Big 12 Power Rankings: Bill Self is Smarter Than Me/You/Us Edition

Posted by Nate Kotisso on January 27th, 2015

Time to dust off a familiar narrative: Kansas is in control of the Big 12. The narrative doesn’t require much dusting off, really. The Jayhawks have won a share of the Big 12 regular season title in each of the last 10 seasons. Maybe the narrative needs a gentle wipe with a dry napkin. Or light tap-tap-taps with a clean towel. But it all starts at the top with Bill Self, the mastermind behind the operation. He’s certainly lauded in Lawrence and around the country as one of the top coaches but this season, Self has received criticism from some fans who question how he sends messages to his players. He, like few coaches do, has a good read on every player on his roster. Perry Ellis, the team’s current leading scorer, was inconsistent for much of the season. In advance of his team’s showdown with Iowa State, Self said that Ellis needed to be more aggressive and “believe that he’s the best player on the floor every night.” In the three games since, Ellis is averaging 16.3 points, eight rebounds and shooting 19-of-37 from the floor.

This is what a coach can get away with when you dominate the Big 12 like Bill Self has done at Kansas. (Denny Medley/USA Today Sports)

This is what a coach can get away with when he dominates the Big 12 like Bill Self has done at Kansas. (Denny Medley/USA Today Sports)

In the Iowa State loss, fans didn’t understand why Self sat freshman Cliff Alexander for the final 14 minutes-plus of the second half. Self explained his reasoning for the move was Alexander’s lack of motor on a couple of plays early in the second half. In an important game with Big 12 title implications, it’s understandable for fans to wonder why that had to be done and at that particular time. But Self has no problem benching players if they’re not giving the effort he requires (see: Andrew Wiggins). In the two games since, Alexander recorded a double-double including a career-high in rebounds against Oklahoma (13) and scored a career-high 15 in a road win at Texas. Another season, another chance for Self to prove his worth as a future Hall of Fame coach. He’d have to stay away from videoboards, though. I think the Hall of Fame frowns on videoboard abuse.

Power Rankings

  1. Kansas — 3 points (All voted 1st). Comment: “Our Brian Goodman nailed KU’s gradual rise back into the driver’s seat (with bonus “Candy Shop” mention). They’re the number one team in the latest RPI in the number one ranked RPI conference with the strongest non-conference schedule among Big Five teams according to KenPom. Yes, they are in good shape. Thanks for asking!” – Nate Kotisso (@natekotisso)
  2. Iowa State — 6 points (All voted 2nd). Comment: “Last night’s win was closer than it should have been, but a bounce-back effort from the Texas Tech debacle keeps the Cyclones in second for another week. We’ll find out if they’re out of their offensive slump for good over their next two games when they take on TCU and Kansas, a pair of teams currently in the top half of the conference in defensive efficiency during Big 12 play.” – Brian Goodman (@BSGoodman)
  3. West Virginia — 11 points (Chris — 3rd, Brian & Nate — 4th) Comment: “The Mountaineers are an interesting case. They’ve got the worst effective defensive field goal percentage in the league, but they’re turning opponents over on 27 percent of their possessions. This week, they managed to hold serve at home by beating TCU in overtime.” – Chris Stone (@cstonehoops)
  4. Kansas State — 12 points (Nate — 3rd, Chris — 4th, Brian — 5th) Comment: “Although the Wildcats lost at Iowa State, they picked up a nice home win against Oklahoma State on Saturday. Bruce Weber’s team continues to improve their resume for March, but we’ll get a better sense of where his squad stands after games against West Virginia and Kansas this week.” – CS
  5. Texas — 16 points (Brian — 3rd, Chris — 6th, Nate — 7th) Comment: “If they were able to pull off the comeback shocker in Ames last night, they’re definitely in my personal top five. Beyond that, they blew a big opportunity by failing to beat Kansas in Austin on Saturday. Here was a team that most saw as the biggest challenger to Kansas to start the year but now are nearing the halfway point in league play with a sub .500 record.” – NK
  6. Baylor — 17 points (Chris & Nate — 5th, Brian — 7th) Comment: “Last Saturday, the Bears did something no Big 12 team has been able to do: Contain Buddy Hield. Five days after bringing the Sooners back from the dead against Kansas, Hield was held without a three-pointer for the first time all season on his way to a frustrating 6-17 outing and five turnovers. Kudos, Baylor defense.” – BG
  7. Oklahoma — 19 points (Brian & Nate — 6th, Chris — 7th) Comment: “Somehow, the Sooners maintained an AP top 25 ranking this week despite losing four of their last five. It will be interesting to see what Lon Kruger does with Isaiah Cousins who injured his wrist in Saturday’s game against Baylor. X-rays were negative and he is day-to-day but the OU coach should be careful about rushing an important piece back especially when they’re losing.” – NK
  8. Oklahoma State — 24 points (All voted 8th). Comment: “Although the Cowboys have the best defensive efficiency numbers in Big 12 play, they’re just 3-4 so far. They’ve got two big home games this week against Baylor and Oklahoma.” – CS
  9. TCU — 27 points (All voted 9th). Comment: “No longer a laughingstock, Trent Johnson’s team is playing hard and keeping things competitive to the point where they’re only one-point underdogs in Wednesday’s game against Kansas.” – BG
  10. Texas Tech — 30 points (All voted 10th). Comment: “Texas Tech is making a habit of winning games against teams they have no business beating. It happened again Saturday as the last-place Red Raiders beat the-then first-place Iowa State Cyclones in Lubbock. Next up on their schedule is a road game at Oklahoma on Wednesday night. TTU’s last road conference win was — you guessed it — Oklahoma last season.” – NK

