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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Jacob Pullen and Curtis Kelly Suspended

Posted by nvr1983 on December 21st, 2010

Kansas State announced earlier today that Jacob Pullen, its preseason All-American guard, and Curtis Kelly, its starting forward, would be suspended after being found to have received benefits (clothing) from a local department store. The suspensions were announced prior to the Wildcats’ game against UNLV tonight, leaving the team short-handed against the Rebels, although they are putting forth a strong effort, leading 40-34 early in the 2nd half at the time that this post was published. Pullen has been suspended for three games while the duration of Kelly’s suspension has not been determined yet. Through the first nine games of the season, Pullen is averaging 16.5 PPG, 3.7 RPG, and 3.8 APG, and Kelly is averaging 10.3 PPG and 4.0 RPG.

Wildcat fans await the return of their two stars

The details of what they are reported to have received have not been released yet, but it sounds a lot like what happened with LeBron James in high school when he was suspended temporarily for receiving two throwback jerseys in return for posing for pictures to be displayed in a local clothing store. [UPDATE: According to Jeff Goodman it appears that they have gotten a very steep discount similar to what Peter Warrick and Laveranues Coles got at Dillard’s while at FSU.] While we await word from Kansas State on how long Kelly will be suspended, it is worth noting that after tonight’s game the Wildcats have an easy schedule with the two other games of Pullen’s suspension coming against UMKC and North Florida. We don’t expect Pullen to be out any longer than the stated three games, but the Wildcats could theoretically suspend Kelly (or Pullen) for four games and still have them both back in time for the start of Big 12 play when they play Oklahoma State on January 8th.

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Set Your Tivo: 12.21.10

Posted by Brian Otskey on December 21st, 2010

***** – 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.

An intriguing matchup in Knoxville and a clash in KC highlight tonight’s schedule. All rankings from RTC and all times eastern.

USC @ #17 Tennessee – 7 pm on FullCourt (***)

UT Has Something to Prove Tonight After Last Week (AP/M. Terrill)

All of a sudden this has become a really interesting basketball game. Each team is headed in the opposite direction with USC coming in confident after a close loss at Kansas which saw the debut of Jio Fontan while Tennessee has lost two straight after starting 7-0. Fontan played well for the Trojans but five turnovers did not help the cause in his first game since transferring from Fordham. USC will look to slow down the pace of this game on the road against the up-tempo Volunteers. The Trojans are rated #283 in tempo and should have an edge rebounding wise with Alex Stepheson and Nikola Vucevic up front. Stepheson is a key player in this game. Coming off a season-high 18-point performance at Kansas, Kevin O’Neill needs his big man to be a presence inside against Tennessee’s Brian Williams. Stepheson is more talented offensively but he’ll have to work hard to get off quality shots against Williams. The rebounding battle is a huge factor in this game with USC coming in at #13 in defensive rebounding and Tennessee #16 in offensive rebounding. USC has to control the glass in order to win and can’t afford careless turnovers, giving the Vols extra possessions. Another area to watch is free throws. Tennessee’s stellar free throw rate has fallen in recent games but it still ranks #6 in the country. The problem is they foul a lot and put their opponent on the line at a pretty good clip as well. USC has a decent defensive free throw rate so keeping Tennessee off the line will give them a much better chance to win. Bruce Pearl now has 6’6 wing Jeronne Maymon eligible, a transfer from Marquette. He’ll add depth to the Volunteer rotation but the key player that has to get going is Scotty Hopson, just 6-19 from the floor in the Charlotte loss. When Hopson is on, Tennessee is awfully tough to beat. With Hopson playing well, teams can’t back off him and must spread the floor defensively, opening up holes where other players can take advantage. Another big player for Tennessee is freshman Tobias Harris. Going up against the taller USC defenders inside, Harris may look more towards his mid-range game in this contest. The Trojans won’t be intimidated after playing so well at Allen Fieldhouse. They’ve been up and down however, having knocked off Texas but losing to the likes of TCU and Bradley among others. Tennessee is a seven point favorite and should win, but this game is basically unpredictable after what we’ve seen from these two teams over this past week.

UNLV vs. #14 Kansas State (in Kansas City) – 9 pm on ESPN2 (****)

