NCAA Tournament Game Analysis: Sweet Sixteen, Friday Night

Posted by Walker Carey (@walkerRcarey) & Brian Otskey (@botskey) on March 28th, 2014

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Walker Carey (@walkerRcarey) is the NCAA Tournament’s Midwest Region correspondent, and Brian Otskey (@botskey) is the NCAA Tournament’s East Region correspondent. Make sure to also follow @RTCMidwestRegion and @RTCEastRegion for news and analysis from Indianapolis and New York City throughout the weekend.

#2 Michigan vs. #11 Tennessee – Midwest Region Sweet 16 (from Indianapolis, IN) – at 7:15 PM EST on CBS

Tennessee was not supposed to be in this position. It barely found its way into the NCAA Tournament. In fact, the Volunteers had to travel to Dayton last Wednesday to take on Iowa to even advance to the round of 64. Tennessee got by the Hawkeyes in overtime and that was only the beginning of its winning ways. In Raleigh, Cuonzo Martin’s squad was able to throttle Massachusetts and take advantage of Duke’s stunning loss to Mercer by dismantling Bob Hoffman’s Bears in the round of 32 to advance to the Sweet 16. Leading the way thus far for Tennessee has been the spectacular play of forward Jarnell Stokes. The junior has been nothing short of dominant in the team’s recent run, as he is averaging 20.3 points and 15 rebounds in his last three games. The Volunteers have also received a lift from guard Josh Richardson. The junior, who averaged 10.1 points per game in the regular season, has stepped up his play in the tournament, as he is averaging 19.3 points per contest. As a team, the Volunteers’ performance on the rebounding glass has aided tremendously in taking them to the Sweet 16. Tennessee has been an excellent rebounding team all season and its rebounding prowess was never more on display than in Sunday’s victory over Mercer. The Volunteers had a sensational 41-19 rebounding advantage over the Bears in the winning effort.

Expect plenty of fireworks between these two guys Friday night. (Getty & USA TODAY Sports)

Expect plenty of fireworks between these two guys Friday night. (Getty & USA TODAY Sports)

Michigan will take the court in Indianapolis after a relatively easy first weekend in Milwaukee. The Wolverines cruised to a 17-point victory in the round of 64 over an undermanned Wofford squad before wearing down Texas in a 14-point victory. John Beilein’s team has been an outstanding perimeter shooting offense and that has carried over into the postseason. The Wolverines hit a combined 21 three-pointers in the two victories. Big Ten Player of the Year Nik Stauskas hit seven of those 21 triples an was the team’s leading scorer in each victory. Michigan’s frontcourt has been seen as a concern since sophomore big man Mitch McGary was lost to a back injury in late December, but forward Jordan Morgan showed he is a capable post presence with his performances in Milwaukee. The senior averaged 12.5 points and 10 rebounds against Wofford and Texas, while living up to his reputation as a solid interior defender. In Friday’s game, it should be expected that both teams will play to their strengths. Tennessee will try to use its size advantage to the dominate the interior and Michigan will attempt to get its perimeter shooting going early and often. Texas had a great advantage over Michigan in size too, but the Wolverines were able to wear the Longhorn bigs down through a terrific transition effort and solid offensive spacing. It would be wise to expect Michigan to do the same Friday. Tennessee will keep close throughout much of the game, but the shot-making ability of Stauskas, Caris LeVert, and Glenn Robinson III will ultimately be too much for the Volunteers to overcome. Two-seed Michigan will win the game to advance to its second straight Elite Eight.

The RTC Certified Pick: Michigan

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Assessing Three Key Big 12 Matchups in the Sweet Sixteen

Posted by Brian Goodman on March 26th, 2014

The Big 12 has had a rough go of things in this season’s NCAA Tournament, but the conference is very much alive with two teams still playing. To briefly recap how we got here, Kansas returned to campus earlier than expected, Oklahoma State failed to carry its improved play into the Tournament, and Oklahoma fell victim to a #12 seed darling in North Dakota State. It’s safe to say that those teams underperformed relative to expectations both at the beginning of the season and after Selection Sunday, but the damage doesn’t end there. Kansas State was also bounced by Kentucky in the second round and Texas fell to Michigan in the round of 32 after needing a buzzer-beating putback to get past a mediocre Arizona State squad. While some attrition is to be expected whenever a large percentage of a conference makes the field, it was reasonable to believe that more than two teams from the Big 12 would emerge from the frenzied opening weekend. Still, what we’re left with are two proud programs in Baylor and Iowa State that have been playing well for about six weeks now. As the Cyclones and Bears get ready for their next tests against UConn and Wisconsin, respectively, here are the three key match-ups worth your attention.

