Oklahoma And Kansas Meet With First Place At Stake

Posted by Brian Goodman on February 12th, 2016

Tomorrow’s 2:30 p.m. ET rematch between Oklahoma and Kansas has been on our radar since the conference schedule was released, but the anticipation skyrocketed when the final horn sounded late into the night following the two teams’ first battle on January 4. From there the hype has only increased, as the Sooners and Jayhawks have fought to a draw through 11 conference games. At the end of the regular season, we could end up looking back on tomorrow’s game as the day the Jayhawks’ decade-long grip on the conference finally loosened. Or, we could learn that the road to the Big 12 title still goes through Lawrence, despite Oklahoma’s deadly trio of shooters and National Player Of The Year frontrunner, Buddy Hield.

To answer two key questions facing each team, we brought in Big 12 microsite contributors Brian Goodman (@BSGoodman) and Chris Stone (@cstonehoops).

Perry Ellis and Buddy Hield will face one another for the eighth time in their careers. (Alonzo Adams/AP)

Perry Ellis and Buddy Hield face one another tomorrow for the eighth time in their careers. (Alonzo Adams/AP)

Two Questions Facing The Sooners:

Brian Goodman: Perry Ellis has been on a roll lately, converting 17 of his last 19 shots inside the arc. Last month, he carried Kansas after halftime in the instant classic and will be leaned upon heavily to have another big game tomorrow. Meanwhile, Oklahoma center Khadeem Lattin leads the Big 12 in blocks percentage during conference play, but he had trouble staying on the court in the Sooners’ last two games against Kansas State and Texas. What do you make of Lattin and Oklahoma’s chances of getting the better of Ellis the second time around?

Chris Stone: Ellis has averaged 18.5 points per game in four matchups against the Sooners since his freshman season (he wasn’t much of a factor in the Kansas offense back then), so how Oklahoma defends him will be a crucial factor in this game. In the first meeting, Lattin and Spangler did a good job of turning Ellis into an inefficient scorer. Although he finished with 27 points in the win, it took him 28 shots to get there. Don’t be surprised if we see a similar kind of night from Ellis in Norman. Bill Self is intent on making him the focal point of the offense, but if the game in Lawrence is any guide, Lattin’s length will make it difficult for Ellis to get as many of the easy buckets he’s used to.

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Three Thoughts From Kansas vs. West Virginia

Posted by Chris Stone on February 10th, 2016

Entering February, it looked like KansasBig 12 title streak was in serious danger, as the Jayhawks brought three double-figure road conference losses into the season’s shortest month. Now, with a few fortuitous bounces — i.e., Kansas State’s upset of Oklahoma over the weekend — and last night’s home win over West Virginia, Kansas is, along with the Sooners and the Mountaineers, part of a three-way tie atop the Big 12 standings at 8-3. One of those teams will suffer its fourth loss on Saturday in Norman when Oklahoma welcomes Kansas in the rematch of early January’s triple-overtime classic. Before that, though, let’s consider a few thoughts from the game last night that deadlocked those three teams into the top spot.

Landen Lucas delivered in Kansas' 75-65 win over West Virginia. (Nick Krug/KU Sports)

Landen Lucas delivered in Kansas’ 75-65 win over West Virginia. (Nick Krug/KU Sports)

  1. Kansas could use that Landen Lucas more often. Without freshman Cheick Diallo living up to his considerable preseason hype, head coach Bill Self has struggled to find production out of the center position. He has started four different players there this season, but Lucas’ Tuesday night performance (nine points, 16 rebounds, four blocks) will likely solidify his role in the starting lineup. Matched up against all-Big 12 candidate Devin Williams, Lucas delivered the best performance of his career. Although it is both unfair and unlikely to expect the junior to post similar numbers again, Self only needs a modicum of production going forward from his center spot. Lucas showed last night that he can deliver. Read the rest of this entry »
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Big 12 M5: 02.10.16 Edition

