We knew that the moment Eron Harris received his release from West Virginia he would be a hot commodity so it should be no surprise that most of the significant programs have already contacted him the same day that he received his release. According to reports, Butler, Indiana, Purdue, Illinois, Kentucky, Michigan, Michigan State, New Mexico, Notre Dame, Ohio State, and UCLA contacted him within two hours of Harris receiving his release. Harris, who averaged 17.2 points while shooting 42 percent from three-point range as a sophomore, is from Indiana and according to his father being closer to home could be a major driving factor in his selection, but compatibility with a coach would be a bigger factor.
Jamal Jones might not be the same caliber of player as Harris, but his departure from Texas A&M is a big blow for their program. Jones led the Aggies in scoring last season with 13.4 points per game while adding 3.9 rebounds per game. He has not indicated which destinations he is considering, but this is not the first time that he has left a school as he played one year at Mississippi (ok, maybe the word play is overstating it since he only played 25 minutes all year) before moving on to Lee College for a year before moving to College Station. Jones’ production might make him an appealing transfer for some coaches, but we suspect that his tendency to move so frequently will make many coaches weary of pursuing him.
Nick Faust‘s announcement that he was longer committed to Oregon State after Craig Robinson should hardly be a surprise. What is surprising is that he committed to a school with such an unstable coach and that the school waited this long to fire Robinson with how much a late firing could affect recruiting. While Faust says he is “open to everyone” his most likely destinations would appear to be Richmond, Cleveland State, Siena, UCLA, George Mason, and George Washington, which were the other schools that he considered before committing to Oregon State. Out of those the only one that we would be surprised by him going to is UCLA because we can’t envision a scenario where a player of Faust’s caliber would decide to play at Oregon State instead of UCLA particularly with how poorly the Beavers played under Robinson. Faust also has not closed the door on going to Oregon State in the end depending on who Robinson’s replacement is.
They are not necessarily big-name positions, but two of the few remaining Division I coaching vacancies filled over the past two days. Coppin State took more than a month to find its new head coach before settling on Michael Grant. Although Grant is coming from Division II Stillman College he does have coaching experience at the Division I level going 26-31 in two seasons at Southern between 2003 and 2005. If going from Division II to Division I seems like a big jump that is nothing compared to what Bob Walsh is trying to do at Maine, which hired him from Division III Rhode Island College. Unlike Grant, Walsh has no coaching experience at the Division I level outside of serving as an assistant at Providence.
If you ever wondered why some assistants at top programs did not jump at any head coaching opportunity, we would direct you to the recently released information about the new contracts that Kentucky‘s assistant coaches received. One of the assistants, Kenny Payne, signed a two-year extension worth $500,000 annually. That figure puts him ahead of almost 1/4 of head coaches who led their team’s to NCAA Tournament bids last year. Coming in just behind Payne are assistants John Robic and Barry Rohrssen, who will be paid $375,000 per year. Those figures my pale in comparison to John Calipari’s annual salary of $5.5 million, but all of them should be quite comfortable and should keep them loyal to Kentucky unless a pretty big program comes after them.
Through the first 16 games conference play, Baylor amazingly played themselves out of and back into contention for a spot in the NCAA Tournament. Now it appears their at-large candidacy is all but sewn up by beating Iowa State 74-61 on Senior Night in Waco. Fittingly, Baylor seniors Brady Heslip (18 points, 5-for-8 from three) and Cory Jefferson (21 points, seven boards and two blocks) led the way and helped the Bears improve to 8-9 in the Big 12. How’s this for patterns: Baylor has made every even-numbered tournament year since 2008. Why mess with happy?
On the heels of Senior Night, the Waco Tribune dove in to the story of fifth-year senior Cory Jefferson. It might sound hard to believe but Jefferson was a freshman on the 2010 Elite Eight team with guys like LaceDarius Dunn (!!) and Tweety Carter (!!!). You can tell Jefferson is a patient guy: he was willing to redshirt his sophomore season, stay on the team despite playing ten minutes per game in 2011-12 and then decided to put the NBA on hold to complete his college career in 2013. Now with a likely tournament bid and potential NBA career nearing, Jefferson is reaping the benefits of making the decision to stay in Waco.
