Big 12 M5: 02.29.16 Edition

Posted by Brian Goodman on February 29th, 2016

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  1. Kansas clinched at least a share of a remarkable 12th consecutive Big 12 title on Saturday with a 67-58 win over then-streaking Texas TechThe Jayhawks were excellent defensively, holding the Red Raiders to 0.88 points per possession and 31.6 percent shooting, both season lows for Tubby Smith’s team. While Texas Tech contained Perry Ellis to the tune of just eight points, a white-hot Svi Mykhailiuk made them pay for giving him space, as the Ukrainian sophomore went 5-of-5 on three-pointers on his way to 17 points.
  2. With the regular season nearing the finish line, National Coach Of The Year chatter has started to bubble with no shortage of worthy candidates both around the Big 12 and nationally. While the accolade rarely goes to a coach whose team finished as it was predicted at the start of the season, a good case can be made for Bill Self even with the Jayhawks being predicted to win the conference back in October. According to kenpom.com, this year’s Big 12 is tied as the toughest of 390 total conference seasons played over the last 12 years, matching the Big Ten in 2010-11. Kansas is likely going to win the league outright, possibly by multiple games and without a probable first-round pick in the starting lineup. Self’s case isn’t without flaws and the COY award doesn’t mean much in the grand scheme of things (quick, name the last two winners without Googling), but it would be nice to see the collective vote driven by something other than a mea culpa on coaches who outperformed lower expectations.
  3. Regardless of whether or not he’s your COY choice, another candidate in Shaka Smart made his case Saturday afternoon as Texas beat Oklahoma in exhilarating fashion. The Longhorns trailed for much of the game, but used a stupefying 22-0 run over a six-minute stretch in the second half to pull ahead. Texas’ guards bullied their way into the paint and to the free throw line with regularity, with Isaiah Taylor and Kerwin Roach combining for 30 points, 14 of which came from the charity stripe. Oklahoma scored 40 points in the first half, but found itself limited to one shot on most of its possessions thanks to a 78 percent defensive rebounding rate from Texas, so when their shots stopped falling after halftime, the Sooners had no escape. On the plus side for Oklahoma, Buddy Hield notched his ninth 30-point game of the season, making him just the third major-conference player since the 2010 season to accomplish the feat. Unfortunately, Hield didn’t get the support he needed on Saturday as he outscored his teammates 33-30.
  4. Oklahoma’s loss paved the way for West Virginia to take sole possession of second place, which it did Saturday night by beating Oklahoma State 70-56 in Stillwater. The Mountaineers forced 19 Cowboy turnovers, including nine by point guard Tyree Griffin, which is the most by an individual Big 12 player against West Virginia since the press became its trademark at the start of last season. The game was also noteworthy as West Virginia, despite playing on the road and in a style that leads to many defensive fouls committed and very few fouls drawn, made 17 more trips to the free throw line than Oklahoma State did.
  5. Last Friday, Baylor‘s Rico Gathers announced that he would shift gears after the season to focus on his future on the gridiron. Gathers’ interest in football has been no secret, and with a family to support, it makes sense for him to start looking closer at his prospects for life after college, even if they may not involve basketball. While Gathers didn’t close the door to potential NBA opportunities, he’s certainly aware of how and where his physical gifts may best suit him. In the meantime, we encourage everyone to enjoy what’s left of Gathers’ hoops career.
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Big 12 M5: 02.17.16 Edition

