Big 12 Morning Five: 02.22.12 Edition

Posted by dnspewak on February 22nd, 2012

  1. Too bad Missouri couldn’t follow Bill Self‘s advice. Like any seasoned coach, he’s keeping his team in check before the final Border War game on Saturday by focusing on Texas A&M first. The Tigers, of course, fell victim to Kansas State on Tuesday night, taking a little luster off the matchup this weekend. Still, it will essentially determine the Big 12 regular-season championship, and if Kansas takes care of business against the Aggies it will be in the driver’s seat. Lose that game, though, and they are in the same boat as Missouri.
  2. Who’s responsible for Jeff Withey‘s hot streak lately? In a lot of ways, it’s Withey himself since he is finally playing to his potential. Bill Self can also take a lot of credit for building him from scratch and developing him over the course of a few seasons. But what about Danny Manning‘s role? Apparently, the former Jayhawk star and current assistant has served as a mentor and teacher to Withey this season. Not a bad guy to take advice from.
  3. Texas‘ NCAA Tournament hopes are dwindling by the second, especially after a home loss to Baylor on Monday. The Longhorns still have a chance to win at the Phog to pick up a signature win against Kansas, but that’s a tall task as we all know. This article takes an interesting angle on the matter, though. Is anyone all that upset about Rick Barnes‘ failure to make the NCAAs this season, barring a late surge? According to this particular writer, Barnes is “fighting the indifference that can swallow this sport in this state.” That’s always been a problem in Austin, but for the first time during his tenure, we’re seeing a Barnes team in danger of playing in the NIT.
  4. Royce White has made a name for himself with both his play and his mohawk this season, but behind the scenes he has dealt with a lot of adversity. In this digital age especially, we idolize players and make them into heroes on the basketball court, forgetting their human sides sometimes. White has fought an anxiety disorder for years and takes medication for the issue, something you would never be able to tell by watching his graceful play from the stands or on television. This Des Moines Register article also helps put his arrest at Minnesota in perspective, giving the other side of the story from White’s perspective.
  5. Oklahoma would be elated to make the NIT at this point, but forward Romero Osby has bigger plans. As he points out, Osby played for Mississippi State in 2009 when it won the SEC Tournament to earn an auto-bid to the NCAA Tournament, shaking off a somewhat lackluster regular season. That Bulldogs team was a little better than these Sooners, but the sentiment remains. If Oklahoma can figure out how to play like it did during stretches of November and December– albeit against weaker competition– maybe there’s something to Osby’s optimism.
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Checking In On… the Big 12 Conference

Posted by Brian Goodman on February 13th, 2012

Steve Fetch is the RTC correspondent for the Big 12. You can also find his musings online at Rock Chalk Talk or on Twitter @fetch9.

Reader’s Take


The Week That Was

  • Baylor Drops From Contention: The Big 12 separated at the top this week as Baylor lost both to Kansas and Missouri. Perry Jones III, who is talked about as a probable lottery pick next June, disappeared this week, scoring five points on 1-8 shooting against Kansas and four points on 2-12 shooting against Missouri. Jones, like the rest of his teammates, has a ton of talent, but doesn’t appear to have the toughness necessary to compete at the highest level.
  • A Third Weapon for Kansas: When the weekly conference awards are announced, Jeff Withey may be the fourth different Kansas player to be named Big 12 Player of the Week this season. Withey had a career-high 25 points against Baylor on Wednesday and followed it up with a great game against Oklahoma State, with 18 points, 20 rebounds, and seven blocks in Lawrence on Saturday. Everyone knows what Thomas Robinson has done, and Tyshawn Taylor’s putting up solid lines lately, but Withey’s emergence gives Kansas maybe the best post combo in the country.
  • Red Raiders Hit The Win Column: The Red Raiders, who were 0-11 in conference play going into the weekend, got an early Valentine’s Day present, beating Oklahoma 65-47 at home. Javarez Willis scored 21 points and Robert Lewandowski had 16, but it was the Red Raiders’ defense that stole the show: Texas Tech held Oklahoma to just 0.73 points per possession and forced them to turn it over on a quarter of their possessions.

