I love days like yesterday. Sure, the drive was a beautiful 8.5 hours of the same view — that is to say, farms, farms, and more farms, and where there weren’t actual farms, there was grass. And it’s all flatter than a Shaquille O’Neal free throw. But no matter the surroundings, it’s one of my favorite things to do. Is there any greater feeling — especially right after thawing out from a tough winter — than packing a bag and a cooler (of fruit, granola, and bottled water, mind you), filling the gas tank, and hitting the road? There aren’t many, for me. Especially when the Big 12 Tournament is waiting at the end of that journey. Don’t get me wrong, though — I was thankful for the satellite radio. Have the satellite radio guys received their Nobel Prize, yet? One second, I’m listening to ESPN Radio or Sporting News Radio dudes talking about hoops. Then the NFL talk starts and I switch to, say, the BBC’s Europe Today, or a song by Gomez, or some blues from B.B. King. Then back to hoops talk. Fantastic. And no, we’re not affiliated with them in any way. I’m just being honest.
One of the best parts of any journey like this is when I text my friends who are at their jobs. I’ll send them some generic message asking them what they’re doing, and they’ll respond with some variation of, “I’m at the office, knee-deep in status reports/memos/directives, trying to knock things off my action items list. You never text during work hours. What’s up?” And I’ll type, “Oh, nothing. I was driving to the Big 12 Tournament, enjoying some tunes, a gorgeous drive, a 70-degree day, and the prospect of four days of top-flight basketball. Thought I’d give you a shout. But you go back to your thing.” Even though this is a blog and I’m allowed to type almost anything, I’ll spare you the vitriol that my friends offered in response. Not even close to being safe for work.
So, as the comedian says, I’m here all week. This’ll mostly be about basketball, but you might see some reviews of barbecue restaurants and/or interviews and pics from the festivities here. This is such a great time of year, and this is the conference tournament at which to be. Now, some notes from Wednesday’s games:
Texas 82, Iowa State 75
I didn’t know what we were going to get in this one, since Texas was obviously reeling, having dropped eight of 14, and Iowa State had just scored that victory over Kansas. But is this what Texas needed, meaning the second season to arrive? There’s a small part of me that’s been wondering if Texas mentally checked out at the midpoint of the season after they took their first loss because of the boredom that can take over teams. A longshot, I know. But there aren’t many reasons why a team this talented and athletic can’t get themselves out of first gear, a place they seemed to be stuck since the middle of January.
RTC contributor and bracketologist Zach Hayes will deliver ten permeating thoughts every Tuesday as the season progresses.
1. Other than Kansas students, graduates, former players and all former or current residents of Lawrence, was there anyone in this fine country of ours rooting for the #1 Jayhawks to beat a depleted Tennessee team, a group of kids and a stunned head coach that just dealt with the suspension and/or dismissal of four of its regular rotation players? All of the events that occurred in that two-hour window in Knoxville Sunday was a release of pent-up frustration and anxiety from a tumultuous week in which Tennessee was considered a prime threat to upend favorite Kentucky in the SEC one day and counted out as a SEC contender that must scratch and claw the final two months for an NCAA berth the next. Renaldo Woolridge banking in a three, the Vols maintaining their lead with Wayne Chism and J.P. Prince on the bench with four fouls, the coach’s son Steven taking a critical charge, a miracle Skyler McBee (one of three walk-ons playing substantial minutes) leaning trey that iced the game, and coach Bruce Pearl aiding the Volunteer mascot in waving the orange Tennessee flag while the sounds of Rocky Top reverberated throughout Thompson-Boling Arena summed up what college basketball should be about. Bill Self pointed this out after the game, but there are some moments during a season when a team officially becomes a team instead of a group of individuals. Even though Pearl would gladly reset the timer to New Year’s Eve and prevent four scholarship players from getting in that car, sometimes it takes a catastrophic occurrence that truly tests the mettle of a unit for them to band together and accomplish lofty goals. I think it’s fair to say Tennessee became a team Sunday night.
