NCAA Game Analysis: Sweet Sixteen Thursday

Posted by Walker Carey & Andrew Murawa on March 26th, 2015


While the early round upsets and Cinderella stories are what make the NCAA Tournament unique to any other sporting event in the country, there is always something to be said about the best competing against the best. No more might that be true than this season’s Sweet 16, which feature arguably a legitimate “Top 16” team pool … and it all gets started today. Here are four previews of Thursday’s games:

#3 Notre Dame vs. #7 Wichita State – Midwest Region Sweet 16 (from Cleveland) – at 7:15 PM EST on CBS

Compared to the Pantheon of coaches, Gregg Marshall and Mike Brey aren't often thrown in the discussion. But, both have their teams playing at the highest of levels at the moment. (AP & Getty)

Compared to the Pantheon of coaches, Gregg Marshall and Mike Brey aren’t often thrown in the discussion. But, both have their teams playing at the highest of levels at the moment. (AP & Getty)

The Irish and Shockers will meet Thursday night in what should be a very entertaining battle between two of the country’s best perimeter teams. Notre Dame and its four-guard lineup boasts one of the best scoring offenses in the country. USBWA first-team All-American Jerian Grant is one of the best offensive guards in the country. His scoring ability and ball distribution skills definitely makes him a player to watch each time he takes the court. For Notre Dame, sophomore point guard Demetrius Jackson and sophomore guard Steve Vasturia have each made a name for themselves this season. Jackson has greatly matured as Notre Dame’s floor leader on offense and his ball pressure on defense has been a greatly under appreciated facet of his game. Vasturia is the only Irish starter that does not have a scoring average in double figures, but his knack for hitting big shots coupled with some tenacious defense against some very good players (see his performance from last Saturday against Butler’s Kellen Dunham) has contributed to Notre Dame reaching its first Sweet 16 since 2003. When you think of the great glue guys in the country, Irish swingman Pat Connaughton has to be one of the first players who comes to mind. The captain has been an essential asset all season from his three-point shooting to his defensive rebounding to his overall leadership, Connaughton has been the heart of the Irish attack.

Wichita State is equally as talented on the perimeter. Junior point guard Fred VanVleet has had as good of an NCAA Tournament as anyone thus far, as he thoroughly outplayed Indiana’s Yogi Ferrell in the round of 64 before having his way with Kansas guards’ Frank Mason and Devonte’ Graham in the round of 32. The other two Shockers perimeter players — Ron Baker and Tekele Cotton — each bring a unique skill set that have lifted the team all season. Baker has a knack for leading the scoring effort and hitting big shots. Cotton is an elite defender and his athleticism results in him constantly being a slashing threat on the offensive end. This is going to be a very fun game and you have to figure that both team’s perimeter groups will get theirs. Read the rest of this entry »

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Unlikely Yet Capable, Oklahoma and West Virginia Look to Carry Big 12 Flag

Posted by Brian Goodman on March 25th, 2015


Let’s rewind to last Thursday morning. If I had told you that the Big 12 would send just two of its seven NCAA Tournament teams to the Sweet Sixteen, you’d probably feel let down. Conference members have struggled to make many deep runs over the last 10 years, and while it didn’t appear that there was a national title contender among the group this season, there were plenty of teams that were good enough to survive the first weekend. A flawed Kansas team had scrapped and defended its way to an 11th straight conference crown. Iowa State had shown great resilience in erasing one double-figure lead after another on its way to a Big 12 Tournament title. Scott Drew’s Baylor team was arguably better than the one that went to the Sweet Sixteen last season.

Can the new-look Mountaineers help the Big 12 save face? (Greg Bartram/USA TODAY Sports)

Can the new-look Mountaineers help the Big 12 save face? (Greg Bartram/USA TODAY Sports)

As we all now know, none of those three promising teams are still standing, and the also-rans of the bunch — Oklahoma State and Texas — fizzled out as well. That leaves us with Oklahoma and West Virginia as the Big 12’s two survivors. While the Sooners and Mountaineers are very good teams led by two of the most experienced and successful coaches in the game, their presence in the Sweet Sixteen still feels like a bit of a surprise. Oklahoma’s ability to play great defense while utilizing an uptempo attack is impressive, but there were plenty of reasons to be suspicious of the Sooners. They played poorly in two losses to downtrodden Kansas State, struggled to find consistency against competitive teams away from Norman, and their composure fell under increased scrutiny after they coughed up a pair of big leads to the Cyclones. While similar criticisms can be made of other teams still playing (see: UCLA), you would have a good case if you wanted to remain skeptical on Lon Kruger‘s team. Read the rest of this entry »

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Rushed Reactions: #16 Baylor 80, #18 West Virginia 70

Posted by Greg Mitchell on March 12th, 2015


Here are some key takeaways from Baylor’s 80-70 Big 12 quarterfinal win over a West Virginia team that was still without Juwan Staten and Gary Browne.