BREAKING: Bill Self is happy about something for once. The Kansas coach is looking forward to tonight’s Senior Night festivities when his Jayhawks take on Texas Tech in Lawrence. KU plans to honor Tarik Black, Justin Wesley and Niko Roberts and here Self is quite vivid about his feelings for these players. For whatever reason, folks have negatively chimed in about the team not properly “celebrating” the program’s tenth straight Big 12 title last week. At least on this night, something worth celebrating will be celebrated. Congrats to the Jayhawk seniors.
Quietly, Oklahoma is after some valuable real estate on the final week of the regular season. The Sooners sit in second at 10-6 in the Big 12, tied with Texas but OU owns the tiebreak over UT by virtue of their season sweep. They will host West Virginia tonight and wrap-up the schedule against winless TCU on Saturday. It’s amazing to think that the coaches picked Oklahoma to tie for fifth in the preseason poll with Kansas State but are now on the verge of finishing right behind Kansas. It would mark the first time that had happened since Blake Griffin’s sophomore season in 2009. It’s looking more and more like Lon Kruger emerging as the favorite for conference COY.
It’s now or never time for West Virginia. What WVU need to show the NCAA Selection Committee in the next ten days is that a) they can win games consistently, b) win games against quality opponents and c) win games against quality opponents away from home. They’ll get a chance to do all three starting in Norman tonight, Kansas at home Saturday and during next week’s Big 12 Tournament in Kansas City. But all of that starts with the type of effort the team gets from leading scorer Eron Harris. Harris is a statistical oddity for a team’s top scorer: the Mountaineers are a surprising 3-7 when Harris scores 20 or more and just 2-4 in Big 12 games. Simply put WVU will need all hands to squeeze in an eighth Big 12 squad into the Big Dance.
Posted by Kenny Ocker (@kennyocker) on February 28th, 2014
Who Won the Week? is a regular column that outlines and discusses three winners and losers from the previous week of hoops. The author of this column is Kenny Ocker (@KennyOcker), a Spokane-based sportswriter best known for his willingness to drive (or bike!) anywhere to watch a basketball game.
We’ve got more to get to here than usual, so we’ve got a special extended-yet-abbreviated edition of WWTW on tap today.
Russ Smith won Louisville’s game over Cincinnati on Saturday with a late jumper. (AP)
Your defending national champions – remember them? – are rolling at just the right time in the season. They went into Cincinnati and handed the Bearcats their first home loss of the season Saturday, 58-57, with a Russ Smith dagger – remember him? – then followed that up by blowing out woebegone Temple 88-66 on Thursday.
Sophomore Cardinals forward Montrezl Harrell thrived this past week, as he has since the dismissal of Chane Behanan, scoring 21 points in both games. Going forward, the Cardinals have games left at Memphis and SMU, followed by a home game against Connecticut. Though they’re tied with Cincinnati at the top of the American and on a seven-game winning streak, we’ll know much more about Louisville by the time the conference tournament rolls around.
(Related winners: Smith; Harrell. Related losers: Cincinnati, which squandered its chance at an outright AAC championship by losing at home; Temple, which had its first 20-loss season in school history thanks to Louisville.)
LOSER: Saint Louis
The Billikens, which had been one of America’s last four teams undefeated in conference, took one of the most befuddling losses of the whole season, falling 71-64 on Thursday to a Duquesne team that had won four Atlantic 10 games in Jim Ferry’s two seasons in Pittsburgh. What had been one of the nation’s top 10 shooting defenses gave up an effective field goal rate of 50.7 percent, including 14-0f-18 shooting and 7-of-9 three-pointers by Dukes guards Micah Mason and Jerry Jones. And against one of the nation’s 10 worst defenses vs. three-point shooting, Saint Louis only made 4-of-23 shots from beyond the arc. The Billikens have a top-five defense nationally according to KenPom.com, but their offense ranks 169th in efficiency. Then again, defense wins championships, right?
