Big 12 Morning Five: 03.22.12 Edition

Posted by dnspewak on March 22nd, 2012

  1. Fred Hoiberg may have led his team to an NCAA Tournament victory this season, but he can now brag about another impressive feat–sending a player to the NBA. Royce White declared for the NBA Draft yesterday and says he will sign with an agent soon. Yes, it’s certainly a blow to Hoiberg’s 2012-13 roster. But considering his team finished with just three Big 12 victories in his first season, qualifying for the Big Dance and sending a star to the pros is another sign that Hoiberg has the ball rolling with Ames. Look out, recruiting trail: The Mayor is here, and he’s building quite a college resume.
  2. J’Covan Brown also joined White by announcing he will skip his senior season. This one hurts for Rick Barnes. If point guard Myck Kabongo also follows suit, Barnes may need to rebuild again with more young parts in 2012-13. If Kabongo comes back, though, he could be one of the league’s better point guards, and he could serve as the catalyst for a Longhorns squad ready to take a leap and build off this year’s NCAA Tournament appearance.
  3. Fans in St. Louis better be ready for Thomas Robinson in the Midwest Regional, because he’s on a mission to earn Kansas a national championship. Robinson is already a Naismith finalist, but the NCAA Tournament is where legends are made. He has the ability– “he tries too hard,” coach Bill Self said. Now, it’s time for him to showcase his talents as he will inevitably head to the NBA where he belongs.
  4. It’s hard to believe, but Baylor‘s Brady Heslip used to be, well, a little chunky. Let teammate Quincy Miller tell the story: “I saw the pictures of him when he was fat. He had a couple of extra chins.” Now, though, he’s lost 24 pounds, and it’s certainly helped him on the court. The interesting thing about this story is Heslip does not fit the traditional mold of a player who needs to shed weight. Normally, you think of Dexter Pittman-type centers who need to lose 70 pounds and remake their bodies. In Heslip’s case, all he needed was to cut out a little junk food. Looks like it worked.
  5. It’s NCAA Tournament time, but it’s never too early to look to next season. That’s when TCU will join the conference along with West Virginia. After an 18-15 season, the Horned Frogs are feeling confident about their modest success and the future of their program in the Big 12. TCU hadn’t made the post-season since 2005, so this year’s CBI appearance is at least something to build on.
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Morning Five: 03.22.12 Edition

Posted by nvr1983 on March 22nd, 2012

  1. This time the courtship did not last long as Shaka Smart announced yesterday that he would not become the next coach at Illinois and would remain the head coach at VCU. While Smart did not rule out moving on to another job we cannot imagine another opening much better than Illinois, which frankly is an overrated position, coming open during the offseason. Now Illinois will have to move onto another candidate. Two of the more interesting candidates we have heard mentioned are Florida State head coach Leonard Hamilton and Duke assistant Chris Collins.
  2. If you watched Iowa State‘s brief NCAA Tournament appearance, Royce White‘s announcement that he will be entering the NBA Draft and hiring an agent should not be a surprise. Despite dealing with well-chronicled psychiatric problems, White emerged as a potential lottery pick who more than stood his own against four likely top ten picks in the first two rounds. We assume that with the millions invested in White by a NBA team they will also spend the requisite money to ensure that he continues to get the medical attention that he needs.
  3. The exodus may have started in Storrs where Alex Oriakhi announced yesterday that he will be transferring from Connecticut. Oriakhi, who struggled through much of the season after seeing his playing time cut drastically with the late arrival of Andre Drummond, had voiced his displeasure with how things were handled in Storrs earlier in the season. Now he will be looking for a new place to complete his college career. Oriakhi, who has one year of eligibility remaining, could be available to play next year if Connecticut’s NCAA Tournament ban is upheld, but would have to sit out a year if they are eligible to participate.
  4. After a brief hiatus while preparing for the opening week of the NCAA Tournament, Luke Winn is back with his weekly power rankings. As you might expect Winn’s analysis is more focused for the Sweet Sixteen with a look at how they match up with their opponent. The one figure that might be the most noteworthy is his analysis of fouls against Cody Zeller and Anthony Davis, which is particularly relevant because Indiana‘s 74-73 win is one of the few games this year where Davis was in foul trouble.
  5. According to reports Villanova junior Maalik Wayns will sign with an agent. When Wayns declared last week without signing with an agent we barely paid attention because we assumed that Wayns would learn that he was by no means guaranteed a spot on a NBA roster. While we cannot comment fully on the situation because we do not know if Wayns has an urgent financial/family reason for turning pro, but if he does not then all we can say is that it is a really bad decision.
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This is Why We Warned You About Iowa State

