OK State “OK” Without Olukemi For Now, But May Not Stay That Way

Posted by dnspewak on November 16th, 2012

For months, we’ve heard rumors about Travis Ford’s job security and the pressure to win big this season with Marcus Smart and Le’Bryan Nash. It’s rare for a college basketball coach to have one star of their caliber, much less two, so all eyes were on that duo during Oklahoma State’s showdown with Tennessee this morning in the Puerto Rico Tip-Off. It was the first real test for the new-look Cowboys, and they could not have possibly played more flawlessly on both ends of the floor in a 62-45 win. Smart can apparently run the point just fine. Nash looks more mature. A smaller OSU team bullied the Jeronne Maymon-less Volunteers, winning the rebounding battle and stifling Jarnell Stokes, and it put on a defensive clinic.

J.P. Olukemi Is Hurt Again

That’s one heck of a start for Ford in this make-or-break year. But remember, the injury bug ruined Oklahoma State’s 2011-12 season, and Ford must once again deal with injuries after J.P. Olukemi hurt his knee in Thursday’s overtime victory against Akron. Ford said it “doesn’t look good.” That’s just heartbreaking to hear for the senior, who missed most of last season with an ACL tear. It’s even more heartbreaking when you consider that the NCAA just granted Olukemi a waiver to play the second semester earlier this fall — originally, he only had eligibility through the first semester. He was supposed to play all of 2012-13, and he was supposed to play it well. Oh, and Brian Williams is already out for the season as well, so it’s a mess of a time in the trainer’s room right now.

Now, there’s no telling when Olukemi will make it back. Unfortunately, he’s out of redshirts and second chances from the NCAA. Oklahoma State could really use him, too, because he’s probably the best athlete on the team and just adds another athletic element to that backcourt full of big, physical guards. The Cowboys may have looked immortal against Tennessee, but Olukemi is a major part of this program. He’s a match-up nightmare, a versatile defender and an experienced leader with three years of Division I basketball under his belt. Outside of Nash and Smart, Olukemi is the sort of invaluable secondary player who makes this team run. And if he can’t play, it won’t only be heartbreaking for him. It’ll be heartbreaking for everybody.

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Rejoice, Oklahoma State: J.P. Olukemi Eligible For Entire Season

Posted by dnspewak on October 31st, 2012

For once, Travis Ford can take a deep breath and smile. After injuries and transfers marred a difficult and humbling 2011-12 campaign, Ford learned Wednesday that the NCAA has ruled senior wing J.P. Olukemi is eligible for the entire season as opposed to simply the first semester. If you’re wondering why exactly Olukemi originally could only play the fall semester, get ready for a tricky (late Halloween pun intended) and mysterious story. Years ago, he took a few junior college classes after his prep school shut down the basketball team, which unknowingly caused him to waste a semester of eligibility per NCAA rules. That’s why it appeared he may not be eligible for the second semester until the NCAA granted Olukemi and Oklahoma State a wavier on Wednesday. We’ve never heard of a scenario in which a player could not compete during the second semester — we’re used to dealing with players who must sit out first semesters after transferring — so it certainly was a bizarre circumstance.

The NCAA Helped Oklahoma State Out By Ruling J.P. Olukemi Eligibile

So congratulations, J.P. And congratulations to Oklahoma State, which lost Brian Williams to a season-ending injury earlier this preseason. Olukemi is perhaps the best athlete on a team full of guys who can jump out of the gym, and the Cowboys could have really used his abilities a year ago. This guy can not only leap like no other, but he’s also a handful to guard when he’s slashing and attacking the rim. He helps on the defensive end too since he can guard a variety of positions. Olukemi may not be a star, but he’s an all-around solid player and athlete with a higher ceiling than most. When Big 12 play gears up, the Cowboys will now have a bunch of big, physical hybrid guards and wings: Markel Brown (6’3”), Le’Bryan Nash (6’7”), Marcus Smart (6’4”) and Olukemi (6’6”). Now, if only Olukemi were a point guard, maybe Travis Ford would be able to rest a little easier at night. After Cezar Guerrero’s transfer, that’s the troubling position for this team, and it could be up to Smart to fill that duty.

