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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Big 12 Media Day Recap: A Photo For The Ages

Posted by Nate Kotisso on October 16th, 2014

If you haven’t heard, Kansas City’s a happening place these days. Aside from that ALCS thing in town yesterday, the Big 12 also held its annual men’s basketball media day at the Sprint Center (here’s all that stuff, if it tickles your fancy). It was your run-of-the-mill media day: Reporters asked bland questions, players and coaches gave calculated answers, and no one really learned anything new. The apex of the festivities came, however, when the Big 12’s Twitter account tweeted out a group photo will all 10 of the conference’s head coaches. Here it is below:

Bask in all its glory (photo via @Big12Conference on Twitter)

Bask in All of its Glory (photo via @Big12Conference)

Instead of breaking down the nonstop action from media day, the following were the “thoughts” that went through each coach’s mind at the time the above photo was taken.*

  • Baylor’s Scott Drew: “I hate coming here when the Tournament is in an odd-numbered year. (sighs) OK, what should I do here, hands together or apart? Together? Apart? Wait, did I use all my timeouts yet? [camera takes photo] Ah heck, they’re apart.”
  • Iowa State’s Fred Hoiberg: “Put me in the back, will ya? That’s fine. I’ll end up dreamier than I was before.”
  • Kansas’ Bill Self: “Really wanted to wear Wiggins’ draft day suit again. Knew I shouldn’t have had that glass of butter with dinner.”
  • Kansas State’s Bruce Weber: (chuckles to himself) “I can’t believe Ford was in ‘The 6th Man.’ That’s the best movie of all-time! I bet that made a heckuva lot of money in theaters!”
  • Oklahoma’s Lon Kruger:  “I would take another coaching job right now if it meant I didn’t have to take this photo.”
  • Oklahoma State’s Travis Ford: “This contract I have means that I’m pretty much bulletproof. I could pull down Drew’s pants right now and I’d STILL get that check next week. [mulls it over] Nah, I won’t do that to ‘em. He’s probably worried that he has to call a timeout here or something.”
  • Texas’ Rick Barnes: “I bet if I left media day, traveled the world and missed the entire year, we’d still have a better record than the football team.”
  • TCU’s Trent Johnson: “I don’t know why this camera guy told me to move this far up. He could have gotten a much better shot of me if I stood at half-court like I wanted.”
  • Texas Tech’s Tubby Smith: “I should have been more direct with people calling me Orlando instead of Tubby.”
  • West Virginia’s Bob Huggins:  “I don’t think anyone here gets my E. Gordon Gee Halloween costume.”

*thoughts confirmed by unnamed sources

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Five Takeaways From the Preseason Big 12 Coaches Poll

Posted by Brian Goodman on October 9th, 2014

We’re a little over a month away from the first games of the 2014-15 season, and that means the typical roll-out of preseason coaches polls, all-conference teams and all of the other fun stuff that comes with the countdown. This morning, the Big 12 Conference released its annual preseason coaches poll. You can find the complete rankings here, but here are the five biggest takeaways from the release.

  1. Kansas picked to lead the pack (again), though narrowly: Death, taxes, the sun shining in the east, Adam Sandler making terrible movies, and the Jayhawks winning the Big 12. Sometimes, there’s just no need to complicate life’s certainties. Kansas’ roster isn’t without questions, but whose isn’t? Until someone knocks the Jayhawks off the mountain, any predictions in favor of other teams are simply bold picks. The Longhorns are right behind the Jayhawks with three first-place votes to Kansas’ six in this poll, and have one of the best combinations of talent and depth in the country, but don’t count on the Jayhawks to give up their crown this season.
  2. Sooners on the rise: Oklahoma checks in after Texas and was one of the bigger overachievers in college basketball last season. Lon Kruger returns nearly everyone from a young roster that racked up 23 wins, a second-place finish in the Big 12, and an NCAA Tournament bid. While the team’s defense will need to improve, the offensive firepower should still be there, and the squad can catch a huge break if Houston transfer TaShawn Thomas is ruled eligible. Combine all of that with Kruger’s track record and there are plenty of reasons to believe the Sooners will build on last year’s success.

