NCAA Game Analysis: Second Round, Friday Evening

Posted by RTC Staff on March 20th, 2015

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In what was certainly one of the most competitive and jam-packed “opening” days in NCAA Tournament history, Friday’s slate of games will have a hard time following Thursday’s remarkable act. However, today offers a fair share of fascinating matchups as well. Here is a preview of Friday’s evening games.

#8 Oregon vs. #9 Oklahoma State – West Region First Round (at Omaha, NE) – 6:50 PM ET on TBS.

The game plan is simple when playing Oregon: Stop Joe Young. (USA TODAY Sports)

The game plan is simple when playing Oregon: Stop Joe Young. (USA TODAY Sports)

For the Ducks, it all begins and ends with Pac-12 Player of the Year Joseph Young. A deadly shooter, Young is stroking it at 36.1% from three (a career-low), 50.3% from two and 92.6% from the free throw line. He’s adept as a pull-up shooter from deep, a catch-and-shoot guy coming off a screen or on the bounce and on the attack. He’s scored 20 or more 17 different times this season. In other words: stop Young, stop the Ducks. Unfortunately for the Cowboys, they don’t appear to have a ready-made matchup for Young, unless they put 6’6” Le’Bryan Nash – ostensibly a power forward on this team – on him. On the other end of the court, the Ducks can throw a combination of Dwayne Benjamin, Elgin Cook and Dillon Brooks at Nash – the ‘Pokes leading scorer – and feel relatively comfortable, while they’ll let Young, or any of their other fresh guards, chase Phil Forte off screens and try to limit his clean three-point looks. In the end, the Cowboys are more reliant on three-point shooting, while the Ducks can score in all three ranges. Unless Forte and senior Anthony Hickey get super hot from deep, the Ducks should have the edge

The RTC Certified Pick: Oregon

#1 Duke vs. #16 Robert Morris – South Region Second Round (at Charlotte, NC) – 7:10 PM ET on CBS.

Robert Morris sprung a mild upset in Dayton on Wednesday, knocking off favored North Florida in impressive fashion. To further extend their season, the Colonials will need another unexpected victory, but quite obviously, this upset may be slightly less attainable. Duke has had their share of recent struggles in the Tournament’s second round, but stubbed toes against foes such as Mercer and Lehigh can only offer RMU so much solace. Jahlil Okafor dominated small-conference foes in November and December – the Colonials, like almost every team in America, has no player capable of slowing Duke’s freshman star. Quinn Cook and Tyus Jones have proven virtually unstoppable as a duo: stopping one is possible, but forcing poor shooting nights from both is rare. The Colonials made only 4-of-16 three-point field goals against North Florida but have shot the three-ball well this season (37.7 percent). Getting hot from long range would be a great way for Andy Toole’s team to begin the task of hanging around in this game. To finish that chore — even if it ends in defeat — Robert Morris will need to pitch a perfect game. This is the life of a #16 seed, and while it’ll be Duke moving on to face the winner of San Diego State-St. John’s, Robert Morris should head home with heads held high, a proud season in the books.

The RTC Certified Pick: Duke Read the rest of this entry »

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Big 12 Takes Three on the Chin, But Today is a New Day

Posted by Brian Goodman on March 20th, 2015

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Well, that could’ve gone better.

 

In the Big 12’s latest opportunity to reverse its NCAA Tournament fortunes, the conference fell flat on its face, losing all three of its games on Thursday. Were this the regular season or the conference tournament, I’d say that Baylor and Iowa State both losing by a single point shouldn’t be huge a cause for concern, and analytically, that remains true. If the Bears and Cyclones played their games again today and every day after that, they’d come out on top in an overwhelming number of those games. But it’s a different game this time of year where variance trumps all, and this was the end of the road for two teams that, at minimum, were expected to make it through the weekend. The same can’t be said for Texas, but that’s only a reflection of the Longhorns’ massive letdown of a campaign.

Three favorites, three losses, all in time for Happy Hour.

