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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Aaron Gordon, Doug Gottlieb and an NBA Career

Posted by Andrew Murawa on June 16th, 2014

Doug Gottlieb has made his skepticism of Aaron Gordon’s NBA upside very clear. Check the following tweets for a glance at his feelings on the matter, and dig further through his timeline for more on the topic.

To be clear, these are perfectly reasonable opinions. And, just like I did back in the preseason when I questioned Gottlieb’s pick of California as the #10 team in the nation in his preseason poll, I’ll freely admit that Gottlieb is more often right than wrong and has probably forgotten more about the sport than I’ll ever know.

Gottlieb’s argument on Gordon boils down to the fact that the Arizona product is a tweener who can’t shoot the ball from distance nor score in the post. All of those points are perfectly reasonable. It’s true that at this time we’re not sure if Gordon will project as an undersized four or a powerful three at the next level. It’s also true that Gordon’s shot is, at best, a work in progress; personally I called it an offense that would make baby Jesus cry. And it is additionally true that Gordon is, let’s say, unpolished around the paint; his points in college came either from putbacks or athletic plays against overmatched defenders. I won’t make a single argument against any of those points.

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Big 12 M5: 03.27.13 Edition

Posted by dnspewak on March 27th, 2013

morning5_big12

  1. Oklahoma was a pleasant surprise this season. Lon Kruger worked his magic to lead a struggling program to the NCAA Tournament for the first time since Blake Griffin roamed the streets of Norman, so it’s fair to call the Sooners classic overachievers. As the article points out, there were a number of bright spots during the 2012-13 campaign. Romero Osby’s production increased as a senior. Buddy Hield became the team’s best defender and became quite the character in the locker room. Kruger transformed a losing mentality into a winning one almost overnight, but it wasn’t all good news this season. There were some negatives. The end of the season wasn’t good, for starters, but despite a late road loss to TCU and no postseason victories in either the Big 12 or NCAA Tournaments, the Sooners created momentum for next season, if such a thing even exists.
  2. Baylor doesn’t have any momentum, not after a fairly disastrous season that saw the Bears fall all the way to the NIT. Still, maybe Scott Drew’s team can at least salvage some pride this March. It continues this evening with a quarterfinal game against Providence. Baylor didn’t crash and burn in the traditional sense — it was on the bubble all the way through the Big 12 Tournament, after all — but that’s not good enough for a team with this much talent. Not with blue-chip freshmen in the frontcourt, the best player in the league in Pierre Jackson, and a dead-eye shooter in Brady Heslip. No matter how far Baylor advances in the NIT, that “what if” will linger into next November.
  3. Naadir Tharpe is a sophomore. He really is. For all the expectations, criticism and attention, it’s easy to forget he hasn’t even wrapped up his second full season of Division I basketball. That’s life at Kansas, though, which is why he’s playing such a key role on this team right now. Alongside senior Elijah Johnson, Tharpe has also carried the brunt of criticism from fans and writers for Kansas’ occasional offensive lapses and point guard problems. But that didn’t happen during the Jayhawks’ dominant second half against North Carolina this weekend, and it’ll need to stay that way as this team advances into the second weekend of the NCAA Tournament.
  4. Texas Tech might need a new basketball coach if it doesn’t retain interim head coach Chris Walker, so it’s reaching out to various candidates. The results are not good so far. Southern Illinois’ Barry Hinson, an odd candidate considering he finished in last place of the Missouri Valley in his first year in Carbondale, said he has no interest. And New Mexico State’s Marvin Menzies said the exact same thing. Texas Tech isn’t the best job in the league, but the school has lured Bob Knight and Billy Gillispie to coach there in the last decade. Those are big names — especially Knight. It remains to be seen whether the TTU program can catch a big fish again this time around.
  5. Fred Hoiberg knows all about being awesome at things. Especially basketball. So he’s going to coach an All-Star game at the Final Four, featuring some of the best seniors in college basketball. It’ll be a nostalgic event for Hoiberg, who played in this same All-Star game as an Iowa State senior in the 1990s. See how he’s gone full circle?
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Big 12 M5: 02.26.13 Edition

