Rushed Reactions: #12 North Dakota State 80, #5 Oklahoma 75 (OT)

Posted by Kenny Ocker on March 20th, 2014

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Rush the Court will be providing wall-to-wall coverage of each of the NCAA Tournament from each of the 13 sites this year. Follow our NCAA Tourney specific Twitter accounts at @RTCeastregion, @RTCMWregion,@RTCsouthregion and @RTCwestregion. Kenny Ocker is an RTC correspondent. He is covering the Spokane pods of the East and West regionals this week. He wrote this after 12-seed North Dakota beat 5-seed Oklahoma 80-75 in Spokane on Thursday evening.

Three Key Takeaways.

Celebrate North Dakota, your team is headed for the Round of 32. (AP Photo/Elaine Thompson)

Celebrate North Dakota, your team is headed for the Round of 32. (AP Photo/Elaine Thompson)

  1. “WE’RE STAYING HERE.” North Dakota State coach Saul Phillips wants you to know that he’s not ready to leave the Pacific Northwest just yet, and he wanted his fans to know that too, coming over to visit the Bison faithful after the game ended. The best game of the Spokane sub-regional went down to the wire – twice. North Dakota State came back from three points down with 20 seconds to go to force overtime, then came out and ran Oklahoma off the court in overtime, despite star guard Taylor Braun fouling out halfway through the extra period.
  2. North Dakota State is one of the nation’s best-shooting teams for a reason. The Bison came into Spokane with the nation’s fifth-best effective field-goal percentage and hit that target again, with an effective field goal rate better than 60 percent despite stars Braun and Marshall Bjorklund being contained well. The pair combined for just 24 points, but guard Lawrence Alexander picked up the slack for them with 28 points on 10-of-15 shooting. Also, a 20-of-22 performance from the free throw line certainly helped their cause.
  3. Cameron Clark showed up at the biggest possible time. The Oklahoma forward carried his team’s offense late in the game, jump-starting it with a shot after an eight-plus-minute field-goal drought, putting the Sooners within two with three minutes to go. From then through the end of regulation, he had seven of his team’s nine points, and finished with 25.

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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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Looking Ahead To The Big 12′s Most Important Games This Weekend

Posted by Brian Goodman on January 17th, 2014

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

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

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

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

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Big 12 M5: 01.17.14 Edition

Posted by Brian Goodman on January 17th, 2014

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  1. One story flying slightly under the radar has been the saga of Iowa State guard Bubu Palo, and boy is it complicated. Everything started in September 2012, when Palo was charged with second-degree sexual abuse stemming from an incident earlier that year. At that time, he was suspended from the team, but when the charges were dropped last January, Palo was reinstated and played in the team’s final 17 games. At the time of the original charge, a complaint was also filed in ISU’s Office of Judicial Affairs, but that was dropped in April 2013. ISU President Steven Leath then overturned the decision, however, and Palo was dismissed from the team. Ever since Leath’s overruling, Palo and his attorney have fought for his reinstatement, and on Thursday, a Webster County judge lifted the sanction against Palo, ostensibly paving the way for his return to the team. As you can probably tell, though, Iowa State’s brass from Leath to AD Jamie Pollard to head coach Fred Hoiberg are not pleased with the judge’s decision. Technically, Palo is now a member of the Cyclones, but he won’t be accompanying the team on its road trip to Texas this weekend. It’s hard to picture the whole situation being anything but horribly awkward.
  2. Tomorrow, Marcus Smart and Oklahoma State return to the scene of last season’s win at Allen Fieldhouse. We’ll have more coverage on the Big 12′s marquee match-up later today, but suffice it to say that it’s a big one for the Cowboys and their chances of dethroning Kansas atop the conference. A loss would drop the Cowboys two games in the loss column, while a win would draw the teams even at the top with Oklahoma State getting a chance for the sweep at home when the Jayhawks pay a visit to Gallagher-Iba Arena on March 1.
  3. Cameron Clark has been terrific for Oklahoma this season, but Wednesday’s loss to Kansas State exposed the fact that he needs to find other ways to help the Sooners when his shot isn’t falling. Oklahoma’s defense could use plenty of work and is undoubtedly an area where Clark would give the team a lift if he can improve on that end. If he, along with the rest of the team, steps up, it will go a long way towards securing a second consecutive NCAA Tournament bid.
  4. Earlier this week, we touched on the potential of Kansas basketball players getting some nice new digs. On Wednesday, the Kansas Board of Regents approved plans for a $17.5 million apartment complex that will house as many as 32 men’s and women’s basketball players in addition to traditional students (as per NCAA bylaws). When completed for the 2016-17 school year, the facilities will give the Jayhawks a leg up on their competitors on the recruiting trail.
  5. It would be an understatement to say that this season has not gone as West Virginia planned. Guard Eron Harris‘ play has been emblematic of his team’s struggles, hitting just 13-of-37 shots over the Mountaineers’ last three games. With a 10-7 record and a resume bereft of any impressive victories, West Virginia’s NCAA Tournament hopes could be on life support. For their sake, hopefully the worst is behind Harris and the rest of the Mountaineers, as we’re just not used to seeing Bob Huggins-coached teams struggle like this for extended periods of time.
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Big 12 M5: 01.15.14 Edition

