Big 12 Summer Update: Texas Longhorns

Posted by dnspewak on August 2nd, 2012

In an effort to remind you that college basketball does in fact exist during the summer, Big 12 microsite writer Danny Spewak (@dspewak) will roll out three summer updates per week during the next month. The goal is to compile every bit of news and information from the summer months for each team and package it into neat, easy-to-read capsules for your convenience. Next on the list — Texas

2011-12 record: 20-14, 9-9 (6th place, Big 12)

The worst nightmare happened for Texas’ J’Covan Brown: He went undrafted in June. It’s easy to play the role of revisionist historian with regard to Brown’s decision to enter the NBA Draft and skip his final year of school in Austin. In hindsight, though, perhaps he should have stayed in school and tried his luck in 2013. In reality, Brown made the decision with his family in mind. He has a daughter to take care of, and he’ll find a way to make a lot of money playing this game somewhere. After averaging 20.1 points per game as a junior and taking almost all of the shots for the young Longhorns — sometimes earning the team a reputation as a One-Man Show — his decision to bolt for the pros this summer now leaves a major void for Rick Barnes in 2012-13. It would be silly to use the cliched “addition by subtraction” theorem in this situation because Brown was so important and frankly had a terrific junior campaign without much experience surrounding him, but there’s no doubt Barnes will have a different team without him on the court. With heralded point guard Myck Kabongo ready to take a leap in production as a sophomore after growing up considerably by the end of his freshman season, Barnes should have no trouble qualifying for yet another NCAA Tournament. Despite a close call a year ago, he’s still never missed the NCAAs during his tenure at Texas, and even though his team is maddeningly inexperienced, it should certainly make leaps with a stud recruiting class and improving group of sophomores.

Myck Kabongo is The Man On This Team

Summer Orientation: Barnes welcomes six new scholarship freshmen to his roster, headlined by one of the Big 12′s presumed top newcomers in center Cameron Ridley. Say goodbye to last year’s woes of lacking a true post presence. Ridley’s 6’10”, 245-pound frame speaks for itself. So does his game. He’s a traditional center with back-to-the-basket post moves, a rarity in this age of Kevin Durant and European-style hybrids. The Texas native’s decision to stay home changes the dynamics of Barnes’ roster, and so does fellow freshman big Prince Ibeh. He’s considered more of a project than Ridley and has a leaner body type, but he’s another true center who could become a monster if he develops his offensive game. Barnes told ESPN’s Andy Katz this summer that both Ridley and Ibeh are right on track to contribute as freshmen, but that article actually mentions another freshman as the biggest surprise of the off-season. That’s DeMarcus Holland, a 6’3” shooting guard noted by Barnes as performing like an “every day” kind of guy. That’s some of the highest praise a freshman can achieve before stepping on the court, and it’s the kind of comment that leads us to believe Holland could be a valuable reserve in his first season. Point guard Javan Felix will need to grow up quickly in order to backup Kabongo, and three-star small forward Ioannis Papapetrou finds himself in an interesting role as one of the only true wings on this roster. To round out the class, Connor Lammert will fight for minutes in a crowded frontcourt. The 6’7” power forward had a decent outing in a summer All-Star game by scoring 14 points. As is the case for every single team in America with rather large freshmen classes, the Longhorns’ Big Six will have to sort themselves out by the end of the offseason and October practice. Ibeh and Ridley are early bets to see a ton of playing time, but there’s no telling who else will emerge in their rookie campaigns. Overall, though, this appears to be a good group with a lot of potential down the road, and 2012-13 should serve as a solid foundation for this class.

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Set Your TiVo: 02.20.12

Posted by Brian Otskey on February 20th, 2012


Brian Otskey is the Big East correspondent for RTC and a regular contributor. You can find him @botskey on Twitter. See bottom of the post for the Official RTC Star System.

One bubble team looks to stop the bleeding just by getting any kind of win while another is in search of the quality win that could put it in the NCAA Tournament. Rankings are subject to change with a new RTC Top 25 coming out today.

Connecticut @ Villanova – 7:00 PM EST on ESPN (***)

  • It is not a good time to be a Connecticut fan. Jim Calhoun is out, the team is average, the chemistry is bad, and the program is facing an NCAA Tournament ban next season. Plus the women’s team lost for the first time in 99 games at home on Saturday! Shabazz Napier called out his teammates after Saturday’s loss to Marquette, UConn’s seventh in nine games. This team’s chemistry is as sour as an expired milk carton and it will take a major turnaround for the Huskies to pull out of this tailspin. To beat Villanova, Connecticut must use its terrific interior defense to make the Wildcats take deep shots. Villanova is not a good three-point shooting team and is highly inefficient overall on the offensive end. Starters Maalik Wayns and James Bell have been injured and it’s not known if they will play. Wayns is listed as questionable while Bell is doubtful. If neither plays, there is no excuse for Connecticut not to win this game. As long as the Huskies can shut down JayVaughn Pinkston and contain Dominic Cheek, they shouldwin. Of course with a team in a situation such as UConn’s, nothing is assured.

