As Kansas Cools Off, Big 12 Title Race Heats Up

Posted by Chris Stone on February 24th, 2015

Just a few short weeks ago, an 11th straight Big 12 regular season championship seemed like a lock for Bill Self and Kansas. “[I]t would take a monumental collapse for the Jayhawks to miss out on at least a share of another Big 12 title this season,” I wrote back on February 4, as we passed the midpoint of conference play. At the time, Kansas held a two-game lead over its competition and was coming off an impressive home win against Iowa State in Lawrence. Another share of the regular season title seemed like a sure thing for this year’s Jayhawks.

The Big 12 title race is wide open after Kansas lost on Monday night. (KUSports)

The Big 12 title race is wide open after Kansas lost at Kansas State on Monday night. (KUSports)

Self emphasized the importance of the Jayhawks’ road games after their victory against the Cyclones. Kansas at the time still had five away contests on the remaining schedule and the head coach noted that his team would be in a much more comfortable position if it could steal a few wins away from Allen Fieldhouse. Since those prophetic comments, Kansas has trended downward, going 1-3 on the road with their lone win coming against the league’s worst team, Texas Tech. The Jayhawks laid an egg in the second half against Oklahoma State, turned it over on 26.9 percent of their possessions in Morgantown, and couldn’t get a stop down the stretch against the Wildcats in Manhattan last night. As a result, Kansas has seen its lead in the Big 12 race slip away; now at 11-4, the Jayhawks are just half a game up on the Cyclones as Fred Hoiberg’s bunch takes on Baylor in Ames on Wednesday.

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Big 12 Power Rankings: The Texas Basketball Massacre Edition

Posted by Nate Kotisso on February 23rd, 2015

This was supposed to be the season. Like, THE season. The season Texas began ranked in the top 10 of the Associated Press preseason poll. The season it would dethrone Kansas from the perch overlooking the rest of the Big 12. And more importantly, this was supposed to be the season — with eight rotation players returning and a blue-chipper entering — where it was destined for a run to NCAA Tournament’s second weekend, and perhaps beyond. Instead, the Longhorns sit at 17-10 overall with a meager 6-8 mark in Big 12 play. The general consensus from bracketologists, bubble-watchers and fans alike is that Texas, while starting trouble in the face over the next few weeks, is still safely in the field.

The problem with Texas' nosedive is a lot of little problems: from inconsistent play to coach Rick Barnes. (Troy Taormina/USA Today Sports Images)

The problem with Texas’ nosedive is a lot of little problems: from inconsistent play to coach Rick Barnes and beyond. (Troy Taormina/USA Today Sports Images)

To his credit, Rick Barnes is the only Big 12 coach other than Bill Self who consistently schedules a difficult non-conference schedule. This season’s slate of games looked rough in August but doesn’t seem all that impressive six months later. Four of Texas’ five toughest opponents (not including Kentucky, because Kentucky) were Iowa, California, Connecticut and Stanford. The Hawkeyes and Bears are no strangers to playing in the NCAA Tournament; Stanford went to the Sweet Sixteen just last year; and Connecticut, of course, is 10 months removed from cutting down the nets in Arlington. Unfortunately for Texas, the win over Iowa now means that the Longhorns have a win against another bubble team instead of a resume-enhancer; beating Cal doesn’t help them with their postseason aspirations; a win over UConn is questionable at best, and a loss to fellow bubble resident Stanford at home doesn’t help things. The conference schedule isn’t much better. Texas has only beaten one team (West Virginia) that is likely to reach the NCAA Tournament. The perception of this team could have easily been improved in a strong conference where every team plays each other twice, but possible sweeps of TCU, Texas Tech and Kansas State do not exactly scream great resume. With road tilts still to come at West Virginia and Kansas followed by home dates with Baylor and Kansas State, the Horns would have to find a way to finish 3-1 by splitting their road games and sweeping the last two in order to get themselves safely into the NCAA Tournament. Otherwise, Texas won’t make it to the finish line. What a disappointment.

