Rush The Weekend: West Virginia Enters a Crucial Stretch

Posted by Brian Goodman on February 7th, 2014

There’s been no shortage of intrigue in the Big 12 this season. Whether you want to discuss Kansas’ future lottery picks and national title hopes, Texas’ resurrection, Baylor’s free-fall, Oklahoma State’s dive, or the resilience of Iowa State, you don’t have to look very far to find any of the nation’s biggest stories in college hoops; you could just look at this conference. But if all of those plot lines aren’t enough for you, yet another Big 12 team could muscle itself into the fray this weekend: the West Virginia Mountaineers.

Can Juwan Staten lead the Mountaineers back into tournament discussion? (AP Photo/Andrew Ferguson)

Will Juwan Staten lead the Mountaineers back into tournament discussion? (Andrew Ferguson/AP)

When Bob Huggins’ team wrapped up non-conference play back on December 29, it had very little to write home about. A handful of wins over bad teams kept them afloat, but there was no NCAA Tournament resume to speak of because of losses to the only relevant teams on their slate (Wisconsin, Missouri, Gonzaga, Purdue and Virginia Tech). Those defeats put them on the ropes earlier than many expected, and to boot, they dropped four of those games by seven points or less. When the calendar turned, they had a resume that was considerably worse than their statistical profile, which is something that you don’t see very often.

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Big 12 Saturday Preview

Posted by Kory Carpenter on February 1st, 2014

All 10 Big 12 teams are in action today, but we’re going to look at the three games with conference championship and NCAA Tournament implications. We’ll start with the nine-time defending conference champs, who travel to Austin.

Kansas (16-4, 7-0) at Texas (16-4, 5-2), 3:00 P.M. CST, ESPN

Oklahoma State Used a Strong Second Half to Beat Texas

Texas Hopes to Avoid a Foul Situation on Saturday

Try finding anyone who thought today’s game between Kansas and Texas would mean so much in the Big 12 regular season race. The Longhorns are the most surprising team in the conference this season and, barring a late-season meltdown, will make the NCAA Tournament after missing out last season. Kansas is looking to lock up their 10th Big 12 regular season title in a row with a win. It won’t be official, but a win would give the Jayhawks at least a three-game lead on everyone else with 10 games left. Not to mention 5 games remaining against TCU, West Virginia, and Texas Tech. It will be a story of offense vs defense as Kansas comes into the game with the #4 offense on kenpom.com while Texas is #20 in defense. The Longhorns are only three-point underdogs in this one and have been playing great lately, winning five straight. They’ve also been off since last Saturday, so expect them to be fresh and make this one close. Don’t be surprised if they hand Kansas its first conference loss today.

Oklahoma (17-4, 6-2) at Iowa State (15-4, 3-4) 3:00 P.M. CST, ESPN3

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Big 12 M5: 01.30.14 Edition

Posted by Taylor Erickson on January 30th, 2014

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  1. Heading into this season, it was presumed that Kansas freshman guard Wayne Selden would be a one-and-done player along with teammates Andrew Wiggins and Joel Embiid. Selden has certainly been solid for the Jayhawks, but he has flown under the radar a bit with the attention the others have drawn, leaving some to speculate that Selden will be back for a sophomore season. In an article on Wednesday, Jason King talked with some NBA scouts who said the book was still out on Selden and that he would be smart to return for his sophomore season.
  2. On Wednesday, the McDonald’s All-American teams were announced, and featured two current Kansas commitments in Cliff Alexander and Kelly Oubre. Others participating who could end up in the Big 12 next season are big man Miles Turner and guard Rashard Vaughn. Vaughn is considering Iowa State and Kansas, but is considered to be a lean to the Cyclones at this point. Turner is a consensus top-five recruit and is considering Kansas and Oklahoma State from the Big 12, among others. It’s likely that Turner’s decision will be impacted by Embiid’s status next season, but regardless, there will once again be an influx of impressive talent headed into the league next season.
  3. Yesterday, we discussed how foul trouble was beginning to weigh heavily on Oklahoma State in many games this season, thanks in large part to the absence of forward Michael Cobbins. As John Helsley points out, the Cowboys were worn down by the time tournament play rolled around last season, and it showed in early exits from both the Big 12 and NCAA Tournaments. Against Oklahoma Monday night, Markel Brown played 39 minutes, and with the depth in the Big 12 this season, the road from here on out won’t be any easier for the Cowboys.
  4. Although West Virginia has struggled more than most Mountaineers’ fans would have hoped heading into this season, guard Juwan Staten has been fantastic, especially as of late. In the final seconds against Baylor on Tuesday night, Staten was able to get into the lane for a layup that gave his team the go-ahead score. Staten credits the encouragement he constantly receives from his father for his success, saying that in most situations he would have kicked that ball out, but heard his father’s urging and went for the reverse layup to give West Virginia the win.
  5. Lon Kruger has once again proven his worth as an outstanding coach this season, leading his Oklahoma team to a 17-4 record so far. In addition, Kruger’s team is doing something no other team in college basketball is doing – that is, all five of his starters are averaging double figure points per game. For a team that has flown a bit under the radar among the national media, the Sooners could be a popular pick to win a few games in the NCAA Tournament given their ability to put points on the board in a hurry.
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The RTC Podcast: Undefeated Chances Edition

