Five Takeaways from Championship Week Saturday

Posted by Henry Bushnell on March 15th, 2015

As we reach the pinnacle of Championship Week over the next few days, we’ll take a breath each morning to run down the top five storylines from the previous day’s action. With the Selection Show now hours away, here are the headline makers from Saturday’s games.

1. Notre Dame Stuns North Carolina

Notre Dame Notched Its First Conference Tournament Championship Ever (USA Today Images)

Notre Dame Notched Its First Conference Tournament Championship Ever (USA Today Images)

Halfway through the second half of yesterday’s ACC championship game, I was all prepared to rave about the boys in baby blue. North Carolina came out of the gates fast in the second half and looked to be on its way to another ACC Tournament championship. At the same time I was legitimately thinking about the Tar Heels as a possible Final Four team. They’d already knocked off Louisville and Virginia on consecutive nights and had been impressive in doing so. But then Notre Dame happened. The Tar Heels didn’t necessarily fall flat, but when the Irish’s 26-3 run came it was as if the two teams were playing a different game. With its many talented shooters and ball-handlers, Notre Dame presented the Tar Heels with matchup problems that it eventually exploited. Their ball movement was exceptional. Carolina, of course, will be just fine and is still a candidate for a deep NCAA Tourney run, but Notre Dame’s ACC crown this weekend was a real head-turner. When the Irish are running hot, they can beat anybody in the country — they may also have elevated themselves to a #2 seed with their play over the last three days.

2. Iowa State Does it Again

Down 14 at halftime, Iowa State had Kansas… um, right where it wanted the Jayhawks? Apparently. The Cyclones have made a strange habit of staging colossal second-half comebacks this season. In their previous four games, they had rallied from deficits of 11, 16, 10 and 21 points to win all four. So when Kansas took a 17-point lead early in the second half, the Cyclones didn’t panic. Fred Hoiberg’s bunch simply decided it was their time to push forward. Jameel McKay and Georges Niang led a seemingly inevitable 17-2 run that got Iowa State right back in the game, and although the Jayhawks went down swinging, the Cyclones eventually pulled through. Fred Hoiberg’s team has so many weapons that it will be a unique and extremely tricky challenge for anybody for the rest of March.

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Rushed Reactions: #13 Iowa State 70, #9 Kansas 66

Posted by Brian Goodman on March 14th, 2015

rushedreactions

In a Big 12 Tournament final for the ages, Iowa State wiped away yet *another* double-figure deficit to beat Kansas, 70-66, becoming the first non-Kansas team to repeat at the event since Oklahoma State in 2004-05.

Three Key Takeaways.

The Cyclones raise another Big 12 Tournament trophy. (Charlie Litchfield/Des Moines Register)

The Cyclones raise another Big 12 Tournament trophy. (Charlie Litchfield/Des Moines Register)

