If You Ask Around, Oklahoma Has Already Lost to North Dakota State

Posted by Nate Kotisso on March 20th, 2014

The brackets were released late Sunday afternoon with #5 Oklahoma pitted against #12 North Dakota State in the West Region. Almost immediately, the near consensus was that the Sooners will get upset by the Bison. The Dallas Morning News compiled this list of predictions from various ESPN and CBS Sports personalities on Oklahoma’s NCAA Tournament forecast. That pessimism isn’t just relegated to the analysts; social media followed suit as well. It’s the classic #5/#12 game that most filling out a bracket anoint as a mark-it-down upset (they’re doing it with Cincinnati-Harvard too). But not all upset options are created equally.

Lon Kruger is the only coach in NCAA history to take five different teams to the tournament. (Young Kwak/Associated Press)

Lon Kruger is the only coach to take five different schools to the NCAA tournament. But he still gets no respect, no respect at all. (Young Kwak/Associated Press)

Does it make sense to pick against Oklahoma? Absolutely. The Sooners are constructed to be unappealing on purpose. There aren’t any superstar freshmen, All-American talent or a big-name head coach. And despite all this, it was Lon Kruger’s team that finished second in the best conference in college basketball. He came into 2013-14 without five of his top eight scorers from last season, but that didn’t matter — this year’s guard-oriented offense is averaging a surprising 82 points per game. Yeah, a Lon Kruger coached team is doing this. The four-guard (Cameron Clark, Jordan Woodard, Buddy Hield, Isaiah Cousins), one forward (Ryan Spangler) lineup that Kruger went with to start the season was risky because it appeared it would get outmuscled against bigger opponents. But interestingly enough, the Sooners were able to pull off season sweeps against Baylor and Texas, two teams with long and skilled frontcourts.

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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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Who Won the Week? Two Undefeated Teams, But Certainly Not The Third…

Posted by Kenny Ocker (@KennyOcker) on February 7th, 2014

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Who Won the Week? is a regular column that outlines and discusses three winners and losers from the previous week of hoops. The author of this column is Kenny Ocker (@KennyOcker), a Spokane-based sportswriter best known for his willingness to drive (or bike!) anywhere to watch a basketball game.

WINNER: Wichita State

Cleanthony Early was outstanding for the Shockers. (AP)

Cleanthony Early was outstanding this week for the Shockers. (AP)

The nation’s winningest team cleared its toughest conference hurdle Wednesday night in defeating Indiana State in Terre Haute, led by senior forward Cleanthony Early’s 19 points. From here on, the Shockers have better than 50 percent odds to go undefeated in the regular season, according to KenPom.com, and about 35 percent odds to make it to the NCAA Tournament unblemished. Wichita State’s reign over the Missouri Valley has been so strong this year that only two teams – Missouri State and Indiana State – have even finished within 10 points of them. Tomorrow’s game at Northern Iowa is the toughest remaining tilt for the Shockers, which also sandblasted Evansville 81-67 last Saturday.

(Related winners: Gregg Marshall, whose stock will never be higher, even if he never wants to leave; the Missouri Valley, which is certain to get some more NCAA Tournament win shares, even without Creighton in the conference. Related losers: Indiana State, the MVC”s second-best team, which probably has to win Arch Madness to make the NCAAs; Evansville, perpetually anonymous in purple.)

LOSER: Arizona

Of the triumvirate of teams that came into last weekend undefeated, only two came out unscathed. Unfortunately for the Wildcats, they weren’t one of them. Their road trip to California, the toughest game left on their schedule at that point, turned out to be undone by a last-second jumper from Golden Bears’ guard Justin Cobbs over center Kaleb Tarczewski, giving Cal a 60-58 win. That news was bad enough, but worse was what came after — that sophomore forward Brandon Ashley, a starter, had broken his foot during the game and would be out for the season. In Thursday’s 67-65 win over Oregon, Arizona looked disjointed offensively and saw star freshman Aaron Gordon injure his leg in a game in which he made just 2-of-11 free throws. The Wildcats actually trailed the disintegrating Ducks with just 90 seconds left before point guard T.J. McConnell made a three-pointer that gave them the lead for good. Sean Miller only played seven players, even accounting for Gordon’s injury, and its lack of depth could be problematic should more injuries arise or should fouls accumulate. It’s a shame to see this happen because a full-strength Arizona team looked to be head and shoulders above all but a few others around the country.

