RTC Top 25: Week Fifteen Edition

Posted by Walker Carey on February 29th, 2016

Another wild week of college basketball was accompanied by another helter-skelter poll in which each of our seven pollsters remain significantly divided on team placement within the RTC25. This week was notable in a Big East where #5 Xavier finally shook the monkey off its back to defeat #4 Villanova on Wednesday, only to follow that up with each team responding to the result in an equal and opposite way. Villanova recovered with a win at Marquette on Saturday while Xavier was dominated in a loss at Seton Hall on Sunday. Villanova still leads the Big East and is in good position to take home the regular season conference title. But with the parity in college basketball this season, the Big East Tournament in Madison Square Garden could be defined by inherent uncertainty. This week’s Quick N’ Dirty is after the jump.

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Quick N’ Dirty Analysis.

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Big 12 M5: 02.29.16 Edition

Posted by Brian Goodman on February 29th, 2016

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  1. Kansas clinched at least a share of a remarkable 12th consecutive Big 12 title on Saturday with a 67-58 win over then-streaking Texas TechThe Jayhawks were excellent defensively, holding the Red Raiders to 0.88 points per possession and 31.6 percent shooting, both season lows for Tubby Smith’s team. While Texas Tech contained Perry Ellis to the tune of just eight points, a white-hot Svi Mykhailiuk made them pay for giving him space, as the Ukrainian sophomore went 5-of-5 on three-pointers on his way to 17 points.
  2. With the regular season nearing the finish line, National Coach Of The Year chatter has started to bubble with no shortage of worthy candidates both around the Big 12 and nationally. While the accolade rarely goes to a coach whose team finished as it was predicted at the start of the season, a good case can be made for Bill Self even with the Jayhawks being predicted to win the conference back in October. According to kenpom.com, this year’s Big 12 is tied as the toughest of 390 total conference seasons played over the last 12 years, matching the Big Ten in 2010-11. Kansas is likely going to win the league outright, possibly by multiple games and without a probable first-round pick in the starting lineup. Self’s case isn’t without flaws and the COY award doesn’t mean much in the grand scheme of things (quick, name the last two winners without Googling), but it would be nice to see the collective vote driven by something other than a mea culpa on coaches who outperformed lower expectations.
  3. Regardless of whether or not he’s your COY choice, another candidate in Shaka Smart made his case Saturday afternoon as Texas beat Oklahoma in exhilarating fashion. The Longhorns trailed for much of the game, but used a stupefying 22-0 run over a six-minute stretch in the second half to pull ahead. Texas’ guards bullied their way into the paint and to the free throw line with regularity, with Isaiah Taylor and Kerwin Roach combining for 30 points, 14 of which came from the charity stripe. Oklahoma scored 40 points in the first half, but found itself limited to one shot on most of its possessions thanks to a 78 percent defensive rebounding rate from Texas, so when their shots stopped falling after halftime, the Sooners had no escape. On the plus side for Oklahoma, Buddy Hield notched his ninth 30-point game of the season, making him just the third major-conference player since the 2010 season to accomplish the feat. Unfortunately, Hield didn’t get the support he needed on Saturday as he outscored his teammates 33-30.
  4. Oklahoma’s loss paved the way for West Virginia to take sole possession of second place, which it did Saturday night by beating Oklahoma State 70-56 in Stillwater. The Mountaineers forced 19 Cowboy turnovers, including nine by point guard Tyree Griffin, which is the most by an individual Big 12 player against West Virginia since the press became its trademark at the start of last season. The game was also noteworthy as West Virginia, despite playing on the road and in a style that leads to many defensive fouls committed and very few fouls drawn, made 17 more trips to the free throw line than Oklahoma State did.
  5. Last Friday, Baylor‘s Rico Gathers announced that he would shift gears after the season to focus on his future on the gridiron. Gathers’ interest in football has been no secret, and with a family to support, it makes sense for him to start looking closer at his prospects for life after college, even if they may not involve basketball. While Gathers didn’t close the door to potential NBA opportunities, he’s certainly aware of how and where his physical gifts may best suit him. In the meantime, we encourage everyone to enjoy what’s left of Gathers’ hoops career.
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Big 12 M5: 02.24.16 Edition

