Big 12 M5: Weekend Preview Edition

Posted by Kendall Kaut on January 8th, 2016

morning5_big12

  1. Iowa State hosts Baylor on Saturday as the Cyclones hope to defeat the only team that won a Big 12 game in Hilton Coliseum last season. The Bears, however, enter the game 0-3 on the road this season. One way Scott Drew’s team was able to win in Ames a year ago was on the strength of its shooting, but Taurean Prince will have to return to his road form of last season because he’s only shooting 25 percent away from Waco. Iowa State may now be down to a seven-man rotation, but the Cyclones have been able to survive so far in large part because of the lowest defensive free throw rate in the country. If Deonte Burton continues to play so well — the transfer is averaging 11.0 points in just 18 minutes per game — the Cyclones will have a great chance at a top-three finish in the Big 12 race.
  2. Texas Tech has been the surprise of the season thus far, but it will have a huge task ahead on Saturday in Lubbock. Fresh off a triple-overtime win against Oklahoma, Kansas will be looking to avoid a letdown. The Red Raiders played Iowa State close on Wednesday night, but struggled to stop Matt Thomas late in the game. That challenge will be heightened against a Kansas team that ranks second nationally in three-point offense at 45.7 percent. In his third season with the Red Raiders, Tubby Smith seems to have made a leap with this team (#6 RPI; #39 KenPom). If they can pull off the upset, it could be a really nice Selection Sunday two months from now.
  3. After a legendary 46-point, eight-rebound, seven-assist performance from Buddy Hield against Kansas, the Sooners will host Kansas State on Saturday. The Wildcats have been much better than many expected this season, but because of scheduling and some bad luck they are staring down an 0-3 start in league play. Bruce Weber’s team managed to beat Oklahoma twice last season, which should prevent the Sooners from overlooking them.
  4. West Virginia can start 3-0 in Big 12 play with a win over Oklahoma State on Saturday. The Mountaineers’ vaunted press has put the team second nationally in three-point defense and first in opponents’ turnover percentage. With games coming against Kansas and Oklahoma next week, West Virginia’s schedule will ramp up soon, which is why it’s so important to win the games in which you’re favored. In contrast, Oklahoma State has been killed by the recent news that Phil Forte is probably out for the season, but Jawun Evans has shown how special the Cowboys’ backcourt can be a year from now. Evans had nine assists against Baylor and got to the line 10 times against TCU.
  5. Life has been difficult without big man Cameron Ridley, but Texas can get to 2-1 in Big 12 play with a win at TCU on Saturday. Javan Felix‘s 48 percent shooting from three-point range and Isaiah Taylor‘s average of 26.0 points per game in the first two Big 12 games give the Longhorns hope. With Trent Johnson at the helm and an investment in upgraded facilities, the future appears bright at TCU. However, TCU’s offense ranks 236th in KenPom, and with road trips to Baylor and Kansas next week, a loss to the ‘Horns could put the Horned Frogs at major risk of starting 0-5 in Big 12 play.
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Big 12 New Year’s Resolutions: Part I

Posted by Chris Stone on December 30th, 2015

The year 2016 is right around the corner and along with it comes Big 12 conference play, as the league gets underway with six games on January 2. Although we know that only a fraction of people ultimately keep their New Year’s resolutions, we figured it wouldn’t hurt to come up with a few challenges for teams in the Big 12 once the ball drops tomorrow night. This is part one of a two-part series.

Kansas: To give Devonte Graham the praise he deserves

Devonte Graham has brought a number of positive changes to Kansas. (Charles Riedel/The Associated Press)

Devonte Graham has brought a number of positive changes to Kansas. (Charles Riedel/The Associated Press)

The focus on Kansas to this point has reasonably and rightfully been on the improved play of Wayne Selden and the consistent performance of senior forward Perry Ellis. However, the Jayhawks’ most under appreciated asset may well be sophomore point guard Devonte Graham. Graham’s move to the starting lineup has been linked to Selden’s rise because it helped free him up offensively, but Graham has provided much more. The sophomore has helped increase the number of turnovers the Jayhawks are causing on defense while simultaneously decreasing the number of turnovers Kansas commits on offense by reducing his personal turnover rate from 20.1 percent to 9.9 percent. Graham’s sophomore emergence has made the Jayhawks a national title contender and he deserves more praise for the role he’s played.

