Big 12 M5: 10.08.12 Edition

Posted by dnspewak on October 8th, 2012

  1. No need to remind Chris Walker how difficult his job is this season at Texas Tech. He may have inherited one of the messiest situations in major college basketball after the resignation of Billy Gillispie, but he’s likely just happy to have the interim job at this point. With no expectations whatsoever, Walker is now pledging to get out and run with his new roster this season. Walker says he likes the Red Raiders’ athleticism, but as the article points out, his up-tempo style may depend on how well his new point guards perform. Last year, Gillispie’s point guards were nothing short of abysmal, and he did not ever find a viable option to take care of the basketball and facilitate offense. Those who’ve seen freshman Josh Gray say he’ll be a difference-maker at the point, but it’s hard to rely on a frosh for leadership and immediate production. No matter who takes the reins as the point guard, though, it’s nice to see Walker attempting to create an identity for this program. That’s the first step in the recovery process after the Gillispie debacle.
  2. Two former Kansas basketball players joined the Kansas Sports Hall of Fame over the weekend, placing a Jayhawk stamp on the state with Bud Stallworth and Wayne Simien. As younger folks, we had to google Stallworth to make sure to cover all of our facts. He starred in the early ’70s, reached the Final Four in 1971 and saw his number retired by the school in 2005. Googling Simien was not necessary, however. Simien played in two Final Fours under Roy Williams and blossomed into one of the nation’s top forwards as an upperclassman, averaging a double-double as a senior in 2004-05. He played briefly in the NBA before heading to Europe, and he’s now listed as retired by Wikipedia. A bit surprising, sure, but Simien built quite a basketball pedigree in his short career.
  3. We’re a little late on this, but Bill Self signed an extension last week to stay at Kansas through 2022. We’re not sure what we’ll be doing in 2022, but if Self makes it that far, he’ll rake in millions. The deal increases his annual salary, too, which begs the question: Is Bill Self still underpaid? Forbes took a look at the situation and makes a decent argument. The economic impact Self has made at Kansas is stunning. Forbes claims Self has increased the Jayhawks’ financial stock, from the eighth-most valuable college basketball program to the third-most valuable in just a few years. That alone is enough to justify Self’s salary.
  4. Speaking of money, Kansas State just shelled out $18 million for a new practice facility. It’s 50,000 square feet and gives the basketball program luxurious courts, offices, locker rooms and other facilities. It may not translate directly to a national championship, but it’s the sort of thing that helps in the recruiting business and adds an extra benefit to potential prospects. It’ll also make Bruce Weber’s job a little easier as he begins to mark his place in Manhattan.
  5. Oklahoma State represents Travis Ford‘s fourth coaching stop, and he’s had an interesting tenure with the Cowboys. After immediate success on the shoulders of the likes of Byron Eaton and James Anderson, he’s fallen on hard times lately and needs a rebound. As this piece points out, he’s slowly rebuilt the three previous programs at which he coached, but he’s now attempting to bounce back from an injury-riddled season and two straight seasons without an NCAA Tournament. It’s odd to say, but the pressure might be on Ford with Marcus Smart joining the crew this season. It’s silly to say he’s on the hot seat, but the direction of his program probably depends on how his team fares in 2012-13.
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Morning Five: Columbus Day Edition