After a performance for the ages in the Round of 32, DeAndre Kane will need to be at his best against UConn. (USA Today)

After a performance for the ages in the Round of 32, DeAndre Kane will need to be at his best yet again against UConn. (USA Today)

  1. DeAndre Kane vs. Shabazz Napier - The country’s two best do-everything guards lock horns in Madison Square Garden Friday night with a spot in the Elite Eight on the line — what could be better? After stepping up in a huge way with 24 points, 10 rebounds and seven assists against North Carolina Sunday, Kane will likely need another large performance to offset the loss of Georges Niang if the Cyclones are to make their first Elite Eight since 2000. On the other side, Napier was fantastic against Villanova, shaking off foul trouble and a tweaked leg on his way to 25 points on 9-of-13 shooting. The MSG crowd will certainly be pro-UConn, and Napier will have a chip on his shoulder after the Cyclones ended the Huskies’ NCAA Tournament defense a couple of years ago. While Kane and Napier may not be matched up against each other when they step onto the court, it stands to reason that whichever team gets the best performance from its stud guard will play for a chance to cut down the nets in New York. Read the rest of this entry »
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NCAA Regional Reset: East Region

Posted by Brian Otskey on March 26th, 2014

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Brian Otskey (@botskey) is the NCAA Tournament’s East Region correspondent, which begins Friday night at Madison Square Garden in New York City with Iowa State vs. Connecticut followed by Virginia vs. Michigan State. The South Regional Reset and the West Regional Reset published yesterday, and the Midwest Regional Reset earlier today. Make sure to also follow @RTCEastRegion for news and analysis from New York throughout the weekend.

Madison Square Garden will host the NCAA tournament for the first time since 1961.

Madison Square Garden will host the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 1961.

New Favorite: #1 Virginia. You can conceivably make an argument for any of the four teams to come out of this region and advance to Arlington but I picked Virginia as the favorite when the brackets came out so there is no reason I should change at this point. Could the Cavaliers lose to Michigan State? Of course they could. But they have been the better team this year and earned that #1 seed for a reason. The Wahoos got the top seed jitters out of their system in a closer-than-expected opening round encounter with Coastal Carolina and proceeded to dispatch Memphis in methodical yet impressive fashion on Sunday night. With a stifling defense and an offense better than most observers give it credit for, top-seeded Virginia remains the team to beat in this region.

Horse of Darkness: #7 Connecticut. The Huskies survived St. Joe’s and dismantled Villanova in the second half on Saturday night thanks in large part to the Shabazz Napier Show (25 points). Connecticut is back at Madison Square Garden for the first time since winning the 2KSports Classic this past November, a place where it has been highly successful over previous years in the Big East. This team may very well have the biggest fan presence of the four teams in this region given the school’s proximity to New York and history of success in the building. It is never wise to count out a team with a star player and intangibles going in its favor, despite being the lowest seeded team remaining in the region.

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Triangle Basketball Apocalypse: A Retrospective

Posted by Matt Patton on March 24th, 2014

NC State, Duke and North Carolina all lost over the opening weekend of the NCAA Tournament in excruciating fashion: NC State led essentially the whole game before slowly relinquishing a 99 percent safe (according to kenpom.com) lead in the final four minutes to Saint Louis; Duke’s stars failed to produce en route to also blowing a 90 percent safe lead in the final five minutes to a double-digit underdog; North Carolina made the round of 32, but never got a last shot (presumably to win the game) because of a hesitant clock operator. Let’s take a deeper look at all three.