Posted by dnspewak on March 16th, 2012

In the midst of discussion about Jim Calhoun’s future and the untapped potential of the defending champion Connecticut Huskies, it seems that everybody forgot about Iowa State. Right on cue, the forgotten Cyclones advanced to the second (or is it third?) round with a 77-64 victory on Thursday. Of course, we already told you yesterday the Cyclones could potentially spell danger in the NCAA Tournament. Although we would like to take credit for that prediction, it really was not a brilliant call by any means. Facing a team that underachieved all year long, Fred Hoiberg‘s overachieving bunch of transfer misfits embarrassed UConn in the first half, leading by as many as 22 points. Scott Christopherson couldn’t miss, and the team as a whole looked tougher, more mature and more focused than the young Huskies.

Anthony Davis & Kentucky Should Be Weary Of Royce White & The Cyclones

That hot start helped Iowa State withstand a rally by Connecticut. In the end, this was a statement victory for Iowa State. A statement that Hoiberg is no flash in the pan in 2011-12; that these guys can surely give Kentucky a game on Saturday. It’s hard to remember this Iowa State team actually finished third in the Big 12, considering absolutely nobody gave it a chance to knock off the defending champs. Yet after just minutes, the Cyclones wiped the floor with the big, bad Huskies of the Big East, eventually outrebounding them by 19 and holding them to 37.5 percent from the floor.

That turns our attention to Saturday. As you have heard at least a dozen times on CBS or a Turner affiliate in the past, say, 10 minutes, Kentucky can block shots. Lots of them. Anthony Davis is really good, and so is Terrance Jones. And as you’ve heard a million times, the key to beating a team with those kinds of shot-blockers is to burn them from the outside. That’s exactly what Iowa State can do. Forget Royce White. A stud, for sure, but Christopherson, Chris Allen and Tyrus McGee will need to shoulder the load from the perimeter.

Iowa State already knocked off Kansas at home this year, so it’s no stranger to defeating the nation’s top teams. If it rebounds as well as it did against UConn, we may have a ballgame.

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ATB: Big Dance Day One Roundup — Two Upsets, Top Four Seeds Roll, Defending Champs Are Gone…

Posted by EJacoby on March 16th, 2012

Tonight’s Lede – It’s madness, baby!!! The real start of the NCAA Tournament arrived on Thursday afternoon, as did the collective drop of productivity from employees across the country. March Madness brings the best sick days, mobile apps, and computer split screens out of us, in the pursuit of tracking our brackets and following our favorite teams throughout the day. This Thursday is always special; the mark of the most exciting postseason in sports, and this year was no different. Despite the lack of buzzer-beaters and major upsets, day one was still a fantastic day of college basketball with plenty of key storylines. More fascinating finishes and thrilling games are surely on the way, but let’s take a look at all the action from the first half of the round of 64…

Your Watercooler Moment. #12 VCU Pulls Another Shaka.

Wichita State Was Devastated After Shaka Smart's Boys Pulled Another Upset (US Presswire)

It was just last year when Shaka Smart’s VCU Rams pulled off one of the all-time great Cinderella runs in NCAA Tournament history, winning five games as a #11 seed to go from the First Four to the Final Four in the 2011 Big Dance. In 2012, things were expected to be different — VCU is no longer a sleeper, the Rams were stuck with an even worse seed, and they had to take on a fellow strong mid-major team with Sweet Sixteen aspirations of their own. But the VCU boys did it again, or at least completed stage one of another improbable run. The #12 seed Rams defeated #5 Wichita State in a thrilling game, 62-59, for the biggest upset of day one. VCU jumped to a quick advantage and led by nine at halftime, but a late run by the Shockers gave WSU the lead with about two minutes to play. Bradford Burgess, the lone returning starter from last year’s Final Four team, answered with the biggest shot of the night — a three from the corner that would give VCU a lead that it did not relinquish. Joe Ragland and Toure’ Murry did their best to keep Wichita State’s dreams alive, but VCU was not to be denied on this day. Burgess finished with 16 points, five boards, four assists, and two steals in the win, which sends VCU to a date with #4 Indiana on Saturday.

