Big 12 Summer Update: Oklahoma State Cowboys

Posted by dnspewak on August 7th, 2012

In an effort to remind you that college basketball does in fact exist during the summer, Big 12 microsite writer Danny Spewak (@dspewak) will roll out three summer updates per week during the next month. The goal is to compile every bit of news and information from the summer months for each team and package it into neat, easy-to-read capsules for your convenience. The final team on the list — Oklahoma State.

2011-12 record: 15-18, 7-11 (7th place, Big 12)

While his peers in the coaching community were chasing recruits this summer and lounging by the pool, Travis Ford took the stand during a rape trial to testify on behalf of a former player. This wasn’t about basketball anymore. This was about the life of Darrell Williams, facing a prison sentence after two women at a party accused him of groping them in 2010. The soaring expectations in 2012-13, thanks to the arrival of freshman star Marcus Smart and the return of sophomore Le’Bryan Nash, would have to wait. Ford argued for Williams’ innocence on the stand, and several former teammates attended the trial. The defense argued that the two women may have misidentified Williams, but that didn’t convince a jury. It convicted the forward on two counts, sending him into an uncontrollable sob as police escorted him out. Williams was never a star, and he had not played since February 2011. Still, this is not your average legal situation. That kind of thing happens all the time — like this weekend, when police arrested Cowboys’ center Philip Jurick for marijuana possession. In those situations, programs discipline, suspend and move on. When a former player heads to prison on a rape conviction, though, it takes a little while to recover. So that’s where Travis Ford sits with this Oklahoma State program right now. After a traumatic whirlwind of a summer, he must now find a way to recover from the graduation of heart-and-soul guard Keiton Page and transform this collection of individually talented parts into a winning team. It’d be nice, too, if he could find a viable point guard.

For All The Criticism, It’s Easy To Forget Nash Won Freshman of the Year Honors in 2011-12

Summer Orientation: Everybody knows Marcus Smart. Just ask Billy Donovan and Mark Few about the OSU freshman, who wowed them at the U-18 Championships this summer. “He was our leader from the moment the players introduced themselves,” Few told CBS’ Gary Parrish. “He’s one of the best kids I’ve ever been around — and that includes all the Zags I’ve coached.” That single quote from Few sums up Marcus Smart at the most basic level. He may be a McDonald’s All-American with NBA talent, and he may be a scoring guard with ungodly physical gifts and slashing ability. That’s all great, but it’s not even what Smart is known for. He’s known as a leader. Clutch. A playmaker. The kind of guy who prides himself on his instincts, defensive prowess, smarts and basketball savvy rather than his point-per-game average. These are the qualities that have Travis Ford gushing about his freshman, to the point where he’s already anointing Smart as a team leader after he excelled in individual workouts this summer. Perhaps we’re reading too much into the Rivals.com star rankings and the spectacular performance at the U-18 games, and maybe all of this talk of early leadership and the “ultimate teammate” is overkill for a guy who hasn’t stepped on the court yet. The beauty of the situation for Smart and the Cowboys, though, is that he’s not necessarily counted on to carry this team. Le’Bryan Nash often had those expectations as a freshman a year ago, but his decision to return for his sophomore year means the two highly-touted talents can feed off each other.

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Missouri Punishes Undermanned Oklahoma State Team

Posted by dnspewak on March 8th, 2012

Danny Spewak is a Big 12 Microsite writer and will provide wall-to-wall coverage of the Big 12 Tournament from the Sprint Center in Kansas City this weekend. He filed this piece after Missouri’s. You can follow him on Twitter @dspewak.

With his team trailing by 22 points by the first media timeout of the second half Thursday, Oklahoma State coach Travis Ford clapped his hands eight times and grimaced, resigned to the fact his team’s season would end in less than 16 minutes. It was a minor miracle his team even defeated Oklahoma on Wednesday and had the opportunity to lose to Missouri, 88-70, in the quarterfinals. “I think fatigue was a little bit of a factor,” Ford said. “I think Missouri played up on that. That was probably something they talked about: ‘hey, Oklahoma State doesn’t have a whole lot of players… let’s go at them early.” Want the full rundown of OSU’s adversity this season? Start with this: Star freshman Le’Bryan Nash and big man Philip Jurick aren’t playing in this tournament due to injury. Two of his point guards, Reger Dowell and Fred Gulley, transferred within two weeks of each other before Big 12 play began. J.P. Olukemi hasn’t played in months after tearing his knee up. This is also a team playing Brian Williams out of position at the four and using Markel Brown to run the point at times.

