RTC’s Big 12 Tournament Primer

Posted by dnspewak on March 7th, 2012

Danny Spewak is a Big 12 Microsite writer and will provide wall-to-wall coverage of the Big 12 Tournament from the Sprint Center in Kansas City this weekend. You can follow him on Twitter @dspewak.

After fighting through rush hour traffic and perhaps one of the windiest days in Missouri state history to reach Kansas City, we’re all set to kick off the Big 12 Tournament Wednesday night with a, well, rather bland matchup between Oklahoma and Texas A&M at 6:05 PM. As the weekend wears on, though, the drama will heat up about Missouri and A&M’s betrayal to the SEC, about a potential Border War showdown in the final, and about Texas’ last-gasp desperation to reach the NCAA Tournament. Here’s a team-by-team look at what’s important this weekend, as well as a few predictions (sure to be wrong, knowing our track record) and other analysis.

QUICK HITTERS: The Basics

1. Kansas (26-5, 15-2): For the eighth-straight season, the Jayhawks earned one of the top two seeds in the Big 12 Tournament. Big surprise. Now, it must survive the next three games — and that potential showdown with second-seeded Missouri — to solidify themselves as a top seed in the NCAA Tournament.

2. Missouri (27-4, 14-4): As painful as that overtime loss in Lawrence was on February 25, the Tigers could erase that memory entirely with a Big 12 Tournament championship this weekend. To even reach the title game, though, the Tigers would need to defeat either Texas or Iowa State for the third time this season. And that’s never any easy  thing to do. At least nemesis Kansas State is on the other side of the bracket.

Marcus Denmon Probably Wants Another Shot at Kansas in the Finals

3. Iowa State (22-9, 12-6): Look at that– the Cyclones have cracked the Top 25, another sign of Fred Hoiberg’s masterful coaching job this season. They said The Mayor couldn’t do it — his transfers would blow up in his face and it would doom Iowa State to another finish in the cellar. Hardly.

4. Baylor (25-6, 12-6): Besides a chance to earn more quality wins to improve seeding before Selection Sunday. it’s probably more important for the Bears to simply gain a little positive momentum before the Big Dance. After a blistering start, this team finished 1-5 agains the top three teams in this league and ended the season on a modest 4-4 note. At least one guy doesn’t need any more momentum, however. That’s Pierre Jackson, who torched Iowa State for 35 in a loss.

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Big 12 Season Recap and Postseason Preview

Posted by Brian Goodman on March 7th, 2012

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

Conference Tournament Preview

The big attraction this year for many fans is the chance to see one more Kansas-Missouri battle before the Tigers leave for the SEC. If Kansas reaches the final, they will likely be a #1 seed in the NCAA Tournament, and there’s still a chance Missouri can nab one if they win the Big 12 Tournament as well. Given the general lack of depth on both teams it might behoove them to lose early and rest up for the NCAA Tournament, but their competitiveness and seed chasing will probably lead to one last matchup.

Let's Go For a Third, Shall We? (AP)

The Big 12 has likely locked up five bids in the tournament, with a sixth possibly going to Texas. The Longhorns will need to beat Iowa State Wednesday night to have a shot, and with how soft the bubble is this year, that will probably be enough.

Elsewhere, Baylor can potentially get a #3 seed if they make a run (though with their new uniforms I am wondering if there is a way we can keep them out of the postseason altogether) and Iowa State can probably get away from the dreaded #8/#9 game if they do so as well. Kansas State‘s seeding could range widely depending on its performance this week, but the Wildcats are soundly in the Dance.

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Big 12 Morning Five: 03.01.12 Edition

