Kansas State went one-and-done in the Big 12 Tournament, but they’re still headed for the Big Dance in what was supposed to be a down year. As much as yesterday’s loss to Iowa State hurts, that’s a pretty good situation to be in as a program, writes Sam Mellinger of The Kansas City Star. On Sunday, the Wildcats will crack the field for the fifth consecutive season, establishing a new program record for sustained success. Cynics may point to the fact that only two of those five bids belong to Bruce Weber, but to focus on that would be to lose sight of the mediocrity in which the program toiled until the last seven or eight seasons. Don’t hang your heads, Wildcats fans.
ESPN‘s Myron Medcalf writes that everyone who keeps harping on Andrew Wiggins to show some emotion might be better served just calming down and appreciating the star freshman for what he is. It’s tough to disagree. There are plenty of guys playing this week and next who will gladly pop their collar after hitting a big shot, stare down their opponent or give a primal “AND-ONE” scream when driving to the bucket, but there aren’t many guys who will put up 71 points on 35 shots in the space of two games with his team’s game-changing center glued to the bench with a bad back. There are no more than eight chances left to see Wiggins do his thing at this level, so my advice is to sit back and enjoy it.
Oklahoma was also sent home packing Thursday when the Sooners fell 78-73 to Baylor. Oklahoma simply dug themselves too big hole, falling behind by as many as 21 points. They would go on to mount a comeback, but came no closer than four points from tying the Bears in Kansas City. The Sooners should settle into the bracket around the five-seed line, while the Bears added a little more juice to their resume.
The night ended with Texas snuffing out whatever fire was left from West Virginia’s upset win over Kansas last Saturday by blowing out the Mountaineers, 66-49. The game started with Texas racing out to a 12-0 start and nothing went right for the Mountaineers on either end. While West Virginia was a longshot for a bid coming into last night’s game, it was highly disappointing to see them come out as flat as they did with their season on the line.
The best way to sum up Thursday’s action is that for the most part, the cream rose to the top. For all the talk about this being a wide-open tournament, three of the top four teams in the standings will play in tonight’s semifinals and even though Baylor was seeded seventh, the Bears have been playing much better lately than that seed suggests. Tonight should be another exciting slate of hoops: The teams with the league’s two best resumes square off at 6:00 CST, and in the nightcap, we’ll see a battle between two coaches in Rick Barnes and Scott Drew who have fought through multiple rounds of criticism (some deserved, some not) and have their squads playing some pretty good ball right now.
Over the years, the Big 12 Tournament has seen its share of jaw-dropping individual performers: Paul Pierce, Marcus Fizer, Kevin Durant, Mike Singletary, and Alec Burks, just to name a few. While we’re excited to see whether Andrew Wiggins steps up for Kansas and joins that list, you may also want to buy stock in Kansas State guard Marcus Foster. The freshman has come on strong lately, pouring in six 20-point games over his last 12 outings. Earlier this week, he joined Michael Beasley as the only freshmen in Kansas State history to be named to an All-Big 12 Team (Foster was selected to this season’s second team). His first test this week should be a fun one, as he will be matched up against DeAndre Kane and the Iowa State Cyclones tomorrow.
The periphery of the NCAA Tournament bubble is not where West Virginia pictured itself at the beginning of the season, but November and December losses have come back to haunt the Mountaineers. Bob Huggins’ team won eight games in non-con play, but it’s the five losses outside of the league (to Virginia Tech, Wisconsin, Missouri, Gonzaga and Purdue) that are wearing heavy for the Mountaineers as they face the latest in a string of must-win games, Thursday’s Big 12 Tournament quarterfinal. At minimum, they need to get to Saturday’s final to warrant legitimate conversation. It’s do-or-die time for the ‘Eers.