2. As long as Mike Anderson is employing his Forty Minutes of Hell hellacious press on demoralized opponents, especially on a home floor where his team has won 30 consecutive games, Missouri should never be totally counted out of the Big 12 race. Losing DeMarre Carroll, Leo Lyons and Matt Lawrence from an Elite 8 squad isn’t easy to overcome, and certainly the ceiling for the Tigers isn’t nearly as high, but the ultra-talented and quick Mizzou backcourt should have enough firepower to carry them to an NCAA berth. Missouri carried an impressive 12-3 record into their Big 12 opener with #10 Kansas State Saturday, yet their overall resume wasn’t incredibly awe-inspiring with their best wins over Old Dominion, Illinois, Georgia and Oregon and opportunities lost in defeats at the hands of Richmond, Vanderbilt and Oral Roberts. The win Saturday was clearly a statement that Missouri will be a contending force in the Big 12 for that #3 spot behind Texas and Kansas. Anderson looks to have a workable combination with experienced seniors J.T. Tiller and Zaire Taylor (evident by Taylor’s tie-breaking 3 with under a minute to play) making plays in late-game situations, a promising sophomore backcourt duo of Kim English and Marcus Denmon carrying most of the scoring load, and a defensive unit that ranks seventh overall in D efficiency, first in turnovers forced and gives Missouri a fighting chance on any night.
Patrick Sellars is the RTC correspondent for the Big 12 Conference.
Texas (14-0) – You can make a great case for either Kansas or Texas owning the top spot, but I think the wins over UNC and Michigan State are better than Kansas’ big wins (Temple, Cal, Memphis)
Kansas (14-0) – Like I said before, the Longhorns have a better resume right now than the Jayhawks do, and with last night’s close call against Cornell I can’t seem to give myself any reason for KU to be considered better than UT.
Kansas State (13-1) – The Wildcats just made their way into the top 10 this week. They’ll need to prove they deserve that ranking during conference play.
Baylor (12-1) – After last week’s sweep of SEC opponents (at Arkansas; at South Carolina), I am a believer in the Baylor Bears. They are just a three-point loss to Alabama away from being perfect.
Texas A&M (11-3) – The Aggies have played the most top 25 opponents (4) of any other Big 12 Team, and they went 2-2 in those four games. Playing without Derrick Roland will definitely affect this team in the future, but I think we should give credit where credit is due.
Missouri (11-3) – The Tigers can be very dangerous especially at home where they are unbeaten this season. The Big 12 Conference Game of the Week is going to be in Columbia on Saturday when Kansas State takes on Mizzou.
Texas Tech (12-2) – Their best win is Washington at home and that win looks worse now after UW flopped against Oregon. TTU hasn’t played enough tough opponents to take them too seriously.
Nebraska (12-3) – I give Nebraska the nod over Oklahoma State only because Nebraska beat Tulsa, and the Cowboys were wiped off the floor against the same Golden Hurricanes.
Oklahoma State (12-2) – If the Cowboys were a legit threat in the Big 12 they would have beaten Tulsa and Rhode Island.
Iowa State (10-4) – I really believed in Iowa State at the beginning of this season, and I think they have the talent to pull some major upsets in the Big 12. However with last night’s terrible showing against Duke, I no longer think that the Cyclones are an NCAA Tournament team.
Oklahoma (9-5) – Surprise team of the year. If the season ended today the Sooners would be lucky to get a CBI bid.
Colorado (9-5) – There is no doubt that the program in Boulder is getting better, but it’s far from being ready to compete at the national level.
Team of the Week: Baylor Bears – The Bears went 3-0 last week beating Arkansas and South Carolina on the road, and then taking care of business at home against Morgan State. I don’t know what would be more of a surprise in the conference this season: Oklahoma missing the NCAA Tournament, or Baylor making it?
Player of the Week: LaceDarius Dunn, G, Baylor – The man with the best name in the conference since Longar Longar has been lighting it up as of late. He averaged almost 19 PPG last week, and shot 45% from the field.
Cornell causes a scare in Lawrence- The Ivy League almost had its best upset since Princeton over UCLA Wednesday night in Kansas. Cornell was leading late in the second half and then the Jayhawks turned on the gas and ended up pulling out a victory. This isn’t the first time Kansas has failed to play to the best of its ability and almost fallen against lesser teams (see Memphis). I don’t know if the Jayhawks can get away with that kind of play during the conference season and beyond.
Big 12 play starts this week- Finally, its conference season and we can all see the NCAA tournament on the horizon. Currently the Big 12 is one of the most exciting conferences in the country, and it should be an amazing year.