Posted by rtmsf on October 8th, 2012

  1. Does anyone even celebrate Columbus Day, and how would you do so if you had a notion — pull out some vials of smallpox and spread it around? At any rate, Happy Columbus Day, everyone. If nothing else, the holiday means we’re on the verge of the start of official practices around the country, and that nip in the air we felt over the weekend was a very welcome sensation. One player almost exactly one year away from competing in his first college practice is Chicago’s Jabari Parker, and the multifaceted big man on Friday announced the five schools who are most likely to earn his services next year. The quintet includes BYU, Duke, Florida, Michigan State, and Stanford, with the Blue Devils and Spartans widely considered the two favorites. BYU and Stanford are outliers with Parker’s faith and interest in academics driving those decisions, but a wild card school here we should keep an eye on is Billy Donovan’s Florida Gators. Donovan has already received commitments from two top 10 players in this class and the pressure that he’s feeling from Calipari’s hauls in Lexington has clearly pushed him to double down on his persuasive sales pitch.
  2. News leaked late last week that the Battle of the Midway, a showdown of preseason Top 25 teams Syracuse and San Diego State on the USS Midway in San Diego harbor, was in danger of cancellation because of a lack of financial support. While we are still on the fence about the need for multiple aircraft carrier games per season (others are planned for Charleston, SC, and Jacksonville, FL), this game projects as the best matchup of the trio so we were hoping it would find a way to continue. With the financial assistance of Fox Sports San Diego agreeing to cover any shortfall, the showcase event will go on as scheduled on the evening of Veteran’s Day (also known as Opening Night). Syracuse definitely will have some holes to fill but Jim Boeheim has considerable talent returning; still, Steve Fisher’s Aztecs no doubt will have this one circled on their calendar as a major seed-line enhancer in front of a home crowd in a very cool environment.
  3. Kansas State put a ribbon on its brand-new $18 million basketball practice facility on Friday, as the arms race in college sports continues to search for bigger and bolder solutions to problems that were arguably never there. According to this article from the Topeka Capital-Journal, K-State had in fact been the only school among Big 12 members without such a facility in place, and new head coach Bruce Weber will surely use its state of the art characteristics to his advantage on the recruiting trail in coming years. Much like Louisville within the state of Kentucky, the Wildcat program runs at a natural disadvantage through its close proximity to the basketball behemoth just a few miles down the road — but, at the same time, a rising tide lifts all boats, and the KU sphere of influence can serve to help Kansas State’s on-court aspirations, even if it is unlikely to ever reach the standard of excellence achieved in Lawrence.
  4. A common refrain around Pac-12 circles is that if three-bill center Josh Smith ever gets serious about his weight and effort on the court, UCLA becomes a much different team. Much has been written over the last two seasons about Smith’s problems with motivation and over-eating, but this weekend article by the LA Times suggests that the gifted big man, while not yet anywhere near where he needs to be, may have at least turned a corner. His body fat is now at 17% (down from 25%) and he is talking the talk about following a better diet protocol and giving maximum effort on the floor. Hey, it’s a start, and for Bruins fans salivating at the possibility of an energized Smith to go along with their super freshmen and other returnees (one of those players, Tyler Lamb, will have arthroscopic surgery and be out 4-6 weeks), the realization is that a player with his gifts giving only 50% is still a valuable asset to a team gunning for a national championship.
  5. We’ll finish off this M5 with a report from Jeff Goodman on a most curious career path for a former college basketball journeyman named Eric Wallace, a player who bounced around between three different schools in his five-year career. The 6’6″, 230-lb. forward enjoyed his best season at Seattle University last year, averaging 9.4 PPG and 7.9 RPG through a combination of grit and athleticism, but it is his next career choice that makes this story interesting. DraftExpress‘ Jonathan Givony recommended Wallace to an Australian Rules Football combine in Los Angeles based on his athletic gifts, and he did so well there that he was subsequently invited to the AFL Combine in Melbourne, Australia. Despite no previous experience with the game whatsoever, he earned the “Best International Performer” award there, and he hopes to use his newfound ‘talent’ to get an invitation to a team’s rookie list allowing him to stay in Australia and learn the game in a more focused manner. So many players end up chasing the NBA dream when they have no realistic shot, it’s great to see someone like Wallace perhaps finding an entirely new way to use his gifts without fear of too much disappointment.
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Morning Five: 06.15.12 Edition