The Cyclones knew going into Thursday’s game against UAB that they could no longer afford to fall into double-digit deficits if they wanted to survive. They lived up to one end of the bargain, as the biggest hole they faced was just three points. But that doesn’t (and shouldn’t) take away from the fact that the Blazers didn’t have much business hanging around with the Big 12 Tournament champs, let alone knocking them off. UAB has a tall, athletic lineup, but the Cyclones outscored the Blazers 36-32 in the paint. Instead, Iowa State’s undoing came down to poor rebounding and relying too heavily on jumpers, shots that head coach Fred Hoiberg has become famous for despising. More than one-third of their attempts were jump shots, and star forward Georges Niang was most responsible in that department, attempting 10 jumpers and connecting on just two. Read the rest of this entry »

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How the Big 12 Can Change the Conversation

Posted by Brian Goodman on March 18th, 2015

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While the Big 12 went wire to wire this season as the top conference in America, according to KenPom and the RPI, its postseason results over the last decade continue to cast a shadow over the league’s legitimacy. Since 2005, the Big 12 is tied for fourth in NCAA Tournament wins, tied for fifth in Sweet Sixteen appearances and tied for fourth in Final Four berths. In the last 10 years, 17 Big 12 teams have underperformed relative to their seeds compared with just 12 teams that have overperformed. Although the season-long metrics are more reliable from an analytical perspective than chaotic NCAA Tournament results, the postseason is valued more heavily when it comes to both bar room debates and television contracts. Fortunately for the conference this season, it propelled seven teams into the Big Dance, so there are plenty of opportunities to quiet the skeptics. Here’s how each of those teams can help the conference flip the script.

Fred Hoiberg's Cyclones have a chance to save the Big 12 from more postseason criticism. (Eric Gay/AP).

The Mayor can rescue the Big 12 from years of tournament disappointment with a run to Indianapolis. (Eric Gay/AP)

  • Iowa State: Fred Hoiberg has turned the Iowa State program around and then some in his five years running the team, but the time is ripe for him to raise the status even higher by adding a trip to the Final Four — which would be Iowa State’s first since 1944 — to his already-impressive resume. The Cyclones are among the hottest teams in the country but they’ll need to keep up their hot shooting and not rely on their proven ability to mount comebacks in order to capitalize on the good favor they’ve curried.
  • Kansas: The Jayhawks limp into the Big Dance with Perry EllisLanden Lucas and Frank Mason at less than 100 percent. If that weren’t bad enough, they’re planning to be without Cliff Alexander and have notched just three wins in their last eight games away from Allen Fieldhouse (and one of those road wins was in Lubbock). Oh, and they received by far the worst Tournament draw of any #2 seed, facing a potential Elite Eight game against juggernaut Kentucky. As terrific a coach as Bill Self is, the odds of him extracting a 2012 type of run to the championship game from this team are long. A ride to the regional final would be impressive, though, especially if the Jayhawks can knock off local rival Wichita State in the process.
  • Oklahoma: The Sooners have been snake-bitten in the Lon Kruger years, assuming the role of first round upset victim in their last two NCAA Tournament appearances. While Oklahoma needs to get over that hump, this team is Kruger’s best one yet so the expectations don’t stop at simply winning one game. A pilgrimage to the Sweet Sixteen would give Kruger the distinction of taking four different programs that deep, but Oklahoma’s excellent defense and Buddy Hield‘s scoring ability make the Sooners a threat to play even deeper, possibly slaying two monsters in Virginia and Villanova on the way there.

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Bracket Prep: East Region Analysis

Posted by Tommy Lemoine on March 17th, 2015

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Throughout Tuesday, we will roll out our region-by-region analysis on the following schedule: East (10:00 AM), South (11:00 AM), Midwest (1:00 PM), West (2:00 PM). Here, Tommy Lemoine (@hoopthink) breaks down the East Region from top to bottom. Also, be sure to follow our RTC East Region handle on Twitter for continuous updates the next two weeks (@RTCeastregion).

