Big 12 Power Rankings: Week 14

Posted by KoryCarpenter on February 11th, 2013

It’s not too early to call tonight’s game between Kansas and Kansas State the Game Of The Year in the Big 12. Not with first place on the line and a chance for K-State to put the Jayhawks two games back with only seven games remaining. As for our rankings, there was a big shakeup this week with teams #1-#6, as each squad in that group either moved up or down from last week’s list. Most notable was the ascent of the Wildcats, who take the top spot for the first time this season. I decided to hold off on the Bracket Matrix Projected NCAA Tournament Seeds this week because it hasn’t been updated since Saturday’s games.

Rodney McGruder Needs A Big Game Tonight Against Kansas In Allen Fieldhouse (AP)

Rodney McGruder Needs A Big Game Tonight Against Kansas In Allen Fieldhouse (AP)

1) Kansas State (19-4, 8-2 Big 12)
Previous Ranking: 2

Last Week: W 68-59 at Texas Tech, W 79-70 vs. Iowa State

This Week: Tonight at Kansas, 8:00 PM CST, Saturday vs. Baylor, 6:00 PM

  • Rundown: They earned the split with Iowa State with a 79-70 win over the Cyclones on Saturday and have now won four in a row and 12 of their last 14. Rodney McGruder carried K-State with 22 points and five assists against Iowa State on Saturday and averaged 20 points per game this week. If he continues on that pace coupled with Kansas’ recent struggles, a road-team split with the Jayhawks isn’t out of the question.
  • Reason to be optimistic: They’re playing solid defense as of late, holding three of their last four opponents under 60 points, and any concerns with Frank Martin’s players not buying into Bruce Weber’s system are long gone at this point. Not only has McGruder stepped up offensively, but sophomore guard Angel Rodriguez averaged 16.5 PPG last week as well.

2) Oklahoma State (17-5, 7-3)
Previous Ranking: 3

Last Week: W 69-67 (OT) vs. Baylor, W 72-59 at Texas

This Week: Wednesday at Texas Tech, 6:00 PM, Saturday vs. Oklahoma, 12:30 PM

  • Rundown: The Cowboys have been a little unlucky in that their two biggest wins — vs. North Carolina State in November and at Kansas last week — were quickly watered down. North Carolina State, then #6 in the country, lost two games later to Michigan. Kansas dropped two more games in a row, including to dreadful TCU, after losing to OSU. Even so, the Cowboys have won six out of seven games thanks to junior guard Markel Brown, who has averaged 16.7 PPG in that stretch.
  • Reason to be optimistic: Oklahoma State has more NBA talent than any other team in the Big 12. Coupled with the confidence they undoubtedly have gained with their recent wins against Iowa State, Kansas, and Baylor, the Cowboys could be quite dangerous in March.

