Big 12 M5: 02.23.15 Edition

Posted by Chris Stone on February 23rd, 2015

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  1. Don’t look now, but the Big 12 title race is in full swing. After an 85-77 victory over Texas on Saturday afternoon, Iowa State has now won three straight games and sits one game behind first place Kansas with four games left to play. While it may be tough for Fred Hoiberg’s group to win the regular season crown outright, it could certainly earn a share if the Cyclones finish strong. Hoiberg and his players agree that they are putting it together at just the right time. “We’re hitting our stride,” Georges Niang said after the win, “and I think that’s because we decided to come together and do it as a team rather than as individuals. That’s huge for us.” With their potent offense clicking on all cylinders, Iowa State will be a tough out come March.
  2. Texas, meanwhile, is headed in the opposite direction. The Longhorns have lost their last two games and are now 6-8 in Big 12 play with only one win over a conference team likely to make the NCAA Tournament. With upcoming road contests against West Virginia and Kansas still to come, it might be time for Texas to start pressing the panic button. Carrying a 1-10 record against the RPI top 50, it’s now just as likely that the Longhorns will head to the NIT, according to NBC Sports’ Rob Dauster. A win against West Virginia or Kansas would go a long, long way toward shoring up Texas’ shaky NCAA Tournament resume.
  3. Jesse Newell of The Topeka Capital-Journal published an interesting read on some of the finer details of Bill Self’s coaching during Kansas’ weekend win over TCU. From his position on press row, Jesse could hear how Self was instructing his players during the game’s stoppages in play, so he documented some of those moments in addition to how the players reacted to those conversations. While we are used to analyzing the game from a distance, this was a great opportunity to get inside one of the game’s best coaching minds.
  4. ESPN Insider has been running a series of posts this season examining potential Giant Killers in the NCAA Tournament — teams with high seeds that might upset a much better seed in the round of 32. The metric-based forecast has pegged the Big 12’s West Virginia as the most potent potential Giant Killer in the potential field. The Mountaineers’ ability to create extra shots through offensive rebounding and turnovers gives them a 77.9 percent chance to upset an average Giant come March. That’s a lethal combination when opposing teams will have such a limited amount of time (48 hours or less) to prepare for West Virginia’s unique style.
  5. Oklahoma and Texas Tech provided the latest case study in whether a team leading by three should foul or defend on the final possession. With 16 seconds remaining, Sooners’ coach Lon Kruger instructed his team to foul on the upcoming possession. With 7.7 seconds remaining, Oklahoma fouled the Red Raiders’ Toddrick Gotcher. After missing the first free throw, Gotcher intentionally missed the second. The ensuing scrum allowed Texas Tech’s Isaiah Manderson to grab the rebound before kicking it out to Gotcher for the tying basket. The Sooners would escape with a win in overtime, but not before facing a similar situation in the extra period. Oklahoma elected to play it out the second time around, walking away with the victory after a missed three-point attempt.
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Strength of Big 12 Driven by Impressive Individual Seasons

Posted by Chris Stone on February 18th, 2015

College basketball fans across the country debate which conference is the best every season. That conversation has mostly centered on two leagues this year. If you’re more interested in teams that are likely to make deep runs in March, then your choice will probably be the ACC with the likes of Virginia, Duke, Louisville and Notre Dame at the top of the standings. From a viewpoint of quality of depth of a league, however, nearly every available metric shows that the Big 12 is tops. Ken Pomeroy’s system focused on efficiency ranks this year’s Big 12 as the best conference since the Big Ten of four years ago (when 7 of 11 teams received NCAA Tournament bids). The league has already posted the highest non-conference winning percentage of any conference in a decade and currently has only one team (Texas Tech) with an under .500 overall record.