Posted by rtmsf on January 28th, 2014

Welcome back to this week’s RTC Podcast. It wasn’t the best weekend of college basketball we’ve ever seen, but there were at least a few interesting games that led to some key takeaways for the guys as we reach the last gasp of January. Shane Connolly (@sconnolly114) hosts us as we walked through thoughts on the Big Ten, Big 12 and ACC races, take a look at some of the most underrated conferences this season, and discuss why Florida is so high in everyone’s polls (including the RTC25) and Louisville is so low. It’s a fun ramble, as always, and we hope you enjoy.

  • 0:00-8:53 – Michigan Proves Shane Wrong
  • 8:53-11:35 – Texas and Baylor Going in Opposite Directions
  • 11:35-15:56 – Bedlam Shows Power Shift in the Sooner State
  • 15:56-22:12 – Duke Lays Claim to #2 Spot in the ACC with Win at Pitt
  • 22:12-26:53 – A-10 and Underrated Conferences
  • 26:53-30:26 – Chances Arizona or Syracuse Can Go Undefeated?
  • 30:26-36:05 – Florida vs. Louisville in the Rankings
  • 36:05-45:13 – Week Preview/Wrap
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RTC Top 25: Week Eleven

Posted by WCarey on January 27th, 2014

With conference play now in full force, last week was one where several teams distinguished themselves as bona fide contenders in their respective conferences. Previously #22 Creighton traveled to previously #4 Villanova last Monday and the Bluejays used an epic three-point shooting performance to throttle the Wildcats in Philadelphia, 96-68. Michigan, a team that had quietly been making a move in the RTC25, had a very impressive week as well. The previously #15 Wolverines took care of business at home on Wednesday by defeating previously #7 Iowa, 75-67. John Beilein’s squad was not done there, though, as it traveled to East Lansing on Saturday and bested a previously #3 Michigan State squad (without two starters, of course). After its high quality week, Michigan is now all alone in first place in the Big Ten standings with a sterling 7-0 record. #17 Cincinnati also continued to look like a real contender in the AAC, as it remained undefeated in league play with victories over UCF and Temple. With the month of February set to begin next weekend, more teams will begin to distinguish themselves as contenders or pretenders. The quick n’ dirty analysis of this week’s poll is after the jump.

