Patrick Sellars is the RTC correspondent for the Big 12 Conference.
Predicted Order of Finish:
Kansas State (10-6)
Texas A&M (8-8)
Oklahoma State (8-8)
Iowa State (7-9)
Texas Tech (4-12)
All Conference Team:
Sherron Collins (G), Kansas
Willie Warren (G) Oklahoma
Craig Brackins (F) Iowa State
Damion James (F), Texas
Cole Aldrich (C), Kansas
6th Man.James Anderson (G) Oklahoma State
Impact Newcomer. Xavier Henry (G), Kansas
What You Need to Know.
KU Dominance. Of the 13 years that the Big 12 has held a conference tournament, Kansas has won the crown six times, which is the most of any Big 12 school. Kansas has been deemed the regular season conference champion nine times in those 13 years, sharing the title in three of those times. Every time Kansas has shared the title the Jayhawks were the two-seed in the conference tournament.
Two At the Top. It’s very possible that Texas and Kansas could share the Big 12 title this season. Texas’ toughest conference games are Kansas (in Austin), then Oklahoma, Oklahoma State, and Kansas State on the road. The Longhorns seem to have the advantage over the Jayhawks when it comes to an easier conference schedule, but with KU bringing back all of its talent and adding one of the top freshman in the nation, I still believe that Kansas will stay atop the conference alone.
Where are the Tigers. Where do you rank the Missouri Tigers in the Big 12 this season? After being picked seventh by the coaches in last year’s preseason poll, the Tigers finished third and won the Big 12 Tournament en route to an Elite Eight appearance. Mike Anderson will continue to play his “Fastest Forty Minutes” style, and behind leadership from senior guard JT Tiller (Co-Big 12 Defensive Player of the Year in 2009), and sophomore guard Kim English, it’s hard to determine where Mizzou will be at the end of the season. Anderson has put together a very athletic lineup, which should be able to play to his coaching style, but their lack of experience and a consistent scorer could hurt them.
X-Factor. Freshman phenom Xavier Henry could be the key to Kansas’ hopes of a second national title in just three seasons. A late decider, Henry could very well be one of the most productive freshmen in the NCAA this season. He is surrounded by unbelievable talent that will hog most of the attention from opposing defenses, which should open up many scoring opportunities for Henry.
NEW YORK CITY – First the primary items. Baylor defeated San Diego State 76-62 and Penn State held on for a 67-59 win over Notre Dame in the NIT semifinals at Madison Square Garden.
The final numbers….
What Baylor did to get to Thursday…Shoot the ball. They literally attacked on the perimeter going an unbelievable 11 of 22 from beyond the arc. LaceDarius Dunn had 23 points including 6 of 9 from three. Baylor’s Curtis Jerrells paced all scorers with 25. Jerrells is a problem for defenses as he is a deft penetrator as well as a perimeter threat. Baylor defended , in three NIT games their defensive PPP was over 1.00, largely be forcing 19 turnovers.
What Penn State did well… Defend and hold on. The first half Notre Dame had a .58 PPP and eFG mark of 26%. The Irish missed shots but credit the tough Penn State defense. The second half ND found the range and Luke Harangody (17 points) came alive. The Irish had what was almost a twenty-point deficit, down to a two possession game in the stretch. Penn State never lost the lead largely due to a big Jamelle Cornley (16 points) jumper with just under four to play.
The fans God love them…We are on the baseline press table. Myself and press row neighbor Jeff Bernstein, a former coach, who loves to talk strategy, get into a conversation with a Baylor fan Ryan Lindsey. He’s here in New York with his wife and young son. Turns out he coached ‘select ball’ AAU in Texas terms and noted, “the worst beatings we got were facing Blake Griffin’s teams when he was in high school. That kid was and is unstoppable.”
The conversation ran the gamut from John Calipari going to Kentucky to what happens at Memphis. Coaching openings were pondered until Scott occasionally gets up to holler “sit down Fisher if Freider didn’t leave you’d be at Ann Arbor junior high” in reference to the San Diego State coach who was disagreeing with the officials.
