Big 12 Tourney First Round Reaction: Oklahoma vs. Texas A&M

Posted by dnspewak on March 7th, 2012

Texas A&M 62, Oklahoma 53

It didn’t matter how many shots they had missed during the first 36 minutes of the game. At least Texas A&M‘s three leaders remembered how to make jumpers when it counted most. Three-pointers by Dash Harris and Khris Middleton, sandwiched between a mid-range jumper by David Loubeau, spurred a late 8-2 run to seize a 62-53 victory over Oklahoma in the first round of the Big 12 Tournament. Defensively, the Aggies held Oklahoma scoreless from the 2:52 mark until Cameron Clark‘s layup with 50 seconds remaining. That effort on the defensive end, according to coach Billy Kennedy, sealed the game.  “Our guys really bought into our defensive game plan of limiting the post,” Kennedy said. “And we made big shots when we needed to.”

Texas A&M used a late run to defeat Oklahoma in the first round of the Big 12 Tournament.

How the Aggies Won: By dominating the boards, they made up for a poor offensive showing by earning second-chance points. In addition to the 13 offensive rebounds, the Aggies also knocked down their free throws (15-17) and locked down the Sooners on the other end of the floor. They did not play particularly well, and they did benefit from the fact that ever Oklahoma player not named Romero Osby and Sam Grooms was a non-factor offensively. Grooms said his team’s offensive mistakes led to the Aggies’ decisive second-half run. “When you give Big 12 teams the opportunity to go the other way and make plays, they’re going to do it,” Grooms said.

What’s Next: Texas A&M now advances to face Kansas in the quarterfinals. In Lawrence, Kennedy’s team fought the Jayhawks for the majority of the game, even without an injured Harris. In Kansas City, though, it’s hard to expect a repeat performance. The Aggies will need Harris, Loubeau, and Middleton to play well for an extended period of time, not just the final four minutes of the game. In the other locker room, a subdued Sooners’ squad must now move on to next season after the loss of three seniors. “The guys returning have to crank it up for sure,” coach Lon Kruger said. “We’ve got to learn how to compete a lot harder.”

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The Breakdown: Wednesday Night in the Big 12 Tournament

Posted by dnspewak on March 7th, 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. You can follow him on Twitter @dspewak.

Knowing most of you are probably not all that interested in reading about the league’s bottom four teams, I’ll try to be brief here. Here’s exactly what you need to know — and nothing more — about the first round of the Big 12 Tournament.

Game 1: (8) Oklahoma vs. (9) Texas A&M, 6 p.m CT.

Lon Kruger Needs to Work His Magic

With only one scholarship senior on the roster, Lon Kruger may actually have a decent roster to work with next year. So although Wednesday could be the final game of C.J. Washington‘s career, this could mark the beginning of a turnaround in 2012-13. The Sooners have not fared well in Big 12 play after a strong start in November and December, but they have an underrated point guard in Sam Grooms, a blossoming scorer in Steven Pledger and a couple of really good  forwards in Romero Osby and Andrew Fitzgerald. Osby has quietly played very well down the stretch for Kruger, helping offset Pledger’s inconsistency and Fitzgerald’s struggles. He’s one of the top offensive rebounders in the Big 12, which sets up a showdown with Ray Turner and David Loubeau. Billy Kennedy will need to rework his roster more than Kruger next year, but the Big 12 Tournament could still give him some valuable feedback on what needs to change in his program.

The key player is… Osby. When these two teams played on Saturday, he scored 24 points and looked virtually unguardable. Surprisingly, Texas A&M actually kept him off of the offensive glass, which is Osby’s main strength.

