Reviewing the Big 12’s Top 10 Non-Conference Matchups

Posted by Chris Stone on November 8th, 2016

Once again it looks like the Big 12 regular season title will remain in Kansas. Bill Self’s team enters this season as the prohibitive favorite to win a 13th straight championship, but the good news is that there is plenty of great non-conference basketball to sustain us until conference teams take turns trying to knock the Jayhawks from their perch. Most Big 12 teams will play tough November and December schedules featuring several preseason top 10 teams and tough mid-majors. Notably excluded from this list are games from January’s Big 12/SEC Challenge, but here’s a look at the league’s best 10 non-conference games through the first two months of the season.

Kansas is poised to win another Big 12 title, but the non-conference games come first. (USA Today Images)

Kansas is poised to win another Big 12 title, but the non-conference games come first. (USA Today Images)

  • 10. Oklahoma State vs. Connecticut, Monday November 21 – This is an opening round game at the Maui Invitational, and while the Cowboys may struggle to beat a ranked Connecticut team on the Valley Isle, the individual match-up between point guards Jawun Evans and Jalen Adams makes this must-see TV.
  • 9. Texas at Michigan, Tuesday December 6 – John Beilein’s Michigan teams play a beautiful brand of offensive basketball that the Longhorns will look to muck up by increasing tempo and using their athleticism to outrun the Wolverines in Ann Arbor.
  • 8. Oklahoma at Wisconsin, Saturday December 3 – The Badgers open the season as the Big Ten favorite so Oklahoma will have its hands full in Madison. Guard Jordan Woodard will need to deliver a Buddy Hield-esque performance for the Sooners to come away with an upset in this one.

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One Burning Question: Will Jawun Evans and Phil Forte Get Enough Help Inside?

Posted by Brian Goodman on October 28th, 2016

After several years of underperformance, Oklahoma State finally parted ways with Travis Ford and made the splashiest move of the offseason in hiring Brad Underwood. A former Kansas State assistant, Underwood arrives in Stillwater with a shiny 89-14 record over three seasons at Stephen F. Austin, including an upset of his mentor Bob Huggins’ program, West Virginia, in the first round of last season’s NCAA Tournament. The returns of Phil Forte and Jawun Evans should provide Underwood with an excellent base to his first season. The sharpshooting Forte is an underrated Big 12 veteran who owns a career 38.9 percent three-point shooting clip and is an automatic 86.6 percent at the free throw line. Evans’ corresponding emergence as an NBA prospect on the strength of his advanced vision and handle gives the Cowboys a lift they badly need. The question this team faces, though, is a familiar one despite a new head coach at the helm: Will the Cowboys’ frontcourt be effective enough to keep opposing defenses from overloading on their two potent guards?

Phil Forte's return gives the Cowboys an instant boost. (Mic Smith/AP)

Phil Forte’s return gives the Cowboys an instant boost. (Mic Smith/AP)

The Cowboys under Ford were never known for stout frontcourts, and last season may have been their low point, especially on the offensive end. Oklahoma State shot a league-worst 55.2 percent at the rim, per hoop-math.com, relying on free throws and, without Forte, shaky three-point shooting to carry the load. It went about as poorly as you’d imagine, as the team finished last in the conference in offensive efficiency. Fortunately, Underwood could be the right guy to reverse the Pokes’ fortunes. His last two Lumberjack teams ranked 15th and sixth nationally in converting twos and were especially effective at the rim, shooting 67.7 percent on close looks last season and 63.3 percent the year before. The defenses that Underwood will see in the Big 12 will be more imposing than the ones he faced in the Southland, but the standard he’ll have to meet is mere respectability rather than elite production.

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Three Big 12 Storylines to Follow this Season

Posted by Brian Goodman on October 11th, 2016

Whether you’ve noticed or not, college basketball is almost here. The league schedules have been released, public practices like Kansas’ Late Night in the Phog and Iowa State’s Hilton Madness have either come and gone or are on the horizon, blurbs are emerging of players losing weight or adding muscle, and coaches are talking about how they want to play faster and take pages from NBA teams’ playbooks. Even though college football, the NFL and baseball’s playoffs tend to dominate the national sports conversation this time of year, it’s nevertheless a good opportunity to start looking at the hoops season ahead (and let’s be honest, any time is a good time to talk hoops around here). We’ll have much, much more to come over the next month as the season draws near, but in the interest of keeping things simple at the opening tip, here are three storylines that will define one of the nation’s top conferences in 2016-17.