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RTC Top 25: Week Fourteen

Posted by Walker Carey on February 23rd, 2015

Former Big East rivals #16 West Virginia and #18 Louisville probably turned in the most eventful week in college basketball. The Mountaineers jumped eight spots this week after earning victories against two ranked opponents, beginning on Monday when senior guard Juwan Staten made a layup with four seconds remaining to give his team a one-point home triumph over #8 Kansas. Bob Huggins’ squad followed that up on Saturday when it grabbed a nice 10-point win at Oklahoma State. Those two Big 12 wins moved West Virginia’s conference record to 9-5, which at this point still gives the Mountaineeers a glimmer of hope in the Big 12 race. While West Virginia’s week had a great week, Louisville experienced something of a media circus that concluded with the dismissal of one of its key players. First, news broke Tuesday evening that senior guard Chris Jones was suspended indefinitely and would not be with the team for Wednesday’s game at Syracuse. Predictably, Louisville blew a second half lead at the Carrier Dome and lost to the Orange by 10 points. Jones was then reinstated on Thursday for Saturday’s home game versus Miami (FL), a game in which Louisville overcame a 10-point halftime deficit on its way to a much-needed two-point win. Just when it seemed like things were returning to normal for Rick Pitino’s program, the school then announced on Sunday afternoon that Jones had been formally dismissed from the program. The Cardinals now have the unenviable task of finishing the balance of the regular season and the postseason without their senior point guard and one of their best offensive threats. College basketball is often where the unexpected happens, and that was certainly on display at Louisville last week.

This week’s Quick N’ Dirty Analysis after the jump…

rtc25 02.23.15

Quick N’ Dirty Analysis.

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Big 12 M5: 02.23.15 Edition

Posted by Chris Stone on February 23rd, 2015

morning5_big12

  1. Don’t look now, but the Big 12 title race is in full swing. After an 85-77 victory over Texas on Saturday afternoon, Iowa State has now won three straight games and sits one game behind first place Kansas with four games left to play. While it may be tough for Fred Hoiberg’s group to win the regular season crown outright, it could certainly earn a share if the Cyclones finish strong. Hoiberg and his players agree that they are putting it together at just the right time. “We’re hitting our stride,” Georges Niang said after the win, “and I think that’s because we decided to come together and do it as a team rather than as individuals. That’s huge for us.” With their potent offense clicking on all cylinders, Iowa State will be a tough out come March.
  2. Texas, meanwhile, is headed in the opposite direction. The Longhorns have lost their last two games and are now 6-8 in Big 12 play with only one win over a conference team likely to make the NCAA Tournament. With upcoming road contests against West Virginia and Kansas still to come, it might be time for Texas to start pressing the panic button. Carrying a 1-10 record against the RPI top 50, it’s now just as likely that the Longhorns will head to the NIT, according to NBC Sports’ Rob Dauster. A win against West Virginia or Kansas would go a long, long way toward shoring up Texas’ shaky NCAA Tournament resume.
  3. Jesse Newell of The Topeka Capital-Journal published an interesting read on some of the finer details of Bill Self’s coaching during Kansas’ weekend win over TCU. From his position on press row, Jesse could hear how Self was instructing his players during the game’s stoppages in play, so he documented some of those moments in addition to how the players reacted to those conversations. While we are used to analyzing the game from a distance, this was a great opportunity to get inside one of the game’s best coaching minds.
  4. ESPN Insider has been running a series of posts this season examining potential Giant Killers in the NCAA Tournament — teams with high seeds that might upset a much better seed in the round of 32. The metric-based forecast has pegged the Big 12’s West Virginia as the most potent potential Giant Killer in the potential field. The Mountaineers’ ability to create extra shots through offensive rebounding and turnovers gives them a 77.9 percent chance to upset an average Giant come March. That’s a lethal combination when opposing teams will have such a limited amount of time (48 hours or less) to prepare for West Virginia’s unique style.
  5. Oklahoma and Texas Tech provided the latest case study in whether a team leading by three should foul or defend on the final possession. With 16 seconds remaining, Sooners’ coach Lon Kruger instructed his team to foul on the upcoming possession. With 7.7 seconds remaining, Oklahoma fouled the Red Raiders’ Toddrick Gotcher. After missing the first free throw, Gotcher intentionally missed the second. The ensuing scrum allowed Texas Tech’s Isaiah Manderson to grab the rebound before kicking it out to Gotcher for the tying basket. The Sooners would escape with a win in overtime, but not before facing a similar situation in the extra period. Oklahoma elected to play it out the second time around, walking away with the victory after a missed three-point attempt.
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Big 12 M5: 02.18.15 Edition