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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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Oklahoma versus Kansas State Already with Bubble Implications

Posted by Nate Kotisso on January 14th, 2014

Before I start, a quick shout-out to the Big 12 schedule makers for giving us great match-ups seemingly every night conference games occur. They deserve raises.

It'll be a contrast in styles when Lon Kruger's Sooners take on Kansas State. (Jason Bean/Las Vegas Review-Journal)

It’ll be a contrast in styles when Lon Kruger’s Sooners take on Kansas State. (Jason Bean/AP Photo)

You’ve seen and heard this before: The Big 12 has the best conference RPI in the country. In his latest bracketology, Jerry Palm has seven teams from the Big 12 making the field of 68, more than any other league. So the next biggest Big 12 Game of the Week of the Night gives us Oklahoma at Kansas State, the result of which will go a long way in figuring out how soft the NCAA Tournament bubble will be in two months. The Wildcats and Sooners are polar opposites of each other. Literally. Oklahoma leads the Big 12 in points per game (87.0 PPG) while Kansas State is dead last in that category (67.2 PPG). K-State is tops in the league in scoring defense (59.8 PPG) while Oklahoma sits at the bottom of the conference (79.2 PPG). It’s one of those “something’s gotta give” games.

Oklahoma’s four-guard lineup has been confusing for opponents to defend, as the Sooners run the floor, shoot from long range (38.4 percent from three as a team), and rebound well (fourth in the Big 12). Ryan Spangler, the lone ranger on the interior, is currently the second-best rebounder in the conference (9.2 RPG). Kansas State, on the other hand, appears to be more conventionally constructed with two bigs and three guards. The one-on-one match-up on which to focus tonight is Oklahoma’s Buddy Hield versus Kansas State’s Marcus Foster. Hield is averaging 20.6 points and 5.6 rebounds per game in Big 12 play while Foster was recognized as the Big 12 Newcomer of the Week a week ago.

Before Saturday’s loss to Kansas, the Wildcats were on a 10-game winning streak which included wins over George Washington, Gonzaga and Oklahoma State. They are fortunate enough to have another important and winnable game at home here, but going forward, they’ll need to add additional credible road wins to their portfolio. The Sooners, despite a soft non-conference schedule, already have two marquee wins in Big 12 play: at Texas on January 4, and Saturday’s home win against Iowa State.

You can watch the Sooners and Wildcats tangle tonight at 7:00 ET on ESPN2. Something’s gotta give.

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Big 12 Power Rankings: Kansas is Finally Finding Itself

Posted by Nate Kotisso on January 13th, 2014

Going into last Wednesday’s game against Oklahoma, Bill Self told his players that conference play was a “new season” and that everything would be “fresh and new from this point forward.” The young Jayhawks have heeded that message so far, getting past the Sooners and soundly beating Kansas State on Saturday. With a 2-0 start in the Big 12, we all figured they would rise in this week’s power rankings, but by how much? Is your top 10 shaped differently than ours? That’s what the comments are for.

It appears safe to close the panic button for Bill Self and the Jayhawks. (AP Photo)

It appears safe to close the panic button for Bill Self and the Jayhawks. (AP Photo)

1. Kansas — 6 points (previous: 3rd; Brian-1st, Kory-1st, Nate-3rd, Taylor-1st)

Comment: “It’s looking like Kansas’ non-conference struggles were nothing more than one of the youngest teams in the country playing one of the toughest schedules in the country. The Jayhawks have looked good the last two games and now have four legitimate threats to have a big game any on night: Andrew Wiggins,  Perry Ellis, Joel Embiid, and Wayne Selden.” – Kory Carpenter (@Kory_Carpenter)

2. Iowa State — 7 points (previous: 1st; Brian-2nd, Kory-2nd, Nate-1st, Taylor-2nd)

Comment: “I didn’t feel like I should drop the Cyclones in my top 10 — they lost to a pretty good Oklahoma team by five on the road. The winner of Kansas-Iowa State tonight will likely take my top spot next week.” – Nate Kotisso (@natekotisso)

3. Oklahoma State — 13 points (previous: 4th; Brian-3rd, Kory-3rd, Nate-4th, Taylor-3rd)

Comment: “Travis Ford’s squad avoided a disastrous start to conference play by knocking down a big three late to give them the win in Morgantown. If the Cowboys would have dropped two of their first three in league play to teams in the middle tier of the conference, they could have kissed their Big 12 title hopes goodbye.” – Taylor Erickson (@tc_erickson)

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Four Takeaways From Oklahoma Ending Iowa State’s Unbeaten Season

Posted by Nate Kotisso on January 12th, 2014

Oklahoma came into its game against Iowa State with a bad taste in its mouth. The Sooners led for much of the first half against Kansas on Wednesday, but a late spurt from the Jayhawks just before halftime gave them a lead they wouldn’t relinquish. The Cyclones came in as one of five teams with an undefeated record and had convincingly taken care of Baylor earlier in the week. Here are four things we learned from Iowa State’s visit to Oklahoma on Saturday.