Georges Niang highlights the Big 12's selections on the Wooden Award Late Season Top 20 list. (Nirmalendu Majumdar)

Georges Niang highlights the Big 12’s selections on the Wooden Award Late Season Top 20 list. (Nirmalendu Majumdar)

The Big 12’s incredible season has correspondingly been driven by a number of individuals who are receiving national recognition on the various late season award lists. While the front-runners for the Wooden Award — given annually to the country’s best player — are Wisconsin’s Frank Kaminsky, Duke’s Jahlil Okafor, and Notre Dame’s Jerian Grant, the Big 12 put three players of its own on the Late Season Top 20 list. Oklahoma’s Buddy Hield has proven to be one of the conference’s best scorers, averaging 17.2 points per game while shooting 43.5 percent from the field. West Virginia’s Juwan Staten recently found his way back into the national conversation with a dazzling spin move to upset Kansas on Big Monday. Iowa State’s Georges Niang leads the Cyclones in scoring while also averaging 5.4 rebounds and 3.4 assists per game.

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Big 12 M5: 02.09.15 Edition

Posted by Nate Kotisso on February 9th, 2015

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  1. The always entertaining Kyle Porter of Pistols Firing recapped Oklahoma State‘s upset win over Kansas on Saturday. The Jayhawks played the first half about as well as possible, running out to a double-figure halftime lead while shooting 7-of-9 from three. The second half, however, went in the opposite direction. Turnovers were a problem, as that number ballooned to 18 (Jamari Traylor had six miscues himself), and the Cowboys found the seam by driving to the basket and drawing fouls (20-of-26 on free throws). With only two Big 12 losses, Kansas is still in the driver’s seat for another conference crown but it will face stiff competition as Iowa State (one game behind) and Oklahoma (1.5 games behind) jockey for position down the stretch.
  2. West Virginia won the opening tap and scored the first two points of Saturday’s game against Baylor in Morgantown, but that would be the last time the Mountaineers would hold the lead as the Bears went on a 23-1 run to coast to an 87-69 blowout victory. Baylor beats you with its offensive balance, as Rico Gathers (17 points), Taurean Waller-Prince (15), Royce O’Neale (15), Al Freeman (11) and Kenny Chery (11) all registered double-figure scoring. In the Bears’ current three-game winning streak, they have shot a scorching 45 percent (22-for-49) from behind the arc. Unfortunately, we figured this would start to happen to West Virginia. The Mountaineers’ conference schedule is so backloaded that a major slide during the rest of the regular season is very much in play. Baylor, meanwhile, will be tested this week, facing upstart Oklahoma State in Waco followed by big, bad Kansas on Saturday afternoon in Lawrence.
  3. A not-such-a-big-deal thing and a hope-it’s-not-such-a-big-deal thing happened to the Cyclones over the weekend. We’ll start with the first thing as Bryce Dejean-Jones came off the bench in Iowa State‘s win against Texas Tech. Fred Hoiberg attributed Dejean-Jones’ benching to tardiness, which, again, is not such a big deal. In his place, Jameel McKay owned the game to the tune of 17 points, eight rebounds, three blocks and two steals in 25 minutes. The other thing that happened was that Georges Niang headed to the locker room in the first half after experiencing soreness in one of his Achilles’ tendons. Niang returned to the game but nevertheless should take extra special caution with the knowledge of how serious Achilles injuries can be. It’ll be something to keep an eye on in the Cyclones’ Big Monday game against Oklahoma tonight and West Virginia on Saturday.
  4. Some big news was released on Sunday night as Oklahoma big man TaShawn Thomas will play in tonight’s showdown with Iowa State. Thomas, who had eight points and 10 rebounds in his 27 minutes on the floor, left Saturday’s game against TCU after getting hit in the eye in the second half. With all hands on deck for both teams tonight, there should be some fireworks in Norman.
  5. The college basketball world lost a giant on Saturday as former North Carolina coach Dean Smith passed away at the age of 83. Smith was a huge success — on and off the hardwood — from his 879 career victories, 11 Final Fours and two national titles to being a fearless advocate for civil rights in a place and time that was not conducive to his views. The countless stories of the influence of Smith have been the most magnificent part of the weekend, including one that Oklahoma’s Lon Kruger told to the Tulsa World. I won’t spoil any of it here, but the piece further underscores how well he treated everyone. Even opposing coaches.
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The Rematch: Kansas Seeks Revenge Tonight Against Iowa State

