Who Won The Week? Kentucky, Gonzaga and Cal!

Posted by Kenny Ocker (@KennyOcker) on November 21st, 2014

wonweekWho 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 Tacoma-based sportswriter best known for his willingness to drive (or bike!) anywhere to watch a basketball game.

WINNER: Kentucky

The #1 Wildcats put in as dominant a performance against a top-five team as I can remember, eviscerating Kansas 72-40 on Tuesday. As many blocks as field goals surrendered? Holding an elite opponent under 20 percent field goal shooting on a neutral court? Sign me up. If this team plays defense together half this good on a nightly basis, it won’t be on the bottom end of a box score very often this season. The beatdown Kentucky put on Kansas completely justifies overlooking the halftime deficit to Buffalo on Sunday, which became a 71-52 win.  This is as no-doubt a winner as I’ve ever had in this column. (Welcome to year three, kids.)

John Calipari is in a good mood with this many All Americans on his roster (AP).

John Calipari is in a good mood with this many All-Americans on his roster. (AP)

(Related winners: The nine high-school All-Americans who get to play 20 minutes each a game while playing against the best opposing players in the country in practice every day, getting to boost their abilities and NBA draft stock simultaneously. Related losers: Kansas, because yeesh. Buffalo, because blowing a halftime lead wasn’t nearly as bad as the six-plus feet of blowing snow dropped on their city later in the week – after a win at Texas-Arlington, at least.) Read the rest of this entry »

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Champions Classic Report Card: Grading Hoops’ Biggest Early-Season Event

Posted by Tommy Lemoine on November 19th, 2014

College basketball reentered the national consciousness on Tuesday night as familiar blue-bloods Duke, Kansas, Kentucky and Michigan State squared off in the Champions Classic in Indianapolis. Let’s examine, assess and grade a few of the event’s most interesting themes and outcomes.

Kentucky’s platoon system: B+

Kentucky vs. Kansas lacked drama, but the Champions Classic remains a great event. (Darron Cummings AP)

Kentucky vs. Kansas may have lacked drama, but the Champions Classic remains a great event. (Darron Cummings AP)

With the glut of talent on this year’s Kentucky roster (as if Kentucky ever doesn’t possess a glut of talent), John Calipari has taken to a ‘platoon’ system wherein he substitutes five guys at a time – two entirely different lineups – throughout each game. That approach, seldom seen at college hoops’ highest level, went swimmingly on Tuesday night as the ‘Blue Platoon’ (38 points, seven blocks) and ‘White Platoon’ (28 points, four blocks) each had an important hand in dominating Kansas from start to finish. Works like a charm, right? Well, maybe. While Calipari denies that his scheme amounts to ‘communism,’ one does have to wonder if the more inefficient or ineffectual players will end up receiving too much playing time as a result of this strategy in the future. Let’s say, for example, that Marcus Lee is consistently less effective than his Blue Platoon counterpart for a prolonged stretch – it wouldn’t make much sense to continue giving him equal or similar minutes each night. That said, the Wildcats drubbed the Jayhawks by 32 points, and – as the saying goes – if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.

Early-season drama: D-

This event has generally produced very good, very tight contests,in the previous three iterations, with only a few points separating each team. Even last year’s 11-point Kansas win over Duke – the Jabari Parker vs. Andrew Wiggins game – was tied with under five minutes to play. That level of drama was nowhere to be found on Tuesday night, however, as Duke largely controlled things for the full 40 minutes against Michigan State, and Kentucky absolutely manhandled Kansas. We’ve been spoiled up to this point and were probably due for a couple blowouts (it’s a testament to the consistent excellence of each program that the first three years were so good), but it’s still a bummer. Hopefully the drama returns in 2015.

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Is Kentucky’s Platoon System Built to Last?

Posted by Bennet Hayes on November 19th, 2014

John Calipari has been known to indulge in a bit of hyperbole from time to time, which forced most of us to take the preseason news of his installment of a hockey-style, 5-for-5 substitution system at Kentucky with a grain of salt. Super cool that you have a roster deep enough to float an idea like this, Coach Cal, but lets talk when actual games begin, okay? Impediments to wholesale substitution patterns go well beyond having a short roster. Foul trouble, injuries and varying match-ups are all reasons to maintain the classic flexibility of free substitutions. Even with a Kentucky roster overflowing with ability, this mindless platoon system Calipari was espousing seemed suboptimal at best and viciously exploitable at worst.