Kansas' Jeff Withey Builds A Case For Most Improved Player. (AP)

Power Rankings

  1. Missouri (23-2, 10-2): Missouri survived a scare on Monday when Oklahoma guard Steven Pledger’s three at the buzzer rimmed out (it didn’t stop him from celebrating a bit early, though). They’ll get the opportunity to avenge one of their conference losses this week when Oklahoma State comes to town. I’m assuming they’ll shoot a bit better than 48% from two and 21% from three in that one.
  2. Kansas (18-5, 8-2): It was a tale of two halves on Saturday, as Kansas completely destroyed Oklahoma State in the first half, jumping out to a 51-24 lead after 20 minutes. But they came out lethargic in the second and struggled with Oklahoma State’s press, turning it over regularly and getting outscored by 12. Kansas used its size advantage well that day, grabbing over half of its misses and limiting Oklahoma State to just a 13.2% offensive rebounding rate. The one negative for Kansas as of late has been their inability to take care of the ball: their turnover rate is sixth in the Big 12. Read the rest of this entry »
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Checking In On… the Big 12 Conference

Posted by Brian Goodman on February 6th, 2012

Steve Fetch is the RTC correspondent for the Big 12. You can also find his musings online at Rock Chalk Talk or on Twitter @fetch9.

Reader’s Take


The Week That Was

  • Fever Pitch, Columbia: The game of the year so far in the league ended with Missouri beating its archrival Kansas. The game was unfortunately marred by a questionable late charge call against Thomas Robinson as well as a 20-10 foul disparity favoring the home team, which has taken subsequent discussion away from the fantastic basketball that was played. Marcus Denmon had 29 points, shooting 6-9 from three, and Robinson had 25 points and 13 rebounds as each team showed why they’re among the best in the country. This might be the last meeting between the two schools in Missouri with the Tigers now moving to the SEC. Some fans of both schools want to see the rivalry saved, but, in basketball at least, it doesn’t make much financial or competitive sense for Kansas to play Missouri. Another sad consequence of conference realignment greed, but perhaps talks will revitalize after heads cool.

Missouri Turned Up The Volume For The Gameday Crew. (Rich Sugg/Kansas City Star)

  • Bears Try To Keep Pace: By holding serve, Baylor has crept back into the discussion, and the Bears are tied for the conference lead at 8-2 (there’s no head-to-head tiebreaker in the standings). They won by a total of seven points last week over Oklahoma State and Texas A&M so they certainly haven’t been impressive, but both wins came on the road and any road win is a good win. They still host Kansas and play at Missouri, so they are in control of their own destiny in the Big 12 race.
  • Jury Still Out On Haith: Ken Pomeroy wrote an interesting post last week regarding Frank Haith’s deployment of a zone defense in the final possession against Texas. Haith has gotten a lot of Coach of the Year support, but I think it is a bit overblown. As Pomeroy notes, if Texas had scored on the final possession, people would be killing Haith for deviating from the norm. Also, it was his attempt to kill the clock starting with over four minutes left that let the Longhorns back in it in the first place. Also, though Texas looked a bit confused, Rick Barnes still had a timeout left and somehow chose not to use it. Perhaps he thought he would get six in the next game. Haith has done a good job not upsetting things in Missouri to be sure, but remember that Bruce Weber went to a national championship game in his second season at Illinois.

Power Rankings

  1. Missouri (21-2, 8-2): Marcus Denmon broke out of his slump in a big way on Saturday. The senior came into the contest against Kansas shooting under 30% from three in Big 12 play, but he hit six of his nine shots from deep en route to a game-high 29 points. The 6’3” guard also led the team with nine rebounds and has established himself as one of the best rebounding guards in the country. Read the rest of this entry »
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Big 12 Morning Five: 02.06.12 Edition

