Big 12 M5: 02.10.16 Edition

Posted by Brian Goodman on February 10th, 2016

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  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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Texas: Rising Fast But Not Yet a Big 12 Contender

Posted by Brian Goodman on February 3rd, 2016

Monday night night, Texas rolled into Waco and beat Baylor, 67-59, earning one of those quality road wins that are so critical for NCAA Tournament resumes. For such a low-scoring game, it was an intense and fun matchup. The Bears and Longhorns fought to a draw in points in the paint (22 each) in a game that was highlighted by an entertaining and occasionally chippy battle between Rico Gathers and Prince Ibeh. In the backcourt, Javan Felix and Isaiah Taylor dissected Baylor’s zone with precision to the tune of 14 assists against just two turnovers. While big games from Gathers and Taurean Prince kept the Bears alive until the final minute, a Connor Lammert three with 44 seconds remaining ultimately sealed the win. The victory thrust Texas into a heap of second-place teams in the Big 12, a dogpile that also includes Kansas, Iowa State and Baylor. It also left some to wonder whether the Longhorns may now have a realistic shot to win the conference. It’s not a completely crazy thought, but while Texas under Shaka Smart has taken some important first steps over the last few weeks, a back-loaded league slate will leave the Longhorns with more work to do before they can be taken seriously as Big 12 title contenders.

The Longhorns are on the rise, but don't call them Big 12 contenders just yet.(John Rivera/Icon Sportswire)

The Longhorns are on the rise, but don’t call them Big 12 contenders just yet. (John Rivera/Icon Sportswire)

First, let’s acknowledge all the positives. Perhaps the biggest key to the Longhorns’ season thus far has been their improved ball-handling. Texas currently leads the Big 12 in offensive turnover percentage during league play and ranks 24th nationally, a year after finishing a dreadful 245th. The turnaround in that category is made all the more impressive in that Jonathan Holmes and Myles Turner — the two rotation players that Texas lost from last season — were actually the team’s most reliable ball-handlers in 2015. In other words, the Longhorns have reversed their turnover fortunes this year with largely the same personnel that made turnovers such a huge issue a year ago. Smart preached good decision-making with the ball while at VCU, and the Rams finished with top 30 offensive turnover percentages in four of his six seasons in Richmond. He’s been successful in bringing that same discipline with him to Austin.

