Big 12 M5: 10.27.14 Edition

Posted by Brian Goodman on October 27th, 2014

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  1. Texas isn’t exactly hurting for guards, but the Longhorns picked one up for the future with a verbal commitment over the weekend from four-star high school senior Kerwin Roach. In Roach, Rick Barnes gets his second commitment for the 2015 class (joining fellow guard Eric Davis). While this season’s Longhorns will be loaded with bigs like Cameron Ridley, Jonathan Holmes and Myles Turner, the roster makeup will begin to shift smaller next season, so keep this move in the back of your mind going forward.
  2. Jesse Newell of the Topeka Capital-Journal gives a stellar look into Bill Self’s simple yet efficient philosophy when it comes to offense. The value of the layup cannot be overstated, and if you watch a lot of Kansas’ games, you’ll see the Jayhawks pass the ball three or four times around the perimeter looking for a post entry angle before the ball ever crosses the three-point line. While it may be basic, it’s also why you see Self get visibly upset every time someone like Naadir Tharpe or Tyshawn Taylor hoists a quick three. This year, look for more close-range shots with paint artist Perry Ellis and the powerful Cliff Alexander on the low blocks.
  3. The success of Oklahoma this season will depend on its frontcourt depth, writes The Crimson And Cream Machine, and we couldn’t agree more. Last season, the recipe was for the backcourt to carry the load offensively and get just enough from double-double machine Ryan Spangler to carry the day. While Spangler will be back, the thing he has now that he didn’t have last year will be a little more help. D.J. Bennett, who averaged just nine minutes per game last year, will likely see more run, and Spangler could really benefit if TaShawn Thomas is ruled eligible.
  4. Continuing with the theme of post production, players up and down Kansas State’roster are excited for what their big men will provide this season. The Wildcats haven’t had a player 6’10” or taller on the roster since Bruce Weber took over as head coach, and this year, they’ll have two such big men in Brandon Bolden and Stephen Hurt, who both stand 6’11”. The added size will provide Marcus Foster with new targets, so while the losses of D.J. Johnson (injury) and Jack Karapetyan (transfer) hurt from a depth perspective, the remainders should give Kansas State hope for another finish in the top half of the Big 12.
  5. We’ll leave you with a frivolity from the weekend. You may have heard that TCU‘s football team rolled up 82 points on Texas Tech, and in case you were wondering when the last time the Horned Frogs put up that kind of offense on the hardwood, it was on December 19 against Grambling State. To find the last instance when the Horned Frogs scored 82 points against a league foe, however, you’d have to go all the way back to a March 3, 2012, battle against then-Mountain West opponent San Diego State, a 98-82 loss. Given that TCU has yet to field even a top-150 offense under Trent Johnson, don’t expect many such performances this season.
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If You Ask Around, Oklahoma Has Already Lost to North Dakota State

Posted by Nate Kotisso on March 20th, 2014

The brackets were released late Sunday afternoon with #5 Oklahoma pitted against #12 North Dakota State in the West Region. Almost immediately, the near consensus was that the Sooners will get upset by the Bison. The Dallas Morning News compiled this list of predictions from various ESPN and CBS Sports personalities on Oklahoma’s NCAA Tournament forecast. That pessimism isn’t just relegated to the analysts; social media followed suit as well. It’s the classic #5/#12 game that most filling out a bracket anoint as a mark-it-down upset (they’re doing it with Cincinnati-Harvard too). But not all upset options are created equally.

Lon Kruger is the only coach in NCAA history to take five different teams to the tournament. (Young Kwak/Associated Press)

Lon Kruger is the only coach to take five different schools to the NCAA tournament. But he still gets no respect, no respect at all. (Young Kwak/Associated Press)

Does it make sense to pick against Oklahoma? Absolutely. The Sooners are constructed to be unappealing on purpose. There aren’t any superstar freshmen, All-American talent or a big-name head coach. And despite all this, it was Lon Kruger’s team that finished second in the best conference in college basketball. He came into 2013-14 without five of his top eight scorers from last season, but that didn’t matter — this year’s guard-oriented offense is averaging a surprising 82 points per game. Yeah, a Lon Kruger coached team is doing this. The four-guard (Cameron Clark, Jordan Woodard, Buddy Hield, Isaiah Cousins), one forward (Ryan Spangler) lineup that Kruger went with to start the season was risky because it appeared it would get outmuscled against bigger opponents. But interestingly enough, the Sooners were able to pull off season sweeps against Baylor and Texas, two teams with long and skilled frontcourts.