Posted by KoryCarpenter on February 26th, 2013

morning5_big12

  1. The AP and Coach’s Poll were revealed Monday and Kansas had a nice bump up to #5 in the Coaches edition, up from #9 last week after its double-overtime win over Oklahoma State. Kansas State remained at #13 in both polls after easy wins over West Virginia and Texas, while Oklahoma State proved once again that while a single elimination, 64-team tournament isn’t the best way to crown a national champ, we should all be thankful we don’t rely on voters like football. The Cowboys lost by a point in double overtime to a top-10 team and dropped four spots, from #14 to #18 in the coaches poll. Did four teams suddenly become better than Oklahoma State this week because they made one less bucket against Kansas?
  2. Baylor is far from a lock to make the NCAA Tournament, as Seth Davis points out in the video here. He has the Bears as one of his first 5 teams out of the dance, and it’s hard to criticize him. Baylor has lost three in a row and sits at just 16-11 overall. Their win over Kentucky earlier in the season looks far from impressive as the Wildcats are on the bubble as well. The Bears don’t have any great wins on their resume, either. Oklahoma State was a good win at home, but that’s the only decent win they have so far. They end the season on the road at West Virginia and Texas and home against Kansas State and Kansas. I think they need to go 3-1 in that stretch -or make a run in the conference tournament- to feel comfortable on Selection Sunday.
  3. Blake Griffin was a stud at Oklahoma a few years ago, breaking out during his sophomore season on his way to becoming the #1 overall pick in the 2009 NBA draft and an All-Star as well. As Jeff Goodman points out, Griffin could have easily left Oklahoma after his freshman year and been a lottery pick. But Griffin is glad he stayed, and thinks other kids should, too. While it’s tough to drown out the people wanting to cash in on your talent, Griffin thinks it’s worth it in some cases. “You might drop a few spots,” he told Goodman. “But you might end up with a team that’s a better fit — and end up making more money in the long run.”
  4. Can’t believe Baylor is on the bubble? Think Kansas State should be a #3 seed? Figure it all out here, with CBSSports.com’s RPI comparisons. Compare Baylor and Kentucky, for example. Look at their wins against the RPI top 100 or their record away from home to see which team deserves a tournament bid (I lean towards the Bears). How about Kansas and Florida for the top #2 seed? The Jayhawks are 10-3 against the RPI top 50 while the Gators are 5-3. Kansas also has a better Strength of Schedule, #12 to Florida’s #22. You could lose a lot of time on that page, so beware.
  5. Speaking of brackets, I think the Jayhawks will lose one more game through the Big 12 tournament and end up with a #2 seed. But Brad Evans over at Yahoo! unveiled his latest mock bracket and has Kansas as the fourth #1 seed as of Monday morning. As he notes, the Bracket Big Board is pretty accurate, so Kansas fans should be happy. The loss to TCU is still a bad mark on their resume but with nearly every top team losing the last few weeks, Kansas has as good a shot as any to potentially steal one of the final top seeds. Indiana and one of Miami and Duke seem to be locks, but the other two spots are up for grabs. Kansas, Florida, Michigan, Gonzaga, and even Georgetown look to be in contention.
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Biggest Win For Oklahoma Basketball Since… Who Knows?

Posted by dnspewak on January 31st, 2013

Oklahoma nearly blew a 16-point lead on Wednesday night. It turned the ball over 17 times and was outrebounded by 14. Not an absolutely vintage performance against a Baylor team fighting its own issues, but good enough for a 74-71 road victory against one of the league’s better teams. The win solidifies the Sooners’ NCAA Tournament resume and, in most cases, would deserve a pat on the back or modest praise. You know, things like… Nice win. Way to go. Keep up the good work.