Posted by rtmsf on June 15th, 2012

  1. You’re probably reading this post approximately 8-12 hours after textapocalypse went into effect in college basketball last night. As the midnight bell tolled, a new NCAA rule went into effect allowing coaches to bombard high school sophomores and above with as many phone calls and text messages that they can muster. You might recall that one of the very first posts on this venerable site back in 2007 suggested that the NCAA’s decision to ban text messages in light of news that Billy Gillispie (then at Kentucky) was knocking out 8,000 messages a month was a good idea. Even in those short five years, how people communicate with one another has changed significantly (texting has essentially replaced phone calls between young people), but that doesn’t mean that middle-aged coaches will do any better with it now than they did then. One thing is certain — with social media like Twitter and Facebook today existing side-by-side texts on everyone’s smart phone, there’s bound to be lots of texting hilarity that will ensue from just the auto-correct function alone.
  2. Cincinnati and Xavier decided on Thursday that all the on-court fun the players have had at the Crosstown Shootout (now re-branded as the Crosstown Classic – lolz) in recent years shouldn’t be limited to the student-athletes punching each other on the floor. With the choice to move the game to a neutral site downtown and tickets split down the middle, this two-year move will allow fans to get in zip each other up while enjoying the game from the stands. Look, we understand the logic behind moving the game away from home sites where the vitriol heaved upon the visiting team produces a volatile situation, but is college basketball turning into a sport where only games at neutral sites are those worth having? Between the Kentucky-Indiana ridiculousness and now this, we have to wonder if the sport is losing one of the very things that makes it special (home-and-home rivalry games). What’s next — Duke and Carolina on a Charlotte/Greensboro/Raleigh rotation?
  3. It didn’t take long for former Nebraska head coach Doc Sadler to find a landing spot. Kansas announced on Thursday that Sadler, who has a 149-107 record as a Division I head coach, would take over as the Jayhawks’ Director of Basketball Operations. He replaces Barry Hinson, who left KU after the season to become the new head coach at Southern Illinois. Sadler continues a trend of high-major college coaches keeping their name fresh in the industry by taking assistant positions when they come available. For example, former Arkansas head coach John Pelphrey is currently an assistant at Florida, biding his time until another choice job comes available and an AD is willing to take another chance on him.
  4. Speaking of the Gator program, Florida fans received some excellent news on Thursday when Virginia Tech forward Dorian Finney-Smith announced that he would transfer to Gainesville in light of Seth Greenberg’s firing. Finney-Smith joins Damontre Harris as transfers heading south to play for Billy Donovan, giving the two-time national champion head coach a leg up already on his 2013-14 roster. The 6’8″ player averaged 7/7 last year in 30 minutes per game for Virginia Tech, but he clearly needs to spend the off year working on shot selection (33.2%) and bulking up. Finney-Smith is already an elite per-minute rebounder, but with another 30 pounds on his frame he could easily average double figure boards in two years for the Gators.
  5. The biggest knock on Bruce Weber at Illinois was his recruiting (or lack thereof), especially in the talent-rich Chicago area. As the new head coach at Kansas State, he faces a more difficult recruiting situation in that the nearest major city is Kansas City, a town not exactly known for its prep basketball talent in the same sense as the Windy City. As a result, Weber went on record Thursday stating that he plans to branch out to more places, even as many as all places. Well, except the West Coast. Weber said during a Big 12 coaches’ teleconference that he wants to recruit the Midwest, Texas, the East Coast, and of course, Chicago. All we can think is that Illinois fans must be snickering in their cereal this morning.
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Morning Five: 04.25.12 Edition

