Bracket Prep: Midwest Region Analysis

Posted by Walker Carey on March 17th, 2015

RTC_NCAA15

Throughout Tuesday, we will roll out our region-by-region analysis on the following schedule: East (10:00 AM), South (11:00 AM), Midwest (1:00 PM), West (2:00 PM). Here, Walker Carey (@walkerRcarey) breaks down the Midwest Region from top to bottom. Also, be sure to follow our RTC Midwest Region handle on Twitter for continuous updates the next two weeks (@RTCMWregion).

Midwest Region

Favorite: #1 Kentucky (34-0, 18-0 SEC). The unbeaten Wildcats enter the NCAA Tournament as not only the favorites in the Midwest Region but also for the entire tournament. John Calipari’s squad has been able to reach 34-0 due to its star power combined with its ability to play tremendously well as a unit. It will be utterly shocking if Kentucky is tripped up before reaching the Final Four. The reason why the Wildcats are such a lethal team is that they possess top-flight talent at each position. Their backcourt is loaded with sophomores Aaron Harrison and Andrew Harrison and freshmen Devin Booker and Tyler Ulis. The insanely long and athletic front line is led by junior Willie Cauley-Stein, sophomores Dakari Johnson and Marcus Lee, and freshmen Trey Lyles and Karl-Anthony Towns. Toss in the fact that Kentucky’s veteran players have Final Four experience from a season ago and you will understand why the Wildcats are the overwhelming favorite to advance to Indianapolis.

Will John Calipari Be Smiling This Time Next Week? (AP)

John Calipari and the Wildcats have had a lot to smile about this season. (AP)

Should They Falter: #3 Notre Dame (29-5, 14-4 ACC). The ACC Tournament champion Fighting Irish enter the NCAA Tournament fresh off playing some of their best basketball of the year. Notre Dame possesses an elite offensive attack with multiple options that makes it a very tough team to defend. That attack is led by senior star guard Jerian Grant, an All-American senior who has the ability to take over a game each night out. Grant is the alpha dog star of Mike Brey’s team, but senior Pat Connaughton and sophomores Demetrius Jackson and Steve Vasturia all strongly contribute to the Irish’s success. It will be a stunner if Kentucky loses at any point in this region, but if it does, look for Notre Dame to take home the Midwest Region trophy and advance to the Final Four.

Grossly Overseeded: #8 Cincinnati (22-10, 13-5 AAC). The Bearcats enjoyed a solid season but their résumé suggests that they should have been a double-digit seed. While Cincinnati had good victories over SMU (twice), San Diego State and NC State, it also had head-scratching losses to Nebraska, East Carolina and Tulane. The Bearcats finished the AAC season tied for third in the conference standings. Temple — the team they were tied with, and Tulsa, the team that finished one spot ahead of them — did not even earn bids to the NCAA Tournament. That’s not to suggest that Cincinnati didn’t deserve inclusion in the NCAA Tournament, but a #8 seed is very generous.

Grossly Underseeded: #7 Wichita State (28-4, 17-1 MVC). The Missouri Valley Conference does not provide many opportunities to pick up marquee victories, but Wichita State was able to pick up one on February 28 though when Gregg Marshall’s team got revenge from an early-season loss by topping Northern Iowa. The rest of the Shockers’ résumé was not very exciting, but they managed to win 28 games overall and only stumbled once in conference play prior to the MVC Tournament. Wichita State’s core is essentially the same (minus Cleanthony Early) as the one that started 34-0 last season. Gregg Marshall’s team is too talented and experienced to be a #7 seed and it would not be surprising at all to see it make a run to the second weekend.

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NCAA Tournament Instareaction: Big 12 Teams

Posted by Brian Goodman, Chris Stone & Nate Kotisso on March 16th, 2015

For the second consecutive season, the Big 12 sent seven teams to the Big Dance. Before considering those schools’ seedings, let’s first acknowledge that sending 70 percent of the conference’s membership is an outstanding achievement and that assessment will surely be echoed by its leadership, coaches and players over the coming days. Additionally, top-four seeds went to four teams – Kansas, Iowa State, Oklahoma and Baylor – more than any other conference except the ACC, which yielded five, but also has nine teams that didn’t crack the field at all. Skeptics of the Big 12 will point out that the most talented teams in the conference (Kansas and Texas) haven’t lived up to expectations, and another team expected to return to the NCAA Tournament in Kansas State fell completely flat. Those criticisms can be countered, though, with success stories in Baylor and West Virginia, who weren’t taken seriously as NCAA Tournament teams until after the calendar turned to 2015. Here’s our early outlook at the seven Big 12 teams in this year’s field.

