Set Your Tivo: 01.17.11

Posted by Brian Otskey on January 17th, 2011

***** – 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 2013
* – don’t waste bandwidth (yours or the tivo’s) of any kind on this game

Brian Otskey is an RTC contributor.

The first official ESPN Big Monday of the season tips off with two top ten clashes in the Big East and a couple of nice matchups from the Big 12. Park yourself on the couch from 3:30 until about 11:30 and you’ll be just fine. All rankings from RTC and all times eastern.

#7 Villanova @ #9 Connecticut – 3:30 pm on ESPN (*****)

Jay Wright's Name Belongs in Any Conversation About Elite Active College Coaches

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Morning Five: 01.13.11 Edition

Posted by jstevrtc on January 13th, 2011

  1. When we list links in the Morning Five every day, we always hope you’ll click on them. Even though we don’t expect our readers to check out every single link in a given M5, we only put things up here that we think you’d want to read or that will provide the original source from a piece of information that we think you should have. We will not attempt to describe the story that Yahoo!’s Jason King published yesterday about the tragic bond shared between Billy Donovan and two of his former assistants, Alabama head coach Anthony Grant and Arkansas head coach John Pelphrey. It is something you simply have to experience for yourself. The RTC crew are not the types to fall victim to that old cliche that a sad story makes for extraordinary writing, or an automatically “better” or elevated story; so take our word for it — you need to read this. Allow us to also say that even though we finished reading the story with red eyes and our collective jaw somewhere around belt-buckle level, we are actually comforted by the fact that men like this — and their families — are in the business of influencing and teaching 18-22 year olds; not because they and their wives and children have experienced tragedy, but because of how they’ve rebounded from it. Now, before you even move on to link #2 in today’s M5, click the above story and read it. Then you can come back here and rejoin our little world.
  2. There’s one thing Bob Huggins won’t have to worry about as he and his West Virginia squad trudge through the Big East schedule toward the post-season: freshman mistakes. Because he, um…has no frosh left. Freshman forward Kevin Noreen had surgery on Wednesday to repair a ruptured prepatellar bursal sac on his right knee and will miss the rest of the season. He was the last active Mountaineer freshman on the team out of the four that Huggins brought in this year.
  3. Ever since Washington’s Abdul Gaddy tore his ACL, we’ve been waiting to see who would step up and lead the Huskies as both a vocal leader and a distributor of the ball. Jeff Goodman makes a compelling case that Isaiah Thomas has already taken on the task of filling that role. We were inspired to look up a couple of stats Goodman alludes to in the article that back up what he’s saying: last year, Thomas’ assist-to-turnover ratio was 1.3 to 1 and he sported an assist rate of 28.5 (tied for 438th nationally). This season, his A/TO ratio is up to 2.1 and his assist rate of 56.1 is tops in the Pac-10 and 56th nationally.
  4. Word surfaced yesterday afternoon that former California freshman Gary Franklin will resurface at Baylor and will be eligible for play in the second semester next year. So, how’s Cal doing sans Franklin? Just fine, writes California Golden Blogs, specifically citing the 1.07 and 1.06 points per possession the Bears averaged against their last two opponents (Arizona State and Arizona, respectively), a level they had only achieved four times in the previous 13 games. Franklin will also enjoy being at Baylor more; you’ve got to shoot to be a scorer, and Franklin should run wild, given all those shots LaceDarius Dunn will leave behind in Waco next year.
  5. Hey, check out those Colorado schools! Colorado is 13-4 and 2-0 in the Big 12. Colorado State is 11-5. Air Force is 10-5.  Denver is, er, 8-9…but 4-0 in the Sun Belt! The Denver Post’s Chris Dempsey shows us that, when it comes to making the NCAA Tournament, hope is alive in the Centennial State and with good reason. We hope at least one of them gets there. Of those schools, Air Force was the last to go — five years ago. And Denver has never tasted the sweet, healing waters of The Dance.
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Checking in on… the Big 12

Posted by Brian Goodman on January 11th, 2011

Owen Kemp of Rock Chalk Talk and SB Nation Kansas City is the RTC correspondent for the Big 12 Conference.

RTC is interested in learning how to improve our Checking In On… series in each conference.  Let us know in the below poll where we can improve this weekly piece (feel free to add specific comments).  Thanks.

A Look Back

This week signaled the beginning of conference play in the Big 12 as ten of the league’s 12 teams tipped things off on Saturday, with Kansas and Texas as exceptions.

  • All in all, it wasn’t a good day to be a favorite.  The Kansas State Wildcats, the preseason pick to win the conference, were the first to fall.  Frank Martin took his team into Gallagher-Iba Arena to take on Oklahoma State and after a close game for much of the contest, the Wildcats went cold down the stretch and the Cowboys managed a solid victory over Kansas State.
  • It wouldn’t take long for the next, and possibly biggest, upset of the day to occur as Missouri would stumble in Boulder against a Colorado team that certainly opened some eyes on Saturday.  The Tigers were behind by a hefty margin for most of this one before closing it to eight at one point late.  In the end, Colorado would ride a 36-point effort from Alec Burks to a comfortable win over the number eight team in the country.
  • The win was a coming out party on the year for Burks, a statement win for head coach Tad Boyle and Colorado once again looks like a team that will be playing for a spot in the Tournament if they can maintain Saturday’s level of play.  As for Missouri, the press did little to trouble the Buffs for the majority of the contest and once again, the halfcourt offense left plenty to be desired.
  • Elsewhere in the league, the favorites held serve as Texas A&M handled Oklahoma with relative ease and despite a tight game early in the second half, Baylor proved too much for Texas Tech.
  • One game that didn’t receive much fanfare, but might have been a bit surprising to a few, occurred in Lincoln.  The Cyclones of Iowa State took on the Huskers and both teams had shown solid starts to the year without too much in the way of competition.  In a lot of ways, Iowa State passed the eyeball test and was more of a surprise this year, while Nebraska looked like the same old Nebraska year after year.  Turns out Nebraska walked away with a one-point win and showed the ability to hang their hat on defense once again.

All in all, the lesson of the day is that parity is alive and well in the conference and the Big 12 looks to be one of the deepest and most competitive in the country once again.  Road wins will come at a premium and there are easily eight or nine teams that can realistically point to the NCAA Tournament as a goal right now.  They won’t all make it, but it’s there if any given team can find a way to win the games in front of them.

Outside of conference play, there were two more games of note.  Saturday, Texas dropped one at home to the ninth ranked Connecticut Huskies late in overtime by just a point.  Right now, the sense is that the Longhorns have solved the concerns from a year ago, but this Longhorn team actually sits at a worse record than the team that collapsed so epically last season.

Lastly, on Sunday, Kansas went to Michigan and prevailed over a Big 10 opponent, though not without some difficulty.  Michigan isn’t expected to be particularly competitive in the Big 10 this year, so the result was not expected.  Both Texas and Kansas will tip conference play on Wednesday night.

Power Rankings

Note: Power rankings are are meant to reflect who is playing the best basketball at a given time.   Early conference play can and did create quite a shakeup based on some telling head-to-heads, but things tend to balance out as the games add up.

  1. Kansas (15-0) – Kansas continues to flirt with a loss, and after looking to have things rolling in the right direction, they took a small step back with a nailbiter in Ann Arbor against a young Michigan team.  The title still looks to run through Lawrence, but it’s far from a given for the Jayhawks this year.  
  2. Texas A&M (14-1, 1-0 Big 12) – A&M was the one ranked Big 12 team that took care of business in conference play on the opening weekend.  Mark Turgeon and the Aggies also appear to have the attention of the college basketball world as they should continue to move up the top 25 rankings.
  3. Texas (12-3) – Texas lost to the 9th-ranked team in the country in overtime – that’s not a bad loss.  They continue to look like a solid team, and despite the hiccup this week, Rick Barnes still has the group playing good basketball
  4. Colorado (12-4, 1-0 Big 12) – It’s a power ranking and this week at this moment, Colorado looks as good as anyone.  The Buffs handed it to Missouri at home, and Tad Boyle has the team playing well since a few early season losses.  Will CU finish this high?  Probably not, but a power ranking is meant to be a judge of who’s playing the best basketball at a given moment, so hats off to Colorado.
  5. Missouri (14-2, 0-1 Big 12) – Missouri stumbled a bit, and more than anything, they ran into a buzzsaw in Colorado.  The Tigers are still a very good team, but they’ll need to find a way to dial up the pressure earlier and some sense of a half court offense is a must.
  6. Oklahoma State (13-2, 1-0 Big 12) – Oklahoma State upset the Wildcats of Kansas State in a Gallagher-Iba Arena with plenty of empty seats.  This is a tournament caliber team that beats you by outworking you and the Cowboy fans need to take notice.
  7. Baylor (11-3, 1-0 Big 12) – Baylor opens conference play with a win in Lubbock.  The game was close briefly, but Baylor showed glimpses of why many expected them to compete for the conference crown.  Throw in LaceDarius Dunn’s string of success and this is going to be a team in the mix.
  8. Kansas State (12-4, 0-1 Big 12) – Kansas State has Jacob Pullen back, but they still have some issues to address.  The loss to Oklahoma State is just another example of how difficult life on the road in this conference is, but K-State needs to get things going in the very near future.
  9. Nebraska (13-2, 1-0 Big 12) – The Huskers got a big win for them in the early going and did it with their staple, which is defense.  Things get a little tougher this week with a matchup against the Missouri Tigers, but maybe, just maybe, Doc Sadler can make some waves this year.
  10. Iowa State (13-3, 0-1 Big 12) – On paper, there wasn’t much differentiating Iowa State and Nebraska, but the return of Fred Hoiberg and an overachieving nature early led to some goodwill in the rankings department for the Cyclones where the Huskers struggled.  A one-point loss in Lincoln isn’t all that bad in reality, but it’s a loss to give Nebraska the edge. 
  11. Texas Tech (8-8, 0-1 Big 12) – Tech almost provided some nervous moments for Baylor Bear fans but continue to find plenty of struggles on the offensive end.  It’s a team that’s better than Oklahoma, but that’s about all that can be said.  
  12. Oklahoma (8-8, 0-1 Big 12) – Oklahoma loses the opener against the Aggies and things don’t get any easier from here on out.  It’s exactly what was expected from the Sooners and the morale behind and confidence in Jeff Capel has to be hurting.