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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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Big 12 Morning Five: 01.03.12 Edition

Posted by dnspewak on January 3rd, 2012

  1. Part of the reason for Oklahoma’s modest improvement under Lon Kruger this season has been the play of point guard Sam Grooms, who ranks near the top of the Big 12 in assist-to-turnover ratio. In a loss to Cincinnati last week, however, the junior college transfer faced his first major adversity of the season. Grooms and the rest of the Sooners blew a double-digit lead in the second half, mostly because they could not take care of the basketball. That’s the learning curve for Grooms right now, who can correct his mistakes by helping upset Missouri tonight in Columbia. It’s a tall task, but for OU to have any chance it must protect the basketball. The Tigers’ defenders are relentless, and hopefully Cincy was a tune-up for Grooms and his teammates.
  2. Surprise, surprise: Thomas Robinson is your Player of the Week in the Big 12. With 30 points and 21 rebounds against North Dakota, it’s hard to deny him the award. Robinson has now won the award three times, and there’s no doubt who the new leader on this re-made Kansas team is. Robinson made 14-of-20 field goals last week in games against Howard and North Dakota, averaging 14 rebounds in those contests. All season long, the 6’10” forward has terrorized opponents, and don’t expect that to stop just because the competition is improving. He’s as good as it gets in this league… and around the nation.
  3. John Lucas III is “famous” for a few things. First of all, he plays for the Chicago Bulls. And second of all, you surely remember him leading Oklahoma State to the Final Four in 2004. Still, it’s easy to forget that Lucas is part of Big 12 history in another way. He was originally at Baylor during the Patrick Dennehy murder scandal, though he said he had already decided to transfer before the incident due to playing time issues. That case is well-documented so it’d be silly to rehash it here, but it’s nice to see that Lucas’ basketball career turned out just fine.
  4. Yep, you guessed it– here’s another Big 12 Conference preview article, this time from the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. Situated in the state of Missouri, this paper has a bit of a different outlook considering Missouri is leaving for the SEC after the season. From that perspective, it’s interesting to consider what could happen if the Tigers win the league in their final year. The article is also worth reading because that endlessly quotable Kim Mulkey comment was included — you know, the one with an analogy about divorce and relationships as it pertains to the Big 12/SEC realignment. If you haven’t heard what she said about Texas A&M leaving the Big 12, then click the link and get ready for a laugh.
  5. And finally, we bring you a little bit of information out of Iowa State, where the Cyclones are gearing up for Big 12 play. Fred Hoiberg‘s team is still unproven at this point, and it just recently survived a two-point win over Mississippi Valley State. In that game, Royce White played just three minutes and he said he felt “dead” after the game. That’s how important the forward is to this basketball team. Melvin Ejim is another important part of this team, but after a stellar freshman season, he has found a new role on the bench. But he’s not having any trouble adjusting, especially after a double-double against MVSU. “I don’t mind. I think I’ve been playing well,” Ejim said. That’s got to be nice for Hoiberg to hear.
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New Look Oklahoma Sooners Thriving Under Lon Kruger

Posted by dnspewak on December 15th, 2011

Nobody’s going to hang a banner at the Lloyd Noble Center for Oklahoma‘s modest 7-1 start, especially considering the Sooners’ non-conference strength of schedule ranks 100th in the nation. Keep in mind that OU has not yet played a true road game. It lost to the best team on its schedule (Saint Louis) by 20 points. It arguably has not faced an NCAA Tournament team yet and its second-leading scorer transferred earlier this month.

But so what? Compared to last season’s 14-18 campaign, these Sooners are playing with an entirely different attitude on both ends of the floor under first-year head coach Lon Kruger. Despite the slip-up against SLU in the 76 Classic finals, Oklahoma appears to have improved in almost every facet of basketball, thanks in part to a higher overall level of maturity and the addition of two impact transfers. Kruger’s team manhandled Arkansas and Washington State, and it overpowered a good Santa Clara team by dominating the rebounding margin.

Oklahoma Already Has Half As Many Wins As 2010-11

From both a basketball and statistical standpoint, Oklahoma is a new team with point guard Sam Grooms (junior college) and forward Romero Osby (Mississippi State). It’s not hyperbole to suggest they are both lifesavers at their respective positions, and they’ve filled missing links by contributing in other areas besides scoring. Grooms, for example, doesn’t look to score much, but that’s not his role on this team after unseating Carl Blair as the starting point guard. Instead, he’s found his groove as the lead guard by deferring to Steven Pledger, who is enjoying a breakout junior season. Pledger has averaged nearly 18 points per game without forcing anything, and a lot of that has to do with Grooms’ efficiency at the point guard spot. Pledger also has less pressure thanks to the productivity of a several other scorers like Osby, Andrew Fitzgerald, Cameron Clark and, most recently, Tyler Neal, whose minutes have skyrocketed after Calvin Newell‘s transfer. The individual scoring totals for these players don’t matter much, though. Most importantly, with Grooms leading the way, Kruger’s team shares the ball, takes good shots, and has limited its turnovers. That’s a complete turnaround from the 2010-11 season, when the Sooners ranked dead last in the Big 12 in several offensive categories.

