Checking In On… the Big 12 Conference

Posted by Brian Goodman on January 2nd, 2012

Steve Fetch is the RTC correspondent for the Big 12. You can also find his musings online at Rock Chalk Talk or on Twitter @fetch9.

Reader’s Take

 

The Week That Was

  • The Big 12’s feel-good story has to be Texas Tech freshman Luke Adams. Adams was born almost entirely deaf with only about 10% hearing in his left ear. Thanks to cochlear implants however, he is hearing nearly completely normally now. He has been effective in limited playing time as well, shooting 46% from three and 78% from the free throw line to go with a 24.4% assist rate. Although he was the leading scorer in Class 3A in Texas last year, his scholarship options were limited due to his size. He chose to walk on at Tech and based on his early performance, he could be a nice shooter off the bench for them in the coming years.
  • Thomas Robinson had the performance of the week in the Big 12 scoring 30 points and grabbing 21 rebounds against North Dakota. It was first 30 point 20 rebound game for a Kansas player since Wayne Hightower did it against Missouri 50 years ago, and it was just the sixth time in the history of the Big 12 a player has had a 30 and 20 game. Robinson joins elite company including Blake Griffin, Kevin Durant, and Michael Beasley in the conference’s 30-20 club.
  • For the second week in a row, the two Big 12 unbeatens stayed that way by the narrowest of margins. Baylor beat Mississippi State in Dallas, despite what a cynic would call their best efforts to give it away, and Missouri picked up a nice true road win, going to Old Dominion and surviving, 75-68. Interestingly, they both had to fight the crowd a bit: Old Dominion was at home and has a nice atmosphere at the Constant Convocation Center, but the crowd in Dallas was pitiful for the Baylor-Mississippi State game. Playing in front of a stale crowd is probably good preparation for the NCAA Tournament, but it makes for some awful regular season basketball.

Cynics Will Be Quick To Point Out That It Came Against North Dakota, But Thomas Robinson Posted One Of The Top Single-Game Performances In Big 12 History Saturday. (Credit: Reed Hoffmann/AP)

Power Rankings

  1. Missouri (13-0): Although their offense is fantastic, I think it is officially time to start worrying about Missouri’s defense. They have allowed over a point per possession in back-to -back games, and almost did earlier in the month to lowly Kennesaw State. Frank Haith has generally had good defenses considering the talent he had at Miami so I think they can get the ship righted but it still is a potential red flag for the Tigers if they want to win the Big 12.
  2. Baylor (13-0): I promised I would put Baylor at the number two slot if they beat Mississippi State, but yikes. After squeaking out a two-point win in Dallas in which they tried their hardest to let the Bulldogs get out of there with the win, it probably will be a one week stay at the 2 slot. All of Baylor nation seems to have Pierre Jackson fever, as last year’s highest ranking junior college player scored 14 points against Mississippi State and has a 63.5% eFG on the season. But to temper those expectations a bit, I don’t think you can win the Big 12 title with a point guard who has a turnover rate of 30.4%. It is true that he will get more comfortable with the offense as the season goes on, but he will also be playing much tougher opponents. Read the rest of this entry »
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Big 12 Weekend Primer: New Years Weekend

Posted by dnspewak on December 30th, 2011

With holiday bowl games and a national showdown between Louisville and Kentucky on New Year’s Eve, there’s not a whole lot of Big 12 basketball to talk about this weekend. But six league teams will still compete during the next two days, and most notably, undefeated Missouri will hit the road for the first time in 2011-12. And if you’re not interested in watching John Calipari and Rick Pitino scream at each other for 40 minutes on CBS this Saturday, Oklahoma State will host Virginia Tech on ESPN2 during the same time slot.

  • Missouri (12-0) at Old Dominion (6-6), Friday 6 PM CT (ESPN2)

