Big 12 Morning Five: 01.18.12 Edition

Posted by dnspewak on January 18th, 2012

  1. Fred Hoiberg has injected new life into the Iowa State program this year as the Cyclones and Royce White in particular are starting to make headlines with their pesky play. They nearly knocked off Missouri at home, and they led Kansas at the Phog for a stretch during the second half. But don’t expect a celebration for moral victories in Ames any time soon. As Scott Christopherson puts it, “Oklahoma State does not care that we played Kansas tough at Kansas… Actually, nobody really cares.” That’s harsh, but it’s the mindset Christopherson and ISU need to have for the rest of the season. Hanging tough isn’t good enough in major Division I basketball– that’s what gets coaches fired and players scrutinized.
  2. Three Big 12 basketball players have made the Mid-Season Watch List for the Wooden Award, and none of the names will surprise you: Perry Jones (Baylor), Marcus Denmon (Missouri), and Thomas Robinson (Kansas). Overall, 25 players made the list, and the vote will not take place until March. Compared to Denmon and Jones, Robinson probably has a better shot at this national award, but all three will be in the mix for Big 12 Player of the Year and All-Conference honors.
  3. A little SEC news may have some collateral damage for the Big 12. Apparently, the SEC may be interested in using Kansas City as a possible host for the men’s basketball tournament in March. Obviously, that would conflict with the Big 12 men’s basketball tournament, which is slated to stay in the city for the time being. There’s no definitive answer on this issue right now, but it underscores a larger point: conference realignment is taking a toll on every team in every conference, and the arguments aren’t over at this point.
  4. With all of its injuries and personnel issues, it’s easy to forget about Oklahoma State. At 2-2, though, it’s not as though the Cowboys’ Big 12 season has been a disaster thus far. Yes, the 41-point loss to Baylor does not look good, but Travis Ford‘s teams have made a habit of storming back during his tenure. That’s not to say this Oklahoma State team will replicate that success, of course. Ford’s early teams had an emotional leader in Byron Eaton and a never-say-die attitude. Perhaps Keiton Page is the next candidate to lead Oklahoma State to the promised land– the NCAA Tournament– in his senior season.
  5. In desperate need of quality wins right now, Texas will travel to Kansas State in a game both teams need to win to salvage their seasons. The Longhorns are in danger of missing the NCAA Tournament for the first time in more than a decade. They will have to deal with Kansas State’s energetic home crowd, and the Wildcats cannot afford to drop another home game. At 1-3, it’s already been a rough start for Frank Martin‘s team. Things could get ugly in Manhattan if that record falls to 1-4.
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Ten For Ten: Impressions of Each Big 12 Team From Its Opener

Posted by dnspewak on January 5th, 2012

Congratulations, Big 12 teams. You’ve all now played one-eighteenth of your conference schedule. For the next two months, you will suffer through hard-fought battles week after week until this wild league sorts itself out. After one game, it’s impossible to tell what exactly will happen from now until the first weekend in March. But each Big 12 opener at least gave us a little insight into this crazy conference. In alphabetical order, here’s what you need to know about Opening Week:

  1. Baylor has not played flawless basketball this season, but don’t exactly take that as a criticism. The Bears are undefeated and off to the best start in school history, and yet they still have a lot of room for improvement. Although it handled Texas A&M from start to finish in Waco on Monday, Scott Drew’s team still finished with 16 turnovers and shot just 2-12 from beyond the arc. Guard play in particular was a problem: Pierre Jackson finished with seven turnovers, and Brady Heslip did not score. And yet the Bears’ 61-52 victory was hardly in doubt until a modest comeback by the Aggies at the very end of the game. Perry Jones, who did not play well in a win over Mississippi State on national television last week, redeemed himself with a double-double as BU’s frontcourt overpowered the normally physical Aggies. The guards will make the difference this season for Drew, and though they struggled in the Big 12 opener, that trend should not continue. Jackson, Heslip, A.J. Walton and Gary Franklin are an underrated group.
  2. Iowa State is not a pushover this season. These guys can really shoot the heck out of the basketball, and they won their first Big 12 opener in five seasons by knocking off Texas 77-71 on Wednesday night. Yes, the Longhorns have problems of their own– more on that later– but Fred Hoiberg‘s team defended well, played with outstanding energy and got every shot it wanted on the offensive end. Iowa State made 10-of-21 three-pointers, and not a single trey came from Scott Christopherson, one of the top three-point shooters in Big 12 history from a percentage standpoint. Chris Babb and Anthony Booker combined to make eight of those shots, but forward Royce White controlled this game by getting to the free throw line and posing a matchup problem for UT. The Longhorns are small on the front line, and White exploited them by using his quickness. He announced to the Big 12 that he will not be easy to defend this winter.

