RTC Weekly Primer: Who Can Make a Run in March?

Posted by Henry Bushnell on February 24th, 2015

It happens every year. Every single year. Okay, that might be a bit of an exaggeration, but more often than not, there comes a time in a college basketball season when the entire hoops world witnesses the birth of something. It can begin with a bang; but it can also begin innocuously. It can occur in plain sight; but it can also be the tree in the middle of a deserted forest. This birth, of course, is the preliminary stage of a postseason run. And the run, of course, is the one that in a few weeks time will be the talk of college basketball. Back in 2011, it was Shelvin Mack, Brad Stevens and Butler. In 2012, it was Lorenzo Brown and NC State. In 2013, it was very nearly Marshall Henderson and Ole Miss. A season ago, it was Jordan McRae and the upstart Tennessee Volunteers. NCAA Tournament runs usually don’t just appear out of thin air. Typically, there’s a backstory. In 2015, the time has come for those backstories to develop. Next month’s headlines will start formulating themselves right now.

Most Every Team is Looking For Its Butler Moment (USA Today Images)

Most Every Team is Looking For Its Butler Moment (USA Today Images)

Who will those headlines be written about this year? Who will be the team that sees everything come together at the right time? Who will be that team? It’s time to start considering some possibilities:

  • Georgetown – The Hoyas aren’t exactly in the same category as the Butlers and Ole Misses of years past, but they seem to be flying somewhat under the radar. Georgetown has the pieces to make a run. The Hoyas are a top-20 defensive team, boast an occasionally dominant post presence in senior center Josh Smith, and have a guard in D’Vauntes Smith-Rivera who can take over a game. After getting smoked by Villanova a couple weeks ago, they’ve now won three straight and have the week off to prepare for St. John’s in Madison Square Garden on Saturday. That’s the kind of win that could propel the Hoyas to a #4 or #5 seed and their first Sweet Sixteen (or better) run since 2007.
  • Indiana – Another team that is solidly in the NCAA Tournament, the Hoosiers certainly will never be considered a Cinderella story. But most projections have them as a #8 or #9 seed right now, meaning they aren’t being discussed as a legitimate contender either. This team has notable flaws in its personnel and it has a coach who many have questioned in recent years. But it’s also arguably got the most lethal backcourt in the country — just the type of thing that can carry a team on a surprising journey through March. The Hoosiers, which have struggled on the road but have been dynamite at home, travel to Northwestern on Wednesday night before a two-game home swing featuring Iowa and Michigan State. It’s really the perfect slate to build some March momentum.

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As Kansas Cools Off, Big 12 Title Race Heats Up

Posted by Chris Stone on February 24th, 2015

Just a few short weeks ago, an 11th straight Big 12 regular season championship seemed like a lock for Bill Self and Kansas. “[I]t would take a monumental collapse for the Jayhawks to miss out on at least a share of another Big 12 title this season,” I wrote back on February 4, as we passed the midpoint of conference play. At the time, Kansas held a two-game lead over its competition and was coming off an impressive home win against Iowa State in Lawrence. Another share of the regular season title seemed like a sure thing for this year’s Jayhawks.

The Big 12 title race is wide open after Kansas lost on Monday night. (KUSports)

The Big 12 title race is wide open after Kansas lost at Kansas State on Monday night. (KUSports)

Self emphasized the importance of the Jayhawks’ road games after their victory against the Cyclones. Kansas at the time still had five away contests on the remaining schedule and the head coach noted that his team would be in a much more comfortable position if it could steal a few wins away from Allen Fieldhouse. Since those prophetic comments, Kansas has trended downward, going 1-3 on the road with their lone win coming against the league’s worst team, Texas Tech. The Jayhawks laid an egg in the second half against Oklahoma State, turned it over on 26.9 percent of their possessions in Morgantown, and couldn’t get a stop down the stretch against the Wildcats in Manhattan last night. As a result, Kansas has seen its lead in the Big 12 race slip away; now at 11-4, the Jayhawks are just half a game up on the Cyclones as Fred Hoiberg’s bunch takes on Baylor in Ames on Wednesday.