Posted by rtmsf on April 25th, 2012

  1. Baylor’s Quincy Miller had a pretty good freshman season, but not good enough for him to believe he was ready for the NBA Draft after a single year in Waco. At least that was his decision two weeks ago, just prior to the NCAA’s draft entry deadline on April 10. Proving that such a deadline is in fact the complete and utter joke that nearly everyone already thinks, Miller on Tuesday reversed his decision prior to the NBA’s (the real) deadline this coming Sunday. He will become the tenth 1-and-done player who declared this offseason likely to be selected in the first round in June. The good news, of course, is that Scott Drew will now have additional time to prepare for life after Miller — somewhere down on Tobacco Road, an ACC coach or two must be very pleased about this development.
  2. Speaking of the NBA Draft and dovetailing with the incessant discussion of transfer players last week, FIU’s Dominique Ferguson also announced on Tuesday that he will head to the NBA in the wake of head coach Isiah Thomas’ firing at the school. According to Ferguson, who averaged 8/6 in his two seasons at the school, he preferred to stay in a basketball uniform in Miami but FIU refused to release him to any other institution. He felt this left him no choice other than to enter the professional ranks. We’d like to see a bit more evidence before completely buying his story here, but the power that schools hold over players in this manner is really just shy of unconscionable.
  3. Another ridiculous segue, but far be it from us to question someone’s veracity, especially someone as consistently open and transparent as new South Carolina head coach Frank Martin. In an AP report on Tuesday about how the fiery coach is handling Columbia in his first month on the job, he claims that there was no rift with the AD or other administrators leading to his departure from Kansas State. In the money quote, Martin said, “I’m just telling you, (Gamecocks AD) Eric Hyman put his arms around me and it was hard for me not to feel the passion that he had for building the men’s basketball program. I’ve never been through this before.” Mmmmkay.
  4. Indiana had quite the renaissance in the 2011-12 season, finally breaking through from one of its lowest periods in history to knock off several Top 5 teams in Bloomington and ride the momentum all the way to the Sweet Sixteen. Head coach Tom Crean intimated on Tuesday that IU may be bringing back one of its brightest stars to channel its glorious past with its highly anticipated future — former IU NPOY Calbert Cheaney may join Crean’s coaching staff as an associate after spending last season as its Director of Basketball Operations. This would be a nice promotion for the likable Cheaney, who could surely impart considerable wisdom on how to play with expectations given that the Hoosiers should be in everybody’s Top 5 themselves next year.
  5. Finally, the Cincinnati Reds welcomed national championship head coach John Calipari to its baseball game against the Giants Tuesday night, giving the loquacious coach a #1 jersey (pictured here) and displaying the Kentucky title trophy on the premises, but the gesture by the team based on the northern banks of the Ohio River (facing the Bluegrass State) was not without its detractors. Redleg Nation comprises a large geographic area that also includes the fan bases of Indiana, Louisville, Ohio State, Cincinnati, Xavier, Dayton, and several other Division I programs in addition to Kentucky, so some fans of those programs went on talk radio threatening to cancel their tickets with the baseball club. For what it’s worth, Calipari tossed a nice ball over to the catcher at home plate, as you can see below.

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Grading the Big 12’s 2011-12 Season: Top Half

Posted by rtmsf on April 6th, 2012

Yesterday we gave you our season grades for the bottom half of the Big 12. Today we bring you the top half.

5. Kansas State (22-11, 10-8)

McGruder Led a Surprising K-State Team This Season


Despite all of the personnel question marks and the graduation of star Jacob Pullen, you had the sense Frank Martin would figure something out. He certainly did, as his team weathered a mid-season swoon to finish strong and reach another NCAA Tournament. Martin may have left for South Carolina after the season, but his final Kansas State team fought hard in 2011-12 despite a load of adversity. A December championship at the Diamond Head Classic helped the Wildcats enter the Top 25 before Big 12 play, but poor offensive execution and a lack of consistency on the defensive end doomed the Wildcats during the winter. They weren’t playing like Martin’s teams usually did. They weren’t tough, and it showed, starting 1-3 in Big 12 play and dropping four home games in Manhattan. Oklahoma swept them. Things were getting ugly, and they hit rock bottom after a home loss to Kansas on Big Monday on February 13. That’s when Martin turned this thing around and solidified an NCAA Tournament berth. The Wildcats got back to the basics: defense, rebounding and delivering a knockout punch to opponents. Rodney McGruder stepped up his play as the team’s star, helping it win four of five games to close the season, including road wins at Baylor and Missouri. The controversial suspension of Jamar Samuels left Kansas State without its best forward in an NCAA Third Round game against Syracuse, but it’s impressive that this team even reached that point. With McGruder presumably returning next year, first-year coach Bruce Weber will have a lot to work with. Angel Rodriguez should be even better as a sophomore, and Will Spradling and Jordan Henriquez should grow, too.