Also Worth Chatting About. #16 UNC Asheville Nearly Makes History. #16 seeds were 0-108 all-time in the NCAA Tournament coming into Thursday, but nobody told the Bulldogs, a senior-laden team that was fired up to take on a reeling Orange team after word that their center Fab Melo would be ineligible for the Tournament. Without Melo, Syracuse was completely out of sorts, though the player’s absence was no excuse for the rest of the team to play so poorly on both ends. ‘Cuse survived and will move on to Saturday while putting this game behind them, but the story was UNC Asheville’s incredible effort to nearly win this game. The Bulldogs led by four points at halftime and hung tough for the entire 40 minutes despite leading scorer Matt Dickey only shooting 1-13 with five points! Asheville got 18 points from J.P. Primm and all of the team box score statistics were very similar in this game, but Syracuse’s late-game execution proved to be too much. Plenty of fans and media members will say that poor officiating was a large factor in the outcome, as UNCA may have gotten jobbed on several calls in the final four minutes. There was one undoubtedly awful call against Asheville that should have resulted in a Syracuse turnover, but blaming the loss on the referees is not something coach Eddie Biedenbach would do. It was a valiant effort by the Bulldogs that just came short, ending in a seven point win for Cuse. The Orange survive to play #8 Kansas State in the next round on Saturday.

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Rushed Reaction: #8 Iowa State 77, #9 Connecticut 64

Posted by jstevrtc on March 15th, 2012

Three Key Takeaways.

  1. Pardon Our Cliches… If you watched this game, you saw exactly what we did, in terms of the most important takeaway from this game. Connecticut’s roster oozed with talent. Kentucky fans stuck around for this game because they feared seeing UConn again, and for good reason. UConn had enough NBA talent on that roster to frustrate Kentucky. Both Kentucky- and non-Kentucky fans knew it. It was evident in the Big East tournament last week, even in the close loss to Syracuse. All they needed to play like that is motivation. You would think that, this being the NCAA Tournament and all, motivation would be the last of a talented roster’s problems. So here it comes: Connecticut had more talented individuals. Iowa State, from tip to buzzer, was the better team.
  2. Whither Jim Calhoun? Given his health problems and frequent absences from games this season, will it be back to Storrs next year, or will that loss be how he departs the scene? Twitter buzzed with this question in the dying moments of this game, and the speculation will continue until he puts paid to the question with a definitive statement. And we wouldn’t expect that until after the tournament is over. He would not address the issue in the post-game.
  3. Royce White Won the Key Battle. You would never have thought such a sentence would have ever been written a while back when White made that strange exit from Tubby Smith’s Minnesota squad, but the matchup everyone was watching tonight was White versus (sometimes) whiz-kid Andre Drummond. The latter was virtually non-existent (two points, three rebounds) save for four blocks, and his head was clearly elsewhere all night. White wasn’t exactly himself for the first 30 minutes or so, but took over on both ends of the floor late, just like a leader should. He ended with 15/11 on 6-10 shooting, and a new legion of  believers, we’d say.

Star of the Game. White impressed us with his leadership late in the proceedings, especially when Ryan Boatright shrank the ISU lead down to six with a 5-0 run of his own making. Aside from that, though, the most important part of this game was the opening punch landed by Cyclone guards Scott Christopherson and Chris Allen, outhustling the Huskies’ backcourt, getting into the lane easily, and propelling ISU out to an early 20-point lead. Connecticut never really recovered except for the small run in the second half that amounted to little. Those guards deserve some of the SOTG credit.