Bill Self's Jayhawks are well-positioned for yet another conference title in 2017. (John Rieger/USA TODAY Sports)

Bill Self’s Jayhawks are well-positioned for yet another conference title in 2017. (John Rieger/USA TODAY Sports)

  1. Kansas goes for #13 – The Jayhawks lost one of the Big 12’s elder statesmen in Perry Ellis as well as two other mainstays in Wayne Selden and Jamari Traylor, but Bill Self‘s team is going to be loaded once again. Frank Mason and Devonte’ Graham are back as the two-headed monster in the backcourt, Landen Lucas will hold own the center spot after running away with the job last season and Svi Mykhailiuk returns to provide an X-factor opposing coaches will have to respect, even if he only sees 10-15 minutes per game. Oh, and the potential #1 overall pick in next June’s draft in Josh Jackson will slide easily into Selden’s old spot, bringing versatility, rebounding and that #motor to the wing that Self loves so much. This team isn’t without questions — particularly how effective Carlton Bragg will be as a sophomore — but while there’s usually a token competitor who contrarians pick to upend the Jayhawks in the Big 12, the reality is that there’s no good reason to bet against Kansas matching both Gonzaga and the John Wooden-era UCLA teams with 13 consecutive regular season conference titles. Read the rest of this entry »
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Morning Five: 07.26.16 Edition

Posted by nvr1983 on July 26th, 2016

morning5

  1. We post stories of college basketball players dying way too often on this site. The latest one is Tyrek Coger, a recent transfer to Oklahoma State, who died on Thursday while participating in an outdoor team workout. Coger, a 6’8″ forward who had transferred from Cape Fear Community College, had gained some notoriety back in high school for challenging John Wall to a pick-up game, which became a popular YouTube video. Coger had struggled for a while to show his potential, but he appeared to be realizing some of it recently. Details regarding Coger’s death will not be released, but it appears to be related to hypertrophic cardiomyopathy, a not infrequent cause of death in men’s college basketball players which we discussed in a post in 2011. Currently, there is no recommendation to proceed with more aggressive screening in athletes, but we do wonder how many times this will need to happen before schools decide that they need to screen even if the financial numbers don’t work on a bigger scale.
  2. On Thursday ESPN formally announced its plans for the ACC Network, but to us the more interesting news was that the ACC would be expanding its conference schedule from 18 to 20 games beginning with the 2019-20 season. The obvious motive behind this is to help fill their network with original content and for some of the lower-tier ACC programs it will also bring in extra revenue by increasing the chances that they will get one of the marquee programs to visit even with an unbalanced schedule. The real question will be how schools will compensate for this on non-conference schedule. We suspect that most programs will react by scheduling even fewer tough non-conference opponents, which is unfortunate, but the reality of the business of college basketball.
  3. When videos of Mike Rice verbally and physically abusing his basketball players at Rutgers came out three years ago the media widely condemned his actions. Now with reports coming out of George Washington that Mike Lonergan may have been verbally abusing his players we have been interested to see a much more muted response. The obvious differences are the lack of video/audio evidence and the absence of physical abuse, but we also suspect that some of this is the expectation that players at a certain level will have to deal with some verbal abuse (this is also true in some workplaces). To be fair to Lonergan, several of his former players have come out to defend him against the reports from anonymous former players. We still haven’t heard anything about how the George Washington administration is dealing with this and we doubt that anything significant will happen although we do suspect that Lonergan’s relationship with athletic director Patrick Nero will probably be more strained.
  4. Many media members noted that the NCAA’s announcement that it would require future championship host cities to submit an outline of how they will prevent discrimination came out just a day after the NBA decided to change the site of its 2017 All-Star game from Charlotte due to North Carolina’s controversial HB2 law, but it seems pretty clear that the NCAA has been working on this for some time. The questionnaire (PDF here) requires the host cities to provide the NCAA with assurances that both participants and spectators will not be discriminated against. We have never delved into politics on this site, but it will be interesting to see how strict the NCAA is in its interpretation of discrimination and if/how it could influence legislation since getting to host a NCAA championship can mean millions in dollars in revenue for some cities.
  5. If you are still waiting on the NCAA to drop the proverbial hammer on North Carolina for its academic fraud we might be getting one step closer (ok, we can’t say that with a straight face). UNC has announced that will submit its response to the NCAA regarding its amended Notice of Allegations on August 1 with the response being made public the following day. We won’t go into the details of the academic fraud because at this point we almost as sick of it as UNC fans are, but we will point out that this is unlikely to be anywhere close to the end and as Andrew Carter notes in the article it is unlikely that the case will end this year.
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Big 12 Offseason Burning Questions, Part II

Posted by Chris Stone on April 12th, 2016

Yesterday, Brian Goodman opened our examination of the offseason’s burning questions facing Big 12 teams by reviewing challenges facing Baylor, Kansas, Kansas State, Oklahoma and TCU. Our series continues today with consideration of the questions plaguing the remainder of the league: Iowa State, Oklahoma State, Texas, Texas Tech and West Virginia.

