Big 12 M5: 11.10.14 Edition

Posted by Brian Goodman on November 10th, 2014

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  1. Rustin Dodd of The Kansas City Star has a terrific extended profile on Kansas phenom Kelly Oubre. The piece details his upbringing from leaving New Orleans in anticipation of Hurricane Katrina, through his explosion on to the national recruiting scene at Findlay Prep, to where he is now, mere days away from making his debut for one of the most storied programs in college basketball. Oubre displays a maturity beyond his years through carefully-collected thoughts and a contemplative attitude. Given Kansas’ roster, it doesn’t look like he’ll have to shoulder a huge load during his freshman season, but he could very well be the Jayhawks’ X-factor in 2015.
  2. The typical caveats of preseason games apply here, but Iowa State newcomer Bryce Dejean-Jones looked ready to take on a big role with the Cyclones as the team smoked Viterbo (La Crosse., Wisconsin) 115-48 on Friday night. Both Royce White and DeAndre Kane hit the ground running in their sole seasons in Ames under Fred Hoiberg, so it will be fun to see if Dejean-Jones will be able to do the same thing starting Friday in the team’s season opener against Oakland.
  3. Oklahoma State knows that despite being picked to finish near the bottom of the Big 12, this season is an important one for the future of the program. As a result, the Pokes are trying to build chemistry by spending more time together off the court, according to The Tulsa World. The article brings up the notion that, with an egoless squad, both Travis Ford and the team are hopeful they can improve on last year’s massive disappointment. While that may sound like eye-rolling coachspeak, the tone isn’t all that dissimilar from the mindset Texas head coach Rick Barnes took after Julien Lewis, Sheldon McClellan, Ioannis Papapetrou and Myck Kabongo all left Austin in 2013. This year’s team doesn’t look nearly as good as last year’s Texas team, but the Cowboys are probably as good a bet as any team in the bottom of the Big 12 to outperform their expectations.
  4. Bruce Weber‘s third season with Kansas State should bring increased expectations, according to Kellis Robinett of The Wichita Eagle. The Wildcats will need to replace about 30 percent of their scoring production from last season, but that should be doable given a roster featuring a stud guard in Marcus Foster and a promising trio of newcomers in Brandon BoldenJustin Edwards and Stephen Hurt. Weber led Kansas State to its first back-to-back 20-win seasons since 1977, but early NCAA Tournament losses have prevented the program from getting a little more respect on a national scale.
  5. Oklahoma sophomore Jordan Woodard cracked the preseason Bob Cousy Award watch list last week, and it’s not hard to see why. As a freshman, Woodard displayed advanced poise and confidence on his way to a fantastic debut season. With a year now under his belt, college basketball fans can expect him to make a big leap. While it will be a lot of fun to watch him lead the Sooners’ high-octane offense, the quality of Oklahoma’s defense is what will really need to improve this year.
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Big 12 M5: 11.03.14 Edition