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Big 12 M5: 03.12.14 Edition

Posted by Brian Goodman on March 12th, 2014

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  1. Over the years, the Big 12 Tournament has seen its share of jaw-dropping individual performers: Paul Pierce, Marcus Fizer, Kevin Durant, Mike Singletary, and Alec Burks, just to name a few. While we’re excited to see whether Andrew Wiggins steps up for Kansas and joins that list, you may also want to buy stock in Kansas State guard Marcus Foster. The freshman has come on strong lately, pouring in six 20-point games over his last 12 outings. Earlier this week, he joined Michael Beasley as the only freshmen in Kansas State history to be named to an All-Big 12 Team (Foster was selected to this season’s second team). His first test this week should be a fun one, as he will be matched up against DeAndre Kane and the Iowa State Cyclones tomorrow.
  2. The periphery of the NCAA Tournament bubble is not where West Virginia pictured itself at the beginning of the season, but November and December losses have come back to haunt the Mountaineers. Bob Huggins’ team won eight games in non-con play, but it’s the five losses outside of the league (to Virginia Tech, Wisconsin, Missouri, Gonzaga and Purdue) that are wearing heavy for the Mountaineers as they face the latest in a string of must-win games, Thursday’s Big 12 Tournament quarterfinal. At minimum, they need to get to Saturday’s final to warrant legitimate conversation. It’s do-or-die time for the ‘Eers.
  3. Last Saturday, Oklahoma State faced a textbook foul-or-defend scenario at the end of regulation against Iowa State. Cowboys head coach Travis Ford opted not to foul, and he ended up paying the price, as Cyclone Naz Long hit a three-pointer at the end of regulation to force overtime. As postseason play gears up, we may get the chance to find out if Ford learned his lesson. If Oklahoma State gets past Texas Tech tonight, it won’t be difficult to picture a quarterfinal meeting against Kansas coming down to a last-second tactical call. As the eight-seed, Oklahoma State is a wolf in sheep’s clothing, but what will happen when the pressure’s on?
  4. In all sports, including college basketball, the thought process behind Coach Of The Year awards can be a polarizing one. It’s usually reserved as a mea culpa for those who underestimated the winner at the start of the season even though there are times when picking a winner should be much simpler than that. While Rick Barnes and Lon Kruger brought home the hardware (depending on if you look at the Big 12 coaches’ vote or the AP vote), Gary Parrish of CBSSports.com contends that a case can be made rather easily for Bill Self even though everyone knew he had the most talent in the league coming into the season. It’s tough to deny Parrish’s arguments. After all, if winning the conference with the league’s best talent was so easy, why hasn’t Kentucky done it the last two years?
  5. Oklahoma was one of the biggest surprises in the Big 12, finishing in second place behind Kansas with a workmanlike season. With a brief lull between the end of the regular season and the Sooners’ quarterfinal game tomorrow, The Crimson and Cream Machine took a quick look at Oklahoma’s personnel for next season. The biggest thing that comes to mind is that sophomore Ryan Spangler is going to get some help down low. Lon Kruger is bringing three forwards into the fold, and all of them weigh at least 200 pounds. Cameron Clark and Tyler Neal may be on their way out, but Oklahoma should be even better next year thanks to some incoming reinforcements in the paint.
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Big 12 Weekend Preview: Conference Flirting With History

Posted by Brian Goodman on March 7th, 2014

Even without a clear national title contender beyond Kansas, it’s impossible to deny that this season has been hugely successful for the Big 12. No matter what you value, the conference has it.