Kim English and the Tigers Still Need to Prove They Can Win on the Road

Eight days ago, Missouri showed its human side for the first time this season. After obliterating the likes of Notre Dame, California and Villanova, the Tigers nearly blew a double-digit lead to Illinois in the second half before recovering for a 78-74 victory in the Braggin’ Rights game in St. Louis. That second half stretch, which featured poor passing, forced shots and turnovers by every player on the floor, marked the first time Missouri had ever looked rattled in a basketball game this season. Though half of the arena was wearing black and gold, the Illinois crowd came alive late in that game, and it was the Tigers’ first experience in a hostile environment. For a team that finished 1-7 on the road in Big 12 play last year, this is the last major concern for Frank Haith to tackle: Can his team win on the road? Old Dominion may be 6-6, but don’t write this off as a down year for Blaine Taylor‘s program. For the uneducated basketball fan, losses to Northern Iowa, Vermont, Fairfield, UCF and Richmond may not look very good, but we know better than that. All six losses for ODU (also including Kentucky) have come against league front-runners with at least outside shots to win their respective conferences. Hosting one of its most important non-conference games in recent memory, Missouri will have to deal with a rowdy and electric crowd in Norfolk. Yes, the Tigers are much quicker, and they obviously have much better guards. There’s a reason Mizzou blasted an even stronger Old Dominion team in Columbia last season. It’s a new season, though, and again, Missouri has no reason to be confident in a road setting until it proves it is not the same team as 2010-11. The formula for an upset here is simple: The Monarchs need to slow the tempo and let their defense go to work. Kent Bazemore is arguably the best defender in college basketball, so expect him to hound Marcus Denmon all night, and ODU has a couple of decent shotblockers in Nick Wright and Chris Cooper. ODU isn’t nearly as big or physical as it was a year ago, but it is still a sound rebounding team that won’t let MU get many second chances. This is a Blaine Taylor team we’re talking about here, after all. If Missouri stays hot from the perimeter, it won’t need to dominate the boards to win. Phil Pressey and Michael Dixon need to initiate the offense like they did in the first half against Illinois, as opposed to that disastrous second-half stretch. If that happens, the looks will be there for Denmon, Kim English and Ricardo Ratliffe.

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Big 12 Morning Five: 12.29.11 Edition

Posted by dnspewak on December 29th, 2011

  1. Though Missouri has appeared immortal during the first two months of the season, a second-half lapse against Illinois last week has at least one writer questioning whether the Tigers’ field goal percentages will hold up throughout the season. Kim English has rebounded from a tough junior season to shoot 53% from three-point range this season, and Ricardo Ratliffe‘s numbers are just absurd (76% from the field). As a team, Missouri has seen enormous jumps in both field goal percentage and three-point percentage, and yes, it would be silly to think that some of these numbers will hold up. Still, even in that swoon in the second half in the Braggin’ Rights game, the issue wasn’t necessarily that MU missed a bunch of open shots. That happened under Mike Anderson a lot, especially on the road. Instead, it seemed that things broke down because of poor passing, no ball movement and a lack of poise. When Frank Haith‘s pick-and-roll offense is really working and the ball is in Phil Pressey‘s hands, he will find guys like Ratliffe, English and Marcus Denmon for a lot of open looks. And that’s partly why these statistics have skyrocketed.
  2. In this era of realigning conferences with complete disregard for geography, it’s refreshing to see that TCU will save a lot of time and money by moving to the Big 12 next season. According to one example in the article, the men’s basketball team will save almost 4,000 miles in road trips next year, and the football and basketball programs (both men’s and women’s) will combine to save about 16,770 miles. That’s a lot of fuel money in the bank, and hey, it can’t be bad for the environment either. And although TCU officials won’t say how much money the school will make from the move, one spokesperson said “it’s no secret” that the university will make a good deal of money off the move.
  3. And if you’re interested in a recap of Texas A&M‘s move to the SEC, here’s a full rundown of the situation. As you can imagine, the sports media talk in College Station was dominated by the SEC during the past year, just as it was in Columbia, Missouri, and every other college town with realignment implications. The article also points out that the SEC stuff overshadowed success from several A&M athletic programs. In fact, the Aggies won three NCAA titles and seven Big 12 titles, but this particular website thought realignment news was more important in 2011.
  4. Oklahoma State needed two overtimes to defeat SMU last night, and the victory wasn’t exactly pretty. But the win is a sign that the Cowboys are not letting transfers dictate this season. Senior Keiton Page, who started at point guard after the defection of both Fred Gulley and Reger Dowell during the past eight days, said his teammates “have been great at keeping their heads up and their emotions high.” That cannot be easy to do amidst all the turmoil, but even freshman point guard Cezar Guerrero, whose playing time will increase dramatically now, says the team chants “1-2-3… family” after every huddle. That’s got to count for something, right?
  5. Residents of Kansas City love to talk about bragging rights between Missouri, Kansas and Kansas State, and that prompted one sports journalist with the Kansas City Star to dedicate a multimedia session to the topic. The Tigers look like the Big 12 favorite right now, and Kansas will certainly be in the mix for an eighth-straight title despite that loss to pesky Davidson. As for Kansas State, the Wildcats may be the most intriguing team in the league right now. After winning the Diamond Head Classic, it’s obvious that Frank Martin‘s team will once again find itself in position for an at-large bid in the NCAA Tournament. As always, it’ll be a fight this winter to see which of the Kansas City-area programs will come out on top.
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Big 12 Weekly Primer: December 28-29

