Morning Five: New Year’s Day 2014 Edition

Posted by nvr1983 on January 1st, 2014

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  1. We will start off by wishing all of you a Happy New Year. We hope all of you had a great 2013 and that 2014 is even better. Today is a pretty light day in terms of college basketball action as the schools seem to be letting college football have its day in the spotlight. Still there are several interesting games with San Diego State at Colorado State, Boston College at Harvard, and Southern Methodist at Cincinnati being the most intriguing. If you are just killing some time before the games tonight, you should check out our “Best of 2013″ column that takes a look back at some of the best games, moments, and performances of last year.
  2. One team that is not having such a great start to the year is Oklahoma State as they lost Michael Cobbins for the season after he suffered a ruptured Achilles tendon in the team’s win on Monday. Collins, a junior who was averaging 4.5 points and 4.3 rebounds per game this season, was also the team’s top post defender. Although Cobbins might not seem like a big piece to the Cowboys title aspirations based on his numbers, he plays at a position where the Cowboys lack depth. The job of replacing Cobbins will fall to sophomore Kamari Murphy, who has some experience in the role as he filled in last year when Cobbins injured his toe in the preseason.
  3. The college basketball world lost one of its coaching giants yesterday as former Iowa State and Michigan coach Johnny Orr passed away at the age of 86. It seems ridiculous that we could say that Orr, a coach who made it to a national championship game and two more Elite Eights at Michigan, would be more strongly associated with Iowa State than Michigan, but it is true. Orr, who is the all-time wins leader at both schools, shocked many observers by leaving Michigan to take over at Iowa State, but he is credited with building “Hilton Magic” into what it is today.
  4. We are not sure why there are not more quality college basketball “mailbag” columns. Perhaps it is because everybody is using Twitter as their “mailbag” forum to answer questions. In any event, Mark Titus has an amusing and surprising well-thought-out  mailbag from yesterday (part 1 and part 2). Most of the content is similar to the typical discussion, but it is somewhat interesting to see hear the responses from the perspective of a former college player (ok, who sat on the bench… a lot).
  5. One of the interesting things with the Oscar Robertson National Player of the Week selections so far this year is that we don’t think any of them are legitimate threats to win the Player of the Year award. Obviously all of them, like DeAndre Kane this week, are excellent players, but we have not heard of any of the four that have received the honor this year being serious contenders for the end of the year award. Similarly, the Wayman Tisdale Freshman of the Week honor has been gone to one player (Jabari Parker) who will probably win the honor at the end of the year, but the other three winners including James Young this week do not figure to be in contention for the honor at the of the year. We guess it goes to show you the power of consistency.
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Big 12 M5: New Year’s Eve Edition