Big 12 Video/GIF of the Week 

In a world where conference games have been sullied by realignment, it was nice to see two fans from two fan bases come together for absolute nonsense on national television. While there was a break in the action of Texas-Iowa State last night, ESPN went to a liveshot of Brent Musburger and Fran Fraschilla doing their thing. Behind them, a fan wearing an Iowa State logo (on the left) and a Texas fan (on the right, presumably) tried to have a little fun while they were on camera. (h/t Erin Sorensen)

https://vine.co/v/OTHm0XWX15p

This Vine leaves us with so many questions. Why is the Iowa State fan flashing Hook ‘em Horns? Why are they all of a sudden fist-bumping? Did these guys properly map out a plan of what they’ll do when they’re on camera? Of course they didn’t. That’s why this is great. Go Big 12, indeed.

Five Big 12 Games You Better Watch This Week

  1. Tuesday: West Virginia at Kansas State (6:00 PM CT, ESPN2)
  2. Tuesday: Baylor at Oklahoma State (8:00 PM CT, ESPNEWS)
  3. Wednesday: Kansas at TCU (8:00 PM CT, ESPNU)
  4. Saturday: Kansas State at Kansas (1:00 PM CT, ESPN)
  5. Saturday: Texas at Baylor (5:00 PM CT, ESPN2)
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Steady Improvement Puts Kansas in Big 12 Driver’s Seat Again

Posted by Brian Goodman on January 26th, 2015

For all the chaos and cannibalization taking place in the Big 12 this season, the top of the conference sure is in a familiar state after three weeks of play. With a 75-62 win that was as complete a performance as we’ve seen from Kansas all year long — and timed with Texas Tech’s upset of Iowa State — the Jayhawks on Saturday swung the odds of an 11th straight Big 12 title solidly back to their side. Bill Self’s teams always seem to make a significant leap around the holiday break, and this year’s group appears no different. In fact, you could take it one step further and argue that the Jayhawks have noticeably improved just in the last week since losing to Iowa State at Hilton Coliseum.