A Look Ahead

Twelve conference games on the docket this week and every single one will be important considering the parity that showed this week.

  • Tuesday night, the Big 12 South is the feature as Texas takes on Texas Tech and Baylor welcomes Oklahoma.
  • Wednesday features four games across the league, with Kansas opening play against Iowa State and Nebraska heading into Columbia, where the Tigers will look to rebound from their opening game loss.
  • The two games that look to be the most interesting on the night are Colorado at Kansas State and Oklahoma State at Texas A&M.  Both Colorado and OSU are coming off statement wins in their respective openers and both head on the road against a ranked opponent (if K-State remains ranked) with a chance to cement themselves as a potential NCAA tournament representative for the Big 12. A loss doesn’t hurt either team all that much, but a win does wonders.  Furthermore, Kansas State is in a situation where they almost have to feel like Colorado is a must-win in order to get things back on track.
  • Jumping ahead to Saturday, all 12 teams across the conference are in action. The highlight of the day has to be Missouri heading into College Station to take on the Aggies. This represents the first real head-to-head for two conference “contenders” and both teams stand to make an early statement in that hunt with a win.
  • Another game to watch is once again in Boulder, as Oklahoma State takes on the Buffaloes.  These two teams fall into the must-watch category because both teams made some noise on the opening weekend, and when push comes to shove come March, these could be two teams in very similar situations in terms of tournament hopes.
  • Elsewhere, Kansas hosts Nebraska, Oklahoma heads to Texas, Iowa State takes on Baylor at home, and Texas Tech heads into Manhattan for a game against the Wildcats.

Player of the Year Watch (no particular order)

Power Ranking Style and Conference Statistics Consideration Beginning Next Week

  • Jacob Pullen – (17.4 PPG, 3.8 APG, 43% FG) Trending Up: Pullen is back on the court and stepping up his game for the Wildcats.  Something still seems to be missing, but it’s more in the way of chemistry and the supporting components than Pullen.
  • Marcus Morris – (15.2 PPG, 6.1 RPG, 61% FG) Even: Morris continues to be extremely efficient and leads the #3 Jayhawks.  Now he needs to step up in the leadership department and start playing smarter as a player in order to take the Jayhawks and his chances at the POY to the next level. 
  • Alec Burks – (20.1 PPG, 4.9 RPG, 51% FG) Trending Up: Monster opening weekend for Burks with a 36-point, eight-rebound effort in an upset win over #8 Missouri.  Based on one game, which is way too early, he’s the leader.
  • Jordan Hamilton – (19.6 PPG, 7.1 RPG) Even: After the loss to UConn, conference play begins Tuesday for the Horns, and that’s where Hamilton will need to lead his team in order to win this award.
  • LaceDarius Dunn – (23.1 PPG, 4.7 RPG, 2.4 APG, 44% FG) Trending Up: Dunn seems to be hitting his stride after the early season suspension.  A 43-point output in the non conference finale was the highlight of the week.
  • Marcus Denmon – (17.2 PPG, 2 SPG, 50% 3P%) Trending Down: If you handed out the award for play in the nonconference, Denmon might just win it.  So far in the one conference game, both Denmon and the Tigers struggled.
  • Khris Middleton – (15.4 PPG, 4.8 RPG, 2.8 APG) **New**: It’s really a team effort in College Station, but right now Middleton is the leader on arguably the second best team in the league.  Actually, the team in the league with the most Top 25 wins.  A&M deserves a representative in the conversation.
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ATB: Meet Lamar’s Mike James, the New Human Microwave

Posted by rtmsf on January 5th, 2011

The Lede.  There were quite a few good games on the tube tonight, mostly in the Big East and Big Ten, but ultimately all of the better teams won.  But the big story on this early January evening came from Beaumont, Texas, as a player with the most common of names pulled off a supremely uncommon occurrence — a 50-point game.  And he did it while coming off the bench.

Meet Mike James, the Newest Human Microwave (B. Wright)

Your Watercooler MomentThe Unlikeliest 50-point Night of All-Time? Tonight someone named Mike James, a reserve guard for Lamar whose season and career high coming into tonight’s game with something called Louisiana College was 16 points, put on a Superman cape, ripped open a can of spinach and ate his Wheaties when he raised up off the bench on this particular evening.  Twenty-eight minutes later, the 6’1 junior college transfer from Eastern Arizona had nailed eleven threes en route to a 52-point explosion that seems to have come out of nowhere, as he entered the game averaging a mere 10.7 PPG in about fifteen minutes of action.  Perhaps just as impressive as his ability to score was his ability to shoot, as James managed to throw up 35 field goal attempts in those 28 minutes, an average of 1.25 per minute (we assume the four fouls were necessitated to rest his shooting arm).  James’ ridiculous performance is the best bench scoring output nationally in fourteen years (UT-San Antonio’s Roderick Hall had 52 off the pine in 1997), but for insiders familiar with his game (not us), such rapid-fire cannoning isn’t all that unusual.  The player who calls himself “the real MJ” via his Twitter account certainly has a scorer’s attitude, having led his juco league in scoring with a 25.9 PPG average last year and receiving interest from a number of schools including Santa Clara, Nebraska and Detroit.  He surfaced at Lamar because he reportedly liked the warm weather in Texas, perhaps knowing that the milder climate would keep his hand hot for those moments when he had the green light off the bench.  Tonight appeared to be that night.  Something tells us we’re going to be hearing from this new “MJ” again.  (for a glimpse of his athleticism, check out this clip on his YouTube page)

Tonight’s Quick Hits

  • Big Ten Favorites.  It wasn’t easy but both Ohio State and Minnesota avoided upsets tonight against Big Ten bottom-dwellers Iowa and Indiana, respectively.  OSU’s Thad Matta wasn’t happy with his team’s defense for the second straight game, but having a player like Jared Sullinger inside can make up for many defensive lapses — his 24/12 on the interior was something that Iowa was simply not equipped to handle.  OSU has started off the Big Ten slate with two easier opponents, even if on the road, but Minnesota has had no such luck, having to travel to Madison and East Lansing prior to tonight’s game at home against Indiana.  Trevor Mbakwe, the next best glass-eater in the league after Sullinger, grabbed a career-high 16 rebounds and blocked five shots to help his Gophers come back from a nine-point second half deficit and effectively save Tubby Smith’s team from an untenable 0-3 start in the conference race.
  • Colorado State as Spoiler.  It’s no secret that the Mountain West has designs on getting four teams back into the NCAA Tournament for the second straight year — San Diego State, BYU, UNLV and New Mexico.  Four other schools are simply not very good — TCU, Utah, Wyoming and Air Force.  But Colorado State, with senior forward Andy Ogide (16/7) leading the way, is the mid-pack team none of the top four can afford to lose to if they want to take the MWC crown and earn that high seed in the NCAA Tournament.  CSU’s win over Wyoming tonight confirms that the rest of the MWC’s fortunes may ultimately rest on how well the top four handle the Rams in their home-and-home series this year.
  • LaceDarius Dunn’s 43.  On most other night’s LaceDarius Dunn’s 43-point performance would be the headliner, but Mike James’ 52 off the bench displaced the Baylor guard’s outstanding evening.  Dunn nailed ten threes (on 18 attempts) and put the Bears on his back down the stretch of tonight’s game against Morgan State when they really needed him.  For Baylor to reach its goals this season, they’re going to need Dunn to occasionally do so, especially on the nights where Perry Jones and some of the others fail to step up.  He’s been relatively quiet this year, but his averages of 23/5/2 APG while shooting 42% from deep (two-thirds of his shots are treys) are All-American worthy.

and Misses.

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Checking in on… the Big 12

Posted by Brian Goodman on January 4th, 2011

Owen Kemp of Rock Chalk Talk and SB Nation Kansas City is the RTC Correspondent for the Big 12 Conference.

A Look Back

The two-week holiday stretch has come to a close and teams across the Big 12 are wrapping up those few final tune ups and preparing to dive head first into the conference season.  A time of year that sometimes tends to be slow in the college basketball world proved rather interesting in Big 12 country as a few teams that were once viewed as contenders, now look like pretenders and vice versa.

  • To start things off, the Baylor Bears have gone from a team that may have been exposed to one searching for solid footing.  After the eyebrows were raised in a loss to Gonzaga, the Bears would lose two of their next three with a narrow win over Texas Southern on Sunday.  The Bears are still a team with a high ceiling and tons of athleticism, but they are definitely seeking an identity after losing much of what made the team tick a year ago.
  • On the opposite end of the spectrum sit the Missouri Tigers.  Mike Anderson has his team playing at a very high level and Missouri is being talked about as a team that could make a run at the Big 12 title and perhaps put together an impressive March.  A win over a ranked Illinois team highlighted the break, but the Tigers were just as impressive in blowout wins over Northern Illinois and Old Dominion.
  • Another team solidifying its place in the conference hunt was TexasRick Barnes went on the road and came away with wins over North Carolina and Michigan State before routing Coppin State on New Year’s Eve.  The win against Michigan State was the most impressive, as the Horns dominated Tom Izzo’s group in Lansing, giving the Spartans their first non-con loss at Breslin since 2003.
  • Over in Lawrence, the Kansas Jayhawks continued to defend its home court winning streak while also getting a win in ugly fashion on the road at Cal.  Kansas remains undefeated on the season, but hasn’t looked overly impressive until getting back on track Sunday with a win over Miami of Ohio.  Josh Selby who joined the team just before the break has looked every bit the part of a top recruit and has already worked his way into a starting role with Kansas.
  • The other team in Kansas, the one originally expected to win the conference, has fallen on some hard times.  Senior leaders Curtis Kelly and Jacob Pullen were both suspended for a portion of the season following improper benefits taken from a local department store.  The loss of the players was met with a loss on the court to UNLV in Kansas City.  The good news is that since that point, the team seems to have responded and new players have stepped into larger roles for the Wildcats.  Now we’ll see how they respond with Pullen’s return.
  • Elsewhere Texas A&M, Nebraska, Oklahoma, Iowa State and Colorado all held steady against a splattering of tune up opponents and at the moment the Big 12 actually has 9 teams with double-figure wins and Baylor sits just a game out.  Marquee wins out of the group include a road victory by the Cyclones over an ACC opponent in Virginia, and Colorado handling Indiana in a holiday tournament.
  • Oklahoma State dropped their first major test when they lost by a wide margin to a surging Gonzaga Bulldogs team that was left for dead after a 4-3 start to the season.  Rounding out the bottom of the conference, both Oklahoma and Texas Tech did little to change the opinions of their skeptics.  Both teams enjoyed wins over the break but neither beat anyone of any substance and so it went, life in the bottom of the Big 12.

