Big 12 Weekend Preview: Road Map to the Most Thrilling Finish Possible

Posted by Brian Goodman on February 27th, 2015

For roughly 46 hours between Kansas State’s upset over Kansas on Monday and Iowa State‘s deflating loss to Baylor on Wednesday, the Big 12 race had more intrigue than at any point in the season. But after the Bears took down the Cyclones at Hilton Coliseum thanks to some deadly shooting down the stretch, the standings returned to an all-too-familiar position: the Jayhawks all alone at the top with a logjam behind them. The race isn’t yet over, but Iowa State’s loss definitely removed some of the buzz surrounding the finish. As it stands, Oklahoma, West Virginia and Iowa State — each one game behind Kansas — all need to take care of business and get some unlikely help if any of the three wants to make history. The Sooners still have a game left against the 10-time defending conference champs — their home finale on March 7 — but they will likely have to win their next two games in order for that match-up to mean something. More on that in a minute.

It will take a home loss by Kansas for the Big 12 race to become a race again.

The Big 12 race isn’t over, but it will take a Kansas loss in this building to restore the chaos that has encapsulated the conference all year long.

West Virginia also has a game left against Kansas, but with two of its last three games coming on the road — including next Tuesday’s tilt against the Jayhawks — the Mountaineers are at a big disadvantage. Lastly, not only do the Cyclones not have any remaining games against the Jayhawks, but they’ll also play two of their last three games on the road. Meanwhile, Kansas plays two of its last three games in the cozy confines of Allen Fieldhouse, so the odds of Bill Self’s team winning that 11th straight Big 12 title in outright fashion look favorable.

As great a story as that would be, however, where’s the fun? As a die-hard college hoops fan, I want as much meaningful basketball as possible. Sure, if Kansas puts a bow on it by this time next week, everyone will still be playing for valuable postseason seeding; we’ll still watch; and then the postseason will be here. But throughout its relatively young history, the Big 12 has lacked a climactic final day of action in the truest definition.

I’m talking about one game to decide the conference race and the fate of the Jayhawks’ Big 12 title streak all wrapped up in one tidy package.

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Big 12 M5: 02.27.15 Edition

Posted by Chris Stone on February 27th, 2015

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  1. And just like that Kansas is back in the driver’s seat as the favorite to win an 11th straight Big 12 championship. The situation looked a bit bleak for the Jayhawks following their recent 70-63 loss to Kansas State, but Baylor’s 79-70 win over Iowa State on Wednesday night put Kansas ahead again. A win would have drawn the Cyclones even with Kansas in the standings, but a barrage of second half threes from the Bears sealed the Cyclones’ fate. “We didn’t talk about any championships that were there,” Iowa State coach Fred Hoiberg said. “The guys understand it. They read it. But it’s just going out there taking care of today, and obviously we didn’t get that accomplished.”
  2. Wednesday marked the first win ever in Ames for Baylor, and the big road victory should help the Bears immensely with seeding in the upcoming NCAA Tournament. A lock for an at-large bid, this year will mark the first time that Baylor has made consecutive trips to March Madness in school history. Much of the Bears’ recent success should be attributed to Scott Drew. The 12th-year head coach of the Bears takes a great deal of criticism from the college basketball community, but he has molded a roster that was picked to finish sixth in the Big 12 into a Top 25 team with high postseason expectations. Drew rightfully appears to be the clear front-runner for Big 12 Coach of the Year at this point in the season.
  3. Drew’s biggest competitor in the race for Coach of the Year comes from West Virginia’s Bob Huggins. The Mountaineers were also picked to finish sixth in the Big 12 preseason poll but have utilized a change in playing style to now sit just one game behind Kansas in the standings. After getting blasted by Baylor in Morgantown, West Virginia will seek revenge on the Bears in Waco this weekend. If the Mountaineers pull of the win, we could have a new name leading the Big 12 Coach of the Year race come Monday.
  4. A day after the Jayhawks’ loss at Kansas State, Kansas junior Perry Ellis and sophomore Wayne Selden called a players-only meeting back in Lawrence. There was no trip to Henry T’s like back in 2008, but Ellis and Selden took the opportunity to emphasize the importance of winning another Big 12 championship. Sporting a 3-3 record in its last six games, Kansas is engaged in some soul-searching ahead of March this season. “We got to figure out what’s wrong,” sophomore Brannen Greene said. With three remaining contests against teams ranked in Ken Pomeroy’s top 25, the Jayhawks will need to figure it out quick, starting with a reeling but dangerous Texas squad on Saturday.
  5. Finally, while much of Twitter was abuzz yesterday attempting to determine the colors of this dress (hint: it’s white and gold), Adidas was drawing its usual ire for releasing its latest line of jerseys. With Baylor having switched to Nike this season, Kansas remains the only Big 12 team to receive an stylistic update, which the Jayhawks are likely wear for at least one game in the Big 12 Tournament. Baylor received its new look last week, and its tempered color scheme will likely disappoint fans of their glowing highlighter look.
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Morning Five: 02.18.15 Edition