    Bill Self's Team Made a Statement On Wednesday Night

  3. Kansas looked like a Big 12 champion again by spanking Kansas State at the Phog on Wednesday night. Sure, the Jayhawks cooled off after building an early 18-point lead, and the Wildcats jumped back into the game in the second half. By the end of the contest, though, KU had run away with this rivalry by beating Frank Martin at his own game. Kansas State thought it could rattle the Jayhawks with its high-pressure style and tenacious rebounding, but Thomas Robinson proved once again that he’s not afraid of anybody. Forget the loss to Davidson. Tyshawn Taylor may turn the ball over too much, and the offense may not always look crisp, but Bill Self‘s team will defend and it will not back down from a challenge. 17 offensive rebounds and a +24 margin on the boards against a Frank Martin team is proof of that. Read the rest of this entry »
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Big 12 Morning Five: 12.13.11 Edition

Posted by dnspewak on December 13th, 2011

  1.  On the surface, the brawl between Cincinnati and Xavier this weekend had nothing to do with the Big 12 Conference. However, here’s an interesting perspective on the whole deal from a Big 12 point of view: Should the fight affect the way the league views Cincinnati as an expansion candidate? This particular writer argues that the incident will give the university a black eye when it comes to expansion, but we think the hoopla may blow over soon. Mick Cronin‘s lack of harsh punishment has also added to the public relations disaster, but this is only one event in one sport. The entire athletic department of Cincinnati hasn’t been tarnished.
  2. Iowa State coach Fred Hoiberg is 5-1 against the Iowa Hawkeyes as a coach and player after his team’s victory last Friday, and he told reporters after the game, “I wish I was playing.” The Cyclones have now won three straight games in the rivalry, which has lost some luster with the nosedive both programs have taken in recent years. ISU may be on the way up, though. Guard Scott Christopherson broke out again against Iowa, scoring 16 points. Last year, he scored 30, and he’s never lost to the Hawkeyes. “It’s a great thing to say you’ve never been beat by the Hawkeyes,” he said.
  3. With the new Associated Press and Coaches’ Polls released on Monday, both Missouri and Kansas predictably jumped up in the rankings. MU now sits at #8 in the AP poll, while KU jumped to #12 after knocking off #2 Ohio State. Had Jared Sullinger played on Saturday, the Jayhawks would have likely gotten a lot more credit for their win. Still, there’s no reason to downgrade that victory against a very tough squad, even if the game was at the Phog.
  4. Speaking of Missouri, the Tigers are starting to get some outstanding publicity from major analysts. Jay Bilas, for example, says Missouri can win the national championship. Nobody doubted Missouri would be good this season, despite the departure of its head coach and the loss of All-Big 12 forward Laurence Bowers. The Tigers returned an experienced group with three straight NCAA Tournaments under their belts — but at 9-0, this team is flying higher right now than anyone imagined. It’s not that Missouri is just winning. It’s that MU is dominating the competition, and it has looked terrific on both ends of the floor.
  5. Hey, did you notice Oklahoma is 7-1 right now? The Sooners haven’t played a murderer’s row so far, but they look like a different team under first-year head coach Lon Kruger. He has helped guard Steven Pledger elevate his game, as he’s now among the Big 12′s leading scorers as a junior. Mike Anderson, who coached against OU as Missouri’s coach and saw his Arkansas team lose to the Sooners over the weekend said “I think more than anything, they’re older. They’re mature.” And it’s showing. We’ll find out a little more about this team, though, once January rolls around and Big 12 play begins.
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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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Big 12 Morning Five: 12.06.11 Edition