Despite What This Picture Looks Like, It Wasn't That Hard-Fought of a Win for Missouri (Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images)

But the Tigers didn’t care. They’ve got their own issues to worry about, like winning a Big 12 Tournament title and earning a top seed in the NCAA Tournament. They roared to a 49-24 halftime lead, looking like athletes from another planet. Missouri dominated the boards and dominated defensively, with Phil Pressey getting his hands on every basketball that came his way. The sophomore point guard finished with five steals. “I’m just playing defense the way I know how to play,” Pressey said. “That’s what my coaches want me to do. And I came out with some steals.” As usual, the Tigers shared the ball and knocked down open three-pointer after open three-pointer, using what Kim English called “Pete Carril” ball movement to shoot nearly 60% from the field. “We had tremendous ball movement. Good ball movement relieves the tension of the offense,” English said, as his coach winked at him for such an astute observation.

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Big 12 Morning Five: 03.05.12 Edition

Posted by dnspewak on March 5th, 2012

  1. The Big 12 awards are out, so let the heated debate begin. We will release our own picks soon, but the one head-scratcher here is the Coach of the Year award. Bill Self and Fred Hoiberg shared the honor, and both are more than deserving choices. Still, Frank Haith‘s absence makes little sense to anybody associated with the league, much less Missouri people. After the adversity his team faced– from the Shapiro allegations at Miami to Laurence Bowers’ injury– he has to be the hands-down choice. Right? Maybe we are off-base here. If so, let us know in the comment section below. Frankly, though, the Coach of the Year award should be renamed the “Coach of the Most Surprising Team” award. At the conference and national level, the award simply goes to the coach of a team that overachieved– as if he explains the unexplainable. So as much as we may quibble about Haith here, who cares? Picking the best coach in the league is an almost impossible task.
  2. Texas is in desperation mode against Iowa State in the first round of the Big 12 Tournament, but it has learned that Alexis Wangmene will miss the rest of the season with a wrist injury. Good luck guarding Royce White now, Longhorns. And that’s pretty much all we will say about that.
  3. Here’s a shocker: Iowa State spent $420,000 on guarantee games to bring inferior opponents into Hilton Coliseum this year. This article from The Des Moines Register gives us an inside look at how athletic directors make scheduling decisions, and though it’s not the most revolutionary piece, it’s still interesting to consider the process from this perspective. It’s also interesting to see how much costs have increased for guarantee games. Look at Greg McDermott‘s comments at the end of the article–guarantee games are no longer a cheap deal for anybody.
  4. Read this lead and tell us what you think. We didn’t realize this, but Oklahoma hasn’t had a winning season since Blake Griffin left. That’s not very long ago– 2009, to be exact– but it’s a little longer than we realized. This program has taken a nosedive, but a strong showing at the Big 12 Tournament might carry a little momentum into next year.
  5. Oklahoma State needs a point guard. Bad. Really bad, even. It’s been such an issue lately for Travis Ford, especially this season, when Fred Gulley and Reger Dowell both transferred before Big 12 play even began. That switched Keiton Page to the point, but he’s going to graduate. So that leaves Cezar Guerrero, who just may be the most important player on the Cowboys next year. No pressure though, young man.
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Cezar Guerrero’s Suspension Lasts All of One Game

Posted by dnspewak on February 8th, 2012

With just a handful of scholarship players on the roster, Travis Ford can only afford to make a statement for so long. After the Oklahoma State coach suspended point guard Cezar Guerrero for Saturday’s loss against Baylor, he reinstated the freshman last night by rewarding him with four minutes of playing time. As the season progresses, though, don’t expect Ford to keep Guerrero in the doghouse for too long. Without another true point guard on the roster, Guerrero needs to play for this team to make a late-season push. He may have committed the mysterious “violation of team rules” transgression, but Ford has no other options right now. At this point, it’s amazing Ford has even crafted five Big 12 wins out of the Cowboys. Point guards Reger Dowell and Fred Gulley already transferred this winter, J.P. Olukemi’s torn ACL cost him his season and now big man Philip Jurick is battling an injury. Against the Bears, Ford played with six scholarship players– and he almost won.

