Strength of Big 12 Driven by Impressive Individual Seasons

Posted by Chris Stone on February 18th, 2015

College basketball fans across the country debate which conference is the best every season. That conversation has mostly centered on two leagues this year. If you’re more interested in teams that are likely to make deep runs in March, then your choice will probably be the ACC with the likes of Virginia, Duke, Louisville and Notre Dame at the top of the standings. From a viewpoint of quality of depth of a league, however, nearly every available metric shows that the Big 12 is tops. Ken Pomeroy’s system focused on efficiency ranks this year’s Big 12 as the best conference since the Big Ten of four years ago (when 7 of 11 teams received NCAA Tournament bids). The league has already posted the highest non-conference winning percentage of any conference in a decade and currently has only one team (Texas Tech) with an under .500 overall record.

Georges Niang highlights the Big 12's selections on the Wooden Award Late Season Top 20 list. (Nirmalendu Majumdar)

Georges Niang highlights the Big 12’s selections on the Wooden Award Late Season Top 20 list. (Nirmalendu Majumdar)

The Big 12’s incredible season has correspondingly been driven by a number of individuals who are receiving national recognition on the various late season award lists. While the front-runners for the Wooden Award — given annually to the country’s best player — are Wisconsin’s Frank Kaminsky, Duke’s Jahlil Okafor, and Notre Dame’s Jerian Grant, the Big 12 put three players of its own on the Late Season Top 20 list. Oklahoma’s Buddy Hield has proven to be one of the conference’s best scorers, averaging 17.2 points per game while shooting 43.5 percent from the field. West Virginia’s Juwan Staten recently found his way back into the national conversation with a dazzling spin move to upset Kansas on Big Monday. Iowa State’s Georges Niang leads the Cyclones in scoring while also averaging 5.4 rebounds and 3.4 assists per game.

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Big 12 Weekend Preview

Posted by Brian Goodman on February 13th, 2015

As we move into mid-February, the dust in the Big 12 race may finally be starting to settle. Kansas at the head of the pack isn’t anything new, but recent games have brought us a little more clarity behind them after several weeks of volatility. Oklahoma has built a sliver of separation on Iowa State and Baylor while West Virginia‘s backloaded schedule looks like it’s starting to catch up to them. Of course, we’d be remiss if we didn’t mention Oklahoma State, which has done more in the last week to change its NCAA Tournament status than perhaps any other team in the country. Weekend #7 of conference play should continue to provide resolution, but you never know when things will get chaotic again.

Wayne Selden (left) and Brannen Greene (center) have made a living torching Big 12 opponents from deep. (Jamie Squire/Getty)

Is a reliable back-to-the-basket threat really that important when Wayne Selden (left) and Brannen Greene (center) are torching all comers from deep? (Jamie Squire/Getty)

  • Baylor at Kansas (1:00 ET) – Bill Self wants his team to shoot fewer threes, but the data suggests that it shouldn’t as Kansas ranks seventh in the country in three-point percentage (40.9%). In addition, the Jayhawks make post scoring look like pulling teeth at times, so a game against Baylor’s zone should dictate more long-range bombing. Also of note here is the development that Cliff Alexander will start consecutive games for the first time all season, so keep an eye on how he responds to the challenge of keeping the glass-eating Rico Gathers off the boards.
  • West Virginia at Iowa State (4:00 ET) – Losers of two of their last three, the Mountaineers are about to enter a scheduling gauntlet that starts tomorrow at less than full strength — sophomore Brandon Watkins availability is in question after he sprained his MCL against Kansas State. Iowa State is in a little bit of a rut themselves lately, having also lost two of their last three games. As welcome an addition as Jameel McKay has been for the Cyclones, their recent efforts on defense have been horrific, so perhaps a home game against the league’s seventh-ranked will cure what ails them.