Posted by nvr1983 on February 18th, 2015

morning5

  1. Tonight will be yet another meeting between North Carolina and Duke, but one thing will be missing from tonight’s match-up: Dick Vitale, the broadcasting icon who will not be calling the game for the first time in 35 years. While the company line is that this is just ESPN sending various members of the team where they are needed it seems to be a sign of ESPN moving in a different direction and one away from Vitale, its longtime star. Instead, ESPN will have Dan Shulman and Jay Bilas call the game. With Vitale being 75 years old and Bilas becoming an increasingly popular and recognizable figure it would seem that ESPN is trying to move him into the role as its lead analyst and this would seem to be an ideal way to start.
  2. It was not that long ago that people were talking about Seton Hall as a potential NCAA Tournament team. Now they appear to be spiraling completely out of control. On Monday, we mentioned Jaren Sina transferring amid speculation of issues within the locker room. Those were backed up by reports of racial tensions within the locker room (a report that Sina’s father denied). On Monday night, Sterling Gibbs, the team’s leading scorer, was ejected for hitting Ryan Arcidiacono leading to a two-game suspension. For his part, Gibbs apologized to both his team and Arcidiacono for his actions. With all that is going on with this team, we have to wonder how much longer Kevin Willard will remain the coach there.
  3. We are not sure how much to make of Louisville’s decision to suspend Chris Jones for an unspecified violation of team rules prior to their game at Syracuse. Although the suspension is indefinite and not related to a basketball issue, based on the reports we have heard the suspension is only for one game at this point and likely not something that will be an ongoing issue if Jones does not have another misstep. Even if Jones (13.6 points, 3.9 rebounds, and 3.7 assists per game) is only out for this game, it will be interesting to see how the Cardinals adapt to playing without one of its four players who they can count on to score reliably.
  4. It is not often that we see a college coach get fined, but then again it is not often that we hear a coach publicly criticize a call as “the worst call I’ve ever seen in my life” as Penn State coach Patrick Chambers did following his team’s loss to Maryland on Saturday. The call (an awful offensive foul on Jordan Dickerson) and more specifically Chambers’ response to it led to a $10,000 fine by the Big Ten for violating the conference’s sportsmanship policy. We agree that Chambers’ reaction might not fit with a typical sportsmanship policy we would think that the conference would have the sense not to fine someone when their officials got something so blatantly wrong.
  5. This might not be news in the same way as most of the other items that we feature in the Morning Five and the story is technically almost a year old, but we still thought that Bob Huggins receiving a $25,000 bonus for beating Kansas on Monday and him not being aware of it until a reporter brought it up last year was noteworthy. Huggins is far from the only coach with such a clause–we have even heard of coaches from mid-majors voting teams in their conference into the top 25 in hopes of collecting a bonus for beating a top-25 team–but in this environment where there is increased debate about paying athletes in revenue sports these types of bonuses and Huggins’ apparent obliviousness to a bonus that would amount to the annual salary of many Americans might strike a chord.
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Musings on the Mountaineers: Just How Good is West Virginia?

Posted by Chris Stone on February 13th, 2015

West Virginia has been one of this season’s biggest surprises in college basketball. Picked by the league’s coaches to finish in a tie for sixth in the Big 12, the Mountaineers are currently 7-4 and tied for third. Head coach Bob Huggins has fundamentally transformed the team’s playing style by adopting a high-pressure defense that aims to turn opponents over before they can set up their half-court offense. “We knew we could get teams to play different,” West Virginia assistant Larry Harrison recently told Bleacher Report. “Our goal is to get them out of their half-court offense. That’s what the goal was.”

The Mountaineers have opened the eyes of opponents with their up tempo play.