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Big 12 M5: 01.29.13 Edition

Posted by Nate Kotisso on January 29th, 2013

morning5_big12

  1. Going into last night, I thought Kansas was getting set to do terrible things to West Virginia. We instead saw a Jayhawks team playing with fire against an inferior opponent for the second time in their last three road games. They were able to scrape by Texas in Austin after trailing by 11 early in the second half, and KU was also supposed to drive a nail through the Mountaineers when they jumped out to a 22-7 lead yesterday. Should KU fans be concerned about these good-but-not-great performances outside of Lawrence? Look, if Kansas wins every game from now until the national championship by one point (it won’t happen, of course), then there’s no reason to be worried until a game or series of games are lost. Still…
  2. The Big 12 conference gathered its 10 athletic directors in Irving, Texas, to discuss measures that would be taken in the case of more conference expansion among the power six conferences. Here’s where it gets interesting: Big 12 sources revealed that if the Big Ten expands again, then that league would likely pursue a list of Association of American Universities in the ACC such as Duke, UNC, Pittsburgh, Georgia Tech and Virginia. They also said that if the SEC were to get bigger, then they would pursue schools who aren’t currently in their footprint like the Virginia and North Carolina schools in the — you guessed it — ACC. Commissioner Bob Bowlsby reaffirmed that the league’s 10 current members are happy with this configuration but they want contingency plans  just in case. I’d really hate it if I read this article and my name was John Swofford, although Bowlsby also noted that the Big 12 is seeking a “friends with benefits” alliance with the ACC as well.
  3. It was announced yesterday that Baylor guard Pierre Jackson had won Big 12 Player of the Week honors for the first time this season. Doesn’t it seem a little odd that this is the preseason conference player of the year’s first honor? It’s not like Jackson is having a bad year. He leads the Big 12 in scoring per game (18.7 PPG), is tied at the top in assists per game (5.9 APG) and is in the top 10 for free throw percentage and steals. Jackson averaged 19 points, four assists and two rebounds while connecting on 8-of-16 on three pointers last week. With four-time POTW winner Rodney McGruder coming on strong as of late, it looks to be a photo finish among those two for Big 12 Player of the Year.
  4. Big 12 Rookie of the Week went to Will Clyburn of Iowa State who has been everything and then some for the Cyclones. Usually these weekly honors go to players who played well for a team that went undefeated last week. The Cyclones fell on the road to Texas Tech but Clyburn was still able to make a mark on this game by recording 12 points and 10 rebounds. It’s clear he won the award with his 24/10 effort in Iowa State’s win over K-State that finally gave them a win over a ranked opponent. This is Clyburn’s second ROTW of the 2012-13 season.
  5. Here is a quote from Oklahoma State forward Kamari Murphy’s AAU coach about the freshman in 2011: “When he goes to Stillwater, he’ll be a freshman eligibility-wise, but a sophomore mentally.” So what prompted Murphy to say this via Twitter and then promptly delete it? Is he feeling disgruntled because he isn’t getting consistent playing time, or did he truly believe his tweet had no meaning to it? You decide. It’s just more bad press for a team that should be contending for second place in the Big 12 but instead finds itself living on the fringe in sixth place.
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Time to Recognize the Other Point Guard at Baylor: AJ Walton

Posted by dnspewak on January 21st, 2013

ESPN’s Brent Musburger and Fran Fraschilla gushed about a bunch of Baylor players during its victory over Oklahoma State Monday evening. They talked about how the 34 NBA scouts in the building surely must have noticed that forwards Cory Jefferson and Isaiah Austin combined for 11 blocks and two double-doubles. They talked about standout point guard Pierre Jackson, the preseason Big 12 Player of the Year and the Bears’ leading scorer. And they talked about Brady Heslip, the dead-eyed three-point shooter who has been suffering through a shooting slump after a terrific 2011-12 campaign.

A.J. Walton is a Starter, But Nobody Knows It (photo credit to Big12Sports.com)

A.J. Walton is a Starter, But Nobody Knows It (photo credit to Big12Sports.com)

There was one more guy they gushed about. That’s A.J. Walton, the senior guard and winningest player in Baylor basketball history. It’s about time you gush about him, too. He didn’t lead the team in scoring like Jackson, and he didn’t finish with a double-double or block any shots, but he made what Fraschilla called the “play of the game” when he saved a ball near the baseline and fired it to Jefferson for a dunk, helping extend his team’s lead to eight points after the Cowboys had staged a modest comeback. It was one of four assists on the day for Walton, who also tallied two steals, five rebounds and made a number of other hustle plays, none of which went unnoticed by the commentators. By the end of the game, it would be fair to say Musburger had more of a crush on A.J. Walton than he did on that other A.J.’s girlfriend, if you catch our drift.

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Why it’s a Travesty OU’s Sam Grooms Isn’t Seeing More Time

Posted by dnspewak on January 7th, 2013

When the Big 12 released its 2011-12 All-Conference teams last March, it included a who’s who of elite, nationally-recognized point guards. Tyshawn Taylor of the national runner-up Kansas Jayhawks made the first team. The dynamic Pierre Jackson of Baylor made the second team. Missouri’s Phil Pressey, the league’s leader in assists, made the third team, star Texas freshman Myck Kabongo earned an honorable mention, and the voters even named MU’s Michael Dixon the Sixth Man of the Year.

Why Has Grooms' Time Decreased This Season?

Why Has Grooms’ Time Decreased This Season?