Iowa State: To find rest and relaxation for the Cyclones’ rotation

Naz Mitrou-Long’s recovery from hip surgery hit the Cyclones hard. With Deonte Burton becoming eligible at semester, it looked like Iowa State was set to have a quality eight man rotation heading into conference play. Now that Mitrou-Long’s season is over, coach Steve Prohm has made it clear that he intends to stick with a seven man rotation for the remainder of the season. Iowa State ranks 347th in percentage of bench minutes played with just 21.4 percent of available minutes coming off the bench. Last season, Wisconsin reached the Final Four with similar numbers, so the limited rotation doesn’t rule out a trip to Houston for the Cyclones, but they’ll need all the rest and relaxation they can get on the way there. Read the rest of this entry »

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Big 12 Power Rankings: Safe To Call Kansas State Good? Edition

Posted by Nate Kotisso on December 24th, 2015

Kansas State had chemistry problems all season long a year ago as the Wildcats stumbled to a miserable 15-17 record. The offseason then brought a multitude of departures that only further weakened a fan base’s confidence in head coach Bruce Weber. This season, however, with 10 newcomers — including seven freshmen — Weber’s team has already given Texas A&M and North Carolina difficult games. The Wildcats also beat Georgia, a better-than-average SEC team, on the road. So who are these Wildcats?

You might be alarmed to learn that Bruce Weber has the Kansas State Wildcats out to an 8-2 start. (Scott Sewell/USA TODAY Sports)

You might be surprised to hear that Bruce Weber has the Kansas State Wildcats off to an 8-2 start. (Scott Sewell/USA TODAY Sports)

Justin Edwards and Wesley Iwundu are the two highest scoring returnees, but it’s freshmen like last year’s Kansas Mr. Basketball Dean Wade (11.3 PPG, 5.8 RPG) and Kamau Stokes (9.1 PPG, 3.5 APG) who have led the Wildcats to a 9-2 record thus far. Is it too early to call them a good team? Probably. Still, it’s encouraging to see the Wildcats hang around with teams that are clearly better than them. Kansas State likely isn’t at the point of beating good teams just yet, but the Wildcats also aren’t nearly as far away as we expected them to be before the season began. Let’s see how they fared in our latest power rankings.

Power Rankings

  • 1. Oklahoma (tie) — 6 points (Chris & Nate — 1st, Brian & Kendall — 2nd). Comment: “The Sooners still own the Big 12’s best win according to KenPom, a 23-point drubbing of Villanova on a neutral floor. They also have the country’s fifth-best defense. Sophomore Khadeem Lattin has helped fill the void left by the departure of TaShawn Thomas. His production on the defensive end, where he’s grabbed nearly 20.0 percent of the available rebounds and blocked 8.6 percent of the opposing shots, has been his biggest contribution.” – Chris Stone (@cstonehoops)
  • 1. Kansas (tie) — 6 points (Brian & Kendall — 1st, Chris & Nate — 2nd). Comment: Wayne Selden‘s development has fueled Kansas’ shot at winning a national title. Although Selden can’t shoot 54.0 percent from three-point range all season, he has also increased his field goal percentage at the rim by 10 percent from last season.” – Kendall Kaut (@kkaut)
  • 3. Iowa State — 12 points (All voted 3rd). Comment: “Yes, the Cyclones did not lose their first game until falling to Northern Iowa in Des Moines last week, but their imperfections have been noticeable for a little while now. They struggled to beat a clearly inferior Colorado team. They trailed by 20 at home to Iowa before coming all the way back to win that one in dramatic fashion. Now they’ve lost both a game and a major shotmaker in Naz Mitrou-Long for the season while they slowly work Deonte Burton into the rotation. So, naturally, they then go out and nip Cincinnati at the wire on the road.” – Nate Kotisso (@natekotisso)