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Big 12 M5: 02.01.16 Edition

Posted by Brian Goodman on February 1st, 2016

morning5_big12

  1. Saturday’s headliner between Kansas and Kentucky lived up to its considerable hype, with the Jayhawks eventually outlasting the Wildcats in overtime, 90-84. After the game, CBS Sports’ Matt Norlander called for the two blue-blood programs to meet every year. College basketball took a big step forward when the Champions Classic began in 2011, ensuring a steady stream of high-profile matchups between Kansas, Kentucky, Duke and Michigan State. As memorable as those games have been, however, the neutral atmosphere has sterilized them to a certain degree. Norlander’s suggestion of rotating games between Rupp Arena and Allen Fieldhouse in the seasons when Kentucky and Kansas don’t meet in the Champions Classic is something both schools should explore. Given each program’s tendency to schedule aggressively, such an agreement wouldn’t be nearly as far-fetched as it sounds at first blush.
  2. The story from the game itself was Wayne Selden‘s 33-point explosion, as the junior wing finally looked like the aggressive player who led Kansas (er, Team USA) to a gold medal in the World University Games last summer. After Selden’s hot start to this season regressed, it was nice to see him step up with a huge performance on a big stage. Of course, the issue throughout his career has always been one of consistency rather than talent; with the Jayhawks set to take on a pair of weaker opponents in Kansas State and TCU this week, perhaps Selden can gather some confidence and momentum for the Big 12 home stretch.
  3. The undercard game was a fun matchup, too, with Oklahoma surviving against LSU in Baton Rouge behind yet another 30-point game from All-America guard Buddy Hield. Isaiah Cousins deserves plenty of credit as well for contributing 18 points of his own, including the game-winning jumper with four seconds remaining. While the Tigers are a borderline NCAA Tournament team, the drawing power alone of superstar freshman Ben Simmons allowed plenty of casual fans to tune in and watch the front-runner for National Player of the Year steal the show.
  4. It’s tough to win on the road, but it’s even tougher when two of your three best players are hobbled and the third hasn’t been able to catch a breather. That was the reality for Iowa State on Saturday, as the Cyclones fell to the best Texas A&M team since Billy Gillispie roamed the sidelines and Acie Law IV was burying threes. Jameel McKay put forth a gutsy effort, playing through knee trouble to finish with nine points and 14 rebounds, while Georges Niang — despite 15 points and six rebounds — was limited by a bruised hip and foul trouble. Lastly, the Aggies’ backcourt did a nice job in defending Monte’ Morris, who registered his third 40-minute effort in the last four games. Morris likely won’t get much rest in the Cyclones’ next game either, as Iowa State plays host to the physical, fast-paced pressure of West Virginia on Tuesday.
  5. Texas took another step toward an NCAA Tournament appearance with a decisive 72-58 win over a Vanderbilt team that is among the most disappointing teams in the nation. Prince Ibeh continued to look comfortable in filling in for Cameron Ridley, as he finished with his second straight double-double. Meanwhile, freshmen Kerwin Roach and Eric Davis have really come on as of late. The two paired up to score 28 points off the bench on Saturday and have now averaged a combined 23.3 points per game over the Longhorns’ last three contests. Texas may not have much of a ceiling this season, but it’s not hard to see Roach, Davis and a senior Isaiah Taylor as the Big 12’s most lethal backcourt in 2017. Of course, they’ll need inside help, but that’s a discussion for another day.
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Cameron Ridley’s Injury May Keep Texas Out of the NCAA Tournament

Posted by Chris Stone on January 8th, 2016

On December 28, Texas’ season took a dramatic turn for the worse when it announced that center Cameron Ridley fractured his left foot during practice and would be out indefinitely. In the team’s first 11 games, Ridley had finally realized the potential that had made him a top-10 recruit in the 2012 recruiting class. The senior was putting together the best year of his career, averaging 12.7 points and 9.7 rebounds per game. What’s more, it seemed like the Longhorns were also turning a corner. After three early season losses, they had won six in a row that included an 84-82 thriller over North Carolina. In Shaka Smart’s first season, Texas appeared to be building a resume fit for an NCAA Tournament team. And then Ridley was injured.

Cameron Ridley was having a career season before breaking his foot. (Eric Gay/Associated Press)

Cameron Ridley was having a career season before breaking his foot. (Eric Gay/Associated Press)

One day after the announcement, UConn picked apart a Texas defense playing without its best shot-blocker (Ridley owned a 13.9 percent block rate, third-best nationally). The Huskies made 15 of their 22 shots at the rim en route to handing the Longhorns their first of two more defeats. Not having to deal with the big man’s 3.4 blocks per game clearly made a difference. With Ridley in the lineup, opponents shot just 40 percent inside the three-point arc. In the three games since, with Prince Ibeh playing in a starting role and no clear backup, Texas’ opponents are attempting 6.3 percent more field goals from two-point range, according to data compiled from sports-reference.com. They are also converting those attempts at a much higher rate, making 51.4 percent of those two-pointers. Without Ridley’s looming presence in the paint, opponents have been able to find and convert easy attempts against a Texas defense no longer able to field a semi-permanent rim protector. Read the rest of this entry »