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Big 12 Weekend Games Primer

Posted by dnspewak on December 9th, 2011

GAME OF THE WEEKEND

  • Ohio State (8-0) at Kansas (6-2), Saturday 2:15 PM CT

Bill Self has gained a reputation during his long career for producing some of the most efficient offensive teams in the nation, but his 2011-12 team hasn’t performed up to his expectations quite yet. “Our offense sucks,” Self said. “It’s ridiculous to watch.” That’s a harsh statement to make in public, but Self has a point. Kansas turned the ball over 22 times in a win over Long Beach State this week, although it did tally 16 assists and hung 88 on the Big West favorites. To put Self’s comments into perspective, however, consider his team’s three games against Kentucky, Georgetown and Duke. The Jayhawks shot 28 percent from three-point land in those contests, and they totaled more than 10 team assists just once. Right now, much of the problem stems from the lackluster play of point guard Tyshawn Taylor, who owns an assist-to-turnover ratio of less than 1.0. He turned the ball over 11 times against the Blue Devils on national television last month in the Maui Invitational title game, and his subpar efforts seem to have major implications on the way KU runs its offense. But don’t give up on the senior point guard just yet. He has a chance for redemption against a smothering Ohio State defense, and in particular, he’ll need to rise to the occassion against the feisty Aaron Craft. The matchup at point guard will to some extent determine the outcome of this game, especially since star center Jared Sullinger‘s status is in question for the Buckeyes due to back spasms. If he plays opposite of KU’s Thomas Robinson, we’ll be treated to two of the best rebounders in America on Saturday afternoon.

If Jared Sullinger Plays, KU Is In Trouble

The key individual match-up isAaron Craft vs. Tyshawn Taylor. It doesn’t take long to recognize Craft’s impact on a basketball game. Making his mark as a distributor and defender, Craft may actually be the most publicized player in college basketball who does not average double figures in scoring. He has the ability to frustrate Taylor with his intensity and aggressiveness, but it’d be silly to write off Taylor in this match-up. Craft is a sophomore; Taylor, on the other hand, is a senior who’s never turned the ball over at this rate (4.0 TPG) at any point in his career. As long as he takes care of the ball, Taylor is a good enough player to hold his own here.

Kansas wins if… It executes better offensively. You heard Bill Self — the offense “sucks” right now. With Self’s track record, that shouldn’t last for long. If the Jayhawks share the ball better and limit turnovers, they have more than enough scoring options to hang with the Buckeyes at Allen Fieldhouse.

Ohio State wins if… Jared Sullinger plays– and dominates. With Robinson and Jeff Withey, Kansas has the interior defense to contain Sullinger… sort of. No matter who he faces, Sullinger finds a way to score by playing within the offense and making high-percentage shots. If Thad Matta slots him in the starting lineup, it won’t matter who guards him.

OTHER GAMES OF NOTE

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76 Classic Superlatives

Posted by AMurawa on November 28th, 2011

It wasn’t the sexiest bracket you’ve ever seen in a Thanksgiving weekend tournament. There were no teams ranked in the top 25 prior to this weekend and no player of the year candidates to be found anywhere. But there were some great coaches, some solid teams expected to contend for their respective conference titles, and some good basketball played at the 76 Classic in Anaheim this weekend. By way of putting a bow on this tournament, let’s take a look at some of the highlights of the weekend.