Quotable. Jim Calhoun: “They played 40 minutes. We played sporadically.” Completely true. It would be interesting to put some of these Huskies on a polygraph and ask them if they’re just a little bit glad this season is over. We don’t think they totally mind this. Calhoun tried to dilute it by saying, “If Connecticut wins 20-25 games a year and goes to the NCAA Tournament, we’ll always be happy,” but that is not the Connecticut standard. It’s been a tough season, and Calhoun admitted as much, and we think it’s one the program is glad to see the back of.

Sights & Sounds. As mentioned, most Kentucky fans stayed for this one. No question the added fan support was appreciated by Iowa State. We, uh, wouldn’t count on that come Saturday. Great motivational tactic for the Cyclones, right? We can already hear Fred Hoiberg and the ISU coaches whispering in their players’ ears, “They stayed to root for you because they thought you were the weaker team. Make them regret they cheered for you.”

What’s Next? Obviously, Iowa State gets Kentucky in the marquee game on Saturday night. Royce White has the last word, speaking about Kentucky: “You see them every night on ESPN. They have a great team, they’re number one for a reason. Great coach, great tradition, great program there, Kentucky basketball. We’re gonna go back and watch some film, and we’re gonna try and figure out their strengths and weaknesses, just like every other team has tried. I’m sure our coaches will come up with a solid game plan just like they have all year long.” He does not sound intimidated.

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Water Cooler Talk: How Will the Big 12 Fare in the NCAAs?

Posted by dnspewak on March 15th, 2012

With the Madness kicking off Thursday, every workplace and classroom in America will buzz with NCAA Tournament talk, regardless of whether your co-workers or classmates have watched even a single game of college basketball this season. RTC Big 12 writers Clark Williams and Danny Spewak have watched a lot of basketball — too much, in fact — and they’ve got a take on how this edition of March Madness should go down in the Big 12.

Danny: Can’t wait to get started here. Let’s get right into it — Clark, who’s the ripest for an upset of the top three in the Big 12? Missouri, Kansas or Baylor?

Both Of Us Think Scott Drew's Baylor Squad Is the Most Vulnerable of the Big Three

Clark: When you think of the First Round of the tournament, you immediately think of upsets. They are what make the Tournament immediately great (assuming it was not your team that was just upset). Baylor, Missouri, and Kansas are all seeded highly enough to where a loss Thursday or Friday would be considered a colossal upset. Of the three, though, I’d say Baylor is most at risk for an early exit. While Missouri is going to play against a fired-up Norfolk State, and Kansas against former McDonald’s All-American Ray McCallum,  I think both teams will get past those teams unscathed. Baylor, however, has to play a sharpshooting squad from South Dakota State, and if Bad Baylor shows up, they could be heading home to Waco much earlier than anticipated.

Danny: Yeah, Baylor is probably most vulnerable because it has played a little inconsistently at times during Big 12 play. It’s not as though the Bears have a ton of bad losses, though, and Perry Jones played like a man in the Big 12 Tournament. I don’t think Missouri’s got much to worry about with Norfolk State, and I only think Kansas has to worry because it is playing such a solid opponent. I’m not worried about Kansas necessarily, just that it’s facing a team with high-major talent Friday. This Detroit team was tabbed by many to win the Horizon League, and we’ve all heard the story of coach’s son Ray McCallum and the future pro Eli Holman at center. The Jayhawks will probably win by 20, but you never know if the bad memories of Bucknell/Bradley/Northern Iowa/VCU will become a self-fulfilling prophecy if the game gets close.

Clark: OK, Danny, how about Texas? Your thoughts on the Longhorns?

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SEC NCAA Tournament Primer: Thursday/Saturday Games

Posted by EMoyer on March 15th, 2012

On Thursday, Kentucky and Vanderbilt open their NCAA Tournament runs facing Western Kentucky and Harvard, respectively. Here we preview the Thursday/Saturday possibilities for the Wildcats and Commodores.