    Jim Calhoun Will Not Be Walking Through That Door

  • Villanova blew a 20-point lead and lost in overtime to Notre Dame on Saturday night. The Wildcats played without Wayns and Bell and their first half performance should be a warning shot for UConn. The Wildcats dominated Notre Dame in the first half before folding late. If Wayns can’t go, it will be up to Pinkston and Cheek to do most of the scoring. Pinkston has improved nicely as the year has gone on and Jay Wright isn’t giving up on his team. The Wildcats put a scare into Marquette and Notre Dame while picking up a handful of wins along the way. If Cheek is hitting from the outside, that’ll open things up for Pinkston inside. Pinkston can also stretch the defense and could be able to pull Andre Drummond and Alex Oriakhi away from the rim where they are vulnerable. Connecticut doesn’t defend the triple well but Villanova doesn’t exactly shoot it well either. If the Wildcats are to win, they’re going to have to make threes.
  • This is about as unpredictable of a game as we have had all year. Connecticut is the better team, but it certainly isn’t playing like it in 2012. The wildcard in this game is Wayns. If he can give it a go, Villanova will have a very good chance to win. If not, Pinkston, Cheek and company will have to duplicate the effort they put forth in the first half of the Notre Dame game and sustain it for 40 minutes. Picking the winner of this game is anyone’s guess.
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Set Your TiVo: 01.30.12

Posted by Brian Otskey on January 30th, 2012

Brian Otskey is the Big East correspondent for RTC and a regular contributor. You can find him @botskey on Twitter. See bottom of the post for the Official RTC Star System.

Pittsburgh finally won two games last week and will look to win its third in a row at the Backyard Brawl in Morgantown. In Austin, Texas looks to stun highly-ranked Missouri. Rankings are subject to change with a new RTC Top 25 coming out today.

Pittsburgh at #22 West Virginia – 7:00 PM EST on ESPN (****)

  • After getting hosed by the referees at Syracuse, West Virginia returns home on Monday night to face rival Pittsburgh. While the Panthers have won two straight games after losing eight in a row, the Mountaineers remain a strong favorite despite Tray Woodall’s return to the Pitt lineup. The Panthers look like a different team with a healthy Woodall in the fold and Bob Huggins’ team will have to come up with a strong defensive effort in order to limit the Pitt point guard from getting into a flow. West Virginia’s two-point defense is not good, ranked #239 in Division I. If Woodall and Ashton Gibbs can get inside, Deniz Kilicli and Kevin Jones will have a hard time defending Nasir Robinson (9-9 FG vs. Georgetown) and Lamar Patterson. West Virginia’s biggest defensive strength is guarding the three-point line (25.9% in Big East play). If the Mountaineers can shut down Gibbs company from deep, they will have an easier time defending the paint and keeping the Panthers off the offensive glass, where they rank #1 in the nation.

    Huggins and the Mountaineers Will Be Fired Up After Their Controversial Loss at Syracuse

  • Pittsburgh’s offense has run much smoother with Woodall back but the biggest change might be defensively. The Panthers held Georgetown to 60 points and 47.5% interior shooting (below Pitt’s 51% in Big East play), something that will be very important against Jones and a West Virginia team that struggles from deep. If Pitt can force Truck Bryant into a bad shooting night (he’s had many of those), the Panthers will be in the game for all 40 minutes. Defending Jones is a very difficult task but Jamie Dixon just might be content to let Jones get his points and focus on shutting down Bryant and West Virginia’s young supporting cast. The Mountaineers need contributions from players like Gary Browne and Jabarie Hinds in order to win consistently.
  • This is the 183rd meeting between these longtime rivals. Pittsburgh won both meetings last year and has won 16 of the last 23. We have a feeling this game will be closer than some might think. The Panthers look like a different team with Woodall back and healthy but West Virginia has the best player on the floor in Jones. Offensive rebounding is going to be the key in this game. Neither team defends the paint well but each crashes the offensive glass with authority. Pittsburgh has had problems with turnovers but that may not be the case with Woodall running the show. If West Virginia can’t create turnovers, it will have to score in the half court against a team playing with some renewed confidence. Call us crazy but we think Pitt has a legitimate chance to win this game. This one will come down to offensive rebounding and the play of Jones and Bryant.

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Big 12 Weekend Primer

Posted by dnspewak on January 21st, 2012

For the second time in less than a week, all eyes will be on the Big 12. Missouri and Baylor, both ranked in the top-five, will square off in Waco on Saturday afternoon in college basketball’s prime matchup. Elsewhere, Oklahoma will look to win its third straight game as it heads to College Station, while Kansas will renew its rivalry with Texas in Austin.