Scott is knowledgeable about schools and conferences around the nation. He tells us the Texas basketball job is a plum. “They pay over 2 million and just don’t want you to embarrass the school.” Translated, football rules.
The discussion goes on. Baylor is puling away and Scott and family have a few more nights in the Big Apple. “We need to go eat,” he says. “What will ten dollars get us? A pretzel?” he adds laughing. Waco is home but he knows the score in New York.
Finally Jeff says, “St. John’s has to get you on the schedule so you can get back to MSG and visit.” Scott says, “we would love it but out of conference Baylor plays ‘directional’ schools and SWAC schools. We had so many SWAC wins we expected their automatic to the NCAA play in.”
The buzzer sounds Baylor wins. “See you on Thursday”, Scott and his wife say. Undoubtedly they are fully enjoying the moment. As other Baylor faithful are.
Patrick Marshall of Bluejay Basketball is the RTC correspondent for the Big 12 and MVC Conferences.
Kansas didn’t rebuild, they reloaded this season. After questions whether this team would be able to be as good as they were last season with basically only Sherron Collins and Cole Aldrich, this new class has gelled together and Bill Self was able to prove that he is one of the best developers of talent in the nation and also the Big 12 Coach of the Year. As I said in my preseason predictions, Kansas could fly under the radar and by the end of the season have a seasoned team. I just didn’t think they would actually win the conference. Oklahoma has also had a great season, but the loss of Blake Griffin over two key games was the difference between winning the conference and finishing second. I’m sure a lot of people were surprised to see Missouri be as successful as they were this season. You just didn’t know if Mike Anderson had the guys he wanted to play high pressure defense. But probably the surprise for me is the performance of Texas. To be real honest, I am really surprised how many people feel so confident Texas is comfortably in the tournament after the inconsistencies this team has had this season. I had high expectations for them to win the Big 12, but the non-existence of a player to step up to play point guard has really hampered this team. But I’ll have more on Texas later. Kansas St., Texas A&M and Oklahoma St. all have realistic desires of making the NCAA Tournament.
It’s OV-UH.Villanova 77, Notre Dame 60. Unless Mike Brey’s Irish win four games in four days to get to the Big East finals, we don’t want to hear another word about this team’s NCAA Tournament chances. Sorry, but when you’re playing for your postseason life in an arena when you’ve won something like 48 of your last 50 games and you get ripped a new one in the second half by a team that has much less on the line, you’ve lost your standing to make your case. Villanova’s defense held the Irish to 39% shooting for the game, especially during a key 12-0 run in the middle of the second half that effectively salted the game away. Although ND’s Ryan Ayers blew up for seven threes and 25 pts, Villanova shadowed and harassed Kyle McAlarney and Tory Jackson into a combined 3-15 evening, while committing a season-low five turnovers on its end of the court. Scottie Reynolds added 23/6/5 assts on 8-12 shooting, including six threes. Villanova has surprised us all season long, and the Wildcats are now in a position to earn a top-four double-bye at the Big East Tourney should they beat Providence on Thursday and Marquette loses its final two games at Pitt and vs. Syracuse. How have they done it? Nova doesn’t particularly excel at any one thing offensively or defensively, but they don’t have a huge weakness either. The difference between this year and last has been the emergence of Dante Cunningham, who has given Villanova a legitimate post threat for the first time since Curtis Sumpter was buzzing around the Main Line. With wins over Pitt, Marquette, Syracuse and closes losses to Louisville and UConn, the Cats have proven they can play with just about anybody.
What Happened to Baylor?Texas 73, Baylor 57. Texas beat Baylor for the 24th consecutive time tonight behind 16 from Dexter Pittman off the bench and 14 pts each from AJ Abrams and Justin Mason. Baylor couldn’t throw it in the ocean, shooting 32% including a miserable 3-17 performance from Curtis Jerrells. Texas got a necessary win to move to 9-6 in the Big 12 race, with a game at Kansas this weekend to finish off the regular season. UT looks like a one-and-done team this year, but what happened to Baylor, a preseason top 25 team that, coming into conference play, looked every bit as good as the NCAA Tournament team from last season. While the Baylor defense is marginally worse than it was last year, we don’t think that’s the reason. Rather, somewhere along the way, the Bears forgot how to put the ball in the hole. In eight of their last eleven games, Baylor has shot 41% or less, and not coincidentally, they lost seven of those games. In the two games where they managed to hit 50%+, they won. The other factor is that the face of the Bear program, Jerrells, is slumping. In that same 11-game period, Jerrells has had three games of single figures and shot 30% from the field – without his production, Baylor has been a middle-of-the-pack Big 12 team.
