Big 12 Weekend Preview: Conference Flirting With History

Posted by Brian Goodman on March 7th, 2014

Even without a clear national title contender beyond Kansas, it’s impossible to deny that this season has been hugely successful for the Big 12. No matter what you value, the conference has it.

  • Top-shelf NBA Draft talent (Andrew Wiggins, Joel Embiid, Marcus Smart)
  • Fantastic upperclassmen (Melvin Ejim, Markel Brown, Juwan Staten, Cory Jefferson, Cameron Clark)
  • Impact transfers (DeAndre Kane, Ryan Spangler, Tarik Black)
  • Coaches who have done remarkable jobs getting their teams to buy in (Bill SelfRick BarnesFred Hoiberg and Lon Kruger)
The Big 12 is trending towards history, and we're not talking about Kansas' vice grip on the crown. (John Rieger/USA Today Sports)

The Big 12 is trending towards history, and we’re not talking about Kansas’ vice grip on the crown. (John Rieger/USA Today Sports)

That’s not to say that the season hasn’t had its low points (Marcus Smart getting popped for three games after shoving a fan; West Virginia shooting itself in the foot with early season losses; TCU’s continued struggle to make any discernible noise), but all in all, it’s been a fantastic year for the Big 12. The most impressive thing about the conference, however, doesn’t have as much to do with the here and now as it does with what could be on Selection Sunday: A league record-tying seven NCAA Tournament bids.

At the beginning of the season, most prognosticators pegged the Big 12 as a five-bid league. Granted, at the time, Oklahoma State and Baylor weren’t believed to be the teams that would need wins at the end of the regular season to earn bids, but that’s how things have shaken out as Kansas State, Texas and Oklahoma have overachieved as the Cowboys and Bears struggled. But with Travis Ford and Scott Drew’s teams now clicking again, the odds of the conference squeezing not five, not six, but seven teams into the NCAA Tournament, are rising. If seven bids come to pass, it would tie a league record set in 2010, but if we’re nitpicking, seven bids in 2014 would be even more impressive than seven bids in 2010, and I’ll explain why.

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Big 12 M5: 02.27.14 Edition

Posted by Brian Goodman on February 27th, 2014


  1. Lon Kruger’s Oklahoma team is soundly in the field of 68. In some years, that’s considered enough, but with three games still to play, the Sooners have room to improve their seeding. Oklahoma should be able to fatten up. To wrap up the season, Oklahoma hosts Texas and West Virginia before heading to Fort Worth to play TCU. In other words, Monday’s game at Kansas was the final serious road test for the Sooners before the Big 12 Tournament tips off in two weeks.
  2.‘s Matt Norlander crunched some numbers to illustrate the amazing continuity and eye-popping stats that Bill Self and Kansas have been able to compile over the Jayhawks’ reign of Big 12 dominance. Perhaps the most amazing factoid that Norlander pulled out is that eight Big East coaches have won their league over the last ten years while only Kansas has held court in the Big 12. Inevitably, someone will pick against the Jayhawks next season, but don’t look at us.
  3. Back on Big 12 Media Day in October, the league’s coaches named Iowa State forward Melvin Ejim to the preseason all-Big 12 First Team. Ejim was coming off a solid year, but since he was only named an honorable mention at the end of the 2012-13 season, it looked curious. Fast forward a few months, though, and not only can one make the argument that he belongs on the All-Big 12 First Team, but his conference player of the year case is strong as well – or so says Fred Hoiberg. Hoiberg is understandably biased, but Ejim’s numbers (18.9 points and 8.4 rebounds per game) on a very good Iowa State team speak for themselves.
  4. Speaking of Iowa State, the Cyclones soundly beat the Mountaineers 83-66 in front of a packed house at Hilton Coliseum. Georges Niang led all scorers with 24 points while Monte Morris dished out 12 assists without committing a single turnover. West Virginia was done in by poor ball-handling and a lack of tenacity on the glass. The Mountaineers have made a decent run in league play to make up for their lackluster showing in non-con play, but it’s looking more and more like they’ll have to do some damage in Kansas City to feel good about their chances for a tournament bid.
  5. In other Big 12 action, Baylor made things interesting on the road at Texas, but ultimately fell to the Longhorns, 74-69 to end the Bears’ four-game winning streak. Aided by five three-pointers from Javan Felix, Texas led by 15 at the end of the first half. The Bears had a chance to surge ahead in the last two minutes, but couldn’t hit shots down the stretch. In the final minute, a driving lay-up from Kenny Chery was rejected by Texas center Cameron Ridley and the Longhorns finished Baylor off from there. Projections on Baylor’s postseason future are mixed, as they currently sport a 6-9 record in league play with three games left. At this point, the Bears probably need to go 2-1 to finish off the regular season. Any less and they’ll likely need to win a game or two in the conference tournament.
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Iowa State Rides Stars In Win Over Texas