GAME OF THE WEEKEND

  • Missouri at Baylor, Saturday, 1:05 p.m. CT (ESPN)

Baylor Will Look to Celebrate Again When it Hosts Missouri(AP/C. Riedel)

The Ferrell Center will host two top five opponents for the first time on Saturday, and it’s not a stretch to say this may be the most important home game in Baylor history. Now in his ninth season, it’s amazing that Scott Drew has built a program prestigious enough to play a game with this kind of national attention. His Bears have not lost at home this season, and Missouri’s only loss came on the road at Kansas State. The Tigers quieted the critics a bit by winning at Iowa State, but they did not look comfortable in Manhattan and fell out of contention in that game immediately. Kansas State’s physical bigs held Ricardo Ratliffe to just one field goal attempt, forcing him into foul trouble and taking him out of the game entirely. And here’s the bad news for Missouri: The Bears’ big men are even more athletically intimidating. Ratliffe and Steve Moore are the only two scholarship forwards on this Missouri roster, but they’ll have to somehow deal with Perry Jones, Quincy Miller and Quincy Acy, not to mention players like Cory Jefferson and Anthony Jones off the bench. If you’re counting, that’s five players taller than 6’7”, and most of them can dunk like they’re playing with a Fisher Price basket. The Tigers simply cannot compete with that kind of size. Perhaps we’ll see a lot of 2-3 zone out of Frank Haith, something he’s not opposed to doing. In fact, Missouri has zoned opponents on many occasions this season, and it’s been effective at times. The problem is, Baylor has the guards this year to deal with any kind of defense. Brady Heslip can burn teams who pay too much attention to the paint, and Pierre Jackson has changed the entire dynamic of this team with his ballhandling, penetration and passing skills. If Heslip can knock down some shots and Baylor dominates the paint, this game could be over by halftime. However, the Bears have trouble holding on to the ball sometimes, and they also did not play very well defensively in a loss to Kansas on Monday. Also, while Missouri may not have played very well in Manhattan, Waco is hardly the same environment. Yes, it’s an enormous game this weekeend. The crowd will not be weak, not by any means. But they don’t make many places like Bramlage Coliseum, and MU has never played well there. It won in Ames, and it should not be taken lightly on the road at the Ferrell Center.

The key individual matchup is… Missouri’s guards against Baylor’s forwards. Missouri is mismatched with every single team it plays. That’s just what happens when you start four guards. Against Baylor, though, that mismatched is magnified. The Bears start Jones, Acy and Miller on the frontline, and they almost always have three bigs on the floor at the same time. Missouri rarely even has both Ratliffe and Moore in the game at the same time. In fact, it’s be physically impossible for the Tigers to play three forwards unless they inserted walk-on Andy Rosburg or former football player Andrew Jones, and that’s not going to happen. But Missouri has compensated all year for this lack of size. On Saturday, it’ll be especially important for Marcus Denmon to try to take advantage of his favorable matchup with his quickness. It’s also important for the Tigers to rebound well as a team and make up for their lack of size with extra effort and energy on the boards.

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Three Thoughts Each on North Carolina’s Domination of Texas

Posted by mpatton on December 22nd, 2011

Here are three thoughts about each team I garnered from Wednesday’s game in Chapel Hill. The observations on North Carolina probably hold a little more water, as the team is much more experienced. On the other hand, Texas will probably improve significantly between now and the end of the season.

  • Reggie Bullock isn’t just getting love from bloggers for his defense; Roy Williams put the sophomore on Texas’ explosive J’Covan Brown whenever Bullock was in the game. Bullock’s length (he’s 6’7″) was definitely a factor, but he also did a very good job staying in front of Brown on most plays. After the game Williams’ one criticism was that Bullock didn’t box out well. But Bullock has earned the spot as the first substitute to enter the game (for Dexter Strickland), and his offensive skills make North Carolina a much more dangerous team when he’s in the game.
  • Texas needs Myck Kabongo and Rick Barnes on the same page. Last night Barnes benched his star point guard for a lack of “discipline” and “purpose” on offense. Without Kabongo, Texas isn’t nearly as dangerous. The forwards in particular really need a facilitator to create play-making opportunities. Kabongo is also lethal in transition. The bottom line is your second-best player can’t be riding the pine in big games.

Reggie Bullock has Earned a Spot in North Carolina's Main Rotation.

  • Harrison Barnes played his best game of the year offensively. Frankly, it’s not even close. Barnes scored in nearly every way possible. He scored in catch-and-shoot situations, isolation sets and on put-backs. He only had four offensive rebounds, but watching the game it felt like at least six or eight of his points came off those rebounds. This is the Harrison Barnes people were expecting when they picked him as a NPOY frontrunner.

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Previewing Wednesday Night’s Big 12 Doubleheader

Posted by dnspewak on December 21st, 2011

Although college football bowl season will occupy the Four Letter Network’s main channel for the next several weeks, we have to express our holiday gratitude to ESPN for still managing to show as much college hoops as possible. Tonight, Big 12 hoopheads get a bit of a treat with two league games on ESPN2, including a rematch of a buzzer-beater from December 2010.