East Region

Favorite: #1 Villanova (32-2, 16-2 Big East). For as good as Virginia has been this season, Villanova enters the NCAA Tournament as hot and seemingly infallible as any team outside of Kentucky. The Big East champion Wildcats are currently riding a 15-game winning streak, including 11 victories by double-figures and two drubbings – an 89-61 win over Providence and 105-68 beat-down of St. John’s – against current Tournament participants. They boast the fourth-most efficient offense in the country thanks to a balanced lineup that sees six different players average between nine and 14 points per game, and have a true inside presence and rim protector in 6’11” big man Daniel Ochefu (9.2 PPG, 8.4 RPG). And even though Jay Wright’s team relies heavily on perimeter shooting, it happens to be one of the best three-point shooting teams in America at 38.9 percent. To boot, Villanova’s defense holds opponents to well under one point per possession.

Darrun Hilliard and the Wildcats are the team to beat in the East. (AP)

Darrun Hilliard and the Wildcats are the team to beat in the East. (AP)

Should They Falter: #2 Virginia (30-3, 16-2 ACC). Virginia could have been a #1 seed and very well might play like one if Justin Anderson (12.3 PPG) rounds into form over the coming days and weeks. Since the 6’6″ wing went down with a broken hand in February, the Cavaliers’ offense has sorely missed his outside shooting (46.9% 3FG) and ability to get to the rim. The junior returned (in a limited capacity) for the ACC Tournament, however, and could be in better basketball shape by this weekend. Either way, the regular season ACC champs should be fine in the early-going, since their defense is borderline impenetrable. No team in the country – not even Kentucky – touts better adjusted defensive efficiency numbers than Tony Bennett’s guys, a product of his pack-line system which thrives on eliminating access to the paint and forcing tough shots from perimeter. Outside of Villanova, it’s hard to envision many teams in the East mustering enough offensive production to topple the Wahoos – especially if Anderson again finds his footing. Read the rest of this entry »

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NCAA Tournament Instareaction: Big 12 Teams

Posted by Brian Goodman, Chris Stone & Nate Kotisso on March 16th, 2015

For the second consecutive season, the Big 12 sent seven teams to the Big Dance. Before considering those schools’ seedings, let’s first acknowledge that sending 70 percent of the conference’s membership is an outstanding achievement and that assessment will surely be echoed by its leadership, coaches and players over the coming days. Additionally, top-four seeds went to four teams – Kansas, Iowa State, Oklahoma and Baylor – more than any other conference except the ACC, which yielded five, but also has nine teams that didn’t crack the field at all. Skeptics of the Big 12 will point out that the most talented teams in the conference (Kansas and Texas) haven’t lived up to expectations, and another team expected to return to the NCAA Tournament in Kansas State fell completely flat. Those criticisms can be countered, though, with success stories in Baylor and West Virginia, who weren’t taken seriously as NCAA Tournament teams until after the calendar turned to 2015. Here’s our early outlook at the seven Big 12 teams in this year’s field.

Kansas (Chris Stone)

Just how far can a healthy Perry Ellis carry the Jayhawks?

Just how far can a healthy Perry Ellis carry the Jayhawks?

  • Seed: #2 Midwest
  • Quick First Round Preview: Kansas drew the WAC’s automatic bid winner, New Mexico State (23-10, 13-1 WAC), in its opening game, and the Aggies are the 88th-best team in the country, according to Ken Pomeroy’s efficiency rankings. To put that into some perspective, Big 12 foe Kansas State finished the season ranked 81st. NMSU features a balanced offensive attack with four players averaging double-figures. Defensively, the Aggies will look to run Kansas off the three-point line with their strong (seventh nationally) three-point defense, which has allowed opponents to hit just 29.5 percent of their attempts from behind the arc on the season. It’s a tough matchup, but the Jayhawks should get through.
  • Intriguing Potential Future Matchup: This one seems rather obvious. While Wichita State won’t get the home-and-home that coach Gregg Marshall has campaigned for, the Shockers will finally have their chance at their in-state foe if the Jayhawks get past New Mexico State and they take care of business against Indiana. The contest would pit two of the game’s best coaching minds against one another and allow the state of Kansas to settle who the better team is this season once and for all.
  • Final Word: Kansas drew undoubtedly the toughest region. According to KenPom, the Jayhawks’ road to the Final Four includes the highest-ranked #15 seed in New Mexico State, the top #7 seed in Wichita State, the second-best #3 seed in Notre Dame, and the overall #1 seed, Kentucky. The Jayhawks will need to return to their January form when they started Big 12 play 9-0 with a healthy Perry Ellis to pull off a Final Four run.