Cliff Alexander and the Jayhawks are ahead of the pack after a big win in Austin and some help from Texas Tech. (KUSports.com/Nick Krug)

Cliff Alexander and the Jayhawks are ahead of the pack after a big win in Austin and some help from Texas Tech. (KUSports.com/Nick Krug)

After getting benched for a lack of hustle, Cliff Alexander has burst forward with activity, averaging 14 points and 11 rebounds per game in last week’s outings on his way to Big 12 Newcomer Of The Week honors. He still doesn’t have much of a post arsenal, but he makes up for it with outstanding strength and athleticism. In Austin, he got the best of fellow blue-chipper Myles Turner, outworking him for rebounds and slipping by him for close looks. Alexander’s motor was on display on one defensive trip in particular, when he successfully keeping Turner out of the low post, making the big freshman receive the ball just off the elbow and forcing a bad shot.

Alexander’s frontcourt teammate, Perry Ellis, is also coming back around. Ellis had been benched two weeks ago after committing four early turnovers against Oklahoma State, exacerbating the limitations that made him a target of criticism both to Kansas fans and more objective observers. In the three games since, he’s averaged 16.3 points and eight rebounds per contest with just three total turnovers. Ellis’ turnaround has come predominantly from getting the ball in better spots and improved execution in his footwork near the basket. He may not be the classic Kansas power forward who can back down his man from 15 feet in, but his face-up game over the last two weeks has been effective enough to maintain his status as a weapon.

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Big 12 M5: 01.26.15 Edition

Posted by Chris Stone on January 26th, 2015

morning5_big12

  1. Coming into the season, Texas looked like the team that would finally end Kansas’ streak of 10 straight Big 12 titles. The Longhorns’ roster combines NBA talent like Myles Turner with hardened veterans like Jonathan Holmes, but in the teams’ first meeting on Saturday, Kansas bullied the Longhorns in a 75-62 win at the Erwin Center. Rustin Dodd of The Kansas City Star called it, “Kansas’ most complete victory in a season-long hunt for an unprecedented 11th straight Big 12 title.” The Jayhawks only turned the ball over three times in the entire game; Cliff Alexander (15 points and nine rebounds) was the best player on the floor; and Jamari Traylor made the best play Bill Self’s seen in his time at Kansas. Perhaps we all made a mistake in underestimating the Jayhawks.
  2. The most surprising game of the weekend happened in Lubbock where Texas Tech knocked off Iowa State, 78-73. The Red Raiders entered the contest as the only team without a win in the Big 12 and had spent most of the conference season looking like they’d finish that way, but a hot start allowed them to jump out to big lead against the Cyclones. Now, the calls for change are coming. Jameel McKay has been a revelation for Fred Hoiberg, and his energy levels are causing some to wonder whether he should be inserted into the starting lineup. It’s a reasonable consideration given McKay’s play, but the timing makes this feel like a bit of an overreaction. McKay is a very good player and perhaps he deserves a chance to start, but basing those decisions off of one loss doesn’t seem like the Hoiberg way.
  3. After a rough ride during their non-conference schedule, Kansas State now sits just a half game back of the top spot in the Big 12 standings after a 63-53 win over Oklahoma State. The Wildcats have been playing much better defense in conference play, as Bruce Weber’s squad currently has the fourth best defensive efficiency rating in the Big 12. Phil Forte spoke of Kansas State’s aggressiveness and physicality saying, “Any time you play K-State, you know you’re playing against one of the best defensive teams not just in the league but in the country.” We should get a better sense of where the Wildcats stand in relation to the rest of the league this week when they take on West Virginia and Kansas.
  4. Oklahoma is now just 3-4 in Big 12 play after losing at Baylor on Saturday, having now lost four of their last five including their two most recent games. Although Oklahoma’s defense has slipped in league play — now allowing 100.4 points per 100 possessions — it’s not time to panic just yet. The Sooners played a good non-conference schedule and picked up some nice wins before Big 12 play began. They have also played their conference road games at Texas, West Virginia, Kansas, and Baylor already, and have yet to play a game against either Texas Tech or TCU. Oklahoma will surely find its way into the NCAA Tournament and Lon Kruger’s team has the talent to make a run once it gets there.
  5. Tonight gives us another fantastic matchup in the Big 12 as Texas travels to Ames to take on Iowa State. Both teams are coming off of a loss and will need a win to stay in the race for the regular season title. It’s a fantastic contrast of styles with the Cyclones’ high tempo offense and the Longhorns’ stout defense anchored by their massive front line. Be sure to tune into ESPN at 9:00 PM ET to catch the action — just another loaded week of games in the best basketball conference in America this season.
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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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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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Three Things to Watch in Tonight’s Kansas-Baylor Game

