Kansas and Oklahoma Carry Burden of Big 12 Reputation

Posted by Chris Stone on January 5th, 2016

Last season’s NCAA Tournament resulted in a huge black mark on the Big 12’s reputation. The conference entered March ranked as KenPom‘s top league in the nation and yet three of its top teams — Baylor, Iowa State, and Kansas — were all eliminated before the second weekend, and no Big 12 school made it past the Sweet Sixteen. At the time, Sam Mellinger of The Kansas City Star called it a “colossal failure” that would “live with the league for a while.” It was a defensible sentiment. Last year’s postseason collapse was just the most recent example of the Big 12’s failings on college basketball’s biggest stage. It’s now been four seasons since the conference’s last Elite Eight team and Kansas is the only school to make the NCAA Tournament’s final weekend since 2004. To call the Big 12’s recent NCAA Tournament performance underwhelming would be completely accurate.

Kansas and Oklahoma gave us one for the ages on Monday. (Nick Krug/KU Sports)

Kansas and Oklahoma gave us one for the ages on Monday. (Nick Krug/KU Sports)

Is this the season when the Big 12 finally bounces back. Exhibit A of such a shift in fortunes came on Monday night when fans were treated to one of the best college basketball games in recent memory. Kansas head coach Bill Self gave the game his highest praise, calling it “probably the best game I have ever been a part of during the regular season,” and comparing last night’s 109-106 triple-overtime thriller against Oklahoma with Kansas’ final Border War battle against Missouri in 2012 (won by the Jayhawks in overtime, 87-86). The contest had everything we want from a college basketball game. It featured an otherworldly individual performance from All-American Buddy Hield, a 46-point virtuoso performance so sublime that Kansas fans gave him a standing ovation after the game. Allen Fieldhouse was so wild that ESPN commentator Dick Vitale went so far as to call it the loudest game he had called in his 37 years of announcing. But perhaps most importantly, the game featured arguably college basketball’s two best teams taking each other’s hardest punches before countering back with their own.

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Big 12 M5: Oklahoma vs. Kansas Edition

Posted by Nate Kotisso on January 4th, 2016


  1. So… there’s a little game going on in Lawrence tonight. The implications of OklahomaKansas are enormous considering the game is likely to feature the top two teams in this week’s Associated Press poll. It is also a tiny bit disappointing that the first of two games in this epic clash will be played so early in the conference season. It’s sort of like having really good chocolate for breakfast. Not exactly a 3 Musketeers-level of chocolate (not that there’s anything wrong with a 3 Musketeers-level of chocolate) but Oklahoma at Kansas would qualify as a higher class of chocolate (Ghiradelli-esque). Let’s try to save some of the good chocolate for February 13 (lunch) and March 12 for the Big 12 Tournament title game (dinner).
  2. On Saturday, the Jayhawks dropped a triple-digit offensive effort on a Baylor team well-known for their defensive prowess. Spearheading that effort were Kansas’ two point guards Frank Mason and Devonté Graham who are natural complements to each other’s talents and inconsistencies. In addition to their games, the two players assert themselves differently on the floor. Graham is the more emotional player while Mason is the player who will let his game do the talking for him. It’s not a surprise these two mesh well on arguably Bill Self’s deepest team since arriving in Lawrence.
  3. We knew going into tonight that Sooners coach Lon Kruger and the state of Kansas were connected considering his memorable tenure at Kansas State in the late 1980s. As The Oklahoman’s Berry Tramel notes, the personal ties go much deeper than that. The journey for Kruger in Manhattan, Kansas, to Norman, Oklahoma, has gone through more than a few stops along the way. Still, the journey from Kruger’s introductory press conference at Oklahoma in April 2011 to national title contender in January 2016 is one to marvel at. It took time, it took a few beatdowns and close calls at the hands of Kansas but now, Kruger’s chance to disrupt Big 12 hierarchy is as good now as it has ever been for him.
  4. What’s sure to play a pivotal role in tonight’s proceedings is the fan environment of Allen Fieldhouse. It will be loud and it will be uncomfortable for the Sooners just as it was for Baylor on Saturday afternoon. The Bears dropped their ninth game at Allen Fieldhouse in the Scott Drew era which insanely equals the amount of times Kansas has lost at home in the Bill Self era (Drew and Self both entered the Big 12 head coaching ranks in 2003). Oklahoma will attempt to pull off something schools like Texas A&M, San Diego State, Oklahoma State, Texas and a few others were able to do in recent years — win in The Phog.
  5. The Sooners were able to remain undefeated entering tonight’s game by edging out Iowa State on Saturday night. A large part of the victory came via senior big man Ryan Spangler,who battled through banging knees with Iowa State’s Matt Thomas and a trip to the locker room, in order to finish with 20 points and 12 rebounds. It’ll be interesting to see how a nicked-up Spangler deals with long and versatile frontline of Kansas, the shot-blocking Hunter Mickelson, floor-spreaders like Perry Ellis and Carlton Bragg and the quickness of Cheick Diallo. Needless to say, we’ll be waitin’ all day for Mondayyyyyy Nightttttt. Or something.
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Circled Wagons: A Peek at Oklahoma’s Red Hot Start

