Rushed Reactions: #10 Stanford 60, #2 Kansas 57

Posted by Adam Stillman on March 23rd, 2014

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Rush the Court will be providing wall-to-wall coverage of each of the NCAA Tournament from each of the 13 sites this year. Follow our NCAA Tourney specific Twitter accounts at @RTCeastregion@RTCMWregion,@RTCsouthregion and @RTCwestregion.

Three Key Takeaways.

Powell May Have Saved the Cardinal Last Night

Dwight Powell was huge in Stanford’s upset of Kansas.

  1. Stanford pulls the upset. Who expected this? Sure, there was no Joel Embiid for Kansas, but the rest of the talented Jayhawks was there. And they laid an egg. Kansas was upset by a double-figure seed for the third time in the past five NCAA Tournaments. Stanford was better almost all game, a deserving winner. A #10 over a #2 is a big enough upset, made even bigger in what they were calling Allen Fieldhouse East. There was one section full of Stanford fans. The rest? Kansas fans or Wichita State fans rooting for the Jayhawks. March Madness, indeed.
  2. Andrew Wiggins was a disaster. It was a disappointing way for the freshman phenom to go out of his only collegiate season. The potential #1 pick in June’s NBA Draft was horrible in his last game in a Kansas jersey. Wiggins scored just four points while going 1-of-6 from the floor. He turned the ball over four times, including on a crucial possession with just less than a minute to play in the game. He missed opened threes and easy layups. Wiggins was invisible almost all game long. He rarely made an effort to get to the basket or create his own shot. Bill Self could have done a better job drawing up some plays for him, but Wiggins, like Duke’s one-and-doner Jabari Parker on Friday, picked the wrong time to have his worst game of the season.
  3. Stanford’s zone defense was terrific. The Cardinal might have taken some notes from Florida’s win over Kansas earlier in the season. Stanford used an mutating 1-3-1 zone to perfection, which made it extremely difficult to find driving lanes or get the ball into the post. Other than Tarik Black’s 18 points, Kansas’ other big men struggled mightily. Perry Ellis went 3-of-10 for nine points, while Jamari Traylor was 1-of-8 with three points. Dwight Powell, Josh Huestis, Stefan Nastic and John Gage were fantastic on the defensive end. Kansas just never could get in a rhythm offensively.

Star of the Game: Dwight Powell, Stanford. After a horrible first round game against New Mexico, Powell came to play against Kansas’ imposing frontcourt. Despite frequent foul trouble, Powell finished with a team-high 15 points on 5-of-10 shooting, while also going 5-of-6 from the foul line. The senior forward also pulled down seven rebounds and did a tremendous job on the defensive end limited Kansas’ drives to the basket and post play.

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Rushed Reactions: #2 Kansas 80, #15 Eastern Kentucky 69

Posted by Adam Stillman on March 21st, 2014

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Rush the Court will be providing wall-to-wall coverage of each of the NCAA Tournament from each of the 13 sites this year. Follow our NCAA Tourney specific Twitter accounts at @RTCeastregion, @RTCMWregion,@RTCsouthregion and @RTCwestregion.

Three Key Takeaways.

Andrew Wiggins and the Kansas Jayhawks pulled away from Eastern Kentucky late. (Andy Lyons/Getty Images)

Andrew Wiggins and the Kansas Jayhawks pulled away from Eastern Kentucky late. (Andy Lyons/Getty Images)

  1. Kansas avoided the biggest upset of them all. With Mercer taking down Duke, and Harvard, North Dakota State and Dayton picking up surprising wins in the NCAA Tournament’s first two days, it looked to be the year of the upset. Eastern Kentucky had Kansas on the ropes deep into the second half before Kansas finally used its athleticism to pull away late. Andrew Wiggins and Jamari Traylor were aggressive attacking the basket and the offensive glass down the stretch, leading to several second-chance opportunities, including two putback jams from the latter.
  2. Eastern Kentucky wasn’t scared. The Colonels took it right at the Jayhawks, not backing down one bit. The three-point ball kept EKU in it, as the Colonels hit 12 bombs from long range. Kansas went 0-of-7 from deep. Glenn Cosey scored 14 quick points while going 4-of-5 from beyond the arc to hand EKU an early 23-14 lead. EKU attacked the rim and stayed aggressive on defense while forcing 13 first half turnovers, as the game was tied at 32 heading into intermission. And just when it looked like Kansas would pull away in the second half — leading 45-38 — a 10-0 run from the Colonels put them back ahead. The Colonels cut another seven-point lead to just three before running out of steam down the stretch. Read the rest of this entry »
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NCAA Tournament Instareaction: SEC Teams

