Williams‘ gain, at least in Monday’s win at Hilton Coliseum. Williams has been terrific all season long, but the absence of Holton — the Mountaineers’ second-leading rebounder behind Williams — due to a violation of team rules indirectly led to Williams pulling down a career-high 18 rebounds in the big win in Ames. – Brian Goodman (@bsgoodman) Read the rest of this entry »
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Big 12 M5: 01.27.16 Edition

Posted by Nate Kotisso on January 27th, 2016

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  1. Fresh off another huge home win, this time against Kansas, Iowa State has another test in front of them when they face Texas A&M in College Station on Saturday. The Big 12-SEC Challenge has people, namely coaches, voicing their “excitement” about the event before ending their thought with an “is what it is.” Randy Peterson of the Des Moines Register is not a fan of the Challenge coming smack dab in the middle of Big 12 play and would much rather have the games played in December. The main problem here is television, namely ESPN. After the Big 12/Pac-10 Hardwood Series and SEC-Big East Challenge died, the Big 12-SEC Challenge became the baby they decided to make as a compliment to the Big Ten-ACC Challenge. As we know, the week of the B1G-ACC Challenge took up the Monday-Wednesday of the first full week of December while the Big 12-SEC Challenge took the Thursday-Saturday slots later that week. No matter the matchup, putting those games at the end of the week negatively impacted TV ratings. Now, with the advent of the Big Ten and Big East’s Gavitt Tipoff Games shared with FS1, scheduling the Big 12-SEC Challenge became even more of an issue. The idea of getting all the games on one day is a nice change, but cramming it in to the middle of league play has left coaches and writers alike scratching their collective heads. We’ll see how it all plays out on Saturday.
  2. Iowa State big man Jameel McKay remains a question mark for the A&M game this weekend. McKay had his left knee examined on Tuesday after leaving the Kansas game and did not return. “We’ll see,” McKay said after the game. “It’s something I’ve got to get over. I’ve got to start thinking about myself personally so I don’t know how much more I’ve got in me.” Coincidentally enough, the Aggies are dealing with an injured big man of their own, as freshman Tyler Davis has a lingering foot injury. As deep as the Aggies are, having a healthy McKay in the lineup will give the Cyclones more than a fighting chance in a difficult true road game.
  3. In our last M5, it seemed safe to say that Kansas was going through a bit of a rough patch. Now, it’s time to start freaking out. As the road losses have mounted, so has the lackluster play. On Bill Self‘s most talented team, littered with both young and veteran talent, who are the leaders of the team? That’s the question the Lawrence World-Journal is seeking to answer. The Jayhawks quest to win another Big 12 title is in doubt, perhaps more so than it ever has been under Self. Still, it’s not over. Sitting only a game back, KU still has time to right its wrongs.
  4. The Oscar Robertson Trophy is awarded annually to the top player in college basketball. Well guess what? Your favorite basketball conference, the Big 12, has four of the best 20 players in college basketball. Predictably, those players are Wayne Selden Jr., Buddy Hield, Georges Niang and Monte Morris. All have had special season to this point, as have the other 16 players on this list. The four players from the Big 12 was the most players from one conference, tied with the ACC and Big Ten.
  5. Texas took care of TCU again last night, 71-54, to join the four-team cluster at 5-3 in the Big 12. Before the game, Hookem.com compiled a list of the top five Texas-TCU tussles to remember. Yes, this is a serious list. Yes, this series had a few memorable moments.  Yes, reading up on this likely supplies you with trivia you might not need. But then again, you might need it. So read up.
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What Happened To Kansas’ Depth?