Posted by dnspewak on December 6th, 2011

  1.  As we previewed the 2011-12 season this fall, we agreed that the Big 12 Conference was wide open this season. But is the league as whole down this year? It’s very difficult to tell, considering the month of December just began. However, there’s legitimacy to the argument. There are a lot of question marks at the top: How will Texas A&M fare if Khris Middleton’s injury nags at him this season? Is Baylor as good as advertised? How about Missouri‘s hot start, and what do we make of the revamped Kansas Jayhawks? And at the bottom of the league, there are several teams still trying to prove themselves. We know one thing, at least: This will all be naturally sorted out during the next few months.
  2. TCU is still a member of the Mountain West Conference right now, but it will get a taste of the Big 12 when it faces Texas Tech tonight. The Horned Frogs, who are set to join the league beginning in the 2012-13 season, are a modest 6-2, but Jim Christian‘s team does at least appear improved. Despite a couple of losses in the Paradise Jam tourney, TCU actually owns solid road wins at Houston and Evansville and knocked off Virginia. Laugh if you want, but TCU’s early-season stretch could have been much worse.
  3. Missouri‘s early-season stretch, on the other hand, couldn’t have been better. Literally. The Tigers are undefeated, and they’ve now cracked the Top 10 in both national polls after their dominating start. Considering the whirlwind of an offseason MU experienced, it’s amazing Frank Haith has his team in this position right now. With Villanova looming tonight at Madison Square Garden in the Jimmy V Classic, Haith’s squad has another chance to showcase its improvement to the nation.
  4. Iowa State began the season on a three-point tear, but the Cyclones’ accuracy from the perimeter has faded of late. That could be a serious problem for a team that relies on shooters like Chris Babb, Chris Allen, Scott Christopherson and Tyrus McGee to produce. During the past two games, ISU has taken 45 threes and the Cyclones made just 10. That’s not very productive, folks. Of course, that’s a rather small sample size. We’re guessing Iowa State’s shooters will heat up one of these days. There’s just too many of them to all go cold at once.
  5. In an interesting move, Oklahoma has actually dropped ticket prices to its men’s basketball games this season. In fact, the Sooners’ athletic department cut $100 off the price for student tickets in an effort to get more people out to the games. And from the 2008-09 season to last year, ticket revenues dropped by about 14 percent. Remember, the 2008-09 team made the Elite Eight with Blake Griffin, so it appears OU may have to keep these prices low until Lon Kruger gets the program turned around.
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Big 12 Morning Five: 11.17.11 Edition

Posted by dnspewak on November 17th, 2011

  1. Most signings across the Big 12 this week have been only formalities, but in Kansas’ case, the program picked up a new commitment in forward Landen Lucas. According to Self, Lucas might be the next Darnell Jackson. If you’ll remember, Jackson started for KU’s 2008 National Championship squad and even led that extremely talented team in rebounding. If Lucas ever grows into the kind of player Jackson was his senior season, then Jayhawk fans should be more than thrilled.
  2. For the first time in 35 games, Iowa State’s Scott Christopherson failed to make a three-point basket in a five-point loss to Drake earlier this week. That streak was a school record, and without Christopherson’s contributions, ISU looked lost offensively. Most of his team struggled shooting the ball from the perimeter as well, and it appears the Cyclones with all their new players have a lot of work to do this winter. Of course, with four transfers playing big minutes, an acclimation period has to be expected.
  3.  The Associated Press reports the NCAA Division I Men’s Basketball Committee will keep a Big 12 flavor, as Oklahoma athletic director Joe Castiglione will replace former league commissioner Dan Beebe on the panel. Castiglione, also a former AD at Missouri, will serve until the end of the 2012-13 season. He’ll now have the difficult task of helping select which at-large teams make the NCAA Tournament, so hopefully he’s ready to face the inevitable criticism.
  4. It’s hard to use just one word to describe Missouri’s Kim English. He’s known more for his Twitter and his post-game quotes than his game these days. After a productive freshman year in 2008-09, English then led the team in scoring as a sophomore before falling flat as a junior. Last season, he struggled in almost every facet of his game, which is why his pleasantly surprising start is good news for Tiger fans. We’ll hold off judgment until MU faces better competition, but English at least looks much more comfortable this season.
  5. Since many of us stayed up all night to watch basketball during ESPN’s Tip-Off Marathon, the thought of next year’s event is a little unsettling. We’re tired and sleep-deprived, that’s all. But Texas Tech coach Billy Gillispie has a plea: he wants to be part of the event in 2012. Gillispie even offered to play at 3 AM CST, which is normally the time slot reserved for Hawaii. If Gillispie wants to play at three o’clock in the morning, then more power to him. It might be a difficult sell for his college-aged players, though.
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Big 12 Team Previews: Iowa State Cyclones

Posted by dnspewak on November 5th, 2011

Projected finish: 8th

2010-11 record: 16-16 (3-13), 12th

Head coach: Fred Hoiberg, second season

Key Losses: Diante Garrett (17.3 PPG), Jake Anderson (12.8 PPG), Jamie Vanderbeken, (11.1 PPG)

Coach Fred Hoiberg‘s team started quick in nonconference play during his first season, but his Cyclones eventually tumbled to a dismal last-place finish in 2010-11. After losing one of the league’s top point guards in Diante Garrett, Hoiberg’s job doesn’t get much easier this fall. However, he does have one of the more intriguing rosters in the Big 12 with four big-name transfers set to take the court. There are a lot of wild cards for Iowa State this season, but there may be enough talent for a surprise finish.