Posted by dnspewak on February 6th, 2012

  1. In the aftermath of Missouri‘s victory over Kansas on Saturday, The Sporting News helps keep the win in perspective. Yes, the Tigers could not afford to lose the final home game against the Jayhawks with the series ending after 2011-12, and they could not afford to slip in the Big 12 standings. By all accounts, it was a monumental win. But it’s also a long season, something Bill Self knows very well. “I’m leaving here disappointed we lost, but I’m leaving here knowing we’ve got a good team.” On the Missouri side, Kim English tried not to oversell the win either: “Just a game we needed to win to continue our quest to win the Big 12.” The storylines are now all set for the February 25 rematch, a game that actually could define the season for both programs.
  2. The St. Louis Post-Dispatch had a different take on MU’s win, as Bryan Burwell accurately captured the drama and hype of the whole weekend. It’s interesting to note here that Hubert Davis, no stranger to raucous crowds after his career at North Carolina, said the atmosphere was as charged as any he’d ever experienced. That’s high praise for MU. But we also think Davis would say the same thing if he attends the Border War rematch in three weeks.
  3. After a midseason surge, Oklahoma has now fallen back to earth. The Sooners have lost four of five games, but there’s a formula to get Lon Kruger’s team back on track. A couple of things stand out here. First, the writer has advocated for Cameron Clark as a permanent bench player, an issue we’ve written extensively about this year. Also, he says the Sooners should use more zone to hide their lack of depth and utilize Romero Osby better offensively. Perhaps the most interesting part of the article is the idea that Carl Blair should handle the ball more in order to give starting point guard Sam Grooms a break. Ballhandling may be OU’s biggest concern, so maybe Kruger will heed this advice. Or not. Either way, he knows what he’s doing — we’re sure of that.
  4. Missouri and Kansas aren’t the only rivals ending their series after the season. Texas and Texas A&M are experiencing the same thing with the Aggies leaving for the SEC, and one writer took a look back at the most memorable games of the last 30 years. You’ll surely remember some of the games included from the past decade, especially the 2006 and 2007 matchups. In the first of those two, ice-in-the-veins point guard Acie Law made a buzzer-beater, and in the rematch the next season, Kevin Durant overcame Law’s heroics in an overtime win. Enough of this nostalgia. Play each other, people!
  5. Royce White’s terrific season has earned him some national buzz, meaning he’s now showing up on the NBA’s radar. According to Jalen Rose, though, White should stay in school. Rose said the forward would be a Player of the Year candidate next season, and it’s hard to disagree with him. White’s rise to the top has been amazing — and fast. We knew he could play when he attended Minnesota as a blue-chip recruit, but nobody could have envisioned the kind of production he’s putting up as a Cyclone this season.
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Night Line: Royce White’s Special Season Carrying Cyclones

Posted by EJacoby on February 1st, 2012

Evan Jacoby is an RTC correspondent and regular contributor. You can find him @evanjacoby on Twitter. Night Line will run on weeknights during the season, highlighting a major storyline development from that day’s slate of games.

In search of their first NCAA Tournament bid since 2005, Iowa State is doing exactly what they need to do to make a statement to the selection committee. On Tuesday night, the Cyclones withstood a valiant effort from visiting Kansas State to come away with a 72-70 win, just four days after knocking off No. 4 Kansas in the same building. Royce White’s game-winning jumper completed a massive second-half comeback and has given Iowa State a two-game cushion in fourth place in the Big 12 as well as a spot on the right side of the bubble for now. Fred Hoiberg’s team is now 16-6 overall, 6-3 in conference, and has one of the best all-around forwards in the entire country. White has been an efficient machine all season long, and he’s now doing it against top competition and in clutch moments. Given how he and his team are playing, it’s going to be tough to keep Iowa State out of the NCAA Tournament.

Royce White is Giving Iowa State Fans Reason to Celebrate (AP Photo/ J. Hayworth)

Royce White was a top 30 recruit two seasons ago and never played for Minnesota before deciding to transfer. After sitting out last season, the sophomore forward has been a dominant force in his first season in Ames, and doing so in a non-traditional manner. Before Tuesday, White was averaging just 13.6 points per game (still a team-high), but he was also the team leader in rebounds (9.6 RPG), assists (4.5 APG), steals (1.1 SPG), blocks (1.1 BPG) and field-goal percentage (53.6%). His all-around game is reminiscent of the kind of production that Draymond Green puts forth for Michigan State, yet White has seemed to get less recognition throughout the season. With another huge night on Tuesday, which included the game-winning basket with two seconds to play, that should no longer be the case.

