The Quiet Cowboy: Markel Brown Keeps Producing For Pokes

Posted by Bennet Hayes on December 23rd, 2013

We all know Marcus Smart. We first met him last winter, when he was busy terrorizing Big 12 opponents as a freshman. However, it turned out we didn’t know everything about Marcus back then, because he wound up shocking us all in April with his decision to eschew the NBA Draft for a year. But boy, have we had the chance to get to know him all over again this winter. By virtue of conducting Oklahoma State’s red-hot start, Smart’s name has dominated headlines for the past six weeks, and rightfully so. After all, among the many individual stretches of Smart’s dominance was this display. And this shot. Many will tell you he is the current favorite for National POY, and if you feel like arguing with them, good luck. So far, Smart has been that good.

Markel Brown -- Not Marcus Smart -- Took Center Stage For The Cowboys On Saturday Night

Markel Brown — Not Marcus Smart — Took Center Stage For The Cowboys On Saturday Night

But hiding somewhere behind the nation’s love affair with Marcus Smart – a fling I’m OK with, for the record – is a pretty freaking good basketball team. That basketball team improved to 11-1 on Saturday night in Las Vegas, dispatching a solid Colorado club (now 10-2) in the process. Smart was his typically proficient self (18 points, three assists), but that night served to remind us that he has some pretty capable teammates as well. Phil Forte, owner of the nation’s third-best individual efficiency rating entering the night, made four threes en route to a 16-point effort. Le’Bryan Nash pitched in with 15 points of his own, and did a little bit of everything else, contributing six rebounds, two assists, two steals, and three LOUD blocks. But of all the Cowboys who contributed to the cause, it was senior Markel Brown who offered the biggest lift. The senior scored 23 points, grabbed 11 rebounds, and even chipped in three assists: a domineering effort, indeed, and on a sizable stage. If you didn’t know all that much about the Pokes before Saturday night, Brown’s performance surely rated as eye-catching. But if you did? Just another lethally efficient demonstration from one of the nation’s most underrated players.

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Previewing Saturday’s Oklahoma State vs. Colorado Match-up

Posted by Brian Goodman & Andrew Murawa on December 21st, 2013

There are a lot of interesting non-conference battles around the country this weekend prior to a holiday break for most schools. Big 12 correspondent Brian Goodman (@bsgoodman) and Pac-12 writer Andrew Murawa (@AMurawa) teamed up to offer this breakdown of one of them: Colorado vs. Oklahoma State in Las Vegas, Saturday 8:30 PM PST on ESPN2.< Oklahoma State will win if… It capitalizes on its huge advantage offensively and stays out of foul trouble. We haven’t heard a ton about Oklahoma State lately because they haven’t had a marquee match-up since Thanksgiving weekend, but the offense has continued to cruise. Marcus Smart, Markel Brown and Phil Forte are doing their thing. On top of that, Le’Bryan Nash has bought in and been a key contributor as of late, averaging 17.3 points per game over his last three contests. This isn’t a good match-up for Colorado because the skill at which they excel the most, defensive rebounding, has a strong chance of being neutralized by one of the best scoring attacks in the country. There aren’t many areas where the Buffaloes will have an edge, but they do get to the line often. Michael Cobbins will need to keep up-and-coming sophomore Josh Scott in check because he’s a very good ball-handler and along with Askia Booker and Spencer Dinwiddie, can make Oklahoma State pay from the stripe.

Marcus Smart Will Be A Priority On Both Ends of The Court for Both Teams Saturday Night (AP Photo).

Marcus Smart Will Be A Priority On Both Ends of The Court for Both Teams Saturday Night (AP Photo).

Colorado will win if… It takes lessons from what Memphis did to Oklahoma State, and it gets a little bit of luck. Clearly, the game plan against Smart all season has been to keep him out of the lane as much as possible and make him shoot jumpers. If Smart can get into the paint, he is deadly — not only in creating shots for himself, but in creating shots for his teammates. If you can keep him shooting jumpers, not only is he still a work in progress there, but he is very much trying to prove that such progress has been made. In his first appearance against Memphis, his jumper was in full effect, as he knocked down five threes in a dominant performance. In the second go-round, he was 0-for-5 from deep and limped home to a 12-point performance. In other words, keep Smart shooting jumpers and trust your scouting report that they largely don’t go in. While the Buffaloes are primarily going to plan man defense, if Tad Boyle thinks a zone will give his guys a better chance at accomplishing that, he’ll give it a try. The Cowboys are still good enough defensively to cause problems for the Buffs even without Smart scoring prolifically, but getting OSU’s best player out of his comfort zone will go a long way towards giving CU a chance.