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Big 12 M5: 12.16.15 Edition

Posted by Brian Goodman on December 17th, 2015

morning5_big12

  1. The Kansas offense is humming, thanks in large part to its dual point guard lineup, posits Jon Rothstein of CBS Sports. With a more traditional lineup last season, the Jayhawks really struggled to find a balanced attack, particularly when Wayne Selden and Kelly Oubre had down nights. With Frank Mason and Devonte Graham at the controls this season, though, the Jayhawks are flying. They aren’t immune to the occasional slump as we saw in the first half of last weekend’s win over Oregon State, but we’ve seen enough to know that they’re going to bring it more often than not.
  2. A tip of the cap goes to Texas Tech for their 79-67 win over South Dakota State. Senior Toddrick Gotcher led the way with 17 points including 3-of-6 shooting from distance to go along with five boards. The Red Raiders lost the rebounding battle, but overcame it thanks to ten steals and just nine turnovers on offense. The win is significant for Texas Tech because coming into the game, the Jackrabbits were ranked higher in KenPom than schools like Georgetown, Syracuse, Providence and Saint Mary’s.  Tubby Smith‘s team had been on the hunt for a marquee win after missing their chance against Utah last month, so it was nice to see them pick one up Wednesday night. They still don’t project to contend for an NCAA Tournament bid, but significant improvement on last season’s measly three conference wins is a goal that should be within sight.
  3. The only other action from the Big 12 saw Baylor take down non-D-I foe Hardin-Simmons 104-59 in the first regular season college game ever played at Fort Hood in TexasJohnathan Motley, whose name can be seen peppering NBA Draft boards, paced the Bears with 23 points. Hardin-Simmons didn’t offer much in the way of competition, but it was still reassuring for Baylor’s chances to see Lester Medford play well, as he finished with 13 assists against two turnovers in just 18 minutes of action. Then again, pretty much everyone for Baylor had a good night handling the ball as they piled up 40 assists on 45 made baskets and committed just 15 turnovers as a team. Next up for Motley, Medford and the Bears is a big road game at Texas A&M on Saturday.
  4. TCU‘s administration opened up the newly-renovated Schollmaier Arena (formerly Daniel-Meyer Coliseum) to the media for tours in advance of the facility’s grand re-opening this weekend, and it’s a huge step up from the previous accommodations which were, to be kind, lacking. In addition to some of the standbys of renovated arenas like widened concourses and new bathrooms and concession stands, the Horned Frogs’ new digs include posh circular locker rooms, a brand-new video board, a club with floor-to-ceiling TVs and an area where boosters can watch postgame press conferences through a glass wall. Pretty swanky if you ask us. The Horned Frogs christen their made-over home Sunday against Abilene Christian.
  5. We discussed the loss of Iowa State sharpshooter Naz Mitrou-Long yesterday, but CBSSports.com took a closer look at what his absence means for transfer Deonte Burton, who is set to make his Cyclones debut on Saturday. Burton arrived in Ames from Marquette, where he had a reputation as a rim-rocking attacker, but Steve Prohm may need a more diverse array of contributions from the 6’3″ guard if Burton is to help Hallice Cooke and Matt Thomas shoulder Mitrou-Long’s production.
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Naz Mitrou-Long’s Injury Shrinks Iowa State’s Big 12 Title Hopes

Posted by Kendall Kaut on December 16th, 2015

Iowa State announced yesterday that Naz Mitrou-Long will sit out the remainder of the season to recover from offseason hip surgery. His loss will put pressure on the Cyclones’ already tight rotation as they head into Big 12 play. Mitrou-Long, a senior starter averaging 12.0 points per game, is reportedly experiencing pain in both of his hips and will apply for a medical redshirt to play next season.

Iowa State will have to move on without Naz Long this season. (Getty)

Iowa State will have to move on without Naz Long this season. (Getty)

Losing a player of Mitrou-Long’s caliber is never easy. His 30 percent mark from three-point range in the eight games in which he played this season is a career-low (his average is 39.5 percent), so it’s reasonable to conclude that his hip ailment has played a significant role in this season’s dip. Iowa State’s already-short rotation will immediately feel the pressure of his absence as the competition only gets stiffer from here. The Cyclones have yet to play a true road game and are looking down the barrel of two tough upcoming matchups against Northern Iowa (in Des Moines) and a trip to Cincinnati right as they lose their sharpshooter. Long’s knowledge of his teammates’ tendencies, such as those of Georges Niang and Monte’ Morris, will be tough to replace as well. Read the rest of this entry »

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Big 12 Preseason Superlatives and Predictions

Posted by Brian Goodman on November 12th, 2015

We noted a few times during the offseason that this year in the Big 12 will have a different tenor than the last few. There won’t be nearly as much attention on the one-and-done players because they aren’t around this year. Oklahoma and Iowa State will again be the token threats to end Kansas‘ long reign atop the conference standings, and the middle of the pack will again be better than the middle of the pack of every other conference. At the end of the day, experienced leaders will carry the Big 12 this season. This conference probably won’t be as wild as it’s been recently, but it’s still going to be a lot of fun, especially with two new head coaches stepping into plum jobs.