This is a huge game for both teams as the loser will pick up their third loss of the season. Each team has seen their offense falter recently. UNLV’s effective field goal percentage dropped quite a bit over their last two games while Kansas State’s offense did essentially nothing in a loss to Florida on Saturday. The Wildcats put up just 44 points after taking a 20-8 lead to start the game and missing 19 of 20 shots at one point. In fact, Kansas State hasn’t cracked 70 points in three of their last four games. One thing the Wildcats do very well is defend and rebound, ranked in the top ten in defensive efficiency and offensive rebounding percentage. Kansas State has to get a consistent third option on offense. Curtis Kelly can be that guy but he was ineffective in only 19 minutes against Florida. As for UNLV, the Rebels do a great job inside the arc and that’s where they need to take advantage of Kansas State tonight. Lon Kruger’s team is #8 in two point offense and #22 in two point defense. They get 57% of their points from two point range led by Chace Stanback. Though he’s struggled a bit in UNLV’s recent games, Stanback can also take his game outside where he’s a 38% three point shooter. Kansas State has to do a good job defending the interior in order to win, otherwise UNLV will run rampant inside. With a capable point guard in Oscar Bellfield and three other solid starters, Kruger has a balanced team that can put up points in a hurry when they’re clicking. For Kansas State, Jacob Pullen has simply got to play better. He looks nothing like the All-American candidate he was hyped up to be though he still leads the team in scoring by a wide margin. He’s scored 19 points in each of the last two games but has shot just 11-34 (32%). When he’s off, the opponent can lock up Rodney McGruder making Kansas State incredibly weak on offense. One area to watch in this game is turnovers, specifically how well UNLV does in forcing K-State to give the ball away. The Rebels rank #15 in defensive turnover percentage while Kansas State is #209 in offensive turnover percentage. Should they turn it over often the Wildcats can make up for it on the glass where they should hold an advantage, turning rebounds into extra offensive opportunities. As everyone knows with Kansas State, should this game be close towards the end the Wildcats are an awful free throw shooting team. Playing in front of what should be a partisan crowd, Kansas State should win this game. However, another weak performance on the offensive end will keep UNLV in this right until the very end. The Rebels are talented and have what it takes to win this game. We predict this one will go down to the wire with free throws deciding the outcome.

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Checking in on… the Big 12

Posted by Brian Goodman on December 20th, 2010

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

A Look Back

  • Finals week for most schools and that means a slow week in the Big 12.  For the most part, the conference sat idle from Sunday to Friday with a few non-conference cupcake tune-ups played here and there.
  • Saturday however, signaled a return to basketball with ten games and several intriguing matchups throughout the league.  Kansas State played in the only battle between ranked teams as the Wildcats took on Florida as part of the Orange Bowl Classic in Frank Martin’s hometown of Miami.  Unfortunately, the homecoming didn’t turn out the way Martin would have hoped with both teams playing an ugly brand of basketball and the Wildcats never put things together, scoring just 44 points in a 13-point loss to Billy Donovan’s Gators.
  • Another Big 12 contender, the Baylor Bears, struggled as well in their first game against any form of true competition.  The Bears took on the Gonzaga Bulldogs as part of The Showcase in Dallas.  The Bulldogs sit 6-5 with four losses to top 25 opponents, but were able to pull away from the #9 Bears  behind a 7-9 free throw shooting effort down the stretch.  The loss was the first on the season for the Bears and exposed some of the vulnerabilities that were expected for a new look Baylor squad with plenty of talent but an assortment of new faces.
  • The Texas Longhorns further solidified their top 25 ranking by heading on the road to a neutral site game that was hardly neutral when they played the North Carolina Tar Heels in Greensboro.  In a great game from start to finish, the Longhorns would receive a boost from freshman Cory Joseph, who stepped up and knocked down the game-winning basket with just 1.4 seconds left on the clock.  The game is another notch on the belt of a young Longhorn squad that has looked solid against good competition throughout the non-conference schedule.
  • Another true freshman stole the show in Lawrence with the much-anticipated debut of Josh Selby in a Kansas Jayhawk uniform.  The Jayhawks squared off against a USC team fresh off a win over fellow Big 12 team Texas.  The Trojans added a guard to their lineup themselves, as transfer Jio Fontan entered the lineup for the first time all year and helped the Trojans take the game down to the wire.  In the end, it was Selby knocking down a three pointer with just 26 seconds on the clock to go ahead by one and secure the Jayhawks’ 65th straight win in Allen Fieldhouse.
  • Another team emerging in the contender category would be the Texas A&M Aggies.  The Aggies took on the Arkansas Razorbacks as part of the The Showcase in Dallas and in a game that would feature a bench clearing brawl and extra five minutes of overtime, sophomore forward Khris Middleton would score 31 points and lead the Aggies to a nine-point win.  Mark Turgeon has the Aggies playing a tough brand of basketball and A&M more and more looks to have the weapons to compete with anyone in the league.
  • Elsewhere, Missouri would win a pair of games in impressive fashion against a pair of tune-up opponents.  Oklahoma State continues to position themselves as a middle-tier team with a very real shot at being the fifth, sixth or even seventh tournament team in the Big 12.  This is the role that many thought Colorado might fill, but the Cowboys seem to be better than expected.
  • Speaking of Colorado, the Buffaloes would improve their record with two easy wins as the group in Boulder continues to improve and find themselves as a team.  Iowa State would continue their run through the preseason extending their overall record to 10-2 as Scott Christopherson continues to fire at will.  While the troubles in Lubbock and Norman show no sign of letting up.
  • The news in Lincoln was good on the court with a win over Eastern Washington on Saturday, however Doc Sadler continues to struggle in keeping the talent happy, as Christian Standhardinger is the fourth player from the 2009 recruiting class to leave the Cornuskers.
  • At this point the Big 12 is what it always seems to be in mid December.  The contenders are separating themselves with big wins and marquee games against better competition.  The pretenders and bottom half of the conference is padding the win loss column in hopes that they can hang on for a bubble birth come March.