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Big 12 Morning Five: 02.01.12 Edition

Posted by dnspewak on February 1st, 2012

  1. It’s been awhile since we’ve touched on realignment talk, and that’s probably a good thing. During the offseason, it dominated college basketball discussions and seemed to drive us all nuts. After a few months off, though, the topic is back at the forefront. Big 12 officials recently met to discuss the future, and CBS’s Brett McMurphy laid out the possibilities in his latest column. It’s interesting to consider a few of the candidates, including BYU, which has already has shifted from the Mountain West to the West Coast Conference/football independent. There’s also talk of Louisville joining forces with the Big 12… or, it’s possible the league could stay at 10 institutions. Whatever happens, you’ll probably hear these rumors heating up again this summer.
  2. In other boring institutional news, the Big 12 is still searching for a commissioner to replace Dan Beebe. According to CBS, there are at least four candidates in the running for the position. None are household names, but one person caught our eye: Jack Swarbrick. The name shouldn’t sound familiar, but his affiliation should — he’s currently the athletic director at Notre Dame. That program, of course, has been involved in several Big 12 rumors in the past several months. Does this mean anything? Probably not. But it’s something to think about.
  3. It’s only a matter of time before Royce White becomes nationally acclaimed for his breakout season at Iowa State. Especially after his team’s win over Kansas, the Cyclones are starting to make a name for their program under Fred Hoiberg. White’s the big man on campus right now, and he’s just trying to deal with the pressure as it builds. ISU hasn’t made the NCAA Tournament since 2005, so it’s up to White and his crew to change the culture this year in Ames — for good.
  4. On the other hand, Bill Self has never had to change the winning culture at Kansas. He has continued the program’s storied tradition ever since he arrived in Lawrence, and even in a supposed “down year,” he’s got the Jayhawks right in the thick of the Big 12 race. It’s not as though KU’s success this season has surprised us, though. Forget the fact that even Self had concerns about this team heading into the season. It was obvious that Thomas Robinson would shine with more playing time, and it was pretty obvious that the Jayhawks wouldn’t miss a beat. Now, they’ve got to knock off Missouri on Saturday to really show the league who’s in charge.
  5. Depending on your athletic experience, you may have had to add weight or gain muscle mass at some point in your life. It’s a fun idea — to eat anything and everything in front of you– but it’s also a very difficult reality. Michael Cobbins is trying to accomplish that goal right now for Oklahoma State, and he’s totally committed. As in six protein shakes-a-day committed. Since redshirting last season, he says he’s gained 30 pounds. It appears to be helping. His improvement this year is drawing rave reviews from coach Travis Ford, who says he “can’t say enough good things about Mike.”
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Checking In On… The Big 12

Posted by Brian Goodman on January 30th, 2012

Steve Fetch is the RTC correspondent for the Big 12. You can also find his musings online at Rock Chalk Talk or on Twitter @fetch9.

Reader’s Take


The Week That Was

  • Jayhawks Tumble In Ames: Kansas lost its first conference game, losing 74-62 to Iowa State in Ames. Kansas didn’t make many shots and sent the Cyclones to the foul line, but what will undoubtedly make Bill Self the angriest is the general lack of effort. Kansas had the second-lowest offensive rebound rate of Self’s tenure, and there were multiple times when a lone Cyclone got a loose ball despite three Jayhawks being around it. It certainly won’t be a fun couple of practices for the Jayhawks this week as they get prepped for Missouri.
  • Nash Bash: Like Kansas, Missouri was bitten by the upset bug, losing 79-72 in Stillwater. LeBryan Nash had by far the best game of his college career, pouring in 27 points on 12-18 shooting (3-4 from three), and the Cowboys held Missouri to just 4-19 shooting from distance. Missouri probably has the best offense in the country, but it is so dependent on jump shots that when they have an off night in that department, they seem to be a bit more vulnerable to an upset than the best offense in the country should be.
  • White Shows His Stripes: ESPN had a very nice story on Iowa State forward Royce White, highlighting some of the issues he has had in his life with anxiety. White had numerous criminal and other behavior issues while at Minnesota and while his anxiety should not be used as a blanket excuse, it is yet another caution that we as fans should not make our minds up about a player’s character without knowing the full story.