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Big 12 M5: 12.16.13 Edition

Posted by Kory Carpenter on December 16th, 2013

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  1. If you missed Iowa State’s annual game against Iowa Friday night, you missed a great one. Both teams were ranked for the first time in what seems like forever (26 years), and the sold-out Hilton Coliseum crowd was rewarded with an 85-82 Cyclones’ win over the Hawkeyes. Georges Niang had 24 points, telling Bobby La Gesse of the Ames Tribune: “I felt like it was my night.” Iowa State improved to 8-0 with the win and barring a home upset against George Mason or Northern Illinois over the next two-plus, will enter 2014 and Big 12 play undefeated.
  2. If you haven’t seen Kansas center Joel Embiid’s Hakeem Olajuwon/Dream Shake impression yet, drop what you’re doing and watch the GIF at the bottom of this SI.com piece, or check out the full video here. It’s amazing that Embiid was a soccer player until just a few years ago who is still relatively new to playing basketball. He shot up the recruiting rankings during his last year of high school and is shooting up NBA mock drafts this season. Don’t be shocked if he becomes a top-three pick next summer.
  3. Marcus Smart appears to have changed his game following Oklahoma State’s loss to Memphis two weeks ago. “I’m just trying to focus and make sure I don’t force a lot of things because I do have a talented group of guys around me,” he told John Helsley of The Oklahoman after the Cowboys’ 70-55 win over Louisiana Tech Saturday. Smart had 13 points, five assists, and four steals in the win.
  4. CBSSports.com NBA writer Matt Moore updated his 2014 mock draft over the weekend and Andrew Wiggins fell to the second pick overall behind Duke freshman Jabari Parker. Joel Embiid was fourth, Marcus Smart seventh, Wayne Selden eighth, Perry Ellis 25th, and Isaiah Austin 29th. Second round selections included Cory Jefferson at 44th and Le’Bryan Nash at 51st. Moore had this to say about Nash, the former five-star recruit: “Such a highly touted high school player doesn’t seem to have enough to offer a sure player to make a roster, but he’s not bad enough to fall out of the draft completely, right?”
  5. Andrew Wiggins and Joel Embiid have gotten most of the national spotlight this season, and rightly so, as both players are likely top-five picks. But it’s no coincidence that as Perry Ellis goes, so go the Jayhawks,  Jeff Borzello at CBSSports.com writes. As he notes, Ellis has struggled in Kansas’ bad games and been great in big wins, most notably his 24-point, nine-rebound performance in the Jayhawks’ 94-83 over Duke last month.
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Yes, College Basketball Season is Finally Here

Posted by Taylor Erickson on November 8th, 2013

College hoops fans everywhere, rejoice. Like Harry and Lloyd finally arriving in Aspen, we’re therrre. The anticipation for college basketball season has been building for the past several months, and we can finally take a deep breath and revel in the fact that the official start has arrived. Gone are the days of exhibition games and the abundance of preseason lists and rankings and speculation. Instead, they’re replaced by games that really count, and storylines that actually matter. Your weekends are about to get a lot more intriguing, and your weeknights a lot less boring. From Ames to Austin, Lubbock to Morgantown, and everywhere in between, the Big 12 is chock full of headlines bound to whet your appetite for action on the hardwood. So kick back, relax, and hear us out with a plethora of reasons on why you should be giddy with excitement for another rendition of college basketball.

The Sprint Center will once again host the Big 12 Tournament in March.

The Sprint Center will once again host the Big 12 Tournament in March.

  • For Kansas State fans, it’s a packed house − the Octagon of Doom − and Sandstorm pumping through the PA system so violently you can’t hear yourself think. And the thought of Bruce Weber pulling a purple blazer out of the wardrobe, similar to the orange one he donned at Illinois. Can Shane Southwell become “the man” in Manhattan?  We’ll have to wait and see.
  • In Fort Worth, the reminder of one of the biggest upsets in recent college basketball history has you clamoring for an encore performance again this year. An influx of new talent, and Trent Johnson at the helm provides reason to believe the Horned Frogs can make some noise in the Big 12.
  • Whether it’s a track suit on game day or a letter sweater on media day, there’s no doubt Bob Huggins in comfortable in his own skin. You can bet though, that experiencing his first losing record in nearly 30 years was anything but comforting. The West Virginia head coach is determined to turn things around this year in Morgantown. Is there enough talent this go-round to make the Mountaineers relevant in conference play? Read the rest of this entry »
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Big 12 Team Preview: Oklahoma State Cowboys

Posted by Brian Goodman on November 7th, 2013

This week, the Big 12 microsite will finish previewing each of the league’s 10 teams. Today: Oklahoma State.