  • Texas at North Carolina, 6 PM CT (ESPN2)
Roughly 368 days ago, Texas guard Cory Joseph stunned a partisan UNC crowd with this shot, earning the Longhorns a defining 78-76 victory. After tumbling from number one in the polls to an early exit in the NCAA Tournament the previous season, Joseph’s game-winner marked a turning point in Texas’ year, which eventually resulted in a top-five seed in the NCAAs and a successful second-place finish in the Big 12. After losing all five starters from that team, Rick Barnes now has a team in transition, and this rematch this time at the Dean Dome could once again signify a turning point in the 2011-12 season. So far, Barnes’ new-look team has experienced mixed results with guard J’Covan Brown taking a leadership role. He’s played terrific basketball, but his young teammates are still a little inconsistent. Myck Kabongo will be a star at the point soon, but in UT’s two losses to Oregon State and N.C. State in the Legends Classic in November, he finished with more turnovers (eight) than assists (six). Kabongo gained a little confidence with 18 points in a win over Temple this weekend at home, and maybe that victory will get this team on track. The big key is how Texas’s forwards perform against one of the top frontcourts in the country. On paper, Brown’s matchup with Kendall Marshall looks like must-see TV — and it is — but the Longhorns can’t win unless Clint Chapman, Alexis Wangmene and Jonathan Holmes show up to play. UNC has a significant size advantage with Tyler Zeller and John Henson on the interior, so it’s especially important for Chapman to use his 6’10” frame to try to lock them down. The Tar Heels are the obvious favorite here, but Texas will at least have a shot to pull the upset if Brown outplays Marshall and displays some heroics.

Rick Barnes Knows His Team Has a Golden Opportunity Tonight

  • Oklahoma State at Alabama, 8 p.m. CT (ESPN2)

In the nightcap of this Big 12 doubleheader, a struggling OSU team will look to remake itself in Birmingham against Alabama, which has tumbled a bit itself recently. Most of Oklahoma State’s problems have stemmed from shaky point guard play. To complicate matters, Fred Gulley transferred this week, leaving Cezar Guerrero and Reger Dowell to man the point. The Crimson Tide, which have lost three of four games, are actually having similar offensive problems. Against Kansas State last weekend, Alabama never recovered from an ugly start offensively, turning the ball over 18 times and making just two three-pointers. Anthony Grant’s team isn’t built to shoot threes or light up the scoreboard, though. As one of the better defensive coaches in the SEC, Grant’s guys will smell blood if the Cowboys’ offense isn’t clicking. That’s the problem here for Travis Ford. He needs better play out of Dowell and Guerrero, and they need help from freshman LeBryan Nash, who still looks like he’s acclimating himself to Division I basketball. Keiton Page is OSU’s top offensive option right now, but he’s more of a catch-and-shoot guy that does not carry an offense. So that’s something to keep an eye on: Will Ford’s team execute better offensively, and can it use its athletes to get up and down the floor as Ford would prefer? Also, Alabama brings a ton of size to the table in this matchup, something OSU cannot match. The Cowboys need to use their team speed to overcome that — after all, they’re as fast and athletic as any team in the nation. They’re just not sure how to use it at this point in the season.

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Big 12 Team Previews: Texas Longhorns

Posted by cwilliams on November 9th, 2011

Projected finish: 4th

2010-11 record: 28-8 (13-3)

Head coach: Rick Barnes, 14th season

Key losses: Jordan Hamilton (18.6 PPG), Tristan Thompson (13.1 PPG), Gary Johnson (11.5 PPG), Cory Joseph (10.4 PPG)

The 2009-10 season started out with high hopes and even higher poll rankings for the Longhorns. As we all know, after peaking at #1 in the nation for two consecutive weeks, the Longhorns collapsed in spectacular fashion finishing the season as a one-and-done NCAA tournament team. The 2010-11 campaign was quite the opposite. Expectations were not nearly as high yet the Longhorns thrived without the pressure, reaching a #3 AP poll ranking in February, defeating Kansas in Lawrence, and finishing 2nd in the Big 12. Did I mention that the Longhorns were not even ranked in the preseason AP poll? However, Jordan Hamilton and Tristan Thompson both opted to leave school early to enter the NBA draft so now Rick Barnes has a revamped roster and will have to show that the Longhorns are reloading this season and not rebuilding.

J'Covan Brown Is Expected To Lead This Young Longhorn Team.

The Stars: With Thompson and Hamilton gone, all eyes will be on J’Covan Brown. Brown will be the leader of this young, but talented Longhorn team. Last season, Brown averaged 10.4 PPG. I expect this number to nearly double, as he will be the focal point of this Texas squad. Brown is considered one of the better all-around basketball players in the nation as he can play aggressive defense, has great court vision, and can score in bunches.

The Veterans: Often times, when you see a team with six freshman, you don’t expect there to be much upperclassmen leadership. The Longhorns, however, have a nice balance of both. There are no sophomores on the team, and there are five upperclassmen. The pair of seniors, Clint Chapman and Alex Wangmene, have not exactly put up stellar numbers in their team in burnt orange as neither averaged more than 2.3 PPG. While the juniors and freshman will do the majority of the scoring (a heavy, heavy majority), expect both of these players to be vocal leaders for the youngsters, a task that often goes unappreciated.