Cezar Guerrero's Suspension Did Not Last Very Long (credit: streetball.com)

Guerrero may be the only natural point guard on the team, but he’s not consistent enough right now to make an impact at that position. He’s had his moments — take a heroic 29-point effort to single-handedly knock off UTSA in November — but his playing time has diminished as the season has progressed. With seven games to play, though, there’s time for Guerrero to turn his freshman campaign around. With a little more focus after the suspension, perhaps Guerrero can seize more court time at the point, which could shift Keiton Page to the off-guard spot. And with Le’Bryan Nash finally heating up, the point guard spot is the missing piece of the puzzle right now. The NCAA Tournament may not be in the cards, but the Cowboys aren’t going to fall quietly in February.

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Big 12 Weekend Primer: New Years Weekend

Posted by dnspewak on December 30th, 2011

With holiday bowl games and a national showdown between Louisville and Kentucky on New Year’s Eve, there’s not a whole lot of Big 12 basketball to talk about this weekend. But six league teams will still compete during the next two days, and most notably, undefeated Missouri will hit the road for the first time in 2011-12. And if you’re not interested in watching John Calipari and Rick Pitino scream at each other for 40 minutes on CBS this Saturday, Oklahoma State will host Virginia Tech on ESPN2 during the same time slot.

  • Missouri (12-0) at Old Dominion (6-6), Friday 6 PM CT (ESPN2)

Kim English and the Tigers Still Need to Prove They Can Win on the Road

Eight days ago, Missouri showed its human side for the first time this season. After obliterating the likes of Notre Dame, California and Villanova, the Tigers nearly blew a double-digit lead to Illinois in the second half before recovering for a 78-74 victory in the Braggin’ Rights game in St. Louis. That second half stretch, which featured poor passing, forced shots and turnovers by every player on the floor, marked the first time Missouri had ever looked rattled in a basketball game this season. Though half of the arena was wearing black and gold, the Illinois crowd came alive late in that game, and it was the Tigers’ first experience in a hostile environment. For a team that finished 1-7 on the road in Big 12 play last year, this is the last major concern for Frank Haith to tackle: Can his team win on the road? Old Dominion may be 6-6, but don’t write this off as a down year for Blaine Taylor‘s program. For the uneducated basketball fan, losses to Northern Iowa, Vermont, Fairfield, UCF and Richmond may not look very good, but we know better than that. All six losses for ODU (also including Kentucky) have come against league front-runners with at least outside shots to win their respective conferences. Hosting one of its most important non-conference games in recent memory, Missouri will have to deal with a rowdy and electric crowd in Norfolk. Yes, the Tigers are much quicker, and they obviously have much better guards. There’s a reason Mizzou blasted an even stronger Old Dominion team in Columbia last season. It’s a new season, though, and again, Missouri has no reason to be confident in a road setting until it proves it is not the same team as 2010-11. The formula for an upset here is simple: The Monarchs need to slow the tempo and let their defense go to work. Kent Bazemore is arguably the best defender in college basketball, so expect him to hound Marcus Denmon all night, and ODU has a couple of decent shotblockers in Nick Wright and Chris Cooper. ODU isn’t nearly as big or physical as it was a year ago, but it is still a sound rebounding team that won’t let MU get many second chances. This is a Blaine Taylor team we’re talking about here, after all. If Missouri stays hot from the perimeter, it won’t need to dominate the boards to win. Phil Pressey and Michael Dixon need to initiate the offense like they did in the first half against Illinois, as opposed to that disastrous second-half stretch. If that happens, the looks will be there for Denmon, Kim English and Ricardo Ratliffe.

