Conference Report Card: Big 12

Posted by Brian Goodman on April 25th, 2011


 

 

Brian Goodman is an RTC editor and contributor.

Year In Review

Before the start of the season, pollsters bought into Kansas State as the sexy pick to take the Big 12 in 2011 on the heels of an Elite Eight appearance in 2010. The Big 12 was not overly impressive in non-conference play, as the Wildcats fell hard to Duke in a de facto home game in Kansas City, and Missouri did the same against Georgetown in one of the more thrilling matchups of the early season.

As league play began, the preseason #3 Wildcats disappointed, starting 2-5, and the usual stalwarts of the Big 12, Kansas and Texas, rose to the top. After topping the Jayhawks at Allen Fieldhouse in January, the Longhorns looked to be in the driver’s seat, especially after Kansas was blindsided at Bramlage Coliseum to give Texas a two-game lead. However, Rick Barnes‘ team suffered another late-season collapse, going 2-3 to finish the regular season while the Jayhawks dusted off the competition to pull ahead to take their seventh straight conference crown.

Elsewhere in the conference, the Wildcats bounced back to end the season in third place. The middle of the conference wasn’t settled until the latter stages of the season with Missouri falling lat and Texas A&MColorado and Nebraska treading water. Baylor underachieved, given the talented personnel in Waco, and Oklahoma State never really looked in sync. OklahomaTexas Tech and Iowa State all had awful seasons to finish at the bottom of the standings.

In the conference tournament final, Kansas played its best basketball of the season, topping Texas to gain some revenge entering the Big Dance. Colorado was snubbed on Selection Sunday despite beating Kansas State three times, but the Big 12 still managed to get five teams into the NCAA Tournament. However, only the Jayhawks made it out of opening weekend alive, and they fell short of expectations as they lost to Shaka Smart and the Rams’ reign of BCS destruction.

KU's front line of Thomas Robinson (left) and the Morris twins evolved into a strength, and the Jayhawks struggled most when they weren't utilized on offense. (AP/Jamie Squire)

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NCAA Tournament Tidbits: 03.14.11

Posted by Brian Goodman on March 14th, 2011

Throughout the NCAA Tournament, we’ll be providing you with all the chatter from around the webosphere relating to what’s going on with the teams still playing.  We hope to have these up each morning starting Tuesday, March 15, but don’t kill us if it sometimes slips to the early afternoon.

East

Southeast

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Set Your Tivo: 02.28.11

Posted by Brian Otskey on February 28th, 2011

***** – quit your job and divorce your wife if that’s what it takes to watch this game live
**** – best watched live, but if you must, tivo and watch it tonight as soon as you get home
*** – set your tivo but make sure you watch it later
** – set your tivo but we’ll forgive you if it stays in the queue until 2013
* – don’t waste bandwidth (yours or the tivo’s) of any kind on this game

Brian Otskey is an RTC contributor.

Can you believe March begins tomorrow? This is the final week of the regular season and a lot of mid-major conference tournaments begin over the next few days, as well. Tonight we kick the week off with three NCAA definites and a fourth likely headed for the Big Dance. All rankings from RTC and all times Eastern.

#14 Villanova @ #9 Notre Dame – 7 pm on ESPN (****)

A Few Weeks Ago, Wright's Squad Looked Focused and Sharp, But It Appears Lately As If a Certain Ennui Has Arisen

The Wildcats are limping toward the finish line yet again, losers in four of their last six games, including two straight home defeats this past week. Villanova is actually a very solid 7-3 on the road but they’ll have to turn things around quickly in order to win at Purcell Pavilion, a place where Notre Dame is 16-0 this season.

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BGTD: Early Afternoon Games Analysis

Posted by jstevrtc on February 26th, 2011

The only question on a day like today after the early flight of games is…how’s the bubble? The biggest worry for bubble teams is not necessarily racking up good wins late in the year, because the schedule is, of course, already set. What you don’t want to do is give the selection committee something negative on which to hang their hat so they can leave you out. In other words, don’t play yourself out of the Tournament. So far today…

  • Let there be no doubt about Kansas State. They’ve already done enough to get in, but if you’re a bubble team you still don’t want to trip up late and drop games at home. The Wildcats, knowing that they’re in, could have come out complacent in an early game today against Missouri and  just gone through the motions. No, sir. The raves will pile up for Jacob Pullen (24 points on 6-10 and 4-4 from three) and Curtis Kelly (15/6 on 7-9), and with good reason. Pullen’s vocal leadership late in the season has been a revelation for KSU, but let’s give some juice to the Kansas State bench today, chipping in 29 points, 16 rebounds, and eight assists. And look at the unselfishness on display. The Wildcats hit 28 shots…off of 23 assists!
  • For a team playing themselves out of The Dance, look no further than VCU. A few weeks ago all the talk was about how the CAA might get two or three teams in, with VCU an obvious choice. Over the past two weeks, all the Rams have done is drop four of five, including today’s senior day game against Colonial sixth-placers James Madison (72-69). No disrespect to the Dukes, because you don’t win 21 games (so far) without being a solid squad, especially in a rapidly improving conference. But despite NCAA selectors confirming that the “last 10 games” criteria isn’t considered, bubble teams that run into late losing streaks tend to wind up on the outside looking in on post-selection Monday. Barring a CAA Tournament title, you’ve got to figure that VCU is done.
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Checking in on… the Big 12