Where We Left Off: After a crushing loss to an under-seeded Oregon team in the NCAA Tournament, Marcus Smart made the pain go away for OSU fans, shocking Stillwater and the rest of the college basketball world by announcing his return for the 2013-14 season. That news briefly led prognosticators to peg the Cowboys as the most realistic challenger to dethrone Kansas atop the standings, but then Andrew Wiggins committed to the Jayhawks. Now, not only do we have a bona fide conference race, but a POY race too. The product is a scenario where each team’s destiny, whether you’re talking about the conference title race or the bigger picture of the NCAA Tournament, could very well hinge on how their respective stars perform.

Travis Ford has all the pieces he needs to make a serious run at Kansas. (Getty)

Travis Ford has all the pieces he needs to make a serious run at Kansas in the standings. (Getty)

Positives: Smart may be the heart and soul of Travis Ford‘s team, but Oklahoma State wouldn’t be a Final Four contender without a very good supporting cast. It isn’t without flaws (more on that in a bit), but there may not be a team in the country that can match Oklahoma State’s backcourt tandem of Smart and Markel Brown. While the former is a surefire lottery pick, the latter has improved every season he’s been on campus. He can still destroy a rim as ferociously as he did in his earlier years, but he’s upped his stroke from the free throw line as well as beyond the arc while lowering his turnover rate despite more possessions every season. There isn’t much more you could want from a four-year player. Phil Forte gives the Cowboys a one-dimensional but very capable long distance bomber, and junior wing Le’Bryan Nash is a refined three-point stroke away from being a total match-up nightmare.

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2013-14 RTC Preseason All-America Teams

Posted by Walker Carey on November 5th, 2013

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With the season tipping off Friday night, there’s no better time to roll out our preseason First, Second, and Third All-America Teams. More than anything, these three groups of outstanding players are here to foster and encourage discussion. Our crack panel of eight national columnists provided ballots over the last week or so, and this, perhaps unsurprisingly, is where we ended up.

First Team All-America

team1Andrew Wiggins, Kansas (unanimous) – Wiggins begins his career in Lawrence as one of the more ballyhooed freshmen in recent memory. The 6’8″ swingman, who was unanimously considered the top player in the Class of 2013, committed to Kansas in April following a recruiting process that was primarily kept close to the vest. While some of the hype surrounding the dynamic freshman may be a bit overblown, it is impossible to deny Wiggins’ credentials, as he was named 2013 Naismith Prep Player of the Year, 2013 Gatorade National Player of the Year, and Mr. Basketball USA. Wiggins has already acknowledged that he would like to be a one-and-done and enter the 2014 NBA Draft, so it is logical to see why expectations are so high in Lawrence this season.

Factoid: It is not exactly a surprise that Wiggins is a top-flight athlete when you consider the fact that his father, Mitchell Wiggins, had a lengthy professional basketball career and his mother, Marita Payne-Wiggins, won two silver medals for Canada as a sprinter in the 1984 Summer Olympic Games.

Doug McDermott, Creighton (unanimous) – McDermott’s ability to score from anywhere on the court makes him one of the most feared offensive players in the country. It is rare for a two-time First Team All-American to return to school, but that is the case with McDermott, who spurned the NBA to return for his senior season in Omaha. With Creighton making the big move from the Missouri Valley to the Big East this season, the Bluejays are going to be counting on him to fill the stat line each night out – and McDermott is good enough to come through for them.

Factoid: Due to Creighton guard Grant Gibbs receiving a rare sixth-year of eligibility from the NCAA (and thus, needing a scholarship), McDermott will be an extremely talented walk-on for the 2013-14 season.

Marcus Smart, Oklahoma State – The reigning Big 12 Player of the Year shocked the basketball world when he announced in mid-April that he would return to Stillwater for his sophomore season. The Flower Mound, Texas, native is widely considered the best returning player in all of college basketball. Smart brings a little bit of everything to the floor. His 6’4″ frame is elite for the point guard position and he uses that size as well as any perimeter player in the country. The leadership and intangibles that Smart provides are also second to none. After Oklahoma State finished third in the Big 12 during Smart’s freshman season, it is projected to contend with perennial powerhouse Kansas for the conference crown this season.