Posted by Brian Goodman on February 10th, 2016


  1. Kansas is back in first place in the Big 12 after a 75-65 win over West Virginia that pushed the Jayhawks into a three-way tie with the Mountaineers and Oklahoma in the standings. Perry Ellis led the team with 21 points, but Kansas also found help in the form of a cold shooting night from the Mountaineers. After a pair of uncharacteristically good outings where West Virginia shot a robust 44 percent from long range, regression reared its ugly head to the tune of a frosty 5-of-20 clip last night in Lawrence. Bob Huggins’ team also clearly missed the presence of suspended forward Jonathan Holton, from whose absence Jayhawks’ center Landen Lucas greatly benefited. The junior had a huge game on the glass, pulling down a career-high 16 rebounds while limiting second chances for the nation’s best offensive rebounding team. Up next for Kansas is another highly important game against Oklahoma in Norman on Saturday.
  2. Kansas State‘s journey back to the bubble will continue tonight when the Wildcats host Baylor in Bramlage ColiseumBruce Weber’s team lacks the shooters to extend Baylor’s zone and has struggled mightily with turnovers all season, but the Wildcats have shown they can set up teammates (57.9 percent of their field goals in Big 12 play come on assists) and convert during good possessions. Those skills will be important this evening, particularly if the defensive rebounding expertise of Rico Gathers and Johnathan Motley renders second chances tough to find. On the other side, Baylor needs a quality road win in addition to its early January win at Iowa State to bolster its resume.
  3. The only other Big 12 action tonight pits Iowa State against Texas Tech in Lubbock, where the Cyclones will hope to find their focus. Iowa State will be without suspended center Jameel McKay for the second consecutive game, but his absence may not matter as much since the Red Raiders’ best rim-protector, Norense Odiase, will also sit with a broken foot. The Cyclones are playing on the road for the third time in their last four games, but they’ve reeled off three straight Big 12 victories away from Hilton Coliseum and will be favored to add to that streak this evening.
  4. The emergence of Texas as a legitimate contender over the last few weeks is one of the conference’s biggest stories. Its recent performance caught the attention of Washington Post writer Matthew Giles, who takes a deep look at Texas’ expedited turnaround. We dove into the subject ourselves here on the microsite last week, and Giles echoes many of our sentiments around the Longhorns’ performance. In particular, he notes the tremendous value that Prince Ibeh has provided in the wake of Cameron Ridley‘s broken foot, as well as the contributions of Texas’ revamped guard play. The Longhorns have several tough road games ahead but they’ve been a virtual lock for an at-large bid since the beginning of February, a milestone few prognosticators saw coming upon Smart’s hiring last April.
  5. Oklahoma State‘s season hit a nadir in Fort Worth on Monday night when the Cowboys were embarrassed by TCU to fall into last place in the Big 12. While the Pokes have faced many hurdles in the form of injuries this season, it didn’t seem possible that they could find themselves in such a position. Travis Ford‘s team has plenty of time to climb out of the basement of the league standings, but that’s a pretty low bar to clear for a coach who is likely to find himself on the hot seat in March.
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What Happened To Kansas’ Depth?

Posted by Chris Stone on January 27th, 2016

When Kansas was regularly discussed among a handful of national title contenders early on in the season, one aspect of the Jayhawks’ roster stuck out more than anything else: its depth. Even head coach Bill Self acknowledged the fact that his talent pool contained 10 or 11 potential rotation players. Given that wealth of talent, a reasonable roster development plan would have looked something like this: Freshman Cheick Diallo receives clearance from the NCAA and becomes the Jayhawks’ motor, a rim protector and rebounding machine that would fill Kansas’s biggest hole in the front court. Fellow freshman Carlton Bragg grows into an offensive threat that could help spread the floor as a sort of Diet Perry Ellis off the bench. Together, Bragg and Diallo would displace many of the minutes devoted to the Jayhawks’ other solid, but unexciting front line options – guys like Hunter Mickelson, Jamari Traylor, and Landen Lucas. Meanwhile, guard Sviatoslav Mykhailiuk would begin to fulfill some of his potential as a possible NBA lottery pick by turning into a dangerous scoring option off the Kansas bench.

Kansas suffered its third straight road loss on Monday night. (Nick Krug/KU Sports)

Kansas suffered its third straight road loss on Monday night. (Nick Krug/KU Sports)

Things haven’t exactly gone according to plan for Self and the Jayhawks. Last Friday, Self met with his four co-captains to help sort out the team’s rotation going forward. The results have been hard to miss. Over the Jayhawks’ past two games, Self has shrunk his rotation down to basically seven players–Ellis, Lucas, and Traylor in the front court along with Frank Mason, Devonte Graham, Wayne Selden, and Brannen Greene. The trio of youngsters expected to help Kansas reach its peak have combined to play just 16 of the 400 available minutes in those two contests. Bragg is the only one of the three to see the floor in both games.

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West Virginia Crashes the Big 12 Contender Party

Posted by Brian Goodman on January 13th, 2016

At Big 12 Media Day last October, the usual suspects sat at the top of the pecking order. Kansas was tabbed to once again lead the pack while veteran-laden squads at Oklahoma and Iowa State loomed as the Jayhawks’ primary challengers. West Virginia‘s revamped style and fourth-place finish in 2014-15 was a nice story, but the league’s coaches didn’t exactly bank on Bob Huggins pulling it off again, as the Mountaineers were picked to finish sixth in the conference’s annual preseason poll. After last night’s start-to-finish 73-64 win over Kansas, West Virginia has showed that it too should be viewed as a legitimate contender to win the Big 12.