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RTC Class Schedule 2010-11: Texas Longhorns

Posted by zhayes9 on August 15th, 2010

Zach Hayes is a editor, contributor and bracketologist at Rush the Court.  To see the entire group of 2010-11 Class Schedules, click here.

After looking at Kansas last week, here’s a breakdown of Big 12 foe Texas and their quest to avenge last season’s disappointing collapse:

Gary Johnson: no longer a role player

Team Outlook: Rick Barnes lost three of his most productive players from last year’s up-and-down campaign. The fact that all three of those cogs were selected in the top-32 of the NBA Draft renders their descent from #1 ranked team to first round flameout all that more disturbing. Barnes and his burnt orange faithful are ready to look forward to a new season where, due to the incredible depth assembled last season, the drop-off talent wise isn’t monumental. While Kansas State, Baylor and Kansas are primed to finish in some order atop the Big 12, Texas isn’t too far behind. It’s also not blasphemy to suggest that the loss of a handful of bodies could be addition by subtraction for a coach that often struggled to maintain a consistent rotation. From scoring wing Jordan Hamilton to the rugged play of Gary Johnson to the lockdown defense of Dogus Balbay and a star studded recruiting class, the Longhorns could very well see their season last longer than it did last March.

Non-Conference Schedule Rank (ranked 1 thru 10, 10 being the most difficult): 8.5. Coach Barnes has never been shy about loading up his non-conference schedule. That strategy certainly didn’t change in 2010 with a number of powerhouse programs both on the road and in Austin featured on the slate. After two warm-ups at home, Texas will travel to NYC for the 2K Sports Classic and face Illinois, a projected top-25 team that returns nearly all of their production from a year ago. Emerge victorious and it’s likely the Longhorns will face a Pitt team that brings back everyone but Jermaine Dixon from a squad that collected a #3 seed out of the always-challenging Big East. Texas was paired with USC in the Pac-10/Big 12 Hardwood series game to be played out in LA. Finally, four rematch games will provide Texas with a challenge- December 18 vs. North Carolina in Greensboro, four days later in a true road game at Michigan State and two early January home dates with Arkansas and Connecticut.

Cupcake City: To avoid burning out his team, Barnes did schedule a few walkover games. Louisiana Tech is one of the two warm-ups for New York, but the Bulldogs lost both Kyle Gibson and Magnum Rolle. Sam Houston State is on the slate, a program that gave Baylor a brief scare in the first round of the NCAA Tournament last March, yet once again they were hit hard by graduation. Texas State could contend in the Southland with a fair share of talent returning. Other squads on the slate include North Florida, Lamar, Coppin State and Rice with none of these contests on the road or on neutral floors. The Longhorns should cruise through these games.

Toughest Early Season Test: A matchup with Pitt at NYC would provide a stiff test, but this one isn’t even close: a true road game at Michigan State, a team that could easily be #1 in the nation when the Longhorns invade the Breslin Center. State only lost Raymar Morgan to graduation off of  last year’s Final Four club that completed the run without the services of star point guard and potential First Team All-America Kalin Lucas. Other than possibly Jacob Pullen, containing Lucas sets up to be Balbay and stud freshman Cory Joseph’s toughest task. Forwards Gary Johnson and the other star frosh Tristan Thompson will have their hands full with a healthy Delvon Roe and Draymond Green. The Spartans are also incredibly deep and always well-coached. Still, they have been vulnerable in the last couple seasons to losses on their home floor. Texas will need an A+ effort to accomplish that feat.

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ATB: An RTC Kind of Weekend…

Posted by jstevrtc on January 19th, 2010

The Good.

The Bad.

The Ugly.

Once-Proud Indiana RTCs Against Unranked Minnesota?

In fact, the last one was so ugly that nobody bothered to put a video of it onto YouTube.  We can only surmise that the guilt and shame of a school with five national titles RTCing against an unranked Minnesota team was too much to bear.