Posted by Brian Goodman on February 18th, 2015

morning5_big12

  1. The road has not been kind to Iowa State in Big 12 play this season. The Cylcones are just 1-4 away from Hilton Coliseum and are about to embark on a stretch where three of their next four games will be in opponents’ gyms. As Travis Hines writes, should the Cyclones fall behind in tonight’s game against Oklahoma State, the key will be to stay loose and avoid the mindset of needing to make up the entire deficit in one play. Fred Hoiberg’s team should also feel some ease in the fact that their porous defense doesn’t figure to be a large issue against the Cowboys, a team that ranks seventh in the conference in offensive efficiency.
  2. On the other sideline, the Cowboys will look to play with the chip on their shoulder that was missing in Saturday’s loss to TCU. Facing Iowa State, Oklahoma State’s attack will have to be much more potent than the 0.89 points per possession it posted against the Horned Frogs. The hot stretch that propelled the Pokes to three straight wins over ranked teams has the team safely on the right side of the bubble, but another two or three wins in the regular season would do a lot to remove any remaining pressure.
  3. Kansas coach Bill Self‘s handling of Cliff Alexander has been a lightning rod for discussion all season, but the fervor on both sides reached a new point when Alexander played just six minutes (and none in the second half) in Kansas’ loss to West Virginia on Monday night. According to the Topeka Capital-Journal‘s Jesse Newell, the Jayhawks had their worst night on the defensive glass since 2009, and it stands to reason that the blue-chip Alexander, despite his shortcomings, could have helped significantly in that department. In a one-point game, it’s tough to isolate the outcome to any one decision, but regardless of what you think of Alexander’s pro prospects, it’s tough to see Kansas making a deep postseason run without him playing a significant role, and in order to do that, he needs reps.
  4. After spending a week and a half beating up on the lower third of the conference, Texas took a tough loss to Oklahoma in Norman Tuesday night. Myles Turner continued his stellar play, posting 16 points and 10 rebounds off the bench to go along with six blocks, but rough shooting nights from Isaiah Taylor (1-of-10) and Jonathan Holmes (2-of-9) made it challenging for the Longhorns to pull off the upset (though it was within reach). I still maintain that Texas’ NCAA Tournament hopes aren’t in any serious jeopardy, but their inability to beat good teams away from Austin (their only conference road wins have come against Texas Tech, TCU and Kansas State) doesn’t bode well for their postseason future.
  5. In the only other Big 12 action last night, Baylor edged Texas Tech by five in Lubbock to get back above .500 in league play. On a night when the Bears’ offense looked otherwise listless, Taurean Prince provided a spark with 18 first half points on his way to 22 overall. Kenny Chery recovered from a horrendous shooting night, closing out the game with four clutch free throws to seal the win.
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Big 12 Power Rankings: College Basketball’s Most Boring Conference? Edition

Posted by Nate Kotisso on February 17th, 2015

We’ve heard from fans and pundits alike this season that the Big 12 is the best conference in college basketball. SB Nation’s Mike Rutherford decided to do some homework on that discussion and released some findings in a piece he published on Monday afternoon. Before you get out your pitchforks and torches, though, Rutherford brings some strong evidence to suggest that maybe the conference is not all it’s cracked up to be. He samples the seven teams that have been ranked in the AP Top 25 during conference play — Kansas, Iowa State, Oklahoma, Baylor, Texas, West Virginia and Oklahoma State — and averaged out each team’s win/loss margin whenever a match-up between two ranked opponents occurred. For instance, in the eight games where a ranked Oklahoma team has faced a ranked Big 12 opponent, the Sooners’ combined average margin of victory (or defeat) was 14.6 points per game.