SEC NCAA Tournament Thursday/Saturday Capsules

SOUTH Region 

  • #1 Kentucky: Championship Appearances: 53; Record 107-47; Best Finish: Champion – 1948, 1949, 1951, 1958, 1978, 1996, 1998; How Qualified: At-Large, SEC; Last Appearance: 2011 – L, National Semifinal
  • #16 Western Kentucky: Championship Appearances: 22; Record 19-22; Best Finish: Third Place – 1971; How Qualified: Automatic Bid, Sun Belt Conference; Last Appearance: 2009 – L, Second Round
  • #8 Iowa State: Championship Appearances: 14; Record 12-13; Best Finish: Final Four  – 1944; How Qualified: At Large, Big 12; Last Appearance: 2005 – L, Second Round
  • #9 Connecticut: Championship Appearances: 47; Record 35-43; Best Finish: Champion – 1999, 2004, 2011; How Qualified: At Large, Big East; Last Appearance: 2011 – Champion
All-Time Meetings
  • Kentucky vs Western Kentucky: Kentucky leads 3-2; Last Meeting: Nov. 15, 2001 (Western Kentucky 64, Kentucky 52)
  • Kentucky vs Iowa State: Kentucky leads 2-0; Last Meeting: Mar. 22, 1992 (Kentucky 106, Iowa State 98)
  • Kentucky vs Connecticut: Connecticut leads 3-1; Last Meeting: April 2, 2011 (Connecticut 56, Kentucky 55)
A Starting 5 of the Top Players Kentucky Could Face
  • Derrick Gordon, Western Kentucky, Fr., G: Gordon has amassed 400 points in his first year as a Hilltopper. Only two freshmen have scored more points in Western Kentucky history (Courtney Lee, 467;  Ralph Crosthwaite, 437). He is on pace to become the first Hilltopper freshman to pace the team in scoring and he will be the first in five years to lead in rebounding.
  • Chris Allen, Iowa State, Sr., G: Allen leads the team with 72 3-point field goals and he has played in the most NCAA Tournament games (14) in this year’s 68-team field. Allen played in two Final Fours for Michigan State (2009, 2010.
  • Jeremy Lamb, Connecticut, So., G: Lamb earned First-Team All-Big East honors and the NABC District I Player of the Year after leading the Huskies in scoring at 17.1 points per game.
  • Royce White, Iowa State, So., F: White is the only player in the nation to lead his team in scoring (13.1), rebounding (9.2), assists (5.1), steals (1.2) and blocks (0.9). He is on the verge of posting top-10 single seasons in assists and rebounds in Cyclone history. He is one of 12 players in the county to post a triple-double this season.
  • Andre Drummond, Connecticut, Fr., C: Drummond has tallied 10 double-doubles this season, a UConn freshman record under Coach Jim Calhoun. He won four Big East Rookie of the Week honors, and leads the team in rebounding (7.7) and blocks (2.7).
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Big 12 Key Questions: NCAA Tournament

Posted by dnspewak on March 14th, 2012

Despite hiding relatively under the radar for most of the regular season, 60% of the Big 12 will represent the league in the NCAA Tournament this week. Texas was the last team to cement its at-large bid, knocking off Iowa State in the quarterfinals of the Big 12 Tournament to secure an 11 seed. Here’s a team-by-team look at the burning questions this weekend (apologies in advance for that Jim Rome reference):

Missouri

Will its lack of size eventually be its downfall? The Tigers have proven this season that they are capable of overcoming a thin frontcourt. If it was really such an issue, they would not have won a Big 12 Tournament title and finished with 30 victories. Still, when Frank Haith‘s team runs into a team with dominant bigs, it will simply have less room for error. A foul-ridden game by either Ricardo Ratliffe or Steve Moore could end Missouri’s season.

Can Frank Haith Continue To Highlight Missouri's Strengths & Hide Its Weaknesses?

Kansas

Will it overlook Detroit? Hard to say. The idea of “overlooking” anyone in the NCAA Tournament is a little trite, but the Jayhawks actually did draw a scary matchup in this instance. Nobody’s going to doubt Bill Self with all of his Big 12 titles and a national title to his name, but you have to take the good with the bad. He has suffered four fairly enormous upsets during his tenure: Bucknell (2005) Bradley (2006), Northern Iowa (2010), and VCU (2011). Will the trend continue? Probably not, but Detroit is a team that has high-major talent and underachieved in the regular season. Remember, they were a trendy pick to win the Horizon over the two-time national runner-ups.