Posted by dnspewak on December 28th, 2011

GAME OF THE WEEK

  • #11 Mississippi State at #6 Baylor, Wednesday, 8 PM CT in Dallas (ESPN2)

Scott Drew's Team Is Flying High Heading Into Tonight's Game

At 12-0 and fresh off a Las Vegas Classic sweep of St. Mary’s and West Virginia, there’s not a whole lot left for Baylor to prove. The 6th-ranked Bears seem to have it all: dominant bigs, freakish athleticism, terrific dunkers and, most importantly, steady guard play. Junior college All-American Pierre Jackson, Boston College transfer Brady Heslip and junior A.J. Walton have formed a strong trio in the backcourt, and they’re helping Perry Jones and the crew lead the way in the paint. Cal transfer Gary Franklin has also impressed since gaining eligibility, as he’s turned the ball over just once in four games. That’s a striking contrast from last season, when Scott Drew wasted a boatload of NBA talent due to poor guard play and other issues. Baylor still has some work to do in the rebounding department, and it also turns the ball over a bit too much at times. But those are kinks Drew will work out during the course of the season, and they shouldn’t hold Baylor back against Mississippi State. In many ways, the Bulldogs are a mirror image of Baylor. They have a dangerous frontcourt duo in Arnett Moultrie and Renardo Sidney, but Rick Stansbury’s guards have stepped up to help the Bulldogs to a 12-1 start. Dee Bost may be this team’s most important player as both a scorer and leader of the offense, and it’s going to be up to him to make smart decisions on a semi-neutral floor in Dallas tonight. Let’s not be silly here, though. This game will be won in the paint, and it all depends on which stars show up to play. Jones had a lot of questions to answer this season after a somewhat disappointing freshman season, but he has looked like a new man so far in 2011-12. That’s also an accurate description for Moultrie, who has embraced his role as the enforcer in Starkville after two modest seasons at UTEP. In his first year of eligibility, Moultrie has already recorded seven double-doubles, and he’s both getting to the line (6.0 attempts per game) and converting his free throws (88.3 percent). Against Jones, Quincy Miller, Quincy Acy and the other forwards with giant wingspans on the Baylor roster, Moultrie has a chance to prove his worth on national television.

The key individual matchup is… Dee Bost vs. A.J. Walton/Pierre Jackson/Gary Franklin. Jackson has not started a game this year, and Franklin just became eligible four games ago, but they’re both stealing time away from starter A.J. Walton at the point. It’s not a bad problem for Drew to have, since all three are playing reasonably well. It’s no secret who runs the show for Mississippi State, though. Dee Bost will likely attempt the most shots for the Bulldogs tonight, he’ll lead the team in assists and he will also be the most disruptive defensive presence on the floor. After all, he’s in the top-10 all-time in steals at Mississippi State, which means Walton, Jackson and Franklin better take care of the basketball. The elite forwards in this game cannot get to work unless the point guards play well. For Bost, that means taking good shots. When MSU plays well, it’s usually because Bost finds a groove and plays within the offense. But when Bost struggles– say, like his 2-9 effort in a loss to Akron or a 4-16 performance in a near-collapse at Detroit– this team is in trouble. It will be interesting to see who Drew leans on at his point guard spot. Franklin and Jackson actually played more minutes than Walton in the team’s overtime win against West Virginia, and Jackson starred in that game with 23 points and a tying three-point in the final minute.

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Considering the Big 12 Underachievers

Posted by cwilliams on December 27th, 2011

Last week I discussed the overachievers of this early Big 12 season. It was a cheery, sunshine-laced post, discussing players who are playing above and beyond their expectations so far this season. Today, we conquer the inevitable, and discuss the teams and players who have underperformed for their team so far this season. The good news? There is still plenty of time to make amends.

Oklahoma State: With the addition of freshmen sensation Le’Bryan Nash and Cezar Guerrero, plus the senior leadership of floor general Keiton Page, the Cowboys were expected to compete for an NCAA Tournament bid this season. So far, they have shown no signs of meeting those expectations. Eleven games into the season, the Cowboys already have five losses. While none of these losses have come against mid-majors, what is truly worrisome about the Cowboys is their abysmal team field goal percentage, 41.2%, which ranks 260th in the country. True, in some games, the shots just don’t fall. But to shoot this poorly in every game is troublesome, and with conference play looming, the Cowboys need to get their act together if they want any shot at postseason glory this year.