Posted by Kory Carpenter on November 3rd, 2014

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  1. Guys like Andrew Wiggins, Joel Embiid, Isaiah Austin and DeAndre Kane might be gone from the league, but the Big 12 could be as good as ever this season. As was pointed out here, this is the first season when four Big 12 teams have made an appearance in the Preseason AP Top 25. Those four teams are Kansas (#5), Texas (#10), Iowa State (#14), and Oklahoma (#19). The quartet of Baylor, Kansas State, Oklahoma State and West Virginia all received votes as well. Kansas was picked by Big 12 scribes to win the conference for the 11th consecutive year and the AP voters rightfully gave the Jayhawks the highest ranking of any Big 12 team. But as you can see, there isn’t much of a gap between Kansas and the other schools, which should make for a great conference race.
  2. Former President Bill Clinton was campaigning for Democrats in Iowa over the weekend when he stopped at a coffee shop in Ames. “You have a very interesting team,” he told a small group of people, referring to Fred Hoiberg’s Iowa State team [see full video below]. It’s not every day when someone can talk hoops with a former president, and while Clinton didn’t give any amazing breakdowns during the conversation, it was still pretty cool to see. For someone who probably doesn’t watch a ton of Cyclones basketball, his wasn’t a terrible point to make. If the Cyclones are anything like what they’ve been in the past few years under Hoiberg, they’ll shoot well enough in some games to beat anybody and go cold in others, making them as upset-prone as nearly any team in the country.
  3. If Houston transfer TaShawn Thomas becomes eligible this season, Crimson and Cream Review believes that Oklahoma might be able to knock Kansas off the top spot in the Big 12 for the first time in over a decade. That’s good news for their readers, who seem to believe that Thomas will receive a waiver to play soon. The Sooners winning the conference wouldn’t be a stunner on the level of a TCU or Texas Tech winning the Big 12 title, but getting past Kansas and Texas this year? I don’t know about that one.
  4. Kansas freshman forward Cliff Alexander seemed to be a guy who might need a few weeks to get used to the college game. If you watched his high school clips, he basically did whatever he wanted inside simply because he was five inches taller and 50 pounds heavier than anyone else on the court. And while Kansas coach Bill Self recently told beat writer Gary Bedore that Alexander “had done great,” it still looks like he will need a month or so to get the hang of things in college. “Tarik averaged more fouls than rebounds and points until Christmas, and Cliff has the same potential to do that,” Self said. “But when he gets it, he’s going to be really good. I think by the end of the year, he could be one of the harder players to deal with in the league.”
  5. CBSSports.com recently ranked its top 100 college basketball players heading into the season, and surprisingly (at least to this writer), incoming freshman Jahlil Okafor was their No. 1 player ahead of guys like Sam Dekker, Montrezl Harrell and Frank Kaminsky. The list’s top Big 12 player is Iowa State forward Georges Niang, who will have plenty of opportunities to showcase his talents this season with the losses of DeAndre Kane and Melvin Ejim from the Cyclones. He is joined in the top 25 by West Virginia’s Juwan Staten (#12), Kansas’ Cliff Alexander (#14), Texas’ Myles Turner (#16), Kansas State’s Marcus Foster (#20), Kansas’ Kelly Oubre (#21), Kansas’ Perry Ellis (#22), and Oklahoma’s Buddy Hield (#25). That’s not a bad collection of talent for what looks to be the second-best conference in the country, behind only the ACC.

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Big 12 Season Preview: Oklahoma State Cowboys

Posted by Brian Goodman on October 27th, 2014

Throughout the preseason, the Big 12 microsite will preview each of the league’s 10 teams, from worst to first. Today: Oklahoma State.

Strengths. This offseason saw a lot of roster turnover in Stillwater. Marcus Smart left after an up-and-down sophomore year and Markel Brown graduated, but those losses were presumed all along. The departures of Kamari Murphy, Brian Williams and Gary Gaskins via transfer, however, caused a bigger dent, but even after all that attrition, the Cowboys return a very solid core. Le’Bryan Nash finally improved his efficiency as a junior; the sharpshooting Phil Forte is back for a third campaign; the return of Michael Cobbins from a significant Achilles’ injury will help inside; and LSU transfer Anthony Hickey provides a steady hand at the point that can also shoot a good enough deep ball to keep opposing backcourts from cheating towards Forte.

The Oklahoma State Cowboys hopes Le'Bryan Nash can wipe away the nightmares of the 2013-14 season with a strong senior campaign. (AP)

The Oklahoma State Cowboys hope Le’Bryan Nash can wipe away the nightmares of the 2013-14 season with a strong senior campaign. (AP)

Weaknesses. The biggest questions here come from a depth perspective. Down low, Travis Ford will have options, but we won’t really know what the Cowboys are capable of until they get a few games under their belts. Marek Soucek and Leyton Hammonds are the most experienced returnees inside, but neither did enough last season to inspire much confidence. Freshman Mitch Solomon will also be available, as will 7’1″ JuCo transfer Anthony Allen, so Ford will have to hope someone emerges as a last line of defense. There are unknowns in the backcourt, too, as Jeff Newberry and Tyree Griffin will get backup opportunities, but it’s tough to say how they will work out. There’s a nice amount of talent in Stillwater, and the starters have enough experience to play well, but it’s tough to see that as enough to muster a top-half finish in the Big 12 without a few breaks. Read the rest of this entry »