Posted by Brian Goodman on February 14th, 2011

Owen Kemp of Rock Chalk Talk and SB Nation Kansas City is the RTC Correspondent for the Big 12 Conference.

A Look Back

  • This week’s Big 12 play kicked off with a Big Monday matchup between Kansas and Missouri as part of ESPN’s Rivalry Week.  The Tigers and Jayhawks both entered the Monday night matchup ranked in the top 25 with Kansas checking in at #2 and the Tigers at #20.  As has been the case over the past few meetings between these two programs at Allen Fieldhouse, it was all Kansas in a game that saw plenty of offense and a final score of 103-86.
  • Wednesday night, Texas handled another Big 12 opponent with ease, beating Oklahoma by 16, while Nebraska gave Baylor all they could handle before the Bears would secure a four-point win and position themselves for a tournament bid.   In Boulder, the Colorado Buffaloes played with a lead for much of the game before losing by three in overtime to Mark Turgeon’s Texas A&M Aggies.  With the win, Turgeon gets the best of former teammate Tad Boyle in the first and last meeting between the two coaches as Big 12 foes.
  • Saturday paved the way for the Big 12 to have the #1 and #2 teams in the country following Ohio State’s loss to Wisconsin and both Kansas and Texas made their case.  The Jayhawks continued a hot stretch offensively in a dismantling of the Iowa State Cyclones while Texas fought off an upset bid by Baylor to win by nine and end a four-game losing streak to the in-state rival.
  • Missouri got back on track with a big win over Oklahoma at home.  The Tigers continue to look like a completely different team in Columbia than they are on the road.  The Aggies won their second close one this week on the road with a late win over Pat Knight’s Texas Tech squad.
  • Doc Sadler and Nebraska kept their slim postseason hopes alive with a win over Oklahoma State in Lincoln.  Both teams now sit at 4-6.  The other two teams in the conversation for a potential sixth Big 12 bid are Colorado and Kansas State.  The Wildcats made a last-second three pointer that was later determined to come after the buzzer, giving the Buffaloes a late win in the game in Boulder despite seeing very little in the way of production from star Alec Burks.

Power Rankings

Quick Disclaimer: Power rankings are not meant to be a poll.  They are meant to reflect who is playing the best basketball at a given time.

  1. Texas (22-3, 10-0) – Texas continues to cruise and the Longhorns have their eyes on an undefeated conference run.
  2. Kansas (24-1, 9-1) – Kansas remains on a hot stretch on the offensive end and might find themselves playing with the #1 ranking this week.
  3. Baylor (16-8, 6-5) – Baylor looks to be developing of late and with all that talent, they have a chance to be dangerous. It’s still a work in progress but a good showing against Texas in Austin helps the argument for the Bears.
  4. Texas A&M (19-5, 6-4) – A&M gets two tight wins on the road and turns the momentum back in the right direction heading down the stretch.
  5. Missouri (19-6, 5-5) – New week, same story.  The Tigers can’t win on the road.  The schedule becomes a little more forgiving over the next few games, and it might be a good opportunity for the Tigers to get that first road win and make a push for a first-day bye at the Big 12 tourney.
  6. Colorado (16-10, 5-6) – Colorado takes A&M to overtime and gets a nice win over Kansas State.  Right now they have an ever-so-slight edge in the race for sixth in the conference, which might also signal the last bid for the conference come NCAA Tournament time.
  7. Nebraska (16-8, 4-6) – The Huskers are a sleeper team in the four-way race for #6 and they currently hold wins over two of the other three teams, with victories over Colorado and Oklahoma State.
  8. Kansas State (16-9, 4-6) After a LONG week off, the Wildcats lose to Colorado in a heartbreaker on the road.  Rumors ran wild as to the status of senior Curtis Kelly, and the year that was supposed to be special is truly on the brink.  A big opportunity comes on Monday with Kansas coming to town.
  9. Oklahoma State (16-8, 4-6) The Cowboys dropped their only game on the week and have a bit of inner turmoil with some off-court issues.  It will be interesting to see how well Travis Ford can hold things together.
  10. Oklahoma (12-12, 4-6) – The Sooners lose to the Longhorns and the Tigers; no shame in that.  Jeff Capel has done better than expected but OU isn’t there yet.
  11. Texas Tech (11-14, 3-7) – Another almost for the Red Raiders as they take A&M to the wire but can’t squeak out a win.
  12. Iowa State (14-11, 1-9) – No depth and it’s finally caught up.  Fred Hoiberg’s team never quits, but they just don’t have the horses to keep up this season.