Power Rankings

  1. Kansas (10-0) – The Jayhawks moved to 10-0 in a nailbiter against the USC Trojans.  The good news is the Jayhawks were not the only team in the conference to look sluggish after a long break and Josh Selby at face value looks like a player that can help some of the Jayhawk offensive weaknesses in a hurry.
  2. Texas A&M (10-1) – A&M has gone from a team that was surprising to a team that has some serious talent developing.   Khris Middleton, Nathan Walkup and David Loubeau are a trio of forwards that are physical, talented and leading the way from a scoring standpoint for Mark Turgeon.  This may prove to be too high for the Aggies as the season goes on, but in the world of what-have-you-done-for-me-lately power rankings, they look as good as anyone in the South.
  3. Missouri Tigers (10-1) – The Tigers weren’t tested in two fairly sizeable wins, but they are disposing teams in the manner you’d expect from a good team.  Mike Anderson’s team set a school record with a 116-point output on Saturday and they look like a group beginning to hit their stride.  This week’s Bragging Rights game against Illinois will be a great measuring stick to gauge improvement since the early loss to Georgetown.
  4. Texas (9-2) – Rick Barnes and Texas have an argument for a higher spot without question.  They’ve played a challenging schedule, for the most part they’ve played well, and they have a real opportunity to be a very difficult matchup as the players become comfortable in their roles.  A big opportunity this week for Texas comes in the form of a game against Tom Izzo and Michigan State.
  5. Kansas State (9-2) – Something just doesn’t seem right in Manhattan right now.  The Wildcats are still one of the toughest defensive teams in the conference and they’re going to make you earn every point, but on the offensive end, it isn’t clicking.  Curtis Kelly hasn’t stepped up to the level expected and Jacob Pullen is doing well, but it’s difficult for him to completely carry the team when he’s the focus of every opposing defense.  It’s hard to believe Frank Martin won’t get things going, but for now the Wildcats haven’t played to the level expected.
  6. Oklahoma State (10-1) – The Cowboys moved to 10-1 this week but they still lack a statement win.  The good news for Cowboy fans is that different players are stepping up at different times and they‘re beating teams in different ways.  They’re likely the seventh-best team in the conference in terms of talent, but they could cause some trouble in a wide open South.
  7. Baylor (7-1) – Everyone has been waiting for the Bears to play someone and in the first attempt to do that, they fell to Gonzaga in what was basically a home game.  Gonzaga was due for a win, but they still don’t look like the top 15 Bulldog squad that was expected this season and they managed to handle the Bears even with Steven Gray hobbled from back spasms.
  8. Iowa State (10-2) – Scott Christopherson continues to have a green light and the Cyclones continue to win.  Still there isn’t much in the way of competition against which to truly judge Iowa State.   With three relatively soft games remaining in the non-conference docket, it’s possible Iowa State could enter conference play with 13 wins already under their belt, yet still sit ill-prepared for the gauntlet that awaits in Kansas, Kansas State and Missouri in the North.
  9. Colorado (7-3) – Two games, two easy opponents, two comfortable wins.  Colorado was a team with high expectations early, but they fell flat and haven’t done enough to restore hope.  A solid opponent awaits this week in New Mexico and a chance for Tad Boyle to restore some of the lost faith.
  10. Nebraska (9-2) – Nebraska sits at 9-2, which is a good record.  Typically, they don’t do much to test themselves early, but the win over USC looks better and better every day.  This is still a team that doesn’t jump off the page, but they very well could battle Colorado and Iowa State for fourth in the North.  Still, at this point, it’s hard to see much that justifies the nod.
  11. Oklahoma (5-6) – After a two-game uptick, the Sooners fell to a decent Big East team in Cincinnati.  It’s enough to give them the edge over Tech for now, but it’s still not pretty in Norman.  Statistically speaking, they do very little that could be considered a strength, unless of course you want to give them credit for mediocre shooting.
  12. Texas Tech (5-6) – Texas Tech is on a three-game skid with the last two coming against mid-major talent.  Tech had the offensive talent returning, but they needed to improve defensively and on the boards.  Neither of those things have happened.

