Big 12 Power Rankings: Implosion in Stillwater Edition

Posted by Nate Kotisso on February 10th, 2014

How was your weekend?

Because it wasn’t such a great one for anyone affiliated with Oklahoma State’s men’s basketball program. Marcus Smart’s three-game suspension was handed down on Sunday, meaning the potential lottery pick will be unavailable in a crucial contest Tuesday at Texas followed by grudge matches against Oklahoma and Baylor. Lost in all the Marcus Smart-Jeff Orr confrontation talk and ESPN’s redundant wall-to-wall coverage of it is the future of Cowboys’ head coach Travis Ford. It wouldn’t surprise me if he were a nervous wreck with all the pressure — lofty preseason expectations; the injury of a key inside player; dismissal of another guy; and now this. Ford seemed to get choked up during his press conference on Sunday while defending his star guard’s character, but that isn’t the only reason he almost lost it in front of the assembled media. He knows that his job is in jeopardy. And that’s a hard thing to swallow as a coach — knowing that you are expected to win now and things aren’t working out in your favor. Our weekly Big 12 power rankings continue on, regardless.

Travis Ford and Marcus Smart share the weight of a basketball program on their shoulders. (Tori Eichberger/AP Photo)

Travis Ford and Marcus Smart share the weight of a basketball program on their shoulders. (Tori Eichberger/AP Photo)

1. Kansas — 4 points (previous: 1st; Brian, Kory, Nate & Taylor-1st)

Comment: “The Jayhawks weren’t going to go undefeated in the Big 12 and they’ll likely lose at least one more game. But with a two-game lead on Texas with eight games to go, their 10th consecutive conference title is almost in the bag.” – Kory Carpenter (@Kory_Carpenter)

2. Texas — 8 points (previous: 2nd; Brian, Kory, Nate & Taylor-2nd)

Comment: “Similar to the way Texas manhandled Kansas last weekend, it wasn’t surprising that the Longhorns lost but it was surprising to see just how badly Kansas State took it to them.  Home games this week against a struggling Oklahoma State team and West Virginia are big before road trips to Ames and Lawrence next week.” – Taylor Erickson (@tc_erickson)

3. Iowa State — 13 points (previous: 3rd; Brian, Nate & Taylor-3rd, Kory-4th)

Comment: “Lost in the shuffle of everything Marcus Smart was Melvin Ejim’s career day against TCU. I’m just going to leave this shot chart of his here.” (h/t to CBSSports.com) – Brian Goodman (@BSGoodman)

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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

wonweek

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 KenPom.com, 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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Big 12 M5: 02.06.14 Edition

Posted by Nate Kotisso on February 6th, 2014

morning5_big12

  1. Last night was the zillionth reason why winning a road game in the Big 12 is a you-know-what. Oklahoma arrived at WVU Coliseum to face West Virginia about 90 minutes before tip-off due to winter weather and still managed to stay in the game. The Mountaineers held the lead for much of the game but a three-point play from Ryan Spangler gave the Sooners a one-point advantage with 1:38 left. That’s when Eron Harris started making all the three-pointers: one that sent the game to overtime with 20.2 seconds left, and two more to put the game away for good. The Mountaineers now have wins against Baylor (losing luster), Kansas State and the Sooners in their last three games. But as we all know, the NCAA Tournament won’t be played at your home arena. A win at Kansas on Saturday would really send a message.
  2. Kansas center Joel Embiid said after its win at Baylor that he is “strongly considering” returning to campus for his sophomore season. The obvious part about this story is how much of this is a non-story. This is as pointless as reporters asking players whether they’re leaving for the NBA mere minutes after their season just ended. But I totally get why ESPN’s Jeff Goodman asked Embiid about his future: He’s gotta write about something, and Lord knows nobody else is asking the question to likely draft picks in early February. Goodman has already cornered the market for the answer from the potential top pick in this June’s draft. Game recognize game, Jeffrey.
  3. Marcus Smart was considered a consensus lottery pick in the 2013 NBA Draft but elected to return to Oklahoma State for his sophomore season. In addition to a possible injury as a downside to coming back to school, Smart’s game is being scouted, analyzed and criticized more than ever before. NBCSports.com’s Rob Dauster brings forth several compelling points about Smart’s poor decision-making at times and how a lack of awareness when it comes to his own strengths and weaknesses can hurt his team’s prospects this season. Beyond that, it could also hurt how NBA teams evaluate him when they’re deciding whether to make him their point guard of the future.
  4. CBSSports.com sat down with Texas head coach Rick Barnes this week and discussed his team’s surprising season, the new athletic director and some other things. One topic of conversation was center Cameron Ridley, who would get my vote for Big 12 Most Improved Player of the Year, if such an award existed. He was a player who was a project in every sense of the word and didn’t really have a set of skills when he stepped onto campus for the first time. Ridley was always an intimidating defender, but now he’s a better finisher around the rim and has vastly improved his conditioning (he has already played more minutes at this point in the season than all of 2012-13). Buzz Williams who?
  5. Former Baylor guard Pierre Jackson was drafted in the second round of last year’s NBA Draft but was subsequently cut from the New Orleans Pelicans in training camp. So now Jackson is venting all of his frustration of being cut on to the entire D-League. On Tuesday night, the Idaho Stampede guard dropped a ridiculous 58 points on 33 shots, grabbed six rebounds and dished out eight assists in a win over the Texas Legends. Jackson is also leading the D-League in points per game (30.2) so far. It’s only a matter time before an NBA team is wise enough to bring him up to the big time.
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Big 12 Power Rankings: West Virginia Back? Edition