Is the Big 12 as difficult as the pollsters make it out to be? (Big 12 Conference)

Is the Big 12 as difficult as the pollsters make it out to be?

Rutherford then calculated the other average margins (accurate as of tip-off of the Kansas-West Virginia game) — Iowa State (7.9 PPG), Kansas (8.4), Baylor (10.4), Oklahoma State (12.0), Texas (17.4) and West Virginia (17.8) — and then argues that the scoring margins should be a lot closer that they actually are (aggregate scoring margin: 12.6 PPG). In this context, Rutherford is right. Big 12 basketball can be quite boring. But is that the fault of the teams? Some of it is, but the pollsters deserve the lion’s share of it. Many AP pollsters who don’t primarily cover college basketball sometimes paste together their Top 25s by skimming over how teams did the previous week. While that is clearly an important factor to consider, there are others at play too, such as performances earlier in the season or the severity of some losses. Case in point: Oklahoma was ranked #16 in the AP poll during the week of January 5 but the Sooners would go on to lose four of their next five games. In the January 26 poll released three weeks afterward, Oklahoma dropped from #16 to #24. Often a team that loses twice in a week is poised to completely fall out of the rankings, but the pollsters only punished the Sooners by eight spots following such a rough stretch. Another example is Texas, a team that dropped six of eight games at an early point in league play, falling from #10 to #25 in the AP poll over four weeks. Rankings are ultimately an exercise in aggregating how different people view the world around them, and speaking of which, here’s this week’s Big 12 Power Rankings.

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Big 12 M5: 02.16.15 Edition

Posted by Brian Goodman on February 16th, 2015

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  1. In the marquee game of Saturday’s Big 12 schedule, Kansas brushed Baylor aside to keep Scott Drew winless in Allen Fieldhouse and, more importantly, keep Iowa State and Oklahoma at bay in the standings. The Bears hit a ton of jump shots and threes in the early going, but they fell back down to Earth over the final thirty minutes. The Jayhawk defense played a big part in Baylor’s offensive regression in the second half, as the Bears shot just 5-16 on two-pointers and turned the ball over on roughly 24 percent of their possessions after intermission. Baylor is still a very good team, though, and I look for them to remain in contention for a five seed all the way up to Selection Sunday, which is now less than a month away.
  2. The takeaway for the Jayhawks, according to Kansas City Star columnist Sam Mellinger, is that in spite of some of the things that make this Kansas team different from previous ones — the lack of a dominant interior presence on either end of the floor, the absence of a clear-cut first team all-conference selection, a defense that has been effective but not suffocating like in years past — the Jayhawks are getting better with each passing game. About a month ago, their national perception wasn’t looking too hot; Now, enough time has passed and enough things have changed since the big Kentucky and Temple losses that the Jayhawks should no longer get overlooked in the national picture. Same as it ever was, right?
  3. While most of the country was watching the NBA All-Star Saturday festivities, Kansas State benefited from a curious rule on their way to a 59-56 win over #17 Oklahoma. Midway through the second half, Wildcat Justin Edwards hit a three-pointer, but television replays clearly showed that the ball didn’t leave his hand until after the shot clock expired. However, the shot counted because the officials couldn’t go to the monitors. Per the NCAA rule book, shot clock violations can only be reviewed inside the final two minutes of a game or during overtime, unless the issue is rooted in whether the shot clock started or reset on time (which was not the case here). While excessive monitor reviews have been a big issue in college basketball, it would probably be worthwhile to make plays like this reviewable since they can have a much bigger impact than many calls that are already reviewable. As it was, the inability of the officials to take Edwards’ three-pointer away was a monumental break for a Kansas State team that needs as many of them as it can get, and the shot set up Marcus Foster‘s heroics at the end of the game. On the other side of the coin, the loss makes the Sooners a long-shot to even share the Big 12 title with Kansas.
  4. The other major upset in the conference saw TCU beat what had been the league’s hottest team in Oklahoma State. While the Horned Frogs are much better than they were in their first two years of Big 12 membership, the Cowboys were still favored in this one. Trent Johnson’s team had a huge second half on Saturday, scoring 44 points without the benefit of a made three-pointer. All season, Oklahoma State’s success has depended on how much help they get from their bench, and they got just five points from their reserves in Fort Worth, but on the other hand, that wasn’t their only issue on Saturday. Le’Bryan Nash scored 17 points, but he also turned the ball over seven times, and the Horned Frogs locked Phil Forte into a rough 3-10 performance from the field. After TCU took many of its conference opponents to the brink before falling short, it was nice to see them get their first Big 12 victory since “Harlem Shake” topped the Billboard Hot 100.
  5. It’s been a frustrating year for those who expected Texas freshman Myles Turner to flourish from the get-go, but the big man played perhaps his best game of the season in a 56-41 win over Texas Tech in Austin. Turner scored a game-high 25 points (no other Longhorn scored more than six) on just 13 shots, pulled down 12 rebounds and swatted three shots. After losing four in a row, Texas has rattled off three straight wins against the dregs of the league, but now comes a stretch where they’ll play three of their next four on the road including meetings in Norman, Morgantown and Lawrence. Buckle up.
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Big 12 Weekend Preview