Tyshawn Taylor Has Must Get His TO Problem Under Control

Tyshawn Taylor’s Turnover Problem: It would be unfair to say Tyshawn is having a poor season. He’s averaging 15.3 points per game, and has gotten to the charity stripe more than anyone else in the Big 12. But his knack for turning the ball over was most recently apparent in Kansas’s loss last week to Davidson, a game where Taylor turned the ball over five times. He also miscued the ball seven times against Ohio State and 11 times against Duke earlier this season. What is even more surprising is that two years ago Taylor averaged just 1.7 turnovers per game, while this season, his turnover rate is at 4.2 per game. Taylor will need to reclaim his ball control before conference play starts in earnest if Kansas expects to make another deep run in March.

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Big 12 Morning Five: 12.27.11 Edition

Posted by dnspewak on December 27th, 2011

  1. And the trainwreck continues in Stillwater. Oklahoma State point guard Reger Dowell has announced his decision to transfer, leaving the Cowboys with only one player to man the position. Remember, Fred Gulley already transferred earlier this month, so freshman Cezar Guerrero will now assume the reins. Senior Keiton Page has also apparently seen some time at the point in practice, and that’s part of the reason why Dowell may have left. His decision is interesting considering he said just last week that he would try to “stick things out” at OSU. That’s not going to happen, however, and Travis Ford better cross his fingers that nobody else leaves.
  2. What do you know about Baylor’s Brady Heslip? Before a few weeks ago, even us sharp minds at the RTC Big 12 Microsite could have only told you a handful of things. He’s a guard who transferred from Boston College. And, well, that was about it. But Heslip is certainly on our radar now, as he won Big 12 Rookie of the Week honors by lighting up the scoreboard in Las Vegas in Bear wins over St. Mary’s and West Virginia. It wasn’t even apparent whether or not Heslip would get major minutes this season after his transfer from BC, but he’s already become an integral part of this Baylor backcourt.
  3. Surprise, surprise: Frank Martin‘s Kansas State team is surging, and it most recently swept the Diamond Head Classic in Hawaii during Christmas weekend. Without Jacob Pullen, it was easy for bonehead writers like us to write off the Wildcats, but at this point in his program, Martin has established a culture of winning in Manhattan. No matter who is on the roster, Martin finds a way to win, and he does so by pushing his team’s buttons to play hard and smart basketball. This year, Will Spradling has found his calling as the point guard position, Rodney McGruder has learned how to take over games, and Thomas Gipson and Angel Rodriguez have been immediate contributors as freshmen. This team still has work to do in Big 12 play, but Martin has to be in the running for Big 12 Coach of the Year at this point.
  4. Lon Kruger may be a candidate for that honor as well, but that’s not what we’re talking about with OU basketball this morning. Instead, it’s James Fraschilla, an Oklahoma freshman and son of commentator Fran Fraschilla, making news with a bunch of cool trick shots. The video he created was so absurd that some believed it wasn’t real. However, Fraschilla says none of the video is fabricated, and the trick shots all did indeed occur. And the best part of the two-minute video? It’s also a ploy for charity, so everybody wins here.
  5. The Realignment Apocalypse is over now, and it’s time to reflect on what could have been for Texas in particular. According to this article, had UT left for the “Pac-16,” it could have taken a major financial hit. Instead, the school will make almost $20 million dollars in the Big 12 this year, and it still has rights to the multi-million dollar Longhorn Network. There’s always a chance Texas — or any other school for the matter — could still bolt from the league, but the Longhorns seem to be in a pretty beneficial position here in the Big 12.
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Set Your TiVo: 12.21.11

Posted by EJacoby on December 21st, 2011

Evan Jacoby is an RTC columnist and contributor. You can find him @evanjacoby on Twitter. See bottom of the post for the Official RTC Star System.

After several consecutive slow weeknights, Wednesday night offers some very good games. All eyes should be tuned in, especially, to the ESPN2 early game.

Texas at #4 North Carolina – 7:00 PM EST on ESPN2 (****)

UNC Will Attack Texas With Their Forwards, Tonite on ESPN2 (Getty Images/P. Williams)

  • Since their collapse against NC State on November 21, Texas has won seven straight games by double digits, including some nice wins over Temple and at UCLA. Their talented guard combo of J’Covan Brown and Myck Kabongo is starting to click, with Brown’s numbers up to 19.3 points and 4.3 assists per game and Kabongo at 10.8 points and 6.0 assists per contest. Four of the Longhorns’ five leading scorers are freshmen, including Kabongo and exciting reserve guard Sheldon McClennan. The Longhorns are ranked seventh nationally with 1.18 points per possession and eighth in overall offensive efficiency (117.5). For Texas to hang in this game, they’ll need their young guards to keep scoring at a high rate, and hope to contain UNC’s massive frontcourt from dominating the offensive boards.
  • North Carolina has a massive size, experience, home court, and overall talent advantage in this game, which is why they’re 10-point favorites. Look for the Tar Heels to feature Tyler Zeller and John Henson inside to feast on Texas’s smaller front line. The bigs should be able to control this game on the boards, where UNC ranks 16th nationally in offensive rebounds per game, and number one overall on the defensive glass. Even if Texas’s guards can score effectively, Carolina can counter with its wing scorers of Harrison Barnes, Dexter Strickland, and Reggie Bullock, lead by the nation’s top assist man in Kendall Marshall (10.2 APG).
  • Texas has won four straight games against Carolina since 1995. The Longhorns are playing well and will certainly be ready for this game. But it’s hard to envision UNC losing this one at home given their huge advantage in the paint and with just as many talented guards. Expect a super exciting, high scoring affair between two of the top programs in the country, with Roy Williams’ team coming out on top.

