The Final Four field is set and now all we have to do is wait five days for the national semifinals. The first semifinal will feature Florida against Connecticut, which is a rematch of the game in Storrs on December 2 that the Huskies won on a last-second Shabazz Napier jumper. This time Florida will be completely healthy and it will be at a neutral site, but it will be interesting to see if the Gators can beat the last team to beat them this season. The other semifinal features Wisconsin and Kentucky. Despite the fact that Wisconsin is a #2 seed and Kentucky is a #8 seed the Wildcats opened as two-points favorites in this one.
Four teams were sent home earlier than they would have liked over the weekend and three of the fan bases acted in an appropriate manner. Arizona was the exceptions where students rioted leading to stand-offs with police and subsequently arrests. Fortunately no injuries were reported, but it was a bad way for the Wildcats to go out particularly when the coaches and players conducted themselves so well after a frustrating loss. While we understand the idiot of protests and riots in terms of political and civil issues, we don’t understand doing it in front of people (Arizona staff and Tucscon natives) who presumably agree with you.
Now that the season is over for all, but four teams we are starting to transition into the part of the college basketball season where NBA Draft decisions are being made. Two of the biggest ones will come from Aaron Gordon and Andrew Wiggins both of whom are almost certainly expected to turn pro. They are expected to officially announce as early as today. On the other hand, Juwan Staten tweeted out on Saturday night that he would be returning for his senior year at West Virginia. Unlike the other two Staten is most likely a borderline draft pick so it makes sense for him to return. The other two are probably top-five picks so it makes sense for them to go after the guaranteed contract.
Some players are headed to the NBA while others are just leaving school. The biggest news was out of Louisville where news broke that Kevin Ware was transferring. It was just a year ago that Ware became a symbol of the Cardinals on their march to the championship following his compound fracture in the Elite 8. Neither Ware nor his family have given any indication of where he will be transferring, but some sources suggest that he could be headed to Auburn to play for Bruce Pearl since Ware committed to play for Pearl at Tennessee before the barbecue/cookout fiasco. The other major transfer announcement was Tyler Lewis who will be leaving North Carolina State. Whereas Ware had issues coming back from injury, Lewis had no such issue and was starting making his transfer even more confusing. Like Ware, Lewis has not listed any potential destinations.
Yesterday, we went around the Big 12 and named an All-Conference First team and tabbed our Player Of The Year and Coach Of The Year selections. Today, we’ll narrow our focus to the best individual game of the conference season, both by team performance and by individual player performance, but we’ll also take a moment to recognize the league’s most improved player. For a nice cherry on top, we’ll also honor the single enduring play of the 2013-14 season.
Game Of The Year
Iowa State 98, Oklahoma State 97 (3OT), February 3 at Gallagher-Iba Arena
With such little difference in quality between the second-place team and the eighth-best team, we were treated to intense, close games on a regular basis. Big 12 microsite contributor Taylor Erickson (tc_erickson) breaks down why he went with this thriller.
TE: In a year where arguably the most difficult conference in all of college basketball provided a handful of memorable contests, none was more compelling than the triple-overtime thriller that took place in Stillwater, Oklahoma, in early February between Iowa State and Oklahoma State. This one was back-and-forth for most of the night, and looked for a brief moment that it would end in double-overtime with an Oklahoma State victory before a DeAndre Kane rebound and kick-out to Naz Long led to a game-tying three-pointer with 1.4 seconds left. In the third overtime, Marcus Smart missed a fadeaway jumper in the final seconds that could have pushed the Cowboys in front, but instead saw the visiting Cyclones celebrate with a win in Gallagher Iba Area for the first time since 1988. The individual performances were equally as impressive as the game itself with Kane finishing just one assist shy of a triple double with 26 points, ten rebounds, and nine assists. Iowa State’s big three of Kane, Melvin Ejim, and Georges Niang combined to score 65 points in the winning effort. Oklahoma State was lead by the trio of Smart, Markel Brown, and Le’Bryan Nash who also dropped in 65 points. This setback for Travis Ford and company was the third straight loss in a streak that eventually stretched to seven games, and took place five days before the infamous Marcus Smart shoving incident at Texas Tech. And as if this wasn’t all enough, when these two teams hooked up again this past weekend in Ames, Iowa, they left us one hell of an encore that featured another Naz Long three-pointer as time expired to send the game to overtime. This conference has delivered so many awesome performances this season, and you can bet we’re likely to see more of the same later this week at the Big 12 Tournament in Kansas City.
