The Big 12, Halloween Style

Posted by Taylor Erickson on October 31st, 2013

Ah, yes, the Halloween holiday is finally upon us. A time of the year when we all seem to be submerged in any type of pumpkin thing we can get our hands on. When most of the country is knee-deep in football season, except at schools like Kansas and Iowa State which have already thrown in the towel and turned the page to basketball. It’s the one time each year adults are allowed to rekindle the flame from childhood and dress themselves in literally anything you can imagine. In the spirit of this festive holiday, let’s take a look around the Big 12, Halloween style.

Trick:  Don’t fall for it, not even for a second. On Wednesday, The Sporting News released a slideshow of college basketball players in costumes they sported as kids many years ago. Scrolling through, you come across a young Brady Heslip, dressed as what would appear to be a lizard of some sort, and yes, he’s even rocking that great head of hair. While a juvenile Heslip appears awfully innocent, make no mistake about it, the grown-up version has a deadly stroke from behind the arc that consistently pains Big 12 foes.

Brady Heslip appears innocent, but will make you pay from behind the arc.

A young, innocent Brady Heslip, now deadly behind the arc. (Sporting News/Heslip family photo)

Treat:  Look at any national college basketball preview, and you’re bound to repeatedly see the names Andrew Wiggins and Marcus Smart. Those of us in the Big 12 will be treated (pun intended) to at least two match-ups between these college superstars, once on January 18 at Allen Fieldhouse, and again on March 1 at Gallagher-Iba Arena. There’s been no shortage of words between the two this preseason, along with head coaches Bill Self and Travis Ford, further magnifying what should be two absolute epic meetings between these schools in Big 12 play. Kansas fans were haunted during the latter half of the 2012-13 season by images of Smart back-flipping his way across James Naismith Court after the Cowboys pulled off the upset in Lawrence.  Here’s to hoping this year will provide plenty of new fireworks.

Trick:  If you’re familiar with the Big 12, chances are that you decided last season that West Virginia’s Mountaineer mascot stakes claim to the “best beard in the Big 12″ award. Make no mistake about it, his facial hair is Duck Dynasty-worthy, but a member of Kansas’ cheer squad is throwing a challenge flag in the direction of Morgantown. Don’t know what I’m referring to? Without further ado, we present you with KU’s yell leader, Cedric, or as he’s quickly become known among the KU fanbase, Thor (pictured below), who made his debut during the Jayhawks’ exhibition game on Tuesday night. We could go into further explanation, but the picture really speaks for itself.

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Assessing the Season: Baylor Bears

Posted by KoryCarpenter on April 11th, 2013

I don’t know who Baylor’s biggest basketball rival is, but I imagine whoever it was laughed at the Bears for winning the NIT last week — something about being the 69th best team in the country. Of course there are worse things than winning the NIT —  like losing in the NIT — so the Bears have that going for them. But those taunts from rival fans still have some merit. For schools like Memphis (2002 champs) or Wichita State (2011), winning the NIT can become a stepping stone to bigger and better things. But for big boy schools, schools like Baylor with top recruits falling off the bleachers, it’s hard to gauge how it feels to win its last game of the year and not capture the National Championship. In its 74-54 NIT championship game win over Iowa, Baylor played a former five-star center (Isaiah Austin), an honorable mention All-America guard in Pierre Jackson, and a quartet of former four-star recruits. That roster lost 14 games this season (including a 9-9 mark in conference play) and couldn’t beat out teams like La Salle and Ole Miss for an at-large bid to the NCAA Tournament. There was no reason the Bears should have been in the NIT in the first place, but for the sake of this column, we’ll take a look at the highs and lows of the 2012-13 Baylor Bears.