Rico Gathers had 15 points, nine rebounds and two powerful second-half dunks in Baylor's win over West Virginia (West Virginia Metro News).

Rico Gathers had 15 points, nine rebounds and two powerful second-half dunks in Baylor’s win over West Virginia (West Virginia Metro News).

  1. Selection Sunday Impacts. Baylor should be poised for a happy Selection Sunday. The Bracket Matrix, which aggregates NCAA Tournament projections from across all corners of the web, had the Bears as a solid #3 seed going into the game. The win against a good West Virginia team, even without Staten, should keep them from falling off that line. That’ll especially be the case if fellow #3 seed (or better) hopefuls Iowa State and Oklahoma fall in games later today. This could also set the Bears up for a spot in the South regional in Houston.  Regardless of seed, this year will mark the first time in program history that Baylor will make back-to-back NCAA Tournament appearances, which is somewhat surprising considering the success Scott Drew has enjoyed over the last decade in Waco.
  2. Bears Bench Deepens. Ish Wainwright may have earned himself more playing time the rest of the way. Early foul trouble in the first half forced Drew to play the little-used forward heavy minutes and the junior did not disappoint. He ended up with seven points and six rebounds and did a good job battling the Mountaineers’ physical frontcourt. It was an undeniably good day for the local native who got the most playing time he has received in a single game since early February. Drew has not utilized an incredibly deep rotation this year — often giving only six players significant minutes — so it’s a great sign that Wainwright has proven he can contribute on a big stage.
  3. Undermanned Mountaineers. West Virginia needs Staten and Browne back. That’s not exactly a groundbreaking thought but the effect of their absences played out in real time today against the Bears. The Mountaineers benefited from some hot shooting from deep for much of the game — including four threes and 18 points from Jaysean Paige — but they didn’t score a field goal over the last six minutes when Staten would have been most useful. Jevon Carter and Daxter Miles had two costly back-to-back turnovers with under four minutes left that Baylor used to build a multi-possession lead it would not relinquish. Having Staten and Browne in those pressure situations instead of two freshmen may have made a difference in this quarterfinal matchup. On the other hand, Carter and Miles had an opportunity to learn from the increased playing time and those mistakes, with an opportunity to apply it next weekend when the games matter even more.

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Five Key Storylines Entering the Big 12 Tournament

Posted by Brian Goodman on March 11th, 2015

The Big 12 Tournament gets under way tonight at the Sprint Center in Kansas City with #8 Kansas State taking on #9 TCU followed by #7 Texas battling #10 Texas Tech. Five teams appear safely into the NCAA Tournament along with two other hopefuls, but the determination of how many bids the league will ultimately get is just one of several storylines to keep an eye on this week. Here are five others.

  1. Hobbled Kansas – The Jayhawks enter the week with the conference tournament’s top seed, but injuries to Wayne Selden and Perry Ellis (who sat out the team’s regular season finale) mean the team is playing at less than 100 percent. Cliff Alexander‘s NCAA case is also moving slowly and Bill Self is already planning as if he won’t return. Because of the strength of the teams the Jayhawks will be playing in Kansas City, it’s tough to picture Kansas falling to anything worse than a #3 seed in the NCAA Tournament. It’s also fairly certain that no matter what happens there, Kansas will only have to travel three hours to Omaha for the opening weekend. The 11-time Big 12 champions could certainly be in a worse position, but it will be interesting to see how the team adjusts to those personnel issues.

    Will the Cyclones repeat as Big 12 Tournament champs?

    Will the Cyclones repeat as Big 12 Tournament champs?

