Big 12 M5: 12.10.14 Edition

Posted by Brian Goodman on December 10th, 2014

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  1. On Monday’s Big 12 coaches’ teleconference, the idea of pushing the start of the regular season to mid-December or even January in light of poor attendance in early season match-ups picked up some steam, at least among some of the conferences’ coaches. This silly notion seems to come up a few times every year, and each time, it’s shot down by the basic economics of the sport’s biggest media deal. Specifically, the NCAA’s TV partners (especially CBS and Turner) are reliant on hundreds of hours of valuable postseason coverage to fill their March and early April calendars. Despite some grievances by coaches and certain members of the media, a big part of the beauty of college basketball is that it has an untouchable stranglehold on three-plus weeks of the American sports calendar. While it can definitely be frustrating to see intriguing non-league match-ups shoved aside in the national spotlight in favor of football coverage, it would be nonsensical to reposition the season to force its crown jewel to compete with the NBA and NHL Playoffs.
  2. Texas is still the leading contender to unseat Kansas at the top of the Big 12 standings, but if you think a healthy Isaiah Taylor is all that’s missing, you need to study up. Big man Cameron Ridley‘s contributions have been lacking as of late, according to Jeff Haley of Burnt Orange Nation. Haley took a close look at both data and film on the junior center and concluded that a surprising number of turnovers, limited results on the offensive glass and the absence of a face-up move when positioned outside the lane, have held him back. Texas has been very good even with teams neutralizing Ridley, so if he can break out, the Longhorns could be on their way to bigger and better things than a moral victory against Kentucky.
  3. Bill Self maintains that Jamari Traylor‘s arrest and subsequent suspension will be a learning experience for Kansas as it prepares for tonight’s tilt against Josh Smith and Georgetown. As Big 12 microsite contributor Chris Stone noted on MondayCliff AlexanderLanden Lucas and potentially Hunter Mickelson figure to absorb Traylor’s minutes, which means it’s very likely that Kansas won’t be in any worse position than if Traylor had been available. The Jayhawks have won the last two battles against Smith’s teams (against Georgetown in Allen Fieldhouse last season and against his UCLA team in Lawrence in 2010), so they’ll look to continue that success at the Verizon Center.
  4. Bryce Dejean-Jones had a reputation as a wildcard in his time with UNLV. It was tough to tell when he was going to put up an efficient 15- or 20-point game and when he would go ice cold on his way to a less impressive output. With Iowa State, however, Dejean-Jones is enjoying tremendous success thanks to a trademark of Fred Hoiberg‘s offense: The abandonment of the long two-pointer. Travis Hines of The Ames Tribune has an interesting interview with the transfer guard in which he details the benefits of his newfound shooting tendencies. We’ll have more on Dejean-Jones’ emergence later today in our Big 12 revelations after the first month of the season piece.
  5. One under-the-radar team to watch out for in the Big 12 is the Baylor Bears, which handled Texas A&M Tuesday night at the Ferrell Center. Baylor’s frontcourt was the story, as they shut out an SEC team on the offensive glass, a feat which hadn’t been done in 19 years. Johnathan Motley paced the Bears’ attack with career highs of 22 points and 11 boards. Scott Drew‘s team now possesses three wins against SEC teams (the others being road wins over South Carolina and Vanderbilt), and are quietly looking more formidable than many expected.
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Big 12 M5: 11.19.14 Edition