Posted by David Changas on March 16th, 2014

As expected, the SEC earned only three bids to the NCAA Tournament. Top-ranked Florida and Kentucky have been locks for some time, and Tennessee secured its status with an impressive finish down the stretch. Based upon their finishes, it’s hard to argue that Missouri and Arkansas, both of which spent significant time on the bubble this year, deserved to get in. We look at how each of the three teams that did make it fared with their selections, and where they go from here.

Florida Gators (No. 1 seed, South Region)

The Gators Held On For the SEC Tourney Title

The Gators Held On For the SEC Tourney Title

  • Opening Round Opponent: The Gators, the overall No. 1 seed in the Tournament, open with the winner of the Albany/Mt. St. Mary’s First Four game in Dayton. It’s a safe bet that Florida won’t be the first No. 1 seed to lose to a No. 16.
  • Looking Ahead: With a win in the second round, Florida will face the winner of Colorado/Pittsburgh game in Orlando. The Gators will have a significant advantage playing in their own backyard, and should advance to the Sweet Sixteen. There, they should get VCU or UCLA, and a trip to the regional finals could involve a match-up against Kansas, Syracuse or Ohio State.
  • How Far Can They Go? A potential Elite Eight game with Kansas could be one of the NCAA Tournament’s best, though both teams have work to do before than they can think about that. The Gators have a favorable draw to the regional final, though UCLA could present a challenge if it gets to the Sweet Sixteen. Still, we think Florida plays good enough defense to emerge from this region, and the Gators should make the Final Four. We’d be foolish to the think the overall top seed in the Tournament, which has now won 26 consecutive games, can’t win it all.

Kentucky Wildcats (No. 8 seed, Midwest Region)