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Big 12 M5: 10.23.2014 Edition

Posted by Brian Goodman on October 23rd, 2014

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  1. Yesterday afternoon, a report surfaced alleging that Texas would start paying its student-athletes an amount in the area of $10,000 per year on top of the typical scholarship. Initially, the report set Twitter abuzz, as it would be the biggest domino to fall in the wake of the O’Bannon ruling, but it later turned out that Texas Athletic Director Steve Patterson was merely speaking hypothetically in response to a question about what might happen if the NCAA were to lose all of its appeals from the landmark. Despite the initial misinterpretation, it was interesting to get a glimpse from an administrator at a big athletics school into what the future may hold as the NCAA model is continuously challenged.
  2. Travis Ford has faced a lot of scrutiny over the past year (most of it deserved), but it hasn’t stopped him from making hay on the recruiting trail. Oklahoma State‘s latest commit came in Tuesday from 2016 guard Tre Evans. One interesting angle to Evans’ recruitment is that although his father, Terry, was a 1,300-point scorer for rival Oklahoma and later a staffer for Kelvin Sampson, the Sooners never came calling for Tre. A chip understandably developed on Tre’s shoulder, so even though he’s only a junior, he sounds very eager to get to Stillwater.
  3. In the current age of freshmen hype, we’ve seen how easy it can be for good upperclassmen to get lost in the shuffle. Last season, Kansas forward Perry Ellis flew under the radar compared to the Jayhawks’ one-and-done guys, and as of now, he’s one of college basketball’s most underrated players. That status is likely to change during the preview season as regional and national outlets take a closer look at what will make the Jayhawks go this year (especially as Cliff Alexander and Kelly Oubre take time to get settled) but for the time being, Ellis is about as underrated as a player for an annual contender can be. While Ellis is reliable around the rim, he was also a factor in Kansas’ disappointing defensive performance this season, so he’s definitely someone to keep an eye on.
  4. Over 20 years after his tough 1992 Cincinnati team crashed the Final Four, Bob Huggins is still fighting a reputation as a perceived villain, according to Fox Sports’ Reid Forgrave. A given fan’s impression of the coaching vet probably depends on how long they’ve been following his career and whether they view teams as an extension of their coach. Huggins’ best teams — whether they’ve been at Dayton, Cincinnati or West Virginia — have always had an edge to them and thrived during a time when many coaches had a defensive philosophy based in some part on the idea that refs can only call so much contact. However, it’s also true that Huggins has always cared deeply for his players and never minces words when it comes to his teams’ performance in a given game or season. Huggins isn’t without flaws, but in today’s college basketball landscape, there are definitely more sketchy characters.
  5. Iowa State forward Georgios Tsalmpouris suffered a mild ankle sprain in practice, but should be ready to go for the start of the season. At 7’1″, Tsalmpouris is the tallest player to suit up for the Cyclones since 2004, but at 220 pounds, he has some bulking up to do before he becomes a key cog in Iowa State’s rotation. There isn’t much reason to worry about Tsalmpouris’ injury, but someone as raw as him needs all the development he can get.
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Big 12 M5: 10.21.14 Edition

