Big 12 Team Previews: Iowa State Cyclones

Posted by dnspewak on November 5th, 2011

Projected finish: 8th

2010-11 record: 16-16 (3-13), 12th

Head coach: Fred Hoiberg, second season

Key Losses: Diante Garrett (17.3 PPG), Jake Anderson (12.8 PPG), Jamie Vanderbeken, (11.1 PPG)

Coach Fred Hoiberg‘s team started quick in nonconference play during his first season, but his Cyclones eventually tumbled to a dismal last-place finish in 2010-11. After losing one of the league’s top point guards in Diante Garrett, Hoiberg’s job doesn’t get much easier this fall. However, he does have one of the more intriguing rosters in the Big 12 with four big-name transfers set to take the court. There are a lot of wild cards for Iowa State this season, but there may be enough talent for a surprise finish.

Fred Hoiberg's Team Could Surprise (AP/A. Heisenfelt)

The Stars: Scott Christopherson may be the most underrated shooter in college basketball. He shot a blistering 44.1% from three-point range last year, making 83 threes during a terrific campaign. Garrett got a lot of the credit as the star last season, but Christopherson was probably the second most important player on the squad. After playing sparingly as a freshman at Marquette due to injury, Christopherson finally emerged as a team leader when he became fully healthy and earned a starting job.

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Conference Report Card: Big 12

Posted by Brian Goodman on April 25th, 2011


 

 

Brian Goodman is an RTC editor and contributor.

Year In Review

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

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

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

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

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

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Conference Tournament Daily Diaries – Wednesday

Posted by Brian Goodman on March 10th, 2011

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

Big East Tournament – by Rob Dauster

  • Georgetown cannot win without Chris Wright. Simply put, they are a different team without him in the lineup. The offensive creativity is not there, obviously, but the Hoyas seems to lack leadership, composure, and intensity. UConn didn’t just outplay the Hoyas tonight. They outworked them. They beat them up in the paint. They got to the offensive glass. They got all the loose balls. That, as much as anything, is why Georgetown lost this game by halftime.
  • In the press conference after the game, Jim Calhoun was asked about why Kemba Walker wasn’t a unanimous first team all-Big East selection, and he responded “I think someone took a five month vacation and forgot to tell us.” I can get on board with Kemba Walker not being the player of the year. I thought Ben Hansbrough deserved it. But to say that this kid wasn’t one of the six best players (yes, the Big East has a six-person first team) is just ludicrous.
  • The referees did a piss-poor job at the end of the Rutgers-St. John’s game. They missed an over the back that allowed DJ Kennedy to get another shot at shooting free throws  with five seconds left. They missed a foul on the inbounds pass to Gil Biruta at mid court. And they missed a travel and an out of bounds call on Justin Brownlee before the game was actually over. That said, the refs didn’t cost Rutgers the game. They cost the Scarlett Knights a shot at a prayer to win the game. Its still inexcusable, but there is a big difference.
  • Seeing St. John’s, a team that beat Georgetown, Pitt, Notre Dame, Duke, and UConn at the Garden, struggle with Rutgers was worrisome. The Johnnies played terrific basketball in the month of February, winning seven of their last eight games. What people forget is that this team also lost five of six right before that. Today, at least, it appeared as if the Johnnies were regressing to the mean.
  • Yancy Gates was a top 25 recruit coming out of high school. He hasn’t put up the numbers that you generally expect from a 6’10, 260-lb kid that is a top 25 recruit. That is more an issue of effort than of talent. When Gates plays like he did tonight — scoring 25 points against a good front line of Jarrid Famous and Gus Gilchrist, he is as good as any big man in the Big East.
  • I will freely admit that this game struggled to hold my attention. It was not pretty. It was over before the half was over. The South Florida and Cincinnati cheerleaders were quite attractive, and the internet at MSG is strong enough this season that I can stream games online, which means that I spent quite a bit of time watching the exciting LIU-Robert Morris NEC title game. That said, I did look up for long enough to see a Cincinnati male cheerleader drop one of the female cheerleaders during one of their maneuvers. She was fine. I laughed.
  • Marquette locked up a tournament bid with this win tonight, if they hadn’t already done so. And I, for one, am glad.  This is a fun team to watch. They play hard, they run the floor, they get out and defend, and they have a number of versatile options offensively.
  • Darius Johnson-Odom will get the credit for this win, as he hit two enormous threes down the stretch to win the game. But Junior Cadougan was the hero, finishing with 15 points, five assists and just one turnover. His stats don’t represent his influence, either. Every play that was made, he seemed to be a part of, whether it was the defense forcing a steal, the offense getting a rebound, or the Golden Eagles coming up with a loose ball.
  • I cannot figure West Virginia out. This is team is just too inconsistent, and I get the feeling that there are internal issues. Casey Mitchell and Deniz Kilicli played just 29 minutes tonight, combined, despite the Mountaineers playing like garbage on the offensive end in the second half. Just a game removed from Kevin Jones getting 11 offensive rebounds on his own, WVU managed just nine as a team. Pick them at your own risk next week.