Factoid: Making its first NCAA Tournament appearance since 2010, Oklahoma State’s stay in the 2013 event was a short one. The Cowboys, a five-seed, were upset in the Round of 64 by 12-seed Oregon. This loss affected Smart’s decision to return to school, as the setback helped him realize he was not ready to be one-and-done in a Cowboy uniform.

Russ Smith, Louisville – Smith returns to Louisville for his senior season looking to lead the Cardinals to a repeat as national champions. “Russdiculous” is coming off a season that saw him average 18.7 points per game and take home the Most Outstanding Player of the Midwest Regional. While Smith gets a majority of his attention for his performance on the offensive end of the court, he is also a defensive stalwart who keys the relentless full court pressure of the Cardinals. Even though Smith certainly figures to be Louisville’s most explosive player this season, you better believe he will still at times do some things on the court that will drive Rick Pitino crazy.

Factoid: Smith spent his fall interning with WHAS-TV in Louisville, working local high school football games on some Friday nights.

Julius Randle, Kentucky – Kentucky coach John Calipari brought in one of the best recruiting hauls in history for this season and the star of the class is the ultra-athletic Randle. The Plano, Texas, native arrived in Lexington as the second-best prospect in the Class of 2013 – only behind Andrew Wiggins – and early returns on Randle as a Wildcat forward have been overwhelmingly positive. Randle’s talent level is so elite that ESPN‘s Jeff Goodman declared in late September that he would take Randle over Wiggins with the first pick in the 2014 NBA Draft.

Factoid: Randle missed three months of his senior season at Prestonwood Christian due to a fractured foot, but he was able to return in time to lead the school to a Texas state championship.

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Big 12 M5: 10.14.13 Edition

Posted by Brian Goodman on October 14th, 2013

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  1. A big part of Iowa State‘s rise under Fred Hoiberg has come from the Cyclones’ ability to trump expectations and get the most out of its talent. After ISU outperformed predictions in the last two seasons, the league’s coaches are done sleeping on them.  Big 12 coaches pegged Iowa State to finish fourth in Thursday’s preseason poll after being tabbed eighth in 2011 and 2012. The Cyclones enter this season hoping to do something they haven’t done since 1997: make the NCAA Tournament for a third straight time. With the transfers that made up the core of Hoiberg’s teams the last two seasons now graduated, the vast majority of ISU’s roster will consist of players “The Mayor” recruited out of high school. Fourth place in the conference is definitely a reasonable goal for Iowa State this season, and it’s not difficult to see them finishing ahead of preseason third-place pick Baylor if things break just right.
  2. Yahoo! Sports‘ Jeff Eisenberg compiled a list of 10 freshmen capable of making big impacts in 2013-14 and you’ll never guess which Kansas newcomer topped the list (OK, you probably will). It’s worth noting that no other Big 12 freshman cracked Eisenberg’s rankings, but we like to think of that as a testament to just how good the freshman class is nationwide. Still, just because they didn’t make the list doesn’t mean you shouldn’t keep an eye on other young Big 12 rising talents like Joel EmbiidAllerik FreemanElijah Macon, Wayne Selden and Ishmail Wainwright. Still, Andrew Wiggins is the gem of the league’s incoming class and is just another reason why we can’t wait for the opening tip.
  3. It was announced late last week that two Big 12 teams, Kansas and Kansas State, will hold open scrimmages for their fans. The Jayhawks will open the Allen Fieldhouse doors this Saturday, giving fans who were shut out of “Late Night In The Phog” earlier this month a second chance to see the 2013-14 squad. Kansas State, which didn’t hold a late night event of its own, will also host an open scrimmage on Saturday. The Wildcats aren’t quite looking at a full-on rebuild, but losing Angel Rodriguez, Jordan Henriquez and Rodney McGruder will hurt the defending co-Big 12 champions. Still, with the official start of practice coming earlier this season, the wait until the first regular season games lengthens so public practices are a great opportunity for teams to inject some extra anticipation into their devoted fan bases.
  4. If all goes according to plan this season for Marcus Smart, Markel Brown and Travis Ford (and even if it doesn’t), Oklahoma State will need to rebuild in a hurry to stay in the conversation atop the Big 12 moving forward. The Cowboys took one step toward that goal on Saturday when they received a verbal commitment from recruit Mitch Solomon, a 6’9″ power forward who is considered the best 2014 prospect in Oklahoma. Solomon, along with shooting guard commitment Jared Terrell, gives the Cowboys a very solid foundation from which to reload. In 2014, we’d expect Le’Bryan Nash, Michael Cobbins and Phil Forte to be the leaders, allowing the incoming freshmen to be eased into supporting roles and gradually move up from there.
  5. Late last week, UNLV announced that it will partner with Kansas for a home-and-home series beginning in Lawrence in the 2014-15 season, with a return trip to Las Vegas planned for the 2016-17 campaign. Neither Dave Rice nor Bill Self have ever been shy about assembling tough non-conference schedules, so while we aren’t too surprised at this development, we’re nevertheless thrilled to pencil in a pair of must-watch games for the future. The Runnin’ Rebels have more to gain from ambitious scheduling than the Jayhawks due to the difference in competition their respective leagues provide, although Kansas will benefit as well. It’s also worth noting that a trip to Las Vegas gives the Jayhawk coaching staff a convenient opportunity to check out some of the recruits at nearby Findlay Prep, which churns out blue-chip prospects on an annual basis. We’re still waiting on the announcement of that annual Kansas-Missouri series, by the way…
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Morning Five: 04.18.13 Edition

