Saturday marked the first of what will be many wild weekends in the Big 12, as home teams actually had a losing record (2-3) in the day’s five match-ups. Perhaps the most interesting development about the conference so far is that with Texas and Oklahoma both suffering surprising losses, we may already be moving onto Iowa State as the team with the best chance to end Kansas’ stranglehold on the league (at least for now), as the Cyclones are already the only other undefeated team left in conference play. The frenetic movement near the top of the conference speaks to just how competitive it is and how important it will be for the contenders to beat the teams they’re supposed to beat in order to keep pace.
We started off talking about the race to join Kansas at the top because the Jayhawks are unblemished through the first week of Big 12 play, and they could be getting even better. Bill Self’s team dismantled Texas Tech 86-54, and the most important takeaway was the return of Devonte’ Graham.The freshman isn’t fully healed from the toe injury that sidelined him for the previous month, but it was easy to see how much pressure his return took off the shoulders of Frank Mason, who Self could rarely afford to rest during the Jayhawks’ most competitive games. While the Red Raiders were hardly a threat on Saturday, a healthy Graham will allow Kansas do some things on both sides of the ball that they didn’t have the flexibility to do over the last few weeks.
On Friday, I mentioned that Kansas State needed to start stringing together some quality wins to get back in the hunt for an at-large bid, and lo and behold, they knocked off Oklahoma in Norman thanks to a pair of clutch shots by Marcus Foster. In addition to the sophomore’s heroics, the Wildcats got the kind of rebounding performance and ball control that earned them a share of the 2013 conference title, and they received the contributions from Stephen Hurt (15 points and eight rebounds) and Justin Edwards (nine points, nine rebounds and two blocks) that Bruce Weber was counting on when he brought them to Manhattan. The Wildcats are 2-1 in league play with four of their next five games coming at home, which is about as big a break as a team can catch in a conference this deep. Kansas State has their work cut out for them, but don’t write them off just yet.
For the second straight game, the story of Iowa State was its bench. Abdel Nader had a career night against West Virginia’s high-pressure attack, leading his team with 19 points to go with seven rebounds. The Cyclones’ usual contributors were riddled by foul trouble, which, combined with the game’s fast pace, created an opportunity for Nader to come in and make an impact. As a team, Iowa State still isn’t where they should be offensively, but to their credit, they’ve won a pair of close games despite that shortcoming. Still, with games at Baylor and a huge Hilton Coliseum tilt against Kansas this week, they need to get back to where we’re used to seeing them.
Texas’ offensive struggles continued as they shot just 35 percent on twos in a 69-58 loss at Oklahoma State. The Longhorns just never got into a rhythm and were flustered by the Cowboys’ 52.9 percent performance from beyond the arc. Jonathan Holmes has looked uncharacteristically lost over the last few outings, and Isaiah Taylor had a rough day as well. If there’s any solace Longhorns fans can take, it’s that Myles Turner finally looked like he belonged against a legit opponent. The blue-chip freshman put up 18 points, including a perfect 4-of-4 mark from distance and swatted five shots. A 1-2 mark in conference play isn’t the death knell that it’s been in previous years, but suddenly, Texas’ resume isn’t looking so hot for a team once considered to be among the nation’s best.
Nearly a month into the season, the Big 12 has enjoyed a standout non-conference campaign with several wins over Power Five opponents. For the most part, the conference’s best teams are living up to their hype, while the middle-tier teams are showing signs of fulfilling their potential as well. While all eyes are on the title race between Kansas and Texas, here are six other storylines you might be missing.
Bryce Dejean-Jones has turned into a hyper-efficient scorer under Fred Hoiberg (sorry, UNLV fans). (AP/Charlie Neibergall)
Bryce Dejean-Jones could be Fred Hoiberg’s best transfer yet. The Mayor has taken many a flawed transfer and turned him into an All-Big 12 selection. On its own this isn’t exactly a revelation, but you probably didn’t expect Bryce Dejean-Jones to be such a white-hot scorer. Through seven games, he’s shooting 56.8 percent from the floor, 41.7 percent from the three-point line and 89.7 percent from the free throw stripe. He’s also pitching in on the glass, corralling 6.9 rebounds per game. As if that isn’t scary enough for the rest of the Big 12, Dejean-Jones is the second option in the Cyclones’ offense, as Georges Niang hasn’t had any trouble picking up where he left off after getting hurt in last season’s NCAA Tournament. Dejean-Jones’ latest excellent performance came against UMKC on Tuesday night, as he put up 22 points on 9-of-12 shooting, including a 2-of-4 effort from beyond the arc.