Posted by Shane McNichol on December 17th, 2015

Early this season, we’ve seen a fair amount of national chatter about a lack of great teams in college basketball. The tent poles of recent dominance (e.g., Duke, Kentucky, Kansas) have all seemingly taken a half-step back this year and we’re left with an intriguing collection of very good teams. But as we sit halfway through December, there is one team that has won all seven of its games by an average margin of 24.8 PPG, with two victories over clubs in the KenPom top 40. That team is Oklahoma.

Lon Kruger's Sooners had an excellent week to say the least. (USA TODAY Sports)

Lon Kruger’s Sooners had an excellent week to say the least. (USA TODAY Sports)

Lon Kruger’s club has admittedly played a less challenging schedule, ranked 223rd nationally to this point. Against that competition, though, they’ve impressed. Their wins include a true road game at Memphis, a neutral court drubbing of highly-ranked Villanova, and a waxing of Wisconsin in which the Badgers’ only lead was 3-0. Against their lesser opponents, the Sooners have notched four more wins, each coming by more than 23 points. Their 7-0 record represents one of only eight teams still unbeaten, and yet they aren’t drawing as much attention as you might expect. Oklahoma currently sits at #3 in the AP Poll, receiving zero first place votes and behind one-loss Kansas. So why aren’t more people buzzing about the Sooners as a potentially great team? And what has made them so outstanding this season? The answer to those questions might, somewhat shockingly, represent the same thing. Take a look at the table below featuring Oklahoma’s three-point shooting this season.
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Big 12 M5: 12.15.15 Edition