Power Rankings

1. Kansas (13-0) – Kansas struggled a bit and played to the level of their opponent in two of three games over the break, but in a win over Miami of Ohio, they once again looked like a team that has all the tools to win a seventh straight Big 12 conference title.

2. Texas (11-2) – Texas went to Greensboro and defeated North Carolina and then took a trip to East Lansing where few come away with a victory against Tom Izzo and the Spartans. Now this is the point last year where the Longhorns fell apart, but at the moment they look to be well positioned for a run at the conference title.

3. Missouri Tigers (13-1) – Missouri might be playing as well as anyone right now and the win over Illinois certainly makes a statement.  The Tigers are up to #8 in the national polls and could probably make a solid argument for a ranking higher than Texas.  At this point, the marquee road win by the Longhorns wins out, but Missouri is a scary team as the Big 12 slate creeps closer.

4. Texas A&M (13-1) – A&M still looks like a very strong team but they haven’t jumped off the page of late like the teams in front of them have.  A January 15 trip to Columbia should be circled on the calendars of basketball fans, as both of these teams should be ranked and looking for an early edge in the conference hunt.

5. Kansas State (12-3) – Things have seemed off for the Wildcats through much of the early season and that came to a head with the suspension of Jacob Pullen and Curtis Kelly.  Interestingly, those suspensions seemed to have help a few more players to emerge for the Wildcats and when both return this should still be a team very much in the mix if Frank Martin can find the leadership and chemistry he’s been looking for.

6. Iowa State (13-2) – The Cyclones have managed a 12-2 record when many expected them to struggle.  Yes, things will get much more difficult with the start of conference play, but right now they deserve some respect with a pair of road wins against rival Iowa and a nine win ACC team in Virginia.  This is very much a reward for the moment as this “power” ranking probably won’t be expected to hold.

7. Oklahoma State (12-2) – The Cowboys went on the road and get handled by Gonzaga. The Bulldogs are good so there is no shame in the loss, but losing by 21 and struggling offensively does raise questions as does the rest of the resume.  The Cowboys are likely a middle-tier Big 12 team that could cause problems for one or two frontrunners along the way.

8. Baylor (9-3) – Before the break Baylor failed its first major test in Gonzaga. Since then they have dropped two more and right now the pieces aren’t fitting the way they did last year.  Scott Drew will work at it and this team has a very high ceiling, but the Bears might take a few lumps along the way.

9. Colorado (10-4) – Colorado definitely looks like a middle to lower tier team in the conference.  The early season hopes that they could make a run at the NCAA Tournament might have been a little bit of an overreaction to the return of Alec Burks and Cory Higgins.  One more chance at a non-conference win and then the team will likely need to get ten wins in conference, a feat which doesn’t appear likely as of today.

10. Nebraska (11-2) – Nebraska looks like a virtual clone of last year and almost every year with Doc Sadler.  Today they sit at #12 nationally in defensive efficiency, but don’t let that fool you, they’ve done it before.  Once conference play starts they will make it ugly and they’ll force teams to earn it, but the Huskers won’t have the firepower to keep up and that defensive ranking will slowly drop.

11. Texas Tech (7-7) – Tech goes 2-1 over the break, and believe it or not, the one loss showed some promise as they almost managed to clip a decent New Mexico team that sits 10-3 and recently beat fellow Big 12 team Colorado.  That’s enough to move Tech ahead of Oklahoma and provide just a glimmer of hope that the offensive talent on this team might buy into the defensive effort that’s going to be necessary to win a few in the conference.

12. Oklahoma (8-6) -  Oklahoma wins two over the break and now has wins in four of their last five.  Problem is, none are anything to lend any more confidence to what this group can do.  The conference season kicks off with A&M , Baylor and Texas, which represents the stretch that should end the Sooners hopes of any major strides this season.

A Look Ahead

This week signals the start of the conference season as five games set for Saturday pairing conference foes.  Kansas State and Oklahoma State could be a highlight as Jacob Pullen returns, but the Wildcats will still be without Curtis Kelly in a dangerous first game.  Missouri heads on the road for the second time this year when the play in Boulder and take on the Colorado Buffaloes.  The Tigers have looked very good of late, and they travel well to Boulder so it might be a nice way to ease into a tricky Big 12 road schedule.  Also on the docket are Iowa State vs. Nebraska, Baylor vs. Texas Tech and Texas A&M vs. Oklahoma.

Even with ten teams playing in conference games, the one to watch is outside the conference and once again it’s Texas.  If there’s one thing you have to give Rick Barnes credit for, it’s challenging his team.  The Horns will welcome ninth-ranked Connecticut on Saturday in another game that could help cement Texas as not just a Big 12 title contender but also a national title contender.  What’s more impressive is that this game completely overshadows a good contest on Tuesday night, when Texas takes on a 10-2 Arkansas team.

Player of the Year Watch (No Specific Order)

  • Jacob Pullen – (16.5 PPG, 3.8 APG, 40% FG) Trending Down.  First, Pullen was just facing questions about his numbers being down.  Now, he’s facing questions about his focus and leadership qualities.  Not a good recipe for a player of the year award.
  • Marcus Morris – (15.5 PPG, 6 RPG, 62% FG) Trending Down.  Morris comes off the bench for two straight games while his coach called him out for letting the Cal game get under his skin.  Both times he responded, but he’ll need to prove he can carry the burden consistently to take Big 12 POY honors.
  • Alec Burks – (19 PPG, 51% FG) Trending Down.  Burks is leveling off, as is Colorado.  This team will need to show another level if Burks is going to continue to get consideration.  Fact is, you don’t win POY awards when your team isn’t in the hunt.
  • Jordan Hamilton – (19.8 PPG, 7.2 RPG) Trending Up.  Hamilton continues to be the leader of a team with arguably the best set of wins in the conference.  If Texas makes a run in the conference, Hamilton could be the favorite.
  • LaceDarius Dunn – (21.2 PPG, 4.6 RPG, 2.0 SPG, 43% FG) Even.  Statistically, Dunn is still performing, as a team Baylor is not.  That’s the difference at the moment.
  • Marcus Denmon – (17.6 PPG, 2 SPG, 52% 3P%) Trending Up.  If the season ended today, this is my vote.  Problem is, conference play hasn’t started yet.  Without a doubt Denmon will be in the running though.
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Set Your Tivo: Christmas Weekend Edition

Posted by Brian Otskey on December 24th, 2010

***** – 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 2013
* – don’t waste bandwidth (yours or the tivo’s) of any kind on this game

Brian Otskey is an RTC contributor.

Not much action over the Christmas holiday but we do have a few interesting games on tap this weekend. All rankings from RTC and all times eastern.

#11 Baylor vs. Florida State (in Honolulu, HI) – 7:30 pm Saturday on ESPN2 (***)

Chris Singleton is a Wonder to Behold For FSU

Baylor’s strong defense was torched by Washington State’s terrific balance to the tune of 57% shooting. When you don’t make shots and don’t defend, you usually don’t win. That was the case as Baylor shot 37% but was remarkably in the game due to a surge fueled by LaceDarius Dunn and their dominance on the boards. The Cougars were up by 20 at one point but Baylor came back and even took the lead before faltering in the end. Meanwhile, Florida State continued its offensive struggles in a loss to Butler. The Seminoles turn it over too much and are highly inefficient when they have the ball. Expect that to continue against a taller and longer Baylor defense. You’d have to think this will be a low scoring game but Baylor does have the potential to break out offensively. Anyone who watched yesterday’s game saw Dunn singlehandedly take over the game and bring the Bears back to give them a shot. Scott Drew’s team cut down on the turnovers but really struggled to find the range against a fundamentally sound Washington State defense. One key area to watch is Chris Singleton’s defense against the Baylor bigs, specifically Quincy Acy. Acy had a double-double against Washington State but really had to work for it. Singleton has the potential to disrupt him, giving FSU a chance. Leonard Hamilton’s best strategy may be to let Dunn get his points and focus on defending the Baylor supporting cast. Dunn and Acy combined for 45 of Baylor’s 71 points against Wazzu so keying in on Acy could be difference for Florida State. The Seminoles are going to have to hold Baylor under 65 points to have a chance as it’s highly unlikely they’ll reach that plateau themselves. Interior defense and turnovers will be the big stories in this game. It’s a very interesting matchup but one where Baylor should have too much offense for Florida State to handle. The Bears have three solid scoring options in Dunn, Acy and Perry Jones, something the Seminoles can’t quite match. It wouldn’t be a surprise to see Florida State play well and have a chance to win but Baylor should be able to close the door and grab third place at the Diamond Head Classic.