Sam Grooms did not make that list. At all. Not even an honorable mention for the Oklahoma point guard. And when the 2012-13 preseason awards came out this fall, he didn’t make that list, either. Jackson and Kabongo did, but the Big 12′s returning leader in assists was nowhere to be found. Entering this season, it seemed perplexing how much people ignored Grooms and discarded him as a second-rate point guard in this league. Other than Pressey, who moved on to the SEC and was named that league’s preseason Player of the Year, no player in the Big 12 averaged more assists than Grooms a year ago when he dropped six dimes per game. His assist-to-turnover ratio was a stunning 3:1. When Big 12 play heated up, the junior college transfer emerged as a true floor general in spite of his team’s inability to win a basketball game. The statistics tell the entire story. In a five-game stretch last February against the likes of Kansas, Iowa State, Missouri, Texas Tech and Texas, he dished out 43 assists against 11 turnovers and even notched a career-high 17 points against the Tigers. Lon Kruger told a local newspaper Grooms was doing a “terrific job.” Even though Oklahoma’s season ended with a thud with a loss in the opening round of the Big 12 Tournament, it was clear Grooms had nothing to do with the Sooners’ slide. On the contrary: He was the bright spot on a 15-16 team. His command for the point guard position and feel for the game was all so promising as Kruger attempted to build for the future. Nobody knew much about Grooms, but we did. I even named him the eighth-best player in the entire conference as he entered his senior year.

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Big 12 Power Rankings: Week Nine

Posted by KoryCarpenter on January 7th, 2013

After things slowed down around the holidays, the schedule picked up this week and we found out a lot about the teams in the Big 12. Kansas is beatable but resilient after rallying to take care of Temple in Allen Fieldhouse. Kansas State’s upset of Florida last month is starting to look less like a fluke. Oklahoma State’s upset of North Carolina State in November is, however, beginning to look like a fluke. Baylor showed it has the talent to compete for a top spot in the standings, while Texas still looks lost without Myck Kabongo. And oh yeah, TCU is as bad we thought.

Don't Look Now, But Bruce Weber Has Kansas State Challenging For Second Place in the Big 12 (AP Photo/M. Conroy)

Don’t Look Now, But Bruce Weber Has Kansas State Challenging For Second Place in the Big 12 (AP Photo/M. Conroy)

1) Kansas (12-1, 0-0 Big 12)
Previous Ranking: 1

Last Week: W 69-62 vs. Temple

This Week: Wednesday vs Iowa State, 6:00 PM CST, Saturday at Texas Tech, 3:00 PM

  • Rundown: Every year, Kansas seems to have one close call at home in the non-conference season. Saturday was no different as Temple took the lead late in the second half before the Jayhawks rallied to win, 69-62.
  • Player Stepping Up: Senior G Travis Releford: Releford is the best perimeter defender on the roster and has been great offensively lately, shooting over 80% from the field and averaging 13.7 points per game in the last four games.

2) Kansas State (12-2, 1-0)
Previous Ranking: 3

Last Week: W 70-50 vs. South Dakota, W 73-67 vs. Oklahoma State

This Week: Saturday at West Virginia, 12:30 PM

  • Rundown: It is still to early to make any bold statements, but Saturday’s win over Oklahoma State brought the Wildcats into the discussion for second best team in the Big 12.
  • Player Stepping Up: Senior G Rodney McGruder: He leads the team in scoring with 14.7 points per game and had 28 points in the big win over OSU over the weekend.

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Seth Davis Plays “Stock Report”: Big 12 Reaction

Posted by dnspewak on January 3rd, 2013

Seth Davis is at it again. In the 2013 edition of his “Hoop Thoughts Stock Report” — which seems eerily similar to how Pardon the Interruption plays Buy or Sell — Davis included six teams from the Big 12 among his long list of schools across the country. There’s a reason Davis writes for Sports Illustrated and we, well, don’t write for SI, but regardless, no writer is off limits in the world of college basketball. Here’s are some excerpts of what Davis said about those Big 12 teams, and more importantly, here’s what we think about what Davis said about the Big 12 teams.

Pierre Jackson (#55) and Isaiah Austin (#21) Will Make or Break the Bears' Season. (Associated Press/Rod Aydelotte)

Pierre Jackson (#55) and Isaiah Austin (#21) Will Make or Break the Bears’ Season. (Associated Press/Rod Aydelotte)

BAYLOR (8-4): HOLD: This team is too soft defensively to buy, but it has too many good pieces to sell.