Waves Of Wildcats Wore Down Kansas On Tuesday Night

Waves Of Wildcats Wore Down Kansas On Tuesday Night (USA Today)

Or so the thinking went. After Kentucky walloped Kansas by 32 points in Tuesday night’s Champions Classic, it is suddenly evident that Calipari’s decision to eschew convention has the potential to pay massive dividends. At least for a night, there were no complaints about playing time. Rhythm remained steady as the units exchanged places, and both blue and white platoons played with the sort of boundless energy that Calipari dreamed this arrangement could foster. You could pull any five guys out of the Kentucky 10-deep and field a sufficiently scary basketball team, but the relentlessness of a long, athletic Wildcats front line was significantly magnified by the five-in, five-out waves that Kansas had to fight through all night. The Wildcats not only looked like the best team in the country on Tuesday night, but also a potentially unbeatable best team in the country.

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What’s Trending: #TipOffMarathon Edition

Posted by Griffin Wong on November 19th, 2014

What’s Trending is a column examining the week that was in college basketball social media. Griffin Wong (@griffwong90) is your weekly host.

Kevin Pangos is Still in College

Believe me, when I turned on the Gonzaga vs. SMU game late Monday night, I was just as surprised as you were.

But I digress. Pangos was awesome, posting a cool 17 points, seven assists and five rebounds in Gonzaga’s 72-56 victory.

Bruce Pearl is Back…

And he’s sweatier than ever!

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Morning Five: 11.19.14 Edition

Posted by nvr1983 on November 19th, 2014

morning5

  1. After a somewhat lackluster opening night for college basketball (we will just call it a soft opening), we got under way in a big way with the Tip-Off Marathon yesterday (and technically the day before too). There were not any particularly surprising results–Florida was playing short-handed against Miami and the Hurricanes are better than people think so we aren’t buying that as an upset–but that does not mean there was a shortage of storylines. Not surprisingly, the biggest news came out of Indianapolis at the Champions Classic where Duke beat Michigan State 81-71 and Kentucky crushed Kansas 72-40. The big takeaways from the two games were how dominant Jahlil Okafor can be (he is now 25-for-30 on the season and last night he did it against a legitimate Division I team) and how scary the Wildcats already are. Okafor will certainly be in contention for Player of the Year awards, but we aren’t sure if he will be aggressive enough to put up overwhelming numbers. Kentucky with its platoons might actually do so. The question of whether they can go undefeated will certainly come up and they should be favored in every game they play–only games against North Carolina, Louisville, and Florida (at least twice) seem like the line would even be close at this point–but we would recommend holding off on any serious discussion on that until February at earliest.
  2. The details of the NCAA’s investigation of Syracuse remain unclear, but according to reports at least one part of it involves a former YMCA employee who has been accused of stealing nearly $340,000 from the organization. It is unclear if any of that money was directed to any student-athletes, but they are believed to have taken courses/internships that involved working at the YMCA. We probably won’t know the exact details of the accusations until the NCAA releases its findings, but we don’t think the NCAA needs any more of its member institutions involved in academic scandals.
  3. Virginia Commonwealth has not yet cleared JeQuan Lewis, who suffered a concussion on Friday against Tennessee, to resume playing. Lewis, a sophomore who averaged 5.9 points in 16.1 minutes per game last season, hit his head in the first half and had to be helped off the floor. According to Shaka Smart, Lewis showed improvement over the weekend, but is still not quite ready yet. Fortunately for Lewis the odds of him suffering another similar injury are extremely low compared with sports where concussions are usually a concern. The other thing in his favor is the Rams don’t really need his services until their game on November 24 against Villanova so he can take his time coming back.
  4. The details behind Demetrius Treadwell‘s indefinite suspension have come out and things are not looking good for the Akron star. According to reports, Treadwell is accused of assaulting a female basketball player. This is not the first time that Treadwell has been in trouble as the All-MAC forward was suspended briefly last year. While some schools have developed reputations for going easy on athletes in these settings we think two things are working against Treadwell in this case (outside of the obvious potential assault)–being in the post-Ray Rice era where abuse against women has become more of a focal point (yes, we know how absurd it is that it had to become more of a focal point) and the fact that this was against a member of the same program. On a larger scale, we have to wonder what is going on at Akron where they had a star point guard (Alex Abreu) facing drug charges two years ago, another player who served a yearlong suspension for a domestic incident, and another player who transferred after violating team rules.
  5. Last week the NCAA released the sites for the 2017-21 Final Fours. On Monday, they released the locations for many of the earlier rounds. The biggest news is that the First Four is staying in Dayton and the NCAA is no longer going to try to convince us that it is the First Round with every other team getting byes into the Second Round. While we have our reservations about the First Four, it appears to have provided Dayton with some kind of financial benefit as they beat out what was reportedly a competitive bid from Sioux Falls (would have loved to see some national writers get shipped out there).
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Rushed Reactions: #1 Kentucky 72, #5 Kansas 40