A Look Ahead

  • This week’s Big 12 slate takes place on Tuesday and Wednesday before a long holiday weekend.  All 12 teams play between the two nights with Kansas State kicking things off in a tough contest taking place at the Sprint Center in Kansas City.  In the Wildcats’ third game in Kansas City this year, K-State will play host to another ranked opponent in the UNLV Runnin’ Rebels.  Coming off the loss in Miami, the Wildcats and their fans will be anxious to see if the offense can get back on track.
  • Another game to watch in the conference on Tuesday will pit the Oklahoma State Cowboys against Stanford in Stillwater.  The Cardinal hasn’t been particularly impressive, but it is a name opponent from a name conference and a chance to learn a little more about the Cowboys.
  • Wednesday night is a big night if you’re a Big 12 basketball fan.  The highlight of the night will likely take place in St. Louis, as the Missouri Tigers square off against the Illinois Fighting Illini in a matchup of two top 25 teams.  The game lost a little luster when the Illini fell flat against Illinois-Chicago this weekend, a loss that will drop them from top 15 status, but it’s a big game and a heated rivalry nonetheless.
  • The game just prior to Missouri and Illinois on ESPN2 will be another big opportunity for the Big 12, as Texas heads back out on the road for a big game against Michigan State.  The game is another example of the bold scheduling approach taken by Rick Barnes and a big time opportunity for the Longhorns to reassert themselves on the national stage.
  • Rounding out the night will be Kansas heading to Berkeley for a road game against a Pac-10 opponent.  The Jayhawks have had their struggles against the Pac-10 conference this year but have managed to slip by every challenger.
  • Another good one to keep an eye on will be New Mexico in Boulder against the Buffaloes. This is a game that Tad Boyle needs to start rebuilding some of the confidence and excitement that was lost after the stumble out of the gates in the early season.

Stats, Quotes and other Notables

  • 21 Points on 5-8 Shooting from three – Debut line for Kansas freshman Josh Selby.
  • 11 points in 11 minutes – The offensive drought that ultimately doomed the Kansas State Wildcats against the Florida Gators.
  • 4-22 from three – Just one example of the mediocrity taking place on the offensive end for the Oklahoma Sooners.
  • 7 Players Scoring in Double Figures – The Missouri Tigers are balanced, they showed that against Central Arkansas with this impressive stat.
  • “We were sleepwalking, [The scuffle] seemed like it really changed the game for us.” – Texas A&M head coach Mark Turgeon talks about his team coming to life after a rare bench-clearing scuffle at mid court against Arkansas.

Player of the Year Watch (No Specific Order)

  • Jacob Pullen – (16.3 PPG, 3.8 APG, 40% FG) Even: Pullen is doing everything he can, but the loss of Denis Clemente is clearly being felt.  From a numbers standpoint, Pullen is maintaining pace, but the Wildcats are looking like a team slightly lost offensively.
  • Marcus Morris – (16.3 PPG, 6.3 RPG, 62% FG) Even: Morris wasn’t great against USC, but he got a lift with the addition of Josh Selby. Morris still looks like a player that can sometimes score at will, it’s just a matter of getting the team chemistry back where it needs to be.
  • Alec Burks – (20.3 PPG, 51% FG) Even: Burks is slowly becoming a smarter player on the offensive end and his efforts on the defensive end aren’t going unnoticed.  Statistically it’s pretty much the same player, but he’s improving day to day.
  • Jordan Hamilton – (19.4 PPG, 7.2 RPG) Even: Texas could be turning a corner.  The players around him are doing more, but Hamilton is still the most explosive option for the Longhorns.
  • LaceDarius Dunn – (21.4 PPG, 4.4 RPG, 2.6, 2.2 SPG, 48% FG) Trending Up: Baylor loses to Gonzaga, but Dunn is looking like one of the more complete and impactful players for his team.
  • Marcus Denmon – (16.8 PPG, 1.9 SPG, 51% 3P%) Trending Up: He continues to be the best player on a VERY deep team.  Denmon is turning into the leader for the Tigers and he seems like a player that has even more to give.
  • Scott Christopherson – (16.5 PPG, 55% 3P%) New**: Christopherson’s chances are probably slim unless he can somehow lead the Cyclones to a surprisingly successful season and a top 3 finish in the North.  Still, he’s a player whose early-season efforts deserve a mention and he’ll be a thorn in everyone’s side in conference play.
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Set Your Tivo: Weekend Review

Posted by Brian Otskey on December 17th, 2010

***** – 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.

This is the last major weekend before conference play begins in earnest and it features a bunch of solid games but none that really jump out at you as must-watch. All in all it’s a pretty good set of games. Don’t forget about the two games in the Bahamas on Saturday (Richmond vs. Georgia Tech and Virginia Tech vs. Mississippi State). They’re not on television but are meaningful, especially the latter. All rankings from RTC and all times eastern.