  • Top-shelf NBA Draft talent (Andrew Wiggins, Joel Embiid, Marcus Smart)
  • Fantastic upperclassmen (Melvin Ejim, Markel Brown, Juwan Staten, Cory Jefferson, Cameron Clark)
  • Impact transfers (DeAndre Kane, Ryan Spangler, Tarik Black)
  • Coaches who have done remarkable jobs getting their teams to buy in (Bill SelfRick BarnesFred Hoiberg and Lon Kruger)
The Big 12 is trending towards history, and we're not talking about Kansas' vice grip on the crown. (John Rieger/USA Today Sports)

The Big 12 is trending towards history, and we’re not talking about Kansas’ vice grip on the crown. (John Rieger/USA Today Sports)

That’s not to say that the season hasn’t had its low points (Marcus Smart getting popped for three games after shoving a fan; West Virginia shooting itself in the foot with early season losses; TCU’s continued struggle to make any discernible noise), but all in all, it’s been a fantastic year for the Big 12. The most impressive thing about the conference, however, doesn’t have as much to do with the here and now as it does with what could be on Selection Sunday: A league record-tying seven NCAA Tournament bids.

At the beginning of the season, most prognosticators pegged the Big 12 as a five-bid league. Granted, at the time, Oklahoma State and Baylor weren’t believed to be the teams that would need wins at the end of the regular season to earn bids, but that’s how things have shaken out as Kansas State, Texas and Oklahoma have overachieved as the Cowboys and Bears struggled. But with Travis Ford and Scott Drew’s teams now clicking again, the odds of the conference squeezing not five, not six, but seven teams into the NCAA Tournament, are rising. If seven bids come to pass, it would tie a league record set in 2010, but if we’re nitpicking, seven bids in 2014 would be even more impressive than seven bids in 2010, and I’ll explain why.

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Big 12 M5: 01.31.14 Edition

Posted by Taylor Erickson on January 31st, 2014

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  1. As good as Kansas freshman Joel Embiid and Andrew Wiggins have been, lost in the shuffle is the improved play by junior point guard Naadir Tharpe. Tharpe finished Wednesday night’s game against Iowa State with 12 points, 12 assists, and just one turnover. That makes 17 assists to one turnover in his last three games, and a 3.3-to-1 assist to turnover ratio in conference play. There’s certainly a case that could be made that, while Embiid and Wiggins have been the center of most conversation around Kansas’ 7-0 start in league play, Tharpe’s improved play and reduction in turnovers has been the real reason why Kansas has been clicking as of late.
  2. Like many schools across the nation, attendance for home games has been an issue for Oklahoma State at times this season. On Thursday, head coach Travis Ford practically begged students at the campus union to attend games at Gallagher-Iba Arena. To make the process easier, students will no longer have to certify their tickets before the game — apparently a big issue. With the technology available to improve the at-home viewing experience, this seams to be an issue across several different sports, and it will force athletic departments to get creative to come up with new strategies to draw more interest.
  3. Fresh off a loss at Kansas on Wednesday night, there is some buzz that Cyclones’ head coach Fred Hoiberg may switch up his starting lineup by inserting freshman point guard Monte Morris into the mix. Morris has been a spark off the bench for Iowa State, and he could help out of the gate by preventing DeAndre Kane and company from getting off to slow starts, something that plagued them in both halves at Allen Fieldhouse.
  4. If I were to ask you to name the leading rebounder in the Big 12 this season, you might throw out names like Joel Embiid, Cameron Ridley or last season’s leading rebounder, Melvin Ejim. Instead, Oklahoma’s sophomore forward Ryan Spangler has proved to be an absolute workhorse down low for the Sooners, averaging over 11 rebounds per game in league play. Head coach Lon Kruger believes that Spangler’s attitude and work ethic has inspired his team’s improved play this year. Watching Spangler play like he did on Monday night in a win over Oklahoma State, you can’t help but appreciate the effort he puts forth on both ends of the floor.
  5. In a new series on CBSSports.com, Jeff Borzello discusses a potential title contender with a panel of anonymous head coaches about the strengths and weaknesses of said team and how best to perform against them. Thursday, Borzello took a look at Kansas and among the many items he discussed, perhaps the most interesting was whether the panel of coaches thought that Bill Self had the point guard play necessary to win a national title. The consensus opinion seemed to be that with the way Tharpe has been playing, the junior point guard was fully capable of leading Kansas to a Monday night win in Arlington.
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Oklahoma versus Kansas State Already with Bubble Implications

Posted by Nate Kotisso on January 14th, 2014

Before I start, a quick shout-out to the Big 12 schedule makers for giving us great match-ups seemingly every night conference games occur. They deserve raises.