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Big 12 M5: 03.07.14 Edition

Posted by Nate Kotisso on March 7th, 2014

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  1. Adidas revealed new uniforms that 10 of its member institutions will wear just in time for the NCAA Tournament. Two of those schools participating will be Kansas and Baylor of the Big 12, assuming the Bears get in. Cool, huh? Because it gets progressively worse from here. Kansas’ uniform looks similar to a look the Jayhawks have worn in the past, but Baylor’s jersey is perhaps the worst of all — highlighter yellow, which has become an unofficial school color in recent years. But here’s where it gets loony: Their familiar “Sic ‘Em Bears” slogan is scrawled across the front. Then there were these photos of ex-Baylor quarterback Robert Griffin III “rocking out” the new look on Twitter. To borrow a line from Golden God Dennis Reynolds, everyone at adidas was on the gas and nobody was on the brakes. I mean, Indiana and Notre Dame are getting NCAA Tournament jerseys? Have they even looked at the Big Ten or ACC standings? Major face-palm, guys.
  2. First he told ESPN’s Jeff Goodman that he might come back for a sophomore season. Now Joel Embiid took to Twitter on Thursday to reflect on Wednesday’s win, saying he “can’t wait to be a senior.” Embiid doesn’t seem like the trolling or misleading type, but we’re so used to college players changing their minds that we expect it to happen every time. What if he’s actually serious and he does come back for a sophomore season? Then a junior year? And a senior year? Two things will happen: We’ll be treated to several more years to watch a blossoming player become great, and in the end, we’ll feel like cynical jerks for ever doubting him. Come to think of it, that doesn’t sound so bad. I’ll take more college Embiid and the accompanying cynicism, please.
  3. Things could get weird Saturday as Iowa State plans to have its “Senior Day” to honor players which include once former and current guard Bubu Palo. However, the Des Moines Register talked to Palo and he’s taking a mature approach towards the situation, which has understandably put coach Fred Hoiberg in an awkward spot heading into the game against Oklahoma State. “Coach Fred has been great throughout this,” Palo told the Register. “I wouldn’t want people to think that he’s depriving me of a senior moment.” Another reason Palo would be fine with not playing Saturday is because he’s seeking a potential sixth year of eligibility from the NCAA. Playing any minutes from now until the end of the season could severely lessen his chances of getting an extra year on the team. With Kane departing, Palo could be the starting point guard next year if Hoiberg doesn’t have anyone else coming in.
  4. It’s hard to believe, but Scott Drew is tied for the second-longest tenured head coach in the Big 12. Drew went on CBS Sports Radio Thursday morning and said that this conference season is the best he has “been a part of” in his 11 years at Baylor. It certainly beats his first few seasons in Waco. All kidding aside, Drew is right. There’s a strong possibility that the league can get seven teams into the field of 68 this year, and that would tie a conference high that was set when seven of 12 teams made the 2010 NCAA Tournament. The Big 12 has had at least four teams make the NCAAs in each of the last 17 years. None of the ACC, Big Ten, Pac-10/12, Atlantic 10, SEC, Mountain West and Missouri Valley conferences can make that claim. But seven making the Dance in the current 10-team format would be all the more impressive.
  5. The r/CollegeBasketball page has brought this video to our attention. In it is a slow motion replay of Marcus Smart attempting to slap Wesley Iwundu after the two unintentionally bumped chests during Monday’s Kansas State-Oklahoma State game in Stillwater. It appears Smart had clear intent to slap Iwundu but he just missed as he was trying to get open elsewhere on the floor. It isn’t known if the Big 12 is reviewing this play or whether the league will hand down a punishment on the matter, but it’s one thing if the conference comes out and says they didn’t find anything incriminating on the play and quite another to not comment on it at all. It wouldn’t reflect well on the Big 12, however, if the league remains completely quiet about this.
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Big 12 M5: 03.06.14 Edition

Posted by Nate Kotisso on March 6th, 2014

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  1. It was a lot more than Senior Night on Wednesday for Kansas center Tarik Black. In his final game at Allen Fieldhouse, the senior scored 19 points on 9-of-9 shooting, grabbed six rebounds and had two blocks in Kansas’ 82-57 blowout of Texas Tech. It was a huge effort from Black, who will also start in their regular season finale Saturday at West Virginia as Joel Embiid continues to rest his sore back. If Embiid returns for the NCAA Tournament and doesn’t play as many minutes as he was, having Black make this kind of impact would result in the Jayhawks becoming more dangerous than they already are.
  2. I’m not sure what the allure is between NFL personalities and Kansas basketball, but Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers stopped by to watch the Jayhawks and gave a pep talk after practice in January. Yesterday San Francisco 49ers head coach Jim Harbaugh was there to do pretty much the same thing and then this happened. Harbaugh hit a half-court shot during practice because… why not? But I’m not so sure he would have made the shot if he wore anything other than his trademark sweater and khakis. I’m a little curious to see what kind of person Harbaugh is when he wears something else, if he wears something else. We may never know.
  3. Oklahoma’s Je’lon Hornbeak had a breakout game in the Sooners’ season home finale. In 22 bench minutes, Hornbeak contributed 11 points, five rebounds, three dimes and two steals in the team’s 72-62 win over West Virginia. The performance comes on the heels of his nine points and five dimes in 18 minutes against Texas on Saturday. A win Saturday at TCU would lock the Sooners into the No. 2 seed in next week’s Big 12 Tournament, and meanwhile, WVU’s road to an at-large bid appears to have reached a dead end. They’ll have to win the conference tournament to force their way into this season’s Dance.
  4. It was Senior Night at the Frank Erwin Center as Texas hosted TCU on Wednesday. The problem was that the Horns don’t have any seniors… but they still had a good night anyway! Rick Barnes rested leading scorer Jonathan Holmes due to a sore right knee, but his squad was able to get by the Horned Frogs, 66-54. Isaiah Taylor led the team with 21 points while Cameron Ridley (my vote for the Big 12 Most Improved Player award that I just made up in my head) posted 14 points and 10 rebounds. Texas needs to beat Texas Tech Saturday coupled with an Oklahoma loss at TCU to clinch the second seed in the Big 12 Tournament next week in Kansas City. Hang on, folks, the Madness draws nigh.
  5. A difficult season for TCU basketball got worse with head coach Trent Johnson announcing Monday that Amric Fields is out for the rest of the year because of a recurring knee injury. According to TCU360, only four of 16 total players have suited up in every game this season, which just stinks. To make matters worse, a loss to Oklahoma Saturday would result in TCU becoming the first Big 12 team to go winless in conference play since Texas A&M in 2003-04. Stash the season away and never look at it again, TCU fans. Here’s to a better 2014-15.
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Big 12 M5: 03.05.14 Edition