Seton Hall at Dayton – 7:00 PM EST, no TV (***)

  • This is a huge road test for 9-1 Seton Hall, whose only loss came in the finals of the Charleston Classic against Northwestern. Senior Herb Pope has been an absolute stud all year and he leads the Big East in scoring (22.1 PPG) AND rebounding (11.9 RPG). His fellow senior leader, point guard Jordan Theodore, leads the conference in assists with 7.1 per game. Sophomore guard Fuquan Edwin leads the Big East in steals per game with 3.4 per contest. He and Theodore each average about 14 points per game, as well. This dangerous trio will look to lead coach Kevin Willard’s team to a big road win and legitimize their strong start to the season.
  • Dayton is a talented but very inconsistent team. They have strong wins over Alabama, Wake Forest, and Minnesota on their resume, but they also have a shocking home loss to Buffalo by 29 (!) points. They lost road games to Miami (Ohio) and Murray State, as well. First year coach Archie Miller’s team has five players that average nine or more points per game, lead by junior lead guard Kevin Dillard. A transfer from Southern Illinois, Dillard leads the team in scoring (11.9 PPG), assists (5.1 APG), and steals (2.3 SPG).
  • This game is not televised nationally or on ESPN3.com, but be sure to follow along, or even watch if it’s being shown locally. Dayton is a four-point home favorite in this one, but this is anyone’s game. The Flyers have several big home wins and another awful home loss. Seton Hall will look to control the game with the dominant Pope inside, who will be a load to handle for Dayton’s short interior players. I’d take Seton Hall and their experienced leaders to come out with the road win, but this one could go either way.

Middle Tennessee State at Mississippi – 9:00 PM EST on ESPN3.com (***)

  • Middle Tennessee is coming off a big home win over Belmont to push its record to 10-2. They are the class of the Sun Belt Conference, and are only two-point underdogs in this game. When you factor in the three-point cushion given to home teams in Vegas lines, that means MTSU is considered the slightly better team. This is a fair assessment, as the Raiders have an impressive trio of upperclassmen in guard Marcos Knight and forwards LaRon Dendy and J.T. Sulton who all average at least 12 points and 6 rebounds per game. These three all shoot at least 53.6% from the field, as well, which powers the nation’s best field goal shooting team (53.2% as a team for the year).
  • Ole Miss also comes into this game with just two losses, the most recent of which came on Saturday at a pretty good Southern Miss team. Ole Miss features five players that average nine points or more, lead by junior Murphy Holloway’s 10.3 points and 9.5 rebounds per game. Not included in their five leading scorers is new addition Jelan Kendrick, who is now eligible for Mississippi after transferring from Memphis when he was kicked off the team at the beginning of this year. Kendrick is a very talented freshman who could start to make his mark tonight. Andy Kennedy’s team will have the athleticism advantage in this game, such as their 6.2 blocks per game which ranks 13th in the country.
  • This game might be the best of the 9:00PM EST slate, so be sure to have ESPN3 ready on your computer even if you’re tuned in to the television for another game. We expect Ole Miss to take care of business at home, but MTSU will offer a great challenge and could come out with another impressive victory.

Oklahoma State at Alabama – 9:00 PM EST on ESPN2 (***)