Kansas (Chris Stone)

Just how far can a healthy Perry Ellis carry the Jayhawks?

Just how far can a healthy Perry Ellis carry the Jayhawks?

  • Seed: #2 Midwest
  • Quick First Round Preview: Kansas drew the WAC’s automatic bid winner, New Mexico State (23-10, 13-1 WAC), in its opening game, and the Aggies are the 88th-best team in the country, according to Ken Pomeroy’s efficiency rankings. To put that into some perspective, Big 12 foe Kansas State finished the season ranked 81st. NMSU features a balanced offensive attack with four players averaging double-figures. Defensively, the Aggies will look to run Kansas off the three-point line with their strong (seventh nationally) three-point defense, which has allowed opponents to hit just 29.5 percent of their attempts from behind the arc on the season. It’s a tough matchup, but the Jayhawks should get through.
  • Intriguing Potential Future Matchup: This one seems rather obvious. While Wichita State won’t get the home-and-home that coach Gregg Marshall has campaigned for, the Shockers will finally have their chance at their in-state foe if the Jayhawks get past New Mexico State and they take care of business against Indiana. The contest would pit two of the game’s best coaching minds against one another and allow the state of Kansas to settle who the better team is this season once and for all.
  • Final Word: Kansas drew undoubtedly the toughest region. According to KenPom, the Jayhawks’ road to the Final Four includes the highest-ranked #15 seed in New Mexico State, the top #7 seed in Wichita State, the second-best #3 seed in Notre Dame, and the overall #1 seed, Kentucky. The Jayhawks will need to return to their January form when they started Big 12 play 9-0 with a healthy Perry Ellis to pull off a Final Four run.

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Iowa State’s Offensive Adjustments Secure Big 12 Tournament Win

Posted by Chris Stone on March 15th, 2015

Iowa State won its second straight Big 12 tournament title on Saturday night with an exciting 70-66 victory over regular season champion Kansas. The Cyclones trailed by 14 at halftime but used a furious second half comeback to snatch the trophy away from the top-seeded Jayhawks. In Fred Hoiberg‘s interview with ESPN‘s Holly Rowe just before the beginning of the half, Hoiberg said his team would look to space the floor in order to open up driving lanes to penetrate the Kansas defense. Those halftime adjustments helped the Cyclones create numerous easy scoring opportunities as Iowa State outscored Kansas 47-29 in the final 20 minutes.

Iowa State Won Its Second Straight Big 12 Championship With an Impressive Second Half (USA Today Images)

Iowa State Won Its Second Straight Big 12 Championship With an Impressive Second Half (USA Today Images)

The strategy can be seen on Iowa State’s first possession of the second half. The Cyclones ran action that was meant to take advantage of Kansas’s aggressive hedging against pick-and-rolls. In the following clip, watch Iowa State point guard Monte Morris (#11) begin the pick-and-roll with Georges Niang (#31). The Jayhawks’ Landen Lucas (#33) hedges the screen while Iowa State’s Jameel McKay (#1) screens Morris’ defender, Frank Mason (#1). The result is an easy roll to the basket for McKay as Niang hits him in stride for the slam; the Kansas defenders can only turn and watch.

Hoiberg has been regaled within coaching circles for several years in large part because of his reliance on NBA-enhanced concepts like spacing the floor in the clip above. The Mayor played 10 years in the league and spent the next four in the front office of the Minnesota Timberwolves. He has honed his offensive philosophy at Iowa State around ideas like spacing, isolations and mismatches. With the versatile Niang, Hoiberg has one of the biggest mismatches in all of college basketball. A 6’7″ forward, Niang has both the ability to take his defender off the dribble and shoot from the perimeter (where he’s knocked down 40.2 percent of his attempts this season). That versatility allows the junior to take advantage of opponents that make mistakes against the Cyclones’ spacing. In the following clip, Iowa State runs action similar to the video above, except this time, Niang knocks down a three-pointer as Lucas defends against McKay’s roll to the rim instead of stepping out to contest the shot.

