Burning Questions Going into the Big 12 Tournament

Posted by Brian Goodman on March 12th, 2014

The 2014 Phillips 66 Big 12 Championship is finally here, and the action begins at 6:00 CST tonight from Sprint Center in downtown Kansas City. To get you up to speed, our microsite team runs down the most important storylines around the conference.

Brian Goodman (@BSGoodman): We begin with Oklahoma State and Baylor as they look to take the final steps toward redemption. It’s been a longer road for both teams than we expected at the start of the season. The Cowboys endured a seven-game losing streak earlier this season, punctuated by Marcus Smart‘s three-game suspension for shoving a fan, and looked dead to rights just three weeks ago. Since then, not only has Smart returned, but he’s playing perhaps his best ball of the season, and the Pokes are riding high, having won four of their last five contests. In the other game tipping off tonight, Baylor will aim to remove any remaining doubt regarding their bubble status. After a 10-1 start to the season, the Bears went on to drop eight of their first ten conference games. The roller coaster went back up, though, with a 7-1 stretch to end the regular season (including a sweep of Kansas State). Considering their current resumes, Oklahoma State and Baylor may some wiggle room should they be forced to head back early to their respective campuses, but at the same time, it would be unwise of them to extend the bubble conversation by going one-and-done. Do the Cowboys and Bears take care of business? What happens on Selection Sunday if either team gets bounced before Friday’s semifinals?

Baylor guard Kenny Chery has provided a calming presence at the point. (Getty)

Baylor guard Kenny Chery has provided a calming presence at the point. (Getty)

Nate Kotisso (@natekotisso): It’s safe to assume that Baylor and Oklahoma State are firmly in the field of 68. Baylor saved their season just in time to finish 9-9 in the league and own eight RPI Top 50 wins, four of them coming on road or neutral floors. Normally, I would say the Bears could get away with losing their first game in the Big 12 tournament, but when the opponent is TCU, the last thing you want your resume to have is an “L” to a team with an RPI in the 200s. Oklahoma State is in a similar spot playing Texas Tech tonight. Could they get in with a loss? It depends, but they should take care of the Red Raiders to rid themselves of any nerves on Selection Sunday.

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Handing Out Hardware: Big 12 Season Superlatives

Posted by Brian Goodman on March 10th, 2014

From the Andrew Wiggins hype (and exchanges of backlash) to the rise, fall and rise again of Oklahoma State and everywhere in between, it’s been a dramatic season in the Big 12. The conference has been and always will be an exciting one to follow, but it’s tough to remember a year with as many storylines as there have been throughout this season. As we get ready for what figures to be an incredibly competitive conference tournament at the Sprint Center in Kansas City, it’s time for the Big 12 microsite writers to remember the good, look back, and hand out some season accolades.

All-Big 12 First Team

For the sake of transparency, we’ve included each of the four Microwriters’ selections below, with asterisks denoting our picks for Big 12 Player Of The Year:

Untitled

Player Of The Year

Melvin EjimDeAndre Kane and Andrew Wiggins are your consensus All-Big 12 First Team members, with other votes going to a variety of players who were fantastic as well. There were legitimate cases for a handful of honorees this season, but in the end, the freshman Wiggins took the honors. Taylor Erickson explains why:

Among a stable of worthy candidates, Andrew Wiggins emerged to take RTC Big 12 POY honors.(AP/Andrew Ferguson)

Among a stable of worthy candidates, Andrew Wiggins emerged to take RTC Big 12 POY honors.(AP/Andrew Ferguson)

“Wiggins didn’t put up the type of scoring numbers that others like Melvin Ejim of Iowa State and Juwan Staten of West Virginia did, but he was the best player on the team that won the conference with room to spare. Some will be quick to claim that the freshman from Canada has failed to live up to the expectations bestowed upon him before the season began, but those expectations were unrealistic. Consider the fact that Wiggins failed to score at least 14 points in a conference game just three times, and in some ways, his individual statistics are a victim of Kansas’ depth and ability to score from so many different positions on the floor — whether down low with Joel Embiid and Perry Ellis, or in the backcourt with Wayne Selden and Naadir Tharpe. As good as Wiggins has been on the offensive end, his impact on the defensive end of the floor may be even greater given the significant difference in the number of points per possession Bill Self’s squad surrenders with him in the lineup. You can go ahead and make a case for several other players in this league, and there’s a plethora of good ones, but for me, I’ll take Andrew Wiggins every time.”