Posted by Brian Goodman on December 15th, 2015


  1. Texas came into the weekend in need of a signature win, and boy did it get one in Saturday’s thrilling victory over #3 North Carolina. In addition to Javan Felix‘s last-second heroics, the Longhorns’ big win can also be attributed to a standout effort on the defensive glass. On Saturday, Texas collected 83 percent of North Carolina’s misses, with Cameron Ridley fending off Kennedy Meeks and Brice Johnson in a season-high 33 minutes of action. And yet, even after topping the Tar Heels, the Longhorns still rank among the bottom 50 teams nationally in defensive rebounding percentage, proving how effective Saturday’s effort was.
  2. It was only a year or so ago that Kansas was wondering if it could field a team with a steady point guard at the helm. Frank Mason has more than admirably filled that role, but now it’s the crowded Jayhawks’ frontcourt that has head coach Bill Self searching for answers. He might be somewhat closer to solutions after his team’s recent win over Oregon State, however. While Self admitted that his rotation may still fluctuate from game to game, senior transfer Hunter Mickelson and freshman Carlton Bragg made the biggest strides in Kansas City on Saturday night. With three games remaining until conference play begins, the big man situation in Lawrence is definitely something to monitor.
  3. Speaking of the Kansas frontcourt, Rustin Dodd of The Kansas City Star wrote a terrific in-depth piece on the long, winding journey that brought Cheick Diallo from war-torn Mali all the way to Lawrence. Among many other qualities, Bill Self claims in the article that “nobody since I’ve been here, for 13 years — tries harder academically than [Diallo] does. Nobody.” In an odd twist of fate, it’s the effort Diallo gives in the classroom that made the NCAA eligibility center’s slog to clear him all the more frustrating, but it’s great to see the young rim protector on the floor and thriving these days.
  4. In keeping with the backstories of some of the young talent around the conference, John Walker of The Oklahoma Daily gives us the lowdown on how Oklahoma head coach Lon Kruger swayed freshman Rashard Odomes to play for the Sooners. In classic Kruger fashion, the basketball lifer didn’t point to his accomplishments on the court; rather, to the family culture he’s fostered in Norman. It may be a year or two before Odomes plays a regular role on the team, but he’s a player we’ll be rooting for.
  5. Last week’s court rush in Ames following Iowa State‘s thrilling comeback win over Iowa kickstarted another round of debate about the fan-inspired practice, with an injury to a reporter heightening the conversation’s volume. On Friday, however, the Big 12 ruled that Iowa State’s staff operated within the league’s code of conduct, putting an end to speculation that any punishment would come their way. While we feel for anyone — player, coach, media member, or fan — who gets injured in court rushings, the ritual still holds a unique place in college basketball’s culture. There may come a time when a school will need to face repercussions, but outright bans are generally unenforceable and would end up stinging in the long run.
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Big 12 M5: 12.09.15 Edition

Posted by Nate Kotisso on December 9th, 2015


  1. West Virginia came into last night’s “all-Virginia-in-their-name” showdown with the Cavaliers with a sparkling 7-0 record. Things looked good initially with the Mountaineers taking a six-point lead into the dressing room… but then the second half happened. Second halves tend to occur in basketball and on this night, Bob Huggins’ team was not ready for it. The normally slow-tempoed Cavaliers put up 40 points in the final 20 minutes, fueled by London Perrantes’ 13 points for the half. Virginia is also known for its stingy defense, but once again, a major concern for West Virginia was finding any semblance of a functioning half-court offense. Playing a team like the Cavaliers is a good barometer to check where a team is three weeks before conference play starts.
  2. Consider the following sentence: Oklahoma head coach Lon Kruger is one of the most underrated coaches in college basketball. This is a true sentence but CBS Sports‘ Gary Parrish dives even deeper into why this is a true sentence. He’s been everywhere and he’s won everywhere (sorry, UT-Pan American). He’s taken a fringe top 150 recruit and turned him into the defending Big 12 Player of the Year. He’s also… well, it’s all in Parrish’s column, which is another true sentence.
  3. If you were to take a closer look at Monday night’s Iowa State win over Buffalo, you’d notice that there were a lot more connections between the two programs than you’d realize. Cyclones point guard Monte’ Morris played his high school ball at Romulus High School in Michigan for newly-minted Buffalo head coach Nate Oats. Iowa State assistant Charlie Henry worked on Oats’ staff at Romulus High as well while fellow assistant T.J. Otzelberger has been friends with Oats since their days working together at Division III Wisconsin-Whitewater. The best thing to emerge from these two teams meeting didn’t happen on the floor but off the floor. Chris Williams, a publisher for Iowa State fan site Cyclone Fanatic, created a GoFundMe for Oats’ wife, Crystal, who is currently battling double-hit lymphoma. The goal was set at $10,000 which covered the cost of medical expenses for Oats’ family. With the help of Iowa State fans, they raised more than $12,000 in just four days. Beyond the game played at Hilton Coliseum that night, Oats, Iowa State and their fans will have a bond that lasts for many seasons to come.
  4. Texas hasn’t had the best start in Shaka Smart‘s first season in Austin. Texas-Arlington took the Horns to overtime last week but this time, they would not face stiff competition from another University of Texas System team as Texas-San Antonio was outrun by Texas 116-50 at the Frank Erwin Center. Some other incredible stats from this game: the Longhorns led by as many 67 points; they made 65 percent of their field goal attempts; and they were somehow tied with UTSA for one minute and 16 seconds. Anytime the coach can look up at the scoreboard, see that his team is up a bunch and empty his bench as soon as possible is a good might for said coach.
  5. Hello, my name is Nate Kotisso. At the one month mark of the college basketball season, I am admittedly wrong on most fronts; now, I am free to admit that I was wrong about Kansas State. I pictured the worst basketball atrocities to occur to this team in 2015-16, and while there’s enough time for said basketball atrocities to occur, they haven’t happened as of yet. The Wildcats are 6-1 with a kinda solid win at Georgia last week and an admirable effort in their only loss to North Carolina. With Coppin State coming into Manhattan tonight, it is possible for K-State to go into Big 12 play with potentially nine or more wins. Considering the massive meltdown from a season ago, this is good! Enjoy the goodness while it lasts!
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Oklahoma Looks to Outlast Villanova in Clash of Unbeatens