It Wasn't the Championship Baylor Wanted, But the NIT Was a Nice Consolation Prize

It Wasn’t the Championship Baylor Wanted, But the NIT Was a Nice Consolation Prize

Highs

  • Beating Kentucky in Rupp Arena, December 1: In early December, Kentucky wasn’t the team that would eventually fall to Robert Morris in the opening round of the NIT. Or at least, that wasn’t yet the perception. The Wildcats were #8 in the country at the time and pundits still believed their band of high school All-Americans could make another deep run in the NCAA Tournament. Baylor’s patented zone frustrated the Kentucky freshmen into a 29.6% shooting performance from the field. Pierre Jackson scored 17 points as the Bears rebounded from their loss to Charleston in the game prior.
  • 86-79 Overtime Win Over Texas, January 5: With a tough non-conference season then behind them, the Bears avoided back-to-back losses with an overtime win over Texas in the Big 12 opener thanks to big games from Cory Jefferson and Pierre Jackson, who combined for 49 points.
  • Senior Night Win over Kansas, March 9: Losers of eight of their previous 11, the Bears still had a chance to deny Kansas the outright regular season conference title on its Senior Night. That’s exactly what they did after Pierre Jackson scored 28 points and added 10 assists to give Kansas its worst loss in five years.

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Big 12 Power Rankings: Week 15

Posted by KoryCarpenter on February 18th, 2013

We don’t have many of these rankings left this season, but the Big 12 isn’t getting any easier to decipher as we inch closer to March (less than four weeks until Selection Sunday). The Big 12 still has a good chance to get six teams into the NCAA Tournament, but Baylor and Iowa State don’t have much margin for error the last three weeks of the regular season. The Cyclones are a consensus #10 seed and the Bears are an #11 seed on the latest Bracket Matrix mock bracket. The top of the conference is more of a mess, though. Oklahoma State, Kansas, and Kansas State are 9-3 but it doesn’t mean there isn’t distinctness with each record. For instance, Kansas State is 1-2 against the other first place teams while Kansas is 2-1. Oklahoma State, on the other hand, is 1-1 but plays host to the Kansas schools in the coming weeks. They are also fortunate in that two of their final three road games are against West Virginia and TCU. And that’s why the Cowboys are #1 this week.

Tier I:

Back On Top: Marcus Smart Is Playing As Well As Anyone In The Big 12. (AP)

Back On Top: Marcus Smart Is Playing As Well As Anyone In The Big 12. (AP)

1) Oklahoma State (19-5, 9-3)
Previous Ranking: 2

Last Week: W 91-67 at Texas Tech, W (OT) 84-79 vs Oklahoma

This Week: Wednesday vs Kansas, 8:00 PM, Saturday at West Virginia, 1:00 PM

  • Rundown: After struggling around the turn of the year and dropping three out of four, the Cowboys began playing like their talent suggests and are winners of eight of their last nine games. They have an opportunity on Wednesday to become the first Big 12 team to sweep Bill Self in a season as the Jayhawks come into Gallagher-IBA Arena, where the Cowboys have won two out of three against the Jayhawks dating back to 2007-08.
  • Player Stepping Up: Freshman G Marcus Smart: Smart had 25 points, nine rebounds, and five steals in the upset over Kansas on Feb. 2. He had 23 points, seven rebounds and five steals against Texas a week later, and on Saturday against Oklahoma, Smart finished with 28 points, seven rebounds, and four assists in the overtime victory.

2) Kansas (21-4. 9-3)
Previous Ranking: 3

Last Week: W 83-62 vs Kansas State, W 73-47 vs Texas

This Week: Wednesday at Oklahoma State, 8:00 PM, Saturday vs TCU, 3:00 PM

  • Rundown: It doesn’t really matter that top-10 teams have been consistently falling the last few weeks, but it can give Kansas fans a small sense of relief knowing that every perceived top team in the country has its flaws as well as the Jayhawks, who rebounded nicely last Monday with a 21-point win over Kansas State when they desperately needed a 21-point win. Wednesday’s game at Oklahoma State could decide the Big 12 championship.
  • Player Stepping Up: Freshman G Ben McLemore: McLemore had 30 points against Kansas State on 9-13 shooting, a cool 69.2%. In seven of his last ten games he shot over 50% from the floor. But he can still do more, attempting 10 or less shots in six of those games.  Shoot the ball, Ben.