Washington State vs. Butler (in Honolulu, HI) – 10 pm Saturday on ESPN2 (***)

This is an intriguing matchup between a team that’s really solid on both ends (Washington State) and one that struggles to shoot but can defend well at times and really disrupt a team’s offensive flow (Butler). Washington State is in the top ten in both offensive and defensive effective field goal percentage while Butler is #219 in the same category on the offensive side of the ball. Klay Thompson and Faisal Aden give Washington State two strong threats from deep with Thompson hitting the dagger three to put Baylor away on Thursday. On Saturday they’ll go up against Butler’s top-rated three point defense, allowing just 26% shooting. However, the Bulldogs are vulnerable in the paint and that could the difference in this game. With DeAngelo Casto and Brock Motum inside, Ken Bone has two offensive threats in the paint that Butler cannot match. The Bulldogs have Matt Howard but nobody else has emerged as the second inside threat. On the perimeter, Butler has struggled shooting the trey. They did well against Florida State behind Shelvin Mack but Brad Stevens can’t count on that every night from his team. The rebounding battle is something to watch and should determine who controls the pace of the game. Washington State isn’t a fast-paced team but they run an efficient offense with good screens and cuts. Butler will look to limit second opportunities and slow the game down, falling back into an aggressive man-to-man defense on the perimeter. Stevens may mix in a zone or two to confuse the Cougars but they can’t allow Wazzu to shoot over them and expect to win. Butler fouls a lot but Washington State doesn’t get many points from the line, nor do they shoot it very well. If the Cougars are to win, it’ll be through strong defense leading to scores on the other end. If Wazzu takes good care of the ball, it’s hard to see them losing this game. For the Bulldogs, they absolutely must rebound well in order to have a chance. Butler will scrap and defend hard but they’re a bit too limited offensively to keep up with Washington State’s dynamic scorers, specifically Thompson. He’ll be the difference in this game in what should be a Cougar title in Hawaii.

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Set Your Tivo: 12.23.10

Posted by Brian Otskey on December 23rd, 2010

***** – 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 2013
* – don’t waste bandwidth (yours or the tivo’s) of any kind on this game

Brian Otskey is an RTC contributor.

Not a bad set of games tonight but nothing that jumps out at you as a must watch. The best games of the night may very well be in paradise as opposed to Memphis. All rankings from RTC and all times eastern.

#11 Baylor vs. Washington State (in Honolulu, HI) – 6:30 pm on ESPNU (****)

A Rare Klay Thompson Sighting on National TV Tonight

The theory that good guard play wins in college basketball will be put to the test in this game from the Diamond Head Classic. Washington State’s guard-heavy lineup goes up against Baylor’s powerful front court, though the Bears have a star guard in LaceDarius Dunn. The Cougars have surprised this year and sit at 9-1 with wins over Gonzaga and Mississippi State in addition to a close home loss against Kansas State. Washington State shares one common opponent with Baylor, that’s Gonzaga. Baylor lost to the Bulldogs this past Saturday in Dallas while Washington State rolled the Zags 81-59 at home ten days earlier. Baylor’s offense has struggled a bit against the two decent teams they’ve played, Gonzaga and Arizona State. Combine that with the fact that Washington State defends the three exceptionally well, the Bears should look to use their strength and athleticism inside and pound the ball into the paint. Rebounding is a concern for the Cougars, especially against a Baylor team that averages 41 RPG. Even if the Bears miss some shots inside, they’re sure to get a bunch of put-back chances against the WSU front line. For Washington State, DeAngelo Casto must have a good night on the glass in order to contain Baylor’s front court, led by Perry Jones and Quincy Acy. The Cougars must look to their back court for scoring and they’ll feel comfortable knowing they have Klay Thompson on their team. Thompson had 28 points against Mississippi State on Wednesday and will be in the running for Pac 10 POY honors. In addition to Thompson, Faisal Aden has enjoyed a terrific season so far. Aden and Thompson form a strong guard duo capable of draining three’s with regularity. Washington State is very good inside the arc as well but Baylor’s interior defense poses the toughest challenge the Cougars have faced so far. They need to be clicking from deep or else it could be a long night. Baylor’s back court isn’t too shabby either with Dunn and A.J. Walton, but each player struggles with turnovers. Washington State enjoys a great turnover margin and that’s how they’re going to get extra possessions against the turnover-prone Bears. With the expected rebounding problem, Washington State has to create turnovers to win this game. Expect Baylor to have an edge at the free throw line as well, enjoying a nice free throw rate on both ends of the floor. The Bears also shoot five percent better from the line than Washington State. The Cougars are a good team but Baylor has something to prove after falling to Gonzaga. We’ll take the Bears behind a big game from Acy inside.

#9 Georgetown @ Memphis – 8 pm on ESPN2 (***)

With the departure of Angel Garcia, the injury to Wesley Witherspoon and their struggles on the court, Memphis is going through some adversity. How Josh Pastner gets his young team to overcome that will determine how far he can take his talented group of players. The Tigers have had three close calls against bad teams and are struggling a bit offensively. Memphis averaged 85 PPG in its first seven games but that number has dropped to 69 PPG over the last three contests. Memphis is not a particularly great shooting team but they get to the charity stripe often and do make up some points there. The pregame story is whether or not Witherspoon will play, as Pastner did not rule him out and said he was day-to-day. If he doesn’t play, the guard-laden Tigers will be severely undersized and thin overall. If he does play, they’ll still be undersized but at least will have a scorer capable of pulling the Georgetown big men away from the basket. For the purposes of this preview, we’ll go on the assumption that he doesn’t play and wouldn’t be near 100% even if he does. Memphis already struggles rebounding the basketball and that’ll be a huge problem against a Hoya team with good rebounding guards and two strong post men. Look for Julian Vaughn and Hollis Thompson to own the paint with Witherspoon out. For Memphis, Will Coleman and Tarik Black have to make their presence known, otherwise Georgetown will focus its defense on the Tiger guards all night. A freshman, Black has had a tough time adjusting to a bigger role on this Memphis team. Tonight is a huge opportunity to assert himself and make himself a strong option for his head coach. The story for Georgetown is obviously their terrific trio of guards. They account for 57% of their points and all are great three point shooters. Point guard Chris Wright is also averaging seven assists per game during his senior season in the nation’s capital. Jason Clark is one of the most underrated players in the game today and has the potential to break out at any time. Austin Freeman is their rock. The preseason Big East POY leads the team in scoring and is a lights out three point shooter. When Freeman is hot, Georgetown is incredibly difficult to beat. The Hoyas are third nationally in offensive efficiency, first in effective field goal percentage and fourth in two point percentage, showing they can get it done both inside and out. It’s no surprise Georgetown hoists a lot of three’s, getting a third of their points from the arc. Memphis has to do a good job defensively on the perimeter otherwise Georgetown will shoot them out of the building. The Tigers also have to worry about turnovers, currently averaging 16 per game with Joe Jackson accounting for almost a quarter of those. Jackson is another freshman who’s incredibly talented but a bit undisciplined at this point in his career. He needs to play well and also get Chris Crawford and Charles Carmouche involved from the arc. With almost all of their players being guards, Memphis is going to have to try to match Georgetown’s outside shooting and get to the foul line. The Tigers will be in this game if they can disrupt the flow and score by getting to the stripe but Georgetown is just too experienced and talented for the young Tigers to overcome. Expect the Hoyas to pick up a nice road win at the FedEx Forum tonight after missing an opportunity at Temple a couple weeks ago.

A few other games to monitor:

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Checking in on… the Big 12

Posted by Brian Goodman on December 20th, 2010

Owen Kemp of Rock Chalk Talk and SB Nation Kansas City is the RTC Correspondent for the Big 12 Conference.

A Look Back

  • Finals week for most schools and that means a slow week in the Big 12.  For the most part, the conference sat idle from Sunday to Friday with a few non-conference cupcake tune-ups played here and there.
  • Saturday however, signaled a return to basketball with ten games and several intriguing matchups throughout the league.  Kansas State played in the only battle between ranked teams as the Wildcats took on Florida as part of the Orange Bowl Classic in Frank Martin’s hometown of Miami.  Unfortunately, the homecoming didn’t turn out the way Martin would have hoped with both teams playing an ugly brand of basketball and the Wildcats never put things together, scoring just 44 points in a 13-point loss to Billy Donovan’s Gators.
  • Another Big 12 contender, the Baylor Bears, struggled as well in their first game against any form of true competition.  The Bears took on the Gonzaga Bulldogs as part of The Showcase in Dallas.  The Bulldogs sit 6-5 with four losses to top 25 opponents, but were able to pull away from the #9 Bears  behind a 7-9 free throw shooting effort down the stretch.  The loss was the first on the season for the Bears and exposed some of the vulnerabilities that were expected for a new look Baylor squad with plenty of talent but an assortment of new faces.
  • The Texas Longhorns further solidified their top 25 ranking by heading on the road to a neutral site game that was hardly neutral when they played the North Carolina Tar Heels in Greensboro.  In a great game from start to finish, the Longhorns would receive a boost from freshman Cory Joseph, who stepped up and knocked down the game-winning basket with just 1.4 seconds left on the clock.  The game is another notch on the belt of a young Longhorn squad that has looked solid against good competition throughout the non-conference schedule.
  • Another true freshman stole the show in Lawrence with the much-anticipated debut of Josh Selby in a Kansas Jayhawk uniform.  The Jayhawks squared off against a USC team fresh off a win over fellow Big 12 team Texas.  The Trojans added a guard to their lineup themselves, as transfer Jio Fontan entered the lineup for the first time all year and helped the Trojans take the game down to the wire.  In the end, it was Selby knocking down a three pointer with just 26 seconds on the clock to go ahead by one and secure the Jayhawks’ 65th straight win in Allen Fieldhouse.
  • Another team emerging in the contender category would be the Texas A&M Aggies.  The Aggies took on the Arkansas Razorbacks as part of the The Showcase in Dallas and in a game that would feature a bench clearing brawl and extra five minutes of overtime, sophomore forward Khris Middleton would score 31 points and lead the Aggies to a nine-point win.  Mark Turgeon has the Aggies playing a tough brand of basketball and A&M more and more looks to have the weapons to compete with anyone in the league.
  • Elsewhere, Missouri would win a pair of games in impressive fashion against a pair of tune-up opponents.  Oklahoma State continues to position themselves as a middle-tier team with a very real shot at being the fifth, sixth or even seventh tournament team in the Big 12.  This is the role that many thought Colorado might fill, but the Cowboys seem to be better than expected.
  • Speaking of Colorado, the Buffaloes would improve their record with two easy wins as the group in Boulder continues to improve and find themselves as a team.  Iowa State would continue their run through the preseason extending their overall record to 10-2 as Scott Christopherson continues to fire at will.  While the troubles in Lubbock and Norman show no sign of letting up.
  • The news in Lincoln was good on the court with a win over Eastern Washington on Saturday, however Doc Sadler continues to struggle in keeping the talent happy, as Christian Standhardinger is the fourth player from the 2009 recruiting class to leave the Cornuskers.
  • At this point the Big 12 is what it always seems to be in mid December.  The contenders are separating themselves with big wins and marquee games against better competition.  The pretenders and bottom half of the conference is padding the win loss column in hopes that they can hang on for a bubble birth come March.