Posted by Brian Goodman on January 7th, 2015

It’s only the Big 12’s first full week of conference play, but without a runaway favorite and as many as six teams with hopes to win the conference, nearly every Big 12 game is going to have an impact. Tonight’s headliner pits Baylor against Kansas at the Ferrell Center in Waco. The Jayhawks were the last team to beat the Bears at home nearly a year ago (February 4, 2014), so Baylor is looking to avoid a repeat performance. In this preview, Brian Goodman breaks down the elements most likely to decide the outcome of tonight’s important battle.

Frank Mason leads the Jayhawks on the road, where they'll have to neutralize Baylor's advantage inside. (Denny Medley/USA Today)

Frank Mason leads the Jayhawks on the road, where they’ll have to neutralize Baylor’s advantage inside. (Denny Medley/USA Today)

  1. Kansas’ lineups and rotations. Over the last five games, the lineup of Frank Mason, Wayne Selden, Kelly Oubre, Perry Ellis and Cliff Alexander has been the Jayhawks’ most effective one, but it hasn’t been the one Bill Self has most frequently deployed. Rather, Self has preferred a lineup with Jamari Traylor taking Alexander’s place, despite being an average rebounder and mediocre finisher (shooting just 41.5 percent from the floor). Thanks to his athleticism, Traylor can be an effective energy guy in spurts, but the Jayhawks have been at their best with the more efficient Alexander manning the paint alongside Ellis. This was the case during Kansas’ game-finishing run to put UNLV away on Sunday.
  2. Baylor’s bruisers. It’s no surprise that the Bears rank fourth nationally in offensive rebounding rate, corralling 43.7 percent of their misses on the season. That consistency is due in large part to the effort of Rico Gathers, who grabbed 15 rebounds over 39 minutes in Baylor’s two meetings against Kansas last season, and makes it easy for Baylor to generate offense despite suspect interior shooting. The Jayhawks had trouble creating separation against UNLV’s athletic core of big men until the last 10 minutes of Sunday’s contest and will struggle to leave Waco with a win if Gathers and freshman Johnathan Motley deprive Alexander, Ellis and Traylor of those opportunities.
  3. The battle of perimeter attacks. Sharpshooter Brady Heslip isn’t around to haunt Big 12 teams anymore, but the Bears still have some serious long-range bombers on their roster. Scott Drew’s rotation currently features five players who shoot at least 34 percent or better from beyond the arc, led by a 53.8 percent clip from Taurean Prince, perhaps the conference’s most improved player. On the other end of the floor, Kansas’ shooters have been streaky. One of the main reasons why Frank Mason has been such a huge asset this season has been his 51.4 percent three-point shooting, forcing defenses to guard him and in turn opening passing lanes. Kelly Oubre‘s smooth shot (48.1%) has been effective as well, and after a disappointing start to the season, Wayne Selden has embraced his role as a shooter (36.7%) who will occasionally attack off the bounce. Despite all of that shooting firepower, one of the things keeping Kansas’ offense from higher productivity has been a relative team-wide passivity from distance. The Jayhawks are the best three-point shooting team in the conference at 39.2 percent, but they take only 29 percent of their shots from beyond the arc, a level of frequency that ranks a dispiriting ninth in the Big 12 (and 292nd in the country). It therefore stands to reason that Kansas would benefit from centering its offensive attack on perimeter shooting rather than depending on Ellis and Alexander to generate most of the offense inside.
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Big 12 Conference Catch-Up: Kansas, Texas and Iowa State