    Andrew Wiggins is a pro, but Bill Self has reloaded Kansas once again. (KUSports.com)

    Andrew Wiggins is a pro, but Bill Self has reloaded Kansas once again. (KUSports.com)

  3. Is the Big 12 selling Fred Hoiberg short?: Before the 2012 and 2013 seasons, the league’s coaches penciled Iowa State in the bottom half of the standings, and both times, Fred Hoiberg exceeded expectations. Last year, the coaches appeared to finally smarten up, as they tabbed the Cyclones to finish fourth, but Iowa State still outperformed those projections, finishing third in the league and winning the Big 12 Tournament. The departures of DeAndre Kane and Melvin Ejim appear to have given the coaches pause this season in sliding the Cyclones down to fifth, but we’ve seen The Mayor rebuild too many times to believe he can’t muster a top-four finish, possibly top three if things break right for his club. Look for Bryce Dejean-Jones, Georges Niang and Monte Morris to do some big things in 2014-15.
  4. What to make of the perceptions of Kansas State and Baylor: Both the Wildcats and Bears face significant roster turnover from last season’s NCAA Tournament teams, but Bruce Weber’s team was tabbed fourth and Scott Drew’s team sixth. It appears as though the league’s coaches are looking for Wildcats guard Marcus Foster to make a big leap as a sophomore and for Baylor to continue its every-other-year pattern, because I just don’t see what else can explain the 17-point difference in the preseason vote tally.
  5. At 7th and 8th place, Bob Huggins and Travis Ford face big seasons: West Virginia’s transition to the Big 12 has been a rocky one. The Mountaineers are just 49-49 over the last three seasons, and while it’s tough to picture Bob Huggins’ seat getting too hot in Morgantown, it’s time for him to produce. Juwan Staten could be the best player in the Big 12, but his amazing talent will be wasted if West Virginia doesn’t hear its name called on Selection Sunday. Meanwhile, in Stillwater, Travis Ford looks to pick up the pieces from one of the most disappointing seasons by a Power Five conference school in recent memory. To his credit, he’s made some inroads on the recruiting circuit, but it’s hard to see freshmen like Joe Burton and Mitch Solomon being good enough complements to Le’Bryan Nash and Phil Forte for the Cowboys to make a run.
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Big 12 M5: 03.11.14 Edition

Posted by Brian Goodman on March 11th, 2014

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  1. When it was reported late Sunday that Kansas center Joel Embiid would seek out a second opinion on his ongoing back injury, it appeared that his diagnosis would be worse than what fans were hoping for. There’s an update on his status and it isn’t good. According to a statement released by Bill Self, Embiid will miss the entirety of the Big 12 Tournament this week and is a “longshot” to play in the opening weekend of the NCAA Tournament. The big man’s injury throws a big wrench into the Jayhawks’ postseason aspirations. It will be tough for Kansas to replace Embiid’s presence as a rim protector, and while the hole he leaves is in the frontcourt, the pressure will be on erratic point guard Naadir Tharpe to deliver consecutive strong outings, which is a dicey proposition. In any case, it’s always unfortunate to see an injury create a roadblock for a national title contender (fans of the 2012 North Carolina Tar Heels, 2010 Syracuse Orange and 2000 Cincinnati Bearcats know what I’m talking about), so it will be interesting to see how Kansas gameplans for life without its star center.
  2. Four months ago, you could make the case that Texas head coach Rick Barnes was coaching for his job this season. Twenty-two wins, a Big 12 COY honor, one probable NCAA Tournament berth and one photo with Justin Bieber later (okay, so maybe that last one isn’t such a big factor), Texas AD Steve Patterson announced that Barnes will return to lead the Longhorns next season. Texas’ turnaround has been one of the biggest stories around college hoops after their preseason projections looked tenuous, and Barnes will remain the longest-tenured head coach in the Big 12.
  3. In the weekly Big 12 coaches’ teleconference, West Virginia head coach Bob Huggins voiced his opinion that his Mountaineers would be in “great shape” to secure an NCAA Tournament bid if they were to win two games in Kansas City this week. To that, I say not so fast. As big as last Saturday’s win over Kansas was, it doesn’t wipe out West Virginia’s batch of non-conference losses and mediocre record in Big 12 play. It’s easy to understand Huggins wanting to defend his team, and two more wins would be very helpful to West Virginia’s resume, but they will likely need some breaks on top of that to get off the bubble.
  4. For college hoops purists, the Big 12’s double round-robin schedule is one of the last vestiges of utilitarian competition in a world of swelling conferences driven by that weird other sport – you know, the one with the “ball” that isn’t even spherical. The opportunity to play each team twice is one that hasn’t been lost on the league’s coaches, and it’s a big reason why they believe the Big 12 has been the toughest conference in the country this season. With the conference catapulting at least five teams and probably more into the NCAA Tournament, it’s tough to make a counterargument. No matter who cracks the bracket from the Big 12, we’ll know that they’ll have been battle-tested and ready for the challenges that await.
  5. As Iowa State gets ready to be at its best at the Sprint Center this week, it was announced that the Cyclones will headline the venue’s November event, the CBE Classic, next season. Fred Hoiberg’s team will join Maryland, Alabama, and Arizona State on November 24-25 alongside the College Basketball Hall Of Fame’s annual inductions. The two-day tournament has hosted some of the country’s best teams, most recently the undefeated Wichita State Shockers, and while it’s tough to think about next season at a time like this, it’s reassuring to know that there will be a highly competitive Feast Week event in Big 12 Country next season.
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Big 12 M5: 02.25.14 Edition