Posted by Chris Stone on February 17th, 2016

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  1. Texas defeated West Virginia on Tuesday evening in Austin, 85-78. Isaiah Taylor led the way with 23 points and freshman Eric Davis added 15 as the Longhorns turned it over just seven times in the win. Texas hasn’t lost a home game at the Erwin Center since December 29 and are one of only two Big 12 teams undefeated at home during conference play. In a league as tightly packed as this one this season, holding serve at home is vital to determining placement in the league standings. The Longhorns will be tested down the stretch, though, with home games still to come against Baylor, Oklahoma and Kansas.
  2. With the Mountaineers’ loss and its Monday night home win over Oklahoma State, Kansas now owns sole possession of first place in the Big 12. The Jayhawks, winners of seven straight, have been bolstered lately by the play of junior forward Landen Lucas. Lucas has collected 36 rebounds in the last three games and now ranks third in defensive rebounding rate (24.2%) and second in offensive rebounding rate (15.0%) in the Big 12. Although Lucas is not going to produce like former bigs Joel Embiid, Jeff Withey and Markieff Morris, Kansas will be happy to get any significant numbers from the center spot given the talent it has at the other positions.
  3. Congratulations are in order for Iowa State forward Georges Niang, who became the Cyclones’ third 2,000-point scorer on Tuesday night (passing his former head coach Fred Hoiberg in the process). Niang also sat down this week for a rather candid Q&A with ESPN’s Jeff Goodman in which he discussed the team’s coaching transition to Steve Prohm, which college basketball player he’d start a team with, and the best trash talkers. Niang is always a joy in interviews and this one is well worth your time.
  4. While Niang delivered 24 points for the Cyclones on Tuesday night, it was Baylor that walked out of the Ferrell Center with a 100-91 overtime win — the Bears’ second victory over an RPI top 25 team this season. Sophomore Johnathan Motley delivered a fantastic performance while senior Rico Gathers missed the game with an illness. Motley tied his career-high in scoring with 27 points on 17 shots and grabbed 10 rebounds. Baylor will have plenty of opportunities to pick up a few more quality wins with four games remaining against ranked opponents, but this one is certain to help its seeding come March.
  5. The final Big 12 game ahead of the regular Saturday slate pits Oklahoma against a rising Texas Tech squad in Lubbock. The Red Raiders are coming off of two straight wins over ranked opponents while the Sooners have lost two of their last three outings. The stakes in this one are high for both teams as Oklahoma needs a win to keep itself in the Big 12 title picture while a victory for Tech would add another big win to its NCAA Tournament resume. The fact that the Red Raiders are even in the bubble conversation after finishing 3-15 in the conference last season is a testament to the job head coach Tubby Smith has done rebuilding the program in such a short period of time.
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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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Big 12 M5: 01.06.16 Edition

Posted by Brian Goodman on January 6th, 2016

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  1. We already offered two reflections on Monday night’s thriller between Oklahoma and Kansas, but if you’re still looking for a fix , Jason King of Bleacher Report wrote a very good article that captured Buddy Hield‘s demeanor in the heat of the battle as well as in defeat. In addition to some anecdotes about Hield’s commitment to improving his game, King relates a story that Bill Self had recruited the Bahamian star out of nearby Sunrise Christian Academy in Wichita and had even set him up for an unofficial visit. The current NPOY candidate, however, canceled his trip to Lawrence after committing to the Sooners. This piece is definitely worth your time.
  2. Kansas State‘s surprising start after last season’s faceplant was one of the better Big 12 stories of the first two months of the season, but the Wildcats are now 0-2 in conference play after losing to Texas in Austin. This was an ugly game where both teams shot less than 40 percent from the floor, culminating with Kansas State freshman Barry Brown missing consecutive three-pointers on the team’s final possession to seal the victory for Texas. Barring an upset at Oklahoma on Saturday, Bruce Weber’s team is staring down the barrel of an 0-3 start to conference play, but while Big 12 play presents resume opportunities on a regular basis, that kind of start will be incredibly difficult to overcome for a rebuilding team like the Wildcats. Meanwhile, after facing three straight top-60 KenPom opponents, Texas shouldn’t have many issues when it travels to TCU this weekend.
  3. The only other action Tuesday night saw Baylor handle Oklahoma State by 17 points in Waco, and the biggest takeaway from this game was the Bears’ complete annihilation of the Cowboys on the glass. Baylor hauled in a whopping 44 rebounds — Rico Gathers snagged 17 boards by himself — while Oklahoma State corralled just 18. Gathers also hit a huge personal milestone as he became the first Bear ever to reach 1,000 rebounds, which is an amazing feat when you consider that he didn’t even average 20 minutes per game until his junior year. Gathers has seen all the ups and downs that a four-year career at Baylor can offer, but between his consistency on the court and his commitment to being a good dad away from it, he seems to an all-around good guy to root for.
  4. On the season’s 54th day, Texas Tech will finally play its first true road game as the Red Raiders play Iowa State in Ames tonight. The team’s resurgence has been a nice storyline this season, as their lone blemish to this point is a neutral court loss to Utah. Still, without a top 50 KenPom win, its NCAA Tournament resume lacks heft. That could change soon, though, as they’ll play at Hilton Coliseum, host Kansas and play at Kansas State over the next week. Devaugntagh Williams, Toddrick Gotcher and Norense Odiase look like a dependable core, but the Red Raiders will be put to the test in one of the conference’s toughest environments against a team looking to get back on track.
  5. Perhaps feeling the weight from the fallout of SMU’s academic scandal, one of the central figures in the story, Keith Frazier, has left the Mustang program. According to his prep coach, it sounds like the junior guard from Dallas simply wants to be able to breathe a little, which is understandable. At this point, you’re probably wondering why we’d bring that news up in this space, and the the reason is because Texas Tech was a runner-up for Frazier’s services coming out of high school and, while this is purely speculative (he’s still enrolled at SMU even though he isn’t with the team), could be a destination if he opts to transfer. One of the main reasons Frazier gave for backing off the Red Raiders back in 2013 was because they hired Tubby Smith over then-interim coach Chris Walker, though, so it may not be meant to be, but if you’re Texas Tech and Frazier leaves SMU for good, what’s the harm in calling to see if he’d be interested?
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Lester Medford Has Been Baylor’s Solution at Point Guard