Posted by Brian Goodman & Chris Stone on January 2nd, 2015

As the Big 12 schools conclude their non-conference schedules, it’s a great time to catch up on where the league’s 10 teams stand entering conference play. Once again, Kansas has navigated an arduous schedule, but enough questions remain that we can at least consider the possibility that another team wins the conference. The Jayhawks’ closest challengers are a Texas team that has kept pace despite losing one of the best point guards in the country for an extended period of time, while Iowa State has another high-powered team with a newly-eligible big man who Cyclones fans hope will provide a needed lift on defense.

Kansas (via Chris Stone)

  • Key wins: at Georgetown, Utah (in Kansas City)
  • Key losses: Kentucky (in Indianapolis), at Temple
With two good outings recently, the game finally appears to be slowing down for Kelly Oubre, and that could be bad news for the rest of the Big 12. (Jamie Squire/Getty Images)

With two good outings recently, is the game finally slowing down for hyped Kansas freshman Kelly Oubre? (Jamie Squire/Getty Images)

It’s very easy to watch Kansas’s blowout losses to Kentucky and Temple and write off the Jayhawks as a Big 12 title contender. To do so, however, would ignore the rest of their resume. Kansas has five wins over teams ranked in the top 50 of KenPom’s efficiency rankings; Only Kentucky can match that total. Sophomore Frank Mason is providing Bill Self with his best point guard play since Sherron Collins left Lawrence five years ago. Mason is averaging 11.9 points, 3.8 rebounds, and 4.0 assists per game. Freshman Kelly Oubre is finally emerging as the potential lottery pick he was billed as before the season, having scored 20 points in two of the last three games. Still, those two losses linger. Kentucky dominated the Jayhawks in Indianapolis. Temple rocked Kansas at the Wells Fargo Center. The typical refrain surrounding Kansas has been to trust in Bill Self, the man who has won 10 straight conference titles, but Self is still tinkering with his starting lineup while trying to play through a frontcourt that has struggled to score inside. Kansas is shooting just 52.3 percent on shots at the rim, a number that is nearly 15 percent worse than last season’s mark, according to data from hoop-math.com. In particular, junior Perry Ellis has seen his shooting percentage decline by over 10 percent as he’s had a difficult time scoring against the size of teams like Kentucky, Georgetown, and Utah. The Jayhawks have their limitations and the losses to Kentucky and Temple showcased them. They’ve also had their triumphs that suggest an ability to compete for another Big 12 championship. Much depends on the consistency of Mason, the continued emergence of Oubre, and the play of bigs like Ellis and Cliff Alexander, but to write off Kansas is to also write off Self’s history and the quality of their non-conference resume. Big 12 coaches won’t make that mistake, and you shouldn’t, either.

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Big 12 M5: 12.18.2014 Edition