Below we will run down our preseason Big 12 superlatives and predictions, as voted upon by our four-man team.

B12Team

Player Of The Year

  • Brian Goodman: Buddy Hield (Oklahoma) – It’s really tough to do this when Georges Niang plays in the same conference, but I have to go with Hield. Both players can light it up from anywhere, but Hield has embraced defense in a way that Niang hasn’t. Hield also turned the ball over significantly less often than Niang while consuming a similar percentage of his team’s possessions, and it’s a good bet that he’ll be able to do so again. Lastly, despite Steve Prohm’s insistence that he won’t change much about the way Niang is used, I still need to see evidence on the court that Prohm will maximize his senior’s unique cocktail of impressive skill combined with not-as-impressive physical abilities. That may not be completely fair to Niang, nor do I think he’ll be a completely different player in the post-Hoiberg era, but when the other candidate has as many credentials as Hield carries, it tips the scales.
Buddy Hield is the microsite's consensus pick for Big 12 Player Of The Year. (David K Purdy/Getty Images)

Buddy Hield is the microsite’s consensus pick for Big 12 Player Of The Year. (David K Purdy/Getty Images)

  • Kendall Kaut: Hield – He’s the reigning Big 12 Player of the Year and plays on the team that I think is most likely to challenge Kansas for the Big 12 title. Although he’ll miss the presence of TaShawn Thomas, Oklahoma returns most of the talent around him, which should free Hield to continue creating. His three-point shooting keeps Oklahoma in games where it should be getting blown out and gives the Sooners an ability to come back from a deficit. And until someone in this league shows otherwise, he’ll stay #1 for me.
  • Nate Kotisso: Hield – This seems like a lazy pick for conference Player of the Year, but this is a case where it doesn’t pay to get cute. Unlike me, Buddy Hield is the furthest thing from lazy; rather, he’s interested in making Oklahoma and himself a lot better this season. The senior guard is likely working on his game at this very moment, but then again, does anyone truly know when he takes time off to do other humanly functions, like, eat? This probably means winning this award again with his sights set on leading the Sooners to Houston in early April.
  • Chris Stone: Hield – While playing the third-most minutes and having the second-highest usage rate in the Big 12 last season, Hield was still the league’s third-most efficient scorer. The senior is everything you could want in an offensive player and he’s a capable defender who averaged nearly two steals per game as well. Without TaShawn Thomas around, Hield should be responsible for even more of Oklahoma’s scoring load, which is enough to make me think he’ll go back-to-back in the Player of the Year race. My dark horse for the award is Baylor’s Taurean Prince, who had better efficiency numbers last season but played far fewer minutes than Hield. If he can hold up in an increased role with a less effective point guard, Prince could take the award.

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Big 12 Preview: Iowa State’s Burning Question

Posted by Brian Goodman on November 9th, 2015

Brian Goodman is the lead correspondent for the Big 12 microsite. You can follow him on Twitter @BSGoodman.

Burning question: With last season’s core still intact and a new coach on the sidelines, how will Iowa State avenge one of the biggest NCAA Tournament upsets in recent memory?

Over the last few years, Iowa State has enjoyed a fantastic revival, with former head coach Fred Hoiberg leading the Cyclones to four consecutive NCAA Tournament appearances for the first time in program history. While the pearl-clutching over the “unwatchability” of college basketball has always been a bit overblown, Hoiberg’s free-flowing, efficient style of offense was a joy to watch. Additionally, the way he fashioned all-conference players from such wayward transfers like Royce White and DeAndre Kane gave his tenure in Ames a nice human interest component to complement his on-court success. Under Hoiberg, Iowa State didn’t succeed in knocking Kansas from the perch of the Big 12, nor did it match Larry Eustachy’s success in March, but it’s crystal clear that he left the program in a far better place than when he found it.

