[ed note — this post was written prior to Tuesday’s games]
A Look Back
- The early season Big 12 non-conference slate has played true to form early. The heavy hitters in Kansas, Missouri, Kansas State, Texas and Baylor have all successfully negotiated the handful of cupcakes on the schedule without much resistance. Two contenders have stepped out into heavier competition early, those teams being the Texas Longhorns and the Kansas State Wildcats. The Longhorns defeated a ranked Big Ten opponent in Illinois before dropping a close one to Big East favorite Pitt. The early returns seem to indicate that Texas is back in business after the collapse of 2009-10.
- For Kansas State, an early season matchup against Top 25 Virginia Tech was handled with a big second half in Manhattan. A game that turned into a foul-fest eventually wore down the Hokies and the Wildcats pulled away on a 28-9 second half run.
- The early season has also given way to a few surprising losses, the unenviable honors going to Texas Tech and Colorado. The Red Raiders, who return four of their top five scorers from a year ago, dropped a tough one on the road to the North Texas by a nine-point margin. To their credit, North Texas is a tournament team from a year ago after winning the Sun Belt conference.
- In Boulder, the Buffaloes have fallen to an early 1-2 start with losses on the road to Georgia and San Francisco. The struggles early will certainly raise questions as to the legitimacy of the Buffalo program as a potential tournament representative.
- The other big news in the conference actually took place away from the court as the Kansas Jayhawks received word on Friday night that top incoming freshman Josh Selby has been ruled eligible by the NCAA. Selby will serve a nine-game suspension before hitting the court for a December 18 matchup against the USC Trojans in Allen Fieldhouse. Selby’s return adds another dimension to a Jayhawk team that has been impressive early, albeit against inferior competition. Whether or not you agree with the NCAA’s decision, his addition will be a major boost as the Jayhawks look to bring the noise deep into the tournament.
- Kansas Jayhawks (3-0) – Early on the Jayhawks have looked as good as any contending team should against inferior competition. The Jayhawks are balanced offensively and athletic on the defensive end. Perimeter shooting has been a bit inconsistent early and the loss of Cole Aldrich has definitely affected the defense on the interior.
- Kansas State Wildcats (4-0) – Kansas State is winning basketball games the way they do and that isn’t always pretty. Tough, physical, hardnosed basketball makes for a bit of a grind at times but it’s been successful at eventually wearing down the early opposition – case in point, Gonzaga. The biggest concern? Free throw shooting, as K-State is shooting just 51.5% from the charity stripe.
- Texas Longhorns (3-1) – Jordan Hamilton has looked like an All-Big 12 candidate early and the Longhorns have a top 20 victory to their credit. The close loss to Pitt can hardly be faulted, and overall the Longhorns look tough on the boards, with several consistent offensive weapons at their disposal.
- Baylor Bears (4-0) – Tough read on the Bears early. They’ve looked solid on the interior with Quincy Acy, Perry Jones and Anthony Jones all making big contributions. Overall, they don’t seem to be putting away lesser opponents the way a good team should. Perhaps a team still adjusting to the loss of their floor leader, Tweety Carter, while awaiting the return of LaceDarius Dunn.
- Missouri Tigers (2-0) – It’s been a tale of two games for this group. They squeaked one out against Western Illinois while being outrebounded. A game later they dominated North Florida defensively and received a big boost from Ricardo Ratliffe and Laurence Bowers on the interior. Certainly the play of Ratliffe and Bowers is a welcome sign for Tiger fans and a good indication of what could be this season.
- Texas A&M (3-0) – The Aggies look balanced, they’ve handled business with ease and are currently flying under the radar in the conference. That may not last long, though, as Mark Turgeon looks to have some potential to work with and a savvy group of upperclassman leaders.
- Oklahoma State (3-0) – The Cowboys might just be a player when it’s all said and done. A suspect interior game might be an overblown concern as seniors Matt Pilgrim and Marshall Moses have combined with junior college transfer Darrell Williams to make a solid three-man rotation early. How consistently the trio can score as the competition picks up will be the question.
- Iowa State (4-0) – The Mayor, Fred Hoiberg, returns and the Cyclones have looked decent early. A good revenge win over former coach Greg McDermott and Creighton provides some early season confidence and a group of largely upperclassman might make for a few surprises along the way.
- Texas Tech (3-1) – An early loss to North Texas raises the question of whether or not Pat Knight is on the hot seat early. A huge concern is rebounding as the Red Raiders have been outrebounded in all four games this year. That isn’t likely to improve as the competition does.
- Colorado (1-2) – Not the start they were hoping for in Boulder. The Buffaloes had the makings of a potential tournament team but after a rocky start that may be doubtful. Transition years are never easy and despite have two stars in Cory Higgins and Alec Burks, the interior game appears to once again be a problem and outside of the two known names, not much else in the way of scoring.
- Oklahoma (3-1) – The Sooners are undefeated, but it’s not easy to get excited just yet for a team that many see as one bound to struggle. To the Sooners’ credit, they have defended well, rebounded well and shot well at times this year. Now they get a chance to do it against good competition in Maui and make for a few more believers.
- Nebraska (3-2) – Same old Nebraska. The Huskers beat the teams you’d expect them to beat and lose where you’d expect. The Huskers aren’t particularly good in any one area and they don’t seem to have a go-to player. Right now, it feels like a team with an identity crisis and one that won’t likely recover.
A Look Ahead
- This week things begin to kick into high gear in the Big 12. Kansas State set up a huge early season matchup against the top-ranked Duke Blue Devils by topping Gonzaga in Monday night’s CBE Classic semifinal.
- Elsewhere in the conference, the Kansas Jayhawks will look to break their home court win streak record Tuesday night by extending the nation’s longest current mark to 63 against Texas A&M-Corpus Christi. The Jayhawks are then headed to Las Vegas for a matchup against the Arizona Wildcats on Saturday. While Sean Miller hasn’t quite rebuilt the Arizona program, he does have things moving in the right direction and both schools have this matchup in Vegas circled on the calendar.
Stats, Quotes and other Notables
- 34 Turnovers forced by the Missouri Tigers in their win over North Florida represents a school record and helped the Tigers hold their opponent scoreless over the final seven minutes of the game.
- LaceDarius Dunn returns to the Baylor lineup this week after serving a three-game suspension.
- Ben McLemore, a five star recruit out of the St. Louis area, has yet to make a college choice for 2011. It was believed that Missouri and Kansas were his finalists and it appears he will now decide between the two this spring.
- Pitt head coach Jamie Dixon on Texas: “They out-rebounded us tonight [37-35] and we take a lot of pride in our rebounding. I think it’s a very good team that knows their roles.”
- North Florida head coach Matthew Driscoll on Missouri’s pressure, ““It’s relentless, never-ending from every angle, you can’t simulate it, you can’t do things in practice to make you think ‘Hey, this is what they’re going to do.”’
- Bill Self on Marcus Morris,” “He’s the best all-around player that I’ve coached since I’ve been here, maybe ever. All around — I’m not saying he’s the best player but there’s no one I’ve coached that does more things.”
Conference POY Watch
- Jacob Pullen, Kansas State – 16.5 PPG, 4 APG, 46.3% FG
- Marcus Morris, Kansas – 20.0 PPG, 5.3 APG, 72% FG
- Quincy Acy, Baylor – 17.7 PPG, 9.7 RPG, 65% FG
- Alec Burks, Colorado – 23.3 PPG, 45% FG
- Jordan Hamilton, Texas – 24.5 PPG, 7.3 RPG