Marcus Smart‘s three-game suspension effectively begins tonight when Oklahoma State plays Texas in Austin, but some writers are arguing that he isn’t the only one at the heart of the Cowboys’ downward spiral. Dana O’Neil wonders why head coach Travis Ford didn’t play a bigger role in not only Saturday’s ugly ending but also in other incidents in which Smart visibly lost his cool. Mike DeCourcy also held Ford’s feet to the fire in a column Sunday night. While it isn’t Ford’s fault that Michael Cobbins tore his Achilles or that Stevie Clark decided to get arrested twice in one month, he definitely deserves some criticism and scrutiny for failing to reign in his star point guard.
Texas forward Jonathan Holmeswill be a gametime decision in the aforementioned game against Oklahoma State after he sustained an unspecified right knee injury in last Saturday’s loss to Kansas State. Holmes is the Longhorns’ leading scorer at 13.1 points per game, so if he can’t go in Austin, one would think they’d feel a pinch, but on the other hand, the Cowboys’ frontcourt isn’t exactly a picture of depth, either. Still, Rick Barnes would much rather have the big-bodied Holmes available.
The morning after Iowa State took a 102-77 beatdown in Morgantown probably isn’t the best time to ask this question, but how tough is it to decide who has been the Cyclones’ most valuable player this season? While awards can be superficial, it’s worth noting that five of Fred Hoiberg’s players have taken home Big 12 Player Of The Week honors, and two of those players — Melvin Ejim and DeAndre Kane — have given opposing defenses headaches all season long. While it’s a cop-out answer, if the season ended today, there’s a good case for them to share the honor.
While West Virginia blew out the Cyclones Monday night, the game ended on a weak note as Mountaineer guard Eron Harris was ejected for throwing a punch at Cyclone freshman Monte Morris late in the game. Earlier in the sequence, Iowa State forward Dustin Hogue picked up a flagrant foul for crane-kicking West Virginia forward Kevin Noreen as Hogue tried to come down with a rebound. The Mountaineers led by a staggering 29 points at the time, which makes the incident that much worse. We wouldn’t be surprised to see the Big 12 hand down a suspension to Harris for his actions that marred an otherwise astounding performance by the Mountaineers.
Improved defense from Oklahoma guard Isaiah Cousins has given the Sooners a major boost as they have moved closer to locking up an NCAA Tournament bid. While Ryan Spangler has provided the muscle inside, Cousins has frustrated opposing floor generals with regularity. He may not have the gaudy steal totals of a Briante Weber or Jordan Adams, but he’s made life incredibly tough nonetheless.
Last night was the zillionth reason why winning a road game in the Big 12 is a you-know-what. Oklahoma arrived at WVU Coliseum to face West Virginia about 90 minutes before tip-off due to winter weather and still managed to stay in the game. The Mountaineers held the lead for much of the game but a three-point play from Ryan Spangler gave the Sooners a one-point advantage with 1:38 left. That’s when Eron Harris started making all the three-pointers: one that sent the game to overtime with 20.2 seconds left, and two more to put the game away for good. The Mountaineers now have wins against Baylor (losing luster), Kansas State and the Sooners in their last three games. But as we all know, the NCAA Tournament won’t be played at your home arena. A win at Kansas on Saturday would really send a message.
Kansascenter Joel Embiid said after its win at Baylor that he is “strongly considering” returning to campus for his sophomore season. The obvious part about this story is how much of this is a non-story. This is as pointless as reporters asking players whether they’re leaving for the NBA mere minutes after their season just ended. But I totally get why ESPN’s Jeff Goodman asked Embiid about his future: He’s gotta write about something, and Lord knows nobody else is asking the question to likely draft picks in early February. Goodman has already cornered the market for the answer from the potential top pick in this June’s draft. Game recognize game, Jeffrey.
