Big 12 M5: 01.22.16 Edition

Posted by Brian Goodman on January 22nd, 2016

morning5_big12

  1. It’s no secret that Kansas has struggled to contain driving guards like Jaysean Tate and Jawun Evans in recent games, and it might not get any easier tomorrow as the Jayhawks welcome Isaiah Taylor and Texas to Allen Fieldhouse. While Texas is merely average when it comes to finishing at the rim, it’s still worth wondering if Taylor, Javan Felix, and Kerwin Roach will test Kansas’ ability to stop penetration early. Saturday’s matchup in Lawrence will also mark Shaka Smart‘s first game against Kansas since that fateful day in San Antonio, so it’s also natural to think about whether both coaches will be a little more amped up than usual for this one.
  2. Two of the Big 12’s three most efficient offenses square off tomorrow when Oklahoma pays a visit to first-place Baylor. While the Bears currently sit alone atop the Big 12 standings, there’s still some skepticism of their record due to their relative lack of marquee wins and the fact that they have had close calls against two of the league’s worst teams. One of the great things about the Big 12’s perennial depth is that there are always opportunities to make statements, and the Bears will have a big shot to quiet their doubters with a win over a top-five team.
  3. Luke Winn of SI.com released his weekly Power Rankings (stay tuned for ours), and his insight into Oklahoma has to do with the performance of the frontcourt core of Ryan Spangler and Kadeem Lattin. The Sooners’ efficiency takes a dive when Spangler and Lattin don’t share the floor, but Spangler has played a whopping 88.6 percent of available minutes in conference play, so effectively, the concerns for Lon Kruger are finding ways to keep Lattin in games and finding the right lineup for those times when the sophomore big man needs to catch a breather.
  4. Iowa State sophomore Hallice Cooke recently put himself in Steve Prohm‘s doghouse by being late to practice one day after Prohm instituted tighter policies for player conduct, but he is hoping to get back at it tomorrow against TCU. With Prohm shortening up his rotation, it may be tough for Cooke to find more than a handful of minutes per game moving forward, but he can start by playing well against the worst team in the conference.
  5. Oklahoma State is flying high after its big win over Kansas, which prompted Tulsa World columnist Darnell Mayberry to compile a list of Travis Ford‘s ten biggest wins in Stillwater. While the Pokes have mostly been an afterthought since the departure of Marcus Smart, one doesn’t have to dig too deep to find some truly impressive wins in Ford’s eight seasons at the helm.
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Big 12 M5: 12.16.15 Edition

Posted by Brian Goodman on December 17th, 2015

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

Posted by Brian Goodman on November 12th, 2015

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

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

B12Team

Player Of The Year

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

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

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

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Big 12 Preview: Iowa State’s Burning Question

Posted by Brian Goodman on November 9th, 2015

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Big 12 M5: 10.24.2014 Edition

Posted by Brian Goodman on October 24th, 2014

morning5_big12

 