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Big 12 Morning Five: 12.29.11 Edition

Posted by dnspewak on December 29th, 2011

  1. Though Missouri has appeared immortal during the first two months of the season, a second-half lapse against Illinois last week has at least one writer questioning whether the Tigers’ field goal percentages will hold up throughout the season. Kim English has rebounded from a tough junior season to shoot 53% from three-point range this season, and Ricardo Ratliffe‘s numbers are just absurd (76% from the field). As a team, Missouri has seen enormous jumps in both field goal percentage and three-point percentage, and yes, it would be silly to think that some of these numbers will hold up. Still, even in that swoon in the second half in the Braggin’ Rights game, the issue wasn’t necessarily that MU missed a bunch of open shots. That happened under Mike Anderson a lot, especially on the road. Instead, it seemed that things broke down because of poor passing, no ball movement and a lack of poise. When Frank Haith‘s pick-and-roll offense is really working and the ball is in Phil Pressey‘s hands, he will find guys like Ratliffe, English and Marcus Denmon for a lot of open looks. And that’s partly why these statistics have skyrocketed.
  2. In this era of realigning conferences with complete disregard for geography, it’s refreshing to see that TCU will save a lot of time and money by moving to the Big 12 next season. According to one example in the article, the men’s basketball team will save almost 4,000 miles in road trips next year, and the football and basketball programs (both men’s and women’s) will combine to save about 16,770 miles. That’s a lot of fuel money in the bank, and hey, it can’t be bad for the environment either. And although TCU officials won’t say how much money the school will make from the move, one spokesperson said “it’s no secret” that the university will make a good deal of money off the move.
  3. And if you’re interested in a recap of Texas A&M‘s move to the SEC, here’s a full rundown of the situation. As you can imagine, the sports media talk in College Station was dominated by the SEC during the past year, just as it was in Columbia, Missouri, and every other college town with realignment implications. The article also points out that the SEC stuff overshadowed success from several A&M athletic programs. In fact, the Aggies won three NCAA titles and seven Big 12 titles, but this particular website thought realignment news was more important in 2011.
  4. Oklahoma State needed two overtimes to defeat SMU last night, and the victory wasn’t exactly pretty. But the win is a sign that the Cowboys are not letting transfers dictate this season. Senior Keiton Page, who started at point guard after the defection of both Fred Gulley and Reger Dowell during the past eight days, said his teammates “have been great at keeping their heads up and their emotions high.” That cannot be easy to do amidst all the turmoil, but even freshman point guard Cezar Guerrero, whose playing time will increase dramatically now, says the team chants “1-2-3… family” after every huddle. That’s got to count for something, right?
  5. Residents of Kansas City love to talk about bragging rights between Missouri, Kansas and Kansas State, and that prompted one sports journalist with the Kansas City Star to dedicate a multimedia session to the topic. The Tigers look like the Big 12 favorite right now, and Kansas will certainly be in the mix for an eighth-straight title despite that loss to pesky Davidson. As for Kansas State, the Wildcats may be the most intriguing team in the league right now. After winning the Diamond Head Classic, it’s obvious that Frank Martin‘s team will once again find itself in position for an at-large bid in the NCAA Tournament. As always, it’ll be a fight this winter to see which of the Kansas City-area programs will come out on top.
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Big 12 Weekly Primer: December 28-29

Posted by dnspewak on December 28th, 2011

GAME OF THE WEEK

  • #11 Mississippi State at #6 Baylor, Wednesday, 8 PM CT in Dallas (ESPN2)