Posted by Brian Goodman on December 7th, 2015

Three weeks into the season, college basketball is down to just 13 undefeated teams. We’ll be in for a treat tonight when two of those teams, Oklahoma and Villanova, square off at the Pearl Harbor Classic in Hawai’i. When people talk about the Sooners, they generally lead with the play of All-American Buddy Hield, and with good reason. The story of his transformation from Bahamian sleeper recruit to National Player Of The Year candidate on a top 10 team is worth telling.

Buddy Hield leads Oklahoma against Villanova in tonight's clash of unbeatens. (David K Purdy/Getty Images)

Buddy Hield leads Oklahoma against Villanova in tonight’s clash of unbeatens. (David K Purdy/Getty Images)

While the Sooners aren’t lacking for weapons outside of Hield, he’s taken an even bigger role in his team’s offense and he’s only improved (albeit against suspect competition). His true shooting percentage, which measures collective efficiency on two-point shots, three-pointers and free throws, has risen from 54.5 percent to 62.0 percent this season, largely on the strength of improved accuracy from beyond the three-point line and the foul line. He has also done a better job of involving his teammates in Lon Kruger‘s offense, as his assist rate has improved from 13.2 percent to 16.2 percent this season.Additionally, Oklahoma’s opponents are struggling to contain the senior, fouling him an average of 7.1 times per 40 minutes.

As special as Hield has been, Oklahoma’s complementary players are worth much more ink than they’ve received. Ryan Spangler keeps the Sooners’ inside game steady with consistent rebounding and finishing down low, and Khadeem Lattin and Akolda Manyang have provided the help needed to fill the void left by TaShawn Thomas’ departure. As a sophomore, Lattin is making life miserable for opposing forwards with his rebounding and shot-altering ability despite only playing about 15 minutes per contest; meanwhile, the seven-foot Manyang has been a shot-blocking force in limited opportunities as he’s adjusted to the college level. Read the rest of this entry »