Posted by Chris Stone on February 2nd, 2015

Back on January 17, Kansas traveled to Ames and suffered its only defeat of the Big 12 season in an 86-81 loss to Iowa State. The Cyclones ran Kansas up and down the floor that day, leaving analysts wondering if this would finally be the year that the Jayhawks’ streak of 10 straight Big 12 regular season titles would come to an end. Flash forward two weeks and Kansas now sits alone at the top of the league standings with a 7-1 record. The Cyclones, meanwhile, have shaken off an embarrassing loss at Texas Tech with a pair of wins in their last two games. Tonight’s Big Monday showdown is a great opportunity for Iowa State to pull even with Kansas in the standings, but it’s also a chance for the Jayhawks to cement themselves as prohibitive title favorites. Fred Hoiberg recognizes the game’s meaning, saying recently, “It’s a heck of a challenge, but we’re chasing them right now. So it’s obviously an important game.”

Will Iowa State celebrate a second victory over Kansas on Monday? (Charlie Litchfield/The Register)

Will Iowa State celebrate a second victory over Kansas on Monday? (Charlie Litchfield/The Register)

A motive of revenge is in play for Kansas tonight. Asked after the team’s victory over Kansas State on Saturday how quickly he’d transition to thinking about Iowa State, freshman Kelly Oubre Jr. responded, “Right now. We owe them.” The game will feature the Big 12’s two best offenses, and if recent meetings are any guide, it’ll be an up-tempo, high-scoring contest. The key for Kansas will be getting back in transition to prevent the Cyclones from finding easy looks. In the last meeting, Iowa State scored 10 of its points on baskets in transition within within 10 seconds of a Kansas conversion. The Cyclones were simply outhustling the Jayhawks down the floor. Kansas junior Perry Ellis agreed, saying that the most important thing for his team is to “get back on defense and limit transition.” The Jayhawks will need freshman Cliff Alexander‘s motor running on all cylinders to keep up with Iowa State’s Jameel McKay, and the Kansas guards will have to find the Cyclones’ shooters in transition, where 41.4 percent of Iowa State’s shots come from behind the arc.

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Big 12 M5: 01.28.15 Edition

Posted by Chris Stone on January 28th, 2015

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  1. Texas once again struggled on Monday in an 89-86 loss at Iowa State. The Longhorns trailed by double digits for the majority of the game, but mounted a furious second half comeback that included hitting 10 three-pointers. The story of the game, though, was the failure of the Longhorns’ zone defense. Iowa State led by 11 at the end of the first half by using Georges Niang at the free throw line to consistently break down the zone. Texas has a massive front line, but when their bigs are slow in rotation, it creates open looks for opponents at the rim. Although the zone was effective in non-conference play, Big 12 opponents are scoring 100.9 points per 100 possessions against the Longhorns so far.
  2. TCU has only won a single conference game at this point in the season, but that hasn’t stopped opposing coaches from taking notice of the Horned Frogs’ improvements. Ahead of their matchup on Wednesday, Kansas coach Bill Self said, “We know this will be a much different team than we’ve seen in the last couple of years.” The numbers say he’s right. Jesse Newell of The Topeka Capital-Journal pointed out that TCU is the only team in the top 50 of Ken Pomeroy’s efficiency ratings this year that ranked outside of the top 200 last season. The Horned Frogs’ 24th ranked adjusted defensive efficiency is a major factor in their improvement.
  3. One major criticism of college basketball this season has been the slow pace of games. Rush the Court’s Andrew Murawa wrote this fine piece on the subject recently. Tuesday night’s game between West Virginia and Kansas State did very little to silence the critics. The Mountaineers won a two-and-a-half hour marathon 65-59. The game featured 45 turnovers, 54 fouls, and 64 free throws. Bob Huggins called it “beautiful,” but reactions on Twitter painted a different picture. It took 14 minutes to finish the final 1:07 of the game. Perhaps it’s time for those in charge to listen to some of Andrew’s proposals.
  4. Oklahoma State picked up a big win over Baylor on Tuesday night. The Cowboys are fighting for a spot in the NCAA Tournament, and big man Michael Cobbins will be an integral piece of the puzzle. Although Cobbins only scored six points against Baylor, he grabbed 11 rebounds as Oklahoma State held the Bears below their conference average for offensive boards in the victory. Cowboys’ head coach Travis Ford is hopeful, saying, “We’re waiting for him to really hit his stride, and I think he has it in him and he will at some point.” Cobbins can provide Oklahoma State with an inside presence that they otherwise lack, so his continued improvement after returning from last season’s injury is something worth following.
  5. One final, somber note. Tuesday marked the anniversary of the January 27, 2001 plane crash that killed two members of Oklahoma State men’s basketball team, six members of the team’s traveling party, the pilot, and co-pilot. The team wore pregame shirts honoring those who lost their lives and Gallagher-Iba held a moment of silence prior to Tuesday’s game. The Cowboys’ athletic department spent the day remembering the victims of the accident. Consider this this author’s attempt to humbly do the same. Remember the 10.
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Big 12 Saturday Preview