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Big 12 M5: 12.30.15 Edition

Posted by Chris Stone on December 30th, 2015

morning5_big12

  1. There will be very few easy games in the Big 12 this season. One of the criticisms of the conference last year was that the bottom of the league wasn’t very good. That should change in 2015-16. On Tuesday, Texas Tech picked up their fourth win over a team ranked in the top 100 on KenPom with an 85-70 victory over Richmond. The Red Raiders lone non-conference loss came against a quality Utah team. Tech is predicted to finish 8-10 in the league which would be the school’s best mark under head coach Tubby Smith. The Red Raiders also have a chance to pick up a road win against Arkansas in the Big 12/SEC Challenge. If things fall in their favor, they could find themselves with a shot at their first NCAA Tournament birth since 2007.
  2. Kansas State will also contribute to a deeper Big 12 in 2015-16. With a dominating 75-47 win over Saint Louis on Tuesday, the Wildcats pushed their non-conference record to 10-2. Kansas State’s calling card has been its defense and that was no different in the win over the Billikens. Saint Louis scored a meager 0.67 points per possession in Manhattan. While the Wildcats don’t have the same quality wins that Texas Tech has, a few upsets in Big 12 play could push them onto the bubble come March.
  3. Texas announced that senior center Cameron Ridley will be out 8-10 weeks due to a fracture in his left foot. In the Longhorns’ first game without Ridley, Texas fell 71-66 to Connecticut in Austin. Ridley’s absence was felt on both ends of the floor. The Huskies outscored Texas 40-28 in the paint on Tuesday. Ridley’s replacement, Prince Ibeh, played just 18 minutes and picked up his fourth foul with nearly nine minutes remaining. Without Ibeh or Ridley on the floor, opponents will be able to challenge the Longhorns inside and UConn did so successfully. Forced to rely on a more perimeter oriented attack, Texas floundered. The Longhorns shot 39 percent from the field and 6-of-23 from three-point range. How Shaka Smart adapts to Ridley’s absence early in conference play will be crucial to Texas’ Big 12 success.
  4. Kansas beat UC Irvine, 78-53, to close out its non-conference schedule, but for the second season in a row the story out of Lawrence is becoming the playing time of a highly touted freshman. Cheick Diallo is averaging only 11.2 minutes per game so far and played just six minutes against the Anteaters. Bill Self told the media afterwards that he thinks “our experienced guys are playing better.” While that may be true at the moment, there’s no doubt that Diallo has a higher upside than just about anyone in the Jayhawks’ frontcourt rotation. Allowing Diallo to develop now could benefit Kansas in March, but with Baylor and Oklahoma on tap to open Big 12 play, it seems unlikely the freshman will be seeing significant playing time in the near future.
  5. There are two Big 12 games remaining ahead of the start of conference play on Saturday. Iowa State should cruise against Coppin State tonight, but West Virginia has a much more interesting matchup. The Mountaineers will play their first true road game of the season when they travel to Blacksburg, VA to face Virginia Tech. West Virginia is favored in the contest, but road games are always tricky. Whatever the result, the experience in a hostile environment should prove useful as the Mountaineers open their Big 12 schedule with road trips to Kansas State and TCU.
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Injury to Cameron Ridley Throws Wrench Into Texas Plans

Posted by Brian Goodman on December 29th, 2015

Texas suffered a big setback in practice over the weekend when Cameron Ridley broke his foot. The injury requires surgery — scheduled to take place today — and will place the senior out of action indefinitely. While Texas’ press release on Monday gave no specifics on a timetable for his return, the general amount of time needed for recovery from such an injury reportedly tends to fall in the range of 6-8 weeks. What this ultimately means is that Ridley will miss most of Big 12 play but could be on track for a return near the end of the regular season and into postseason play. In the meantime, though, his absence down low creates a major challenge for Texas’ immediate future.

Texas will be without its best big man for most of the Big 12 season. (Eric Gay/AP)

Texas will be without its best big man for most of the Big 12 season. (Eric Gay/AP)

Hailed as a top-10 recruit by ESPNU when he arrived in Austin in 2012, Ridley had endured an up-and-down career under Rick Barnes but had really started to take off this season. The senior big man capitalized on his improved physique to become one of the nation’s leading shot-blockers as well as a more reliable finisher, converting 75 percent of his shots at the rim, per hoop-math.com. Through 11 games, Ridley ranked second on the team in minutes played (26.0 MPG) and scoring (12.7 PPG), and led the Longhorns in rebounding (9.7 RPG). Apart from possibly Isaiah Taylor, he was the most important player on the Longhorns’ roster. While it’s always tough to see anyone sidelined for an extended amount of time, it especially hurts when it happens to a senior like Ridley who had finally started to turn potential into production. Read the rest of this entry »