Posted by dnspewak on March 1st, 2012

  1. Fans and media are notorious for playing “what-if” games. While the players play the game, it’s up to the writers to quibble about statistics, legacies and revisionist history. Oklahoma State is no different, as this writer asks what would have happened had the legendary Eddie Sutton not had a bout with alcoholism. It forced him to step down after a sub-par year in the mid-2000s, and his son Sean Sutton did not fare well afterward. It’s an interesting thought, at the very least.
  2. Sorry, but here’s yet another feature on Frank Haith. This one’s a good one, though. We’re not sure we agree with the headline, as Haith hasn’t really changed the culture as much as simply building on what Mike Anderson had already implemented. Still, he’s done a terrific job and his story is remarkable. But you know that already. Just read the article and learn it again.
  3. Five Big 12 players landed on the Naismith “Midseason 30″ list, and none of them will surprise you: Phil Pressey, Marcus Denmon, Perry Jones, Thomas Robinson, and Royce White. That ties the league with the SEC as having the most selections. It’s interesting to see MU land two players, whereas Kansas’ Tyshawn Taylor did not make the list. Close call.
  4. If you’re interested in multimedia, check out this discussion of Oklahoma State guard Keiton Page. Yes, we’ve linked to a lot of articles about Page’s legacy during the past few months, but the senior is a divisive and intriguing player. It’s worth a look if you have the time.
  5. It may not have booked its NCAA Tournament trip, but Texas stayed alive with a victory over rival Oklahoma last night. Now, it’s time for the Longhorns to figure out a way to beat Kansas at Allen Fieldhouse. True, Missouri proved that the Jayhawks are at least mortal and beatable on their home floor, but that was, well, Missouri. This is Texas, and the talent level in Austin this year is not nearly the same. Wilder things have happened though in sports, so that’s what Rick Barnes is going to have to bank on.
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Big 12 Morning Five: Leap Day Edition

Posted by dnspewak on February 29th, 2012

  1. Before the season began, Iowa State was one of the Big 12′s most intriguing cases. After a losing season, coach Fred Hoiberg banked on four transfers to lead him to the promised land. It worked. The Cyclones are all but headed to the NCAA Tournament now, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t still an underdog. Royce White, a major part of Team Transfer this year, say it’s a role the team enjoys playing. That’s a good thing, especially since ISU will visit Missouri on an emotional Senior Day tonight.
  2. Hoiberg isn’t the only coach not afraid to take transfers. His opponent tonight, Frank Haith, has a Team Transfer of his own set to become eligible for the 2012-13 season. Of course, I wrote about this very topic a few months ago, and it’s interesting to revisit. In terms of “The Transfer Effect,” Iowa State has clearly reaped the benefits of Division I transfers. Maybe it will work for Haith, too. We’ll just have to find out.
  3. In addition to several transfers, MU will also welcome back Laurence Bowers to its frontcourt next season. Unfortunately, that’s because he’s sitting out this season with a knee injury. The forward will now watch his fellow senior class compete at Mizzou Arena for the last time tonight, and it has to be difficult to watch his graduating class move on without him. He says the ride this year has been somewhat bittersweet, only because he cannot compete against Big 12 foes with seniors Kim English, Marcus Denmon, Steve Moore and the rest of the team.
  4. Sick of Iowa State/Missouri talk? So are we. With a disappointing Big 12 season winding down, Oklahoma fans may be looking to next season– and Amath M’Baye in particular. His teammates and coaches love him, and they say he’ll make a major impact when he becomes eligible next season after transferring from Wyoming. M’Baye, who averaged double figures with the Cowboys, seems to be able to do just about everything on a basketball court. With the bulk of a young team returning next year, M’Baye may be the missing piece for Lon Kruger.
  5. Here’s an interesting nugget: Apparently Kansas and Nebraska have been in very preliminary talks to start up a non-conference game in the near future. Scroll down to the bottom of this article to learn a little more. It sounds like the two sides had simply talked casually about the possibility, and it’s not going to happen as of right now. Still, considering KU’s refusal to play Missouri because it left the Big 12, it’s odd to read that the school still considered playing the Cornhuskers of the Big Ten.
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Final Conference Meeting Between Kansas And Missouri Etched Into Lore

Posted by Brian Goodman on February 27th, 2012

Steve Fetch is the Big 12 Correspondent for RTC. He filed this report from Allen Fieldhouse chronicling Saturday’s heated battle between Kansas and Missouri. You can follow him on Twitter at @fetch9.

Luck is a funny thing. It was part luck that allowed Missouri to shoot 50% from three over the first 29 minutes of the game. It was part luck that led to them going cold down the stretch. And it certainly was part luck that kept Marcus Denmon’s long heave with 30 seconds left from rattling home. But the luckiest people were the more than 16,000 people in the building who got to witness perhaps the last regular season meeting between Kansas and Missouri.