Posted by Nate Kotisso on March 5th, 2014

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  1. Through the first 16 games conference play, Baylor amazingly played themselves out of and back into contention for a spot in the NCAA Tournament. Now it appears their at-large candidacy is all but sewn up by beating Iowa State 74-61 on Senior Night in Waco. Fittingly, Baylor seniors Brady Heslip (18 points, 5-for-8 from three) and Cory Jefferson (21 points, seven boards and two blocks) led the way and helped the Bears improve to 8-9 in the Big 12. How’s this for patterns: Baylor has made every even-numbered tournament year since 2008. Why mess with happy?
  2. On the heels of Senior Night, the Waco Tribune dove in to the story of fifth-year senior Cory Jefferson. It might sound hard to believe but Jefferson was a freshman on the 2010 Elite Eight team with guys like LaceDarius Dunn (!!) and Tweety Carter (!!!). You can tell Jefferson is a patient guy: he was willing to redshirt his sophomore season, stay on the team despite playing ten minutes per game in 2011-12 and then decided to put the NBA on hold to complete his college career in 2013. Now with a likely tournament bid and potential NBA career nearing, Jefferson is reaping the benefits of making the decision to stay in Waco.
  3. BREAKING: Bill Self is happy about something for once. The Kansas coach is looking forward to tonight’s Senior Night festivities when his Jayhawks take on Texas Tech in Lawrence. KU plans to honor Tarik Black, Justin Wesley and Niko Roberts and here Self is quite vivid about his feelings for these players. For whatever reason, folks have negatively chimed in about the team not properly “celebrating” the program’s tenth straight Big 12 title last week. At least on this night, something worth celebrating will be celebrated. Congrats to the Jayhawk seniors.
  4. Quietly, Oklahoma is after some valuable real estate on the final week of the regular season. The Sooners sit in second at 10-6 in the Big 12, tied with Texas but OU owns the tiebreak over UT by virtue of their season sweep. They will host West Virginia tonight and wrap-up the schedule against winless TCU on Saturday. It’s amazing to think that the coaches picked Oklahoma to tie for fifth in the preseason poll with Kansas State but are now on the verge of finishing right behind Kansas. It would mark the first time that had happened since Blake Griffin’s sophomore season in 2009. It’s looking more and more like Lon Kruger emerging as the favorite for conference COY.
  5. It’s now or never time for West Virginia. What WVU need to show the NCAA Selection Committee in the next ten days is that a) they can win games consistently, b) win games against quality opponents and c) win games against quality opponents away from home. They’ll get a chance to do all three starting in Norman tonight, Kansas at home Saturday and during next week’s Big 12 Tournament in Kansas City. But all of that starts with the type of effort the team gets from leading scorer Eron Harris. Harris is a statistical oddity for a team’s top scorer: the Mountaineers are a surprising 3-7 when Harris scores 20 or more and just 2-4 in Big 12 games. Simply put WVU will need all hands to squeeze in an eighth Big 12 squad into the Big Dance.
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Big 12 M5: 03.04.14 Edition