Posted by Taylor Erickson on December 31st, 2013

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  1. If there was any question about Iowa State’s depth heading into the season, those concerns should be alleviated by now as DeAndre Kane became the fifth different Cyclone to win Big 12 Player of the Week honors this season. This marks the first time in conference history that a school has had five different players win player of the week honors in the same season. Kane averaged 19 points and 8 rebounds per game in route to MVP honors as Iowa State won the Diamond Head Classic in Hawaii last week. Kane is just the most recent example of head coach Fred Hoiberg playing the transfer market perfectly in the offseason, and has been a huge reason why Iowa State is undefeated to this point.
  2. When watching Kansas play up to this point in the season, the lack of consistent three point shooting has been a glaring hole for the Jayhawks, and a reason so many Kansas opponents have chosen to play zone defense against Bill Self’s squad. Rustin Dodd of the Kansas City Star dove deeper into Kansas’ three-point shooting, pointing out that just 18.8% of their scoring has come from behind the three-point line. Of the last 20 Final Four teams, 19 of them have all averaged at least 20% of their points from deep, with UConn’s 2009 team being the only squad to fall under that mark. Interestingly enough, the combination of Andrew Wiggins, Wayne Selden, and Naadir Tharpe have all shot above 33% from three for the season, while freshmen Frank Mason, Conner Frankamp, and Brennan Greene, are averaging a poor 23% from deep. For Kansas to make a deep run in March, they will need a solid shooter to emerge from the group of Greene, Frankamp, or Andrew White.
  3. Oklahoma State has rolled through the non conference portion of their schedule with just one blemish in a rematch loss to Memphis in the Old Spice Classic. Buried under the great start for the Cowboys is the difficulties they’ve had rebounding the basketball. As NBCSports.com discussed in their New Year’s resolution series, Oklahoma State is 147th in offensive rebounding and 179th in defensive rebounding this season. While Travis Ford’s team has athletes all over the floor, they lack the size down low to really match up with some of the bigger teams they see. It will be interesting to see how this factors in during the Big 12 conference season.
  4. As I finish discussing Oklahoma State’s rebounding problems, news breaks tonight that the Cowboys may have lost starting forward Michael Cobbins for a considerable amount of time in a blowout win over Robert Morris on Monday night.  Cobbins spent the second half watching the game from behind the bench using crutches and wearing a boot, and head coach Travis Ford said after the game that the injury “doesn’t look good.” Oklahoma State can slide LeBryan Nash to the four spot with Kamari Murphy at the center position, but at 6’8″, Murphy will give up significant size to most teams in the Big 12.
  5. The departure of former Kansas State standout point guard Angel Rodriguez in the offseason left a void in the Wildcats roster, and undoubtedly had a significant impact on K-State’s slow start out of the gate this season. For Wildcat fans, there’s hope that freshman point guard Jevon Thomas can add a dynamic that they have been lacking two months into this season. Thomas became eligible with the conclusion of the first semester, and says his emphasis will be on the defensive impact as he makes his debut in Bramlage Coliseum on Tuesday afternoon.
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Previewing Saturday’s Oklahoma State vs. Colorado Match-up

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

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

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

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

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

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Feast Week Mission Briefing: Oklahoma State in the Old Spice Classic

Posted by Brian Goodman on November 27th, 2013

With Feast Week already in high gear, we’re outlining the roads ahead for prominent Big 12 teams involved in neutral site events this week.

What They’ve Done So Far: With a 5-0 record and the top spot in the KenPom rankings, the Cowboys are off to a hot start this season and the whole country is anxious to see how long they keep it up. Travis Ford‘s team has shown that not only should it contend with Kansas at the top of the Big 12, but it has a place in the national title conversation as well. The Cowboys have destroyed all comers, transforming their games into must-see television programming with Vine-friendly moments left and right. Do-everything NPOY candidate Marcus Smart is quieting the doubts people had about his shooting, and his teammates have been outstanding, particularly from deep. Four Cowboys have attempted at least 10 threes on the year, and all four are shooting 35 percent or better from distance. That’s a deadly level of firepower that few teams in the country can match. In the paint, Brian WilliamsMichael Cobbins and Kamari Murphy have all pitched in to clean up the glass, clearing up Oklahoma State’s biggest incoming question heading into the season.

Marcus Smart and the Cowboys look to keep rolling in Orlando after their resounding win over Memphis last week. (SI.com)

Marcus Smart and the Cowboys look to keep rolling in Orlando after their resounding win over Memphis last week. (SI.com)

First Round Preview: Oklahoma State begins the bracketed portion of the Old Spice Classic against Purdue on Thanksgiving. The Boilermakers have a perfect 4-0 record, but they haven’t played anyone of consequence, and squeakers against Northern Kentucky and Rider – both at home – unsurprisingly haven’t led to anyone jumping on their bandwagon. Ronnie Johnson and Terone Johnson are the team’s leading scorers, but at just 13.8 and 13.0 points per game, respectively, they don’t do anything that exactly strikes fear into the hearts of their opponents. Purdue’s offense is struggling from deep, hitting 31.1 percent of its shots from three, although they are shooting well inside the arc. Defensively, Matt Painter‘s team is still trying to rediscover the days of the late 2000s, when the Boilermakers locked down anyone they faced. However, poor defensive rebounding and an inability to regularly force turnovers continues to leave them searching for answers.  There’s no doubt that they’ll be motivated to take down one of the top programs in college basketball this season, but in what should be an up-and-down affair, the Cowboys should handle the Boilermakers rather easily.