One Other Monday Game of Interest.
Davidson 90, Elon 78. Stephen Curry had 25/5/4 stls tonight as he passed the 2,500 pt mark for his career. Now it’s on to the SoCon Tourney next weekend, and Curry’s team probably needs to win it.
First, welcome to the “new and improved” Rush The Court. This is pretty much the same interface we were using before, but there are a few minor differences so it may take us some time to work the kinks out. Anyways, there are some note-worthy games tonight. You may have heard about a little game going down in Durham, North Carolina tonight.
Game of the Night #3 UNC at #5 Duke at 9 PM on ESPN and ESPN360.com: Yeah. I know it’s not exactly the scoop you were expecting from us, but this is probably one of the 5 best match-ups so far this season so I’m not going to go with another game just to be contrarian. The big match-up in this game is on the inside featuring Tyler Hansbrough and Kyle Singler. The Blue Devils will need a big game out of Singler who has struggled lately who is only 9/38 FG in his last 3 games. The other key match-ups will be on the perimeter with Ty Lawson against Greg Paulus at the 1 and high school teammates Wayne Ellington and Gerald Henderson going against each other. UNC should win this game fairly easily with the way that Duke has been playing lately. If Coach K wants to knock of Hansbrough in his last game at Cameron, he will need Singler to play like he did earlier this year and Jon Scheyer to be hitting any open looks he gets.
Other Games to Watch #22 Syracuse at #1 UConn at 7 PM on ESPN and ESPN360.com: On almost any other night this would be our “Game of the Night”, but there is that small rivalry we mentioned before. Jim Calhoun‘s team is starting to look like the team that some thought could threaten this year’s G.O.A.T. UNC team with the emergence of Hasheem Thabeet as a black hole on the inside. Syrcuase will need a huge game out of Jonny Flynn and Eric Devendorf against the UConn guards (Jerome Dyson, A.J. Price, and Kemba Walker) because Arinze Onuaku isn’t going to be shooting 70% with Thabeet lurking on the inside. I’m going with the Huskies by double-digits in this one.
#13 Xavier at Dayton at 7 PM on ESPN Classic: I’m guessing that both teams were caught looking ahead to this game as both lost their last game to inferior opponents. These two teams are probably the class of the Atlantic 10 so this might end up being a preview of the conference championship game although St. Joseph’s and Duquesne may spoil the party. If Dayton wants to pull off the upset (and have a “Rush the Court” situation), they will need to contain Derrick Brown and B.J. Raymond. Normally, I might lean towards Dayton to pull off the upset, but I think the Musketeers will be too focused after losing to Duquesne in their last game.
#2 Oklahoma at Baylor at 9 PM on ESPN2 and ESPN360.com: This is a game that Baylor needs to win if they are going to have a chance to make the tournament. It probably isn’t fair to make a game against the #2 team in the country and national POY (yes, I’m calling the race) Blake Griffin a must win, but it isn’t fair to lose 5 straight in conference and still make the NCAA tournament. If the Bears are going to pull off the upset, they should focuse on limiting Willie Warren because they aren’t going to stop Griffin and hope that Curtis Jerrells and LaceDarius Dunn both have big games.