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Big 12 M5: 03.10.14 Edition

Posted by Brian Goodman on March 10th, 2014

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  1. The Kansas City Star reported that Kansas center Joel Embiid is in California getting a second opinion on his lingering back problems. Embiid has already missed three games due to back ailments and has been hampered in others, and his status for the Big 12 Tournament and beyond is in significant doubt. It would be a shame for the freshman to miss out on the most important games of his collegiate career, but it looks like Bill Self will have to hope for the best and plan for the worst as the Jayhawks look to get their postseason house in order.
  2. Iowa State forward Melvin Ejim has enjoyed a terrific season to this point, and his efforts were rewarded on Sunday by the league’s coaches, who tabbed him with the Big 12 Player Of The Year honor. Ejim finished the season ranked second in the conference in scoring (18.2 PPG) as well as rebounding (8.6 RPG), and his regular season campaign was highlighted by a 48-point outburst against TCU back on February 8. He’s a very deserving candidate, and there are legitimate cases for several other players as well. The RTC Big 12 Microsite contributors will have more on Ejim, Andrew Wiggins, DeAndre Kane and several other top performers later today.
  3. Whether you roll your eyes at Marcus Smart‘s flopping or embrace it as just one more thing by which to remember the season, there’s no doubt that the Oklahoma State point guard has garnered his share of headlines. When the Cowboys paid a visit to Hilton Coliseum on Saturday, Iowa State students mocked Smart in a coordinated effort to try to distract him at the free throw line by dramatically falling into their seats. They had instructions printed out and everything. Cyclone fans have earned a deserving reputation as some of the most hostile and passionate ones in the conference, so while Smart or Travis Ford may not have appreciated their idea of fun, it’s another reminder of how it’s not just the players and coaches that make college basketball worth following.
  4. There are zombies descending on Kansas City. No, The Walking Dead hasn’t suddenly changed locations, but the resurrected versions of Oklahoma State and Baylor are on the prowl and looking to do some damage this week, as detailed by USA Today’s Nicole Auerbach. After miserable starts to conference play, the Cowboys and Bears revived their NCAA Tournament chances with strong finishes to the regular season. Both teams are good bets to lock down bids regardless of what happens at the Sprint Center this week, but losing their first games and putting their fate in the hands of the selection committee would not be advisable for either squad.
  5. It’s been a rough go for Trent Johnson and TCU this season. A laundry list of injuries has hampered Johnson’s rebuilding effort, and despite fielding a promising big man in freshman Karviar Shepherd, the Horned Frogs couldn’t avoid becoming the first Big 12 team in 10 years to go winless in conference play. TCU dropped to 0-18 in league action, ending the regular season with a 30-point shellacking at the hands of Oklahoma. Johnson’s team will look to play spoiler when it faces a Baylor squad looking to cement an NCAA Tournament bid Wednesday night in Kansas City.
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Big 12 M5: 03.07.14 Edition