It'll be a contrast in styles when Lon Kruger's Sooners take on Kansas State. (Jason Bean/Las Vegas Review-Journal)

It’ll be a contrast in styles when Lon Kruger’s Sooners take on Kansas State. (Jason Bean/AP Photo)

You’ve seen and heard this before: The Big 12 has the best conference RPI in the country. In his latest bracketology, Jerry Palm has seven teams from the Big 12 making the field of 68, more than any other league. So the next biggest Big 12 Game of the Week of the Night gives us Oklahoma at Kansas State, the result of which will go a long way in figuring out how soft the NCAA Tournament bubble will be in two months. The Wildcats and Sooners are polar opposites of each other. Literally. Oklahoma leads the Big 12 in points per game (87.0 PPG) while Kansas State is dead last in that category (67.2 PPG). K-State is tops in the league in scoring defense (59.8 PPG) while Oklahoma sits at the bottom of the conference (79.2 PPG). It’s one of those “something’s gotta give” games.

Oklahoma’s four-guard lineup has been confusing for opponents to defend, as the Sooners run the floor, shoot from long range (38.4 percent from three as a team), and rebound well (fourth in the Big 12). Ryan Spangler, the lone ranger on the interior, is currently the second-best rebounder in the conference (9.2 RPG). Kansas State, on the other hand, appears to be more conventionally constructed with two bigs and three guards. The one-on-one match-up on which to focus tonight is Oklahoma’s Buddy Hield versus Kansas State’s Marcus Foster. Hield is averaging 20.6 points and 5.6 rebounds per game in Big 12 play while Foster was recognized as the Big 12 Newcomer of the Week a week ago.

Before Saturday’s loss to Kansas, the Wildcats were on a 10-game winning streak which included wins over George Washington, Gonzaga and Oklahoma State. They are fortunate enough to have another important and winnable game at home here, but going forward, they’ll need to add additional credible road wins to their portfolio. The Sooners, despite a soft non-conference schedule, already have two marquee wins in Big 12 play: at Texas on January 4, and Saturday’s home win against Iowa State.

You can watch the Sooners and Wildcats tangle tonight at 7:00 ET on ESPN2. Something’s gotta give.

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Four Takeaways From Oklahoma Ending Iowa State’s Unbeaten Season

Posted by Nate Kotisso on January 12th, 2014

Oklahoma came into its game against Iowa State with a bad taste in its mouth. The Sooners led for much of the first half against Kansas on Wednesday, but a late spurt from the Jayhawks just before halftime gave them a lead they wouldn’t relinquish. The Cyclones came in as one of five teams with an undefeated record and had convincingly taken care of Baylor earlier in the week. Here are four things we learned from Iowa State’s visit to Oklahoma on Saturday.

OU's Cam Clark came into the Iowa State game leading the Big 12 in scoring. He only had 12...and the Sooners still won. (Tim Heitman/USA Today Sports)

OU’s Cam Clark came into the Iowa State game leading the Big 12 in scoring. He only had 12… and the Sooners still won. (Tim Heitman/USA TODAY Sports)

  1. Oklahoma Picked Their Poison and Chose Wisely: It’s easy to feel overwhelmed against a team like Iowa State. They can shoot, rebound, run the floor well and don’t turn the ball over much. So the game plan for Lon Kruger was to “surrender” the paint in favor of guarding the perimeter with all their might, and it worked. The Sooners, ranked 234th in Division I in two-point field goal percentage defense, according to KenPom, worked with their small lineup and allowed Melvin Ejim, Georges Niang, DeAndre Kane and Dustin Hogue to get plenty of good shots in the paint, which they made. But ISU misfired on 20-of-26 attempts from three-point land. Will other Big 12 opponents take note of this strategy? Read the rest of this entry »
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Oklahoma’s High-Powered Offense Provides Some Hope in a Crowded Big 12 Race

