Checking In On… the Mountain West Conference

Posted by rtmsf on December 6th, 2011

Andrew Murawa is the RTC correspondent for the Mountain West and Pac-12 conferences, and a Pac-12 microsite staffer.

Reader’s Take


A Look Back

After a 39-10 start to the season, highlighted by UNLV’s 7-0 start and win over the nation’s then #1 team, North Carolina, the Mountain West was getting some love around the country. As a result, this week’s 10-4 record, with all four losses coming as a part of the MW/MVC Challenge, including a 19-point loss for those same Runnin’ Rebels to Wichita State, had to seem as something of a step back for the conference. The MW/MVC Challenge technically ended in a 4-4 tie (I say technically, because Boise State’s 44-point thrashing of Drake on Wednesday night was not included as a part of the challenge) after the Mountain West had won eight of the nine games in last year’s inter-conference battle. Aside from the UNLV game, San Diego State also took a tough loss on Wednesday night, blowing a 17-point first half lead in a loss to Creighton, although the Aztecs did bounce back with a hard-fought win over Cal on Sunday.

Team of the Week

Larry Shyatt Has Wyoming Pointing Forward (Star-Tribune, Tim Kupsick)

Wyoming – Larry Shyatt’s Cowboys aren’t the best team in the Mountain West. They may not even be in the top half of the conference. And certainly their 8-1 record is built entirely on wins from the bottom half of Division I. But given that we’re talking about a team that was an absolute mess last season, a team that lost to South Dakota and UC Irvine, North Florida, and Northern Colorado, this 8-1 record (and a six-game winning streak for the first time in nine seasons) truly shows serious progress. Last year the Cowboys were a turnover waiting to happen, giving away the ball on 21% of their possessions, good for #236 in the nation. Thus far this year, led by point guard JayDee Luster who has turned the ball over just five times against 37 assists, the Cowboys are #35 in the nation in turnover percentage, giving it away on 17% of their possessions. Last year the Cowboys allowed their opponents to shoot an 52.9% eFG from the field; this year that number is just 40%.  Last year, Wyoming allowed its opponents to grab 33.7% of their offensive rebound opportunities; this year that number is down to just 28%. In short, under Shyatt the Cowboys have made significant progress in a short time, and while those numbers will almost certainly worsen once they get into conference play and compete against better athletes, this program is certainly on the right track.

Player of the Week

Hank Thorns, Sr, TCU – In lieu of giving credit to the entire Horned Frog team for their 2-0 week and 6-2 start to the season, we’ll give the nod to Thorns over a host of worthy contenders across the conference (apologies to Mike Moser, Chase Tapley, Drew Wiley and Wes Eikmeier). Thorns has led his Horned Frogs in assists in each of their eight games this season, and Saturday at Evansville he absolutely refused to let his team go home a loser. Thorns hit a three with 20 seconds left in regulation to tie the game up and send it to overtime, then hit the game-tying and game-winning baskets – the last with just two seconds remaining – to give TCU the win.

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After the Buzzer: A Wild and Wacky Wednesday Night to Close Out November…

Posted by rtmsf on December 1st, 2011

Tonight’s Lede. Big Ten Does It Again. Day two of the ACC/Big Ten Challenge finished in the same way as the first — with a Big Ten beatdown. The midwestern-based conference rode wins from Michigan State and Minnesota at home along with Penn State and Indiana on the road, to notch another 4-2 night and win the event convincingly, 8-4. Four of those eight victories this year came on ACC hardwood, showing that Big Ten teams can pick up victories in hostile environments regardless of location. It’s difficult to draw too much from late November events like these, but the eye and sniff test in watching pieces of the twelve games over the last two nights is highly suggestive that the Big Ten appears to go seven or eight teams deep this year for NCAA Tournament consideration, while the ACC looks to be in the neighborhood of five or six. As our columnist Evan Jacoby wrote in Night Line last night, the Big Ten has unquestionably earned the right to hold the mantle as the top conference in college basketball a few weeks into the season. The ACC appears to be in the mid-pack, perhaps as high as third but also maybe the worst of the five power conferences (the Pac-12 has some work to do to earn our good graces again).