The RTC That Wasn’t#9 Kansas State 71, #1 Texas 62.  We know that there was an RTC tonight in Manhattan, Kansas, right?  We had to have missed it while concentrating on Bob Knight’s screeds about how to cheer correctly.  After all, Kansas State had only beaten a #1 team twice before tonight in its long and not-so-illustrious modern history, and the last of those wins was nearly sixteen years ago.  Still, the K-State students showed an amazing amount of self-control in choosing to not rush the court tonight, and given how relatively quiet they were during the last five minutes of a game against the nation’s #1 team, we’re starting to wonder if they realized that was even an option.  Ok, giving them the benefit of the doubt — they’re saving it for January 30th, right?  As for the game itself, Texas was coming off an OT-win over its rival Texas A&M on Saturday night (see below writeup), and they appeared emotionally drained throughout the first half.  The Horns shot 10-33 in the first half and committed eleven turnovers, often appearing that they weren’t sure who was in charge out there (a point made by Mike DeCourcy after the A&M win) as they found themselves in a 10-point hole at the half.  The Horns made their run to tie the game and briefly take the lead in the second behind Justin Mason and Clint Chapman off the bench, but K-State was able to use an 11-1 run late to finish off the nation’s #1 team.  What’s amazing about this win is that Jacob Pullen was terrible offensively (2-15 FG, 0-6 3FG) and the team couldn’t hit a three from anywhere (1-12), but Jamar Samuels (20/12) came off the bench to more than pick up the slack and Texas’ Damion James didn’t have his Superman cape on tonight.  The Wildcats also got 17/8 from Curtis Kelly, and Frank Martin’s group served notice tonight that the race to the Big 12 title may be more than a two-horse race this season.  The Longhorn offense has looked shaky the last two games, and we’re starting to wonder if teams have figured out that the key to beating this team is to deny the hell out of their interior players and defend the guards on the drive.  UT travels to UConn next, while K-State will try to avoid the letdown game with a home date against Oklahoma State.

Jamar Samuels Celebrates Beating #1 (AP/Charlie Riedel)

Other Big Games This Weekend.

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2008-09 Conference Primers: #2 – Big 12

Posted by rtmsf on November 9th, 2008

Patrick Marshall of Bluejay Basketball is the RTC correspondent for the Missouri Valley and Big 12 Conferences.

Predicted Order of Finish:

  1. Texas   (27-3, 14-2)
  2. Kansas  (24-7, 14-2)
  3. Oklahoma  (27-5, 13-3)
  4. Baylor  (25-5, 12-4)
  5. Oklahoma St.  (19-11, 8-8)
  6. Texas A&M  (19-12, 7-9)
  7. Nebraska  (18-11, 7-9)
  8. Missouri  (18-13, 6-10)
  9. Kansas St.  (18-13, 6-10)
  10. Iowa St.  (16-16, 3-13)
  11. Texas Tech  (15-16, 3-13)
  12. Colorado  (14-16, 3-13)

big-12-logo

What You Need to Know.  Although Kansas won the National Championship last season in dramatic fashion, most of the team won’t be around to try to do the repeat shuffle like Florida did the previous two seasons.  However, that doesn’t mean the Big 12 Conference won’t have an exciting season in the wings.  The buzz around the Big 12 is that sophomore Blake Griffin from Oklahoma (who passed on the NBA, unlike is KU peers) decided to stay another year at Oklahoma to try to lead his team to a championship.  Griffin has already been mentioned for several preseason All-American teams and awards.  Texas returns a great nucleus of talent on a team that tied for the conference championship last year with Kansas.  Baylor is the biggest surprise coming into the season.  Head Coach  Scott Drew has brought this disgraced program back from the ashes a few years ago when Patrick Dennehy was murdered by teammate Carlton Dotson and information was later covered up by then head coach Dave Bliss. Baylor made the NCAA Tournament last season for the first time in twenty years.   Iowa State and Texas A&M are led by former Missouri Valley Conference coaches, Greg McDermott and Mark Turgeon, respectively.  Although Kansas State made a splash back into the national spotlight showcasing Michael Beasley and Bill Walker, they’ll now take a step back into the pack, but with the salaries of their coaches including their assistants, they should be held to high expectations.  Nebraska will be playing small ball this year as they do not have a player over 6’8, but it isn’t like they haven’t triedMissouri is still trying to find its identity and coach Mike Anderson hopes to finally play his type of up-tempo, high pressure defense.  Although only in his third year at the helm, Anderson is on the hot seat.  Colorado has a lot to build on with mostly freshman and sophomores.  Texas Tech got a little head start when legendary coach Bobby Knight passed the keys to his son Pat Knight at the end of last season, while first year coach Travis Ford restarts the Oklahoma State program after the Sutton family was ousted. 

Predicted Champion.  Texas (NCAA #1).  Although Texas  hoped DJ Augustin wouldn’t leave Austin for the NBA, he did.  The Horns return four of five starters, though, (AJ Abrams, Conner Atchley, Damion James and Justin Mason) and most of the team that made it last season to the Elite Eight.  AJ Abrams can hit a shot quickly and from anywhere.  He is the top returning scorer in the Big 12 (16.5 ppg).  Without Augustin, Texas will be relying on Dogus Balbay to run the point.  Unfortunately, Balbay is returning from an injury and played on a Turkish club team with players who received money.  However, Abrams is also an option at point guard and feels confident that he can run the team.  The frontcourt is solid with veterans James (12/10 last season) and Atchley.  Height doesn’t always equal playing ability, but when you have four players on the roster that are over 6’10”  (Atchley, Clint Chapman, Dexter Pittman and Matt Hill) they have the ability to be physical underneath.  The thing that sets Texas apart from the other Big 12 teams is their NCAA Tournament and coaching experience compared to the other contenders.  I expect Texas to take it a step further this year and make a Final Four appearance. 