Posted by Chris Stone on December 17th, 2015

Coming into this season, the primary question that many analysts raised regarding Baylor was whether the Bears had a good point guard option. Nate Kotisso went so far as to say it was Baylor’s burning question during our conference preview series, and his concern was certainly valid. Scott Drew’s teams have consistently featured quality point guard play over the years, whether it was with Tweety Carter, Pierre Jackson, or most recently, Kenny Chery running the team. Drew entered this year with a major question still to answer, but he was prepared to rely on senior Lester Medford’s transition to the lead guard role. Through the first month of the season, here’s how the last two Baylor point guards compare.

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Medford spent last season operating out of the backcourt next to Chery. With a usage rate of 16.2 percent, he spent the year largely as a spot-up shooter, finishing with more three-point attempts than shots inside the arc. Still, he showed signs that he was prepared to make a full transition to point guard. Most notably, he assisted on 20.6 percent of the team’s shots when he was on floor. And although that number was six percent lower than Chery’s assist rate, it showed Medford’s knack for finding the open man and making his teammates better. This season, while playing the point guard spot full-time, Medford is outperforming Chery’s senior season on nearly all relevant metrics.

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Big 12 M5: 12.11.15 Edition

Posted by Nate Kotisso on December 11th, 2015

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  1. In a game where Iowa led for 37 minutes and the game was tied for another two minutes and 21 seconds, archrival Iowa State found a way to win a game that looked like it was lost in Ames last night. The Cyclones ended the game on a 9-0 run, capped by Monte’ Morris’ game-winning floater with less than nine seconds remaining. On the backs of Jared Uthoff (32 points, nine rebounds) and Peter Jok’s (16 points in the second half) work, Iowa built a commanding 20-point lead only to have it erased in the final few moments. Iowa State remains undefeated as another thrilling chapter to the Cy-Hawk Series has been written.
  2. Well, it’s all fun and games until somebody gets hurt, right? As the buzzer sounded in Ames, Cyclones fans rushed the court in wild celebration. Randy Peterson, the Iowa State beat writer for the Des Moines Register, got caught up in the fracas, was knocked down and left Hilton Coliseum on a stretcher with a broken leg. So now the debate on whether college kids should or should not rush the court has picked up again. Our well wishes go out to Peterson as he begins to heal, and at least he apparently has a great sense of humor about things.
  3. A name familiar to Big 12 fans made his highly-anticipated debut with Wichita State on Wednesday night. Yes, Conner Frankamp, the former Kansas guard, checked into a game for the first time since the Jayhawks’ upset loss to Stanford in the 2014 NCAA Tournament. Frankamp, the all-time leading scorer in Wichita high school history, struggled shooting the ball (0-of-5 shooting), but he did hit two crucial free throws late to give the Shockers a two-possession lead with 21 seconds to play. He’ll need to be an important piece for Gregg Marshall’s team as it enters Missouri Valley play but my guess is that Kansas (91.0 PPG) isn’t missing his scoring punch all that much.
  4. Baylor’s Rico Gathers is aware of the fact that he is a very large person. He’s known this about himself for a little more than three years, at the very least. There’s almost no chance a low mid-major team like Northwestern State can adequately prepare for a player his size. Predictably, Gathers had his way with the Demons, scoring a career-high 31 points and outrebounding them by himself, 21 to 18, in the Bears’ 13-point win. He’s already the all-time rebounding king in the history of Baylor basketball with 938 and counting. It would be incredible if he gets to 1,000 boards before conference play opens versus Kansas on January 2.
  5. Texas’ gauntlet of a non-conference schedule continues this weekend as North Carolina will invade the Forty Acres on Saturday. After nailing 15 of 30 threes against UT-San Antonio, can the Horns conceivably put up another respectable effort from outside against a much stronger opponent? With a healthy Marcus Paige back in the Tar Heels’ lineup, Shaka Smart’s squad might need another one of those everything-is-going-through-the-net type of games in order to stay with one of the favorites to cut down the nets next April.
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Baylor’s Man-to-Man Defense a New Wrinkle With Promise