Your Watercooler Moment. Double Overtime in the Thunderdome.

How Jacked Up Does the ThunderDome Look? (h/t @amurawa)

That’s right, we’re passing on the #4 North Carolina vs. #7 Wisconsin snoozer in favor of a high-intensity, mid-major game that went two overtimes and featured enough twists, turns and amazing plays to outdo the entire ACC/Big Ten Challenge. Luckily, our man Andrew Murawa was there for all 50 minutes of the action. Here’s his report (and some highlights from the UCSB side here).

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Spotlight on Rising Mid-Major Coaches: Tim Miles & Wayne Tinkle

Posted by rtmsf on November 14th, 2011

Montana traveled to Colorado State on Friday night in a game that did not garner much national intrigue (the Rams beat the Grizzlies, 64-58). Neither team made the NCAA Tournament last season and they will be fighting tooth and nail to make it this season. Montana is predicted second in the Big Sky heading into the season, and Colorado State is projected as the fourth best team in the Mountain West. However, the game did feature of the best young mid-major coaches in all of college basketball.

Tim Miles Has CSU Moving in the Right Direction (AP/L. Boomerang)

Colorado State is coached by Tim Miles, who at age 45 is beginning his fifth season in Fort Collins. He began his Division I coaching career at North Dakota State, where as head coach of the transitional team (they are now Division I), he took NDSU into then #12 Wisconsin and won (2006), and then into #8 Marquette and won (in 2007). He left after a 20-win season, and two years later the players he recruited went to the NCAA Tournament.

His CSU career started somewhat rocky, as the Rams went winless in his initial Mountain West campaign. They have improved every year, however, and they were a bubble team last year after going 19-13 in a Mountain West Conference that included powerhouse teams at BYU and San Diego State. He is an energetic and charismatic guy (example: I talked to him after the game and told him I went to North Dakota, a rival of NDSU. He responded with, “Did you lose a bet?”). His players enjoy playing for him, and he has a player’s style. Wes Eikmeier, CSU’s leading scorer, took a couple of questionable shots late in the game, and Miles responded by saying he was comfortable with those shots because if Eikmeier felt like he could make them, then he should take them. That’s what players love to hear. He will get Colorado State to the Tournament either this year or next year, and then larger schools could come calling.

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Where 2011-12 Happens: Reason #22 We Love College Basketball

Posted by rtmsf on October 13th, 2011

Another preseason preview gives us reason to roll out the 2011-12 edition of Thirty Reasons We Love College Basketball, our annual compendium of YouTube clips from the previous season 100% guaranteed to make you wish games were starting tonight. We’ve captured the most compelling moments from the 2010-11 season, many of which will bring back the goosebumps and some of which will leave you shaking your head in frustration. For the complete list of this year’s reasons, click here. Enjoy!

#22 – Where DJ Game Winner Happens

We also encourage you to re-visit the entire archive of this feature from the 2008-09, 2009-10, and 2010-11 seasons.

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Conference Tournament Daily Diary: Thursday

Posted by Brian Goodman on March 11th, 2011

RTC is pleased to announce that we’ll be covering all of the major conference tournaments this year — the ACC, Big East, Big Ten, Big 12, Pac-10, and SEC — in addition to the strongest two high-middies, the Atlantic 10 and the Mountain West.  Each day for the rest of this week, we’re asking our correspondents to provide us with a Daily Diary of the sights and sounds from the arena at each site.  Equal parts game analysis and opinion, the hope is that this will go beyond the tiresome game recaps you can find elsewhere and give you an insightful look into Championship Week.  Today’s coverage:  ACC, Big East, Big 12, Big Ten, Mountain West & Pac-10.