Posted by Chris Stone on January 27th, 2016

When Kansas was regularly discussed among a handful of national title contenders early on in the season, one aspect of the Jayhawks’ roster stuck out more than anything else: its depth. Even head coach Bill Self acknowledged the fact that his talent pool contained 10 or 11 potential rotation players. Given that wealth of talent, a reasonable roster development plan would have looked something like this: Freshman Cheick Diallo receives clearance from the NCAA and becomes the Jayhawks’ motor, a rim protector and rebounding machine that would fill Kansas’s biggest hole in the front court. Fellow freshman Carlton Bragg grows into an offensive threat that could help spread the floor as a sort of Diet Perry Ellis off the bench. Together, Bragg and Diallo would displace many of the minutes devoted to the Jayhawks’ other solid, but unexciting front line options – guys like Hunter Mickelson, Jamari Traylor, and Landen Lucas. Meanwhile, guard Sviatoslav Mykhailiuk would begin to fulfill some of his potential as a possible NBA lottery pick by turning into a dangerous scoring option off the Kansas bench.

Kansas suffered its third straight road loss on Monday night. (Nick Krug/KU Sports)

Kansas suffered its third straight road loss on Monday night. (Nick Krug/KU Sports)

Things haven’t exactly gone according to plan for Self and the Jayhawks. Last Friday, Self met with his four co-captains to help sort out the team’s rotation going forward. The results have been hard to miss. Over the Jayhawks’ past two games, Self has shrunk his rotation down to basically seven players–Ellis, Lucas, and Traylor in the front court along with Frank Mason, Devonte Graham, Wayne Selden, and Brannen Greene. The trio of youngsters expected to help Kansas reach its peak have combined to play just 16 of the 400 available minutes in those two contests. Bragg is the only one of the three to see the floor in both games.

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Big 12 M5: 01.25.16 Edition

Posted by Nate Kotisso on January 25th, 2016

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  1. Kansas is struggling a bit right now. I don’t think that’s a large statement to make. Traveling to traditionally noisy road environments (West Virginia, Oklahoma State) only to come away with losses isn’t the biggest deal but when an undermanned-yet-solid Texas team had a real chance of pulling the upset at home, there might be something more to this recent rough patch. Accordingly, Bill Self tinkered with his lineup and rotation on Saturday after tinkering with it Tuesday against the Cowboys. Still, it wouldn’t be the end of the world if they dropped another road contest to a really good Iowa State team later tonight but I’d like to think Kansas fans would sound the alarms if they laid another egg.
  2. Speaking of the Cyclones, Iowa State will host Kansas tonight in a match-up that has become the Big 12’s premier tussle over the past four years. As a line of tents wrap around Hilton ColiseumSteve Prohm has finally been able to build trust and encouragement with his veteran-laden team. It’s more intimidating than it is easy when you think about it. A situation where the players are good, have a years-long way of doing things and then all of a sudden, a new guy is hired from the outside. The players weren’t likely to revolt or be outright disrespectful to Prohm but there did remain a possibility that, while they knew he was successful at his previous stop, Cyclone players could have ran things they way were accustomed to for years under Fred Hoiberg. At last, the coach and his players are mentally one. The implications of this fact now radiate throughout the Big 12.
  3. My main complaint, well the nation’s main complaint, with West Virginia is that they shoot the ball like a 30-second shot isn’t sufficient for their kind of offense. And then a game like Saturday’s comes along. The Mountaineers were already shooting 48.9 percent from the field and 38.8 percent from the perimeter and still trailed Texas Tech by four with under a minute to go. Then, the (TarikPhillip-ing occurred. The junior guard owned the last minute of play when he nailed a three-pointer, converted an old-fashioned three point play, made a dunk and tacked on two of his final three steals on the day. Most bench players don’t get that much activity playing 20 minutes and Phillip did all that — and still finished with 20 points. Because of his effort, West Virginia maintained their four-way tie for first place in the Big 12.
  4. Texas Tech was feisty in their home loss to West Virginia despite learning that sophomore big man Norense Odiase broke his fourth metatarsal bone in his right foot following Tech’s win over TCU and will be in a cast for the next three weeks according to Tubby Smith. Odiase had been growing as a more consistent low-post threat while also adding a jump shot to his arsenal. He was averaging 9 points and 4.4 rebounds in just 19.5 minutes per game. With Oklahoma, Texas and Iowa State as Tech’s three of their next five games, a presence like Odiase’s will be sorely missed in games that will determine their worthiness of an at-large berth.
  5. As Oklahoma‘s dream season rolls on, the athletics department announced late last week one of its faces of the program is coming home. On March 1, Blake Griffin will ride into Norman, as the Sooners take on Baylor, where his No. 23 jersey will be retired. March 1 will almost assuredly be even more emotional as the jersey ceremony coincides with Senior Night where Sooner fans will say goodbye to Buddy Hield, Isaiah Cousins, Ryan Spangler and the rest of the senior class. I have a strange feeling the Lloyd Noble Center will be filled to capacity that night.
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Big 12 Power Rankings: This League Is (Still) Off Its Rocker Edition