Posted by Brian Goodman on February 24th, 2016

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  1. Kansas took another step toward its 12th consecutive Big 12 title last night with a gutty 66-60 win at Baylor. The Jayhawks overcame one of its worst performances on the defensive glass in recent memory thanks to yet another hot shooting night and some big plays from junior Wayne Selden. Kansas’ defense also put the clamps down on Baylor over the last 13:48 of the second half, allowing just 13 points from the Bears over that span. With a two-game lead over West Virginia and just one road game remaining, it would take an unforeseeable disaster for Kansas to even share this year’s Big 12 title.
  2. The Jayhawks also displayed their long range firepower in last night’s victory, burying eight of their 19 attempts from deep. As detailed by fivethirtyeight.com‘s Matt GilesBill Self appears to have at long last shown a willingness to tailor his team’s attack to the strengths of its personnel — in this year’s case, to its three-point marksmanship. Kansas has posted three-point attempt rates above 35 percent in six of its last seven games and is shooting a white-hot 40.5 percent from distance since its late January loss at Iowa State. That accuracy has been one of the key drivers of Kansas’ current eight-game winning streak. The long-distance game only makes things easier for the likes of Perry Ellis and Landen Lucas inside, so a continued embrace of that skill is vital to a deep NCAA Tournament run.
  3. Texas Tech put what could be the final touches on an at-large bid with an 83-79 win over TCU last night in Lubbock. Led by a combined 48 points from Zach Smith and Aaron Ross, the Red Raiders knocked off their fifth straight league opponent, a feat the program hadn’t accomplished since the all-time great 1996 squad pulled it off en route to a Sweet Sixteen appearance. Tech’s final three regular season games are at Kansas, at West Virginia and at home against Kansas State, which means that even if Tubby Smith’s team were to lose out, it would be nearly impossible for its resume to diminish enough to send them back to the bubble.
  4. Kansas State on Monday night fell to 4-11 in Big 12 play after a loss to Texas, leading Sam Mellinger of The Kansas City Star to weigh in on Bruce Weber‘s struggles during his fourth season in Manhattan. Just like at Illinois, Weber has failed to duplicate the success he had with his predecessor’s recruits, and Kansas State’s conference record has dipped every year since it shared the conference title with Kansas in 2013. While missing the NCAA Tournament is a near-certainty for the Wildcats this year, next season could present an opportunity to make some noise. The young trio of Dean Wade, Barry Brown and Kamau Stokes will have a year of experience under its belt, while current veteran teams like Oklahoma, Iowa State and Baylor are set to undergo significant personnel changes over the summer. Expecting Kansas State to contend for the Big 12 crown in 2017 might be a step too far, but a run at a top-half finish should be in the cards if they show improvement.
  5. Oklahoma State, losers of seven of its last eight Big 12 games amid myriad injuries, will look to pull a huge upset tonight when it travels to Norman. The Cowboys nearly did the unthinkable last month in a narrow loss to Oklahoma, but a last-second missed shot by Jeffrey Carroll instead sent Oklahoma State to another of its eight losses to come by five points or fewer. The Pokes are the only team nationally to close out the regular season with four straight games against ranked opponents, but that’s unlikely to garner any sympathy for Travis Ford from a fan base whose patience with him has already worn thin.
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RTC Top 25: Week Fourteen Edition

Posted by Walker Carey on February 22nd, 2016

The unpredicatability of this college basketball season was in full effect last week as 15 of the RTC25 suffered defeats. For example, archrivals #8 North Carolina and #11 Duke both experienced the thrill of victory and agony of defeat in a matter of just four days. In last Wednesday evening’s showdown between the two teams, Duke stormed back from a significant second half deficit to grab an impressive road victory — all the more impressive when considering it came without the services of injured forward Amile Jefferson or guard Matt Jones, who left the game with an ankle injury. The Blue Devils, however, could not keep the winning ways going, falling at #16 Louisville on Saturday. On the other hand, North Carolina bounced back from its defeat in a major way, dominating #17 Miami (FL) from start to finish. Just another week in a wacky season. This week’s Quick N’ Dirty after the jump.

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Quick N’ Dirty Analysis.