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Big 12 Power Rankings: The Texas Basketball Massacre Edition

Posted by Nate Kotisso on February 23rd, 2015

This was supposed to be the season. Like, THE season. The season Texas began ranked in the top 10 of the Associated Press preseason poll. The season it would dethrone Kansas from the perch overlooking the rest of the Big 12. And more importantly, this was supposed to be the season — with eight rotation players returning and a blue-chipper entering — where it was destined for a run to NCAA Tournament’s second weekend, and perhaps beyond. Instead, the Longhorns sit at 17-10 overall with a meager 6-8 mark in Big 12 play. The general consensus from bracketologists, bubble-watchers and fans alike is that Texas, while starting trouble in the face over the next few weeks, is still safely in the field.

The problem with Texas' nosedive is a lot of little problems: from inconsistent play to coach Rick Barnes. (Troy Taormina/USA Today Sports Images)

The problem with Texas’ nosedive is a lot of little problems: from inconsistent play to coach Rick Barnes and beyond. (Troy Taormina/USA Today Sports Images)

To his credit, Rick Barnes is the only Big 12 coach other than Bill Self who consistently schedules a difficult non-conference schedule. This season’s slate of games looked rough in August but doesn’t seem all that impressive six months later. Four of Texas’ five toughest opponents (not including Kentucky, because Kentucky) were Iowa, California, Connecticut and Stanford. The Hawkeyes and Bears are no strangers to playing in the NCAA Tournament; Stanford went to the Sweet Sixteen just last year; and Connecticut, of course, is 10 months removed from cutting down the nets in Arlington. Unfortunately for Texas, the win over Iowa now means that the Longhorns have a win against another bubble team instead of a resume-enhancer; beating Cal doesn’t help them with their postseason aspirations; a win over UConn is questionable at best, and a loss to fellow bubble resident Stanford at home doesn’t help things. The conference schedule isn’t much better. Texas has only beaten one team (West Virginia) that is likely to reach the NCAA Tournament. The perception of this team could have easily been improved in a strong conference where every team plays each other twice, but possible sweeps of TCU, Texas Tech and Kansas State do not exactly scream great resume. With road tilts still to come at West Virginia and Kansas followed by home dates with Baylor and Kansas State, the Horns would have to find a way to finish 3-1 by splitting their road games and sweeping the last two in order to get themselves safely into the NCAA Tournament. Otherwise, Texas won’t make it to the finish line. What a disappointment.

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RTC Top 25: Week Fourteen

Posted by Walker Carey on February 23rd, 2015

Former Big East rivals #16 West Virginia and #18 Louisville probably turned in the most eventful week in college basketball. The Mountaineers jumped eight spots this week after earning victories against two ranked opponents, beginning on Monday when senior guard Juwan Staten made a layup with four seconds remaining to give his team a one-point home triumph over #8 Kansas. Bob Huggins’ squad followed that up on Saturday when it grabbed a nice 10-point win at Oklahoma State. Those two Big 12 wins moved West Virginia’s conference record to 9-5, which at this point still gives the Mountaineeers a glimmer of hope in the Big 12 race. While West Virginia’s week had a great week, Louisville experienced something of a media circus that concluded with the dismissal of one of its key players. First, news broke Tuesday evening that senior guard Chris Jones was suspended indefinitely and would not be with the team for Wednesday’s game at Syracuse. Predictably, Louisville blew a second half lead at the Carrier Dome and lost to the Orange by 10 points. Jones was then reinstated on Thursday for Saturday’s home game versus Miami (FL), a game in which Louisville overcame a 10-point halftime deficit on its way to a much-needed two-point win. Just when it seemed like things were returning to normal for Rick Pitino’s program, the school then announced on Sunday afternoon that Jones had been formally dismissed from the program. The Cardinals now have the unenviable task of finishing the balance of the regular season and the postseason without their senior point guard and one of their best offensive threats. College basketball is often where the unexpected happens, and that was certainly on display at Louisville last week.

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

rtc25 02.23.15

Quick N’ Dirty Analysis.