ACC Tournament – by Kellen Carpenter

  • Miami-Virginia.  This was a truly bizarre game that I’m still not sure makes any sense.  Greensboro Coliseum was surprisingly packed for a 12 pm game between the 8 and 9 seed. Both teams boasted sizable and vocal fanbases who were each treated to a game of runs. Miami jumped out ahead, leading by six at the half, and then one of the weirdest second halves I have ever seen happened. Miami only scored eight points over the first 18 minutes of the second half. Virginia, rallying strongly, jumped out to a 50-39 lead with 2:15 left on the clock. Then Miami went nuts.  No, really. I’m still not sure what happened. The crowd was whipped into a frenzy by a series of weird, truly improbably events. Miami cut the eleven point deficit and forced an overtime which the Hurricanes suddenly dominated and walked away with a truly unexpected win. For a the first game of the ACC Tournament, it was not just a dinger, but a hum-dinger. Whenever you can get a crowd of Floridians and Virginians to scream their heads off in the early afternoon in North Carolina, you’ve put on quite a show. Beyond that, nothing about this game mattered.
  • Wake-BC.  After the drama of the Miami and Virginia game, any game with a team that had only managed to win one ACC game over the course of the season was bound to be a letdown. What was surprising to me, was the letdown in crowd energy. Winston-Salem, home of Wake’s campus, is a mere 20 minutes away, yet it seemed like the Demon Deacons had fewer fans present than Miami. Boston College had a very small and quiet contingent who seemed happy to quietly watch as the Eagles just took apart Wake. It really wasn’t much of a game, with the hyper-efficient Boston College offense firing on all cylinders (well, excepting the Raji cylinder). Reggie Jackson scored 27 points on 13 shots. Joe Trapani scored 22 points on 12 shots.  Nicholas Biko scored 21 points on 12 shots. Wake Forest’s porous defense could do little to stop them, and their impotence on the offensive end doomed them. Freshman Travis McKie was a bright spot, going 6-8 in the first half while the rest of his team struggled. But, for some stupefying reason, McKie only got two shots in the second half, one of these being a put-back dunk of his own manufacture. If there is a silver lining to that second half, it’s the fact that Wake actually managed to outscore BC, 36-34. Sadly, this was clearly not enough to make up for the 16 point deficit incurred in the first half. My favorite part of this game, was clearly the few, loud Wake Forest fans sitting directly behind me. One woman seemed particularly keen on trying to coach Travis McKie’s admittedly poor free throw shooting (2-5). Every time he got to the line she would yell “Bend your knees! Follow through!” If only he had listened? The season is mercifully over for Wake, and BC will get it’s chance at tougher competition tomorrow when they take on Clemson.
  • NC State-Maryland.  There were, as you might expect, an alarming number of loud, red-wearing people at this game. Maryland jumped out to an early lead which energized/enraged these loud, red-wearing fans. In response, the N.C. State band played Cee-Lo’s “Eff You,” which, when you think about it, is a perfect pep band song: catchy and insulting to the other team, while the lack of singing effectively makes it family friendly. Well-played, Wolf Pack band. That said, the pep band arrangement of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles theme song was pretty excellent as well. And if the bands played with flair, the teams did too. There was more speed, athleticism, and acrobatic drives on display in this game than in the first two games combined. Cross-overs, spin moves, and behind the back dribbles on the fast break had the crowd frequently on its collective feet. Does Tracy Smith have the MVB (Most Valuable Beard) of this tournament? It’s hard to see anyone overtaking him. Maryland looked in command the whole game, but since Miami’s Miracle, there was a palpable nervousness in the crowd until the buzzer finally went off.
  • Virginia Tech-Georgia Tech. Virginia Tech controlled this game from the start and once it became clear that Georgia Tech could never catch up, the crowd that had gathered for the previous game started to vanish. Virginia Tech’s fans were consistently loud and even when the Hokies’ lead exceeded twenty, the fans took every call against them as if the game depended on it. Meanwhile, the Georgia Tech fans seemed resigned to his fate. Georgia Tech never managed to score more than a point per minute in the first half. It was one of the worst performances I’ve ever seen in a tournament setting, and remember, I watched the Wake Forest game earlier today. Virginia Tech played well enough, but I couldn’t help but be concerned about the minutes that the starters were playing. Malcolm Delaney played 39 minutes despite the massive lead VT held throughout. He only sat for the final minute of the game and that was after he had taken a needless hard foul. You have to wonder how such long minutes on consecutive days are going to affect the Hokies hopes of going deep into this tournament. Well, you don’t have to worry, but I would.