We need to be patient with Myles Turner. It’s tempting to look at Texas freshman Myles Turner’s numbers on the year (11.4 points, 6.9 rebounds and 2.9 blocks per game) and conclude that he’s coming along just fine, but if you dig deeper into his games against high-major competition, he hasn’t been nearly that good — averaging just 5.8 points, 5.5 rebounds and 1.8 blocks in games against Iowa, Cal, UConn and Kentucky. This is by no means a knock on the heralded freshman, who was a late bloomer on the recruiting circuit, but it’s become clear that when it comes to legitimate competition, Turner is going to need some time to develop into the rangy, efficient scorer who can lift Texas over Kansas in the Big 12 standings. He’s still in the process of realizing how good he can be, and with Texas’ surplus of big men on the roster, Rick Barnes is still figuring out how to best utilize his young phenom. On the plus side, you’ll be treated to a show if you have the means to watch any of the Longhorns’ next three games (vs. Texas State, Lipscomb and Long Beach State), as Turner hasn’t had any trouble showing off his tools and production against inferior competition. Read the rest of this entry »
Rustin Dodd of The Kansas City Star has a terrific extended profile on Kansas phenom Kelly Oubre. The piece details his upbringing from leaving New Orleans in anticipation of Hurricane Katrina, through his explosion on to the national recruiting scene at Findlay Prep, to where he is now, mere days away from making his debut for one of the most storied programs in college basketball. Oubre displays a maturity beyond his years through carefully-collected thoughts and a contemplative attitude. Given Kansas’ roster, it doesn’t look like he’ll have to shoulder a huge load during his freshman season, but he could very well be the Jayhawks’ X-factor in 2015.
The typical caveats of preseason games apply here, but Iowa State newcomer Bryce Dejean-Jones looked ready to take on a big role with the Cyclones as the team smoked Viterbo (La Crosse., Wisconsin) 115-48 on Friday night. Both Royce White and DeAndre Kane hit the ground running in their sole seasons in Ames under Fred Hoiberg, so it will be fun to see if Dejean-Jones will be able to do the same thing starting Friday in the team’s season opener against Oakland.
Oklahoma State knows that despite being picked to finish near the bottom of the Big 12, this season is an important one for the future of the program. As a result, the Pokes are trying to build chemistry by spending more time together off the court, according to The Tulsa World. The article brings up the notion that, with an egoless squad, both Travis Ford and the team are hopeful they can improve on last year’s massive disappointment. While that may sound like eye-rolling coachspeak, the tone isn’t all that dissimilar from the mindset Texas head coach Rick Barnestook after Julien Lewis, Sheldon McClellan, Ioannis Papapetrou and Myck Kabongo all left Austin in 2013. This year’s team doesn’t look nearly as good as last year’s Texas team, but the Cowboys are probably as good a bet as any team in the bottom of the Big 12 to outperform their expectations.
Bruce Weber‘s third season with Kansas Stateshould bring increased expectations, according to Kellis Robinett of The Wichita Eagle. The Wildcats will need to replace about 30 percent of their scoring production from last season, but that should be doable given a roster featuring a stud guard in Marcus Foster and a promising trio of newcomers in Brandon Bolden, Justin Edwards and Stephen Hurt. Weber led Kansas State to its first back-to-back 20-win seasons since 1977, but early NCAA Tournament losses have prevented the program from getting a little more respect on a national scale.
Oklahoma sophomore Jordan Woodard cracked the preseason Bob Cousy Award watch list last week, and it’s not hard to see why. As a freshman, Woodard displayed advanced poise and confidence on his way to a fantastic debut season. With a year now under his belt, college basketball fans can expect him to make a big leap. While it will be a lot of fun to watch him lead the Sooners’ high-octane offense, the quality of Oklahoma’s defense is what will really need to improve this year.