This Week’s Predictions
Colorado at Texas (Saturday, 1/9, 1:45 PM ET) – The Buffaloes look to shock the Longhorns in Austin, but we all know that this will most likely be a 20 point win for Texas. Winner: Texas
Kansas State at Missouri (Saturday, 1/9, ESPN2 2:00 PM ET) – I think this will be the best game of the weekend. The teams are very similar, because the main focus of each is in guard play. An interesting matchup will be Jacob Pullen vs. JT Tiller. One of the best offensive guards in the conference going up against one of the best defensive players in the conference. Winner: Kansas State
Nebraska at Texas A&M (Saturday, 1/9, 4:00 PM ET) – I haven’t seen a lot of the Cornhuskers this season so this will be an interesting game to watch, especially with TAMU not having Derrick Roland in the lineup. Its an opportunity for Nebraska to steal a win on the road, but I think Donald Sloan should be enough to fight off the Huskers. Winner: Texas A&M
Oklahoma at Baylor (Saturday, 1/9, 6:00 PM ET) – I went against Baylor twice last week so I’ll put my faith in the Bears this time around. Plus, Oklahoma has given me no reason to think they can win, especially on the road. Winner: Baylor
Texas Tech at Oklahoma State (Saturday, 1/9, 8:00 PM ET) – Tough one to call here, this could be a Pick’ Em game in Vegas. The reason I like Texas Tech is because they have a well-rounded team, giving them more options on offense. The only guy that is doing anything for OSU right now is James Anderson. Winner: Texas Tech
Oklahoma State at Oklahoma (Monday, 1/11, ESPN 8:00 PM ET) – This time I believe that the Sooners will take care of business and beat they inner-state rivals at home. Norman provides a hostile environment for visiting teams, and I just don’t like the way the Cowboys are playing right now. No doubt this is a must win for both teams. Winner: Oklahoma
Texas A&M at Kansas State (Tuesday, 1/12, ESPN2 7:00 PM ET) – This Kansas State team is as good as any that Frank Martin has had in Manhattan. Jacob Pullen is an unbelievable talent and can light up defenses from behind the arc. I think the Wildcats have the potential to be an Elite 8 team. Winner: Kansas State
Baylor at Colorado (Tuesday, 1/12, 9:00 PM ET) – Baylor will enjoy starting 2-0 in the conference and maybe sneaking their way into the top 25. However, if they look past this game and lose it will put a damper on their whole season. Winner: Baylor
Kansas at Nebraska (Wednesday, 1/13, 9:00 PM ET) – Lincoln will definitely be a very loud place on Wednesday, but the crowd will have no say in this game. Kansas will wipe the floor with NU. Winner: Kansas
Texas at Iowa State (Wednesday, 1/12, 8:00 PM ET) – This is definitely a game that the Longhorns can’t look past, because if anyone can match up with Damion James in the conference, it’s Craig Brackins of Iowa State. However, UT has a lot of depth and should get out of Ames with a relatively easy Big 12 road win. Winner: Texas
Missouri at Texas Tech (Wednesday, 1/12, ESPNU 9:00 PM ET) – This should be a great matchup and I’m looking forward to seeing a good fight between two potential bubble teams. I think Missouri is the more athletic team and that is why I’ll give them the edge. Although it’s on the road and Mizzou has not been a good road team, I think their press will be too much for Tech to handle. Winner: Missouri
Non-Conference Games This Week:
North Dakota State at Iowa State (Saturday,1/9, ESPNU 4:00 PM ET) – This should be an easy win for the Cyclones going into their matchup with Texas later in the week. Winner: Iowa State
Kansas at Tennessee (Sunday, 1/10, CBS 4:30 PM ET) – I would say Tennessee had a chance if they didn’t just suspend four of their players indefinitely, which is too bad because I was looking forward to a great game, now Kansas should have no problem winning this one. Winner: Kansas
A Very Wise Man. Arizona 76, NC State 74. Why is this our lead game tonight? Because it’s not often that you see two difficult length-of-the-court layups within the last ten seconds of a game, and it’s even less often that the player who hits the game-winner does so for the second game in a row. Nic Wise must have been a very good boy this year because Santa is treating him right this holiday season. Just two nights after making a ridiculously difficult touch/push three from about 25 feet to win a game against Lipscomb (we’ll overlook the fact that it probably shouldn’t have counted), Wise (17/3) did it again tonight. NC State’s Javier Gonzalez (18/3/6 assts) had tied the game at 74-all with a part-the-waters layin with around seven seconds to go. Wise immediately grabbed the inbounds pass and pushed downcourt. After a couple of hesitation/crossovers at three-quarter speed, he found a seam to his left and beat the trailing defenders to get the shot up off the glass with the wrong hand and won the game with a mere tick left on the clock (when we get the vid, we’ll post it below). Wise is like the anti-Jamelle Horne for Arizona. Awesome finish, and gives Arizona two more wins that they’ll need en route to putting together a resume for inclusion to their 26th straight NCAA Tournament later this season. UA shouldn’t have put themselves in this position, but they managed to blow a late eight-point lead by allowing NCSU to hit several threes down the stretch — the Wildcats’ Derrick Williams had 24/6 in the win.