3) Kansas State (20-5, 9-3)
Previous Ranking: 1

Last Week: L 83-62 at Kansas, W 81-61 vs Baylor

This Week: Tonight vs West Virginia, 8:00 PM, Saturday at Texas, 7:00 PM

  • Rundown: Monday’s loss at Kansas hurt, but it wasn’t all that unexpected. If they can take care of Baylor on the road on March 2, there’s still a chance the Wildcats could be 14-3 heading into the final regular season game at Oklahoma State on March 9. The remaining schedule sets up that well for K-State, with their next five games against the bottom five teams in the conference.
  • Player Stepping Up: Sophomore G Angel Rodriguez: He has a 2.5:1 Assist to Turnover Ratio on the season and is averaging an efficient 19.6 PPG his last three games. In that stretch, he is 46.3% from the floor and 41.6% from three-point range.

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Time to Recognize the Other Point Guard at Baylor: AJ Walton

Posted by dnspewak on January 21st, 2013

ESPN’s Brent Musburger and Fran Fraschilla gushed about a bunch of Baylor players during its victory over Oklahoma State Monday evening. They talked about how the 34 NBA scouts in the building surely must have noticed that forwards Cory Jefferson and Isaiah Austin combined for 11 blocks and two double-doubles. They talked about standout point guard Pierre Jackson, the preseason Big 12 Player of the Year and the Bears’ leading scorer. And they talked about Brady Heslip, the dead-eyed three-point shooter who has been suffering through a shooting slump after a terrific 2011-12 campaign.

A.J. Walton is a Starter, But Nobody Knows It (photo credit to Big12Sports.com)

A.J. Walton is a Starter, But Nobody Knows It (photo credit to Big12Sports.com)

There was one more guy they gushed about. That’s A.J. Walton, the senior guard and winningest player in Baylor basketball history. It’s about time you gush about him, too. He didn’t lead the team in scoring like Jackson, and he didn’t finish with a double-double or block any shots, but he made what Fraschilla called the “play of the game” when he saved a ball near the baseline and fired it to Jefferson for a dunk, helping extend his team’s lead to eight points after the Cowboys had staged a modest comeback. It was one of four assists on the day for Walton, who also tallied two steals, five rebounds and made a number of other hustle plays, none of which went unnoticed by the commentators. By the end of the game, it would be fair to say Musburger had more of a crush on A.J. Walton than he did on that other A.J.’s girlfriend, if you catch our drift.

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Seth Davis Plays “Stock Report”: Big 12 Reaction

Posted by dnspewak on January 3rd, 2013

Seth Davis is at it again. In the 2013 edition of his “Hoop Thoughts Stock Report” — which seems eerily similar to how Pardon the Interruption plays Buy or Sell — Davis included six teams from the Big 12 among his long list of schools across the country. There’s a reason Davis writes for Sports Illustrated and we, well, don’t write for SI, but regardless, no writer is off limits in the world of college basketball. Here’s are some excerpts of what Davis said about those Big 12 teams, and more importantly, here’s what we think about what Davis said about the Big 12 teams.

Pierre Jackson (#55) and Isaiah Austin (#21) Will Make or Break the Bears' Season. (Associated Press/Rod Aydelotte)

Pierre Jackson (#55) and Isaiah Austin (#21) Will Make or Break the Bears’ Season. (Associated Press/Rod Aydelotte)

BAYLOR (8-4): HOLD: This team is too soft defensively to buy, but it has too many good pieces to sell.

Hold? Agreed, to an extent. Baylor has looked marvelous at times and horrendous at others, so simply in terms of stock, let’s go ahead and even things out and call it a hold. You don’t want to buy a team that has already lost four games and was out-rebounded by College of Charleston and Northwestern, but you also don’t want to sell a team that made BYU look silly and won at Kentucky. There’s a chance this team could still wind up as good if not better than last year’s team, simply because Isaiah Austin is an animal, Pierre Jackson looks like the Big 12 Player of the Year contender we all thought he’d be and, as Davis mentions, there’s no chance Brady Heslip keeps misfiring from beyond the arc at this rate. Here’s where Davis is wrong, though: Baylor is not “too soft defensively.” The word “soft” is much too harsh. The Bears’ zone embarrassed and confused Kentucky at Rupp Arena, and they held BYU in check with a sub-40 percent percentage from the floor. Gonzaga lit them up, sure, but the word is “inconsistent.” Not necessarily “soft.”