Throughout the preseason, the Big 12 microsite will preview each of the league’s 10 teams, from worst to first. Today: Kansas State.
Looking back at last season, I’m sure most Kansas State fans would say they were somewhat satisfied with how the year turned out. The roster faced major turnover as guys who had shared a Big 12 regular season title the year before either graduated or transferred out of Manhattan. The Wildcats were young and it showed early in non-conference play, with losses to Northern Colorado and Charlotte to go along with Georgetown. Once they returned to the mainland from the Puerto Rico Tip-Off, however, the Wildcats found a star point guard, reeled off 10 wins a row, won all but one of their home conference games, and wound up facing Kentucky in the NCAA Tournament. With seven of their nine rotation players back, Kansas State has the opportunity to disrupt conference hierarchy again and perhaps look forward to a March worth remembering.
A big season could be on the way for Bruce Weber and the Wildcats. (Ed Zurga/Getty Images)
Strengths: The star point guard is, of course, sophomore guard Marcus Foster. Foster’s rise last season was almost impossible to predict, but there he was knocking down jumpers and bulldozing through traffic to get to the cup. If that doesn’t sound appetizing enough, throw in transfer Justin Edwards — who put up some big numbers at Maine (16.7 PPG in 2012-13) — and you’ve got a lethal duo of guards who can go toe-to-toe against any backcourt in the Big 12. Another advantage this season is greater depth at the forward positions. Most starting lineups last year featured the 6’7″ Thomas Gipson playing the power forward slot. Not so this season. Help comes in the form of 6’11” Stephen Hurt, a JuCo transfer who spent last season at Northwest Florida State College. Hurt began his college career at Lipscomb, where he won the Atlantic Sun Freshman of the Year award by averaging 11.5 points and 7.8 rebounds per game in 2012-13. Brandon Bolden, a 6’11” transfer from Georgetown, will also be eligible this season to provide more frontcourt depth.
As good as Tyus McGee was last year for Iowa State, early news out of Ames this season suggests freshman guard Matt Thomas might fill the void left by McGee without a hiccup. Cyclone head coach Fred Hoiberg was a great shooter in his own right, and told the Des Moines Register on Wednesday “I ain’t tweaking that shot, I’ll tell you that.” Fellow Iowa State teammates also couldn’t help but gush about Thomas’ ability to knock down shots from behind the arc. As if you needed another scare on Halloween, just imagine one of the nation’s best shooters as a weapon in Hoiberg’s arsenal. Yikes.
As difficult as the rebuilding job at TCU was for head coach Trent Johnson, it appears the Horned Frogs seem to be heading in the right direction with the proper man at the helm. On Tuesday, Johnson indicated that he believes his team in year two in Fort Worth is more skilled than that a season ago. Among those looking to contribute for TCU this season, senior guard Jarvis Rayfeels as if he’s playing with a little bit of a chip on his shoulder this season after missing the Big 12 campaign last year with a broken foot. In what should be a weak bottom half of the Big 12, Ray and company will have a legitimate shot to significantly surpass last season’s conference win total of two games.
To say that West Virginia‘s inaugural season in the Big 12 was a bit of a disappointment would be an understatement to say the least. Bob Huggins’ squad struggled to a 6-12 record in the Big 12, and a 13-19 mark overall. At the top of the list of disappointing players for the Mountaineers was point guard Juwan Staten, who figures to be an important piece for Huggins this season. Staten seems to be using last year’s frustrations as motivation to improve his leadership for this go around in an effort to become the floor general West Virginia needs to really make their team go. Don’t sleep on Huggins and West Virginia this season as Morgantown might just be a difficult place for many Big 12 teams to go get a win.
While it appears that Kansas State may struggle at times this season scoring the ball, help in that department may be merely but a year away. Maine transfer Justin Edwards will be forced to sit out this season due to NCAA transfer rules, but it seems he’s found exactly what he was looking for in Manhattan. Edwards wanted more exposure against better competition, and there’s no doubt the Big 12 conference will provide him that. Last year Edwards lead the America East Conference in scoring at 16.7 points a game, and while he won’t be able to suit up for the Wildcats this season, his focus during the down year will be on pushing teammates in practice and using his athleticism to bring competition to Bruce Weber’s squad.