  1. Iowa State takes over in the second half: The Cyclones were flat-out dominant after halftime. After Kansas point guard Frank Mason buried three free throws to put Kansas up 17 early in the second stanza, the Cyclones went on a 32-11 run to take the lead with 7:04 remaining and eventually closed the game out. The absence of Cliff Alexander, the limited mobility of Perry Ellis in his second game back from a knee injury, and the inexperience of Hunter Mickelson and Landen Lucascaught up with the Jayhawks. The anatomy of the Cyclones’ comeback included a complete takeover of the paint by Georges Niang, Abdel Nader and Jameel McKay and numerous stops of Kansas’ guard-led attack. The most jarring angle of Iowa State’s comeback was the fact that they made only one three-pointer in the second half yet were able to erase their biggest deficit of the game in under 10 minutes. The Jayhawks had a chance to tie the game late, but Iowa State easily identified “Chop,” Kansas’ go-to play when they need a late three-pointer, and Dustin Hogue snuffed it out. The Cyclones have been the target of some light criticism for failing to end Kansas’ regular season Big 12 domination over the last several years, but they ultimately got the last laugh.
  2. Kansas’ defensive interior was exposed.  As mentioned, the Cyclones worked over Kansas in the paint without mercy. Iowa State’s movement was fantastic, leading to tons of close looks without the benefit of post touches. Whether it was MonteMorris or Niang bringing the rock down the court, their ball-handlers didn’t encounter any pressure, finishing the game with one of its lowest turnover rates all season (8.8%). Additionally, only one shot attempt was blocked by the Jayhawks. Torching them on the pick-and-roll, the Cyclones had no trouble getting into the lane. Self shook out his entire toolbox onto the Sprint Center floor, throwing a 3-2 zone, a 1-2-2 look and even a lineup featuring two centers in Lucas and Mickelson, but none of those defensive schemes were able to generate the stops necessary for Kansas to pull out the win today.
  3. Wayne Selden played another terrific game. Perhaps the biggest reason Kansas was able to build a significant lead in the first half was the tremendous effort and production from the second-year guard. On Friday, Selden mostly used his strength and aggressiveness to get things done, but tonight it was his jumper. The shots he attempted weren’t always smart, but he poured in a career-high 25 points on an efficient 12 shots (one of them being this tantalizing lob from Frank Mason). A deep tournament run may not ultimately be in the cards for the Jayhawks this month, but Selden’s effectiveness adds a wrinkle to Kansas’ attack and makes it reasonable to entertain the possibility of Kansas playing into the second weekend and, with a few breaks, beyond.

Quotable.

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Rushed Reactions: #13 Iowa State 67, #15 Oklahoma 65

Posted by Brian Goodman on March 13th, 2015

rushedreactions

Iowa State found itself mired in yet another early deficit, only to come back and squeak out a thrilling 67-65 win over Oklahoma to advance to the Big 12 championship game on Saturday.

Three Key Takeaways.

  1. Iowa State survives another thrilling finish: Up two with nine seconds to go, Iowa State suffered a major defensive breakdown that allowed Oklahoma guard Jordan Woodard to feed a cutting Ryan Spangler underneath on the team’s final possession. To the shock of everyone, Spangler’s bunny wouldn’t fall and the Cyclones survived yet another close game in front of a raucous semi-home crowd at the Sprint Center. Spangler will be the goat for missing such a close shot, but terrible outside shooting (25%) and a 22 percent turnover rate also helped do the Sooners in tonight.
  2. Rough night for the Big 12 Player of the Year: Buddy Hield is the most dynamic player in the conference due to his ability to tear into defenses at will and carry the Sooners when needed, but there are times like tonight when he tries to do a little too much. Hield tied a season-high with 20 shot attempts, but converted only six of them. Even with Jameel McKay patrolling the paint, the Cyclones have been vulnerable inside, so it stands to reason that Oklahoma wouldn’t have come up short in this one if it had leaned a bit more on TaShawn Thomas or Spangler more than it did.
  3. Cyclones dig out of a big hole… again: Friday’s victory marked the fourth straight time that Iowa State allowed its opponent to build a significant lead before the Cyclones’ offense woke up and its defense forced just enough stops to get back into the game. Hoiberg and his players have repeatedly expressed the need to avoid those situations to begin with, but they are making a habit of needing big runs to squeak out these wins. Credit is due to Iowa State for having the poise and perseverance to get the job done, but it’s not a sustainable way for a program to do business in March, especially when your head coach and athletic director have significant heart conditions.

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Five Key Storylines Entering the Big 12 Tournament

Posted by Brian Goodman on March 11th, 2015

The Big 12 Tournament gets under way tonight at the Sprint Center in Kansas City with #8 Kansas State taking on #9 TCU followed by #7 Texas battling #10 Texas Tech. Five teams appear safely into the NCAA Tournament along with two other hopefuls, but the determination of how many bids the league will ultimately get is just one of several storylines to keep an eye on this week. Here are five others.