Posted by Nate Kotisso on March 7th, 2014

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  1. Adidas revealed new uniforms that 10 of its member institutions will wear just in time for the NCAA Tournament. Two of those schools participating will be Kansas and Baylor of the Big 12, assuming the Bears get in. Cool, huh? Because it gets progressively worse from here. Kansas’ uniform looks similar to a look the Jayhawks have worn in the past, but Baylor’s jersey is perhaps the worst of all — highlighter yellow, which has become an unofficial school color in recent years. But here’s where it gets loony: Their familiar “Sic ‘Em Bears” slogan is scrawled across the front. Then there were these photos of ex-Baylor quarterback Robert Griffin III “rocking out” the new look on Twitter. To borrow a line from Golden God Dennis Reynolds, everyone at adidas was on the gas and nobody was on the brakes. I mean, Indiana and Notre Dame are getting NCAA Tournament jerseys? Have they even looked at the Big Ten or ACC standings? Major face-palm, guys.
  2. First he told ESPN’s Jeff Goodman that he might come back for a sophomore season. Now Joel Embiid took to Twitter on Thursday to reflect on Wednesday’s win, saying he “can’t wait to be a senior.” Embiid doesn’t seem like the trolling or misleading type, but we’re so used to college players changing their minds that we expect it to happen every time. What if he’s actually serious and he does come back for a sophomore season? Then a junior year? And a senior year? Two things will happen: We’ll be treated to several more years to watch a blossoming player become great, and in the end, we’ll feel like cynical jerks for ever doubting him. Come to think of it, that doesn’t sound so bad. I’ll take more college Embiid and the accompanying cynicism, please.
  3. Things could get weird Saturday as Iowa State plans to have its “Senior Day” to honor players which include once former and current guard Bubu Palo. However, the Des Moines Register talked to Palo and he’s taking a mature approach towards the situation, which has understandably put coach Fred Hoiberg in an awkward spot heading into the game against Oklahoma State. “Coach Fred has been great throughout this,” Palo told the Register. “I wouldn’t want people to think that he’s depriving me of a senior moment.” Another reason Palo would be fine with not playing Saturday is because he’s seeking a potential sixth year of eligibility from the NCAA. Playing any minutes from now until the end of the season could severely lessen his chances of getting an extra year on the team. With Kane departing, Palo could be the starting point guard next year if Hoiberg doesn’t have anyone else coming in.
  4. It’s hard to believe, but Scott Drew is tied for the second-longest tenured head coach in the Big 12. Drew went on CBS Sports Radio Thursday morning and said that this conference season is the best he has “been a part of” in his 11 years at Baylor. It certainly beats his first few seasons in Waco. All kidding aside, Drew is right. There’s a strong possibility that the league can get seven teams into the field of 68 this year, and that would tie a conference high that was set when seven of 12 teams made the 2010 NCAA Tournament. The Big 12 has had at least four teams make the NCAAs in each of the last 17 years. None of the ACC, Big Ten, Pac-10/12, Atlantic 10, SEC, Mountain West and Missouri Valley conferences can make that claim. But seven making the Dance in the current 10-team format would be all the more impressive.
  5. The r/CollegeBasketball page has brought this video to our attention. In it is a slow motion replay of Marcus Smart attempting to slap Wesley Iwundu after the two unintentionally bumped chests during Monday’s Kansas State-Oklahoma State game in Stillwater. It appears Smart had clear intent to slap Iwundu but he just missed as he was trying to get open elsewhere on the floor. It isn’t known if the Big 12 is reviewing this play or whether the league will hand down a punishment on the matter, but it’s one thing if the conference comes out and says they didn’t find anything incriminating on the play and quite another to not comment on it at all. It wouldn’t reflect well on the Big 12, however, if the league remains completely quiet about this.
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Big 12 M5: 03.04.14 Edition