Where’s It Been? Connecticut 68, Louisville 51. This game illustrates what worries us about the Huskies. When they bring it all the way, there are only a couple of teams in America that can play with them. But all too often, despite the Huskies’ 20-1 record coming into this game, we’ve felt that they simply don’t have enough fire and focus to get up for six straight games when it counts most. Maybe tonight’s thrashing of Louisville at home is their first step in proving us wrong. This game was a total mismatch, otherwise how else to explain that UConn was 0-8 from three and still was never threatened by the Cards (winner of nine straight coming into this one). Of course the Husky defense is what has always separated their great teams from their merely good ones, and holding UL to 34% shooting (second worst of the season) while also keeping them off of the FT line, was an impressive display. Seriously, keep in mind that Louisville was favored in Vegas by 2-3 pts and UConn was coming in as the new #1 team in America – this was a Statement Win by the Huskies, and it will be interesting to see if they keep the same focus and commitment to defense the rest of the conference slate. As for Louisville, they’ve obviously come on very strong of late, but this is a seriously flawed team in its backcourt (5 pts on 2-9 FGs from the starting tandem of Sosa/Smith), and against teams with big, athletic guards who can defend, they will continue to struggle. It also didn’t help that Earl Clark laid a giant 2-16 FG egg tonight, but we really don’t think even a solid performance from him would have changed the ultimate outcome tonight.
Some Other Quick Hits.
Davidson 89, Western Carolina 65.Stephen Curry with 26/8/8 assts in another SoCon romp.
Wisconsin-Green Bay 75, Butler 66. Upset of the Night as UWGB pulled a half-game back of previously unbeaten Butler behind Ryan Tillema‘s 21/6. Maybe our bracketologist knew what he was talking about after all.
Kansas 75, Baylor 65. BU is now officially in crisis mode with four straight losses, two of which were at home. Curtis Jerrells and Quincy Acy combined for a total of 8 pts on 2-14 FGs. They need to get well, fast.
What to Watch: None of the games tonight are worthy of Set Your Tivo status, but there are several worth checking out.
#13 Purdue at Ohio State at 7 PM on ESPN and ESPN360.com: The Boilermakers are in position to take over the lead in the Big Ten with Michigan State’s recent stumble, but will need to pull off a road win against the Buckeyes who are still waiting on David Lighty to come back from injury.
Rutgers at Georgetown at 7 PM on ESPN Full Court and ESPN360.com: The Hoyas need to start playing better pretty soon or they may find themselves on the NCAA bubble.
Mississippi State at Kentucky at 7 PM on ESPN Full Court and ESPN360.com: Check this out for the match-up on the inside, which will feature Jarvis Varnado (4.7 BPG) against Patrick Patterson (18.5 PPG on 66.1% FG). Oh yeah, Jodie Meeks (25.5 PPG) isn’t bad either.
Maryland at #4 UNC at 8 PM on ESPN Full Court and ESPN360.com: Will the Tar Heels top Duke’s margin of victory over the Terrapins? Will Greivis Vasquez make any more ridiculous proclamations?
Patrick Marshall of Bluejay Basketball is the RTC correspondent for the Big 12 and Missouri Valley Conferences.
Current Records and my standings (Conference Standings) (Last Week)
Oklahoma (19-1)(5-0) (1)
Texas (14-4) (3-1) (2)
Kansas (15-4)(4-0) (4)
Missouri (17-3) (4-1) (6)
Baylor (15-4) (3-2) (3)
Oklahoma St. (13-5) (2-2) (8)
Texas A&M (15-5) (1-4) (5)
Texas Tech (11-8) (1-3)(11)
Nebraska (12-6) (2-3) (7)
Iowa St. (12-7) (1-3) (9)
Kansas St. (12-7) (1-4)(10)
Colorado (8-10) (0-4) (12)
As expected, the top of the Big 12 was going to be dominant in conference play this season with a Missouri team really starting to look good. Baylor and Texas A&M have struggled as of late and they need to get things turned around quickly.
GAME OF THE WEEK
Oklahoma 72, Nebraska 61—This game had all the drama and the wakeup call needed for Oklahoma. Nebraska came out with a stifling defense to start the game and double and triple-teamed Blake Griffin and basically took him out of the game. The Huskers were up 6 at halftime and in the 2nd half, they were not able to play Griffin as well as they did in the first half. Griffin went 7-8 in the 2nd half from the field and Nebraska was not able to score for about 5 minutes down the stretch. By the time they were able to start scoring again, it was too late.