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Big 12 M5: 01.24.14 Edition

Posted by Kory Carpenter on January 24th, 2014

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  1. As Bill Self points out and Jesse Newell of the Topeka Capital-Journal expands upon hereKansas has one of the best offenses in the country but there is still room for improvement. “Although[the offense] has been good, it hasn’t been like what it can be, and so I’m not too excited,” Self told Newell recently. Self is right. The Jayhawks were going to have a really good offense this season because Self is one of the best coaches in the country and the roster is stacked with future pros, but turnovers could be their downfall in March.
  2. Sports Illustrated‘s Chris Johnson has a good piece about Texas head coach Rick Barnes and the defense his team has been playing this season. It has kept them in the hunt for an NCAA Tournament bid and cooled the seat Barnes was sitting on. As Johnson points out, the Longhorns are allowing just 0.81 points per possession in their halfcourt defense this season. They don’t have enough offensive firepower to consistently outscore teams, but they can hang with anybody in the league with a defense like that.
  3. We may be getting closer to a resolution in the twisting, turning saga of Bubu Palo and the school’s efforts to keep him off the team. The Iowa Supreme Court has denied the Board of Regents’ request for an immediate stay on a ruling that reinstated Palo to the Cyclones while an appeal with the district court is settled. The details are somewhat complicated, but this latest development means that for now, Palo is formally a member of the team. It’s worth pointing out that head coach Fred Hoiberg is under no obligation to work him back into Iowa State’s plans, even as the team has suffered a funk of late. Still, while Palo isn’t considered a dynamic player on the court, the evolution of his case could mean big things in determining whether membership on a college sports team is a privilege or a right, and which entities have the authority to make such a determination.
  4. Videos of seldom-used players messing around in their gyms and hitting trick shots aren’t anything new, but Oklahoma walk-on James Fraschilla brings something different to the table. Fraschilla brings in a few special guests for his latest clip, including teammate Ryan Spangler and Sooner quarterback Trevor Knight. Most importantly, Fraschilla wraps up the video with a suggestion that viewers contribute to Hayden’s Hope, a charity started by ESPN personality Dari Nowkah which raises awareness for pediatric organ donation. It’s always nice to see students doing good, and we definitely encourage our readers to check out the video for yourself and give whatever you can to the cause.
  5. As the adage goes, shooters are gonna shoot. That was the key for Terry Henderson, who helped West Virginia snap a three-game losing skid on Wednesday by scoring 28 points to escape against Texas Tech. The Mountaineers will look for Henderson to bring the hot hand with him to Stillwater when West Virginia takes on Oklahoma State tomorrow afternoon. WVU needs a marquee win in the worst way, and Henderson will need his teammates just as much as they need him.
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Big 12 Bubble Watch: Texas is Here to Stay

Posted by Nate Kotisso on January 23rd, 2014

Want a good laugh? Take a look at our Big 12 Bubble Watch from six weeks ago. Look at how gaudy those early season records were! Sigh, we were only kids then. But now is a lot different. Kansas appears headed for another Big 12 championship while early favorites Baylor and Iowa State are struggling to find themselves in conference play. Kansas State has turned around what could have been a disaster of a season following a co-Big 12 title last year. Oklahoma State is very much in the conversation for dethroning the Jayhawks and Rick Barnes’ Texas Longhorns continue to surprise us game after game.

(Ed. Note: While it was unclear in December who would win the Big 12, at least now we have a good enough sample size to project a team to take the conference’s automatic bid. For this particular scenario, that Big 12 champion is Kansas. Not considered in this Bubble Watch were TCU, Texas Tech and West Virginia.) 

Rick Barnes has coached himself back into the Texas job this season. I'm sure I could have phrased that better. (Grant Halverson/Getty Images)

Rick Barnes has coached himself back into the Texas job this season. I’m sure I could have phrased that better. (Grant Halverson/Getty Images)

In Very Good Shape

Oklahoma State: 15-3 (3-2); RPI: 12, SOS: 38

Analysis: It seemed like the world would come crashing down when Michael Cobbins went down with a season-ending Achilles injury and the Stevie Clark situation(s) flared up, but it wasn’t so. Marcus Smart is still doing Marcus Smart things and did you know Phil Forte is connecting on half of his three-pointers this season (53-for-106)? Seriously. Oklahoma State managed to be a few possessions from winning at both Kansas State and Kansas (and for that matter, a few possessions from losing at West Virginia). While having Memphis and Colorado as good non-conference wins, nice RPI and SOS numbers, no bad losses, and the rough part of their schedule still to come, Travis Ford’s team has plenty of chances to add to its portfolio.

Iowa State: 14-3 (2-3); RPI: 10, SOS: 11

Analysis: Surprised to see these guys here? The Cyclones’ struggles have been well-documented and their chances at a Big 12 regular season title are dwindling, but there is still a lot going right for this team. Remember that win over Michigan in mid-November? Its luster started to fade but the Mitch McGary-less Wolverines have re-entered the Big Ten title race with consecutive wins at Wisconsin and against Iowa. Speaking of the Hawkeyes, Iowa State beat them last month as well. At this point in the season, the difference between the Cyclones and Baylor is their head-to-head match-up in Ames where Fred Hoiberg’s team took them out with ease. What will be interesting to see from the Cyclones now will be how they deal with DeAndre Kane’s minutes. He’s played 35 minutes or more in every Big 12 game while battling an ankle injury. Will Hoiberg try to work Bubu Palo, who was placed back on the team by a county judge, into the rotation to supplant Kane? We shall see.