Posted by Nate Kotisso on November 19th, 2014

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  1. If you had the fortitude to sit through the afternoon games of yesterday’s marathon, perhaps you caught Baylor get by Frank Martin and an improved South Carolina team in Columbia. Redshirt freshman Johnathan Motley was the clear player of the game with 17 points and five rebounds, but what was most impressive for Baylor was its ability to win the game despite committing more turnovers and getting outrebounded by the Gamecocks. Games like these during the first week of the season are difficult to gauge, so while this was a true road game on an opponent’s home floor, the Gamecocks aren’t expected to make much noise in the SEC this year. It’s certainly a positive that the Bears won a game away from Waco, but let’s hold off on buying in just yet because a) we’re two games into the season; and b) the top half of the league is still better than Baylor. Steady as she goes, Bears fans.
  2. While the football team has stolen most of the headlines this fall, TCU still very much has a men’s basketball program. I’m not sure how many people were aware of this, but the Horned Frogs throttled Washington State (and new head coach Ernie Kent) by a score of 81-54 on Monday night. It is more than a little shocking that TCU put another Power Five team out to pasture, but this one was decided long before the final buzzer sounded. Using Baylor-South Carolina as a template, we’re not expecting TCU to contend for an at-large bid or anything this season, but perhaps we’re finally seeing just how competitive the Horned Frogs can look when they aren’t dealing with a rash of injuries.
  3. Here was a quote from Georges Niang following Iowa State’s season-opening win last Friday: “I think we played real well offensively, but it’s a little disappointing what we did defensively.” Apparently the Cyclones took those words to heart and put the defensive clamps on Georgia State’s high-powered offense on Monday night, winning 81-58. The Panthers shot 39.1 percent from the field for the game including a paltry 15-of-48 (31.3 percent) effort from the skilled guard trio of R.J. Hunter, Ryan Harrow and Kevin Ware. Niang himself struggled offensively (3-of-12) while Monte Morris (19 points, nine assists, zero turnovers) played his best overall game as a collegian. And remember, Iowa State is still missing Matt Thomas, Abdel Nader and two-time JuCo All-American Jameel McKay until December. Good grief.
  4. A big question going into this season surrounded the starting point guard position for Kansas State, but perhaps it’s possible that there are two answers to that question. Jevon Thomas has started the first two games of the season, performing admirably with 14 assists against only five turnovers, after showing flashes as a capable passer last year. Nigel Johnson (eight assists, two turnovers) has impressed as well. Whether Thomas or Johnson are in the lineup, the Wildcats shouldn’t have to worry too much about finding ways to get the ball to their top scorers in Marcus Foster and Justin Edwards. If you’re Bruce Weber, those are the kinds of dilemmas you want to have as a head coach.
  5. Four-star point guard Payton Pritchard gave a verbal commitment to Lon Kruger and Oklahoma on Tuesday. As quickly as he has been able to take the program from struggling to thriving, Pritchard is technically the highest-rated high school prospect to pledge to the Sooners in Kruger’s short tenure. This news is only the cherry on top for Oklahoma, as the Sooners also get Houston transfer TaShawn Thomas in his first game in crimson and cream against Creighton tonight in Omaha. Let that marinate for a bit.
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Big 12 M5: 11.14.14 Edition

Posted by Brian Goodman on November 14th, 2014

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  1. Yesterday, we talked about Iowa State‘s plans to play in a neutral court event next Thanksgiving. Late Thursday night, we learned about another team planning ahead. In 2016, Kansas will tip off its season against Indiana from a military base in Pearl Harbor as part of the Armed Forces Classic. One of the biggest ongoing storylines in college basketball is how the sport can better market the start of the season, and while this event doesn’t always have the fanfare of the Champions Classic or some of the other 24-Hour Marathon battles, it has helped bring the start of the season to the national spotlight.
  2. Oklahoma State blog Pistols Firing has 20 predictions for the Cowboys’ season. As discussed in our conference preview Thursday, we aren’t very high on Travis Ford’s team, we can definitely see some of the more positive predictions coming true, such as OSU outperforming its expectations to finish sixth, Le’Bryan Nash making first-team all-conference and Travis Ford holding onto his job.
  3. Outside of the conference, tonight’s Louisville-Minnesota match-up is getting headlines as it pits Rick Pitino against his son, Richard, but right here in the Big 12 is another father-son battle as Tubby Smith and the Texas Tech Red Raiders will open their season against his Smith’s son, G.G. Smith, who is making his head coaching debut with Loyola (Maryland). Smith cut his teeth with the Greyhounds as an assistant under former Loyola head coach Jimmy Patsos for six years.
  4. Remember last year when Kansas State lost three of its first five games (including its debut against Northern Colardo) leading to some warranted bubble conversation before Thanksgiving even hit? The Wildcats will look to avoid a similar fate when it tips off against Southern Utah tonight. As the 342nd-ranked team in the country according to KenPom, we don’t expect the Thunderbirds to pull this season’s opening night upset, but the Wildcats should now know more than anyone how important it is to take care of business early in the season.
  5. For a program the reached the Sweet 16 last year, there hasn’t been much chatter around Baylor. Part of that is because the Bears lost what had been the cornerstones of their program over the last two years in Cory Jefferson, Isaiah Austin and Brady Heslip, and another part of that is because the Bears don’t have the incoming star power that Kansas, Texas and Iowa State has. Still, Scott Drew is excited for the lights to come on tonight when his team squares off against McNeese State, as he should, because the Bears still have a lot of remaining talent in Rico Gathers, Kenny Chery, Royce O’Neale, Taurean Prince and redshirt freshmen Johnathan Motley and Al Freeman.
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Big 12 Preview: Baylor Bears