Posted by Nate Kotisso on March 4th, 2014

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  1. Senior Night did not disappoint the Oklahoma State faithful on Monday. The Cowboys added another RPI top-50 win, defeating Kansas State 77-61 in Stillwater. Markel Brown had a stat-sheet stuffer kind of night with 15 points, five rebounds, five assists, three steals and two blocks. Fellow “senior” Marcus Smart scored 16 of his 18 points in the second half. This comes roughly 48 hours after Smart poured in 20 in the final 20 minutes of Saturday’s win against Kansas. Despite Gallagher-Iba Arena’s full capacity being 13,611, the estimated attendance for last night’s game was just 9,500. And that was with the help of OSU students getting in free with student IDs. Come on, y’all could have done better than that.
  2. Smart’s big second half against the Jayhawks propelled the Pokes to a huge win Saturday and now his third Big 12 POTW award of the season. We also can’t argue with Smart’s performance versus TCU last Monday, nailing five threes on his way to 17 points. With the year Iowa State’s DeAndre Kane is also having, it feels like he’s taking some kind of hardware every week. Kane averaged 20.5 points, 9.5 rebounds and 4.5 rebounds per game to win Big 12 NOTW while recording his sixth double-double of the season in a win over West Virginia. This marks the sixth week in which Kane has won player or newcomer of the week honors this season. I hope we can see both these guys play professionally.
  3. We have an update in our continuing coverage of Backgate 2014: Kansas coach Bill Self announced that center Joel Embiid will not play in the last two regular season games as he rests a back injury he re-aggravated in Saturday’s loss to Oklahoma State. Self said an MRI was done on Embiid’s lower back and the staff came to the conclusion that “rest is the best remedy.” They plan on evaluating Embiid again before the Big 12 Tournament, and are open to sitting him longer if he’s still feeling tightness, but Self doesn’t see it getting to that point. Now we’ll likely get a look at senior Tarik Black, whose starting spot was taken by Embiid earlier in the season. Let’s see if he’s got any more Mozgov dunks left in him.
  4. It’s been a nice comeback season for Rick Barnes and Texas basketball but since a 9-3 start in Big 12 play, the Horns have dropped three of their last four games. Granted, all of those were roadies against likely NCAA Tournament teams but it’s not exactly encouraging if you weren’t competitive in two of those games. “I thought our guards were too tentative,” Barnes said. Even with the emergence of sophomore Cameron Ridley as a consistent contributor, Barnes expected more from his guards. “I told those guys [the guards], you should be out there playing H-O-R-S-E, because everyone is guarding him.” Barnes knows that this is just one of the many speed bumps you reach when you’re coaching an inexperienced yet hungry basketball team. Mistakes will be made but so will the corrections.
  5. It seemed like the bubble talk around West Virginia has cooled in the last 10 days or so but the West Virginia Gazette is still holding out hope for an at-large bid. The reality is the Big 12 likely has six teams that make good cases for at-larges and may have seven if Baylor takes care of business this week. Despite an 8-8 conference record, WVU lacks quality road wins in Big 12 play; have a mix of missed opportunities in non-conference play (vs. Gonzaga, Wisconsin, at Missouri); bad losses (at Virginia Tech, vs. Purdue) and not-so-hot computer numbers (RPI: #89, SOS: #55). An eighth bid from West Virginia probably won’t come unless the Mountaineers were to win out this week and make it to the final of the Big 12 championship game. But hey, stranger things have happened…
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Big 12 M5: 03.03.14 Edition