Posted by nvr1983 on April 18th, 2013

morning5

  1. As we mentioned yesterday Marcus Smart announced that he would return to Oklahoma State and now he will have some company as Le’Bryan Nash and Markel Brown also announced that they will be returning to Stillwater. We has won’t get into the debate about whether or not Smart should have left because every writer has either chimed in for it, against it, or (our personal favorite) railed against those who were for it or against it. Although they did not rise from a stage in a ridiculous ceremony held in Miami three summers ago it should be cause for celebration as the Cowboys are now legitimate Big 12 contenders. We still would not bet against Bill Self, but the Big 12 race just got a lot more interesting.
  2. The mood in Ann Arbor was not quite as festive, but the decision by Tim Hardaway Jr. to leave Michigan a year early was expected by many. We are not completely sold on Hardaway Jr. ever becoming a NBA starter, but he certainly has the requisite physical skills and a good enough outside shot that he will get some looks from NBA teams. One of the more interesting things about his game is how little it has progressed (at least in terms of his statistics) over his three years at Michigan. We don’t normally advocate players leaving school early unless they think they are guaranteed a NBA roster spot (read: are assured of being a first round pick), but Hardaway Jr. has not shown as much progression from one season to the next as you would hope and this year’s class is weak (and his family should be financially secure) so we think it is a reasonable decision.
  3. If Hardaway Jr or any other Michigan players need any advice they can always turn to team captain Josh Bartelstein, the son of NBA agent Mark Bartelstein who has a fairly impressive list of clients, Based on the advice that Josh offered for the article it sounds like he would be a pretty good place for these players to start. We are sure that plenty of other schools have alumni that offer advice to players about whether or not they should or should not go, but probably very few are able to do so through current players. It will be interesting to see if the Michigan players decide to sign with Josh’s father.
  4. Florida Gulf Coast has had one of the more unique coaching searches for a mid-major given the sudden popularity of “Dunk City”, which the city is still calling itself in press releases. Yesterday the school announced that Kansas assistant coach Joe Dooley would be the school’s head coach. Dooley may not be the huge name that some people thought the school could get, but realistically an assistant at one of the top programs in the country who also has head coaching experience (with a winning record) is a solid get for a school that most people did not know existed two months ago. Dooley has a reputation as a great recruiter although you can argue that being at Kansas helps a lot in doing that, but he should have some advantages (location and a style of play that appeals to recruits if he chooses to keep it) that could help him be successful in his new job.
  5. Yesterday Cincinnati announced that it would be extending Mick Cronin‘s contract, which should not be a surprise, but we have to say we are somewhat surprised by the length of the extension: one year with the possibility of three more years. Cronin, who already has four years left on his contact, can have the extension go from one year to three years if the Bearcats in either of the next two years. Cronin certainly is deserving of an extension given his team’s performance, but we have to wonder why the school would give him such a short extension with the understanding it is planning on keeping him for at least five more years. We just don’t see the point in adding on one year at this point.
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Big 12 Season Wrap: the Highs, the Lows, All the In-Betweens

Posted by dnspewak on April 15th, 2013

In a big-picture sense, the Big 12 provided us with no surprises this season. Kansas won the league again, TCU finished in last place, five teams made the NCAA Tournament, and all was right with the world. It wouldn’t have taken Nostradamus to make those predictions. That doesn’t mean it wasn’t an interesting six months, however. There were flops–most notably from the state of Texas. There were overachievers–most notably from the state of Oklahoma. There were thrilling finishes, blown calls, standout freshmen and that one time Kansas somehow lost to TCU. Oh, and one team even won a championship this season in, well, the wrong tournament.