Last Saturday, Oklahoma State faced a textbook foul-or-defend scenario at the end of regulation against Iowa State. Cowboys head coach Travis Ford opted not to foul, and he ended up paying the price, as Cyclone Naz Long hit a three-pointer at the end of regulation to force overtime. As postseason play gears up, we may get the chance to find out if Ford learned his lesson. If Oklahoma State gets past Texas Tech tonight, it won’t be difficult to picture a quarterfinal meeting against Kansas coming down to a last-second tactical call. As the eight-seed, Oklahoma State is a wolf in sheep’s clothing, but what will happen when the pressure’s on?
In all sports, including college basketball, the thought process behind Coach Of The Year awards can be a polarizing one. It’s usually reserved as a mea culpa for those who underestimated the winner at the start of the season even though there are times when picking a winner should be much simpler than that. While Rick Barnes and Lon Kruger brought home the hardware (depending on if you look at the Big 12 coaches’ vote or the AP vote), Gary Parrish of CBSSports.com contends that a case can be made rather easily for Bill Self even though everyone knew he had the most talent in the league coming into the season. It’s tough to deny Parrish’s arguments. After all, if winning the conference with the league’s best talent was so easy, why hasn’t Kentucky done it the last two years?
Oklahoma was one of the biggest surprises in the Big 12, finishing in second place behind Kansas with a workmanlike season. With a brief lull between the end of the regular season and the Sooners’ quarterfinal game tomorrow, The Crimson and Cream Machinetook a quick look at Oklahoma’s personnel for next season. The biggest thing that comes to mind is that sophomore Ryan Spangler is going to get some help down low. Lon Kruger is bringing three forwards into the fold, and all of them weigh at least 200 pounds. Cameron Clark and Tyler Neal may be on their way out, but Oklahoma should be even better next year thanks to some incoming reinforcements in the paint.
Yesterday, we went around the Big 12 and named an All-Conference First team and tabbed our Player Of The Year and Coach Of The Year selections. Today, we’ll narrow our focus to the best individual game of the conference season, both by team performance and by individual player performance, but we’ll also take a moment to recognize the league’s most improved player. For a nice cherry on top, we’ll also honor the single enduring play of the 2013-14 season.
Game Of The Year
Iowa State 98, Oklahoma State 97 (3OT), February 3 at Gallagher-Iba Arena
With such little difference in quality between the second-place team and the eighth-best team, we were treated to intense, close games on a regular basis. Big 12 microsite contributor Taylor Erickson (tc_erickson) breaks down why he went with this thriller.
TE: In a year where arguably the most difficult conference in all of college basketball provided a handful of memorable contests, none was more compelling than the triple-overtime thriller that took place in Stillwater, Oklahoma, in early February between Iowa State and Oklahoma State. This one was back-and-forth for most of the night, and looked for a brief moment that it would end in double-overtime with an Oklahoma State victory before a DeAndre Kane rebound and kick-out to Naz Long led to a game-tying three-pointer with 1.4 seconds left. In the third overtime, Marcus Smart missed a fadeaway jumper in the final seconds that could have pushed the Cowboys in front, but instead saw the visiting Cyclones celebrate with a win in Gallagher Iba Area for the first time since 1988. The individual performances were equally as impressive as the game itself with Kane finishing just one assist shy of a triple double with 26 points, ten rebounds, and nine assists. Iowa State’s big three of Kane, Melvin Ejim, and Georges Niang combined to score 65 points in the winning effort. Oklahoma State was lead by the trio of Smart, Markel Brown, and Le’Bryan Nash who also dropped in 65 points. This setback for Travis Ford and company was the third straight loss in a streak that eventually stretched to seven games, and took place five days before the infamous Marcus Smart shoving incident at Texas Tech. And as if this wasn’t all enough, when these two teams hooked up again this past weekend in Ames, Iowa, they left us one hell of an encore that featured another Naz Long three-pointer as time expired to send the game to overtime. This conference has delivered so many awesome performances this season, and you can bet we’re likely to see more of the same later this week at the Big 12 Tournament in Kansas City.
