Feast Week Mission Briefing: Oklahoma State in the Maui Jim Maui Invitational

Posted by Nate Kotisso on November 21st, 2016

Feast Week is here. To get you ready for the Big 12’s representation in the various holiday tournaments, our Feast Week Mission Briefings continue with Oklahoma State in the Maui Jim Maui Invitational.

Catching Up: Despite Big 12 coaches picking the Cowboys to finish seventh in the conference standings, it was hardly a surprise that Oklahoma State hammered Campbell, Central Arkansas and New Orleans thoroughly in Brad Underwood‘s first three outings. In doing so, the Cowboys put together three 100-point efforts in a season for the first time since Marcus Smart was on campus in Stillwater. Underwood’s projected backcourt duo of Jawun Evans and Phil Forte has so far lived up to its lofty expectations. Evans and Forte have combined to average 45.3 points per game, a figure inflated by a low level of competition but still nice to look at it a week and a half into the season.

Oklahoma State Cowboys guard Jawun Evans has put up video game numbers so far this season: 23.3 ppg, 4.0 rpg, 6.3 apg and 3.0 spg. (Alonzo Adams/USA TODAY Sports)

Oklahoma State Cowboys guard Jawun Evans has put up video game numbers so far this season: 23.3 ppg, 4.0 rpg, 6.3 apg and 3.0 spg. (Alonzo Adams/USA TODAY Sports)

Opening Round Preview: Connecticut came into this opening round game looking nothing like its usual self. Picked in the preseason to finish second in the American, UConn has stumbled out of the gate in losing back-to-back home games to Wagner and Northeastern, followed by a comeback road victory at Loyola Marymount. Despite being plagued by poor three-point shooting (27%), the Huskies still have athletic bodies like Amida Brimah and Rodney Purvis, both of whom can guard multiple positions. Monday night’s game will be a meeting of one team that wants to run (Oklahoma State) and another that would much prefer a tight, defensive affair (UConn).

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Big 12 Opening Weekend in Review

Posted by Drew Andrews on November 15th, 2016

Opening night of the college basketball season gave nine of the 10 Big 12 programs a chance to begin their seasons with easy wins. Those match-ups went according to plan, as only Kansas played a team inside KenPom’s top 250 and, as a result, took the only loss. However, there was another surprise that could ultimately spell trouble for one of the contenders to the conference title. Let’s take a look at one key takeaway from each team coming out of the opening weekend.

  • Kansas – The Jayhawks came into the season with questions about leadership, scoring in the post, and whether Josh Jackson could make the leap to superstardom. The loss to Indiana in the Armed Forces Classic on Friday night only provided a first piece of an answer to one of those questions. Frank Mason III exploded for 30 points and nine assists in the defeat, making it seem that he might be Bill Self‘s Option A for leadership and scoring this season. In the absence of the graduated Perry Ellis, Landon Lucas and Carlton Bragg will be asked to replace some of his frontcourt scoring load. Lucas proved that he could play the necessary minutes last year, but Bragg rarely saw the floor. After a meager 18-minute outing on opening night, it seems as if Self still has questions about the sophomore forward. Meanwhile, Jackson struggled to find a rhythm on both ends of the floor. Early foul trouble and questionable shot selection meant he saw more of the bench than expected, but it will be interesting to see how Self utilizes him in tonight’s clash with top-ranked Duke.
Josh Jackson struggled against Indiana. Can he break out against Duke in the Champions Classic? (Photo: Kansas City Star)

Josh Jackson struggled against Indiana. Can he break out against Duke in the Champions Classic? (Photo: Kansas City Star)

  • Iowa State  Monte’ Morris began his quest for conference and national honors with a bang against Savannah State (21 points and 11 assists), followed by a quieter but efficient outing (18 points and three assists) last night against Mount St. Mary’s. Steve Prohm started five seniors in both games, and if Iowa State hopes to again challenge Kansas for the Big 12 title, it will need every bit of experience and leadership from that group to get there.
  • TexasJarrett Allen certainly looked the part of star in the making in his debut for the Longhorns, but despite his 16 points and 12 boards, Texas was outrebounded on the offensive glass in its first two outings against Incarnate Word and Louisiana-Monroe. Shaka Smart‘s HAVOC defense certainly creates great energy and scoring opportunities via turnovers, but he has to be concerned that his players are giving up so many second chances to teams that were clearly overmatched in talent and size.