Marcus Smart was considered a consensus lottery pick in the 2013 NBA Draft but elected to return to Oklahoma State for his sophomore season. In addition to a possible injury as a downside to coming back to school, Smart’s game is being scouted, analyzed and criticized more than ever before. NBCSports.com’s Rob Dausterbrings forth several compelling points about Smart’s poor decision-making at times and how a lack of awareness when it comes to his own strengths and weaknesses can hurt his team’s prospects this season. Beyond that, it could also hurt how NBA teams evaluate him when they’re deciding whether to make him their point guard of the future.
CBSSports.com sat down with Texas head coach Rick Barnes this week and discussed his team’s surprising season, the new athletic director and some other things. One topic of conversation was center Cameron Ridley, who would get my vote for Big 12 Most Improved Player of the Year, if such an award existed. He was a player who was a project in every sense of the word and didn’t really have a set of skills when he stepped onto campus for the first time. Ridley was always an intimidating defender, but now he’s a better finisher around the rim and has vastly improved his conditioning (he has already played more minutes at this point in the season than all of 2012-13). Buzz Williams who?
Former Baylor guard Pierre Jackson was drafted in the second round of last year’s NBA Draft but was subsequently cut from the New Orleans Pelicans in training camp. So now Jackson is venting all of his frustration of being cut on to the entire D-League. On Tuesday night, the Idaho Stampede guard dropped a ridiculous 58 points on 33 shots, grabbed six rebounds and dished out eight assists in a win over the Texas Legends. Jackson is also leading the D-League in points per game (30.2) so far. It’s only a matter time before an NBA team is wise enough to bring him up to the big time.
One story flying slightly under the radar has been the saga of Iowa State guard Bubu Palo, and boy is it complicated.Everything started in September 2012, when Palo was charged with second-degree sexual abuse stemming from an incident earlier that year. At that time, he was suspended from the team, but when the charges were dropped last January, Palo was reinstated and played in the team’s final 17 games. At the time of the original charge, a complaint was also filed in ISU’s Office of Judicial Affairs, but that was dropped in April 2013. ISU President Steven Leath then overturned the decision, however, and Palo was dismissed from the team. Ever since Leath’s overruling, Palo and his attorney have fought for his reinstatement, and on Thursday, a Webster County judge lifted the sanction against Palo, ostensibly paving the way for his return to the team. As you can probably tell, though, Iowa State’s brass from Leath to AD Jamie Pollard to head coach Fred Hoiberg are not pleased with the judge’s decision. Technically, Palo is now a member of the Cyclones, but he won’t be accompanying the team on its road trip to Texas this weekend. It’s hard to picture the whole situation being anything but horribly awkward.
Tomorrow, Marcus Smart and Oklahoma State return to the scene of last season’s win at Allen Fieldhouse. We’ll have more coverage on the Big 12’s marquee match-up later today, but suffice it to say that it’s a big one for the Cowboys and their chances of dethroning Kansas atop the conference. A loss would drop the Cowboys two games in the loss column, while a win would draw the teams even at the top with Oklahoma State getting a chance for the sweep at home when the Jayhawks pay a visit to Gallagher-Iba Arena on March 1.
Cameron Clark has been terrific for Oklahoma this season, but Wednesday’s loss to Kansas State exposed the fact that he needs to find other ways to help the Sooners when his shot isn’t falling. Oklahoma’s defense could use plenty of work and is undoubtedly an area where Clark would give the team a lift if he can improve on that end. If he, along with the rest of the team, steps up, it will go a long way towards securing a second consecutive NCAA Tournament bid.
Earlier this week, we touched on the potential of Kansas basketball players getting some nice new digs. On Wednesday, the Kansas Board of Regents approved plans for a $17.5 million apartment complex that will house as many as 32 men’s and women’s basketball players in addition to traditional students (as per NCAA bylaws). When completed for the 2016-17 school year, the facilities will give the Jayhawks a leg up on their competitors on the recruiting trail.