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Big 12 Morning Five: Halloween Edition

Posted by dnspewak on October 31st, 2012

  1. Happy Halloween, college basketball fans! Want to hear a story you can use as your “trick” tonight as you’re gathering candy? How about this: According to an article in the Stillwater NewsPress, J.P. Olukemi had no idea he might be ineligible for the second semester until some kid at the student union told him about it earlier this year (you’ll need to scroll to the end of the article for this excerpt). If you’re not familiar with the situation, Olukemi has recovered from the ACL injury that stole his junior year and will suit up this month, but the NCAA has not yet ruled whether he can play an additional semester in 2013. After already losing Brian Williams to a season-ending injury, the  Cowboys cannot afford to also lose Olukemi after December. It’s too bad he had to find out the harsh news from some random dude on campus.
  2. There may not be a more intriguing story in the Big 12 this year than Amath M’Baye. The Wyoming transfer could add a new element to Oklahoma this season, and he also has quite the life story. M’Baye originally hails from France, but he’s also played in California and, of course, the state of Wyoming during his early college days. His mother will fly in from France to watch Oklahoma’s exhibition game on Friday, and she’ll get to finally see the culmination of her son’s long road to Norman. If you need proof of M’Baye’s immediate impact, look no further than the fact his teammates already voted him a team captain.
  3. Bruce Weber has to feel like a lucky man after inheriting such a solid and experienced Kansas State roster. After all, Illinois canned this guy, and he landed on his feet with arguably a better job. It’s interesting to observe how Wildcats’ players and fans are welcoming their new coach and reacting to his style. He’s always been considered a fiery personality, but he’s no Frank Martin, that’s for sure. As Will Spradling puts it: “Last year it was, if we made a mistake, we were on the line. We were running… This year it’s, ‘If you make a mistake, we’re going to do it right. We’re going to get it right. We’re going to do it as many times as we need to get it right.'” At least Weber won’t need to worry about toughening his guys up. Martin took care of all that — and then some.
  4. Myck Kabongo‘s eligibility at Texas is the storyline of fall practice so far, but coach Rick Barnes isn’t saying much about the situation. Nobody’s saying anything at all, really, just that they hope the NCAA doesn’t punish him for improper benefits and deem him ineligible to play this season. It’s almost as though nobody wants to consider that scenario, because it’s pretty nightmarish. Actually, it’s quite Halloween-like. Just how bad would it be? Well, after already losing J’Covan Brown to the pros, freshman Javan Felix would have to start. Leading returning scorer Sheldon McClellan and Julien Lewis would still be around, and Barnes loves freshman DeMarcus Holland, but you’d be talking about some serious inexperience at the point guard position in a hurry.
  5. Do you want to read another article about Marcus Smart‘s selflessness and maturity? Here you go. Our intention is not to dissuade you from believing Smart is the real deal. Quite the contrary, actually. We’re sure that Smart is a terrific basketball player and a terrific person, and we’re sure he has a heck of a future ahead of him. It can be funny to read article after article about his wise-beyond-his-years maturity, though. In this particular piece, Ford has more to say about Smart: “I have coached guys who have played extremely hard and have been as unselfish as Marcus is… But Marcus can go a whole practice without shooting and not care less. It’s easy to coach a guy like that.”
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Big 12 Summer Update: Oklahoma State Cowboys

Posted by dnspewak on August 7th, 2012

In an effort to remind you that college basketball does in fact exist during the summer, Big 12 microsite writer Danny Spewak (@dspewak) will roll out three summer updates per week during the next month. The goal is to compile every bit of news and information from the summer months for each team and package it into neat, easy-to-read capsules for your convenience. The final team on the list — Oklahoma State.

2011-12 record: 15-18, 7-11 (7th place, Big 12)

While his peers in the coaching community were chasing recruits this summer and lounging by the pool, Travis Ford took the stand during a rape trial to testify on behalf of a former player. This wasn’t about basketball anymore. This was about the life of Darrell Williams, facing a prison sentence after two women at a party accused him of groping them in 2010. The soaring expectations in 2012-13, thanks to the arrival of freshman star Marcus Smart and the return of sophomore Le’Bryan Nash, would have to wait. Ford argued for Williams’ innocence on the stand, and several former teammates attended the trial. The defense argued that the two women may have misidentified Williams, but that didn’t convince a jury. It convicted the forward on two counts, sending him into an uncontrollable sob as police escorted him out. Williams was never a star, and he had not played since February 2011. Still, this is not your average legal situation. That kind of thing happens all the time — like this weekend, when police arrested Cowboys’ center Philip Jurick for marijuana possession. In those situations, programs discipline, suspend and move on. When a former player heads to prison on a rape conviction, though, it takes a little while to recover. So that’s where Travis Ford sits with this Oklahoma State program right now. After a traumatic whirlwind of a summer, he must now find a way to recover from the graduation of heart-and-soul guard Keiton Page and transform this collection of individually talented parts into a winning team. It’d be nice, too, if he could find a viable point guard.