Posted by Nate Kotisso on January 22nd, 2016

We’re almost four weeks into league play, which typically means a select group of contenders have asserted themselves and are heading for the summit they call “Conference Champion Mountain.” It’s a grueling hike to the top, but totally worth it once you get up there. You get to look out at the rest of your conference mates with the knowledge that your better was better than their better. You think about that banner you get to hang in your arena’s rafters that will forever stamp just how good your regular season was. Then, all of a sudden, you realize that you’re up really high. You struggle to breathe. Now, you can’t breathe AT ALL. After fighting for breath, you fall off the mountain, not because of the altitude. No. You fall off the mountain because a scrappy No. 14 seed has ended your quest for a national championship before you had a chance to get out of the Tournament’s first weekend.

Or, at least that’s usually how it goes in the Big 12. This season, though, has brought a special kind of craziness – one none of us could have imagined even a few short weeks ago.

Womp womp. (Screengrab via ESPN.com)

Womp womp. (Screengrab via ESPN.com)

This is where we are now, so expect a wild and crazy edition of our Big 12 Power Rankings. Here we go.

Power Rankings

1. Oklahoma — 3 points (All voted 1st). Comment: “The Sooners have two losses in Big 12 play, but both of them came on the road against upper echelon competition. Buddy Hield is continuing to play like a National Player of the Year and he has Oklahoma in position to be KenPom’s favorite in the Big 12.” – Chris Stone (@cstonehoops)

2. Kansas — 6 points (All voted 2nd). Comment: “Defensive struggles were at the heart of Tuesday’s upset at the hands of Oklahoma State, but the Jayhawks have been in a bit of a rut offensively, too, averaging only an even 1.00 point per possession over their last four games. One of the biggest factors has been the regression of Wayne Selden, who is scoring just 9.5 points per contest on 37.8% shooting since opening conference play with 24 and 21-point outbursts. The Jayhawk’s depth, along with Bill Self‘s coaching ability, is strong enough that I trust Kansas to get back on track sooner rather than later.” – Brian Goodman (@BSGoodman) Read the rest of this entry »

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Kansas and Oklahoma Carry Burden of Big 12 Reputation

Posted by Chris Stone on January 5th, 2016

Last season’s NCAA Tournament resulted in a huge black mark on the Big 12’s reputation. The conference entered March ranked as KenPom‘s top league in the nation and yet three of its top teams — Baylor, Iowa State, and Kansas — were all eliminated before the second weekend, and no Big 12 school made it past the Sweet Sixteen. At the time, Sam Mellinger of The Kansas City Star called it a “colossal failure” that would “live with the league for a while.” It was a defensible sentiment. Last year’s postseason collapse was just the most recent example of the Big 12’s failings on college basketball’s biggest stage. It’s now been four seasons since the conference’s last Elite Eight team and Kansas is the only school to make the NCAA Tournament’s final weekend since 2004. To call the Big 12’s recent NCAA Tournament performance underwhelming would be completely accurate.