Posted by Brian Goodman on February 13th, 2015

As we move into mid-February, the dust in the Big 12 race may finally be starting to settle. Kansas at the head of the pack isn’t anything new, but recent games have brought us a little more clarity behind them after several weeks of volatility. Oklahoma has built a sliver of separation on Iowa State and Baylor while West Virginia‘s backloaded schedule looks like it’s starting to catch up to them. Of course, we’d be remiss if we didn’t mention Oklahoma State, which has done more in the last week to change its NCAA Tournament status than perhaps any other team in the country. Weekend #7 of conference play should continue to provide resolution, but you never know when things will get chaotic again.

Wayne Selden (left) and Brannen Greene (center) have made a living torching Big 12 opponents from deep. (Jamie Squire/Getty)

Is a reliable back-to-the-basket threat really that important when Wayne Selden (left) and Brannen Greene (center) are torching all comers from deep? (Jamie Squire/Getty)

  • Baylor at Kansas (1:00 ET) – Bill Self wants his team to shoot fewer threes, but the data suggests that it shouldn’t as Kansas ranks seventh in the country in three-point percentage (40.9%). In addition, the Jayhawks make post scoring look like pulling teeth at times, so a game against Baylor’s zone should dictate more long-range bombing. Also of note here is the development that Cliff Alexander will start consecutive games for the first time all season, so keep an eye on how he responds to the challenge of keeping the glass-eating Rico Gathers off the boards.
  • West Virginia at Iowa State (4:00 ET) – Losers of two of their last three, the Mountaineers are about to enter a scheduling gauntlet that starts tomorrow at less than full strength — sophomore Brandon Watkins availability is in question after he sprained his MCL against Kansas State. Iowa State is in a little bit of a rut themselves lately, having also lost two of their last three games. As welcome an addition as Jameel McKay has been for the Cyclones, their recent efforts on defense have been horrific, so perhaps a home game against the league’s seventh-ranked will cure what ails them.