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Big 12 M5: 02.22.16 Edition

Posted by Brian Goodman on February 22nd, 2016

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  1. Frank Mason led Kansas with 16 points in the Jayhawks’ 72-63 win over Kansas State on Saturday. The junior used 24 percent of his team’s possessions, which hasn’t always yielded great results. Before Saturday’s victory, Kansas had been just 1-4 when Mason consumed that percentage of possessions. One possible (and simple) explanation for Mason’s improved performance? Rest. He’s rarely left the floor for extended stretches in conference play, but he averaged “just” 29.5 minutes per game in the two previous contests, and he got four days of rest following last Monday’s win over Oklahoma State. A healthy and rested Mason could be huge for the Jayhawks’ postseason hopes, so his usage moving forward will be something to keep an eye on.
  2. Kansas got a big lift before its game even tipped Saturday when Oklahoma knocked off West Virginia in Morgantown to create a three-way tie for second place. The Mountaineers’ defense has not been as effective lately, as six of their last seven opponents have scored at least one point per possession against them. Five of those opponents have also neutralized “Press Virginia” by posting turnover rates under 20 percent, including Oklahoma’s stellar 13 percent mark over the weekend. Bob Huggins‘ team faces another big test tonight when it matches up with Iowa State’s high-powered attack.
  3. Speaking of the Cyclones, their high-wire act continued Saturday night as the outcome of their game against lowly TCU remained in doubt until the eight-minute mark of the second half. While they avoided an embarrassing home loss to the Horned Frogs, the cloud of uncertainty around center Jameel McKay re-emerged, with Steve Prohm (with minimal explanation) holding the reigning Big 12 Defensive Player Of The Year out of action for the third time in five games. Although Deonte Burton stepped up in McKay’s absence with 23 points and 14 rebounds, the lack of a second rim-protector — in addition to general depth challenges — makes the senior one of the Cyclones’ most important pieces.
  4. The Big 12’s (deserving) reputation as the nation’s toughest conference doesn’t leave much room for Cinderella stories, but you can find one in Lubbock this season where Texas Tech is putting a bow on an at-large bid. The league’s coaches picked the Red Raiders to finish dead last in the conference standings in October, but Tubby Smith‘s team has quieted the doubters with seven conference wins including the current four-game winning streak during which they’ve outscored opponents by 0.13 points per possession. To put that number in perspective, Kansas currently leads the conference with a 0.10 PPP advantage in conference play. It’s hard to say enough about the outstanding job the Red Raiders are doing right now.
  5. Just one week after getting blown out by Texas Tech at home, Baylor traveled to Austin and wiped the floor with Texas in a 78-64 win that wasn’t even as close as the score indicates. While the Bears assisted on just 12 of their 36 field goals, they shot 65 percent inside the arc and put together 1.15 points per possession. Baylor now owns the odd distinction of having a better in-conference record on the road (5-2) than it does at home (4-3), but the Bears will look to notch another important home win when they host Kansas on Tuesday night.
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What’s Trending: Tackles, Tempers, And More!

Posted by Griffin Wong on February 18th, 2016

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

If College Basketball’s Tripping Epidemic Wasn’t Enough…

Then we have this item for you, as Maryland’s Diamond Stone took it up a notch. At the end of the first half, with Maryland down big to Wisconsin at home, the freshman phenom briefly lost his temper, tackling Wisconsin’s Vitto Brown after the whistle. To make matters worse, Stone pushed Brown’s head back into the ground as he was getting up. Take a look:

Stone was given a flagrant 1 for his actions, and subsequently suspended for a game by coach Mark Turgeon. Though Stone was apologetic after the game, it’s a shame to see any player lose his temper like that. Oh, and Wisconsin snapped Maryland’s 27-game home winning streak.