Power Rankings

  1. Kansas (10-0) – The Jayhawks moved to 10-0 in a nailbiter against the USC Trojans.  The good news is the Jayhawks were not the only team in the conference to look sluggish after a long break and Josh Selby at face value looks like a player that can help some of the Jayhawk offensive weaknesses in a hurry.
  2. Texas A&M (10-1) – A&M has gone from a team that was surprising to a team that has some serious talent developing.   Khris Middleton, Nathan Walkup and David Loubeau are a trio of forwards that are physical, talented and leading the way from a scoring standpoint for Mark Turgeon.  This may prove to be too high for the Aggies as the season goes on, but in the world of what-have-you-done-for-me-lately power rankings, they look as good as anyone in the South.
  3. Missouri Tigers (10-1) – The Tigers weren’t tested in two fairly sizeable wins, but they are disposing teams in the manner you’d expect from a good team.  Mike Anderson’s team set a school record with a 116-point output on Saturday and they look like a group beginning to hit their stride.  This week’s Bragging Rights game against Illinois will be a great measuring stick to gauge improvement since the early loss to Georgetown.
  4. Texas (9-2) – Rick Barnes and Texas have an argument for a higher spot without question.  They’ve played a challenging schedule, for the most part they’ve played well, and they have a real opportunity to be a very difficult matchup as the players become comfortable in their roles.  A big opportunity this week for Texas comes in the form of a game against Tom Izzo and Michigan State.
  5. Kansas State (9-2) – Something just doesn’t seem right in Manhattan right now.  The Wildcats are still one of the toughest defensive teams in the conference and they’re going to make you earn every point, but on the offensive end, it isn’t clicking.  Curtis Kelly hasn’t stepped up to the level expected and Jacob Pullen is doing well, but it’s difficult for him to completely carry the team when he’s the focus of every opposing defense.  It’s hard to believe Frank Martin won’t get things going, but for now the Wildcats haven’t played to the level expected.
  6. Oklahoma State (10-1) – The Cowboys moved to 10-1 this week but they still lack a statement win.  The good news for Cowboy fans is that different players are stepping up at different times and they‘re beating teams in different ways.  They’re likely the seventh-best team in the conference in terms of talent, but they could cause some trouble in a wide open South.
  7. Baylor (7-1) – Everyone has been waiting for the Bears to play someone and in the first attempt to do that, they fell to Gonzaga in what was basically a home game.  Gonzaga was due for a win, but they still don’t look like the top 15 Bulldog squad that was expected this season and they managed to handle the Bears even with Steven Gray hobbled from back spasms.
  8. Iowa State (10-2) – Scott Christopherson continues to have a green light and the Cyclones continue to win.  Still there isn’t much in the way of competition against which to truly judge Iowa State.   With three relatively soft games remaining in the non-conference docket, it’s possible Iowa State could enter conference play with 13 wins already under their belt, yet still sit ill-prepared for the gauntlet that awaits in Kansas, Kansas State and Missouri in the North.
  9. Colorado (7-3) – Two games, two easy opponents, two comfortable wins.  Colorado was a team with high expectations early, but they fell flat and haven’t done enough to restore hope.  A solid opponent awaits this week in New Mexico and a chance for Tad Boyle to restore some of the lost faith.
  10. Nebraska (9-2) – Nebraska sits at 9-2, which is a good record.  Typically, they don’t do much to test themselves early, but the win over USC looks better and better every day.  This is still a team that doesn’t jump off the page, but they very well could battle Colorado and Iowa State for fourth in the North.  Still, at this point, it’s hard to see much that justifies the nod.
  11. Oklahoma (5-6) – After a two-game uptick, the Sooners fell to a decent Big East team in Cincinnati.  It’s enough to give them the edge over Tech for now, but it’s still not pretty in Norman.  Statistically speaking, they do very little that could be considered a strength, unless of course you want to give them credit for mediocre shooting.
  12. Texas Tech (5-6) – Texas Tech is on a three-game skid with the last two coming against mid-major talent.  Tech had the offensive talent returning, but they needed to improve defensively and on the boards.  Neither of those things have happened.

A Look Ahead

  • This week’s Big 12 slate takes place on Tuesday and Wednesday before a long holiday weekend.  All 12 teams play between the two nights with Kansas State kicking things off in a tough contest taking place at the Sprint Center in Kansas City.  In the Wildcats’ third game in Kansas City this year, K-State will play host to another ranked opponent in the UNLV Runnin’ Rebels.  Coming off the loss in Miami, the Wildcats and their fans will be anxious to see if the offense can get back on track.
  • Another game to watch in the conference on Tuesday will pit the Oklahoma State Cowboys against Stanford in Stillwater.  The Cardinal hasn’t been particularly impressive, but it is a name opponent from a name conference and a chance to learn a little more about the Cowboys.
  • Wednesday night is a big night if you’re a Big 12 basketball fan.  The highlight of the night will likely take place in St. Louis, as the Missouri Tigers square off against the Illinois Fighting Illini in a matchup of two top 25 teams.  The game lost a little luster when the Illini fell flat against Illinois-Chicago this weekend, a loss that will drop them from top 15 status, but it’s a big game and a heated rivalry nonetheless.
  • The game just prior to Missouri and Illinois on ESPN2 will be another big opportunity for the Big 12, as Texas heads back out on the road for a big game against Michigan State.  The game is another example of the bold scheduling approach taken by Rick Barnes and a big time opportunity for the Longhorns to reassert themselves on the national stage.
  • Rounding out the night will be Kansas heading to Berkeley for a road game against a Pac-10 opponent.  The Jayhawks have had their struggles against the Pac-10 conference this year but have managed to slip by every challenger.
  • Another good one to keep an eye on will be New Mexico in Boulder against the Buffaloes. This is a game that Tad Boyle needs to start rebuilding some of the confidence and excitement that was lost after the stumble out of the gates in the early season.

Stats, Quotes and other Notables

  • 21 Points on 5-8 Shooting from three – Debut line for Kansas freshman Josh Selby.
  • 11 points in 11 minutes – The offensive drought that ultimately doomed the Kansas State Wildcats against the Florida Gators.
  • 4-22 from three – Just one example of the mediocrity taking place on the offensive end for the Oklahoma Sooners.
  • 7 Players Scoring in Double Figures - The Missouri Tigers are balanced, they showed that against Central Arkansas with this impressive stat.
  • “We were sleepwalking, [The scuffle] seemed like it really changed the game for us.” – Texas A&M head coach Mark Turgeon talks about his team coming to life after a rare bench-clearing scuffle at mid court against Arkansas.

Player of the Year Watch (No Specific Order)

  • Jacob Pullen – (16.3 PPG, 3.8 APG, 40% FG) Even: Pullen is doing everything he can, but the loss of Denis Clemente is clearly being felt.  From a numbers standpoint, Pullen is maintaining pace, but the Wildcats are looking like a team slightly lost offensively.
  • Marcus Morris – (16.3 PPG, 6.3 RPG, 62% FG) Even: Morris wasn’t great against USC, but he got a lift with the addition of Josh Selby. Morris still looks like a player that can sometimes score at will, it’s just a matter of getting the team chemistry back where it needs to be.
  • Alec Burks – (20.3 PPG, 51% FG) Even: Burks is slowly becoming a smarter player on the offensive end and his efforts on the defensive end aren’t going unnoticed.  Statistically it’s pretty much the same player, but he’s improving day to day.
  • Jordan Hamilton – (19.4 PPG, 7.2 RPG) Even: Texas could be turning a corner.  The players around him are doing more, but Hamilton is still the most explosive option for the Longhorns.
  • LaceDarius Dunn – (21.4 PPG, 4.4 RPG, 2.6, 2.2 SPG, 48% FG) Trending Up: Baylor loses to Gonzaga, but Dunn is looking like one of the more complete and impactful players for his team.
  • Marcus Denmon – (16.8 PPG, 1.9 SPG, 51% 3P%) Trending Up: He continues to be the best player on a VERY deep team.  Denmon is turning into the leader for the Tigers and he seems like a player that has even more to give.
  • Scott Christopherson – (16.5 PPG, 55% 3P%) New**: Christopherson’s chances are probably slim unless he can somehow lead the Cyclones to a surprisingly successful season and a top 3 finish in the North.  Still, he’s a player whose early-season efforts deserve a mention and he’ll be a thorn in everyone’s side in conference play.
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Set Your Tivo: Weekend Review

Posted by Brian Otskey on December 17th, 2010

***** – 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 2013
* – don’t waste bandwidth (yours or the tivo’s) of any kind on this game

Brian Otskey is an RTC contributor.

This is the last major weekend before conference play begins in earnest and it features a bunch of solid games but none that really jump out at you as must-watch. All in all it’s a pretty good set of games. Don’t forget about the two games in the Bahamas on Saturday (Richmond vs. Georgia Tech and Virginia Tech vs. Mississippi State). They’re not on television but are meaningful, especially the latter. All rankings from RTC and all times eastern.