Hold? Agreed, to an extent. Baylor has looked marvelous at times and horrendous at others, so simply in terms of stock, let’s go ahead and even things out and call it a hold. You don’t want to buy a team that has already lost four games and was out-rebounded by College of Charleston and Northwestern, but you also don’t want to sell a team that made BYU look silly and won at Kentucky. There’s a chance this team could still wind up as good if not better than last year’s team, simply because Isaiah Austin is an animal, Pierre Jackson looks like the Big 12 Player of the Year contender we all thought he’d be and, as Davis mentions, there’s no chance Brady Heslip keeps misfiring from beyond the arc at this rate. Here’s where Davis is wrong, though: Baylor is not “too soft defensively.” The word “soft” is much too harsh. The Bears’ zone embarrassed and confused Kentucky at Rupp Arena, and they held BYU in check with a sub-40 percent percentage from the floor. Gonzaga lit them up, sure, but the word is “inconsistent.” Not necessarily “soft.”

KANSAS (11-1, No. 6): BUY It is rare to see a team have so many talented pieces that fit together so well. [...] We know the Jayhawks are going to win the Big 12 yet again, so they’re almost certain to go into the NCAA tournament as a No. 1 seed. I’d be surprised if their season does not end in the 404.

Easy pick here. Seth Davis, you’ve got no argument from us. In fact, you’ve likely got no argument from anybody on earth, save a few delusional Missouri fans. Bill Self has proven once again that he has no problem recovering after defections to the NBA and graduation. That’s because his bench can usually outplay the rest of the Big 12 in any given year. So now that it’s Jeff Withey‘s turn to be the star, he’s doing it. Now that it’s Ben McLemore‘s time to shine, he’s doing it, too. The question is not whether Kansas will win the Big 12. The question is whether the Jayhawks are good enough to win it all. Davis hits the nail on the head here, but you knew that already.

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Set Your DVR: Weekend Edition

Posted by bmulvihill on December 28th, 2012

setDVR

Brendon Mulvihill is the head curator for @SportsGawker and an RTC contributor. You can find him @TheMulv on Twitter. See bottom of the post for the Official RTC Star System.

We are headed into the final weekend of 2012, which means conference season is just about here. There are a few teams playing this weekend that could use one more strong non-conference win for their NCAA Tourney resumes. However, there is one game this weekend that takes center stage in the Bluegrass State. Let’s get to the breakdowns.

Game of the Weekend

#24 Kentucky at #3 Louisville – 4:00 PM EST, Saturday on CBS (*****)

Pitino looks to end a three game slide to in-state rival Kentucky on Saturday (AP)

Pitino looks to end a three game slide to in-state rival Kentucky on Saturday (AP)

  • The Louisville-Kentucky series is starting to develop a pattern. Since the 2002-03 season, the Cardinals have won two in a row then dropped three in a row, won two in a row and then dropped three in a row. Rick Pitino and company are in the midst of another three-game slide to their in-state rival, so if the pattern holds, Louisville is due for a win on Saturday. The big news this week that may help secure that victory is the return of Gorgui Dieng from a wrist injury. Dieng has been out since before the Duke game and should have a significant impact against the Wildcats. While he may be a bit rusty, his defense is crucial against the UK frontcourt of Nerlens Noel and Willie Cauley-Stein. Defense in general will be key for Louisville in this game. Watch Kentucky point guard Archie Goodwin closely to see how he handles the Pitino press. In general, the Wildcats have not turned the ball over a great deal, but this is by far the best defense they have played all season long. Also, watch the rebounding numbers closely. Kentucky has a significant size advantage but the Cardinals have been better on the boards overall. This is where Dieng will make a huge difference. Without him, the Cards have little to no size. The question will be if he can play up to his pre-injury level without any major issues.
  • Kentucky’s three losses this season have been also been their worst turnover performances of the the year (on a per possession basis). Goodwin is turning the ball over at a rate of about 20%, so it will be interesting to see how John Calipari has the offense bring the ball upcourt. Let’s see if they utilize their big men and size advantage to advance the ball. If you see a lot of dribbling in the backcourt by Kentucky, it will probably result in too many turnovers. The Wildcats have shown a more balanced offense against weaker opponents since their last loss to Baylor, but again, they will be facing what could be the best defense in the country, so they must continue to get contribution from a lot of sources. Ryan Harrow and Kyle Wiljter haven proven they can put up 20+ points any given night. Unfortunately, they both can disappear from the offense as well. Both players need to have their best games of the season for Kentucky to win on the road.
  • Dieng looks like he could be the difference in this game. Unfortunately, we do not know where he is at in terms of game stamina. If he can stay on the court and play defense and rebound at a reasonable pace, Louisville should be able to stop its three-game losing streak to Kentucky. If he gets tired or gets into foul trouble, the Wildcats can take advantage of their size and athleticism inside. However, they still need scoring from players like Harrow and Wiltjer if they plan to pull the road upset.