After Spinning His Wheels For Most Of The Season, LeBryan Nash Raised The Roof In Stillwater. (AP)

Power Rankings

  1. Kansas (17-4, 7-1): The Jayhawks remain in first in the rankings due to their loss being “better” than Missouri’s. They are just now hitting the meat of their conference schedule, with three of their next five games on the road at Missouri, Baylor, and Kansas State. Winning all three of them will all but lock up the conference title for Kansas, but if they play like they did in Ames they will be lucky to win one of them, and their streak of Big 12 titles could be over.
  2. Missouri (17-2, 4-1): The Tigers, as I mentioned above, rebounded nearly half of their misses at Baylor over the weekend and shot 68% from two, with Ricardo Ratliffe scoring 27 points on 11-14 shooting.  All season, they have struggled rebounding and at defending the two-point shot, so questions about how they will react when faced with size in the tournament are still valid, but they answered some of those questions on Saturday. Read the rest of this entry »
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ATB: Iowa State’s RTC, Syracuse’s Goaltend That Wasn’t and Robbie Hummel’s Game Winner…

Posted by rtmsf on January 30th, 2012

This Weekend’s Lede. In the season’s first non-football weekend (if you were watching the Pro Bowl, sorry, we can’t help you), we were left with a bunch of ho-hum games this weekend, but that doesn’t mean that they were unimportant. As of right now, there are approximately 60-70 teams that have a realistic shot at putting a run together the rest of the season to earn one of those elusive 37 at-large bids for the NCAA Tournament. Right now, it’s easier to find teams that don’t deserve an at-large than those that do, but that will probably change as teams separate themselves over the next six weeks. For the time being, here’s what we experienced this weekend…

Your Watercooler Moment. Iowa State RTCs Kansas.

In one of the more predictable situations of a hot team playing great basketball facing a hungry, up-and-coming team needing a statement win in its own building, Iowa State took it to Kansas in the last few minutes of their Saturday matchup, resulting in a major RTC and one of the biggest wins in recent Cyclones basketball history. The Mayor suffered an avalanche of criticism for his lack of coaching experience upon his hire two offseasons ago, but sporting a 5-3 Big 12 record and looking every bit the part of an at-large NCAA team for the first time since 2005, it now appears that it is he who will have the last laugh. The other takeaway from this game is that NPOY candidate Thomas Robinson may have met his Kryptonite, at least at the college level, in the form of ISU’s Royce White. The beastly Cyclone big man outplayed Robinson in both of their matchups this season (18/9/5 assts vs. 13/7 yesterday; 18/17/4 assts vs. 11/14/3 blks two weeks ago), and that’s not an easy task to perform. For our money we’d love to see a Round Three in March in Kansas City at the Big 12 Tournament.

Five More Weekend Storylines.

  • The Goaltend That Wasn’t. With Syracuse up two in the closing seconds of a hard-fought game with West Virginia on Saturday, the Mountaineers’ Truck Bryant fired up this wayward shot from the outside:

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Morning Five: 01.27.12 Edition