Posted by Brian Goodman on October 21st, 2014

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  1. Kansas State‘s frontcourt depth will suffer a minor hit after it was announced that Jack Karapetyan has withdrawn from school and will look to transfer. The California native played in just six games before losing his season to a foot injury last year. Fortunately for him, the injury came early enough in the season that he qualified for a medical hardship waiver, which means he will have all of his eligibility at his new school. The Wildcats don’t figure to miss him, though, as they have plenty of bodies up front.
  2. If there’s one team in need of a fresh start this season, it’s Oklahoma State. Though the Cowboys rallied to make the NCAA Tournament, they finished far below expectations and are ready for a clean slate. The team is looking to Le’Bryan Nash to fill the leadership void left by the departures of Marcus Smart and Markel Brown. Nash came to Stillwater three years ago and developed a reputation for hunting shots as he struggled to accept a complimentary role. Now that he is Oklahoma State’s returning scorer, however, he will need to step up and build on a very solid junior year.
  3. A chance to play for a coach who is so well-regarded that he is approached by NBA teams on an annual basis, a rabid fan base that packs its home court every night, and the opportunity to be tested in arguably the country’s toughest conference. What’s not to like about Iowa State basketball? That’s a question we have for 6’10” Indian Hills Community College prospect Malik Dime, who verbally committed to Washington over the Cyclones on Monday. If you are going to turn down The Mayor, you better have a good reason, and according to the linked article, a couple of Washington connections were the difference.
  4. Current Southern Methodist coach and former Kansas head coach Larry Brown recalled some fond memories of coaching in Allen Fieldhouse in advance of the building’s 60th anniversary, which will be celebrated with a gala next week. Brown was only in Lawrence for five seasons, but he left a lasting legacy as the conductor of the 1988 national championship team following a prolonged stretch of mediocrity in the twilight of his predecessor’s (Ted Owens) career.
  5. As if it were even possible, West Virginia projects to lean more heavily on Juwan Staten than it did last year. Only 20 players in the country played a higher percentage of available minutes than Staten in 2014 so it’s tough imagine a bigger workload coming his way in 2015. If you ask us, the key to the Mountaineers’ season isn’t Staten’s performance, since he is more or less a known quantity, but rather the improvement of West Virginia’s abysmal defense.
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Big 12 Media Day Recap: A Photo For The Ages

Posted by Nate Kotisso on October 16th, 2014

If you haven’t heard, Kansas City’s a happening place these days. Aside from that ALCS thing in town yesterday, the Big 12 also held its annual men’s basketball media day at the Sprint Center (here’s all that stuff, if it tickles your fancy). It was your run-of-the-mill media day: Reporters asked bland questions, players and coaches gave calculated answers, and no one really learned anything new. The apex of the festivities came, however, when the Big 12’s Twitter account tweeted out a group photo will all 10 of the conference’s head coaches. Here it is below:

Bask in all its glory (photo via @Big12Conference on Twitter)

Bask in All of its Glory (photo via @Big12Conference)

Instead of breaking down the nonstop action from media day, the following were the “thoughts” that went through each coach’s mind at the time the above photo was taken.*

  • Baylor’s Scott Drew: “I hate coming here when the Tournament is in an odd-numbered year. (sighs) OK, what should I do here, hands together or apart? Together? Apart? Wait, did I use all my timeouts yet? [camera takes photo] Ah heck, they’re apart.”
  • Iowa State’s Fred Hoiberg: “Put me in the back, will ya? That’s fine. I’ll end up dreamier than I was before.”
  • Kansas’ Bill Self: “Really wanted to wear Wiggins’ draft day suit again. Knew I shouldn’t have had that glass of butter with dinner.”
  • Kansas State’s Bruce Weber: (chuckles to himself) “I can’t believe Ford was in ‘The 6th Man.’ That’s the best movie of all-time! I bet that made a heckuva lot of money in theaters!”
  • Oklahoma’s Lon Kruger:  “I would take another coaching job right now if it meant I didn’t have to take this photo.”
  • Oklahoma State’s Travis Ford: “This contract I have means that I’m pretty much bulletproof. I could pull down Drew’s pants right now and I’d STILL get that check next week. [mulls it over] Nah, I won’t do that to ‘em. He’s probably worried that he has to call a timeout here or something.”
  • Texas’ Rick Barnes: “I bet if I left media day, traveled the world and missed the entire year, we’d still have a better record than the football team.”
  • TCU’s Trent Johnson: “I don’t know why this camera guy told me to move this far up. He could have gotten a much better shot of me if I stood at half-court like I wanted.”
  • Texas Tech’s Tubby Smith: “I should have been more direct with people calling me Orlando instead of Tubby.”
  • West Virginia’s Bob Huggins:  “I don’t think anyone here gets my E. Gordon Gee Halloween costume.”