The Mountaineers have opened the eyes of opponents with their uptempo play this season.

The strategy has been successful. West Virginia leads the Big 12 in defensive turnover percentage, causing a turnover on 27.5 percent of its opponents’ possessions. Its high-paced, trapping defense has helped create steals on 14.5 percent of possessions in league play. Freshman Jevon Carter – an unranked, three-star recruit — has been a revelation, ranking 10th nationally in steal percentage by creating a turnover on 5.0 percent of possessions. Turnovers are an important part of keeping teams out of their half-court offenses and they’re necessary to West Virginia’s success. Because of it, the Mountaineers have the fourth-best defense in the Big 12 (allowing 98.8 points per 100 possessions) despite only having the league’s ninth-best defensive effective field goal percentage.

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Big 12 M5: 01.28.15 Edition

Posted by Chris Stone on January 28th, 2015

morning5_big12

  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 Conference Catch-Up: West Virginia and Oklahoma

Posted by Nate Kotisso on January 1st, 2015

As the Big 12 schools near the completion of their non-conference schedules this week, it’s a great time to catch up on where the league’s 10 teams stand entering conference play. Surely, this would be the year West Virginia becomes a factor in Big 12 hierarchy and they look like a serious one to this point. Meanwhile, Oklahoma has had a few hiccups in non-conference play but there is reason for optimism as the new pieces begin to settle into their roles. The Conference Catch-Up rolls on today with our last Catch-Up coming up tomorrow.

West Virginia

  • Key Wins: UConn, NC State
  • Bad Losses: None
Senior Juwan Staten had led the Mountaineers to a 12-1 start heading into Big 12 play. (Getty Images)

Senior Juwan Staten has led the Mountaineers to a 12-1 start heading into Big 12 play. (Getty Images)

When you’ve had the success and longevity that Bob Huggins has had in coaching, there are very few things left to prove. Perhaps rebuilding his alma mater into a contender in a new league was something worth going after and Huggins appears to have done that. It was hard to expect such a quick start from the Mountaineers in 2014-15 considering two of their top three scorers from last season (Eron Harris and Terry Henderson) transferred out of Morgantown. With them gone, this has undoubtedly become Juwan Staten‘s team. The Preseason Big 12 Player of the Year Staten leads his team in scoring (15.9) and assists (4.3) despite playing on average seven minutes fewer than he did last year. The last triumph most remember WVU having on the national landscape was their Final Four season in 2009-10. What made that team such a difficult matchup for most were their versatile wing players. Guys like Da’Sean Butler, Devin Ebanks and Kevin Jones carried a lot of responsibility on a team that only used a seven-man rotation. Butler, Ebanks and Jones were all 6’7″ or taller, could score, rebound in bunches and committed to defending on a team that finished 23rd in the country in adjusted defense according to KenPom. The difficulty with this year’s team is their ability to wear down opponents due to Huggins’ pressure defense armed with a rotation that rolls ten guys deep. At this point, KenPom has WVU sporting a similar adjusted defense rating as 2009-10 (22nd) despite the Mountaineers averaging 13 steals a game, seven more than the 2009-10 team. In KenPom’s metrics, West Virginia is ranked No. 1 in the country in turnover percentage and steal percentage. More steals and turnovers have led to more easy buckets on the other end of the floor. West Virginia breezed through an average non-conference schedule with one minor speed bump in the form of a 74-73 home loss to a solid LSU team. The big question going into conference play is how long can they keep up their defensive pace against much tougher opponents? It’s one thing to post big numbers against VMI, Northern Kentucky or Marshall and another to do the same to Kansas, Texas or Iowa State.