Posted by Tommy Lemoine on November 19th, 2014

Tommy Lemoine (@hoopthink) is in Indianapolis for the Champions Classic games tonight.

Three Key Takeaways:

Kentucky was clicking on all cylinders against Kansas tonight. (Photo: AP Photo/James Crisp)

Kentucky was clicking on all cylinders against Kansas tonight. (Photo: AP Photo/James Crisp)

  1. Kentucky’s size is peerless. Kentucky ranks first in the nation in effective height, but it doesn’t take an advanced statistician to know that the Wildcats are really, really big. That size and length proved the difference against Kansas tonight, as Bill Self’s club was unable to find consistent looks near the basket and shot poorly from the outside – an obviously lethal combination. Altogether, Kentucky blocked 11 shots and held the Jayhawks to eight – yes, eight – two-point baskets on the night (19.5% 2FG). With five contributors standing 6’9’’ or taller, including two seven-footers, the Wildcats’ interior defense is seemingly impregnable. The only way to beat Calipari’s group may be from the outside, and even that remains to be seen.
  2. The platoon remains for now. After the game, Calipari noted, “we’ll figure it out as we go, as far as ‘are we going to be able to play this way?’” and suggested that a more conventional lineup – one based on performance – could develop over time. But after a 32-point thrashing, on a night filled with so much national attention and fanfare, the fact that postgame conversations seemed less about ‘egos’ and ‘one-and-dones’ and more about “just how good can this team be?” suggests that the platoon system will remain in place for the foreseeable future. Five guys in, five guys out.
  3. This is more about Kentucky and less about Kansas. Sure, the Jayhawks were dominated, but Bill Self’s club is and should remain a top-10 team and perceived Big 12 favorites. Fact is, Perry Ellis, Jamari Traylor and Cliff Alexander will be far more productive against normal-sized front lines; the team won’t shoot 20 percent from behind the arc each night; and Frank Mason will develop into a more consistent point guard. Considering Kansas’ talent and Bill Self’s track record, there are numerous aspects about tonight’s game that his staff might be better off just ignoring, moving on from, and chalking up to the fact that Kentucky is just ridiculously talented. There are better days ahead in Lawrence.

Star of the Game: Karl-Anthony Towns. There are no stars in Calipari’s platoon system! Or, there are many stars in Calipari’s platoon system! Either way, freshman center Towns was excellent tonight, logging nine points, eight rebounds and four blocks in just 17 minutes and 34 seconds on the court. It’s all about efficiency for Kentucky this year, and efficient he was.

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Kentucky vs. Kansas: Previewing Tonight’s Champions Classic Battle

Posted by Kory Carpenter & David Changas on November 18th, 2014

When it was introduced in 2011, the Champions Classic quickly rose to become the crown jewel of ESPN’s Tip-Off Marathon. The event was such a success that last November, all four teams – Duke, Kansas, Kentucky and Michigan State – renewed the deal without hesitation. Tonight marks the start of the second rotation, and the nightcap will pit the two winningest college hoops programs of all-time (4,269 wins, at last count) against each other. Big 12 microsite writer Kory Carpenter (@Kory_Carpenter) and SEC microsite writer David Changas (@dchangas) took some time to preview the matchup.