It would be an understatement to say that this season has not gone as West Virginia planned. Guard Eron Harris‘ play has been emblematic of his team’s struggles, hitting just 13-of-37 shots over the Mountaineers’ last three games. With a 10-7 record and a resume bereft of any impressive victories, West Virginia’s NCAA Tournament hopes could be on life support. For their sake, hopefully the worst is behind Harris and the rest of the Mountaineers, as we’re just not used to seeing Bob Huggins-coached teams struggle like this for extended periods of time.
Across the nation, all eyes are on DeAndre Kane‘s status for tonight’s marquee match-up between Iowa State and Kansas. As of now, Kane is a gametime decision even though X-rays on his ankle turned out negative. That very few among the media thought Kane would be this big a factor when the season started is pretty telling of just how important he’s been for the Cyclones. Should ISU go down, we’re confident that Fred Hoiberg won’t let Kane’s health be an excuse, as the Cyclones will still have plenty of options if Kane can’t go. Look for a more detailed preview here later today.
After a rocky start to the campaign, Kansas freshman Wayne Selden seems to be turning a corner, and a mindset of treating conference play as a new season of sorts appears to be at the heart of his increase in productivity. His performance in Saturday’s win over Kansas State was an eye opener, as he poured in 20 points to go with four rebounds and three assists. Selden’s emergence as a backcourt weapon has been a welcome storyline to a Kansas backcourt that has at times struggled to get everyone going at once.
When a team loses a close game, as West Virginia did to Oklahoma State on Saturday, it can be easy to point to a possession here or there as the determining factor. Mountaineer guard Eron Harrisgot down on himself for trying to force a few plays down the stretch. While it’s admirable that the sophomore took responsibility, the best he can do is to put it behind him and move on to the next chance, especially as a tournament bid slips more out of reach with each passing loss.
Late stops proved crucial for Oklahoma as they put an end to Iowa State’ unbeaten start on Saturday. The Sooners’ defense has left a lot to be desired, so to see it step up when it really needed to had to have been relief for head coach Lon Kruger. Saturday’s win was a big step in Oklahoma’s quest for a tournament bid, and the Sooners will look to keep it up tomorrow against a Kansas State team that has struggled offensively for most of the year.
Following Kansas State‘s loss at Allen Fieldhouse over the weekend, Bruce Weber is already anxious to see how his team responds. Weber admitted that while his younger players are promising, they were rattled by the raucous crowd in Lawrence when the Jayhawks sprung a 13-3 run midway through the first half and cruised from there. For all the Weber naysayers, of which there are plenty, it’s worth pointing out that aside from Thomas Gipson, the Wildcats’ best players as of late have been those recruited by the second-year coach.
Just how good is Iowa State? That’s the question Rob Dausterover at College Basketball Talk is asking after the Cyclones pulled away from Baylor in the second half to win the battle of top 10 teams, 87-72. DeAndre Kane had his best game on the biggest stage of the season to date: 30 points, eight rebounds, nine assists and five steals. Dauster believes the Cyclones are a very good team but not a top 10 team. His points are valid — the Michigan and BYU wins don’t have the same cachet now as they did in November, and their best wins (Iowa and Baylor) came at the impregnable Hilton Coliseum. Regardless of what anyone thinks about them, the Cyclones are now one of only five undefeated teams in college basketball along with Arizona, Syracuse, Wisconsin and Wichita State.
When a team commits 18 turnovers in a conference game, it usually spells doom for the road team. Kansas State was that road team on Tuesday night and still somehow emerged with an 18-point win over TCU, 65-47. The difference for the Wildcats was winning the rebounding edge over the Horned Frogs by 16 boards. “They are not a good rebounding team,” forward Thomas Gipson said. “They play hard and everything, but we really wanted to emphasize our rebounding against them. I feel like we did a good job with that.” Now Kansas State’s winning streak is at 10 games, its longest since the Elite Eight season of 2009-10. Their buddies from Lawrence will be their next opponent on Saturday.