Champion: St. Louis – The Billikens take home the championship without ever being seriously challenged this weekend. They posted a 60.6 effective field goal percentage over the three games, nailing 29 threes, and as a team they posted almost a 2-to-1 assist-to-turnover ratio. But where the Billikens really excelled was defensively. They limited their opponents to less than seven offensive rebounds per game, forced almost 15 turnovers per game, held their opponents to under 45% shooting from the field, and did all of that while only allowing their opponents 15 free throws per game. With Brian Conklin emerging as an efficient offensive threat, Kwamain Mitchell returning to the fold as a great floor general and playmaker for the team, and a deep and talented bench capable of carrying out head coach Rick Majerus’ game plan, this is a disciplined team that can give all sorts of teams trouble this season.

Brian Conklin, Saint Louis

Brian Conklin Turned In A Career Weekend In Earning The Most Outstanding Player Award At The 76 Classic (Credit: Chris Lee, McClatchy Newspapers)

Surprise Team: Santa Clara/Oklahoma – Both the Broncos and the Sooners came away from this weekend with a 2-1 record, and both teams come away with their share of converts. When Santa Clara senior forward Marc Trasolini went down with a torn ACL in September a lot of people counted out the Broncos. That injury left the Broncos with an inexperienced frontline to pair with its prolific backcourt of junior Kevin Foster (who broke Steve Nash’s all-time record for three-pointers at Santa Clara this weekend) and sophomore Evan Roquemore, but this weekend Kerry Keating’s team proved that those guards (along with junior wing Ray Cowels) were good enough to put this team on their back. Meanwhile, not much was expected of an Oklahoma team that went 14-18 last season. With more or less the same roster returning, similar results were expected, but under new head coach Lon Kruger and with new point guard Sam Grooms taking the reins, the Sooners advanced to the championship game before getting outclassed by the Billikens. While the Sooners should not be expected to contend for a Big 12 title, Kruger definitely has this program headed in the right direction, and this team will rise up and knock off some teams this year.

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76 Classic Notes From Day One

Posted by AMurawa on November 25th, 2011

Andrew Murawa is an RTC correspondent for the Pac-12 and Mountain West conferences and a Pac-12 microsite staffer. This week he’s checking on the eight teams at the 76 Classic in Anaheim with some thoughts…

While the old tradition about Thanksgiving Day and football going together like turkey and mashed potatoes is all well and good, college hoops fans know that Thanksgiving week has fast become a smorgasbord of hoops action as well. Thursday night after some turkey and fixings with the family, I got a chance to dig into the basketball buffet a bit at the 76 Classic with a pair of intriguing games: New Mexico/Santa Clara and Oklahoma/Washington State. While I’ve had a chance to catch WSU and UNM on TV a couple of times, this was my first real good chance to get to know these teams. Here are my thoughts on what I saw Thursday night.

Drew Gordon, New Mexico

Drew Gordon Is Just One Lobo Who Has Yet To Get On Track This Year

The big question mark for New Mexico coming into the season was how they would go about replacing point guard Dairese Gary, who graduated last season. Junior Jamal Fenton had served as Gary’s understudy for a couple of years, but at 5’9”, he can be a liability on the defensive end. Well, after four games I think we can safely say that UNM has its point guard – and it’s not Fenton. Freshman Hugh Greenwood, a 6’3” native of Australia, saw the majority of the minutes at the point Thursday night (he played 33 minutes, Fenton just 16) and scored 14 points, handed out three assists and never turned the ball over. “I thought he was tremendous,” said head coach Steve Alford. “He has, like a lot of guys, some things he has to do better defensively but he competed and ran our team well.” However, as solid as Greenwood was, the Lobos still are having trouble getting Mountain West Preseason Player of the Year Drew Gordon, or even MW preseason all-conference player Kendall Williams, on track. Gordon scored 11 points and added ten rebounds on Thursday, but did so in a below-the-radar way, while Williams scored just six points and was repeatedly exposed defensively by Santa Clara’s Kevin Foster. In the Lobos two losses so far this season, Williams and Gordon area combined 2/25 from the field. ““We had some guys, very similar to the New Mexico State game, where there was just no production and we’re not good enough for that,” said Alford in a clear reference to his two stars. “We’ve got to have production from guys who are supposed to produce.”

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Big 12 Team Previews: Oklahoma Sooners

Posted by cwilliams on November 4th, 2011

Projected Finish: 9th

2010-11 Record: 13-19 (5-11), 10th (tie)

Head Coach: Lon Kruger, first season.