Posted by Brian Goodman on February 19th, 2014

In the weekly Big 12 coaches teleconference on Monday, Texas head coach Rick Barnes emphasized his team’s chemistry and his players’ focus on the current mission at hand (rather than looking to the next level) as the reason for the Longhorns’ improved play this season. Coming into Tuesday night’s game at Iowa State, Texas was just one game behind Kansas in the loss column in the Big 12 standings, with Barnes’ preseason hot seat having cooled significantly.

Melvin Ejim Dominated Texas Last Night

Melvin Ejim Dominated Texas Last Night (Austin American-Statesman)

Iowa State is another team that prides itself on making its pieces fit together well rather than relying on future lottery picks. While opinions of mock drafts are certainly worth your scrutiny, it’s also worth pointing out that the first round of‘s latest mock draft doesn’t include a single player from either Texas or Iowa State. But yet, here’s where we are: Both teams are challenging for a top-three finish in the Big 12. Earlier this season, Texas knocked off four ranked teams in a row; and Iowa State trails only Kansas in top-50 RPI wins. With NCAA Tournament bids now down to a matter of formality for both teams, how could we not have been in for an entertaining battle between the Longhorns and Cyclones on Tuesday night?

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Who Won the Week? Two Undefeated Teams, But Certainly Not The Third…

Posted by Kenny Ocker (@KennyOcker) on February 7th, 2014


Who 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.

WINNER: Wichita State

Cleanthony Early was outstanding for the Shockers. (AP)

Cleanthony Early was outstanding this week for the Shockers. (AP)

The nation’s winningest team cleared its toughest conference hurdle Wednesday night in defeating Indiana State in Terre Haute, led by senior forward Cleanthony Early’s 19 points. From here on, the Shockers have better than 50 percent odds to go undefeated in the regular season, according to, and about 35 percent odds to make it to the NCAA Tournament unblemished. Wichita State’s reign over the Missouri Valley has been so strong this year that only two teams – Missouri State and Indiana State – have even finished within 10 points of them. Tomorrow’s game at Northern Iowa is the toughest remaining tilt for the Shockers, which also sandblasted Evansville 81-67 last Saturday.

(Related winners: Gregg Marshall, whose stock will never be higher, even if he never wants to leave; the Missouri Valley, which is certain to get some more NCAA Tournament win shares, even without Creighton in the conference. Related losers: Indiana State, the MVC”s second-best team, which probably has to win Arch Madness to make the NCAAs; Evansville, perpetually anonymous in purple.)

LOSER: Arizona

Of the triumvirate of teams that came into last weekend undefeated, only two came out unscathed. Unfortunately for the Wildcats, they weren’t one of them. Their road trip to California, the toughest game left on their schedule at that point, turned out to be undone by a last-second jumper from Golden Bears’ guard Justin Cobbs over center Kaleb Tarczewski, giving Cal a 60-58 win. That news was bad enough, but worse was what came after — that sophomore forward Brandon Ashley, a starter, had broken his foot during the game and would be out for the season. In Thursday’s 67-65 win over Oregon, Arizona looked disjointed offensively and saw star freshman Aaron Gordon injure his leg in a game in which he made just 2-of-11 free throws. The Wildcats actually trailed the disintegrating Ducks with just 90 seconds left before point guard T.J. McConnell made a three-pointer that gave them the lead for good. Sean Miller only played seven players, even accounting for Gordon’s injury, and its lack of depth could be problematic should more injuries arise or should fouls accumulate. It’s a shame to see this happen because a full-strength Arizona team looked to be head and shoulders above all but a few others around the country.