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Rushed Reactions: #13 Iowa State 67, #15 Oklahoma 65

Posted by Brian Goodman on March 13th, 2015

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Iowa State found itself mired in yet another early deficit, only to come back and squeak out a thrilling 67-65 win over Oklahoma to advance to the Big 12 championship game on Saturday.

Three Key Takeaways.

  1. Iowa State survives another thrilling finish: Up two with nine seconds to go, Iowa State suffered a major defensive breakdown that allowed Oklahoma guard Jordan Woodard to feed a cutting Ryan Spangler underneath on the team’s final possession. To the shock of everyone, Spangler’s bunny wouldn’t fall and the Cyclones survived yet another close game in front of a raucous semi-home crowd at the Sprint Center. Spangler will be the goat for missing such a close shot, but terrible outside shooting (25%) and a 22 percent turnover rate also helped do the Sooners in tonight.
  2. Rough night for the Big 12 Player of the Year: Buddy Hield is the most dynamic player in the conference due to his ability to tear into defenses at will and carry the Sooners when needed, but there are times like tonight when he tries to do a little too much. Hield tied a season-high with 20 shot attempts, but converted only six of them. Even with Jameel McKay patrolling the paint, the Cyclones have been vulnerable inside, so it stands to reason that Oklahoma wouldn’t have come up short in this one if it had leaned a bit more on TaShawn Thomas or Spangler more than it did.
  3. Cyclones dig out of a big hole… again: Friday’s victory marked the fourth straight time that Iowa State allowed its opponent to build a significant lead before the Cyclones’ offense woke up and its defense forced just enough stops to get back into the game. Hoiberg and his players have repeatedly expressed the need to avoid those situations to begin with, but they are making a habit of needing big runs to squeak out these wins. Credit is due to Iowa State for having the poise and perseverance to get the job done, but it’s not a sustainable way for a program to do business in March, especially when your head coach and athletic director have significant heart conditions.

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Big 12 Tournament Second Day: The Good, Bad & Ugly

Posted by Greg Mitchell on March 13th, 2015

All season long we have anticipated big things from the wall-to-wall second day of basketball at the Big 12 Tournament, and for the most part, Thursday’s action in Kansas City did not disappoint. The afternoon session featured two largely competitive games and the evening session featured the crown jewel of the conference tournament up to this point: Iowa State‘s last-second win over Texas. Here is some of the good, bad and ugly from the Cyclones’ thrilling victory as well Oklahoma‘s neutral-site Bedlam win over Oklahoma State.

Monte Morris certainly deserved to be carried off the floor after sinking Texas (USA Today Sports).

Monte Morris certainly deserved to be carried off the floor after sinking Texas (USA Today Sports).

The Good.

  • Iowa State’s Resilience. The Cyclones are developing a habit lately of playing with fire. There was the eight-point halftime hole they dug themselves into against TCU followed by the 19-point halftime deficit they faced against Oklahoma. Each time the Cyclones were able to battle back and win those games behind explosive second halves, and last night was more of the same for Fred Hoiberg. Texas essentially held a double-figure lead until the final four minutes when Iowa State used pressure-induced turnovers to start their run. Are these come-from-behind wins exciting? Certainly. Are they sustainable? Probably not. Georges Niang acknowledged the importance of avoiding these holes in his postgame press conference. “It’s a mental aspect. We really just got to come in and really respect our opponent and come in with a locked-in mind to run our stuff and defend against their stuff.” Iowa State has concrete reasons to believe that it can come back from any deficit it faces, but I’m guessing Hoiberg would prefer that his team no longer need to draw on those experiences.