When it was reported late Sunday that Kansascenter Joel Embiid would seek out a second opinion on his ongoing back injury, it appeared that his diagnosis would be worse than what fans were hoping for. There’s an update on his status and it isn’t good. According to a statement released by Bill Self, Embiid will miss the entirety of the Big 12 Tournament this week and is a “longshot” to play in the opening weekend of the NCAA Tournament. The big man’s injury throws a big wrench into the Jayhawks’ postseason aspirations. It will be tough for Kansas to replace Embiid’s presence as a rim protector, and while the hole he leaves is in the frontcourt, the pressure will be on erratic point guard Naadir Tharpe to deliver consecutive strong outings, which is a dicey proposition. In any case, it’s always unfortunate to see an injury create a roadblock for a national title contender (fans of the 2012 North Carolina Tar Heels, 2010 Syracuse Orange and 2000 Cincinnati Bearcats know what I’m talking about), so it will be interesting to see how Kansas gameplans for life without its star center.
Four months ago, you could make the case thatTexas head coach Rick Barnes was coaching for his job this season. Twenty-two wins, a Big 12 COY honor, one probable NCAA Tournament berth and one photo with Justin Bieber later (okay, so maybe that last one isn’t such a big factor), Texas AD Steve Patterson announced that Barnes will return to lead the Longhorns next season. Texas’ turnaround has been one of the biggest stories around college hoops after their preseason projections looked tenuous, and Barnes will remain the longest-tenured head coach in the Big 12.
In the weekly Big 12 coaches’ teleconference, West Virginia head coach Bob Huggins voiced his opinion that his Mountaineers would be in “great shape” to secure an NCAA Tournament bid if they were to win two games in Kansas City this week. To that, I say not so fast. As big as last Saturday’s win over Kansas was, it doesn’t wipe out West Virginia’s batch of non-conference losses and mediocre record in Big 12 play. It’s easy to understand Huggins wanting to defend his team, and two more wins would be very helpful to West Virginia’s resume, but they will likely need some breaks on top of that to get off the bubble.
For college hoops purists, the Big 12’s double round-robin schedule is one of the last vestiges of utilitarian competition in a world of swelling conferences driven by that weird other sport – you know, the one with the “ball” that isn’t even spherical. The opportunity to play each team twice is one that hasn’t been lost on the league’s coaches, and it’s a big reason why they believe the Big 12 has been the toughest conference in the country this season. With the conference catapulting at least five teams and probably more into the NCAA Tournament, it’s tough to make a counterargument. No matter who cracks the bracket from the Big 12, we’ll know that they’ll have been battle-tested and ready for the challenges that await.
As Iowa State gets ready to be at its best at the Sprint Center this week, it was announced that the Cyclones will headline the venue’s November event, the CBE Classic, next season. Fred Hoiberg’s team will join Maryland, Alabama, and Arizona State on November 24-25 alongside the College Basketball Hall Of Fame’s annual inductions. The two-day tournament has hosted some of the country’s best teams, most recently the undefeated Wichita State Shockers, and while it’s tough to think about next season at a time like this, it’s reassuring to know that there will be a highly competitive Feast Week event in Big 12 Country next season.
From the Andrew Wiggins hype (and exchanges of backlash) to the rise, fall and rise again of Oklahoma State and everywhere in between, it’s been a dramatic season in the Big 12. The conference has been and always will be an exciting one to follow, but it’s tough to remember a year with as many storylines as there have been throughout this season. As we get ready for what figures to be an incredibly competitive conference tournament at the Sprint Center in Kansas City, it’s time for the Big 12 microsite writers to remember the good, look back, and hand out some season accolades.