Posted by Brian Goodman on December 19th, 2014

morning5_big12

  1.  Iowa State‘s defense will get a lift this weekend from transfer Jameel McKay, who is finally eligible after transferring from Marquette and sitting out the last two semesters. A 6’9″ forward, McKay possesses a 7’4″ wingspan, which should come in handy for a Cyclone team that’s currently dead last in the conference in blocks percentage and offensive rebound percentage. Prior to his short stint with the Golden Eagles, McKay played alongside Cyclone forward Dustin Hogue at Indian Hills Community College. According to Fred Hoiberg, McKay will come off the bench, but even as a secondary member of Iowa State’s rotation, McKay’s ability to alter shots and preserve possessions with his offensive rebounding should give the Cyclones’ attack a new dimension.
  2. Perhaps the biggest name to hit the transfer market recently is former Duke forward Semi Ojeleye, who is now getting the full-court press from Kansas State. There are two major connections between Ojeleye and the Wildcat program: He hails from Ottawa (Kan.), which is just 80 miles from Manhattan, and his brother, Victor Ojeleye, was a walk-on from 2008 to 2012. There’s just one issue for Kansas State – They don’t have a scholarship available. The Wildcats inked three high school commits from the 2015 class to prepare for the loss of Thomas Gipson, Nino Williams and outgoing transfer Jack Karapetyan. Sometimes, these things have a way of working themselves out, but since Ojeleye and his AAU coach have also received inquiries from the likes of Wisconsin, Kansas and Wichita State, something would have to develop quickly for him to end up a Wildcat.
  3. Everyone is still getting used to the idea of TCU being a competitive team, including its local media. The Horned Frogs are one of just nine undefeated teams left in Division I, but they’ve partially arrived at that point by way of easy scheduling by head coach Trent Johnson. Still, these are games that previous TCU teams were losing, so credit is due. Their chances of making the NCAA Tournament will boil down to how they fare in conference play, and in that regard, their backs will be against the wall as they were in their first two seasons of Big 12 membership, but even this level of relevance can be nothing but a good thing for the conference.
  4. While Kansas‘ offensive struggles are a touch misplaced (they currently rank 14th in the country in adjusted offense), they could stand to improve, and as the Lawrence Journal-World‘s Tom Keegan writes, freshman big man Cliff Alexander could be the answer, or at least an answer as the Jayhawks look to get better over Winter Break. Alexander can be foul-prone, but it’s been frustrating to also see his minutes limited by Bill Self’s preference towards experience even though guys like Jamari Traylor and Landen Lucas are less talented. We’re anticipating Alexander to get more chances with Kansas’ non-con schedule softening up as it nears its end, but it’s up to him to make the most of those opportunities.
  5. The Big 12 roars into the weekend on an absolute tear, having won its last 22 games by an average of 19.6 points. While some of the conference’s opponents in that time never stood a chance to be competitive, the streak also includes some impressive road wins over power conferences and victories over solid mid-major teams, too. There are three big threats tomorrow, though: Maryland pays a visit to Oklahoma State; A Washington team on the rise which will square off against Oklahoma in Las Vegas tomorrow, and a solid NC State team will take a crack at West Virginia at Madison Square Garden. Given the strength of the conference, everyone else should have no trouble taking care of business.
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Big 12 M5: 12.15.14 Edition

Posted by Brian Goodman on December 15th, 2014

morning5_big12

  1. The Big 12 enjoyed an exceptionally strong weekend as the conference went 10-0 with an average margin of victory of 15.6 points. Included were three blowouts on the road (Iowa State at Iowa, Oklahoma at Tulsa, and Oklahoma State at Memphis), and the highlight of the week was Kansas beating Utah in Kansas City despite blowing a 21-point lead and losing Devonte’ Graham to a toe injury. There are still a few teams that need to prove themselves — and even the good ones still have some things to sort out — but we saw the Big 12 continue to distance itself from the rest of the country with an impressive weekend performance.
  2. Meanwhile, it’s mid-December and we haven’t seen Kansas put two good halves together all season, but this is an instance where it helps to have context. The Jayhawks are one of just seven teams to rank in the KenPom top 15 in both adjusted offensive and defensive efficiency, and they’re doing so despite facing the what has been to this point the nation’s toughest schedule. Still, as Sam Mellinger of The Kansas City Star writes, the lack of an overpowering post presence is forcing Bill Self to get more creative than he’s ever had to, but those are college basketball first-world problems. One possible solution is to give Cliff Alexander a longer leash to learn on the fly. While the freshman big man isn’t yet very skilled, he appears to be the best answer to the question facing the Jayhawks.
  3. A few days after needing a late defensive stand to beat lowly Bradley, Kansas State cruised in a 20-point win over Savannah State yesterday. A groin injury to Stephen Hurt and early foul trouble for Thomas Gipson forced Bruce Weber to shuffle his lineup in a way that he probably didn’t intend, and the result was reserve forward Brandon Bolden receiving a career-high 16 minutes. We’ve talked about the Wildcats’ struggles to get key resume wins, so we won’t rehash them here, but they do have a couple of opportunities coming up in the form of a de facto home game this Saturday against Texas A&M and a New Year’s Eve tilt against Georgia.
  4. Without Marcus Smart and Markel Brown in the lineup, Oklahoma State has had to face a learning curve when it comes to establishing offense outside of Le’Bryan Nash and Phil Forte. But as John Helsley of NewsOK.com writes, a stingy defense has helped the Cowboys bide their time waiting for those threats to develop. Defense has been a strength of Travis Ford’s last few teams, so it shouldn’t come as a big surprise to see the Cowboys defending well, but a fast start on defense has been paramount to the success of this squad.
  5. We’ll leave you with a couple of big Vines from the weekend’s action: Oklahoma State forward Michael Cobbins catching big air against Memphis, and Iowa State star Georges Niang kissing the Carver-Hawkeye Arena crowd goodnight as the Cyclones put the final touches on a rivalry win. Who do you think is going to produce the most share-worthy moment this week?
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Utah vs. Kansas: Three Keys on Each Side