  • Oklahoma State comes into this game at 6-4 having lost two straight games. The Cowboys have a collection of talented players but have not found the best way to utilize their pieces; nine different players have been in the starting lineup in the first 10 games. LeBryan Nash, the McDonald’s All-American freshman, is starting to play better of late, seeing his minutes increase in the past three games. He’s now up to 12.7 points and 5.2 rebounds per game for the season. Markel Brown is a talented sophomore guard (9.7 PPG) and Cezar Guerrero is a freshman with a quick trigger that can fill it up in a hurry (7.7 PPG), though takes plenty of questionable shots per game. Upperclassmen Jean-Paul Olekemi (9.7 PPG) and, especially, Keiton Page (12.7 PPG) are the leaders of the team that will look to ignite the upset in this one.
  • Alabama was ranked in the top 15 to begin this month, but the Crimson Tide have suffered three disappointing losses in the past three weeks, albeit to some good teams. Anthony Grant’s team lost at home to Georgetown on a game-winning three from the Hoyas, and they followed that one with two road losses to Dayton and Kansas State. Bama has had trouble scoring in those games. They aren’t a very effective offensive team, with a 104.8 efficiency that ranks 120th nationally. The Tide get it done on the defensive end where they allow an eFG% of 40.6 that is seventh best in the country. Jamychal Green, Tony Mitchell, and Trevor Releford are big time athletes who all average double figure scoring and can lock down defensively.
  • This game is technically not a home game for Alabama, since it is being played in Birmingham as part of the 2011 Legacy Credit Union Holiday Classic. But for all intents and purposes, consider the Crimson Tide the home team as they will draw the much larger crowd in their home state. Bama has fallen victim to a few upsets this season, as they were the favored team in all three of their losses. But don’t expect a repeat in this one, as Oklahoma State is still a work in progress and the solid defense of Alabama should lead them to a victory.

***** – quit your job and divorce your wife if that’s what it takes to watch this game live
**** – best watched live, but if you must, tivo and watch it tonight as soon as you get home
*** – set your tivo but make sure you watch it later
** – set your tivo but we’ll forgive you if it stays in the queue until 201
* – don’t waste bandwidth (yours or the tivo’s) of any kind on this game

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Previewing Wednesday Night’s Big 12 Doubleheader

Posted by dnspewak on December 21st, 2011

Although college football bowl season will occupy the Four Letter Network’s main channel for the next several weeks, we have to express our holiday gratitude to ESPN for still managing to show as much college hoops as possible. Tonight, Big 12 hoopheads get a bit of a treat with two league games on ESPN2, including a rematch of a buzzer-beater from December 2010.

  • Texas at North Carolina, 6 PM CT (ESPN2)
Roughly 368 days ago, Texas guard Cory Joseph stunned a partisan UNC crowd with this shot, earning the Longhorns a defining 78-76 victory. After tumbling from number one in the polls to an early exit in the NCAA Tournament the previous season, Joseph’s game-winner marked a turning point in Texas’ year, which eventually resulted in a top-five seed in the NCAAs and a successful second-place finish in the Big 12. After losing all five starters from that team, Rick Barnes now has a team in transition, and this rematch this time at the Dean Dome could once again signify a turning point in the 2011-12 season. So far, Barnes’ new-look team has experienced mixed results with guard J’Covan Brown taking a leadership role. He’s played terrific basketball, but his young teammates are still a little inconsistent. Myck Kabongo will be a star at the point soon, but in UT’s two losses to Oregon State and N.C. State in the Legends Classic in November, he finished with more turnovers (eight) than assists (six). Kabongo gained a little confidence with 18 points in a win over Temple this weekend at home, and maybe that victory will get this team on track. The big key is how Texas’s forwards perform against one of the top frontcourts in the country. On paper, Brown’s matchup with Kendall Marshall looks like must-see TV — and it is — but the Longhorns can’t win unless Clint Chapman, Alexis Wangmene and Jonathan Holmes show up to play. UNC has a significant size advantage with Tyler Zeller and John Henson on the interior, so it’s especially important for Chapman to use his 6’10” frame to try to lock them down. The Tar Heels are the obvious favorite here, but Texas will at least have a shot to pull the upset if Brown outplays Marshall and displays some heroics.

Rick Barnes Knows His Team Has a Golden Opportunity Tonight

  • Oklahoma State at Alabama, 8 p.m. CT (ESPN2)

In the nightcap of this Big 12 doubleheader, a struggling OSU team will look to remake itself in Birmingham against Alabama, which has tumbled a bit itself recently. Most of Oklahoma State’s problems have stemmed from shaky point guard play. To complicate matters, Fred Gulley transferred this week, leaving Cezar Guerrero and Reger Dowell to man the point. The Crimson Tide, which have lost three of four games, are actually having similar offensive problems. Against Kansas State last weekend, Alabama never recovered from an ugly start offensively, turning the ball over 18 times and making just two three-pointers. Anthony Grant’s team isn’t built to shoot threes or light up the scoreboard, though. As one of the better defensive coaches in the SEC, Grant’s guys will smell blood if the Cowboys’ offense isn’t clicking. That’s the problem here for Travis Ford. He needs better play out of Dowell and Guerrero, and they need help from freshman LeBryan Nash, who still looks like he’s acclimating himself to Division I basketball. Keiton Page is OSU’s top offensive option right now, but he’s more of a catch-and-shoot guy that does not carry an offense. So that’s something to keep an eye on: Will Ford’s team execute better offensively, and can it use its athletes to get up and down the floor as Ford would prefer? Also, Alabama brings a ton of size to the table in this matchup, something OSU cannot match. The Cowboys need to use their team speed to overcome that — after all, they’re as fast and athletic as any team in the nation. They’re just not sure how to use it at this point in the season.