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Big 12 Preseason Superlatives and Predictions

Posted by Brian Goodman on November 12th, 2015

We noted a few times during the offseason that this year in the Big 12 will have a different tenor than the last few. There won’t be nearly as much attention on the one-and-done players because they aren’t around this year. Oklahoma and Iowa State will again be the token threats to end Kansas‘ long reign atop the conference standings, and the middle of the pack will again be better than the middle of the pack of every other conference. At the end of the day, experienced leaders will carry the Big 12 this season. This conference probably won’t be as wild as it’s been recently, but it’s still going to be a lot of fun, especially with two new head coaches stepping into plum jobs.

Below we will run down our preseason Big 12 superlatives and predictions, as voted upon by our four-man team.

B12Team

Player Of The Year

  • Brian Goodman: Buddy Hield (Oklahoma) – It’s really tough to do this when Georges Niang plays in the same conference, but I have to go with Hield. Both players can light it up from anywhere, but Hield has embraced defense in a way that Niang hasn’t. Hield also turned the ball over significantly less often than Niang while consuming a similar percentage of his team’s possessions, and it’s a good bet that he’ll be able to do so again. Lastly, despite Steve Prohm’s insistence that he won’t change much about the way Niang is used, I still need to see evidence on the court that Prohm will maximize his senior’s unique cocktail of impressive skill combined with not-as-impressive physical abilities. That may not be completely fair to Niang, nor do I think he’ll be a completely different player in the post-Hoiberg era, but when the other candidate has as many credentials as Hield carries, it tips the scales.
Buddy Hield is the microsite's consensus pick for Big 12 Player Of The Year. (David K Purdy/Getty Images)

Buddy Hield is the microsite’s consensus pick for Big 12 Player Of The Year. (David K Purdy/Getty Images)

  • Kendall Kaut: Hield – He’s the reigning Big 12 Player of the Year and plays on the team that I think is most likely to challenge Kansas for the Big 12 title. Although he’ll miss the presence of TaShawn Thomas, Oklahoma returns most of the talent around him, which should free Hield to continue creating. His three-point shooting keeps Oklahoma in games where it should be getting blown out and gives the Sooners an ability to come back from a deficit. And until someone in this league shows otherwise, he’ll stay #1 for me.
  • Nate Kotisso: Hield – This seems like a lazy pick for conference Player of the Year, but this is a case where it doesn’t pay to get cute. Unlike me, Buddy Hield is the furthest thing from lazy; rather, he’s interested in making Oklahoma and himself a lot better this season. The senior guard is likely working on his game at this very moment, but then again, does anyone truly know when he takes time off to do other humanly functions, like, eat? This probably means winning this award again with his sights set on leading the Sooners to Houston in early April.
  • Chris Stone: Hield – While playing the third-most minutes and having the second-highest usage rate in the Big 12 last season, Hield was still the league’s third-most efficient scorer. The senior is everything you could want in an offensive player and he’s a capable defender who averaged nearly two steals per game as well. Without TaShawn Thomas around, Hield should be responsible for even more of Oklahoma’s scoring load, which is enough to make me think he’ll go back-to-back in the Player of the Year race. My dark horse for the award is Baylor’s Taurean Prince, who had better efficiency numbers last season but played far fewer minutes than Hield. If he can hold up in an increased role with a less effective point guard, Prince could take the award.

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Big 12 Preview: Texas’ Burning Question

Posted by Chris Stone on October 26th, 2015

This team preview is part of the RTC Big 12 microsite’s preseason coverage.

Burning Question: Can Shaka Smart turn Texas into a basketball school?