Iowa State (23-12, 10-8)

For the first time in a long time, Iowa State will be without Georges Niang. (Credit: Reese Strickland-USA TODAY Sports)

For the first time in a long time, Iowa State will be without Georges Niang. (Credit: Reese Strickland-USA TODAY Sports)

Who will step up in the Cyclones’ frontcourt? A lack of depth at Iowa State was a persistent problem last season and it leads to the bigger question about who will fill the gaping frontcourt holes in Ames next year. With both Georges Niang and Jameel McKay no longer around, the Cyclones return no players 6’8″ or taller who played greater than five percent of the available minutes last season. Iowa State will need to rely on a big debut from Emmanuel Malou, one of the best junior college transfers in the country, and dramatic improvement from rising sophomore Simeon Carter, the Cyclones’ best returning big man.

Oklahoma State (12-20, 3-15)

What can new head coach Brad Underwood do with one of the Big 12’s best backcourts? Underwood consistently produced efficient offenses at Stephen F. Austin and he’ll have the chance to do likewise in Stillwater. The first-year head coach will inherit one of the conference’s best backcourts, as both Jawun Evans and Phil Forte appear set to return to school, with Evans showcasing his potential in the Cowboys’ upset of Kansas and Forte likely the best outside shooter in the Big 12. How Evans and Forte develop their chemistry with Underwood this offseason will go a long way toward determining whether Oklahoma State can regain conference relevance next season. Read the rest of this entry »

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Oklahoma State Tabs Brad Underwood To Reinvigorate Program

Posted by Brian Goodman on March 22nd, 2016

One of the most attractive jobs in the conference opened up on Friday when Oklahoma State parted ways with Travis Ford. While five bottom-half finishes in six seasons may not suggest much allure to the gig, strong facilities, access to the lush recruiting hotbed of Texas, a winning tradition and avid fan and donor support (when the team performs) were enough to sway former Stephen F. Austin head coach Brad Underwood to come aboard just one day after his Lumberjacks exited the NCAA Tournament.

With little (if anything) left to prove on the mid-major level, Brad Underwood jumped to Oklahoma State. (USA TODAY Sports)

With little (if anything) left to prove on the mid-major level, Brad Underwood jumped to Oklahoma State. (USA TODAY Sports)

Much like a baseball prospect who’s mashed his way through the minor leagues, there was simply nothing left for Underwood to prove at the mid-major level. His Stephen F. Austin teams went 59-1 in conference play over three seasons, winning the Southland Conference tournament each year he was there and bringing that same fire to the NCAA Tournament, winning two games as a double-digit seed and pushing a good Notre Dame team to the final second over the weekend. Underwood’s resume was overwhelming even before this season’s Second Round run, but the postseason certainly elevated the demand for his services, making it clear that the time had come for him to find a bigger challenge.

Underwood will find just that in the Big 12, whose coaches have a combined 43 Sweet Sixteen trips and eight Final Fours to their names. The biggest hurdle he’ll have to clear will be the demanding task of recruiting in Stillwater’s backyard, but his ties to the area as a McPherson (Kan.) native and as a two-year player at Kansas State and assistant under Bob Huggins and Frank Martin suggest he’s more than capable of doing the job.