4. Iowa State (23-11, 12-6) 


The Transfer Effect worked to Iowa State’s benefit this year. In December, we wrote a piece questioning Fred Hoiberg’s recruiting tactics, as he’d brought in four Division I transfers this season. It took a while for everybody to get acclimated, resulting in a couple of losses to Drake and Northern Iowa during an inconsistent non-conference stretch. But once league play began, this team took off. Royce White took the nation by storm with his wild hair and versatile play, showing an ability to run the Cyclones’ offense as a sort of point-forward. He emerged as one of the most fascinating and entertaining players to watch in college basketball, but the team around him helped add to the fun. These guys shot lights-out from beyond the arc, including senior Scott Christopherson, who finished with the highest three-point percentage in the Big 12 (45.5%) for players with more than four attempts per game. Hoiberg added a fresh energy to this program, leading ISU to a victory over Connecticut in the NCAA Tournament. His team even briefly competed against Kentucky before falling apart late in that matchup. There was no fairy-tale March run for The Mayor, but given time, his program may eventually reach those heights. The 2011-12 season marked a major turning point for the Cyclones.

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Rushed Reaction: #1 Syracuse 75, #8 Kansas State 59

Posted by JPriz on March 17th, 2012

Three Key Takeaways.

  1. Don’t leave the bench at home. K-State had challenges with only four players scoring in its win over Southern Miss, and Syracuse exploited their lack of depth by shutting out the Wildcats’ bench 33-0. Nobody stepped up after Jordan Henriquez was forced out of the game with three fouls midway through the second half. K-State needed one more guy. Syracuse, meanwhile, had Dion Waiters lead all scorers with 18, and he came off the bench.
  2. Balance is better than a one man show. Syracuse found the answer for Fab Melo today, and that was team defense. The guards up top were tenacious, and continued to drop down on the high post, whether it was Jordan Henriquez or Thomas Gipson. Syracuse had eight blocks as a team to none for K-State. They also put four players in double figures, with Kris Joseph stepping up big with 11 points and a very efficient 7-8 from the line.
  3. You need to adjust. Kansas State had a great plan to start the game, and was executing very well in being only down one point at half. Syracuse adjusted to the zone, penetrated the seams, and found open shots in the form of Scoop Jardine, Dion Waiters, Kris Joseph, and James Southerland. Kansas State didn’t adjust in its zone offense, and instead had their leading scorer in the first half, Henriquez, up on the high post passing the ball, and Gipson, their undersized post, down low, trying to battle the likes of Christmas and Joseph. That led to foul trouble for Henriquez, only three more points, and a K-State defeat.

Star of the Game. Scoop Jardine, Syracuse. Scoop really turned it on for Syracuse. During the first half he played well but had several turnovers. He really stepped up in the second half to put the game out of reach for the Wildcats. He ended the game with a stat sheet stuffer in terms of 16 points, eight assists, and a steal. The stat he will want to forget are the six turnovers he committed today, with most coming in the first half.

Sights & Sounds. Being St. Patricks Day, I was seeing  a lot of green in the crowd, but it just goes to show that orange and green go very well together, especially today.

What’s Next? #1 Syracuse will advance to take on the winner of the #4 Wisconsin/#5 Vanderbilt winner in Boston next week. Syracuse looked a lot better today, and should match up very well with either Wisconsin or Vanderbilt. They might have to watch being lulled into a slow tempo game against Wisconsin or the long range shooting of Vanderbilt if they take on the Commodores.

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Morning Five: 01.25.12 Edition