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Big 12 M5: 01.22.14 Edition

Posted by Kory Carpenter on January 22nd, 2014

morning5_big12

  1. It’s true that Kansas has enough talent to win the national championship with subpar point guard play, but accomplishing such a feat would be really, really difficult. There are future NBA lottery picks all over the court for the Jayhawks, but junior point guard Naadir Tharpe may be more important than all of them come March. “The guys are looking to him as kind of a rock out there,” head coach Bill Self recently told Rustin Dodd of the Kansas City Star. “Which maybe we weren’t doing early in the season. He’s getting his point across.” If Tharpe can sustain his recent steady play, it will go a long way towards Kansas making another deep tournament run.
  2. As John Shinn of the Tahlequa Daily Press points out, Oklahoma’s defense has picked up lately and it is showing in the win column. As an example, the Sooners gave up just 64 points in a two-point win over Baylor last Saturday. Oklahoma is 3-2 in the Big 12, and while the Sooners don’t look to be contenders for the conference regular season title, continued defensive intensity could give them a chance to win a game or two in this year’s NCAA Tournament.
  3. After losing three straight games over the course of a week-plus, the Iowa State players decided to have a good ol’ fashioned players-only meeting on Saturday. “It was just going over some film from the last couple games, seeing what we’ve been doing wrong and what we can actually work on as a unit,” Georges Niang told Randy Peterson of the Des Moines Register. The schedule doesn’t ease up anytime soon, however, as the Cyclones’ next four games are against Kansas State, Kansas, Oklahoma and Oklahoma State.
  4. It’s hard to argue with David Ubben of FoxSports.com about his piece on Marcus Smart earning a reputation as a flopper. Smart likes to flop. He loves to flop, actually. And as Ubben points out, he is too talented to flop. Flopping is for players who don’t otherwise have the skills to stay on the court. Smart is a lottery pick, but he looks ridiculous feigning that he was fouled excessively. After Wayne Selden’s phantom elbow to the face was scrutinized with the repetition of the Zapruder film, it will be interesting to see whether officials crack down on Smart’s acting jobs.
  5. Before the start of the 2011-12 season, Bob Huggins was asked about all the potential travel nightmares in the Big 12. The closest road trip in conference play was to Iowa State, a cool 871 miles away. Now, it’s not certain that those road trips (or more accurately, long jet trips) have affected the Mountaineers in a season and a half in the Big 12, but they have certainly struggled. This season, they have beaten TCU and Texas Tech but are a paltry 0-3 against the rest of the conference, and their tournament hopes appear to rest on making a surprise run through the Big 12 Tournament.
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Big 12 Power Rankings: The Schedule Gauntlet Continues

Posted by Taylor Erickson on January 21st, 2014

Another week goes by in the gauntlet that is the Big 12, as the league strives to establish its claim as the top conference in all of college basketball with six spots in the latest AP poll. Kansas continues to play very well, having navigated its incredibly difficult stretch to begin conference play unscathed, and managing to build a two-game lead on every team other than Kansas State. Speaking of the Wildcats, with road games at Texas and Iowa State this week, we’ll soon have a much better idea of how legitimate Bruce Weber’s squad really is. Iowa State has stumbled after a strong start, and unfortunately its schedule won’t be any easier with its next four games coming against ranked teams. The middle of the league continues to look like a logjam, with four schools – Oklahoma, Kansas State, Baylor, and Texas – all ranked between 39th and 44th by Ken Pomeroy.

After dropping three in a row, Naz Long and Iowa State are left searching for answers.

After dropping three in a row, Naz Long and Iowa State are left searching for answers.

Here’s a look at how our Big 12 contributors – Kory CarpenterBrian Goodman, and Taylor Erickson – rank each school heading into the third full week of conference play.