From the Andrew Wiggins hype (and exchanges of backlash) to the rise, fall and rise again of Oklahoma State and everywhere in between, it’s been a dramatic season in the Big 12. The conference has been and always will be an exciting one to follow, but it’s tough to remember a year with as many storylines as there have been throughout this season. As we get ready for what figures to be an incredibly competitive conference tournament at the Sprint Center in Kansas City, it’s time for the Big 12 microsite writers to remember the good, look back, and hand out some season accolades.
All-Big 12 First Team
For the sake of transparency, we’ve included each of the four Microwriters’ selections below, with asterisks denoting our picks for Big 12 Player Of The Year:
Player Of The Year
Melvin Ejim, DeAndre Kane and Andrew Wiggins are your consensus All-Big 12 First Team members, with other votes going to a variety of players who were fantastic as well. There were legitimate cases for a handful of honorees this season, but in the end, the freshman Wiggins took the honors. Taylor Erickson explains why:
Among a stable of worthy candidates, Andrew Wiggins emerged to take RTC Big 12 POY honors.(AP/Andrew Ferguson)
“Wiggins didn’t put up the type of scoring numbers that others like Melvin Ejim of Iowa State and Juwan Staten of West Virginia did, but he was the best player on the team that won the conference with room to spare. Some will be quick to claim that the freshman from Canada has failed to live up to the expectations bestowed upon him before the season began, but those expectations were unrealistic. Consider the fact that Wiggins failed to score at least 14 points in a conference game just three times, and in some ways, his individual statistics are a victim of Kansas’ depth and ability to score from so many different positions on the floor — whether down low with Joel Embiid and Perry Ellis, or in the backcourt with Wayne Selden and Naadir Tharpe. As good as Wiggins has been on the offensive end, his impact on the defensive end of the floor may be even greater given the significant difference in the number of points per possession Bill Self’s squad surrenders with him in the lineup. You can go ahead and make a case for several other players in this league, and there’s a plethora of good ones, but for me, I’ll take Andrew Wiggins every time.”
Impact transfers (DeAndre Kane, Ryan Spangler, Tarik Black)
Coaches who have done remarkable jobs getting their teams to buy in (Bill Self, RickBarnes, FredHoiberg and LonKruger)
The Big 12 is trending towards history, and we’re not talking about Kansas’ vice grip on the crown. (John Rieger/USA Today Sports)
That’s not to say that the season hasn’t had its low points (Marcus Smart getting popped for three games after shoving a fan; West Virginia shooting itself in the foot with early season losses; TCU’s continued struggle to make any discernible noise), but all in all, it’s been a fantastic year for the Big 12. The most impressive thing about the conference, however, doesn’t have as much to do with the here and now as it does with what could be on Selection Sunday: A league record-tying seven NCAA Tournament bids.
At the beginning of the season, most prognosticators pegged the Big 12 as a five-bid league. Granted, at the time, Oklahoma State and Baylor weren’t believed to be the teams that would need wins at the end of the regular season to earn bids, but that’s how things have shaken out as Kansas State, Texas and Oklahoma have overachieved as the Cowboys and Bears struggled. But with Travis Ford and Scott Drew’s teams now clicking again, the odds of the conference squeezing not five, not six, but seven teams into the NCAA Tournament, are rising. If seven bids come to pass, it would tie a league record set in 2010, but if we’re nitpicking, seven bids in 2014 would be even more impressive than seven bids in 2010, and I’ll explain why.