Posted by rtmsf on January 25th, 2012

  1. Kansas State received good news on Tuesday when center Jordan Henriquez was reinstated to the team after a brief suspension for “conduct detrimental to the team.” Frank Martin’s comments about Henriquez were particularly interesting, stating that the junior is “a big-time kid” who “lost sight of what he needed to do.” According to the coach, this was only the second time in his 27 years of coaching that he’d suspended a player, which makes us wonder if all the yelling and histrionics scares the kids so much that they generally toe the line. Regardless, K-State will have Henriquez back in the lineup for tonight’s game against Texas Tech in Lubbock.
  2. Connecticut is not as lucky today as it continues to await the decision on the eligibility of one of its key players, Ryan Boatright. His 12th day in limbo passed on Tuesday as the NCAA investigated banking records from his mother’s accounts, allegedly as a result of a felon ex-boyfriend of hers dropping dime about cash deposits made to her bank on behalf of Boatright. Whether true or not, the New York Times‘ Joey Nocera has taken the opportunity to skewer the NCAA in a two-part piece that published in the last several days. Part One focused on the impermissible benefit in the form of a plane ticket that Boatright’s mother received during her son’s recruitment from none other than Reggie Rose (what IS it with this guy and NCAA violations involving planes?) — this violation cost Boatright the first six games of the season. Part Two discusses the most recent possible violation, several cash deposits that Boatright’s mother claims were from friends so that she could buy Christmas presents for her family last year. In the meantime, Boatright has not been able to suit up for the Huskies in its last three games, two of which ended up as losses (vs. Cincinnati; @ Tennessee). Jim Calhoun’s team really needs the offensive and ball-handling duties that the freshman guard provides, but for now all they can do is wait.
  3. Minnesota’s Trevor Mbakwe has had a difficult college career filled with injuries, suspensions and even criminal charges filed against him. His latest disappointment came earlier this season when, only seven games into his senior year, he injured his knee and was forced to call it quits. The problem is that even though he was a freshman at Marquette in 2007-08, he’s only played one full season of college basketball — 2010-11 at Minnesota. His freshman year in Milwaukee was cut short because of another knee injury, and the next year was his mandatory redshirt year as a transfer to play for Tubby Smith. In 2009-10, he spent the entire season suspended as a result of assualt charges he faced in Miami, and of course this year he only played seven games. As a result of all this, Mbakwe is considering petitioning to the NCAA for a rare sixth season of eligiblity in 2012-13. His argument will revolve around his suspension year at Minnesota, which the NCAA will need to determine was a set of circumstances “beyond his control.” The Florida case against Mbakwe may be three years old now, but its adjudication is actually still pending, so if he can successfully beat the rap in the next few months, maybe he’ll be able to sell that factor on the NCAA when he asks for another year to play college basketball.
  4. As we wrote about on the ACC microsite yesterday, Gary Williams was commemorated by dedicating the floor of Maryland’s Comcast Center with his name on Monday night. But, as the Baltimore Sun‘s Jeff Barker writes, there was at least one other former Maryland coach very miffed by such a public display of affection. Lefty Driesell may not have won a national title in College Park, but he built the Terrapins program to heights not seen again until Williams’ arrival in the late 1980s, and he believes that such an honor is “a disservice to players such as Tom McMillen, John Lucas, Len Elmore, Brad Davis, Greg Manning, Adrian Branch and Steve Sheppard” and that he doesn’t believe any coach’s name should be on the floor at Maryland. For what it’s worth, the school is reportedly considering some kind of honor for Driesell, but it’s unknown what, if any, form that will take.
  5. Pat Forde and his Forde Minutes were back yesterday with more drops of knowledge than you could shake a Dragon at. He finds a way to tailor a column that examines in-conference strength of schedule (thanks, @kenpomeroy), the best programs to have never reached a Final Four (left unsaid: avoid playing Connecticut), and a re-examination of the three schools that he thought had potential for greatness this season (agree with one choice, still thinking on another, disagree on the third). As always, it’s a fun and enlightening read, and one well worth the time but shouldn’t take you nearly as long as the column name suggests.
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ATB: On Baylor’s Legitimacy, Brandon Paul’s Explosion, and Frank Martin’s Billy Gillispie Moment…

Posted by rtmsf on January 11th, 2012

Tonight’s Lede. It wasn’t just any other Tuesday night, as a number of ranked teams were in action and there was more than enough intrigue around the country to keep everyone interested. Whether it was a team few people seem to believe in slowly swaying hearts and minds, or a much-maligned former prep star bringing forth the game of his life, or an acerbic coach showing his true colors in a postgame interview, there was a lot to cover tonight. Let’s jump right in…

Will Some Pundits Begin to Take Baylor Seriously Now? (AP/C. Riedel)