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Big 12 Team Preview: Oklahoma State Cowboys

Posted by Brian Goodman on November 7th, 2013

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

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

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

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

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

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Big 12 M5: 10.14.13 Edition

Posted by Brian Goodman on October 14th, 2013

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  1. A big part of Iowa State‘s rise under Fred Hoiberg has come from the Cyclones’ ability to trump expectations and get the most out of its talent. After ISU outperformed predictions in the last two seasons, the league’s coaches are done sleeping on them.  Big 12 coaches pegged Iowa State to finish fourth in Thursday’s preseason poll after being tabbed eighth in 2011 and 2012. The Cyclones enter this season hoping to do something they haven’t done since 1997: make the NCAA Tournament for a third straight time. With the transfers that made up the core of Hoiberg’s teams the last two seasons now graduated, the vast majority of ISU’s roster will consist of players “The Mayor” recruited out of high school. Fourth place in the conference is definitely a reasonable goal for Iowa State this season, and it’s not difficult to see them finishing ahead of preseason third-place pick Baylor if things break just right.
  2. Yahoo! Sports‘ Jeff Eisenberg compiled a list of 10 freshmen capable of making big impacts in 2013-14 and you’ll never guess which Kansas newcomer topped the list (OK, you probably will). It’s worth noting that no other Big 12 freshman cracked Eisenberg’s rankings, but we like to think of that as a testament to just how good the freshman class is nationwide. Still, just because they didn’t make the list doesn’t mean you shouldn’t keep an eye on other young Big 12 rising talents like Joel EmbiidAllerik FreemanElijah Macon, Wayne Selden and Ishmail Wainwright. Still, Andrew Wiggins is the gem of the league’s incoming class and is just another reason why we can’t wait for the opening tip.
  3. It was announced late last week that two Big 12 teams, Kansas and Kansas State, will hold open scrimmages for their fans. The Jayhawks will open the Allen Fieldhouse doors this Saturday, giving fans who were shut out of “Late Night In The Phog” earlier this month a second chance to see the 2013-14 squad. Kansas State, which didn’t hold a late night event of its own, will also host an open scrimmage on Saturday. The Wildcats aren’t quite looking at a full-on rebuild, but losing Angel Rodriguez, Jordan Henriquez and Rodney McGruder will hurt the defending co-Big 12 champions. Still, with the official start of practice coming earlier this season, the wait until the first regular season games lengthens so public practices are a great opportunity for teams to inject some extra anticipation into their devoted fan bases.
  4. If all goes according to plan this season for Marcus Smart, Markel Brown and Travis Ford (and even if it doesn’t), Oklahoma State will need to rebuild in a hurry to stay in the conversation atop the Big 12 moving forward. The Cowboys took one step toward that goal on Saturday when they received a verbal commitment from recruit Mitch Solomon, a 6’9″ power forward who is considered the best 2014 prospect in Oklahoma. Solomon, along with shooting guard commitment Jared Terrell, gives the Cowboys a very solid foundation from which to reload. In 2014, we’d expect Le’Bryan Nash, Michael Cobbins and Phil Forte to be the leaders, allowing the incoming freshmen to be eased into supporting roles and gradually move up from there.
  5. Late last week, UNLV announced that it will partner with Kansas for a home-and-home series beginning in Lawrence in the 2014-15 season, with a return trip to Las Vegas planned for the 2016-17 campaign. Neither Dave Rice nor Bill Self have ever been shy about assembling tough non-conference schedules, so while we aren’t too surprised at this development, we’re nevertheless thrilled to pencil in a pair of must-watch games for the future. The Runnin’ Rebels have more to gain from ambitious scheduling than the Jayhawks due to the difference in competition their respective leagues provide, although Kansas will benefit as well. It’s also worth noting that a trip to Las Vegas gives the Jayhawk coaching staff a convenient opportunity to check out some of the recruits at nearby Findlay Prep, which churns out blue-chip prospects on an annual basis. We’re still waiting on the announcement of that annual Kansas-Missouri series, by the way…
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Big 12 M5: 03.13.13 Edition