Roy Williams was understandably deflated after bizarre finish. (credit: Christine Nguyen / Durham Herald Sun)

Roy Williams was understandably deflated after a bizarre finish in San Antonio. (credit: Christine Nguyen / Durham Herald Sun)

There’s no sugarcoating the NC State loss. It was brutal to follow. Drawn out and essentially feeding on itself (each missed free throw made the following ones even more difficult), it was just the toughest collapse to watch. Truthfully it was the worst collapse in a very long time. No one finished watching that game thinking that the better team (at least at this moment) had won. The Wolfpack dominated the first 37 minutes before Saint Louis got desperate and reached into the well-worn halls of NC State history for Jimmy V’s relentless fouling strategy. It worked. The Wolfpack made eight of 18 free throws in the final 2:44 of the game, while the dormant Billikens offense jumped to life, scoring 16 points over the same span (19 points if you count Jordair Jett‘s and-one with three minutes left that started the comeback). That was just shy of a third of Saint Louis’ offensive production over the first 37 minutes. Unsurprisingly, Jim Crews’ team went on to win in overtime after Tyler Lewis rattled out the would-be game winner at the buzzer from (gulp) the free throw line. Good luck finding a more drawn-out collapse.

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NCAA Game Analysis: Second Round, Friday Evening

Posted by Brian Otskey, Andrew Murawa, Walker Carey & Bennet Hayes on March 21st, 2014

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We may not know what the Friday evening sessions might have in store for us, but we can be confident in thinking there will be lots of excitement. Let’s continue our analysis of all of today’s games with the evening slate of eight contests.

#8 Memphis vs. #9 George Washington – East Region Second Round (at Raleigh, NC) – 6:55 PM ET on TBS

It's Put Up or Shut Up Time for Josh Pastner (Photo: Spruce Derden/USA TODAY Sports)

It’s Put Up or Shut Up Time for Josh Pastner
(Photo: Spruce Derden/USA TODAY Sports)

On paper this is a very intriguing game. The statistics, especially those compiled by Ken Pomeroy, point to an even match-up between two teams who play similar styles. A tougher Atlantic 10 schedule caught up to George Washington in the closing weeks of the season but the Colonials still enter this game with a 7-5 record in their last 12 games. Memphis, on the other hand, is just 4-4 in its last eight after getting bounced on its home floor by Connecticut in the AAC Tournament. Mike Lonergan’s team will be led by a pair of former high-major players who transferred to his program, Maurice Creek and Isaiah Armwood. Creek represents the most substantial three-point threat for GW and it will be interesting to see if he can get some shots to go down against a Memphis guard unit that defends the arc fairly well. There is injury news regarding the Colonials. 6’3” guard Kethan Savage is unlikely to see significant time if at all, but Lonergan would not rule him out of action when asked on Thursday. Savage (12.7 PPG) made a one-minute appearance in last week’s conference tournament loss to VCU but has not played any significant minutes since January 18. If he can go, it would provide more of an emotional lift to GW than anything else given he is nowhere near 100 percent. As for Memphis, it will have to dominate the paint area and win the rebounding battle in order to advance to the round of 32. The Tigers have a lot of talent but it is hard to trust this team against a talented A-10 club with something to prove.

The RTC Certified Pick: George Washington

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Big 12 M5: 03.17.14 Edition

Posted by Kory Carpenter on March 17th, 2014

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  1. The Big 12 was considered by many to be the best conference in the country this season, and that might have been validated when seven of its 10 schools made the NCAA Tournament yesterday. The 70 percent acceptance rate was higher than any other conference, and as Wendell Barnhouse at Big12sports.com points out, it is the only power conference without a team seeded lower than ninth. As Committee chairman Ron Wellman explains to Barnhouse, Big 12 teams playing so many top-50 RPI teams this season helped improve resumes and likely pushed a potential bubble team like Oklahoma State into the field.
  2. If you like NCAA Tournament committee conspiracy theories, Gregg Doyel has an interesting article here on just that topic. Other than the NBA Draft, the NCAA Tournament selection and bracketing process brings out as many conspiracy theorists as any sporting event. Doyel brings up a few interesting points in this year’s bracket, namely that #1 seed and untested Wichita State will potentially face an underseeded #4 Louisville team just 90 minutes from its campus in the Sweet Sixteen, while #6 seed Baylor gets two de facto home games in San Antonio in the first two rounds. Me? I don’t buy them. There are so many interesting potential match-ups (Wichita State vs Kansas State in the Round of 32, as Doyel also points out) that you’re going to get a few of them. The law of averages tells us that. Besides, when the committee had the perfect chance to put Border Civil War members Kansas and Missouri against each other in the Round of 32 last season, #1 seed Kansas was in the South region while #9 seed Missouri was in the Midwest. No conspiracy there.
  3. Seven-seed New Mexico quickly became many people’s upset pick when a potential rematch against #2 seed Kansas became a possibility in the Round of 32. And with the way the Jayhawks have been playing without Joel Embiid in the lineup, it certainly makes sense. Kansas beat New Mexico 80-63 back in December thanks to Embiid’s 18 points, six rebounds, and four blocks, and as Rustin Dodd points out, the Lobos are hot right now. Ten-seed Stanford isn’t, however, and the Cardinal looks to be a better match-up for Kansas in the round of 32.
  4. ESPN’s Eamonn Brennan takes a look at all 68 teams in the NCAA Tournament and puts them into  categories ranging from bracket busters to favorites, and a few places in-between. Kansas State, Texas and Baylor fell in the “High-Major Meh” category, and it’s hard to argue with him. I don’t see any of those three teams surviving the first weekend. He has a little more faith in Oklahoma, thanks in large part to head coach Lon Kruger. Kansas is just outside the “Favorites” group because of the uncertainty of Joel Embiid’s back injury.
  5. One of the best players in the Big 12 is preparing for the first NCAA Tournament game of his career, and it has been a long time coming. But I’m not talking about freshmen Andrew Wiggins or Marcus Foster. Rather, Iowa State guard DeAndre Kane played four seasons in relative obscurity at Marshall before transferring to Iowa State for a fifth season. He led the Cyclones to the Big 12 Tournament championship and a #3 seed as the Cyclones have become a trendy pick to advance to the second weekend and beyond.
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Bracket Prep: East Region Analysis