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One Burning Question: Will Jawun Evans and Phil Forte Get Enough Help Inside?

Posted by Brian Goodman on October 28th, 2016

After several years of underperformance, Oklahoma State finally parted ways with Travis Ford and made the splashiest move of the offseason in hiring Brad Underwood. A former Kansas State assistant, Underwood arrives in Stillwater with a shiny 89-14 record over three seasons at Stephen F. Austin, including an upset of his mentor Bob Huggins’ program, West Virginia, in the first round of last season’s NCAA Tournament. The returns of Phil Forte and Jawun Evans should provide Underwood with an excellent base to his first season. The sharpshooting Forte is an underrated Big 12 veteran who owns a career 38.9 percent three-point shooting clip and is an automatic 86.6 percent at the free throw line. Evans’ corresponding emergence as an NBA prospect on the strength of his advanced vision and handle gives the Cowboys a lift they badly need. The question this team faces, though, is a familiar one despite a new head coach at the helm: Will the Cowboys’ frontcourt be effective enough to keep opposing defenses from overloading on their two potent guards?

Phil Forte's return gives the Cowboys an instant boost. (Mic Smith/AP)

Phil Forte’s return gives the Cowboys an instant boost. (Mic Smith/AP)

The Cowboys under Ford were never known for stout frontcourts, and last season may have been their low point, especially on the offensive end. Oklahoma State shot a league-worst 55.2 percent at the rim, per hoop-math.com, relying on free throws and, without Forte, shaky three-point shooting to carry the load. It went about as poorly as you’d imagine, as the team finished last in the conference in offensive efficiency. Fortunately, Underwood could be the right guy to reverse the Pokes’ fortunes. His last two Lumberjack teams ranked 15th and sixth nationally in converting twos and were especially effective at the rim, shooting 67.7 percent on close looks last season and 63.3 percent the year before. The defenses that Underwood will see in the Big 12 will be more imposing than the ones he faced in the Southland, but the standard he’ll have to meet is mere respectability rather than elite production.

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One Burning Question: Is Kansas State Poised for a Breakthrough?

Posted by Nate Kotisso on October 26th, 2016

The following question has been asked within Big 12 circles all too often: Is Bruce Weber on the hot seat at Kansas State? We have heard that question a number of times since the former Illinois head coach first stepped on the Manhattan campus in 2012. The murmurs about Weber’s job status, however, reached a fever pitch following last season’s NCAA Tournament, an event that included then-Stephen F. Austin head coach and Kansas State alumnus Brad Underwood pull off a major upset of the Big 12’s very own West Virginia. Wildcats’ fans figured this would be the best time for the Kansas State administration to dump Weber and bring home their native son. Alas, Underwood was instead named the new head coach at Oklahoma State. Does that development (or lack thereof) mean that all hope is now lost in the Weber era?

Save for Kansas, the Big 12 appears to be in a transitional period. Is this the best time for Bruce Weber's group to pounce? (Scott Rovak/USA Today Sports)

Save for Kansas, the Big 12 appears to be in a transitional period. Is this the best time for Bruce Weber’s group to pounce? (Scott Rovak/USA TODAY Sports)

Actually, there is some hope. Let’s start with the ugly 2014-15 season. Budding sophomore star Marcus Foster struggled to get his mind right all year long. Players were suspended. By season’s end, the Wildcats were 15-17 and a total of 10 players had either graduated or decided to transfer out of the program. Weber responded by bringing in a massive seven-man recruiting class that 247Sports ranked ninth-best in the 10-team Big 12. And somehow, that team full of newcomers won 17 games. That brings us to present day. Wesley Iwundu, the team’s do-everything wing, is looking to start and finish his Kansas State career with an appearance in the NCAA Tournament. Fellow senior D.J. Johnson will anchor the frontcourt with his 60.8 field goal percentage and top-25 offensive rebounding rate (14.7%). Dean Wade, Barry Brown and Kamau Stokes are all back for their sophomore seasons after accounting for 39.5 percent of the team’s scoring a year ago. Read the rest of this entry »

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On Forgetting Phil Forte III: Please Don’t

Posted by Nate Kotisso on October 17th, 2016

There was a fight for a loose ball. Oklahoma State’s Phil Forte III dove on to the hardwood, extending his arm in an effort to get a paw on the ball. A Towson player also dove for the ball, landing squarely on Forte’s vulnerable left arm. His entire arm hurt from the impact, but it was the elbow that bore the brunt of the pain. The date was November 19, 2015. After starting the team’s first three games of the new season, Forte would go on to miss the remainder of last season with nary a thought about whether his head coach, Travis Ford, would return.