Wise Keeping Arizona Afloat (AP/Dean Knuth)
Upset of the Night. Oral Roberts 75, #12 New Mexico 66. Unbeaten no more. We’re now down to just six undefeated teams left this season, and all six of those are currently ranked as the top six teams in America after Missouri State and now New Mexico dropped games this week. ORU has already beaten Stanford and Missouri thus far this season, so this shouldn’t be a huge shock (especially in Tulsa), but the Golden Eagles have also had some blowout losses (most notably, by 37 to Louisville, 21 to Virginia and 20 to Wake Forest). Tonight was a different story, though, as Scott Sutton’s team built a first-half lead and was able to hold on when UNM made its expected run late in the game. Michael Craion had a great game, going for 18/13/7 assts/2 blks, and Dominique Morrison had 17/4/4 assts/3 stls, but more importantly, the ORU defense forced the Lobo stars into tough nights — Darington Hobson shot 5-14 for 11 points and Roman Martinez was even worse at 1-9 for 4 points, and their 15 total points tonight was nineteen points off their combined average this year.
Braggadocio. Missouri 81, Illinois 68. Here’s the thing about naysayers who thought that Missouri would take a hard fall after losing DeMarre Carroll and Leo Lyons from last year’s team. So long as Mike Anderson has a stable of ten or so athletic players to run his modified 40MoH system, his teams will always be successful. Now, will this year’s version be as good as last year’s E8, thirty-win team? No way. But they’re still pretty darn good, and we’d expect to see the Tigers back in the Dance again, especially after a performance like tonight. For the first time in a decade, Mizzou won this rivalry game, and they did it behind their standard MO of forcing turnovers (21), hitting threes (10) and causing a faster-than-normal pace for their opponent. Kim English led the way with 24/6, but he got help from freshman Michael Dixon, Jr., (16/5 assts/3 stls) and JT Tiller (12/5/5 assts). As for the Illini, other than their amazing comeback win at Clemson in the Big Ten/ACC Challenge, we haven’t been impressed with this team yet this year.
Patrick Sellars is the RTC correspondent for the Big 12 Conference.
Predicted Order of Finish:
Kansas State (10-6)
Texas A&M (8-8)
Oklahoma State (8-8)
Iowa State (7-9)
Texas Tech (4-12)
All Conference Team:
Sherron Collins (G), Kansas
Willie Warren (G) Oklahoma
Craig Brackins (F) Iowa State
Damion James (F), Texas
Cole Aldrich (C), Kansas
6th Man.James Anderson (G) Oklahoma State
Impact Newcomer. Xavier Henry (G), Kansas
What You Need to Know.
KU Dominance. Of the 13 years that the Big 12 has held a conference tournament, Kansas has won the crown six times, which is the most of any Big 12 school. Kansas has been deemed the regular season conference champion nine times in those 13 years, sharing the title in three of those times. Every time Kansas has shared the title the Jayhawks were the two-seed in the conference tournament.
Two At the Top. It’s very possible that Texas and Kansas could share the Big 12 title this season. Texas’ toughest conference games are Kansas (in Austin), then Oklahoma, Oklahoma State, and Kansas State on the road. The Longhorns seem to have the advantage over the Jayhawks when it comes to an easier conference schedule, but with KU bringing back all of its talent and adding one of the top freshman in the nation, I still believe that Kansas will stay atop the conference alone.