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Big 12 M5: 12.07.15 Edition

Posted by Nate Kotisso on December 7th, 2015


  1. It’s the Monday following the announcement of this year’s College Football Playoff participants so it must be time to talk Big 12 expansion again, right? Unlike last year, however, the league might be forced to expand sooner rather than later. It was expecting a motion to deregulate conference championship games in football to pass next month, but the Big Ten has stepped in with a “last-minute amendment” that might hurt the 10-team conference’s chances of hosting such a game in 2016. Big 12 Commissioner Bob Bowlsby said he wouldn’t want to be forced to expand the league but admitted that it “could end up that way.” Expansion in football would directly affect basketball, of course, possibly enhancing or diluting the product depending on which direction it goes.
  2. Baylor football had a rough go of things on Saturday, but the men’s basketball team turned those fortunes around Sunday night against #16 Vanderbilt. The Commodores went on a 17-0 run early in the second half to go up 10 but the Bears stormed back to tie the game at 52 with 8:40 to play. From then on, both teams traded body blows in what became a 40-minute basketball masterpiece that Baylor won, 69-67. Taurean Prince scored 30 points in front of over 30 NBA scouts and we all watched Lester Medford (15 points on 6-of-12 shooting) make big shot after big shot to nail it down for the Bears. This appears to be a strong profile-building win for Baylor.
  3. Darker days are approaching for Oklahoma State, if they aren’t here already. After losing at home to Tulsa for the first time since 1985, the Cowboys fell even lower on Saturday as they lost to Missouri State (1-5 record, ranked 239th on Kenpom), 64-63. It was Missouri State’s first win against a Division I opponent this season. For the Cowboys, this marked the first time they have dropped two consecutive non-conference home games since, you guessed it, 1985. Meanwhile, Oklahoma State is still without top scorer Phil Forte indefinitely as Travis Ford has said that his status could be “day to day, week to week” or “month to month.” And the Sugar Bowl won’t be for another three-and-a-half weeks, huh? Yikes.
  4. Oklahoma will take on Villanova tonight in a highly-anticipated top 10 showdown between potential Final Four teams. The game will of course be played at Pearl Harbor in Hawaii on the 74th anniversary of Japan’s infamous attack on the United States that thrust the country into World War II. Head coach Lon Kruger spoke on the significance of their visit to Hawaii as an opportunity for his players to learn more about an important part of America’s history.
  5. Despite dealing with eligibility concerns with two players and an early transfer, Texas Tech head coach Tubby Smith has been forced to shorten his rotation in two ways: personnel and height. It seems to have worked thus far. The Red Raiders are 5-1 on the young season with their only loss coming against a Utah team they hung with for much of that game. Zach Smith and Norense Odiase have emerged as the two stalwarts down low while guard Keenan Evans has made strides as a scorer in his second season. The danger with a short rotation is when those players reach a point somewhere in conference play when they run out of gas and start putting forth weaker efforts. That’s something Smith will have to keep an eye on as the season progresses.
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Oklahoma’s Rise Powered By Defensive Transformation

Posted by Chris Stone on December 3rd, 2015

On Sunday afternoon, Oklahoma held Wisconsin, one of the country’s top 25 offenses, to just 0.80 points per possession. The Sooners’ 65-48 thrashing of last year’s national runner-up is just the latest example of a defensive transformation that has turned Lon Kruger’s squad into one of the top teams in the nation. Sure, the Badgers no longer have Sam Dekker and Frank Kaminsky on the floor, but their departures doesn’t take anything away from the latest example of Sooner stinginess.

Oklahoma's swarming defense makes them a Final Four contender. (Mark D. Smith-USA TODAY Sports)

Oklahoma’s swarming defense makes them a Final Four contender. (Mark D. Smith/USA TODAY Sports)

In 2013-14, Lon Kruger’s squad was upset in the first round of the NCAA Tournament by North Dakota State. They finished 91st in KenPom’s adjusted defensive efficiency metric that season. With four of their starters returning, the Sooners knew they would need to improve on their defense to take a leap forward in 2014-15. Those four starters — Jordan Woodard, Isaiah Cousins, Buddy Hield, and Ryan Spangler — are still in Norman, and still starting. That quartet, along with graduate transfer TaShawn Thomas, helped turn Oklahoma into one of the nation’s 10 best defensive teams last season. Despite Thomas’ graduation, Oklahoma is on pace for a similarly strong defensive campaign. The Sooners are currently ranked seventh in adjusted defensive efficiency. Read the rest of this entry »

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Big 12 Preview: Oklahoma’s Burning Question

Posted by Brian Goodman on October 30th, 2015

Brian Goodman is the lead Big 12 correspondent for Rush The Court. You can follow him on Twitter at @BSGoodman.