Posted by Nate Kotisso on February 4th, 2014

Rewind to October 2011 when it was announced that West Virginia would become one of the Big 12’s newest members. Within the scope of college basketball, at least, it seemed like a home run addition to the Big 12. The Mountaineers were just a year removed from a Big East Tournament title and an appearance in the Final Four. Unfortunately the Mountaineers’ first season in the Big 12 was less than spectacular. In fact, Bob Huggins lost more games in 2012-13 than he had in any other year as head coach. But could WVU’s recent stretch of success be the breakthrough the program has waited for? Huggins’ team currently stands at 5-4 in the conference, with wins at Baylor and Kansas State in its back pocket and the second half of league play sitting before them. With Kansas, Oklahoma, Iowa State (twice), Texas, and Baylor next up on the schedule, we’ll see how serious this team’s at-large chances are. Below are this week’s rankings. If you disagree with us, let us know.

WVU's Juwan Staten just won Big 12 Player of the Week. He now joins the million other big time PGs in the Big 12. (Cooper Neill/Getty Images)

WVU’s Juwan Staten just won Big 12 Player of the Week. He now joins the million other big time PGs in the Big 12. (Cooper Neill/Getty Images)

1. Kansas — 3 points (previous: 1st; Brian, Nate & Taylor-1st)

Comment: “No one expected Kansas to run the table in the Big 12, but the effort at Texas on Saturday was a little concerning. As Bill Self said on Monday, the important thing is to not let one loss turn into two or three.” – Taylor Erickson (@tc_erickson)

2. Texas — 6 points (previous: 3rd; Brian, Nate & Taylor-2nd)

Comment: “While Rick Barnes is rightfully getting a boatload of attention for going from the hot seat to NCOY consideration, he wouldn’t be able to make that journey without vast improvements from Cameron Ridley and Jonathan Holmes, who were two keys to the Longhorns’ upset over Kansas. Texas was the only team that could match up well against Kansas’ size, and they executed about as well as Barnes could have asked.” – Brian Goodman (@BSGoodman) Read the rest of this entry »

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Big 12 Power Rankings: Baylor is Losing its Mind Edition

Posted by Nate Kotisso on January 27th, 2014

Here was a team that was picked to finish third in the Big 12 by the league’s 10 coaches. They fought their way to the Maui Invitational championship game where they lost to a still-unbeaten Syracuse team. They didn’t seem phased by arguably the best recruiting class in decades against Kentucky, beating the Wildcats on a neutral floor in Arlington. But for whatever reason, Baylor currently stands at 1-5 in the Big 12 with two-thirds of league action still to play. Granted, two of those losses came at Iowa State and at Kansas, but the Bears haven’t been able to take care of business at home either, falling to Oklahoma on January 18 and Texas over the weekend. But hey, if it took six games to get us all freaking out over Baylor, it’s entirely possible they can turn their season around in the final 12 contests, right? (Right?!) Well last week, our power rankings had two groups of two that found themselves tied. We did better this time around: only one!

As best told by this photograph, there are a lot of things not going Scott Drew's way lately. (Rod Aydelotte/Waco Tribune-Herald)

As best told by this photograph, there are a lot of things not going Scott Drew’s way lately. (Rod Aydelotte/Waco Tribune-Herald)

1. Kansas — 4 points (previous: 1st; Brian, KoryNate & Taylor: 1st)

Comment: “What can be said about the Jayhawks that hasn’t already been said? Wayne Selden Jr. has been a different player since Big 12 play began and Andrew Wiggins had a career-high of 27 points against TCU. Curious to know how Joel Embiid’s knee is after bruising it in the second half Saturday. Based on how little media coverage it got after the TCU game, it probably isn’t serious.” – Nate Kotisso (@natekotisso)

2. Oklahoma State — 10 points (previous: 2nd; Brian, Nate & Taylor-2nd, Kory-4th)

Comment: “Marcus Smart played his worst game of the season, as this chair would tell you if it could, you know, talk. No matter, though, since the Cowboys still beat the Mountaineers.” – Brian Goodman (@BSGoodman)

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Oklahoma versus Kansas State Already with Bubble Implications

Posted by Nate Kotisso on January 14th, 2014

Before I start, a quick shout-out to the Big 12 schedule makers for giving us great match-ups seemingly every night conference games occur. They deserve raises.