Not for this program. For a moment, think back to Jeff Capel’s disastrous break-up with Oklahoma. Think back to the Tiny Gallon accusations of improper benefits, the two straight losing seasons in the post-Blake Griffin era and the overall embarrassment of a once-proud fan base. Consider all of that, and then come back to reality and realize that Oklahoma just won its most important game in years on Wednesday night. Writers like us are often guilty of hyperbole and sensationalism, but Lon Kruger put the Sooners back on the college basketball map tonight. Forget that Baylor wasn’t even ranked, and that nobody’s ever referred to the Ferrell Center in Waco as Cameron Indoor West. It was still Oklahoma’s first true quality victory this season, save for perhaps Oklahoma State earlier this month. It was an example of what this team can do when Wyoming transfer Amath M’Baye is on his game. He scored 20 points tonight, and Steven Pledger broke out in a big way with 20 more of his own. Freshman Buddy Hield played such a terrific basketball game in the backcourt that Kruger didn’t even need our man Sam Grooms (who we’ve so generously supported this season and will continue to do so). There was sharing of the basketball. A 53 percent clip from the field as a team. And a couple of veteran plays by two freshmen — Hield and Je’lon Hornbeak — at the end of the game to seal the win and hold off the Bears.

Remember Blake Griffin? Wednesday Night Might Be OU's Best Win Since He Was There

Remember Blake Griffin? Wednesday Night Might Be OU’s Best Win Since He Was There

Speaking in terms of simply RPI, it is Oklahoma’s best win since February 6, 2010 against Texas, a season in which the Sooners finished with a losing record. For our purposes, let’s call this the biggest win in Oklahoma basketball history since March 27, 2009, when Blake Griffin and his boys smacked around Syracuse in the Sweet Sixteen. It’s been a long four years since that day. Finally, the Sooners are back on track, though it’ll take awhile longer for Kruger to restore that sort of glory. Griffin had a double-double for the Los Angeles Clippers in a victory over Minnesota on Wednesday night, by the way. You could still argue Oklahoma had a better night.

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Big 12 M5: 10.30.12 Edition

Posted by dnspewak on October 30th, 2012

  1. Jamari Traylor has Kevin Young’s broken bones in his hand to thank for his starting spot in Kansas’ first exhibition game, but he’ll use it as an opportunity to show his coach how valuable he may be during the 2012-13 season. Traylor often gets lost in the shuffle behind other KU freshmen like Ben McLemore and the veteran core of Jeff Withey, Elijah Johnson, Travis Releford, but he could play a major role on this team after a redshirt season a year ago. The early scouting report on Traylor is that he’s a monster inside and the kind of guy who will do anything and everything to tip a ball, grab a rebound, or make a hustle play. Young won’t be out long with his injury, but we’ve got a feeling Traylor will earn himself plenty of playing time this season regardless.
  2. Kansas State has a lot of returning experience, but according to head coach Bruce Weber, that doesn’t necessarily equate to great leadership. Yet. He’s still searching for that bona fide leader, the kind of guy who can rally the troops and fight his way through adversity. Luckily, Weber has a couple of promising point guards in Angel Rodriguez and Will Spradling, as well as three seniors. Rodney McGruder is the best player on the team but he’s not the most vocal guy, whereas Jordan Henriquez — one of the league’s best defensive big men — could probably talk all day if you let him. It’s silly to worry too much from an outside perspective, though. Weber’s a good coach, this is a good team, and these guys will figure something out. By the end of the year, this won’t be a discussion anymore.
  3. Oklahoma held its media day on Monday, and the players seem to be approaching this season with a completely different attitude. After tumbling in Big 12 play a year ago, the Sooners return a lot of individually talented parts but must find a way to bring everything together under Lon Kruger. It all starts with point guard Sam Grooms, the Big 12’s leading returning assists man. He says he’s already noticing how the added depth has helped the team, thanks to Wyoming transfer Amath M’Baye and a very good group of freshmen. Forward Romero Osby may have said it best: “It’s a new feel.”
  4. A couple more news and notes from the Sooners’ media day: freshman C.J. Cole and junior college transfer D.J. Bennett will both redshirt this season, according to Lon Kruger — maybe that’s a testament to the depth Grooms talked about. Later in that article, there’s also an interesting tidbit involving a former Sooner named Blake Griffin. Perhaps you remember him. Apparently, Griffin’s first dunk after surgery back in September was over OU freshman Buddy Hield. “You can’t stop anybody like Blake Griffin,” he says.
  5. We’ll have a Texas Tech preview coming your way later today, but we may as well direct you to CBS Sports‘ preview of the Red Raiders as well. There’s no harm in providing a variety of opinions, and this write-up gives a decent overview of what to expect from this program in shambles. No matter who’s writing the preview — CBS, RTC, or any other outlet — it’s hard to argue with the fact that head coach Chris Walker has quite a task ahead of him. This particular writer predicts Texas Tech to finish winless in the Big 12. That’s a bit much, but you get the point. It’ll be a long year.
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Big 12 Weekly Five: 05.31.12 Edition