A Look Ahead

  • The week in the Big 12 kicks off with Kansas heading to Manhattan for a Big Monday matchup against Kansas State.  The Wildcats will be hungry for revenge after a recent blowout in Lawrence and the Jayhawks might head into this one as the top ranked team in the nation.
  • A rare set of Tuesday games keeps things going with Texas Tech heading on the road to face Missouri and Baylor playing a mid-year cupcake against Wayland Baptist.
  • If the Jayhawks aren’t number one, it could be the Texas Longhorns who carry that title.  Texas tips off Wednesday night at home against Oklahoma State, while Iowa State heads to College Station and the Cornhuskers look for another resume-building win on the road at Oklahoma.
  • Saturday sees all 12 teams in action once again and it’s a weekend that could provide some separation at the six spot.  Colorado has to travel to Lawrence while Nebraska hosts Texas.  A&M goes on the road to Oklahoma State while Kansas State hosts Oklahoma.  Again, OSU, KSU, Nebraska and Colorado could all by vying for a final NCAA bid and all four will be tested on Saturday.
  • Rounding out the action on Saturday is a trip by the Missouri Tigers into Ames, where they’ll look to get their first conference road win against the last place Cyclones.  If the Tigers can’t pull off a win in Hilton, they might have to start concerning themselves a little more with postseason seeding.   The last game on the day is between Texas Tech and Baylor in Waco, as the Bears look to further cement that #3 spot in the conference.

Player of the Year Watch

Power Ranking Style and Based on Conference Play

  1. Jordan Hamilton – (17.8 PPG, 8.5 RPG): Hamilton keeps plugging along on a great Texas team in the hunt for an undefeated conference season and a #1 seed come tourney time.
  2. Marcus Morris, Kansas – (18.7 PPG, 8 RPG): Morris and Kansas are hot right now, playing lights-out on the offensive end.  The Jayhawks could soon be the #1 team in the nation and Morris is a big reason why.
  3. Alec Burks, Colorado – (20.2, PPG, 7.9 RPG): Burks had an off night against Kansas State but Colorado pulled off a win anyway securing the season sweep of the Wildcats and keeping the Buffalo postseason hopes alive.
  4. LaceDarius Dunn – (18.7 PPG): Dunn is starting to assert himself and Baylor is playing better.  The Bears sit in the top 4 of the conference and are starting to look more like a tournament lock than a team lost.
  5. Jacob Pullen, Kansas State – (18.9 PPG, 3.5 APG): Pullen keeps fighting, but the Wildcats are facing the very real possibility of an NIT bid come March.
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Checking in on… the Big 12

Posted by Brian Goodman on February 4th, 2011

Brian Goodman is an RTC editor. Owen Kemp, the RTC correspondent for the Big 12, will return on Monday.

A Look Back

  • It’s been a season full of surprises around college basketball, and the Big 12 is no different. There are surprises on both sides of the spectrum, but the possibility of sending merely four teams to the Big Dance looms large here in early February. On the disappointing side, Frank Martin looks like he’s losing his team, which was ranked third in the country to start the season. Forward Freddy Asprilla, recently reported as leaving the team to play in the professional ranks in his native Colombia, citing a need to take care of his family, wound up at Canisius, which is even farther from Colombia than Manhattan. Making matters worse, fellow big man Wally Judge, once a can’t-miss recruit, left the team last week.
  • The Baylor Bears have also underperformed, and could join Kansas State in the bubble watch if Scott Drew can’t turn his recruiting prowess into quality wins in a hurry. Losses to KSU, Iowa State and Oklahoma have marred the Bears’ postseason prospects, but there are still chances for Perry Jones and company to regroup.
  • Missouri, hopeful to challenge the Jayhawks and Wildcats in November, already have four conference losses to their name after dropping Wednesday’s tilt in snowy Stillwater. Aside from a big rivalry game against Kansas in Lawrence on Monday, though, the toughest of the Tigers’ schedule seems to be behind them, with their remaining road games coming against Iowa State, Kansas State and Nebraska.
  • Things aren’t all bad, though. Oklahoma, a laughingstock after losing to Chaminade in the Maui Invitational, have reeled off four straight wins, and lo and behold, they sit tied for third with Texas A&M at present. Texas and Kansas remain the cream of the crop in the Big 12, with the Longhorns absolutely rolling through conference play with nary a threat, largely thanks to their defense, which has allowed a measly 53.4 points per game through seven conference bouts. The Jayhawks continue to play with heavy hearts in the wake of the death of Thomas Robinson‘s mother, Lisa. With their lone loss coming against Texas after a long night of grieving and consoling, the Jayhawk faithful are hoping for a shot at redemption against the Longhorns in the Big 12 Tournament, and are taking care of business in the meantime.