Jerry Palm’s latest bracketology has seven Big 12 teams in the field of 68. Think about that: 70 percent of an entire conference is projected to make the NCAA Tournament. What a number, considering that the Big East’s 11 bids in 2011 accounted for 68.8 percent of that conference. According to Palm, Kansas State and Texas were selected as First Four teams headed to Dayton, Ohio. If they were picked as two of the final teams in, I wouldn’t be so sure if I’d take both. While Kansasa State has recorded its best wins (Ole Miss, Gonzaga, George Washington, and Oklahoma State) within the state of Kansas, those wins are collectively better than Texas’, which pretty much starts and ends with North Carolina in Chapel Hill. But that’s why the season doesn’t end on January 8. Who knows, maybe at season’s end the Big 12 will have seven resumes that are worthy of NCAA Tournament bids.
On Monday, Kansas State’s Marcus Foster picked up Big 12 Newcomer of the Week honors, but the accolades don’t stop there. In a collaboration between the Wayman Tisdale Award and CBSSports.com, Foster has won the Wayman Tisdale National Freshman of the Week for his play against George Washington and Oklahoma State. This is certainly a breath of fresh air when you consider that the award seemed like it’d be passed around between Jabari Parker, Aaron Gordon, Tyler Ennis, Andrew Wiggins and the Kentucky freshmen. Hooray for three-star recruits!
West Virginia has missed some opportunities to rack up important wins in non-league play but leading scorer Eron Harris is encouraged by the team’s 2-0 start in the Big 12. Yes, those two wins came against Texas Tech and TCU both of which have worse overall records than the Mountaineers. It doesn’t seem to make a difference to Harris. “I don’t care what team you’re playing in the Big 12, it’s a tough conference,” Harris told MetroNews. “It’s significant.” Their first non-Texas opponent will come Saturday when WVU takes on Oklahoma State in Morgantown. We’ll see if things really are different.
Is it time to hit the panic button in Lawrence? San Diego State walked into Allen Fieldhouse on Sunday and beat Kansas, 71-67, ending the Jayhawks’ 68-game home winning streak against non-conference opponents. The Aztecs committed five more turnovers, blocked five fewer shots, had five fewer assists, and took 10 fewer free throw attempts than Bill Self’s team, and still somehow managed to get the huge win. It doesn’t get any easier for Kansas, though, as their first five Big 12 games over the next couple of weeks come against Oklahoma, Kansas State, Iowa State, Oklahoma State and Baylor.
Speaking of panic buttons, Oklahoma State opened up Big 12 competition with a loss to still-streaking Kansas State. CollegeBasketballTalk cites Michael Cobbins’ season-ending injuryas a key reason for the loss. Although Kansas State only outrebounded the Cowboys by one board, Cobbins’ presence would have been helpful against Thomas Gipson, who went for six of his 11 points in the final five minutes of the game. It’ll be something to continue to monitor as Travis Ford’s team deals with strong frontcourts at Kansas, Baylor and Iowa State midway through conference play.
Oklahoma got its best win of the season on Saturday, rallying to beat arch-rival Texas, 88-85. The game could have ended differently for the Sooners, as Isaiah Cousins received two technical fouls that resulted in an ejection after elbowing Texas guard Demarcus Holland late in the game. In the first half, Cousins and Texas guard Isaiah Taylor were hit with technical fouls for jawing at each other. Fortunately, Jordan Woodard stepped up to score the Sooners’ final 10 points, sealing the win with two free throws at the 1:08 mark. Up next, Kansas invades the Lloyd Noble Center on Wednesday night.
Another day and another win for unbeaten Iowa State. The Cyclones got out in front of Texas Tech by 15 before the Red Raiders mounted a comeback to tie the game with 12:33 in the second half. Enter the Cyclones’ Monte Morris. He checked in seconds later and finished the half with five points, one steal and a blocked shot in the 73-62 victory. I guess we can add Morris to the arsenal of Fred Hoiberg’s many weapons at his disposal.