Posted by dnspewak on May 31st, 2012

  1. Without much hard news to discuss in the dead heat of summer, we gladly rely on these kinds of articles to stay entertained. This time, Big 12 football blogger David Ubben concocted a list of former Big 12 basketball players and transformed them into gridiron stars: his All-Big 12 crossover team includes Blake Griffin at tight end, DeMarre Carroll at defensive end Paul Pierce at QB and Mario Chalmers at kicker. Interestingly, Ubben used former Texas A&M center DeAndre Jordan as a wide receiver. An unorthodox pick, sure– Jordan is 6’11”– but we are happy to see Ubben find innovative new ways to change the game of football.
  2. With rumors swirling lately about Clemson and Florida State joining the Big 12, league officials have finally put an end to the speculation. The Big 12 is happy with 10, apparently, and athletic directors within the conference are too. “We feel we’re really well-positioned at this time with 10,” Iowa State AD Jamie Pollard told reporters. The idea that expansion is over may sound comforting, but we would not be too trusting in this situation. Clearly, the league is not actively looking to expand (at least publicly), but these sorts of situations can change on a dime. For all we know, by next week, all hell will break loose again.
  3. Texas released its 2012-13 schedule this week, and coach Rick Barnes is once again challenging his team with several high-profile match-ups. The Longhorns will play in the Maui Invitational in November, but things really heat up with a few interesting games in December. Texas plays Georgetown in the Jimmy V Classic on December 1, and a week later it will play UCLA at Reliant Stadium in Houston. Later in the month, Barnes’ team will host North Carolina in a return game from last year before heading to East Lansing to face Michigan State. And that’s all before the calendar year ends.
  4. It appears Ben McLemore‘s legal situation has been resolved without much fuss. The Kansas guard, who was ineligible to play last year, must now pay a few hundred dollars in court fees and fines after prosecutors reached a diversion agreement to dispose the case. Police arrested McLemore for a minor in possession of alcohol charge back in November. Hopefully this will be the end of McLemore’s trouble in what has been a tumultous year.
  5. In lighter Jayhawk news, incoming freshman Perry Ellis likely won’t need any lawyers to rescue him when he arrives in Lawrence. The Leavenworth Times wrote a gushing feature on the stud recruit, who finished high school with a 4.0 GPA and was named valedictorian. Not bad for a guy who was also coveted to play hoops for every major program in America.
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Anthony Davis Named a Finalist for USA Olympic Team: Should He Make It?

Posted by EJacoby on May 3rd, 2012

Evan Jacoby is a regular contributor for RTC. You can find him @evanjacoby on Twitter.

As international basketball continues to gain steam, so does widespread intrigue in the Summer Olympic Games. The upcoming 2012 London Olympics will include some tremendous competition for the heavily favored United States, such as a Spanish team that can boast a monster front line of Pau Gasol, Marc Gasol, and Serge Ibaka. To counter that front line, and as a side effect of several unfortunate injuries, the Americans are in need of some serious size of their own. As a result, college basketball’s reigning National Player of the Year and projected No. 1 NBA draft pick Anthony Davis has already been named as one of the 20 finalists for Team USA this summer. Would Davis be a good fit for this team, and could “The Unibrow” possibly make the cut? Historical precedent says it could happen, and a roster breakdown shows that Davis might just be the big man inside that Team USA is missing.