Big 12 Tournament – by Brian Goodman

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Set Your Tivo: 01.19.11

Posted by Brian Otskey on January 19th, 2011

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

Brian Otskey is an RTC contributor.

Three interesting contests headline tonight’s schedule, including NC State’s endeavor to pull a shocker of its own over now-#4 Duke. All rankings from RTC and all times eastern.

#25 Cincinnati @ #16 Notre Dame – 7 pm on ESPN2 (****)

Abromaitis Plays the Most MPG for the Irish But Has Been Held Under His Season Average for Three Straight Games

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Checking in on… the Big 12

Posted by Brian Goodman on January 17th, 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 theme to the week in the Big 12 was “nothing comes easy”.  Headed into the season fresh off the league’s best showing in its history, the common thought was that many teams would be taking a step back.  That belief could probably be argued both ways at this point, but one thing is certain and that’s the fact that teams one through ten in this league can compete.
  • If a prediction were made today on what the final weeks of the season would hold, it would be twofold.  First, the battle for the league title; in years past, two losses this early on might have been a fairly damaging blow.  This year, there are two potential league contenders sitting at two losses (Missouri, Kansas State).
  • The second prediction for the final weeks is that there will be a dogfight for the final Big 12 spot in the NCAA Tournament.  Colorado, Oklahoma State, Baylor, Iowa State and even Nebraska have all had their moments, but you won’t see all of these teams representing the league and so the battle resumes.
  • Looking back at the week, the team with the best story right now might actually be the Colorado Buffaloes.  After an early upset victory over Missouri at home, the Buffs went on the road and pulled off back-to-back wins over Top 25 opponents with a win over Kansas State before returning home and grabbing what could prove to be a very important victory over the Oklahoma State Cowboys.  Colorado now sits at 3-0 in the league, and at 14-4 overall, Tad Boyle might find his team sitting near or even in the Top 25.
  • While Colorado was the story of the week, the game of the week took place Saturday in College Station.  Mike Anderson’s Missouri Tigers traveled to College Station to face the Aggies, and from the start, they were in attack mode.  Two newcomers to the conference, Phil Pressey and Ricardo Ratliffe, emerged as major players for the Tigers and for much of the game, these two teams were back and forth.  Late in regulation, Khris Middleton was able to get to the free throw line and secure overtime, where the Aggies would win by a narrow two-point margin in what was one of the early season battles between contenders in the league.  Right now, Mark Turgeon could have the inside track on coach of the year honors in the conference.
  • Elsewhere, the Kansas Jayhawks continue to flirt with a loss, as they escaped with a narrow victory in Ames against the Cyclones and an even closer win at home against the Nebraska Cornhuskers.  Neither win instills a tremendous amount of confidence, but both are wins and Marcus Morris is finding a way to carry his team when they need him, scoring 49 points and grabbing 25 rebounds in the two games.
  • After one full week of league competition, A&M, Colorado, Kansas and Texas all sit on top with undefeated records.  Baylor sits at 2-1 with the one loss coming to an Iowa State team that continues to show a lot of grit and great cohesiveness in Fred Hoiberg’s first year.  And just beyond Baylor, there are five teams sitting with two losses, including Missouri and Kansas State, who were and should still be viewed as contenders in a very balanced league.

Power Rankings

*Power rankings reflect who is playing the best basketball at a given time.