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Five Takeaways from Championship Week Saturday

Posted by Henry Bushnell on March 15th, 2015

As we reach the pinnacle of Championship Week over the next few days, we’ll take a breath each morning to run down the top five storylines from the previous day’s action. With the Selection Show now hours away, here are the headline makers from Saturday’s games.

1. Notre Dame Stuns North Carolina

Notre Dame Notched Its First Conference Tournament Championship Ever (USA Today Images)

Notre Dame Notched Its First Conference Tournament Championship Ever (USA Today Images)

Halfway through the second half of yesterday’s ACC championship game, I was all prepared to rave about the boys in baby blue. North Carolina came out of the gates fast in the second half and looked to be on its way to another ACC Tournament championship. At the same time I was legitimately thinking about the Tar Heels as a possible Final Four team. They’d already knocked off Louisville and Virginia on consecutive nights and had been impressive in doing so. But then Notre Dame happened. The Tar Heels didn’t necessarily fall flat, but when the Irish’s 26-3 run came it was as if the two teams were playing a different game. With its many talented shooters and ball-handlers, Notre Dame presented the Tar Heels with matchup problems that it eventually exploited. Their ball movement was exceptional. Carolina, of course, will be just fine and is still a candidate for a deep NCAA Tourney run, but Notre Dame’s ACC crown this weekend was a real head-turner. When the Irish are running hot, they can beat anybody in the country — they may also have elevated themselves to a #2 seed with their play over the last three days.

2. Iowa State Does it Again

Down 14 at halftime, Iowa State had Kansas… um, right where it wanted the Jayhawks? Apparently. The Cyclones have made a strange habit of staging colossal second-half comebacks this season. In their previous four games, they had rallied from deficits of 11, 16, 10 and 21 points to win all four. So when Kansas took a 17-point lead early in the second half, the Cyclones didn’t panic. Fred Hoiberg’s bunch simply decided it was their time to push forward. Jameel McKay and Georges Niang led a seemingly inevitable 17-2 run that got Iowa State right back in the game, and although the Jayhawks went down swinging, the Cyclones eventually pulled through. Fred Hoiberg’s team has so many weapons that it will be a unique and extremely tricky challenge for anybody for the rest of March.

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Rushed Reactions: #13 Iowa State 70, #9 Kansas 66

Posted by Brian Goodman on March 14th, 2015

rushedreactions

In a Big 12 Tournament final for the ages, Iowa State wiped away yet *another* double-figure deficit to beat Kansas, 70-66, becoming the first non-Kansas team to repeat at the event since Oklahoma State in 2004-05.

Three Key Takeaways.

The Cyclones raise another Big 12 Tournament trophy. (Charlie Litchfield/Des Moines Register)

The Cyclones raise another Big 12 Tournament trophy. (Charlie Litchfield/Des Moines Register)