Posted by Nate Kotisso on March 13th, 2013

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  1. It’s finally game day. The Big 12 tournament gets under way later today and Iowa State coach Fred Hoiberg joins basically every other Big 12 coach in saying, “Any team can win it this year.” Maybe his Cyclones are the ones do it. They’ve beaten Kansas State, Oklahoma and Oklahoma State already. If you remember, ISU was a desperation three-pointer and an incorrect offensive foul call from sweeping the season series away from Kansas. We shall see.
  2. Speaking of Iowa State, forward Anthony Booker apologized for giving an obscene gesture to the Mountaineers’ student section during Saturday’s game against West Virginia. Booker committed a flagrant foul and was sent to the bench by coach Fred Hoiberg with 5:40 left in the second half. There, he gave the one-finger salute, initially disguising it as simply resting his hand on his chin. In a statement released by Iowa State, Booker cites him getting “caught up in the emotions” of the game and realizes it “was a poor decision.” His actions violated the Big 12’s rules on sportsmanship but the league has given ISU their blessing in keeping Booker eligible. The Big 12 now considers the mattered “closed.”
  3. Texas Tech AD Kirby Hocutt hasn’t announced what he’ll do with the position of head basketball coach. But we know interim coach Chris Walker will be considered for the job. “Chris Walker has done an excellent job considering the circumstances that he accepted when he took the interim role. That said, there’s not one thing I believe Chris Walker could have done any differently or any better over the course of the basketball season,” Hocutt said. Walker has increased the Red Raiders’ win total by two games overall and in conference play. If Texas Tech decides to go with someone other than him, it will be their fourth different coach in four seasons. Just as in the situation with Kevin Ollie at UConn, I believe their permanent head coach is already in Lubbock; he just needs the interim tag removed.
  4. While players like Marcus Smart, Le’Bryan Nash, and Markel Brown grab all the headlines and highlights for 23-7 Oklahoma State, there has to be a bring-your-lunch-pail-to-work kind of guy who does the little things to help patch wins together. That guy for the Pokes is Michael Cobbins. Despite starting the season on the injury list, he has returned to a starter’s role. In addition to averaging seven points, six rebounds and 1.5 blocks per game, Cobbins was named to the first team all-Big 12 Defensive Team. A lot of people like the Cowboys as a sleeper pick in this year’s Big 12 Tournament, and if they are, Cobbins will be a big reason why.
  5. Here is a piece that will make you and I jealous that we aren’t college athletes. SportsBusiness Journal has kept a tally of the cool amenities that all the teams participating in the conference or NCAA Tournaments will receive. Compared to the other power six conferences, it looks like Big 12 teams will have a plethora of items offered such as a Canon Powershot camera, different models of watches and even a Samsung Galaxy tablet. The conference with the most to choose from appears to be the SEC who gives players the option of taking Beats by Dre headphones, a 16GB iPod Touch with music card, or a Sony Blu-Ray disc player with WiFi. At least we now know why Texas A&M and Missouri left for the SEC.
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Big 12 M5: 11.08.12 Edition