Kansas Fans Touted Their Adoration Of Fabled Allen Fieldhouse

It’s one of the best rivalries in the country. It’s also one of the most overlooked. Most importantly, it’s based on pure hatred and history dating back to the Civil War. After the game, Missouri Athletic Director Mike Alden expressed his bewilderment at why the series wasn’t going to continue. The explanation isn’t all that complex, but it is fueled by emotion. A continuation of the series outside of the parameters of conference play wouldn’t be the same. Unlike in football, where a Florida-Florida State matchup can have national championship implications, a mid-November meeting between Kansas and Missouri would just be a pit stop before the show that matters. Not to mention the fact that it hardly benefits Kansas to let Missouri back into the Kansas City market and assume all the pressure: win, and they’re supposed to, because they’re Kansas. Lose and it’s the end of the world.

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The Message From the Final Border War: KU and Mizzou Can Play With Anybody

Posted by dnspewak on February 27th, 2012

In the aftermath of Saturday’s epic finish between Missouri and Kansas, discussion in the mainstream media has focused on everything from the officiating to the drama of the Border War/SEC controversy. Out in the always-entertaining Twitter world, established analysts like Jay Bilas and Doug Gottlieb have criticized late-game foul calls tilted in Kansas’ favor, and just about every outlet has run a story begging the Jayhawks to continue the series despite Missouri’s departure from the Big 12.

Thomas Robinson Certainly Looked Like the Player of the Year on Saturday (photo by AP)

It seems they’re talking about absolutely everything except for the actual basketball game. And, for the record, the actual basketball game was pretty darn appealing to the national college basketball audience. We can quibble about how Missouri blew a 19-point lead and we can argue about how vulnerable Kansas looked during that atrocious stretch at the end of the first half and the beginning of the second. Regardless of all that negativity, it was obvious from the opening tip that this was an even matchup between two elite teams. The first five minutes set the tone: Kansas and Missouri each threw a first punch, matching the other basket for basket. Mistakes were limited. Defense was top-notch on both ends. It was simply two terrific basketball teams playing as hard as possible in a game that mattered so much — for so many reasons.

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Missouri’s Path to A Road Win in Border War Finale

Posted by dnspewak on February 25th, 2012

We’ll remember this date: February 25, 2012. The day the Border War ended. The day Missouri and Kansas played their 267th and final game against each other. The day more than 100 years of hatred ended, the day the 2012 Big 12 Championship may be decided and the day that determined eternal bragging rights.

It’s a big day. The biggest ever at Allen Fieldhouse? That’s a tough call, according to coach Bill Self. From the Lawrence-Journal World:

“No, probably not,” Self said, asked if it was the biggest home game in his tenure at KU. “We’ve had other games where we had to win that game to win the league. In fans’ minds and our players’ minds since they beat us the first time when we felt we had them down the stretch, I believe it’s probably in everybody else’s minds, maybe other than the coaches’, the biggest game we’ve had.”

Bill Self This Isn't the Biggest Game at AFH History, But He Understands Why It's Touted That Way

Define the game however you’d like. At the very least, it’s a top five matchup between two teams vying for a Big 12 regular-season championship at one of college basketball’s most historic venues. Yet just about everybody is writing the Tigers off at Allen Fieldhouse, perhaps for rational reasons. They haven’t won in Lawrence in 13 years — January 24, 1999, to be exact, when point guard Brian Grawer scored 18 points and the Tigers limited arch-enemy Ryan Robertson to 1-10 shooting. Unless you’re a Kansas or Missouri fan, you’ve either never heard of those players or faintly remember their names simply because you followed college basketball at the time. That’s how long its been since Missouri last won a road game against Kansas, and it will have a difficult time handling the energy of the home crowd in the Border War finale on Saturday.

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Set Your TiVo: 02.24.12 – 02.26.12

Posted by Brian Otskey on February 24th, 2012

Brian Otskey is the Big East correspondent for RTC and a regular contributor. You can find him @botskey on Twitter. See bottom of the post for the Official RTC Star System.

Somewhat unbelievably, the second-to-last regular season Saturday is upon us. Plenty of big time and bubble games are on the schedule as the stretch run really heats up.