Power Rankings

1. Texas (19-3, 7-0) – A combination of focus, team defense and a brutal non-con slate has shaped the Longhorns to an unblemished 7-0 conference mark. Jordan Hamilton continues to make his claim for Big 12 Player of the Year by averaging 18.4 points per contest over his last five. Luke Winn has a convincing take this week on how Texas has made things look easy on the defensive end.

2. Kansas (21-1, 6-1) – The close losses to teams the Jayhawks should have handled more easily could be a thing of the past, based on the events of this week. Kansas completely dismantled their in-state counterparts, handling the Wildcats with ease on Saturday in front of former Jayhawk great Wayne Simien, who had his jersey retired at halftime. Tuesday, Bill Self got a small monkey off his back by winning in Lubbock after three straight losses on Texas Tech’s home court since he took the helm in 2003. The Morris twins have continued their high-efficiency styles of play, and their lone weakness of interior defense has been boosted almost to the point of becoming a strength, with Thomas Robinson pouring in two straight 17/9 performances.

3. Texas A&M (17-4, 4-3) – When a team like the Aggies, sitting in third place, fails to crack 50 points in consecutive contests, you start to wonder just how good the conference really is. In fairness, the Aggies had the unenviable experience of having to play the Longhorns twice in two weeks, so their current stretch of having lost three of four is a little deceiving. They boast the conference’s second-best defense in terms of points allowed, but Khris Middleton can’t do it all on his own when it comes to scoring. A steady supporting cast is important if Mark Turgeon‘s crew wants to make noise in the top half.

4. Missouri (17-5, 4-3) – This is where things get really murky, and the difference between a system like power rankings and the more objective (and authoritative) conference standings is apparent. Does anyone in the conference want fourth place? Colorado’s lost to Baylor and Missouri, Baylor and Oklahoma have already split with one another, the Sooners have fattened up on the bottom rung of the conference, and Missouri fell to Oklahoma State this week, remaining winless on the road in conference play. Distinguishing the 4-7 spots at this point is nearly a futile exercise, but perhaps Missouri can make a statement about that with a big rivalry game coming up on Monday against KU.

5. Oklahoma (12-9, 4-3) – Give credit where it’s due to Jeff Capel‘s charges, but hold off judgement until they come out of this stretch: Saturday’s Bedlam battle against Oklahoma State in Stillwater, playing host to Texas on Wednesday, and taking to Columbia in a fight at Mizzou Arena.  Steven Pledger had a career performance against the Cyclones last Saturday, pouring in 38 points in 44 minutes on 12-20 shooting, including 7-13 from long range.

6. Baylor (14-7, 4-4) – With their own Big Three in LaceDarius Dunn (20.7 PPG, 42.7% 3FG), Perry Jones (14.1 PPG, 57.1% FG, 7.0 RPG) and Quincy Acy (13.0 PPG, 7.7 RPG), the Bears can be entertaining to watch (especially Acy’s dunk reel), but head coach Scott Drew’s passive scheduling methods could come back to cost his team a tournament bid; If anyone knows how a mid-February break from conference play with non-D-I Wayland Baptist on the 15th will help Baylor get ready for March, let me know. It would also be helpful if Drew picked a defensive style and stuck to it.

7. Colorado (15-8, 4-4) – Colorado’s twosome of Alec Burks and Cory Higgins almost topped the Bears this week before falling four points short. They took their angst out on the helpless Cyclones, winning 95-69, so the Buffs’ up-and-down season continues. If Colorado can sweep Missouri this weekend with a road win (they already beat the Tigers at home), I’ll be impressed. I’ll be more impressed if they don’t go on to lose three in a row, because once you think you have Tad Boyle‘s crew pegged, they turn around and completely change your mind.

8. Kansas State (15-8, 3-5) – There’s only so much yelling and screaming that Frank Martin can do before his players become desensitized and the environment becomes inhibitory, and that might be the case here. Between Jacob Pullen‘s comments about refusing to play if the Wildcats find themselves in the NIT field (a growing possibility) and the various defections and NCAA rules violations, distractions have also been eminent. It’s not all on the coaching though, as Curtis Kelly has been disappointing, though his 16-point performance in Wednesday’s big win over Nebraska could be a sign of a leaf turned over.