Texas vs. North Carolina (Greensboro Coliseum, Greensboro, NC) – 4 pm Saturday on CBS (****)

A Smaller Venue in Greenboro, But Still a Great Game

You may never see a game between two unranked teams have this much talent on the court as this one. Yes the Longhorns are ranked in both the AP and Coaches polls but they aren’t in our own top 25. Texas has played better this year on the strength of defense and better chemistry though a loss at USC was cause for concern. Still, Texas has a ton of talent and has the ability to turn this season into a successful one. Leading scorer Jordan Hamilton still has a so-so shot selection but he’s connecting on 41% of his treys, a positive sign for Rick Barnes. Freshman Tristan Thompson has also been a plus for the Longhorns, giving them an athletic post presence who can score and defend very well. When you look at this matchup with North Carolina however, Tyler Zeller (16/8) is going to have a significant height advantage inside. You may see Barnes turn to Matt Hill for a bigger defensive presence in the paint in an attempt to control UNC’s big man. Each team has had some issues at the point guard, especially North Carolina. The Tar Heels have seen better play from Larry Drew II (2:1 A/T ratio) but questions remain with the team averaging 15 turnovers per contest. With a talented freshman in waiting, Roy Williams has to make a decision on who should see the majority of time at the point as they head into ACC play. For Texas, Dogus Balbay has seen his minutes drop in favor of freshman Cory Joseph, a move that’s understandable from an offensive standpoint but questionable in the eyes of some who see the experienced Balbay as a team leader and an effective distributor, not to mention an outstanding defender. Texas is not a particularly great shooting team as a whole so the transition to Joseph could be more about transition opportunities and easy buckets plus Joseph is a much better shooter. As for North Carolina, getting Harrison Barnes going could be the key between middling outside the top 25 and being a consistently ranked team and #2 in the ACC. Barnes is still in a slump, shooting just 33% overall over his last five games including a dismal 5-24 (21%) from three. He’s still averaging double figures and has done a nice job rebounding but the Tar Heels need more out of their star freshman. To become a really good team, UNC needs John Henson to become a consistent third option. He rebounds very well but he’s in double figures one night and single digits the next. He may have a hard time with Thompson inside but Henson is able to stretch his game out a bit and that may open things up inside for the Tar Heels. This figures to be another close game, far different from last year’s Texas blowout. This time North Carolina has the crowd to their advantage and may come out on top by a few points. It’s a huge game for UNC, their last non-conference opportunity for a quality win. Texas still has games with Michigan State and Connecticut but this is a big game for them too in a quasi-road environment. We wouldn’t be surprised either way but a slight edge has to go to UNC in this game.

#5 Kansas State vs. Florida (BankAtlantic Center, Sunrise, FL) – 3:30 pm Saturday on FSN (****)

This is the first of two key games for Kansas State, the second coming on Tuesday against UNLV. Winning one or both will certainly help the Wildcats grab a better seed in the NCAA Tournament come March. Against Florida, K-State will have to contend with the Gators’ trapping pressure defense, something that could be a problem given their propensity for turnovers and some point guard issues. Jacob Pullen has been the main distributor at four assists per game but he turns it over more than three times per game, the most on a team that averages 16 turnovers as a unit. Florida’s back court pressure could cause a lot of problems for Kansas State and plenty of extra possessions for the Gators. Pullen doing a lot of ball handling could also be a factor in his overall struggle relative to last season. He’s never been a great shooter, 40% overall from the floor for his career, but his three point shooting is down over six percent to 33% this season. It is true that other teams are trying to lock him up like Duke did, but Pullen has to work through this and become a better player in order to lift Kansas State to the next level where they can compete for a national championship. Frank Martin may go with Will Spradling at the point in order to take some pressure off Pullen. As for Florida, expect them to fire up three’s as usual (17 per game) even though the Gators shoot just 32% as a team. Billy Donovan loves the trey, yet another Rick Pitino protégé who sticks to the system no matter the personnel he has. Erving Walker has improved dramatically but Kenny Boynton still can’t find the range for Florida. Walker shoots 20% better than Boynton from deep yet Boynton has 15 more attempts this season. Kansas State should look to isolate Walker and aggressively defend him, keeping the ball out of his hands. Pullen and Rodney McGruder may have to match Walker’s deep shooting but Martin will be content with Boynton chucking shots up and hitting once in a while, requiring Kansas State to clear the boards well. Both teams rank high in offensive rebounding percentage so the Wildcats must put an emphasis on keeping Florida off the glass as that will lead to easy Gator put backs. Florida is #15 in two point percentage, largely a result of offensive rebounds and the play of Vernon Macklin inside. Macklin against Curtis Kelly will be a key matchup to watch in the low post as each player finishes well and can rebound the basketball effectively. Kansas State should not bank on outscoring Florida from the line considering their awful free throw shooting (55%) and Florida’s ability to keep opponents off the line, second in the nation in defensive free throw rate. Only three players on K-State’s roster shoot over 70% from the line and Pullen is the only one of those three who gets there often. Martin’s depth will take a hit if Wally Judge is out, dealing with personal issues, but we don’t think that will have a major impact on the game. Kansas State is still a very deep team, able to go eight or nine deep if necessary. This should be a terrific game that may come down to the very end. Ken Pomeroy predicts a two-point Florida win so this game is essentially a toss-up. We see it that way as well.