Scott Drew's Team Is Flying High Heading Into Tonight's Game

At 12-0 and fresh off a Las Vegas Classic sweep of St. Mary’s and West Virginia, there’s not a whole lot left for Baylor to prove. The 6th-ranked Bears seem to have it all: dominant bigs, freakish athleticism, terrific dunkers and, most importantly, steady guard play. Junior college All-American Pierre Jackson, Boston College transfer Brady Heslip and junior A.J. Walton have formed a strong trio in the backcourt, and they’re helping Perry Jones and the crew lead the way in the paint. Cal transfer Gary Franklin has also impressed since gaining eligibility, as he’s turned the ball over just once in four games. That’s a striking contrast from last season, when Scott Drew wasted a boatload of NBA talent due to poor guard play and other issues. Baylor still has some work to do in the rebounding department, and it also turns the ball over a bit too much at times. But those are kinks Drew will work out during the course of the season, and they shouldn’t hold Baylor back against Mississippi State. In many ways, the Bulldogs are a mirror image of Baylor. They have a dangerous frontcourt duo in Arnett Moultrie and Renardo Sidney, but Rick Stansbury’s guards have stepped up to help the Bulldogs to a 12-1 start. Dee Bost may be this team’s most important player as both a scorer and leader of the offense, and it’s going to be up to him to make smart decisions on a semi-neutral floor in Dallas tonight. Let’s not be silly here, though. This game will be won in the paint, and it all depends on which stars show up to play. Jones had a lot of questions to answer this season after a somewhat disappointing freshman season, but he has looked like a new man so far in 2011-12. That’s also an accurate description for Moultrie, who has embraced his role as the enforcer in Starkville after two modest seasons at UTEP. In his first year of eligibility, Moultrie has already recorded seven double-doubles, and he’s both getting to the line (6.0 attempts per game) and converting his free throws (88.3 percent). Against Jones, Quincy Miller, Quincy Acy and the other forwards with giant wingspans on the Baylor roster, Moultrie has a chance to prove his worth on national television.

The key individual matchup is… Dee Bost vs. A.J. Walton/Pierre Jackson/Gary Franklin. Jackson has not started a game this year, and Franklin just became eligible four games ago, but they’re both stealing time away from starter A.J. Walton at the point. It’s not a bad problem for Drew to have, since all three are playing reasonably well. It’s no secret who runs the show for Mississippi State, though. Dee Bost will likely attempt the most shots for the Bulldogs tonight, he’ll lead the team in assists and he will also be the most disruptive defensive presence on the floor. After all, he’s in the top-10 all-time in steals at Mississippi State, which means Walton, Jackson and Franklin better take care of the basketball. The elite forwards in this game cannot get to work unless the point guards play well. For Bost, that means taking good shots. When MSU plays well, it’s usually because Bost finds a groove and plays within the offense. But when Bost struggles– say, like his 2-9 effort in a loss to Akron or a 4-16 performance in a near-collapse at Detroit– this team is in trouble. It will be interesting to see who Drew leans on at his point guard spot. Franklin and Jackson actually played more minutes than Walton in the team’s overtime win against West Virginia, and Jackson starred in that game with 23 points and a tying three-point in the final minute.

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Big 12 Morning Five: 12.28.11 Edition