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Big 12 M5: 03.21.16 Edition

Posted by Brian Goodman on March 21st, 2016

morning5_big12

  1. After extended struggles in the NCAA Tournament, the Big 12 pulled through by sending three teams — Kansas, Oklahoma and Iowa State — to the Sweet Sixteen for the first time since 2009. What’s particularly interesting about the league’s current standing is that the three teams still alive are the ones we all thought had the best chance to make a run when the season started. It was tough to see Baylor, West Virginia, Texas and Texas Tech lose games they could have (perhaps should have) won, but all in all, Big 12 supporters have to like this year’s results.
  2. With Stephen F. Austin falling in a heartbreaker to Notre Dame on Sunday, you can expect the chatter connecting Brad Underwood to the Oklahoma State job to ramp up over the next couple of days. He checks many of the necessary boxes for the Cowboys: He’s been tremendously successful; he has connections to the area; he worked in the Big 12 earlier in his career and is a hot name who could reinvigorate the program and re-energize the fan base in very short order. We’ll have more on the coaching search in Stillwater a bit later today, but even though Underwood won just a single NCAA Tournament game this year, his potential addition to the program in Stillwater makes a lot of sense.
  3. In other Big 12 coaching news, a report Sunday indicated that Pittsburgh head coach Jamie Dixon is strongly considering a move to take the vacant TCU job. While it isn’t often that you hear of a coach of Dixon’s stature being connected to a program with as little historical success as TCU, there are a few reasons why this could be a reasonable next step for the Horned Frogs. Dixon is a TCU alumnus and the school just unveiled substantial facilities upgrades, and the timing of Trent Johnson’s firing suggests that athletic director Chris Del Conte wants to take an aggressive approach towards escaping the Big 12 basement. The move could also be appealing from Dixon’s side, too. Fan unrest in Pittsburgh is growing as Dixon has turned only two of his 11 NCAA Tournament bids into Sweet Sixteen runs, and, though there’s not much to suggest he’s at risk of termination, the athletic director and chancellor who were in place when he was hired are now gone, so it’s fair to wonder just how much support he has from the current administration. Given all of those circumstances, the TCU job could represent something of an escape hatch. While the Horned Frogs don’t have the most well-regarded program around college basketball, we haven’t seen what they can do with an accomplished leader like Dixon at the helm. It’s also no secret that Texas is loaded with the kind of prep talent that can make TCU competitive with the right coach.
  4. Returning to the league’s NCAA Tournament performance over the weekend, it has to be especially redeeming for Iowa State to have extended its season for at least one more game. While this year’s campaign hasn’t been without its highlights, the Cyclones have just been through the wringer. First, they lost Naz Mitrou-Long eight games into the season. Then they started 1-3 in conference play, dashing hopes of knocking Kansas from the top of the Big 12 mountain and leading to a level of fan criticism that prompted head coach Steve Prohm to delete his Twitter and Facebook accounts. The team then spent a decent chunk of February working through various challenges with Jameel McKay before ultimately finishing fifth in the conference and going one-and-done at the Big 12 Tournament. Flash forward to this past weekend, and the Cyclones delivered one of the most refreshing stretches of play they’ve had all year. While it’s not a huge surprise to see Iowa State in the Sweet Sixteen, that they’ve done so in spite of all the challenges they’ve faced likely makes this run a little more special than it would be otherwise.
  5. The Big 12’s Sweet Sixteen action will tip on Thursday night when Kansas and Maryland meet in Louisville. At first glance, the most intriguing individual matchup in this game centers on how Mark Turgeon’s team will defend Perry Ellis. Doing so is a tall order, but with four regulars at 6’9″ or taller, the Terrapins certainly have the bodies capable of altering Ellis’ inside shots. Part of what makes Ellis such a matchup nightmare, however, is his ability to force opposing big men defend him in space, so it will be interesting to monitor how often Bill Self utilizes Ellis on the perimeter.
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Oklahoma State Moves on From Travis Ford

Posted by Brian Goodman on March 18th, 2016

Three straight bottom-half finishes and zero NCAA Tournament wins since 2009 had long been enough for supporters of Oklahoma State to separate themselves from Travis Ford, but it wasn’t until today that it became enough for athletic director Mike Holder. As the curtains fell on another disappointing Cowboys season, so too did they fall on Ford’s mostly empty tenure in Stillwater, as he was fired from his head coaching post on Friday despite three years and $7.2 million remaining on a generous extension he signed seven years ago.

Assured of its eighth straight season without an NCAA Tournament victory, Oklahoma State has finally moved on from Travis Ford. (USA Today)

After its eighth straight season without an NCAA Tournament victory, Oklahoma State finally moved on from Travis Ford. (USA Today)

If Ford still had defenders, they would point to the laundry list of injuries suffered by key parts of this year’s rotation that caused the season to run off the rails, resulting in a lackluster 18-14 record and ninth-place finish. To an extent, they’d have a point. There’s no doubt that this season would have yielded better results had Phil Forte not hurt his elbow in November and had Jawun Evans not been lost for the last 10 games of the season with a shoulder injury. However, multiple disappointing finishes depleted Ford of the capital to write off another one, with five bottom-half finishes in the last six seasons no longer enough for the leadership of an otherwise proud program to overlook.

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Takeaways from the Big 12’s Opening Night

Posted by Greg Mitchell on March 10th, 2016

Over the last few years there has been at least one NCAA Tournament bid on the line during the Big 12 Tournament’s opening night. It was Texas making its case last season, with Marcus Smart and Oklahoma State before that. For better or worse, there was no such drama last night at the Sprint Center as the team with the shakiest prospects, Texas Tech, already seems safely in the field. The Red Raiders, however, may have dinged their seed with an upset loss to TCU. The games went on regardless, and Kansas State‘s win over Oklahoma State gives us a third game with Kansas in what will undoubtedly be a juiced Sprint Center this afternoon. Here are some quick takeaways on each team that played Wednesday night in Kansas City.