  1. Hobbled Kansas – The Jayhawks enter the week with the conference tournament’s top seed, but injuries to Wayne Selden and Perry Ellis (who sat out the team’s regular season finale) mean the team is playing at less than 100 percent. Cliff Alexander‘s NCAA case is also moving slowly and Bill Self is already planning as if he won’t return. Because of the strength of the teams the Jayhawks will be playing in Kansas City, it’s tough to picture Kansas falling to anything worse than a #3 seed in the NCAA Tournament. It’s also fairly certain that no matter what happens there, Kansas will only have to travel three hours to Omaha for the opening weekend. The 11-time Big 12 champions could certainly be in a worse position, but it will be interesting to see how the team adjusts to those personnel issues.

    Will the Cyclones repeat as Big 12 Tournament champs?

    Will the Cyclones repeat as Big 12 Tournament champs?

  2. Iowa State Looks to Protect Its Crown – The Cyclones had a solid season but it had to be at least slightly disappointing to fail to match Kansas in the league standings with a team that finally had a legitimate rim-protector and a strong returning core. All is not lost, though, as Fred Hoiberg’s team has an excellent chance to repeat as Big 12 Tournament champs. With three wins this week, it can become the first team to do so since Kansas pulled the trick in 2011 and the first non-Self team to pull it off since Oklahoma State in 2005. The Iowa State faithful turned out at the Sprint Center in huge numbers last year, so while Oklahoma is probably the second-best team in the Big 12, the ideal atmosphere would be a championship game pitting the Cyclones and Jayhawks. Read the rest of this entry »
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Big 12 Superlatives, Part II: Newcomer, Game & Play of the Year

Posted by Brian Goodman on March 11th, 2015

We continue our coronation of the Big 12’s best performers and performances with the back end of our annual award posts. If you missed Part I, which featured our contributors’ all-conference selections as well as Player Of The Year and Coach Of The Year honors, you can catch up here.

Newcomer of the Year

  • Brian Goodman: Jameel McKay – From the minute he became eligible on December 20, McKay gave Iowa State a defensive presence down low that it hasn’t had since Fred Hoiberg took the reins of the program. McKay currently ranks among the top 50 players nationally in block percentage (9.1%) and, despite not being very skilled offensively, draws a ton of fouls and finishes consistently. In the long-term, Kansas’ Kelly Oubre or Texas’ Myles Turner may have better careers, but neither did so at the level of McKay with the Cyclones.
Jameel McKay gave the Cylones a much-needed presence down low. (Andrea Melendez/The Register)

Jameel McKay gave the Cylones a much-needed presence down low. (Andrea Melendez/The Register)

  • Nate Kotisso: Jameel McKay – I’ve been a fan of McKay’s ever since the stories about him doing insane things in practice were made public. Once he became eligible, I wondered if he could live up to all the hype, but he has proven to be a game-changer in every sense of the word. He gives the Cyclones a dimension they haven’t had in the Fred Hoiberg era — a true big man who runs the floor well, rebounds with reckless abandon, and is a defensive menace with his 7’4″ wingspan. McKay averaged double figures this season but I still feel like there’s plenty of room for growth in his offensive game. I hope he comes back to Ames for another year.
  • Chris Stone: Jameel McKay – McKay has turned out to be yet another successful transfer under Iowa State head coach Fred Holberg. Over 487 minutes of action, McKay posted numbers of 16.8 points, 11.1 rebounds, and 3.7 blocks per 40 minutes. He was also named Defensive Player of the Year by the league’s coaches and was the one of the few bright spots on an otherwise poor Iowa State defense. McKay played well as Hoiberg’s first true rim-protector and helped lead the Cyclones to a #2 seed in the conference tournament.