KANSAS (11-1, No. 6): BUY It is rare to see a team have so many talented pieces that fit together so well. […] We know the Jayhawks are going to win the Big 12 yet again, so they’re almost certain to go into the NCAA tournament as a No. 1 seed. I’d be surprised if their season does not end in the 404.

Easy pick here. Seth Davis, you’ve got no argument from us. In fact, you’ve likely got no argument from anybody on earth, save a few delusional Missouri fans. Bill Self has proven once again that he has no problem recovering after defections to the NBA and graduation. That’s because his bench can usually outplay the rest of the Big 12 in any given year. So now that it’s Jeff Withey‘s turn to be the star, he’s doing it. Now that it’s Ben McLemore‘s time to shine, he’s doing it, too. The question is not whether Kansas will win the Big 12. The question is whether the Jayhawks are good enough to win it all. Davis hits the nail on the head here, but you knew that already.

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Set Your DVR: Weekend Edition

Posted by bmulvihill on December 28th, 2012

setDVR

Brendon Mulvihill is the head curator for @SportsGawker and an RTC contributor. You can find him @TheMulv on Twitter. See bottom of the post for the Official RTC Star System.

We are headed into the final weekend of 2012, which means conference season is just about here. There are a few teams playing this weekend that could use one more strong non-conference win for their NCAA Tourney resumes. However, there is one game this weekend that takes center stage in the Bluegrass State. Let’s get to the breakdowns.

Game of the Weekend

#24 Kentucky at #3 Louisville – 4:00 PM EST, Saturday on CBS (*****)

Pitino looks to end a three game slide to in-state rival Kentucky on Saturday (AP)

Pitino looks to end a three game slide to in-state rival Kentucky on Saturday (AP)

  • The Louisville-Kentucky series is starting to develop a pattern. Since the 2002-03 season, the Cardinals have won two in a row then dropped three in a row, won two in a row and then dropped three in a row. Rick Pitino and company are in the midst of another three-game slide to their in-state rival, so if the pattern holds, Louisville is due for a win on Saturday. The big news this week that may help secure that victory is the return of Gorgui Dieng from a wrist injury. Dieng has been out since before the Duke game and should have a significant impact against the Wildcats. While he may be a bit rusty, his defense is crucial against the UK frontcourt of Nerlens Noel and Willie Cauley-Stein. Defense in general will be key for Louisville in this game. Watch Kentucky point guard Archie Goodwin closely to see how he handles the Pitino press. In general, the Wildcats have not turned the ball over a great deal, but this is by far the best defense they have played all season long. Also, watch the rebounding numbers closely. Kentucky has a significant size advantage but the Cardinals have been better on the boards overall. This is where Dieng will make a huge difference. Without him, the Cards have little to no size. The question will be if he can play up to his pre-injury level without any major issues.
  • Kentucky’s three losses this season have been also been their worst turnover performances of the the year (on a per possession basis). Goodwin is turning the ball over at a rate of about 20%, so it will be interesting to see how John Calipari has the offense bring the ball upcourt. Let’s see if they utilize their big men and size advantage to advance the ball. If you see a lot of dribbling in the backcourt by Kentucky, it will probably result in too many turnovers. The Wildcats have shown a more balanced offense against weaker opponents since their last loss to Baylor, but again, they will be facing what could be the best defense in the country, so they must continue to get contribution from a lot of sources. Ryan Harrow and Kyle Wiljter haven proven they can put up 20+ points any given night. Unfortunately, they both can disappear from the offense as well. Both players need to have their best games of the season for Kentucky to win on the road.
  • Dieng looks like he could be the difference in this game. Unfortunately, we do not know where he is at in terms of game stamina. If he can stay on the court and play defense and rebound at a reasonable pace, Louisville should be able to stop its three-game losing streak to Kentucky. If he gets tired or gets into foul trouble, the Wildcats can take advantage of their size and athleticism inside. However, they still need scoring from players like Harrow and Wiltjer if they plan to pull the road upset.