9. Nebraska (15-6, 3-4) – The Cornhuskers’ stout defense may be coming back down to Earth, and the offense has also let the team down over the last week. Nebraska has shown flashes that it can be good (such as a win over Texas A&M and a double-digit lead at Allen Fieldhouse that was eventually surrendered), but they can’t get it all together.

10. Oklahoma State (15-7, 3-5) – Breaking a 1-5 stretch with a win over Missouri is a big breath of fresh air for the Cowboys. Sometimes, it’s good to have a diverse scoring attack, but in OSU’s case, it could be more indicative of the lack of a reliable playmaker. Marshall Moses, Keiton Page, and J.P. Olukemi have taken turns leading the ‘Pokes in scoring the last three games, but all three have also pulled vanishing acts this season.

11. Texas Tech (11-12, 3-5) – The Red Raiders had a nice three-game spurt with wins over Nebraska, Iowa State and Oklahoma State, but crashed in a Groundhog Day blowout loss to the Jayhawks. Kansas went inside with ease and had no problems whatsoever, and even Kansas reserve Brady Morningstar was in double figures in the first half. Pat Knight may want to have a copy of the Geneva Convention at the ready when his team ventures to Austin on Saturday.

12. Iowa State (14-9, 1-7) – The Cyclones have fallen off a cliff, Wile E. Coyote-style, and we’re still waiting for the little “poof” that finally signals an impact. Fred Hoiberg‘s squad has allowed at least 82 points in each of their last five games, all losses.

A Look Ahead

Before Rivalry Week, there’s an intriguing set of games around the conference on Saturday. Colorado will hit the road to Missouri, where we might see that 4-7 knot get somewhat untangled. In a battle of Big 12 train wrecks looking to regroup, Iowa State will play host to the Wildcats. At the top of the conference, Kansas and Texas get what look to be a couple softballs against Nebraska and Texas Tech, respectively, but the Jayhawks will be on watch after the ‘Huskers put a small scare into them a few weeks ago.

Other action around the league includes Baylor taking on Texas A&M, and the Gallagher-Iba half of the Bedlam Series between the Sooners and Cowboys.

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Time And What Happened: The Trials of KSU and MSU

Posted by jstevrtc on February 1st, 2011

Walker Carey is an RTC contributor.

If someone would have told you in November that the preseason second- and third-ranked teams would be unranked on February 1st, you wouldn’t have believed it, right? Well, as we change our calendars to the new month, that’s the position in which we  currently find ourselves, as Michigan State and Kansas State have each so far experienced what could be accurately referred to as a lost season — that anomaly of a 1-3 year stretch that befalls even the best and biggest programs, resulting from circumstances almost nobody could have forseen.

Nobody Could Predict How Lucas' Would Come Back From Such a Major Injury

Michigan State was a Final Four participant last April and entered this season with almost every publication selecting them to run away with the Big Ten. At the time, it was difficult to come up with reasons why this wouldn’t come to pass. Tom Izzo’s squad included a healthy Kalin Lucas, the versatile Draymond Green, experienced swingman Durrell Summers, formidable big man Delvon Roe, and last year’s NCAA Tournament hero for MSU, Korie Lucious. Shortly after the season began, however, it became clear that this version of the Spartans would be different than the team tabbed as one of the nation’s best.

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Tennessee In Hot Water Again, But This Time Over A Music Video

Posted by nvr1983 on January 24th, 2011

A little over two years ago we mentioned the budding music career of Renaldo Woolridge before he had even played a game for Tennessee. We noted that his constant references to his involvement with the basketball team appeared to be a NCAA violation and we were met with criticism from many Tennessee fans who felt that it was just an innocent hobby and nothing bad would happen from it.

Credit: http://www.myspace.com/rwtheanswer

The NCAA will be looking for real answers on this one (Credit: http://www.myspace.com/rwtheanswer)

Well, it appears that Swiperboy aka Baller Vol aka The Answer aka Woolridge [Ed Note: Is this inspired by Puff Daddy aka Diddy aka P. Diddy aka Sean Combs?] has caught the attention of the media and the NCAA again with his music. Earlier today it was first reported that Woolridge had filmed a music video on Saturday at a local bar without having to pay for using the area. That act could be construed as a NCAA violation (impermissible benefit granted due to one’s status as an athlete) that would not be unlike what happened to Jacob Pullen and Curtis Kelly a little over a month ago for getting discounted clothing. Later in the day, however, Tennessee responded with a statement that essentially cleared Woolridge and the program of any wrongdoing stating that the area was used for free by other student groups, no filming had taken place, and the area had not been blocked off to the public. Case closed, right? As Lee Corso would say, “Not so fast my friend.”