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Big 12 M5: 02.13.15 Edition

Posted by Nate Kotisso on February 13th, 2015

morning5_big12

  1. Last summer, Kansas assistant Jerrance Howard pled guilty to a charge of unlawful possession of marijuana in Peoria, Illinois. According to the Peoria Journal Star, Howard was ordered to pay nearly $1,200 in fines and legal fees and was placed under court supervision for six months. Somewhat coincidentally, the six-month court supervision period ends today and head coach Bill Self claims he did not have knowledge of the situation until Wednesday. Self responded by suspending Howard from team activities for two weeks, but this is pretty much a non-story. Howard had a lapse in judgment, a sentence was handed down, and it was served. Let’s all move on.
  2. TCU coach Trent Johnson announced yesterday that junior guard Charles Hill Jr. has been suspended indefinitely for “conduct unbecoming of a TCU men’s basketball player.” Hill has appeared in 14 games this season, averaging 2.6 points and 1.2 rebounds in a little over five minutes per game of action. As Frogs O’ War points out, Hill sent out a tweet following TCU’s 66-43 loss to Texas that may or may not have to do with his suspension. We probably won’t hear what he did to warrant punishment but kudos to Johnson, though, for working in “unbecoming” into a suspension announcement. Coaches and athletic departments typically reuse the same suspension statement ad nauseam. Finally, I feel smarter after reading one of these things!
  3. In West Virginia’s recent win over Kansas State, Mountaineers sophomore forward Brandon Watkins sprained the medial collateral ligament (MCL) in his left knee while having his best game of the season (14 points and nine rebounds in 17 minutes). Watkins is listed as day-to-day and therefore has a chance to suit up for the team’s massive road contest with Iowa State on Saturday. I hope he is well enough to play because heaven knows the ‘Eers haven’t had a good win since throttling Oklahoma a month ago.
  4. On Thursday, SI’s Luke Winn published the interweb’s most intelligent power rankings for your consumption. Seven Big 12 teams are ranked in the top 24 teams on his list, with Oklahoma making a seven-spot jump from last week, the sharpest increase of any team among his top 16. Winn asks whether the Sooners are the national title contender that we aren’t talking about, and it’s a valid question. They’ve played fantastic basketball lately but have still suffered a handful of head-scratching losses (Creighton, Washington, Kansas State at home and at West Virginia). I want to believe in the Sooners, I do, but I’m not totally confident in Lon Kruger’s team getting to the second weekend of the NCAA Tournament, much less Final Four weekend.
  5. West Virginia guard Juwan Staten was named as a finalist for the Lowe’s Senior CLASS Award on Thursday. Staten is just one of ten players in Division I to earn this distinction, given to the senior with “notable achievements in four areas of excellence: community, classroom, character and competition.” Staten is the Big 12’s lone representative. The Big East had three (D’Angelo Harrison – St. John’s; Matt Stainbrook – Xavier; Alex Barlow – Butler); the Big Ten had two (D.J. Newbill – Penn State; Frank Kaminsky – Wisconsin); the West Coast Conference had two (Kevin Pangos – Gonzaga; Tyler Haws – Brigham Young); while the Ohio Valley (Reece Chamberlain – Belmont) and Pac-12 (Chasson Randle – Stanford) conferences each had one representative per league.
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RTC Rewind: Celebrating the Life of a Legend, Duke-Kentucky, Arizona’s #1 Seed Hit…

Posted by Henry Bushnell on February 9th, 2015

One thousand. Two weeks ago, this column and many more around the country led with that number. Duke head coach Mike Krzyzewski had just become the first men’s college basketball coach to reach the 1,000-win plateau on an historic Sunday at Madison Square Garden, and in the aftermath, Coach K and that number were the talk of the sports world.

The Basketball World Paused on Sunday to Honor Dean Smith's Passing (USA Today Images)

The Basketball World Paused on Sunday to Honor Dean Smith’s Passing. (USA Today Images)

Today we celebrate another ACC legend. But we do so for a different reason, and in a different tenor. We’ll get to the basketball soon enough, but as you’ve probably heard by now, legendary North Carolina coach Dean Smith — a former rival of Krzyzewski’s — passed away on Saturday. He was 83. Since the news broke Sunday morning, messages extolling Smith’s many virtues have come from far and wide. They’ve come from former players and adversaries, columnists and commentators, even from the President of the United States. Many of us have mourned college basketball’s loss, but even more have celebrated a life that so special to so many people. And that’s what this should be: a celebration.