Where are the Tigers. Where do you rank the Missouri Tigers in the Big 12 this season? After being picked seventh by the coaches in last year’s preseason poll, the Tigers finished third and won the Big 12 Tournament en route to an Elite Eight appearance. Mike Anderson will continue to play his “Fastest Forty Minutes” style, and behind leadership from senior guard JT Tiller (Co-Big 12 Defensive Player of the Year in 2009), and sophomore guard Kim English, it’s hard to determine where Mizzou will be at the end of the season. Anderson has put together a very athletic lineup, which should be able to play to his coaching style, but their lack of experience and a consistent scorer could hurt them.
X-Factor. Freshman phenom Xavier Henry could be the key to Kansas’ hopes of a second national title in just three seasons. A late decider, Henry could very well be one of the most productive freshmen in the NCAA this season. He is surrounded by unbelievable talent that will hog most of the attention from opposing defenses, which should open up many scoring opportunities for Henry.
The final two-part edition of our Top 65 games delves into the exciting stretch run of the final five weeks. These highlighted games should have tremendous implications on seeding and conference standings with heated rivals doing battle in the final push towards March Madness. Here’s a preview of what’s guaranteed to be the best slate of games 2009-10 has to offer (top games of November/December, January and the first part of February/March in case you missed them):
February 16- North Carolina @ Georgia Tech(#36 overall)– Many believe Georgia Tech has assembled the talent to play with the supposedly rebuilding reigning champs. Still, UNC should be the favorite to win the ACC and Tech may be right on their heels (no pun intended). Gani Lawal and Derrick Favors make up a frontcourt composed of two possible lottery picks. Iman Shumpert (5.0 APG) returns to bolster the backcourt at the 1 or 2 position while Zach Peacock and Mo Miller provide depth for a Tech squad looking for a late-season impact win.
February 22- West Virginia @ Connecticut(#20 overall)– Whether Stanley Robinson is assigned Da’Sean Butler on the perimeter or Devin Ebanks in the post, Stix is the key for Connecticut this season and in this specific Big East battle. Robinson averaged 14.0 PPG and 9.0 RPG in his final ten contests last year and the UConn coaching staff strongly believes their athletic forward can replicate that success the entire season. He won’t be spending the first half in a sheet metal plant this time around, either.
February 23- Tennessee @ Florida(#62 overall)– The Gators could linger around the bubble this season in a difficult SEC East. Knocking off likely high seed Tennessee at home would send a message to the committee at this late date in the season. It’s imperative Kenny Boynton have an electric shooting game against Tennessee’s shaky defense for the Gators to have a shot. They’ll also need Alex Tyus and Chandler Parsons to contain the Tennessee bigs inside and out.
February 24- Purdue @ Minnesota (#32 overall)– A difficult road contest for a Purdue team looking to capture the Big Ten title. Minnesota always plays at a different level defensively at the Barn, meaning this could be a battle of wills in the 50s that sends Big Ten haters screaming in the streets. How Minnesota’s youth, whether it be sophomores Colton Iverson and Ralph Sampson or their freshmen Royce White and Rodney Williams, develops into late February should reveal whether the Gophers can pull off this upset.
Ed. Note: the previous posts in this series (Northeast, Mid-Atlantic, Atlantic South and Deep South) are located here.
It’s time for the fifth installment of our RTC 2009-10 Impact Players series, the group of landlocked states that produce some really good basketball players – the Mid-South. Each week we’ll pick a geographic area of the country and break down the five players who we feel will have the most impact on their teams (and by the transitive property, college basketball) this season. Our criteria is once again subjective – there are so many good players in every region of the country that it’s difficult to narrow them down to only five in each – but we feel at the end of this exercise that we’ll have discussed nearly every player of major impact in the nation. Just to be fair and to make this not too high-major-centric, we’re also going to pick a mid-major impact player in each region as our sixth man. We welcome you guys, our faithful and very knowledgeable readers, to critique us in the comments where we left players off. The only request is that you provide an argument – why will your choice be more influential this season than those we chose?