Posted by Nate Kotisso on March 4th, 2014

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  1. Senior Night did not disappoint the Oklahoma State faithful on Monday. The Cowboys added another RPI top-50 win, defeating Kansas State 77-61 in Stillwater. Markel Brown had a stat-sheet stuffer kind of night with 15 points, five rebounds, five assists, three steals and two blocks. Fellow “senior” Marcus Smart scored 16 of his 18 points in the second half. This comes roughly 48 hours after Smart poured in 20 in the final 20 minutes of Saturday’s win against Kansas. Despite Gallagher-Iba Arena’s full capacity being 13,611, the estimated attendance for last night’s game was just 9,500. And that was with the help of OSU students getting in free with student IDs. Come on, y’all could have done better than that.
  2. Smart’s big second half against the Jayhawks propelled the Pokes to a huge win Saturday and now his third Big 12 POTW award of the season. We also can’t argue with Smart’s performance versus TCU last Monday, nailing five threes on his way to 17 points. With the year Iowa State’s DeAndre Kane is also having, it feels like he’s taking some kind of hardware every week. Kane averaged 20.5 points, 9.5 rebounds and 4.5 rebounds per game to win Big 12 NOTW while recording his sixth double-double of the season in a win over West Virginia. This marks the sixth week in which Kane has won player or newcomer of the week honors this season. I hope we can see both these guys play professionally.
  3. We have an update in our continuing coverage of Backgate 2014: Kansas coach Bill Self announced that center Joel Embiid will not play in the last two regular season games as he rests a back injury he re-aggravated in Saturday’s loss to Oklahoma State. Self said an MRI was done on Embiid’s lower back and the staff came to the conclusion that “rest is the best remedy.” They plan on evaluating Embiid again before the Big 12 Tournament, and are open to sitting him longer if he’s still feeling tightness, but Self doesn’t see it getting to that point. Now we’ll likely get a look at senior Tarik Black, whose starting spot was taken by Embiid earlier in the season. Let’s see if he’s got any more Mozgov dunks left in him.
  4. It’s been a nice comeback season for Rick Barnes and Texas basketball but since a 9-3 start in Big 12 play, the Horns have dropped three of their last four games. Granted, all of those were roadies against likely NCAA Tournament teams but it’s not exactly encouraging if you weren’t competitive in two of those games. “I thought our guards were too tentative,” Barnes said. Even with the emergence of sophomore Cameron Ridley as a consistent contributor, Barnes expected more from his guards. “I told those guys [the guards], you should be out there playing H-O-R-S-E, because everyone is guarding him.” Barnes knows that this is just one of the many speed bumps you reach when you’re coaching an inexperienced yet hungry basketball team. Mistakes will be made but so will the corrections.
  5. It seemed like the bubble talk around West Virginia has cooled in the last 10 days or so but the West Virginia Gazette is still holding out hope for an at-large bid. The reality is the Big 12 likely has six teams that make good cases for at-larges and may have seven if Baylor takes care of business this week. Despite an 8-8 conference record, WVU lacks quality road wins in Big 12 play; have a mix of missed opportunities in non-conference play (vs. Gonzaga, Wisconsin, at Missouri); bad losses (at Virginia Tech, vs. Purdue) and not-so-hot computer numbers (RPI: #89, SOS: #55). An eighth bid from West Virginia probably won’t come unless the Mountaineers were to win out this week and make it to the final of the Big 12 championship game. But hey, stranger things have happened…
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No Letdown: Oklahoma State Continues Its Mad Dash for an NCAA Bid Tonight

Posted by Brian Goodman on March 3rd, 2014

As the final seconds of Oklahoma State’s upset win over Kansas ticked down Saturday night, fans rushed the floor, and with good reason. The Cowboys had a great second half, overcoming a late 10-point deficit to beat the Big 12 champions. It was the kind of night the Cowboys and their fans drew up back when the season started, with Marcus Smart, Markel Brown and Le’Bryan Nash doing the majority of the damage and Smart taking over when the team needed him to do so. Granted, back at the beginning of the season, a win over Kansas was supposed to be more relevant to the Cowboys’ Big 12 title hopes than their NCAA Tournament status, but it was a huge victory nonetheless, as our very own Eli Linton broke down. It also didn’t reduce the moment when Smart (misguidedly) insinuated after the game that had Kansas won, head coach Bill Self would have cut down the nets in Stillwater.

Will Marcus Smart and Oklahoma State have another win to celebrate tonight? (USA Today)

Will Marcus Smart and Oklahoma State have another win to celebrate tonight? (USA Today)

As huge as Saturday’s win was, Oklahoma State doesn’t have much time to bask in the glow, as Kansas State makes the trip to Gallagher-Iba Arena tonight. The Wildcats are coming off a big win themselves, having put away Iowa State on Saturday to remove any realistic doubt about their postseason prospects. Kansas State won the first meeting against the Cowboys back on January 4, and while slightly less than two months doesn’t seem like that long ago, here’s where both teams were at that point:

  • Oklahoma State was ranked sixth in the country.
  • Kansas State had its work cut out, needing to counteract early season losses to Northern Colorado, Charlotte and Georgetown.
  • The Cowboys were playing their first game without big man Michael Cobbins.