Posted by Taylor Erickson on February 25th, 2014

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  1. The addition of Memphis transfer Tarik Black to Kansas last summer was viewed as an important move for Bill Self to solidify a young frontcourt alongside sophomore forward Perry Ellis. Black was voted Big 12 preseason Newcomer of the Year in October, and figured to play a prominent role on Kansas’ roster this season. That’s how it was suppose to work out, anyway. In reality, Black struggled early with foul trouble and quickly relinquished his starting spot to talented freshman Joel Embiid. But he has never regretted his decision to transfer to Lawrence, telling family and friends he is blessed to be there, while finding a way to use the physical and mental toughness that he developed as a youth to bring much-needed leadership to Self’s young squad. Moving forward, it will be vital that Black continue to do so as the Jayhawks enter the all-important stretch of postseason play when their season will ultimately be judged as a success or failure.
  2. Just a few short weeks ago, it looked like West Virginia was among those in the Big 12 poised to position themselves for a potential at-large bid to the NCAA Tournament. After losing three of their last four games, however, including a 13-point loss over the weekend to fellow bubble team Baylor, Bob Huggins openly questioned his teams “commitment to excellence”. The head coach seems frustrated with his player’s lack of attention to detail, explaining that the players all have iPads that are meant to be used to watch game video, but that apparently wasn’t happening. The Mountaineers will close the season with road games at Iowa State and Oklahoma and have two home contests remaining against TCU and Kansas. At 15-12 overall and 7-7 in Big 12 play, Huggins’ squad will need to finish at least .500 in the conference and need a good showing in the Big 12 Tournament if it hopes to hear its name called on Selection Sunday.
  3. On Tuesday night in Lubbock, Texas, students will have a bit of added motivation to show up at United Spirit Arena to cheer on their Red Raiders as they take on Kansas State. Texas Tech announced that the school will be giving away 30 prize packages, including eight chances for students to win $10,000 in cash or $10,000 towards the purchase of an automobile, along with a live DJ and free food. We’ve seen promotions on the uptick this year in college basketball, but certainly not anything to this degree. Moving forward, with schools struggle with game attendance, we’re likely to see more of these and other promotions in the understandable attempt to give themselves as big a home court advantage as possible.
  4. Iowa State head coach Fred Hoiberg became the latest college basketball coach to express his frustrations with social media on Monday saying, “I think social media is going to be the end of us, I really do.” Hoiberg went on to say that he thought it was a joke that someone could sit behind a computer and rifle verbal assaults at college basketball players who are out there doing the best they can. This comes just days after Louisville head coach Rick Pitino echoed similar statements, and after Iowa Hawkeye forward Zach McCabe airballed a crucial three-point attempt in a home loss to Wisconsin which caused fans to berate him on social media. After that incident, Fran McCaffery, who has been known to have a short temper, banned his team from social media for the remainder of the season. Coaches like Hoiberg and McCaffery face a difficult situation because banning players from social media platforms could easily be used against them in recruiting. Despite the fact that it might be best for teenagers who are entering college for the first time, most kids won’t like having restrictions on how they can communicate with friends, family, and yes, fans.
  5. With all the fan negativity that exists in college athletics, it’s refreshing to hear of stories like a recent one involving Oklahoma guard Buddy Hield. In a news conference held on Monday, Hield couldn’t stop smiling at the thought of getting a chance to play Kansas in Allen Fieldhouse that night. It’s that same joy in just lacing them up to play the game of basketball that Oklahoma coaches found when they first starting recruiting Hield in the Bahamas a few years ago. Hield recalls playing in slippers as a youth because he didn’t have any shoes, and now he finds himself enjoying a starring role on an NCAA Tournament-bound team. A quote from that story really shows how much the Oklahoma guard gets it, saying “If you’re doing something you don’t love, what’s the sense in doing it?” I think that’s probably something we could all apply to our own lives.
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Big 12 M5: 02.19.14 Edition