One of the best young minds in college basketball in Fred Hoiberg was replaced with yet another dynamic offensive coach in Steve Prohm.

One of the best young minds in college basketball in Fred Hoiberg was replaced with yet another dynamic offensive coach in Steve Prohm. (Iowa State Athletics)

That goes just as well for the team itself as it does for its relevance in the national picture. After years of flirtation, Hoiberg finally accepted a head coaching job with the Chicago Bulls, and just nine days later, Iowa State hired Steve Prohm to sustain and build the program for the future. While Hoiberg was a great offensive mind, it’s going to be a lot of fun to see what Prohm does with nearly all of Iowa State’s rotation back in the fold. The most fascinating element of Prohm’s first year at Iowa State is how he’ll use point guard Monte’ Morris, and that’s saying a lot for a team that has a consensus preseason All-American (Georges Niang) also in the fold. The coach’s success in developing point guards Isaiah Canaan and Cameron Payne into NBA prospects became his calling card at Murray State, and in Morris, he arguably has the nation’s best ball-handler over the last two years. Canaan and Payne soaked up possessions under Prohm, so it will be interesting to track how much offense Morris initiates this year after so much of the offense in Hoiberg’s system was initiated by Niang.

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Iowa State Bolsters Next Year’s Roster With Deonte Burton

Posted by Chris Stone on December 22nd, 2014

Fred Hoiberg’s activity in the transfer market continued over the weekend when former Marquette wing Deonte Burton committed to play for Iowa State next season. Marquette coach Steve Wojciechowski announced Burton would be leaving the program back on December 9. The sophomore will be able to play for the Cyclones after the first semester of next year and will have one and a half years of eligibility remaining. ESPN’s Jeff Borzello is reporting that Burton will ask the NCAA for a waiver to receive this year of eligibility back due to the passing of his mother in October.

Marquette transfer Deonte Burton is headed to Iowa State (Jeff Hanisch/USA Today)

Marquette transfer Deonte Burton is headed to Iowa State (Jeff Hanisch/USA Today)

Burton is an intriguing case for Iowa State. He was recruited to Marquette by Buzz Williams who left for Virginia Tech after last season. Burton was the 52nd ranked player in the Class of 2013 according to Rivals, and was billed as an explosive slasher who need to improve on his jump shot in order to live up to his potential. During his freshman season, the 6-foot-4 wing only played 12.6 minutes per game but his averages of 6.9 points and 2.2 rebounds resulted in per 40 minutes numbers (22.1 points and 6.9 rebounds) that suggested a potential breakout sophomore season. Unfortunately, through nine games, it hasn’t materialized. Burton is playing more minutes (16.1) this season, but his scoring (6.4) and rebounding (1.4) numbers are down.