  2. Iowa State Looks to Protect Its Crown – The Cyclones had a solid season but it had to be at least slightly disappointing to fail to match Kansas in the league standings with a team that finally had a legitimate rim-protector and a strong returning core. All is not lost, though, as Fred Hoiberg’s team has an excellent chance to repeat as Big 12 Tournament champs. With three wins this week, it can become the first team to do so since Kansas pulled the trick in 2011 and the first non-Self team to pull it off since Oklahoma State in 2005. The Iowa State faithful turned out at the Sprint Center in huge numbers last year, so while Oklahoma is probably the second-best team in the Big 12, the ideal atmosphere would be a championship game pitting the Cyclones and Jayhawks. Read the rest of this entry »
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Big 12 Superlatives, Part II: Newcomer, Game & Play of the Year

Posted by Brian Goodman on March 11th, 2015

We continue our coronation of the Big 12’s best performers and performances with the back end of our annual award posts. If you missed Part I, which featured our contributors’ all-conference selections as well as Player Of The Year and Coach Of The Year honors, you can catch up here.

Newcomer of the Year

  • Brian Goodman: Jameel McKay – From the minute he became eligible on December 20, McKay gave Iowa State a defensive presence down low that it hasn’t had since Fred Hoiberg took the reins of the program. McKay currently ranks among the top 50 players nationally in block percentage (9.1%) and, despite not being very skilled offensively, draws a ton of fouls and finishes consistently. In the long-term, Kansas’ Kelly Oubre or Texas’ Myles Turner may have better careers, but neither did so at the level of McKay with the Cyclones.
Jameel McKay gave the Cylones a much-needed presence down low. (Andrea Melendez/The Register)

Jameel McKay gave the Cylones a much-needed presence down low. (Andrea Melendez/The Register)

  • Nate Kotisso: Jameel McKay – I’ve been a fan of McKay’s ever since the stories about him doing insane things in practice were made public. Once he became eligible, I wondered if he could live up to all the hype, but he has proven to be a game-changer in every sense of the word. He gives the Cyclones a dimension they haven’t had in the Fred Hoiberg era — a true big man who runs the floor well, rebounds with reckless abandon, and is a defensive menace with his 7’4″ wingspan. McKay averaged double figures this season but I still feel like there’s plenty of room for growth in his offensive game. I hope he comes back to Ames for another year.
  • Chris Stone: Jameel McKay – McKay has turned out to be yet another successful transfer under Iowa State head coach Fred Holberg. Over 487 minutes of action, McKay posted numbers of 16.8 points, 11.1 rebounds, and 3.7 blocks per 40 minutes. He was also named Defensive Player of the Year by the league’s coaches and was the one of the few bright spots on an otherwise poor Iowa State defense. McKay played well as Hoiberg’s first true rim-protector and helped lead the Cyclones to a #2 seed in the conference tournament.

Game of the Year

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Big 12 M5: 02.25.15 Edition

Posted by Chris Stone on February 25th, 2015


  1. The latest turn in the court rushing saga that followed Kansas State’s win over Kansas on Monday came when Kansas State student Nathan Power issued an apology in the Wildcats’ student newspaper, The Collegian. Power admitted to being the individual who was identified for running into Jamari Traylor in the aftermath of the Wildcats’ win, but did not directly apologize to the Kansas forward for his actions. Instead, he opted to apologize for not being “careful of the people [he] was around,” while breaking the “Wildcat way” and disrespecting “the KU basketball team — Jamari Traylor in particular.” Perhaps Power cannot explicitly apologize for running into Traylor because of legal reasons, but he certainly appeared to thrust himself into the Kansas player on Monday night. I suspect this won’t be the last we hear about this incident.
  2. Lost in the court-rushing shuffle was the impressive performance put on by the Wildcats in Bramlage Coliseum, as sophomore Nigel Johnson led the way with 20 points on 8-of-11 shooting in the 70-63 win. Johnson entered the game shooting under 30 percent from behind the three-point arc for his college career, but he knocked down four three-pointers (in five attempts) against Kansas. The Wildcats will likely still need a miracle to find their way into the NCAA Tournament, but that was irrelevant to head coach Bruce Weber on Monday. “After last week this is a huge win for our guys,” Weber said. “I just asked them to forget about what happened before and not worry about what’s going to happen in the future; just worry about today and the moment.”
  3. It’s been a good week for West Virginia. Senior guard Juwan Staten was named the Big 12 Player of the Week thanks to his big role in wins against Kansas and Oklahoma State last week. The Mountaineers followed up those victories with a 71-64 win over Texas on Tuesday night in Morgantown, putting them just one game back of Kansas in the Big 12 standings with a trip to Lawrence looming.
  4. Earlier this week, Burnt Orange Nation’s Cody Daniel called for Texas senior Jonathan Holmes to lead the late-season revival of the Longhorns. Unfortunately for everyone, after knocking down a pair of three-pointers in the first half against West Virginia, Holmes was ejected from the game for elbowing the Mountaineers’ Devin Williams. Although the Longhorns managed to make the game interesting down the stretch, the absence of Holmes from the lineup loomed large for a Texas team that is fighting to stay in the NCAA Tournament picture. Rick Barnes will need his senior leader to step up in the team’s final three games of the regular season just to stay on the right side of the bubble.
  5. The next big game in a long line of big games in the Big 12 this season comes tonight when Baylor travels north to face Iowa State in Ames. The Cyclones are now just a half-game back from Kansas in the conference standings, and a win would pull them even with the Jayhawks. Iowa State plays its two toughest remaining opponents in Hilton Coliseum, but that won’t make their remaining schedule any easier, says Randy Peterson of The Des Moines Register. Baylor will attempt to slow the pace against the Cyclones and use its zone defense to force Iowa State to knock down outside shots. If the Cyclones succeed, we’ll be in for a very exciting finish to the Big 12 regular season.
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Strength of Big 12 Driven by Impressive Individual Seasons