*thoughts confirmed by unnamed sources

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Five Takeaways From the Preseason Big 12 Coaches Poll

Posted by Brian Goodman on October 9th, 2014

We’re a little over a month away from the first games of the 2014-15 season, and that means the typical roll-out of preseason coaches polls, all-conference teams and all of the other fun stuff that comes with the countdown. This morning, the Big 12 Conference released its annual preseason coaches poll. You can find the complete rankings here, but here are the five biggest takeaways from the release.

  1. Kansas picked to lead the pack (again), though narrowly: Death, taxes, the sun shining in the east, Adam Sandler making terrible movies, and the Jayhawks winning the Big 12. Sometimes, there’s just no need to complicate life’s certainties. Kansas’ roster isn’t without questions, but whose isn’t? Until someone knocks the Jayhawks off the mountain, any predictions in favor of other teams are simply bold picks. The Longhorns are right behind the Jayhawks with three first-place votes to Kansas’ six in this poll, and have one of the best combinations of talent and depth in the country, but don’t count on the Jayhawks to give up their crown this season.
  2. Sooners on the rise: Oklahoma checks in after Texas and was one of the bigger overachievers in college basketball last season. Lon Kruger returns nearly everyone from a young roster that racked up 23 wins, a second-place finish in the Big 12, and an NCAA Tournament bid. While the team’s defense will need to improve, the offensive firepower should still be there, and the squad can catch a huge break if Houston transfer TaShawn Thomas is ruled eligible. Combine all of that with Kruger’s track record and there are plenty of reasons to believe the Sooners will build on last year’s success.

    Andrew Wiggins is a pro, but Bill Self has reloaded Kansas once again. (KUSports.com)

    Andrew Wiggins is a pro, but Bill Self has reloaded Kansas once again. (KUSports.com)

  3. Is the Big 12 selling Fred Hoiberg short?: Before the 2012 and 2013 seasons, the league’s coaches penciled Iowa State in the bottom half of the standings, and both times, Fred Hoiberg exceeded expectations. Last year, the coaches appeared to finally smarten up, as they tabbed the Cyclones to finish fourth, but Iowa State still outperformed those projections, finishing third in the league and winning the Big 12 Tournament. The departures of DeAndre Kane and Melvin Ejim appear to have given the coaches pause this season in sliding the Cyclones down to fifth, but we’ve seen The Mayor rebuild too many times to believe he can’t muster a top-four finish, possibly top three if things break right for his club. Look for Bryce Dejean-Jones, Georges Niang and Monte Morris to do some big things in 2014-15.
  4. What to make of the perceptions of Kansas State and Baylor: Both the Wildcats and Bears face significant roster turnover from last season’s NCAA Tournament teams, but Bruce Weber’s team was tabbed fourth and Scott Drew’s team sixth. It appears as though the league’s coaches are looking for Wildcats guard Marcus Foster to make a big leap as a sophomore and for Baylor to continue its every-other-year pattern, because I just don’t see what else can explain the 17-point difference in the preseason vote tally.
  5. At 7th and 8th place, Bob Huggins and Travis Ford face big seasons: West Virginia’s transition to the Big 12 has been a rocky one. The Mountaineers are just 49-49 over the last three seasons, and while it’s tough to picture Bob Huggins’ seat getting too hot in Morgantown, it’s time for him to produce. Juwan Staten could be the best player in the Big 12, but his amazing talent will be wasted if West Virginia doesn’t hear its name called on Selection Sunday. Meanwhile, in Stillwater, Travis Ford looks to pick up the pieces from one of the most disappointing seasons by a Power Five conference school in recent memory. To his credit, he’s made some inroads on the recruiting circuit, but it’s hard to see freshmen like Joe Burton and Mitch Solomon being good enough complements to Le’Bryan Nash and Phil Forte for the Cowboys to make a run.
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Who’s Got Next? Izzo Lands A Sharp Shooter From Texas and Clemson Nabs A PG