PLAYER OF THE WEEK
Blake Griffin, Oklahoma—Though I considered DeMarre Carroll (Missouri), Sherron Collins (Kansas) and Craig Brackens (Iowa St.), I have to go with Griffin as he continues to dominate the games he is in and averaged 23 points and almost 18 rebounds a game this week. He didn’t even play that much the 2nd half against Baylor. He is well on his way to Player of the Year.
This is a huge day here at RTC. Not only will we be blogging with you all day with this BGTD nonsense, but we’ll also have a presence at ESPN GameDay live from Chapel Hill where our man on the ground will be taking questions and comments from you, the readers, so that you can finally ask Erin Andrews what shampoo she uses and where, exactly, does she find such perfectly fitted tops. Or anything else you guys may want to know (within reason, of course).
RTC Live: Miami at UNC will be a sticky at the top of the page all day, so be sure to stop by and check it out as you put off going outside into the semi-Arctic environment known as the East CoastMidwestSouthMountains USA this lovely Saturday.
As for this post, we’ve got the three-tv setup ready to roll, and with Notre Dame-Syracuse starting off the day in a few hours, we should probably try to get some sleep. We’ll be back for that one (and all the others), but in the meantime, feel free to peruse our SYT preview of today’s big games.
11:52am – And we’re back. Let’s get going. Quick note – lamest sign just spotted at GameDay in CH – Everyone Still Predicts National championship? Wow, props for creativity there, er, not.
Noon – What’s on your tv right now? There’s an interesting mid-major on ESPN2 (N. Iowa at Drake). The Noon FC games aren’t too exciting (Maryland at FSU; Ga Tech at NC State; USF at WVU) – we’ll keep an eye on each, but it’s looking mostly like Cuse-ND and UNI-Drake here.
Game of the Night #8 Syracuse at #12 Georgetown, 7:30 PM on ESPN2 and ESPN360.com: It’s hard to believe that these two powerhouses are only the 3rd and 4th highest ranked teams in their own conference. [Calm down ACC folks. I realize that you have 4 teams ranked ahead of Georgetown, but the ACC doesn’t even come close to the Big East in terms of depth. Look for the next ACC team in the top 25. There are none.] Looking at these teams, I still have a hard time believing that the Orangemen can compete with Pittsburgh, UConn, or Georgetown if all of those teams are playing up to their potential. However, Jim Boeheim has his team playing solid basketball and is one miracle 60-footer away from being undefeated (or at least being in OT to stay undefeated). Syracuse has been able to do this despite the distraction created by the suspension of Eric Devendorf for assaulting a female student as noted extensively here at RTC. Boehiem has been able to do this thanks to solid play from Jonny Flynn (seen below getting away with the most blatant charge that wasn’t called that you will ever see) and Devendorf (when not interacting with the co-eds) on the perimeter and Paul Harris and Arinze Onuaku on the inside. The embarrassingly weak early schedule (SOS: 56th in the nation) has certainly helped the Orangemen have a gaudy record.
Tonight the Orangemen will face their first true test against the Hoyas on the road. Unlike Syracuse, Georgetown has already faced a difficult schedule (SOS: #2 in the nation behind only 6-10 Oregon) including 3 brutal games in the Big East (road games at Connecticut and Notre Dame and at home against Pittsburgh). While the Hoyas lack the depth inside (or thugs according to JT2), they will have the most talented player on the court playing for them on the inside in Greg Monroe who has shown glimpses of brilliance this year. Having seen him in person at the Old Spice Classic over Thanksgiving Break, I can definitely see why he has NBA scouts drooling, but at times he appears too passive at times to dominate games. While neither Harris nor Onuaku can match Monroe’s talent, it will be interesting to see if he can match their intensity the entire game. The other key match-up will be how DaJuan Summers, Chris Wright, and Austin Freeman do against Flynn and Devendorf on the perimeter although I’m not sure how John Thompson III will utilize Summers if Boeheim opts for his patented 2-3 zone. I’m not sure what to make of his experiments with man-to-man, but I would venture that he will go with the more familiar now that he is finally playing some solid teams. I’m guessing that Georgetown has too much talent, the home court, and experience from playing actually competition to lose this game. Syracuse should be able to keep it close until the final 5 minutes when the Hoyas should pull away.