  1. It’s been a rough week for complementary players in the Big 12. We’ve talked about D.J. Johnson and Georgois Tsalmpouris being hobbled to various degrees, and Thursday, it was announced that Iowa State transfer Hallice Cooke (formerly of Oregon State) will miss the season to repair cartilage tears in both of his hips. Cooke’s injury won’t have too big an impact this year, as he wasn’t going to play anyway due to NCAA transfer rules, but now, he won’t even be able to practice with his new team. Cooke will have three years of eligibility left starting with the 2015-16 season.
  2. Kansas State guard Marcus Foster admitted that being snubbed by Kansas as a prospect is a motivating factor as he looks to live up to high expectations as a sophomore for the Wildcats this season. In case you aren’t familiar, Foster was a highly sought-after guard before he let his conditioning fall by the wayside. Bruce Weber stuck with him, though, and Kansas State was rewarded for their loyalty with a commitment and the best season from a freshman Wildcat since Michael Beasley. Foster is getting some attention as a Big 12 Player Of The Year Candidate, so it will be interesting to see if he gets off to a fast start next month.
  3. Cliff Alexander and Myles Turner were mentioned by NBC’s College Basketball Talk among 20 impact freshmen around the game this year. Both Alexander and Turner have tremendous strength that should help them power to the basket on offense, but like the vast majority of freshmen at any level of college hoops, both are a little rough around the edges. It will be a lot of fun to see how they match up come conference play, as those tilts could very well decide the fate of the Big 12 race.
  4. This week had been a little quiet on the Baylor front, but not anymore. Late Thursday night, Scott Drew reeled in his fourth commitment of the 2015 class when 6’3″ guard Wendell Mitchell gave a verbal commitment to the Bears. Depending on which scouting service you prefer, Mitchell checks in with either three or four stars. While Baylor hasn’t landed a big fish in the class quite yet, they have some solid pieces on the way and remain in the hunt for the services of 5-star big man Skal Labissiere.
  5. Tubby Smith‘s first season as the head coach of Texas Tech saw his team spring a few upsets, topping Oklahoma State, Oklahoma and Texas during conference play. While there are seven new players on the squad, Smith is hopeful that the team will build on last year’s experience and become a more competitive squad in 2014-15. The ceiling for this team remains limited, but as our Nate Kotisso relayed earlier this week, they have a deep pool of guards that can help lead them to a finish around .500 in league play if things break right.
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Morning Five: 05.20.14 Edition

Posted by rtmsf on May 20th, 2014

morning5

  1. National Championships have their benefits, especially for second-year head coaches whose name has been recently bandied about NBA circles with the word “Lakers” involved. Reports surfaced on Monday that Connecticut’s Kevin Ollie, a man who was fighting for a long-term contract from the university as recently as 18 short months ago, is set to sign a new five-year deal that will reportedly pay him more than twice his current salary (nearly $3 million per year). It goes without saying that a coach in his early 40s who already has a title under his belt is a hot commodity, and Ollie will join many of his elite peers in take-home pay in very short order, as this deal will put UConn’s leading Husky among college basketball’s top 10 coaching salaries, according to USA Today.
  2. From one end of the coaching spectrum to the other, as Oregon State announced on Monday its hiring of Montana’s Wayne Tinkle as its new head basketball coach. Tinkle heads to Corvallis with a solid resume, having led the Grizzlies to three NCAA Tournament appearances in his eight seasons and never finishing below .500 while there. He will inherit a program that has proven to be one of the absolute toughest at which to win in Division I basketball. The Beavers last made the NCAA Tournament in 1990 (!!!), and have not achieved a .500 Pac-10/12 record in over two decades (1993). Further compounding the difficulty that Tinkle will face is that all five of last season’s starters from an 8-10 squad have moved on. Perhaps Tinkle is the guy to finally lead Oregon State out of the basketball wilderness, but it will be no easy task.
  3. One of the starters who left Oregon State this offseason was shooting guard Hallice Cooke, a rising sophomore who logged the second-most percentage of available minutes for the Beavers last season and nailed a team-high 45.6 percent of his threes. Cooke announced on Monday via Twitter that he will transfer to play for The Mayor at Iowa State for the rest of his collegiate career. Fred Hoiberg’s 12th transfer in his fourth season in Ames exhibits again just how well the popular coach has used the free agency transfer market to fill the holes on his roster (UNLV transfer Bryce Dejean-Jones will hold down Iowa State’s shooting guard spot during the intervening year). Although Cooke will not become eligible to play for the Cyclones until the 2015-16 season, his three-point prowess figures to eventually fit very well into Hoiberg’s spread-the-floor offense.
  4. Kevin Ollie wasn’t the only head coach to receive an extension this week, as Xavier’s Chris Mack — a coach who was reportedly considered as a top candidate for several other jobs this spring — signed an extension that will keep him at the school through the 2019-20 season. In Mack’s five years at the school, he’s compiled an impressive 111-57 overall record that includes four NCAA Tournament appearances and two trips to the Sweet Sixteen (2010 and 2012). Although Xavier has had a multitude of excellent coaches over the years from Pete Gillen to Skip Prosser to Thad Matta — it was in no small part due to Mack’s recent success that Xavier was invited to become a member of the new basketball-centric Big East. It will certainly be tough for Xavier to keep a talent like Mack on campus all the way through the term of his new contract, but the commitment is worthwhile for a coach who has proven he has the chops to win at a high level.
  5. Even on a busy Monday of college basketball-related news, the most interesting nugget of the lot may have come from a decision by the State Employees of North Carolina public workers union to allow student-athletes at the state’s 17 public universities to join its collective bargaining organization. Players at schools like North Carolina, NC State, Charlotte and others would be affected, but the bigger picture question is whether this move represents another arrow directed at the disintegrating notion of athletes as amateurs. This of course comes on the heels of the NLRB’s recent decision to classify a group of Northwestern football players as employees with the right to organize its own union, and although any holding in that case would only apply to private schools like NU and others, the sea change is coming whether the NCAA likes it or not.
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Oregon State Fires Craig Robinson… Finally