Posted by dnspewak on December 28th, 2011

  1. The news broke yesterday that point guard Reger Dowell has transferred out of the Oklahoma State program, leaving coach Travis Ford with just one true point on the roster (Cezar Guerrero). Today, a Tulsa newspaper astutely pointed out that this particular recruiting class has now lost six of seven newcomers — only Matt Pilgrim actually finished his career under Ford. That’s the kind of stuff that can set a program back years and result in mass firings. Luckily for Ford, he’s not at that point yet. He still has a star in LeBryan Nash to build around, and he’s enjoyed a decent amount of success since arriving at OSU. Right now, though, he needs Guerrero and senior Keiton Page to run this team in the backcourt. Ford built this team around athleticism because that is his preferred style of play, but someone’s just got to get Nash, J.P. Olukemi and Markel Brown the ball in the open court.
  2. Ben McLemore isn’t playing this season for Kansas because of eligibility issues, but he made headlines earlier this month for a “minor in possession of alcohol” charge. Police found him in November engaging in some extracurricular activities, but he never told his teammates or coaching staff that he’d been charged with anything. His trial has now been delayed, which means we won’t get closure on this case for quite some time. McLemore is expected to practice with the team later this season, so we’ll have to see how this delay affects his time on the court.
  3. It’s that time of the week again: breaking down the numbers for the Texas Longhorns. Last week, the young Longhorns unraveled against North Carolina, but this article actually shows us that UT did a decent job on the offensive glass. That’s at least one positive for Rick Barnes, but there wasn’t anything pretty on the offensive end. Texas’ “true shooting percentage” was low, and the writer claims it was due to UNC’s pressure defense and UT’s inability to run any of its stuff on the offensive end. After losing five starters, these roadblocks aren’t surprising. Freshman point guard Myck Kabongo has to take the reins for this team, and he’s still trying to find his way in his first season in Austin. Until he breaks out of his shell, this team may not improve much. He’s that important.
  4. Texas’s problems are nothing compared to Texas Tech. Billy Gillispie says he’s just trying to get his team better on every possession, and it’s an understatement to say the Red Raiders have struggled in his first season. TTU improved to 6-5 with a win over Cal State Bakersfield last night, but it also just lost to a good Oral Roberts team last weekend by 16 points, thanks in large part to the team’s inability to hold onto the basketball. One of Gillispie’s pre-game quotes was especially telling: “Messages don’t usually work, I don’t think.” Gillispie is a fiery guy, but even he isn’t trying to make some grand statement with any kind of showmanship this season. He knows he has a young team building in progress, and we’ll have to see if he can work his magic in Big 12 play.
  5. Frank Haith has certainly worked a little magic at Missouri, and ESPN’s Andy Katz even listed the Tigers as the 6th most impressive team in the nation. MU got national headlines for romping both Notre Dame and California in the CBE Classic, and it is still undefeated after holding off a surging Illinois comeback last week. Still, we have to see if this team can win on the road before we give Missouri any awards. This team finished 1-7 on the road in conference play last season, getting a lone win in Ames against cellar dwellar Iowa State. When Missouri faces off with a solid Old Dominion program on Friday night in Norfolk, Haith’s team can answer a lot of those pesky “road warrior” questions.
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Big 12 Morning Five: 12.27.11 Edition

Posted by dnspewak on December 27th, 2011

  1. And the trainwreck continues in Stillwater. Oklahoma State point guard Reger Dowell has announced his decision to transfer, leaving the Cowboys with only one player to man the position. Remember, Fred Gulley already transferred earlier this month, so freshman Cezar Guerrero will now assume the reins. Senior Keiton Page has also apparently seen some time at the point in practice, and that’s part of the reason why Dowell may have left. His decision is interesting considering he said just last week that he would try to “stick things out” at OSU. That’s not going to happen, however, and Travis Ford better cross his fingers that nobody else leaves.
  2. What do you know about Baylor’s Brady Heslip? Before a few weeks ago, even us sharp minds at the RTC Big 12 Microsite could have only told you a handful of things. He’s a guard who transferred from Boston College. And, well, that was about it. But Heslip is certainly on our radar now, as he won Big 12 Rookie of the Week honors by lighting up the scoreboard in Las Vegas in Bear wins over St. Mary’s and West Virginia. It wasn’t even apparent whether or not Heslip would get major minutes this season after his transfer from BC, but he’s already become an integral part of this Baylor backcourt.
  3. Surprise, surprise: Frank Martin‘s Kansas State team is surging, and it most recently swept the Diamond Head Classic in Hawaii during Christmas weekend. Without Jacob Pullen, it was easy for bonehead writers like us to write off the Wildcats, but at this point in his program, Martin has established a culture of winning in Manhattan. No matter who is on the roster, Martin finds a way to win, and he does so by pushing his team’s buttons to play hard and smart basketball. This year, Will Spradling has found his calling as the point guard position, Rodney McGruder has learned how to take over games, and Thomas Gipson and Angel Rodriguez have been immediate contributors as freshmen. This team still has work to do in Big 12 play, but Martin has to be in the running for Big 12 Coach of the Year at this point.
  4. Lon Kruger may be a candidate for that honor as well, but that’s not what we’re talking about with OU basketball this morning. Instead, it’s James Fraschilla, an Oklahoma freshman and son of commentator Fran Fraschilla, making news with a bunch of cool trick shots. The video he created was so absurd that some believed it wasn’t real. However, Fraschilla says none of the video is fabricated, and the trick shots all did indeed occur. And the best part of the two-minute video? It’s also a ploy for charity, so everybody wins here.
  5. The Realignment Apocalypse is over now, and it’s time to reflect on what could have been for Texas in particular. According to this article, had UT left for the “Pac-16,” it could have taken a major financial hit. Instead, the school will make almost $20 million dollars in the Big 12 this year, and it still has rights to the multi-million dollar Longhorn Network. There’s always a chance Texas — or any other school for the matter — could still bolt from the league, but the Longhorns seem to be in a pretty beneficial position here in the Big 12.
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Previewing Wednesday Night’s Big 12 Doubleheader