West Virginia basketball fans will remember Saturday’s win against TCU as its own version of “The Flu Game.” (Eh, maybe not). In addition to the Horned Frogs’ front line, Eron Harrisbattled the flu all week and still dropped 22 in WVU’s 74-69 win in Fort Worth. “I was sick all week—sick out of my mind,” Harris told MetroNews. “It was the flu. I just couldn’t go (during the week of practices), but I felt better waking up today (Saturday).” First there was Michael Jordan and now… Eron Harris. That’s a fair comparison in my book.
A quick look at Ken Pomeroy’s adjusted defensive efficiency rankings, and you’d find Kansas at #13 nationally, which makes sense given how Bill Self’s teams usually guard. If you really dig into the numbers like Jesse Newel of the Topeka Capitol-Journal did, though, you would find that Kansasranks sixth in the nation in free throw defense. Anyone familiar with college basketball would quickly recognize that there’s really no such thing, as the metric is more or less determined by how well opponents shoot from the free throw line. So far, Kansas opponents have made only 62.0 percent of their attempts from the charity stripe versus the NCAA average of 69.3 percent. So perhaps Self and company have been a bit lucky so far this season as they continue to work to mold a young squad into the defensive team (beyond the free throw line) we’re used to seeing.
Iowa State continued its hot play during the non-conference portion of its schedule after beating Boise State in the Diamond Head Classic title game in Hawaii on Christmas night. The showing in this tournament further cements the Cyclones’ spot among the nation’s best teams, bumping their RPI to fourth best in the NCAA. What this win also also does, as Randy Peterson explains, is to continue the discussion regarding Fred Hoiberg‘s future as a coaching candidate for many NBA positions. It’s obvious Hoiberg is a star in Ames, but fans should enjoy the time he’s around because it’s hard to foresee a lucky GM eventually luring in The Mayor.
After struggling to a 13-19 record in their first Big 12 season a year ago, there was optimism among West Virginia fans that this year’s squad would be much improved. Through 12 games, however, Bob Huggins’ Mountaineers have the exact same record (7-5) as they did through 12 games last season. The difference this year is that most observers feel that this team is much closer to turning the corner and becoming a contender for a postseason spot. That feeling is shared by sophomore guard Eron Harris, who says Huggins’ coaching staff has been easier on the team as they too see how close this team is to putting it all together.
It’s becoming increasingly obvious that Oklahoma State guard Markel Brown might be one of the best-kept secrets in college basketball. On Monday, Brown was honored as the Big 12 player of the week, averaging 18.5 points and 6.5 rebounds per game in wins over Delaware State and Colorado. For the season, Brown is averaging 16.3 points per game with a sterling offensive rating of 131.1 (54th nationally), and at this rate will make it extremely difficult to keep off the All-Big 12 first team.
While Kansas continues to be the favorite of most to win the Big 12 regular season title, they certainly won’t be without their fair share of opponents challenging for their claim to the league title. As Raphielle Johnson of NBCSports.com points out, Baylor and Iowa State paired with Oklahoma State creates some serious competition along with the Jayhawks at the top. Even the middle tier of the league – teams like Texas, Kansas State, and Oklahoma – appeared to be a bit down coming into this season but have certainly shown that they should not be taken lightly during league play. In the first few months of the season, the Big 12 has made a statement as one of the best conferences in college basketball.
Marcus Smart’s 39-point performance against Memphis Tuesday night proved why he belongs in the discussion for college basketball’s best player. Kevin Durant, who watched the sophomore show from courtside, said Smart can play in the NBA today. “Definitely,” he told USA Today‘s Eric Prisbell. Smart was 5-of-10 from the three-point line, a big improvement from last year’s 29 percent from distance. One great shooting night isn’t enough to forget last season’s inconsistency, but it showed us how good he can be if everything is clicking.