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Big 12 M5: 12.17.14 Edition

Posted by Brian Goodman on December 17th, 2014

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  1. We lead with a thorough analysis from Bleacher Report‘s CJ Moore on how the mock draft culture impacts its key stakeholders from NBA prospects and their families to college coaches to pro scouts to the work of people such as ESPN’s Chad Ford and DraftExpress‘ Jonathan Givony. We recommend you read the entire article, which is couched in Kelly Oubre‘s scenario with Kansas, because Moore does a fantastic job of seeking out the most relevant angles, but it’s especially interesting to hear how head coach Bill Self feels about the mock draft dynamic; Some of his objections are valid, even though they can also be interpreted as self-serving. Ultimately, I think Givony’s response that it’s up to each individual to form their own opinion and that it’s not right for coaches to conflate one person’s thoughts with the community’s as a whole is fair as well.
  2. West Virginia‘s struggles in its first two seasons of Big 12 membership dimmed the national spotlight on the Mountaineers, which was unfortunate for many reasons. Of course, I wanted to see West Virginia be as competitive in their new home as they were in the Big East, but lower on the list, their diminished relevance provided fewer opportunities for a good-old-fashioned Bob Huggins rant to make the rounds. That ended Monday night and into Tuesday, though, when the 61-year-old vet sounded off on his radio show after Marshall head coach Dan D’Antoni accused him of being “afraid” to play the Thundering Herd twice a year (D’Antoni’s comments were sparked by a close loss to the Mountaineers on Sunday). Huggins is right to be incensed at D’Antoni’s comments both as one of the most fearless head coaches in the game and as the leader of a West Virginia program that has much more to lose than they have to gain by repeatedly playing a mediocre team like Marshall. It isn’t very often that we see coaches react so emotionally and honestly, so when the opportunity presents itself, it’s definitely worth checking out.
  3. Every season, there’s a handful of players you swore have been in college forever. This season, that hypothetical roster includes guys like Oklahoma State forward Le’Bryan Nash, who was a highly-touted recruit expected to not be long for college, but is nonetheless still at it in Stillwater. Despite being the only top-15 recruit from the high school Class of 2011 still in college, Nash is at peace with his position as the leader of a talented Cowboy squad. In speaking to CBSSports.com‘s Gary Parrish, Nash admitted that he has flirted with declaring for the NBA Draft each offseason since his arrival. According to head coach Travis Ford, Nash chose to return for his senior season so he could take ownership of the Cowboys. So far, the decision has worked out for all parties involved, as Nash is currently the second-leading scorer in the Big 12 with an efficient 17.7 points per game on 11 shots per contest. There’s no doubt that his presence has given Oklahoma State someone to rally around and lead them to a bounceback season. Staying on campus for all four years isn’t what Nash had in mind, but to his credit, he’s adapted well, so it’s tough not to find yourself rooting for him.
  4. In a game that was never really a game, Oklahoma trounced in-state foe Oral Roberts 85-53 in front of a light home crowd. The Golden Eagles were simply no match for the Sooners’ attack, which was able to put up a high scoring total despite getting only three points from the free throw line. Buddy Hield led Oklahoma with 16 points, while Ryan Spangler dominated the glass and Jordan Woodard had eight assists — in other words, the Sooners stuck to their blueprint, though in fairness, Oral Roberts was playing its third game in four days. We may not have learned much about the Sooners in this one, but Saturday’s matchup against Washington in neutral Las Vegas should be more revealing.
  5. On a minor note, the end of the semester has come, and that means certain players concluding that their current schools aren’t doing the trick for them. To that end, we learned yesterday that former Texas guard Damarcus Croaker and former Iowa State guard Sherron Dorsey-Walker will look for new homes. Croaker, a two-guard, averaged 9.5 minutes per game this season, but failed to see any court time in the Longhorns’ biggest games. He’s looking to transfer closer to his native Orlando so he can be with his young son. Dorsey-Walker, most notably, was Fred Hoiberg’s first redshirt player, but struggled to gain a foothold in the Cyclone rotation in each of his two eligible seasons. With a more talented guard in Oregon State transfer Hallice Cook set to play next season, the writing appeared to be on the wall. Dorsey-Walker may have been an afterthought in Iowa State’s rotation, but had offers from Michigan and Indiana (among others) as a recruit, so it will be interesting to see who takes him in.
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Big 12 M5: 11.24.14 Edition