Posted by Andrew Murawa on May 7th, 2014

In the waning moments of Oregon State’s Pac-12 Tournament-ending loss to Oregon, it seemed to be the final nail in the coffin of Craig Robinson patrolling the sideline as the team’s head coach. A few days later, as Pac-12 commissioner Larry Scott was announcing that Robinson and his staff would coach a team of barnstorming Pac-12 stars on a trip through China in August, it seemed to be a nod that Robinson would, in fact, and against all odds, be back in Corvallis for the 2014-15 season. A few days afterward, Oregon State lost to Radford in the opening round of the CBI and Robinson joked afterwards that his firing could be imminent. In the weeks that followed, rumors hinted that athletic director Bob DeCarolis was in favor of keeping Robinson for another year, right up until the point when the wind shifted and rumors were that DeCarolis was ready to can him. Then came a letter to program boosters from DeCarolis beseeching them to support Robinson going forward, clearly meaning that the decision had been made, finally, to keep him on for another year, right? Well, no. On Monday morning of this week, DeCarolis had flipped again, announcing that the school was firing Robinson and beginning the search for a new head coach. Whiskey Tango Foxtrot? So, what exactly is going on in the Oregon State basketball program? Why the late change of heart; is it the right move; and, well, what now?

After A Wishy-Washy Seven Weeks, Oregon State Finally Decided To Fire Craig Robinson (credit: AP)

After A Wishy-Washy Seven Weeks, Oregon State Finally Decided To Fire Craig Robinson (credit: AP)

As to the first question, what exactly happened since March 28 when DeCarolis sent that letter in support of Robinson? First junior Eric Moreland declared for the NBA Draft and Challe Barton decided to move overseas to play professional hoops. Then promising freshman point guard Hallice Cooke decided to transfer out, and DeCarolis had plenty of time to soak up all the complaints from fans about the state of the program. He ultimately came to the belief that his initial decision to keep Robinson was a wrong one, and he felt strongly enough about it to risk looking weak by flip-flopping on his original decision. According to DeCarolis’ Monday press conference following his decision, there was no late flood of booster money to help pay the $4.2 million still owed to Robinson (although he did admit that money played a role in the decision), and there is no next coach waiting in the wings to take over. It just came down to DeCarolis’ realization that the basketball program had gotten stagnant under Robinson and that it couldn’t afford another year of treading water. Give credit to the man for following his heart in the matter.

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Morning Five: 04.24.14 Edition