More Great Games

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Baylor’s National Perception Depends on Performance at Gonzaga Tonight

Posted by dnspewak on December 28th, 2012

Baylor and Scott Drew are all about perception. They always have been, and fair or not, they always will be. Drew has reached the Elite Eight twice in the last three seasons, and yet not a soul in the college basketball community trusts his program. The Bears returned the league’s best player in Pierre Jackson, added a few studs in the frontcourt and began the season ranked in the Top 25, but that perception lingered. It’s the perception that Drew can assemble all the individual talent he wants and still never come close to reaching expectations or challenging Kansas for the Big 12 title. It’s the perception that no matter how many games he wins in the decade after an infamous murder scandal and no matter how many five-star prospects he recruits to Waco, it just won’t ever be good enough. And when the Bears dropped early games to Colorado, Charleston and Northwestern in the first month of the 2012-13 season, the cynical talk began.

Pierre Jackson and Baylor have a lot of question marks. (Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)

Pierre Jackson and Baylor have a lot of question marks. (Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)

The talk stopped momentarily when Baylor knocked off Kentucky at Rupp Arena and regrouped with a home victory over BYU. After a fairly horrendous start against the Cougars, the Bears surged near the end of the first half and ran away with a game that started to build this team’s identity. Cory Jefferson’s 16 rebounds were a huge part of that identity, and say what you will about Kentucky, but that victory helped, too. Still, the Bears aren’t finished building yet, and Baylor has a point to prove on Friday night at Gonzaga. Is this the team with such a ridiculously disruptive zone that caused Kentucky to shoot 30 percent from the field on its home court? The team that has Isaiah Austin going off for 13 points and 13 rebounds against St. John’s, and 23 and 17 against Lamar? Or is this the team that let Northwestern and Charleston outrebound it?

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Big 12 Power Rankings: Week Seven

Posted by KoryCarpenter on December 24th, 2012

Don’t look now, but the Big 12 might not be as awful as we thought. Big wins by Kansas, Kansas State, and Texas this week helped improve the conference’s reputation, for now at least. The biggest surprise came Saturday night as Kansas State entered as 11-point underdogs to Florida in nearby Kansas City. The Wildcats won the game by six over the much-hyped Gators to improve to 9-2 on the year. Kansas was a rare five-point underdog as well on Saturday afternoon in Columbus against Ohio State, but the Jayhawks eventually won, 74-66. And then there was Texas, who has struggled most of the year without point guard Myck Kabongo in the lineup. The Longhorns beat North Carolina at home last Wednesday in a game that was not close. Yes, the Tar Heels are overrated, but it was a nice win for a Texas team that badly needed one.

1) Kansas (10-1, 0-0)
Previous Ranking: 1

Last Week: W 87-59 vs. Richmond, W 74-66 vs. Ohio State

This Week: Saturday vs. American, 7:00 PM

The Jayhawks are flashed their Final Four potential in beating Ohio State on the road (Photo credit: Getty Images).

The Jayhawks Flashed their Final Four potential in beating Ohio State on the road (Photo credit: Getty Images).

  • Rundown: Last week, Bill Self said his team’s season would start Saturday against Ohio State. The Jayhawks beat the Buckeyes for the third time in 13 months and left Columbus as legitimate national championship contenders.
  • Feather in the Cap: If Ohio State keeps winning, Saturday’s road win over the Buckeyes will look great for Kansas on Selection Sunday. The Jayhawks’ defense was nearly unstoppable, thanks in large part to center Jeff Withey. His shot-blocking ability kept the OSU players on the perimeter most of the game, where they took bad shots repeatedly and finished with just 66 points.