Posted by KoryCarpenter on February 19th, 2014

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  1. Jim Weber at LostLettermen.com has an interesting proposal about fixing Oklahoma State basketball: T. Boone Pickens should offer Kansas coach Bill Self $10 million a year to leave Lawrence for Stillwater. And while he makes the comparison to Roy Williams leaving Kansas for North Carolina in 2003, the situations are apples and oranges. Williams went home to Chapel Hill, but he was moving (slightly) up the coaching ladder. Not down. Winning at Kansas is easy. Winning at North Carolina is easier. And after failing to win a national title in 15 years at Kansas, Williams probably wanted easier. Self wouldn’t be able to avoid returning to Lawrence like Williams can. And while it would be a challenge at Oklahoma State, I’m sure Self’s Big 12 title streak and search for another national title (or two) are challenging enough. At least until a serious NBA offer comes along.
  2. Gregg Doyel argues that Marcus Smart isn’t the sole reason Oklahoma State has been melting down the last month, and he is right. The loss of Michael Cobbins with an Achilles tear killed this team more than losing Smart for three games. Smart’s antics, Doyel says, will shoulder the blame for the collapse of a team that was supposed to overthrow Kansas for the Big 12 championship. But Doyel seems to forget that Smart has done plenty to bring this heat on himself. He made himself a sideshow with his endless flopping. He kicked a chair during a rough game against West Virginia and left the court during play, even though his team eventually won. And Monday night while watching his team lose at Baylor, he took to twitter to criticize a blogger for being too negative. It wasn’t just Smart’s suspension that doomed the Cowboys. He was leading them in that direction long before that happened.
  3. Oklahoma head coach Lon Kruger has been in the game for a few seasons, so he knows a thing or two about handling a team late in the season. And with the Sooners (19-7) preparing for a late-season push for the NCAA Tournament and a favorable seed, he gave his players two days off this week instead of one. They will rest today as they prepare to face Kansas State on Saturday. While you always have to stay sharp, staying fresh in late February and March can be just as important.
  4. It’s refreshing to know at least one coach talks to his team about their NCAA Tournament chances as Selection Sunday draws closer. Bob Huggins told Cam Huffman of the Register-Herald that “We talk about RPI. I would just as soon them know instead of at the end of the year them coming in and saying, ‘Coach, I wish we would have known.’” I’m sure a lot of coaches in Huggins’ position have the same discussions with their players, but Huggins doesn’t mind letting the World know. And if you can get just a little more out of a few players by them knowing exactly what they need to reach the Dance, why not?
  5. When new NBA commissioner Adam Silver said he is in favor of changing the age limit from 19 to 20, Bill Self said he liked the idea. The only thing better than landing players like Andrew Wiggins and Joel Embiid is having those players around for two seasons. From the NBA’s perspective, another year of evaluation makes perfect sense. The college game would benefit as well. There would be more talent and it would be spread out more evenly around the country. And while 18-year olds shouldn’t be protected from themselves, it’s easy to see how both the NBA and NCAA would benefit from this change.
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Rush The Weekend: West Virginia Enters a Crucial Stretch

Posted by Brian Goodman on February 7th, 2014

There’s been no shortage of intrigue in the Big 12 this season. Whether you want to discuss Kansas’ future lottery picks and national title hopes, Texas’ resurrection, Baylor’s free-fall, Oklahoma State’s dive, or the resilience of Iowa State, you don’t have to look very far to find any of the nation’s biggest stories in college hoops; you could just look at this conference. But if all of those plot lines aren’t enough for you, yet another Big 12 team could muscle itself into the fray this weekend: the West Virginia Mountaineers.