So it’s been a while. Here are three things that Oklahoma State needs to focus on tonight if the Cowboys want to win their fourth straight game and inch ahead of the rest of the NCAA Tournament bubble: Read the rest of this entry »

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Chaotic Weekend Builds Drama for Regular Season’s Final Act

Posted by Bennet Hayes on March 3rd, 2014

It was a weekend that saw 11 ranked teams fall, an unlikely band of Shockers find a small slice of immortality (the regular season variety), and an already jumbled NCAA Tournament bubble grow exponentially more confusing. Ever predictably, the arrival of March meant great drama for college basketball fans. With one week now left in the regular season, here are three key storylines that emerged from a riveting weekend of action on the college hoops hardwood.

Last #1 Seed Up For Grabs

Syracuse Has Suddenly Lost Three Of Four After A 25-0 Start; Can Jerami Grant, Tyler Ennis, And Company Right The Ship In Time To Get Back On The #1 Seed Line?

Syracuse Has Suddenly Lost Three Of Four After A 25-0 Start; Can Jerami Grant, Tyler Ennis, and Company Right The Ship In Time To Get Back On The #1 Seed Line?

Presumptive #1 seeds Arizona, Florida and Wichita State were all able to avoid the upset bug this weekend, and barring multiple losses in the next two weeks, each seems adequately safe on the top line. But with Syracuse continuing its mini-slide in Charlottesville Saturday afternoon, that fourth #1 seed has no apparent owner heading into the season’s final week. By my count, no fewer than eight teams should still be in play for the honor, although scenarios for five of those squads — Creighton, Michigan, Wisconsin, Villanova and Virginia – would almost surely include winning out through their conference tournaments, and then also getting help from elsewhere. The trio with the firmest grasp on their own fate — Duke, Kansas, and the aforementioned Orange — may not be doing as much Championship Week scoreboard watching as those five teams, but all would still likely need to win out to earn that last #1 seed. But before those three schools face the gauntlet that will be the Big 12 and ACC Tournaments, there is still business to be tended to this week. Despite a date with surging rival UNC (at Cameron), Duke may have the easiest list of chores among the three: KenPom’s predictor gives the Blue Devils a 68 percent chance of finishing off the regular season with a pair of wins. Kansas faces Texas Tech at Allen Fieldhouse before concluding the regular season with a visit to West Virginia; the latter contest offers a challenge sufficient enough to leave KenPom predicting that a Jayhawks’ final week sweep will occur only 60% of the time (and that number probably does not account for the likelihood that Joel Embiid sits out). Syracuse shouldn’t look past Georgia Tech on Tuesday (don’t forget those Boston College Eagles!), but its Sunday trip to Tallahassee is a significant landmine — significant enough that the Orange are expected to polish off their regular season with two wins just 48 percent of the time. The margin for error is thin for all three of these teams; a loss – no matter where it comes from – would all but end dreams of that fourth #1 seed.