  • Big 12 Tournament Legacies. Monte Morris‘ game-winning jumper is now cemented in Iowa State lore. Pulling that play off to cap a dramatic comeback in front of a packed house of Cyclones’ fans is about as memorable as it can get. Le’Bryan Nash also had a memorable performance in his final Big 12 contest. The senior scored more than half of Oklahoma State’s points (27) in the Cowboys’ loss to Oklahoma. Nash was the only player who could get anything going for Oklahoma State, and while his great night came in a losing effort, it was emblematic of the leadership role that he has grown into during his four years in Stillwater.

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Five Key Storylines Entering the Big 12 Tournament

Posted by Brian Goodman on March 11th, 2015

The Big 12 Tournament gets under way tonight at the Sprint Center in Kansas City with #8 Kansas State taking on #9 TCU followed by #7 Texas battling #10 Texas Tech. Five teams appear safely into the NCAA Tournament along with two other hopefuls, but the determination of how many bids the league will ultimately get is just one of several storylines to keep an eye on this week. Here are five others.

  1. Hobbled Kansas – The Jayhawks enter the week with the conference tournament’s top seed, but injuries to Wayne Selden and Perry Ellis (who sat out the team’s regular season finale) mean the team is playing at less than 100 percent. Cliff Alexander‘s NCAA case is also moving slowly and Bill Self is already planning as if he won’t return. Because of the strength of the teams the Jayhawks will be playing in Kansas City, it’s tough to picture Kansas falling to anything worse than a #3 seed in the NCAA Tournament. It’s also fairly certain that no matter what happens there, Kansas will only have to travel three hours to Omaha for the opening weekend. The 11-time Big 12 champions could certainly be in a worse position, but it will be interesting to see how the team adjusts to those personnel issues.

    Will the Cyclones repeat as Big 12 Tournament champs?

    Will the Cyclones repeat as Big 12 Tournament champs?

  2. Iowa State Looks to Protect Its Crown – The Cyclones had a solid season but it had to be at least slightly disappointing to fail to match Kansas in the league standings with a team that finally had a legitimate rim-protector and a strong returning core. All is not lost, though, as Fred Hoiberg’s team has an excellent chance to repeat as Big 12 Tournament champs. With three wins this week, it can become the first team to do so since Kansas pulled the trick in 2011 and the first non-Self team to pull it off since Oklahoma State in 2005. The Iowa State faithful turned out at the Sprint Center in huge numbers last year, so while Oklahoma is probably the second-best team in the Big 12, the ideal atmosphere would be a championship game pitting the Cyclones and Jayhawks. Read the rest of this entry »
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Big 12 Superlatives, Part II: Newcomer, Game & Play of the Year

Posted by Brian Goodman on March 11th, 2015

We continue our coronation of the Big 12’s best performers and performances with the back end of our annual award posts. If you missed Part I, which featured our contributors’ all-conference selections as well as Player Of The Year and Coach Of The Year honors, you can catch up here.

Newcomer of the Year

  • Brian Goodman: Jameel McKay – From the minute he became eligible on December 20, McKay gave Iowa State a defensive presence down low that it hasn’t had since Fred Hoiberg took the reins of the program. McKay currently ranks among the top 50 players nationally in block percentage (9.1%) and, despite not being very skilled offensively, draws a ton of fouls and finishes consistently. In the long-term, Kansas’ Kelly Oubre or Texas’ Myles Turner may have better careers, but neither did so at the level of McKay with the Cyclones.
Jameel McKay gave the Cylones a much-needed presence down low. (Andrea Melendez/The Register)

Jameel McKay gave the Cylones a much-needed presence down low. (Andrea Melendez/The Register)