Posted by Brian Goodman on November 24th, 2014

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  1. In an early but big game for Bob Huggins and West Virginia, the Mountaineers impressed by beating defending national champions Connecticut, 78-68, in the finals of the Puerto Rico Tip-Off Sunday night. The victory was keyed by a 17-4 run midway through the first half, and big games from Juwan Staten (21 points) and the Mountaineer defense, which forced 19 Husky turnovers, were especially crucial. Without a slate full of formidable non-con opponents, the win was very important for WVU from a resume standpoint. West Virginia can breathe easy for now, as they should have little trouble passing their next two tests, which come against VMI and the College Of Charleston.
  2. Amid the fallout for Kansas from last week’s shellacking at the hands of Kentucky was a minor injury, as it was revealed that freshman Devonte’ Graham sprained his shoulder in the loss. The injury isn’t said to be serious and it sounds like Graham will be ready for this week’s Orlando Classic, but with point guard play continuing to be a question, any development that brings more uncertainty to the picture isn’t good. If Mason shows any lingering symptoms, it will be interesting to see what the Jayhawks can get from Frank Mason.
  3. Oklahoma State big man Michael Cobbins was welcomed back to the team with open arms and showed that he was ready to go with a very solid performance against Milwaukee Friday night. Cobbins was sidelined for the Cowboys’ first three games of the season due to an NCAA ruling, but chipped in 15 points to go along with six rebounds, three blocks and a steal in an 82-68 win in his season debut against the Panthers. Oklahoma State now has everyone available as they gear up for a semifinal match-up tonight against Oregon State in the MGM Grand Main Event in Las Vegas. They’ll play either Auburn or Tulsa in the final or consolation round on Wednesday.
  4. Obvious as it is, we’ve talked several times about how important it is for Kansas State to avoid the kind of non-con gaffes that sent them scrambling into February to secure an NCAA Tournament bid. As it turns out, Bruce Weber‘s team didn’t listen to us, as it took a 69-60 road loss to Long Beach State on Friday night. Beating Purdue in today’s opening round of the Maui Invitational now becomes more meaningful than it was before, not so much because it would restore confidence in the Wildcats, but because it would set up a likely second-round match-up with No. 2 Arizona, where a win would do wonders for their tournament resume.
  5. Just in time for Feast Week, Iowa State will get a pair of reinforcements back tonight as Abdel Nader and Matt Thomas are now eligible to play in games. Both Nader and Thomas sat out the Cyclones’ first two games after separate run-ins with the law resulted in alcohol-related citations. We will have a full breakdown on what to expect from Iowa State in the CBE Hall of Fame Classic this week, but at the very least, Nader and Thomas can bring some offense to the Cyclone bench, which has scored just nine points so far this season.
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Big 12 M5: Still Awake For the Marathon Edition

Posted by Nate Kotisso on November 18th, 2014

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  1. Ah yes, it’s that wonderful time of the year when the Los Angeles Athletic Club releases its annual preseason top 50 for the Wooden Award. We’ll have more on this later this morning, but the Big 12 is well-represented with 10 players making the list. As important as the organization wants us to think the Wooden Award is, it really doesn’t mean all that much to college basketball fans and it means even less to those who start watching games in March. Also, why is a preseason list being released during the regular season? Doesn’t that defeat the purpose of the whole thing? Last year’s preseason list didn’t have Nick Johnson, Tyler Ennis, Nik Stauskas or Casey Prather on it, but lo and behold, there they were, announced as four of the Wooden Award finalists in March. Yesterday, our Chris Stone summed up this lunacy quite clearly in fewer than 140 characters. The solution: Throw out the preseason list and stick with announcing the 15 finalists in March. It’ll save us all a lot of grief.
  2. The NCAA announced the sites and hosts for its early and regional rounds of the NCAA Tournament from 2016-18, and the Big 12 Conference will serve as an official host in each of those years. In 2016, Oklahoma City’s Chesapeake Energy Arena will be home to first and second round games; in 2017, Kansas City is welcomed back to NCAA Tournament duties as the Sprint Center hosts the Midwest Regional; in 2018, Dallas’ American Airlines Center will be the home of first and second round match-ups. This doesn’t even include Iowa State hosting a site for 2016 first and second round games in nearby Des Moines. The last early or regional round hosted by a Big 12 school or the conference itself was in 2013, but now we’ll be getting three years in a row within the league’s footprint beginning in 2016. Season ticket holders, rejoice.
  3. Baylor made quick work of McNeese State in its season opener on Friday night, 80-39. The Bears’ two transfers, Deng Deng and Lester Medford, made instant impacts for their team, combining for 29 points on the night. But buried in the story, or the last sentence of this recap, is the news that Taurean Prince was suspended and did not play due to a violation of team rules. Outside of that, that’s all anyone seems to know. Whatever it is, the Waco media should probably look into it further.
  4. With West Virginia’s 2-0 start to the season, Bob Huggins has moved into 15th place on the all-time wins list in Division I men’s basketball history. Many think that this will be a bounce-back year for Huggins and West Virginia basketball, and after reviewing the Mountaineers’ numbers in their first two games, it might just be. West Virginia has shot the ball 66 more times than the opposition, scored 51 points off of 44 turnovers, and have 35 more rebounds. Granted, their competition level wasn’t very high with games against Monmouth and Lafayette, but those are similar to characteristics of past West Virginia teams that were regular participants in the NCAA Tournament. They’ve got to start somewhere.
  5. Kansas State also improved to 2-0 on the season with a nice win against UMKC on Monday. While that’s all fine and dandy, we must have another look at Brandon Bolden‘s blocked shot of Southern Utah’s John Marshall from over the weekend. It’s made its way around the web over the past few days and we at Rush The Court sincerely apologize for not commenting on this sooner. The block was so clean that it was dirty. Marshall took a spill on the floor afterward and Bolden leers at him, perhaps disappointed that he had to do Marshall like that. Go ahead, watch it a few hundred more times and create your own exposition of the play. It’s more fun that way.
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Big 12 Season Preview: West Virginia Mountaineers