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Big 12 M5: 03.03.14 Edition

Posted by Nate Kotisso on March 3rd, 2014

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  1. Oklahoma State fans were asking this question following the Cowboys’ win over Kansas on Saturday: “Is it safe to come back out?” It appears to be, fans. After everything the team dealt with since the start of 2014, OSU notched a Paunch Burger-sized victory over the Big 12 leading Kansas Jayhawks 72-65. The three-headed monster of Marcus Smart, Le’Bryan Nash and Markel Brown combined to shoot 15-for-30 from the floor, 23-for-29 from the line, 58 points, seven steals and seven blocks. While this was a major boost to a tournament profile that sorely needed one, they aren’t out of the woods just yet. They have Kansas State coming into Gallagher-Iba Arena on Big Monday. One would think a win tonight locks up an at-large bid for good.
  2. Should we/Kansas fans/NBA scouts begin worrying about the health of Joel Embiid? Last month, he missed a week and a game with nagging back and knee injuries suffered in the West Virginia win on February 8. Embiid left Saturday’s game holding his back and after some stretching checked back into the game. Bill Self addressed Embiid’s injury in his postgame press conference, saying he “only tweaked his back” and has “no idea” how it will affect him going forward. Ultimately Embiid’s back could be much ado about nothing but at the same token, it was a problem weeks ago and it’s a problem right now. Stay tuned. You know lottery teams will be.
  3. While Kansas State’s tournament resume lacks any quality wins outside of Kansas state lines, you gotta hand it to them for taking care of business on their home court (and Wichita). Iowa State was the latest club to enter the “Octagon” and leave doomed, falling 80-73 on Saturday. The ISU win all but clinched an at-large bid for the Cats who now sport victories over George Washington, Gonzaga, Texas, Oklahoma, Oklahoma State and Kansas. If anything, the 2013-14 Wildcats have proven that you can go home again. And again. And again. And again. But seriously, it would be a mistake if they were left out of the field of 68.
  4. A great thing about this Big 12 season was the rekindling of the Red River Rivalry in hoops. Sorta. Oklahoma finished off Texas 77-65 in Norman. We knew going in that Texas had the height advantage so to combat this OU relied on what they do best: hit three-pointers. In fact the Sooners hit ten of them. With the win, Oklahoma became the only Big 12 team to sweep their season series against UT. In addition to that, this season marked the first time in the Big 12 era where the Sooners swept the Horns and the Oklahoma State Cowboys. How about the job Lon Kruger has done this season? He loses five of his top eight scorers from last year’s team and are somehow averaging 11 points more than a season ago.
  5. Baylor fans: Your team may be on the brink of history! But it wouldn’t be anything to stick your chest out over. Baylor enters the final week of the regular season at 7-9 in conference play and still is in contention for an at-large bid to the NCAA Tournament. With their strong RPI and strength of schedule numbers, there is a chance for the Bears to be the first-ever Big 12 team to make the tournament with a sub-.500 league record. The Bears have a winnable home game against Iowa State on Tuesday followed by the regular season finale versus K-State in the Little Apple. Assuming they win one of those two; grouped in with their quality wins over Kentucky, Colorado, Dayton, Kansas State and Oklahoma State (twice); BU would make a strong case to take up one of those coveted 37 at-large spots.
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Redemption for Marcus Smart and Oklahoma State Last Night Against Kansas

Posted by Eli Linton on March 2nd, 2014

Eli Linton is a RTC correspondent. He filed this report after Saturday night’s game between Kansas and Oklahoma State.

Before Saturday night’s critical matchup between Kansas and Oklahoma State, the two teams were headed in opposite directions. Oklahoma State, which had been touted as a preseason favorite for both the Big 12 championship and a Final Four run, collapsed in February. A seven-game losing streak and the suspension of Marcus Smart threatened to make this season one of the biggest disasters in school history. Kansas, on the other hand, was once again riding its sensational talent to its 10th straight conference title. While the Cowboys were simply hoping to be find a way into the last four in the Big Dance, Kansas had its sights set on the Final Four. But on Saturday night, it was Marcus Smart’s team that found redemption, just when it seemed they had let the season slip away.

A big second half was the difference for Marcus Smart and the Cowboys. (AP)

A big second half was the difference for Marcus Smart and the Cowboys. (AP)

A lot of deserving criticism has been leveled at Smart for the part he played in the Cowboys’ downfall, but on Saturday he was the best player on the floor, leading the Cowboys to a come-from-behind 72-65 win. After a one-point, 0-of-7 first half line, Smart put up 20 points, four assists, two steals and just a single turnover in the second stanza. “Our focus was different tonight,” said Smart. “Losing those seven straight games opened our eyes. We were extra-focused tonight.” It was the biggest win of the year in the most desperate time for the Cowboys. Already on the NCAA bubble, another loss would have been devastating, but this quality win over #5 Kansas will likely earn them a bid. I am sure bubble talk was a conversation they were hoping to avoid to start the year, but they will take it and move forward. In a stroke of irony, Kansas was still able to clinch the Big 12 title outright thanks to both Texas and Iowa State losing earlier, but according to Bill Self, there will be no celebration.