For All The Criticism, It’s Easy To Forget Nash Won Freshman of the Year Honors in 2011-12

Summer Orientation: Everybody knows Marcus Smart. Just ask Billy Donovan and Mark Few about the OSU freshman, who wowed them at the U-18 Championships this summer. “He was our leader from the moment the players introduced themselves,” Few told CBS’ Gary Parrish. “He’s one of the best kids I’ve ever been around — and that includes all the Zags I’ve coached.” That single quote from Few sums up Marcus Smart at the most basic level. He may be a McDonald’s All-American with NBA talent, and he may be a scoring guard with ungodly physical gifts and slashing ability. That’s all great, but it’s not even what Smart is known for. He’s known as a leader. Clutch. A playmaker. The kind of guy who prides himself on his instincts, defensive prowess, smarts and basketball savvy rather than his point-per-game average. These are the qualities that have Travis Ford gushing about his freshman, to the point where he’s already anointing Smart as a team leader after he excelled in individual workouts this summer. Perhaps we’re reading too much into the Rivals.com star rankings and the spectacular performance at the U-18 games, and maybe all of this talk of early leadership and the “ultimate teammate” is overkill for a guy who hasn’t stepped on the court yet. The beauty of the situation for Smart and the Cowboys, though, is that he’s not necessarily counted on to carry this team. Le’Bryan Nash often had those expectations as a freshman a year ago, but his decision to return for his sophomore year means the two highly-touted talents can feed off each other.

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Missouri Punishes Undermanned Oklahoma State Team

Posted by dnspewak on March 8th, 2012

Danny Spewak is a Big 12 Microsite writer and will provide wall-to-wall coverage of the Big 12 Tournament from the Sprint Center in Kansas City this weekend. He filed this piece after Missouri’s. You can follow him on Twitter @dspewak.

With his team trailing by 22 points by the first media timeout of the second half Thursday, Oklahoma State coach Travis Ford clapped his hands eight times and grimaced, resigned to the fact his team’s season would end in less than 16 minutes. It was a minor miracle his team even defeated Oklahoma on Wednesday and had the opportunity to lose to Missouri, 88-70, in the quarterfinals. “I think fatigue was a little bit of a factor,” Ford said. “I think Missouri played up on that. That was probably something they talked about: ‘hey, Oklahoma State doesn’t have a whole lot of players… let’s go at them early.” Want the full rundown of OSU’s adversity this season? Start with this: Star freshman Le’Bryan Nash and big man Philip Jurick aren’t playing in this tournament due to injury. Two of his point guards, Reger Dowell and Fred Gulley, transferred within two weeks of each other before Big 12 play began. J.P. Olukemi hasn’t played in months after tearing his knee up. This is also a team playing Brian Williams out of position at the four and using Markel Brown to run the point at times.

Despite What This Picture Looks Like, It Wasn't That Hard-Fought of a Win for Missouri (Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images)

But the Tigers didn’t care. They’ve got their own issues to worry about, like winning a Big 12 Tournament title and earning a top seed in the NCAA Tournament. They roared to a 49-24 halftime lead, looking like athletes from another planet. Missouri dominated the boards and dominated defensively, with Phil Pressey getting his hands on every basketball that came his way. The sophomore point guard finished with five steals. “I’m just playing defense the way I know how to play,” Pressey said. “That’s what my coaches want me to do. And I came out with some steals.” As usual, the Tigers shared the ball and knocked down open three-pointer after open three-pointer, using what Kim English called “Pete Carril” ball movement to shoot nearly 60% from the field. “We had tremendous ball movement. Good ball movement relieves the tension of the offense,” English said, as his coach winked at him for such an astute observation.