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Set Your Tivo: 01.24.11

Posted by Brian Otskey on January 24th, 2011

***** – quit your job and divorce your wife if that’s what it takes to watch this game live
**** – best watched live, but if you must, tivo and watch it tonight as soon as you get home
*** – set your tivo but make sure you watch it later
** – set your tivo but we’ll forgive you if it stays in the queue until 2013
* – don’t waste bandwidth (yours or the tivo’s) of any kind on this game

Brian Otskey is an RTC contributor.

After a thrilling Saturday, the attention turns back to the Big East and Big 12 on ESPN’s Big Monday. Can Notre Dame pick up a much needed road win? Will either Baylor or Kansas State save their season (at least temporarily) with a win? All rankings from RTC and all times eastern.

#16 Notre Dame @ #5 Pittsburgh – 7 pm on ESPN (****)

The big story in this game will be whether or not Notre Dame can make a statement by finally picking up a road win. The Fighting Irish are 0-3 in true road games this season, but they did win the Old Spice Classic on a neutral floor back in November. Winning at the Petersen Events Center in Pittsburgh is about as difficult as it gets, a place where the Panthers have lost only 11 times since the building opened at the start of the 2002-03 season. Notre Dame has some momentum having won two straight in South Bend, including a nice comeback win against Marquette on Saturday. As for Pittsburgh, they have won nine straight games and built a resume that would earn a #1 seed in the NCAA Tournament if the season ended today.

Dixon Has His Panthers On Track To Earn a #1 Seed

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Set Your Tivo: 01.17.11

Posted by Brian Otskey on January 17th, 2011

***** – quit your job and divorce your wife if that’s what it takes to watch this game live
**** – best watched live, but if you must, tivo and watch it tonight as soon as you get home
*** – set your tivo but make sure you watch it later
** – set your tivo but we’ll forgive you if it stays in the queue until 2013
* – don’t waste bandwidth (yours or the tivo’s) of any kind on this game

Brian Otskey is an RTC contributor.

The first official ESPN Big Monday of the season tips off with two top ten clashes in the Big East and a couple of nice matchups from the Big 12. Park yourself on the couch from 3:30 until about 11:30 and you’ll be just fine. All rankings from RTC and all times eastern.

#7 Villanova @ #9 Connecticut – 3:30 pm on ESPN (*****)

Jay Wright's Name Belongs in Any Conversation About Elite Active College Coaches

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Checking in on… the Big 12

Posted by Brian Goodman on January 4th, 2011

Owen Kemp of Rock Chalk Talk and SB Nation Kansas City is the RTC Correspondent for the Big 12 Conference.

A Look Back

The two-week holiday stretch has come to a close and teams across the Big 12 are wrapping up those few final tune ups and preparing to dive head first into the conference season.  A time of year that sometimes tends to be slow in the college basketball world proved rather interesting in Big 12 country as a few teams that were once viewed as contenders, now look like pretenders and vice versa.

  • To start things off, the Baylor Bears have gone from a team that may have been exposed to one searching for solid footing.  After the eyebrows were raised in a loss to Gonzaga, the Bears would lose two of their next three with a narrow win over Texas Southern on Sunday.  The Bears are still a team with a high ceiling and tons of athleticism, but they are definitely seeking an identity after losing much of what made the team tick a year ago.
  • On the opposite end of the spectrum sit the Missouri Tigers.  Mike Anderson has his team playing at a very high level and Missouri is being talked about as a team that could make a run at the Big 12 title and perhaps put together an impressive March.  A win over a ranked Illinois team highlighted the break, but the Tigers were just as impressive in blowout wins over Northern Illinois and Old Dominion.
  • Another team solidifying its place in the conference hunt was TexasRick Barnes went on the road and came away with wins over North Carolina and Michigan State before routing Coppin State on New Year’s Eve.  The win against Michigan State was the most impressive, as the Horns dominated Tom Izzo’s group in Lansing, giving the Spartans their first non-con loss at Breslin since 2003.
  • Over in Lawrence, the Kansas Jayhawks continued to defend its home court winning streak while also getting a win in ugly fashion on the road at Cal.  Kansas remains undefeated on the season, but hasn’t looked overly impressive until getting back on track Sunday with a win over Miami of Ohio.  Josh Selby who joined the team just before the break has looked every bit the part of a top recruit and has already worked his way into a starting role with Kansas.
  • The other team in Kansas, the one originally expected to win the conference, has fallen on some hard times.  Senior leaders Curtis Kelly and Jacob Pullen were both suspended for a portion of the season following improper benefits taken from a local department store.  The loss of the players was met with a loss on the court to UNLV in Kansas City.  The good news is that since that point, the team seems to have responded and new players have stepped into larger roles for the Wildcats.  Now we’ll see how they respond with Pullen’s return.
  • Elsewhere Texas A&M, Nebraska, Oklahoma, Iowa State and Colorado all held steady against a splattering of tune up opponents and at the moment the Big 12 actually has 9 teams with double-figure wins and Baylor sits just a game out.  Marquee wins out of the group include a road victory by the Cyclones over an ACC opponent in Virginia, and Colorado handling Indiana in a holiday tournament.
  • Oklahoma State dropped their first major test when they lost by a wide margin to a surging Gonzaga Bulldogs team that was left for dead after a 4-3 start to the season.  Rounding out the bottom of the conference, both Oklahoma and Texas Tech did little to change the opinions of their skeptics.  Both teams enjoyed wins over the break but neither beat anyone of any substance and so it went, life in the bottom of the Big 12.

