To say TCU struggled last season would be an understatement. The Horned Frogs didn’t win a single game in the Big 12, finishing 0-18 in the round-robin format. A year later, they are picked to finish in last place again. As a result, head coach Trent Johnson doesn’t want his players talking about last year’s performance, and I don’t blame him. Senior guard Kyan Anderson is taking a little different approach, says Fort Worth Star-Telegram writer Carlos Mendez. If TCU is healthy this year, which was rarely the case last season, they will surely pick up a few wins in Big 12 play. “Why am I so happy? Why am I so excited?” Johnson asked reporters at media day. “No. 1 is, for the first time since I’ve been at TCU, we’ve had nine practices and I have a full complement of players — 13 guys on scholarship and three walk-ons, and we’re healthy.”
It was just an exhibition against an overmatched Washburn team, but Kansas freshman forward Cliff Alexander gave us a glimpse last night of what he is capable of doing this season. Big 12 front lines should be afraid, as Alexander finished with 14 points and nine rebounds in just 17 minutes of action. It seemed like a flashback to his high school days where he was able to bully smaller players down low. That won’t be the case in most games against quality competition this season, but smaller frontcourts could be in for very long nights against the beefy freshman. “They were so dominant,” Washburn head coach Bob Chipman told the Lawrence Journal-World‘s Matt Tait. Again, the opponent was just a Division-II school, but Alexander playing well early could be huge for Kansas.
Iowa State head coach Fred Hoiberg has been involved in numerous NBA coaching rumors since returning to the college game a few years ago. It’s widely assumed that he will one day leave Ames for an NBA head coaching job, but when that might happen is anyone’s guess. But as FoxSports.com‘s Reid Forgrave writes, Hoiberg’s relationship with Iowa State and the city of Ames is perhaps more unique than any coach in the country. Forgrave tells a great story of Hoiberg’s family life, NBA career, and the heart problem that cut his playing days short in this fine article.
West Virginia will definitely look different than last season, thanks to a few transfers that left plenty of question marks in their wakes. The Mountaineers still have Bob Huggins, however, and that’s a pretty good place to start. Seven new players will make their debuts with this year’s team, but senior guard Juwan Staten seems optimistic. “They’re coming along very fast, in my opinion,” Staten told Matt Hauswirth of West Virginia Illustrated. With the losses of Eron Harris and Terry Henderson, the Mountaineers will need at least a few of these newcomers to seamlessly integrate into the team dynamic if they want to compete for a Big 12 title and an NCAA Tournament berth.
Sure, Oklahoma State lost 1st round pick (and flopper extraordinaire) Marcus Smart from last year’s team, but head coach Travis Ford welcomes back senior forward Michael Cobbins, who missed the entire Big 12 season after tearing his Achilles against Robert Morris on December 30. Le’Bryan Nash admitted to the Oklahoman‘s John Helsley that last year’s team definitely missed Cobbins’ defensive presence during the second half of the year. The Cowboys were 12-1 before Cobbins was injured but finished the season with a disappointing 10-11 stretch. If you argued that Cobbins was more valuable to the success of this team than Smart, I wouldn’t disagree.
On Monday, the Associated Pressreleased its 2014-15 preseason All-America team. The leading vote getter was North Carolina junior guard Marcus Paige, who appeared on 58 of the 68 ballots after averaging 17.5 points and 4.2 assists per game for the Tar Heels last season. He is joined in the backcourt by Wichita State junior Fred VanVleet. The leading vote getter in the frontcourt was Louisville forward Montrezl Harrell, a 6’8″, 240-pounder who figures to be a force inside for the Cardinals this season. Harrell is joined up front by Wisconsin senior big man Frank Kaminsky and Duke’s highly touted freshman, Jahlil Okafor. Okafor is only the third freshman to make the preseason All-America team in the past five years, joining North Carolina’s Harrison Barnes and Kansas’ Andrew Wiggins in receiving the honor.