Game of  the Year: Kansas 68, Oklahoma State 67 (February 20)

This showdown in Stillwater was simultaneously the best and worst game of the Big 12 season. How’s that for logic? After the Cowboys stunned Kansas at Allen Fieldhouse earlier in the winter and literally celebrated by doing back flips on the court, this revenge game took on even more importance in the league standings. Had Oklahoma State won, it would have seized the proverbial driver’s seat along with Kansas State and would have made the Jayhawks’ path to the regular season title very difficult. We had drama. We had overtime. Two, actually. And we had a game-winner in the final minute of regulation by Naadir Tharpe, who shook off a rusty performance to hit the go-ahead jumper with 16 seconds to play. Instant classic, right? Certainly. The problem was, it was perhaps the ugliest game ever played by two top-15 opponents on the same floor. Kansas did not make a field goal in the first overtime and it did not make a field goal in the second overtime until Tharpe’s game-winner. That’s almost 10 minutes of basketball without a basket. In overtime! Overall, the two teams combined to shoot five for 32 from beyond the arc. Ben McLemore played 49 minutes, missed nine of 12 shot attempts and finished with seven points after barely touching the ball in the overtime periods. And that’s the best game of the year? We still stand by our decision. This was the game that changed the complexity of the Big 12 title race, and two free periods of basketball is never a bad thing.

Bill Self Won Another Big 12 Title (Photo credit: AP Photo).

Bill Self Won Another Big 12 Title (Photo credit: AP Photo).

Honorable Mentions:

  • Kansas 108, Iowa State 96 (February 25): Asterisk on this one. Kansas beat Iowa State in Ames — where the Cyclones hadn’t lost in more than a year — but it needed a blown call at the end of regulation to get the opportunity. You remember the situation. Elijah Johnson‘s charging toward the basket with five seconds left in the game, his team trailing by two points. Georges Niang sets his feet and takes what appears to be a pretty standard charge. But there’s no call, the ball bounces on the floor and the officials eventually blow the whistle on Niang during a scramble. That allows Kansas to tie the game and win in overtime behind Elijah Johnson’s epic 39-point performance. The Big 12 would later admit its referees should have called a charge, but that’s a moot point right now. It’s a shame we’ll remember this game as the No-Call Game as opposed to the Elijah Johnson Game.
  • Oklahoma State 74, Baylor 72 (March 14): The Bears needed a victory in this Big 12 quarterfinal to give themselves a chance for an at-large bid in the NCAA Tournament. Then they fell behind by 20 points. Dead in the water. Except Pierre Jackson started raining jumpers and floaters all over the place, and Baylor inexplicably tied the game in the final minute of regulation. But the officials made a controversial foul call (that’s a trend this year, across all conferences) and sent Phil Forte to the line, where he made both. That’s an exciting finish in and of itself. But it got even better: Nobody’s quite sure how it happened, but with just seconds left on a desperation, mad-dash possession, Jackson dribbled straight through two Oklahoma State defenders and found himself absolutely, completely wide open from three-point land. He had a chance to win at the buzzer. No hands contesting him, no defender in sight. He missed. That sent the Bears to the NIT, and at least they won that tournament. But Jackson’s failed buzzer-beater signaled the end of Baylor’s tourney chances, and it was another dark moment during an underachieving season.

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Assessing the Season: Oklahoma State Cowboys

Posted by dnspewak on March 28th, 2013

As the season winds down and Big 12 teams continue to find themselves eliminated from the post-season, we’re taking a look back on a team-by-team basis at the 2012-13 season. Next up: Oklahoma State.