It'll be a contrast in styles when Lon Kruger's Sooners take on Kansas State. (Jason Bean/Las Vegas Review-Journal)

It’ll be a contrast in styles when Lon Kruger’s Sooners take on Kansas State. (Jason Bean/AP Photo)

You’ve seen and heard this before: The Big 12 has the best conference RPI in the country. In his latest bracketology, Jerry Palm has seven teams from the Big 12 making the field of 68, more than any other league. So the next biggest Big 12 Game of the Week of the Night gives us Oklahoma at Kansas State, the result of which will go a long way in figuring out how soft the NCAA Tournament bubble will be in two months. The Wildcats and Sooners are polar opposites of each other. Literally. Oklahoma leads the Big 12 in points per game (87.0 PPG) while Kansas State is dead last in that category (67.2 PPG). K-State is tops in the league in scoring defense (59.8 PPG) while Oklahoma sits at the bottom of the conference (79.2 PPG). It’s one of those “something’s gotta give” games.

Oklahoma’s four-guard lineup has been confusing for opponents to defend, as the Sooners run the floor, shoot from long range (38.4 percent from three as a team), and rebound well (fourth in the Big 12). Ryan Spangler, the lone ranger on the interior, is currently the second-best rebounder in the conference (9.2 RPG). Kansas State, on the other hand, appears to be more conventionally constructed with two bigs and three guards. The one-on-one match-up on which to focus tonight is Oklahoma’s Buddy Hield versus Kansas State’s Marcus Foster. Hield is averaging 20.6 points and 5.6 rebounds per game in Big 12 play while Foster was recognized as the Big 12 Newcomer of the Week a week ago.

Before Saturday’s loss to Kansas, the Wildcats were on a 10-game winning streak which included wins over George Washington, Gonzaga and Oklahoma State. They are fortunate enough to have another important and winnable game at home here, but going forward, they’ll need to add additional credible road wins to their portfolio. The Sooners, despite a soft non-conference schedule, already have two marquee wins in Big 12 play: at Texas on January 4, and Saturday’s home win against Iowa State.

You can watch the Sooners and Wildcats tangle tonight at 7:00 ET on ESPN2. Something’s gotta give.

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Big 12 Power Rankings: Kansas is Finally Finding Itself

Posted by Nate Kotisso on January 13th, 2014

Going into last Wednesday’s game against Oklahoma, Bill Self told his players that conference play was a “new season” and that everything would be “fresh and new from this point forward.” The young Jayhawks have heeded that message so far, getting past the Sooners and soundly beating Kansas State on Saturday. With a 2-0 start in the Big 12, we all figured they would rise in this week’s power rankings, but by how much? Is your top 10 shaped differently than ours? That’s what the comments are for.

It appears safe to close the panic button for Bill Self and the Jayhawks. (AP Photo)

It appears safe to close the panic button for Bill Self and the Jayhawks. (AP Photo)

1. Kansas — 6 points (previous: 3rd; Brian-1st, Kory-1st, Nate-3rd, Taylor-1st)

Comment: “It’s looking like Kansas’ non-conference struggles were nothing more than one of the youngest teams in the country playing one of the toughest schedules in the country. The Jayhawks have looked good the last two games and now have four legitimate threats to have a big game any on night: Andrew Wiggins,  Perry Ellis, Joel Embiid, and Wayne Selden.” – Kory Carpenter (@Kory_Carpenter)

2. Iowa State — 7 points (previous: 1st; Brian-2nd, Kory-2nd, Nate-1st, Taylor-2nd)

Comment: “I didn’t feel like I should drop the Cyclones in my top 10 — they lost to a pretty good Oklahoma team by five on the road. The winner of Kansas-Iowa State tonight will likely take my top spot next week.” – Nate Kotisso (@natekotisso)

3. Oklahoma State — 13 points (previous: 4th; Brian-3rd, Kory-3rd, Nate-4th, Taylor-3rd)

Comment: “Travis Ford’s squad avoided a disastrous start to conference play by knocking down a big three late to give them the win in Morgantown. If the Cowboys would have dropped two of their first three in league play to teams in the middle tier of the conference, they could have kissed their Big 12 title hopes goodbye.” – Taylor Erickson (@tc_erickson)

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Four Takeaways From Oklahoma Ending Iowa State’s Unbeaten Season

Posted by Nate Kotisso on January 12th, 2014

Oklahoma came into its game against Iowa State with a bad taste in its mouth. The Sooners led for much of the first half against Kansas on Wednesday, but a late spurt from the Jayhawks just before halftime gave them a lead they wouldn’t relinquish. The Cyclones came in as one of five teams with an undefeated record and had convincingly taken care of Baylor earlier in the week. Here are four things we learned from Iowa State’s visit to Oklahoma on Saturday.