Georges Niang (AP)
Noticeably absent from this preseason’s AP team were any players from the Big 12, which is a bit of a surprise given the projected strength of the league as a whole. The Big 12 has four teams ranked in the AP Top 25 preseason poll, including Kansas (#5), Texas (#10), Iowa State (#14) and Oklahoma (#19). The conference also has four other teams — Kansas State, Oklahoma State, West Virginia and Baylor — that received votes in that poll. With so many quality squads playing in the conference this year, there are certainly some players who could find their way on to one of the AP All-American teams by the end of the season.
Throughout the preseason, the Big 12 microsite will preview each of the league’s 10 teams, from worst to first. Today: West Virginia.
West Virginia rebounded in its second Big 12 season last year, finishing 9-9 in conference play and above .500 overall at 17-16. Both were improvements from its inagural Big 12 campaign, in which it finished 13-19 (6-12) in 2012-13. The Mountaineers ended the season with an opening round NIT loss to Georgetown and are looking to return to the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2012. They should make the Big Dance if their upward trend continues, but they have a few pieces to replace if that is to happen. They still have one of the best coaches in the Big 12 in Bob Huggins, who has won 739 games and made two Final Four appearances in a long Division I career that began at Akron in 1984. The Mountaineers also have a soft non-conference schedule this year, so racking up early wins should not be a problem. Only three of West Virginia’s 11 non-conference opponents are from Power 5 conferences, and they might be favored in all 11 of those contests. But like I said, there are definitely holes to fills thanks to a few transfers.
Bob Huggins will need to work some magic after some big losses this offseason.
Strengths: Juwan Staten. The 6’1″ senior guard led last year’s team with 18.1 PPG and shot 48.5 percent from the field. He had a number of big games, including 23 points and seven assists on 8-of-13 shooting in the season-ending loss against Georgetown. You certainly couldn’t say that loss was on him. Staten will be joined in the backcourt by fellow senior Gary Browne, who has been consistently average at West Virginia (6.5, 5.6, and 5.9 PPG in three seasons) but will help form one of the most experienced backcourts in the nation this season. Then you have sophomore forward Devin Williams, who averaged 8.4 PPG and 7.2 RPG in his first college season — the 6’9″ forward should make a considerable leap and average double-figure points for the Mountaineers.
Kansas State‘s frontcourt depth will suffer a minor hit after it was announced that Jack Karapetyanhas withdrawn from school and will look to transfer. The California native played in just six games before losing his season to a foot injury last year. Fortunately for him, the injury came early enough in the season that he qualified for a medical hardship waiver, which means he will have all of his eligibility at his new school. The Wildcats don’t figure to miss him, though, as they have plenty of bodies up front.
If there’s one team in need of a fresh start this season, it’s Oklahoma State. Though the Cowboys rallied to make the NCAA Tournament, they finished far below expectations and are ready for a clean slate. The team is looking to Le’Bryan Nashto fill the leadership void left by the departures of Marcus Smart and Markel Brown. Nash came to Stillwater three years ago and developed a reputation for hunting shots as he struggled to accept a complimentary role. Now that he is Oklahoma State’s returning scorer, however, he will need to step up and build on a very solid junior year.
A chance to play for a coach who is so well-regarded that he is approached by NBA teams on an annual basis, a rabid fan base that packs its home court every night, and the opportunity to be tested in arguably the country’s toughest conference. What’s not to like about Iowa State basketball? That’s a question we have for 6’10” Indian Hills Community College prospect Malik Dime, who verbally committed to Washington over the Cyclones on Monday. If you are going to turn down The Mayor, you better have a good reason, and according to the linked article, a couple of Washington connections were the difference.
Current Southern Methodist coach and former Kansas head coach Larry Brown recalled some fond memories of coaching in Allen Fieldhouse in advance of the building’s 60th anniversary, which will be celebrated with a gala next week. Brown was only in Lawrence for five seasons, but he left a lasting legacy as the conductor of the 1988 national championship team following a prolonged stretch of mediocrity in the twilight of his predecessor’s (Ted Owens) career.