More Great Games

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Big 12 M5: Christmas Eve Edition

Posted by KoryCarpenter on December 24th, 2012

morning5_big12

  1. After initially being suspended for the entire season, an NCAA appeals committee lessened the season-long penalty for Texas sophomore guard Myck Kabongo to 23 games on Friday, which includes the 11 games he has already missed. The report stated that Kabongo allegedly accepted personal training and flights from  NBA agent Rich Paul and his associates before lying to officials about his involvement. Kabongo will be eligible to return against Iowa State on February 13, but it is hard to say how much of an impact he will be able to have on the Longhorns at that late point in the season.
  2. There were plenty of questions surrounding this Kansas team heading into this season as the Jayhawks looked to capture its ninth consecutive Big 12 regular season title. Would center Jeff Withey make the jump in production like so many Jayhawks big men before him? Was redshirt guard Ben McLemore as good as advertised? Would there be enough pieces in between to help Kansas compete at their usually high level? Up until now, the answers are yes, yes, and yes. With the Big 12 clearly down this year, most expected Kansas to win the regular season championship again. But that didn’t necessarily mean they were primed for a deep run in March. Saturday’s convincing eight-point win against No. 7 Ohio State in Columbus and the beatdowns they have been giving opponents in the weeks leading up to that game have made it clear this Kansas team will (again) contend for the national title.
  3. Bruce Weber was successful at Illinois, but the bulk of that success came with Bill Self’s players. As everyone knows, he was fired after last season and landed at Kansas State. He took over for a popular coach in Frank Martin and was tasked with the tough job of coaching 90 miles down the road from in-state rival Kansas. The Wildcats have been winning the games they were supposed to, but had also lost badly to the two decent teams they had faced, Michigan and Gonzaga. It’s safe to say that Bruce Weber needed Saturday’s upset win over No. 7 Florida to relieve a little stress heading into the holidays.
  4. Yahoo! Sports writer Jeff Eisenberg also noticed the impressive win by the Wildcats, mentioning them in his “Stocks Rising and Falling” column on Sunday. K-State’s stock is rising, he claims, and it is hard to disagree. While one win is not enough evidence to predict a conference championship (or even to predict they will contend for the title), it does give the Big 12 one more team to look out for. And in a season full of disappointments so far (I’m looking at you, West Virginia and Baylor), the conference could use all the help it can get.
  5. Sports Illustrated‘s Seth Davis mentioned something in an article Saturday that has been overlooked so far this season. Baylor guard Brady Heslip’s three-point percentage has dropped from 45.5% last season to 34.9% this year. In losses to Colorado and Northwestern, Heslip shot just 30 percent (3-of-10). The Bears have enough talent and athleticism to win the Big 12 and reach the Final Four, but they are playing like a team like could reach the other Final Four, in Madison Square Garden. Heslip’s poorer shooting stroke this season isn’t the only reason the Bears have struggled, but it is certainly one of the reasons.
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Ten Tuesday Scribbles: On Kentucky, Florida, Minnesota, Canadian Imports, and More…

Posted by Brian Otskey on December 4th, 2012

Brian Otskey is an RTC columnist. Every Tuesday during the regular season he’ll be giving his 10 thoughts on the previous week’s action. You can find him on Twitter @botskey