Posted by dnspewak on December 21st, 2011

Although college football bowl season will occupy the Four Letter Network’s main channel for the next several weeks, we have to express our holiday gratitude to ESPN for still managing to show as much college hoops as possible. Tonight, Big 12 hoopheads get a bit of a treat with two league games on ESPN2, including a rematch of a buzzer-beater from December 2010.

  • Texas at North Carolina, 6 PM CT (ESPN2)
Roughly 368 days ago, Texas guard Cory Joseph stunned a partisan UNC crowd with this shot, earning the Longhorns a defining 78-76 victory. After tumbling from number one in the polls to an early exit in the NCAA Tournament the previous season, Joseph’s game-winner marked a turning point in Texas’ year, which eventually resulted in a top-five seed in the NCAAs and a successful second-place finish in the Big 12. After losing all five starters from that team, Rick Barnes now has a team in transition, and this rematch this time at the Dean Dome could once again signify a turning point in the 2011-12 season. So far, Barnes’ new-look team has experienced mixed results with guard J’Covan Brown taking a leadership role. He’s played terrific basketball, but his young teammates are still a little inconsistent. Myck Kabongo will be a star at the point soon, but in UT’s two losses to Oregon State and N.C. State in the Legends Classic in November, he finished with more turnovers (eight) than assists (six). Kabongo gained a little confidence with 18 points in a win over Temple this weekend at home, and maybe that victory will get this team on track. The big key is how Texas’s forwards perform against one of the top frontcourts in the country. On paper, Brown’s matchup with Kendall Marshall looks like must-see TV — and it is — but the Longhorns can’t win unless Clint Chapman, Alexis Wangmene and Jonathan Holmes show up to play. UNC has a significant size advantage with Tyler Zeller and John Henson on the interior, so it’s especially important for Chapman to use his 6’10” frame to try to lock them down. The Tar Heels are the obvious favorite here, but Texas will at least have a shot to pull the upset if Brown outplays Marshall and displays some heroics.

Rick Barnes Knows His Team Has a Golden Opportunity Tonight

  • Oklahoma State at Alabama, 8 p.m. CT (ESPN2)

In the nightcap of this Big 12 doubleheader, a struggling OSU team will look to remake itself in Birmingham against Alabama, which has tumbled a bit itself recently. Most of Oklahoma State’s problems have stemmed from shaky point guard play. To complicate matters, Fred Gulley transferred this week, leaving Cezar Guerrero and Reger Dowell to man the point. The Crimson Tide, which have lost three of four games, are actually having similar offensive problems. Against Kansas State last weekend, Alabama never recovered from an ugly start offensively, turning the ball over 18 times and making just two three-pointers. Anthony Grant’s team isn’t built to shoot threes or light up the scoreboard, though. As one of the better defensive coaches in the SEC, Grant’s guys will smell blood if the Cowboys’ offense isn’t clicking. That’s the problem here for Travis Ford. He needs better play out of Dowell and Guerrero, and they need help from freshman LeBryan Nash, who still looks like he’s acclimating himself to Division I basketball. Keiton Page is OSU’s top offensive option right now, but he’s more of a catch-and-shoot guy that does not carry an offense. So that’s something to keep an eye on: Will Ford’s team execute better offensively, and can it use its athletes to get up and down the floor as Ford would prefer? Also, Alabama brings a ton of size to the table in this matchup, something OSU cannot match. The Cowboys need to use their team speed to overcome that — after all, they’re as fast and athletic as any team in the nation. They’re just not sure how to use it at this point in the season.