Burning question: Is Oklahoma ready for the biggest expectations of the Lon Kruger era?

When it comes to recent history, Oklahoma basketball doesn’t conjure up a lot of great memories. Yes, Big 12 fans will recall Blake Griffin’s evolution into a wrecking ball and the Sooners’ prolonged success under Kelvin Sampson a decade ago, but there hasn’t been a lot to draw from since those halcyon days. Right after Griffin led the Sooners to the 2009 Elite Eight, the program descended into a two-year tailspin where they went 27-36 overall and 9-23 in league play, ultimately leading to Jeff Capel’s ouster in 2011. Fast forward four years later to the afterglow of a Sweet Sixteen appearance and a potential First Team All-American leading the way, and big things can finally be expected again on the hardwood in Norman.

Buddy Hield is back to lead the Sooners, but how will they fare now that they're under the microscope? (David K Purdy/Getty Images)

Buddy Hield is back to lead the Sooners, but how will they fare now that they’re under the microscope? (David K Purdy/Getty Images)

The Sooners’ return to Big 12 contention can be credited to Lon Kruger’s direction and guidance. Oklahoma’s win total has increased in kind with every year he’s been on campus, and just last March, the team joined West Virginia as the only two Big 12 schools to survive the NCAA Tournament’s first weekend. Typically, when a program makes the Sweet Sixteen for just the second time in 12 years, a rebuild is lurking right around the corner. Not so with the Sooners — in fact, the spotlight on the Oklahoma program is even brighter in 2015-16 because practically everyone of significance from that run is back. Read the rest of this entry »

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Rushed Reactions: #7 Michigan State 62, #3 Oklahoma 58

Posted by Tommy Lemoine on March 28th, 2015


Three Key Takeaways.

The Spartans came up big down the stretch against Oklahoma. (Elsa / Getty Images North America)

The Spartans came up big down the stretch against Oklahoma. (Elsa / Getty Images North America)

  1. Michigan State did the little things down stretch – which isn’t always the case. Michigan State entered tonight’s contest ranked 339th nationally in free throw percentage (63%). Against Minnesota on February 26, the Spartans missed several key shots from the stripe, committed a number of silly fouls and blew a five-point lead with less than 20 seconds remaining. They nearly did the same thing at Indiana two weeks later. Late-game execution hasn’t exactly been their forte. But tonight was different. Branden Dawson and Matt Costello ripped down several huge offensive rebounds when Tom Izzo’s club needed them most. No one committed bone-headed fouls or careless turnovers. And despite going just 9-of-16 from the stripe as a team, Travis Trice and Denzel Valentine hit six free throws in a row in the game’s final two minutes to seal Michigan State’s four-point victory.
  2. Travis Trice carried the load (again); Denzel Valentine stepped up. After scoring 15 points against #10 Georgia and 23 points against #2 Virginia – including a late, dagger triple – senior guard Travis Trice once again carried the offensive load for Michigan State, pouring in 24 points on 50 percent shooting and knocking down several huge free throws down the stretch. Meanwhile, forward Denzel Valentine – who mustered just four points against the Cavaliers – finally woke up in the second half, scoring 13 of his 18 points in the final 20 minutes and keeping the Spartans on top late.
  3. Oklahoma went cold. Izzo said of Oklahoma, “They gave it to us in every way it could be gotten” early on. And he’s right. For the first eight-plus minutes of the game, the Sooners blasted Michigan State on both ends of the court, using a flurry of layups and dunks to jump out by a score of 18-8 before the Spartans even knew what hit them. Then, the offensive melee came to a halt. Dawson, Costello and the rest of Izzo’s frontcourt shored up the interior, and Oklahoma shot just 4-of-17 from behind the arc (including Buddy Hield’s 3-of-10 3FG). The Spartans weren’t exactly scorching the nets, either, but their offensive surge to start and end the second half proved enough to win.

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