Posted by Brian Goodman on January 24th, 2015

This weekend’s slate of Big 12 action isn’t quite as loaded as last week’s in terms of games expected to have a significant impact on the league race, but with the conference being arguably the best one in the country, that’s all relative. The biggest match-up on Saturday’s schedule features league favorite Kansas traveling to Austin to take on the Longhorns, who are looking to reassert themselves in the conference race. 

Oklahoma State at Kansas State (12:00 EST) – The 3-3 Cowboys have a win over Texas in their back pocket, but on the whole, their resume isn’t particularly impressive. If the NCAA Tournament started today, they would almost certainly be in, but a rough go of it on the road has prevented Travis Ford’s team from compiling a stronger case for seeding. They’ll look to reverse their fortunes when they shoot for just their second true road win of the season (the first being a convincing victory over a mediocre Memphis team) with an early afternoon tilt in Manhattan. The Wildcats, meanwhile, are still trying to prove their worth as a potential NCAA Tournament team, and a big component of that equation is holding serve on their home court against competitive teams. The battle between Marcus Foster and Phil Forte should be a fun one, and whether Nino Williams (20 points per game in his last two contests) continues to emerge as a dependable complement to Foster could play a decisive role. Prediction: Kansas State 66, Oklahoma State 63.

Everyone is Waiting on Kansas State to Regress (USA Today Images)

Everyone is Waiting on Kansas State to Regress (USA Today Images)

TCU at West Virginia (2:00 EST) – It’s still crazy to believe that after missing the NCAA Tournament in consecutive seasons, the Mountaineers are just a few bounces away from 16-1. Their offense hasn’t been pretty, with sub-200 rankings in both two-point shooting and three-point shooting, but it’s still been one of the most effective units in the country thanks to an aversion to turnovers. Of course, there’s also West Virginia’s stifling pressure defense, which has created barrels of extra possessions for Bob Huggins’ team. They’ll look to speed up a TCU offense that is much more deliberate at 62 possessions per game, so the Horned Frogs will have very small margin of error as they try to get their second league win. Prediction: West Virginia 70, TCU 59.

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Handicapping the Wooden Award Finalists

Posted by Bennet Hayes on January 21st, 2015

The Wooden Award released its midseason top 25 list last week. College basketball’s top individual honor will likely go to a player named on that list, but there’s still time for others (attention: Wichita State’s Fred VanVleet, Virginia’s Malcolm Brogdon and Syracuse’s Rakeem Christmas) to work their way into the picture. However, it’s also true that the field of real contenders for the award is thinning as we near February and March. RTC handicaps the race for the Wooden…

Jahlil Okafor, Duke. Odds To Win = 3/2.