With three games to go, the Big 12 race is over. Since Kansas clinched at least a share of the crown for the tenth straight year with a win over Oklahoma on Monday, the conversation in the conference has shifted to other things. Those topics chiefly include tournament positioning and what Bill Self thinks of Wichita State, but there’s another fascinating storyline to parse through as the regular season wraps up, and that is the Big 12 Player Of The Year race. There are several legitimate candidates running the gambit from a one-and-done sensation to a fifth-year senior to a guy who hadn’t even started playing basketball when that fifth-year senior began his college career. Our Big 12 microsite writers took some time to run down this season’s top candidates.
Andrew Wiggins (Taylor Erickson)
After All the Criticism, Is Wiggins the Big 12 POY? (Denny Medley/USA TODAY)
While there’s certainly no shortage of worthy Big 12 Player of the Year candidates, I believe the honor should go to Andrew Wiggins of Kansas. While Wiggins hasn’t put up the type of scoring numbers that others like Melvin Ejim of Iowa State and Juwan Staten of West Virginia have, he has been the best player on the team that holds a three game lead in the conference standings with three games to play. Some will be quick to claim that the freshman from Canada has failed to live up the expectations bestowed upon him before the season began, but those expectations were also unrealistic. Consider the fact that Wiggins has failed to score at least 14 points in a conference game just three times, and in some ways, his individual statistics are a victim of Kansas’ depth and ability to score from so many different positions on the floor, whether it be down low with Joel Embiid and Perry Ellis, or in the backcourt with guards like Wayne Selden and Naadir Tharpe. As good as Wiggins has been on the offensive end, his impact on the defensive end of the floor for Kansas may be even greater given the significant difference in the amount of points per possession Bill Self’s squad surrenders with him in the lineup. You can go ahead and make a case for several other players in this league and there’s a plethora of good ones, but for me, I’ll take Andrew Wiggins every time.
Among college basketball’s top teams, this week has been a quiet one. We’ve seen Kansas clinch its 10th straight league title and Florida escape another close call against an inferior team, but otherwise, the slate at the top has been a little dry. The same can’t be said for bubble teams like West Virginia, however, where every game down the stretch is hugely important as the Mountaineers try to inch closer to scoring an NCAA Tournament bid this season. The Mountaineers have dropped three of their last four contests, but in the Big 12, another good opportunity is always just around the corner. Tonight, the Mountaineers head on the road to face Iowa State, a team that is safely in the field of 68, but would like to tighten its chances of locking down a protected seed. Here are the three biggest storylines to keep in mind as you get ready for tonight’s battle in Ames.
Winning at Hilton Coliseum has proven extremely difficult for opponents, but it may be necessary for Juwan Staten and West Virginia as they seek an NCAA Tournament bid. (WVUSports.com)
West Virginia Looks to Sweep: On February 10, the Mountaineers humiliated the Cyclones by 25 points in Iowa State’s worst loss to a conference opponent in three years. The game got chippy at the end when West Virginia guard Eron Harris threw a punch at Iowa State guard Monte Morris and Cyclones forward Dustin Hogue kicked Kevin Noreen in mid-air while trying to secure a rebound. In terms of coverage, the incident obscured the fact that the Mountaineers, one of the Big 12’s worst defensive teams, held Iowa State to 36 percent shooting, locking them down from both inside and out. A sweep of the Cyclones wouldn’t necessarily guarantee a bid for the Mountaineers, but it would be a major step in the right direction. Read the rest of this entry »
The Big 12 may be one of the most competitive conferences in the country, but this week hasn’t been the most glowing endorsement for the league’s case as the best conference in the country. Monday’s game between Baylor and Oklahoma State was supposed to be a battle of teams in the top half of the conference (if we go by preseason expectations), but instead was a fight for ninth place that only went to overtime because of a sequence that was, well, very fitting of a ninth-place battle:
The next day, Texas squared off against Iowa State in a game with major implications for the Longhorns’ Big 12 title chances, but they were able to lead only within the first five minutes. While Texas kept the game interesting with a run early in the second half, the Cyclones pulled away to hold serve at home.