Posted by Nate Kotisso on March 3rd, 2014

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  1. Oklahoma State fans were asking this question following the Cowboys’ win over Kansas on Saturday: “Is it safe to come back out?” It appears to be, fans. After everything the team dealt with since the start of 2014, OSU notched a Paunch Burger-sized victory over the Big 12 leading Kansas Jayhawks 72-65. The three-headed monster of Marcus Smart, Le’Bryan Nash and Markel Brown combined to shoot 15-for-30 from the floor, 23-for-29 from the line, 58 points, seven steals and seven blocks. While this was a major boost to a tournament profile that sorely needed one, they aren’t out of the woods just yet. They have Kansas State coming into Gallagher-Iba Arena on Big Monday. One would think a win tonight locks up an at-large bid for good.
  2. Should we/Kansas fans/NBA scouts begin worrying about the health of Joel Embiid? Last month, he missed a week and a game with nagging back and knee injuries suffered in the West Virginia win on February 8. Embiid left Saturday’s game holding his back and after some stretching checked back into the game. Bill Self addressed Embiid’s injury in his postgame press conference, saying he “only tweaked his back” and has “no idea” how it will affect him going forward. Ultimately Embiid’s back could be much ado about nothing but at the same token, it was a problem weeks ago and it’s a problem right now. Stay tuned. You know lottery teams will be.
  3. While Kansas State’s tournament resume lacks any quality wins outside of Kansas state lines, you gotta hand it to them for taking care of business on their home court (and Wichita). Iowa State was the latest club to enter the “Octagon” and leave doomed, falling 80-73 on Saturday. The ISU win all but clinched an at-large bid for the Cats who now sport victories over George Washington, Gonzaga, Texas, Oklahoma, Oklahoma State and Kansas. If anything, the 2013-14 Wildcats have proven that you can go home again. And again. And again. And again. But seriously, it would be a mistake if they were left out of the field of 68.
  4. A great thing about this Big 12 season was the rekindling of the Red River Rivalry in hoops. Sorta. Oklahoma finished off Texas 77-65 in Norman. We knew going in that Texas had the height advantage so to combat this OU relied on what they do best: hit three-pointers. In fact the Sooners hit ten of them. With the win, Oklahoma became the only Big 12 team to sweep their season series against UT. In addition to that, this season marked the first time in the Big 12 era where the Sooners swept the Horns and the Oklahoma State Cowboys. How about the job Lon Kruger has done this season? He loses five of his top eight scorers from last year’s team and are somehow averaging 11 points more than a season ago.
  5. Baylor fans: Your team may be on the brink of history! But it wouldn’t be anything to stick your chest out over. Baylor enters the final week of the regular season at 7-9 in conference play and still is in contention for an at-large bid to the NCAA Tournament. With their strong RPI and strength of schedule numbers, there is a chance for the Bears to be the first-ever Big 12 team to make the tournament with a sub-.500 league record. The Bears have a winnable home game against Iowa State on Tuesday followed by the regular season finale versus K-State in the Little Apple. Assuming they win one of those two; grouped in with their quality wins over Kentucky, Colorado, Dayton, Kansas State and Oklahoma State (twice); BU would make a strong case to take up one of those coveted 37 at-large spots.
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Big 12 Power Rankings: Texas Tech Relishing Spoiler Role Edition

Posted by Nate Kotisso on February 17th, 2014

We’re nine days removed from The Shove Heard ‘Round the World but if you look close enough, something good did come out of that. With help from Tech’s athletic department, Red Raider fans sold out United Spirit Arena that night and stormed the floor as their Red Raiders scored an upset win over the Cowboys but they didn’t stop there. Last Wednesday night saw Tech go stormin’ into Norman and shock Oklahoma on their home floor. On Saturday they made things close at Iowa State before the Cyclones pulled away late, winning by six. But what does it all mean? It means opponents can’t pencil in Tech as a win anymore. TTU’s five conference wins are already the most since the 2010-11 season, the last of Pat Knight’s tenure. With Tubby Smith’s hiring making him the fourth Texas Tech coach in as many seasons, it must be swell for Red Raider fans knowing their program is finally moving in the right direction. And now our rankings:

Tubby Smith has guided the Red Raiders to five conference wins, the most since 2010-11. (Justin Hayworth/Associated Press)

Tubby Smith has guided the Red Raiders to five conference wins, the most since the 2010-11 season. (Justin Hayworth/Associated Press)

1. Kansas — 4 points (previous: 1st; All voted KU first)

Comment: “Kansas better be careful this week. They’ll have Texas coming into Lawrence for the rematch on Saturday but the Jayhawks can’t overlook those pesky Red Raiders on the road tomorrow. Classic trap game.” – Nate Kotisso (@natekotisso)

2. Texas — 8 points (previous: 2nd; All voted UT second)

Comment: “The Longhorns outscored the Cowboys and Mountaineers by a staggering 0.26 points per possession. However, both games were at home. Texas now stares down a stretch of three roadies in four games, and the locations couldn’t be any less desirable for them: Allen Fieldhouse, Hilton Coliseum and the Lloyd Noble Center.” – Brian Goodman (@BSGoodman)

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Big 12 Power Rankings: Implosion in Stillwater Edition

Posted by Nate Kotisso on February 10th, 2014

How was your weekend?