Posted by Chris Stone on February 18th, 2015

College basketball fans across the country debate which conference is the best every season. That conversation has mostly centered on two leagues this year. If you’re more interested in teams that are likely to make deep runs in March, then your choice will probably be the ACC with the likes of Virginia, Duke, Louisville and Notre Dame at the top of the standings. From a viewpoint of quality of depth of a league, however, nearly every available metric shows that the Big 12 is tops. Ken Pomeroy’s system focused on efficiency ranks this year’s Big 12 as the best conference since the Big Ten of four years ago (when 7 of 11 teams received NCAA Tournament bids). The league has already posted the highest non-conference winning percentage of any conference in a decade and currently has only one team (Texas Tech) with an under .500 overall record.

Georges Niang highlights the Big 12's selections on the Wooden Award Late Season Top 20 list. (Nirmalendu Majumdar)

Georges Niang highlights the Big 12’s selections on the Wooden Award Late Season Top 20 list. (Nirmalendu Majumdar)

The Big 12’s incredible season has correspondingly been driven by a number of individuals who are receiving national recognition on the various late season award lists. While the front-runners for the Wooden Award — given annually to the country’s best player — are Wisconsin’s Frank Kaminsky, Duke’s Jahlil Okafor, and Notre Dame’s Jerian Grant, the Big 12 put three players of its own on the Late Season Top 20 list. Oklahoma’s Buddy Hield has proven to be one of the conference’s best scorers, averaging 17.2 points per game while shooting 43.5 percent from the field. West Virginia’s Juwan Staten recently found his way back into the national conversation with a dazzling spin move to upset Kansas on Big Monday. Iowa State’s Georges Niang leads the Cyclones in scoring while also averaging 5.4 rebounds and 3.4 assists per game.

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Big 12 Power Rankings: College Basketball’s Most Boring Conference? Edition

Posted by Nate Kotisso on February 17th, 2015

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

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

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

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

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Musings on the Mountaineers: Just How Good is West Virginia?

Posted by Chris Stone on February 13th, 2015

West Virginia has been one of this season’s biggest surprises in college basketball. Picked by the league’s coaches to finish in a tie for sixth in the Big 12, the Mountaineers are currently 7-4 and tied for third. Head coach Bob Huggins has fundamentally transformed the team’s playing style by adopting a high-pressure defense that aims to turn opponents over before they can set up their half-court offense. “We knew we could get teams to play different,” West Virginia assistant Larry Harrison recently told Bleacher Report. “Our goal is to get them out of their half-court offense. That’s what the goal was.”

The Mountaineers have opened the eyes of opponents with their up tempo play.

The Mountaineers have opened the eyes of opponents with their uptempo play this season.

The strategy has been successful. West Virginia leads the Big 12 in defensive turnover percentage, causing a turnover on 27.5 percent of its opponents’ possessions. Its high-paced, trapping defense has helped create steals on 14.5 percent of possessions in league play. Freshman Jevon Carter — an unranked, three-star recruit — has been a revelation, ranking 10th nationally in steal percentage by creating a turnover on 5.0 percent of possessions. Turnovers are an important part of keeping teams out of their half-court offenses and they’re necessary to West Virginia’s success. Because of it, the Mountaineers have the fourth-best defense in the Big 12 (allowing 98.8 points per 100 possessions) despite only having the league’s ninth-best defensive effective field goal percentage.