NCAA Tournament Teams.

  • Kansas (NCAA #4). Some might think that I am crazy for predicting Kansas to finish second in the Big 12 this season with only 2 players coming back with significant playing time (Sherron Collins and Cole Aldrich).  Kansas will have seven newcomers to the program and some will be expected to be big players right away including juco All-American Mario Little, freshman twins Markieff and Marcus Morris and freshman guard Tyshawn Taylor.  Expect that there will be some growing pains.  However, Kansas is a beneficiary in scheduling, not only during the non-conference season, but in the Big 12 schedule as well.  The Jayhawks are participating in the CBE Classic that has them playing preliminary games at home and the semis/finals in Kansas City which is also basically at home.  Then in Big 12 play, they play the North schedule which means that they’ll play at Baylor and at Oklahoma only once, play Texas in Lawrence, while those three South teams have to play each other twice.  Playing at Allen Fieldhouse is not an easy task which makes their schedule amenable to success.  The Jayhawks will lose some early non-conference games and probably games they should not, but will be solid come conference and post-season time. The main cogs of the team that won the National Championship last year played together as freshmen and struggled early, but turned out to be one of the big stories as the season went along.  Similarly to that group, this season I see KU only getting past the first round of the NCAAs. 
  • Oklahoma (NCAA #5).  The media has picked Oklahoma to win the conference, Blake Griffin to be POY and Willie Warren to be the ROY. Warren was the leading scorer in the McDonalds All-American game and can seriously dunk.  If you want to see some of the talent Warren has to offer, check out this dunk.   Along with Griffin and talented freshman Warren, the rest of the team will be full of role players.  With so much of the focus on Griffin and Warren, that means that several other players need to step up their play to give Oklahoma additional options along with those two gifted players.  One of those players that might make an impact is 6’9” UCLA transfer Ryan WrightJeff Capel is a capable coach, but his 3rd year in the conference will keep them from winning the conference.  However, expectations are high and I expect Oklahoma to reach the Sweet 16. 
  • Baylor (NCAA #6).  Baylor is a team that returns its top eight scorers from last season led by Curtis Jerrells (15.3 ppg).  They were the Big 12’s highest scoring team and who could forget the epic non-televised 5 OT game with Texas A&M last season.  Kevin Rogers, LaceDarius Dunn and Henry Dugat are scoring machines that provide a depth of experience.  A senior-laden team, Scott Drew has built this team from scratch and is creating dividends by making he NCAA Tournament for the first time in two decades. But Baylor will not win the conference because their defense is suspect and their frontcourt will need to improve.  However, they tasted the feeling of the NCAA Tournament and got knocked out right away, but it will be different this year and I expect that they will make the Tourney again and at least win one game. 
  • Oklahoma St. (NCAA #7).  The Cowboys still have enough in the cupboard to make it to the NCAA Tournament even though they will break in first-year coach Travis Ford.  They are a little thin on the inside but return their leading scorer, James Anderson, and 80% of their scoring.  Having an up-tempo style that Ford likes to run will help minimize the frontcourt deficiencies.  They should do well enough to make it to the NCAAs, but will probably be bounced in the first round.
  • Texas A&M (NCAA #9).  Mark Turgeon in his 2nd year will be able to make one more run with the players that Billy Gillispie left behind before heading to Kentucky.  It remains to be seen if Turgeon will be able to recruit the right players to fit into playing in the Big 12.  Coming from the Valley, it is a big transition to try recruiting the right players for the large conference schools (note:  Bruce Weber (Illinois), Matt Painter (Purdue), Greg McDermott (Iowa St.)).  Though I see A&M sneaking into the NCAAs, this team could very well find itself in the NIT next March. 
  • Nebraska (NCAA #12).  Nebraska will be playing small ball this year and more in the up-tempo style that Doc Sadler would like to play, but the lack of an inside presence and a weak non-conference schedule will put them squarely on the bubble of the NCAA tournament.  This team could realistically have only one loss coming into conference play.  It has everyone coming back except for Aleks Maric who was their productive center, but even the newcomers were around the team and know the system as four players redshirted last season.  Having the confidence-building games will bring Nebraska into conference play on a high and they’ll benefit by playing in the North division, but they will struggle when they have a stretch of four games against South teams and Kansas. However, the Huskers will surprise some people this year, finish 7th in the conference and sneak into the NCAAs as one of the last at-large bids.

NIT Teams. 

  • Missouri (NIT).  The pieces appear to be in place in Columbia for the Missouri Tigers to start making some strides to return to the spotlight again but the depth is not there to run a full court, high pressure defense for Mike Anderson’s system to be completely successful.  They will have some success early in the season, but they will be tired by the time they get to conference play and will fall off from the picture.  They will be the last team into the NIT. 
  • Kansas St. (NIT/CBI).  Michael Beasley and Bill Walker are not there anymore so this team will have some significant challenges to replace those players.  They have a somewhat soft non-conference schedule except for the Las Vegas Invitational which will build up their win total, but will fall short in the Big 12 race to be considered for the NCAAs.  If they do not do well enough for the NIT, they will be in the CBI for the postseason.