Any national Player of the Year discussion must begin with Duke’s freshman sensation. Okafor’s averages of 18.6 points, 8.9 rebounds and 1.6 blocks per game begin to explain his value to the Blue Devils, but the impact of his presence runs much deeper than that. His steadiness (double-figure points in every game this season) has stabilized a Duke attack that was far more reliant on the three-point shot a season ago, while his unselfishness has helped the Duke guards find space on the perimeter. The presumptive top pick in next June’s NBA Draft has looked like the best player in college basketball from opening night, but an April coronation as the National Player of the Year will surely depend on Duke’s success. Balance has fueled the rise of other national title contenders (Kentucky and Virginia most notable among them), but there is no question that Okafor will continue to lead the Duke charge. Pole position has been well-earned: This is Okafor’s award to lose.

At The Midway Point Of The Season, Duke Freshman Jahlil Okafor Is The Frontrunner To Win The Wooden Award. (Photo Credit: Getty Images)

At The Midway Point Of The Season, Duke Freshman Jahlil Okafor Is The Frontrunner To Win The Wooden Award. (Getty)

Frank Kaminsky, Wisconsin. Odds To Win = 5/2.

Kaminsky nabbed the national spotlight last March with a show-stopping regional final performance against Arizona. He has not given it up since. ‘Frank the Tank’ is grabbing more rebounds (8.2 RPG this season), blocking more shots (1.8 BPG) and even handing out more assists (2.4 APG) than he did a year ago. The Wisconsin center has been outstanding all season, but his value to the Badgers may have been best exhibited in a 40 minute stint on the bench. As their star sat out with a concussion on January 11, Wisconsin fell to Rutgers in one of the most shocking results of the season. The loss showed just how important the versatile center has become for Bo Ryan’s team. A balanced Badgers’ lineup may pose some threat to Kaminsky’s Wooden Award chances, but that surrounding talent is also what’s made the his team legitimate national title contenders. And as Wisconsin chases that elusive championship, its versatile big man is making a serious push for the most prestigious of individual accolades.

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Kansas and Iowa State Clash Saturday With Big 12 Implications

Posted by Chris Stone on January 16th, 2015

Saturday January 17 figures to be one of the best college basketball days of the season with five top-25 matchups including N0. 4 Duke and No. 6 Louisville at 12:00pm ET, No. 16 West Virginia and No. 20 Texas at 6:15pm ET, and No. 8 Utah and No. 10 Arizona at 7:00pm ET. The cherry on top, though, is the night cap which features N0. 9 Kansas traveling to Ames, Iowa to face off with No. 11 Iowa State. ESPN’s College GameDay will be at Hilton Coliseum for the 9:00pm ET tip. Hilton has been home to a series of intense clashes in the past few seasons including Elijah Johnson’s controversial charge call and game ending dunk as well as Joel Embiid’s breakout performance last year.

Iowa State will look for some Hilton Magic when it faces Kansas on Saturday (AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall)

Iowa State will look for some Hilton Magic when it faces Kansas on Saturday (AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall)

Bill Self said Saturday’s matchup is “a game that deserves national attention” during his Thursday press conference, and GameDay ensures that the contest will receive its fair share despite the impressive slate of games scheduled. Fred Hoiberg agreed, calling it an opportunity to “showcase” the magic of Hilton Coliseum. The Cyclones will try to do just that as they host at least one recruit on Saturday. Travis Hines of the Ames Tribune reported via Twitter that 2016 recruit Amir Coffey will be in the building for an unofficial visit. Coffey, a 6-foot-6 shooting guard, is ranked 44th in the 2016 class, according to Rivals. The high school junior has chosen a good time to visit Ames, with Saturday’s contest having huge implications for the Big 12 title race.

Before the games played this week, Oklahoma, Kansas, and Iowa State shared nearly identical odds to win at least a share of the Big 12 title. Since then, Oklahoma got blown out at West Virginia and Iowa State fell to Baylor on Kenny Chery’s late jumper. Kansas now sits alone atop the Big 12 standings as the only remaining undefeated team in league play. Unfortunately, that doesn’t bring much clarity to the Big 12 title chase. Ken Pomeroy’s projections now predict three teams–Kansas, Iowa State, and West Virginia–to finish with identical 12-6 records in conference play.