Press Virginia is alive and well in Morgantown. (WVUSports.com)

“Press Virginia” is alive and well in Morgantown. (WVUSports.com)

While last night’s game in Morgantown never reached blowout status, the Mountaineers’ vaunted press generated 22 Kansas turnovers and they were in control for most of the night. Frank Mason and Devonte Graham, whose ball-handling skills have played a key role in the Jayhawks’ offensive success this season, were shellshocked by West Virginia’s defense. Wayne Selden looked good early, but six crippling turnovers reflected his status as a liability for the remainder of the game. Perry Ellis turned in another strong performance with 21 points and seven rebounds, but he could only do so much, especially after West Virginia started doubling on him. West Virginia sophomore Jaysean Paige enjoyed a career night for the Mountaineers with 26 points and some fantastic on-ball defense, while Devin Williams played a great all-around game, chipping in 12 points and 10 rebounds for his seventh double-double of the season. Late three-pointers by Mason, Carlton Bragg and LaGerald Vick made the score more respectable than it otherwise would have been, but this was no close finish.

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Kansas and Oklahoma Carry Burden of Big 12 Reputation

Posted by Chris Stone on January 5th, 2016

Last season’s NCAA Tournament resulted in a huge black mark on the Big 12’s reputation. The conference entered March ranked as KenPom‘s top league in the nation and yet three of its top teams — Baylor, Iowa State, and Kansas — were all eliminated before the second weekend, and no Big 12 school made it past the Sweet Sixteen. At the time, Sam Mellinger of The Kansas City Star called it a “colossal failure” that would “live with the league for a while.” It was a defensible sentiment. Last year’s postseason collapse was just the most recent example of the Big 12’s failings on college basketball’s biggest stage. It’s now been four seasons since the conference’s last Elite Eight team and Kansas is the only school to make the NCAA Tournament’s final weekend since 2004. To call the Big 12’s recent NCAA Tournament performance underwhelming would be completely accurate.

Kansas and Oklahoma gave us one for the ages on Monday. (Nick Krug/KU Sports)

Kansas and Oklahoma gave us one for the ages on Monday. (Nick Krug/KU Sports)

Is this the season when the Big 12 finally bounces back. Exhibit A of such a shift in fortunes came on Monday night when fans were treated to one of the best college basketball games in recent memory. Kansas head coach Bill Self gave the game his highest praise, calling it “probably the best game I have ever been a part of during the regular season,” and comparing last night’s 109-106 triple-overtime thriller against Oklahoma with Kansas’ final Border War battle against Missouri in 2012 (won by the Jayhawks in overtime, 87-86). The contest had everything we want from a college basketball game. It featured an otherworldly individual performance from All-American Buddy Hield, a 46-point virtuoso performance so sublime that Kansas fans gave him a standing ovation after the game. Allen Fieldhouse was so wild that ESPN commentator Dick Vitale went so far as to call it the loudest game he had called in his 37 years of announcing. But perhaps most importantly, the game featured arguably college basketball’s two best teams taking each other’s hardest punches before countering back with their own.

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Reactions From Last Night’s Game of the Season: Kansas vs. Oklahoma

Posted by Brian Goodman on January 5th, 2016

Last night, Oklahoma and Kansas treated us to the best game of the season — an epic triple-overtime thriller won by the Jayhawks, 109-106. It won’t be a surprise at all if that description holds until the nets come down in Houston three months from now. This game had pretty much everything: An NPOY candidate going off for 46 points, clutch moments everywhere and huge calls (and non-calls) shifting the tides of key possessions all the way to the final buzzer. At the end of the night, though, the Jayhawks protected home court as they so often do in conference play. There’s so much to cover from such an outstanding game, so we’ll have more to come a later today, but here are the three biggest takeaways from Monday night’s basketball masterpiece.