Game of the Year

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Big 12 M5: 03.06.15 Edition

Posted by Brian Goodman on March 6th, 2015

morning5_big12

  1. Late last night, Yahoo! Sports’ Pat Forde reported that the NCAA is investigating Kansas big man Cliff Alexander for ties to an agent and possible impermissible benefits received by his family. Alexander has sat out Kansas’ last two games in the interests of protecting his eligibility while the NCAA works with Alexander to resolve the matter. Aside from the nature of the possible benefits, the big question is how long Alexander will continue to be sidelined. According to Forde’s sources, the freshman has hired an attorney, a move which, while may be advisable for Alexander, is reportedly slowing the investigative process. As we’ve said ever since news of the investigation first broke last Saturday, Alexander’s availability is important if Kansas is to make a deep postseason run, but while the team would prefer to get a resolution soon, you just never know with the NCAA.
  2. The legend of Baylor big man Rico Gathers continues to grow. Gathers is a focal point in two national stories that have dropped recently. The first is a terrific piece by CBSSports.com‘s Matt Norlander chronicling his experience (along with those of other players) balancing the grueling demands of NCAA competition with the challenges and blessings of fatherhood. The second is an in-depth look by Bleacher Report‘s Jason King that touches on Gathers’ fantastic season to this point, his outstanding athleticism and the attention he’s drawn as a potential NFL prospect. Both are well worth your time. While there has been no shortage of storylines in the Big 12 this season, Gathers’ emergence into the national spotlight has been one of the year’s highlights, with his play crucial in keeping the Bears relevant in the face of significant roster turnover. The odds are that Gathers will be around for another season, but the sooner you appreciate everything he brings to the table both on and off the court, the longer you’ll have to enjoy it.
  3. Ames Tribune beat writer Travis Hines emptied out his Iowa State mailbag, providing some great insight into the state of the Cyclone program as the team gears up for the postseason. While some have been quick to label Iowa State as fraudulent due to their inability to pass Kansas in the Big 12 standings with a roster that had the chance to do it, fans (or rather, fans whose questions Hines took a crack at answering) seem pretty optimistic, with many of their inquiries focusing on the Cyclones’ tournament ceiling, their chances of landing big recruit Cheick Diallo and the makeup of next year’s team. The Iowa State faithful brought a huge contingency to Kansas City for the Big 12 Tournament last season, so with another strong team this March, you can expect a similar level of support next week.
  4. Between widespread transfers and the appeal of the NBA, it’s become increasingly rare for a player to stay at one school for all four years, argues Ryan Aber of The Oklahoman. As such, Senior Day festivities don’t always carry the weight they once did, even in the case of Oklahoma, which has three players — James Fraschilla, D.J. Bennett and TaShawn Thomas — set to play their final home game tomorrow against Kansas. Of the trio, only Fraschilla, a walk-on, played all four years in Norman, as Bennett was a juco transfer and Thomas only came aboard this fall after spending his first three years with Houston. Whatever the case may be, Fraschilla, Bennett and Thomas should be extremely proud of what they’ve accomplished.
  5. While the Big 12 champion has been determined, a whopping seven of the other nine spots are still in question entering the final weekend. If you’re into seeding scenarios, Aber did the grunt work for all of us just prior to Wednesday’s Oklahoma State-TCU game. The Sooners and Cyclones could finish anywhere between second and fourth, Baylor can finish anywhere between second and fifth, West Virginia can finish in either fourth or fifth, Oklahoma State will finish either sixth or seventh, Kansas State can finish anywhere between sixth and eighth, and Texas will end the regular season in either seventh or eighth place. If you’ve watched even a half of Big 12 action, you know that predicting how everything will shake out is a fruitless exercise, so our advice is to just sit back and watch the madness unfold. We’re going to get four more weeks of it anyway.
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Big 12 M5: 03.04.15 Edition