  1. Kansas (17-0, 2-0) – Plain and simple, the Jayhawks didn’t look great this week, but they are still undefeated and Marcus Morris is coming on strong just as he did a year ago.  What Kansas does that many teams don’t is win those tough games on the road.  Until someone else does that consistently or Kansas quits doing that, the Jayhawks will continue to be at or near the top of the league.
  2. Texas A&M (16-1, 3-0) – A&M dominated one game and managed a hard fought victory in another.  The Aggies do it with their size, they do it with experience and they have a player in Khris Middleton that can take control of a game.
  3. Texas (14-3, 2-0) – Texas  had a fairly soft start to conference play with games against Texas Tech and Oklahoma.  The Longhorns handled business with ease, but we learn a lot more in the next week as Rick Barnes and his Texas squad take on A&M and Kansas in a matter of days.
  4. Colorado (14-4, 3-0) – WOW.  That’s all you can say about what Colorado has done early, and yes, a big part of that is their history.  This isn’t a team or program that wins games like this, a road win over a ranked opponent and a big comeback at home over a pesky OSU team.  They sit 3-0 and are well-positioned to make a play at the NCAA Tournament.  Now it’s a matter of how much damage they can do on the way.  Buffs fans have January 25 circled and a final home game against the Jayhawks as a fellow Big 12 school.
  5. Missouri (15-3, 1-2) – Missouri played well against the Huskers at home and then put a big-time scare into the Aggies in College Station.  Fewer mistakes down the stretch and the Tigers manage a win.  As it stands, they have the players emerging with Phil Pressey and Ricardo Ratliffe taking control, and now they just need to get a few marquee wins to get the ball rolling.  After that, the sky is the limit; this is up there with Mike Anderson’s best teams.
  6. Baylor (12-4, 2-1) – Baylor remains a tale of two teams.  They are a group with great athleticism and big time talent, but they also manage to lose in Ames and struggle to score.  What’s the real Baylor?  That’s the question.
  7. Kansas State (13-5, 1-2) – K-State loses a home game to Colorado, loses a starter to the pros and then manages a pretty impressive 30+ point win, albeit against Texas Tech.  The Red Raiders might be just what the doctor ordered to get things back on track, but the Wildcats will get a chance to prove it as they enter a brutal week with a road game against Missouri and then a matchup with the Aggies in College Station.
  8. Oklahoma State (13-4, 1-2) Oklahoma State didn’t have a great week, but it certainly wasn’t an easy one on the schedule.  When you look at these next three it’s tough to say who deserves to be on top, but for now, the Cowboys still have the best in of the three, at least on paper.
  9. Nebraska (13-4, 1-2) – The Huskers have the head to head against the Cyclones and took the Jayhawks to the brink in Allen Fieldhouse.  That’s good enough for the nod at 9.   
  10. Iowa State (14-4, 1-2 Big 12) – Big win on Saturday evening against Baylor in Hilton.  The Cyclones are a team that is overachieving because of solid leadership from their coach and their upperclassmen.  They have a chance to do some damage and the Baylor game helps this team regain some confidence.  
  11. Oklahoma (8-9, 0-3 Big 12) – The only thing saving the Sooners from the bottom is that none of their losses came to the tune of a 30+ point scoring margin.  Anyone else looking forward to Tuesday’s must see matchup between OU and Tech in Norman?
  12. Texas Tech (8-10, 0-3 Big 12) – Lucky for Pat Knight, he’s coaching in Lubbock.  It’s a football school, a football state and even with those things playing in his favor, he’s likely coaching on borrowed time.    

A Look Ahead

  • This week, the Big 12 is the main event as ESPN’s Big Monday kicks off with a quadruple-header starting in the middle of the afternoon.  First up will be a marquee matchup between two teams very much in need of a win.  Missouri and Kansas State both sit at 1-2 and whoever drops this one in Columbia will most certainly have an uphill climb when it comes to winning the league.
  • The second matchup is the late game with Kansas heading to Waco to take on the Baylor Bears.  These might be the two most athletic teams in the league, but while Kansas has managed to find some team chemistry, Baylor hasn’t been consistent at all.  The Bears will be looking to get a statement win on the season and the fans in Waco should step up to the plate for Kansas.  It’s a big early season game for both squads and whoever wins this one takes a big step forward.
  • Wednesday sees another pair of games that are important for different reasons.  Both contests tip at 9 EST with one on ESPN2 and the other on ESPNU.  The marquee matchup is going to be the Aggies of Texas A&M heading into Austin for a game against the Longhorns.  Early season games certainly don’t break your season, but they can go a long way toward making it and this one gives the winner a leg up in the South.  The other contest is between a pair of two loss teams and a pair of teams that could be battling down the stretch in the bubble watch.  Iowa State heads in this matchup for a game against the Cowboys.  The Cyclones are coming off a big win at home and the Cowboys are looking to get back on track after two straight losses.
  • All of that brings us to Saturday, which has become must-see television.  The early games include Colorado on the road in Norman to take on the Sooners and Kansas State, entering a brutal stretch, on the road at A&M.  What happens during the week will help shape the importance of the matchup between the Wildcats and the Aggies, but on paper it’s a big time battle in the Big 12.
  • The afternoon games include Oklahoma State heading to Waco for a game against Baylor.  The other is the one and only matchup between Texas and Kansas this year, the two teams many are picking as the frontrunners in the conference.  This one takes place in Lawrence, where Texas takes its turn at snapping the Jayhawks hefty home game winning streak.  Over the years, the battle between these two teams has been huge in terms of the league and this year doesn’t look to be any different.
  • Finally, the late games and the Huskers on the road against a struggling Texas Tech and Missouri hosting a pesky Iowa State Cyclone team in Columbia. The Big 12 is in full swing, and at the moment, there are very few games that aren’t worth a look.  The league is wide open, tournament spots are wide open and right now there are 8-10 teams in this league that are in a dogfight for conference titles and postseason spots.