2) Oklahoma State (10-1, 0-0)
Previous Ranking: 2

Last Week: W 69-44 vs. Texas-Arlington, W 78-42 vs. Tennessee Tech

This Week: Off

  • Rundown: I kept the Cowboys at No. 2 this week because of their overall resume to date (certainly not because of wins over Texas-Arlington and Tennessee Tech), but Danny had Kansas State in this spot. When tied, we turn to KenPom for the final verdict, and his ratings have Oklahoma State at 18th in the country. The Cowboys are third in the country in adjusted defense, behind only Kansas and Louisville.
  • Feather in the Cap: North Carolina State is not the top 10 team that the Cowboys beat last month, but it was still an impressive win for head coach Travis Ford. Oklahoma State will have another chance at a resume-building win this week on New Year’s Eve, as No. 14 Gonzaga comes to Stillwater.

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Big 12 Power Rankings: Week Six

Posted by KoryCarpenter on December 18th, 2012

The top of the Big 12 is unchanged this week, as Kansas and Oklahoma State extended their winning streaks to seven and three games, respectively. The rest of the conference is still a cluster, however, and two teams who were supposed to challenge for the conference title — West Virginia and Texas — did nothing this week to silence their critics. Kansas State and West Virginia were the only Big 12 schools to play anyone of note this past week, and both teams lost convincingly. The Big 12 isn’t getting any better. With only a few weeks left in the non-conference schedule, teams are running out of time to prove themselves as NCAA Tournament prospects.

1) Kansas (8-1, 0-0)
Previous Ranking: 1

Ben McLemore and Kansas prepare for Saturday's matchup with Ohio State

Ben McLemore and Kansas prepare for Saturday’s matchup with Ohio State (Getty Images)

Last Week: W 89-60 vs. Belmont

This Week: Tuesday vs. Richmond, 6:00 PM CST, Saturday at Ohio State, 3:00 PM

  • Rundown: Kansas continues to win after losing its only game of the season over a month ago to Michigan State. They’ve won six of their last seven games by at least 13 points and have set up a great top 10 match-up on Saturday against Ohio State in Columbus, whom the Jayhawks beat twice last season (once in Lawrence and again in the Final Four).
  • Reason to be Optimistic: Freshman guard Ben McLemore is as good as people thought he could be, leading the team with 16.1 PPG. He is shooting up NBA Mock Drafts and it’s becoming clear that this will be his only season in Lawrence. His ability to take over a game offensively makes the Jayhawks legitimate Final Four contenders just a month after the team faced plenty of personnel questions.

2) Oklahoma State (8-1, 0-0)
Previous Ranking: 2

Last Week: W 91-63 vs. Central Arkansas

This Week: Wednesday vs. Texas-Arlington, 7:00 PM, Saturday vs.Tennessee Tech, 12:00 PM

  • Rundown: Last week’s win over Central Arkansas didn’t help the Cowboys in the weekly polls or this week’s power rankings, but they continue to pile up wins leading up to the New Year’s Eve home game against Gonzaga. This week’s action should be another pair of scrimmages.
  • Reason to be Optimistic: Outside of the 10-point loss to Virginia Tech, the Cowboys have beaten the teams they were supposed to beat. That sounds simple enough, but too many teams lose focus some nights and drop head-scratching games this time of year. It will pay off come Selection Sunday.

3) Baylor (7-3, 0-0)
Previous Ranking: 4

Last Week: W 85-68 vs. Lamar, W 73-57 vs. South Carolina-Upstate

This Week: Friday vs. BYU, 8:00 PM

  • Rundown: Baylor is back in the No. 3 spot this week, mostly by default. Senior point guard Pierre Jackson is still playing like a conference player of the year, averaging 19.3 PPG and 6.0 APG through 10 games. The offense is averaging 76.7 PPG but its been slowed down in each of the Bears’ three losses, when they scored just 62.3 PPG.
  • Reason to be Optimistic: Like Kansas, Baylor is getting significant contributions from one of its highly touted freshmen. 7″1′ center Isaiah Austin is averaging 13.9 PPG and 8.6 RPG this season.