Anthony Davis is now Shooting for a Spot on Team USA (AP Photo)

The USA Basketball Committee, led by chairman Jerry Colangelo and head coach Mike Krzyzewski, already selected the 20 finalists for the team back in January but several significant injuries has left Team USA in need of more bodies to compete for the final 12-man roster by the June 18 deadline. Specifically, there is a glaring lack of healthy size on the roster given injury troubles to Dwight Howard (back) and LaMarcus Aldridge (hip). The only true center currently on the roster is Tyson Chandler, with power forwards Blake Griffin, Kevin Love, Chris Bosh, and Lamar Odom in the fold as well. But there are issues with all of these forwards — Odom was released by the Dallas Mavericks after a terrible season, Griffin brings more ‘flash’ than production as an interior player, and Love and Bosh both thrive offensively on the perimeter. There is an absolute need for an interior presence to back up Chandler.

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Big 12 Mount Rushmore

Posted by dnspewak on February 22nd, 2012

When Missouri and Texas A&M bolt for the SEC in July, the departure will mark the Big 12’s first shift since its inception in 1996. For the most part, the past 15 seasons have belonged to Kansas, which has captured the only National Championship during this time period and has also won or shared 11 regular-season championships. The Jayhawks’ dominance extends all the way through the old Big Eight’s history, too. Naturally, we’ve selected two Jayhawks as the most influential figures. Perhaps it’s unfair to place so much KU emphasis on our four Mount Rushmore selections, and yes, it’s probably unfair to ignore the rest of the league as a result. However, we made our selections with an eye toward postseason success and long-term legacy. Frankly, no other Big 12 program can even come close to Kansas in either of those departments, so its players and coaches simply must be included.

Here’s our Big 12 Mount Rushmore:

Wayman Tisdale: The late Tisdale was more than just a basketball player. He was a musician, a man who publicly fought cancer for two years, and most importantly, a man remembered for being one of the most genuine people in sports. The forward had a productive NBA career, but he thoroughly dominated the Big Eight for three seasons at Oklahoma. As a freshman, sophomore and junior, Tisdale took home Big Eight Player of the Year honors, and he was unique in that he made such an immediate impact early in his career. Unlike most freshmen at that time, Tisdale didn’t need time to acclimate himself to the college game. He was a one-and-done kind of player who stayed and dominated the nation for three seasons. Frightening.

Danny Manning: These days, Manning roams the Kansas sidelines as a towering, hard-to-miss assistant coach. Two decades ago, though, Manning’s Jayhawks soared through the 1988 NCAA Tournament as a six-seed, shocking the nation by knocking off #1 Oklahoma in the title game in Kansas City. To this day, even fans who never watched Larry Brown’s team play still refer to that squad as “Danny and the Miracles.” Manning may have scored the most points in Big Eight history, but we’ll remember him for the way he lit up the scoreboard in those six games in March.

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Give Me the Loot — UNC & Duke Headline Top NBA Earners by College Alumni

Posted by EJacoby on February 9th, 2012

Evan Jacoby is a regular contributor to RTC. You can find him @evanjacoby on Twitter. 

If you want to ask your friends a great trivia question, or perhaps settle a debate, check out the Wall Street Journal’s list of college basketball programs whose players have earned the most money in the NBA since 1985. The WSJ calls it the ‘Basketball Alumni Loot Index.’ This is the kind of intense research that pays off, as this article is now a great bookmark for fans’ reference.

UNC's Rasheed Wallace Made A Lot of Noise in the NBA; He Also Made A Lot of Money (AP Photo)

A look at the data shows plenty of interesting results. North Carolina and Duke are the first and second schools on the list, to nobody’s surprise. Our beliefs are confirmed that these two programs produce the most successful NBA players. Powerhouses like Arizona, UCLA, Georgetown, Connecticut, Kansas, and Kentucky all round out the top 10, again legitimizing the findings. Incredibly, Division II school Virginia Union cracks the top 50 of the list thanks to the $100 million-plus earnings of Ben Wallace and some of Charles Oakley’s deals from the 90s. DePaul has made the NCAA Tournament just once in the past 12 years, but they rank #31 on this list, thanks to recent pros like Wilson Chandler, Quentin Richardson, Bobby Simmons, and Steven Hunter. They also had Rod Strickland in the late 80s, who signed multiple lucrative contracts in a great 17-year career.