One of the more intriguing questions surrounding the Kansas Jayhawks this preseason is who, if anyone, will Bill Self choose to use the redshirt tag on for the 2013-2014 year? As Tom Keegan of KUSports.com points out, it might be in Self’s best interest to avoid redshirting anyone this year. Coming into the season, many believed sophomore guard Andrew White III might be a prime candidate, but it’s clear that White will hold a solid spot in Kansas’ rotation this season. This likely leaves one of Self’s incoming freshmen, Brennan Greene or Conner Frankamp, as a more likely fit. Although Kansas has only had one exhibition game in the books, it appeared that Frankamp might be the odd one out. If history is any indicator, former Kansas high school standout Brady Morningstar has laid out a blueprint for Frankamp (a Wichita native) as to how patience could certainly pay dividends down the road in a Jayhawk uniform.
League On The Rebound – After suffering though one of the worst collective seasons in conference history, several top teams of the America East saw much of their talent defect via graduation and/or transfer. With 60% of the all-conference players from last season now gone, can the top America East programs replenish their talent and improve the overall performance of the conference?
Can The Seawolves Break Through? Stony Brook, winners of two America East regular season championships in the past three seasons, has come up short in the postseason tournament, falling each time in the conference finals. Now in his eighth season, is this the year Steve Pikiell finally has his Seawolves dancing come March?
Is This The Year Stony Brook Breaks Through And Goes Dancing? (AP)
Movers and Shakers – The 2012-13 season marks the last one that BostonUniversity will call the America East home before heading off to the Patriot League. With an America East postseason ban in place, can Joe Jones keep his players motivated and overcome the transfer of big man JakeO’Brien to win the America East regular season championship?
UMBC In A Bind – Two days before Midnight Madness, eighth-year head coach RandyMonroe unexpectedly resigned at UMBC. Monroe led the Retrievers to their only NCAA Tournament appearance in 2007, yet only won 13 games in his final three seasons at the helm. Will interim coach Aki Thomas provide a much needed spark for the hapless Retrievers?
John Templon is the RTC correspondent for America East. You can also find his musings online at NYC Buckets or on Twitter @nybuckets.
Conference Tournament Preview
The top four seeds in the America East have been dominating conference play all season. That’s why they’re expected to meet up in the semifinals. The team that could potentially crash the party is six-seed Hartford, which is playing close to home. If the Hawks get hot from three, there’s always a chance to pull an upset, because they love to shoot the long ball. Also, seven-seed Maine has a ton of talent, but crashed at the end of America East play, losing six of its final seven games. The highest seeded team that survives Hartford is going to get the opportunity every team wants, to host 40 minutes of basketball that will ultimately lead to a berth into the NCAA Tournament. It should make for an exciting, gritty long weekend and championship game.
A Look Back
At the beginning of the season the expectations were that Boston University, StonyBrook, Vermont and Albany would be at the top of the standings. At the end of the season, that’s exactly what we’ve got, except they’re in a slightly different order. An injury to D.J. Irving seemed to throw BU off its rhythm a little bit, but the Terriers still finished 12-4 in conference, including a win over Stony Brook and a sweep of Albany.
Vermont benefited from the continuity of having John Becker take over for Mike Lonergan, but an upset loss to Binghamton, the biggest surprise of the conference season, leaves them slightly behind the eight-ball heading into the conference tournament. But it did save the Bearcats from the indignity of needing to win the play-in game on Thursday to avoid a winless season.
The rest of the bottom of the standings worked out pretty much as expected. None of the other teams has managed to crack the upper echelon of the conference. Hartford, after starting the season 0-13, rebounded to finish 7-9 in conference and qualifies as America East’s biggest surprise.
Gerardo Suero's Quickness And Scoring Ability Caused Headaches Across The Conference.
Player of the Year:Gerardo Suero, Albany – He burst onto the scene this season after a long, circuitous route to upstate New York. On the way, he learned a lot of tricks on offense and it showed, as he was incredibly efficient while using the third most possessions in the nation when he was on the court. Suero averaged 21.7 points per game and also contributed 5.7 boards and 3.0 assists.