Big East Tournament – by Rob Dauster

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RTC Live: Mountain West Quarterfinals

Posted by rtmsf on March 10th, 2011

Games #185-188.  RTC Live is in Vegas for a big-time afternoon of MWC basketball in the desert.

While the Mountain West Tournament started on Wednesday night with the 8/9 game between TCU and Wyoming, the meat of the matter kicks off Thursday with an interesting set of quarters beginning at noon in Vegas. BYU will get things started in the morning by facing TCU, a matchup which the Cougars should have little trouble with. The second quarterfinal of the day between Colorado State and New Mexico may be the most interesting one. The loser of that game is almost certainly NIT bound (at best), while the winner gets a crack at BYU in the semifinals where a win would go a long way towards getting them back into the NCAA at-large conversation. In the evening, we’ve got San Diego State and Utah kicking off at 6pm PST, followed by UNLV, playing in front of a largely partisan and raucous home crowd, against Air Force. It should be the beginning of a fun three days in Vegas, and we hope you’ll stop in to chat about some good MWC hoops.

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Weekly Bracketology: 01.24.10

Posted by zhayes9 on January 24th, 2011

Zach Hayes is RTC’s official bracketologist.

Last Four In: Butler, Colorado State, Oklahoma State, UCLA.

Last Four Out: Dayton, Colorado, Wichita State, UAB.

Next Four Out: Washington State, George Mason, UCF, Kansas State.

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ATB: JaJuan Leaves Penn State Wanting…

Posted by rtmsf on January 20th, 2011

The Lede.  It was a big night of college basketball around the landscape, but there wasn’t much too surprising among the top teams; no, tonight’s focus is mostly on the unranked folks — teams like Colorado State, Marshall, Indiana State and Memphis.  Oh, and a 6’9 senior who some are touting as a NPOY candidate — him too.

JaJuan Johnson Gets It Done (AP/M. Conroy)

Your Watercooler MomentJaJuan Johnson Saves Purdue, Enters NPOY Debate.  The hope for players who make it all the way to their senior season is that they improve their game every year.  Purdue’s Johnson has shown exactly that kind of progression, going from a spot-minute backup to a dominant force in the paint in three-plus seasons.  Oh, and also outside the paint — you see, JJJ has added a jumper to the point where he’s taken 22 threes and made seven (31.8%) this year, which may not seem all that impressive until you realize that he had put up an oh-fer in his previous three seasons (0-10).  In tonight’s game against Penn State, with his team desperately needing to avoid a three-game losing streak, Johnson received a pass on the right elbow just a shade inside the arc.  In years past, he may have hesitated or looked to pass; this year he confidently shot the ball at the rim where it found nothing but net, giving Purdue a one-point lead and essentially the win with three seconds left.  With his season averages of 21/8/2 BPG on 51% shooting, Johnson has re-opened his consideration as a serious NPOY candidate.  We’re certainly not against the idea — other than perhaps Jared Sullinger, there’s probably no better big man in the country.  With six weeks left in the season, if the impressive young center can put the Boilermakers on his back and lead them to a Big Ten title, he’ll certainly be right there with the others in a wide-open field.  Check out his superb evening in the clip below.