College basketball feels like it’s engaged in a constant search for the next big thing. The one-and-done rule has turned college hoops into a temporary pit stop for the next great NBA player, and in a similar fashion, athletic departments at power conference schools are often looking to find the next mid-major head coach who can transform a struggling program into an overnight success. While many highly touted coaches including Wichita State’s Gregg Marshall have resisted the calls from power five schools, Shaka Smart has finally taken the plunge, and the Big 12 is better for it.

Shaka Smart is poised to lead Texas' turnaround. (Daulton Venglar/The Daily Texas)

Shaka Smart is poised to lead Texas’ turnaround. (Daulton Venglar/The Daily Texas)

After an impressive six-year tenure at VCU, Smart signed a six year, $22 million deal with Texas in April. The Longhorns’ athletics program has been in a bit of a rut lately. Although it made the NCAA Tournament in all but one year under former head coach Rick Barnes, Texas hasn’t played in the event’s second weekend since D.J. Augustin led the Longhorns to the Elite Eight in 2008. The school’s football program has experienced a similarly disappointing slide since losing to Alabama in the BCS National Championship Game in 2010. Charlie Strong was brought in to inject life into the program, but in two years has been largely unsuccessful as rumors swirl regarding the team’s overall lack of talent. The cherry on top was the recent dismissal of athletic director Steve Patterson in September. Patterson lasted less than two years in Austin, during which time he alienated boosters and long-term employees alike.

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Big 12 Conference Catch-Up: Kansas, Texas and Iowa State

Posted by Brian Goodman & Chris Stone on January 2nd, 2015

As the Big 12 schools conclude their non-conference schedules, it’s a great time to catch up on where the league’s 10 teams stand entering conference play. Once again, Kansas has navigated an arduous schedule, but enough questions remain that we can at least consider the possibility that another team wins the conference. The Jayhawks’ closest challengers are a Texas team that has kept pace despite losing one of the best point guards in the country for an extended period of time, while Iowa State has another high-powered team with a newly-eligible big man who Cyclones fans hope will provide a needed lift on defense.

Kansas (via Chris Stone)

  • Key wins: at Georgetown, Utah (in Kansas City)
  • Key losses: Kentucky (in Indianapolis), at Temple
With two good outings recently, the game finally appears to be slowing down for Kelly Oubre, and that could be bad news for the rest of the Big 12. (Jamie Squire/Getty Images)

With two good outings recently, is the game finally slowing down for hyped Kansas freshman Kelly Oubre? (Jamie Squire/Getty Images)

It’s very easy to watch Kansas’s blowout losses to Kentucky and Temple and write off the Jayhawks as a Big 12 title contender. To do so, however, would ignore the rest of their resume. Kansas has five wins over teams ranked in the top 50 of KenPom’s efficiency rankings; Only Kentucky can match that total. Sophomore Frank Mason is providing Bill Self with his best point guard play since Sherron Collins left Lawrence five years ago. Mason is averaging 11.9 points, 3.8 rebounds, and 4.0 assists per game. Freshman Kelly Oubre is finally emerging as the potential lottery pick he was billed as before the season, having scored 20 points in two of the last three games. Still, those two losses linger. Kentucky dominated the Jayhawks in Indianapolis. Temple rocked Kansas at the Wells Fargo Center. The typical refrain surrounding Kansas has been to trust in Bill Self, the man who has won 10 straight conference titles, but Self is still tinkering with his starting lineup while trying to play through a frontcourt that has struggled to score inside. Kansas is shooting just 52.3 percent on shots at the rim, a number that is nearly 15 percent worse than last season’s mark, according to data from hoop-math.com. In particular, junior Perry Ellis has seen his shooting percentage decline by over 10 percent as he’s had a difficult time scoring against the size of teams like Kentucky, Georgetown, and Utah. The Jayhawks have their limitations and the losses to Kentucky and Temple showcased them. They’ve also had their triumphs that suggest an ability to compete for another Big 12 championship. Much depends on the consistency of Mason, the continued emergence of Oubre, and the play of bigs like Ellis and Cliff Alexander, but to write off Kansas is to also write off Self’s history and the quality of their non-conference resume. Big 12 coaches won’t make that mistake, and you shouldn’t, either.