Your Watercooler Moment, Part I. Baylor Stakes a Claim of Legitimacy. One of the knocks against Scott Drew’s Baylor Bears to date has been its lack of exceptional road wins this season. Apparently the non-believers did not take seriously wins at BYU and Northwestern, although neither the Marriott Center nor the Welsh-Ryan Arena these days are the easiest places to escape victorious. Still, Kansas State’s Bramlage Arena is universally regarded as a tough-as-nails venue, borne out most recently by K-State’s dominant weekend victory over an unbeaten Missouri squad. Baylor’s mid-second half run to come back from seven points down behind several eye-popping defensive transition dunks, along with its ability to hold K-State to a single bucket in the last four minutes of the game, showed America how things have changed. Last year, Drew’s Bears hardly played defense, generally preferring to use that end of the court to rest before another wild LaceDarius Dunn field goal attempt. This year, long green-and-yellow-clad arms and legs seem to cover all four corners of the court, and in fact, the two game-saving plays on this night resulted from a strip from behind of Angel Rodriguez with three seconds remaining, and a deflected pass on the ensuing inbounds play. The Bears are not going to win every game this season, but they’ve already won 16 and have survived one of their four toughest road tests on the schedule. With Pierre Jackson (10/11 assts) running the show, Brady Heslip (13/4 stls) providing scoring punch, and an elite corps of forwards in Quincy Acy, Perry Jones, III, and Quincy Miller wreaking havoc defensively, it’s time to stop questioning Scott Drew’s team and take the Bears seriously as a national title contender.

Your Watercooler Moment, Part II. Brandon Paul Hits Everything, Leads Illini Over Ohio State. In two-and-a-half seasons at Illinois, Brandon Paul has been better defined by what he is not rather than what he is. The former Chicago-area prep star who came to Champaign with sky-high expectations has largely disappointed, gradually improving his scoring output over three years but never shooting the ball efficiently (career 37.2% shooter) nor becoming an effective distributor (2.0 APG). Paul must have eaten a full bowl of his Wheaties this morning. The 6’4″ junior literally took over tonight’s game against OSU, scoring his team’s last 15 points en route to a career-high 43 points on 8-10 shooting from behind the arc. Unless you saw the game, you cannot comprehend just how ridiculous a couple of the late threes that Paul hit were, perhaps none more so than his final trey which gave Illinois a four-point lead with 43 seconds remaining.

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ATB: Kroger Kontroversy, Chris Mack’s Dunk, and a Bunch of Non-Upsets…

Posted by rtmsf on January 9th, 2012

This Weekend’s Lede. This was the first full weekend of conference play, and as expected, teams that hadn’t played many legitimate road games prior to the turn of the new year found life away from home in hostile environments to be considerably tougher than lacing another game up at home. It wasn’t the best of college basketball weekends, nor was it the worst, but as we begin to settle ourselves into competition within the family for the next two months, it’s time to separate legitimacy from fraudulence through actual play on the court around the nation. Let’s jump into this weekend’s action.

Your Watercooler Moment. Kentucky Student’s Half-Court Shot Causes Kroger Controversy.

Meet Vincent Swope. No, he actually isn’t an SEC official, he just plays one when he attends Kentucky basketball games at Rupp Arena. The freshman who has turned a referee getup into his game-day trademark in UK’s eRupption Zone was selected to shoot a half-court shot worth $10,000 during Saturday’s game versus South Carolina. As you can see above, his heave from mid-court was true. According to published reports, shortly after the ball found the bottom of the net and Swope ran around the court rightfully celebrating his newfound riches, a representative from Kroger Foods, the contest sponsor, approached him suggesting that he had violated the terms of the contest by stepping over the half-court line. In the pantheon of snaky moves, Kroger’s reported attempt to screw a young student out of his winnings due to a technicality would have reached a new level of shady business dealings. Luckily, Matt Jones at Kentucky Sports Radio became aware of the situation and immediately mobilized his legion of Twitter followers to #occupyKroger in an anti-corporate social networking throwdown that would make Ralph Nader and Naomi Klein proud. Within an hour of the game’s finish, Kroger had caved and in fact called Jones himself to beg for his forgiveness, asking him to pass along to Swope that the company would make good on his prize. As of Sunday evening, Swope says that he hasn’t yet received the money, but we’d wager that Kroger has learned its lesson and won’t drag their feet too long on paying him. Great work from KSR/Jones in ensuring the right outcome here.

[ed. note: Kroger reached out to us, taking the stance that the company never suggested to Swope that he would not be paid for his shot. This contradicts Swope’s accounting of the sequence of events to Matt Jones, but it appears that Kroger will in fact pay the freshman his winnings, which is all anyone wanted in the first place.]