  • Nate Kotisso: Jameel McKay – I’ve been a fan of McKay’s ever since the stories about him doing insane things in practice were made public. Once he became eligible, I wondered if he could live up to all the hype, but he has proven to be a game-changer in every sense of the word. He gives the Cyclones a dimension they haven’t had in the Fred Hoiberg era — a true big man who runs the floor well, rebounds with reckless abandon, and is a defensive menace with his 7’4″ wingspan. McKay averaged double figures this season but I still feel like there’s plenty of room for growth in his offensive game. I hope he comes back to Ames for another year.
  • Chris Stone: Jameel McKay – McKay has turned out to be yet another successful transfer under Iowa State head coach Fred Holberg. Over 487 minutes of action, McKay posted numbers of 16.8 points, 11.1 rebounds, and 3.7 blocks per 40 minutes. He was also named Defensive Player of the Year by the league’s coaches and was the one of the few bright spots on an otherwise poor Iowa State defense. McKay played well as Hoiberg’s first true rim-protector and helped lead the Cyclones to a #2 seed in the conference tournament.

Game of the Year

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Big 12 M5: 03.06.15 Edition

Posted by Brian Goodman on March 6th, 2015

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  1. Late last night, Yahoo! Sports’ Pat Forde reported that the NCAA is investigating Kansas big man Cliff Alexander for ties to an agent and possible impermissible benefits received by his family. Alexander has sat out Kansas’ last two games in the interests of protecting his eligibility while the NCAA works with Alexander to resolve the matter. Aside from the nature of the possible benefits, the big question is how long Alexander will continue to be sidelined. According to Forde’s sources, the freshman has hired an attorney, a move which, while may be advisable for Alexander, is reportedly slowing the investigative process. As we’ve said ever since news of the investigation first broke last Saturday, Alexander’s availability is important if Kansas is to make a deep postseason run, but while the team would prefer to get a resolution soon, you just never know with the NCAA.
  2. The legend of Baylor big man Rico Gathers continues to grow. Gathers is a focal point in two national stories that have dropped recently. The first is a terrific piece by CBSSports.com‘s Matt Norlander chronicling his experience (along with those of other players) balancing the grueling demands of NCAA competition with the challenges and blessings of fatherhood. The second is an in-depth look by Bleacher Report‘s Jason King that touches on Gathers’ fantastic season to this point, his outstanding athleticism and the attention he’s drawn as a potential NFL prospect. Both are well worth your time. While there has been no shortage of storylines in the Big 12 this season, Gathers’ emergence into the national spotlight has been one of the year’s highlights, with his play crucial in keeping the Bears relevant in the face of significant roster turnover. The odds are that Gathers will be around for another season, but the sooner you appreciate everything he brings to the table both on and off the court, the longer you’ll have to enjoy it.
  3. Ames Tribune beat writer Travis Hines emptied out his Iowa State mailbag, providing some great insight into the state of the Cyclone program as the team gears up for the postseason. While some have been quick to label Iowa State as fraudulent due to their inability to pass Kansas in the Big 12 standings with a roster that had the chance to do it, fans (or rather, fans whose questions Hines took a crack at answering) seem pretty optimistic, with many of their inquiries focusing on the Cyclones’ tournament ceiling, their chances of landing big recruit Cheick Diallo and the makeup of next year’s team. The Iowa State faithful brought a huge contingency to Kansas City for the Big 12 Tournament last season, so with another strong team this March, you can expect a similar level of support next week.
  4. Between widespread transfers and the appeal of the NBA, it’s become increasingly rare for a player to stay at one school for all four years, argues Ryan Aber of The Oklahoman. As such, Senior Day festivities don’t always carry the weight they once did, even in the case of Oklahoma, which has three players — James Fraschilla, D.J. Bennett and TaShawn Thomas — set to play their final home game tomorrow against Kansas. Of the trio, only Fraschilla, a walk-on, played all four years in Norman, as Bennett was a juco transfer and Thomas only came aboard this fall after spending his first three years with Houston. Whatever the case may be, Fraschilla, Bennett and Thomas should be extremely proud of what they’ve accomplished.
  5. While the Big 12 champion has been determined, a whopping seven of the other nine spots are still in question entering the final weekend. If you’re into seeding scenarios, Aber did the grunt work for all of us just prior to Wednesday’s Oklahoma State-TCU game. The Sooners and Cyclones could finish anywhere between second and fourth, Baylor can finish anywhere between second and fifth, West Virginia can finish in either fourth or fifth, Oklahoma State will finish either sixth or seventh, Kansas State can finish anywhere between sixth and eighth, and Texas will end the regular season in either seventh or eighth place. If you’ve watched even a half of Big 12 action, you know that predicting how everything will shake out is a fruitless exercise, so our advice is to just sit back and watch the madness unfold. We’re going to get four more weeks of it anyway.
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Big 12 M5: 03.04.15 Edition