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Big 12 Season Preview: Texas Longhorns

Posted by Nate Kotisso on November 12th, 2014

Throughout the preseason, the Big 12 microsite will preview each of the league’s 10 teams, from worst to first. Today: Texas. 

Texas

Hey look, Rick Barnes magically became a good coach again! Some may have actually had this thought, but no, he didn’t become a terrible coach after one bad season. Those calling for his termination have to remember that Barnes has taken the program to heights not seen since the midway point of the 20th century. It’s hard to believe the same Texas team picked to finish eighth in the Big 12 Preseason Coaches Poll last season won 24 games and made it to the NCAA Tournament’s Round of 32. Now with virtually everyone back on board for another year, the Longhorns are primed to jostle with the Jayhawks atop the Big 12 standings. Just like old times.

Did we mention Rick Barnes won Big 12 Coach of the Year? No? Well yeah, he did. (Troy Taormina/USA Today Sports Images)

Did we mention Rick Barnes won 2013-14 Big 12 Coach of the Year? No? Well yeah, he did. (Troy Taormina/USA Today Sports Images)

Strengths: A team full of freshmen and sophomores at key positions a year ago grew up rather quickly. Most can point to their December win at North Carolina as a turning point in the season. Then you throw in some tournament experience, a blue-chip recruit and a largely intact rotation, this has the makings of a colossal year in Austin. Myles Turner is the blue-chip center out of the Dallas area. The center and forward spots are in capable hands even without Turner but there’s little reason to believe a player of his talent will not have a role carved out for him by Barnes. The fascinating thing about Texas is that they don’t beat you with a star or two. At any time, all five guys on the floor for the Longhorns can beat you in a multitude of ways. Isaiah Taylor showed great polish as a freshman driving and dishing. Jonathan Holmes successfully took on the role as top scorer, rebounder and big shot-maker (see buzzer beater vs Kansas State). A slimmed down Cameron Ridley still clogged up the paint scoring easy buckets, improving at the free throw line and altering shots on the defensive end. Aside from Taylor, Holmes and Ridley, guys like Demarcus Holland, Connor Lammert, Javan Felix and Prince Ibeh were hustling after nearly every rebound (ranked fourth nationally; sixth nationally in offensive rebound percentage per Kenpom) and block (ninth nationally in block percentage per Kenpom). I could understand if a fan of another team became annoyed watching them. They were like a fly that would buzz past your ear every few seconds but you could never find and destroy. It would not be a stretch to expect the same effort this time around.

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Previewing Texas vs. North Carolina

Posted by Taylor Erickson & Lathan Wells on December 18th, 2013

(Ed. note: news released on Wednesday afternoon that UNC’s Leslie McDonald has been cleared to play as soon as tonight’s game. This post was written prior to that release.)

On Wednesday night, Texas will head to the Dean Dome for a showdown with what suddenly looks like one of the better teams in the nation in North Carolina. North Carolina has had its struggles early this season with losses to UAB and Belmont, but has righted the ship with perhaps the best collection of wins in the country after knocking off Louisville, Michigan State, and Kentucky – the top three teams in the preseason AP rankings. Texas has opened the season with a 9-1 record itself, but has yet to see the type of talent that the Tar Heels will roll out. ACC correspondent Lathan Wells and the Big 12′s Taylor Erickson decided to discuss some key topics heading into the contest in the hopes of providing some insights to watch for as the game plays out.

Can Marcus Paige continue his hot streak against Texas on Wednesday? (Scott Muthersbaugh / The Times News)

Can Marcus Paige continue his hot streak against Texas on Wednesday? (Scott Muthersbaugh / The Times News)

Taylor:  So I have to start with the obvious question: North Carolina has three of the best wins in non-conference play, but also has puzzling losses to UAB and Belmont. Which Tar Heels team are we going to see on Wednesday night?