Others.

  • Iowa St.  Greg McDermott is still getting his feet wet in his 3rd year as the roster has had a total turnover in the past two seasons (seven new players last year and another six this year).  Like Turgeon, it is hard to tell if he’s getting the right recruits to compete in the Big 12.
  • Texas Tech.  Although Pat Knight received the keys to the team mid-season last year, this team will struggle as they try to find their identity and whether they decide to implement a whole new scheme or keep with what Bobby Knight established and the players that were recruited for his scheme. 
  • Colorado.  Jeff Bzdelik is in year two of a total rebuild of this team, as eight players have left the team since Bzdelik arrived in Boulder in 2007.  They will probably start several freshman who will be overwhelmed.  Their offense is yet to be established as they try to run clock to keep the score in the 50s.  There are too many things going against the Buffs from being a factor this year.

Important Games.  The Big 12 has a great advantage in that they are key players in several major exempt tournaments this year that they can make a splash in:

  • Texas—Maui Invitiational
  • Oklahoma—Preseason NIT
  • Baylor—Anaheim 76 Classic
  • Kansas—CBE Classic
  • Oklahoma St—Old Spice Classic
  • Kansas St.—Las Vegas Invitational
  • Colorado (Rainbow Classic)
  • Missouri (Puerto Rico Tipoff)
  • Texas Tech (Legends Classic)
  • Texas A&M (South Padre)

Also some great non-conference matchups as a part of the PAC-10/Big 12 Challenge:

  • Oklahoma vs. USC  (12.04.08)
  • Texas vs. UCLA  (12.04.08)
  • Kansas @ Arizona  (12.23.08)

It is always a chore to get a large conference school to go on the road to play on a smaller team’s home court, but here are the road tests the Big 12 is taking on this year (not neutral site):

  • Nebraska @ TCU  (11.19.08)
  • Kansas St. @ Cleveland St.  (11.22.08)
  • Iowa St. @ Northern Iowa  (12.03.08)
  • Texas Tech @ Lamar  (12.13.08)
  • Oklahoma St. @ Texas A&M-CC  (12.14.08)
  • Texas Tech @ UTEP  (12.17.08)
  • Iowa St.  @ Houston  (12.18.08)
  • Oklahoma @ Rice  (12.22.08)
  • Texas A&M @ Rice  (12.31.08)
  • Colorado @ SMU  (01.05.09)

Conference Key Games.  These games will decide the conference champ:

  • Texas @ Oklahoma  (01.12.09)
  • Baylor @ Oklahoma  (01.24.09)
  • Texas @ Baylor  (01.27.09)
  • Kansas @ Baylor  (02.02.09)
  • Oklahoma @ Baylor  (02.11.09)
  • Oklahoma @ Texas  (02.21.09)
  • Kansas @ Oklahoma  (02.23.09)
  • Baylor @ Texas  (03.02.09)
  • Texas @ Kansas  (03.07.09)

Neat-O Stats.

  • 4-The number of 20-win seasons in Baylor’s 102-year history.
  • 5-Texas is one of just one of five schools to advance to the Sweet Sixteen of the NCAA Tournament in four of the last six years (Duke, UConn, Kansas, Pitt)
  • 51-4—This is Kansas’ record in the last 55 games dating back to 2006-07 when Kansas lost to UCLA in the Elite Eight.  Their only losses since then leading up to their NCAA Championship last year were to Texas, Kansas St. and Oklahoma St. last season. 

65 Team Era.  The teams in this conference are a combined 268-222 in the NCAA Tournament with 35 Final Four appearances and five National Championships.  As the Big 12 conference, their first National Championship was with Kansas last season (the others were as the Big 8, which merged into the Big 12 in 1996-97).  The conference’s record in this era is 161-112 (.590), which puts it roughly on par with the SEC as a major conference.  Where the league has struggled (until last year, of course) was winning national titles.  Only KU in 1998 and 2008 have won championships during this era. 

Final Thoughts.  The Big 12 will be a top heavy league this year and in some minds might be down compared to years past.  It will have four strong teams that will easily make the NCAA tournament and then there is a log jam between 5-9 on who will step up to either make the NCAA or settle for the NIT for the post season.  It will be interesting to see if Texas will finally outlive the hype that is given to them each year to make it to the Final Four and be in line to play for the National Championship.  Oklahoma is poised to make a run, but if Griffin gets hurt, will they still be able to win games?   It will be interesting to see how Kansas does after winning the championship the year before but losing so much to not be considered able to repeat.  With 10 of the 12 teams in the conference participating in high profile early season tournaments, the Big 12’s season will be defined on how those teams do in those tournaments.  If they are successful, then they will be the talk of this basketball season.  If they fail miserably, expect them to get fewer teams into the Big Dance than they have the last few years.

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