Posted by Andrew Murawa on December 12th, 2014

One of the bigger games of the weekend takes place in Kansas City on Saturday, with Utah riding its recent success to take a shot at the Jayhawks. Below, Pac-12 microsite writer Andrew Murawa (@AMurawa) and Big 12 microsite writer Brian Goodman (@BSGoodman) break down the keys for the Utes and Jayhawks, respectively.

Three Keys for Utah

The Glass. Given recent history and if you didn’t know anything about these teams’ current rosters, you’d figure that the Kansas roster is filled with glass-eating big men while the Utes were made up of undersized, scrappy kids along the front line. Instead it is Utah that has the seven-footer in the middle, long and athletic wings littering the roster, and a 6’5” future pro running the point. Freshman center Jakob Poeltl is the best offensive rebounder in the nation (grabbing more than 20 percent of his team’s misses when he’s on the floor), while the rest of the Utah bigs go equally hard to the boards on offense, and their guards even chip in a bit too. Priority one, as Utah faces a Kansas team with its own future lottery pick in the middle (Cliff Alexander), is to continue to outrebound its foe, especially on the offensive end. Guys like Poeltl and Chris Reyes and Brekkot Chapman (to name just a few) may not be all that polished on the offensive end, so getting easy hoops in the paint will be a prerequisite to any hopes of a Utah win in Kansas City.

A big day from Delon Wright is paramount to Utah's chances of beating Kansas tomorrow (USA TODAY Sports)

A big day from Delon Wright is paramount to Utah’s chances of beating Kansas. (USA TODAY Sports)

The Star. Delon Wright is undeniably very good. He does almost everything on the court: He scores in the paint and in transition, sets up teammates with easy hoops, rebounds the ball on both ends of the floor, grabs steals, blocks shots, provides on-court leadership, and even gets to the line and knocks in his freebies. But in Utah’s one loss this season, he was, well, not good. Against San Diego State, he made just two of his 13 field goal attempts (both in the waning moments of a comeback attempt), turned it over three times, and was generally ineffective in helping his team put points on the scoreboard. That can’t happen against Kansas tomorrow. He needs to play within himself, set up his teammates and, when the opportunity presents itself, get his own. If Wright has a subpar game, Utah cannot win. Read the rest of this entry »

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Josh Smith Again Shows His Talent Despite Georgetown Loss

Posted by Alex Moscoso on December 11th, 2014

Games like Wednesday’s 70-75 loss to Kansas have to sting for a team like Georgetown. The Hoyas managed to come back from a 12-point deficit and take a late two-point lead against the Jayhawks, but failed to play enough mistake-free basketball down the stretch to seal the resume-enhancing win. But John Thompson III can take solace in some encouraging signs from his team’s performance, as it was apparent to anyone watching the game that the Hoyas played generally as well as Kansas, with the outcome of the game coming down to the discrepancy in three-pointers (Kansas: 10-of-17; Georgetown 5-of-16). One especially bright spot was the dominant performance from Hoyas’ center Joshua Smith. It must have been performances like this that Thompson had envisioned when he sought the Washington native and UCLA transfer almost two years ago. With Big East play on the horizon, Smith’s growing assertiveness still paints a bright picture for the season despite this week’s disappointing defeat.