Player of the Year Watch

Power Ranking Style and Based on Conference Play

  1. Marcus Morris, Kansas – (24.5 PPG, 12 RPG, 71% FG): Morris carried the Jayhawks in crunch time through to tight ball games this week and currently leads the league in points and rebounds, while ranking second in field goal percentage and offensive rebounds.
  2. Alec Burks, Colorado – (22.7 PPG, 8.7 RPG): Burks is the reason that Colorado is looking like a conference contender right now.  The sophomore guard ranks 2nd in the league in scoring and third in terms of rebounding.  The rebounding is key, because that is an area that was viewed as a potential weakness for the Buffs headed into the season.
  3. Jacob Pullen, Kansas State – (22.7 PPG, 4.3 APG): If K-State is going to rally and make a move this season, it’s going to take Jacob Pullen at his best.  So far through two games he’s stepped it up.  Now he has to carry his team through a tough week with two top 25 opponents.
  4. Diante Garrett, Iowa State – (20.3 PPG, 6.33 APG): Garrett is the point guard and leader of an Iowa State team that has exceeded expectations early on this season.  His 20.3 PPG ranks third in the conference while his 6.3 assists makes him the league leader.
  5. Marcus Denmon, Missouri – (20 PPG, 48% 3FG): Denmon was brilliant in non conference play and a 27 point career high effort against Nebraska helps carry that momentum into conference play.  The Tigers sit 1-2, Denmon will be a big part of turning the tide the right way in Columbia.
  6. LaceDarius Dunn, Baylor – (18.7 PP, 12 three-pointers in conference play): Right now, Dunn is still the leader for the Bears, but his numbers are starting to dip as Perry Jones furthers his emergence as the premier player for Baylor.
  7. Khris Middleton, Texas A&M – (17.7 PPG, 3 SPG, 58% FG): Middleton carried the Aggies in a big overtime win against Missouri early in the year and leads the league in steals per game.  His versatility creates mismatches on the court and he has the chance to make himself a contender for the POY and his team a contender for the league title.
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Set Your Tivo: 01.12.11

Posted by Brian Otskey on January 12th, 2011

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

Brian Otskey is an RTC contributor.

We’re going to mix it up today with this feature. With so many good games tonight (one of the best nights of the season thus far) here are some quick hitters on 10 important games you should be following this evening, including the top five teams in the land all playing on the road. Additionally, key conference battles are on tap throughout the night. Enjoy it, folks. All rankings from RTC and all times eastern.

#2 Ohio State @ Michigan – 6:30 pm on Big Ten Network (***)

The Wolverines nearly knocked off Kansas on Sunday and they’ll get another crack at a top three team tonight when their rivals visit Ann Arbor. Michigan has to shoot the three well to win but that’ll be difficult against an Ohio State defense ranked in the top five in efficiency. Though Darius Morris (15.0 PPG, 7.0 APG) will try his best, Ohio State has too much talent and offensive firepower for Michigan to handle. Michigan needs their best defensive effort of the year combined with an off night for the Buckeyes in order to have a chance. John Beliein can rotate plenty of bodies on Jared Sullinger but that may be a futile effort against the uber-talented big man.

Sullinger, Lighty, and Co. Have Bucknuts Already Looking Forward to March (and April)

#5 Pittsburgh @ #19 Georgetown – 7 pm on ESPN (****)

The Hoyas are in serious danger of dropping to 1-4 in conference play as Pitt comes to DC. Georgetown hasn’t shot the ball well recently and has lost three of four as a result. The inconsistent play of point guard Chris Wright can certainly be blamed, but take a deeper look at the numbers. Georgetown’s defense is rated #61 in efficiency; not terrible, but it’s the lowest-rated Hoyas defense in six years (#66 in the ’04-’05 season). The Hoyas have given up 66.6 PPG, not a good number when your adjusted tempo is only 66.5 possessions and rated #228 in the country, indicating a slower pace. Georgetown’s dynamic guard trio has certainly struggled, a key reason why they’ve lost three of four, but the defense has also played a part and must get better. It’ll be put to the test against a Pitt offense rated the best in the land. The Panthers can punish you inside and out as well as on the glass. Yours truly has maintained for a while that this Pitt team is the best interior passing group in America and I see no reason to back off that statement. What Jamie Dixon has built in Pittsburgh year after year is quite remarkable but this may be his best offensive squad ever. The Panthers have played just one true road game all year (at Providence) but they’re experienced and so well-coached that it doesn’t figure to affect them all that much. Expect a desperate Georgetown team to come out ready to play, but we’ll take the Panthers here in a close one.