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Big 12 M5: 02.23.15 Edition

Posted by Chris Stone on February 23rd, 2015

morning5_big12

  1. Don’t look now, but the Big 12 title race is in full swing. After an 85-77 victory over Texas on Saturday afternoon, Iowa State has now won three straight games and sits one game behind first place Kansas with four games left to play. While it may be tough for Fred Hoiberg’s group to win the regular season crown outright, it could certainly earn a share if the Cyclones finish strong. Hoiberg and his players agree that they are putting it together at just the right time. “We’re hitting our stride,” Georges Niang said after the win, “and I think that’s because we decided to come together and do it as a team rather than as individuals. That’s huge for us.” With their potent offense clicking on all cylinders, Iowa State will be a tough out come March.
  2. Texas, meanwhile, is headed in the opposite direction. The Longhorns have lost their last two games and are now 6-8 in Big 12 play with only one win over a conference team likely to make the NCAA Tournament. With upcoming road contests against West Virginia and Kansas still to come, it might be time for Texas to start pressing the panic button. Carrying a 1-10 record against the RPI top 50, it’s now just as likely that the Longhorns will head to the NIT, according to NBC Sports’ Rob Dauster. A win against West Virginia or Kansas would go a long, long way toward shoring up Texas’ shaky NCAA Tournament resume.
  3. Jesse Newell of The Topeka Capital-Journal published an interesting read on some of the finer details of Bill Self’s coaching during Kansas’ weekend win over TCU. From his position on press row, Jesse could hear how Self was instructing his players during the game’s stoppages in play, so he documented some of those moments in addition to how the players reacted to those conversations. While we are used to analyzing the game from a distance, this was a great opportunity to get inside one of the game’s best coaching minds.
  4. ESPN Insider has been running a series of posts this season examining potential Giant Killers in the NCAA Tournament — teams with high seeds that might upset a much better seed in the round of 32. The metric-based forecast has pegged the Big 12’s West Virginia as the most potent potential Giant Killer in the potential field. The Mountaineers’ ability to create extra shots through offensive rebounding and turnovers gives them a 77.9 percent chance to upset an average Giant come March. That’s a lethal combination when opposing teams will have such a limited amount of time (48 hours or less) to prepare for West Virginia’s unique style.
  5. Oklahoma and Texas Tech provided the latest case study in whether a team leading by three should foul or defend on the final possession. With 16 seconds remaining, Sooners’ coach Lon Kruger instructed his team to foul on the upcoming possession. With 7.7 seconds remaining, Oklahoma fouled the Red Raiders’ Toddrick Gotcher. After missing the first free throw, Gotcher intentionally missed the second. The ensuing scrum allowed Texas Tech’s Isaiah Manderson to grab the rebound before kicking it out to Gotcher for the tying basket. The Sooners would escape with a win in overtime, but not before facing a similar situation in the extra period. Oklahoma elected to play it out the second time around, walking away with the victory after a missed three-point attempt.
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Big 12 M5: 02.20.15 Edition

Posted by Brian Goodman on February 20th, 2015

morning5_big12

  1. Kansas coach Bill Self revealed on Thursday that big man Cliff Alexander has been banged up, but that nagging back and chest problems shouldn’t keep him from playing at a high level as the Jayhawks enter the home stretch. While Alexander has started the last few games, Self has felt more comfortable with the more experienced Landen Lucas for most of the game and the redshirt freshman affirmed his coach’s faith with solid production against Baylor and West Virginia. How Self manages his frontcourt rotation is likely to continue to be newsworthy tomorrow when the Jayhawks square off against TCU.
  2. Burnt Orange Nation has a thorough preview of the best match-up of the weekend, which pits Texas against visiting Iowa State. The Cyclones, known for converting most every close shot they get, will face a Texas frontcourt that has improved since struggling in December and January. Despite a disappointing campaign to this point, there isn’t much reason to fret over the Longhorns’ chances of making the NCAA Tournament quite yet, but a loss would spark a heightened level of debate, so a win would definitely keep their heads above water.
  3. Meanwhile, the Cyclones, who had struggled on the road before beating Oklahoma State earlier in the week, will try to keep the good vibes going. With five games remaining to make up one game on conference-leading Kansas, history is still in Iowa State’s sights. They will need some help, but any help they get will be moot if they don’t take care of business themselves. As for Iowa State’s gameplan, the Longhorns have the ninth-best transition defense in the country according to hoop-math.comso if Fred Hoiberg’s team is going to pull off another upset, it will probably have to be on the efficiency of its half-court offense.
  4. Thursday afternoon saw craziness ensue during the NBA trade deadline, and there were a couple interesting developments for former Big 12 standouts. The headline-grabber is a mini-reunion of the memorable 2006-07 Texas Longhorns with D.J. Augustin and Kevin Durant once again joining forces as Augustin was dealt from the Pistons to Durant’s Thunder. On a less pleasant note, former Jayhawk Thomas Robinson, who has struggled to find a permanent home at the next level, is on the move again after he was dealt from the Trail Blazers to the Nuggets. Robinson has already reportedly agreed to a buyout with Denver, though, so it looks like he’ll be on the move again as he searches for a role more befitting of a former #5 overall draft pick.
  5. Lastly, it’s been a very up-and-down month for Oklahoma State, which rode a wave of stellar victories before running into bumps in the road against TCU and Iowa State. Refusing to let the inconsistent play be a source of frustration, the Cowboy blog Pistols Firing brought some levity to the situation with some good old-fashioned satire at the expense of the team’s coaching staff. The post re-imagines coach Travis Ford as a “Breakfast Club”-type principal with assistant coach James Dickey playing the good cop role. It’s definitely worth a read.
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Big 12 M5: 02.18.15 Edition