Final Record: 24-9 (13-5)

The Expectations: Oklahoma State was considered a mixed bag before the season began. There were whispers that Travis Ford should worry about his job status, and even though he’d brought in stud freshman Marcus Smart, Ford had gained an undesirable reputation as the Guy Who Recruits But Can’t Coach. Everybody universally agreed that with Smart, sophomore Le’Bryan Nash, Markel Brown and several other returning contributors, this team had good enough individual players to compete near the top of the Big 12. But would they be the right assortment of pieces? This had been a bad team a year ago, and heart-and-soul guard Keiton Page had graduated. Luckily, scouts and opposing coaches raved about Marcus Smart in the preseason. They told us he wasn’t a typical freshmen — that he was mature beyond his years and the missing piece that would help Nash reach his expectations as a scoring wing. He wasn’t necessarily a natural point guard, though, so there were questions as to whether he’d be effective in that position.

Marcus Smart Had a Huge Year

The Actual Result: Smart can play point. Pretty freakin’ well, actually. So well that he was named Big 12 Player of the Year. As the team’s top defender, top scorer, top assists man and second-leading rebounder, Smart was that rare freshman leader who demanded respect from his teammates and completely revamped the attitude within his program. He opened up more opportunities for Nash, and that was evident right away. In the Puerto Rico Tip-Off, the Cowboys dismantled North Carolina State thanks to 43 combined points from Smart and Nash — the Wolfpack were ranked in the top-10 at the time. The Cowboys struggled from a New Year’s hangover and lost four of six games from December 31 to January 21. They couldn’t close the deal at home against Gonzaga in one of the more anticipated home games at Gallagher-Iba in quite some time, and then they lost three road games at Oklahoma, Kansas State and Baylor. That’s when the light truly went on in Stillwater. On February 2, the Cowboys won at Kansas and rode into mid-February with a seven-game winning streak. With a chance to take control of the league and sweep Kansas on February 20, Oklahoma State dropped a double-overtime heartbreaker to the Jayhawks an in ugly game that set basketball back by at least five decades. It couldn’t break KU’s hold on the Big 12, but it prevented Kansas State from winning the league outright by knocking off the Wildcats at home in the regular season finale. KSU returned the favor by handling OSU fairly easily in the Big 12 semifinals the next week. Then, the NCAA Tournament selection committee decided to play a cruel joke on Oklahoma State, rewarding its 24-win season with a #5/#12 match-up against Oregon. The Ducks, ranked in the Top 25 for much of the year, were probably under-seeded by at least four lines. At least. Guess what happened? Oklahoma State lost.

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Big 12 M5: 03.26.13 Edition

Posted by dnspewak on March 26th, 2013

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  1. The search has begun for Texas Tech‘s next head basketball coach, but this is hardly a typical situation. One of the top candidates for the job is, um, the guy who coached the team this year. Chris Walker won only 11 games at the helm with the Red Raiders this season, but the league’s coaches praised him often for the way he dealt with the aftermath of the Billy Gillispie fallout. It would be silly to judge Walker based solely on his performance as an interim, so you’d have to think he’ll at least get a fair shot at landing the full-time position. The other names listed in the early portion of the search are, at the very least, intriguing: Scott Sutton (Oral Roberts), Doc Sadler (current Kansas staff member and former Nebraska head coach), Steve McClain (former Wyoming head coach and highly-regarded, longtime assistant currently with Indiana) and Barry Hinson (Southern Illinois). Sutton’s probably the best candidate of those choices, but he seems to have made a lifestyle choice to stay at Oral Roberts. Sadler didn’t fare well at Nebraska, McClain’s tenure at Wyoming ended poorly, and Hinson’s team finished in last place in the Missouri Valley this season. Surely, other names will emerge. You would have to hope so.
  2. Imagine this: Marcus Smart, Markel Brown, and Le’Bryan Nash playing another year together in Stillwater. Banners would be hung. Numbers might be retired. Championships might be claimed. But for that to happen at Oklahoma State, the trio would need to skip the NBA Draft this summer. That might be a tough proposition. Smart’s projected as one of the top picks in the 2013 NBA Draft. Brown’s considered a first-rounder. And Nash might be a second-rounder. If for some reason they did all return, we’re talking about a team with limitless potential. “It’ll be scary,” Nash told The Oklahoman. 
  3. Texas had a bad season. Then it played in the CBI and lost to in-state opponent Houston. Rick Barnes obviously wasn’t very happy, so when reporters asked him whether he would ever consider scheduling the Cougars during the regular season, he took a bit of an elitist tone. He said he’d only play them at home in Austin, which is unfortunately a sentiment you often hear muttered by power-conference college basketball coaches. The aforementioned link is pretty snarky and critical, but it has a point. Teams like Texas often say they have nothing to gain by playing a team from a perceived “lesser” conference on the road, but it makes life impossible for non-BCS schools in terms of scheduling. It hurts potential rivalries, kills fan interest, and deprives people of solid basketball during non-conference play.
  4. Sorry, awkward teenagers in Lawrence, Kansas: your middle school dance has been cancelled during the Kansas Jayhawks’ Sweet 16 game against Michigan. Probably a good idea, since there surely wouldn’t have been anybody there. Now, they will need to make sure they don’t reschedule the dance for Sunday, when a possible Elite Eight game could be played. Oh, and don’t schedule it for April 6 or April 8, either. You know, just in case.
  5. We leave you on one final note: former Kansas State basketball player Dick Stone has passed away. He was a star in the 1950s, but at the age of 78, he was killed on Thursday in Florida when a man driving a pickup truck swerved into his parked car. Very tragic and very sad, and not the best way to end the Morning Five.
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Bracket Prep: Midwest Region Analysis