Posted by Brian Goodman on March 4th, 2015

morning5_big12

  1. Tuesday night was the coronation of Kansas as Big 12 champions for the 11th consecutive season as the Jayhawks erased an 18-point deficit to outlast West Virginia in overtime at Allen Fieldhouse. Terrible rebounding and rushed offense due to the Mountaineer press put Kansas in an early hole, and a sprained knee that sidelined Perry Ellis for slightly more than half the game compounded the Jayhawks’ troubles, but as per Big 12 bylaws, the finish was about as thrilling as it could get. Kansas chipped away throughout the second half, with big plays by Frank Mason on offense and Jamari Traylor on both ends ultimately putting them over the top in what Bill Self called his “best win at Allen Fieldhouse.”
  2. While the Jayhawks have the Big 12 title in their trophy case, there’s some cause for concern regarding Ellis’ status. Following Tuesday’s win, Self said that Ellis would be “a longshot” for Saturday’s regular season finale against Oklahoma in Norman, but that a return for next week’s conference tournament in Kansas City seemed reasonable. Ellis has been Kansas’ most valuable player over the last few weeks, and without Cliff Alexander, the team will continue to lean on him as long as he can play. Without much to gain by playing their standout junior on Saturday, it would probably be in Kansas’ best interests to play it slow .
  3. Earlier in the week, Texas kept its NCAA Tournament hopes alive by beating Baylor in Austin. The game was marred by a scuffle that led to seven ejections of players for leaving their team’s benches, but Jeff Haley of Burnt Orange Nation provides a detailed review of how the Longhorns’ ball screen defense put the Bears on their heels. Texas’ perimeter defense had been about as disappointing as its interior defense has been dominant, but for one night, that changed. There’s still work to be done for Rick Barnes‘ team, as the search for a Tournament bid continues Saturday against Kansas State.
  4. Following Texas’ win but before Kansas’ clincher, Iowa State stormed back from a 20-point deficit at Hilton Coliseum to beat Oklahoma. The tide turned early in the second half when Sooner guard Isaiah Cousins picked up a quick technical for taunting, and the free throws that followed ignited a run of 22 unanswered points by Fred Hoiberg‘s squad. Iowa State’s insane home court advantage is one of its biggest assets, but the Cyclones have been a very different team outside of Ames. Their focus will again be tested on the road when they wrap up the regular season at TCU.
  5. The storm of meaningful action rolls on tonight when TCU travels to Oklahoma State to face a Cowboys team in dire need of getting back on track. If the Pokes, losers of four straight, were to drop another game tonight, they would have some serious work to do in Kansas City, though probably not quite as much as Kansas State or Texas faces. There should be no shortage of motivation at Gallagher-Iba Arena tonight, but at the very least, one would think that the Cowboys would want to send seniors Le’Bryan NashMichael Cobbins and Anthony Hickey out with a bang.
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Big 12 Power Rankings: Down the Stretch They Come

Posted by Nate Kotisso (@natekotisso) on March 2nd, 2015

We’ve arrived at the final week of the regular season and now more than ever it is crystal clear just how many Big 12 teams will make the field of 68 (yeah, right). Anywhere from five to potentially eight teams could hear their names called by CBS Sports’ Greg Gumbel on Selection Sunday, but it’s reasonably safe to say that these five teams — Kansas, Oklahoma, Iowa State, West Virginia and Baylor — are virtual locks. Two maybes and a long shot from the Big 12 have quite a bit of ground to make up, though, between now and the conference title game in 12 days in Kansas City. Let’s take a deeper dive look at each of those three bubble squads.

  • Oklahoma State appears to be in the best position. The Cowboys were able to notch some quality wins by beating Kansas and sweeping Baylor while also taking both games from bubbling Texas. To assure Oklahoma State’s status in the field, one of two things needs to happen. They could beat TCU and lose to West Virginia (finishing at 8-10 in league play) before winning one game in the Big 12 Tournament. After all, that is what happened a season ago. The second option is to simply win in Morgantown on Saturday, a much-tougher task. That separates this team from continuing insecurity and a sure thing.

    Travis Ford and the Cowboys are (Getty)

    Travis Ford and the Cowboys have a big week ahead of them. (Getty)