Posted by Kendall Kaut on December 8th, 2015

Baylor scored its biggest victory of the young season on Sunday night, beating Vanderbilt, 69-67. The Bears played to a key strength against the Commodores, forcing 17 turnovers in an effort that has propelled Scott Drew‘s team all the way to seventh nationally in turnovers forced per 100 possessions. But Baylor wasn’t proficient in every area on the defensive end, as Vanderbilt made 10 of their 21 relatively clean looks from three-point range. Moving forward, Baylor’s focus should be to design a defense that still allows it to play to its strength in forcing turnovers but avoids giving opponents open opportunities from three-point range. Drew is sure to switch between zone and man to find the perfect amount of each strategy, but a full-time man-to-man approach may be most likely to maximize turnovers while also defending the perimeter.

Rico Gathers and Baylor pulled off the victory Sunday against Vanderbilt. (Cooper Neill – Getty Images Sport)

Rico Gathers’ And The Bears Snuck By Vandy On Sunday. (Cooper Neill – Getty Images Sport)

Baylor has primarily been a zone team over the last seven years. Drew’s current defense of choice is a 1-3-1 zone that is usually anchored by one of the country’s best rebounders in Rico Gathers. After a rough start against Oregon in Eugene three weeks ago, Baylor switched to man-to-man and nearly came back and won. In four home blowouts of less talented teams, Baylor stuck with the man-to-man. On Sunday, the Bears mixed defenses against Vanderbilt, switching from zone to man as part of a strategy that included alternating looks on the first eight possessions.

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Baylor’s Battle With Vanderbilt a Chance to Show Bears Belong

Posted by Chris Stone on December 6th, 2015

Baylor has jumped out to one of the more interesting starts in college basketball. The Bears entered the season solidly ranked in the Top 25 but now voters aren’t sure what to make of them. They smashed a solid Stephen F. Austin team by 42 points on opening night before falling short in a true road game against Oregon in their second contest. Since then, Baylor has recorded four blowout home victories over the softest stretch of its non-conference schedule but Scott Drew’s squad has another chance to prove itself against Vanderbilt tonight in Waco. This game, sprouting out of the two teams’ meeting in the 2014 Big 12/SEC Challenge, represents an opportunity for the Bears to pick up their first non-conference win over a ranked opponent since defeating Kentucky in 2013-14. A win here would establish the Bears as a league contender alongside Kansas, Oklahoma and Iowa State.

Rico Gathers and Baylor can establish themselves in the Big 12 race with a win over Vanderbilt. (Cooper Neill – Getty Images Sport)

Rico Gathers and Baylor can establish themselves in the Big 12 race with a win over Vanderbilt. (Cooper Neill – Getty Images Sport)

Vanderbilt, a team that should challenge Kentucky for the SEC title, will quite literally be a big test for Baylor, as the Commodores are anchored by seven-footers Luke Kornet and Damian Jones. Although the Bears boast one of college basketball’s best rebounders in Rico Gathers, the senior big man has rarely faced the kind of size he’ll see tonight. To date, Gathers and fellow forward Johnathan Motley have helped Baylor collect 42.2 percent of their own misses, a mark that ranks sixth best nationally. If Kornet and James can succeed in keeping the Bears off the offensive glass, Baylor could be in for a difficult night that has to rely on forcing turnovers and its half-court offense.