  1. Iowa State takes over in the second half: The Cyclones were flat-out dominant after halftime. After Kansas point guard Frank Mason buried three free throws to put Kansas up 17 early in the second stanza, the Cyclones went on a 32-11 run to take the lead with 7:04 remaining and eventually closed the game out. The absence of Cliff Alexander, the limited mobility of Perry Ellis in his second game back from a knee injury, and the inexperience of Hunter Mickelson and Landen Lucascaught up with the Jayhawks. The anatomy of the Cyclones’ comeback included a complete takeover of the paint by Georges Niang, Abdel Nader and Jameel McKay and numerous stops of Kansas’ guard-led attack. The most jarring angle of Iowa State’s comeback was the fact that they made only one three-pointer in the second half yet were able to erase their biggest deficit of the game in under 10 minutes. The Jayhawks had a chance to tie the game late, but Iowa State easily identified “Chop,” Kansas’ go-to play when they need a late three-pointer, and Dustin Hogue snuffed it out. The Cyclones have been the target of some light criticism for failing to end Kansas’ regular season Big 12 domination over the last several years, but they ultimately got the last laugh.
  2. Kansas’ defensive interior was exposed.  As mentioned, the Cyclones worked over Kansas in the paint without mercy. Iowa State’s movement was fantastic, leading to tons of close looks without the benefit of post touches. Whether it was MonteMorris or Niang bringing the rock down the court, their ball-handlers didn’t encounter any pressure, finishing the game with one of its lowest turnover rates all season (8.8%). Additionally, only one shot attempt was blocked by the Jayhawks. Torching them on the pick-and-roll, the Cyclones had no trouble getting into the lane. Self shook out his entire toolbox onto the Sprint Center floor, throwing a 3-2 zone, a 1-2-2 look and even a lineup featuring two centers in Lucas and Mickelson, but none of those defensive schemes were able to generate the stops necessary for Kansas to pull out the win today.
  3. Wayne Selden played another terrific game. Perhaps the biggest reason Kansas was able to build a significant lead in the first half was the tremendous effort and production from the second-year guard. On Friday, Selden mostly used his strength and aggressiveness to get things done, but tonight it was his jumper. The shots he attempted weren’t always smart, but he poured in a career-high 25 points on an efficient 12 shots (one of them being this tantalizing lob from Frank Mason). A deep tournament run may not ultimately be in the cards for the Jayhawks this month, but Selden’s effectiveness adds a wrinkle to Kansas’ attack and makes it reasonable to entertain the possibility of Kansas playing into the second weekend and, with a few breaks, beyond.

Quotable.

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Wayne Selden’s Potential Resurgence Could Key Kansas Run

Posted by Chris Stone on March 14th, 2015

It wasn’t pretty, but Kansas advanced to the Big 12 tournament championship game on Friday night with a 62-52 win over Baylor. Jayhawks’ head coach Bill Self joked afterward, “There for a while, I think both teams set basketball back.” It’s becoming a common theme for Kansas to both play and win ugly basketball games. The Jayhawks have scored better than a point per possession in only one of their last four outings. The Kansas offense, once ranked in the nation’s top 15 in adjusted offensive efficiency, has gone cold, having made just 11 of its last 71 three-point attempts.

Wayne Selden finishes an alley-oop against Baylor on Friday. (Kansas City Star)

Wayne Selden finishes an alley-oop against Baylor on Friday. (Kansas City Star)

One factor in that poor offensive production has been the Jayhawks’ lack of a consistent second scoring option to side with forward Perry Ellis. In some odd way individual inconsistency has become a Kansas point of pride with Self describing his team’s identity as capable of always “finding a way.” It has certainly manifested during the Big 12 Tournament with freshman Kelly Oubre picking up the scoring load against TCU on Thursday and sophomore Wayne Selden coming to the rescue against Baylor. Selden, according to Self, “mirrors [the] team from an inconsistency standpoint.” His 20-point, eight-rebound performance against the Bears was his first double-figure scoring output in a month. As a sophomore, Selden’s two-point shooting percentage has declined nearly 15 percent and his offensive rating is down nearly seven points. The talented wing was an explosive finisher last year, scoring on 69.1 percent of his chances at the rim; that number is down nearly 20 percent this season as his overall offensive game has regressed.

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Rushed Reactions: #9 Kansas 62, #16 Baylor 52

Posted by Brian Goodman on March 13th, 2015

rushedreactions

Here are some key takeaways from Kansas’ 62-52 semifinal win over Baylor in another game marked by shaky offense but highlighted by the return of Perry Ellis and a breakout effort from Wayne Selden.

Kansas (USA Today Images)

Kansas Comfortably Moved On to the Championship Game Tonight (USA Today Images)