Like Krzyzewski, Smith was obviously an outstanding basketball coach. He was innovative, sharp and bold — and, without question, driven by his competitiveness. He too set a number of records while at the helm in Chapel Hill, but those accomplishments are only the subtext to the discussion. That’s because Smith wasn’t defined by his numbers, as good as they were. Ask anybody who knew the man, and they’ll tell you the same thing: Dean Smith was defined by the way in which he impacted the lives of others. He was defined by stories of grace, loyalty and sincerity. Smith coached before my time. But it’s through those stories that I have gotten to know him, and it is those stories that allow everybody — well beyond the entire college hoops community — to recognize how truly wonderful a man he was. I can’t relate those anecdotes myself, but others — like ESPN‘s Dana O’Neil and The Washington Post‘s John Feinstein — have. And they’re beautiful.

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Big 12 M5: 02.09.15 Edition

Posted by Nate Kotisso on February 9th, 2015

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  1. The always entertaining Kyle Porter of Pistols Firing recapped Oklahoma State‘s upset win over Kansas on Saturday. The Jayhawks played the first half about as well as possible, running out to a double-figure halftime lead while shooting 7-of-9 from three. The second half, however, went in the opposite direction. Turnovers were a problem, as that number ballooned to 18 (Jamari Traylor had six miscues himself), and the Cowboys found the seam by driving to the basket and drawing fouls (20-of-26 on free throws). With only two Big 12 losses, Kansas is still in the driver’s seat for another conference crown but it will face stiff competition as Iowa State (one game behind) and Oklahoma (1.5 games behind) jockey for position down the stretch.
  2. West Virginia won the opening tap and scored the first two points of Saturday’s game against Baylor in Morgantown, but that would be the last time the Mountaineers would hold the lead as the Bears went on a 23-1 run to coast to an 87-69 blowout victory. Baylor beats you with its offensive balance, as Rico Gathers (17 points), Taurean Waller-Prince (15), Royce O’Neale (15), Al Freeman (11) and Kenny Chery (11) all registered double-figure scoring. In the Bears’ current three-game winning streak, they have shot a scorching 45 percent (22-for-49) from behind the arc. Unfortunately, we figured this would start to happen to West Virginia. The Mountaineers’ conference schedule is so backloaded that a major slide during the rest of the regular season is very much in play. Baylor, meanwhile, will be tested this week, facing upstart Oklahoma State in Waco followed by big, bad Kansas on Saturday afternoon in Lawrence.
  3. A not-such-a-big-deal thing and a hope-it’s-not-such-a-big-deal thing happened to the Cyclones over the weekend. We’ll start with the first thing as Bryce Dejean-Jones came off the bench in Iowa State‘s win against Texas Tech. Fred Hoiberg attributed Dejean-Jones’ benching to tardiness, which, again, is not such a big deal. In his place, Jameel McKay owned the game to the tune of 17 points, eight rebounds, three blocks and two steals in 25 minutes. The other thing that happened was that Georges Niang headed to the locker room in the first half after experiencing soreness in one of his Achilles’ tendons. Niang returned to the game but nevertheless should take extra special caution with the knowledge of how serious Achilles injuries can be. It’ll be something to keep an eye on in the Cyclones’ Big Monday game against Oklahoma tonight and West Virginia on Saturday.
  4. Some big news was released on Sunday night as Oklahoma big man TaShawn Thomas will play in tonight’s showdown with Iowa State. Thomas, who had eight points and 10 rebounds in his 27 minutes on the floor, left Saturday’s game against TCU after getting hit in the eye in the second half. With all hands on deck for both teams tonight, there should be some fireworks in Norman.
  5. The college basketball world lost a giant on Saturday as former North Carolina coach Dean Smith passed away at the age of 83. Smith was a huge success — on and off the hardwood — from his 879 career victories, 11 Final Fours and two national titles to being a fearless advocate for civil rights in a place and time that was not conducive to his views. The countless stories of the influence of Smith have been the most magnificent part of the weekend, including one that Oklahoma’s Lon Kruger told to the Tulsa World. I won’t spoil any of it here, but the piece further underscores how well he treated everyone. Even opposing coaches.
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Big 12 M5: 02.06.15 Edition