Posted by Kory Carpenter on October 31st, 2014

Throughout the preseason, the Big 12 microsite will preview each of the league’s 10 teams, from worst to first. Today: West Virginia.

West Virginia

West Virginia rebounded in its second Big 12 season last year, finishing 9-9 in conference play and above .500 overall at 17-16. Both were improvements from its inagural Big 12 campaign, in which it finished 13-19 (6-12) in 2012-13. The Mountaineers ended the season with an opening round NIT loss to Georgetown and are looking to return to the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2012. They should make the Big Dance if their upward trend continues, but they have a few pieces to replace if that is to happen. They still have one of the best coaches in the Big 12 in Bob Huggins, who has won 739 games and made two Final Four appearances in a long Division I career that began at Akron in 1984. The Mountaineers also have a soft non-conference schedule this year, so racking up early wins should not be a problem. Only three of West Virginia’s 11 non-conference opponents are from Power 5 conferences, and they might be favored in all 11 of those contests. But like I said, there are definitely holes to fills thanks to a few transfers.

Bob Huggins will need to work some magic after some big losses this offseason.

Bob Huggins will need to work some magic after some big losses this offseason.

Strengths: Juwan Staten. The 6’1″ senior guard led last year’s team with 18.1 PPG and shot 48.5 percent from the field. He had a number of big games, including 23 points and seven assists on 8-of-13 shooting in the season-ending loss against Georgetown. You certainly couldn’t say that loss was on him. Staten will be joined in the backcourt by fellow senior Gary Browne, who has been consistently average at West Virginia (6.5, 5.6, and 5.9 PPG in three seasons) but will help form one of the most experienced backcourts in the nation this season. Then you have sophomore forward Devin Williams, who averaged 8.4 PPG and 7.2 RPG in his first college season — the 6’9″ forward should make a considerable leap and average double-figure points for the Mountaineers.

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Big 12 M5: Halloween Edition (Boo!)