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Big 12 M5: 12.22.14 Edition

Posted by Nate Kotisso on December 22nd, 2014

morning5_big12

  1. Like Baylor, Texas Tech and TCU, it’s been difficult to pinpoint just how good Oklahoma State can be this season. The Cowboys had a golden opportunity to turn heads with nationally-ranked Maryland invading Gallagher-Iba Sunday afternoon but were unable to come away with a profile-building win. Kyle Porter at Pistols Firing performed the autopsy of the game, and unfortunately for OSU fans, there were some familiar themes that led to the loss. With Terps leading scorer Dez Wells sidelined with a wrist injury, this was OSU’s last shot at a quality non-conference win. KenPom has Oklahoma State’s non-conference schedule ranked at 219th with their best win against a disappointing Memphis team and a blowout loss to South Carolina who was picked to finish 12th in a mediocre SEC. That’s … not good.
  2. Heading into this week, nine of 351 Division 1 schools are undefeated in college basketball and TCU is still the Big 12’s lone representative in that respect. The Horned Frogs improved to 11-0 after thrashing Texas-San Antonio on Saturday, their sixth game won by a margin of 15 points or more. Most people are talking about whether or not Kentucky can finish the season 40-0. How long should we wait until TCU joins the conversation? (Is this thing on? *taps mic*).
  3. You might be hearing this for the first time in your life but Iowa State secured a commitment from a high-level transfer on Saturday. The transfer is Deonte Burton who comes to Ames by way of Marquette where he spent his first year-and-a-half of eligibility with the Golden Eagles. This season, the sophomore Burton averaged 6.4 points on 47.2 percent shooting from the field and 40 percent from three in just over 16 minutes per contest. Burton will have two-and-a-half years of eligibility remaining beginning in December 2015.
  4. Conference realignment has not stopped Texas A&M from scheduling old foes from the Big 12. The Aggies faced Baylor on December 9 and did battle with Kansas State Saturday night in Kansas City. It would be easier to say that K-State had this game won from the opening tip, shooting 61 percent from the floor, but this Vine from K-State forward Wesley Iwundu is the best recap anyone could offer. Enjoy it in all its majesty. (H/T Octagon of Doom)
  5. Texas Tech has quietly gotten off to a 9-1 start heading into this week’s Continental Tires Las Vegas Classic. The tournament, which starts tonight, is comprised of Boise State, Houston, Loyola (IL) and the Red Raiders. Sure, they have played a mostly pillowsoft schedule but considering their only loss came in overtime at LSU on November 18 (who would later beat West Virginia in Morgantown) and an overall weak field, TTU is in a position to potentially leave Las Vegas with a tournament championship. The Red Raiders play Loyola (IL) tonight and the winner of that game will face the winner of Boise State-Houston Tuesday night for the tournament title.
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Morning Five: 12.22.14 Edition

Posted by nvr1983 on December 22nd, 2014

morning5

  1. Cincinnati‘s loss on Saturday took a back seat to the bigger news that Mick Cronin would be out indefinitely after being diagnosed with an “unruptured aneurysm” during a workup for persistent headaches. Cronin, who turned around a program that appeared to be in disarray when he started there, has led the Bearcats to four straight NCAA Tournament appearances after failing to do so in his first four years at the job. With Cincinnati being one of the top medical centers in the country we would assume this will be a fairly quick work-up although that does not necessarily mean Cronin will be back any quicker than he otherwise would be.
  2. After a rough past few months Southern Methodist finally got some good news when they found out that Markus Kennedy had been cleared to play prior to their game against Michigan. Kennedy, an All-AAC performer who averaged 12.4 points and 7.1 rebounds per game last season, had been ruled academically ineligible for the first semester. In his first game back, Kennedy had five points and three rebounds in ten minutes of action during SMU’s 11-point win at Michigan.
  3. If Rick Pitino was worried about keeping his Louisville team focused with two games remaining before their showdown on December 27 against Kentucky he may have found his solution with Montrezl Harrell‘s one-game suspension. Harrell, the Cardinals’ All-American junior forward who was averaging 16.7 points and 10 rebounds per game this season, was ejected from Saturday’s win at Western Kentucky for throwing a punch. While we never expected Harrell to miss the Kentucky game as a result of this suspension he got off about as light as he and Pitino could have hoped for given the circumstances.
  4. At this point we are ready to call Fred Hoiberg the John Calipari of transfers as he seems to be almost as successful in landing big-name transfers as Calipari is at picking up McDonald’s All-Americans. His latest addition is Marquette transfer Deonte Burton who committed to Iowa State. Burton, a consensus top-100 recruit, averaged 6.1 points and 1.4 rebounds per game as a sophomore after being expected to see more playing time this season. With Marquette’s strong incoming class it appeared less likely that Burton would see a big increase in his playing time in coming years so the decision makes sense. As for Iowa State, they seem to be reloading on transfers every year with no apparent end in sight.
  5. Mitchell Wilbekin, who had been averaging 7.6 points per game this season, has been suspended for six games for an undisclosed NCAA violation. Interestingly the first game Wilbekin missed was Saturday’s loss to Florida, his older brother Scottie’s former team. For their part, Wake Forest will appeal the ruling saying that they disagree with the NCAA both in terms of the violation and the length of the suspension. Wilbekin’s suspension means that he will miss the team’s first two ACC games, which are against Louisville and Duke that we would consider likely losses except that they are in Winston-Salem.
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Three Up, Three Down in the Big East

Posted by George Hershey on November 21st, 2014

The Big East has gotten off to a strong start this season, having lost only one game among all 10 teams and heading into next week with tests which will help determine how it stacks up against some of the nation’s best. Here are three positives and three negatives from the opening week in Big East basketball.