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Big 12 Morning Five: 03.14.12

Posted by dnspewak on March 14th, 2012

  1. Here’s a nice breakdown of how the Big 12 could fare in the NCAA Tournament complete with thorough analysis and best/worst-case scenarios. The only criticism we have here is the ceiling for Baylor. The article caps the Bears’ chances at the Elite Eight, and that’s fair considering their inconsistency during Big 12 play. Still, Perry Jones made this a different team in the Big 12 Tournament. This is a team that actually outworked Kansas State in Kansas City, which is the type of effort Scott Drew will need to make a Final Four run. If it all comes together, this team can hang tough with anybody on a neutral floor.
  2. Bill Self‘s team fell short of its goal of cutting down the nets in Kansas City. That’s disappointing for the fans, players and coaches in front of a friendly crowd. But is it a good thing? This is an age-old argument that always makes us laugh. It’s probably never good to lose a basketball game, but let the debate rage on. And read Self’s take on the situation in that article for another perspective.
  3. Remember how hilarious it was when Iowa State hired a guy with no coaching experience to revitalize its program? Not hilarious anymore, as the Cyclones are reaping the benefits with Fred Hoiberg. As well as Frank Haith has coached and as surprising as Missouri‘s run has been, it’s easy to forget what Hoiberg has done with this program in such a short amount of time.
  4. Speaking of Iowa State, here’s a chance to get to know them. If you have followed this league all year like we have, you probably know the potential of this team already. Great shooters. Great star in Royce White. Solid all-around defensive team, solid guard play, and capable of beating anybody. That’s why this is the type of nothing-to-lose eight seed that has traditionally scared the daylights out of people in the NCAA Tournament.
  5. And finally, your boring business news of the day: the Big 12 is working on a multi-billion dollar media deal. This simply reaffirms what we’ve known all along– it’s all about the money. Under this deal with ABC and Fox, each school would receive about $20 million. Not bad, eh?
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Bracket Prep: South Region Analysis

Posted by KDoyle on March 12th, 2012

Throughout Monday, we will roll out our region-by-region analysis on the following schedule: East (9 AM), South (11 AM), Midwest (2 PM), West (4 PM). Here, Kevin Doyle breaks down the South Region from top to bottom. Also, be sure to follow our RTC South Region handle on Twitter for continuous updates the next two weeks (@RTCsouthregion).

You can also check out our RTC Podblast with Kevin breaking down the South Region here.

South Region

Favorite: #1 Kentucky (32-2, 16-0 SEC). Shouldn’t really need much of an explanation here. The most talented team in the nation — unquestionably — the Wildcats will be the odds-on favorite to not just emerge from the South Region, but also to cut down the nets in New Orleans. Anthony Davis and Terrence Jones spearhead a terrifyingly good starting five.

The Length And Athleticism Of Terrence Jones and Kentucky Are Just One Of Many Issues That Teams Face

Should They Falter: #2 Duke (27-6, 13-3 ACC). Austin Rivers does not play like a typical freshman and while Duke has its flaws on defense (perimeter defense, especially), the Blue Devils are more apt to make a run to the Final Four due to their balance on offense. Rivers and Seth Curry are prolific shooters/scorers in the backcourt, while the Plumlee brothers make for a formidable frontcourt. Much of Duke’s success hinges on junior Ryan Kelly’s health (sprained ankle). Kelly, while not a lockdown defender by any means, is 6’11″ and really helps in defending the three-point line for Duke. Even without a healthy Kelly, Duke still has an easier road to the Sweet Sixteen than other contenders in the South Region.

Grossly Overseeded: #11 Colorado (23-11, 11-7 Pac-12). Clearly, the committee thought higher of the Pac-12 than many others did. First, there was much debate whether this power six conference — far from “powerful” this season — would even receive an at-large bid, but they did in California. Secondly, Colorado was not on anybody’s radar prior to the Pac-12 Tournament as it stood at 19-11 with seven losses in conference play. Yet, winning the conference tournament propelled Colorado to a very respectable seed at #11. Many prognosticators had the Buffaloes at a #13 seed going into Selection Sunday.