Joshua Smith kept the Hoyas in the game against Kansas (USATSI).

Joshua Smith kept the Hoyas in the game against Kansas (USATSI).

The battle Smith faced inside against Jayhawks’ leading scorer Perry Ellis and super-recruit Cliff Alexander presented the biggest challenge to Smith so far this season (Wisconsin’s Frank Kaminsky challenged Smith by pulling him away from the basket). The Georgetown center finished with 20 points and five rebounds and dominated Alexander by going right at the rookie’s chest and establishing better position underneath the basket. The freshman Jayhawk couldn’t do much of anything to stop the 350-pound senior from getting wherever he wanted in the paint. Georgetown rightly exploited this mismatch as much as possible by running the offense through Smith – he was involved in a team-high 34 percent of its possessions – and keeping the senior big man on the court for 27 minutes, a season high. It was Smith’s play that, despite an off-shooting night by D’Vauntes Smith-Rivera (3-of-15) and a career shooting night for Kansas’ Brennan Greene’s (5-of-5 from the three-point line), kept the Hoyas in the game and gave them a chance to win.

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Two Burning Questions: Previewing Kansas vs. Florida

Posted by Brian Goodman & David Changas on December 5th, 2014

The Big 12/SEC Challenge will wrap up tonight at 9:00 ET as Kansas looks to exact revenge for a loss in Gainesville last year. Meanwhile, the Gators are in need of a signature non-conference win, and what better venue to get that win than in a raucous Allen Fieldhouse? RTC contributors Brian Goodman (@BSGoodman) and David Changas (@dchangas) are here to break down a tilt between two of the millennium’s best programs.

BG: The Jayhawks may finally have their answer at point guard after Frank Mason enjoyed a very successful Orlando Classic as freshman Devonte’ Graham continued to heal from a shoulder injury. The sophomore posted averages of 11.0 points, 5.3 rebounds and 5.6 assists per game last week and has been the primary reason why Kansas has regained its footing despite Graham’s troubles, Wayne Selden‘s shooting slump, and Kelly Oubre‘s failure to find his way onto the court for more than a few minutes a night. In the other backcourt, Kasey Hill has come up big for a Florida team that has otherwise struggled out of the gate. How important is this match-up to the outcome of the game and how do you see it turning out?

Another steady game from Frank Mason would lend an added sense of security for a Kansas team that has occasionally struggled to find consistency in its backcourt. (AP)

Another steady game from Frank Mason would lend an added sense of security for a Kansas team that has occasionally struggled to find consistency in its backcourt. (AP)

DC: Mason was absolutely terrific in Orlando, and Kansas looked nothing like the team that Kentucky embarrassed two and a half weeks ago. On the other hand, Florida came away from the Battle 4 Atlantis with two losses and a mediocre win over UAB to show for it. Thus far, the Gators have a long way to go to become a good offensive team, shooting a highly inefficient 44.1 percent in effective field goal rate. With Eli Carter injured and likely to miss this game, Hill, who has finally begun to look more comfortable in his role as the team’s primary ball-handler, will need to have a big night for Florida. He showed some signs of offensive life with 20 points in Sunday’s loss to North Carolina, shooting the ball well and getting to the line 12 times (making 10) against the Tar Heels. If he can do the same against Mason while simultaneously taking care of the ball, Florida will have a chance at pulling off the big upset.

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