All-Big 12 First Team
For the sake of transparency, we’ve included each of the four Microwriters’ selections below, with asterisks denoting our picks for Big 12 Player Of The Year:
Player Of The Year
Melvin Ejim, DeAndre Kane and Andrew Wiggins are your consensus All-Big 12 First Team members, with other votes going to a variety of players who were fantastic as well. There were legitimate cases for a handful of honorees this season, but in the end, the freshman Wiggins took the honors. Taylor Erickson explains why:
Among a stable of worthy candidates, Andrew Wiggins emerged to take RTC Big 12 POY honors.(AP/Andrew Ferguson)
“Wiggins didn’t put up the type of scoring numbers that others like Melvin Ejim of Iowa State and Juwan Staten of West Virginia did, but he was the best player on the team that won the conference with room to spare. Some will be quick to claim that the freshman from Canada has failed to live up to the expectations bestowed upon him before the season began, but those expectations were unrealistic. Consider the fact that Wiggins failed to score at least 14 points in a conference game just three times, and in some ways, his individual statistics are a victim of Kansas’ depth and ability to score from so many different positions on the floor — whether down low with Joel Embiid and Perry Ellis, or in the backcourt with Wayne Selden and Naadir Tharpe. As good as Wiggins has been on the offensive end, his impact on the defensive end of the floor may be even greater given the significant difference in the number of points per possession Bill Self’s squad surrenders with him in the lineup. You can go ahead and make a case for several other players in this league, and there’s a plethora of good ones, but for me, I’ll take Andrew Wiggins every time.”
Senior Night did not disappoint the Oklahoma State faithful on Monday. The Cowboys added another RPI top-50 win, defeating Kansas State 77-61 in Stillwater. Markel Brown had a stat-sheet stuffer kind of night with 15 points, five rebounds, five assists, three steals and two blocks. Fellow “senior” Marcus Smart scored 16 of his 18 points in the second half. This comes roughly 48 hours after Smart poured in 20 in the final 20 minutes of Saturday’s win against Kansas. Despite Gallagher-Iba Arena’s full capacity being 13,611, the estimated attendance for last night’s game was just 9,500. And that was with the help of OSU students getting in free with student IDs. Come on, y’all could have done better than that.
Smart’s big second half against the Jayhawks propelled the Pokes to a huge win Saturday and now his third Big 12 POTW award of the season. We also can’t argue with Smart’s performance versus TCU last Monday, nailing five threes on his way to 17 points. With the year Iowa State’s DeAndre Kane is also having, it feels like he’s taking some kind of hardware every week. Kane averaged 20.5 points, 9.5 rebounds and 4.5 rebounds per game to win Big 12 NOTW while recording his sixth double-double of the season in a win over West Virginia. This marks the sixth week in which Kane has won player or newcomer of the week honors this season. I hope we can see both these guys play professionally.
We have an update in our continuing coverage of Backgate 2014: Kansas coach Bill Self announced that center Joel Embiid will not play in the last two regular season games as he rests a back injury he re-aggravated in Saturday’s loss to Oklahoma State. Self said an MRI was done on Embiid’s lower back and the staff came to the conclusion that “rest is the best remedy.” They plan on evaluating Embiid again before the Big 12 Tournament, and are open to sitting him longer if he’s still feeling tightness, but Self doesn’t see it getting to that point. Now we’ll likely get a look at senior Tarik Black, whose starting spot was taken by Embiid earlier in the season. Let’s see if he’s got any more Mozgov dunks left in him.
It’s been a nice comeback season for Rick Barnes and Texas basketball but since a 9-3 start in Big 12 play, the Horns have dropped three of their last four games. Granted, all of those were roadies against likely NCAA Tournament teams but it’s not exactly encouraging if you weren’t competitive in two of those games. “I thought our guards were too tentative,” Barnes said. Even with the emergence of sophomore Cameron Ridley as a consistent contributor, Barnes expected more from his guards. “I told those guys [the guards], you should be out there playing H-O-R-S-E, because everyone is guarding him.” Barnes knows that this is just one of the many speed bumps you reach when you’re coaching an inexperienced yet hungry basketball team. Mistakes will be made but so will the corrections.