  • Texas’ situation is a little more complicated. The Longhorns sit at four games under .500 in the league with a dismal 6-10 record. Despite the ongoing Big 12 benefit of playing Tournament-caliber teams both home and away, the Longhorns have only registered one victory in 11 tries against those teams. They need to beat both Baylor tonight and Kansas State on Saturday. If the Big 12 Tournament started today, the Horns would be the #8 seed and open play against a pesky TCU team. If they were able to advance to the semifinalss with two wins, that should be enough to get them in. If they don’t do that, there’s a chance we could see a revamped roster and new head coach in Austin this fall.
  • Two weeks ago, ESPN.com’s Eamonn Brennan made the claim that Kansas State arguably has the most interesting at-large NCAA Tournament resume in quite some time. While an at-large now seems out of the question, their chance to nab the league’s automatic bid is still certainly in play. K-State’s NCAA chances are the easiest (or hardest) to draw out. Basically, win all of the games. All. Of. Them. One more loss would give the Wildcats 16 defeats on the season, and it’s hard to imagine the Selection Committee would reward an at-large bid to a team with that many losses. Georgia rolled off four wins in four days to win the 2008 SEC Tournament, and, fortunately for Kansas State, most of the teams they’d likely face in Kansas City next week are teams it’s already beaten.

Will the Big 12 get all three teams in? Probably not! But two of these clubs might! Is is Championship Week yet?

Power Rankings

  1. Kansas — 3 points (All voted 1st). Comment: “A lot of the talk surrounding Kansas’ games lately has actually been centered on its opponents. The losses at Oklahoma State, West Virginia and Kansas State in addition to Isaiah Taylor’s last-second drive on Saturday have dominated the conversation, but there hasn’t been nearly as much air time and ink given to how well Perry Ellis has played for a team desperate for frontcourt production. Over his last five games, the junior (yes, junior, Rick Barnes) has averaged 22.4 points per game on 57.5 percent shooting to go along with 8.0 rebounds per contest. If he can keep up his torrid pace, the Jayhawks may not miss the suspended Cliff Alexander so much after all.” – Brian Goodman (@BSGoodman)
  2. Oklahoma — 7 points (Brian & Chris — 2nd, Nate — 3rd) Comment: “After starting conference play 3-4, the Sooners have won eight of their last nine games. Four outings against TCU and Texas Tech have bolstered their record as they prepare to face Iowa State and Kansas in the season’s final week.” – Chris Stone (@cstonehoops)
  3. Baylor — 8 points (Nate — 2nd, Brian & Chris — 3rd) Comment: “It looks like Scott Drew has created some separation between he and Bob Huggins in the Big 12 Coach of the Year race. It’s fascinating to see him take a team many viewed with average talent to become an absolute match-up nightmare in March.” – Nate Kotisso (@natekotisso) Read the rest of this entry »
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RTC Top 25: Week Fifteen

Posted by Walker Carey on March 2nd, 2015

The penultimate weekend of the college basketball regular season gave #1 Kentucky, #2 Virginia, #4 Villanova, #5 Arizona, #6 Wisconsin, and #9 Wichita State an opportunity to either a guaranteed a share of a conference title or the outright crown. Kentucky moved its record to 29-0 and earned the SEC regular season title on Saturday with a dominating 17-point home victory over #21 Arkansas. Virginia guaranteed itself at least a share of the ACC title with a Saturday matinee victory over Virginia Tech in Charlottesville. The Cavaliers will attempt to win the title outright for the second straight year, hitting the road this week for games at both Syracuse and #16 Louisville. Villanova rebounded from a seven-point halftime deficit at Xavier to earn its 10th consecutive win and clinch the outright Big East title for the second consecutive year. Arizona earned itself at least a share of the Pac-12 crown with one of the most impressive road victories of the season. The Wildcats went to #10 Utah and scored a thrilling 63-57 triumph on Saturday evening. Wisconsin wrapped up a share of the Big Ten title Sunday — aided tremendously by National Player of the Year candidate Frank Kaminsky’s season-high 31 points — with a home victory over Michigan State. Finally, Wichita State showed Saturday afternoon that it is still the class of the Missouri Valley with a 74-60 home win over #13 Northern Iowa. With just one week to go in the regular season, it will be intriguing to see if Virginia, Arizona, and Wisconsin can become the outright champions of their leagues as well as what will happen in the crazy Big 12 race.