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

Comment: “Bill Self’s team hasn’t taken very good care of the ball in its last three games, but you always prefer to learn those lessons while winning, as the Jayhawks have. If Kansas puts it all together — and chances are they will — look out.” – Brian Goodman

2. Oklahoma State — 6 points (previous: 3rd; Brian-2nd, Kory-2nd, Taylor-2nd)

Comment: “Yes, they lost to Kansas State, but the Cowboys are a better team and have a higher ceiling than the Wildcats. Their second half against Kansas Saturday showed us they can play with anyone in spurts.” – Kory Carpenter

3. (Tie) Iowa State — 11 points (previous: 2nd; Brian-3rd, Kory-5th, Taylor-3rd)

Comment: “The Cyclones are reeling after dropping three in a row, learning life on the road in the Big 12 is brutal. They have a full week off before taking on Kansas State at home next weekend. A dose of Hilton Coliseum might be exactly what is needed to get DeAndre Kane and company back on track.” – Taylor Erickson

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Big 12 M5: 01.21.14 Edition

Posted by Kory Carpenter on January 21st, 2014

morning5_big12

  1. Ken Corbitt of the Topeka Capital-Journal has a good stat here about how well the Kansas State defense has played recently. The Wildcats are 14-4 overall, 4-1 in Big 12 play, and are #22 in the national rankings after beating West Virginia by 22 points on Saturday. Head coach Bruce Weber probably summed it up best when he told Corbitt: “If you guard people, it gives you a chance to win.”
  2. Last season wasn’t a fluke for West Virginia, it seems. The Mountaineers are firmly in the Big 12 cellar with Texas Tech and TCU after losing their last three games. They are 10-8 on the season and haven’t beaten anyone of note, unless you count the two aforementioned teams. Other than that, West Virginia is 0-7 against power conference schools this season.
  3. There is a reason Texas Tech head coach Tubby Smith is considered a pretty good coach. His Red Raiders knocked off a ranked Baylor squad last week and have a decent chance to even up their Big 12 record at 3-3 on Wednesday when they travel to West Virginia. “We haven’t always played with the intelligence we should,” Smith told Tim Griffin of the San Antonio Express-News. “But the majority of them have been through things, and the experience of playing in the Big 12 has been a big help.”
  4. Kansas freshman center Joel Embiid went from an unknown player from Cameroon to the potential No. 1 overall pick in next summer’s NBA Draft in the span of about 12 months. Even Self, who told Embiid he would be the top pick one day, didn’t think it would be so soon. “You’re going to be the No. 1 pick,” Self told Embiid (courtesy of Rustin Dodd of the Kansas City Star) “Now, it may not be this year, but you will be a No. 1 pick.” Self is right. It may not be this year. But don’t bet against it at this point. Embiid contributed 12 points, four rebounds, and a block in last night’s 78-68 win over Baylor. 
  5. If Oklahoma wants to secure a spot in the NCAA Tournament and make a run in March, freshman guard Jordan Woodard playing well would go a long way toward that goal. As Ryan Aber of The Oklahoman points out, Woodard had a four to one assist-to-turnover ratio in the Sooners’ 66-64 win over Baylor on Saturday. “I think he knows that we have confidence in him,” sophomore forward Ryan Spangler told Aber.
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Big 12 M5: 01.20.14 Edition