Because it wasn’t such a great one for anyone affiliated with Oklahoma State’s men’s basketball program. Marcus Smart’s three-game suspension was handed down on Sunday, meaning the potential lottery pick will be unavailable in a crucial contest Tuesday at Texas followed by grudge matches against Oklahoma and Baylor. Lost in all the Marcus Smart-Jeff Orr confrontation talk and ESPN’s redundant wall-to-wall coverage of it is the future of Cowboys’ head coach Travis Ford. It wouldn’t surprise me if he were a nervous wreck with all the pressure — lofty preseason expectations; the injury of a key inside player; dismissal of another guy; and now this. Ford seemed to get choked up during his press conference on Sunday while defending his star guard’s character, but that isn’t the only reason he almost lost it in front of the assembled media. He knows that his job is in jeopardy. And that’s a hard thing to swallow as a coach — knowing that you are expected to win now and things aren’t working out in your favor. Our weekly Big 12 power rankings continue on, regardless.

Travis Ford and Marcus Smart share the weight of a basketball program on their shoulders. (Tori Eichberger/AP Photo)

Travis Ford and Marcus Smart share the weight of a basketball program on their shoulders. (Tori Eichberger/AP Photo)

1. Kansas — 4 points (previous: 1st; Brian, Kory, Nate & Taylor-1st)

Comment: “The Jayhawks weren’t going to go undefeated in the Big 12 and they’ll likely lose at least one more game. But with a two-game lead on Texas with eight games to go, their 10th consecutive conference title is almost in the bag.” – Kory Carpenter (@Kory_Carpenter)

2. Texas — 8 points (previous: 2nd; Brian, Kory, Nate & Taylor-2nd)

Comment: “Similar to the way Texas manhandled Kansas last weekend, it wasn’t surprising that the Longhorns lost but it was surprising to see just how badly Kansas State took it to them.  Home games this week against a struggling Oklahoma State team and West Virginia are big before road trips to Ames and Lawrence next week.” – Taylor Erickson (@tc_erickson)

3. Iowa State — 13 points (previous: 3rd; Brian, Nate & Taylor-3rd, Kory-4th)

Comment: “Lost in the shuffle of everything Marcus Smart was Melvin Ejim’s career day against TCU. I’m just going to leave this shot chart of his here.” (h/t to CBSSports.com) – Brian Goodman (@BSGoodman)

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Who Won the Week? Two Undefeated Teams, But Certainly Not The Third…

Posted by Kenny Ocker (@KennyOcker) on February 7th, 2014

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Who Won the Week? is a regular column that outlines and discusses three winners and losers from the previous week of hoops. The author of this column is Kenny Ocker (@KennyOcker), a Spokane-based sportswriter best known for his willingness to drive (or bike!) anywhere to watch a basketball game.

WINNER: Wichita State

Cleanthony Early was outstanding for the Shockers. (AP)

Cleanthony Early was outstanding this week for the Shockers. (AP)

The nation’s winningest team cleared its toughest conference hurdle Wednesday night in defeating Indiana State in Terre Haute, led by senior forward Cleanthony Early’s 19 points. From here on, the Shockers have better than 50 percent odds to go undefeated in the regular season, according to KenPom.com, and about 35 percent odds to make it to the NCAA Tournament unblemished. Wichita State’s reign over the Missouri Valley has been so strong this year that only two teams – Missouri State and Indiana State – have even finished within 10 points of them. Tomorrow’s game at Northern Iowa is the toughest remaining tilt for the Shockers, which also sandblasted Evansville 81-67 last Saturday.

(Related winners: Gregg Marshall, whose stock will never be higher, even if he never wants to leave; the Missouri Valley, which is certain to get some more NCAA Tournament win shares, even without Creighton in the conference. Related losers: Indiana State, the MVC”s second-best team, which probably has to win Arch Madness to make the NCAAs; Evansville, perpetually anonymous in purple.)