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Big 12 Morning Five: 12.21.11 Edition

Posted by dnspewak on December 21st, 2011

  1. Oklahoma State‘s point guard spot just got even more precarious. Fred Gulley has now announced he will leave the Cowboys, leaving them with just Cezar Guerrero and Reger Dowell at that position now. Former point guard Ray Penn already transferred during the Spring, and it has been a troubled position for Travis Ford from Day One this season. The two remaining point guards really need to step up now to run this offense. With LeBryan Nash ready to break out any day now and Keiton Page starting to find his stroke, this team has offensive weapons at its disposal. Now, it just needs to put everything together and grow as a team.
  2. In the aftermath of Kansas‘s disappointing 80-74 loss to Davidson at the Sprint Center in Kansas City, coach Bill Self says the main problem with his team is a lack of depth right now. That is to be expected after losing most of his starting lineup from a Big 12 championship squad, but he’s still waiting on players like Kevin Young and Naadir Tharpe to mature. As Self puts it, “Depth isn’t great because of injuries, and depth isn’t great because of foul problems. Depth is great because when guys don’t play the way you want them to, they don’t have to play.” Couldn’t have said it better ourselves, Coach Self.
  3. At least Tyshawn Taylor is healthy for the Jayhawks. Self said Taylor’s health was fine after the Davidson loss, which is somewhat surprising considering Taylor had knee surgery just more than a week ago. He was supposed to miss three weeks, but he ended up missing zero games. Going along with the whole “lack of depth” theme, it is a minor miracle Taylor returned so quickly to this team. Without him, Kansas may have been even more lost offensively.
  4. While most of us spend Christmas with our families in the continental United States, Kansas State will head to Hawaii this holiday season for the Diamond Head Classic. This tournament has grown in recent years, and in 2011, it will feature KSU, Southern Illinois, UTEP, Clemson, Xavier, Auburn, and Long Beach State. If you’re not tuned into the NBA, this is a tournament you need to see. It’s got to be hard for the players to compete during Christmas, but coach Frank Martin at least gave his guys five days off during the Thanksgiving holiday. That’s a heck of a lot more rest than most teams get during that time period, so expect the Wildcats to look fresh in Hawaii.
  5. Iowa State is playing Lipscomb tonight. Excited? You should be: the Bison’s leading scorer is Jordan Burgason, the son of former Cyclone Steve Burgason. Jordan attended high school in Ames– the same school Harrison Barnes and Doug McDermott attended– but ISU did not recruit him. Normally in these situations, two scenarios can occur. Burgason will either struggle under the expectations of playing in his hometown for the first time, or he will rise against the school that wronged him and burn the Cyclones for 40 points. If it is the latter, we are going to have a fun storyline to follow tonight.
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Big 12 Team Previews: Oklahoma State Cowboys

Posted by dnspewak on November 8th, 2011

Predicted finish: 7th

2010-11 Record: 20-14, 6-10 (9th, Big 12)

Head coach: Travis Ford, 4th season

Key losses: G Ray Penn (5.9 PPG), F Marshall Moses (14.1 PPG), F Matt Pilgrim (5.4 PPG)

OSU Needs a Big Year from Freshman LeBryan Nash

The Stars: Although he has not played a single minute of college basketball, freshman phenom LeBryan Nash might already be the best player on Oklahoma State’s team. At 6’7”, the wing can do just about anything on a basketball court. Coach Travis Ford says Nash may even see time as a point-forward, simply because he’s such a dynamic player with the basketball. An obvious contender for Freshman of the Year honors both in the Big 12 and nationally, the Cowboys will rely on Nash quite a bit to lead them in the scoring department.

The Veterans: Since arriving in Stillwater as a freshman in 2008-09, Keiton Page has played important minutes for Ford during the past three seasons. With a 5’9” frame and a young face, Page doesn’t always seem to fit in on the basketball court, but he’s grown into a productive starter at guard. He’s known primarily for his shooting ability, but he added a new element to his game last year by increasing his free throw attempts and getting to the basket. Problem is, Page didn’t shoot very well from beyond the arc in 2010-11 (30.4 percent), so that number has to improve for him to have a standout senior season.

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