Posted by Brian Otskey (@botskey) on March 17th, 2014

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Throughout Monday, we will roll out our region-by-region analysis on the following schedule: East (10:00 AM), Midwest (11:00 AM), South (1:00 PM), West (2:00 PM). Here, Brian Otskey (@botskey) breaks down the East Region from top to bottom. Also, be sure to follow our RTC East Region handle on Twitter for continuous updates the next two weeks (@RTCeastregion).

You should also check out our upcoming RTC Podblast with Brian breaking down the East Region, which will drop both on the site and on iTunes Tuesday.

East Region

Favorite: #1 Virginia (28-6, 16-2 ACC) – The Cavaliers earned the final No. 1 seed and there should be no griping about that. While much is made about Virginia’s unbalanced ACC schedule, you can’t brush off both the regular season and conference tournament crowns. Tony Bennett’s team has a great blend of talent and experience with seniors Joe Harris and Akil Mitchell leading an impressive group of sophomores. This team is one of the finest in the nation on the defensive end of the floor where it has earned its reputation for slow, physical basketball, but its offense doesn’t get the credit it deserves. Virginia ranks No. 25 nationally in adjusted offensive efficiency and was second behind only Duke in ACC games.

Joe Harris led his Cavaliers team to the ACC title and a No. 1 seed. (USA Today).

Joe Harris led his Cavaliers team to the ACC title and a No. 1 seed. (USA Today).

Should They Falter: #2 Villanova (28-4, 16-2 Big East) – The Wildcats blew their chance to grab the top seed in this region with a quarterfinal Big East loss to Seton Hall on Thursday. That said, Villanova remains a dangerous team. Jay Wright’s group has not received a lot of press because most people may not even know the players on this team. There are no stars or surefire NBA draft picks here, but this team plays with tremendous chemistry and is efficient on both sides of the ball. Are the Wildcats too reliant on the three-point shot? Probably, but the toughest competition for Villanova likely won’t arrive until the Sweet Sixteen at the earliest, where it may have to face Iowa State.

Grossly Overseeded: #13 Delaware (25-9, 14-2 Colonial) – Admittedly, this is a reach. There are no teams in this region I felt were overseeded, but I have to pick one, Delaware is it. The Blue Hens went just 8-7 outside of conference play and are a great example of the stark contrast between the RPI and better rating systems like KenPom. Delaware is No. 70 in the RPI, which no doubt helped them to a No. 13 seed, but its efficiency profile (No. 105 in KenPom) is much more similar to that of a #14 or #15 seed. The Blue Hens are a good team and were very competitive with Villanova and Notre Dame this season, among others, but a #14 seed may have been more appropriate. Again, this is a very minor quibble with an otherwise solid seeding job in this region by the committee.