  1. When the AP Top 25 was released Monday afternoon, Kentucky wound up unranked for the first time in the John Calipari era after a blowout loss to Notre Dame and a home setback to Baylor, UK’s first loss at Rupp Arena under Calipari (UK remains ranked at #20 here at RTC). Kentucky’s drop from #8 to unranked was the largest in AP poll history since the poll expanded to include 25 teams in 1990. Now we all know college basketball polls don’t really matter (unlike a certain other collegiate sport) so this is just something to discuss among basketball junkies. But seriously, do people really believe this isn’t one of the Top 25 teams in the country? I guess it depends on your philosophy when it comes to filling out a ballot. If you’re going purely by record, sure the Wildcats shouldn’t be ranked at 4-3. But a deeper inspection reveals a team with a win over Maryland, one that could turn into a very good win if the Terrapins sustain their early season level of play, and three losses to very good basketball teams (Duke, Notre Dame and Baylor). The Wildcats aren’t anywhere near last year’s juggernaut but until they lose to a bad team or the losses to good teams keep piling up, I’ll continue to rank Kentucky and won’t overreact. What are the issues Calipari faces? Number one, Ryan Harrow has proven not to be the answer at point guard. Archie Goodwin has been forced to be the primary ballhandler and is turning the ball over more than three times per game. Second, Kentucky’s rebounding and defense has taken a dip from last year but who didn’t expect that? Anthony Davis is in New Orleans now, not Lexington. Third, the team is relying exclusively on freshmen, one sophomore (Kyle Wiltjer, who does need to pick his game up) and two transfers. There is no veteran presence who has been through the SEC wars like Doron Lamb and Darius Miller had been last season. While Cal’s teams have had tremendous freshmen talent, the presence of Miller and Lamb pushed the team over the top last year. Without that crucial element, Kentucky will continue to struggle with immature plays and poor decision-making. However, I’m sure that Calipari will find a way to make things work eventually. Let’s not panic in early December because Kentucky lost three games to Top 25 teams.

    Coach Cal’s Team Is Now Unranked, But Don’t Panic Yet

  2. With Kentucky struggling to find its way right now, Florida has emerged as the early favorite in the SEC. The Gators are 6-0 with a pair of blowout wins over Wisconsin and Marquette and a nice “neutral” court win over a good Middle Tennessee team. It’s pretty clear that Florida is for real but the schedule ramps up in a big way this month with tomorrow’s road trip to rival Florida State followed 10 days later by a visit to Arizona and a quasi-road game against Kansas State in Kansas City on December 22. Everyone knows about Florida’s high-powered offensive attack but the most astonishing thing about this team has been its defense. This could very well be Billy Donovan’s best defensive team in Gainesville. Florida leads the nation in scoring defense, giving up just 48.5 PPG to date. The Gators are fourth in defensive efficiency and have also improved their rebounding from a year ago with Patric Young and Will Yeguete doing most of the work on the boards but even UF’s guards are contributing to that effort as well. Florida is just as efficient on the offensive end of the floor with balanced scoring and depth. Seven Gators are averaging at least seven points per game, led by Kenny Boynton. Donovan has to be thrilled with senior Erik Murphy, someone who is an absolute match-up nightmare for almost every opponent because of his length, versatility and ability to stretch defenses. When Murphy hangs out on the perimeter he can hit shots or open up gaps for his teammates to drive and score, or get to the line as Florida has done so well this year. His numbers don’t jump off the stat sheet at you but he’s such a valuable asset to this team. Murphy has had his share of off-court problems and here’s to hoping he’s learned from that and takes on a leadership role for his team as a senior. He’s off to a great start and it wouldn’t surprise anyone to see Florida in the top 10 all year long. Read the rest of this entry »
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RTC Top 25: Week 3

Posted by KDoyle on December 3rd, 2012

The Top 10 in this week’s poll went relatively unchanged—aside from Kentucky plummeting 12 spots to #20—but nine of the other teams held their positioning for the most part. Gonzaga makes their first appearance in the single digits by checking in at #9. Tremendous movement occurred from #11-#25 as four teams departed the Top 25 and the average movement was a shade above five spots. Two teams remain true: #1 Duke and #2 Indiana. Both continue to impress and earned all votes of “1” or “2” in this week’s 25, with the exception of a single “3” that Indiana picked up.