  1. Perry Ellis showed his rust but found ways to be productive: Sporting a surplus of padding that would make Barry Bonds nod in great approval, Ellis showed some lingering signs of the knee sprain he suffered two weeks ago but he was still effective in contributing 11 points and six rebounds. It wasn’t the most efficient outing for the junior, but by hitting a three-pointer shortly after the opening tip, his return appeared to set the tone for the night. Ellis was confident in his shot, but as Baylor struggled to put points on the board, he could stay in the flow of the offense without taking many risks. In the second half, the Jayhawks maintained a big enough lead to allow head coach Bill Self to be cautious with his all-conference player, sitting him for the last 7:50 of action.
  2. Baylor’s three-point shooting failed them. The Bears have been a very good three-point shooting team all year, helping their offense stay above water in spite of making two-point shots look like a trip to the dentist. It seemed as though Kansas transmitted their three-point struggles to the Bears on Friday night, as they made just one of 10 tries from deep in the first half and finished the game an ugly 4-of-22 from distance. While head coach Scott Drew has had a fantastic year on the sideline, his fanilure to coax a positive adjustment from his team against a vulnerable Kansas frontcourt may have cost the Bears this game and and an appearance in the Big 12 Tournament final for the third time in the last four years.
  3. Wayne Selden broke out with a huge second half. When Wayne Selden arrived in Lawrence a year and a half ago, he was seen by many as a one-and-done type of talent. Between injuries and significant struggles on the court, however, the sophomore has had a tough time consistently producing. Tonight was a different story, as he stepped up with 16 second half points on his way to 20 overall to go along with a team-high eight rebounds against Baylor’s physical front line. The Massachusetts native was active all night, which couldn’t always be said for his career to this point. Effectiveness from Kansas’ backcourt can be difficult to find this year, so if Selden can continue produce, only good things can come of it.

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Kansas’ Three-Point Shooting Woes Continue to Mount

Posted by Brian Goodman on March 13th, 2015

At one of the most important times of the season, Kansas continues to go cold from deep. The Jayhawks pulled out an ugly, foul-plagued, over-officiated win versus an improved TCU team on Thursday, but their prolonged slump from beyond the arc also hit a new level of futility. For the second time in 10 days, the Jayhawks failed to hit a single three-pointer, making Bill Self’s club the only power conference team this season to go without a long ball in two separate games. Kansas’ dip hasn’t been confined to just those two outings, though. Over the Jayhawks’ last five contests, they’ve converted just 8-of-56 attempts for a ice-cold clip of 14 percent. With all due respect to Division I’s low-majors, you’re practically guaranteed to see eight threes find nylon if you flip on one of their games.

A return to normalcy from deep would put Bill Self more at ease.

A return to normalcy from deep would put Bill Self at ease with Selection Sunday two days away. (USA Today)

What’s especially confounding is that Kansas is supposed to be a team stacked with shooters. Even amid its current streak of ineffectiveness, Self has six players who are hitting 35 percent or better on the season from distance. In the press conference following yesterday’s quarterfinal win, the head coach tried to spin another tough shooting day however he could, saying that this kind of a stretch can lead to sharper focus on defense and rebounding. To the Jayhawks’ credit, they defended well against the TCU offense and won the rebounding battle for the first time in three games against the Horned Frogs. Read the rest of this entry »

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Five Key Storylines Entering the Big 12 Tournament

Posted by Brian Goodman on March 11th, 2015

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

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

    Will the Cyclones repeat as Big 12 Tournament champs?

    Will the Cyclones repeat as Big 12 Tournament champs?

  2. Iowa State Looks to Protect Its Crown – The Cyclones had a solid season but it had to be at least slightly disappointing to fail to match Kansas in the league standings with a team that finally had a legitimate rim-protector and a strong returning core. All is not lost, though, as Fred Hoiberg’s team has an excellent chance to repeat as Big 12 Tournament champs. With three wins this week, it can become the first team to do so since Kansas pulled the trick in 2011 and the first non-Self team to pull it off since Oklahoma State in 2005. The Iowa State faithful turned out at the Sprint Center in huge numbers last year, so while Oklahoma is probably the second-best team in the Big 12, the ideal atmosphere would be a championship game pitting the Cyclones and Jayhawks. Read the rest of this entry »
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Morning Five: 03.09.15 Edition