Posted by Brian Goodman on February 18th, 2015

morning5_big12

  1. The road has not been kind to Iowa State in Big 12 play this season. The Cylcones are just 1-4 away from Hilton Coliseum and are about to embark on a stretch where three of their next four games will be in opponents’ gyms. As Travis Hines writes, should the Cyclones fall behind in tonight’s game against Oklahoma State, the key will be to stay loose and avoid the mindset of needing to make up the entire deficit in one play. Fred Hoiberg’s team should also feel some ease in the fact that their porous defense doesn’t figure to be a large issue against the Cowboys, a team that ranks seventh in the conference in offensive efficiency.
  2. On the other sideline, the Cowboys will look to play with the chip on their shoulder that was missing in Saturday’s loss to TCU. Facing Iowa State, Oklahoma State’s attack will have to be much more potent than the 0.89 points per possession it posted against the Horned Frogs. The hot stretch that propelled the Pokes to three straight wins over ranked teams has the team safely on the right side of the bubble, but another two or three wins in the regular season would do a lot to remove any remaining pressure.
  3. Kansas coach Bill Self‘s handling of Cliff Alexander has been a lightning rod for discussion all season, but the fervor on both sides reached a new point when Alexander played just six minutes (and none in the second half) in Kansas’ loss to West Virginia on Monday night. According to the Topeka Capital-Journal‘s Jesse Newell, the Jayhawks had their worst night on the defensive glass since 2009, and it stands to reason that the blue-chip Alexander, despite his shortcomings, could have helped significantly in that department. In a one-point game, it’s tough to isolate the outcome to any one decision, but regardless of what you think of Alexander’s pro prospects, it’s tough to see Kansas making a deep postseason run without him playing a significant role, and in order to do that, he needs reps.
  4. After spending a week and a half beating up on the lower third of the conference, Texas took a tough loss to Oklahoma in Norman Tuesday night. Myles Turner continued his stellar play, posting 16 points and 10 rebounds off the bench to go along with six blocks, but rough shooting nights from Isaiah Taylor (1-of-10) and Jonathan Holmes (2-of-9) made it challenging for the Longhorns to pull off the upset (though it was within reach). I still maintain that Texas’ NCAA Tournament hopes aren’t in any serious jeopardy, but their inability to beat good teams away from Austin (their only conference road wins have come against Texas Tech, TCU and Kansas State) doesn’t bode well for their postseason future.
  5. In the only other Big 12 action last night, Baylor edged Texas Tech by five in Lubbock to get back above .500 in league play. On a night when the Bears’ offense looked otherwise listless, Taurean Prince provided a spark with 18 first half points on his way to 22 overall. Kenny Chery recovered from a horrendous shooting night, closing out the game with four clutch free throws to seal the win.
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Big 12 Power Rankings: College Basketball’s Most Boring Conference? Edition

Posted by Nate Kotisso on February 17th, 2015

We’ve heard from fans and pundits alike this season that the Big 12 is the best conference in college basketball. SB Nation’s Mike Rutherford decided to do some homework on that discussion and released some findings in a piece he published on Monday afternoon. Before you get out your pitchforks and torches, though, Rutherford brings some strong evidence to suggest that maybe the conference is not all it’s cracked up to be. He samples the seven teams that have been ranked in the AP Top 25 during conference play — Kansas, Iowa State, Oklahoma, Baylor, Texas, West Virginia and Oklahoma State — and averaged out each team’s win/loss margin whenever a match-up between two ranked opponents occurred. For instance, in the eight games where a ranked Oklahoma team has faced a ranked Big 12 opponent, the Sooners’ combined average margin of victory (or defeat) was 14.6 points per game.