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Big 12 Morning Five: 12.21.11 Edition

Posted by dnspewak on December 21st, 2011

  1. Oklahoma State‘s point guard spot just got even more precarious. Fred Gulley has now announced he will leave the Cowboys, leaving them with just Cezar Guerrero and Reger Dowell at that position now. Former point guard Ray Penn already transferred during the Spring, and it has been a troubled position for Travis Ford from Day One this season. The two remaining point guards really need to step up now to run this offense. With LeBryan Nash ready to break out any day now and Keiton Page starting to find his stroke, this team has offensive weapons at its disposal. Now, it just needs to put everything together and grow as a team.
  2. In the aftermath of Kansas‘s disappointing 80-74 loss to Davidson at the Sprint Center in Kansas City, coach Bill Self says the main problem with his team is a lack of depth right now. That is to be expected after losing most of his starting lineup from a Big 12 championship squad, but he’s still waiting on players like Kevin Young and Naadir Tharpe to mature. As Self puts it, “Depth isn’t great because of injuries, and depth isn’t great because of foul problems. Depth is great because when guys don’t play the way you want them to, they don’t have to play.” Couldn’t have said it better ourselves, Coach Self.
  3. At least Tyshawn Taylor is healthy for the Jayhawks. Self said Taylor’s health was fine after the Davidson loss, which is somewhat surprising considering Taylor had knee surgery just more than a week ago. He was supposed to miss three weeks, but he ended up missing zero games. Going along with the whole “lack of depth” theme, it is a minor miracle Taylor returned so quickly to this team. Without him, Kansas may have been even more lost offensively.
  4. While most of us spend Christmas with our families in the continental United States, Kansas State will head to Hawaii this holiday season for the Diamond Head Classic. This tournament has grown in recent years, and in 2011, it will feature KSU, Southern Illinois, UTEP, Clemson, Xavier, Auburn, and Long Beach State. If you’re not tuned into the NBA, this is a tournament you need to see. It’s got to be hard for the players to compete during Christmas, but coach Frank Martin at least gave his guys five days off during the Thanksgiving holiday. That’s a heck of a lot more rest than most teams get during that time period, so expect the Wildcats to look fresh in Hawaii.
  5. Iowa State is playing Lipscomb tonight. Excited? You should be: the Bison’s leading scorer is Jordan Burgason, the son of former Cyclone Steve Burgason. Jordan attended high school in Ames– the same school Harrison Barnes and Doug McDermott attended– but ISU did not recruit him. Normally in these situations, two scenarios can occur. Burgason will either struggle under the expectations of playing in his hometown for the first time, or he will rise against the school that wronged him and burn the Cyclones for 40 points. If it is the latter, we are going to have a fun storyline to follow tonight.
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Big 12 Morning Five: 12.20.11 Edition