An elbow injury caused Phil Forte III to miss all but three games last season. (Mic Smith/Associated Press)

An elbow injury caused Phil Forte III to miss 29 games last season. (Mic Smith/AP)

The inevitable coaching change occurred. Ford was fired after a miserable 3-15 Big 12 season and Brad Underwood was brought in to restore Oklahoma State’s legitimacy as a basketball program with frequent forays into March. On the day Underwood was unveiled as the new head couch, Forte told the media that he too, indeed, would be back in Stillwater this fall. “It’s these teammates,” he told reporters on March 23. “It’s the fans. It’s the community. It’s Stillwater. I just can’t see myself going anywhere else. I can’t see myself putting on another jersey, another uniform.” Last week, the Big 12 Conference released its list of preseason superlatives for the 2016-17 season. Everything looked fine. The All-Big 12 team looked fine. Its conference freshman and player of the year picks looked fine. There was not one name on the list that you could argue did not deserve the early acclaim. However, there was one name that deserved to be grouped in with the others but was somehow missing altogether from the press release: Phil Forte III.

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Big 12 Offseason Burning Questions, Part II

Posted by Chris Stone on April 12th, 2016

Yesterday, Brian Goodman opened our examination of the offseason’s burning questions facing Big 12 teams by reviewing challenges facing Baylor, Kansas, Kansas State, Oklahoma and TCU. Our series continues today with consideration of the questions plaguing the remainder of the league: Iowa State, Oklahoma State, Texas, Texas Tech and West Virginia.

Iowa State (23-12, 10-8)

For the first time in a long time, Iowa State will be without Georges Niang. (Credit: Reese Strickland-USA TODAY Sports)

For the first time in a long time, Iowa State will be without Georges Niang. (Credit: Reese Strickland-USA TODAY Sports)

Who will step up in the Cyclones’ frontcourt? A lack of depth at Iowa State was a persistent problem last season and it leads to the bigger question about who will fill the gaping frontcourt holes in Ames next year. With both Georges Niang and Jameel McKay no longer around, the Cyclones return no players 6’8″ or taller who played greater than five percent of the available minutes last season. Iowa State will need to rely on a big debut from Emmanuel Malou, one of the best junior college transfers in the country, and dramatic improvement from rising sophomore Simeon Carter, the Cyclones’ best returning big man.

Oklahoma State (12-20, 3-15)

What can new head coach Brad Underwood do with one of the Big 12’s best backcourts? Underwood consistently produced efficient offenses at Stephen F. Austin and he’ll have the chance to do likewise in Stillwater. The first-year head coach will inherit one of the conference’s best backcourts, as both Jawun Evans and Phil Forte appear set to return to school, with Evans showcasing his potential in the Cowboys’ upset of Kansas and Forte likely the best outside shooter in the Big 12. How Evans and Forte develop their chemistry with Underwood this offseason will go a long way toward determining whether Oklahoma State can regain conference relevance next season. Read the rest of this entry »

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Oklahoma State Tabs Brad Underwood To Reinvigorate Program

Posted by Brian Goodman on March 22nd, 2016

One of the most attractive jobs in the conference opened up on Friday when Oklahoma State parted ways with Travis Ford. While five bottom-half finishes in six seasons may not suggest much allure to the gig, strong facilities, access to the lush recruiting hotbed of Texas, a winning tradition and avid fan and donor support (when the team performs) were enough to sway former Stephen F. Austin head coach Brad Underwood to come aboard just one day after his Lumberjacks exited the NCAA Tournament.

With little (if anything) left to prove on the mid-major level, Brad Underwood jumped to Oklahoma State. (USA TODAY Sports)

With little (if anything) left to prove on the mid-major level, Brad Underwood jumped to Oklahoma State. (USA TODAY Sports)

Much like a baseball prospect who’s mashed his way through the minor leagues, there was simply nothing left for Underwood to prove at the mid-major level. His Stephen F. Austin teams went 59-1 in conference play over three seasons, winning the Southland Conference tournament each year he was there and bringing that same fire to the NCAA Tournament, winning two games as a double-digit seed and pushing a good Notre Dame team to the final second over the weekend. Underwood’s resume was overwhelming even before this season’s Second Round run, but the postseason certainly elevated the demand for his services, making it clear that the time had come for him to find a bigger challenge.