Posted by Alex Moscoso (@AlexPMoscoso) on December 10th, 2013

A month into the new season, the Big 12 may be more crowded at the top than originally thought. Perennial favorite Kansas is the most talented team, but the Jayhawks have looked vulnerable as their stud freshmen have shown that they are not immune to growing pains. After several signature wins, some other conference teams such as Oklahoma State, Iowa State and Baylor have proven that they too will have the talent to compete with Bill Self’s squad. One Big 12 team that may be flying under the radar and could make some noise come conference play is Oklahoma. Lon Kruger’s young team is currently 8-1 with no bad losses — the single defeat was to Michigan State – and it may also have one of the best offenses in the league.

Lon Kruger

Lon Kruger has the Sooners playing well, but it’s crowded at the top of the Big 12. (AP)

In October, the Big 12 Preseason Media Poll selected the Sooners to finish fifth mostly due to the fact that Kruger had lost his top three scorers from the year before (Romero Osby, Steven Pledger, and Amath M’Baye) and did not have any immediate impact recruits to fill the void. Because of this, Oklahoma’s starting lineup consists of one senior, Cameron Clark, and four underclassmen. This was supposed to be a transition year for the Sooners, but after 27 years of success spanning six schools, maybe we should have had more faith in the underrated head coach. Those underclassmen who were supposed to take this year to transition into bigger roles are all averaging double-figure points per game and have converted the Sooners into the 13th most potent offense in the country, scoring 87.4 PPG. The reasons: They run their offense at a fast pace and score at a high rate. The young Sooners average 74.9 possessions per game (eighth nationally) and score 1.14 points per possession (25th).

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Big 12 M5: 11.15.13 Edition

Posted by Brian Goodman on November 15th, 2013

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  1. Kansas has another big day today as Jahlil OkaforTyus Jones and Cliff Alexander are scheduled to make their college decisions this afternoon, and The Sporting News has a solid breakdown of Jones’ and Okafor’s recruitment and what the commitments will mean for the winner of their services.. The rumor mill has led many to believe that the package deal of Okafor and Jones are leaning towards Duke while Illinois is considered the leader for Alexander, a blue-chip prospect from Chicago. Even though Kelly Oubre is already committed to the Jayhawks for the 2014-15 season, Kansas may need to reload in a hurry with Andre Wiggins, Wayne Selden and Joel Embiid dotting mock drafts throughout the blogosphere.
  2. It’s not even Thanksgiving yet, but Iowa State has one big weekend in store. For starters, the Cyclones host top-flight 2014 recruit Rashad Vaughn. Touted as perhaps the best shooting guard prospect in his class, Vaughn has drawn comparisons to Ben McLemore with his shooting stroke and strength in a 6’6″ frame. While a decision isn’t expected in the immediate future, a commitment would send a message that not only can Fred Hoiberg land impact transfers, but he can make his presence felt on the prep level as well. The Cyclones top off the weekend Sunday night when they face top-10 foe Michigan at Hilton Coliseum.
  3. Their season is only two games old, but Kansas State hasn’t done much to change the minds of skeptics who are leery of their offense. The Wildcats’ defense has been fine so far, as it held both Northern Colorado and Oral Roberts to less than a point per possession, but Bruce Weber‘s team already ranks eighth in the conference in offensive efficiency. The next opponent on Kansas State’s schedule is Long Beach State, which hasn’t been the least bit impressive, so the 49ers appear to provide the Wildcats with a chance to get right on the offensive end.
  4. Burnt Orange Nation’s Jeff Haley is one of the best there is when it comes to breaking down advanced metrics, and his number-crunching tells us that Jonathan Holmes and Isaiah Taylor have been worth the price of admission through Texas‘ first two games. Haley also points out that the Longhorns have played a fair amount of zone defense, perhaps in an effort to keep Rick Barnes’ inexperienced and thin personnel from getting into foul trouble.
  5. Oklahoma forward Ryan Spangler has been a work horse for the Sooners. Playing a key role in Oklahoma’s 3-0 start, Spangler has averaged 13.0 points to go along with 8.3 rebounds per game. Spangler also rejected three shots against Idaho on Wednesday and will look to keep the momentum rolling when the Sooners tip off against Seton Hall tonight in Brooklyn.
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Big 12 M5: 11.06.13 Edition