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Ten Tuesday Scribbles: On Illinois, Undefeated Teams, A Blown Call Nobody Noticed, and More…

Posted by Brian Otskey on December 11th, 2012

Brian Otskey is an RTC columnist. Every Tuesday during the regular season he’ll be giving his 10 thoughts on the previous week’s action. You can find him on Twitter @botskey.

  1. Illinois fans, here is my mea culpa. I was wrong not to rank your team. On Saturday night, the Fighting Illini ventured up to Spokane and walked out of the Kennel with the best win of any team to date. Yes, better than Duke’s wins over Louisville and Ohio State. Why? There has not been a road win of this magnitude by any team through this early point in the season. The Illini proved they’re for real with a dominant second half against a very strong Gonzaga team. After taking the opening punch and falling behind 8-0 right out of the gate, John Groce’s team didn’t panic and made fantastic adjustments. Gonzaga’s game plan was clearly to feed the ball inside and try to dominate a less than imposing Illinois front line. Illinois’ defense suddenly picked up later in the first half, swarming the Gonzaga big men and forcing the Bulldogs into an uncharacteristic 16 turnovers. Illinois was able to speed the game up a bit and prevent Gonzaga from setting up its half court offense effectively. The Zags attempted 18 threes which is right about their season average but a lot of them were rushed and not something the game plan should have called for against an Illinois team without a significant inside presence. Brandon Paul looked like an All-America candidate with his performance not just on the offensive end but defensively against Pangos and the Gonzaga guards as well. Can Illinois keep this level of play up? I’m not sure but I know one thing: The Illini are way better than I thought. This team’s over-reliance on the three-point shot is concerning and is bound to catch up with them at some point, but Illinois has already proved it will be a factor in the loaded Big Ten.

    Brandon Paul Looked Like An All-American Candidate On Saturday Night In Spokane. (Joe Robbins/Getty)

  2. Another impressive performance played out in a different fashion on Saturday night in Clemson, South Carolina. Trailing Clemson by six points midway through the second half, Arizona absorbed the hit and put the pedal down in impressive fashion with a 26-5 run down the stretch to come out of rowdy Littlejohn Coliseum with a sneaky good road win. It was an impressive showing because this Arizona team had been highly touted but untested coming into the game. The Wildcats passed that test with flying colors as they head into a Saturday showdown with Florida in Tucson. Mark Lyons took control in the final minutes for Arizona but contributions from Nick Johnson (13 points, five steals) and Solomon Hill (10 rebounds despite an awful shooting night) illustrate the talent and depth of Sean Miller’s team. Although he didn’t have a great game, I was thoroughly impressed with the physique of freshman Kaleb Tarczewski. It was the first time I’ve seen him play and his body appears mature beyond his age. He’ll be a load for any opponent in the post. Arizona is clearly the best team in the Pac-12 and has the pieces to make a deep run in March. With the gritty Miller at the helm and a boatload of talent, this team will keep getting better as the year moves along. Make sure you watch the Wildcats take on Florida this Saturday night in what could prove to be the best non-conference game of the season.
  3. Another week, another confounding loss for Baylor. Just when you thought the Bears were turning the corner after winning at Kentucky, they put together an absolute stinker of a loss at home to a mediocre Northwestern team that had just suffered back-to-back home losses to Maryland and Illinois-Chicago. Baylor was dominated on the glass by a Northwestern lineup that isn’t all that physically imposing and allowed the Wildcats to shoot 51% for the game. It is inexcusable for a team with Baylor’s talent to have three losses at this point in the season but you know what I like to say, nobody does less with more than Scott Drew. When you look at the statistics, Baylor appears to be a pretty good team. But the chemistry and focus clearly is lacking, otherwise this team wouldn’t have lost to Charleston and Northwestern on its home court. Baylor is a highly talented team and has actually improved its turnover numbers significantly from previous years. Pierre Jackson is playing like one of the best point guards in America and Drew has seen junior forward Cory Jefferson take a huge step forward. Baylor has two more non-conference challenges before Big 12 play begins, against BYU in Waco and a tough trip to Gonzaga in back to back games at the end of this month. Even if the Bears enter Big 12 play at 8-4, I still believe this team is good enough to eventually earn a Top 25 ranking and fit solidly in the NCAA Tournament. At this point however, Baylor just isn’t there yet. Read the rest of this entry »
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Big 12 M5: 12.06.12 Edition