Texas vs. North Carolina (Greensboro Coliseum, Greensboro, NC) – 4 pm Saturday on CBS (****)

A Smaller Venue in Greenboro, But Still a Great Game

You may never see a game between two unranked teams have this much talent on the court as this one. Yes the Longhorns are ranked in both the AP and Coaches polls but they aren’t in our own top 25. Texas has played better this year on the strength of defense and better chemistry though a loss at USC was cause for concern. Still, Texas has a ton of talent and has the ability to turn this season into a successful one. Leading scorer Jordan Hamilton still has a so-so shot selection but he’s connecting on 41% of his treys, a positive sign for Rick Barnes. Freshman Tristan Thompson has also been a plus for the Longhorns, giving them an athletic post presence who can score and defend very well. When you look at this matchup with North Carolina however, Tyler Zeller (16/8) is going to have a significant height advantage inside. You may see Barnes turn to Matt Hill for a bigger defensive presence in the paint in an attempt to control UNC’s big man. Each team has had some issues at the point guard, especially North Carolina. The Tar Heels have seen better play from Larry Drew II (2:1 A/T ratio) but questions remain with the team averaging 15 turnovers per contest. With a talented freshman in waiting, Roy Williams has to make a decision on who should see the majority of time at the point as they head into ACC play. For Texas, Dogus Balbay has seen his minutes drop in favor of freshman Cory Joseph, a move that’s understandable from an offensive standpoint but questionable in the eyes of some who see the experienced Balbay as a team leader and an effective distributor, not to mention an outstanding defender. Texas is not a particularly great shooting team as a whole so the transition to Joseph could be more about transition opportunities and easy buckets plus Joseph is a much better shooter. As for North Carolina, getting Harrison Barnes going could be the key between middling outside the top 25 and being a consistently ranked team and #2 in the ACC. Barnes is still in a slump, shooting just 33% overall over his last five games including a dismal 5-24 (21%) from three. He’s still averaging double figures and has done a nice job rebounding but the Tar Heels need more out of their star freshman. To become a really good team, UNC needs John Henson to become a consistent third option. He rebounds very well but he’s in double figures one night and single digits the next. He may have a hard time with Thompson inside but Henson is able to stretch his game out a bit and that may open things up inside for the Tar Heels. This figures to be another close game, far different from last year’s Texas blowout. This time North Carolina has the crowd to their advantage and may come out on top by a few points. It’s a huge game for UNC, their last non-conference opportunity for a quality win. Texas still has games with Michigan State and Connecticut but this is a big game for them too in a quasi-road environment. We wouldn’t be surprised either way but a slight edge has to go to UNC in this game.

#5 Kansas State vs. Florida (BankAtlantic Center, Sunrise, FL) – 3:30 pm Saturday on FSN (****)

This is the first of two key games for Kansas State, the second coming on Tuesday against UNLV. Winning one or both will certainly help the Wildcats grab a better seed in the NCAA Tournament come March. Against Florida, K-State will have to contend with the Gators’ trapping pressure defense, something that could be a problem given their propensity for turnovers and some point guard issues. Jacob Pullen has been the main distributor at four assists per game but he turns it over more than three times per game, the most on a team that averages 16 turnovers as a unit. Florida’s back court pressure could cause a lot of problems for Kansas State and plenty of extra possessions for the Gators. Pullen doing a lot of ball handling could also be a factor in his overall struggle relative to last season. He’s never been a great shooter, 40% overall from the floor for his career, but his three point shooting is down over six percent to 33% this season. It is true that other teams are trying to lock him up like Duke did, but Pullen has to work through this and become a better player in order to lift Kansas State to the next level where they can compete for a national championship. Frank Martin may go with Will Spradling at the point in order to take some pressure off Pullen. As for Florida, expect them to fire up three’s as usual (17 per game) even though the Gators shoot just 32% as a team. Billy Donovan loves the trey, yet another Rick Pitino protégé who sticks to the system no matter the personnel he has. Erving Walker has improved dramatically but Kenny Boynton still can’t find the range for Florida. Walker shoots 20% better than Boynton from deep yet Boynton has 15 more attempts this season. Kansas State should look to isolate Walker and aggressively defend him, keeping the ball out of his hands. Pullen and Rodney McGruder may have to match Walker’s deep shooting but Martin will be content with Boynton chucking shots up and hitting once in a while, requiring Kansas State to clear the boards well. Both teams rank high in offensive rebounding percentage so the Wildcats must put an emphasis on keeping Florida off the glass as that will lead to easy Gator put backs. Florida is #15 in two point percentage, largely a result of offensive rebounds and the play of Vernon Macklin inside. Macklin against Curtis Kelly will be a key matchup to watch in the low post as each player finishes well and can rebound the basketball effectively. Kansas State should not bank on outscoring Florida from the line considering their awful free throw shooting (55%) and Florida’s ability to keep opponents off the line, second in the nation in defensive free throw rate. Only three players on K-State’s roster shoot over 70% from the line and Pullen is the only one of those three who gets there often. Martin’s depth will take a hit if Wally Judge is out, dealing with personal issues, but we don’t think that will have a major impact on the game. Kansas State is still a very deep team, able to go eight or nine deep if necessary. This should be a terrific game that may come down to the very end. Ken Pomeroy predicts a two-point Florida win so this game is essentially a toss-up. We see it that way as well.

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The Week That Was: December 11-17

Posted by rtmsf on December 17th, 2010

David Ely is an RTC contributor.

It’s the holiday season, and this past week teams in the top 25 definitely got into the spirit of giving. Now these squads weren’t giving away toys to needy girls and boys. Instead #4 Tennessee, #20 Louisville and #21 UNLV gave the gift of an RPI-boosting upset, and in the college hoops world that’s a pretty nice present. TWTW hopes that Oakland, Drexel and UC Santa Barbara enjoyed their gifts this week, they certainly came at a hefty price — a chance to be the last undefeated squad standing. But hey, it’s the thought that counts, and we’re sure that deep down our ranked friends knew they did the right thing given the season.

Now if only #22 Memphis wasn’t such a Grinch …

Is the Presumptive Puerto Rican Olympic Coach's Louisville Team Legit?

What We Learned

  • Last week we openly wondered if Notre Dame’s hot start was an aberration or the start of a strong season for the Irish, and their loss to Kentucky made TWTW more inclined to label them a fraud rather than a legit power. This week we get to dissect another Big East squad that just suffered its first loss of the season — Louisville. The Cardinals’ eight-game winning streak to open the season came ended in disastrous fashion Tuesday night when Louisville fell 52-46 to Drexel. Yes, you read that correctly. The Cardinals could only muster 46 points against Drexel of all teams. Louisville connected on only 15 of 47 shots from the floor and struggled to adjust once it was apparently the Dragons weren’t going to let the Cardinals get out and run up and down the court. While shooting 33.3% is bad, what’s more troubling is Louisville’s 12-25 effort at the free throw line, and its -20 rebound loss on the boards. Those two things could haunt the Cardinals in Big East play and make TWTW hesitant to think they’re dramatically better than last year’s team that lost to Cal in the first round of the NCAAs.
  • What a week for Tennessee. On Saturday the Vols scored arguably the best win of the young season when they traveled to Pittsburgh and beat Jamie Dixon’s squad at the “neutral” Consol Energy Center. TWTW was ready to join the rest of the nation in singing Bruce Pearl’s praises and declaring the Vols the team to beat in a down SEC. While UT still may be the top dog down South, TWTW can’t fully endorse Tennessee right now. Not after the Vols lost at home to Oakland 89-82 on Tuesday night. That’s no knock against the Golden Grizzlies, who made the NCAA Tournament out of the Summit League last year and fell one point short of beating Michigan State this past weekend. Oakland is good, but we expect more from Tennessee. And we at least expect better defense. The Vols shouldn’t give up 89 points to any squad, especially not at home, and Oakland hit 54% of its shots (30-56) led by Keith Benson’s 26. Pearl better hope this loss refocuses his squad. Tennessee will definitely need all the mental strength it can muster when he begins his eight-game suspension at the start of conference play.
  • Gonzaga just might have overextended itself with its scheduling. Mark Few at least is entertaining that idea after his Bulldogs’ 4-5 start to the season, the worst record in Few’s 12-year tenure at Gonzaga. Four of Gonzaga’s five losses came in games against teams currently ranked in RTC’s top 25 (San Diego State, Kansas State, Illinois and Notre Dame), and the Bulldogs still have to play Baylor on Saturday and Memphis in February. TWTW wonders why that kind of scheduling is necessary for a team with Gonzaga’s cache. It’s tough to think of the Zags as a mid-major anymore based on their 12 straight trips to the NCAA Tournament, and their consistent presence in the top 25 (at least until this year). Gonzaga doesn’t need to prove itself with a murderers’ row schedule. Sure, schedule a couple of games against elite competition, but there’s no need to have a slate of games that could shatter a team’s confidence. Gonzaga isn’t a program that’s used to struggling in December, it will be interesting to see how the Zags respond to this adversity once play begins in the WCC.
  • Think you know all there is about Coach K? Think all of your hate is justified? Well you should do yourself a favor and sit down and read the first two parts of Dan Wiederer’s mega-feature in the Fayetteville Observer. Part one delves into K off the court and his family life. It includes this incredible anecdote of the Duke coach at the beach during a family vacation and declaring that he’s the “Black Mamba of Beach Bocce” after pulling off a game-winning bocce toss. The second part discusses all the hate Coach K and the Duke program endures from the rest of the nation. While that angle has been written before, Wiederer’s piece comes off fresh because of all of his great tidbits and inside access. And there’s more to come with Part 3 scheduled to run this Sunday. So check it out. TWTW guarantees you’ll learn something new about K, and maybe it will open your mind to the notion that he’s not that bad of a guy. After all, with Krzyzewski likely to become college basketball’s all-time wins leader either this season or early next year, it’s the perfect time to dissect one of the most polarizing characters in the sport.

Media Blackout

The three pieces of news to know if you’ve been living in complete isolation all week.