Posted by Brian Goodman on January 15th, 2014

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  1. Kyle Ringo of The Dagger writes that Kansas is rounding into form, and after Monday’s takedown of Iowa State despite 24 turnovers, it’s hard to deny that the Jayhawks are beginning to click. It feels like we’ve all seen this movie before: Kansas stumbles just enough in the early going for many among the media to ponder whether this will finally be the year that someone else takes the Big 12, only for Bill Self and company to knock some sense into all of us by MLK Day. We may be just two weeks into conference play, but the Jayhawks appear to be showing all the doubters why they continue to receive the benefit of the doubt when it comes to predicting the Big 12′s pecking order.
  2. Tying up one final loose end from Monday’s marquee battle, Sports Illustrated‘s Brian Hamilton contends that Iowa State needs to improve its shooting if it wants to stay in contention. Based on the Cyclones’ 31.4 percent performance from the floor, it’s reasonable to come to that conclusion, but it also makes sense to simply chalk up their bad shooting night to a sterling defensive effort on the part of the Jayhawks. It would be helpful if ISU could challenge more shots in the paint, but since it isn’t realistic to expect Melvin Ejim and Georges Niang to sprout four inches overnight, Fred Hoiberg will have to rely on what he has it his disposal, which, as a reminder, isn’t so bad.
  3. Yesterday, we talked about Kansas State needing to keep Cameron Clark from going off on Wednesday, and judging by Clark’s 1-of-9 evening at Bramlage Coliseum (and a 72-66 victory for the Wildcats), it’s safe to say that Bruce Weber’s team executed its game plan to perfection. The win was an important one for K-State, in need of a bounceback win over a fellow bubble team after the beating handed down by the Jayhawks on Saturday. Somewhat suddenly, the Wildcats find themselves at 3-1 in conference play with a pair of very winnable games (vs. West Virginia and at Texas) coming up next.
  4. It may be hard to tell due to TCU‘s health problems, but the Horned Frogs are improving, according to the Star-Telegram’s Stefan Stevenson. While season-ending injuries to Devonta Abron and Aaron Durley have kept TCU from reaching its potential, they aren’t of much solace to head coach Trent Johnson. Still, there are silver linings in Amric Fields and Jarvis Ray’s development, and Kyan Anderson is an under-the-radar point guard. While no one expects them to beat Oklahoma State tonight, it will be interesting to see whether the Horned Frogs can make it somewhat competitive.
  5. Lastly, Baylor‘s athletic department will host a rally tomorrow in support of both its nationally-ranked basketball teams. As part of the festivities, the general public is encouraged to bring new or gently-used coats to donate to local homeless shelters, and Whataburger will provide nourishment to students. Hey, anytime we can plug a charity effort while buzz-marketing a regional fast food chain, we have to do it.
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Big 12 Afternoon 5: 01.14.14 Edition