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Set Your Tivo: 12.03.10

Posted by Brian Otskey on December 3rd, 2010

***** – 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 an unexpectedly interesting game last night in Lawrence complete with controversy, your Friday night slate features a clash in the deep south and an intriguing battle out west. All rankings from RTC and all times eastern.

UAB @ Georgia – 7 pm on FS South/ESPN3 (**)

Georgia Needs a Healthy Thompkins to Reach Its Goals

Georgia had a very disappointing trip to Orlando last week for the Old Spice Classic, coming away with only one win. Even that win was a struggle, 61-58 over a bad Manhattan team. The Bulldogs did get Trey Thompkins back but he’s still trying to work himself back into game shape. Thompkins averaged 15/7 in the three games but turned the ball over almost four times a game. Georgia is not a very good defensive team, rated #104 in efficiency and #328 against the three. That will be a problem against a UAB team that features a 65% three-point shooter in forward Cameron Moore (18/9). Granted he’s only taken 17 treys so far this year, but he is a threat that could pull Thompkins away from the basket and open up the inside for point guard Aaron Johnson to distribute the ball. Johnson is averaging 10 points and a superb nine assists per contest this season. At 5’9 he really struggles shooting but makes up for that deficiency by getting others involved. UAB has only given up 61 PPG and is #14 in defending the three so Georgia is going to have to work hard for points. The Bulldogs are not a good three-point shooting team (29%) so they get most (62%) of their points from inside the arc. The good news for Georgia is that while they’re turnover prone, UAB doesn’t force many turnovers at all because they play a slower style. The rebounding battle will be important in this game and might very well determine the winner. Travis Leslie is an excellent rebounder for his size, pulling down nine a game. He’ll need to be on his game along with Thompkins for Georgia to control the glass, though UAB is a poor offensive rebounding team. Coach Mike Davis plays four guys at least 30 minutes per game so tired legs are something to watch for in the second half. The Bulldogs are the favorite at home but this really could be looked at as a toss-up game. UAB has some talent and they’ll certainly give Georgia a game tonight at Stegeman Coliseum.

#5 Kansas State @ Washington State – 11 pm on FSN (****)

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After the Buzzer: On 800 Wins, Internet Humility, and Fantastic Freshmen

Posted by jstevrtc on November 24th, 2010

Your Watercooler Moment. Yeesh, take your pick. On Wednesday morning the two games the majority of hoop aficianados were most looking forward to from Tuesday night will yield the headlines to a so-called undercard matchup between #3 Michigan State and Connecticut, the latter a team slated to be foraging for leftover scraps in the Big East this year. Jim Calhoun beamed after the effort shown by his players in knocking off the Spartans, saying after the game, “We proved to the world that we can play.” Also in Maui, the Kentucky vs Washington matchup was so intense they played through a freaking 4.7-on-the-Richter scale earthquake that nobody in the building seemed to notice centered 30 miles south-southwest of the island, and four time zones away, Duke gave Kansas State false hope for a half before turning out their lights and inscribing Mike Krzyzewski into the 800 victories book for a single school. Oh, and a game between Appalachian State and Tennessee Tech was cancelled because the former forgot to provide refs. All of this, a feast before the feast…on the day the Spectrum died.

Onward And Upward -- Coach K Earned His 800th Duke Win On Tuesday

Tuesday’s Quick Hits…

  • Connecticut Has A Pulse. And it’s strong. And its name is Kemba Walker. In 38 minutes of floor time in the Huskies’ capsizing of #3 Michigan State, Walker went 10-19 from the floor, 6-7 from the line, and added three boards, four assists, and three steals to his 30 points. Who cares that a kid’s getting up a shot every two minutes of game time when he’s producing like this?
  • Kyrie Lays It On. Kyrie Irving smoked Jacob Pullen as if the latter were a finely aged Cohiba Siglo. He took Pullen to the bucket several times, scored or got to the line, twice producing and-ones. Irving saw other defenders, but it was Pullen in front of him a good deal of the night; this matchup saw the freshman wood-shedding the senior to the tune of 17/5/6 asst/2 steals.
  • Unsung Wildcat Heroes, Take One. The talk will be about Terrence Jones‘ 16/17 (4-13 from the field) and Brandon Knight’s 24 points (he also had zero assists and eight turnovers), but the best line on the Wildcats’ side may have come from Josh Harrellson, the backup center many UK fans felt could barely qualify to be Enes Kanter’s personal assistant before the season. Harrellson had troubles with his handle, but in 34 minutes he contributed nine points on 4-6 shooting (one of those a trey), blocked two shots, and pulled in 14 rebounds, seven of them on the offensive end. DeAndre Liggins only added seven points and four rebounds, but he smothered UW’s Isaiah Thomas for most of the second half, frustrating him to no end (on which more in a bit).
  • Unsung Wildcat Heroes, Take Two. The only bright spot from KSU’s defeat was the play of their reserves. Four players — namely Curtis Kelly, Jamar Samuels, Martavious Irving, and Will Spradling — played at least 13 minutes (three of them were in for 20+), and they accounted for 47 of K-State’s 68 points, shooting 18-29 (62%) from the field. Could there be lineup changes in store for Frank Martin’s squad?