As if it were even possible, West Virginiaprojects to lean more heavily on Juwan Staten than it did last year. Only 20 players in the country played a higher percentage of available minutes than Staten in 2014 so it’s tough imagine a bigger workload coming his way in 2015. If you ask us, the key to the Mountaineers’ season isn’t Staten’s performance, since he is more or less a known quantity, but rather the improvement of West Virginia’s abysmal defense.
We’re a little over a month away from the first games of the 2014-15 season, and that means the typical roll-out of preseason coaches polls, all-conference teams and all of the other fun stuff that comes with the countdown. This morning, the Big 12 Conference released its annual preseason coaches poll. You can find the complete rankings here, but here are the five biggest takeaways from the release.
Kansas picked to lead the pack (again), though narrowly: Death, taxes, the sun shining in the east, Adam Sandler making terrible movies, and the Jayhawks winning the Big 12. Sometimes, there’s just no need to complicate life’s certainties. Kansas’ roster isn’t without questions, but whose isn’t? Until someone knocks the Jayhawks off the mountain, any predictions in favor of other teams are simply bold picks. The Longhorns are right behind the Jayhawks with three first-place votes to Kansas’ six in this poll, and have one of the best combinations of talent and depth in the country, but don’t count on the Jayhawks to give up their crown this season.
Sooners on the rise: Oklahoma checks in after Texas and was one of the bigger overachievers in college basketball last season. Lon Kruger returns nearly everyone from a young roster that racked up 23 wins, a second-place finish in the Big 12, and an NCAA Tournament bid. While the team’s defense will need to improve, the offensive firepower should still be there, and the squad can catch a huge break if Houston transfer TaShawn Thomas is ruled eligible. Combine all of that with Kruger’s track record and there are plenty of reasons to believe the Sooners will build on last year’s success.
Andrew Wiggins is a pro, but Bill Self has reloaded Kansas once again. (KUSports.com)
Is the Big 12 selling Fred Hoiberg short?: Before the 2012 and 2013 seasons, the league’s coaches penciled Iowa State in the bottom half of the standings, and both times, Fred Hoiberg exceeded expectations. Last year, the coaches appeared to finally smarten up, as they tabbed the Cyclones to finish fourth, but Iowa State still outperformed those projections, finishing third in the league and winning the Big 12 Tournament. The departures of DeAndre Kane and Melvin Ejim appear to have given the coaches pause this season in sliding the Cyclones down to fifth, but we’ve seen The Mayor rebuild too many times to believe he can’t muster a top-four finish, possibly top three if things break right for his club. Look for Bryce Dejean-Jones,Georges Niang and Monte Morris to do some big things in 2014-15.
What to make of the perceptions of Kansas State and Baylor: Both the Wildcats and Bears face significant roster turnover from last season’s NCAA Tournament teams, but Bruce Weber’s team was tabbed fourth and Scott Drew’s team sixth. It appears as though the league’s coaches are looking for Wildcats guard Marcus Foster to make a big leap as a sophomore and for Baylor to continue its every-other-year pattern, because I just don’t see what else can explain the 17-point difference in the preseason vote tally.
At 7th and 8th place, Bob Huggins and Travis Ford face big seasons: West Virginia’s transition to the Big 12 has been a rocky one. The Mountaineers are just 49-49 over the last three seasons, and while it’s tough to picture Bob Huggins’ seat getting too hot in Morgantown, it’s time for him to produce. Juwan Staten could be the best player in the Big 12, but his amazing talent will be wasted if West Virginia doesn’t hear its name called on Selection Sunday. Meanwhile, in Stillwater, Travis Ford looks to pick up the pieces from one of the most disappointing seasons by a Power Five conference school in recent memory. To his credit, he’s made some inroads on the recruiting circuit, but it’s hard to see freshmen like Joe Burton and Mitch Solomon being good enough complements to Le’Bryan Nash and Phil Forte for the Cowboys to make a run.
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.