Kansas and Oklahoma gave us one for the ages on Monday. (Nick Krug/KU Sports)

Kansas and Oklahoma gave us one for the ages on Monday. (Nick Krug/KU Sports)

Is this the season when the Big 12 finally bounces back. Exhibit A of such a shift in fortunes came on Monday night when fans were treated to one of the best college basketball games in recent memory. Kansas head coach Bill Self gave the game his highest praise, calling it “probably the best game I have ever been a part of during the regular season,” and comparing last night’s 109-106 triple-overtime thriller against Oklahoma with Kansas’ final Border War battle against Missouri in 2012 (won by the Jayhawks in overtime, 87-86). The contest had everything we want from a college basketball game. It featured an otherworldly individual performance from All-American Buddy Hield, a 46-point virtuoso performance so sublime that Kansas fans gave him a standing ovation after the game. Allen Fieldhouse was so wild that ESPN commentator Dick Vitale went so far as to call it the loudest game he had called in his 37 years of announcing. But perhaps most importantly, the game featured arguably college basketball’s two best teams taking each other’s hardest punches before countering back with their own.

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Reactions From Last Night’s Game of the Season: Kansas vs. Oklahoma

Posted by Brian Goodman on January 5th, 2016

Last night, Oklahoma and Kansas treated us to the best game of the season — an epic triple-overtime thriller won by the Jayhawks, 109-106. It won’t be a surprise at all if that description holds until the nets come down in Houston three months from now. This game had pretty much everything: An NPOY candidate going off for 46 points, clutch moments everywhere and huge calls (and non-calls) shifting the tides of key possessions all the way to the final buzzer. At the end of the night, though, the Jayhawks protected home court as they so often do in conference play. There’s so much to cover from such an outstanding game, so we’ll have more to come a later today, but here are the three biggest takeaways from Monday night’s basketball masterpiece.

Buddy Hield's Sooners and Frank Mason's Jayhawks gave us the game of the decade. (Jamie Squire/Getty Images)

Buddy Hield’s Sooners and Frank Mason’s Jayhawks gave us the game of the year. (Jamie Squire/Getty Images)

  • Buddy Hield scored 46 points, but Kansas actually did a decent job defending him! Normally, there would be no way those two notions could coexist, but very little about last night’s game was normal. Hield put together an outstanding 22-point first half reminiscent of Kevin Durant’s lone appearance at Allen Fieldhouse, but Frank Mason stuck to the All-American like glue after the intermission. Hield didn’t even take another shot until 11:45 remained in regulation, but once he got going again, he hit tough shot after tough shot, sometimes right in Mason’s face. In a cruel twist of fate, the star senior turned the ball over with 8.6 seconds left in the third overtime and missed a game-tying three-pointer on the next possession to seal Kansas’ win. In spite of those late miscues, though, he came away with the biggest statement any National Player of the Year candidate has made to this point in the season. Hield’s performance is unlikely to be topped — his 46 points came in 54 minutes of action and included an 8-of-15 effort from three-point range; just for good measure, he also added eight rebounds and seven assists, but it was an outing you had to see to believe.

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Big 12 M5: Oklahoma vs. Kansas Edition