OU's Cam Clark came into the Iowa State game leading the Big 12 in scoring. He only had 12...and the Sooners still won. (Tim Heitman/USA Today Sports)

OU’s Cam Clark came into the Iowa State game leading the Big 12 in scoring. He only had 12… and the Sooners still won. (Tim Heitman/USA TODAY Sports)

  1. Oklahoma Picked Their Poison and Chose Wisely: It’s easy to feel overwhelmed against a team like Iowa State. They can shoot, rebound, run the floor well and don’t turn the ball over much. So the game plan for Lon Kruger was to “surrender” the paint in favor of guarding the perimeter with all their might, and it worked. The Sooners, ranked 234th in Division I in two-point field goal percentage defense, according to KenPom, worked with their small lineup and allowed Melvin Ejim, Georges Niang, DeAndre Kane and Dustin Hogue to get plenty of good shots in the paint, which they made. But ISU misfired on 20-of-26 attempts from three-point land. Will other Big 12 opponents take note of this strategy? Read the rest of this entry »
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Oklahoma’s High-Powered Offense Provides Some Hope in a Crowded Big 12 Race

Posted by Alex Moscoso (@AlexPMoscoso) on December 10th, 2013

A month into the new season, the Big 12 may be more crowded at the top than originally thought. Perennial favorite Kansas is the most talented team, but the Jayhawks have looked vulnerable as their stud freshmen have shown that they are not immune to growing pains. After several signature wins, some other conference teams such as Oklahoma State, Iowa State and Baylor have proven that they too will have the talent to compete with Bill Self’s squad. One Big 12 team that may be flying under the radar and could make some noise come conference play is Oklahoma. Lon Kruger’s young team is currently 8-1 with no bad losses — the single defeat was to Michigan State – and it may also have one of the best offenses in the league.

Lon Kruger

Lon Kruger has the Sooners playing well, but it’s crowded at the top of the Big 12. (AP)

In October, the Big 12 Preseason Media Poll selected the Sooners to finish fifth mostly due to the fact that Kruger had lost his top three scorers from the year before (Romero Osby, Steven Pledger, and Amath M’Baye) and did not have any immediate impact recruits to fill the void. Because of this, Oklahoma’s starting lineup consists of one senior, Cameron Clark, and four underclassmen. This was supposed to be a transition year for the Sooners, but after 27 years of success spanning six schools, maybe we should have had more faith in the underrated head coach. Those underclassmen who were supposed to take this year to transition into bigger roles are all averaging double-figure points per game and have converted the Sooners into the 13th most potent offense in the country, scoring 87.4 PPG. The reasons: They run their offense at a fast pace and score at a high rate. The young Sooners average 74.9 possessions per game (eighth nationally) and score 1.14 points per possession (25th).