Posted by Brian Goodman on March 4th, 2015

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  1. Tuesday night was the coronation of Kansas as Big 12 champions for the 11th consecutive season as the Jayhawks erased an 18-point deficit to outlast West Virginia in overtime at Allen Fieldhouse. Terrible rebounding and rushed offense due to the Mountaineer press put Kansas in an early hole, and a sprained knee that sidelined Perry Ellis for slightly more than half the game compounded the Jayhawks’ troubles, but as per Big 12 bylaws, the finish was about as thrilling as it could get. Kansas chipped away throughout the second half, with big plays by Frank Mason on offense and Jamari Traylor on both ends ultimately putting them over the top in what Bill Self called his “best win at Allen Fieldhouse.”
  2. While the Jayhawks have the Big 12 title in their trophy case, there’s some cause for concern regarding Ellis’ status. Following Tuesday’s win, Self said that Ellis would be “a longshot” for Saturday’s regular season finale against Oklahoma in Norman, but that a return for next week’s conference tournament in Kansas City seemed reasonable. Ellis has been Kansas’ most valuable player over the last few weeks, and without Cliff Alexander, the team will continue to lean on him as long as he can play. Without much to gain by playing their standout junior on Saturday, it would probably be in Kansas’ best interests to play it slow .
  3. Earlier in the week, Texas kept its NCAA Tournament hopes alive by beating Baylor in Austin. The game was marred by a scuffle that led to seven ejections of players for leaving their team’s benches, but Jeff Haley of Burnt Orange Nation provides a detailed review of how the Longhorns’ ball screen defense put the Bears on their heels. Texas’ perimeter defense had been about as disappointing as its interior defense has been dominant, but for one night, that changed. There’s still work to be done for Rick Barnes‘ team, as the search for a Tournament bid continues Saturday against Kansas State.
  4. Following Texas’ win but before Kansas’ clincher, Iowa State stormed back from a 20-point deficit at Hilton Coliseum to beat Oklahoma. The tide turned early in the second half when Sooner guard Isaiah Cousins picked up a quick technical for taunting, and the free throws that followed ignited a run of 22 unanswered points by Fred Hoiberg‘s squad. Iowa State’s insane home court advantage is one of its biggest assets, but the Cyclones have been a very different team outside of Ames. Their focus will again be tested on the road when they wrap up the regular season at TCU.
  5. The storm of meaningful action rolls on tonight when TCU travels to Oklahoma State to face a Cowboys team in dire need of getting back on track. If the Pokes, losers of four straight, were to drop another game tonight, they would have some serious work to do in Kansas City, though probably not quite as much as Kansas State or Texas faces. There should be no shortage of motivation at Gallagher-Iba Arena tonight, but at the very least, one would think that the Cowboys would want to send seniors Le’Bryan NashMichael Cobbins and Anthony Hickey out with a bang.
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Big 12 Power Rankings: Down the Stretch They Come

Posted by Nate Kotisso (@natekotisso) on March 2nd, 2015

We’ve arrived at the final week of the regular season and now more than ever it is crystal clear just how many Big 12 teams will make the field of 68 (yeah, right). Anywhere from five to potentially eight teams could hear their names called by CBS Sports’ Greg Gumbel on Selection Sunday, but it’s reasonably safe to say that these five teams — Kansas, Oklahoma, Iowa State, West Virginia and Baylor — are virtual locks. Two maybes and a long shot from the Big 12 have quite a bit of ground to make up, though, between now and the conference title game in 12 days in Kansas City. Let’s take a deeper dive look at each of those three bubble squads.