OU's Cam Clark came into the Iowa State game leading the Big 12 in scoring. He only had 12...and the Sooners still won. (Tim Heitman/USA Today Sports)

OU’s Cam Clark came into the Iowa State game leading the Big 12 in scoring. He only had 12… and the Sooners still won. (Tim Heitman/USA TODAY Sports)

  1. Oklahoma Picked Their Poison and Chose Wisely: It’s easy to feel overwhelmed against a team like Iowa State. They can shoot, rebound, run the floor well and don’t turn the ball over much. So the game plan for Lon Kruger was to “surrender” the paint in favor of guarding the perimeter with all their might, and it worked. The Sooners, ranked 234th in Division I in two-point field goal percentage defense, according to KenPom, worked with their small lineup and allowed Melvin Ejim, Georges Niang, DeAndre Kane and Dustin Hogue to get plenty of good shots in the paint, which they made. But ISU misfired on 20-of-26 attempts from three-point land. Will other Big 12 opponents take note of this strategy? Read the rest of this entry »
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Oklahoma’s High-Powered Offense Provides Some Hope in a Crowded Big 12 Race

Posted by Alex Moscoso (@AlexPMoscoso) on December 10th, 2013

A month into the new season, the Big 12 may be more crowded at the top than originally thought. Perennial favorite Kansas is the most talented team, but the Jayhawks have looked vulnerable as their stud freshmen have shown that they are not immune to growing pains. After several signature wins, some other conference teams such as Oklahoma State, Iowa State and Baylor have proven that they too will have the talent to compete with Bill Self’s squad. One Big 12 team that may be flying under the radar and could make some noise come conference play is Oklahoma. Lon Kruger’s young team is currently 8-1 with no bad losses — the single defeat was to Michigan State – and it may also have one of the best offenses in the league.

Lon Kruger

Lon Kruger has the Sooners playing well, but it’s crowded at the top of the Big 12. (AP)

In October, the Big 12 Preseason Media Poll selected the Sooners to finish fifth mostly due to the fact that Kruger had lost his top three scorers from the year before (Romero Osby, Steven Pledger, and Amath M’Baye) and did not have any immediate impact recruits to fill the void. Because of this, Oklahoma’s starting lineup consists of one senior, Cameron Clark, and four underclassmen. This was supposed to be a transition year for the Sooners, but after 27 years of success spanning six schools, maybe we should have had more faith in the underrated head coach. Those underclassmen who were supposed to take this year to transition into bigger roles are all averaging double-figure points per game and have converted the Sooners into the 13th most potent offense in the country, scoring 87.4 PPG. The reasons: They run their offense at a fast pace and score at a high rate. The young Sooners average 74.9 possessions per game (eighth nationally) and score 1.14 points per possession (25th).

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Oklahoma Has a Favorable Match-up in its First Tournament Game Since 2009

Posted by Nate Kotisso on March 20th, 2013

Jeff Capel had it working in Norman. Building off the success of his predecessor Kelvin Sampson, Capel took the Sooners to consecutive  NCAA Tournament appearances in 2007 and 2008. Heading into practice, the 2008-09 season had all the makings of a season to remember. The Sooners boasted the future #1 pick of next year’s NBA Draft coupled with Willie Warren, a McDonald’s All-American from Dallas, not to mention the return of veteran contributors Taylor Griffin and Tony Crocker. They won 30 games that year before eventually losing in the Elite Eight to eventual national champion North Carolina.

Since 2009? Nothing.

For the first time since this guy suited up, the Sooners are dancing. (Joe Murphy/Getty Images)

For the first time since this guy suited up, the Sooners are dancing. (Joe Murphy/Getty Images)

But it was only a matter of time before a program like Oklahoma would rise again. Lon Kruger, known as a fixer of ailing programs, has the Sooners dancing in just his second season in Norman. As the Sooners hovered around the middle of the Big 12 this year, they were searching for a leader and found it in senior Romero Osby, He’s playing the best basketball of his career, and I believe that had he not made the step from role player to lead, the Sooners may have been on the outside looking in with this Tournament. After struggling to start the year, another senior, Stephen Pledger, has turned it on as well. Oklahoma finds itself as the #10 seed in the South Region paired with #7 seed San Diego State. As a result, OU can conceivably win its first foray back into the Madness since those Griffin brothers were still wearing red uniforms together.

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