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Who’s Got Next? Noel Re-Classifies to 2012, Jefferson Close To Deciding And More…

Posted by Josh Paunil on February 2nd, 2012

Who’s Got Next? is a weekly column by Josh Paunil, the RTC recruiting guru. We encourage you to check out his website dedicated solely to college basketball recruiting, National Recruiting Spotlight, for more detailed recruiting information. Once a week he will bring you an overview of what’s going on in the complex world of recruiting, from who is signing where among the seniors to who the hot prospects are at the lower levels of the sport. If you have any suggestions as to areas we are missing or different things you would like to see, please let us know at rushthecourt@yahoo.com.

Lead Story: Nerlens Noel Re-classifies To Class of 2012

Nerlens Noel Is Now One Of the Top Seniors In the Country. (Daryl Paunil/NRS)

Elite Junior Will Graduate A Year Early. There’s been ongoing speculation for a long time that center Nerlens Noel might re-classify from the Class of 2013 to the Class of 2012, but he didn’t gave much of an indication that he was going to. However, late Wednesday night the best shot-blocker in the prep ranks in the country confirmed that he was indeed going to graduate a year early and move to the Class of 2012. What does that mean? Well, other than getting to see him in college a year early, it means that he will have to decide which school he’s going to commit to in the next couple of months. Syracuse and Kentucky have long been the favorites for Noel and while a couple sources have told RTC that they think he will pick the Orange, it’s going to be a close race between the two. Other than John Calipari and Jim Boeheim‘s squads, Noel is considering multiple other schools and has already visited Providence and Connecticut while he plans on visiting Syracuse (February 11), Kentucky, Florida, Georgetown and North Carolina soon. He doesn’t have a timetable for committing but keep in mind that the regular signing period is April 13-May 18. We will be interviewing Noel some time in the next several days so if you’re interested in his recruitment, make sure you check back next week to see what he has to say about the schools on his list.

What They’re Saying

  • Senior star Rodney Purvis on why he’s happy he made the Jordan Brand Classic: “Being from the same city and with John [Wall] being like my big brother, I wanted to do all the things he did. I didn’t tell a lot of people, but I really, really wanted to play in the Jordan Brand Classic. Like a whole lot.”
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New Look Oklahoma Sooners Thriving Under Lon Kruger

Posted by dnspewak on December 15th, 2011

Nobody’s going to hang a banner at the Lloyd Noble Center for Oklahoma‘s modest 7-1 start, especially considering the Sooners’ non-conference strength of schedule ranks 100th in the nation. Keep in mind that OU has not yet played a true road game. It lost to the best team on its schedule (Saint Louis) by 20 points. It arguably has not faced an NCAA Tournament team yet and its second-leading scorer transferred earlier this month.

But so what? Compared to last season’s 14-18 campaign, these Sooners are playing with an entirely different attitude on both ends of the floor under first-year head coach Lon Kruger. Despite the slip-up against SLU in the 76 Classic finals, Oklahoma appears to have improved in almost every facet of basketball, thanks in part to a higher overall level of maturity and the addition of two impact transfers. Kruger’s team manhandled Arkansas and Washington State, and it overpowered a good Santa Clara team by dominating the rebounding margin.

Oklahoma Already Has Half As Many Wins As 2010-11

From both a basketball and statistical standpoint, Oklahoma is a new team with point guard Sam Grooms (junior college) and forward Romero Osby (Mississippi State). It’s not hyperbole to suggest they are both lifesavers at their respective positions, and they’ve filled missing links by contributing in other areas besides scoring. Grooms, for example, doesn’t look to score much, but that’s not his role on this team after unseating Carl Blair as the starting point guard. Instead, he’s found his groove as the lead guard by deferring to Steven Pledger, who is enjoying a breakout junior season. Pledger has averaged nearly 18 points per game without forcing anything, and a lot of that has to do with Grooms’ efficiency at the point guard spot. Pledger also has less pressure thanks to the productivity of a several other scorers like Osby, Andrew Fitzgerald, Cameron Clark and, most recently, Tyler Neal, whose minutes have skyrocketed after Calvin Newell‘s transfer. The individual scoring totals for these players don’t matter much, though. Most importantly, with Grooms leading the way, Kruger’s team shares the ball, takes good shots, and has limited its turnovers. That’s a complete turnaround from the 2010-11 season, when the Sooners ranked dead last in the Big 12 in several offensive categories.

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