Tonight’s Quick Hits

  • Ohio State at #1.  The Buckeyes wore it well.  After several closer-than-expected games in the last two weeks, Ohio State dominated Iowa tonight by turning up the defense and holding the Hawkeyes to only 48 points tonight in an easy win.  Things will change quickly, however, as seven of OSU’s next nine opponents are currently ranked beginning with a trip to Champaign this weekend where we predicted earlier today that Thad Matta’s team will take its first loss of the year.
  • Texas.  Wow.  We knew there was a reason somewhere inside our head why we threw $10 on the Horns to win it all last weekend.  When Texas is hitting shots like they were tonight against Texas A&M — and especially Jordan Hamilton, who was 10-14 — they’re an excellent basketball team.  Among the teams hovering around the top ten, we’d argue that Rick Barnes’ team might have the most upside of any team in the second half of the season.  They already defend like crazy, holding TAMU to 42% tonight but ultimately winning the game in the first five minutes by running out to a dominant early 20-5 lead; the only issue is the occasionally spotty offense, but with Hamilton, Tristan Thompson, Cory Joseph and Gary Johnson all capable of putting up numbers, we’re slowly starting to really warm up to this team.  Big time home win tonight against the streaking Aggies.p
  • Louisville’s Resilience.  We’re not sure how they’re continuing to do it, but they’re continuing to do it.  Louisville has been banged up and rotating new players into the lineup all season, and yet they continue to win games in remarkable ways.  Just a few days after the amazing comeback win over Marquette, the Cardinals ripped apart St. John’s, using Pitino’s trademark pressure defense and (what else?) three-point shooting (13-26) to terrorize Steve Lavin’s guards.  We’ve said it before, but this Louisville team reminds us more and more of some of Pitino’s early Kentucky teams — you wondered where the talent on the floor was, and before you knew it, you were down fifteen points after a barrage of turnovers and threes.  At 4-1 already in the Big East, you have to give him credit for another tremendous start under duress.
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ATB: Meet Lamar’s Mike James, the New Human Microwave

Posted by rtmsf on January 5th, 2011

The Lede.  There were quite a few good games on the tube tonight, mostly in the Big East and Big Ten, but ultimately all of the better teams won.  But the big story on this early January evening came from Beaumont, Texas, as a player with the most common of names pulled off a supremely uncommon occurrence — a 50-point game.  And he did it while coming off the bench.

Meet Mike James, the Newest Human Microwave (B. Wright)

Your Watercooler MomentThe Unlikeliest 50-point Night of All-Time? Tonight someone named Mike James, a reserve guard for Lamar whose season and career high coming into tonight’s game with something called Louisiana College was 16 points, put on a Superman cape, ripped open a can of spinach and ate his Wheaties when he raised up off the bench on this particular evening.  Twenty-eight minutes later, the 6’1 junior college transfer from Eastern Arizona had nailed eleven threes en route to a 52-point explosion that seems to have come out of nowhere, as he entered the game averaging a mere 10.7 PPG in about fifteen minutes of action.  Perhaps just as impressive as his ability to score was his ability to shoot, as James managed to throw up 35 field goal attempts in those 28 minutes, an average of 1.25 per minute (we assume the four fouls were necessitated to rest his shooting arm).  James’ ridiculous performance is the best bench scoring output nationally in fourteen years (UT-San Antonio’s Roderick Hall had 52 off the pine in 1997), but for insiders familiar with his game (not us), such rapid-fire cannoning isn’t all that unusual.  The player who calls himself “the real MJ” via his Twitter account certainly has a scorer’s attitude, having led his juco league in scoring with a 25.9 PPG average last year and receiving interest from a number of schools including Santa Clara, Nebraska and Detroit.  He surfaced at Lamar because he reportedly liked the warm weather in Texas, perhaps knowing that the milder climate would keep his hand hot for those moments when he had the green light off the bench.  Tonight appeared to be that night.  Something tells us we’re going to be hearing from this new “MJ” again.  (for a glimpse of his athleticism, check out this clip on his YouTube page)