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NCAA Tournament Instareaction: Big 12 Teams

Posted by Brian Goodman & Taylor Erickson on March 16th, 2014

Sunday night, the Big 12 realized the rewards of an outstanding 2013-14 season. Back in November, the league was expected to top out at five NCAA bids, but a league record-tying seven schools heard their names called on Selection Sunday. The conference’s selection of NCAA Tournament participants run the gamut from national title contender (Kansas, if the Jayhawks live long enough to see the return of Joel Embiid) to trendy second weekend picks like Iowa State, Baylor and Oklahoma State, to a trio that not only outperformed preseason expectations but cemented their standings without needing extra wins over this weekend to do so (Texas, Kansas State and Oklahoma). The league may not have a team that you can feel great about locking in for an appearance in Dallas in early April, but you can say the same thing for most power conferences around the country.

Can the Jayhawks get past New Mexico in the second round if they'll need to do so without Joel Embiid? (USA Today)

The Jayhawks have national title aspirations, but can they get past a potential match-up against New Mexico without Joel Embiid? (USA Today)

Kansas (Brian Goodman)

  • Seed: #2 South
  • Quick First Round Preview: Kansas will square off against the 15-seed Eastern Kentucky Colonels, winners of the Ohio Valley Conference Tournament. The Jayhawks shouldn’t have much trouble handling them — even without Joel Embiid in the lineup — but Jeff Neubauer’s senior-laden team operates with the nation’s fourth-best effective field-goal percentage (57 percent) and turns opponents over at a rate of 24.2 percent.
  • Intriguing Potential Future Matchup: A second-round match-up against New Mexico will await the Jayhawks provided both teams take care of business. Bill Self‘s team beat Craig Neal’s in Kansas City just three months ago, but New Mexico forward Cameron Bairstow didn’t have much trouble against Kansas’ front line even with Embiid, as he led the Lobos with 24 points in the losing effort.
  • Final Word: The Jayhawks reap the rewards of their historically intense non-conference schedule and relative walk to their 10th straight Big 12 regular season title with favorable placement in St. Louis, just a five-hour drive from Lawrence. Traveling Jayhawks fans will be in for a treat, as they can catch Wichita State, Kentucky and fellow Big 12 member Kansas State all under one roof.

Iowa State (Kory Carpenter)

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Rushed Reactions: #16 Iowa State 74, Baylor 65

Posted by Brian Goodman on March 15th, 2014

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Brian Goodman is an RTC correspondent. He filed this report after Saturday night’s Big 12 Tournament final between Iowa State and Baylor.

Three Key Takeaways.

The Mayor Brings a Championship Home to Ames (AP)

The Mayor Brings a Championship Home to Ames (AP)

  1. Iowa State perseveres before finally getting over the hump. After Iowa State’s dominant shooting performance against Kansas, the Cyclones found scoring to be much more of a struggle in the first half against Baylor’s zone defense. Things couldn’t have started much worse for Fred Hoiberg’s squad, as they fell behind 11-1 to start the game and didn’t hit its first shot from the floor until more than seven minutes had passed in the first half. Iowa State’s Big Three of Melvin Ejim, DeAndre Kane and Georges Niang were stifled into a miserable 3-of-17 performance before intermission, and the team as a whole shot just 32 percent from the field in the first half. Baylor’s zone moved very nicely, doing an excellent job of denying the lane and closing out on the perimeter at the same time to keep the Cyclones at bay, even though the Bears weren’t doing so hot on offense themselves. Baylor extended its five-point halftime lead to eight midway through the second half, but the Cyclones slowly chipped away. Although Baylor quieted an Iowa State-dominant crowd for most of the second half by answering with buckets of their own, the Cyclones finally broke through with consecutive three-pointers by Naz Long and Ejim and sealed the win from there.
  2. Big second half propels Iowa State to the Big 12 Tournament crown. All told, the Cyclones were fortunate to only be down by five points at halftime. They shot poorly and had a hard time cleaning up their misses, but fortunately for them, Baylor didn’t fare much better, shooting just 34.5 percent from the floor in the first half themselves. The Cyclones simplified their attack in the second half, mostly relying on close looks and mid-range jump shots to keep the game close before going over the top with the aforementioned pair of three-pointers. A 69.6 percent shooting clip in the second half powered Iowa State past Baylor in the home stretch. Read the rest of this entry »
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Three Thoughts on Iowa State’s Win Over Kansas

Posted by Brian Goodman on March 14th, 2014

The Big 12 Tournament’s first semifinal saw Iowa State turn Kansas away after two unsuccessful tries earlier this season. For all the talk of the Big East Tournament having a different look than years’ past, the Jayhawks’ loss ensured a Big 12 Tournament final that won’t feature either of Kansas or Missouri for the first time since 2005. For the fifth straight time against tournament-level competition, Kansas looked especially vulnerable, and tonight, the Cyclones were able to take advantage with yet another strong showing from their Big Three.