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Surprise! Assessing Early Signs of Life at Providence, Oregon & Iowa State

Posted by rtmsf on December 22nd, 2010

Andrew Murawa is an RTC contributor.

Last week we spent some time praising the work of two of the most familiar faces in the college basketball coaching world, Rick Pitino and Bruce Pearl, in getting their teams off to sparkling starts in the aftermath of some rough off-court patches. Today, I’d like to recognize some perhaps less well-known coaches who have turned awful offseasons of a different sort into solid starts for their respective teams. At Providence, Oregon and Iowa State, the basketball programs all went through turbulent summers full of personnel changes and uncertainty, but thus far the coaches at each of those programs has fought through the adversity to earn a combined 29-9 record for the three schools, albeit against maybe some lesser competition. None of the three schools are necessarily expected to be major contenders for NCAA Tournament berths, but at least they’ve got their programs headed in the right directions after rough offseasons.

Marshon Brooks Has Been a Revelation This Season

For Keno Davis and the Providence Friars, the offseason was an absolute nightmare – not that 2009-10 was all that great to begin with. The Friars lost their last 11 games of last season on the way to a 12-19 record, during which time junior guard Kyle Wright abruptly left the program. After the season was over, a new rash of bad news hit the Friars. First, it was announced that point guard Johnnie Lacy and center Russ Permenter would be transferring out of the program. Then, a couple days later, Lacy and freshman center James Still were charged with felony assault, leading to Still’s eventual dismissal. A month later, the bright spot in the Friar program was extinguished when leading scorer and rebounder Jamine “Greedy” Peterson was kicked off the team. About a week later, assistant coach Pat Skerry left to head to Big East rival Pitt, and in the process, severely hurt Providence’s recruiting with incoming 2010 recruit Joseph Young announcing that he would be staying closer to his Houston home for college. After Davis lost some face in refusing to allow Young out of his scholarship for a time, he was eventually released and allowed to enroll at the University of Houston. Next, 2011 commit Naadir Tharpe announced that he was withdrawing his commitment to the Friars and opening back up his recruitment. And finally, for good measure, Kadeem Batts suffered a disorderly conduct charge in July. In short, it was a miserable offseason.

But, in the face of all of that turmoil, the Friars are off to an 11-2 start to this season. Yes, they’ve dropped games to La Salle and Boston College, and for every win over a Rhode Island and an Alabama, there’s a win over Central Connecticut and Prairie View A&M, but at least Coach Davis has not allowed the negative momentum of the offseason to boil over into a disastrous 2010-11 campaign. Senior wing Marshon Brooks has developed into a versatile threat (22.9 PPG, 8.7 RPG, 2.3 APG, 1.8 SPG, 1.5 BPG, 2.0 3PG) and a team leader, while sophomores Vincent Council and Bilal Dixon are each developing into serious Big East-level talents. Council is among the top ten point guards in the nation in assists, with seven per game (he had 16 in a game against Brown), while Dixon has been killing the boards on both ends, to the tune of 9.7 rebounds per night (more than three of those on the offensive glass), and adding almost three blocked shots a night. While much more serious competition awaits the Friars come Big East play, Davis has focused on tightening things up on the defensive end where PC ranked in the bottom 100 teams in Division I last year in defensive efficiency; now PC ranks in the top 100. There is certainly a ways to go for this Friar team, and the talent level  is still such that any dream of a run to an upper-division Big East finish should be tempered with, you know, sanity, but Davis has taken what was a disastrous offseason and settled things down in Providence to the point where the program is no longer in freefall and is playing up to their talent level. There are sure to be plenty of losses (and losing streaks) in conference play, but expect the Friars to beat a team or two that they have no business beating, and to be competitive on a regular basis.

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20 At The Top: Big 12 Player Rankings

Posted by zhayes9 on July 16th, 2010

Zach Hayes is an editor, contributor and bracketologist at Rush the Court.

For the entire 20 At The Top series, click here.