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Iowa State Facing a Must-Win Today vs. Kansas State

Posted by Taylor Erickson on January 25th, 2014

A little over two weeks ago, life for Fred Hoiberg and the Iowa State basketball program was about as good as it could get. The Cyclones were undefeated with home wins over Michigan and Iowa along with a difficult road win at BYU; DeAndre Kane’s name was being thrown out as a serious candidate for All-American honors; and it looked like the team from Ames might have the best chance of anyone to end Kansas’ nine year reign atop the Big 12 Conference.

After three losses in a row, Naz Long and Iowa State are left looking for answers.

After three losses in a row, Naz Long and Iowa State are left looking for answers. (AP)

Since that time, life in the Big 12 for Hoiberg and company has been anything but a dream. First came a disappointing road loss at Oklahoma, one in which the aforementioned Kane suffered what looked like a severely sprained ankle just two days before a home visit from Bill Self’s Jayhawks. In what seemed like a perfect opportunity to exorcise the demons that kept the Cyclones from taking down Kansas a year ago, “Hilton Magic” was anything but, as Iowa State finished the night shooting just 4-of-25 from three-point range in a deflating loss. Those two defeats were then followed up by a road loss at Texas last weekend, leaving fans and players alike with more questions than answers.

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Big 12 M5: 01.15.14 Edition

Posted by Brian Goodman on January 15th, 2014


  1. Kyle Ringo of The Dagger writes that Kansas is rounding into form, and after Monday’s takedown of Iowa State despite 24 turnovers, it’s hard to deny that the Jayhawks are beginning to click. It feels like we’ve all seen this movie before: Kansas stumbles just enough in the early going for many among the media to ponder whether this will finally be the year that someone else takes the Big 12, only for Bill Self and company to knock some sense into all of us by MLK Day. We may be just two weeks into conference play, but the Jayhawks appear to be showing all the doubters why they continue to receive the benefit of the doubt when it comes to predicting the Big 12’s pecking order.
  2. Tying up one final loose end from Monday’s marquee battle, Sports Illustrated‘s Brian Hamilton contends that Iowa State needs to improve its shooting if it wants to stay in contention. Based on the Cyclones’ 31.4 percent performance from the floor, it’s reasonable to come to that conclusion, but it also makes sense to simply chalk up their bad shooting night to a sterling defensive effort on the part of the Jayhawks. It would be helpful if ISU could challenge more shots in the paint, but since it isn’t realistic to expect Melvin Ejim and Georges Niang to sprout four inches overnight, Fred Hoiberg will have to rely on what he has it his disposal, which, as a reminder, isn’t so bad.
  3. Yesterday, we talked about Kansas State needing to keep Cameron Clark from going off on Wednesday, and judging by Clark’s 1-of-9 evening at Bramlage Coliseum (and a 72-66 victory for the Wildcats), it’s safe to say that Bruce Weber’s team executed its game plan to perfection. The win was an important one for K-State, in need of a bounceback win over a fellow bubble team after the beating handed down by the Jayhawks on Saturday. Somewhat suddenly, the Wildcats find themselves at 3-1 in conference play with a pair of very winnable games (vs. West Virginia and at Texas) coming up next.
  4. It may be hard to tell due to TCU‘s health problems, but the Horned Frogs are improving, according to the Star-Telegram’s Stefan Stevenson. While season-ending injuries to Devonta Abron and Aaron Durley have kept TCU from reaching its potential, they aren’t of much solace to head coach Trent Johnson. Still, there are silver linings in Amric Fields and Jarvis Ray’s development, and Kyan Anderson is an under-the-radar point guard. While no one expects them to beat Oklahoma State tonight, it will be interesting to see whether the Horned Frogs can make it somewhat competitive.
  5. Lastly, Baylor‘s athletic department will host a rally tomorrow in support of both its nationally-ranked basketball teams. As part of the festivities, the general public is encouraged to bring new or gently-used coats to donate to local homeless shelters, and Whataburger will provide nourishment to students. Hey, anytime we can plug a charity effort while buzz-marketing a regional fast food chain, we have to do it.
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Four Takeaways From Iowa State’s Win Over Baylor

Posted by Brian Goodman on January 7th, 2014

If you are just now turning your attention to college basketball, you can thank the Big 12 scheduling committee for throwing you a bone. One day after both teams moved into the top ten of the AP Poll (not ours, which as you saw tonight was more accurate), Baylor met Iowa State in Ames, with the Cyclones pulling away in the second half for a resounding 87-72 win in Hilton Coliseum. If you didn’t catch it, however, we have you covered with four key takeaways:

DeAndre Kane and the Cyclones didn't need Hilton Magic to take care of Baylor. (USA Today)

DeAndre Kane and the Cyclones didn’t need Hilton Magic to take care of Baylor. (USA Today)

  1. Welcome to the national spotlight, DeAndre Kane: The graduate transfer from Marshall has been terrific all season, but he completely outdid himself Tuesday night scoring 30 points, grabbing eight rebounds, and dishing out nine assists. Oh, he also had five steals. Kane excelled at picking his spots to drive right to the hoop, stop on a dime and pass, or pull up from three as well as regularly beating the Bears down the floor in transition. With conference play revving up in earnest, he is going to start gathering a lot of headlines, so be sure to tune in when the Cyclones hit the floor over the next two months. Read the rest of this entry »
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Big 12 Midseason Merits and Demerits

Posted by Brian Goodman on January 3rd, 2014

It’s crazy to think that the season is already nearly halfway over. Over the last two months, the Big 12 had a terrific non-conference run. The league notched wins over the likes of Duke, Kentucky, North Carolina, Memphis, Iowa, Michigan and Gonzaga; the conference proved that it has its share of individual stars beyond Marcus Smart and Andrew Wiggins, viewed as the toasts of the league back in November; and an argument can be made rather easily that the Big 12 is the best league in the country (or at least has had the best run to date). With league play tipping off tomorrow, it’s time for the Big 12 microsite contributors to take a look back and hand out some accolades, as well as shine a light on a some players and coaches from whom we expected a little more in the season’s first two months.

Player Of The Year

Marcus Smart headlines a long list of individual standouts in the Big 12. (Stephen R. Sylvanie/USA TODAY)

Marcus Smart headlines a deep roster of individual standouts in the Big 12. (Stephen R. Sylvanie/USA Today)

  • Kory CarpenterMelvin Ejim, Iowa State: Ejim is third in the conference in scoring with 17.2 points per game and is fifth in field goal percentage, making 52.5 percent of his shots. He nearly averages a double-double as well, grabbing 8.1 rebounds per game.
  • Taylor EricksonMarcus Smart, Oklahoma State – Smart has cooled off a bit recently after averaging over 31 points per game during a three-game stretch earlier in the season, but this award appears to be his to lose heading into Big 12 play. The conference slate should provide plenty of high-profile games that will undoubtedly deliver some great individual performances, allowing us to more confidently identify the league’s best player. Andrew Wiggins has been good, but for the time being, he hasn’t done enough to knock Smart from his perch.
  • Brian GoodmanMarcus Smart, Oklahoma State – Overall, Smart’s efficiency numbers have improved, and he’s still playing defense at a very high level. The Big 12 is as well-stocked with talent as any conference in the country, and Smart has produced the most for his team. That being said, the book on him is out. Whether he can score from outside when teams take away the paint could be the deciding factor for his POY candidacy.

Coach of The Year

  • BGFred Hoiberg – After the Cyclones outperformed expectations the last two years, Big 12 coaches vowed to stop sleeping on Iowa State, tabbing ISU to finish fourth in the annual preseason poll. As it turns out, even that may have been too low. Right now, the Cyclones are no worse than the third-best team in the conference, and Oklahoma State’s personnel issues could give ISU an opening to climb even higher.
  • TEFred Hoiberg – All Hoiberg has done is taken a team that lost several top scorers from a season ago and turned that into a 12-0 start to the college basketball season. Iowa State has three players averaging over 15 points per game, and it became the first school in league history to have five different players win player of the week honors.