…and Misses.

  • Kalin, Not His Usual Ballin’. No particular player could be singled out as really letting MSU down, but Kalin Lucas would love another crack at this one. The Spartans actually shot better than UConn, but Lucas’ head-scratcher of a night consisted of a 4-12 shooting night, five turnovers and but a single assist. There won’t be many nights like this for Lucas this season.
  • The Sprint Center Floor. We had the privilege of being in the Sprint Center for the Big 12 Tournament last year. It’s a great arena for college basketball. Plenty of press seating, helpful staff, and even the distant seats in the stands aren’t bad. But for the O’Reilly Auto Parts CBE Classic tonight, its floor had ten temporary logos on it, causing it to resemble one of those NASCAR automobiles (I guess they do race for the Sprint Cup, don’t they?) or a jersey from an Australian pro league team.
  • Smeared the Beard. Jacob Pullen not only got schooled by a freshman in terms of how many times he got taken to the hole, but he couldn’t hit an elephant with a handful of rice on Tuesday night. Pullen will not have many 1-12 nights this year, and likely none in which he also throws in a defensive clanger like he did on Tuesday. But big games like this are not the time for these rare occasions to occur for the facially hirsute and usually excellent senior.
  • Isaiah Was No Prophet. When the Maui brackets were released a few months ago, Isaiah Thomas tweeted that he was hoping his squad would run into Kentucky, a sentiment fueled by the bolting of recruits Kanter and Jones to UK after committing to UW. The Wildcats’ DeAndre Liggins intercalated himself into Thomas’ DNA on Tuesday, and as a result the UW guard was flummoxed into a 4-14 shooting night, two of those buckets coming as cosmetic late layups when UK let its defensive intensity slip a notch in hopes of not fouling.

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Set Your Tivo: 11.23.10

Posted by Brian Otskey on November 23rd, 2010

***** – 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.

Two good games from both Kansas City and Maui involving six ranked teams lead tonight’s slate. Rankings as per the latest RTC Top 25. All times eastern.

Maui Invitational Semifinal: #3 Michigan State vs. Connecticut — 7 pm on ESPN (***)

It's Been Two Years Since These Teams Met in the F4

Each team played relatively close games yesterday. One was expected to, one was not. Connecticut got by Wichita State behind a 29-point second half from Kemba Walker. On the other hand, Michigan State actually trailed against Division II Chaminade for most of the first half and traded baskets with the Silverswords in the early part of the second half before pulling away with a 20-3 run and hanging on for an eight point win. Kalin Lucas was the star for the Spartans, scoring 28 points on 11-20 shooting. Lucas against Walker will be one of the better matchups of point guards you’ll see all season and it occurs here in late November. Walker is averaging 30 points in three games this year and is clearly Jim Calhoun’s go-to guy. Neither team played well defensively in their opening game in Maui but we don’t know if that can be attributed to the setting or maybe a lack of focus. Michigan State in particular, known for its tough defense and rebounding, had been playing well defensively coming into the game but gave up 46% shooting to Chaminade. This game will be a war on the boards as both coaches pride themselves on interior defense and rebounding. For Michigan State, the key could be shutting down Alex Oriakhi. Walker is going to get his share so if Tom Izzo’s big men can lock up the Connecticut sophomore big man, the Huskies will need someone else to step up because Walker won’t be able to do it all himself against a team as good as MSU. UConn is going to have to shoot the three ball very well in order to win, something Walker has struggled with throughout his career (35.3% this year however). Averaging 17 turnovers per game, the Spartans have to protect the ball against a Connecticut team that would like to get out in transition in order to prevent Michigan State from settling in on defense. Anything can happen in an early season tournament on a neutral floor but Michigan State should win this game.