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Big 12 M5: 01.16.15 Edition

Posted by Brian Goodman on January 16th, 2015

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  1. C.J. Moore of Bleacher Report wrote a great in-depth profile of Iowa State junior Georges Niang centered on how the big man developed the handles and arsenal that have made him a leader for the Cyclones. The new, slimmed-down version of Niang has been even more productive than last year’s and has been the central figure of Iowa State’s efficient offense. It was especially interesting to learn that Royce White, Iowa State’s last “hybrid,” was the one who pushed hardest for Fred Hoiberg to recruit Niang, whose “old man” game will be tested tomorrow night against an improving Kansas defense.
  2. Travis Ford‘s lengthy contract has drawn ire in recent years, but after a 12-4 start and a top-30 placement in the RPI, he isn’t sweating his job security. The Cowboys may not be in position to climb into the race among Kansas, Iowa State and West Virginia, but they’re more of a factor than they were anticipated, and they arguably have a better team than last year despite having less talent. As Jenni Carlson writes, Ford is in the midst of perhaps his best coaching job since he arrived on campus, and a lot of it is due to improved chemistry and a heightened belief in the greater good, particularly with Brian Williams and Kamari Murphy having transferred out.
  3. Bill Self spoke candidly about the struggles of Perry Ellis, which came to a head Tuesday when the junior had four early turnovers, leading to a prompt benching. Self suspects that the problem for Ellis is mental, as he still believes Ellis can be the Jayhawks’ go-to guy. Observers may counter that Frank Mason and Cliff Alexander fit that role better right now, and I agree, but in either case, it’s tough to picture Kansas making a deep run in March without Ellis playing a big part.
  4. The Wooden Award Midseason Top 25 List was released Thursday, and it included three of the Big 12’s best: Juwan Staten of West Virginia, Buddy Hield of Oklahoma and the aforementioned Niang. Oddly enough, the two leading scorers in the Big 12, Le’Bryan Nash and Phil Forte, were omitted.  It will take big second halves for Staten, Hield and Niang to rise into the elite tier that currently includes Jahlil Okafor, Frank Kaminsky, Delon Wright and Justin Anderson (in my opinion), but it’s always nice to see them get some recognition.
  5. The contrasting personnel of the athletic, fast-paced Mountaineers and the bulky, lengthy Longhorns will make for an interesting battle in Austin tomorrow. Texas is off to a slow start in conference play, but while they’re still formidable, it would be tough to imagine them getting back into the conference race with Kansas and Iowa State with a loss, which would run their conference record to 1-3. Isaiah Taylor has played a few games for Texas since coming back from a wrist injury, but his return hasn’t ignited the team as it was expected. On the other side of the ball, West Virginia will try to speed up Texas’ tempo with constant pressure, hoping that it will be another game before Taylor breaks out again.
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Silver Lining: Despite Loss, Iowa State Breaks Out of Offensive Funk

Posted by Brian Goodman on January 15th, 2015

The first two weeks of Big 12 play have given us no shortage of storylines: Kansas’ maturation; Marcus Foster’s benching; Oklahoma State possibly being better without Marcus Smart and Markel Brown; West Virginia’s reinvention; Oklahoma’s quantum leap on defense; and Texas’ early rut are getting most of the attention nationally. But there’s one plot line that, for whatever reason, wasn’t getting as much publicity over the first two week’s of January. Iowa State‘s offense, typically a paragon of innovation and efficiency, was struggling entering last night’s game against Baylor. While the Cyclones had found ways to win close games against Oklahoma State and West Virginia, they were doing so with uncharacteristically disappointing offensive production. In its previous three games against South Carolina, Oklahoma State and West Virginia, Iowa State scored 0.82, 0.94 and 1.03 points per possession, respectively. To put that in perspective, the last time Fred Hoiberg’s group failed to score at least 1.04 points per trip in three straight games was in 2011, when he inherited a team with few viable pieces and finished in last place. As last night’s game got underway in Waco, it looked like the hole would only get deeper.