Posted by Nate Kotisso on January 4th, 2016

morning5_big12

  1. So… there’s a little game going on in Lawrence tonight. The implications of OklahomaKansas are enormous considering the game is likely to feature the top two teams in this week’s Associated Press poll. It is also a tiny bit disappointing that the first of two games in this epic clash will be played so early in the conference season. It’s sort of like having really good chocolate for breakfast. Not exactly a 3 Musketeers-level of chocolate (not that there’s anything wrong with a 3 Musketeers-level of chocolate) but Oklahoma at Kansas would qualify as a higher class of chocolate (Ghiradelli-esque). Let’s try to save some of the good chocolate for February 13 (lunch) and March 12 for the Big 12 Tournament title game (dinner).
  2. On Saturday, the Jayhawks dropped a triple-digit offensive effort on a Baylor team well-known for their defensive prowess. Spearheading that effort were Kansas’ two point guards Frank Mason and Devonté Graham who are natural complements to each other’s talents and inconsistencies. In addition to their games, the two players assert themselves differently on the floor. Graham is the more emotional player while Mason is the player who will let his game do the talking for him. It’s not a surprise these two mesh well on arguably Bill Self’s deepest team since arriving in Lawrence.
  3. We knew going into tonight that Sooners coach Lon Kruger and the state of Kansas were connected considering his memorable tenure at Kansas State in the late 1980s. As The Oklahoman’s Berry Tramel notes, the personal ties go much deeper than that. The journey for Kruger in Manhattan, Kansas, to Norman, Oklahoma, has gone through more than a few stops along the way. Still, the journey from Kruger’s introductory press conference at Oklahoma in April 2011 to national title contender in January 2016 is one to marvel at. It took time, it took a few beatdowns and close calls at the hands of Kansas but now, Kruger’s chance to disrupt Big 12 hierarchy is as good now as it has ever been for him.
  4. What’s sure to play a pivotal role in tonight’s proceedings is the fan environment of Allen Fieldhouse. It will be loud and it will be uncomfortable for the Sooners just as it was for Baylor on Saturday afternoon. The Bears dropped their ninth game at Allen Fieldhouse in the Scott Drew era which insanely equals the amount of times Kansas has lost at home in the Bill Self era (Drew and Self both entered the Big 12 head coaching ranks in 2003). Oklahoma will attempt to pull off something schools like Texas A&M, San Diego State, Oklahoma State, Texas and a few others were able to do in recent years — win in The Phog.
  5. The Sooners were able to remain undefeated entering tonight’s game by edging out Iowa State on Saturday night. A large part of the victory came via senior big man Ryan Spangler,who battled through banging knees with Iowa State’s Matt Thomas and a trip to the locker room, in order to finish with 20 points and 12 rebounds. It’ll be interesting to see how a nicked-up Spangler deals with long and versatile frontline of Kansas, the shot-blocking Hunter Mickelson, floor-spreaders like Perry Ellis and Carlton Bragg and the quickness of Cheick Diallo. Needless to say, we’ll be waitin’ all day for Mondayyyyyy Nightttttt. Or something.
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Big 12 M5: 12.30.15 Edition

Posted by Chris Stone on December 30th, 2015

morning5_big12

  1. There will be very few easy games in the Big 12 this season. One of the criticisms of the conference last year was that the bottom of the league wasn’t very good. That should change in 2015-16. On Tuesday, Texas Tech picked up their fourth win over a team ranked in the top 100 on KenPom with an 85-70 victory over Richmond. The Red Raiders lone non-conference loss came against a quality Utah team. Tech is predicted to finish 8-10 in the league which would be the school’s best mark under head coach Tubby Smith. The Red Raiders also have a chance to pick up a road win against Arkansas in the Big 12/SEC Challenge. If things fall in their favor, they could find themselves with a shot at their first NCAA Tournament birth since 2007.
  2. Kansas State will also contribute to a deeper Big 12 in 2015-16. With a dominating 75-47 win over Saint Louis on Tuesday, the Wildcats pushed their non-conference record to 10-2. Kansas State’s calling card has been its defense and that was no different in the win over the Billikens. Saint Louis scored a meager 0.67 points per possession in Manhattan. While the Wildcats don’t have the same quality wins that Texas Tech has, a few upsets in Big 12 play could push them onto the bubble come March.
  3. Texas announced that senior center Cameron Ridley will be out 8-10 weeks due to a fracture in his left foot. In the Longhorns’ first game without Ridley, Texas fell 71-66 to Connecticut in Austin. Ridley’s absence was felt on both ends of the floor. The Huskies outscored Texas 40-28 in the paint on Tuesday. Ridley’s replacement, Prince Ibeh, played just 18 minutes and picked up his fourth foul with nearly nine minutes remaining. Without Ibeh or Ridley on the floor, opponents will be able to challenge the Longhorns inside and UConn did so successfully. Forced to rely on a more perimeter oriented attack, Texas floundered. The Longhorns shot 39 percent from the field and 6-of-23 from three-point range. How Shaka Smart adapts to Ridley’s absence early in conference play will be crucial to Texas’ Big 12 success.
  4. Kansas beat UC Irvine, 78-53, to close out its non-conference schedule, but for the second season in a row the story out of Lawrence is becoming the playing time of a highly touted freshman. Cheick Diallo is averaging only 11.2 minutes per game so far and played just six minutes against the Anteaters. Bill Self told the media afterwards that he thinks “our experienced guys are playing better.” While that may be true at the moment, there’s no doubt that Diallo has a higher upside than just about anyone in the Jayhawks’ frontcourt rotation. Allowing Diallo to develop now could benefit Kansas in March, but with Baylor and Oklahoma on tap to open Big 12 play, it seems unlikely the freshman will be seeing significant playing time in the near future.
  5. There are two Big 12 games remaining ahead of the start of conference play on Saturday. Iowa State should cruise against Coppin State tonight, but West Virginia has a much more interesting matchup. The Mountaineers will play their first true road game of the season when they travel to Blacksburg, VA to face Virginia Tech. West Virginia is favored in the contest, but road games are always tricky. Whatever the result, the experience in a hostile environment should prove useful as the Mountaineers open their Big 12 schedule with road trips to Kansas State and TCU.
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Big 12 M5: 12.15.15 Edition