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Big 12 M5: 02.17.16 Edition

Posted by Chris Stone on February 17th, 2016

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  1. Texas defeated West Virginia on Tuesday evening in Austin, 85-78. Isaiah Taylor led the way with 23 points and freshman Eric Davis added 15 as the Longhorns turned it over just seven times in the win. Texas hasn’t lost a home game at the Erwin Center since December 29 and are one of only two Big 12 teams undefeated at home during conference play. In a league as tightly packed as this one this season, holding serve at home is vital to determining placement in the league standings. The Longhorns will be tested down the stretch, though, with home games still to come against Baylor, Oklahoma and Kansas.
  2. With the Mountaineers’ loss and its Monday night home win over Oklahoma State, Kansas now owns sole possession of first place in the Big 12. The Jayhawks, winners of seven straight, have been bolstered lately by the play of junior forward Landen Lucas. Lucas has collected 36 rebounds in the last three games and now ranks third in defensive rebounding rate (24.2%) and second in offensive rebounding rate (15.0%) in the Big 12. Although Lucas is not going to produce like former bigs Joel Embiid, Jeff Withey and Markieff Morris, Kansas will be happy to get any significant numbers from the center spot given the talent it has at the other positions.
  3. Congratulations are in order for Iowa State forward Georges Niang, who became the Cyclones’ third 2,000-point scorer on Tuesday night (passing his former head coach Fred Hoiberg in the process). Niang also sat down this week for a rather candid Q&A with ESPN’s Jeff Goodman in which he discussed the team’s coaching transition to Steve Prohm, which college basketball player he’d start a team with, and the best trash talkers. Niang is always a joy in interviews and this one is well worth your time.
  4. While Niang delivered 24 points for the Cyclones on Tuesday night, it was Baylor that walked out of the Ferrell Center with a 100-91 overtime win — the Bears’ second victory over an RPI top 25 team this season. Sophomore Johnathan Motley delivered a fantastic performance while senior Rico Gathers missed the game with an illness. Motley tied his career-high in scoring with 27 points on 17 shots and grabbed 10 rebounds. Baylor will have plenty of opportunities to pick up a few more quality wins with four games remaining against ranked opponents, but this one is certain to help its seeding come March.
  5. The final Big 12 game ahead of the regular Saturday slate pits Oklahoma against a rising Texas Tech squad in Lubbock. The Red Raiders are coming off of two straight wins over ranked opponents while the Sooners have lost two of their last three outings. The stakes in this one are high for both teams as Oklahoma needs a win to keep itself in the Big 12 title picture while a victory for Tech would add another big win to its NCAA Tournament resume. The fact that the Red Raiders are even in the bubble conversation after finishing 3-15 in the conference last season is a testament to the job head coach Tubby Smith has done rebuilding the program in such a short period of time.
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RTC Top 25: Week Thirteen Edition

Posted by Walker Carey on February 15th, 2016

A prevailing storyline of the last several college basketball seasons has been what #1 Kansas has accomplished under head coach Bill Self. The Jayhawks are in the midst of a run where they have won (or shared) 11 consecutive Big 12 regular season titles, and his group took an enormous step toward its 12th in a row on Saturday with a 76-72 victory at #3 Oklahoma. This season’s team has been characterized as a well-balanced unit and that was on full display as sophomore guard Devonte’ Graham led the way with 26 points while harassing National Player of the Year front-runner Buddy Hield. The victory did not effectively hand Kansas the conference title, as it is still tied with #11 West Virginia atop the league standings, but it did prove (once again) that the Jayhawks are capable of grabbing monstrous conference road wins with trips to #25 Texas and Baylor ahead. This week’s Quick N’ Dirty after the jump.

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Quick N’ Dirty Analysis.

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Oklahoma And Kansas Meet With First Place At Stake

Posted by Brian Goodman on February 12th, 2016

Tomorrow’s 2:30 p.m. ET rematch between Oklahoma and Kansas has been on our radar since the conference schedule was released, but the anticipation skyrocketed when the final horn sounded late into the night following the two teams’ first battle on January 4. From there the hype has only increased, as the Sooners and Jayhawks have fought to a draw through 11 conference games. At the end of the regular season, we could end up looking back on tomorrow’s game as the day the Jayhawks’ decade-long grip on the conference finally loosened. Or, we could learn that the road to the Big 12 title still goes through Lawrence, despite Oklahoma’s deadly trio of shooters and National Player Of The Year frontrunner, Buddy Hield.

To answer two key questions facing each team, we brought in Big 12 microsite contributors Brian Goodman (@BSGoodman) and Chris Stone (@cstonehoops).