Kansas State Moves On to Face Kansas on Thursday Afternoon (USA Today Images)

Kansas State Moves On to Face Kansas on Thursday Afternoon (USA Today Images)

Kansas State. Kansas State’s offense was not pleasant in its last game against Oklahoma State, as a miserable 0.85 points per possession performance resulted in a three-point loss that effectively killed any hopes of a late season run. The Wildcats’ first half on Wednesday night was a different story, as they did a great job utilizing Dean Wade in the high post and Justin Edwards (four first half assists) in keeping the offense moving. This allowed Kansas State to build a 17-point lead that proved insurmountable. Wesley Iwundu admitted after the game that the Wildcats got “too comfortable” with a lead and let Oklahoma State back into the game in the second half. Their date with the rival Jayhawks will not be comfortable, but Bruce Weber said that his team simply needs to “enjoy the opportunity” and compete with them. Replicating their free-flowing offensive effort from last night’s first half will be the only way to challenge a Jayhawks team that hasn’t lost a Big 12 Tournament opener since 2009.

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Big 12 M5: 02.29.16 Edition

Posted by Brian Goodman on February 29th, 2016

morning5_big12

  1. Kansas clinched at least a share of a remarkable 12th consecutive Big 12 title on Saturday with a 67-58 win over then-streaking Texas TechThe Jayhawks were excellent defensively, holding the Red Raiders to 0.88 points per possession and 31.6 percent shooting, both season lows for Tubby Smith’s team. While Texas Tech contained Perry Ellis to the tune of just eight points, a white-hot Svi Mykhailiuk made them pay for giving him space, as the Ukrainian sophomore went 5-of-5 on three-pointers on his way to 17 points.
  2. With the regular season nearing the finish line, National Coach Of The Year chatter has started to bubble with no shortage of worthy candidates both around the Big 12 and nationally. While the accolade rarely goes to a coach whose team finished as it was predicted at the start of the season, a good case can be made for Bill Self even with the Jayhawks being predicted to win the conference back in October. According to kenpom.com, this year’s Big 12 is tied as the toughest of 390 total conference seasons played over the last 12 years, matching the Big Ten in 2010-11. Kansas is likely going to win the league outright, possibly by multiple games and without a probable first-round pick in the starting lineup. Self’s case isn’t without flaws and the COY award doesn’t mean much in the grand scheme of things (quick, name the last two winners without Googling), but it would be nice to see the collective vote driven by something other than a mea culpa on coaches who outperformed lower expectations.
  3. Regardless of whether or not he’s your COY choice, another candidate in Shaka Smart made his case Saturday afternoon as Texas beat Oklahoma in exhilarating fashion. The Longhorns trailed for much of the game, but used a stupefying 22-0 run over a six-minute stretch in the second half to pull ahead. Texas’ guards bullied their way into the paint and to the free throw line with regularity, with Isaiah Taylor and Kerwin Roach combining for 30 points, 14 of which came from the charity stripe. Oklahoma scored 40 points in the first half, but found itself limited to one shot on most of its possessions thanks to a 78 percent defensive rebounding rate from Texas, so when their shots stopped falling after halftime, the Sooners had no escape. On the plus side for Oklahoma, Buddy Hield notched his ninth 30-point game of the season, making him just the third major-conference player since the 2010 season to accomplish the feat. Unfortunately, Hield didn’t get the support he needed on Saturday as he outscored his teammates 33-30.
  4. Oklahoma’s loss paved the way for West Virginia to take sole possession of second place, which it did Saturday night by beating Oklahoma State 70-56 in Stillwater. The Mountaineers forced 19 Cowboy turnovers, including nine by point guard Tyree Griffin, which is the most by an individual Big 12 player against West Virginia since the press became its trademark at the start of last season. The game was also noteworthy as West Virginia, despite playing on the road and in a style that leads to many defensive fouls committed and very few fouls drawn, made 17 more trips to the free throw line than Oklahoma State did.
  5. Last Friday, Baylor‘s Rico Gathers announced that he would shift gears after the season to focus on his future on the gridiron. Gathers’ interest in football has been no secret, and with a family to support, it makes sense for him to start looking closer at his prospects for life after college, even if they may not involve basketball. While Gathers didn’t close the door to potential NBA opportunities, he’s certainly aware of how and where his physical gifts may best suit him. In the meantime, we encourage everyone to enjoy what’s left of Gathers’ hoops career.
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