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Big 12 M5: 02.13.15 Edition

Posted by Nate Kotisso on February 13th, 2015


  1. Last summer, Kansas assistant Jerrance Howard pled guilty to a charge of unlawful possession of marijuana in Peoria, Illinois. According to the Peoria Journal Star, Howard was ordered to pay nearly $1,200 in fines and legal fees and was placed under court supervision for six months. Somewhat coincidentally, the six-month court supervision period ends today and head coach Bill Self claims he did not have knowledge of the situation until Wednesday. Self responded by suspending Howard from team activities for two weeks, but this is pretty much a non-story. Howard had a lapse in judgment, a sentence was handed down, and it was served. Let’s all move on.
  2. TCU coach Trent Johnson announced yesterday that junior guard Charles Hill Jr. has been suspended indefinitely for “conduct unbecoming of a TCU men’s basketball player.” Hill has appeared in 14 games this season, averaging 2.6 points and 1.2 rebounds in a little over five minutes per game of action. As Frogs O’ War points out, Hill sent out a tweet following TCU’s 66-43 loss to Texas that may or may not have to do with his suspension. We probably won’t hear what he did to warrant punishment but kudos to Johnson, though, for working in “unbecoming” into a suspension announcement. Coaches and athletic departments typically reuse the same suspension statement ad nauseam. Finally, I feel smarter after reading one of these things!
  3. In West Virginia’s recent win over Kansas State, Mountaineers sophomore forward Brandon Watkins sprained the medial collateral ligament (MCL) in his left knee while having his best game of the season (14 points and nine rebounds in 17 minutes). Watkins is listed as day-to-day and therefore has a chance to suit up for the team’s massive road contest with Iowa State on Saturday. I hope he is well enough to play because heaven knows the ‘Eers haven’t had a good win since throttling Oklahoma a month ago.
  4. On Thursday, SI’s Luke Winn published the interweb’s most intelligent power rankings for your consumption. Seven Big 12 teams are ranked in the top 24 teams on his list, with Oklahoma making a seven-spot jump from last week, the sharpest increase of any team among his top 16. Winn asks whether the Sooners are the national title contender that we aren’t talking about, and it’s a valid question. They’ve played fantastic basketball lately but have still suffered a handful of head-scratching losses (Creighton, Washington, Kansas State at home and at West Virginia). I want to believe in the Sooners, I do, but I’m not totally confident in Lon Kruger’s team getting to the second weekend of the NCAA Tournament, much less Final Four weekend.
  5. West Virginia guard Juwan Staten was named as a finalist for the Lowe’s Senior CLASS Award on Thursday. Staten is just one of ten players in Division I to earn this distinction, given to the senior with “notable achievements in four areas of excellence: community, classroom, character and competition.” Staten is the Big 12’s lone representative. The Big East had three (D’Angelo Harrison – St. John’s; Matt Stainbrook – Xavier; Alex Barlow – Butler); the Big Ten had two (D.J. Newbill – Penn State; Frank Kaminsky – Wisconsin); the West Coast Conference had two (Kevin Pangos – Gonzaga; Tyler Haws – Brigham Young); while the Ohio Valley (Reece Chamberlain – Belmont) and Pac-12 (Chasson Randle – Stanford) conferences each had one representative per league.
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Handicapping the Wooden Award Finalists

Posted by Bennet Hayes on January 21st, 2015

The Wooden Award released its midseason top 25 list last week. College basketball’s top individual honor will likely go to a player named on that list, but there’s still time for others (attention: Wichita State’s Fred VanVleet, Virginia’s Malcolm Brogdon and Syracuse’s Rakeem Christmas) to work their way into the picture. However, it’s also true that the field of real contenders for the award is thinning as we near February and March. RTC handicaps the race for the Wooden…

Jahlil Okafor, Duke. Odds To Win = 3/2.

Any national Player of the Year discussion must begin with Duke’s freshman sensation. Okafor’s averages of 18.6 points, 8.9 rebounds and 1.6 blocks per game begin to explain his value to the Blue Devils, but the impact of his presence runs much deeper than that. His steadiness (double-figure points in every game this season) has stabilized a Duke attack that was far more reliant on the three-point shot a season ago, while his unselfishness has helped the Duke guards find space on the perimeter. The presumptive top pick in next June’s NBA Draft has looked like the best player in college basketball from opening night, but an April coronation as the National Player of the Year will surely depend on Duke’s success. Balance has fueled the rise of other national title contenders (Kentucky and Virginia most notable among them), but there is no question that Okafor will continue to lead the Duke charge. Pole position has been well-earned: This is Okafor’s award to lose.