Perry Ellis and Buddy Hield will face one another for the eighth time in their careers. (Alonzo Adams/AP)

Perry Ellis and Buddy Hield face one another tomorrow for the eighth time in their careers. (Alonzo Adams/AP)

Two Questions Facing The Sooners:

Brian Goodman: Perry Ellis has been on a roll lately, converting 17 of his last 19 shots inside the arc. Last month, he carried Kansas after halftime in the instant classic and will be leaned upon heavily to have another big game tomorrow. Meanwhile, Oklahoma center Khadeem Lattin leads the Big 12 in blocks percentage during conference play, but he had trouble staying on the court in the Sooners’ last two games against Kansas State and Texas. What do you make of Lattin and Oklahoma’s chances of getting the better of Ellis the second time around?

Chris Stone: Ellis has averaged 18.5 points per game in four matchups against the Sooners since his freshman season (he wasn’t much of a factor in the Kansas offense back then), so how Oklahoma defends him will be a crucial factor in this game. In the first meeting, Lattin and Spangler did a good job of turning Ellis into an inefficient scorer. Although he finished with 27 points in the win, it took him 28 shots to get there. Don’t be surprised if we see a similar kind of night from Ellis in Norman. Bill Self is intent on making him the focal point of the offense, but if the game in Lawrence is any guide, Lattin’s length will make it difficult for Ellis to get as many of the easy buckets he’s used to.

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Three Thoughts From Kansas vs. West Virginia

Posted by Chris Stone on February 10th, 2016

Entering February, it looked like KansasBig 12 title streak was in serious danger, as the Jayhawks brought three double-figure road conference losses into the season’s shortest month. Now, with a few fortuitous bounces — i.e., Kansas State’s upset of Oklahoma over the weekend — and last night’s home win over West Virginia, Kansas is, along with the Sooners and the Mountaineers, part of a three-way tie atop the Big 12 standings at 8-3. One of those teams will suffer its fourth loss on Saturday in Norman when Oklahoma welcomes Kansas in the rematch of early January’s triple-overtime classic. Before that, though, let’s consider a few thoughts from the game last night that deadlocked those three teams into the top spot.

Landen Lucas delivered in Kansas' 75-65 win over West Virginia. (Nick Krug/KU Sports)

Landen Lucas delivered in Kansas’ 75-65 win over West Virginia. (Nick Krug/KU Sports)

  1. Kansas could use that Landen Lucas more often. Without freshman Cheick Diallo living up to his considerable preseason hype, head coach Bill Self has struggled to find production out of the center position. He has started four different players there this season, but Lucas’ Tuesday night performance (nine points, 16 rebounds, four blocks) will likely solidify his role in the starting lineup. Matched up against all-Big 12 candidate Devin Williams, Lucas delivered the best performance of his career. Although it is both unfair and unlikely to expect the junior to post similar numbers again, Self only needs a modicum of production going forward from his center spot. Lucas showed last night that he can deliver. Read the rest of this entry »
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Big 12 M5: 02.10.16 Edition