  • Oklahoma State appears to be in the best position. The Cowboys were able to notch some quality wins by beating Kansas and sweeping Baylor while also taking both games from bubbling Texas. To assure Oklahoma State’s status in the field, one of two things needs to happen. They could beat TCU and lose to West Virginia (finishing at 8-10 in league play) before winning one game in the Big 12 Tournament. After all, that is what happened a season ago. The second option is to simply win in Morgantown on Saturday, a much-tougher task. That separates this team from continuing insecurity and a sure thing.

    Travis Ford and the Cowboys are (Getty)

    Travis Ford and the Cowboys have a big week ahead of them. (Getty)

  • Texas’ situation is a little more complicated. The Longhorns sit at four games under .500 in the league with a dismal 6-10 record. Despite the ongoing Big 12 benefit of playing Tournament-caliber teams both home and away, the Longhorns have only registered one victory in 11 tries against those teams. They need to beat both Baylor tonight and Kansas State on Saturday. If the Big 12 Tournament started today, the Horns would be the #8 seed and open play against a pesky TCU team. If they were able to advance to the semifinalss with two wins, that should be enough to get them in. If they don’t do that, there’s a chance we could see a revamped roster and new head coach in Austin this fall.
  • Two weeks ago, ESPN.com’s Eamonn Brennan made the claim that Kansas State arguably has the most interesting at-large NCAA Tournament resume in quite some time. While an at-large now seems out of the question, their chance to nab the league’s automatic bid is still certainly in play. K-State’s NCAA chances are the easiest (or hardest) to draw out. Basically, win all of the games. All. Of. Them. One more loss would give the Wildcats 16 defeats on the season, and it’s hard to imagine the Selection Committee would reward an at-large bid to a team with that many losses. Georgia rolled off four wins in four days to win the 2008 SEC Tournament, and, fortunately for Kansas State, most of the teams they’d likely face in Kansas City next week are teams it’s already beaten.

Will the Big 12 get all three teams in? Probably not! But two of these clubs might! Is is Championship Week yet?

Power Rankings

  1. Kansas — 3 points (All voted 1st). Comment: “A lot of the talk surrounding Kansas’ games lately has actually been centered on its opponents. The losses at Oklahoma State, West Virginia and Kansas State in addition to Isaiah Taylor’s last-second drive on Saturday have dominated the conversation, but there hasn’t been nearly as much air time and ink given to how well Perry Ellis has played for a team desperate for frontcourt production. Over his last five games, the junior (yes, junior, Rick Barnes) has averaged 22.4 points per game on 57.5 percent shooting to go along with 8.0 rebounds per contest. If he can keep up his torrid pace, the Jayhawks may not miss the suspended Cliff Alexander so much after all.” – Brian Goodman (@BSGoodman)
  2. Oklahoma — 7 points (Brian & Chris — 2nd, Nate — 3rd) Comment: “After starting conference play 3-4, the Sooners have won eight of their last nine games. Four outings against TCU and Texas Tech have bolstered their record as they prepare to face Iowa State and Kansas in the season’s final week.” – Chris Stone (@cstonehoops)
  3. Baylor — 8 points (Nate — 2nd, Brian & Chris — 3rd) Comment: “It looks like Scott Drew has created some separation between he and Bob Huggins in the Big 12 Coach of the Year race. It’s fascinating to see him take a team many viewed with average talent to become an absolute match-up nightmare in March.” – Nate Kotisso (@natekotisso) Read the rest of this entry »
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