Coach of the Year:Steve Pikiell, Stony Brook – Pikiell wins this award because his team finished in first place. It’s tough to deal with expectations and he’s formed a talented rotation into a team that can have a different person beat you on any given night. This is the second time in three seasons that the Seawolves have won the regular season title. This time, Stony Brook needs to finish the deal and qualify for its first ever NCAA Tournament.
G Gerardo Suero, Jr. Albany
G Darryl Partin, Sr., Boston University – This team was supposed to be Partin’s this season, and after a midseason injury to D.J. Irving, it truly was. He did a good job as the go-to guy, holding down the fort and scoring 19.7 points per game until his running mate was ready to go again.
G Bryan Dougher, Sr., Stony Brook – The designated gunner on the conference’s best team, Dougher shot 37.3% from three and scored 13.4 points per game, the highest of his career, in the fewest minutes per game in his career.
F Tommy Brenton, Jr., Stony Brook – Brenton isn’t your traditional First Team player, but his defense made him one of the key players in the Seawolves’ rotation. He averaged 7.9 points, 7.8 rebounds, 3.3 assists and 1.5 steals in 29.4 minutes per game this season.
F Brian Voelkel, So., Vermont – Voelkel didn’t score much, averaging just 4.9 points per game, but he was amongst the America East leaders in rebounds at 8.3 per game, and assists at 5.0 per game.
Darryl Partin (far left), Bryan Dougher, Tommy Brenton and Brian Voelkel Rounded Out The America East First Team
Freshman of the Year:Four McGlynn, Vermont – McGlynn and his top competition for this award, Maine’s Justin Edwards, look like they’ll be great cornerstones for their respective teams for years to come. McGlynn, though, was more consistent overall this season. He scored 24 points in 27 minutes in a 68-49 win over Stony Brook that was the Catamounts best victory of the season.
Defensive Player of the Year:Tommy Brenton, Stony Brook – At 6’5,” Brenton has the ability to cover anyone in America East. He’s an excellent rebounder and his offense comes from his defense. Always taking on Stony Brook’s toughest assignment, he led a defense that finished first in conference play by allowing 0.91 points per possession.
Stony Brook(20-8, 14-2)– The Seawolves have good wins at home over Cornell, Rider and Columbia, but a victory at Northeastern during BracketBusters was the first road win for SBU outside of conference play. Considering how down America East is in general this season, Stony Brook might end up in the play-in game and they could definitely win it.
Steve Pikiell and Stony Brook Are The Favorites To Win The America East Tournament (AP)
Vermont (20-11, 12-3) – The Catamounts own the America East’s best win – over Old Dominion in overtime – and its worst loss – at Binghamton. This is a solid team, but it needs every player on its game in order to win the slowdown games Vermont likes to play.
Boston University(16-15, 12-4) – The record isn’t great, but most of it can be traced to losing D.J. Irving right before a key stretch in conference play and a lack of options in the frontcourt. Joe Jones did figure out a way to beat top seed Stony Brook once, at home, but they were swept by Vermont, their likely semifinal opponent. The second one was close, 68-67, and gives the Terriers hope they can repeat as champions.
Albany(18-13, 9-7) – Head coach Will Brown has a contract extension, but the length and terms won’t be announced until after the postseason. That makes it sound like he has a lot of incentive to get the Great Danes some wins. The potential is there with Gerardo Suero, Mike Black and LoganAronhalt. The problem is up front. UA suffered two losses to Stony Brook by a total of 20 points because there’s no one who can handle SBU’s size.
New Hampshire (13-15, 7-9) – The Wildcats are hot, having won five of their last six games, including the last one Albany and UNH played on February 9. They’ve been winning close games over the elite (Albany, Boston U.) and taking care of business against the bottom. It’s straight to the elite teams on Saturday with Albany.
Hartford(8-21, 7-9) – A number of talented freshmen, including Nate Sikma and Mark Nwakamma, give the Hawks something to build upon. There’s also some positive momentum considering the 8-8 finish to the regular season after the winless streak to start. John Gallagher had to spend a lot of time getting his team ready for this level, but it should pay big dividends in 2012-13.
Maine(12-16, 6-10) – So much talent, so little to show for it. Justin Edwards and Alasdair Fraser are great blocks to build around, but they’re going to need some more help. The departures of Gerald McLemore and RaheemSingleton is going to leave holes in the offense next season. What TedWoodward really needs is for his team to commit to play defense. Maine has allowed six of its last seven opponents to score at least a point per possession and lost each of those games.