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Big 12 Power Rankings: Oklahoma, Where Wins Come Sweeping Down the Plains Edition

Posted by Nate Kotisso on February 9th, 2015

The regular season can be a long, drawn out-proposition. Around 12 to 15 games are typically played during the pre-conference season, and even though it’s impossible to survey each team correctly, people like us try it anyway to avoid doing something else that’s actually mind-numbing. Case in point with Oklahoma. While some prognosticators pegged them as an early darkhorse to make the Final Four, no one told Creighton about that as the Bluejays beat the Sooners by two points in their second game of the season (RPI: #130). Lon Kruger’s team made up for that defeat by winning two of three out in its trip to the Bahamas, including a key neutral-court victory over a much-improved Butler team (RPI: #18). December resulted in another hiccup, though, with the Sooners losing to a ranked Washington group on a neutral court. The Huskies had started the year 11-0 with several nice victories before losing nine of their next 12 games. Now that loss is looking a lot more iffy (RPI: #80).

Don't be shy. Give it a try. (SoonerSports.com)

Don’t be shy. Give it a try. (SoonerSports.com)

Thank goodness for conference play, right? Every team welcomes the chance to start all over again. After beating Baylor and Texas by a combined 31 points to tip off Big 12 play, bad Oklahoma paid a return visit. Starting with a crushing home loss in the final seconds of overtime to Kansas State, the Sooners would move on to lose four of their next five contests. But in recent weeks, it now appears that good Oklahoma is back in action with a four-game winning streak. Through the ups and downs has been a talented crop of players but perhaps the best of this group is Big 12 Player of the Year candidate Buddy Hield. His game was far more perimeter-oriented last year, but Hield has become a dangerous offensive weapon from anywhere on the floor this season. So given all of these ups and downs, the Sooners are poise to leap into sole possession of second place in the Big 12 and become the newest challenger to Kansas’ throne. But they have to win tonight.

Power Rankings

  1. Kansas — 3 points (All voted 1st). Comment: “The Jayhawks control their own destiny despite Saturday’s loss in Stillwater, but the allocation of minutes across their frontcourt continues to baffle me. Cliff Alexander played 16 minutes and was fantastic around the rim while Jamari Traylor set a new career high in turnovers (six) in his 23 minutes of action. Meanwhile, Landen Lucas contributed a forgettable two rebounds and no points in 12 minutes.” – Brian Goodman (@BSGoodman)
  2. Iowa State — 7 points (Chris & Nate — 2nd, Brian — 3rd) Comment: “The Cyclones blasted Texas Tech 75-38 this week, as Jameel McKay found his way into the starting lineup due to Bryce Dejean-Jones’ tardiness. After finishing with 17 points and nine rebounds, McKay might be proving himself worthy of a permanent spot.” – Chris Stone (@cstonehoops) Read the rest of this entry »
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Big 12 Saturday Preview

Posted by Brian Goodman on January 24th, 2015

This weekend’s slate of Big 12 action isn’t quite as loaded as last week’s in terms of games expected to have a significant impact on the league race, but with the conference being arguably the best one in the country, that’s all relative. The biggest match-up on Saturday’s schedule features league favorite Kansas traveling to Austin to take on the Longhorns, who are looking to reassert themselves in the conference race. 

Oklahoma State at Kansas State (12:00 EST) – The 3-3 Cowboys have a win over Texas in their back pocket, but on the whole, their resume isn’t particularly impressive. If the NCAA Tournament started today, they would almost certainly be in, but a rough go of it on the road has prevented Travis Ford’s team from compiling a stronger case for seeding. They’ll look to reverse their fortunes when they shoot for just their second true road win of the season (the first being a convincing victory over a mediocre Memphis team) with an early afternoon tilt in Manhattan. The Wildcats, meanwhile, are still trying to prove their worth as a potential NCAA Tournament team, and a big component of that equation is holding serve on their home court against competitive teams. The battle between Marcus Foster and Phil Forte should be a fun one, and whether Nino Williams (20 points per game in his last two contests) continues to emerge as a dependable complement to Foster could play a decisive role. Prediction: Kansas State 66, Oklahoma State 63.