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Big 12 M5: 12.09.13 Edition

Posted by Brian Goodman on December 9th, 2013


  1.  The Kansas City Star’s Rustin Dodd tied up some loose ends from Kansas‘ heartbreaking loss to Colorado. In case you were too caught up in Saturday afternoon’s football action, lost in the shuffle of Askia Booker’s buzzer-beater were Joel Embiid showing off an impressive array of post moves against the Buffaloes’ undersized frontcourt rotation and Andrew Wiggins putting up a season-high 22 points. The Jayhawks very clearly have a few things to work on, but it’s tough to be too disappointed with Kansas’ two losses in non-conference play, as both came on last-second shots in games away from Allen Fieldhouse.
  2. Iowa State needed an extra frame to beat Northern Iowa when Panthers guard Seth Tuttle banked home a three-pointer at the end of the second half. The Cyclones showed how vulnerable they can be when their threes don’t fall, as they shot just 28% from the perimeter in regulation. They made them when they mattered, though, as Melvin Ejim buried a pair of treys in overtime. Somewhat surprisingly, the win was Fred Hoiberg‘s first as a head coach over Northern Iowa. Iowa State, one of the most impressive programs in the still-young season, takes a well-deserved break until Friday, when Hilton Coliseum should be rocking for a meeting with Iowa.
  3. Reserve center D.J. Bennett has given Lon Kruger some quality minutes down low on the defensive end. The Sooners boast one of the highest-scoring offenses in the Big 12, but the defense isn’t quite where it needs to be for Oklahoma to comfortably rank in the top half of the conference. If Bennett can continue to help the team get stops on the other end, that may change.
  4. Dave Hickman of The West Virginia Gazette wrote an interesting piece late last week where he delved into the Mountaineers’ surprisingly low attendance numbers. If you ask us, the culprit isn’t hard to find: West Virginia‘s non-conference schedule has been short on attractive names. With all due respect to the following programs, no one is lining up to camp out for Mount Saint Mary’s, Duquesne, or Georgia Southern. To boot, the annual Backyard Brawl with Pittsburgh was put on hiatus when the two teams separated conferences. We’ll see how many fans show up at WVU Coliseum on Tuesday, when Gonzaga pays a visit to Morgantown.
  5. Oklahoma State guard Stevie Clark returned to action Friday night against South Carolina after serving a four-game suspension handed down by Travis Ford for undisclosed reasons. Assuming Clark stays on Ford’s good side, the freshman will have plenty of time to ease back into the lineup, as the Cowboys play just two games between now and December 21, when they will take on a Colorado team that will almost certainly be ranked later today.
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Big 12 M5: 11.22.2013 Edition

Posted by Brian Goodman on November 22nd, 2013


  1. After fouling out during the home stretch of his team’s win over BYU on Wednesday, Iowa State forward Melvin Ejim briefly lost his cool and flashed an obscene gesture toward the Cougars’ student section from the bench. Immediately following the game, Ejim expressed his regret, apologizing via Twitter. Thursday morning, Iowa State athletic director Jamie Pollard defended Ejim while sympathizing with BYU fans who were offended. Nothing in Ejim’s background suggests that this was anything more than an isolated incident, and while a minority of college hoops fans wondered about possible disciplinary action by head coach Fred Hoiberg, nothing has been announced, and at this point, we’d be surprised to hear anything.
  2. Less than two weeks after opening their season with a clunker against Northern Colorado, Kansas State took another one on the chin, falling to Charlotte in the opening round of the Puerto Rico Tip-Off. Starters Shane Southwell, Will Spradling, and Marcus Foster shot a combined 12-of-37 from the floor and Thomas Gipson fouled out in just eight minutes of action. Surprisingly, the Wildcats will have a chance to make good on the loss later this morning in the consolation bracket when they take on Georgetown, which was also upset in their tournament opener.
  3. West Virginia may finally be getting comfortable in Bob Huggins’ second season. The Mountaineers pounded Georgia Southern 101-68 in the first round of the Cancun Challenge, led by Juwan Staten’s 20 points. Also important is the fact that Staten was able to get some rest due to West Virgina’s big lead after the transfer played 119 out of a possible 120 minutes to begin the year. West Virginia’s 101 points are the most the program has registered since 2007.
  4. Not many people are talking about Texas this year, though considering their fairly easy schedule so far, that may be a good thing. In either case, the start that forward Connor Lammert is off to through his team’s first four games is definitely worth mentioning. The sophomore is averaging 10.8 points per game in just 22 minutes per game and has missed just eight of his first 28 shots while converting seven of eight chances from the free throw line. It will definitely be interesting to see how Lammert fares against much better competition next week at the CBE Classic in Kansas City.
  5. Kansas has an important meeting tonight against Towson at Allen Fieldhouse before departing for the Battle 4 Atlantis. While the casual fan may look at the match-up and not think much of it, Towson has greatly improved under head coach Pat Skerry after suffering through an NCAA record 41-game losing streak. Also of note is the connection between the Towson program and Kansas guard Frank Mason, who originally committed to the Tigers out of high school.
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