Is the Big 12 as difficult as the pollsters make it out to be? (Big 12 Conference)

Is the Big 12 as difficult as the pollsters make it out to be?

Rutherford then calculated the other average margins (accurate as of tip-off of the Kansas-West Virginia game) — Iowa State (7.9 PPG), Kansas (8.4), Baylor (10.4), Oklahoma State (12.0), Texas (17.4) and West Virginia (17.8) — and then argues that the scoring margins should be a lot closer that they actually are (aggregate scoring margin: 12.6 PPG). In this context, Rutherford is right. Big 12 basketball can be quite boring. But is that the fault of the teams? Some of it is, but the pollsters deserve the lion’s share of it. Many AP pollsters who don’t primarily cover college basketball sometimes paste together their Top 25s by skimming over how teams did the previous week. While that is clearly an important factor to consider, there are others at play too, such as performances earlier in the season or the severity of some losses. Case in point: Oklahoma was ranked #16 in the AP poll during the week of January 5 but the Sooners would go on to lose four of their next five games. In the January 26 poll released three weeks afterward, Oklahoma dropped from #16 to #24. Often a team that loses twice in a week is poised to completely fall out of the rankings, but the pollsters only punished the Sooners by eight spots following such a rough stretch. Another example is Texas, a team that dropped six of eight games at an early point in league play, falling from #10 to #25 in the AP poll over four weeks. Rankings are ultimately an exercise in aggregating how different people view the world around them, and speaking of which, here’s this week’s Big 12 Power Rankings.

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Big 12 Weekend Preview

Posted by Brian Goodman on February 13th, 2015

As we move into mid-February, the dust in the Big 12 race may finally be starting to settle. Kansas at the head of the pack isn’t anything new, but recent games have brought us a little more clarity behind them after several weeks of volatility. Oklahoma has built a sliver of separation on Iowa State and Baylor while West Virginia‘s backloaded schedule looks like it’s starting to catch up to them. Of course, we’d be remiss if we didn’t mention Oklahoma State, which has done more in the last week to change its NCAA Tournament status than perhaps any other team in the country. Weekend #7 of conference play should continue to provide resolution, but you never know when things will get chaotic again.

Wayne Selden (left) and Brannen Greene (center) have made a living torching Big 12 opponents from deep. (Jamie Squire/Getty)

Is a reliable back-to-the-basket threat really that important when Wayne Selden (left) and Brannen Greene (center) are torching all comers from deep? (Jamie Squire/Getty)

  • Baylor at Kansas (1:00 ET) – Bill Self wants his team to shoot fewer threes, but the data suggests that it shouldn’t as Kansas ranks seventh in the country in three-point percentage (40.9%). In addition, the Jayhawks make post scoring look like pulling teeth at times, so a game against Baylor’s zone should dictate more long-range bombing. Also of note here is the development that Cliff Alexander will start consecutive games for the first time all season, so keep an eye on how he responds to the challenge of keeping the glass-eating Rico Gathers off the boards.
  • West Virginia at Iowa State (4:00 ET) – Losers of two of their last three, the Mountaineers are about to enter a scheduling gauntlet that starts tomorrow at less than full strength — sophomore Brandon Watkins availability is in question after he sprained his MCL against Kansas State. Iowa State is in a little bit of a rut themselves lately, having also lost two of their last three games. As welcome an addition as Jameel McKay has been for the Cyclones, their recent efforts on defense have been horrific, so perhaps a home game against the league’s seventh-ranked will cure what ails them.