Everyone is Waiting on Kansas State to Regress (USA Today Images)

Everyone is Waiting on Kansas State to Regress (USA Today Images)

TCU at West Virginia (2:00 EST) – It’s still crazy to believe that after missing the NCAA Tournament in consecutive seasons, the Mountaineers are just a few bounces away from 16-1. Their offense hasn’t been pretty, with sub-200 rankings in both two-point shooting and three-point shooting, but it’s still been one of the most effective units in the country thanks to an aversion to turnovers. Of course, there’s also West Virginia’s stifling pressure defense, which has created barrels of extra possessions for Bob Huggins’ team. They’ll look to speed up a TCU offense that is much more deliberate at 62 possessions per game, so the Horned Frogs will have very small margin of error as they try to get their second league win. Prediction: West Virginia 70, TCU 59.

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Big 12 M5: 01.21.15 Edition

Posted by Nate Kotisso on January 21st, 2015

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  1. By now you’ve heard plenty about Jameel McKay, the forward at Iowa State. His fame grew a little more in last night’s win against Kansas State, tying career highs in points (15) and rebounds (seven) while blocking three shots in just 26 minutes of action. McKay brings what no big has brought to the Cyclones since Fred Hoiberg arrived back on campus five years ago. He’s a match-up nightmare. McKay is the guy who out-hustles opponents to make them look bad but has the physical gifts to make them look much worse. You’ll hear more and more about McKay as the season goes along. And you’ll love it.
  2. Aided by his 10-for-10 shooting game against Oklahoma State, Oklahoma‘s Buddy Hield was awarded Big 12 Player of the Week for the second time this season after getting the honor on November 17. Speaking of repeat winners, Kelly Oubre, Jr. of Kansas won Big 12 Newcomer of the Week after taking home the award on December 22. Oubre averaged 12 points and seven rebounds in a week where the Jayhawks split two games against two nationally-ranked teams in Oklahoma State and Iowa State. This season, Oklahoma, Oklahoma State, Kansas, Kansas State, Iowa State, Baylor and West Virginia have all combined to represent 20 of the 22 total Player or Newcomer of the Week awards in the Big 12. Amongst Texas, Texas Tech and TCU, those teams have combined to produce two players who won Player or Newcomer of the Week and that occurred in the same week: November 24. Methinks the league office will get on that.
  3. Kansas is eagerly awaiting for President Barack Obama’s scheduled visit to Lawrence tomorrow and that includes head coach Bill Self. ““We’re trying to get that worked out,” Self told the Lawrence Journal-World. “I’ve been in contact with somebody out of his staff or office. It would mean a lot to everybody in our program, certainly our players. We understand his schedule is tight.” We all know the President is a little bit of a basketball fan and it would make sense to swing by one of the cathedrals of the game. If he can pull one of these out of his hat while he’s there, we’re talkin’ about upgrading him to legendary presidential status here!
  4. It seems like Texas has hopped back on the right track with two convincing wins against West Virginia Saturday in Austin and at TCU on Monday night. While it wasn’t far-fetched to say the Longhorns would win those games, it might be in order to win the next two. For the second week in a row, UT was dealt with the Saturday game-followed-by-a-Monday-game schedule. These two games, home against Kansas and at Iowa State on Big Monday, are only against the teams who are currently tied for first place in the conference. These tests will hopefully paint a clearer picture on where Texas stands in the hierarchy of this year’s Big 12. Until, of course, something totally unexpected happens and sends us back to the drawing board once again.
  5. If you are someone, performing as a college mascot, it is difficult to draw the line between zany and disrespectful behavior. Oklahoma deemed the behavior of one of their mascots as disrespectful. During #Bedlam on Saturday afternoon, one of OU’s mascots was harassing Oklahoma State fans at the Lloyd Noble Center by blocking their view of the game, taunting them and spilling popcorn on them according to sources who told NewsOK.com. One of those OSU fans taunted happened to be Heather Ford, the wife of Cowboys coach Travis Ford. I guess we all know now that mascots aren’t as untouchable as we thought they were.
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Four Key Takeaways From a Wild Night In Lawrence

Posted by Brian Goodman on January 20th, 2015

It was a tale of two halves last night in Lawrence, as Kansas hit nine first half threes to sprint out to a commanding 51-32 halftime lead against Oklahoma, only to watch it disappear as the Sooners stormed back to take a four-point lead before collapsing at the end. Let’s consider four key takeaways from a game of several crazy swings.