Posted by Nate Kotisso on November 8th, 2012

  1. With the election now in the rear-view mirror, Matt Norlander over at CBSSports.com wondered if the presidential race was decided by states with the best basketball programs. Norlander’s sample size is comprised of his site’s preseason top 26 because he felt it wouldn’t be as compelling if states like Alaska, Hawaii or Wyoming were put on a level playing field with say, Indiana and Kentucky. It was a close “race” between the number of red states and blue states but the electoral vote count will remind you of the results from Tuesday. It is also worth noting that each of the Big 12 teams in their top 26 are in red states. I’m just saying.
  2. USA Today Sports‘ Eric Prisbell and Nicole Auerbach give us a list of coaches with the most to prove this season and two of them are Kansas State’s Bruce Weber and Oklahoma State’s Travis Ford. While these coaches do have some work to do this year to justify their positions, they’re at different levels on the totem pole. Weber is in his first year of a new job while Ford is a bad season away from losing his job. The article also lists UConn’s Kevin Ollie as another coach with a lot of pressure this year, so if you’re going to list guys who have limited head coaching experience with limited time with which to work, Chris Walker of Texas Tech would be as good a candidate as any.
  3. We now know how long Oklahoma State forward Michael Cobbins will be sidelined. Travis Ford announced he’ll be out “about a month” after suffering an injury in Monday’s exhibition victory versus Ottawa University. Le’Bryan Nash threw an alley-oop pass to Cobbins but the pass went over his head and he fell on an Ottawa player. This, of course, is bad news for a coach already without two key pieces in his rotation — Phillip Jurick who is still recovering from an Achilles injury and J.P. Olukemi who is dealing with a knee injury. Guard Brian Williams, of course, is also out for the season. Get well, Cowboys.
  4. Tuesday night West Virginia dominated its exhibition game like any good program, beating Glenville State, 95-53, and head coach Bob Huggins isn’t happy. As a team the Mountaineers shot 50% from the floor, Deniz Kilicli dropped 19 in an efficient 8-for-10 shooting night, Aaric Murray had 13 points, nine boards, and two blocked shots, while Juwan Staten had 16 points, six dimes and zero turnovers. So what does Huggins think? “We’re going to look at how we didn’t run any offense.” Riiiight, coach. I see what you did there.
  5. Jay Bilas and Dick Vitale are two of ESPN’s most visible college basketball personalities and while they have had moments of disagreement over the years, they have finally agreed on one thing: Oklahoma and Lon Kruger are on the rise this season. I don’t like the fact that Kruger doesn’t stay at places very long but what Vitale says is true: He can flat-out coach. Take a good coach like Kruger, the returns of Steven Pledger and Romero Osby, the arrival of Amath M’Baye, an emerging point guard in Sam Grooms, and I believe they will hear Greg Gumbel call their name out on Selection Sunday.
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Big 12 Team Preview #6: Oklahoma State Cowboys

Posted by Nate Kotisso on November 7th, 2012

Over the next two weeks, we’ll bring you the obligatory team preview here at the Big 12 microsite. Oklahoma State at the #6 position is next on our list. 

The Skinny

  • 2011-12 record: 15-18 record, 7-11 in the Big 12
  • Key contributors lost: Cezar Guerrero, Keiton Page, Fred Gulley
  • Head coach: Travis Ford, 5th season
  • Projected finish: 6th

The 2012-13 season is the most important in Travis Ford’s coaching career. (Sue Ogrocki/Associated Press)

Years one and two: back-to-back NCAA appearances with fourth and sixth place finishes in the conference. Years three and four: one NIT birth with seventh and ninth place finishes in Big 12 play. Time is running out for head coach Travis Ford, a coach who enters his fifth season under the most fire with perhaps the best roster he’s ever had. Sure he gets credit for making the Tournament in 2009 and 2010 but the reality is key guys (like James Anderson, Obi Muonelo and Byron Eaton) were holdovers from the previous Sean Sutton era. Once Ford’s players came around, that recliner of his soon became a hot seat.

The Personnel

The question isn’t whether Ford can bring talent to Stillwater but if he can win with that talent. Le’Bryan Nash was a huge get in 2011 and Ford was able to add his second five-star recruit in two years with the signing last year of Marcus Smart. Accomplished head coaches like Billy Donovan and Mark Few were still yukking it up about the freshman’s game and attitude more than a full month after coaching Smart’s team to a gold medal in the FIBA Americas U-18 Championships. The Cowboys also got some good news about J.P. Olukemi: The NCAA has granted him a full year of eligibility instead of the fall semester exclusively. Considering he played in only 13 of 33 games last season, any Olukemi is better than no Olukemi.

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Big 12 Summer Update: Oklahoma State Cowboys

Posted by dnspewak on August 7th, 2012

In an effort to remind you that college basketball does in fact exist during the summer, Big 12 microsite writer Danny Spewak (@dspewak) will roll out three summer updates per week during the next month. The goal is to compile every bit of news and information from the summer months for each team and package it into neat, easy-to-read capsules for your convenience. The final team on the list — Oklahoma State.