Underwood will find just that in the Big 12, whose coaches have a combined 43 Sweet Sixteen trips and eight Final Fours to their names. The biggest hurdle he’ll have to clear will be the demanding task of recruiting in Stillwater’s backyard, but his ties to the area as a McPherson (Kan.) native and as a two-year player at Kansas State and assistant under Bob Huggins and Frank Martin suggest he’s more than capable of doing the job.

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Big 12 M5: 03.21.16 Edition

Posted by Brian Goodman on March 21st, 2016

morning5_big12

  1. After extended struggles in the NCAA Tournament, the Big 12 pulled through by sending three teams — Kansas, Oklahoma and Iowa State — to the Sweet Sixteen for the first time since 2009. What’s particularly interesting about the league’s current standing is that the three teams still alive are the ones we all thought had the best chance to make a run when the season started. It was tough to see Baylor, West Virginia, Texas and Texas Tech lose games they could have (perhaps should have) won, but all in all, Big 12 supporters have to like this year’s results.
  2. With Stephen F. Austin falling in a heartbreaker to Notre Dame on Sunday, you can expect the chatter connecting Brad Underwood to the Oklahoma State job to ramp up over the next couple of days. He checks many of the necessary boxes for the Cowboys: He’s been tremendously successful; he has connections to the area; he worked in the Big 12 earlier in his career and is a hot name who could reinvigorate the program and re-energize the fan base in very short order. We’ll have more on the coaching search in Stillwater a bit later today, but even though Underwood won just a single NCAA Tournament game this year, his potential addition to the program in Stillwater makes a lot of sense.
  3. In other Big 12 coaching news, a report Sunday indicated that Pittsburgh head coach Jamie Dixon is strongly considering a move to take the vacant TCU job. While it isn’t often that you hear of a coach of Dixon’s stature being connected to a program with as little historical success as TCU, there are a few reasons why this could be a reasonable next step for the Horned Frogs. Dixon is a TCU alumnus and the school just unveiled substantial facilities upgrades, and the timing of Trent Johnson’s firing suggests that athletic director Chris Del Conte wants to take an aggressive approach towards escaping the Big 12 basement. The move could also be appealing from Dixon’s side, too. Fan unrest in Pittsburgh is growing as Dixon has turned only two of his 11 NCAA Tournament bids into Sweet Sixteen runs, and, though there’s not much to suggest he’s at risk of termination, the athletic director and chancellor who were in place when he was hired are now gone, so it’s fair to wonder just how much support he has from the current administration. Given all of those circumstances, the TCU job could represent something of an escape hatch. While the Horned Frogs don’t have the most well-regarded program around college basketball, we haven’t seen what they can do with an accomplished leader like Dixon at the helm. It’s also no secret that Texas is loaded with the kind of prep talent that can make TCU competitive with the right coach.
  4. Returning to the league’s NCAA Tournament performance over the weekend, it has to be especially redeeming for Iowa State to have extended its season for at least one more game. While this year’s campaign hasn’t been without its highlights, the Cyclones have just been through the wringer. First, they lost Naz Mitrou-Long eight games into the season. Then they started 1-3 in conference play, dashing hopes of knocking Kansas from the top of the Big 12 mountain and leading to a level of fan criticism that prompted head coach Steve Prohm to delete his Twitter and Facebook accounts. The team then spent a decent chunk of February working through various challenges with Jameel McKay before ultimately finishing fifth in the conference and going one-and-done at the Big 12 Tournament. Flash forward to this past weekend, and the Cyclones delivered one of the most refreshing stretches of play they’ve had all year. While it’s not a huge surprise to see Iowa State in the Sweet Sixteen, that they’ve done so in spite of all the challenges they’ve faced likely makes this run a little more special than it would be otherwise.
  5. The Big 12’s Sweet Sixteen action will tip on Thursday night when Kansas and Maryland meet in Louisville. At first glance, the most intriguing individual matchup in this game centers on how Mark Turgeon’s team will defend Perry Ellis. Doing so is a tall order, but with four regulars at 6’9″ or taller, the Terrapins certainly have the bodies capable of altering Ellis’ inside shots. Part of what makes Ellis such a matchup nightmare, however, is his ability to force opposing big men defend him in space, so it will be interesting to monitor how often Bill Self utilizes Ellis on the perimeter.
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Rushed Reactions: #6 Notre Dame 76, #14 Stephen F. Austin 75