Posted by nvr1983 on April 24th, 2014

morning5

  1. Yesterday was a big day for Kentucky as both Alex Poythress and Dakari Johnson announced that they will be returning to Lexington for at least one more season. Poythress has seen his stock drop during his two years at Kentucky to the point that he would have been a second round pick had he declared, but Johnson had the potential to be a late first round pick so it is somewhat surprising to see him stay. Kentucky still may have issues in the backcourt if the Harrison twins decide to turn pro, but they will have the nation’s deepest, tallest, and most talented frontcourt next season with Poythress, Johnson, Marucs Lee, Trey Lyles, Willie Cauley-Stein, and Karl-Anthony Towns.
  2. The news around Louisville transfer Chane Behanan is a little less clear. Behanan, who left Louisville after repeated issues with marijuana use, had announced his intent to transfer to Colorado State several months ago, but now reports are surfacing that he may have signed with an agent with plans to enter the NBA Draft. If he were to enter the NBA Draft, Behanan would be a late second round pick at best and most likely would go undrafted particularly with his off-court issues. Colorado State has not really commented on it other than to say that they “will support him in whatever decision he makes” while Behanan offered a vague denial.
  3. Two other big names–Jerian Grant and Jordan Mickey–announced that they will be returning to school next year. Neither player would have been a first round pick (at least not a guaranteed one) coming out this year so it makes sense for them to come back to school. Grant’s season was derailed when he was ruled academically ineligible. Grant had been averaging 19 points and 6.2 assists per game before his suspension so it is possible he would have left South Bend if he had a full season to showcase his game. Mickey posted solid numbers as a freshman averaging 12.7 points, 7.9 rebounds, and 3.1 blocks per game. While Mickey certainly has potential he was projected as a late second round pick at best so his decision to come back also makes a lot of sense and could help make LSU a second-tier team in the SEC next season.
  4. People can complain all they want about Duke being on national television all the time and there is a degree of truth to those complaints, but Duke is certainly getting its share of prominent non-conference showdowns. In addition to their annual Champions Classic game (against Michigan State this year), a ACC/Big Ten Challenge road game, and the Coaches vs. Cancer Classic , Duke is close to scheduling a game against defending national champion Connecticut. The Huskies will be without Shabazz Napier, but could have Ryan Boatright and DeAndre Daniels back and will be adding Rodney Purvis. Duke will look completely different with the departure of Jabari Parker and Rodney Hood combined with the appearance of their top-rated incoming freshman class.
  5. At this point we are not sure how Craig Robinson still has his job (oh right, the brother-in-law) as Oregon State continues to disappoint. As if losing all five starters from a team that went 16-16 last season was not bad enough, he also will be losing Hallice Cooke, who was supposed to be the team’s top returning player at  8.2 points and 2.6 assists per game last season, after Cooke announced that he was transferring saying “Smh I gotta know what that NCAA tourney feels like ASAP”. We never really bought into the idea that players would want to play for Robinson just because his brother-in-law is the President, but his performance has been fallen short of even our tempered expectations. Now Robinson heads into next season with his top returning player being Langston Morris-Walker, who averaged 4 points per game last season. We are usually hesitant to put anybody on the hot seat, but time seems to be running short for Robinson.
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NIT and CBI Reaction: Pac-12 Teams

Posted by Andrew Murawa (@AMurawa) & Connor Pelton (@ConnorPelton28) on March 18th, 2014

Three Pac-12 teams that were not invited to the NCAA Tournament ended up receiving NIT or CBI bids. Let’s break them down in this instareaction format.

California – NIT, #2 seed in SMU Quadrant, vs. Utah Valley, 3/19, 7:30 PM PT – The Golden Bears had something of an argument for the NCAA field of 68, but nobody winds up all that shocked that they’re on the outside looking in. So, now, rather than playing for a national championship (at least in theory), Mike Montgomery and company have to shift gears and find something else to play for over their remaining games. For seniors like Justin Cobbs and Richard Solomon, such a shift will be difficult, as the NIT is clearly not where those guys hoped to be ending their careers. But, for youngsters like Jordan Mathews, Jabari Bird, and Sam Singer, and even junior Ricky Kreklow, whose career has been limited some by injury problems, maybe they can use the NIT as a springboard towards the inevitably larger roles that they’ll have to take on next season. As for match-ups, they will get a Utah Valley team in the opener that they should be able to outclass on talent alone, but beyond that, they will need to begin bringing their A-games, as either Arkansas or Indiana State could give them a serious push in the second-round game.