Posted by Nate Kotisso on November 6th, 2013

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  1. Today is November 6 which means it’s time for… bracketology? CBSSports.com’s Jerry Palm believes it is and his first bracket only has four Big 12 teams safely into the field of 68, with another team in the ‘first four out’ category. If there’s one thing to look forward to, it’s next week’s Champions Classic, where the four number one seeds — Kentucky, Kansas, Michigan State and Duke, according to Palm — will play each other in Chicago. It should be noted that there are some new bracketing measures that will go into effect this year. Due to conference realignment, the selection committee will allow teams from the same conference to meet in rounds earlier than the regional finals. Previously, the committee only allowed this situation in the event that a conference received nine or more bids to the NCAA Tournament (see: Big East in 2011 and 2012). Sadly, that’s an advantage the Big 12 never had a chance to experience.
  2. Oklahoma lost a lot of the talent that brought it back to NCAAs last season for the first time since 2009. To replace the Sooners’ front line of Romero Osby and Andrew Fitzgerald will be transfers Ryan Spangler and D.J. Bennett. The Oklahoman tells us the story of  their commitments to Oklahoma on the same day and their workouts together while they waited to become eligible. Spangler is projected to be a starter while Bennett appears to be a good option for significant minutes off the bench. To have such good chemistry already built between the big men has to be a good thing for Lon Kruger.
  3. Oh look, Fred Hoiberg just snagged another transfer with the commitment of ex-Indian Hills Community College forward Jameel McKay on Tuesday night. McKay had previously committed to Buzz Williams and Marquette but came to the realization in October that their style of play wasn’t particularly conducive to his talents. McKay was a two-time junior college All-American, averaging 18.1 points, 10.6 rebounds, and two blocks per game during his sophomore campaign. He’ll enroll at Iowa State for the spring semester and become eligible to play in December, but expect that the Cyclones will apply for a waiver so that he could play immediately.
  4. Can Tubby Smith save Texas Tech? That’s the question CollegeBasketballTalk asks about the Red Raiders program. The case made in the article is that Smith may not be an interesting character like Bob Knight or Billy Gillispie were, but he’s a man who gets results. He took Georgia and Tulsa to Sweet Sixteens, Kentucky to a National Championship, and even though he may have suffered a misguided firing at Minnesota, he took the Gophers into the round of 32 for the first time in a non-sanctioned year since 1990. Is he Tech’s sexiest hire yet? You tell me.
  5. Lost in the shuffle of West Virginia‘s exhibition win Monday night was an inappropriate moment featuring a Fairmont State player on its bench. (WARNING: A NSFW photo with a Fairmont State player giving the “double birds” will appear. Click at your own risk.) According to The Big Lead, they believe the player to be Martins Abele, a Lithuanian center who fouled out at the time of the photo, and in a moment of frustration, took it out on the home student section. Fairmont State athletic director Tim McNeeley said that Abele will be disciplined for his act but decided not to go into specific details as to how or when.
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RTC Summer Updates: West Coast Conference

Posted by Brian Goodman on July 5th, 2011

With the completion of the NBA Draft and the annual coaching and transfer carousels nearing their ends, RTC is rolling out a new series, RTC Summer Updates, to give you a crash course on each Division I conference during the summer months. Our first update is from the West Coast Conference and comes courtesy of Will Green, an editor and writer with The Slipper Still Fits.