Meanwhile, 925 miles south, Kansas needed another miracle from Andrew Wiggins at the end of regulation to get past a salty but mediocre Texas Tech team in Lubbock:
The only other game this week saw Kansas State quietly beat TCU by 12. The Wildcats’ two best players, Marcus Foster and Thomas Gipson, paired up for 29 points, 14 rebounds and six assists, but they also combined to shoot 34.6 percent from the floor and turned the ball over nine times. As a team, Kansas State had a staggering 18 turnovers at home against the worst power conference team in the country, needing a second half run to get away for good.
There’s been no shortage of intrigue in the Big 12 this season. Whether you want to discuss Kansas’ future lottery picks and national title hopes, Texas’ resurrection, Baylor’s free-fall, Oklahoma State’s dive, or the resilience of Iowa State, you don’t have to look very far to find any of the nation’s biggest stories in college hoops; you could just look at this conference. But if all of those plot lines aren’t enough for you, yet another Big 12 team could muscle itself into the fray this weekend: the West Virginia Mountaineers.
Will Juwan Staten lead the Mountaineers back into tournament discussion? (Andrew Ferguson/AP)
When Bob Huggins’ team wrapped up non-conference play back on December 29, it had very little to write home about. A handful of wins over bad teams kept them afloat, but there was no NCAA Tournament resume to speak of because of losses to the only relevant teams on their slate (Wisconsin, Missouri, Gonzaga, Purdue and Virginia Tech). Those defeats put them on the ropes earlier than many expected, and to boot, they dropped four of those games by seven points or less. When the calendar turned, they had a resume that was considerably worse than their statistical profile, which is something that you don’t see very often.
That was some game, eh? Naz Long’s three with 1.4 seconds left in the second overtime helped Iowa State force a third overtime with Oklahoma State last night. There the Cyclones got another clutch trey from Monte Morris and were able to walk out with a 98-97 victory, the program’s first win at Gallagher-Iba Arena in 19 opportunities. Lately it feels like there’s a different Big 12 team every week that needs to start worrying about its NCAA at-large chances. A few weeks ago it was the Cyclones; last week it was Baylor; and this week it looks like it is Oklahoma State’s turn because…
Oklahoma State head coach Travis Fordannounced Monday that freshman point guard Stevie Clark has been kicked off the team in the wake of his second arrest since the New Year. Ford released a statement through the university which said: “We care about Stevie and wish nothing but the best for him. We want him to find success in his future, wherever that may be.” Not counting last night’s game, the Cowboys were without Clark’s services during five games this season. The important thing for him now is to find a school where he can focus on his studies, basketball and perhaps most importantly, himself. I hope Clark can do all those things and more when he finds his new home.
Like Clark, Aaric Murray was kicked off of a Big 12 team. But the ex-Mountaineer appears to now have his life in order after transferring to Texas Southern in Houston. Murray told KTRK-TV that he “wanted to quit basketball” after his dismissal, but ex-Indiana and current head coach Mike Davis was willing to take on the senior center to help him get back on track. This season, Murray is averaging 23.8 points, 8.2 rebounds and 2.4 blocks per game for the Tigers and some consider the embattled big man as a possible NBA Draft pick. How does Murray deal with the distractions today? “I just stay out of trouble now,” Murray said. “Yeah this is my last go around, I can’t mess this one up.” This could be Stevie Clark’s story someday.
West Virginia’s 5-4 record halfway through conference play has finally grabbed the attention of the Big 12 offices. Juwan Staten (25.0 PPG, 7.0 APG, 4.0 RPG, 1.5 TOPG) took home Big 12 Player of the Week honors by spearheading the Mountaineers’ recent wins over Baylor and Kansas State. Texasfrosh Isaiah Taylor earned the Newcomer of the Week award for his outstanding effort against Kansas. Since the Horns didn’t play a game midway through last week, I thought it’d be fair to include averages from the Baylor and KU games (25.0 PPG, 2.0 SPG, 17-of-32 shooting). Who woulda thunk that the Big 12 had good players besides Marcus Smart in November? I’d hate to have to pick between these two.