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Who Won The Week? Louisville, Marcus Smart, Michigan and The Citadel…

Posted by Kenny Ocker (@kennyocker) on February 28th, 2014

wonweekWho Won the Week? is a regular column that outlines and discusses three winners and losers from the previous week of hoops. The author of this column is Kenny Ocker (@KennyOcker), a Spokane-based sportswriter best known for his willingness to drive (or bike!) anywhere to watch a basketball game.

We’ve got more to get to here than usual, so we’ve got a special extended-yet-abbreviated edition of WWTW on tap today.

WINNER: Louisville

Russ Smith won Louisville's game over Cincinnati on Saturday with a late jumper. (AP)

Russ Smith won Louisville’s game over Cincinnati on Saturday with a late jumper. (AP)

Your defending national champions – remember them? – are rolling at just the right time in the season. They went into Cincinnati and handed the Bearcats their first home loss of the season Saturday, 58-57, with a Russ Smith dagger – remember him? – then followed that up by blowing out woebegone Temple 88-66 on Thursday.

Sophomore Cardinals forward Montrezl Harrell thrived this past week, as he has since the dismissal of Chane Behanan, scoring 21 points in both games. Going forward, the Cardinals have games left at Memphis and SMU, followed by a home game against Connecticut. Though they’re tied with Cincinnati at the top of the American and on a seven-game winning streak, we’ll know much more about Louisville by the time the conference tournament rolls around.

(Related winners: Smith; Harrell. Related losers: Cincinnati, which squandered its chance at an outright AAC championship by losing at home; Temple, which had its first 20-loss season in school history thanks to Louisville.)

LOSER: Saint Louis

The Billikens, which had been one of America’s last four teams undefeated in conference, took one of the most befuddling losses of the whole season, falling 71-64 on Thursday to a Duquesne team that had won four Atlantic 10 games in Jim Ferry’s two seasons in Pittsburgh. What had been one of the nation’s top 10 shooting defenses gave up an effective field goal rate of 50.7 percent, including 14-0f-18 shooting and 7-of-9 three-pointers by Dukes guards Micah Mason and Jerry Jones. And against one of the nation’s 10 worst defenses vs. three-point shooting, Saint Louis only made 4-of-23 shots from beyond the arc. The Billikens have a top-five defense nationally according to KenPom.com, but their offense ranks 169th in efficiency. Then again, defense wins championships, right?