Posted by dnspewak on December 20th, 2011

  1. If you’re like us, you may have skipped last night’s Davidson/Kansas matchup in favor of other activities. Hey, after all, it appeared the Wildcats would be outclassed, having lost by 23 in their last outing at Charlotte. And that, ladies and gentlemen, is why they don’t play basketball on paper: Davidson upset KU 80-74 last night at the Sprint Center in Kansas City, making those of us that missed the game do a double-take. This isn’t the first time a revamped Bill Self team has dropped a headscratcher at the Sprint Center, though. Back in 2008-09, the Jayhawks lost to Massachusetts in the same building after losing their entire starting lineup from a national title squad. The loss isn’t good news for Kansas, but it’s not the end of the world either. At the very least, Tyshawn Taylor returned from his injury to finish with seven assists — although you can’t ignore his five pesky turnovers.
  2. Stepping away from the court in Lawrence for a moment, the Kansas City Star had a nice breakdown of the men’s basketball program’s role at the KU. The school’s struggling football program actually brought in about $2 million less than the basketball program, and that’s not surprising considering the historical precedent. Basketball will always be king at Kansas — always. And as Self puts it, “men’s basketball has to be good here… Has to be. We don’t talk about it, but I think (the players) understand that.” That’s a pretty telling quote from the man in charge.
  3. Missouri may be 11-0 and ranked in the top 10, but the focus shifted to the future on Monday with the announcement that former Oregon five-star recruit Jabari Brown will join the Tigers next year. Brown bolted from Eugene after just two games out west, and he’ll likely be eligible to play in December 2012. Frank Haith’s 2012-13 roster is starting to get interesting. He already added two transfers in Keion Bell (Pepperdine) and Earnest Ross (Auburn), so he’ll have a lot of new faces from a lot of different places (pun intended). That’s always a risk, as we’ve seen with Iowa State, but there’s no doubt that Missouri will have a lot of talented basketball players in the fold next year as well.
  4. With a young squad, Travis Ford is finding out during the non-conference season that he’s got a lot of questions to answer. At 6-4, Oklahoma State most recently dropped a game in Oklahoma City to New Mexico, and the team seemed out of sync for the better part of the game. This team is one of the most athletic in the Big 12, and LeBryan Nash is one of the league’s most gifted players. Still, there’s just something off about Ford’s team right now. Without consistent point guard play from a variety of candidates, the Cowboys looked frustrated against the Lobos. It got to the point where ESPN commentator Doug Gottlieb even suggested moving Keiton Page to the point, although it sounded as if Ford has ruled that out as an option.
  5. The other program in the state of Oklahoma is doing just fine, though. Oklahoma is off to an 8-1 start and recently rallied for a victory against Houston, and that’s a good sign for this revitalized group under Lon Kruger. The Sooners fell behind in the second half but stormed back, thanks in large part to 31 points and a double-double from Steven Pledger. If there’s one theme to this season for OU, it’s change. Pardon the cliche, but this team plays with a whole different attitude under its new head coach. The Houston win is just another example that this program appears ready to turn the corner.
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Big 12 Team Previews: Oklahoma State Cowboys

Posted by dnspewak on November 8th, 2011

Predicted finish: 7th

2010-11 Record: 20-14, 6-10 (9th, Big 12)

Head coach: Travis Ford, 4th season

Key losses: G Ray Penn (5.9 PPG), F Marshall Moses (14.1 PPG), F Matt Pilgrim (5.4 PPG)

OSU Needs a Big Year from Freshman LeBryan Nash

The Stars: Although he has not played a single minute of college basketball, freshman phenom LeBryan Nash might already be the best player on Oklahoma State’s team. At 6’7”, the wing can do just about anything on a basketball court. Coach Travis Ford says Nash may even see time as a point-forward, simply because he’s such a dynamic player with the basketball. An obvious contender for Freshman of the Year honors both in the Big 12 and nationally, the Cowboys will rely on Nash quite a bit to lead them in the scoring department.

The Veterans: Since arriving in Stillwater as a freshman in 2008-09, Keiton Page has played important minutes for Ford during the past three seasons. With a 5’9” frame and a young face, Page doesn’t always seem to fit in on the basketball court, but he’s grown into a productive starter at guard. He’s known primarily for his shooting ability, but he added a new element to his game last year by increasing his free throw attempts and getting to the basket. Problem is, Page didn’t shoot very well from beyond the arc in 2010-11 (30.4 percent), so that number has to improve for him to have a standout senior season.

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The Big 12′s New Faces: Oklahoma State’s LeBryan Nash

Posted by dnspewak on October 27th, 2011

LeBryan Nash: The Essentials

  • Class: Freshman
  • Position: Forward
  • Height: 6’7”
  • Weight: 230 pounds
  • Hometown: Dallas, TX
  • Rivals.com Accolades: #6 overall, Class of 2011
  • High school statistics: 22 PPG, 8.7 RPG (2010-11)

The Breakdown

With leading scorer Marshall Moses graduating from a 9th-place team a year ago and only two seniors on the current roster, there’s only one reason Oklahoma State has a shot to shock the Big 12 this season. That reason? It’s got a name.  LeBryan Nash. Sure, coach Travis Ford has a couple of veteran leaders in J.P. Olukemi and Keiton Page, but his team has a chance for a special season if Nash plays like the superstar freshman most believe he is. The first thing that jumps out about Nash is his perfectly athletic build. At 6’7”, he blends his explosiveness, physicality and toughness to dominate on both ends of the floor.

LeBryan Nash is the X-Factor For Oklahoma State

Nash isn’t known primarily as a perimeter shooter, but that’s another skill he will provide for the Cowboys. His forte is slashing and attacking the basket, and due to his strength and size, he’s a nightmare for any defender to handle on-on-one. Like many elite athletes, some scouts worry about Nash’s attitude. One scout even called his body language “awful” during a game, but Nash apparently has admitted that his attitude is something he is consciously working on. It doesn’t necessarily make Nash a team cancer or a bad person; it’s just hard to stay level-headed when you’ve been dominant athletically for so long.

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