Then, There Was This. Chris Mack Gives Up His Knee For a Xavier Win. In an exceptionally odd situation, Xavier head coach Chris Mack jumped in the layup line during Friday’s practice and, after dunking the ball once, ended up tearing his patellar tendon in a freakish accident trying to do it again. Andre Walker said afterward that Mack’s injury was “really weird… a freak accident,” and to that sentiment we certainly agree. First of all, props to Mack for trying just about anything to get his team off the schneid (XU had lost five of six before beating Fordham Saturday) and for still being able to dunk a basketball at the age of 42, but he probably should have wowed the players just once and left it at that! What a weird season it’s already been at Xavier.

Five More Weekend Storylines.

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Set Your Tivo: 01.06 – 01.08

Posted by rtmsf on January 6th, 2012

Brian Otskey is the Big East correspondent for RTC and a regular contributor. You can find him @botskey on Twitter. See bottom of the post for the Official RTC Star System.

There are plenty of games to watch over the next few days but these five from the Big East, Big 12 and Big Ten are the best of the bunch:

#9 Georgetown @ West Virginia – 12:00 PM EST Saturday on ESPN FullCourt/ (***)

  • Now 13-1 with one of the better resumes in the nation, Georgetown seems to be a legitimate Big East title contender despite some question marks on its roster. The Hoyas have scored two big road wins already, at Alabama and Louisville, and this would be another one in the always tough WVU Coliseum. Jason Clark scored 26 points in the Hoyas’ 17-point comeback against Marquette on Wednesday night and the senior guard will look to lead his team on the road yet again. Georgetown will have to win this game with inside play and defense. The Hoyas shoot a high percentage inside the arc and they’ll be going up against a WVU defense that’s ranked #87 in the same area of the floor. With Clark, Hollis Thompson and Henry Sims able to score inside, Georgetown has a clear edge in that department.
  • Truck Bryant had 29 points in Wednesday’s win at Rutgers to move WVU to 2-1 in Big East play. Along with his freshmen guard teammates, Bryant will have to keep the basketball away from a Georgetown defense that ranks #15 in efficiency. The Mountaineers won’t get many easy looks so they can’t be turning the ball over against the Hoyas. WVU averages 15 turnovers per game. The Mountaineers do make 53.2% of their field goals inside the arc but they’ll be challenged by the stout Georgetown defense. Kevin Jones and Deniz Kilicli have to be major factors in the paint but Jones also has to be able to stretch his game to mid-range and beyond in order to open up some looks inside. In addition, West Virginia has to do a terrific job on the offensive boards. It’s not likely that the Mountaineers will be draining a high percentage of their deep shots so they must rebound aggressively and get second chance buckets.
  • West Virginia has won the last four games between these teams and both shot lights out earlier this week against Rutgers (WVU) and Marquette (GT). The Hoyas, despite going only 13-23 from the charity stripe on Wednesday, have a big edge at the foul line should this game come down to the wire, which it very well could. Georgetown is the better team but West Virginia can win with better defense and Bryant staying hot. We’d be surprised if this game isn’t close.

The Dynamic Kim English Is Just One Of Several Players To Keep An Eye Out For When The Tigers Tangle With Kansas State (columbiatribune)

#6 Missouri @ #21 Kansas State – 1:30 PM EST Saturday on ESPN FullCourt/ (****)

  • Missouri’s first big test has arrived. The Tigers have been phenomenal so far this season but they will face a stiff challenge in Manhattan from an angry Kansas State team coming off a blowout loss to Kansas. Mizzou was 1-7 on the road last season in Big 12 play and that has to be in the back of the players’ minds as they head into this contest. Frank Haith’s four guard lineup is ranked second in offensive efficiency and shot 59.3% from the floor in an evisceration of Oklahoma earlier this week. Missouri is top 10 in three-point, two-point and free throw percentage on the strength of Kim English’s resurgence, Marcus Denmon, Michael Dixon and company. This is arguably the best back court in college basketball but it needs to have poise playing on the road in front of what will be a raucous crowd at the Octagon of Doom. Read the rest of this entry »
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