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Big 12 M5: 11.25.15 Edition

Posted by Chris Stone on November 25th, 2015

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  1. Iowa State handled Chattanooga on Monday night, 83-63, in its final tuneup before heading off to the Emerald Coast Classic. Once again the Cyclones received limited contributions from their bench, but that won’t matter much as long as their starters are putting up impressive numbers. Jameel McKay grabbed 17 rebounds while Naz Mitrou-Long continued his recovery from hip surgery this summer by knocking down six of his nine three-point attempts. “My shot’s been really coming together,” Mitrou-Long told Ames Tribune writer Travis Hines, “I’ve been able to get in the gym more and it just feels really good right now.” Now, the focus shifts to Florida where the Cyclones will face Virginia Tech on Friday with a potential revenge game against UAB lined up for the tournament final. “We know who we want,” Georges Niang said, “but we’ll handle Tech first.”
  2. Oklahoma picked up their third win of the season on Tuesday night with a 96-63 thrashing of Incarnate Word. Senior guard Buddy Hield scored 22 points on 12 shots which dropped his scoring average to 25.3 points per game this season. Hield is on pace to outdo his junior campaign’s offensive performance. Our unanimous Big 12 Player of the Year Selection, Hield has so far been relied upon to be even more of a scoring option for the Sooners now that TaShawn Thomas is no longer around. Despite the added load, Hield’s efficiency numbers are up. While he likely won’t maintain his 58 percent 3-point shooting, Hield should put together another great offensive season in a slightly larger role.
  3. Kansas advanced to the final of the Maui Invitational with a 92-73 victory over UCLA on Tuesday. Outside of their on fire 3-point shooting, the Jayhawks have showcased impressive ball movement on offense in Hawaii. Kansas entered Tuesday’s contest having assisted on 68 percent of their makes this season and that didn’t shown signs of slowing down against the Bruins. 19 of the Jayhawks’ 32 field goal makes were assisted against UCLA. Kansas’ offense will face a stiffer test when they take on Vanderbilt and their top 20 defense in the final on Wednesday.
  4. In another late Tuesday contest, Kansas State fell to North Carolina in the finals of the CBE Hall of Fame Classic, 80-70. The Wildcats, powered by a breakout performance from freshman Kamau Stokes, led for much of the game, but couldn’t close out one of the country’s preseason national title favorites. Still, Bruce Weber’s Kansas State squad has been much more impressive than expected after the team’s mass exodus during the offseason. Boasting a top 30 defense according to KenPom, the Wildcats won’t make for an easy out during Big 12 play this season.
  5. Baylor is predicted to have one of the best frontcourts in the country this season and they showed why in a 100-61 demolition of Savannah State. Taurean Prince, Rico Gathers, and Johnathan Motley combined to score 57 points and grab 24 rebounds in the win. The play of the Bears’ big men will be important for a team that’s still searching for answers at the point guard spot after losing Kenny Chery in the offseason.
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Baylor at Oregon: Keys to Tonight’s Game

Posted by Andrew Murawa & Brian Goodman on November 16th, 2015

It’s been a fun opening weekend, not necessarily because there have been any great games, but just because there have been actual games. But today the season kicks into high gear as the ESPN Hoops Marathon gets underway this evening, early season exempt tournaments tip off later this week, and, if you’re anything like us, you probably won’t dig out from under the pile of college hoops that are about to smother us until the student-athletes take a breather for finals next month. Not that anybody’s complaining. Of the five or so very good games today, Ken Pomeroy’s FanMatch calls the tilt in Eugene between Baylor and Oregon the best of the night; and after watching what both of these teams did to their opponents in their openers, you can see why. In order to prepare for this battle of Top 25 teams, Big 12 microsite writer Brian Goodman and Pac-12 microsite writerAndrew Murawa list their keys to this game.

For Oregon

Five-star freshman Tyler Dorsey faces his first major challenge as the Ducks host Baylor. (Samuel Marshall/Daily Emerald)

Five-star freshman Tyler Dorsey faces his first major challenge as the Ducks host Baylor tonight. (Samuel Marshall/Daily Emerald)

  • Poise. Knight Arena is going to be electric tonight and not just because of the expected barrage of neon on both of these teams’ uniforms. The floor is going to be loaded with elite athletes ready to show off what they can do on national television. Oregon senior point guard Dylan Ennis will be watching from the bench with a foot injury, so the Ducks will have to rely on sophomore Casey Benson and freshman Tyler Dorsey to handle that position. The two youngsters will need to play under control and not let the moment get too big for them, especially early in the game. But the fact that there are no fewer than five different players on this team who can handle the rock and initiate the offense means that head coach Dana Altman has several options in the case of a disaster.