Readers’ Take One

Summer Storylines

  • Brigham Young University Joins The Conference: When this story was first reported back in September, it was largely forgotten. BYU’s move was a football one with basketball repercussions, not the other way around. If anyone was talking about the Cougars, the dialogue was centered around how much money it would receive from it slew of nationally televised football contests this coming fall, and how many years the vaunted program would remain as an independent before choosing to join another league, securing even more lucrative contracts. The move, however, might make a greater impact on the collegiate basketball landscape than the football one, competitively speaking. For one thing, resident king Gonzaga’s streak of conference championships – which is older than most of your children – or at least its general reputation as the WCC’s top dog, is seriously endangered.  With Jimmer Fredette seizing all available national attention like a Venus flytrap, lost on many fans last year was the fact BYU was not merely a fortuitous program enjoying an unusually good year. The Cougars have been a top 40 RPI team since 2006, with a pair of top 20 finishes. That’s not a second Gonzaga — that’s better than Gonzaga. They also bring by far the largest student body and largest fan base that the league has ever seen. Indeed, the league can leverage BYU’s prominence to grow its influence and scope (more on that later). Despite being a “football move,” BYU’s departure from the Mountain West Conference is not, as so many of the recent realignment moves have been, a casualty of circumstance. The aforementioned “repercussions” became a mutually beneficial improvement for both the Cougars and the league. Credit alert diplomacy and geographical convenience to why commissioner Jamie Zaninovichwas able to lure a team into his league that’s also, statistically speaking, better than any team in his current league.

    Brandon Davies, if Reinstated by BYU, is an X-Factor for the Cougars in 2011-12 (Getty/E. Miller)

  • The League Gets A New TV contract: Over the course of the 2000s, the WCC did a remarkable thing: It became the most widely televised college basketball league of all the leagues in the West, while being only the fourth highest-rated league by RPI of the six in the region. Resident behemoth Pac-12 trusted its games to the insipid hands of Fox Sports’ cluster of regional networks. The Mountain West conference was largely marooned out on “The Mtn,” a network that truncated both its name and its audience by being available in a far more limited number of homes than the heavy-hitting Pac-12. The Western Athletic Conference enjoyed the occasional ESPNU game. The WCC, on the other hand, had its most intriguing matchups beamed into peoples’ living rooms in prime time on Thursday and Saturday nights (and for a time, on Big Monday) via ESPN or ESPN2. Both sides had such a good time putting the whole mess together that when their previous contract expired on June 1, it took exactly one week to renegotiate an eight-year extension. The new deal increases the amount of ESPN games featuring WCC teams by an average of at least five per year, possibly much more, and is spread across Thursday, Saturday and select Monday nights. While some critics contend the new ESPN contract isn’t much of an improvement over the previous one, their voices were provoked loudest during the rather dwarfing aftershock of the Pac-12’s mammoth deal with the same network. While this upcoming season could mark the first time in a long while that the WCC won’t be the most-watched west coast league, the league strengthened its relationship with ESPN and is poised to showcase what should be its most successful year ever in front of its widest audience to date.  In an era of scrambling realignment and a fragile economic landscape, this is a still a huge win.
  • The University of San Diego Suffers A Bribery Scandal: In April, this story looked crippling. San Diego had just finished one of the worst seasons by any WCC team ever when news broke that Toreros’ all-time leading scorer and current Memphis Grizzlies protégé, Brandon Johnson, was allegedly used to solicit current USD player Ken Rancifer on behalf of a delinquent named Steven Goria and several others to fix a game against the University of Portland on February 24. Also revealed was the news that Johnson himself had allegedly fixed a game during his senior season one year earlier. The good news for USD is that the story is quickly losing momentum, due in large part to the recent news that the 2011 team has largely been cleared of wrongdoing (Rancifer turned down the bribe from those attempting to fix the game) Repercussions from the 2010 game will ensue once the FBI is done investigating the entire case, and could involve recruiting sanctions or a postseason ban. Frankly, the Toreros are so deep in the throes of rebuilding that they might not enjoy any such postseason for the NCAA to ban in the first place. All told, this could have been much, much worse for USD. The true damage of the scandal is neither physical nor fiscal, but is still potentially very heavy. While it’s growing steadily, the WCC is not yet a national brand and one dominant negative story can define the WCC and USD for a large group of fans who aren’t very familiar with a non-power six league that’s on TV after they go bed. Show-stealing years from perennial contenders like Gonzaga and BYU, as well as postseason disruptiveness by the likes of St. Mary’s and Santa Clara, would be a good first step toward taking casual fans’ focus off of the scandal. Of course, if USD itself can somehow bounce back from a 6-24 record and win a few games they’re not supposed to, they just might turn themselves into national feel-good story.

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