Posted by nvr1983 on March 9th, 2015

morning5

  1. The first automatic bids to the NCAA Tournament were handed out over the weekend. The first school to earn an automatic bid was Belmont, which upset Murray State on Saturday night to receive the Ohio Valley automatic bid. Yesterday, they were joined by North Florida (Atlantic Sun), Coastal Carolina (Big South), and Northern Iowa (Missouri Valley). There will be three other automatic bids handed out later today with the Colonial, Mid-American, and Southern Conference all awarding their titles. If you are looking for a handy although not real-time infographic showing who is remaining in the field check out our Circle of March feature, which is updated daily.
  2. On Friday, NCAA handed down its sanctions against Syracuse after looking into the school for eight years (full 98-page report here). The headline of the sanctions is that Jim Boeheim will have to sit out for half of next year’s ACC regular season (nine games) and have 108 wins vacated from his record (moving him from 2nd to 6th on the all-time Division I men’s wins list for the time being), but the other sanctions and the stain it will leave on the program and those around it will probably have a more significant long-term effect. The scholarship reductions and limitations on the number of assistants who can go on recruiting trips could significantly impact the program for years to come. On an individual level, this will also make it more difficult for Mike Hopkins (the long-time coach-in-waiting) to succeed Boeheim and will also make it more difficult for him to get hired. The level of penalties (and the decision by the NCAA to only prosecute violations starting a few weeks after Syracuse won its only national title–very convenient…) should also make other schools–like one in particular in North Carolina–nervous.
  3. Speaking of NCAA violations, based on a report from Yahoo! Sports, Cliff Alexander is being investigated by the NCAA because his mother received a loan from a company that typically makes loans to professional athletes and agents. While it is not unusual for college athletes (or their families) to receive these type of loans it is usually after the athlete has finished competing in college as such a loan would be a NCAA violation. According to the report, both the NCAA and Kansas are trying to move the investigation along, but that Alexander’s legal counsel might be slowing it down. Given what we have read about the situation we doubt that we will see Alexander in a Kansas uniform again (at least until they need him for a promotional photo).
  4. The coaching carousel is starting to heat up. As of Sunday night, the two newest positions to open up are at Holy Cross where Milan Brown was fired and Penn where Jerome Allen will step down (a nice way of saying he was fired). We doubt that either is big enough to attract a big name candidate both positions should attract attention from mid-major coaches although there is a possibility that someone who is out of coaching might use one of the positions as a stepping stone to get back in. During his five seasons at Holy Cross, Brown went 69-83 with only two winning seasons (15-14 in 2011-12 and 20-14 in 2013-14). Allen, a former star at Penn who was a 2nd round pick in the 1995 NBA Draft, is 66-103 in six seasons heading into his final game on Tuesday.
  5. Senior nights are special in a lot of ways, but Georgetown’s senior night on Saturday stands out for the return of Tyler Adams, who has been sidelined since his freshman year due to an arrhythmia. While Senior Nights are typically reserved for individuals who remained on the team, John Thompson III, who has kept Adams on scholarship despite not playing for the team, decided to start Adams and ran the first play for Adams, which he dunked. Even though there were a lot of highlights from the weekend this moment will stick with us for the class that Thompson and Seton Hall showed giving Adams one last moment as a player as he enters the next phase of his life.
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Big 12 M5: 03.06.15 Edition