Posted by Brian Goodman on February 6th, 2015

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  1. Texas‘ overtime loss to Oklahoma State on Wednesday dropped the Longhorns to a disappointing 3-6 in conference play and ignited some talk of the possibility of the Longhorns missing the NCAA Tournament for the second time in three years. I’m here to tell you that that chatter is very premature. While Texas doesn’t have any business being this bad with its formidable blend of talent and experience, it’s way too early to be bringing the Horns into the bubble conversation. They still own wins over Iowa at Madison Square Garden and UConn in Storrs, as well as a home win over West Virginia. On the other side of the ledger, their losses, while numerous, aren’t particularly egregious for their resume — every team they’ve lost to is currently ranked in the RPI top 35. Lastly, as is always the case with these kinds of conversations, in order to leave Texas out of the Big Dance, you have to find a team with a better resume, and the bubble right now is just too soft to make a convincing argument for the Longhorns to be left on the outside. There’s no doubt Texas has fallen well short of expectations, but they aren’t in any danger of missing the Tournament – yet. If they lose two or more of their next three games (at Kansas State, at home against TCU and Texas Tech), then we can talk.
  2. It’s been an up-and-down few years for Oklahoma State, so when a season highlight presents itself, I don’t have any problem if its fanbase wants to milk it for all its worth. Kyle Porter of Pistols Firing dissects Le’Bryan Nash’s rim-shaking throwdown from Wednesday night in great detail, all the way from how the play developed to the always-fun bench reactions and Travis Ford getting greedy and lobbying for a foul call. Looking around the conference, there isn’t a player who is more important to his team’s postseason chances than Nash is to the Cowboys due to his high usage and ability to create plays for himself, so when a play of his goes viral, it’s definitely worth passing along.
  3. Luke Winn’s power rankings at SI.com are always a great read, and this week’s edition includes an interesting blurb about Cliff Alexander‘s presence on the interior. We’ve talked before about Alexander’s offensive rawness in the post, but Winn illuminates how much Alexander lags behind his peers in this department. Jahlil Okafor, Myles Turner and Karl-Anthony Towns have all been considerably more productive on the blocks, but in fairness to Alexander, the other three players are taller and should be expected to post better numbers. Alexander has the potential to develop a true back-to-the-basket game over time, however, so we’ll see what the second half of conference play and the postseason brings out of the freshman.
  4. Tomorrow’s match-up between Baylor and West Virginia is one of the more interesting games of the weekend. A Baylor win would pull the Bears even with West Virginia, allowing them to keep a sliver of hope in ultimately catching Kansas in the league standings. The Mountaineers’ press will look to speed up Baylor’s deliberate tempo, which is currently ranked 300th in the country with an average possession length of 19.7 seconds. Additionally, neither team shoots particularly well, but both rank in the top five nationally in offensive rebounding. Unless Baylor gets white-hot from beyond the arc (as they can get sometimes), you can expect the winner of this one to be determined by second-chance points.
  5. We’ll wrap up by giving Oklahoma credit for fielding the conference’s most efficient defensive unit in the first half of Big 12 play. Kansas has owned that title in each of the last three full seasons and nine of the last 10, so while there’s still a lot of basketball to be played, it says a lot about the progress Lon Kruger‘s team has made from last year’s shaky defensive performance. Buddy Hield has slightly improved his steals rate from 2.4% last year to 2.6% this year while committing just 1.8 fouls per game in conference play. Those marks would be impressive for any player, but it’s especially noteworthy for Hield because of the high workload he’s asked to shoulder (he’s averaging 34 minutes per game in Big 12 play). The Sooners have held their last three opponents to an average of 48 points per game and could be a decent bet to do the same when they face TCU in Fort Worth tomorrow.
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