James Anderson – Jr, F – Oklahoma St. An obvious and unanimous choice for our Mid-South list, James Anderson cannot be blamed if he has a little bit of a chip on his shoulder right now. Let’s see: he’s the third-leading returning scorer in the Big 12 for the upcoming season; last year the guy averages 18.2 points, 5.7 boards, shoots over 48% from the field as well as over 82% from the line and 41% from beyond the three-point line… and he gets left off the Wooden Award Preseason Top 50 list. Anderson has coolly acknowledged his surprise at this slight, and we think he’s well within his right to do so. No doubt this will provide motivation for the versatile forward as he embarks upon his junior season for a Cowboys squad that needs him in the leadership role. Gone are Byron Eaton and Terrel Harris, leaving only Anderson and Obi Muonelo in terms of returning double-digit scorers. That’s over 27 points a game for which to compensate, so Anderson will get the touches, without question. Last year was the first trip to the NCAA Tournament for Oklahoma State in the last four years, and despite the aforementioned losses, Cowboy fans are most assuredly expecting another bid this season. If it’s going to happen, it will be on Anderson’s shoulders. We know that making our Impact Players list for the Mid-South region isn’t the same as making the preseason Wooden Award Top 50. But at least we can say… hey James… we got your back, man.
Patrick Patterson – Jr, F – Kentucky. Patrick Patterson didn’t need a ton of motivation to return for a junior season in Lexington. The potential NBA riches were surely enticing, but with the news of John Calipari’s hire and subsequent commitments of a recruiting class for the ages, Patterson found himself in a spot where another season at Kentucky may mean a national championship, a far cry from the tumultuous two campaigns he spent in the Bluegrass State under the tutelage of Billy Gillispie. Patterson is a physical specimen in the paint for Kentucky and coach Cal has to be absolutely salivating at the thought of pairing Patterson and diaper dandy DeMarcus Cousins there to complement John Wall, Darius Miller and Eric Bledsoe on the perimeter (just think if Jodie Meeks had stuck around). Patterson nearly finished with a double-double last season at 17.9 ppg and 9.3 rpg, including a dominant 22/15 performance at future #1 seed Louisville, a 19/16 vs. Miami and 21/18 vs. Auburn. In fact, Patterson led the SEC with 15 double-doubles in 2008-09 and was the only player in the conference to finish in the top five in scoring and rebounding. A wildly underrated part of Patterson’s game is his 77% ft to go along with an efficient 60% from the field overall. Most NBA scouts think Patterson will only get stronger and continue to improve with another season in college, a scary thought for opposing SEC coaches and forwards, and a delightful proposition for Calipari. The 6’8″ big man already possesses an NBA-ready frame, a beast on the blocks that loves to bang inside and fight for any rebound in his vicinity. If Patrick Patterson gets the ball deep, he will score. Period. And with John Wall, possibly the top point guard in the nation this season, making those entry passes, Patterson should be able to average a double-double for Kentucky, only adding to the 1,000+ points he’s already totaled as a Wildcat. Barring injury (which isn’t a certainty as PP battled a stress fracture in his ankle in 07-08), Patterson seems about as surefire as anyone in the country to earn national accolades this season. But with realistic hopes of a Final Four at Kentucky for the first time in Patterson’s career, it won’t be about personal accomplishments for the determined forward; it’ll be all about wins.
Hello everyone, it’s been a long four days since the last games ended on Sunday evening, but we’re back in earnest and ready for what should be a tremendous set of regional semifinals over the next two nights. Out of the top sixteen teams entering this Tournament, only two have been dismissed. The “upstarts” are Big 10 Tournament champion Purdue and a little school from the desert you might have heard from before, Arizona. We’ll be providing you with all the coverage as the weekend progresses… here’s tonight’s schedule:
7:07 pm. #5 Purdue vs. #1 Connecticut
7:27 pm. #4 Xavier vs. #1 Pittsburgh
9:37 pm. #3 Missouri vs. #2 Memphis
9:57 pm. #3 Villanova vs. #2 Duke
9:07 pm. Apologies to everyone, but real world got in the way and we’re just now getting to where we can start the BGTD tonight. Hopefully you’ll join us for the rest of the evening.