#3 Missouri @ #4 Kansas – 4:00 PM EST Saturday on CBS (*****)

  • The final Border War game promises to be another terrific display of basketball between two top five teams that really don’t care for one another. Missouri won the first meeting between these teams, but to do it again it will have to defend at a higher level. Both teams shot over 50% at Mizzou Arena three weeks ago, but Kansas has been the better defensive team all season long. Now playing at home in virtually impenetrable Allen Fieldhouse, the Jayhawks have to like their chances in this one. Kansas has a huge rebounding and size advantage in the paint with Thomas Robinson and Jeff Withey going up against Ricardo Ratliffe. While Ratliffe is a great finisher around the bucket, he was held to six points in the first meeting, limited by foul trouble in only 20 minutes of action. Kansas can neutralize Ratliffe and force Missouri to make shots. Missouri hit 10 threes in the first meeting, led by Marcus Denmon’s six. Kansas will have to tighten up a three point defense that ranks #173 nationally in order to prevent that from happening again.

    Can Denmon & The Tigers Rebound?

  • Denmon’s 29-point effort against Kansas on February 4 lifted him out of a slump and his high level of play has continued since then. Denmon and Kim English have to make shots or else Kansas will have a significant edge in this game. The Jayhawks should be dominant inside with Robinson going against Ratliffe with Withey by his side. Kansas is one of the best teams in the nation in two point percentage. Defensively, Bill Self has to be worried about the three point line. While Kansas is a very efficient defensive team, they can be beaten from the arc. Missouri is certainly a team capable of doing that as it moves the ball well and has a multitude of deep threats lining the perimeter. Frank Haith needs a good game at point guard out of Phil Pressey, otherwise Robinson and Tyshawn Taylor could take over the game quickly as they did against Baylor at the Phog. Taylor has had an outstanding senior season but is vulnerable to turnovers. Look for Missouri to target him defensively in order to prevent him from getting into a rhythm and setting up the Jayhawk offense.
  •  The big question mark here is can Missouri defend at a high level against an elite opponent on the road? The Tigers are last in the Big 12 in three point defense and their overall efficiency rating leaves a lot to be desired. Kansas is going to get its points inside but is not a particularly great outside shooting team. However, Taylor poses a big threat and must be held in check if Missouri is going to beat Kansas in a place where almost nobody wins. Until proven otherwise, we can’t pick against the Jayhawks in such an emotionally charged game as this one.

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Big 12 Morning Five: 02.13.12 Edition

Posted by dnspewak on February 13th, 2012

  1. If you ever attend a Missouri basketball game, take a glance at the gentlemen lined up at center court during pre-game warm-ups. There are four players in warm-up clothes: Jabari Brown, Keion Bell, Earnest Ross, and Danny Feldman, four transfers who cannot play this season but make a considerable impact in practice. Next year, they will take the reins from this graduating senior class for the Tigers. For now, though, they may actually be the hidden key to Missouri’s success this season. According to Bryan Burwell, watching the “real” team face the “scout” team in practice is quite a scene with physical play and elbows flying. Marcus Denmon even said he thought the practice team could win a lot of games in the Big 12–an ambitious comment, sure, but not totally off-base.
  2. Rarely is a 15-point loss a moral victory for anyone, but Oklahoma State has to at least be a bit happier with its resilience  in Lawrence this weekend. Last month, Baylor handed the Cowboys an embarrassing 41-point loss in Waco. On Saturday, Oklahoma State showed some fortitude after halftime “rallying” from a 29-point hole to nearly crack a single-digit deficit late in the second-half. “It show’s we’re willing to fight with any team in this league. We got off to a bad start. We had to turn it around the second half,” Markel Brown said. You never want to get into the habit of applauding 15-point losses, but any progress is worth noting at this point for Travis Ford‘s program.
  3. We are not old enough to remember Lon Kruger‘s playing days, but folklore has it that he’s one of the better players to ever play in the Big Eight Conference. This article recalls his glory days at Kansas State and how he is trying to fuel his mentality into his Oklahoma team. The Sooners’ season hit rock bottom this weekend with a blowout loss to Texas Tech, dropping them to 3-9 in the Big 12 and probably ending any real chance at an NIT berth. Changing the culture in a program takes awhile, though, so it is not time for Oklahoma fans to panic. Kruger’s the right man for the job, as long as his intensity carries over into his players one of these years.
  4. We haven’t talked about realignment in a few weeks, so let’s get an update. According to this article, the “trade” between West Virginia/TCU and Missouri/Texas A&M isn’t a fair deal for the Big 12. Looking strictly at the immediate future, the league may lose a little luster. But there’s a problem with his article’s argument. Missouri isn’t traditionally a top-five program, and West Virginia is having a relative down season by its standards. Over the next 10-15 years, this “trade” could be a wash, especially if TCU ever figures out how to revitalize its program. Bottom line, it is silly to discuss this. The Big 12 has taken a hit basketball-wise, but it’s not about to collapse.
  5. Texas may have saved its NCAA Tournament hopes this weekend by rallying in Manhattan to beat Kansas State, a sign of resilience for an oft-criticized program in recent years. So many accuse Rick Barnes of wasting talent, but he’s actually brought a workmanlike attitude to this young team in 2011-12. The Longhorns are even starting to embrace their underdog status, and their dreams of reaching the Big Dance aren’t dead yet. If Barnes can figure out a way to sneak into the NCAAs with this many freshmen in the rotation, he’ll deserve a lot of credit for, dare we say, “overachieving.”
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Set Your TiVo: 02.11.12 – 02.12.12