Posted by Brian Goodman on January 14th, 2014

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  1. When watching Joel Embiid slice up Iowa State’s interior last night, it was hard not to come away with the impression that the big man should be the top overall pick in the NBA Draft next June, says Bleacher Report columnist and friend of RTC, Jason King. While Embiid’s development has been impressive, I still have some doubts. The biggest issue with so many people getting wrapped up in last night’s performance is that very few on Twitter seemed to remember that Iowa State’s tallest “big man” was just 6’7″. On the other hand, this wasn’t the first time that Embiid turned in a great game. Still if you ask us, we should get a better grasp of the precocious freshman’s pro potential when he’s tested by a more imposing front line like those at Baylor or Texas. For now, though, our best advice is to just enjoy his progression as a college basketball player.
  2. Now that we’re three games into conference play, it’s getting safer to draw definitive conclusions about the makeup of some conference teams, and it’s time to face the facts that West Virginia is uncharacteristically poor defensively and has little to fall back on when it doesn’t make its threes. The Mountaineers lost at home to Texas 80-69 yesterday, but the game wasn’t nearly as close as the final score indicated due to a garbage time 14-5 run by WVU. The Longhorns led comfortably for the last 25 minutes of the game as West Virginia failed to put the clamps on Javan Felix, Cameron Ridley and Jonathan Holmes, and couldn’t hit enough threes to make up the difference. The loss was especially a letdown because just two days earlier, WVU took Oklahoma State to the brink before coming up short. The Mountaineers are a better team than their empty resume suggests, but unfortunately for Bob Huggins, Tournament bids are awarded based on body of work. We’ve yet to hit Feburary, but it’s getting close to desperation time for the second consecutive year in Morgantown.
  3. On Monday afternoon, Oklahoma found itself in unfamiliar territory when it was named in the weekly AP poll for the first time since the week of November 23, 2009. To provide some context, that dates back to Blake Griffin’s sophomore year, a time period when the swine flu outbreak and Tiger Woods’ extramarital affairs dominated headlines. The Sooners put their newly-minted status to the test tonight when they face a Kansas State team capable of holding Oklahoma in check.
  4. Speaking of the Wildcats, Bruce Weber’s team knows that containing Cameron Clark, the Sooners’ leading scorer, will be of utmost importance if Kansas State is to beat the Oklahoma at Bramlage Coliseum. After a modest junior campaign in which he averaged just 6.5 points per game, Clark has exploded on the scene, scoring 18.2 points per contest and making a case for all-conference honors. If the Wildcats are to prevent Saturday’s loss to Kansas from snowballing, it must figure out a way to contain Oklahoma’s high-powered attack.
  5. When Tubby Smith took the Texas Tech job last offseason, most everyone around college basketball was perplexed. Ten weeks into the season, the Red Raiders haven’t done much to clear up the confusion, as they’re in a major funk that has seen them drop six of their last eight games, including three Big 12 contests. It’s going to be a long road to relevance in Lubbock, and Smith’s mettle is already being tested by the team’s early struggles.
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Big 12 Midseason Merits and Demerits

Posted by Brian Goodman on January 3rd, 2014

It’s crazy to think that the season is already nearly halfway over. Over the last two months, the Big 12 had a terrific non-conference run. The league notched wins over the likes of Duke, Kentucky, North Carolina, Memphis, Iowa, Michigan and Gonzaga; the conference proved that it has its share of individual stars beyond Marcus Smart and Andrew Wiggins, viewed as the toasts of the league back in November; and an argument can be made rather easily that the Big 12 is the best league in the country (or at least has had the best run to date). With league play tipping off tomorrow, it’s time for the Big 12 microsite contributors to take a look back and hand out some accolades, as well as shine a light on a some players and coaches from whom we expected a little more in the season’s first two months.

Player Of The Year

Marcus Smart headlines a long list of individual standouts in the Big 12. (Stephen R. Sylvanie/USA TODAY)

Marcus Smart headlines a deep roster of individual standouts in the Big 12. (Stephen R. Sylvanie/USA Today)

  • Kory CarpenterMelvin Ejim, Iowa State: Ejim is third in the conference in scoring with 17.2 points per game and is fifth in field goal percentage, making 52.5 percent of his shots. He nearly averages a double-double as well, grabbing 8.1 rebounds per game.
  • Taylor EricksonMarcus Smart, Oklahoma State - Smart has cooled off a bit recently after averaging over 31 points per game during a three-game stretch earlier in the season, but this award appears to be his to lose heading into Big 12 play. The conference slate should provide plenty of high-profile games that will undoubtedly deliver some great individual performances, allowing us to more confidently identify the league’s best player. Andrew Wiggins has been good, but for the time being, he hasn’t done enough to knock Smart from his perch.
  • Brian GoodmanMarcus Smart, Oklahoma State - Overall, Smart’s efficiency numbers have improved, and he’s still playing defense at a very high level. The Big 12 is as well-stocked with talent as any conference in the country, and Smart has produced the most for his team. That being said, the book on him is out. Whether he can score from outside when teams take away the paint could be the deciding factor for his POY candidacy.

Coach of The Year

  • BGFred Hoiberg - After the Cyclones outperformed expectations the last two years, Big 12 coaches vowed to stop sleeping on Iowa State, tabbing ISU to finish fourth in the annual preseason poll. As it turns out, even that may have been too low. Right now, the Cyclones are no worse than the third-best team in the conference, and Oklahoma State’s personnel issues could give ISU an opening to climb even higher.
  • TEFred Hoiberg – All Hoiberg has done is taken a team that lost several top scorers from a season ago and turned that into a 12-0 start to the college basketball season. Iowa State has three players averaging over 15 points per game, and it became the first school in league history to have five different players win player of the week honors.

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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 Contenders Slip While Middle Tier Shows Improvement in Holiday Events

Posted by Brian Goodman on December 3rd, 2013

The conclusion of last week’s barrage of holiday tournaments is as good a checkpoint as any to take stock of the Big 12. Overall, it wasn’t a good week for the conference, as its membership failed to pick up a single exempt-event crown despite some great opportunities. The league’s heavyweight contenders sputtered out while teams in the conference’s mid-pack seemed to come away with the biggest boosts going forward. There’s a lot to go over, so let’s take a look at the week that was.