Posted by Brian Goodman on February 10th, 2016

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  1. Kansas is back in first place in the Big 12 after a 75-65 win over West Virginia that pushed the Jayhawks into a three-way tie with the Mountaineers and Oklahoma in the standings. Perry Ellis led the team with 21 points, but Kansas also found help in the form of a cold shooting night from the Mountaineers. After a pair of uncharacteristically good outings where West Virginia shot a robust 44 percent from long range, regression reared its ugly head to the tune of a frosty 5-of-20 clip last night in Lawrence. Bob Huggins’ team also clearly missed the presence of suspended forward Jonathan Holton, from whose absence Jayhawks’ center Landen Lucas greatly benefited. The junior had a huge game on the glass, pulling down a career-high 16 rebounds while limiting second chances for the nation’s best offensive rebounding team. Up next for Kansas is another highly important game against Oklahoma in Norman on Saturday.
  2. Kansas State‘s journey back to the bubble will continue tonight when the Wildcats host Baylor in Bramlage ColiseumBruce Weber’s team lacks the shooters to extend Baylor’s zone and has struggled mightily with turnovers all season, but the Wildcats have shown they can set up teammates (57.9 percent of their field goals in Big 12 play come on assists) and convert during good possessions. Those skills will be important this evening, particularly if the defensive rebounding expertise of Rico Gathers and Johnathan Motley renders second chances tough to find. On the other side, Baylor needs a quality road win in addition to its early January win at Iowa State to bolster its resume.
  3. The only other Big 12 action tonight pits Iowa State against Texas Tech in Lubbock, where the Cyclones will hope to find their focus. Iowa State will be without suspended center Jameel McKay for the second consecutive game, but his absence may not matter as much since the Red Raiders’ best rim-protector, Norense Odiase, will also sit with a broken foot. The Cyclones are playing on the road for the third time in their last four games, but they’ve reeled off three straight Big 12 victories away from Hilton Coliseum and will be favored to add to that streak this evening.
  4. The emergence of Texas as a legitimate contender over the last few weeks is one of the conference’s biggest stories. Its recent performance caught the attention of Washington Post writer Matthew Giles, who takes a deep look at Texas’ expedited turnaround. We dove into the subject ourselves here on the microsite last week, and Giles echoes many of our sentiments around the Longhorns’ performance. In particular, he notes the tremendous value that Prince Ibeh has provided in the wake of Cameron Ridley‘s broken foot, as well as the contributions of Texas’ revamped guard play. The Longhorns have several tough road games ahead but they’ve been a virtual lock for an at-large bid since the beginning of February, a milestone few prognosticators saw coming upon Smart’s hiring last April.
  5. Oklahoma State‘s season hit a nadir in Fort Worth on Monday night when the Cowboys were embarrassed by TCU to fall into last place in the Big 12. While the Pokes have faced many hurdles in the form of injuries this season, it didn’t seem possible that they could find themselves in such a position. Travis Ford‘s team has plenty of time to climb out of the basement of the league standings, but that’s a pretty low bar to clear for a coach who is likely to find himself on the hot seat in March.
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Big 12 Power Rankings: West Virginia Is Finally Here Edition

Posted by Nate Kotisso on February 5th, 2016

West Virginia is a basketball team. A very solid basketball team, in fact. A team whose hallmark is to press the life out of opponents. A team that scores easy baskets off turnovers. A team that makes its fans cringe when it clangs jump shots off odd parts of the backboard. The Mountaineers started 4-0 in Big 12 play playing the good ol’ West Virginia way before losing back-to-back games at Oklahoma and at home to Texas. In the four games since those defeats, it appears that we’re seeing a different West Virginia team. Not only have the Mountaineers gone 3-1 in that span, but their three-point shooting has improved (35 percent in their last four games; 31 percent for the year) as well as their free-throw percentage (73.4 percent in their last four games; 66 percent for the year). Tuesday night’s win at Iowa State marked the first time a team other than Baylor or Kansas has defeated Iowa State in Ames since the start of the 2012-13 season. Bob Huggins‘ team now finds itself in a first-place tie with Oklahoma with nine games still to play. The Mountaineers are very good and they can no longer be ignored.

Bob Huggins has won 711 games as a Division I coach. I feel like we don't say that enough. (Associated Press)

Bob Huggins has won 711 games as a Division I coach. We don’t say that enough. (AP)

  1. Oklahoma — 3 points (All voted 1st). Comment: “With most of the focus understandably on Buddy Hield’s National Player of the Year campaign, the evolution of junior guard Jordan Woodard — arguably the most improved player in the country this season — hasn’t received the attention it deserves. Having shed his responsibilities as the primary ball-handler, Woodard’s turnover rate has declined eight percent while maintaining his assist rate. It’s also opened up his own offensive game. Woodard is shooting 51 percent from deep and has already made 51 threes, more than he made in his first two seasons combined. Every good superhero needs a sidekick, and Woodard is filling that role nicely.” – Chris Stone (@cstonehoops)
  2. West Virginia — 6 points (All voted 2nd). Comment: Jonathan Holton‘s loss was Devin Williams‘ gain, at least in Monday’s win at Hilton Coliseum. Williams has been terrific all season long, but the absence of Holton — the Mountaineers’ second-leading rebounder behind Williams — due to a violation of team rules indirectly led to Williams pulling down a career-high 18 rebounds in the big win in Ames. – Brian Goodman (@bsgoodman) Read the rest of this entry »
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