This week’s QnD after the jump…

Quick ‘n Dirty Analysis.

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Big 12 Team Previews #2: Baylor Bears

Posted by dnspewak on November 9th, 2012

Over the next two weeks, we’ll bring you the obligatory team preview here at the Big 12 microsite. Baylor at the #2 position is next on our list. 

The Skinny

  • 2011-12 record: 30-8, 12-6
  • Key contributors lost: Quincy Acy, Perry Jones III, Quincy Miller
  • Head coach: Scott Drew
  • Projected finish: 2nd

Scott Drew doesn’t care what you think. He’s perfectly fine reloading with NBA prospects after his stars leave early for the pros, and he’s perfectly fine dealing with the stigma of underachievement and playing an “impure” style of basketball, whatever that really means. In the end, Scott Drew doesn’t care what you think. That’s because he wins. For all the criticism, Drew has reached the Elite Eight twice in three seasons and once again welcomes a collection of stud freshmen to replace the departed Perry Jones III, Quincy Miller and Quincy Acy. Call this team undisciplined all you want. Drew has the league’s best player in Pierre Jackson, another ferocious frontcourt and as much depth as anybody in the league. Drew just has one more step in quieting his doubters: He must find a way to finally win a Big 12 title.

Drew Is Suspended For The First Two Big 12 Games, But His Team Should Be Just Fine

The Personnel

Pierre Jackson is fun. Read the rest of this entry »

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Set Your DVR: Opening Weekend

Posted by bmulvihill on November 9th, 2012

Brendon Mulvihill is the head curator for @SportsGawker and an RTC contributor. You can find him @themulv on Twitter. See bottom of the post for the Official RTC Star System.

The college basketball season is finally here! This season Set Your DVR (ed. note: sadly, nobody has TiVos anymore) will be a twice-weekly column outlining the must-see games for the upcoming week and weekend.  This column will lay out the key factors in each game to focus on and how those factors could affect the outcome. It’s a military-themed weekend of hoops with three games taking place on aircraft carriers and one game taking place at a military base located across the Atlantic Ocean.  Let’s get to the breakdowns.

Game of the Weekend

#16 San Diego State vs. #5 Syracuse – 4:00 PM EST, 11/11/12 on FSN HD (*****)

Jim Boeheim takes the Orange to the USS Midway to take on San Diego State

  • The USS Midway provides the backdrop for an exciting opener between Syracuse and San Diego State. SDSU returns four starters including Mountain West Conference Player of the Year Jamaal Franklin as well as Chase Tapley, James Rahon, and Xavier Thomas. Keep a close eye on the match-up between the Aztec guards and Syracuse point guard Brandon Triche. Triche is taking over for Scoop Jardine and faces a tough test against this crew. Steve Fisher’s squad will have to improve in two areas if they are going to start beating top-tier programs like Syracuse – shooting and offensive rebounding. The Aztecs grabbed only 30.8% of their offensive rebound opportunities last season, so if they are only going to hit 33% of their three-point attempts and 49.8% of their two-point attempts like they did in 2011-12, it’s going to be difficult to beat the best teams in the country. Watch to see if transfers Dwayne Polee II and J.J. O’Brien can help the Aztecs grab more of those missed shots.
  • After losing four starters to graduation and the NBA Draft, Syracuse is in a much different place than SDSU. Jim Boeheim’s ability to fill the talent void will be a key factor in determining if this Orange team can beat an experienced Aztec team. The ‘Cuse returns two significant contributors from last year’s team – C.J. Fair and Triche. Both players need to improve their sub-50% eFG in order to prevent the team from taking a step backwards.  The key to the Orange’s success in this game and in the future, however, may be 6’8” senior forward James Southerland. In a somewhat limited role last year, Southerland put up some impressive shooting numbers from inside the arc. Keep a close eye on Southerland’s ability to take advantage of his size inside the three-point line. Syracuse will also be able to throw additional size at the Aztecs with 6’9” sophomore Rakeem Christmas, 6’10” junior Baye Keita, and 6’7” 275 lb. wide-body freshman, DaJuan Coleman. Read the rest of this entry »
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Rushed Reaction: #1 Kentucky 82, #3 Baylor 70

Posted by KDoyle on March 25th, 2012

Three Key Takeaways.