The Big 12 enjoyed a remarkable 2009-10 season, rivaling only the monstrous Big East for the ever-changing label of top conference in the land. Kansas spent a large majority of the season atop the national rankings, Texas escalated to a #1 spot before falling flat on their face, Kansas State was a top-ten squad that reached the Elite 8, Baylor exploded late to join K-State in the Elite 8, Texas A&M recovered from the Derrick Roland injury to put together a successful campaign, James Anderson led Oklahoma State to big wins and Missouri continued to be dangerous. With numerous impact seniors and juniors no longer residing in the conference and expansion put on the back burner, 2010-11 could be a bit of a down year in terms of elite teams and extraordinary talent. Continuing our Friday series of the top players in each conference heading into next season (my ACC top 20 from last week), here’s a look at the cream of the crop in the Big 12:

Pullen is the preseason favorite for B12 POY

1) Jacob Pullen, Kansas State- With backcourt mate Denis Clemente exhausting his eligibility, the onus is on Pullen to carry the strongest load of any team with Final Four expectations next season. I’d deduce the 6-foot sharpshooter has the chops to take on such an assignment. Pullen has an outgoing personality, displayed great leadership qualities last year and is always anxious to improve his game. His fearless shooting stroke and unlimited range really set Pullen apart. He peaked last year on the grand stage of the NCAA Tournament, scoring 62 points combined on 13-24 from behind the 3-point arc against BYU and Xavier. With Clemente no longer around to take shots, Pullen could average over 20 points per contest and put together a strong candidacy for first team All-America. The question mark regarding Pullen is his ability to run the point. He worked primarily off screens and isolations at K-State last season and will need to show more than just shooting guard skills at 6’1 to take the Wildcats to even greater heights.

2) Marcus Morris, Kansas- Assigned more of a supporting role with Cole Aldrich, Sherron Collins and Xavier Henry around, Morris and incoming frosh Josh Selby are now assigned to make sure Kansas continues to bypass any semblance of rebuilding. Despite being more of a role player, Morris managed to be supremely efficient playing just 61% of his teams’ minutes. The 6’9 forward ranked in the top-100 in offensive rating and efficient FG%. He’s also an outstanding offensive rebounder nationally where a committed Morris won’t be denied snagging key second chances. His fundamentals are constantly improving from defensive effort to a confident face-up game and even a mid-range jumper that’s showed increasing range. Scary news flash for the Big 12: there’s still plenty of room for the young Morris to grow as a player. He should be a force next season in a starring role, averaging around 18/9 per game and molding into the most dominating forward in the conference.

3) Cory Higgins, Colorado- Few college hoops fans know much about Higgins. Playing three seasons for an irrelevant Colorado team in a conference loaded with big-name, successful programs will do that to you. I expect the Buffs to make more noise nationally in this upcoming season under new coach Tad Boyle, and the biggest reason is Higgins. The talented guard averaged nearly 20 PPG and shot close to 50% from the field in a junior year where stopping Higgins and freshman Alec Burks was the game plan for every opposing coach. Higgins has a quick first step, can explode to the rim and feels comfortable drawing contact and getting to the charity stripe at an outstanding rate where he shoots 83%. One of the candidates to lead the Big 12 in scoring next season, Higgins is a name to look out for even if the Buffaloes are not able to turn their program around in 2010-11. With Higgins on his last hurrah and Burks flirting with the NBA Draft, this could be their last chance for a good while.

4) LaceDarius Dunn, Baylor- Dunn made the prudent decision to return to Baylor for his senior season for another shot at the Final Four and the chance to move his draft stock even higher. Even with a funky shooting form, Dunn can light up any gym with his remarkable scoring abilities. In fact, Tweety Carter can thank Dunn for providing him with such astounding assist totals last season. Dunn could very well be the most potent shooter in the nation in 2010-11, an athletic talent that can catch fire at any moment. Dunn’s game has, on occasion, shown its ugly side — uninterested effort on defense, three straight years of more turnovers than assists, too much of a “streetball” mentality — but overall Dunn provides more positives for Scott Drew and Baylor than negatives. With Carter and Ekpe Udoh gone and Perry Jones no lock to become Superman, Dunn will need to refine his complete game rather than just play spot-up shooter and float around the perimeter for Baylor to reach another regional final.

It wouldn't surprise anybody if Dunn led the B12 in scoring

5) Perry Jones, Baylor- Even if he’s around for only one season, Jones has the chance to make the greatest impact of any Bear since Vinnie Johnson was dropping 24 per game in Waco. Jones is 6’11 with a  7’2 wingspan but plays more of a Lamar Odom/Tracy McGrady-style small forward, flashing advanced perimeter skills and the ability to pull up from mid-range with confidence. He’s at his peak when attacking the basket and can be absolutely unstoppable when motivated. Jones still has plenty of growth ahead of him on the defensive end of the floor and tends to disappear without the ball in his hands, but Scott Drew has to be incredibly anxious to start working with this kid and tap into that potential. The ceiling is unlimited and Jones is a near-lock to go in the top 5 in the 2011 NBA Draft.