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Big 12 M5: 11.12.13 Edition

Posted by Brian Goodman on November 12th, 2013

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  1. Tonight’s Champions Classic match-up between Kansas and Duke features two of college basketball’s top programs, coaches and freshmen, but there’s another battle going on between the two schools that won’t be decided until later this week. Jahlil Okafor and Tyus Jones will announce their collegiate choices Friday afternoon, according to a tweet from Okafor. The Jayhawks and Blue Devils have long been discussed as the top two competitors for the long-rumored packaged deal, and while the chase hasn’t been the public roller coaster that some recruiting stories can be, it looks like we’ll finally have some resolution.
  2. Yesterday, we touched on Naz Long‘s coming-out party Sunday afternoon in which he went off for 27 points against UNC Wilmington. The performance has the Des Moines Register’s Randy Peterson wondering if Long could see more playing time when Melvin Ejim returns. It’s important to note that Long and Ejim don’t play the same position, but finding enough minutes to go around is always a good problem to have, especially in November. After all, Long is no stranger to playing alongside major talent — his AAU teammates included Andrew Wiggins and Anthony Bennett.
  3. For the second straight game, Oklahoma guard Buddy Hield posted a career-high in the scoring column, making his presence felt by dropping 23 points on North Texas last night. Hield is now averaging 21 points per game, and he still has a long way to go, but if Hield and the Sooners keep this up, they could lead the Sooners to another NCAA Tournament bid.
  4. West Virginia head coach Bob Huggins believes he’ll need every ounce of production he can get out of point guard Juwan Staten. After a rash of defections saw five transfers leave the Mountaineers (on top of three graduating players) over the summer, West Virginia is looking awfully thin. Staten played all 40 minutes of Friday’s season-opening win over St. Mary’s, and it will be interesting to see if he can be Huggins’ Iron Man in Morgantown like Kevin Jones and Da’Sean Butler before him.
  5. The question of who emerges alongside Michael Cobbins to produce defensively in Oklahoma State‘s frontcourt won’t be solved in the Cowboys’ first two games, but head coach Travis Ford hopes to have a clearer idea after tonight‘s game against Utah Valley State in Stillwater. Sophomore Kamari Murphy will be available after missing the season opener with a mild shoulder injury and is one candidate that Ford hopes will make the leap.
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Yes, College Basketball Season is Finally Here

Posted by Taylor Erickson on November 8th, 2013

College hoops fans everywhere, rejoice. Like Harry and Lloyd finally arriving in Aspen, we’re therrre. The anticipation for college basketball season has been building for the past several months, and we can finally take a deep breath and revel in the fact that the official start has arrived. Gone are the days of exhibition games and the abundance of preseason lists and rankings and speculation. Instead, they’re replaced by games that really count, and storylines that actually matter. Your weekends are about to get a lot more intriguing, and your weeknights a lot less boring. From Ames to Austin, Lubbock to Morgantown, and everywhere in between, the Big 12 is chock full of headlines bound to whet your appetite for action on the hardwood. So kick back, relax, and hear us out with a plethora of reasons on why you should be giddy with excitement for another rendition of college basketball.

The Sprint Center will once again host the Big 12 Tournament in March.

The Sprint Center will once again host the Big 12 Tournament in March.

  • For Kansas State fans, it’s a packed house − the Octagon of Doom − and Sandstorm pumping through the PA system so violently you can’t hear yourself think. And the thought of Bruce Weber pulling a purple blazer out of the wardrobe, similar to the orange one he donned at Illinois. Can Shane Southwell become “the man” in Manhattan?  We’ll have to wait and see.
  • In Fort Worth, the reminder of one of the biggest upsets in recent college basketball history has you clamoring for an encore performance again this year. An influx of new talent, and Trent Johnson at the helm provides reason to believe the Horned Frogs can make some noise in the Big 12.
  • Whether it’s a track suit on game day or a letter sweater on media day, there’s no doubt Bob Huggins in comfortable in his own skin. You can bet though, that experiencing his first losing record in nearly 30 years was anything but comforting. The West Virginia head coach is determined to turn things around this year in Morgantown. Is there enough talent this go-round to make the Mountaineers relevant in conference play? Read the rest of this entry »
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Big 12 M5: 11.05.13 Edition