CBE Classic Consolation: #23 Gonzaga vs. Marquette – 7:45 pm on ESPNU (****)

These two teams get together tonight heading in opposite directions. Gonzaga was flat out exposed, but not just by Kansas State last night. San Diego State also took care of the Bulldogs in the Kennel last week. Gonzaga has no clear point guard and that’s forcing Steven Gray to handle the ball much more than he should, often resulting in turnovers. Gray turned it over six times last night and as a team the Zags had 16 turnovers. Gonzaga also was dominated on the glass, not a good combination when you can’t stop anybody either. That was just the case as Kansas State shot 51% for the game. They now face a Marquette team brimming with confidence after a competitive loss to #1 Duke last night, a game we told you would be closer than you thought in this very feature 24 hours ago. MU was led by Jimmy Butler’s 22/6. We don’t know why people always underestimate Buzz Williams and his team as they have an awful lot of talent and looked like a top 25 team yesterday. Marquette may not actually be a top 25 team yet but they’re knocking on the door. A win tonight against Gonzaga should earn them some votes next week, if not actually make it in. The Golden Eagles turned Duke over 19 times, something that probably kept Mark Few tossing and turning in bed last night. Marquette needs a better outing from Darius Johnson-Odom and they should get it against the suspect Bulldog defense. The junior guard was just 1-6 from three and 4-15 overall. As a team, MU shot a dreadful 4-20 from deep, often leading to long rebounds and transition opportunities for Duke. One thing going for Gonzaga is their front court going up against Marquette’s interior. While they have defended fairly well in terms of two point FG% against, Mason Plumlee went off in the second half against the weaker Marquette bigs. Gonzaga has guys such as Robert Sacre who can score in the post and that will pose a problem for Buzz Williams. That said, we expect Marquette to turn Gonzaga over enough to win by getting more field goal opportunities. Gonzaga is not going to win many games against top competition until their point guard situation is under control.

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Set Your Tivo: 11.22.10

Posted by Brian Otskey on November 22nd, 2010

***** – 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.

All of these games are from tournaments played on a neutral floor. Rankings as per the latest RTC Top 25. All times eastern.

Maui Invitational Opening Round: Connecticut vs. Wichita State — 3 pm on ESPN2 (***)

The best game of Maui’s first day features a matchup of teams with contrasting styles. Wichita State is a very deliberate, low scoring team that will sit back and play half court defense. Connecticut, without a dominant big man such as Emeka Okafor or Hasheem Thabeet, prefers to run with its guards and wings led by Kemba Walker. The junior point guard had a good offseason and is tearing it up so far. He had 42/8/3 in a game against Vermont last week, an 89-73 Husky win. Alex Oriakhi has been great for Jim Calhoun in the first two games of the season averaging 11/13 and 3.5 blocks, a Calhoun trademark. As a team, Connecticut pulled down an astounding 52 rebounds per contest in their first two games. Wichita State does a good job on the defensive glass but they will encounter a tough test against Connecticut. The Shockers are fairly efficient on offense despite their slow pace. One thing they have going for them is their three point shooting versus the Huskies’ defense. Wichita shoots it well while UConn ranks 288th in defending the three. To win, the Shockers need to take advantage of this behind 6’4 guards Toure’ Murry and Graham Hatch. Forward J.T. Durley can also step out and stroke it from three so Wichita clearly has the perimeter threats to make this a close game. The Shockers need a strong defensive effort on Walker as well as wing Roscoe Smith. They don’t create a lot of turnovers because of their pace so holding their own on the boards becomes paramount. If Connecticut wins the rebounding battle handily, it’ll be very difficult for Wichita State to win this game.

CBE Classic Semifinal: #1 Duke vs. Marquette – 7:30 pm on ESPN2 (****)

This game is interesting because it’s Duke’s first test against a good team. Marquette has been vastly underrated by many in the crowded Big East but the Golden Eagles have a solid roster full of young talent and experienced players, always a good combination. Everybody knows about Duke and their stars Kyrie Irving, Nolan Smith and Kyle Singler so let’s shine a little light on Buzz Williams’ crew from the Brew City and see what they have to do to win. Marquette is led by senior swing Jimmy Butler, a candidate for first team all-Big East. Butler broke out last season and is the focal point of Williams’ offense this year. He is surrounded by dynamic guard Darius Johnson-Odom, promising freshman Vander Blue and senior Dwight Buycks. Marquette’s strength is in the backcourt and on the wing, as is Duke’s. If there’s one thing these two teams don’t do all that well it is defend the three, especially Marquette. Williams needs a great defensive effort from his guards if they hope to contain their explosive opponent. The Golden Eagles defend the paint well, ranking fairly high in defensive two point percentage. They must limit the interior players for Duke and force all the action on the guards where a strong effort can possibly contain them. Duke is even deeper off the bench with Seth Curry and Andre Dawkins, both deep threats. Duke is a heavy favorite in this game for good reason but Marquette is going to give them a run. We think Buzz can motivate his team enough and parlay that with their talent to be in this game deep into the second half. Marquette needs everything to go right in this game but that’s not as far-fetched as you may think. MU can run but they don’t want to get caught in a track meet with the Blue Devils where transition opportunities will favor Duke. To knock off #1, Marquette has to hold Duke around 40% shooting and get a huge game out of a Butler, Johnson-Odom and someone off the bench like Jae Crowder. We’re not picking Marquette to win the game but don’t be surprised if this one is closer than you may have originally thought.

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