Did you think we forgot about you, Texas Tech? The Red Raiders logged another conference win on Saturday with a 60-54 win over TCU. Dejan Kravic had his best offensive game of the season, going 7-of-10 for 18 points along with six rebounds and two blocks. The win helped the Red Raiders reach the .500 mark for the year (11-11) and also tied last year’s mark for Big 12 wins (three). It’s a slow build to the top but seeing what Tubby Smith has done with other programs, there’s (finally) reason for some optimism in Lubbock. And no, we’d never forget you, Tech. You still matter to us.
Heading into this season, it was presumed that Kansas freshman guard Wayne Selden would be a one-and-done player along with teammates Andrew Wiggins and Joel Embiid. Selden has certainly been solid for the Jayhawks, but he has flown under the radar a bit with the attention the others have drawn, leaving some to speculate that Selden will be back for a sophomore season. In an article on Wednesday, Jason King talked with some NBA scouts who said the book was still out on Selden and that he would be smart to return for his sophomore season.
On Wednesday, the McDonald’s All-American teams were announced, and featured two current Kansas commitments in Cliff Alexander and Kelly Oubre. Others participating who could end up in the Big 12 next season are big man Miles Turner and guard Rashard Vaughn. Vaughn is considering Iowa State and Kansas, but is considered to be a lean to the Cyclones at this point. Turner is a consensus top-five recruit and is considering Kansas and Oklahoma State from the Big 12, among others. It’s likely that Turner’s decision will be impacted by Embiid’s status next season, but regardless, there will once again be an influx of impressive talent headed into the league next season.
Yesterday, we discussed how foul trouble was beginning to weigh heavily on Oklahoma State in many games this season, thanks in large part to the absence of forward Michael Cobbins. As John Helsley points out, the Cowboys were worn down by the time tournament play rolled around last season, and it showed in early exits from both the Big 12 and NCAA Tournaments. Against Oklahoma Monday night, Markel Brown played 39 minutes, and with the depth in the Big 12 this season, the road from here on out won’t be any easier for the Cowboys.
Although West Virginia has struggled more than most Mountaineers’ fans would have hoped heading into this season, guard Juwan Staten has been fantastic, especially as of late. In the final seconds against Baylor on Tuesday night, Staten was able to get into the lane for a layup that gave his team the go-ahead score. Staten credits the encouragement he constantly receives from his father for his success, saying that in most situations he would have kicked that ball out, but heard his father’s urging and went for the reverse layup to give West Virginia the win.
Lon Kruger has once again proven his worth as an outstanding coach this season, leading his Oklahoma team to a 17-4 record so far. In addition, Kruger’s team is doing something no other team in college basketball is doing – that is, all five of his starters are averaging double figure points per game. For a team that has flown a bit under the radar among the national media, the Sooners could be a popular pick to win a few games in the NCAA Tournament given their ability to put points on the board in a hurry.
Friday’s battle between Iowa State and Iowa should be one of the best games of the week. The Cyclones and Hawkeyes are both ranked, which doesn’t happen very often, and there just aren’t many venues that get rocking like Hilton Coliseum can for a big game. One match-up to keep an eye on is the battle between guards Monte Morris and Devyn Marble, not just because of their talents (Morris has done a great job backing up DeAndre Kane, while Marble stars for the Hawkeyes), but because of their close personal ties going back to their time growing up in Michigan.
This one’s slightly dated, but if you haven’t read Gary Parrish’s column from earlier this week defending the track record of Baylor head coach Scott Drew, we definitely encourage you to do so. Some people enjoy being so critical of Drew that they lose track of what he’s accomplished in Waco. Baylor was a college basketball wasteland in the early 2000s, reeling from one of the biggest scandals to ever hit the sport (google Patrick Dennehy) in addition to not having won an NCAA Tournament game in over 50 years, and now they’re one of the game’s few programs that can boast a pair of Elite Eight appearance in the last four years. Some of the wrinkles to Drew’s persona rub people the wrong way, but while that’s understandable, you also have to give the guy his due for what he’s molded mostly out of thin air.