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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.

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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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Introducing the RTC Preseason All-America Teams

Posted by Walker Carey on November 12th, 2015

With the season tipping off on Friday, there’s no better time to roll out our the RTC Preseason All-America Teams. More than anything, these three groups of outstanding players are here to foster and encourage discussion over the next four months. Our crack panel of seven national columnists provided ballots over the last week and this is where we ended up.

First Team All-Americans

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  • Kris Dunn, Providence (UNANIMOUS) – Dunn enters his junior season after a finally healthy campaign where he averaged 15.6 points and 7.5 assists per game in leading Providence to its second straight NCAA Tournament. While his numbers show he is a triple-double threat every night, he needs to be watched in order to understand just how good he is. He ranked first in the country last season with a 50.0 percent assist rate; he was named co-Big East Defensive Player of the Year; and he recorded a steal once every 20 defensive possessions for the Friars. The quintessential floor leader does it all for his team and he does it at an awe-inspiring level. Factoid: The television show “Friends” may have aired its last episode in 2004, but that has not stopped Dunn from apparently becoming an avid fan of the series. Could we see the likes of Matthew Perry and David Schwimmer show up at Dunkin’ Donuts Center to root Dunn’s team on before season’s end?
  • Melo Trimble, Maryland – Maryland was quite successful in its inaugural Big Ten season as the team advanced to its first NCAA Tournament since 2010. Those Terrapins were unquestionably led by senior guard Dez Wells, but now that he has graduated, Trimble will take over as the team’s heart and soul. The sophomore guard turned in a highly impressive freshman season where he averaged 16.2 points per game and shot a respectable 41.2 percent from behind the three-point line. Expectations are high this season in College Park, and Trimble will be a big reason why if Maryland ultimately meets its goals. Factoid: Trimble spent a portion of last summer playing for Team USA at the Pan American Games. At 20 years old, he was the youngest player selected to the squad by Gonzaga coach Mark Few.
  • Buddy Hield, Oklahoma – The reigning Big 12 Player of the Year returns to Norman for his senior season. After terrorizing conference foes throughout both his sophomore (16.5 PPG) and junior (17.4 PPG) years, Hield will look to take his game to an even higher level during his final collegiate go-around. When he bypassed the NBA Draft last spring, the junior guard noted, “I just can’t wait to see what Coach Kruger has in mind for next year. I know we’re going to be a really good team.” It’s difficult to argue with Hield’s assertion there. Factoid: Hield, a native of the Bahamas, says that his self-proclaimed “Bahamian Swagger” is something he developed while growing up on the island chain with his single mother and six brothers and sisters.
  • Ben Simmons, LSU (UNANIMOUS) – The 2015 Gatorade National Player of the Year arrives in Baton Rouge accompanied by a great deal of hype. When looking at the freshman’s prep statistics, it’s easy to understand why expectations surrounding him are so high. In 29 regular season games as a senior, he averaged 28.0 points, 11.9 rebounds, 4.0 assists, and 2.6 steals per game while shooting 70.7 percent from the field and collecting 24 double-doubles. Factoid: Former LSU great Shaquille O’Neal called Simmons “the best player in the world” when he introduced the prep star to his many Instagram followers last November.
  • Kyle Wiltjer, Gonzaga – Wiltjer returns to the fold at Gonzaga after a junior season where he averaged 16.8 points and 6.2 rebounds per game on his way to becoming a consensus second-team All-American. At 6’10”, Wiltjer’s long-range shooting makes him a nightmarish match-up for Zags’ opponents — he shot a sizzling 54 percent from the field and 46.6 percent from behind the three-point line a season ago. Factoid: When Wiltjer arrived in Spokane following his transfer from Kentucky, Wildcats head coach John Calipari called Gonzaga coach Mark Few and told him how good of a post scorer Wiltjer can be, even though he never really had a chance to show that part of his game in Lexington.

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