Kansas and Oklahoma Took It Hard at Each Other Last Night (USA Today Images)

Kansas and Oklahoma Took It Hard at Each Other Last Night (USA Today Images)

  • Fiery start fuels Kansas’ first halfKelly Oubre got things going by connecting on a pair of early threes and the Jayhawks refused to let up on their way to 51 first half points. Although Oklahoma remained close for the first five minutes, Kansas would register a 16-0 perimeter barrage with nearly everyone contributing. This team is built to fire away from deep, but Bill Self has tried in vain to establish an inside presence even though he doesn’t have a true back-to-the-basket big man (however, Cliff Alexander may be developing into one, as we’ll discuss separately below). While Kansas’ scorching first half is a statistical outlier, it underscores the fact that the Jayhawks are at their best when they utilize their outside shooting prowess.
  • Don’t overlook Buddy Hield in the Big 12 POY race: This conference is filled with scorers from Marcus Foster to Phil Forte to Georges Niang, but the Sooners’ Buddy Hield may be the best of the bunch. His 26 points were a game-high and he’s now shooting a superb 60.5 percent on twos in league action in spite of his 6’4″ frame, along with a 44 percent clip from deep in Big 12 play. Hield isn’t without his warts, though, as he tends to rush shots (especially in transition) and he could stand to share the ball a little more often with talented and effective teammates like Isaiah Cousins and Ryan Spangler. Still, the junior is an undeniable star, as evidenced not only by his huge game in arguably the most intimidating environment in college basketball, but his play all season to date.

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Big 12 M5: 01.19.15 Edition

Posted by Nate Kotisso on January 19th, 2015

morning5_big12

  1. If you check to see who sits atop the Big 12 standings today, you’ll probably think there must be some mistake. But no, that is indeed Kansas State, winners of their last four after hanging on against Baylor, leading the league with a 4-1 record. While this start to their conference schedule is welcomed, we can’t ignore the fact that the Wildcats are returning seven of their top nine rotation players from last season. The problem is it’s January 18 and they have no margin of error. Their next four games to end January are as follows: at Iowa State, vs Oklahoma State, vs West Virginia and at Kansas. If they finish the month undefeated, their at-large status will improve. Personally, I’d like to see it all in the name of chaos.
  2. Saturday was a monumental day in the history of TCU basketball. Not only did they end a 23-game Big 12 losing streak which dated back to March 2013 but it was also their first ever road win in Big 12 play. As our Brian Goodman pointed out, winning a road conference game can do wonders for your KenPom profile. It’s little milestones like these that can change an entire culture around a program in so many ways. Eventually we’ll reach a point in the future when TCU puts together a winning streak in the Big 12 or contend for the NCAA Tournament without any of us batting an eye at the accomplishment. Someday soon.
  3. The most entertaining game of the weekend was undoubtedly Kansas-Iowa State on Saturday night. The Jayhawks were always a few possessions away from taking the lead away from the Cyclones but anytime KU strung baskets together, ISU was able to come back on the next possession and beat defenders down the floor for transition buckets. After being called out during the week by Bill Self, Perry Ellis answered the bell early but was unable to take the game over due to foul trouble and Frank Mason was perhaps even better than Ellis all game long. But Monte Morris did a little bit of everything (11 points, seven rebounds, three steals) while he continued his ungodly assist-to-turnover pace by piling on 10 dimes with just two turnovers. Can the Big 12 Tournament final get here already?
  4. Musiq Soulchild released the single “B.U.D.D.Y.” from his album Luvanmusiq eight years ago this month. Were you aware that the song was dedicated to Oklahoma guard Buddy Hield? Well, it wasn’t but it would’ve made for a fascinating story! Had this had been true and he did learn the song was dedicated to him before tipoff of #Bedlam, it would have been clear what inspired Hield to go 10-for-10 from the floor including 6-for-6 from three in the Sooners’ drubbing of Oklahoma State. In any case, Hield was stellar once again and OU gets revenge for their football team’s loss to the Cowboys last month.
  5. Jonathan Holmes summed up best Texasmindset going into Saturday’s game vs the Mountaineers, I think: “West Virginia wanted to come out and punk us, and we couldn’t let that happen.” And so, the Horns, who would have been the original punkees, instead became the punkers and made West Virginia the punkees following an 18-2 Texas run in the first half. Halfway through the second half, the Mountaineers were all punked out and the Horns ran away with the game. Holmes struggled shooting but was able to put his head down, drive to the basket, draw fouls and make 11-for-12 from the free throw line while also grabbing 11 rebounds. What lies ahead for UT is a game against TCU tonight in Fort Worth. Someone’s one-game winning streak will sadly come to an end.
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Big 12 M5: 01.16.15 Edition