Buddy Hield's Sooners and Frank Mason's Jayhawks gave us the game of the decade. (Jamie Squire/Getty Images)

Buddy Hield’s Sooners and Frank Mason’s Jayhawks gave us the game of the year. (Jamie Squire/Getty Images)

  • Buddy Hield scored 46 points, but Kansas actually did a decent job defending him! Normally, there would be no way those two notions could coexist, but very little about last night’s game was normal. Hield put together an outstanding 22-point first half reminiscent of Kevin Durant’s lone appearance at Allen Fieldhouse, but Frank Mason stuck to the All-American like glue after the intermission. Hield didn’t even take another shot until 11:45 remained in regulation, but once he got going again, he hit tough shot after tough shot, sometimes right in Mason’s face. In a cruel twist of fate, the star senior turned the ball over with 8.6 seconds left in the third overtime and missed a game-tying three-pointer on the next possession to seal Kansas’ win. In spite of those late miscues, though, he came away with the biggest statement any National Player of the Year candidate has made to this point in the season. Hield’s performance is unlikely to be topped — his 46 points came in 54 minutes of action and included an 8-of-15 effort from three-point range; just for good measure, he also added eight rebounds and seven assists, but it was an outing you had to see to believe.

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Three Keys For Kansas and Oklahoma in Tonight’s Huge Showdown

Posted by Brian Goodman on January 4th, 2016

When Kansas and Oklahoma tip off tonight, it will be the first time the nation’s top two teams have squared off in conference action since 2007. We know what you’re thinking: We’re not sure what we did to deserve this, either. It’s way too early to be certain of the precise impact this matchup will have on the impending Big 12 race, but as a result of their tremendous seasons to this point, it is safe to say that this game will be a big one, and that it pits #1 versus #2 only elevates the excitement. To get you ready for tonight’s main event (9:00 PM EST, ESPN), here are three keys for each team, brought to you by Big 12 microsite writers Brian Goodman (@BSGoodman) and Chris Stone (@cstonehoops).

Three Keys For Kansas (BG)

Perry Ellis is having a great season, but will he find success against Oklahoma's talented back line? (UTASI)

Perry Ellis is having a great season, but will he be able to find success against Oklahoma’s talented back line? (UTASI)

  1. Stretch Oklahoma’s defense. Perry Ellis is having his best season as a Jayhawk — averaging 15.2 points and 6.2 rebounds per game — but his lack of overwhelming size for his position and wavering levels of assertiveness could be exposed by Oklahoma’s interior defense. Led by Ryan Spangler and Khadeem Latin, the Sooners are allowing just 50.4 percent shooting on attempts at the rim, which ranks 33rd nationally. There’s always the chance that a friendly whistle in Allen Fieldhouse helps even things out, but if Spangler and Lattin clamp down inside, Kansas will need to try something different. With five players shooting 39 percent or better from long-range, the Jayhawks certainly have the personnel to extend the Sooners’ defense.
  2. Lock down Jordan Woodard. When facing a team with a legitimate National Player of the Year candidate like Buddy Hield, the conventional wisdom is to force his supporting cast of role players to make plays. While it sounds good in theory, that shouldn’t be the Jayhawks’ plan tonight. Yes, if Kansas contains Hield, there’s a very good chance it will come out on top, but this is no one-man operation. Oklahoma’s supporting cast — especially Jordan Woodard — is also very good. The junior is shooting a scorching 53.1 percent from long range and draws 4.1 fouls per 40 minutes, which is more than any other Sooner than Hield. He’ll make you pay for those whistles, too, as he’s made 89.7 percent of his free throw attempts this season. Hawaii hung close to the Sooners two weeks ago in large part because the Rainbow Warriors held Woodard to just one made field goal. The Jayhawks have enough firepower to use a rough game from Woodard as the difference between a win and loss.
  3. Keep the Sooners out of transition. Kansas’ standing as a top-10 defensive unit can largely be attributed to their outstanding transition defense. Just 17 percent of opponents’ shot attempts have come in transition, with Kansas foes shooting just 44.8 percent in that situation. The Sooners love to push the ball, and even though Kansas’ athleticism and stable of quality big men allows them to run with anyone, the Jayhawks must make sure they beat Oklahoma back on defense. Kansas isn’t a pressing team, but don’t be surprised if you see the Jayhawks pick up the Sooners in the backcourt on at least a few occasions in an effort to slow down Oklahoma’s transition game.