LOSER: Arizona

Of the triumvirate of teams that came into last weekend undefeated, only two came out unscathed. Unfortunately for the Wildcats, they weren’t one of them. Their road trip to California, the toughest game left on their schedule at that point, turned out to be undone by a last-second jumper from Golden Bears’ guard Justin Cobbs over center Kaleb Tarczewski, giving Cal a 60-58 win. That news was bad enough, but worse was what came after — that sophomore forward Brandon Ashley, a starter, had broken his foot during the game and would be out for the season. In Thursday’s 67-65 win over Oregon, Arizona looked disjointed offensively and saw star freshman Aaron Gordon injure his leg in a game in which he made just 2-of-11 free throws. The Wildcats actually trailed the disintegrating Ducks with just 90 seconds left before point guard T.J. McConnell made a three-pointer that gave them the lead for good. Sean Miller only played seven players, even accounting for Gordon’s injury, and its lack of depth could be problematic should more injuries arise or should fouls accumulate. It’s a shame to see this happen because a full-strength Arizona team looked to be head and shoulders above all but a few others around the country.

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Big 12 M5: 02.06.14 Edition

Posted by Nate Kotisso on February 6th, 2014

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  1. Last night was the zillionth reason why winning a road game in the Big 12 is a you-know-what. Oklahoma arrived at WVU Coliseum to face West Virginia about 90 minutes before tip-off due to winter weather and still managed to stay in the game. The Mountaineers held the lead for much of the game but a three-point play from Ryan Spangler gave the Sooners a one-point advantage with 1:38 left. That’s when Eron Harris started making all the three-pointers: one that sent the game to overtime with 20.2 seconds left, and two more to put the game away for good. The Mountaineers now have wins against Baylor (losing luster), Kansas State and the Sooners in their last three games. But as we all know, the NCAA Tournament won’t be played at your home arena. A win at Kansas on Saturday would really send a message.
  2. Kansas center Joel Embiid said after its win at Baylor that he is “strongly considering” returning to campus for his sophomore season. The obvious part about this story is how much of this is a non-story. This is as pointless as reporters asking players whether they’re leaving for the NBA mere minutes after their season just ended. But I totally get why ESPN’s Jeff Goodman asked Embiid about his future: He’s gotta write about something, and Lord knows nobody else is asking the question to likely draft picks in early February. Goodman has already cornered the market for the answer from the potential top pick in this June’s draft. Game recognize game, Jeffrey.
  3. Marcus Smart was considered a consensus lottery pick in the 2013 NBA Draft but elected to return to Oklahoma State for his sophomore season. In addition to a possible injury as a downside to coming back to school, Smart’s game is being scouted, analyzed and criticized more than ever before. NBCSports.com’s Rob Dauster brings forth several compelling points about Smart’s poor decision-making at times and how a lack of awareness when it comes to his own strengths and weaknesses can hurt his team’s prospects this season. Beyond that, it could also hurt how NBA teams evaluate him when they’re deciding whether to make him their point guard of the future.
  4. CBSSports.com sat down with Texas head coach Rick Barnes this week and discussed his team’s surprising season, the new athletic director and some other things. One topic of conversation was center Cameron Ridley, who would get my vote for Big 12 Most Improved Player of the Year, if such an award existed. He was a player who was a project in every sense of the word and didn’t really have a set of skills when he stepped onto campus for the first time. Ridley was always an intimidating defender, but now he’s a better finisher around the rim and has vastly improved his conditioning (he has already played more minutes at this point in the season than all of 2012-13). Buzz Williams who?
  5. Former Baylor guard Pierre Jackson was drafted in the second round of last year’s NBA Draft but was subsequently cut from the New Orleans Pelicans in training camp. So now Jackson is venting all of his frustration of being cut on to the entire D-League. On Tuesday night, the Idaho Stampede guard dropped a ridiculous 58 points on 33 shots, grabbed six rebounds and dished out eight assists in a win over the Texas Legends. Jackson is also leading the D-League in points per game (30.2) so far. It’s only a matter time before an NBA team is wise enough to bring him up to the big time.
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