Can Juwan Staten lead the Mountaineers back into tournament discussion? (AP Photo/Andrew Ferguson)

Will Juwan Staten lead the Mountaineers back into tournament discussion? (Andrew Ferguson/AP)

When Bob Huggins’ team wrapped up non-conference play back on December 29, it had very little to write home about. A handful of wins over bad teams kept them afloat, but there was no NCAA Tournament resume to speak of because of losses to the only relevant teams on their slate (Wisconsin, Missouri, Gonzaga, Purdue and Virginia Tech). Those defeats put them on the ropes earlier than many expected, and to boot, they dropped four of those games by seven points or less. When the calendar turned, they had a resume that was considerably worse than their statistical profile, which is something that you don’t see very often.

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Big 12 M5: 01.22.14 Edition

Posted by Kory Carpenter on January 22nd, 2014

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  1. It’s true that Kansas has enough talent to win the national championship with subpar point guard play, but accomplishing such a feat would be really, really difficult. There are future NBA lottery picks all over the court for the Jayhawks, but junior point guard Naadir Tharpe may be more important than all of them come March. “The guys are looking to him as kind of a rock out there,” head coach Bill Self recently told Rustin Dodd of the Kansas City Star. “Which maybe we weren’t doing early in the season. He’s getting his point across.” If Tharpe can sustain his recent steady play, it will go a long way towards Kansas making another deep tournament run.
  2. As John Shinn of the Tahlequa Daily Press points out, Oklahoma’s defense has picked up lately and it is showing in the win column. As an example, the Sooners gave up just 64 points in a two-point win over Baylor last Saturday. Oklahoma is 3-2 in the Big 12, and while the Sooners don’t look to be contenders for the conference regular season title, continued defensive intensity could give them a chance to win a game or two in this year’s NCAA Tournament.
  3. After losing three straight games over the course of a week-plus, the Iowa State players decided to have a good ol’ fashioned players-only meeting on Saturday. “It was just going over some film from the last couple games, seeing what we’ve been doing wrong and what we can actually work on as a unit,” Georges Niang told Randy Peterson of the Des Moines Register. The schedule doesn’t ease up anytime soon, however, as the Cyclones’ next four games are against Kansas State, Kansas, Oklahoma and Oklahoma State.
  4. It’s hard to argue with David Ubben of FoxSports.com about his piece on Marcus Smart earning a reputation as a flopper. Smart likes to flop. He loves to flop, actually. And as Ubben points out, he is too talented to flop. Flopping is for players who don’t otherwise have the skills to stay on the court. Smart is a lottery pick, but he looks ridiculous feigning that he was fouled excessively. After Wayne Selden’s phantom elbow to the face was scrutinized with the repetition of the Zapruder film, it will be interesting to see whether officials crack down on Smart’s acting jobs.
  5. Before the start of the 2011-12 season, Bob Huggins was asked about all the potential travel nightmares in the Big 12. The closest road trip in conference play was to Iowa State, a cool 871 miles away. Now, it’s not certain that those road trips (or more accurately, long jet trips) have affected the Mountaineers in a season and a half in the Big 12, but they have certainly struggled. This season, they have beaten TCU and Texas Tech but are a paltry 0-3 against the rest of the conference, and their tournament hopes appear to rest on making a surprise run through the Big 12 Tournament.
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Looking Ahead To The Big 12’s Most Important Games This Weekend

Posted by Brian Goodman on January 17th, 2014

This week has been highly entertaining for Big 12 fans. Whether it’s Kansas winning in a return to Hilton Coliseum, Kansas State putting the clamps on Oklahoma‘s high-energy offense, or the most recent development — Texas Tech springing the biggest upset of league play by beating Baylor on Wednesday night — storylines have emerged with each passing game. No school has played more than four games yet, but the Jayhawks are the only team still unscathed in conference play. After a quiet Thursday and Friday, the action resumes tomorrow with four match-ups that will have big implications on the conference race as well as teams’ NCAA Tournament resumes going forward.