Posted by Brian Goodman on January 16th, 2015

morning5_big12

 

  1. C.J. Moore of Bleacher Report wrote a great in-depth profile of Iowa State junior Georges Niang centered on how the big man developed the handles and arsenal that have made him a leader for the Cyclones. The new, slimmed-down version of Niang has been even more productive than last year’s and has been the central figure of Iowa State’s efficient offense. It was especially interesting to learn that Royce White, Iowa State’s last “hybrid,” was the one who pushed hardest for Fred Hoiberg to recruit Niang, whose “old man” game will be tested tomorrow night against an improving Kansas defense.
  2. Travis Ford‘s lengthy contract has drawn ire in recent years, but after a 12-4 start and a top-30 placement in the RPI, he isn’t sweating his job security. The Cowboys may not be in position to climb into the race among Kansas, Iowa State and West Virginia, but they’re more of a factor than they were anticipated, and they arguably have a better team than last year despite having less talent. As Jenni Carlson writes, Ford is in the midst of perhaps his best coaching job since he arrived on campus, and a lot of it is due to improved chemistry and a heightened belief in the greater good, particularly with Brian Williams and Kamari Murphy having transferred out.
  3. Bill Self spoke candidly about the struggles of Perry Ellis, which came to a head Tuesday when the junior had four early turnovers, leading to a prompt benching. Self suspects that the problem for Ellis is mental, as he still believes Ellis can be the Jayhawks’ go-to guy. Observers may counter that Frank Mason and Cliff Alexander fit that role better right now, and I agree, but in either case, it’s tough to picture Kansas making a deep run in March without Ellis playing a big part.
  4. The Wooden Award Midseason Top 25 List was released Thursday, and it included three of the Big 12’s best: Juwan Staten of West Virginia, Buddy Hield of Oklahoma and the aforementioned Niang. Oddly enough, the two leading scorers in the Big 12, Le’Bryan Nash and Phil Forte, were omitted.  It will take big second halves for Staten, Hield and Niang to rise into the elite tier that currently includes Jahlil Okafor, Frank Kaminsky, Delon Wright and Justin Anderson (in my opinion), but it’s always nice to see them get some recognition.
  5. The contrasting personnel of the athletic, fast-paced Mountaineers and the bulky, lengthy Longhorns will make for an interesting battle in Austin tomorrow. Texas is off to a slow start in conference play, but while they’re still formidable, it would be tough to imagine them getting back into the conference race with Kansas and Iowa State with a loss, which would run their conference record to 1-3. Isaiah Taylor has played a few games for Texas since coming back from a wrist injury, but his return hasn’t ignited the team as it was expected. On the other side of the ball, West Virginia will try to speed up Texas’ tempo with constant pressure, hoping that it will be another game before Taylor breaks out again.
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Oklahoma’s Blowout of Texas Might Disrupt Big 12 Hierarchy

Posted by Nate Kotisso on January 6th, 2015

Nate Kotisso is a Big 12 microsite writer for Rush The Court. He covered Oklahoma-Texas in Austin last night. You can follow him on Twitter @natekotisso.