Three Up

Blueitt has produced from the get go for the Musketeers (Frank Victores/USA Today Sports)

Trevon Blueitt has produced from the get go for the Musketeers
(Frank Victores/USA Today Sports)

  1. Xavier Freshmen – Chris Mack brought in a highly-ranked group of freshmen to restock the Musketeers, and they have produced from the get-go. In Tuesday night’s win over Long Beach State, Trevon Bluiett and JP Macura led the team in scoring, with 20 and 17 points, respectively. Both shot the ball well from three, combining to connect five times, and Bluiett especially had a phenomenal game, stuffing the stat sheet with eight rebounds and five assists to boot. With a strong group of experienced players led by Matt Stainbrook and Myles Davis, Mack does not need his freshmen to lead every night, but their demonstrated ability to score in bunches is helpful for any team over the course of a season.
  2. DePaul Transfers – This DePaul team is not your typical DePaul team. That might be said nearly every preseason, but after a couple of games, it appears that this could be the team that finally breaks through. Oliver Purnell returns two sophomore studs in Billy Garrett Jr. and Tommy Hamilton IV, but he also brought in four transfers to turn the program around. Myke HenryAaron Simpson, and the injured Rashaun Stimage have returned home to Chicago, and Darrick Wood arrives by way of junior college in Kansas. In Tuesday’s win over Drake, Henry contributed 13 points, six rebounds and three assists, while Simpson and Wood both contributed five points each. Stimage and Henry are athletic bigs which will pair nicely with big-bodied Hamilton, while Simpson and Wood can handle the ball and provide a spark off the bench when Garrett needs a break. Purnell needs smart players who buy into the system, and all signs point to his group of newbies doing just that. Read the rest of this entry »
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Mountain West Quarterfinal Roundup

Posted by Bennet Hayes on March 14th, 2014

Wednesday was a busy day at the Thomas and Mack, with eight quarterfinalists battling for Friday reservations in the MW Tournament semis. Like they have all season, San Diego State and New Mexico found a way to distance themselves from the rest of the league on Thursday, but UNLV and Boise State were forced to work a little harder for their spot in the semifinals. Here are a few thoughts from each of the four MW quarterfinals:

San Diego State-Utah State

No surprises in the opener today. Five days after securing the conference regular season title, San Diego State made clear their intentions to double-dip with a MW Tournament crown, waxing Utah State 73-39. Balance and unselfishness were the themes of the day for the Aztecs, as SDSU had seven different players contribute six or more points, while 19 of their 24 field goals were assisted. Xavier Thames’ season high seven assists paced SDSU in that category. It was a solid day for the Mountain West Player of the Year (who also chipped in 15 points), who also added a season-high seven assists. Steve Fisher obviously hasn’t invented the concept of a scoring point guard here, but the tidbit is a subtle reminder of just how reliant the Aztecs are on their point guard to score the ball. San Diego State’s slow-tempo offense is also built around offensive rebounding and opportunistic finishing, and only three teams assist on a fewer percentage of field goals than the Aztecs. It’s an unconventional offensive formula, but at least on this day, Steve Fisher’s offense kept pace with their spirit-crushing defense.

X(avier) has marked the spot all season long for the Aztecs. On Thursday, the Mountain West Player of the Year contributed 15 points and seven assists in a rout of Utah State. (AP)

X(avier) has marked the spot all season long for the Aztecs. On Thursday, the Mountain West Player of the Year contributed 15 points and seven assists in a rout of Utah State. (AP)

Utah State wasn’t supposed to beat San Diego State, but they also weren’t supposed to lose by 33. It’s been that kind of season for Stew Morrill’s club, who has underachieved significantly in their first go-around in the Mountain West. Unfortunately for the folks up in Logan, the departure of four senior starters means that things may get worse before they get better, but the decades of consistency under Morrill should eventually translate into Mountain West success. As for the possible continuation of this season, the CBI or CIT may come calling for the 18-14 Aggies, but there is no guarantee that the man in charge is ready to accept a bid. When asked about postseason plans after today’s demolition, Morrill’s rhetorical question said it all about this Utah State season — “who the hell are we to think we might go to the postseason?” Read the rest of this entry »

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