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Checking In On… The Big 12 Conference

Posted by Brian Goodman on February 20th, 2012

Steve Fetch is the RTC correspondent for the Big 12. You can also find his musings online at Rock Chalk Talk or on Twitter @fetch9.

Reader’s Take


The Week That Was

  • Baylor Falls At Home: Baylor had only lost conference games to Kansas and Missouri, but that changed with a one-point loss at home against Kansas State. Despite Wildcat freshman Angel Rodriguez traveling on an easy layup, Baylor could not win on its last possession when freshman Quincy Miller missed a shot with just seconds left. Baylor didn’t score in the final two minutes of the game, and had a couple of possessions marred by some physical play that went uncalled. The loss drops the Bears into a tie with Iowa State for third in the league.
  • Can The Jayhawks Make A Deep Run?: One of the tenets in picking a national champion is finding a team that is ranked in the KenPom top ten in both offensive and defensive efficiency. At this point, only two teams meet these criteria: Kentucky and Kansas. The Jayhawks are tenth in adjusted offense and fourth in adjusted defense, giving them the ability to play with any team in the nation. Though its offense has been concentrated in Thomas Robinson and Tyshawn Taylor (and lately Jeff Withey), the Jayhawks have good defenders all over the floor, which is exactly how Bill Self likes it. Considering the perception of Kansas coming into the season after losing the Morris twins, Self’s team has come a long way.
  • A Banner Day In Stillwater: Oklahoma State’s Keiton Page had the game of his career, scoring a career-high 40 points in a win over Texas. Page was efficient from the field, going 4-6 from two and 4-8 from three, but he was fantastic from the line, getting to the charity stripe 20 times and making every last one. Page’s shooting percentages have dropped a bit this year as he’s had to take a more active role in the offense, but Saturday was a reminder of what shooting skill the senior has.

Phil Pressey And The Tigers Keep Their Eyes On The Prize As They Battle Kansas In Lawrence This Saturday. (US Presswire)

Power Rankings

  1. Missouri (25-2, 12-2): Missouri has the best offense in the country (by a good margin), but its defense has been just mediocre. The Tigers are now fourth in the Big 12 in defensive efficiency, and have allowed over a point per possession in five of their last six games. Hosting a Kansas State team that struggles to score should give Frank Haith’s crew an opportunity to tighten up its defense.
  2. Kansas (18-5, 8-2): Kansas has never lost to Texas Tech in Allen Fieldhouse, winning this year’s edition by 33 points. Four Jayhawks scored in double figures, including Conner Teahan, who made three of his five threes, which is a huge key for the Jayhawks if they want to advance far in the NCAA Tournament. Probably the player who most delighted the home crowd, though, was walk-on Jordan Juenemann, who scored a career-high 7 points in the waning minutes. Read the rest of this entry »
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Cezar Guerrero’s Suspension Lasts All of One Game

Posted by dnspewak on February 8th, 2012

With just a handful of scholarship players on the roster, Travis Ford can only afford to make a statement for so long. After the Oklahoma State coach suspended point guard Cezar Guerrero for Saturday’s loss against Baylor, he reinstated the freshman last night by rewarding him with four minutes of playing time. As the season progresses, though, don’t expect Ford to keep Guerrero in the doghouse for too long. Without another true point guard on the roster, Guerrero needs to play for this team to make a late-season push. He may have committed the mysterious “violation of team rules” transgression, but Ford has no other options right now. At this point, it’s amazing Ford has even crafted five Big 12 wins out of the Cowboys. Point guards Reger Dowell and Fred Gulley already transferred this winter, J.P. Olukemi’s torn ACL cost him his season and now big man Philip Jurick is battling an injury. Against the Bears, Ford played with six scholarship players– and he almost won.

Cezar Guerrero's Suspension Did Not Last Very Long (credit: streetball.com)

Guerrero may be the only natural point guard on the team, but he’s not consistent enough right now to make an impact at that position. He’s had his moments — take a heroic 29-point effort to single-handedly knock off UTSA in November — but his playing time has diminished as the season has progressed. With seven games to play, though, there’s time for Guerrero to turn his freshman campaign around. With a little more focus after the suspension, perhaps Guerrero can seize more court time at the point, which could shift Keiton Page to the off-guard spot. And with Le’Bryan Nash finally heating up, the point guard spot is the missing piece of the puzzle right now. The NCAA Tournament may not be in the cards, but the Cowboys aren’t going to fall quietly in February.