The Cyclones may have come up short on Wednesday, but the vaunted Iowa State offense could be back in gear at just the right time after a three-game slump. (AP/Tony Gutierrez)

The Cyclones may have come up short on Wednesday, but the vaunted Iowa State offense could be back in gear at just the right time after a three-game slump. (AP/Tony Gutierrez)

Baylor started the game on a 22-5 run, as four different Bears connected on three-pointers and the Cyclones couldn’t get anything going. They finally started to dig out, though, closing the gap on the shoulders of their three transfers – Jameel McKay, Bryce Dejean-Jones and Abdel Nader – before another Baylor run provided some separation entering halftime. That separation would hold until midway through the second half, when Baylor’s Kenny Chery had to leave the game with a shoulder injury.

Chery’s exit gave Iowa State the opening it needed, as Georges Niang finally got going and sharpshooter Naz Long went on a tear while the Bears cooled off. The Cyclones clawed all the way back to take the lead on two separate occasions before Chery returned to the game and hit a game-winning jumper that allowed Baylor to escape with the win, but there’s a silver lining for Iowa State.

The Cyclones’ offense seems to finally be off the schneid, and the fact that they were able to dig out of that slump, even in a losing effort, should give them some confidence moving forward. In a loaded Big 12, they will certainly need that confidence and rediscovered efficiency when they take on Kansas at Hilton Coliseum on Saturday night. The frenzied competitiveness of the league this season means that it would be silly to describe one game in mid-January as having the biggest implications on the race for the league title, but with College Gameday in town and tickets starting at a small fortune, it’s definitely going to be among the most anticipated games of the weekend.

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Big 12 M5: 01.14.15 Edition

Posted by Brian Goodman on January 14th, 2015

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  1. Kansas beat Oklahoma State last night in a messy, foul-plagued affair in Allen Fieldhouse, running its conference record to a clean 3-0. The Cowboys started off fast, but a scuffle between the two teams injected some fire into the game, and while not all of Oklahoma State’s struggles can be traced back to the incident, they didn’t look the same for the remainder of the night. The Cowboys came into the game ranked ninth in the country in defensive free throw rate, but sent the Jayhawks parading to the free throw line 46 times. On defense, the key for Kansas was shuffling their defensive assignment on Phil Forte so frequently that he had to be subbed out twice due to cramps from running through so many screens against fresh legs in hopes of getting open looks. For Kansas, the win sets up a huge meeting with Iowa State on Saturday at Hilton Coliseum, an environment the Jayhawks have found anything but comfortable in recent years.
  2. While Kansas has been able to win in spite of it, Perry Ellis‘ disappointing performance this season has been the elephant in the room. The junior played well enough last year to earn a spot on the preseason All-Big 12 team, and while he’s had his moments, he hasn’t made the leap on either end of the court. He’s regressed on defense and his inconsistent shooting has been frustrating to the point where it now sticks out among his peers. Of the six forwards and centers from the 2012 McDonald’s All-American class who are still in college and not sitting out the season with injuries, Ellis ranks dead last in effective field goal percentage at 44.2 percent. The next-closest player is Texas’ Cameron Ridley at 52.4 percent. As with all stats, you have to consider the context, which in this case includes Kansas’ tough non-league schedule, their hyper-competitive conference and the absence of a consistent big man who can draw enough defense away from Ellis to allow him to operate. It’s also fair to point out that the Jayhawks would have more than two losses without Ellis, but the fact remains that he’s looked lost way more than he should for someone with as much experience as he has (Tuesday marked his 53rd career start). As someone who was rightfully expected to help lead the Jayhawks to their 11th straight conference title, there’s still time for Ellis to right the ship — he plays in the same program that developed the Morris twins and Thomas Robinson into first round draft picks, after all — but his production to this point has been very disconcerting.
  3. West Virginia used its unique brand of havoc to give Oklahoma their second straight loss as they hammered the Sooners by 21 points in Morgantown. The Mountaineers sped the Sooners’ offense up, forcing 22 turnovers, which is the one more than the number of shots Oklahoma made from the field. The win gives West Virginia by far its best victory of the season, and with their next four games coming against Texas, TCU, Kansas State and Texas Tech, they have a great opportunity to string even more wins together to keep pace at the top of the conference. What should scare those four teams the most is that the Mountaineers only got four points from Juwan Staten last night, though he did dish out eight assists against just one turnover.
  4. While they weren’t in action last night, it’s worth taking a deeper look at Kansas State‘s chances to get back to the NCAA Tournament. While they still don’t look very good in a vacuum, the relative lack of opportunities for the teams they’ll likely be compared to by the selection committee could give them an edge. A .500 trip through conference play, provided the Wildcats don’t get stung by TCU and Texas Tech (they’ve already taken care of TCU once), could be enough to put them in position to only need a single win in the Big 12 Tournament. Obviously, there’s plenty of room for improvement and we’re still eight weeks away from Selection Sunday, but whether the Wildcats make up the grounded needed to get back to the dance will be an interesting storyline.
  5. Iowa State faces an important game on the road against Baylor tonight, and while the Cyclones will have their hands full with the Bears’ overpowering interior, the lack of a traditional backup point guard could give them some trouble as well. As Travis Hines writes, Monte Morris has had to shoulder a big workload this year, and head coach Fred Hoiberg hasn’t been comfortable putting Clayton Custer into pressure situations. Until that changes, look for Georges Niang to continue to initiate offense when Morris needs to take a breather , but the emergence of another option to help conserve his minutes would serve the Cyclones well in the long term.
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Big 12 Conference Catch-Up: Kansas, Texas and Iowa State