6) Alec Burks, Colorado- Colorado fans are probably still wondering what would have happened if Burks, who was cleared by doctors but not at 100 percent, had played with a sprained left knee in an overtime home loss to top-ranked Kansas. The ultra-talented freshman turned out to be quite the recruiting coup for former headman Jeff Bzdelik and is returning to team with Cory Higgins for a campaign that they hope ends in the Buffs first NCAA berth since 2003. Burks scored over 17 PPG, shot 54% from the field and scored in double digits in every game as a rookie. I could probably just stop there. A late bloomer to scouts and evaluators, Burks possesses solid size and athleticism for a shooting guard, can fly to the rim, flashes decent court vision and shows the stroke to be a capable outside shooter in the near future. Adding some strength this summer would suit Burks extremely well.

7) Kim English, Missouri- He’ll never put up tremendous scoring totals because of the Tigers’ system and balanced attack, but if any player can anchor the Missouri attack next season, it’ll be the poetic and tweet-loving English. Known for sleeping in the Mizzou practice facility to get shots in before class, English has the skills to explode onto the national scene as a junior. English has rarely seen a shot he didn’t like and, for the amount of times the ball leaves his hands, a 39% FG% probably needs to move up a few ticks. Still, the 6’6 Baltimore native shows impressive three-point range and plays the role of another pest in Mike Anderson’s own version of 40 Minutes of Hell.

8) Josh Selby, Kansas- Bill Self won an intense recruiting battle for the former Tennessee commit Selby, ranked nationally as one of the top high school point guards in the nation. Other than Harrison Barnes and maybe Kyrie Irving, Selby has the most responsibility on his plate from Day One in Lawrence, stepping into Sherron Collins’ shoes as the on-court leader of the Jayhawk attack. If talent is any indication, Selby should be able to handle that demanding role. Selby possesses great body control and flies to the basket, but defenders must respect his deep shooting range and Selby has the ability to pull up for a leaning jumper at any moment on the break. That quickness and explosiveness could, in some ways, be an upgrade to Collins, and three-point poppers like Brady Morningstar and Tyrell Reed will still receive plenty of open looks with Selby flying around. Even with the typical freshman lumps, he’ll likely be a double-digit scorer right away and make an immediate impact on the Allen Fieldhouse hardwood.

9) Curtis Kelly, Kansas State- A former promising Jim Calhoun recruit, Kelly has found a home in Manhattan and is thriving beautifully. He impressed me just as much as any big man in last year’s NCAA Tournament and still has plenty of room to grow and expand his budding post game. Kelly averaged 12/6 on 57% FG playing with a busy Wildcat front line, but his 21 points in their Sweet 16 marathon win over Xavier is where I saw Kelly truly shine. The lanky southpaw has a nice face-up game but can also bang low in the post and shows spurts of tremendous skill. Maintain that aggressiveness both scoring and on the boards over 30 minutes of action and Kelly could form quite the inside-outside 1-2 punch with Jacob Pullen.

10) Mike Singletary, Texas Tech- Much like Higgins and Burks, Singletary doesn’t receive much national publicity because of his team’s recent success compared to the likes of Kansas, Texas and Texas A&M. Make no mistake about it, though: Singletary can play with the best of the conference and leads a number of key returners back to Lubbock for a run at the Big Dance. Singletary first made headlines when he dropped an otherworldly 29 straight points for the Red Raiders in one Big 12 Tournament game as a sophomore. He only improved as a junior: 15.0 PPG, 6.8 RPG, 2.3 APG, but struggled with jump shot inconsistencies, making up for those off nights by living at the free throw line.

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Big 12 Tourney Daily Diary: 1st Round

Posted by jstevrtc on March 11th, 2010

I love days like yesterday.  Sure, the drive was a beautiful 8.5 hours of the same view — that is to say, farms, farms, and more farms, and where there weren’t actual farms, there was grass.  And it’s all flatter than a Shaquille O’Neal free throw.  But no matter the surroundings, it’s one of my favorite things to do.  Is there any greater feeling — especially right after thawing out from a tough winter — than packing a bag and a cooler (of fruit, granola, and bottled water, mind you), filling the gas tank, and hitting the road?  There aren’t many, for me.  Especially when the Big 12 Tournament is waiting at the end of that journey.  Don’t get me wrong, though — I was thankful for the satellite radio.  Have the satellite radio guys received their Nobel Prize, yet?  One second, I’m listening to ESPN Radio or Sporting News Radio dudes talking about hoops.  Then the NFL talk starts and I switch to, say, the BBC’s Europe Today, or a song by Gomez, or some blues from B.B. King.  Then back to hoops talk.  Fantastic.  And no, we’re not affiliated with them in any way.  I’m just being honest.