Kansas State is probably playing Charlotte in the first round of the Puerto Rico Tip-Off as you read this. The game tips (tipped?) at 9:30 CST this morning and the Wildcats are looking to put as many wins between themselves and that 60-58 loss to Northern Colorado a few weeks ago. A win over Charlotte will mean a likely match-up with Georgetown on Friday afternoon. The bottom half of the bracket is highlighted by #14 ranked Michigan and #10 ranked VCU (likely to also play on Friday).
West Virginia’s defense hasn’t been great this season, and Bob Huggins knows why. “We play pretty hard and then we kind of figure it’s time for a rest,” he told Allan Taylor of Metro News in West Virginia. The Mountaineers are 2-1 at this early stage of the season, but have given up 82 and 83 points in their last two games, a loss to Virginia Tech and a win over Duquesne. They have talent in guys like Juwan Staten and Eron Harris, but they aren’t good enough offensively to give up 80 points regularly and still win consistently.
Kansas freshman Brannen Greene was held out of Tuesday’s win over Iona because of a coach’s decision. Bill Self told the Kansas City Star‘s Rustin Dodd that “I love Brannen Greene, but he needs to be more responsible taking care of some responsibilities off the court.” As a 6’7” shooter, Greene will probably have a spot in the rotation this season regardless of any small off-court infractions in November. But the Jayhawks are deep, and I wouldn’t get too confident if I were Greene. Andrew White III and Conner Frankamp are capable of stealing his minutes if he isn’t careful.
Here’s a shocker: Texas is having trouble getting fans to show up to games. The Longhorns missed the NCAA Tournament last season and haven’t drawn more than 4,018 fans through four home games this season. Granted, the early schedule has been awful (who really wants to pay to see Mercer or South Alabama or Stephen F. Austin?) but averaging around 3,000 fans per game for a program like Texas is not a good look.
Iowa State senior Melvin Ejim and Kansas underclassmen Perry Ellis and Andrew Wigginsearned Big 12 weekly honors, which were announced on Monday. Ellis, a sophomore forward, scored 24 points in last week’s win against Duke. Wiggins was named Big 12 Newcomer of the Week after finishing with 22 points against Duke. Ejim, a senior forward, made his season debut against #7 Michigan Sunday afternoon and led all scorers with 22 points and nine rebounds.
Iowa State head coach Fred Hoiberg couldn’t have asked for a better visit from Rivals.com’s #7 overall player Rashad Vaughn last weekend. It was capped with an impressive 77-70 win over #7 Michigan Sunday afternoon in Hilton Coliseum. Vaughn told Randy Peterson of the Des Moines Register that the relationships he builds with coaches and schools will be a big factor in his recruitment, and the fact that Hoiberg played major college ball seems to be a positive for the Cyclones. Vaughn has offers from fellow Big 12 schools Baylor and Kansas as well as North Carolina and a handful of others. For the Big 12’s sake, Vaughn moving to Ames would be great for the league.
Bill Selfdidn’t expect his team to jump Louisville for the #2 spot in this week’s AP poll, less than a week after knocking off #4 Duke in Chicago. “That doesn’t make any sense to me,” he told the Kansas City Star’s Rustin Dodd Monday. Actually, it makes plenty of sense. The only thing worse than preseason rankings is voters hesitating to move teams down just because they won. National rankings should be based on resumes, not how your ballot looked last week. If Kansas has a better resume than Louisville when the ballot is due, the Jayhawks should be ahead of them.
Oklahomasigned three recruits on signing day last week and as Ryan Aber points out, head coach Lon Kruger filled the holes he needed to fill to keep the momentum going around the Sooner basketball program. Two of the players, Dante Buford and Khadeem Lattin, are in the Rivals Top 150 for the class of 2014 and both players should make immediate impacts in the front court for the Sooners next season as freshmen.
If West Virginia plans on bouncing back after last season’s forgettable showing, Eron Harris and Juwan Staten will have to play big roles offensively. They did just that on Sunday in a 96-83 win over Duquesne in Morgantown. The defense left a lot to be desired, but 61 combined points from Harris and Staten was more than enough for the Mountaineers. As Staten told Garrett Cullen here, the new hand checking rules should help both players immensely this season.