Posted by Brian Goodman & Chris Stone on January 2nd, 2015

As the Big 12 schools conclude their non-conference schedules, it’s a great time to catch up on where the league’s 10 teams stand entering conference play. Once again, Kansas has navigated an arduous schedule, but enough questions remain that we can at least consider the possibility that another team wins the conference. The Jayhawks’ closest challengers are a Texas team that has kept pace despite losing one of the best point guards in the country for an extended period of time, while Iowa State has another high-powered team with a newly-eligible big man who Cyclones fans hope will provide a needed lift on defense.

Kansas (via Chris Stone)

  • Key wins: at Georgetown, Utah (in Kansas City)
  • Key losses: Kentucky (in Indianapolis), at Temple
With two good outings recently, the game finally appears to be slowing down for Kelly Oubre, and that could be bad news for the rest of the Big 12. (Jamie Squire/Getty Images)

With two good outings recently, is the game finally slowing down for hyped Kansas freshman Kelly Oubre? (Jamie Squire/Getty Images)

It’s very easy to watch Kansas’s blowout losses to Kentucky and Temple and write off the Jayhawks as a Big 12 title contender. To do so, however, would ignore the rest of their resume. Kansas has five wins over teams ranked in the top 50 of KenPom’s efficiency rankings; Only Kentucky can match that total. Sophomore Frank Mason is providing Bill Self with his best point guard play since Sherron Collins left Lawrence five years ago. Mason is averaging 11.9 points, 3.8 rebounds, and 4.0 assists per game. Freshman Kelly Oubre is finally emerging as the potential lottery pick he was billed as before the season, having scored 20 points in two of the last three games. Still, those two losses linger. Kentucky dominated the Jayhawks in Indianapolis. Temple rocked Kansas at the Wells Fargo Center. The typical refrain surrounding Kansas has been to trust in Bill Self, the man who has won 10 straight conference titles, but Self is still tinkering with his starting lineup while trying to play through a frontcourt that has struggled to score inside. Kansas is shooting just 52.3 percent on shots at the rim, a number that is nearly 15 percent worse than last season’s mark, according to data from hoop-math.com. In particular, junior Perry Ellis has seen his shooting percentage decline by over 10 percent as he’s had a difficult time scoring against the size of teams like Kentucky, Georgetown, and Utah. The Jayhawks have their limitations and the losses to Kentucky and Temple showcased them. They’ve also had their triumphs that suggest an ability to compete for another Big 12 championship. Much depends on the consistency of Mason, the continued emergence of Oubre, and the play of bigs like Ellis and Cliff Alexander, but to write off Kansas is to also write off Self’s history and the quality of their non-conference resume. Big 12 coaches won’t make that mistake, and you shouldn’t, either.

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