We are four days into the start of Big 12 play, so naturally, now is the time to make quick declarations on how the conference will ultimately shake out. Until we make new ones on Saturday, that is. The box score will tell you that the Sooners played their most complete game of the season against one of their toughest opponents on Monday night. While it was an impressive victory, the reality is Oklahoma dominated Texas defensively in the first half and coasted in the second. The Sooners forced nine of Texas’ 12 turnovers, scored 11 points off those turnovers, outscored the Horns in the paint by 10, and held the Longhorns to 14 points total — all in the first 20 minutes. At the break, Texas was left with six players each making one field goal to account for their 6-of-30 shooting, while the Sooners’ Ryan Spangler and Buddy Hield equaled that number with three makes apiece. Their size advantage on Texas’ guards with Hield and Isaiah Cousins allowed the duo to shoot over them to the tune of 4-of-10 from the perimeter.

Texas guard Demarcus Holland attempts to grab the ball on this Longhorn possession. However, the game was out of UT's reach as they lost by 21. (Brendan Maloney/USA Today Sports)

Texas guard Demarcus Holland attempts to grab the ball on this Longhorn possession. However, the game was out of UT’s reach as they lost by 21. (Brendan Maloney/USA Today Sports)

Another important piece to this game for Oklahoma was the emergence of TaShawn Thomas. It’s common knowledge that the addition of Thomas has strengthened the team’s defense to a level that hasn’t been seen during head coach Lon Kruger‘s tenure in Norman. Competing against the athletic size of Cameron Ridley, Jonathan Holmes, Prince Ibeh and Connor Lammert, Thomas posted 15 points on 6-of-12 shooting and 10 rebounds, four of them offensive. While not nearly as efficient on the offensive end, Thomas contributed 12 points, 11 rebounds and led all players in offensive rebounds (four), two blocked shots and one nasty dunk that thwarted any chance of a Longhorns’ comeback early in the second half. The Sooners seem to have Texas’ number of late, winning four of the last five games in the series. Oklahoma has also recorded wins in Austin in consecutive seasons for the first time since the program last did so during the 2000-02 seasons. Read the rest of this entry »

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Big 12 Conference Catch-Up: West Virginia and Oklahoma

Posted by Nate Kotisso on January 1st, 2015

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

West Virginia

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

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

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

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Big 12 M5: 12.17.14 Edition

Posted by Brian Goodman on December 17th, 2014

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

Posted by Eli Linton on December 14th, 2014

While Texas and Kansas have hogged the Big 12 spotlight so far, Oklahoma is starting to demand some attention of its own. Lon Kruger’s squad, which came into last week ranked #16 in the country, visited Tulsa on Saturday afternoon and left with an easy 87-68 win. Oklahoma appears to have its best team since Blake Griffin was running the show. The Sooners’ defense is performing at a top-10 level this season, holding every team they’ve faced to fewer than 70 points, 36 percent from the field and 28 percent from three. That stingy defense is the main reason they continue to climb the national rankings and are demanding respect in such a competitive conference.

Lon Kruger

Lon Kruger has the Sooners playing very good basketball right now. (AP)

The strength of Oklahoma comes from its starting five. If it has been a while since you’ve seen the Sooners play, here’s what you can expect:

  • Ryan Spangler is a Gonzaga transfer who plays physical defense in the post. He’s a great athlete who shoots a high percentage. He’s shot 50 percent or better in 32 of his 40 games at Oklahoma, and he’s shooting 64 percent from the field this season. Spangler is disruptive on defense and has a lot of athleticism for a big man.
  • Senior forward TaShawn Thomas is another quick, athletic forward who rounds out the Sooners’ frontcourt. He can put the ball on the floor and play great defense on the perimeter. Thomas was the MVP against Tulsa, shutting down their shooters on the three-point line all afternoon. When he rotated down into the post, there was just no way the Hurricane were going to score driving the lane. Tulsa started settling for the more inviting mid-range jumpers instead of attacking the glass. Thomas ended the night with 25 points, five rebounds, and three blocks to go along with his stellar defensive performance. “We realized that we need to get the ball in to TaShawn and Ryan a lot more,” Kruger said afterward. “Last game, Ryan had a big game against Missouri. TaShawn had a big game today. We had gotten away from that balance, and Ryan and TaShawn help us get back to it and I like the results much better.”

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