Posted by Nate Kotisso on November 5th, 2013

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  1. On Monday the Associated Press released its All-America team and the only player who received a unanimous selection was Marcus Smart of Oklahoma StateKansas superfrosh Andrew Wiggins was also named to the team, along with Creighton’s Doug McDermott, Louisville’s Russ Smith and Michigan’s Mitch McGary. I’m afraid people who don’t follow college hoops might get the wrong idea based on this preseason All-America team. They might look at the list and think, ‘Gee whiz, that Big 12 is really stacked this season,’ when the reality is that teams ranked below the top three face a multitude of questions marks. I guess the upside is that they will be tricked into watching more Big 12 basketball than they normally would. That doesn’t sound too bad, right?
  2. No Ejim, no problem for Iowa State in its exhibition win on Monday night. The Cyclones throttled Augustana (SD) by a score of 90-68 as DeAndre Kane picked up the double-double duties in the absence of Melvin Ejim. Kane shot a crisp 6-of-8 from the field for 19 points while grabbing 10 rebounds. Matt Thomas, one of the team’s two four-star freshman recruits, nailed 3-of-4 from three-point range and piled up 16 points. Sophomore Georges Niang struggled from the floor in missing 10 shots, including all four three-pointers, while managing to score 10, grab seven boards, and dish out a team-high six assists. You’re encouraged by the offensive output if you’re Fred Hoiberg but still, he’d prefer to have a healthy Ejim out there just like the rest of us.
  3. In slightly less encouraging exhibition newsOklahoma trailed at the half, 41-38, in its game against Oklahoma Christian but managed to win going away, 88-76. Sophomore guard Buddy Hield has battled foot problems dating back to late last season but appeared to be in full health, scoring 19 of his 29 points in the Sooners’ second half comeback. Freshman Jordan Woodard scored 17 points while also dropping six dimes and pulling down five rebounds. The team OU struggled with is a Division I member of the National Christian College Athletic Association (NCCAA for short). That’s right. Imagine what would happen if the Sooners played an actual member of the NCAA. Who do they play in their first game? Alabama? On Friday? Oh… that’s not good.
  4. While coaches around the country continue to voice displeasure with the way referees will call fouls this season, there is one coach out there who might not have that big of a beef with it. That man might be Bob Huggins, who coached his Mountaineers to an 89-70 exhibition win over Fairmont State on Monday night. WVU made 37 of its 54 free throw attempts, and last year’s leading scorer Eron Harris hit 15 of them to help him reach 30 points for the game. But don’t let the 89 points fool you: The Mountaineers were able to make 20-of-49 field goal attempts so it appears their shooting problem from last season might creep up again. WVU’s 54 free throws combined with Fairmont State’s 28 gave us 82 total. In an exhibition game. You would have to be a special kind of person to sit through a game like that.
  5. Texas made news on the recruiting trail Monday with junior college power forward Obinna Oleka committing to the Longhorns. Brad Winton of JucoRecruiting.com reported the State College of Florida prospect chose Texas over Charlotte, Old Dominion, Southern Miss and South Florida. I know talent can come from anywhere, but I didn’t think I’d see a day where a name brand like Texas would be getting players who would otherwise go to places like Old Dominion or South Florida. Are the days of chasing talent that Kentucky, Florida or Kansas also want long gone for the Longhorns? Odd times in Austin for sure.
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Big 12 Team Preview: Oklahoma Sooners

Posted by Kory Carpenter on November 4th, 2013

Over the next two weeks, the Big 12 microsite will preview each of the league’s 10 teams. Today: Oklahoma.

Where We Left Off: Oklahoma returned to the NCAA Tournament last season for the first time since Blake Griffin was in Norman. It was a short trip, however, as the Sooners lost to San Diego State in the round of 64, 70-55. Head coach Lon Kruger enters his third season at Oklahoma and is one of the most experienced coaches in the country. He has gone largely unnoticed, though, especially this year in a league that has (rightfully) been focused on Andrew Wiggins and Marcus Smart and the budding rivalry between the two players and their schools. Kruger, on the other hand, is slowly turning things around at Oklahoma. He won 15 games his first season and 20 games last year. If he continues that upward tick this season he should get consideration for Big 12 Coach of the Year because his top three scorers are now gone.

Lon Kruger Will Face Plenty of Tests Early This Season (AP).

Lon Kruger Will Face Plenty of Tests Early This Season (AP).

Positives: Sophomore guard Buddy Hield gained meaningful experience last season as a freshman, averaging 25.1 MPG, 7.8 PPG, and 4.2 RPG. He deferred to upperclassmen like Romero Osby, Steven Pledger and Amath M’Baye, all of whom are gone. Hield could become the best offensive weapon for Kruger, which would mean good things for the future. Senior forward Cameron Clark also returns for the Sooners. Clark averaged 6.5 PPG last season while shooting over 50 percent from the floor. Those two players, along with sophomore guards Je’lon Hornbeak (22.7 MPG, 5.6 PPG last season) and Isaiah Cousins (15.7 MPG) look to form the core for the Sooners offensively. Expect Hield and Clark to shoulder a lot of the load offensively early in the season.

Negatives: The Sooners averaged 70.6 PPG as a team last season and nearly 50 of those points per contest do not return this year. The top three leading scorers — Romero Osby, Steven Pledger, Amath M’Baye — account for most of the missing production, averaging 37.7 PPG themselves. It’s unclear how that will affect returning players and if they will be able to maintain a similar offensive output. The 2013 recruiting class doesn’t look like it will make an impact this season either. Kruger signed a pair of three-star players, Frank Booker and Jordan Woodard, as well as unranked Keshaun Hamilton. It was a quiet recruiting class after signing Hield and Hornbeak, both four-star recruits in the class of 2012. With momentum following a five-win improvement last season, the Sooners will have surprised a lot of people if they continue that climb up the win totals column this season.

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