Kory Carpenter: Few coaches have a shared history like Bill Self and John Calipari. Each began his career as a Larry Brown disciple at Kansas in the 1980s, and they were famously reunited over 20 years later in the 2008 National Championship game, with Self (thanks to Mario Chalmers) taking the first championship match-up between the two. Calipari got even with Self four years later (thanks to Anthony Davis), beating Self and Kansas in the 2012 National Championship game. Aside from Coach K at Duke, there is nobody in the country recruiting like these two; and, depending on whom you ask, they could easily be considered the two best coaches in the country. In the first year of the Champions Classic in 2011, Kentucky cruised to a 75-65 win behind 17 points from Doron Lamb and seven blocks from future NPOY Anthony Davis. Kentucky is favored once again, thanks to a roster that includes more McDonald’s All-Americans than Calipari might know what to do with. Blue-blood problems, indeed.

In a battle of coaching titans, John Calipari and Bill Self enter tonight's contest looking to one-up each other once again. (AP)

In a battle of coaching titans, John Calipari and Bill Self enter tonight’s contest looking to one-up each other once again. (AP)

Both teams should contend for the National Championship this season, but there are always questions this early, especially when facing teams of this caliber. The biggest concern for Kansas has to be post play, specifically rebounding. Kentucky starts three guys as tall or taller than anyone in Kansas’ starting lineup. Then you have 6’9” Marcus Lee, 6’10” Trey Lyles, and 7’0″ Dakari Johnson coming off the bench. The Jayhawks started a pair of 6’8” guys — Jamari Traylor and Perry Ellis — against UC Santa Barbara on Friday night. Beyond that, Landen Lucas (6’10”) and Cliff Alexander (6’8”) combined for 21 more minutes. As a result, UCSB forward Alan Williams had a field day against the Jayhawks’ frontcourt, finishing with 22 points and 11 rebounds on 50 percent shooting. But with all due respect to the future mid-major draft pick, he’s got nothing on players like Lyles, Johnson, and Towns. Kansas’ Ellis has struggled in the past against bigger, physical players, but that will have to change quickly if Kansas has a chance here, because Traylor doesn’t have a polished offensive game and Alexander looks like he will take some time to become a dominant player. Read the rest of this entry »

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Observations From The Big 12’s Opening Weekend

Posted by Brian Goodman on November 17th, 2014

The Big 12 got off to a running start this weekend. The competition wasn’t exactly stout, as the Big 12 faced just one KenPom top 100 opponent (Kansas, vs. UC Santa Barbara), but as of Monday afternoon, the conference sat at an unblemished 13-0 and is the only league other the Big East to sport an undefeated record. The quality of the opposition heats up this week, but before we look forward, it’s helpful to look back and make note of some relevant observations.

Newcomer Myles Turner made a huge impression with two strong performances over the weekend. (Jenna VonHofe/Daily Texan)

Newcomer Myles Turner made a huge impression with two strong performances over the weekend. (Jenna VonHofe/Daily Texan)

  • Kansas’ Freshmen Debut In Hot And Cold Fashions: The extremely early returns on Jayhawks freshmen Cliff Alexander and Kelly Oubre are mixed. The former played just 12 minutes against UC Santa Barbara, but scored nine points and brought down four rebounds while Oubre barely played long enough to make a dent in the box score (zero points, two rebounds, an assist and a turnover in just four minutes). The limited minutes for both players are explainable. It was revealed that Alexander played through some wrist soreness after dunking particularly hard during one of Kansas’ prior exhibition games, and it’s well-known that Bill Self prefers experience over unpolished players in the early part of the season. Either way, it will be very interesting to see how both players are deployed tomorrow night against Kentucky, as their size and athleticism will be very important if the Jayhawks are to knock off the #1 team in the Champions Classic.
  • Myles Turner Hits The Ground Running: The Longhorns’ stud forward didn’t start Friday’s game against North Dakota State, but he entered at the 16:05 mark of the first half and nailed the first three shots of his career: a tough turnaround jumper from the baseline; a 17-foot jumper; and a beautiful step-back fadeaway. Turner went on to finish with 15 points, but he wasn’t done. On Sunday afternoon, he put up 10 points to go along with seven rebounds and a staggering six blocks in an 85-53 thrashing of Alcorn State. Despite the quality of the opposition, it’s very tough to hold back the excitement for this freshman. Turner will get a national audience on Thursday when the Longhorns head to Madison Square Garden to take on Iowa in the 2K Sports Classic.