Posted by KoryCarpenter on December 6th, 2012

  1. As a five-star recruit, Oklahoma State freshman point guard Marcus Smart received plenty of fanfare before beginning his college career last month. But as Ryan Fagan of The Sporting News points out, Oklahoma State’s 20-point win over then No. 6 North Carolina State last month in the Puerto Rico Tip-off is when Smart’s name really became known across the country. Last night, he helped the Cowboys improve to 6-1 with a win over South Florida in Stillwater, a game in which Smart had 15 points, six rebounds, five assists, four steals, and two blocks. In just six short weeks, all of the “potential” is gone. Smart is great. He’s one of the best, if not the best, freshmen in the country and one of the best point guards, too. And with an easy schedule the rest of December leading up to a New Year’s Eve home game against No. 10 Gonzaga, Smart may soon be leading a top 10 team when Big 12 play begins in January.
  2. For every Marcus Smart, there are usually about 10 Perry Ellises. Ellis won four consecutive Kansas state titles in high school and was a McDonald’s All-American last year, but he has been lost in the shuffle of the Jayhawks’ lineup a bit early on this season. It’s not a surprise that senior forward Kevin Young is starting at the four spot ahead of him, not in Bill Self’s system. Self loves having experience on the floor, and Ellis as a young first-year player is still adjusting to the college game. He’s playing 16 MPG this season and averaging 6.4 PPG and 4.0 RPG, and he reminds me of former Jayhawk forward Wayne Simien, a great four-year player at Kansas. Ellis and Simien’s freshmen numbers aren’t far off each other right now, either. Simien averaged 15.3 MPG, 8.1 PPG, and 5.3 RPG as a freshman in 2001-02.
  3. Jeff Goodman of CBSSports.com unveiled another 2013 NBA mock draft, and four Big 12 players made his first round predictions: Baylor forward Isaiah Austin (7th), Kansas guard Ben McLemore (15th), Oklahoma State guard Le’Bryan Nash (16th), and Kansas center Jeff Withey (21st). Baylor point guard Pierre Jackson led off the second round at 31st, followed by West Virginia center Aaric Murrary (41st), Oklahoma State guard Marcus Smart (47th), and Texas guard Myck Kabongo (53rd). It’s hard to imagine Murray leaving a year early if he is indeed projected that low, but a year struggling in a new system could sway his decision. I don’t see a scenario where two underclassmen like Smart and Kabongo leave to be picked in the second round, not with the potential to climb up these sort of lists in the next few years. Isaiah Austin looks like a bust at No. 7, and Jeff Withey and Pierre Jackson are NBA wildcards in my mind. But McLemore and Nash both look like solid picks, especially in the middle of the first round. Both players have the size and speed to excel at the next level.
  4. Jeff Eisenberg at Yahoo! Sports made a list of teams who have failed to live up to expectations this season, and not surprisingly, two Big 12 teams are mentioned: West Virginia and Texas. Making its debut in a new conference, it was hard to judge just how much of an impact the Mountaineers would have this season, but I didn’t think they’d be this bad. Losing on the road to Gonzaga isn’t terrible. Getting ripped by 34 to Gonzaga, or anyone, for that matter, is terrible. And as Eisenberg writes, that still isn’t as bad as losing to Davidson and Oklahoma. For Texas, at least they have somewhat of an excuse while awaiting the return of sophomore point guard Myck Kabongo. But if the Longhorns want an NCAA Tournament invitation, they better hope Kabongo is really, really good this season, because he has a lot of holes to fill. Teams who are only missing a single piece typically don’t put up 41 points against Georgetown.
  5. If you like second-level stats, Sport’s Illustrated‘s Luke Winn is your guy. Yesterday, Winn updated his weekly power rankings. Unfortunately for every Big 12 school not named Kansas, Winn only discusses his 16 best teams in the country, in which Kansas stayed at No. 9 on his list. Wynn rounds out his top 32 at the bottom of the column, however, and Oklahoma State and Kansas State come in at 25th and 26th. I’m not sold on Kansas State, but with Oklahoma State’s schedule this month, they should climb in every poll until that meeting with Gonzaga, with a win in that game vaulting the Cowboys to the top 10 early in 2013.
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