Posted by Brian Otskey on February 10th, 2012

Brian Otskey is the Big East correspondent for RTC and a regular contributor. You can find him @botskey on Twitter. See bottom of the post for the Official RTC Star System.

Plenty of top 25 games are on Saturday’s slate while conference races heat up and bubble teams look for key wins.

#20 Virginia at #5 North Carolina – 1:00 PM EST Saturday on ESPN FullCourt/ESPN3.com (****)

  • Coming off the crushing home loss to Duke on Wednesday, how will the Tar Heels respond? Without P.J. Hairston (sore foot) in the lineup, things could get a little dicey for #5 UNC. Hairston’s absence severely limits Carolina’s already thin back court depth. This game is going to be all about pace. Virginia plays at one of the slowest paces in the nation while North Carolina is one of the fastest teams. Point guard Kendall Marshallhas to get his team running as much as they can but we’ve seen time and time again how it is much easier to slow a game down than it is to speed it up. Wisconsin did this effectively at the Dean Dome earlier this season and you’re going to see the same blueprint from Virginia. The Cavaliers do a great job defending the three-point arc so UNC will likely get almost all of its points from inside or the free throw line. The Tar Heels are among the bottom five teams in America in terms of threes attempted to begin with and get 61.8% of their points from two-point range on average. Marshall and his teammates must be able to penetrate and move the ball well against Virginia’s strong half court defense.

    How Will Marshall & The Tar Heels Respond To Tuesday's Last Second Loss?

  • Virginia’s biggest strengths are its defense and play of forward Mike Scott. At 60.3% from the field, Scott is among the best interior players in the nation, but will have to receive some help from a thin UVA front line in this game. Led by Tyler Zeller and John Henson, North Carolina has a ton of height up front that could give Scott a lot of problems. With Assane Sene still out with an ankle injury, the burden of helping Scott against UNC’s imposing front line falls to Akil Mitchell. His presence will be needed more on the defensive end to limit Zeller and Henson but Virginia is not going to win if Scott doesn’t score. Mitchell must be enough of a threat to prevent quick double teams on Scott, allowing him to maneuver around the UNC trees. Defensively, Virginia will look to pack its defense in and prevent Marshall from penetrating and dishing to Zeller and Henson. Making opponents take tough shots is something Virginia does really well and the Cavaliers will need to do it again. Harrison Barnes will likely oblige but Mitchell and Scott must force Zeller and Henson into shots outside the paint or falling away from the basket. If you allow those guys to receive the ball in the paint, you’re finished.
  • Even though Virginia will likely slow the game down to a pace of its liking, the Cavaliers still must score the basketball. Sammy Zeglinski is five for his last 19 from the floor over the past three games and Jontel Evans has to have a good game at the point guard position. Virginia can’t turn the ball over and fuel the Carolina transition attack. It would also help if Joe Harris was knocking down triples, especially if Zeglinski can’t get out of his funk. Keep an eye on rebounding. North Carolina did a great job against Duke, showing some toughness on the glass that we haven’t always seen this year. Virginia is fourth nationally in defensive rebounding percentage but the Cavs really struggle on the offensive end. If the shots aren’t falling, Virginia will have a lot of one and done possessions if it can’t do a better job on the offensive glass. Good rebounding also helps a team control tempo and that’s exactly what Virginia needs to do in order to win this game on the road.