Georges Niang Feasted on the Kansas Interior Tonight (AP)

Georges Niang Feasted on the Kansas Interior Tonight (AP)

  1. Iowa State throws a paint party with Embiid out. In Kansas’ first two games against Iowa State (both wins), Joel Embiid was a complete menace, averaging 15 points and 10 rebounds per game, so it wasn’t hard to see Georges Niang‘s eyes light up as he went to work on inferior defenders like Perry Ellis and Jamari Traylor. The Cyclones scored 38 points in the paint, and a ton of credit is due to Iowa State’s versatile bigs who make defending them a nightmare for the vast majority of opponents. Niang emptied the toolbox on Kansas’ historically passive defense on his way to a team-high 25 points. I would be remiss if I didn’t mention Niang’s eight turnovers, but very few of them were careless.
  2. Andrew Wiggins’ shot goes flat while Perry Ellis has a career game. Andrew Wiggins played all 45 minutes of Kansas’ overtime win over Oklahoma State on Thursday night, and on Friday, his fatigue showed as he struggled to get any kind of momentum going until it was too late. Wiggins missed his first six shots, many of them close to the rim, and finished his night 7-of-21 from the floor. The star freshman flashed a couple explosive moves near the end of the game, but he wasn’t his usual effective self. He finished with 22 points, but he did so on a very inefficient 21 shots. While Wiggins may not be forced to shoulder such big a load should Embiid return, he may not get a chance if he’s so ineffective again. Meanwhile, while the loss was bad enough, it would have been much worse if Perry Ellis didn’t have perhaps the best half of his career. The Wichita native scored 19 first half points on his way to 30 total, with many of those coming in the space of a torrid 23-5 run midway through the first half.
  3. Cyclone bench runs thin: If there was anything to be concerned about regarding Iowa State’s attack tonight, it was their thin bench when it comes to the offensive end. Iowa State’s reserves scored just seven of their 94 total points, and while that was good enough to do the job against a familiar opponent, it’s fair to question what might happen if one of the Cyclones’ big three of NiangMelvin Ejim and DeAndre Kane has an off night, runs into foul trouble, or is matched up against tougher interior defenses. While this isn’t anything new for Fred Hoiberg’s team, it will be something to keep an eye on as we move deeper into March.
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Big 12 M5: 03.11.14 Edition

Posted by Brian Goodman on March 11th, 2014

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  1. When it was reported late Sunday that Kansas center Joel Embiid would seek out a second opinion on his ongoing back injury, it appeared that his diagnosis would be worse than what fans were hoping for. There’s an update on his status and it isn’t good. According to a statement released by Bill Self, Embiid will miss the entirety of the Big 12 Tournament this week and is a “longshot” to play in the opening weekend of the NCAA Tournament. The big man’s injury throws a big wrench into the Jayhawks’ postseason aspirations. It will be tough for Kansas to replace Embiid’s presence as a rim protector, and while the hole he leaves is in the frontcourt, the pressure will be on erratic point guard Naadir Tharpe to deliver consecutive strong outings, which is a dicey proposition. In any case, it’s always unfortunate to see an injury create a roadblock for a national title contender (fans of the 2012 North Carolina Tar Heels, 2010 Syracuse Orange and 2000 Cincinnati Bearcats know what I’m talking about), so it will be interesting to see how Kansas gameplans for life without its star center.
  2. Four months ago, you could make the case that Texas head coach Rick Barnes was coaching for his job this season. Twenty-two wins, a Big 12 COY honor, one probable NCAA Tournament berth and one photo with Justin Bieber later (okay, so maybe that last one isn’t such a big factor), Texas AD Steve Patterson announced that Barnes will return to lead the Longhorns next season. Texas’ turnaround has been one of the biggest stories around college hoops after their preseason projections looked tenuous, and Barnes will remain the longest-tenured head coach in the Big 12.
  3. In the weekly Big 12 coaches’ teleconference, West Virginia head coach Bob Huggins voiced his opinion that his Mountaineers would be in “great shape” to secure an NCAA Tournament bid if they were to win two games in Kansas City this week. To that, I say not so fast. As big as last Saturday’s win over Kansas was, it doesn’t wipe out West Virginia’s batch of non-conference losses and mediocre record in Big 12 play. It’s easy to understand Huggins wanting to defend his team, and two more wins would be very helpful to West Virginia’s resume, but they will likely need some breaks on top of that to get off the bubble.
  4. For college hoops purists, the Big 12’s double round-robin schedule is one of the last vestiges of utilitarian competition in a world of swelling conferences driven by that weird other sport – you know, the one with the “ball” that isn’t even spherical. The opportunity to play each team twice is one that hasn’t been lost on the league’s coaches, and it’s a big reason why they believe the Big 12 has been the toughest conference in the country this season. With the conference catapulting at least five teams and probably more into the NCAA Tournament, it’s tough to make a counterargument. No matter who cracks the bracket from the Big 12, we’ll know that they’ll have been battle-tested and ready for the challenges that await.
  5. As Iowa State gets ready to be at its best at the Sprint Center this week, it was announced that the Cyclones will headline the venue’s November event, the CBE Classic, next season. Fred Hoiberg’s team will join Maryland, Alabama, and Arizona State on November 24-25 alongside the College Basketball Hall Of Fame’s annual inductions. The two-day tournament has hosted some of the country’s best teams, most recently the undefeated Wichita State Shockers, and while it’s tough to think about next season at a time like this, it’s reassuring to know that there will be a highly competitive Feast Week event in Big 12 Country next season.
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Big 12 M5: 03.10.14 Edition