Posted by rtmsf on January 27th, 2012

  1. We all love college basketball — otherwise, you’re not reading this sentence and we’re not writing it. But do you ever wonder how the game matches up against the rest of the major American sports in terms of its popularity? Luckily for us, the Harris Poll annually measures exactly that thing, publishing its results in Sports Business Daily.The methodology of this poll is not all that sophisticated — the one question asked of 2,237 adults was to name their favorite US sport — but if you buy what they’re selling, college hoops at 5% is roughly equal in popularity to the NBA (5%), but is far behind the sporting goliath known as the NFL (36%) and has some ground to make up on MLB (13%), college football (13%), and NASCAR (8%). Since Harris didn’t ask people to list, for example, their top five favorites in popularity, it’s not really a true approximation of the sport’s popularity, but it’s worth noting nevertheless.
  2. In this interview with Gene Wojciechowski about his new book, The Last Great Game: Duke vs. Kentucky and the 2.1 Seconds That Changed Basketball, here is his answer as to why the Elite Eight battle between the two titan programs was so epic: “Because it was Kentucky vs. Duke, Pitino vs. Krzyzewski, the soon-to-be-called Unforgettables vs. the virtually unbeatables of Duke. Because the game was played at an incredibly high level from start to finish. Because it went to overtime. Because you need a calculator to add all the great shots down the stretch and during OT. Because a Final Four was at stake. Because Kentucky was back from the near-dead and Duke was going for dynasty status.” Yep, that pretty much sums it up, with one additional caveat: David vs. Goliath — Kentucky wasn’t given a chance by anybody to win that game. Young folks, here’s your assignment: Read Wojciechowski’s book, then re-watch the game from start to finish. After that, if you can make an argument for a more compelling game in the last 35 years of college basketball, let us know.
  3. Player quote of the year? NC State got pummeled by North Carolina last night in Chapel Hill, the eleventh loss in a row for the Wolfpack to its hated rival a few miles up the road. After the game, NCSU junior Scott Wood (0-5 himself) expressed his frustration with continually losing to the Heels with a rather vivid analogy: “I don’t know. Has your wife ever cheated on you… (pause)… that’s probably how frustrated it would be.” We cannot speak from experience, but we’d imagine that Wood is suggesting a level of frustration suitable for medication. The Heels will pay NC State a return visit to Raleigh on February 21 — maybe by then Wood will have been re-educated by NC State brass to not actually speak his mind in public (although we appreciate the honesty, frankly).
  4. One of the chic picks for an upset this weekend is Iowa State hosting Kansas at Hilton Coliseum in Ames Saturday. With the Cyclones currently at 4-3 in the Big 12 race with wins at home already over Texas and Oklahoma State, it’s certainly a reasonable choice. If Iowa State manages to pull off the shocker, there’s no doubt that its big man, Royce White, will play a major role in the win. Myron Medcalf writes that the huge space-eater in the paint is dominating this season after a long layoff in large part because he’s learned to handle the anxiety that has at times caused him severe emotional problems in the past. It’s a very enlightening read, and for a player whose problems have inspired more ridicule than sympathy, perhaps provides some context to many of the negative stories surrounding this kid.
  5. It’s Friday which means that Luke Winn‘s power rankings are out for this week. A few of teaser jewels from this version: Kentucky may not be the best defensive team in the SEC, much less the nation; Missouri’s Ricardo Ratliffe is nothing if not consistent; Nike’s new uniforms are not only spacey but can elicit “super-sick dunks”; and, Vegas isn’t as smart as everybody thinks it is (well, at least when it comes to San Diego State’s travel woes). Enjoy.
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Big 12 Morning Five: 01.26.12 Edition

Posted by dnspewak on January 26th, 2012

  1. With so many statistics in college basketball, it’s hard to know what’s important these days. That’s why the good people at Basketball Prospectus are here to help us out. Corey Schmidt wrote an interesting piece about “and-ones” in the Big 12 Conference, and they apparently have been very kind to Baylor. Through January 23, only Oklahoma State had a higher and-one field goal percentage than the Bears, though that did not factor into their loss to Missouri over the weekend. It’s also fun to look at the individual numbers: Thomas Robinson, unsurprisingly, leads the league in and-one field goal percentage, followed by Quincy Miller. 
  2. With a lot of depth in the backcourt, Frank Martin has all kinds of options with his Kansas State team. That’s why he has no problem switching starting lineups. Martavious Irving, for example, has been replaced by Angel Rodriguez, but that’s hardly phased the junior guard. Irving, who says it’s an “easy process” coming off the bench, has played unselfishly in two games since losing his starting job and has earned praise from Martin for his willingness to do the little things. As a reserve, Irving says he’s “calmed down” a bit, and it seems to benefit everybody mutually.
  3. Yahoo! Sports’ Big 12 check-in this week focuses on Iowa State‘s NCAA Tournament chances, which actually appear to be in somewhat decent shape right now. The Cyclones need to earn a marquee victory, but they’ve won enough games to at least put themselves in the conversation. Fred Hoiberg has quieted the critics of his program so far this season — they said he was too inexperienced as a head coach, and that bringing in four high-major transfers would not work. He hasn’t exactly proven them wrong yet, but he’s on that track if ISU can steal a few wins over Kansas, Baylor and Missouri down the stretch.
  4. The Cyclones still suffered a disappointing loss to Texas this week, and Royce White says it’s his fault. White made just one of seven free throw attempts in a 62-55 loss, missing his last six shots from the charity stripe. At just a tad better than 53% this season, free throws are White’s biggest weakness this year. By the way, though, he actually had a double-double against UT with 15 points and 15 boards in that game. Royce, it’s hardly your fault.
  5. On the other side, the Longhorns’ star player actually did suffer through a rough night. J’Covan Brown shot 3-16 from the field, but his teammates picked him up in that seven-point win. Myck Kabongo led the team with 13 points and helped get players like Julien Lewis and Sheldon McClellan involved late in the game. Perhaps that’s a sign of a maturing team.
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