Kansas - The Jayhawks had a frustrating time in the Battle 4 Atlantis, as they failed to make the championship round of the event. Kansas hit some timely shots as it came back against Villanova in the semifinals, but the Jayhawks were done in by a Ryan Arcidiacano three in the final minute. They left the island with a pair of wins, but victories over Wake Forest and UTEP weren’t what Bill Self was counting on as the highlights of the trip; and lukewarm performances by Andrew Wiggins will only fuel the skeptics even though his overall numbers are still very good. The Jayhawks have a high ceiling, but they’re still a ways from reaching it. Kansas buried just 10 three-pointers over three games in the tournament, or, put another way, as many as Chaminade’s Christophe Varidel canned on Monday night alone. The Jayhawks are also allowing far more two-point buckets than even the flimsiest of Bill Self’s defenses have let up. It doesn’t help that KU’s defensive rebounding fell back to earth after an otherworldly start in that category. It isn’t time to panic in Lawrence, but it doesn’t get any easier as Kansas will square off with even higher-profile teams (including Florida and Georgetown) before conference play tips off in January.

Michael Cobbins (right) and Oklahoma State had a rough week in Orlando. (Phelan M. Ebenhack/AP)

Michael Cobbins (right) and Oklahoma State had a tough week in Orlando. (Phelan M. Ebenhack/AP)

Oklahoma State - The Old Spice Classic was one long wake-up call for the Cowboys, a team that hadn’t been seriously tested coming into the event. Sunday’s loss to Memphis, underscored by Marcus Smart‘s inauspicious night, is still fresh in everyone’s mind, but it’s worth pointing out that Oklahoma State had trouble in the first two rounds as well. The Cowboys struggled to put Purdue away, giving up 58 second-half points to the Boilermakers, and on Saturday they had to hold on for dear life against Butler while both teams lit their final possessions on fire. Like their biggest challengers to the Big 12 title, Oklahoma State came home with a pair of wins, but they didn’t do much to inspire confidence going forward.

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Big 12 M5: 11.25.13 Edition

Posted by Taylor Erickson on November 25th, 2013

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  1.  After losing a majority of their scoring from a season ago, Oklahoma head coach Lon Kruger said in the preseason that the team would have to rely on major contributions from senior guard Cameron Clark. It appears Clark heard his head coach’s message, dropping 32 points in the Sooners’ loss to #1 Michigan State in the Coaches vs. Cancer Classic final on Saturday night in Brooklyn. Oklahoma jumped out to 22-11 lead on the Spartans, providing some new optimism for Kruger’s squad leaving New York as it appears the Sooners might be poised to challenge for a finish in the upper half of the Big 12 this season.
  2. After two disappointing performances the first two rounds of the Puerto Rico Tip-Off in losses to Charlotte (68-61) and Georgetown (90-63), Kansas State managed to bounce back with a 52-38 win on Sunday morning against Long Beach, avoiding a last place finish in the non-conference tournament. Perhaps one reason for the improved play was due to the contributions from forward Thomas Gipson, who finished with 18 points and 10 rebounds in his first start for the Wildcats this season. Scoring will certainly be difficult at times this season for Bruce Weber’s group, so any consistent play they can get from players like Gipson on the offensive end will be much needed.
  3. After missing all of last season and the first three games of this season with a knee injury, TCU junior Amric Fields was determined to make an impact in his first game of the season for the Horned Frogs, scoring 16 points in a 64-62 win at Washington State on Sunday. After struggling to a last place finish in the Big 12 a season ago, this type of road non-conference win is huge for head coach Trent Johnson this early in the season.
  4. In most seasons, field goal percentage defense is a statistic Kansas head coach Bill Self pays close attention to as a measurement for how his team is faring on the defensive end. Given the rule changes this season in college basketball, Kansas’ first four opponents have averaged 42.5% from the field, far greater than their average of 36% a season ago. The Jayhawk offense seems to be adjusting fine scoring 80, 94, 86, and 88 in their first four games this year, shooting 57% from the floor. Against Towson on Friday night, Kansas ran the floor better than they have all season scoring often in transition. While Self would normally prefer a lower scoring defensive type game, it will be interesting to see if he opts for a more up and down game given their athleticism and ability to draw fouls and trips to the foul line this year.
  5. When Marcus Smart isn’t busy pouring in performances for Oklahoma State on the hardwood like he did last week against Memphis, he’s spending his time as a guest picker on ESPN’s College Gameday in Stillwater on Saturday morning. Smart became the first ever current current college athlete to be featured on the show during the picks segment, which is a little comical in a way given how serious the NCAA preaches amateurism in college athletics. With the Cowboys’ rout of Baylor on the football field Saturday night, Oklahoma State fans’ biggest worry of the day came when ESPN analyst Lee Corso began firing guns in the vicinity of Smart while wearing Pistol Pete’s mascot head.
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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 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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