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Big 12 Alley-Oops and Airballs: Week Twelve

Posted by cwilliams on February 9th, 2012

Another week of Big 12 basketball is in the books. With each passing week, the Big 12 is seemingly becoming more and more of a media darling. The Border War was plastered all over ESPN this weekend, and if it weren’t for the Super Bowl (whatever that is), we’d probably still be seeing highlights of Marcus Denmon’s take over of the game. The Big 12 race has become a three-team contest, but let us not forget how quickly things can change, especially in a league with this kind of talent.

While Missouri is Hot, Oklahoma's Attendance is Not (Columbia Tribune)

Alley-Oops

  • Marcus Denmon/Mizzou Arena/The Border War: That’s right, a three-way tie. Obviously, Marcus Denmon deserves an alley-oop for one of the most impressive late game performances I’ve ever seen. After a bit of a shooting slump, Denmon has placed himself back in the conference POY race. Next, I want to recognize Mizzou Arena, namely how loud the student section was. Earlier in the season, I ranked the student sections of the Big 12, and placed Mizzou Arena’s third. I want to officially amend that to place them as a close second now to Allen Fieldhouse. Lastly, the Border War in general. After all the hype that surrounded this game, whether it was the College Gameday crew, the rumors about vicious t-shirts, or the finality of the rivalry, this game did not disappoint.
  • If I’m Going Down… : Yes, the Pokes from Stillwater are having a disappointing season. They will likely not see the glory of March Madness, and could possibly see no postseason play at all. But that doesn’t mean they aren’t going to try and ruin other teams’ chances at postseason glory. First, Oklahoma State upset #2 Missouri. Then, they gave Baylor a run for its money, narrowly losing by four points. Then, on Tuesday, the Pokes defeated surging Iowa State at home. While Oklahoma State may not be a threat to compete for the conference crown, they sure are making it difficult for everyone else to do so. Read the rest of this entry »
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It’s A Love/Hate Relationship: Volume X

Posted by jbaumgartner on February 7th, 2012

Jesse Baumgartner is an RTC columnist. His Love/Hate column will publish each week throughout the season. In this piece he’ll review the five things he loved and hated about the previous seven days of college basketball.

Five Things I Loved This Week

I LOVED….that moment where everyone watching a game knows exactly who is getting the ball, and that there’s no way the guy is missing. For me it was Terrence Ross of Washington against UCLA on ESPN this past Thursday. The talented swingman had 10 of the Huskies’ last 12 to complete a frantic comeback, and you just knew a splash was coming every time he lifted up for his absurdly high jumper. UW head coach Lorenzo Romar might not love that NBA scouts were undoubtedly watching, as well, but talents like Ross are tough to hide.

I LOVED….the Missouri/Baylor/Kansas trifecta in the Top 10. Not that having three teams from the same conference in those spots is unheard of – especially with the Big East – but man does it make for a flurry of big-time matchups during conference play. We had the Mizzou/KU thriller on Saturday, then Kansas/Baylor this Wednesday, and the Tigers/Bears rematch next Saturday. Boy do I love my couch.

Denmon Played Like an AA Saturday Night (AP Photo/L.G. Patterson)

I LOVED….remembering how hard it is to play on the road. I was fortunate enough to swing through College Park, Maryland, this weekend and snag a rather excellent seat in the very last row of the Comcast Center for UNC/UM. There isn’t much about that Terps team that should keep them in a game with Carolina’s talent, but a sellout crowd kept the place rocking and nearly carried Maryland to the upset. It just reminds me how impressive decisive road wins are in today’s game.

I LOVED….a big-time matchup being everything we wanted on Saturday – collapse, comeback, mistakes, heroics, a last-minute takeover by a star… what theater. Missouri and Kansas put on quite a show in Columbia, and Marcus Denmon has to take a big leap in POY consideration. He absolutely willed his Tigers to the finish line with cold-blooded three after cold-blooded three, and Missouri is all alone in first place after taking out Oklahoma on Monday.

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