California Highlights The Pac-12's Representation In The NIT

California Highlights The Pac-12’s Representation In The NIT

Utah – NIT, #5 seed in Minnesota’s Quadrant, at Saint Mary’s, 3/18, 8:00 PM PT, ESPN2 – The Utes got jobbed. Plain and simple. No ifs, ands, or buts about it. Going by the eye test, this team should have been one of the first four or five left out of the NCAA Tournament. Instead, the NIT selection committee relied far too much on strength of schedule and relegated Utah to a first round road game. Saint Mary’s, who most projected to barely sneak into the NIT, receives a better seed and will host the Utes. The Gaels finished fourth in the WCC and fell to Gonzaga in the semifinals of their conference tournament. They opened the year at 9-0, then went to Honolulu, got distracted by the beach, and fell hard from the ranks of the unbeaten. First came a loss against South Carolina. Then Hawaii nipped them, and then George Mason did the same on Christmas morning. And after sneaking past Pacific a few days later, they went up to Spokane and got hammered for a 22-point loss against the Zags. Things have been up and down since, with a little more good than bad, and the Gaels enter the NIT at a 22-11 clip.

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Pac-12 Weekend Round-Up: Arizona, Justin Cobbs, Hallice Cooke and More…

Posted by Andrew Murawa on February 3rd, 2014

What a great sports weekend, am I right? There were 10 Pac-12 basketball games since last Wednesday and eight of them were decided by two possessions or fewer. The #1 team in the nation went down. Outside of the Pac-12, the #2 team survived by the skin of its teeth in overtime. Wichita State and San Diego State continued highly successful (and improbable) seasons. I’m sure there were even some sporting events that didn’t involve basketball, too. Maybe. But before we let the weekend get behind us, let’s spend some time to look back at several of the important things we learned in this week of Pac-12 basketball. Because if you hold a blink a beat too long, the next time you open your eyes, we’re going to be in the middle of conference tournaments. Yes, this season is getting away from us. It’s now February, and every conference school has finished half of its conference slate. And despite all that, we’ve still got more questions than ever.

Brandon Ashley Is Done For the Year, But Arizona Still Has Plenty Of Talent (Casey Sapio, USA Today)

Brandon Ashley Is Done For the Year, But Arizona Still Has Plenty Of Talent (Casey Sapio, USA Today)

  • First, Arizona. The Wildcats took their first loss on Saturday night to Cal (and in the process assured that the 1972-73 UCLA squad will remain the last team to go through conference play without a loss), then took an even worse loss on Sunday when it was confirmed that sophomore power forward Brandon Ashley is done for the season with a broken foot. That doesn’t make things any rosier for the Wildcats’ long-term outlook, but there were more than a handful of things from Saturday night’s game that should give Arizona fans plenty of hope. First, as much as junior point guard T.J. McConnell has earned props for his ability to run an offense, contribute defensively and just intangible his way into Arizona fans’ hearts, he hadn’t displayed much of an ability to help out by putting the ball through the hoop. But in a couple of close recent games, he averaged 12 points per night and showed a willingness to get his own when it was appropriate. Hopefully fans across the nation are starting to see just how good this guy is. He’s like Aaron Craft-lite with perhaps a bit more offense. Read the rest of this entry »
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Oregon State Slowly But Surely Returning to Relevance

Posted by Rockne Andrew Roll (@raroll) on February 3rd, 2014

Rockne Andrew Roll is an RTC correspondent. You can also find him at @raroll. Rockne filed this report after Oregon State’s upset victory over UCLA Sunday afternoon.

A year ago, Oregon State was 1-8 in conference play and well on its way to Craig Robinson’s third losing season in five years in Corvallis. This year? UCLA’s Steve Alford summed it up rather succinctly after the Bruins’ 71-67 loss at Gill Coliseum on Sunday. His words were not intended for public consumption, but his frustration with his team’s performance gave his words such volume that they were crystal clear on the other side of the cinder block wall that separates the visiting locker room from the press room. “They’re not so bad now, are they?” Alford said of the Beavers, who are now 5-4 in Pac-12 play.

Cooke, left, and Roberto Nelson have led the Beavers to victory in four of their last five conference games. (Rockne Andrew Roll/RTC)

Hallice Cooke, left, and Roberto Nelson have led the Beavers to victory in four of their last five conference games. (Rockne Andrew Roll/RTC)

After the disappointment of last season, the impact of beating the second-place team in the conference wasn’t lost on Robinson. “I have to reiterate how big that win was to our team, our program, to our school,” he said. “It’s been 14 or 15 years since we’ve been this relevant, this late in the season. It’s not by accident.” Nor was it lost on his players, particularly his seniors, who have suffered through many a heartbreak. “We haven’t been above .500 this late in the season since I’ve been here. From a fifth-year senior standpoint, it’s absolutely massive,” said senior center Angus Brandt. “It’s what we’ve been working toward this entire time. In terms of confidence, it just solidifies in our mind that we’re a team to compete with in this conference.”