Power Rankings

1. Kansas (13-0) – Kansas struggled a bit and played to the level of their opponent in two of three games over the break, but in a win over Miami of Ohio, they once again looked like a team that has all the tools to win a seventh straight Big 12 conference title.

2. Texas (11-2) – Texas went to Greensboro and defeated North Carolina and then took a trip to East Lansing where few come away with a victory against Tom Izzo and the Spartans. Now this is the point last year where the Longhorns fell apart, but at the moment they look to be well positioned for a run at the conference title.

3. Missouri Tigers (13-1) – Missouri might be playing as well as anyone right now and the win over Illinois certainly makes a statement.  The Tigers are up to #8 in the national polls and could probably make a solid argument for a ranking higher than Texas.  At this point, the marquee road win by the Longhorns wins out, but Missouri is a scary team as the Big 12 slate creeps closer.

4. Texas A&M (13-1) – A&M still looks like a very strong team but they haven’t jumped off the page of late like the teams in front of them have.  A January 15 trip to Columbia should be circled on the calendars of basketball fans, as both of these teams should be ranked and looking for an early edge in the conference hunt.

5. Kansas State (12-3) – Things have seemed off for the Wildcats through much of the early season and that came to a head with the suspension of Jacob Pullen and Curtis Kelly.  Interestingly, those suspensions seemed to have help a few more players to emerge for the Wildcats and when both return this should still be a team very much in the mix if Frank Martin can find the leadership and chemistry he’s been looking for.

6. Iowa State (13-2) – The Cyclones have managed a 12-2 record when many expected them to struggle.  Yes, things will get much more difficult with the start of conference play, but right now they deserve some respect with a pair of road wins against rival Iowa and a nine win ACC team in Virginia.  This is very much a reward for the moment as this “power” ranking probably won’t be expected to hold.

7. Oklahoma State (12-2) – The Cowboys went on the road and get handled by Gonzaga. The Bulldogs are good so there is no shame in the loss, but losing by 21 and struggling offensively does raise questions as does the rest of the resume.  The Cowboys are likely a middle-tier Big 12 team that could cause problems for one or two frontrunners along the way.

8. Baylor (9-3) – Before the break Baylor failed its first major test in Gonzaga. Since then they have dropped two more and right now the pieces aren’t fitting the way they did last year.  Scott Drew will work at it and this team has a very high ceiling, but the Bears might take a few lumps along the way.

9. Colorado (10-4) – Colorado definitely looks like a middle to lower tier team in the conference.  The early season hopes that they could make a run at the NCAA Tournament might have been a little bit of an overreaction to the return of Alec Burks and Cory Higgins.  One more chance at a non-conference win and then the team will likely need to get ten wins in conference, a feat which doesn’t appear likely as of today.

10. Nebraska (11-2) – Nebraska looks like a virtual clone of last year and almost every year with Doc Sadler.  Today they sit at #12 nationally in defensive efficiency, but don’t let that fool you, they’ve done it before.  Once conference play starts they will make it ugly and they’ll force teams to earn it, but the Huskers won’t have the firepower to keep up and that defensive ranking will slowly drop.

11. Texas Tech (7-7) – Tech goes 2-1 over the break, and believe it or not, the one loss showed some promise as they almost managed to clip a decent New Mexico team that sits 10-3 and recently beat fellow Big 12 team Colorado.  That’s enough to move Tech ahead of Oklahoma and provide just a glimmer of hope that the offensive talent on this team might buy into the defensive effort that’s going to be necessary to win a few in the conference.

12. Oklahoma (8-6) -  Oklahoma wins two over the break and now has wins in four of their last five.  Problem is, none are anything to lend any more confidence to what this group can do.  The conference season kicks off with A&M , Baylor and Texas, which represents the stretch that should end the Sooners hopes of any major strides this season.

A Look Ahead

This week signals the start of the conference season as five games set for Saturday pairing conference foes.  Kansas State and Oklahoma State could be a highlight as Jacob Pullen returns, but the Wildcats will still be without Curtis Kelly in a dangerous first game.  Missouri heads on the road for the second time this year when the play in Boulder and take on the Colorado Buffaloes.  The Tigers have looked very good of late, and they travel well to Boulder so it might be a nice way to ease into a tricky Big 12 road schedule.  Also on the docket are Iowa State vs. Nebraska, Baylor vs. Texas Tech and Texas A&M vs. Oklahoma.