Tonight’s Quick Hits

  • Big Ten Favorites.  It wasn’t easy but both Ohio State and Minnesota avoided upsets tonight against Big Ten bottom-dwellers Iowa and Indiana, respectively.  OSU’s Thad Matta wasn’t happy with his team’s defense for the second straight game, but having a player like Jared Sullinger inside can make up for many defensive lapses — his 24/12 on the interior was something that Iowa was simply not equipped to handle.  OSU has started off the Big Ten slate with two easier opponents, even if on the road, but Minnesota has had no such luck, having to travel to Madison and East Lansing prior to tonight’s game at home against Indiana.  Trevor Mbakwe, the next best glass-eater in the league after Sullinger, grabbed a career-high 16 rebounds and blocked five shots to help his Gophers come back from a nine-point second half deficit and effectively save Tubby Smith’s team from an untenable 0-3 start in the conference race.
  • Colorado State as Spoiler.  It’s no secret that the Mountain West has designs on getting four teams back into the NCAA Tournament for the second straight year — San Diego State, BYU, UNLV and New Mexico.  Four other schools are simply not very good — TCU, Utah, Wyoming and Air Force.  But Colorado State, with senior forward Andy Ogide (16/7) leading the way, is the mid-pack team none of the top four can afford to lose to if they want to take the MWC crown and earn that high seed in the NCAA Tournament.  CSU’s win over Wyoming tonight confirms that the rest of the MWC’s fortunes may ultimately rest on how well the top four handle the Rams in their home-and-home series this year.
  • LaceDarius Dunn’s 43.  On most other night’s LaceDarius Dunn’s 43-point performance would be the headliner, but Mike James’ 52 off the bench displaced the Baylor guard’s outstanding evening.  Dunn nailed ten threes (on 18 attempts) and put the Bears on his back down the stretch of tonight’s game against Morgan State when they really needed him.  For Baylor to reach its goals this season, they’re going to need Dunn to occasionally do so, especially on the nights where Perry Jones and some of the others fail to step up.  He’s been relatively quiet this year, but his averages of 23/5/2 APG while shooting 42% from deep (two-thirds of his shots are treys) are All-American worthy.

and Misses.

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RTC 2010-11 Impact Players – Plains/Mountains Region

Posted by rtmsf on October 28th, 2010

For the second October in a row, we’re bringing you our RTC Impact Players series.  The braintrust has gone back and forth on this and we’ve finally settled on a group of sixty players throughout ten geographic regions of the country (five starters plus a sixth man) to represent the who and where of players you should be watching this season.  Seriously, if you haven’t seen every one of these players ball at least once by the end of February, then you need to figure out a way to get a better television package.  As always in a subjective analysis such as this, some of our decisions were difficult; many others were quite easy.  What we can say without reservation is that there is great talent in every corner of this nation of ours, and we’ll do our best to excavate it over the next five weeks in this series that will publish on Mondays and Thursdays.  Each time, we’ll also provide a list of some of the near-misses as well as the players we considered in each region, but as always, we welcome you guys, our faithful and very knowledgeable readers, to critique us in the comments.

You can find all previous RTC 2010-11 Impact Players posts here.

Plains/Mountains Region (KS, CO, WY, OK, TX)

  • LaceDarius Dunn* – Sr, G – Baylor. Let’s get this out of the way right at the beginning: there’s no news. We know that in order for him to be an Impact Player for this region and to indeed fulfill the promise that’s implied when your name pops up on all sorts of pre-season All-America teams, LaceDarius Dunn has to actually see the floor, and as of right now he’s still suspended from competition. He’s practicing, he’s attending classes, but that suspension from games of any kind is indefinite, so what Dunn is doing most is waiting. So are we, because we want to see the guy play some more, and soon. We’ve backed LaceDarius since his first moments on the Baylor campus and we’ve enjoyed watching him grow as a basketball player during his time there. Dunn was a factor right from the start in Waco, averaging 13.6 PPG and 4.1 RPG in 22 MPG as a freshman, and he’s only gotten more impressive each season. You could see his confidence grow by the game through his sophomore year as he tacked a couple of points onto that scoring average (15.7 PPG) and took on more responsibility. Last season was probably the school’s best since 1950 and earned the Bears their best year-end ranking ever (#10), and Dunn was the centerpiece along with Ekpe Udoh. The unquestioned team leader, Dunn put his scoring gift on full display, contributing 19.6 PPG (33rd in the nation) in just over 32 MPG. Because of his quickness and his deep shooting range, he represents the ultimate defensive conundrum. If you play up on him, he’s by you. If you give him a cushion — and he doesn’t need much space at all — he’ll drill you from range. If you get physical, not only will he match you (Dunn is a disturbingly solid 6’4, 205), but he’ll be more than happy to repair to the free throw line (85.7% last season) and bleed you to death with paper cuts. Perhaps the most remarkable thing about his game is that shooting accuracy. If Dunn can see the rim, he’s in range, and he has no qualms about letting it sail. He nailed 116 threes last season, a single-season record for the school. His next trey will be his 300th, and he’s already hit more of them than any other Baylor player. Those 299 threes put him 91 bombs away from breaking the Big 12 record of 389 held by Texas’ A.J Abrams, and seeing as how Dunn has had no problem breaking 100 the past two seasons, we think he’ll get there. Considering all that, his overall shooting percentage becomes that much more impressive. He shot 45.2% last year and has posted a 44.9% mark for his Baylor career. This brings up the question, again: how do you guard this man? It’ll be fun to watch Big 12 opponents make a go of it this season, that’s for sure — we just have to get the guy on the floor and past this current situation regarding the alleged assault. Because of the strange, conflicting stories from some of the people involved and the paucity of other details that have emerged about this matter, we’re not sure where the truth lies or what outcome would constitute justice. We just hope it’s one that results in LaceDarius Dunn playing basketball as soon and as much as possible.