Posted by Sean Moran on September 30th, 2014

http://rushthecourt.net/mag/wp-content/uploads/2013/10/whosgotnext.jpg

Who’s Got Next? is a weekly column by Sean Moran, the RTC recruiting guru. Once a week he will bring you an overview of what’s going on in the complex world of recruiting, from who is signing where among the seniors to discussing the recruitment of the top uncommitted players in the country. We also encourage you to check out his contributions at The Intentional Foul dedicated to recruiting coverage and analysis. You can also follow Sean at his Twitter account @Seanmohoops for up-to-date news from the high school and college hoops scene. If you have any suggestions as to areas we are missing or different things you would like to see, please let us know at rushthecourt@yahoo.com.

Note: Scout.com used for all player rankings.

Michigan State Lands Texas Sharpshooter

Michigan State missed out on in-state shooting guard Eric Davis when he announced his commitment to Texas on September 16. Nine days later Tom Izzo landed 6’5” senior shooting guard Matt McQuaid from Duncanville, Texas, a player who is currently rated No. 72 overall and the No. 23 shooting guard. As a junior, McQuaid committed to SMU before de-committing during the summer to re-open his recruitment. After setting the summer circuit on fire with his hot outside shooting, McQuaid quickly received interest from schools such as Michigan State, Indiana, and Creighton.

During the past two AAU seasons, McQuaid built a reputation as a stellar outside shooter. In 2013 he averaged 11.4 points on the Nike EYBL circuit, hitting 58-of-132 threes (43.9%), and this year he increased his scoring average to 15.6 points per game while hitting 45.1 percent of his outside shots. The soon-to be Spartan has range beyond the college three-point line to go along with a high release on his outside shot. While not known for a quick first step, McQuaid is working to improve his ability to attack the basket or find space for his pull-up jumper. Along with improving his quickness, McQuaid will also need to spend some time in the weight room over the next couple of years. Increased strength will certainly be beneficial for him on both sides of the ball to ensure that he does not become a defensive liability in Big Ten action.

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Big 12 M5: Mid-June Edition

Posted by Brian Goodman on June 16th, 2014

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  1. There may not be a bigger question mark at any position for a given team in the Big 12 than the point guard spot at Kansas. After Naadir Tharpe left the program, paving the way for signee Devonte‘ Graham to enroll in Lawrence, the question moved from “who will play at the point?” to “how will the freshman fare?” First-year point guards have rarely led the way for Bill Self’s teams at Kansas, so Rustin Dodd of The Kansas City Star is here to give the lowdown on the winding story of how Graham and Kansas matched up with one another. If Graham doesn’t pick things up in the Jayhawks’ system early, Self will again be left to his backup options of Frank Mason and Conner Frankamp.
  2. A pair of Iowa State Cyclones have had some run-ins with the law recently, earning sophomore guard Matt Thomas and Southern Illinois transfer Abdel Nader indefinite suspensions after each was cited for driving while intoxicated at different points in the offseason. As stupid of a decision as it is to drive while drunk, it would be a surprise if head coach Fred Hoiberg held either player out of game action once the season gears up. Still, both players have opportunities to make big impacts for the Cyclones next season, so it would be in everyone’s best interests for them to remain out of trouble off the court.
  3. Roughly one year ago, Stevie Clark was unofficially anointed the point guard in-waiting of the Oklahoma State Cowboys. However, after encountering a couple of legal incidents himself, Travis Ford dismissed him from the team, leaving an opening for a new floor general. Former LSU point guard Anthony Hickey is set to join the Cowboys and could fill that role as a transfer, but it’s unclear whether he’ll be able to get a waiver to play immediately. He has some makeup questions of his own, but if he is ruled eligible and realizes the opportunity in front of him, he could play a big part in steadying the Cowboys’ ship after a disastrous 2013-14 campaign.
  4. Last week, Kansas State rolled out its finalized non-conference schedule for the 2014-15 season, and while it isn’t a juggernaut, it looks plenty daunting. The Wildcats have two true road games (at Long Beach State and at Tennessee), and Bruce Weber‘s team will head out to Hawai’i for the Maui Invitational. This year’s field will be competitive as usual, with Arizona, San Diego State, Pittsburgh and Purdue among the competitors, but another interesting potential showdown could involve former Big 12 member Missouri. Last season, the Wildcats had to make up for some embarrassing early losses, but with an improved squad, they’ll obviously look for a much better showing this time around as they get ready for what lies ahead later in the season.
  5. In another scheduling tidbit, Baylor learned the team it will face in its Thanksgiving tournament, as the Bears will square off against Memphis in the Las Vegas Invitational at Orleans Arena on November 27 and will face either Illinois or Indiana State the following evening. In the aftermath of the losses of Isaiah Austin, Cory Jefferson and Brady Heslip from last year’s team, the Bears will need to make hay early if they are to make consecutive NCAA Tournaments for the first time in the program’s history.
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Breaking Down the Top Five Big 12/SEC Challenge Match-ups