Posted by Kory Carpenter on January 20th, 2014

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  1. Kansas head coach Bill Self seemed to know of Joel Embiid‘s gifts before the rest of us, so the recent success of the freshman center from Cameroon isn’t surprising to him. “I told Joel as soon as he stepped foot on campus, ‘You’re going to be the No. 1 pick [in the NBA Draft],” Self told Gary Bedore of the Lawrence Journal-World after Embiid scored 13 points, grabbed 11 rebounds, and had eight blocks in the Jayhawks’ 80-78 win over Oklahoma State Saturday.
  2. Before the season, Baylor looked like a potential candidate to knock Kansas off the Big 12 crown. Four games into Big 12 play, however, the Bears are 1-3 and face a red-hot Jayhawks team tonight in Allen Fieldhouse. Baylor lost at home to Oklahoma on Saturday afternoon, 66-64, and the Bears are suddenly in a must-win situation if they have any hopes of winning the Big 12 this season.
  3. It’s easy to look at Oklahoma State’s comeback and near-victory over Kansas in a hostile gym Saturday and agree with Bill Self and Marcus Smart. “It’s a moral victory for us, but we should have just played like that from the tip-off,” Smart said. “I would say if they play well… when they make shots like that, they can beat anybody in the country,” said Self. The problem is that the Cowboys still have little to no post presence after losing Michael Cobbins for the season. Can they beat anyone on a given night? Sure. But can they win four or six consecutive games against quality competition to make the Final Four or win the national championship? Don’t count on it.
  4. Like Baylor, Iowa State was supposed to challenge for a Big 12 conference title this season. Also like the Bears, the Cyclones have underwhelmed early and now sit at 2-3 in Big 12 play. They’ve been turning the ball over at a high clip lately and it has cost them. “We were going before we let the play develop,” head coach Fred Hoiberg said after losing to Texas Saturday. “We ran into each other on one occasion.” The Cyclones have this week off before welcoming Kansas State to Hilton Coliseum on Saturday.
  5. Speaking of which, Kansas State has played well at home this season, but the Wildcats face a tough stretch of road games coming up. “We have a stretch where we have to see if we can stay in the top of the heap by winning on the road,” head coach Bruce Weber told Ken Corbitt of the Topeka-Capital Journal. “How do you do that? You have to guard, you have to rebound, and you have to be solid on offense.” The Wildcats are 4-1 in the Big 12 and have a chance to separate themselves from underachieving teams like Baylor and Iowa State in the next week or two.
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Big 12 M5: 01.17.14 Edition

Posted by Brian Goodman on January 17th, 2014

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  1. One story flying slightly under the radar has been the saga of Iowa State guard Bubu Palo, and boy is it complicated. Everything started in September 2012, when Palo was charged with second-degree sexual abuse stemming from an incident earlier that year. At that time, he was suspended from the team, but when the charges were dropped last January, Palo was reinstated and played in the team’s final 17 games. At the time of the original charge, a complaint was also filed in ISU’s Office of Judicial Affairs, but that was dropped in April 2013. ISU President Steven Leath then overturned the decision, however, and Palo was dismissed from the team. Ever since Leath’s overruling, Palo and his attorney have fought for his reinstatement, and on Thursday, a Webster County judge lifted the sanction against Palo, ostensibly paving the way for his return to the team. As you can probably tell, though, Iowa State’s brass from Leath to AD Jamie Pollard to head coach Fred Hoiberg are not pleased with the judge’s decision. Technically, Palo is now a member of the Cyclones, but he won’t be accompanying the team on its road trip to Texas this weekend. It’s hard to picture the whole situation being anything but horribly awkward.
  2. Tomorrow, Marcus Smart and Oklahoma State return to the scene of last season’s win at Allen Fieldhouse. We’ll have more coverage on the Big 12’s marquee match-up later today, but suffice it to say that it’s a big one for the Cowboys and their chances of dethroning Kansas atop the conference. A loss would drop the Cowboys two games in the loss column, while a win would draw the teams even at the top with Oklahoma State getting a chance for the sweep at home when the Jayhawks pay a visit to Gallagher-Iba Arena on March 1.
  3. Cameron Clark has been terrific for Oklahoma this season, but Wednesday’s loss to Kansas State exposed the fact that he needs to find other ways to help the Sooners when his shot isn’t falling. Oklahoma’s defense could use plenty of work and is undoubtedly an area where Clark would give the team a lift if he can improve on that end. If he, along with the rest of the team, steps up, it will go a long way towards securing a second consecutive NCAA Tournament bid.
  4. Earlier this week, we touched on the potential of Kansas basketball players getting some nice new digs. On Wednesday, the Kansas Board of Regents approved plans for a $17.5 million apartment complex that will house as many as 32 men’s and women’s basketball players in addition to traditional students (as per NCAA bylaws). When completed for the 2016-17 school year, the facilities will give the Jayhawks a leg up on their competitors on the recruiting trail.
  5. It would be an understatement to say that this season has not gone as West Virginia planned. Guard Eron Harris‘ play has been emblematic of his team’s struggles, hitting just 13-of-37 shots over the Mountaineers’ last three games. With a 10-7 record and a resume bereft of any impressive victories, West Virginia’s NCAA Tournament hopes could be on life support. For their sake, hopefully the worst is behind Harris and the rest of the Mountaineers, as we’re just not used to seeing Bob Huggins-coached teams struggle like this for extended periods of time.
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