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Big 12 M5: 02.26.14 Edition

Posted by Taylor Erickson on February 26th, 2014

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  1. Unless you’ve been living under a rock for the last 36 hours, you’ve heard by now that Kansas‘ win over Oklahoma on Monday night extended their streak of regular season conference titles to a remarkable ten in a row. During that streak, three times Kansas has replaced all five starters from the previous season in 2005-06, 2008-09, and 2013-14 and still managed to capture the league crown. Brian Hamilton at Sports Illustrated took a look at those three seasons in particular and ranked them in order of which is most impressive.  Sooner or perhaps later, the streak will come to an end, just not this season.
  2. When the NCAA Tournament rolls around, you can bet Iowa State will be a sleeper team many people around the country like to advance deep because of their ability to score the ball. While point guard DeAndre Kane and forward Melvin Ejim receive most of the attention, forward Georges Niang may be the most important piece to Fred Hoiberg’s Cyclones. Niang has been a model of consistency as of late, scoring at least 17 points in nine of his last 10 games. Niang’s ability to stretch opposing defenses away from the basket creates a difficult matchup, especially for a team having to potentially prepare for Iowa State in just one day in the NCAA tournament format.
  3. Speaking of NCAA tournament play, the Oklahoma Sooners and head coach Lon Kruger have proven during conference play that they can score points with any team in the country, but for Oklahoma moving forward, the key is being able to get stops on the defensive end of the floor. As NBCSports.com points out, in six of the Sooner’s eight losses, their opponents scored over 80 points. Part of the problem for Oklahoma is that while their ability to score from so many different places on the floor, that versatility resulting from a smaller lineup leaves them vulnerable to taller frontcourts, especially when forward Ryan Spangler gets in foul trouble.
  4. This season we’ve learned quite a bit about Marcus Smart, both good and bad. On Monday night, Smart showed that superstition wasn’t a concern for him after a student manager left his jersey back in Stillwater, forcing Smart to wear number 43 instead of his usual 33. In all seriousness, as bad as things have been for Smart this year, he still has an opportunity in front of him to make a meaningful and positive impact on college basketball. That opportunity starts on Saturday night, when the Cowboys host league leading Kansas with ESPN’s College Gameday in attendance.
  5. After dropping two disappointing games in a row, Bob Huggins’ West Virginia team is in need of a great end to conference play to really make a push to the NCAA tournament. The Mountaineers will have three opportunities against RPI Top 25 teams in their last four games which could drastically help improve their tournament resume. It will be important for Huggins’ squad to tighten up on the defensive end, and hope that point guard Juwan Staten can continue his impressive play that jump-started the Mountaineers in league play.
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Big 12 M5: 02.24.14 Edition

Posted by Taylor Erickson on February 24th, 2014

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  1. With his recent three game suspension behind him, Oklahoma State point guard Marcus Smart now has an opportunity to make one last impression on how we will remember his college career in Stillwater. At 5-9 in league play, the Cowboys are are the perfect example of a bubble team heading into the last few weeks of the season with games against Kansas, Kansas State, and Iowa State remaining. Given the talent on Travis Ford’s roster, it’s not a stretch to think this team could get on roll throughout both the Big 12 and NCAA Tournaments and pose an incredibly difficult match-up for most teams.
  2. Heading into this Big 12 season, most anticipated the aforementioned Oklahoma State would be the biggest challenge to end Kansas’ streak of nine regular season league titles, but with just four games remaining, Kansas holds a three-game lead on all other teams in the conference, and needs just one win to guarantee at least a tie for the league crown. As Mike DeCourcy writes, the streak by Bill Self and company is much more of a dynasty given just how dominant the Jayhawks have been for the last decade.
  3. For Kansas State this season, there has certainly been no place like home. On Saturday, Bruce Weber’s team continued to experience road woes in their blowout loss at Oklahoma. Wildcat forward Thomas Gipson said after the game that he didn’t know what they can do to win a game away from home. Kansas State has a difficult finish to their season and while their doesn’t appear to be a threat to their NCAA Tournament status just yet, they could vastly improve their seeding come Selection Sunday if they were able to show their ability to win away from home.
  4. Two of the most bubblicious teams in the Big 12 squared off on Saturday when Baylor visited West Virginia, and for the time being, it looks like they may be headed in different directions come Selection Sunday. Scott Drew’s Baylor team has now won four straight league games after topping the Mountaineers 88-75 in Morgantown. Baylor is now 6-8 in league play in their quest to finish .500 in the conference, which should be enough to get them into the dance given the strength of their non conference play. In the first meeting between these two teams, Baylor guard Royce O’Neale played just seven minutes in the Bears’ loss at home in Waco, but scored 22 on Saturday and has been valuable in the resurgence of Baylor as of late.
  5. While the spot at the top of the conference seems all but settled, the race for second place will come down to the last few weeks of the season between Iowa State, Texas, and perhaps Oklahoma, all of whom currently sit at 9-5 in league play. For the Cyclones, finding a way to position themselves second in the Big 12 would allow them to avoid a potential rematch with Kansas until the championship game, and would pair Fred Hoiberg’s squad in the second round with a team that played the previous day. Regardless of how the seedings play out, you can bet the competition in Kansas City will be highly entertaining.
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