Posted by Brian Goodman on June 3rd, 2014

Over the last few years, college basketball has taken some big steps to become more relevant in the national consciousness before non-conference play. The second annual Big 12/SEC Challenge will attempt to drum up some early December interest in basketball before bowl season hits in earnest. The Big 12 won last season’s rendition with seven victories in 10 games and will look to pick up the pieces of its fractured national reputation after a middling March performance. Here’s a quick look at the top five match-ups of next season’s edition.

Cameron Ridley will look to build on an impressive 2013-14 campaign when Texas faces the prohibitive #1 team in the country. (Brendan Maloney/USA Today)

Cameron Ridley will look to build on an impressive 2013-14 campaign when Texas faces the prohibitive #1 team in the country. (Brendan Maloney/USA Today)

  1. Texas at Kentucky (December 5) – Just 12 months ago, Rick Barnes was squarely on the hot seat. Now he finds his team in the Challenge’s marquee game against last year’s national runner-up and what is sure to be the preseason #1 team in the country. Both squads will enter this game with crazy depth, so look for this one to be decided by how each team’s coach handles its pieces at this early juncture. The Longhorns will have a slight leg up on Kentucky in experience with Cameron Ridley, Jonathan Holmes and Prince Ibeh to side with blue-chip prospect Myles Turner,  but much of Kentucky’s frontcourt will be back too after Willie Cauley-Stein, Alex Poythress and Dakari Johnson announced their returns in surprising fashion. The guard battles will be nothing to sneeze at, either, with Javan Felix, Isaiah Taylor and Demarcus Holland going up against the loaded Kentucky backcourt of Aaron Harrison, Andrew Harrison and Tyler Ulis.
  2. Florida at Kansas (December 5) - Andrew Wiggins nearly led the Jayhawks to an improbable comeback in Gainesville last season, but Kansas ultimately fell short in that effort. They’ll have a chance to make it good at Allen Fieldhouse, where despite their overall struggles last season, was a relative safe haven for Bill Self’s team. Wiggins and Joel Embiid are of course now gone, but Kelly Oubre, Cliff Alexander and Sviatoslav Mykhaliuk will step in, and hopefully Bill Self will find a steady point guard who can be relied on to make everything come together. Florida’s Final Four core has moved on as well, so this will be a great chance to see how incumbents Michael Frazier, Kasey Hill, Chris Walker and Dorian Finney-Smith handle a big early test on the road. Read the rest of this entry »
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Ten Most Pivotal Moments of the 2013-14 Season

Posted by Bennet Hayes on April 16th, 2014

Within every 40 minutes of college basketball, there is a moment or two that sets a tone, shifts momentum, or otherwise dictates the game’s final result. If we think bigger picture, we’ll notice that the five-month college basketball season is also shaped by a number of similarly formative moments. We may not always know their full significance at the time, but these moments conspire to transform the course of a season. In 2013-14, these were those 10 moments – some occurring inside the lines, others far away from the hardwood – that proved most pivotal to the season’s final snapshot.