9:08 pm. What have we missed. Two good games, apparently. UConn-Purdue is nearing the finish line, and it appears the Huskies are going to advance. We thought there was a possibility of an upset there, but Hasheem showed up tonight for 15/15 and when he puts up those kinds of numbers, there are only a handful of teams in America that can compete with UConn. Pitt has been fighting off Xavier all night long, only recently getting the lead back for the first time in a while. From what we’ve seen so far, Pitt continues to shoot threes (not their strong suit and miss FTs. Xavier is doing enough to pull this upset if they can continue to keep Blair in check (8 pts).
9:14 pm. Jamie Dixon was right to complain about that shot clock violation there – it was still in XU’s hand when the clock turned to zero. But what is going on with Pitt’s shot selection? A fadeaway 18-footer from the corner is NOT their strength…
9:17 pm. And then a timeout on the throw-in… this team appears out of sync to us. UConn is finishing off Purdue on the other channel.
9:19 pm. Blair got the putback tip to go in there, but can you believe he’d miss such a point-blank shot; and then Jermaine Dixon barely drew iron on a dunk attempt?!? My God, if Pitt survives this game, it’ll be miraculous.
9:21 pm. Wow, these two teams are hitting 20% and 25% this half (Pitt higher). SCORCHING.
Patrick Marshall of Bluejay Basketball is the RTC correspondent for the Big 12 and MVC Conferences.
Kansas didn’t rebuild, they reloaded this season. After questions whether this team would be able to be as good as they were last season with basically only Sherron Collins and Cole Aldrich, this new class has gelled together and Bill Self was able to prove that he is one of the best developers of talent in the nation and also the Big 12 Coach of the Year. As I said in my preseason predictions, Kansas could fly under the radar and by the end of the season have a seasoned team. I just didn’t think they would actually win the conference. Oklahoma has also had a great season, but the loss of Blake Griffin over two key games was the difference between winning the conference and finishing second. I’m sure a lot of people were surprised to see Missouri be as successful as they were this season. You just didn’t know if Mike Anderson had the guys he wanted to play high pressure defense. But probably the surprise for me is the performance of Texas. To be real honest, I am really surprised how many people feel so confident Texas is comfortably in the tournament after the inconsistencies this team has had this season. I had high expectations for them to win the Big 12, but the non-existence of a player to step up to play point guard has really hampered this team. But I’ll have more on Texas later. Kansas St., Texas A&M and Oklahoma St. all have realistic desires of making the NCAA Tournament.
John Stevens is featured columnist for RTC. His columns will appear on Tuesdays throughout the season.
Ask any college basketball coach what a team needs to succeed in March and you’ll get a variety of answers — solid point guard play, a big inside threat, conditioning, luck, a guarantee that John Stevens will NOT bet on you — all popular answers. A “go-to” guy is also a popular response, but I think history has shown that simply one standout player will not prove sufficient. These days you have to have a balanced squad in addition to having at least two players you can call actual “go-to” guys. A viable third option can have you breathing rarified air, indeed. This season has proven incredibly interesting in that we have a lot of teams that are being seemingly led — whose very identities are made — by a couple of standout players. In addition, if these teams that are led by Dynamic Duos see a helpful third option emerge — watch out. There’s at least one of these teams in each of the major conferences, so let’s take a look at them.
ACC — Miami (FL)
True, the Hurricanes’ schedule is a little bland, but you can’t ignore a team with tough wins both at Kentucky and at Boston College. Jack McClinton (16.9/2.8/3.1) and Dwayne Collins (12.1/7.8/1.3) have propelled this Miami team that has eleven guys who average at least 10 minutes a game which means that they have many options in terms of developing that third option. Cyrus McGowan is an efficient player who provides 7.2/6.1 and he does it averaging 5 minutes less than the other significant scorers on that team, but the most likely candidate here to step up as the third option is James Dews, who averages 9.2/2.7 but upped his game in those big wins above against UK and BC by contributing 18 and 12, respectively. You gotta give props to a guy who elevates himself in the big games.
Big 12 — Missouri
On their way to a 13-3 record so far, Missouri hasn’t exactly been sleeping on the job schedule-wise, tallying wins against USC and a surprising California side and losing a tough one to Xavier. To that end, DeMarre Carroll (16.1/6.6) and Leo Lyons (14.6/6.2) have been a true Dynamic Duo for the Tigers because after that the production falls off to Matt Lawrence (9.6/2.3), especially in terms of rebounding (note: of course, Lyons needs to get this recent traffic thing sorted out). Along with J.T. Tiller, Lawrence represents the most likely candidate to be the next option; Tiller averages the third most minutes on the team but Lawrence is actually more productive despite playing 4 fewer minutes per game.