Key Losses: Cade Davis (14.2 PPG)

Oklahoma is looking to turn a new leaf and start a new chapter in the story of Sooner basketball. OU starts fresh with a new coach, Lon Kruger, a coach who has proven he can turn troubled programs into perennial tournament contenders. The Sooners lost their biggest scoring threat from last season, Cade Davis, but hope their junior class, especially Andrew Fitzgerald and Steven Pledger can replace Davis’s productivity. While fans may not have too much to root for on the hardwood in Norman this season, they can expect Kruger to get the program back on its feet and eventually relevant again.

The StarsAndrew Fitzgerald and Steven Pledger, the dynamic Sooner duo from last year, both return for their junior year. They are expected to be the leaders of this inexperienced Sooner squad in the 2011-12 season. Cameron Clark started every game last season as a freshman. He averaged 9.0 PPG in 2010-11, but I expect that figure to increase this season. All these players have certain aspects of their game that must improve in order for them to become stars. Fitzgerald needs to get stronger and tougher, Clark needs to gain more experience, and Pledger needs to find consistency.

Fitzgerald Is a Nice Piece For Kruger to Start With

The Veterans: The seniors of Oklahoma will most likely be more of a vocal force than an on-court force. T.J Franklin has been reduced to a bench role his entire career in Norman, and I don’t see that changing this season. Barry Honroe is a very athletic player, but does not seem to possess the other traits necessary to be a complete player. C.J Washington could be a threat under Kruger’s system, especially because he runs so well. He has not put up impressive numbers yet, and I will be interested to see if he thrives under a new system.

The Newbies

  • Casey Arent, a 6’10″ junior center who transferred from Sierra College (CA), is big. The biggest on the team, in fact. He averaged 19 points and 11 boards per game at his junior college, but don’t expect Arent to put those numbers up in his first year playing Big 12 basketball. He will, however, need to continue to be a presence in the paint with the Sooners.
  • Sam Grooms is a three-point threat junior college transfer from Chipola College. He will continue to be a three-point shooter under Kruger. Grooms was ranked as the 3rd highest junior college recruit.
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Conference Report Card: Big 12

Posted by Brian Goodman on April 25th, 2011


 

 

Brian Goodman is an RTC editor and contributor.

Year In Review

Before the start of the season, pollsters bought into Kansas State as the sexy pick to take the Big 12 in 2011 on the heels of an Elite Eight appearance in 2010. The Big 12 was not overly impressive in non-conference play, as the Wildcats fell hard to Duke in a de facto home game in Kansas City, and Missouri did the same against Georgetown in one of the more thrilling matchups of the early season.

As league play began, the preseason #3 Wildcats disappointed, starting 2-5, and the usual stalwarts of the Big 12, Kansas and Texas, rose to the top. After topping the Jayhawks at Allen Fieldhouse in January, the Longhorns looked to be in the driver’s seat, especially after Kansas was blindsided at Bramlage Coliseum to give Texas a two-game lead. However, Rick Barnes‘ team suffered another late-season collapse, going 2-3 to finish the regular season while the Jayhawks dusted off the competition to pull ahead to take their seventh straight conference crown.

Elsewhere in the conference, the Wildcats bounced back to end the season in third place. The middle of the conference wasn’t settled until the latter stages of the season with Missouri falling lat and Texas A&MColorado and Nebraska treading water. Baylor underachieved, given the talented personnel in Waco, and Oklahoma State never really looked in sync. OklahomaTexas Tech and Iowa State all had awful seasons to finish at the bottom of the standings.

In the conference tournament final, Kansas played its best basketball of the season, topping Texas to gain some revenge entering the Big Dance. Colorado was snubbed on Selection Sunday despite beating Kansas State three times, but the Big 12 still managed to get five teams into the NCAA Tournament. However, only the Jayhawks made it out of opening weekend alive, and they fell short of expectations as they lost to Shaka Smart and the Rams’ reign of BCS destruction.

KU's front line of Thomas Robinson (left) and the Morris twins evolved into a strength, and the Jayhawks struggled most when they weren't utilized on offense. (AP/Jamie Squire)

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