So what’s changed since last year? Quite a bit. For starters, true freshman guard Hallice Cooke has worked his way into the starting lineup alongside Roberto Nelson and Langston Morris-Walker, demonstrating his quality with a 7-of-9 shooting performance and a game-high 20 points against the Bruins. Beyond simply scoring, though, Cooke has already put himself in a position of leadership within the Beavers’ locker room. “I don’t consider him a freshman anymore,” junior forward Eric Moreland said of Cooke. “That’s the point guard, he’s our point guard now. I’m an upperclassmen, but anything he has to say, I’m going to listen. I know he knows what he’s talking about. He’s been on the big stage before and he puts in the work. He’s a leader. As a freshman, that says a lot.”

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Pac-12 M5: 02.03.14 Edition

Posted by Connor Pelton (@ConnorPelton28) on February 3rd, 2014

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  1. Oregon forced 16 steals in its win against USC on Saturday night in Eugene, setting a Matthew Knight Arena record and falling one short of a program best. The performance was encouraging for a team that had struggled mightily on the defensive end of the floor in the month of January, and while one could easily dismiss the effort as it came against an opponent with a 10-12 record, the required energy and interest was certainly there. Dana Altman turned in one of his best coaching jobs in awhile, pulling the right strings and calling for a full court press that forced the issue and got the Ducks into a rhythm. It’s going to take an equally as impressive game plan and execution if Oregon is to shock Arizona in Tucson on Thursday night.
  2. The Ducks brought in a season high for home attendance for their match-up with the Trojans, drawing a crowd of 11,178. How did a team that had lost six of its last seven manage to do that? By the power of free stuff. The university honored its super donor in honor of Phil Knight’s 76th birthday coming up this month, and the Duck fans flocked on “Appreciation Knight” (get it?). Altman provided what may be the quote of the year after the game: “Make sure the team doesn’t get any so we don’t put it on eBay and sell them.” Dana was of course referring to the reasons for the suspensions of Dominic Artis and Ben Carter, who sat out the first nine games of the year for selling their team gear.
  3. Down the road in Corvallis this weekend, Oregon State scored a huge victory before the Super Bowl on Sunday morning. Down by as many as 11 points, some timely scoring and heady play from freshman point guard Hallice Cooke brought the Beavers all the way back and then some, taking a 65-54 lead with two and a half minutes left. Despite UCLA having a chance to take the lead inside the final 15 seconds (the furious comeback would fall short thanks to a Jordan Adams offensive foul), the Beavers survived for a four point win that lifts them into a five way tie for fourth place in the conference.
  4. Just one week ago, things were looking bleak for the Pac-12 conference. Oregon’s only win since January 2 had come against last place Washington State, a Spencer Dinwiddie-less Colorado team was struggling mightily to even keep games close, and California, once thought to be the second best team in the Pac, had just been swept by the Los Angeles schools. Fast forward seven days and the outlook has completely changed. Arizona State won in overtime at California, and then the same Golden Bear team turned around three days later and defeated top ranked Arizona. Colorado broke its losing streak with a rivalry win over Utah on Saturday morning, and UCLA fell at Oregon State a day later. The conference, while more muddled than ever, is also at its strongest in the projected NCAA Tournament fields, putting seven teams in Joe Lunardi‘s latest bracket.
  5. Did I say this league looks muddled? I leave you with the Pac-12 Wheel of Suck, which shows just how cannibalistic the conference has been in its first half of the season. The wheel wouldn’t have worked without USC’s shocker against California, which begs the question, what will be the Pac’s biggest upset of its final five weeks? I’m taking Washington State over UCLA on the final day of the regular season in Pullman. Leave your prediction in the comments section.
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