At The Midway Point Of The Season, Duke Freshman Jahlil Okafor Is The Frontrunner To Win The Wooden Award. (Photo Credit: Getty Images)

At The Midway Point Of The Season, Duke Freshman Jahlil Okafor Is The Frontrunner To Win The Wooden Award. (Getty)

Frank Kaminsky, Wisconsin. Odds To Win = 5/2.

Kaminsky nabbed the national spotlight last March with a show-stopping regional final performance against Arizona. He has not given it up since. ‘Frank the Tank’ is grabbing more rebounds (8.2 RPG this season), blocking more shots (1.8 BPG) and even handing out more assists (2.4 APG) than he did a year ago. The Wisconsin center has been outstanding all season, but his value to the Badgers may have been best exhibited in a 40 minute stint on the bench. As their star sat out with a concussion on January 11, Wisconsin fell to Rutgers in one of the most shocking results of the season. The loss showed just how important the versatile center has become for Bo Ryan’s team. A balanced Badgers’ lineup may pose some threat to Kaminsky’s Wooden Award chances, but that surrounding talent is also what’s made the his team legitimate national title contenders. And as Wisconsin chases that elusive championship, its versatile big man is making a serious push for the most prestigious of individual accolades.

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Big 12 M5: 01.16.15 Edition

Posted by Brian Goodman on January 16th, 2015



  1. C.J. Moore of Bleacher Report wrote a great in-depth profile of Iowa State junior Georges Niang centered on how the big man developed the handles and arsenal that have made him a leader for the Cyclones. The new, slimmed-down version of Niang has been even more productive than last year’s and has been the central figure of Iowa State’s efficient offense. It was especially interesting to learn that Royce White, Iowa State’s last “hybrid,” was the one who pushed hardest for Fred Hoiberg to recruit Niang, whose “old man” game will be tested tomorrow night against an improving Kansas defense.
  2. Travis Ford‘s lengthy contract has drawn ire in recent years, but after a 12-4 start and a top-30 placement in the RPI, he isn’t sweating his job security. The Cowboys may not be in position to climb into the race among Kansas, Iowa State and West Virginia, but they’re more of a factor than they were anticipated, and they arguably have a better team than last year despite having less talent. As Jenni Carlson writes, Ford is in the midst of perhaps his best coaching job since he arrived on campus, and a lot of it is due to improved chemistry and a heightened belief in the greater good, particularly with Brian Williams and Kamari Murphy having transferred out.
  3. Bill Self spoke candidly about the struggles of Perry Ellis, which came to a head Tuesday when the junior had four early turnovers, leading to a prompt benching. Self suspects that the problem for Ellis is mental, as he still believes Ellis can be the Jayhawks’ go-to guy. Observers may counter that Frank Mason and Cliff Alexander fit that role better right now, and I agree, but in either case, it’s tough to picture Kansas making a deep run in March without Ellis playing a big part.
  4. The Wooden Award Midseason Top 25 List was released Thursday, and it included three of the Big 12’s best: Juwan Staten of West Virginia, Buddy Hield of Oklahoma and the aforementioned Niang. Oddly enough, the two leading scorers in the Big 12, Le’Bryan Nash and Phil Forte, were omitted.  It will take big second halves for Staten, Hield and Niang to rise into the elite tier that currently includes Jahlil Okafor, Frank Kaminsky, Delon Wright and Justin Anderson (in my opinion), but it’s always nice to see them get some recognition.
  5. The contrasting personnel of the athletic, fast-paced Mountaineers and the bulky, lengthy Longhorns will make for an interesting battle in Austin tomorrow. Texas is off to a slow start in conference play, but while they’re still formidable, it would be tough to imagine them getting back into the conference race with Kansas and Iowa State with a loss, which would run their conference record to 1-3. Isaiah Taylor has played a few games for Texas since coming back from a wrist injury, but his return hasn’t ignited the team as it was expected. On the other side of the ball, West Virginia will try to speed up Texas’ tempo with constant pressure, hoping that it will be another game before Taylor breaks out again.
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