I bet Demarre can beat me at curls. (photo credit: kansan.com)
Big East — Notre Dame
I know I don’t have to tell you about Luke Harangody; despite the special player he is I personally find more excitement watching Kyle McAlarney (16.6/2.6/3.4) because the man just has locker-room range. Seriously, he’d shoot from his dorm room if they’d let him. And even then you better get a guy on him. ND might not seem like a Dynamic Duo-led team because they have two other starters — Tory Jackson and Ryan Ayers — averaging over 30 minutes a game (Jackson actually plays more than Harangody, by the numbers), but the offensive dropoff is certainly evident after McAlarney and the team is defined by those top two fellows. Jackson is the obvious third option candidate, here; he puts together a good floor game on the whole (4.6 rpg/5.9 apg/1.5 spg). It’s not like he doesn’t do enough, but if he became even more of a third scoring option to take even just a little of the heat off of the Harangody/McAlarney exacta, Notre Dame will become an even bigger Final Four threat come March.
Big Ten — Michigan State
People still seem to be defining the Fighting Izzos by that rectal-exam-with-an-audience that UNC gave them a while back. This is a mistake. Raymar Morgan (15.1/7.1) and Kalin Lucas (13.9/5.9 apg) have been the Dynamic Duo for Sparty so far, as everyone knows, but these guys have reeled off nine straight since getting tuned-up by the Tar Heels and they basically have their third option back, now, in the form of Goran Suton, already averaging 9.2/6.8 in only nine games back. This will likely continue to rise. It makes Michigan State a team you cannot ignore as we enter the second half of the season. They’ve obviously put the North Carolina game behind them. Everyone else should, too.
Pac-10 — Arizona State
We all know James Harden (23.1/5.8/4.7) and we’re getting to know Jeff Pendergraph (13.6/7.1). After that, the offensive production and glasswork drops off a little to Richard Kuksiks (10.9/3.6), the apparent choice for presumed third option, here. He’s up to playing even more minutes than Pendergraph on the average, and he’s shooting a pretty tasty 53% from 3-point range. I am, however, going to anoint Derek Glasser as the best option for third-man-in; he’s only contributing 6.4 points (fifth on the team) but he’s a great distributor of the ball (5.3 apg, leads team), has shown a tendency to come up with a timely pilfer, and is darn reliable at the line (81.1%, second on team) — all important qualities during tournament time. Even the slightest increase in his point production would make ASU even more dangerous than they already are.
SEC — Kentucky
The textbook Dynamic Duo team. Probably not a better example in all of college basketball this season. We’re not even going to talk about Jodie Meeks’ (24.2/3.4, 90.1% FT) legendary performance last night and Patrick Patterson (18.9/9.3) is creeping up every online NBA mock draft, a bittersweet fact for Wildcat fans. After that, the offensive production falls all the way down to Perry Stevenson at 7.1ppg. Heck, Patterson is actually third on the team in assists (2.6). As far as possibilities for third-option status, with this team that’s a tough question. They are absolutely loaded with pure, talented athletes, but UK followers have waited all year for a third player to assert himself. Still hasn’t happened. It has to for this team, because Meeks can’t score 54 every night and there will probably be more than one night where Meeks goes cold and Patterson is well-defended (or vice-versa). My choice for third option for this team is DeAndre Liggins, the team’s assist leader at only 3.6 apg. If he can cut down on freshman mistakes and provide even a small increase in his point production, Kentucky will be formidable — and that means this year, not next year. Without a third option, Selection Sunday might get a little tense for this Kentucky team.
It will be especially interesting to see if Miami (FL), Missouri, and Kentucky eventually see a third player emerge for them, since they’re…well, it’s too early to use the “b-word,” but let’s just say they’re fighting for tournament entry right now. Even if it isn’t the player I’ve predicted, if any of these squads see a third person elevate his game in hopes of providing more assistance to the Dynamic Duo already leading them, you best keep an eye out for them. These teams are close to making the jump, even now. Adding a good third option to their particular Dynamic Duo will improve them exponentially, and I wouldn’t want to see any of them in my sub-bracket.