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O26 Intrigue: Eight Storylines on Opening Weekend…

Posted by Tommy Lemoine & Adam Stillman on November 14th, 2014

Basketball is nearly upon us! Here are eight O26 storylines to keep an eye on during the opening weekend of hoops:

Does VCU seize the opportunity against Tennessee without Briante Weber?

VCU will have to attack Tennessee without Briante Weber. (Daniel Sangjib Min / Times Dispatch)

VCU will have to attack Tennessee without Briante Weber. (Daniel Sangjib Min/Times Dispatch)

The Rams should be one of the better teams in the country this season, and they will have several marquee opportunities to prove it before the calendar flips to 2015 – opportunities not only to justify their top-15 ranking, but also to better position themselves come Selection Sunday. The first of those chances will be tonight against Tennessee in the Veterans Classic in Annapolis. The fact that the Vols, a decent-but-not great SEC squad, have serious questions at point guard would normally be good news for VCU and its disruptive pressure defense. But without Briante Weber in the lineup – the senior guard is serving a one-game suspension – the Rams are down their peskiest defender and a guy who’s on track to break the NCAA’s all-time steals record. HAVOC will press on (literally), but keep an eye on whether Weber’s absence enables Tennessee to limit its turnovers, make this more of a half-court game, and minimize VCU’s easy transition buckets. The last thing Shaka Smart’s group wants is to drop a nationally-televised opener (6:30 PM ET, CBSSN) against a beatable power-conference opponent. Read the rest of this entry »

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Back And Forth: And So It Begins…

Posted by Judson Harten on November 14th, 2014

Each week, RTC columnist Judson Harten will profile some of the week’s biggest upcoming games by taking a look back at some relevant history relating to the match-ups. This is Back And Forth.

The wait is over. Tonight, Division I college basketball teams will begin taking on other Division I basketball teams in games that actually count. Admittedly, the Friday slate isn’t exactly full of marquee match-ups, but all the top teams will start play this weekend. With that in mind, Back And Forth reviewed some of the best early season games among schools in the preseason top six over the past 20 years. One caveat: I did my best to avoid preseason tournament games (with one program, given the circumstances, I made an exception.) I think you’ll be surprised at some of these, both good and bad, and how they either affected each team’s eventual season outcome.

No. 1 Kentucky — 2014-15 season opening game – vs. Grand Canyon, Friday, 8:00 PM EST

THE GAME:  72-70 win vs. Miami (Ohio), 11/16/09

Despite all the success of the John Calipari Era, the start to his tenure in Lexington wasn’t easy. A loaded roster featuring future #1 pick John Wall along with first round picks DeMarcus Cousins, Daniel Orton, Eric Bledsoe and Patrick Patterson had trouble with the Redhawks in just their second game of the season. In the end, Miami’s Kenny Hayes hit a three-pointer to tie the game with six seconds left, but Wall – playing in his Kentucky debut after being suspended by the NCAA for acccepting extra benefits – gave Big Blue Nation a glimpse of his talent, hitting a stepback jumper with 0.5 seconds left to avoid the upset. The Wildcats finished the 2009-10 season at 35-3, losing in the Elite Eight to West Virginia but setting into motion the revival of Kentucky basketball

No. 2 Arizona – 2014-15 season-opening game – vs. Mt. St. Mary’s, Friday, 8:00 PM EST

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Big 12 Season Preview: Kansas Jayhawks

Posted by Brian Goodman on November 14th, 2014

Throughout the preseason, the Big 12 microsite will preview each of the league’s 10 teams, from worst to first. Today: Kansas.

Kansas

Strengths: Coaching and talent. It sounds simple, but when you’ve won 10 straight conference titles, why complicate things? Consider this: Last season, the Jayhawks won the Big 12 by two games and had two of the top three picks in the NBA Draft, yet the season was considered by many to be the most disappointing of Bill Self‘s tenure (and not just because of the early NCAA Tournament flameout to Stanford, though that certainly had a lot to do with it). That’s a major testament to Self’s ability to coach and develop talent, but it also speaks to the annual expectation his track record breeds. The Jayhawks reload yet again, with Kelly Oubre replacing Andrew Wiggins on the wing and Cliff Alexander taking Joel Embiid’s spot down low. Wayne Selden is back with a healthy knee and Perry Ellis is a reliable stalwart in the post. Add a high-ceiling wild card in Svi Mykhaliuk, who Self says is sometimes the best player on the floor in practice, and you’re looking at yet another Kansas team that will be expected to win the Big 12 and, come March, should be among the smartest picks to make a run to Indianapolis.