  • Like many of you out there, TWTW watched the basketball competition during 2008 Summer Olympics in Beijing and thought, “Boy this is great. But you know what’s missing? Rick Pitino.” We kid, we kid. But it looks like there’s a real possibility Pitino will coach the Puerto Rican nation team during next summer’s pre-Olympic qualifying tournament in Argentina. Carlos J. Beltran, president of the Puerto Rican Basketball Federation, said the national team is in “very advanced talks” with Pitino, and J.J. Barea of the Dallas Mavericks told ESPNDallas.com that he and fellow nation team member Carlos Arroyo would meet with Pitino on Sunday if any deal with the Louisville coach is finalized. With Pitino on board, Puerto Rico would instantly become one of the most compelling squads in the Olympics should it qualify. That’s a big if, though. Puerto Rico failed to qualify for the 2008 Games and was eliminated in the first round during this summer’s World Championships in Turkey. Should a Pitino-led Puerto Rico squad make the Olympics, TWTW has but one request. Puerto Rico must face Team USA (and Coach K) at some point in round-robin play.
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Checking in on… the Big 12

Posted by Brian Goodman on December 13th, 2010

Owen Kemp of Rock Chalk Talk and SB Nation Kansas City is the RTC Correspondent for the Big 12 Conference.

A Look Back

  • The run of non-conference tune-ups continues around the league, with teams facing a smattering of lower tier programs as is customary for this time of year. Still, an increasing number of compelling matchups are developing.  In-state rivalries, top-25 matchups, overtime excitement and a statement game all make an appearance in this week’s look back.  The first big game of the week in the Big 12 came as part of the Jimmy V Classic in Madison Square Garden.  Kansas and Memphis took to the court as top 15 opponents, but at the end of the day, a Memphis team that is very young looked very young and Kansas walked away with the win in its first matchup with a ranked opponent.  It was a game that was expected to kick off a great week of Big 12 basketball, but the majority of the excitement ended up kicking off a day later.
  • On Wednesday, the Big 12 slate featured six games. Texas Tech’s struggles continued with a loss to TCU, the same TCU that would get throttled by Nebraska later in the week.  The seat in Lubbock could be getting very hot for Pat Knight.  The Red Raiders sit 5-5 and it’s not looking like expectations will be met.  In Colorado, the Buffaloes played in-state rival Colorado State.  As in many rivalries, the game was a back and forth overtime thriller.  Tad Boyle and Colorado continue to look like a team beginning to find themselves and the win in overtime was a good test for CU.  On that same night, Vanderbilt took a trip to Columbia and battled Missouri into their second overtime contest of the year.  Marcus Denmon continues to make a name for himself in the early going. He was instrumental in the second half of the contest after a very slow start.  In classic Missouri fashion, the game ultimately ended on a Denmon steal that led to a layup on the other end with only seconds remaining.
  • In a rare Friday night contest, the Iowa State Cyclones went into Iowa City and took a game from Iowa.  The win moves the Cyclones to 8-2 and further legitimizes the team as a potential surprise success story in coach Fred Hoiberg’s first year.  Junior guard Scott Christopherson led the charge with 30 points and is looking like one of the most improved players in the league early.
  • Saturday saw eight teams in action and the Big 12 finished the day with eight wins.  The big one on the day took place in College Station, where Mark Turgeon and the Aggies made a statement with a win over #22 Washington as part of the Big 12/Pac-10 Hardwood Series.  The Aggies have looked better than expected in the early going, and this game more than solidified the team as a tournament player and further speaks to the job that Turgeon is doing at Texas A&M.
  • Late Sunday, it was announced that Wally Judge will be out of action indefinitely for Kansas State, with Frank Martin citing personal reasons. His absence does nothing to quell the inconsistencies in the Wildcats’ frontcourt.

Power Rankings

  1. Kansas (9-0) -  All week, Kansas coach Bill Self has not been particularly pleased with his team’s performance.  The knock on the Jayhawks is that they don’t know how to put teams away.  Despite all that, they’re winning games by wide margins and doing so while playing at less than their potential. Christmas will come early for Jayhawk fans, when stud recruit Josh Selby becomes fully eligible at the end of the week against USC.
  2. Texas A&M (9-1) – A&M has been answering the bell in the early going.  This week’s win against Washington made a statement that they are a team to be reckoned with in the Big 12 South. Khris Middleton and David Loubeau are leading the way, with perimeter contributions from Nathan Walkup.
  3. Kansas State (9-1) – Kansas State seems like a team struggling to live up to their preseason hype just a bit.  They’re a talented group, Frank Martin has proven his abilities as a coach, but they just haven’t quite clicked on a night in night out basis.  The loss of Denis Clemente might be the source of some of the problems, but it’s a long season and it’s a group that works too hard not to eventually find the answer.
  4. Missouri Tigers (8-1) – Missouri continues to play in some of the more exciting games of the early season.  After coming up short against Georgetown, the Tigers met Vanderbilt in an overtime contest that the Tigers would win by three.  Probably the biggest news in Columbia is the emergence of two leaders, Marcus Denmon in the backcourt and Ricardo Ratliffe in the frontcourt.  These two have the ability to lead Missouri to a conference title, but it’s still a work in progress.
  5. Baylor (6-0) – The Bears took an entire week off.  They currently sit as the only team to have played fewer than nine games in the nonconference and Scott Drew has done very little to challenge his team.  Struggling Gonzaga pays a visit to Dallas at the end of the week, where Baylor will look to score a win in the alumni stronghold.
  6. Texas (7-2) – The loss to USC has raised questions and scaled back expectations a bit in Austin. This week, a big win over a cupcake opponent and just a week from now, the Longhorns get an opportunity to make a statement with games against North Carolina and Michigan State.  That stretch of games a year ago signaled the beginning of the infamous slide.
  7. Oklahoma State (9-1) – The Cowboys continue to cruise through the non-conference and they are a team that has the makeup to compete with the other Big 12 South players.  Travis Ford has things going in Stillwater and Marshall Moses is playing like a man possessed, more than doubling his production from a season ago.
  8. Iowa State (8-2) – Fred Hoiberg is getting it done in Ames.  The team moves to a surprising 8-2 after wins against Southeast Missouri, Iowa and Texas Southern.  Scott Christopherson is third in the country in triples made (35), sporting a fiery 59.3% clip from deep. Freshman Melvin Ejim is proving to be a difference-maker early for the Cyclones.
  9. Colorado (5-3) – Colorado won in overtime against in state rival Colorado State.  The concern is that the bigs for Colorado State had a field day.  The Buffaloes have the horses in the backcourt, but on the interior, they have a lot to prove.
  10. Nebraska (8-2) – Another week, another two wins for Doc Sadler and the Cornhuskers.  The 11-man rotation in Lincoln is starting to turn a few into believers, but have been light on notable wins.  This is a team that can probably compete in the middle tier of the conference, but they lack a go-to player (different players have lead the team in scoring in each of the Huskers’ last five games) and the overall talent to get over the hump.
  11. Texas Tech (5-5) – At this point, about the only thing keeping Tech above Oklahoma is that they’ve at least been competitive in losing.  It will be interesting to see if Pat Knight can keep his team on board or if as the seat gets hotter, is this a team that packs it in.
  12. Oklahoma (5-5) –  Two wins this week, which was a much-needed change following a five-game skid dating back to the week before Thanksgiving.  This is still a team with a fragile psyche, but one positive is the emergence of Andrew Fitzgerald as a team leader in the frontcourt.  A year ago, Fitzgerald was a minor role player, but he now plays more than 30 minutes a game and leads the team in both scoring and rebounding.

A Look Ahead

  • A very slow week in the league as is often the case when students are in the middle of finals.  The light at the end of the tunnel does exist however, and it comes in the form of a ten-game schedule next Saturday.
  • Kansas State heads to Florida in a Power Six matchup to highlights the day.  Frank Martin has taken steps in the early going to challenge his basketball team, and this is another game that will help develop the toughness that Martin and the Wildcats take such pride in.
  • Two other matchups that had a little more fanfare a few weeks ago include Baylor taking on Gonzaga in Dallas and Texas heading to North Carolina to battle the Heels in Greensboro.  To start the season, Gonzaga and UNC were top 15 teams.  Both have struggled and fallen off.   This will still be one of Baylor’s biggest early season tests and for Texas, it represents an opportunity to make a few more believers as they sit almost a year removed from the beginning of last season’s collapse.
  • The biggest story on Saturday has to be the debut of top ranked freshman Josh Selby in Lawrence when the Jayhawks take on the USC Trojans.  The Jayhawks have been a pretty good team in the early going and all eyes will be on KU to see how the team dynamic changes with the addition of Selby.

Stats, Quotes and Other Notables

  • “To all the fans that jump on and off the bandwagon who think we suck, go cheer for somebody down the road then” – Jacob Pullen, calling out Kansas State fans who are expressing frustration over some of the early-season growing pains.
  • 5.8 Seconds.  – Time left on the clock when Marcus Denmon came up with a steal and a game-clinching layup to beat Vanderbilt in overtime.
  • 27-20 – The Big 12’s all time record in the Big 12/Pac-10 Hardwood series which concluded its final year on Saturday.
  • 7-12 -  Scott Christopherson’s three point field goal line from Friday nights win over ISU in-state rival Iowa.

Player of the Year Watch

  • Jacob Pullen – (16.3 PPG, 4 APG, 40% FG) Even.  Pullen called out a fanbase and seems to have a little fire in his belly.  Keep an eye on his upcoming games, a focused senior leader can be a very good thing.
  • Marcus Morris – (16.9 PPG, 6.2 RPG, 64% FG) Even.  Morris added five assists, two blocks and two steals to his versatile array of production this week when the Jayhawks took on Memphis. A knee injury sustained against Colorado State gave fans a scare, but he later returned.
  • Alec Burks – (20.5 PPG, 48% FG) Even.  Burks had a big game in a win over Colorado State.  If he can improve his numbers from behind the arc, he’s got the rest of his game going well enough to be a problem for just about anyone.
  • Jordan Hamilton – (20 PPG, 7.0 RPG) Trending down.  Other Longhorns are stepping up to the plate and the big numbers that were coming early have leveled off a bit as the team has settled in.
  • LaceDarius Dunn – (22.7 PPG, 4.3 RPG, 3.3 APG, 53% FG) Even.  No change, no games.  Baylor sat idle all week.
  • Marcus Denmon – (16.4 PPG, 1.7 SPG, 51% 3P%) Even.  Denmon was the man of the hour in the Tigers win over Vanderbilt.  19 second half points and a late steal to secure the win just a day after his cousin was shot and killed in Kansas City.
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Checking in on… the Big 12

Posted by Brian Goodman on December 6th, 2010

Owen Kemp of Rock Chalk Talk and SB Nation Kansas City is the RTC Correspondent for the Big 12 Conference.