It seemed like the bubble talk around West Virginia has cooled in the last 10 days or so but the West Virginia Gazette is still holding out hope for an at-large bid. The reality is the Big 12 likely has six teams that make good cases for at-larges and may have seven if Baylor takes care of business this week. Despite an 8-8 conference record, WVU lacks quality road wins in Big 12 play; have a mix of missed opportunities in non-conference play (vs. Gonzaga, Wisconsin, at Missouri); bad losses (at Virginia Tech, vs. Purdue) and not-so-hot computer numbers (RPI: #89, SOS: #55). An eighth bid from West Virginia probably won’t come unless the Mountaineers were to win out this week and make it to the final of the Big 12 championship game. But hey, stranger things have happened…
In the weekly Big 12 coaches teleconference on Monday, Texas head coach Rick Barnes emphasized his team’s chemistry and his players’ focus on the current mission at hand (rather than looking to the next level) as the reason for the Longhorns’ improved play this season. Coming into Tuesday night’s game at Iowa State, Texas was just one game behind Kansas in the loss column in the Big 12 standings, with Barnes’ preseason hot seat having cooled significantly.
Melvin Ejim Dominated Texas Last Night (Austin American-Statesman)
Iowa State is another team that prides itself on making its pieces fit together well rather than relying on future lottery picks. While opinions of mock drafts are certainly worth your scrutiny, it’s also worth pointing out that the first round of DraftExpress.com‘s latest mock draft doesn’t include a single player from either Texas or Iowa State. But yet, here’s where we are: Both teams are challenging for a top-three finish in the Big 12. Earlier this season, Texas knocked off four ranked teams in a row; and Iowa State trails only Kansas in top-50 RPI wins. With NCAA Tournament bids now down to a matter of formality for both teams, how could we not have been in for an entertaining battle between the Longhorns and Cyclones on Tuesday night?
Who Won the Week? is a regular column that outlines and discusses three winners and losers from the previous week of hoops. The author of this column is Kenny Ocker (@KennyOcker), a Spokane-based sportswriter best known for his willingness to drive (or bike!) anywhere to watch a basketball game.
WINNER: Wichita State
Cleanthony Early was outstanding this week for the Shockers. (AP)
The nation’s winningest team cleared its toughest conference hurdle Wednesday night in defeating Indiana State in Terre Haute, led by senior forward Cleanthony Early’s 19 points. From here on, the Shockers have better than 50 percent odds to go undefeated in the regular season, according to KenPom.com, and about 35 percent odds to make it to the NCAA Tournament unblemished. Wichita State’s reign over the Missouri Valley has been so strong this year that only two teams – Missouri State and Indiana State – have even finished within 10 points of them. Tomorrow’s game at Northern Iowa is the toughest remaining tilt for the Shockers, which also sandblasted Evansville 81-67 last Saturday.
(Related winners: Gregg Marshall, whose stock will never be higher, even if he never wants to leave; the Missouri Valley, which is certain to get some more NCAA Tournament win shares, even without Creighton in the conference. Related losers: Indiana State, the MVC”s second-best team, which probably has to win Arch Madness to make the NCAAs; Evansville, perpetually anonymous in purple.)
Of the triumvirate of teams that came into last weekend undefeated, only two came out unscathed. Unfortunately for the Wildcats, they weren’t one of them. Their road trip to California, the toughest game left on their schedule at that point, turned out to be undone by a last-second jumper from Golden Bears’ guard Justin Cobbs over center Kaleb Tarczewski, giving Cal a 60-58 win. That news was bad enough, but worse was what came after — that sophomore forward Brandon Ashley, a starter, had broken his foot during the game and would be out for the season. In Thursday’s 67-65 win over Oregon, Arizona looked disjointed offensively and saw star freshman Aaron Gordon injure his leg in a game in which he made just 2-of-11 free throws. The Wildcats actually trailed the disintegrating Ducks with just 90 seconds left before point guard T.J. McConnell made a three-pointer that gave them the lead for good. Sean Miller only played seven players, even accounting for Gordon’s injury, and its lack of depth could be problematic should more injuries arise or should fouls accumulate. It’s a shame to see this happen because a full-strength Arizona team looked to be head and shoulders above all but a few others around the country.