Posted by Nate Kotisso on October 31st, 2014

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  1. TCU made some recruiting news earlier in the week as 2015 recruit Jalon Miller gave his verbal commitment to the Horned Frogs on Sunday. Miller, a 6’8″ four-star small forward (according to ESPN) from Seagonville High School in the Dallas area, is the first pledge in that class for head coach Trent Johnson. Getting a verbal from Miller is huge for Johnson on two levels: 1) Miller is a pretty good player; and 2) Miller saying ‘yes’ to TCU sends a message to other top prospects in the Metroplex that the Horned Frogs are to be taken seriously in recruiting. Think about it: Talented players are pledging to schools like TCU and SMU. Welcome to 2014.
  2. For two seasons at Baylor, Isaiah Austin and Cory Jefferson were together a lot on and off the basketball floor. When Austin announced to the world that Marfan’s Syndrome would end his NBA career before it had a chance to begin, Jefferson decided to make sure that he and his college teammate would always be on the floor together. Jefferson, of course, was the final pick in June’s NBA Draft, eventually made the Nets’ final roster, and contributed eight points and two rebounds in his NBA debut Tuesday with Austin in attendance. This might be the best non-LeBron story of NBA’s opening week.
  3. Oklahoma guard Isaiah Cousins was in his hometown of Mount Vernon, New York, in late May when he was shot in the shoulder. Miraculously, Cousins was fully participating in practice less than a month later. Cousins opened up on his experience for the first time since everything went down, saying that doctors decided to leave the bullet in his shoulder simply because it’s lodged in between his shoulders and can’t really move. Opposing coaches will now be forced to add “superhero” to Cousins’ scouting report. You’d be foolish not to.
  4. West Virginia might be the most fascinating team in the Big 12 this season. Since arriving in the conference, they’ve been a big disappointment, and my wandering mind has wondered about how much job security Bob Huggins has. He’s done a lot of winning and he’s a native son in Morgantown, but how much will it take athletic director Oliver Luck to consider making a change at the top of his men’s basketball program? Fortunately for everyone involved, that’s probably not a decision that will need to be made. Huggins has perhaps his most talented team since joining the Big 12 and can put those matters to bed with a run to the NCAA Tournament in 2014-15.
  5. Bill Self and his some of his coaching staff did a very cool thing for Kansas students on Thursday. Self went to the Underground, an on-campus food court, and bought lunch for everybody there. Eventually, word got around campus through social media and students flocked because there was free food. There isn’t much Self has to do win the favor of the students because of all the winning he’s been able to do on the floor. But now, even the few Kansas students who don’t watch Jayhawks basketball can’t find beef with him because, dude, he just bought y’all lunch.
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Big 12 M5: 10.23.2014 Edition

Posted by Brian Goodman on October 23rd, 2014

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  1. Yesterday afternoon, a report surfaced alleging that Texas would start paying its student-athletes an amount in the area of $10,000 per year on top of the typical scholarship. Initially, the report set Twitter abuzz, as it would be the biggest domino to fall in the wake of the O’Bannon ruling, but it later turned out that Texas Athletic Director Steve Patterson was merely speaking hypothetically in response to a question about what might happen if the NCAA were to lose all of its appeals from the landmark. Despite the initial misinterpretation, it was interesting to get a glimpse from an administrator at a big athletics school into what the future may hold as the NCAA model is continuously challenged.
  2. Travis Ford has faced a lot of scrutiny over the past year (most of it deserved), but it hasn’t stopped him from making hay on the recruiting trail. Oklahoma State‘s latest commit came in Tuesday from 2016 guard Tre Evans. One interesting angle to Evans’ recruitment is that although his father, Terry, was a 1,300-point scorer for rival Oklahoma and later a staffer for Kelvin Sampson, the Sooners never came calling for Tre. A chip understandably developed on Tre’s shoulder, so even though he’s only a junior, he sounds very eager to get to Stillwater.
  3. In the current age of freshmen hype, we’ve seen how easy it can be for good upperclassmen to get lost in the shuffle. Last season, Kansas forward Perry Ellis flew under the radar compared to the Jayhawks’ one-and-done guys, and as of now, he’s one of college basketball’s most underrated players. That status is likely to change during the preview season as regional and national outlets take a closer look at what will make the Jayhawks go this year (especially as Cliff Alexander and Kelly Oubre take time to get settled) but for the time being, Ellis is about as underrated as a player for an annual contender can be. While Ellis is reliable around the rim, he was also a factor in Kansas’ disappointing defensive performance this season, so he’s definitely someone to keep an eye on.
  4. Over 20 years after his tough 1992 Cincinnati team crashed the Final Four, Bob Huggins is still fighting a reputation as a perceived villain, according to Fox Sports’ Reid Forgrave. A given fan’s impression of the coaching vet probably depends on how long they’ve been following his career and whether they view teams as an extension of their coach. Huggins’ best teams — whether they’ve been at Dayton, Cincinnati or West Virginia — have always had an edge to them and thrived during a time when many coaches had a defensive philosophy based in some part on the idea that refs can only call so much contact. However, it’s also true that Huggins has always cared deeply for his players and never minces words when it comes to his teams’ performance in a given game or season. Huggins isn’t without flaws, but in today’s college basketball landscape, there are definitely more sketchy characters.
  5. Iowa State forward Georgios Tsalmpouris suffered a mild ankle sprain in practice, but should be ready to go for the start of the season. At 7’1″, Tsalmpouris is the tallest player to suit up for the Cyclones since 2004, but at 220 pounds, he has some bulking up to do before he becomes a key cog in Iowa State’s rotation. There isn’t much reason to worry about Tsalmpouris’ injury, but someone as raw as him needs all the development he can get.
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