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Big 12 M5: Oklahoma vs. Kansas Edition

Posted by Nate Kotisso on January 4th, 2016


  1. So… there’s a little game going on in Lawrence tonight. The implications of OklahomaKansas are enormous considering the game is likely to feature the top two teams in this week’s Associated Press poll. It is also a tiny bit disappointing that the first of two games in this epic clash will be played so early in the conference season. It’s sort of like having really good chocolate for breakfast. Not exactly a 3 Musketeers-level of chocolate (not that there’s anything wrong with a 3 Musketeers-level of chocolate) but Oklahoma at Kansas would qualify as a higher class of chocolate (Ghiradelli-esque). Let’s try to save some of the good chocolate for February 13 (lunch) and March 12 for the Big 12 Tournament title game (dinner).
  2. On Saturday, the Jayhawks dropped a triple-digit offensive effort on a Baylor team well-known for their defensive prowess. Spearheading that effort were Kansas’ two point guards Frank Mason and Devonté Graham who are natural complements to each other’s talents and inconsistencies. In addition to their games, the two players assert themselves differently on the floor. Graham is the more emotional player while Mason is the player who will let his game do the talking for him. It’s not a surprise these two mesh well on arguably Bill Self’s deepest team since arriving in Lawrence.
  3. We knew going into tonight that Sooners coach Lon Kruger and the state of Kansas were connected considering his memorable tenure at Kansas State in the late 1980s. As The Oklahoman’s Berry Tramel notes, the personal ties go much deeper than that. The journey for Kruger in Manhattan, Kansas, to Norman, Oklahoma, has gone through more than a few stops along the way. Still, the journey from Kruger’s introductory press conference at Oklahoma in April 2011 to national title contender in January 2016 is one to marvel at. It took time, it took a few beatdowns and close calls at the hands of Kansas but now, Kruger’s chance to disrupt Big 12 hierarchy is as good now as it has ever been for him.
  4. What’s sure to play a pivotal role in tonight’s proceedings is the fan environment of Allen Fieldhouse. It will be loud and it will be uncomfortable for the Sooners just as it was for Baylor on Saturday afternoon. The Bears dropped their ninth game at Allen Fieldhouse in the Scott Drew era which insanely equals the amount of times Kansas has lost at home in the Bill Self era (Drew and Self both entered the Big 12 head coaching ranks in 2003). Oklahoma will attempt to pull off something schools like Texas A&M, San Diego State, Oklahoma State, Texas and a few others were able to do in recent years — win in The Phog.
  5. The Sooners were able to remain undefeated entering tonight’s game by edging out Iowa State on Saturday night. A large part of the victory came via senior big man Ryan Spangler,who battled through banging knees with Iowa State’s Matt Thomas and a trip to the locker room, in order to finish with 20 points and 12 rebounds. It’ll be interesting to see how a nicked-up Spangler deals with long and versatile frontline of Kansas, the shot-blocking Hunter Mickelson, floor-spreaders like Perry Ellis and Carlton Bragg and the quickness of Cheick Diallo. Needless to say, we’ll be waitin’ all day for Mondayyyyyy Nightttttt. Or something.
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Big 12 New Year’s Resolutions: Part I

Posted by Chris Stone on December 30th, 2015

The year 2016 is right around the corner and along with it comes Big 12 conference play, as the league gets underway with six games on January 2. Although we know that only a fraction of people ultimately keep their New Year’s resolutions, we figured it wouldn’t hurt to come up with a few challenges for teams in the Big 12 once the ball drops tomorrow night. This is part one of a two-part series.

Kansas: To give Devonte Graham the praise he deserves

Devonte Graham has brought a number of positive changes to Kansas. (Charles Riedel/The Associated Press)

Devonte Graham has brought a number of positive changes to Kansas. (Charles Riedel/The Associated Press)

The focus on Kansas to this point has reasonably and rightfully been on the improved play of Wayne Selden and the consistent performance of senior forward Perry Ellis. However, the Jayhawks’ most under appreciated asset may well be sophomore point guard Devonte Graham. Graham’s move to the starting lineup has been linked to Selden’s rise because it helped free him up offensively, but Graham has provided much more. The sophomore has helped increase the number of turnovers the Jayhawks are causing on defense while simultaneously decreasing the number of turnovers Kansas commits on offense by reducing his personal turnover rate from 20.1 percent to 9.9 percent. Graham’s sophomore emergence has made the Jayhawks a national title contender and he deserves more praise for the role he’s played.

Iowa State: To find rest and relaxation for the Cyclones’ rotation

Naz Mitrou-Long’s recovery from hip surgery hit the Cyclones hard. With Deonte Burton becoming eligible at semester, it looked like Iowa State was set to have a quality eight man rotation heading into conference play. Now that Mitrou-Long’s season is over, coach Steve Prohm has made it clear that he intends to stick with a seven man rotation for the remainder of the season. Iowa State ranks 347th in percentage of bench minutes played with just 21.4 percent of available minutes coming off the bench. Last season, Wisconsin reached the Final Four with similar numbers, so the limited rotation doesn’t rule out a trip to Houston for the Cyclones, but they’ll need all the rest and relaxation they can get on the way there. Read the rest of this entry »

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