2011-12 record: 15-18, 7-11 (7th place, Big 12)

While his peers in the coaching community were chasing recruits this summer and lounging by the pool, Travis Ford took the stand during a rape trial to testify on behalf of a former player. This wasn’t about basketball anymore. This was about the life of Darrell Williams, facing a prison sentence after two women at a party accused him of groping them in 2010. The soaring expectations in 2012-13, thanks to the arrival of freshman star Marcus Smart and the return of sophomore Le’Bryan Nash, would have to wait. Ford argued for Williams’ innocence on the stand, and several former teammates attended the trial. The defense argued that the two women may have misidentified Williams, but that didn’t convince a jury. It convicted the forward on two counts, sending him into an uncontrollable sob as police escorted him out. Williams was never a star, and he had not played since February 2011. Still, this is not your average legal situation. That kind of thing happens all the time — like this weekend, when police arrested Cowboys’ center Philip Jurick for marijuana possession. In those situations, programs discipline, suspend and move on. When a former player heads to prison on a rape conviction, though, it takes a little while to recover. So that’s where Travis Ford sits with this Oklahoma State program right now. After a traumatic whirlwind of a summer, he must now find a way to recover from the graduation of heart-and-soul guard Keiton Page and transform this collection of individually talented parts into a winning team. It’d be nice, too, if he could find a viable point guard.

For All The Criticism, It’s Easy To Forget Nash Won Freshman of the Year Honors in 2011-12

Summer Orientation: Everybody knows Marcus Smart. Just ask Billy Donovan and Mark Few about the OSU freshman, who wowed them at the U-18 Championships this summer. “He was our leader from the moment the players introduced themselves,” Few told CBS’ Gary Parrish. “He’s one of the best kids I’ve ever been around — and that includes all the Zags I’ve coached.” That single quote from Few sums up Marcus Smart at the most basic level. He may be a McDonald’s All-American with NBA talent, and he may be a scoring guard with ungodly physical gifts and slashing ability. That’s all great, but it’s not even what Smart is known for. He’s known as a leader. Clutch. A playmaker. The kind of guy who prides himself on his instincts, defensive prowess, smarts and basketball savvy rather than his point-per-game average. These are the qualities that have Travis Ford gushing about his freshman, to the point where he’s already anointing Smart as a team leader after he excelled in individual workouts this summer. Perhaps we’re reading too much into the Rivals.com star rankings and the spectacular performance at the U-18 games, and maybe all of this talk of early leadership and the “ultimate teammate” is overkill for a guy who hasn’t stepped on the court yet. The beauty of the situation for Smart and the Cowboys, though, is that he’s not necessarily counted on to carry this team. Le’Bryan Nash often had those expectations as a freshman a year ago, but his decision to return for his sophomore year means the two highly-touted talents can feed off each other.

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Big 12 Morning Five: 02.15.12 Edition