Posted by Nate Kotisso on November 6th, 2013

This week, the Big 12 microsite will finish previewing each of the league’s 10 teams. Today: Baylor. 

Where We Left Off: They were playing for their NCAA Tournament lives late last season. Baylor faced a tough test in the quarterfinals of the Big 12 Tournament against Oklahoma State — not to mention an 18-point halftime deficit. They managed to trim the Cowboys’ lead to two with seconds remaining but Pierre Jackson’s running three-pointer careened off the mark as the buzzer sounded. The Bears, who had struggled to find consistency all season, hoped their 9-9 record in Big 12 play was enough to prove to the committee they were worthy of an at-large bid. But they were left on the bubble and had to settle for an invitation from the NIT. It was there when we saw the Baylor team most had expected in the preseason, ripping through five games to bring home the first NIT Championship for a Big 12 school. Jackson has since graduated, but a combination of players returning and the addition of several touted incoming recruits could result in a more promising finish this season.

Scott Drew loses his best player from a year ago and could possibly have a better team in 2013-14. (John Sleezer/The Kansas City Star)

Scott Drew loses his best player from a year ago and could possibly have a better team in 2013-14. (John Sleezer/The Kansas City Star)

Positives: Almost everybody’s back! Isaiah Austin put his NBA future on hold by returning to campus after averaging 13 points, 8.3 rebounds and 1.7 blocks per game as a freshman. If there was one thing the 7’1″ Austin could improve on this year, it’s his outside shooting. It’s weird saying that about a center but the outside shot is a potentially lethal weapon of his offensive arsenal (33 percent from three-point range in 2012-13). The most important player returning is Cory Jefferson because his play usually indicated how competitive Baylor was in big games. I attended Texas-Baylor back in January and saw firsthand the kind of monster Jefferson can be when he’s playing his best. His 25 points and 10 rebounds were a big reason why the Bears won that day and went 13-3 in games where Jefferson scored at least 15 points. The best trait of these Bears is their frontcourt. In addition to Austin and Jefferson, Rico Gathers at 6’8″ and 270 pounds was a space-eater on the floor who scored the same amount of points as he did rebounds per game (5.7) off the bench. Their recruiting class also brought in four-star guard/forward Ish Wainwright (6’6″, 245 pounds) of Missouri who turned down offers from Ohio State, St. John’s and Texas to come to Waco; three-star big Johnathan Motley (6’9″, 210 pounds) of Houston decided to come to Baylor despite offers from Marquette, Oregon, Wichita State and his hometown school, Houston. News also came down within the last week that Denver transfer forward Royce O’Neale (11.2 PPG, 5.5 RPG in 2012-13) has been granted a waiver and will play immediately. This might be the best frontcourt in America. Everybody’s favorite Canadian sharpshooter Brady Heslip is also back for his senior season and fellow countryman Kenny Chery is expected to step in as the starting point guard.

Negatives: Pierre Jackson is gone. He was the heart and soul of the team, leading the Bears in minutes played, points, assists and spectacular plays, although I’m sure that last one isn’t a real stat. Another big loss is A.J. Walton, who wasn’t a big offensive presence but did serve in better roles as a second distributor and designated defensive stopper. Who will emerge this year to guard guys like Marcus Smart or quick guards like Naadir Tharpe or Buddy Hield? It might have to be Gary Franklin. With all their depth at the forward and center positions, there are five pure guards on the team and freshman Allerik Freeman‘s hand injury stretches those guards even thinner until his likely return in late November or early December.

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