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Ten For Ten: Impressions of Each Big 12 Team From Its Opener

Posted by dnspewak on January 5th, 2012

Congratulations, Big 12 teams. You’ve all now played one-eighteenth of your conference schedule. For the next two months, you will suffer through hard-fought battles week after week until this wild league sorts itself out. After one game, it’s impossible to tell what exactly will happen from now until the first weekend in March. But each Big 12 opener at least gave us a little insight into this crazy conference. In alphabetical order, here’s what you need to know about Opening Week:

  1. Baylor has not played flawless basketball this season, but don’t exactly take that as a criticism. The Bears are undefeated and off to the best start in school history, and yet they still have a lot of room for improvement. Although it handled Texas A&M from start to finish in Waco on Monday, Scott Drew’s team still finished with 16 turnovers and shot just 2-12 from beyond the arc. Guard play in particular was a problem: Pierre Jackson finished with seven turnovers, and Brady Heslip did not score. And yet the Bears’ 61-52 victory was hardly in doubt until a modest comeback by the Aggies at the very end of the game. Perry Jones, who did not play well in a win over Mississippi State on national television last week, redeemed himself with a double-double as BU’s frontcourt overpowered the normally physical Aggies. The guards will make the difference this season for Drew, and though they struggled in the Big 12 opener, that trend should not continue. Jackson, Heslip, A.J. Walton and Gary Franklin are an underrated group.
  2. Iowa State is not a pushover this season. These guys can really shoot the heck out of the basketball, and they won their first Big 12 opener in five seasons by knocking off Texas 77-71 on Wednesday night. Yes, the Longhorns have problems of their own– more on that later– but Fred Hoiberg‘s team defended well, played with outstanding energy and got every shot it wanted on the offensive end. Iowa State made 10-of-21 three-pointers, and not a single trey came from Scott Christopherson, one of the top three-point shooters in Big 12 history from a percentage standpoint. Chris Babb and Anthony Booker combined to make eight of those shots, but forward Royce White controlled this game by getting to the free throw line and posing a matchup problem for UT. The Longhorns are small on the front line, and White exploited them by using his quickness. He announced to the Big 12 that he will not be easy to defend this winter.

    Bill Self's Team Made a Statement On Wednesday Night

  3. Kansas looked like a Big 12 champion again by spanking Kansas State at the Phog on Wednesday night. Sure, the Jayhawks cooled off after building an early 18-point lead, and the Wildcats jumped back into the game in the second half. By the end of the contest, though, KU had run away with this rivalry by beating Frank Martin at his own game. Kansas State thought it could rattle the Jayhawks with its high-pressure style and tenacious rebounding, but Thomas Robinson proved once again that he’s not afraid of anybody. Forget the loss to Davidson. Tyshawn Taylor may turn the ball over too much, and the offense may not always look crisp, but Bill Self‘s team will defend and it will not back down from a challenge. 17 offensive rebounds and a +24 margin on the boards against a Frank Martin team is proof of that. Read the rest of this entry »
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Yet Another Blow For Oklahoma State: Olukemi Out For The Season

Posted by dnspewak on January 2nd, 2012

Oklahoma State was already in disaster mode after two point guards transferred out of the program in a span of eight days last month, but the latest news just seems cruel for coach Travis Ford. He announced Monday that starting wing J.P. Olukemi will miss the rest of the season with an ACL tear, an injury he suffered in the second half of a loss to Virginia Tech this weekend.

The 6’5” junior was not having the breakout season many had anticipated, but he still played major minutes for the Cowboys and may have been their best athlete. He was a nightmare match-up for bigger defenders because of his quickness, and he could have easily overcome his quiet non-conference performance to emerge as a leader during the Big 12 season.

Instead, Olukemi will cheer on his teammates from the bench– and there aren’t many of them left. With point guars Fred Gulley and Reger Dowell having already left the team and fellow guard Markel Brown potentially missing the Big 12 opener against Texas Tech due to a minor hip injury the Cowboys will have a very short bench. Ford says Brown is day-to-day, and if he cannot play, OSU would have just six players remaining in its regular rotation.