Posted by dnspewak on February 15th, 2012

  1. It’s easy to forget that Michael Dixon does not start for Missouri. The point guard may play second-fiddle to Phil Pressey at times, but he’s as important as any player on Frank Haith‘s team. Embracing his role as a reserve, Dixon still cracks the rotation with major minutes and has emerged as a go-to option down the stretch in close games. Known for his confidence and swagger, Dixon’s play has made an impression on Haith in his first season. “I love him,” Haith told the Columbia Missourian. And that pretty much sums things up, folks.
  2. In the aftermath of TCU’s upset win over UNLV last night, perhaps the future of Big 12 basketball isn’t so bleak after all. ESPN’s Andy Katz takes a look at next year’s league, which will lose Missouri and Texas A&M while gaining TCU and West Virginia. Katz makes an interesting observation with regards to the Mountaineers’ travel time, considering the school is located in an odd geographic area compared to the rest of the conference. Coach Bob Huggins said he’s not worried: “we’ll just charter in and out,” he told Katz.
  3. Kansas may not have played particularly well in a win over Kansas State on Monday night, but it did what it needed to do to secure a road victory in a difficult environment. One blog investigates some of the statistics behind the win, and as you can imagine, a lot of the credit needs to go to center Jeff Withey. Without a typical Thomas Robinson performance, Withey carried the team with his double-double and nine blocks. As a team, the Jayhawks did not rebound very well, but they got to the free throw line and held Kansas State’s offense in check with a gritty defensive effort.
  4. Want to talk about another gritty effort? Look no further than Texas A&M last night. The Aggies limited Texas Tech to 38 points in a victory in Lubbock by dominating the boards and stifling the young Red Raiders. The stats are ugly in this box score: Tech made zero free throws, allowed 15 offensive rebounds and shot 38.6% from the field. Only reserve Jaye Crockett broke double figures. A&M actually shot worse from the field and finished with more turnovers, but its rebounding got the job done.
  5. Unlike college football, redshirts in basketball are a little rarer. It does not take freshman as much time to acclimate to the Division I level from a physical standpoint, so you don’t see programs utilize the redshirt nearly as much. At Oklahoma State, though, two redshirt freshmen are making an impact in their first season. With injuries and transfers limiting Travis Ford‘s roster, Michael Cobbins and Brian Williams have made the most of their opportunities. Much has been made of Cobbins’ muscle gain and improved play, but Williams has also been a very nice surprise as a swingman averaging about 25 minutes per game.
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Big 12 Morning Five: 02.09.12 Edition

Posted by dnspewak on February 9th, 2012

  1. Frank Haith doesn’t need anybody to stand up for him anymore — not with a 21-2 record in early February. Still, Kim English has been a vocal supporter of Haith since the day he was hired, and he’s back at it on Twitter. “Please don’t get it twisted whose “players” we are… We are Frank Haith’s “players”!!!” English never mentioned Mike Anderson, but he didn’t have to. Missouri fans have already long erased that name from their vocabularies.
  2. Like Haith, when Kansas State hired Frank Martin, he also immediately became the butt of the Big 12’s jokes. He wasn’t a coach; just a caretaker of Michael Beasley and Bill Walker. But after establishing his own brand at KSU following the departure of those two stars, Martin has created a consistent program in Manhattan despite a slip-up this past month or so. The Wildcats are not elite, though, and at least one person argues that it’s because he’s failed to recruit a dominant big man. In a way, that’s true. But you’ve got to remember that there are only a handful of elite bigs out there on the recruiting trail. Martin has brought in Curtis Kelly, Jamar Samuels and several other productive forwards to team with his terrific guards. And who’s to say Thomas Gipson won’t eventually pan out?
  3. This is going to be weird: The first 2,000 Texas Tech fans to show up on Saturday will all receive cut-outs of Billy Gillispie‘s head, and the first 200 students all get free pizza (yeah, it’s been a rough year in Lubbock). That’s great and all, but the idea of 2,000 blow-up pictures of Gillispie around the arena is frightening– like something out of one of the Scream movies. Let’s hope it doesn’t become a national trend.
  4. After an encouraging non-conference start, Oklahoma has fallen flat in Big 12 play. It’s not a major surprise for a team that most considered a cellar-dwellar in the preseason, but if anyone would have overachieved, it’d have been Lon Kruger. Clearly, though, that isn’t the case with this team. At 3-8 now in the Big 12, OU probably does not have much of a shot at any postseason tournament, much less the NCAAs. Still, it’s not as though Kruger’s team has rolled over for Big 12 foes. They seem to fight everyone they play, yet they cannot figure out how to close out a game or pull a major upset. That’s a good sign for Kruger’s program, which should take off in the near future. Hey, Kruger has won everywhere else he’s coached — why not Oklahoma?
  5. Oklahoma State has a thin roster, and it’s even thinner up front. But Michael Cobbins is starting to play big for the Cowboys. He’s served as the main cog in the paint for a team that has defended very well this year, and he swatted four shots against Baylor. He played every minute of the game and limited the Bears’ production, which is not an easy task against a team that starts three All-Conference caliber forwards. With Philip Jurick out due to injury right now, expect to see Cobbins’ role expand even further.
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