Lathan: Prior to the Kentucky game, that would continue to be the prevailing question. But after their third marquee non-conference win of the season, it appears that UNC is starting to find some consistency. The players appear to be more comfortable in their roles. The fact that Texas has taken four of the last five since Roy Williams took over in Chapel Hill may be motivation enough. Speaking of adapting to roles, how has Texas been able to have such a solid start with a team that entered the season in the midst of major transition?

Taylor: The 9-1 start for Texas has certainly been refreshing to Longhorns fans, but when dissecting the schedule in more detail, it becomes apparent that most of those wins have come against clearly inferior teams. According to CBSSports.com, Texas’ strength of schedule to this point ranks 100th in the nation, 91 spots behind what North Carolina (ninth) has faced. If Rick Barnes’ squad is truly improved, it will have a chance to prove it with tonight’s game followed by one against Michigan State in a span of three days this week. That said, Texas has gotten solid contributions from big man Cameron Ridley, who went for 22 points and 10 rebounds in his last outing. After the way North Carolina handled the talented front line of Kentucky, is there any reason to believe the Heels will struggle to do the same with the Longhorns’ frontcourt?

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Big 12 M5: Opening Day Edition

Posted by Nate Kotisso on November 8th, 2013

morning5_big12

  1. Big 12 and college basketball fans alike: rejoice. Just days before the 2013 edition of the Champions Classic tip-off, ESPN announced that Kansas, Kentucky, Duke and Michigan State will continue the doubleheader series until at least 2016. For the last couple of years (and of course, Tuesday’s blockbuster), the Champions Classic has been the perfect nightcap to an awesome day of college hoops. As far as the next three years will shake out for Kansas, they’ll face Kentucky in 2014, Michigan State in 2015 and Duke in 2016. Did I forget to mention that today’s opening day? The news lately has been prettay, prettay, prettay, prettay good.
  2. Good news on the Oklahoma recruiting front as the Sooners received a commitment from top 150 prospect Dante Buford. A three-star prospect from Arlington Country Day in Florida, Buford commanded offers from the likes of Miami, SMU, USC, Memphis and South Carolina. The news of Buford’s pledge comes two weeks after fellow 2014 big man Khadeem Lattin committed to Lon Kruger’s program despite holding offers from Georgetown, Arizona and Memphis, among many others. The Sooners may be stretched thin for big men this year, but fret not, help is on the way to Norman!
  3. Let’s be honest, expectations for Texas this season aren’t very high. But Burnt Orange Nation argues if the Longhorns are to surprise, it will come down to the play of their four big men. Those players — Cameron Ridley, Jonathan Holmes, Prince Ibeh and Connor Lammert — struggled mightily in certain areas during their freshmen (sophomore for Holmes) campaigns, but the opportunity for growth is still great. Ridley is a physical freak, Holmes led the team in rebounds, Lammert’s shooting ability came to light when he started games late in the year, and Ibeh was second on the team in blocks behind Ridley. If they make serious strides in all of these areas, 2014-15 may look quite a bit better than you think right now.
  4. Kansas freshman Brannen Greene was rushed to Lawrence Memorial Hospital after taking a hit to the midsection during practice. It wasn’t anything serious as Greene was taken there for precautionary reasons and released shortly thereafter. Head coach Bill Self still believes Greene will see action in tonight’s season opener against Louisiana-Monroe. What we learned from this: Self is a tough coach, his players are tough, Kansas is still predicted to win the league, and water is wet. Man they’re so good.
  5. Move over Cameron Crazies: the hottest, coolest and newest student section in college basketball is the Purple Haze at TCU. The TCU Student Basketball Committee announced the name for the student section last week and members of said student section will have opportunities regular students won’t have. Head coach Trent Johnson said “The Haze” (feel free to use the nickname, TCU) will interact and build relationships with players. A point system has also been established that would enable two “Hazers” (you can use that too) who loyally attend home and away games who accumulate the most points will win two tickets to attend the 2014 Final Four at AT&T Stadium in Arlington. Sounds like a sweet gig if you can get it.
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