JP Olukemi Will Miss The Rest of the Season With an ACL Tear

Olukemi averaged 9.4 points per game in 13 games this season. Oklahoma State had trouble scoring with him in the lineup, and now that he’s gone, the improvement of Keiton Page and LeBryan Nash will be even more important. The two leading scorers for the Cowboys are the only players capable of taking over a basketball game on the offensive end. Nash has struggled to acclimate himself to Division I basketball so far, and the lack of point guards on the roster has forced Page into an uncomfortable role. It is up to them, though, to turn this season around.

Freshman guard Brian Williams could actually benefit from this situation. With Olukemi in foul trouble and injured during the past two games, Williams logged a combined 74 minutes against Southern Methodist (double-overtime win) and Virginia Tech. He scored nine points and grabbed seven rebounds in that SMU victory, and he finished with a career-high 14 points against the Hokies. If this season heads in the toilet, Ford can at least monitor the progress of Williams, who appears to have a bright future.

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Big 12 Morning Five: 12.28.11 Edition

Posted by dnspewak on December 28th, 2011

  1. The news broke yesterday that point guard Reger Dowell has transferred out of the Oklahoma State program, leaving coach Travis Ford with just one true point on the roster (Cezar Guerrero). Today, a Tulsa newspaper astutely pointed out that this particular recruiting class has now lost six of seven newcomers — only Matt Pilgrim actually finished his career under Ford. That’s the kind of stuff that can set a program back years and result in mass firings. Luckily for Ford, he’s not at that point yet. He still has a star in LeBryan Nash to build around, and he’s enjoyed a decent amount of success since arriving at OSU. Right now, though, he needs Guerrero and senior Keiton Page to run this team in the backcourt. Ford built this team around athleticism because that is his preferred style of play, but someone’s just got to get Nash, J.P. Olukemi and Markel Brown the ball in the open court.
  2. Ben McLemore isn’t playing this season for Kansas because of eligibility issues, but he made headlines earlier this month for a “minor in possession of alcohol” charge. Police found him in November engaging in some extracurricular activities, but he never told his teammates or coaching staff that he’d been charged with anything. His trial has now been delayed, which means we won’t get closure on this case for quite some time. McLemore is expected to practice with the team later this season, so we’ll have to see how this delay affects his time on the court.
  3. It’s that time of the week again: breaking down the numbers for the Texas Longhorns. Last week, the young Longhorns unraveled against North Carolina, but this article actually shows us that UT did a decent job on the offensive glass. That’s at least one positive for Rick Barnes, but there wasn’t anything pretty on the offensive end. Texas’ “true shooting percentage” was low, and the writer claims it was due to UNC’s pressure defense and UT’s inability to run any of its stuff on the offensive end. After losing five starters, these roadblocks aren’t surprising. Freshman point guard Myck Kabongo has to take the reins for this team, and he’s still trying to find his way in his first season in Austin. Until he breaks out of his shell, this team may not improve much. He’s that important.
  4. Texas’s problems are nothing compared to Texas Tech. Billy Gillispie says he’s just trying to get his team better on every possession, and it’s an understatement to say the Red Raiders have struggled in his first season. TTU improved to 6-5 with a win over Cal State Bakersfield last night, but it also just lost to a good Oral Roberts team last weekend by 16 points, thanks in large part to the team’s inability to hold onto the basketball. One of Gillispie’s pre-game quotes was especially telling: “Messages don’t usually work, I don’t think.” Gillispie is a fiery guy, but even he isn’t trying to make some grand statement with any kind of showmanship this season. He knows he has a young team building in progress, and we’ll have to see if he can work his magic in Big 12 play.
  5. Frank Haith has certainly worked a little magic at Missouri, and ESPN’s Andy Katz even listed the Tigers as the 6th most impressive team in the nation. MU got national headlines for romping both Notre Dame and California in the CBE Classic, and it is still undefeated after holding off a surging Illinois comeback last week. Still, we have to see if this team can win on the road before we give Missouri any awards. This team finished 1-7 on the road in conference play last season, getting a lone win in Ames against cellar dwellar Iowa State. When Missouri faces off with a solid Old Dominion program on Friday night in Norfolk, Haith’s team can answer a lot of those pesky “road warrior” questions.
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