Posted by Brian Goodman on March 10th, 2014

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  1. The Kansas City Star reported that Kansas center Joel Embiid is in California getting a second opinion on his lingering back problems. Embiid has already missed three games due to back ailments and has been hampered in others, and his status for the Big 12 Tournament and beyond is in significant doubt. It would be a shame for the freshman to miss out on the most important games of his collegiate career, but it looks like Bill Self will have to hope for the best and plan for the worst as the Jayhawks look to get their postseason house in order.
  2. Iowa State forward Melvin Ejim has enjoyed a terrific season to this point, and his efforts were rewarded on Sunday by the league’s coaches, who tabbed him with the Big 12 Player Of The Year honor. Ejim finished the season ranked second in the conference in scoring (18.2 PPG) as well as rebounding (8.6 RPG), and his regular season campaign was highlighted by a 48-point outburst against TCU back on February 8. He’s a very deserving candidate, and there are legitimate cases for several other players as well. The RTC Big 12 Microsite contributors will have more on Ejim, Andrew Wiggins, DeAndre Kane and several other top performers later today.
  3. Whether you roll your eyes at Marcus Smart‘s flopping or embrace it as just one more thing by which to remember the season, there’s no doubt that the Oklahoma State point guard has garnered his share of headlines. When the Cowboys paid a visit to Hilton Coliseum on Saturday, Iowa State students mocked Smart in a coordinated effort to try to distract him at the free throw line by dramatically falling into their seats. They had instructions printed out and everything. Cyclone fans have earned a deserving reputation as some of the most hostile and passionate ones in the conference, so while Smart or Travis Ford may not have appreciated their idea of fun, it’s another reminder of how it’s not just the players and coaches that make college basketball worth following.
  4. There are zombies descending on Kansas City. No, The Walking Dead hasn’t suddenly changed locations, but the resurrected versions of Oklahoma State and Baylor are on the prowl and looking to do some damage this week, as detailed by USA Today’s Nicole Auerbach. After miserable starts to conference play, the Cowboys and Bears revived their NCAA Tournament chances with strong finishes to the regular season. Both teams are good bets to lock down bids regardless of what happens at the Sprint Center this week, but losing their first games and putting their fate in the hands of the selection committee would not be advisable for either squad.
  5. It’s been a rough go for Trent Johnson and TCU this season. A laundry list of injuries has hampered Johnson’s rebuilding effort, and despite fielding a promising big man in freshman Karviar Shepherd, the Horned Frogs couldn’t avoid becoming the first Big 12 team in 10 years to go winless in conference play. TCU dropped to 0-18 in league action, ending the regular season with a 30-point shellacking at the hands of Oklahoma. Johnson’s team will look to play spoiler when it faces a Baylor squad looking to cement an NCAA Tournament bid Wednesday night in Kansas City.
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