Last night was the zillionth reason why winning a road game in the Big 12 is a you-know-what. Oklahoma arrived at WVU Coliseum to face West Virginia about 90 minutes before tip-off due to winter weather and still managed to stay in the game. The Mountaineers held the lead for much of the game but a three-point play from Ryan Spangler gave the Sooners a one-point advantage with 1:38 left. That’s when Eron Harris started making all the three-pointers: one that sent the game to overtime with 20.2 seconds left, and two more to put the game away for good. The Mountaineers now have wins against Baylor (losing luster), Kansas State and the Sooners in their last three games. But as we all know, the NCAA Tournament won’t be played at your home arena. A win at Kansas on Saturday would really send a message.
Kansascenter Joel Embiid said after its win at Baylor that he is “strongly considering” returning to campus for his sophomore season. The obvious part about this story is how much of this is a non-story. This is as pointless as reporters asking players whether they’re leaving for the NBA mere minutes after their season just ended. But I totally get why ESPN’s Jeff Goodman asked Embiid about his future: He’s gotta write about something, and Lord knows nobody else is asking the question to likely draft picks in early February. Goodman has already cornered the market for the answer from the potential top pick in this June’s draft. Game recognize game, Jeffrey.
Marcus Smart was considered a consensus lottery pick in the 2013 NBA Draft but elected to return to Oklahoma State for his sophomore season. In addition to a possible injury as a downside to coming back to school, Smart’s game is being scouted, analyzed and criticized more than ever before. NBCSports.com’s Rob Dausterbrings forth several compelling points about Smart’s poor decision-making at times and how a lack of awareness when it comes to his own strengths and weaknesses can hurt his team’s prospects this season. Beyond that, it could also hurt how NBA teams evaluate him when they’re deciding whether to make him their point guard of the future.
CBSSports.com sat down with Texas head coach Rick Barnes this week and discussed his team’s surprising season, the new athletic director and some other things. One topic of conversation was center Cameron Ridley, who would get my vote for Big 12 Most Improved Player of the Year, if such an award existed. He was a player who was a project in every sense of the word and didn’t really have a set of skills when he stepped onto campus for the first time. Ridley was always an intimidating defender, but now he’s a better finisher around the rim and has vastly improved his conditioning (he has already played more minutes at this point in the season than all of 2012-13). Buzz Williams who?
Former Baylor guard Pierre Jackson was drafted in the second round of last year’s NBA Draft but was subsequently cut from the New Orleans Pelicans in training camp. So now Jackson is venting all of his frustration of being cut on to the entire D-League. On Tuesday night, the Idaho Stampede guard dropped a ridiculous 58 points on 33 shots, grabbed six rebounds and dished out eight assists in a win over the Texas Legends. Jackson is also leading the D-League in points per game (30.2) so far. It’s only a matter time before an NBA team is wise enough to bring him up to the big time.
One of the biggest stories around the Big 12 this season has been the revitalization of Texas basketball. The Longhorns came into this season with their coach on the hot seat, but now they’re 16-4 with wins over North Carolina, Iowa State, Kansas State and Baylor, and are currently on a five-game winning streak. That stretch includes consecutive victories over three ranked teams, but even if you discount that qualification with a more realistic evaluation of the then-overrated Bears, there’s still no doubt that Texas has played better than pretty much everyone predicted coming into the season. They were picked to finish eighth in the Big 12 back in October, so naturally, their performance has led some to consider throwing Rick Barnes’ name into the hat when it comes to Big 12 Coach Of The Year honors. But the more interesting debate here is what Barnes’ case says about what we believe the award should be about.
The intrigue over Rick Barnes’ COY prospects is just as philosophical as it is practical. (Getty Images)
The discussion has raised two camps. One contends that Barnes has done a fantastic job so far, given his limitations, and as such he should definitely be given consideration for the end-of-year honor. The Longhorns, along with Oklahoma, lead the pack trailing Kansas despite losing their top four scorers from last season. Barnes has rebuilt Texas in a style that emphasizes chemistry and is having success without the services of one-and-done talents like Cory Joseph and Tristan Thompson. After a disappointing freshman season, Cameron Ridley is on the short list of the most improved players in the conference; Jonathan Holmes has turned the corner when Texas desperately needed him to do so; and Isaiah Taylor is third in scoring among Big 12 freshmen despite some ups and downs.