Posted by Brian Goodman on March 6th, 2015

morning5_big12

  1. Late last night, Yahoo! Sports’ Pat Forde reported that the NCAA is investigating Kansas big man Cliff Alexander for ties to an agent and possible impermissible benefits received by his family. Alexander has sat out Kansas’ last two games in the interests of protecting his eligibility while the NCAA works with Alexander to resolve the matter. Aside from the nature of the possible benefits, the big question is how long Alexander will continue to be sidelined. According to Forde’s sources, the freshman has hired an attorney, a move which, while may be advisable for Alexander, is reportedly slowing the investigative process. As we’ve said ever since news of the investigation first broke last Saturday, Alexander’s availability is important if Kansas is to make a deep postseason run, but while the team would prefer to get a resolution soon, you just never know with the NCAA.
  2. The legend of Baylor big man Rico Gathers continues to grow. Gathers is a focal point in two national stories that have dropped recently. The first is a terrific piece by CBSSports.com‘s Matt Norlander chronicling his experience (along with those of other players) balancing the grueling demands of NCAA competition with the challenges and blessings of fatherhood. The second is an in-depth look by Bleacher Report‘s Jason King that touches on Gathers’ fantastic season to this point, his outstanding athleticism and the attention he’s drawn as a potential NFL prospect. Both are well worth your time. While there has been no shortage of storylines in the Big 12 this season, Gathers’ emergence into the national spotlight has been one of the year’s highlights, with his play crucial in keeping the Bears relevant in the face of significant roster turnover. The odds are that Gathers will be around for another season, but the sooner you appreciate everything he brings to the table both on and off the court, the longer you’ll have to enjoy it.
  3. Ames Tribune beat writer Travis Hines emptied out his Iowa State mailbag, providing some great insight into the state of the Cyclone program as the team gears up for the postseason. While some have been quick to label Iowa State as fraudulent due to their inability to pass Kansas in the Big 12 standings with a roster that had the chance to do it, fans (or rather, fans whose questions Hines took a crack at answering) seem pretty optimistic, with many of their inquiries focusing on the Cyclones’ tournament ceiling, their chances of landing big recruit Cheick Diallo and the makeup of next year’s team. The Iowa State faithful brought a huge contingency to Kansas City for the Big 12 Tournament last season, so with another strong team this March, you can expect a similar level of support next week.
  4. Between widespread transfers and the appeal of the NBA, it’s become increasingly rare for a player to stay at one school for all four years, argues Ryan Aber of The Oklahoman. As such, Senior Day festivities don’t always carry the weight they once did, even in the case of Oklahoma, which has three players — James Fraschilla, D.J. Bennett and TaShawn Thomas — set to play their final home game tomorrow against Kansas. Of the trio, only Fraschilla, a walk-on, played all four years in Norman, as Bennett was a juco transfer and Thomas only came aboard this fall after spending his first three years with Houston. Whatever the case may be, Fraschilla, Bennett and Thomas should be extremely proud of what they’ve accomplished.
  5. While the Big 12 champion has been determined, a whopping seven of the other nine spots are still in question entering the final weekend. If you’re into seeding scenarios, Aber did the grunt work for all of us just prior to Wednesday’s Oklahoma State-TCU game. The Sooners and Cyclones could finish anywhere between second and fourth, Baylor can finish anywhere between second and fifth, West Virginia can finish in either fourth or fifth, Oklahoma State will finish either sixth or seventh, Kansas State can finish anywhere between sixth and eighth, and Texas will end the regular season in either seventh or eighth place. If you’ve watched even a half of Big 12 action, you know that predicting how everything will shake out is a fruitless exercise, so our advice is to just sit back and watch the madness unfold. We’re going to get four more weeks of it anyway.
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The Remarkable Consistency of Kansas in a Sport That Favors the Unexpected

Posted by Chris Stone on March 4th, 2015

Kansas rather unceremoniously captured a share of its 11th straight Big 12 regular season title when Iowa State roared back for a 77-70 win over Oklahoma in Ames Monday night. The Jayhawks came into last night’s home game against West Virginia wanting to be selfish, as head coach Bill Self told the Lawrence Journal-World, “We don’t want to share it.” It took five extra minutes of basketball to get it done, but Kansas clinched the outright Big 12 regular season title with a thrilling overtime victory over the Mountaineeers. The Jayhawks’ 11th Big 12 title in a row (shared or outright) ties Gonzaga’s WCC streak from 2001-11 for the second-longest streak in college basketball history. Nothing else in the modern era of college basketball even comes close. “I will be shocked if it happens again in a major conference,” Self said after the game. The streak, though, doesn’t end here. The number Kansas is chasing is 13 — John Wooden’s UCLA program won every Pac-8/10 conference title from 1967-79.

Screenshot 2015-03-04 09.17.03

Before chasing more historical milestones, the Jayhawks must worry about a somewhat cloudy remainder of this season. After an NCAA issue was raised last week, Kansas is still awaiting word on freshman Cliff Alexander’s eligibility. He has missed the last two games and his family has hired an attorney to expedite the investigation, but it remains unclear whether the big man will return to the Jayhawks’ lineup this season. The larger concern is with junior Perry Ellis. Ellis suffered a sprained knee in last night’s game against West Virginia and is likely to miss Saturday’s final regular season game with Oklahoma. Team doctors told Self that Ellis may be able to return in time for the Big 12 Tournament and Kansas will assuredly need its leading scorer at full health if it hopes to make any sort of run in the NCAA Tournament this year.

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