Posted by Brian Otskey on March 20th, 2016

Rush the Court will be providing wall-to-wall coverage of each of the NCAA Tournament from each of the 13 sites this year. Follow our NCAA Tourney specific Twitter accounts at @RTCEastregion, @RTCMWregion,@RTCSouthregion and @RTCWestregion.

Three Key Takeaways.

Rex Pflueger’s only basket of the game sent Notre Dame to the Sweet Sixteen. (Photo: Robert Deutsch, USA TODAY Sports)

  1. One Shining Moment. Welcome to the montage, Rex Pflueger. The California kid tipped in Zach Auguste‘s missed shot with one second remaining to send Notre Dame to the Sweet Sixteen. It was a classic example of this tournament creating an iconic moment for a player not many people have heard of. It was Pflueger’s only two points of the game and his first made field goal since Notre Dame’s regular season finale against North Carolina State on March 5. For the time being, Pflueger saved Notre Dame’s season. We will see his one shining moment on video for years to come.
  2. Notre Dame won this game in the paint. The Fighting Irish scored 52 of their 76 points either in the paint or from the foul line as they took advantage of a substantial size edge. Auguste led the way, but the Notre Dame guards did a fantastic job getting into the paint and creating for both themselves and teammates. It is incredibly difficult to win games in this tournament when a team is passive offensively, and the Irish were the antithesis of passive this afternoon. Notre Dame was aggressive and efficient en route to shooting 56.9 percent from the floor for the game. A lot of that had to do with Auguste and his team’s dominance around the rim.
  3. What more can you say about Stephen F. Austin? The Lumberjacks put on quite a display this week in Brooklyn. On Friday night they took out a West Virginia team that many experts said could contend for a spot in the Final Four. They beat the Mountaineers at their own game and today they were one missed defensive rebound away from making the first Sweet Sixteen appearance in school history. Thomas Walkup is a special player who got better in each of his four years in Nacogdoches. He had 21 points today after scoring 33 two nights ago against West Virginia, performances that nearly carried his team to the second weekend. With the Lumberjacks losing Walkup, Demetrious Floyd, Clide Geffrard, Trey Pinkney and Jared Johnson to graduation, the focus now will turn to head coach Brad Underwood and whether or not he stays with the program. He will likely be mentioned as a candidate for the open Big 12 jobs at Oklahoma State and TCU. Read the rest of this entry »
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TCU Fires Trent Johnson: Now What?

Posted by Chris Stone on March 14th, 2016

Late on Selection Sunday, CBS Sports‘ Jon Rothstein broke news that TCU head coach Trent Johnson had been fired by the school, a report that was confirmed on Monday morning in a statement issued by the program’s director of intercollegiate athletics, Chris Del Conte. The statement, posted on the athletic department’s website, twice mentions the Horned Frogs’ new $72 million arena, and suggests that the school has the tools in place to establish a successful program in Fort Worth. The primary concern is that Johnson failed to deliver the necessary results. “We simply did not have the success we envisioned,” Del Conte said.

Trent Johnson finished just 50-79 in four seasons at TCU. (rantsports.com).

Trent Johnson finished just 50-79 in four seasons at TCU. (rantsports.com).

The peak of Johnson’s success in his four seasons at TCU came last year when the Horned Frogs entered Big 12 play undefeated and ranked in the AP Top 25 for this first time since 1999. However, TCU finished just 4-14 in the Big 12 to close out the regular season before making a quick exit in the quarterfinals of the Big 12 Tournament. For Johnson, success against weak non-conference slates was the norm. The Horned Frogs went 39-11 in non-conference games under his direction, but their strength of schedule outside Big 12 play was never any better than 331st nationally, according to KenPom. Ultimately, though, Johnson’s inability to turn TCU into a respectable Big 12 program during his tenure appeared to mark the breaking point. The Horned Frogs won a mere eight league games over four seasons. “Your record is your record,” as Del Conte said.

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