Posted by Brian Goodman on December 15th, 2015

morning5_big12

  1. Texas came into the weekend in need of a signature win, and boy did it get one in Saturday’s thrilling victory over #3 North Carolina. In addition to Javan Felix‘s last-second heroics, the Longhorns’ big win can also be attributed to a standout effort on the defensive glass. On Saturday, Texas collected 83 percent of North Carolina’s misses, with Cameron Ridley fending off Kennedy Meeks and Brice Johnson in a season-high 33 minutes of action. And yet, even after topping the Tar Heels, the Longhorns still rank among the bottom 50 teams nationally in defensive rebounding percentage, proving how effective Saturday’s effort was.
  2. It was only a year or so ago that Kansas was wondering if it could field a team with a steady point guard at the helm. Frank Mason has more than admirably filled that role, but now it’s the crowded Jayhawks’ frontcourt that has head coach Bill Self searching for answers. He might be somewhat closer to solutions after his team’s recent win over Oregon State, however. While Self admitted that his rotation may still fluctuate from game to game, senior transfer Hunter Mickelson and freshman Carlton Bragg made the biggest strides in Kansas City on Saturday night. With three games remaining until conference play begins, the big man situation in Lawrence is definitely something to monitor.
  3. Speaking of the Kansas frontcourt, Rustin Dodd of The Kansas City Star wrote a terrific in-depth piece on the long, winding journey that brought Cheick Diallo from war-torn Mali all the way to Lawrence. Among many other qualities, Bill Self claims in the article that “nobody since I’ve been here, for 13 years — tries harder academically than [Diallo] does. Nobody.” In an odd twist of fate, it’s the effort Diallo gives in the classroom that made the NCAA eligibility center’s slog to clear him all the more frustrating, but it’s great to see the young rim protector on the floor and thriving these days.
  4. In keeping with the backstories of some of the young talent around the conference, John Walker of The Oklahoma Daily gives us the lowdown on how Oklahoma head coach Lon Kruger swayed freshman Rashard Odomes to play for the Sooners. In classic Kruger fashion, the basketball lifer didn’t point to his accomplishments on the court; rather, to the family culture he’s fostered in Norman. It may be a year or two before Odomes plays a regular role on the team, but he’s a player we’ll be rooting for.
  5. Last week’s court rush in Ames following Iowa State‘s thrilling comeback win over Iowa kickstarted another round of debate about the fan-inspired practice, with an injury to a reporter heightening the conversation’s volume. On Friday, however, the Big 12 ruled that Iowa State’s staff operated within the league’s code of conduct, putting an end to speculation that any punishment would come their way. While we feel for anyone — player, coach, media member, or fan — who gets injured in court rushings, the ritual still holds a unique place in college basketball’s culture. There may come a time when a school will need to face repercussions, but outright bans are generally unenforceable and would end up stinging in the long run.
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