A Look Back

This week saw the return of more great Big 12 basketball to Sprint Center in Kansas City as well as a week highlighted by matchups around the league taking place as part of the Big 12/Pac-10 Hardwood Series.

  • The first major action of the week tipped on Tuesday night as Missouri played host to the #14 Georgetown Hoyas at Sprint Center in Kansas City.  The game represented the first true test for the Tigers, and much like Texas did early on against Pittsburgh, Missouri might have said plenty about what they have to offer despite a loss.  Georgetown hit the court with a haymaker jumping out to an early 18-point lead while Mizzou struggled to find their way.  After settling in, the Tiger pressure started to pay off and lead to points in transition.  From there the fastest 40 minutes of basketball finally got underway.  Missouri brought the game all the way back and held a lead late only to see it erased by a last-second lead and a brilliant overtime frame from Hoya guard Jason Clark.  Either way, the game made a statement for Mizzou.  They still have work to do in the halfcourt, but with the addition of Ricardo Ratliffe and the ability to force teams into their brand of basketball, Mizzou will be tough.
  • Thursday featured more action in the Big 12/Pac-10 challenge with Kansas, MU and Baylor all claiming wins over their respective opponents. The big news early? The way the Jayhawks won.  Kansas struggled at home against a resurgent UCLA team and after a Bruin three-pointer looked to have both teams headed to overtime, Kansas’ Mario Little drew a foul with seven tenths of a second on the clock.  Kansas would win 77-76.
  • Friday night, the Kansas State Wildcats took on Washington State.  Popular preseason Preseason POY candidate Jacob Pullen stumbled a bit and was a non-factor for most of the game.  Fortunately, the supporting cast handled business and K- State was able to secure a five-point victory to push the Big 12 to a 6-0 record to start the series.
  • Saturday saw three teams continue the series with Texas Tech being blown out by the Washington Huskies after escaping with a close win early in the week against Oral Roberts.  At this point, Pat Knight has his team at what many would consider a disappointing 5-4 early season record and buzz is building that Knight could be on the hot seat.
  • Elsewhere, Iowa State continued to look better than expected early.  While the Cyclones still lost the game in Ames, Cal is no cakewalk and the Cyclones were in the game until the very end before losing by just three.
  • The lone winner from the Big 12 on the day was from Colorado, who will soon be departing for the Pac-10.  Tad Boyle’s team looked like a group turning a corner in a 26-point win over Oregon State.   The Beavers are far from a good team, but Colorado might just be getting closer to being the team that many expected.

Big 12 Power Rankings

  1. Baylor (6-0) – The Bears looked the most impressive of any team this week, leading to the top spot nod in the power rankings.  They’re long, athletic and they can beat you in a variety of ways.  Scott Drew looks to have reloaded after losing a few players following last season’s Elite Eight run.
  2. Kansas (7-0) – After looking like a finished product through a few early season cupcakes, Kansas has plenty of room to improve.  UCLA took the Jayhawks to the brink with an impressive performance, and for the moment, Kansas drops a spot until they can find a way to better manage their defense on the interior.
  3. Kansas State (7-1) – The Wildcats are still getting used to being the hunted and Jacob Pullen is learning what it means to have all the attention.  Kansas State is handling business as expected against lesser competition, but like Kansas, when the level of play ticks up, things tend to get interesting.
  4. Missouri Tigers (6-1) – The Tigers might have shown as much about who they are in a loss as they have all year.  Despite losing to Georgetown they fought back from a big deficit, had the game in hand and played Mike Anderson basketball before dropping the game in overtime. Two days later, they went to Oregon and scored a nice win on the road to put the tough loss behind them.
  5. Texas (6-1) – Texas beat a bad team handily.  They play USC late Sunday night after this report wraps up so there’s a possibility they could make an argument for a higher spot, but for now other teams just did more to look good in a power ranking.
  6. Texas A&M (7-1) – The Aggies handled business against two lesser opponents.  Their depth and the multiple weapons on the interior continue to be a strength.  Circle next Saturday’s game against Washington as the Aggies will face a big test against the Huskies. With their top players still averaging less than 30 minutes per game, and ten players averaging at least ten minutes per game, Mark Turgeon is still trying to find the best rotation.
  7. Oklahoma State (7-1) – Oklahoma State was one of the teams expected to drop off after the Big 12 experienced one of the most successful seasons in its history a year ago. That doesn’t necessarily appear to be the case.  The perceived weakness on the interior has actually been a strength with Marshall Moses continuing to lead the way. They still need to prove they can hang with quality opponents (just one game against a KenPom top 50 squad, which they lost at home).
  8. Colorado (4-3) – After losing at Harvard a week ago, this looked like a team dead in the water early.  However, in a couple blowouts this week, Colorado looks like they could be turning a corner.  They’re finding themselves offensively and may be buying in to Tad Boyle’s defensive focus.
  9. Iowa State (6-2) – The Cyclones dropped two in a row this week to Northern Iowa and California after jumping out to a 6-0 start.  Still, things might be better than expected in Ames.  A team picked last by many has managed to compete in every game and in a very impressive stat at the moment, five players currently average double figures in scoring.  That’s balance and Fred Hoiberg has to like that.
  10. Nebraska (6-2) – The Huskers are doing what they’ve done over the past several seasons:  Pad their resume in the non-conference and then try to hold on.  They’re undefeated at home and continue to hang their hat on tough physical play.  Just one game this past week (against lowly Jackson State), but they took care of business Wednesday. It’s just hard to say this early against token competition if that success will translate to the Big 12 or fail once again.
  11. Texas Tech (5-4) – Tech appears to be on a path to underachieve in 2010-11.  A big loss to Washington and a narrow win at home against Oral Roberts are the signs of disappointment from last week.  Last year, defense was the concern, and that appears to be the developing trend yet again for Pat Knight in Lubbock.
  12. Oklahoma (3-5) – Oklahoma went straight from Maui into a tough stretch on the road against Arkansas and Arizona.  They aren’t winning, but they might be finding a reliable inside presence in sophomore Andrew Fitzgerald (14.6 PPG and 5.6 RPG).

A Look Ahead

  • This week, the Kansas Jayhawks dive in head first with their first ranked opponent in Memphis.  The game between the two teams will take place at Madison Square Garden as part of the Jimmy V Classic.
  • Wednesday’s schedule is full of solid games and in-state opponents.  Mizzou hosts a Vanderbilt team from the SEC that has experienced some success early this season and currently sits at 7-1.  Texas Tech and Oklahoma State host in-state opponents TCU and Tulsa, respectively, while Colorado will tip against in Colorado State in what promises to be a great test of the Buffaloes’ recent upswing.
  • Friday, the Cyclones head down the road to Iowa City to take on their big intrastate rival, the Iowa Hawkeyes.  The game presents an opportunity for Iowa State to get back on track and put an early feather in the cap of first-year coach Fred Hoiberg.
  • All that leads to next Saturday, when eight Big 12 teams will be in action across the country as we get ever closer to conference play.  The headliner for the day is Texas A&M and Washington as the Aggies play host to their Big 12/Pac-10 Hardwood Series game and will look for an upset to continue the conference’s control in the series.

Stats, Quotes and other Notables

  • 6-4 – That’s the record of the Big 12 against Pac-10 competition through the first week of the Hardwood Series.  With two games to go, last year’s record of 9-3, which was the single best by one conference over the other during the series, will go unmatched. Two additional games in late December (Stanford at Oklahoma State and Kansas at Cal) as well as some past matchups like Kansas vs. Arizona in Las Vegas two weeks ago are not officially considered part of the series.
  • 18-18 – Georgetown goes 100% from the free throw line and in general shoots extremely well in an overtime win over Missouri.  The irony lay in that it took a missed Missouri free throw for the Hoyas to even have a chance at the end.
  • 4 years – That will be the duration of the Big 12/Pac-10 Hardwood Series which wraps up this year after starting in 2007.  Seems like a mistake as the ACC/Big 10 Challenge enters it’s 11th year of existence.
  • “It was really a poor way to end the game on that call.” – Ben Howland, discussing the most talked-about call of the young basketball season. 

Player of the Year Stock Watch

  • Jacob Pullen – (15 PPG, 4.3 APG, 40% FG) Even: Pullen’s numbers are up, but he once again struggled against a solid opponent.  Ultimately his season will be judged on conference play and during the Tournament.
  • Marcus Morris – (18.6 PPG, 6.3 RPG, 62% FG) Trending Down: In his last two games, Morris has found himself in early foul trouble and it’s hurt his team.  He’ll need to play smarter down the stretch for Kansas to reach their potential.
  • Quincy Acy – (14.8 PPG, 9.2 RPG,55% FG) Trending Down: After a fast start, Acy might be coming back down to earth. The return of Dunn has no doubt played a factor, and at this point, he’s an important piece but probably not player of the year material.
  • Alec Burks – (19.9 PPG, 48% FG) Even: Burks’ numbers are falling, yet his team has played better.  Colorado seems to be finding themselves and Burks is still the leader.  His improvement on the defensive end might be the most welcome sign for coach Tad Boyle.
  • Jordan Hamilton – (20.5 PPG, 6.9 RPG) Even: A slow week and a poor game against USC for the Longhorns but Hamilton is still in the mix.
  • LaceDarius Dunn – (22.7 PPG, 4.3 RPG, 3.3 APG, 53% FG) Even: Dunn was welcomed back to Baylor after biding his time due to off-court issues.  His addition has paid dividends immediately, as the Bears look long, athletic and as explosive as anyone in the country.
  • Marcus Denmon – (16.4 PPG, 1.7 SPG, 56% 3FG) New: Mike Anderson’s team is balanced, so you don’t necessarily expect on player to rise above the rest in his system.  Denmon has, though, thanks to deadly outside shooting. 
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