If Dunn Keeps His Head, He Could Be Baylor's first AP All-American First Teamer

  • Jacob Pullen – Sr, G – Kansas State. Expectations, much?  The last time Jacob Pullen’s Kansas State Wildcats were ranked as high as they are in the Preseason Coaches Poll (#3), John F. Kennedy was a relatively unknown senator from Massachusetts.  The year was 1959, and the Wildcats were ranked #1 in the final AP poll heading into the NCAA Tournament (regrettably, the Cats lost to Oscar Robertson’s Cincinnati in the regional finals).  In large part due to the big-shot making abilities of the six-foot guard who has a great chance to re-write the K-State record books this season, Frank Martin’s KSU squad is poised to make a run at its first Final Four since the 60s and its first Big 8/12 conference title since the 70s.  Pullen, the Big 12 Preseason POY as voted on by the coaches, is expected to run more of the point now that last year’s starter at that position Denis Clemente has graduated, but his ability to successfully play either the one or the two position is well-documented by league opponents.  Let’s be honest, though; with Pullen mimicking the scorer’s mentality of other height-challenged combo guards that have come before him, it doesn’t matter what “position” head coach Frank Martin puts him in.  The Beard (which is rounding into form for the season, incidentally) will have the ball in his hands when it’s crunch time, just as he did in a 34-point explosion against Jimmer Fredette and BYU in the NCAA second round last season and in multiple overtimes in another win (and 28-point performance) against Xavier in the Sweet Sixteen.  It’s not very easy to stop a player who can routinely go for 20+ against some of the best defensive coaches in the country (16 times last year), but the one thing you do not want to do against Pullen is leave him open from behind the arc.  Make him put the ball on the floor and try to get to the rim.  He’s not a traditional dead-eye shooter by any stretch, but he can torch it from outside when he finds a groove — seven threes against UNLV and BYU; six against Alabama, Xavier, Baylor and South Dakota.  Last year he tied Askia Jones’ school-record of 110 threes in a season because he’s learned how to pick his spots appropriately, exhibited by the nearly 40% conversion rate he enjoyed (a significant improvement from his 30% and 34% he shot from deep in his first two years in Manhattan).  Perhaps reflecting the grit of his fiery head coach, Pullen is also an elite defender, having been selected as a member of the six-man Big 12 all-defensive team last year.  Put all of this together — the  scoring, the defense, the grit, the BEARD — and you’re faced with the simple fact that the K-State guard is on the short list of a dozen or so players who are in contention for 1st team All-American and national Player of the Year honors in 2010-11.  The better he plays, the more likely it is that the fortunes of Kansas State basketball is on its way to reclaiming some of its ancient glory and make comparisons with teams a half-century ago completely moot.

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