The Cliff Alexander hype train is already leaving the station. (The Kansas City Star)

The Cliff Alexander hype train is already leaving the station. (Rich Sugg/The Kansas City Star)

Weaknesses: The Jayhawks have enjoyed tremendous success since Sherron Collins left the program in 2010, but ask fans and people close the program and they’ll tell you they’d feel even better if their team had steady play at the point guard spot. It’s definitely not for a lack of trying, though. Since Collins’ departure, the Jayhawks have been connected in various degrees to several of the top floor generals available, including Emmanuel Mudiay, Tyus Jones, Mark Lyons, Gabe York and Cat Barber. For assorted reasons, though, all of them found other landing spots, leaving Kansas to make do with a group of which each had their share of moments and headaches — Josh Selby, Tyshawn Taylor, Elijah Johnson and Naadir Tharpe. The Jayhawks have proven that they can succeed in spite of the point guard issue, but that doesn’t mean it’s a preferable position. Additionally, Kansas needs to rebound from a pedestrian defensive showing (by their standards). The Jayhawks finished last season with their worst defensive efficiency ranking of the KenPom era (#31), due to a combination of a brutal schedule, inexperience, injuries and uncharacteristically poor backcourt defense. This year’s non-conference schedule isn’t less daunting nor is this year’s team significantly more experienced (if at all), but on the other hand, it’s tough to imagine a Self team letting him down on the defensive end for a second straight year. Still, Kansas will have to quiet those concerns if it is to live up to its potential.

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Big 12 M5: 11.14.14 Edition

Posted by Brian Goodman on November 14th, 2014

morning5_big12

 

  1. Yesterday, we talked about Iowa State‘s plans to play in a neutral court event next Thanksgiving. Late Thursday night, we learned about another team planning ahead. In 2016, Kansas will tip off its season against Indiana from a military base in Pearl Harbor as part of the Armed Forces Classic. One of the biggest ongoing storylines in college basketball is how the sport can better market the start of the season, and while this event doesn’t always have the fanfare of the Champions Classic or some of the other 24-Hour Marathon battles, it has helped bring the start of the season to the national spotlight.
  2. Oklahoma State blog Pistols Firing has 20 predictions for the Cowboys’ season. As discussed in our conference preview Thursday, we aren’t very high on Travis Ford’s team, we can definitely see some of the more positive predictions coming true, such as OSU outperforming its expectations to finish sixth, Le’Bryan Nash making first-team all-conference and Travis Ford holding onto his job.
  3. Outside of the conference, tonight’s Louisville-Minnesota match-up is getting headlines as it pits Rick Pitino against his son, Richard, but right here in the Big 12 is another father-son battle as Tubby Smith and the Texas Tech Red Raiders will open their season against his Smith’s son, G.G. Smith, who is making his head coaching debut with Loyola (Maryland). Smith cut his teeth with the Greyhounds as an assistant under former Loyola head coach Jimmy Patsos for six years.
  4. Remember last year when Kansas State lost three of its first five games (including its debut against Northern Colardo) leading to some warranted bubble conversation before Thanksgiving even hit? The Wildcats will look to avoid a similar fate when it tips off against Southern Utah tonight. As the 342nd-ranked team in the country according to KenPom, we don’t expect the Thunderbirds to pull this season’s opening night upset, but the Wildcats should now know more than anyone how important it is to take care of business early in the season.
  5. For a program the reached the Sweet 16 last year, there hasn’t been much chatter around Baylor. Part of that is because the Bears lost what had been the cornerstones of their program over the last two years in Cory Jefferson, Isaiah Austin and Brady Heslip, and another part of that is because the Bears don’t have the incoming star power that Kansas, Texas and Iowa State has. Still, Scott Drew is excited for the lights to come on tonight when his team squares off against McNeese State, as he should, because the Bears still have a lot of remaining talent in Rico Gathers, Kenny Chery, Royce O’Neale, Taurean Prince and redshirt freshmen Johnathan Motley and Al Freeman.
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