UConn Felled Florida Back In December In What Would Turn Out To Be The First Installment Of Many  Napier Clutch Shots

UConn Felled Florida Back In December In What Would Turn Out To Be The First Installment Of Many Napier Clutch Shots

  • 10. Tyler Ennis Downs Pitt at the Horn (February 12). The Syracuse freshman’s memorable game-winner extended the Orange’s inspiring perfect start, but might it have ended up wounding both teams? Pitt would never really find its way over the hump, while Syracuse’s continued chase of perfection may have shielded a few critical flaws that would later cause its sharp downfall.
  • 9. Scottie Wilbekin Returns From Five-Game Suspension (November 25). A solid performance (12 points, seven assists, three steals) in a rout of Atlantic Sun also-ran Jacksonville was just the beginning of a redemptive season for Wilbekin, who overcame offseason turmoil to become the unquestioned leader and MVP of a team that, for the better part of 2014, played at a far loftier level than any other squad in the country.
  • 8. Wichita State Comes Back Against Missouri State (January 11). Shockermania hadn’t yet grown into the hysteria it would become, but Wichita State overcame a 19-point second half road deficit in the most improbable of their season-opening 35 victories. Read the rest of this entry »
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The Five Stories We Will Remember From the 2013-14 Season

Posted by Bennet Hayes on April 10th, 2014

It just so happened that two of the biggest stories from the first night of this college basketball season happened to be the two most prominent narratives on the season’s final evening. Back on November 8, Shabazz Napier’s 18-point, seven-rebound, seven-assist effort propelled UConn to a one-point victory over Maryland, while some 700 miles away, the most decorated and anticipated freshman class in college hoops history debuted at Rupp Arena, blasting UNC-Asheville, 89-57. Almost exactly five months to that night, Napier was again dazzling and the microscope remained firmly fixed on those gifted Kentucky freshmen, except this time they shared the same court at AT&T Stadium – the season’s final stage. Both national title combatants will survive as integral pieces in the memory of this 2013-14 season, but in between opening night and Championship Monday, countless other teams, players, and storylines seized our attention. Below are the five stories (beyond the Wildcats and Huskies) that I will remember most from a college basketball season that was never, ever boring.

The Shockers Were Unable To Author An NCAA Tournament Fit For Their Dream Season, But Fred VanVleet, Ron Baker And Co. Were Still The Story Of This College Basketball Season

The Shockers Were Unable To Author An NCAA Tournament Ending Fit For Their Dream Season, But Fred VanVleet, Ron Baker And Co. Were Still The Story Of 2013-14

5. Pac-12 Revival. We missed you, Pac-12. It’d been a minute since the league summoned up a national title contender, much less a deep and balanced assemblage of teams to chase that front-runner, but the Pac-12 was able to do just that in 2013-14. Even with Brandon Ashley’s mid-January season-ending ACL tear muddying Arizona’s March forecast, the Wildcats put together a regular season worthy of a #1 seed, and entered the NCAA Tournament on the short list of favorites before falling a point short of the Final Four in an Elite Eight loss to Wisconsin. Five other teams from the conference made the field of 68, with both Stanford and a revived UCLA squad (that Steve Alford hiring doesn’t look so bad now) making the Sweet Sixteen. College hoops is officially back on the West Coast.

4. Marcus Smart. He began the season as a presumptive top-five pick and popular leader of a top-10 team, but found his national image devolve into that of a controversial hothead with a soft spot for flopping. On his way out, Smart claimed he still believes he made the right decision in returning to Stillwater for his sophomore season, but Oklahoma State’s disastrous campaign (despite a late-season surge to make the NCAA Tournament and save a tiny bit of face) and his plummeting draft stock should raise suspicions that, perhaps for old time’s sake, Smart staged this final act as a Poke in some place far from reality. It would only make sense, because in 2014, Marcus Smart was nothing if not drama.

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