ESPN’s Myron Medcalf wonders where the help is for Kansas’ Andrew Wiggins. Trust us, he’s not the only one. Wiggins almost single-handedly brought Kansas back to within striking distance in Tuesday’s loss to Florida, but his teammates were nowhere to be found. Without beating the drum any more than we did yesterday, it’s abundantly clear that this team isn’t on the same page. The next chance for Kansas to regain its form comes on Saturday against New Mexico in Kansas City.
Speaking of the Jayhawks playing in their second home at the Sprint Center, it was announced yesterday that Kansas will square off against Utah there on a date to be determined next season. The Utes haven’t been relevant nationally for quite some time, but this season’s edition is off to a solid (albeit somewhat empty) 8-1 start. Larry Krystkowiak’s team only has one senior in its rotation, so it’s a pretty good bet that the team Kansas will play next season will look a lot like the current version of the Utes in terms of personnel.
A defensive breakdown at a crucial point in the game cost West Virginia a valuable win against Gonzaga on Tuesday, according to Mountaineers guard Juwan Staten. The Bulldogs scored on 16 of their final 24 possessions and used a late 13-0 run to race right past Bob Huggins team. Right now, the big-picture issue the Mountaineers have is that they possess the statistical profile of a bubble team, but the resume of a squad that would be pretty clearly out of the field of 64 68 if the NCAAs started today.
For Bob Huggins and West Virginia to rebound after a dreadful season last year, improved point guard play this season was identified by Huggins in the preseason as a must. That responsibility falls on junior guard Juwan Staten. In a 78-60 win over Old Dominion on Tuesday in the Cancun Challenge, Staten finished with 13 points on 5 of 7 shooting while dishing out 9 assists against just one turnover. West Virginia will play tomorrow in the championship game against the winner of St. Louis and Wisconsin, who will provide a formidable test for the Mountaineers to determine how they stack up against some of the better teams in the nation.
On Monday, Gary Bedore of KUSports.com explored the possibility of Kansas head coach Bill Self replacing Mike Krzyzewski as head coach of the U.S. Men’s Olympic basketball team when Mike Krzyzewski hangs up the whistle in his Olympic coaching career after the 2016 games. Self, however, doesn’t feel the possibility is very realistic with names like Doc Rivers and Greg Popovich also thrown out as replacements. During the offseason, Self addressed the possibility of eventually coaching at the NBA level, saying if given the opportunity, he might be tempted to consider it. After landing the Tyus Jones and Jahlil Okafor duo who teamed up for the USA U19 team, it’s hard to argue that Krzyzewski’s involvement in USA Olympic hoops hasn’t at least benefited in a small way his recruiting at Duke.
After struggling to a 3-3 start against what was considered to be a fairly soft non-conference schedule, Kansas Statewill look to use the short Thanksgiving break to regroup as their schedule intensifies with a home match-up against 3-0 Ole Miss on December 5, followed by a neutral site (although only by definition) tilt with Gonzaga on December 5 in Wichita, Kansas. Through the first six games, Bruce Weber’s squad has averaged 62.7 points per game, ranking 326 in the nation out of 351 teams. If there’s a silver lining for Wildcat fans, Weber’s complicated motion offense took a bit of time last season before really clicking and helping K-State finish in a tie for first place in the Big 12.
We talked Monday about the suspension of Oklahoma State freshman guard Stevie Clark, and on Tuesday, head coach Travis Ford released a statement on the situation, saying that Clark was not with the Cowboys due to personal matters and continues to be a valued member of the Cowboy basketball family. On Monday, there was a thought that perhaps Clark had left the team, although his mother denied the rumor. Regardless, his departure from the Oklahoma State lineup will be something to keep an eye on moving forward and whether it has a significant impact on the Cowboys’ overall play.
Speaking of Oklahoma State point guards, if you haven’t had a chance to see this yet, take a look at the 70-foot shot Marcus Smart drilled to end the first half against South Florida on Monday night. Smart picked right up where he left off against Memphis, scoring 23 points in the first half and 25 total to go along with four assists and four steals in a 93-67 rout. Smart’s intensity early this season appears to be destined to remind everyone that he’s still among the best in college basketball this year.