This week’s Quick N’ Dirty after the jump…

rtc25 w15

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Big 12 Weekend Preview: Road Map to the Most Thrilling Finish Possible

Posted by Brian Goodman on February 27th, 2015

For roughly 46 hours between Kansas State’s upset over Kansas on Monday and Iowa State‘s deflating loss to Baylor on Wednesday, the Big 12 race had more intrigue than at any point in the season. But after the Bears took down the Cyclones at Hilton Coliseum thanks to some deadly shooting down the stretch, the standings returned to an all-too-familiar position: the Jayhawks all alone at the top with a logjam behind them. The race isn’t yet over, but Iowa State’s loss definitely removed some of the buzz surrounding the finish. As it stands, Oklahoma, West Virginia and Iowa State — each one game behind Kansas — all need to take care of business and get some unlikely help if any of the three wants to make history. The Sooners still have a game left against the 10-time defending conference champs — their home finale on March 7 — but they will likely have to win their next two games in order for that match-up to mean something. More on that in a minute.

It will take a home loss by Kansas for the Big 12 race to become a race again.

The Big 12 race isn’t over, but it will take a Kansas loss in this building to restore the chaos that has encapsulated the conference all year long.

West Virginia also has a game left against Kansas, but with two of its last three games coming on the road — including next Tuesday’s tilt against the Jayhawks — the Mountaineers are at a big disadvantage. Lastly, not only do the Cyclones not have any remaining games against the Jayhawks, but they’ll also play two of their last three games on the road. Meanwhile, Kansas plays two of its last three games in the cozy confines of Allen Fieldhouse, so the odds of Bill Self’s team winning that 11th straight Big 12 title in outright fashion look favorable.

As great a story as that would be, however, where’s the fun? As a die-hard college hoops fan, I want as much meaningful basketball as possible. Sure, if Kansas puts a bow on it by this time next week, everyone will still be playing for valuable postseason seeding; we’ll still watch; and then the postseason will be here. But throughout its relatively young history, the Big 12 has lacked a climactic final day of action in the truest definition.

I’m talking about one game to decide the conference race and the fate of the Jayhawks’ Big 12 title streak all wrapped up in one tidy package.

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Big 12 M5: 02.27.15 Edition

Posted by Chris Stone on February 27th, 2015

morning5_big12

  1. And just like that Kansas is back in the driver’s seat as the favorite to win an 11th straight Big 12 championship. The situation looked a bit bleak for the Jayhawks following their recent 70-63 loss to Kansas State, but Baylor’s 79-70 win over Iowa State on Wednesday night put Kansas ahead again. A win would have drawn the Cyclones even with Kansas in the standings, but a barrage of second half threes from the Bears sealed the Cyclones’ fate. “We didn’t talk about any championships that were there,” Iowa State coach Fred Hoiberg said. “The guys understand it. They read it. But it’s just going out there taking care of today, and obviously we didn’t get that accomplished.”
  2. Wednesday marked the first win ever in Ames for Baylor, and the big road victory should help the Bears immensely with seeding in the upcoming NCAA Tournament. A lock for an at-large bid, this year will mark the first time that Baylor has made consecutive trips to March Madness in school history. Much of the Bears’ recent success should be attributed to Scott Drew. The 12th-year head coach of the Bears takes a great deal of criticism from the college basketball community, but he has molded a roster that was picked to finish sixth in the Big 12 into a Top 25 team with high postseason expectations. Drew rightfully appears to be the clear front-runner for Big 12 Coach of the Year at this point in the season.
  3. Drew’s biggest competitor in the race for Coach of the Year comes from West Virginia’s Bob Huggins. The Mountaineers were also picked to finish sixth in the Big 12 preseason poll but have utilized a change in playing style to now sit just one game behind Kansas in the standings. After getting blasted by Baylor in Morgantown, West Virginia will seek revenge on the Bears in Waco this weekend. If the Mountaineers pull of the win, we could have a new name leading the Big 12 Coach of the Year race come Monday.
  4. A day after the Jayhawks’ loss at Kansas State, Kansas junior Perry Ellis and sophomore Wayne Selden called a players-only meeting back in Lawrence. There was no trip to Henry T’s like back in 2008, but Ellis and Selden took the opportunity to emphasize the importance of winning another Big 12 championship. Sporting a 3-3 record in its last six games, Kansas is engaged in some soul-searching ahead of March this season. “We got to figure out what’s wrong,” sophomore Brannen Greene said. With three remaining contests against teams ranked in Ken Pomeroy’s top 25, the Jayhawks will need to figure it out quick, starting with a reeling but dangerous Texas squad on Saturday.
  5. Finally, while much of Twitter was abuzz yesterday attempting to determine the colors of this dress (hint: it’s white and gold), Adidas was drawing its usual ire for releasing its latest line of jerseys. With Baylor having switched to Nike this season, Kansas remains the only Big 12 team to receive an stylistic update, which the Jayhawks are likely wear for at least one game in the Big 12 Tournament. Baylor received its new look last week, and its tempered color scheme will likely disappoint fans of their glowing highlighter look.
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Big 12 M5: 02.25.15 Edition