Even with ten teams playing in conference games, the one to watch is outside the conference and once again it’s Texas.  If there’s one thing you have to give Rick Barnes credit for, it’s challenging his team.  The Horns will welcome ninth-ranked Connecticut on Saturday in another game that could help cement Texas as not just a Big 12 title contender but also a national title contender.  What’s more impressive is that this game completely overshadows a good contest on Tuesday night, when Texas takes on a 10-2 Arkansas team.

Player of the Year Watch (No Specific Order)

  • Jacob Pullen – (16.5 PPG, 3.8 APG, 40% FG) Trending Down.  First, Pullen was just facing questions about his numbers being down.  Now, he’s facing questions about his focus and leadership qualities.  Not a good recipe for a player of the year award.
  • Marcus Morris – (15.5 PPG, 6 RPG, 62% FG) Trending Down.  Morris comes off the bench for two straight games while his coach called him out for letting the Cal game get under his skin.  Both times he responded, but he’ll need to prove he can carry the burden consistently to take Big 12 POY honors.
  • Alec Burks – (19 PPG, 51% FG) Trending Down.  Burks is leveling off, as is Colorado.  This team will need to show another level if Burks is going to continue to get consideration.  Fact is, you don’t win POY awards when your team isn’t in the hunt.
  • Jordan Hamilton – (19.8 PPG, 7.2 RPG) Trending Up.  Hamilton continues to be the leader of a team with arguably the best set of wins in the conference.  If Texas makes a run in the conference, Hamilton could be the favorite.
  • LaceDarius Dunn – (21.2 PPG, 4.6 RPG, 2.0 SPG, 43% FG) Even.  Statistically, Dunn is still performing, as a team Baylor is not.  That’s the difference at the moment.
  • Marcus Denmon – (17.6 PPG, 2 SPG, 52% 3P%) Trending Up.  If the season ended today, this is my vote.  Problem is, conference play hasn’t started yet.  Without a doubt Denmon will be in the running though.
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What Is The NCAA Telling Us With Curtis Kelly’s Suspension?

Posted by nvr1983 on December 29th, 2010

By now you have undoubtedly heard about the NCAA suspending Kansas State forward Curtis Kelly for six games for accepting excessive discounts while purchasing clothing. I was all set to go on a rant about it, but apparently Gary Parrish beat me to it with a brilliant column ripping the NCAA for its ridiculous recent decisions on punishing athletes for taking illegal benefits. While Parrish’s column is an amusing read about how the NCAA determines the severity of the infractions, it misses a larger point about how the NCAA goes after players harder than it does coaches or other administrators who run the business of college basketball at the university level.

It could be argued that athletes and coaches/administrators should be treated differently because the former are considered amateurs while the others are working what are, in a sense, traditional paying jobs, but using that alone should not clear the latter of the expectation of maintaining standards similar to what the NCAA expects of its athletes. We cannot even begin to fathom the perks that most big-name coaches get from local stores and restaurants that significantly exceed anything that either Kelly or Jacob Pullen received from Dillard’s. In these situations it isn’t an issue of amateur versus professional, which we already touched upon, but a question of using your position — either as a prominent athlete or coach/administrator — to get benefits that put them in a position that nobody else in the university system can obtain. Those benefits likely get repaid in a variety of ways, including through the giving of free merchandise, or, at the very least, giving them preferential treatment for highly sought-after tickets.

If Pearl was an athlete the NCAA would have already banned him

Still, the issue runs deeper than that and in no case made it more clear than that of Bruce Pearl, who has only received a partial suspension from the SEC (the NCAA still has not decided on what to do) and a fairly hefty fine for participating in illegal recruiting activities and lying to NCAA investigators about those illegal doings. Compare that with the situation of Dez Bryant, who last year lost his remaining eligibility for lying to NCAA investigators about his relationship with Deion Sanders even though the NCAA later found that Bryant had done nothing wrong other than lie to investigators about interacting with Sanders in what was a completely permissible way. Several pundits, most notably Jay Bilas and Len Elmore of ESPN, have called for the NCAA to ban Pearl, but the NCAA continues to drag its feet on the decision while it continues to dole out punishments against athletes. The way the system is set up it continues to punish young people between the ages of 18 and 22 who often come from underprivileged backgrounds without significant supervision and it continues to grant leniency on grown men who are making hundreds of thousands if not millions of dollars, have college educations, years of real-world experience, and a significant support network behind them. If the NCAA continues its haphazard and uneven application of its bylaws to athletes and coaches, Congress might actually have something worth investigating.

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