Posted by BHayes on March 18th, 2013

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Throughout Monday, we will roll out our region-by-region analysis on the following schedule: East (9 AM), Midwest (11 AM), South (1 PM), West (3 PM). Here, Bennet Hayes (@HoopsTraveler) breaks down the Midwest Region from top to bottom. Also, be sure to follow our RTC Midwest Region handle on Twitter for continuous updates the next two weeks (@RTCmidwestregion).

You can also check out our RTC Podblast with Bennet breaking down the Midwest Region, which will drop both on the site and on iTunes Tuesday.

Midwest Region

Favorite: #1 Louisville (29-5, 17-4 Big East). It stands to reason that the top overall seed in the field is also the favorite to emerge from the Midwest Region. No team enters the NCAA Tournament hotter than Louisville, winners of 10 straight games and 13 of 14. Consider the Cards’ dominant second half of the Big East Tournament championship game a final warning for this field of 68 – there is no scarier team in this tournament.

"No Sleep Until Atlanta" For Siva, Pitino And The Rest Of The Louisville Cardinals, Your #1 Overall Seed

No Sleep Until Atlanta For Siva, Pitino And The Rest Of The Louisville Cardinals, Your #1 Overall Seed

Should They Falter: #2 Duke (27-5, 14-5 ACC). It’s been a quiet few days for the Blue Devils, as the weekend’s ACC discussion largely revolved around Miami. But there they lurk at the bottom of the Midwest Region, poised as ever for a March sprint. Let’s not forget that the Devils’ ACC Tournament loss to Maryland was the first time Duke had lost with a healthy Ryan Kelly, and the senior’s clean bill of health is a far greater blessing for the Blue Devils than a #1 seed ever could have been. Duke also owns a victory over Louisville from back in November, albeit one with an asterisk attached – Cardinal big man Gorgui Dieng missed the Battle 4 Atlantis title game. For now though, Coach K and company are happy to let Louisville absorb all the buzz as the region’s favorite, while the dangerous Blue Devils attempt to navigate a manageable road to Indianapolis.

Grossly Overseeded: #6 Memphis (30-4, 19-0 Conference USA). Bracket projections had the Tigers anywhere between a #6 and a #9 seed. Josh Pastner’s team maxed out its seed line by receiving the #6, but now comes the hard part – beating an NCAA Tournament team. Memphis did that just once in the regular season (a win over #14 seed Harvard), a rare gap in the resume for any team in the field, much less a team so highly seeded. Let’s put it this way — Middle Tennessee, the most controversial at-large selection in this field and a potential Third Round opponent of the Tigers, had two more victories over NCAA teams, and just one more loss than Memphis. That’s not to say that the Blue Raiders are a better team than Memphis (although perhaps we will get to find that out), but you get the point.   

Grossly Underseeded: #12 Oregon (26-8, 15-6 Pac-12). Likely the most underseeded team in the entire field. Sure, the Ducks slogged their way to the finish line of the regular season, but the return of Dominic Artis and an impressive three-game run to win the Pac-12 Tournament had most bracketologists predicting a spot in an #8/#9 game for Oregon. Committee chair Mike Bobinski admitted that the Ducks were actually on the #11 seed line and had to be moved down as a result of logistical issues elsewhere in the bracket, but either way, this team is better than their double-digit seed would indicate.

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