Posted by Chris Stone on February 25th, 2015

morning5_big12

  1. The latest turn in the court rushing saga that followed Kansas State’s win over Kansas on Monday came when Kansas State student Nathan Power issued an apology in the Wildcats’ student newspaper, The Collegian. Power admitted to being the individual who was identified for running into Jamari Traylor in the aftermath of the Wildcats’ win, but did not directly apologize to the Kansas forward for his actions. Instead, he opted to apologize for not being “careful of the people [he] was around,” while breaking the “Wildcat way” and disrespecting “the KU basketball team — Jamari Traylor in particular.” Perhaps Power cannot explicitly apologize for running into Traylor because of legal reasons, but he certainly appeared to thrust himself into the Kansas player on Monday night. I suspect this won’t be the last we hear about this incident.
  2. Lost in the court-rushing shuffle was the impressive performance put on by the Wildcats in Bramlage Coliseum, as sophomore Nigel Johnson led the way with 20 points on 8-of-11 shooting in the 70-63 win. Johnson entered the game shooting under 30 percent from behind the three-point arc for his college career, but he knocked down four three-pointers (in five attempts) against Kansas. The Wildcats will likely still need a miracle to find their way into the NCAA Tournament, but that was irrelevant to head coach Bruce Weber on Monday. “After last week this is a huge win for our guys,” Weber said. “I just asked them to forget about what happened before and not worry about what’s going to happen in the future; just worry about today and the moment.”
  3. It’s been a good week for West Virginia. Senior guard Juwan Staten was named the Big 12 Player of the Week thanks to his big role in wins against Kansas and Oklahoma State last week. The Mountaineers followed up those victories with a 71-64 win over Texas on Tuesday night in Morgantown, putting them just one game back of Kansas in the Big 12 standings with a trip to Lawrence looming.
  4. Earlier this week, Burnt Orange Nation’s Cody Daniel called for Texas senior Jonathan Holmes to lead the late-season revival of the Longhorns. Unfortunately for everyone, after knocking down a pair of three-pointers in the first half against West Virginia, Holmes was ejected from the game for elbowing the Mountaineers’ Devin Williams. Although the Longhorns managed to make the game interesting down the stretch, the absence of Holmes from the lineup loomed large for a Texas team that is fighting to stay in the NCAA Tournament picture. Rick Barnes will need his senior leader to step up in the team’s final three games of the regular season just to stay on the right side of the bubble.
  5. The next big game in a long line of big games in the Big 12 this season comes tonight when Baylor travels north to face Iowa State in Ames. The Cyclones are now just a half-game back from Kansas in the conference standings, and a win would pull them even with the Jayhawks. Iowa State plays its two toughest remaining opponents in Hilton Coliseum, but that won’t make their remaining schedule any easier, says Randy Peterson of The Des Moines Register. Baylor will attempt to slow the pace against the Cyclones and use its zone defense to force Iowa State to knock down outside shots. If the Cyclones succeed, we’ll be in for a very exciting finish to the Big 12 regular season.
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