One of the best parts of any journey like this is when I text my friends who are at their jobs.  I’ll send them some generic message asking them what they’re doing, and they’ll respond with some variation of, “I’m at the office, knee-deep in status reports/memos/directives, trying to knock things off my action items list.  You never text during work hours.  What’s up?”  And I’ll type, “Oh, nothing.  I was driving to the Big 12 Tournament, enjoying some tunes, a gorgeous drive, a 70-degree day, and the prospect of four days of top-flight basketball.  Thought I’d give you a shout.  But you go back to your thing.”  Even though this is a blog and I’m allowed to type almost anything, I’ll spare you the vitriol that my friends offered in response.  Not even close to being safe for work.

So, as the comedian says, I’m here all week.  This’ll mostly be about basketball, but you might see some reviews of barbecue restaurants and/or interviews and pics from the festivities here.  This is such a great time of year, and this is the conference tournament at which to be.  Now, some notes from Wednesday’s games:

Texas 82, Iowa State 75

I didn’t know what we were going to get in this one, since Texas was obviously reeling, having dropped eight of 14, and Iowa State had just scored that victory over Kansas.  But is this what Texas needed, meaning the second season to arrive?  There’s a small part of me that’s been wondering if Texas mentally checked out at the midpoint of the season after they took their first loss because of the boredom that can take over teams.  A longshot, I know.  But there aren’t many reasons why a team this talented and athletic can’t get themselves out of first gear, a place they seemed to be stuck since the middle of January.

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2009-10 Conference Primers: #4 – Big 12

Posted by rtmsf on November 4th, 2009

seasonpreviewPatrick Sellars is the RTC correspondent for the Big 12 Conference.

Predicted Order of Finish:

  1. Kansas (15-1)
  2. Texas (14-2)
  3. Oklahoma (11-5)
  4. Kansas State (10-6)
  5. Missouri (9-7)
  6. Texas A&M (8-8)
  7. Oklahoma State (8-8)
  8. Iowa State (7-9)
  9. Baylor (5-11)
  10. Texas Tech (4-12)
  11. Nebraska (3-13)
  12. Colorado (2-14)

All Conference Team:

  • Sherron Collins (G), Kansas
  • Willie Warren (G) Oklahoma
  • Craig Brackins (F) Iowa State
  • Damion James (F), Texas
  • Cole Aldrich (C), Kansas

6th Man. James Anderson (G) Oklahoma State

Impact Newcomer. Xavier Henry (G), Kansas

big 12 logoWhat You Need to Know.

  • KU Dominance.  Of the 13 years that the Big 12 has held a conference tournament, Kansas has won the crown six times, which is the most of any Big 12 school.  Kansas has been deemed the regular season conference champion nine times in those 13 years, sharing the title in three of those times. Every time Kansas has shared the title the Jayhawks were the two-seed in the conference tournament.
  • Two At the Top. It’s very possible that Texas and Kansas could share the Big 12 title this season. Texas’ toughest conference games are Kansas (in Austin), then Oklahoma, Oklahoma State, and Kansas State on the road.  The Longhorns seem to have the advantage over the Jayhawks when it comes to an easier conference schedule, but with KU bringing back all of its talent and adding one of the top freshman in the nation, I still believe that Kansas will stay atop the conference alone.
  • Where are the Tigers. Where do you rank the Missouri Tigers in the Big 12 this season? After being picked seventh by the coaches in last year’s preseason poll, the Tigers finished third and won the Big 12 Tournament en route to an Elite Eight appearance. Mike Anderson will continue to play his “Fastest Forty Minutes” style, and behind leadership from senior guard JT Tiller (Co-Big 12 Defensive Player of the Year in 2009), and sophomore guard Kim English, it’s hard to determine where Mizzou will be at the end of the season. Anderson has put together a very athletic lineup, which should be able to play to his coaching style, but their lack of experience and a consistent scorer could hurt them.
  • X-Factor. Freshman phenom Xavier Henry could be the key to Kansas’ hopes of a second national title in just three seasons.  A late decider, Henry could very well be one of the most productive freshmen in the NCAA this season.  He is surrounded by unbelievable talent that will hog most of the attention from opposing defenses, which should open up many scoring opportunities for Henry.

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