UMBC(4-25, 3-13) – Losing Chris De La Rosa at the beginning of the season basically tanked the Retrievers’ season. Along the way, though, ChasePlummer picked up a lot of the slack and walk-on Ryan Cook became an integral part of the rotation. Both those players will be back next season as UMBC tries to find a new way to hold down opponents after surrendering a conference-worst 1.12 points per possession this season.
Binghamton(1-28, 1-15) – All those losses have exposed the fact that changes still need to be made in upstate New York. The Bearcats have left Mark Macon with an almost impossible situation and while there’s some talent on the roster, Robert Mansell’s knee injury and Ben Dickinson’s immature actions on the court leave questions that need to be answered before next season.
John Templon is the RTC correspondent for the America East. You can also find his musings online at NYC Buckets or on Twitter @nybuckets.
The Week That Was:
Nicks and Bruises: Every team has a few injuries at this time in the season and they’re impacting some rotations. Ben Crenca is out for a few weeks for Vermont and his backup Luke Apfeld also tweaked something. Apfeld, though, returned to play 23 minutes in Vermont’s last game against Saint Louis.
Dropping the Albany Cup: Siena and Albany have a great rivalry. Unfortunately, this time the Saints took home the victory, 64-60. O.D. Anosike scored 21 points and grabbed 18 rebounds for Siena in the victory. The Great Danes really struggled, shooting 24-64 (37.5%) from the field.
Chris De La Rosa leaves UMBC: De La Rosa was an All-America East Second Team selection last season, but after playing in just one game this season, the Retrievers’ star point guard sent a release out through the school stating that he was leaving the program. The release said that he left for “personal and family-related matters.”
Maine's Justin Edwards May Exude A Quiet Demeanor, But He Lets His Game Do The Talking. (GoBlackBears.com)
Boston University (4-5) – From November 26 through December 3, the Terriers played the best stretch of basketball of any America East school. Wins over Rhode Island, Hofstra, Delaware and Boston College reasserted Joe Jones’ team as the one to beat in the conference this season. Darryl Partin is shouldering a huge amount of the offensive load and is averaging 23.9 points per game. His sidekick in the backcourt is D.J. Irving, who averages 13.8 points per game.
Vermont (4-5) – The win over Old Dominion is the best by any America East this season. The Catamounts don’t play very pretty basketball, being one of the slowest teams in college basketball, but they’re just good enough at offense and defense to be a contender this season. Brian Voelkel continues to be a beast on the boards averaging 7.8 rebounds per game. Read the rest of this entry »
John Templon is the RTC correspondent for America East. You can also find his musings online at NYC Buckets (http://www.nycbuckets.com) or on Twitter @nybuckets.
The Week That Was
Close Calls: The teams of America East have found themselves on the wrong end of close scores early in the season. The nine teams are a combined 1-8 in games decided by five points or fewer or in overtime. That includes Vermont’s two-point loss against South Florida, which would’ve been a big scalp for the league. The Catamounts also got the league’s first close victory with an overtime defeat of Old Dominion, 77-75 in overtime, on Tuesday.
New High Scorers: Two of the leading scorers in America East this season weren’t here in 2010-11. Albany’s Gerardo Suero has given the Great Danes a go-to guy and freshman Justin Edwards is leading the way for Maine. See Albany’s section below for much more about Suero. What’s impressive about Edwards, a Canadian import, is that he’s also leading the conference in steals in the early going with 3.5 per game. Edwards was named the America East Rookie of the Week for his efforts last week.
Slow Starts at the Top: Vermont, Boston University and Stony Brook were supposed to be the class of America East coming into this season. The Catamounts won two games they should’ve but lost to Long Island in their final game of Hall of Fame Tip-Off Tournament. The Seawolves suffered a tough loss to Sacred Heart and the Terriers fell to Northeastern and Cornell. Those are the types of 50/50 games that the top third of the league needs to win in order for America East to get some more respect moving forward.
Albany's Gerardo Suero Diced Up Syracuse's Zone, But The Great Danes Came Up Short. (Kevin Rivoli/AP)