It's been a long team since a visiting player won two games in Allen Fieldhouse.  Will Marcus Smart pull it off? (Stephen R. Sylvanie/USA TODAY)

It’s been a long time since a visiting player won two games in Allen Fieldhouse. Will Marcus Smart pull it off? (Stephen R. Sylvanie/USA TODAY)

Oklahoma State at Kansas (4:00 EST, CBS) – Remember way back in October when Marcus Smart had some interesting — if correct — things to say about Andrew Wiggins? It feels like ages ago, but two of the conference’s best players will finally get a chance to battle it out on the court. Most recently on Wednesday, Smart continued to make his case as the Big 12 POY with a great night against TCU (20 points, eight rebounds, five assists) as the Cowboys rolled the Horned Frogs, while Wiggins posted 17 points and 19 rebounds against Iowa State in a performance that still left some wanting more. Kansas will have its massive homecourt advantage behind it in this one, and the Jayhawks’ frontcourt has to be licking its chops at the idea of battling the Michael Cobbins-less Oklahoma State forwards on the glass. If Brian Williams and Kamari Murphy can’t get comfortable inside, the Cowboys will need to make up for the shortfall in other ways, whether through Smart rising to the occasion,  Phil Forte raining threes, Le’Bryan Nash putting up one of his patented hyper-efficient scoring nights, or some combination of the three.

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Big 12 M5: 01.10.14 Edition

Posted by Nate Kotisso on January 10th, 2014

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  1. It’s been a big week for Kansas State‘s Marcus Foster: the guard won Big 12 Newcomer of the Week honors and CBSSports.com named him National Freshman of the Week. Now The Wichita Eagle has details on Foster’s high school career at Hirschi High in Wichita Falls, Texas. He played all five positions and helped Hirschi to an appearance in the state quarterfinals in his junior year. There, his recruiting stock rose quickly. Foster held scholarship offers from Kansas State, Creighton, Texas, Baylor and Colorado among others. In the summer before his senior year, Foster gained a lot of weight. He appeared slow in his AAU games and those who offered him retracted their scholarships save for Creighton and Kansas State. That drove Foster to get back into shape and have a Parade All-American season before deciding to play college ball for the Wildcats. It’s a fascinating story that also makes you think twice about recruiting services. Talent is everywhere, even if they aren’t ranked on a list.
  2. As we enter the first weekend in which everyone has entered conference play, CBSSports.com released their list of top 30 conference games to watch. Included are five Big 12 match-ups: both Kansas-Oklahoma State games, Kansas-Iowa State, Iowa State-Oklahoma State and Iowa State-Baylor. There are other intriguing Big 12 games that could have made the list, but you have to understand that there are games from nine other leagues that make up the 30. If anything, five of 30 ain’t too shabby for the Big 12.
  3. Kansas is planning on building a brand new apartment complex that would serve men’s and women’s basketball student-athletes. The complex would be similar to Kentucky’s Wildcat Coal Lodge, completed in 2012, in both amenities and finances. The projected cost for the complex is $17.5 million and it would also accommodate 34 students who are non-athletes, in compliance with NCAA bylaws. “We have one of the very elite basketball programs in the country, and we want to do everything we can to stay there,” Kansas associate athletic director Jim Marchiony told the Kansas City Star. “Not only that, we need to, and housing is part of that.” I guess it is, to keep up with the Joneses’, but you were able to get Andrew Wiggins with what you have now. So yeah.
  4. Wednesday’s seemed like a breakthrough game for the entire Kansas team with Wayne Selden have a career night. The same could be said for backup point guard Conner Frankamp. He came into Wednesday’s game on an eight game scoreless streak, three of those being games where Frankamp didn’t see any playing time. He checked in against the Sooners and scored five points in 13 minutes which doesn’t seem like much at first glance. But those five points came within the last 2:09 of the first half which helped turn a deficit into a halftime lead for the Jayhawks. Kansas wouldn’t trail for the remainder of the game. Sometimes confidence is all a player needs to perform and Frankamp appears to have it now.
  5. More bad news to report for West Virginia’s basketball team: Bob Huggins announced the appeal for Jonathan Holton to play this season was denied by the NCAA on Thursday. Holton, who previously played at Rhode Island and later Palm Beach State Community College, would have been an immediate contributor for the Mountianeers this season. Holton averaged 17.5 points and 14.1 rebounds for Palm Beach State CC who went 29-3 last year. The NCAA said that Holton will have two years of eligibility remaining, starting with the 2014-15 season.
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