Others to Watch #2 Duke at Georgia Tech, 7 PM on ESPN and ESPN360.com: This has trap game written all over it. Duke just came off a win at FSU, which has shocked Duke several times this year, and the Blue Devils have a nationally televised showcase at Cameron against the aforementioned Hoyas on Saturday. Georgia Tech is mediocre enough (9-6) that the Blue Devils may overlook them, but just talented enough that they could shock Duke particularly since the game will be played at Alexander Memorial Coliseum. The key thing to watch here will be how the Yellow Jacket bigs–Gani Lawal (16.8 PPG and 10.0 RPG) and Alade Aminu (13.5 PPG and 9.4 RPG)–do since interior play will continue to be Duke’s Achilles’ heel (except when they go 3 for their first 27 from 3-point range). If Lawal and Aminu can dominate inside against Kyle Singler and Brian Zoubek, Paul Hewett just may be able to pull out the win.
#3 Wake Forest at Boston College, 9 PM on ESPN Full Court and ESPN360.com: RTC will be at this game (look for the male equivalent of Erin Andrews typing away on his keyboard) to bring you the latest scoop on Wake Forest, the most intriguing team in college basketball. Even after the Demon Deacons win at BYU to end the Cougars nation-leading 53 game home winning streak, there remained a healthy skepticism of Dino Gaudio‘s young squad. However, after they held off everyone’s national title favorite UNC people have really started to come around on this team (I don’t think their rise of 1-2 spots in the polls reflects the magnitude of the change in perception). On the other hand, Boston College may be the most confusing team in the nation. After pulling off one of the bigger upsets of the season (and ending the media’s speculation of an undefeated season for UNC), the Eagles followed it up with a loss at home against Harvard and then to Miami. While the loss to Miami (preseason #17) is excusable, the loss to the Crimson isn’t. Wake will try avoid a letdown similar to the one BC had by relying on Jeff Teague, James Johnson, and Al-Farouq Aminu. Teague will likely be guarded very closely after his explosion against UNC. Wake also hopes to get a big contribution out of Chas McFarland, who was last seen outsprinting Ty Lawson down the court for a crucial lay-up on Saturday. If the Eagles are going to rebound for their back-to-back defeats, they will need a huge game out Tyrese Rice along with solid contributions out of Joe Trapani and Corey Raji. Much like the Duke-Georgia Tech game, this is one to watch to see if the favorite is looking ahead to their next game, which is also a monster match-up for Wake (against undefeated Clemson).
#21 Baylor at Texas A&M, 9:30 PM on ESPN2 and ESPN360.com: A match-up of two lightly regarded teams with impressive records (13-2 and 14-2, respectively). These two teams are my pick to compete with Kansas for the #3 spot in the Big 12 this year. Baylor appears to have recovered from the Dave Bliss fiasco and comes into the game with a top 25 ranking. They have done this with their entire starting 5 averaging double figures, but the unquestioned leader of this team is Curtis Jerrells who will need to have a big game tonight to get a win on the road. Looking through their results so far, I’m having a hard time finding any good wins. A win at College Station would mean a big jump for the Bears in the eyes of the voters. I think a lot of people forget just how good Texas A&M was last year. They were one blown call against UCLA away from potentially forcing OT in the Sweet 16. The Aggies will rely on a balanced attack with Josh Carter, Donald Sloan, Bryan Davis, and Chinemelu Elonu to try and defend their home court.
#24 Michigan at Illinois, 8:30 PM on The Big Ten Network: It looks like a year after his program looked like it was going implode after the Eric Gordon recruiting disaster, Bruce Weber has his team headed in the right direction. Tonight he will try to avenge one of the Fighting Illini’s 2 losses (the other was by 2-points to undefeated Clemson). This should be a close game as the Wolverines won by 10 at Ann Arbor a little over a week ago. Outside of the big guys from each team (Manny Harris and DeShawn Sims for Michigan and Mike Davis and Demetri McCamey for Illinois), my player to watch tonight is Alex Legion, who has shown signs of becoming a big-time scorer since his mid-season addition to Illinois after his transfer from Kentucky.