  1. Rebound, Pass, Score. Maybe ESPN’s Sport Science can help me out with this: I would love to learn how long it takes Kentucky to grab a rebound and then reverse the ball to the other side of the court. I cannot recall a team that fills the running lanes and pushes the ball better than Kentucky does. A big reason for their exceptional transition play is how well Anthony Davis and Terrence Jones get up and down the floor. Not to mention, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist finishes around the rim as well as anybody in the game.
  2. Why Run with Kentucky? Playing off of the preceding point, why would any team try to run up and down the floor with Kentucky? It is hard to fault Baylor for doing so because so much of their game is predicated on transition offense, but other teams would be much better served to turn their game against Kentucky into a half-court affair. Force the Cats to defend for upwards of 20-25 seconds on the defensive end, and really make them work for buckets on the offensive end. Obviously, this is much easier said than done, but methinks Rick Pitino and Louisville will employ such a strategy. According to Kenpom.com, Louisville is the top defensive team in the nation, and dating back to the beginning of the Big East Tournament they are allowing just 56 PPG. However, the Cardinals have not faced an offense like Kentucky during that period.
  3. Lockdown Defense. As impressive as the Cats’ high flying offense is, their defense ain’t too shabby either. Anthony Davis’ shot blocking and altering ability has been well-documented, but Kentucky’s perimeter defense should not go unnoticed either. Opponents are shooting just a shade over 30% from distance against them; Baylor was a mediocre 4-14 this afternoon. Sharpshooter Brady Heslip was never able to get going as he knocked down just one triple on two attempts. For the game, Baylor shot 39%, and never recovered after Kentucky went on a 25-5 run midway through the first half.

Star of the Game. Anthony Davis, Kentucky. The conversation throughout the rest of the day and during the week will no doubt surround Anthony Davis’ knee, but that aside Davis was tremendous against an exceptionally talented Baylor frontcourt. Davis played a much smarter game today than he did against Indiana where he picked up two quick fouls and was forced to sit for much of the opening half. Against Baylor, Davis was not nearly as overanxious—remember, this is the biggest stage he has played on in his young career—but still was his usual imposing self. He turned aside seven shots, while also ripping down 11 rebounds and dropping in 18 points.

Quotable. “The knees doing fine, I just bumped knees with Perry Jones, but it is okay now…I knew I needed to get back into the game to help my team get to the Final Four.” – Anthony Davis on colliding with Perry Jones III and hitting his knee. This was one everyone’s minds in the media room and, not surprisingly, it was the very first question asked. Although Davis was limping after the collision, he did play considerable minutes and did not appear to be hindered by the knee. While many may try to make this into a story throughout the week, it looks as if it is a non-issue.

Sights & Sounds. Kentucky certainly made their mark on the city of Atlanta throughout the entire weekend. They were loud, widespread, and pretty knowledgeable based on the fans I spoke to this weekend. For the game this afternoon, however, there were several Baylor supporters seated behind me that threw out some priceless one liners. After a flagrant foul was called against Baylor early in the first half: “Just because CBS wants them (Kentucky) in New Orleans, doesn’t mean you can do that!” And another gem: “Put in RG3 (Robert Griffin III)! He can throw the ball into the basket from full-court.”

Wildcard: South Regional All-Tournament Team: Michael Kidd-Gilchrist (Kentucky), Anthony Davis (Kentucky), Doron Lamb (Kentucky), Quincy Acy (Baylor), and Christian Watford (Indiana) 

What’s Next? Kentucky will meet Louisville down in New Orleans in the Final Four. This has got to be one of the most highly anticipated and hyped Final Four matchup in history. The media will have an absolute field day with this one and you can bet there will be plenty of questions asked of the coaches about each other.

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