Here was a team that was picked to finish third in the Big 12 by the league’s 10 coaches. They fought their way to the Maui Invitational championship game where they lost to a still-unbeaten Syracuse team. They didn’t seem phased by arguably the best recruiting class in decades against Kentucky, beating the Wildcats on a neutral floor in Arlington. But for whatever reason, Baylor currently stands at 1-5 in the Big 12 with two-thirds of league action still to play. Granted, two of those losses came at Iowa State and at Kansas, but the Bears haven’t been able to take care of business at home either, falling to Oklahoma on January 18 and Texas over the weekend. But hey, if it took six games to get us all freaking out over Baylor, it’s entirely possible they can turn their season around in the final 12 contests, right? (Right?!) Well last week, our power rankings had two groups of two that found themselves tied. We did better this time around: only one!
As best told by this photograph, there are a lot of things not going Scott Drew’s way lately. (Rod Aydelotte/Waco Tribune-Herald)
Comment: “What can be said about the Jayhawks that hasn’t already been said? Wayne Selden Jr. has been a different player since Big 12 play began and Andrew Wiggins had a career-high of 27 points against TCU. Curious to know how Joel Embiid’s knee is after bruising it in the second half Saturday. Based on how little media coverage it got after the TCU game, it probably isn’t serious.” – Nate Kotisso (@natekotisso)
As good as Marcus Smart has been in his relatively brief college career, it appears some of his on-court antics are growing old on many college basketball fans. On Saturday against West Virginia, Smart was visibly frustrated after not getting some foul calls in his favor, but as John Hoover of the Tulsa World writes, the sophomore is just simply too good of a basketball player to dilute his on-court performances with his emotions.
At this point in the season, Texas head coach Rick Barnes has to be the front-runner for Big 12 Coach of the Year honors. Barnes entered the season on the hot seat, and all he’s done to this point is lead his team to a 16-4 overall record (5-2 in Big 12 play) with three straight wins over ranked teams — a feat that had never been performed in the long history of Texas basketball. After a road win at Baylor on Saturday, Barnes praised the commitment to improvement made by his team this season, and it would appear that the members of the program have no intention of seeing their coach’s career in Austin end anytime soon.
With so much quality depth in the Big 12 this season and the round-robin format to league play, teams are bound to face several ridiculously difficult stretches throughout the year. Kansas State has found itself in exactly this scenario after losing back-to-back games games against Texas and Iowa State last week. That’s the same Iowa State team that just dropped three games in a row of its own. In such a tough conference, the key for Bruce Weber’s Wildcats will be making sure that two losses in a week don’t turn into three or four over two weeks and threaten to derail the team’s hopes of postseason play.
Speaking of Iowa State, the Cyclones’ win on Saturday at home against Kansas State may have provided more than just another number in the win column as Matt Thomas appeared to get back on track by knocking down 4-of-6 shots from behind the arc. Thomas had struggled with his shooting to start league play, making just 23.5 percent from three for someone considered as one of the best shooters in this year’s freshman class. While Fred Hoiberg’s team still shoots the ball well from deep, they would be improved tremendously if Thomas could consistently come off the bench for instant offenses in much the same way that Tyus McGee did a season ago.
TCU head coach Trent Johnson came away from his home loss to Kansas on Saturday night mightily impressed by the enormous amount of talent Bill Self has at his disposal in Lawrence. Johnson said after the game that he believes that the Jayhawks have six pros on their team, but junior point guard Naadir Tharpe is the player who is the reason Kansas has been playing so well. Tharpe, along with freshman guards Frank Mason and Wayne Selden, managed to get through Saturday night’s rout without a single turnover, a tendency that has plagued the perimeter players at times this season.