Grossly Underseeded: #14 South Dakota State (27-7, 15-3 Summit). It is too big of a stretch to say that South Dakota State is “grossly” underseeded, but I do believe they were worthy of a #13 seed. When comparing the Jackrabbits to the #13 seed in this region, their resume is every bit as good, if not better, than New Mexico State: SDSU has a better overall record, higher RPI, more wins against the Top 100 RPI, and a more challenging non-conference schedule. Not to mention South Dakota State’s thrashing of Washington 92-73, even though the Huskies are not a Tournament team, is very impressive.

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Facing Its Own Mortality, Texas Finds a Way To Stay Alive

Posted by dnspewak on March 9th, 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 Texas’ 71-65 victory over Iowa State. You can follow him on Twitter @dspewak.

There was a moment early in the second half Thursday night when it appeared Texas and its three freshmen starters would unravel in its most important game of the season. Trailing by 11 with 18:22 remaining in its NCAA Tournament life, the Longhorns looked like the team that fell apart in a 19-point loss at North Carolina in late December. Like the team that lost six of its first nine Big 12 games by an average of 4.6 points.

Rick Barnes Got His Team To Respond in the Second Half.

Then, something clicked. “We’re not young anymore,” freshman point guard Myck Kabongo said. “We’ve grown up. We’ve shown strides, every single one of us.” With Kabongo running the show, the Longhorns sliced their way to the rim and denied the Cyclones’ looks from beyond the arc by eliminating dribble penetration. J’Covan Brown, the league’s leading scorer, began to abuse Chris Allen. As Iowa State’s layups rimmed out and its guards turned the ball over, the Longhorns’ threes began to fall. And just like that, Texas saved its NCAA Tournament hopes with a 71-65 victory in one nine-minute stretch. “That’s the ball game. They made big plays. I thought we put our heads down a little bit as a team,” coach Fred Hoiberg said. “They made big plays down the stretch and we didn’t.”

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Insider’s Practice Report: Texas

Posted by dnspewak on March 7th, 2012

Danny Spewak is a Big 12 microsite writer and will provide wall-to-wall coverage from the Big 12 Tournament in Kansas City. You can follow him on Twitter @dspewak

Unlike Iowa State, Texas A&M, and Oklahoma, which ran loose, light-hearteded practices Wednesday morning, the Texas Longhorns looked like a team in desperation mode. Rick Barnes had no time for nonsense this afternoon, not with an NCAA Tournament at-large bid hanging in the balance this week. He screamed at Myck Kabongo several times for not finding the open man in the post (“He’s wide open! Find him!”) and got on walk-on Dean Melchionni for a mistake later in practice (“Shoot it! It’s not that hard!). For almost 40 minutes, the Longhorns scrimmaged with focus, intensity and a mission in mind: beat Iowa State and solidify its spot in the NCAA Tournament. “We’re taking it one game at a time this tournament. Tomorrow is the most important game of the season,” freshman Jonathan Holmes said after practice.

Texas worked on defending Scott Christopherson and the dribble handoff for several minutes

All practice, Barnes repeated over and over again that the team must take away the three-point shot. When J’Covan Brown politely mentioned that harassing shooters on the perimeter would leave defenders one-on-one, Barnes did not care. “You’re playing against the best three-point shooting team in the conference,” Barnes said.  Royce White may be Iowa State‘s leading scorer and star this season, but Barnes and assistant Rob Lanier seemed more concerned about Scott Christopherson and his ability to burn their defense from beyond the arc. “Christopherson, we’re not giving him anything. Anything,” Barnes said during practice. In preparation for Christopherson, Lanier prepped his team on how to defend Iowa State’s dribble handoff. Sheldon McClellan stood in as Christopherson, and Lanier ran drills for about 10 minutes to make sure his players knew how to shut this down. He told his team to hedge hard on the handoff, making sure the help defender “had it under control” before he retreated to cover his own man.

Later in practice, Barnes’ guys ran full court and worked on defending the dribble handoff in a more realistic setting. Take a look at the video below, where McClellan receives a handoff and runs into a help defender.

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