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Big 12 Power Rankings: Oklahoma, Where Wins Come Sweeping Down the Plains Edition

Posted by Nate Kotisso on February 9th, 2015

The regular season can be a long, drawn out-proposition. Around 12 to 15 games are typically played during the pre-conference season, and even though it’s impossible to survey each team correctly, people like us try it anyway to avoid doing something else that’s actually mind-numbing. Case in point with Oklahoma. While some prognosticators pegged them as an early darkhorse to make the Final Four, no one told Creighton about that as the Bluejays beat the Sooners by two points in their second game of the season (RPI: #130). Lon Kruger’s team made up for that defeat by winning two of three out in its trip to the Bahamas, including a key neutral-court victory over a much-improved Butler team (RPI: #18). December resulted in another hiccup, though, with the Sooners losing to a ranked Washington group on a neutral court. The Huskies had started the year 11-0 with several nice victories before losing nine of their next 12 games. Now that loss is looking a lot more iffy (RPI: #80).

Don't be shy. Give it a try. (SoonerSports.com)

Don’t be shy. Give it a try. (SoonerSports.com)

Thank goodness for conference play, right? Every team welcomes the chance to start all over again. After beating Baylor and Texas by a combined 31 points to tip off Big 12 play, bad Oklahoma paid a return visit. Starting with a crushing home loss in the final seconds of overtime to Kansas State, the Sooners would move on to lose four of their next five contests. But in recent weeks, it now appears that good Oklahoma is back in action with a four-game winning streak. Through the ups and downs has been a talented crop of players but perhaps the best of this group is Big 12 Player of the Year candidate Buddy Hield. His game was far more perimeter-oriented last year, but Hield has become a dangerous offensive weapon from anywhere on the floor this season. So given all of these ups and downs, the Sooners are poise to leap into sole possession of second place in the Big 12 and become the newest challenger to Kansas’ throne. But they have to win tonight.

Power Rankings

  1. Kansas — 3 points (All voted 1st). Comment: “The Jayhawks control their own destiny despite Saturday’s loss in Stillwater, but the allocation of minutes across their frontcourt continues to baffle me. Cliff Alexander played 16 minutes and was fantastic around the rim while Jamari Traylor set a new career high in turnovers (six) in his 23 minutes of action. Meanwhile, Landen Lucas contributed a forgettable two rebounds and no points in 12 minutes.” – Brian Goodman (@BSGoodman)
  2. Iowa State — 7 points (Chris & Nate — 2nd, Brian — 3rd) Comment: “The Cyclones blasted Texas Tech 75-38 this week, as Jameel McKay found his way into the starting lineup due to Bryce Dejean-Jones’ tardiness. After finishing with 17 points and nine rebounds, McKay might be proving himself worthy of a permanent spot.” – Chris Stone (@cstonehoops) Read the rest of this entry »
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Big 12 M5: 02.09.15 Edition

Posted by Nate Kotisso on February 9th, 2015

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

Posted by Chris Stone on February 4th, 2015

We’ve now arrived at the halfway point of the Big 12 season and the league standings certainly have a familiar feel to them. After winning at least a share of the regular season title in each of the last 10 seasons, Bill Self’s Kansas group once again sits atop the conference with a remarkable 8-1 record. The Jayhawks currently hold a two-game lead over their closest competitors, Iowa State and West Virginia, so even at this midway point, it’s already worth asking if another team can stop Kansas from snagging a share or an outright 11th straight regular season title. Ken Pomeroy’s ratings system currently projects Kansas to finish Big 12 play with a league-best 14-4 record. The Jayhawks are expected to be favored in all but two of their remaining games — road trips to West Virginia and Oklahoma are the pair of outliers. Because Pomeroy’s system factors in the cumulative probabilities of winning each game, he expects Kansas might drop one other unnamed game along the way.

Brannen Greene celebrates with fans after the Jayhawks' win over Iowa State. (Nick Krug/KU Sports)

Brannen Greene celebrates with fans after the Jayhawks’ win over Iowa State. (Nick Krug/KU Sports)

The Jayhawks’ season will turn on their final five road games, something Self is keenly aware of. “If you’re able to go steal another game or two on the road, then you’ll be in better shape.” he recently said. “But hey, we’ve got five road games left and if we don’t go and play well, we’ll go 0-5.” That scenario, of course, is extremely unlikely with a road game against league-worst Texas Tech coming up. Kansas is also likely to win its four remaining home games (Baylor, TCU, West Virginia and Texas). Pomeroy gives them at least a 70 percent win probability in each and Kansas is on a 20-game winning streak at Allen Fieldhouse. Even if the unthinkable occurs and the Jayhawks lose their four remaining road games, that would likely put them at 13-5 in Big 12 play to end the season.

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