Fred Hoiberg's Team Could Surprise (AP/A. Heisenfelt)

The Stars: Scott Christopherson may be the most underrated shooter in college basketball. He shot a blistering 44.1% from three-point range last year, making 83 threes during a terrific campaign. Garrett got a lot of the credit as the star last season, but Christopherson was probably the second most important player on the squad. After playing sparingly as a freshman at Marquette due to injury, Christopherson finally emerged as a team leader when he became fully healthy and earned a starting job.

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Set Your Tivo: 01.12.11

Posted by Brian Otskey on January 12th, 2011

***** – quit your job and divorce your wife if that’s what it takes to watch this game live
**** – best watched live, but if you must, tivo and watch it tonight as soon as you get home
*** – set your tivo but make sure you watch it later
** – set your tivo but we’ll forgive you if it stays in the queue until 2013
* – don’t waste bandwidth (yours or the tivo’s) of any kind on this game

Brian Otskey is an RTC contributor.

We’re going to mix it up today with this feature. With so many good games tonight (one of the best nights of the season thus far) here are some quick hitters on 10 important games you should be following this evening, including the top five teams in the land all playing on the road. Additionally, key conference battles are on tap throughout the night. Enjoy it, folks. All rankings from RTC and all times eastern.

#2 Ohio State @ Michigan – 6:30 pm on Big Ten Network (***)

The Wolverines nearly knocked off Kansas on Sunday and they’ll get another crack at a top three team tonight when their rivals visit Ann Arbor. Michigan has to shoot the three well to win but that’ll be difficult against an Ohio State defense ranked in the top five in efficiency. Though Darius Morris (15.0 PPG, 7.0 APG) will try his best, Ohio State has too much talent and offensive firepower for Michigan to handle. Michigan needs their best defensive effort of the year combined with an off night for the Buckeyes in order to have a chance. John Beliein can rotate plenty of bodies on Jared Sullinger but that may be a futile effort against the uber-talented big man.

Sullinger, Lighty, and Co. Have Bucknuts Already Looking Forward to March (and April)

#5 Pittsburgh @ #19 Georgetown – 7 pm on ESPN (****)

The Hoyas are in serious danger of dropping to 1-4 in conference play as Pitt comes to DC. Georgetown hasn’t shot the ball well recently and has lost three of four as a result. The inconsistent play of point guard Chris Wright can certainly be blamed, but take a deeper look at the numbers. Georgetown’s defense is rated #61 in efficiency; not terrible, but it’s the lowest-rated Hoyas defense in six years (#66 in the ’04-’05 season). The Hoyas have given up 66.6 PPG, not a good number when your adjusted tempo is only 66.5 possessions and rated #228 in the country, indicating a slower pace. Georgetown’s dynamic guard trio has certainly struggled, a key reason why they’ve lost three of four, but the defense has also played a part and must get better. It’ll be put to the test against a Pitt offense rated the best in the land. The Panthers can punish you inside and out as well as on the glass. Yours truly has maintained for a while that this Pitt team is the best interior passing group in America and I see no reason to back off that statement. What Jamie Dixon has built in Pittsburgh year after year is quite remarkable but this may be his best offensive squad ever. The Panthers have played just one true road game all year (at Providence) but they’re experienced and so well-coached that it doesn’t figure to affect them all that much. Expect a desperate Georgetown team to come out ready to play, but we’ll take the Panthers here in a close one.

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Surprise! Assessing Early Signs of Life at Providence, Oregon & Iowa State

Posted by rtmsf on December 22nd, 2010

Andrew Murawa is an RTC contributor.

Last week we spent some time praising the work of two of the most familiar faces in the college basketball coaching world, Rick Pitino and Bruce Pearl, in getting their teams off to sparkling starts in the aftermath of some rough off-court patches. Today, I’d like to recognize some perhaps less well-known coaches who have turned awful offseasons of a different sort into solid starts for their respective teams. At Providence, Oregon and Iowa State, the basketball programs all went through turbulent summers full of personnel changes and uncertainty, but thus far the coaches at each of those programs has fought through the adversity to earn a combined 29-9 record for the three schools, albeit against maybe some lesser competition. None of the three schools are necessarily expected to be major contenders for NCAA Tournament berths, but at least they’ve got their programs headed in the right directions after rough offseasons.

Marshon Brooks Has Been a Revelation This Season

For Keno Davis and the Providence Friars, the offseason was an absolute nightmare – not that 2009-10 was all that great to begin with. The Friars lost their last 11 games of last season on the way to a 12-19 record, during which time junior guard Kyle Wright abruptly left the program. After the season was over, a new rash of bad news hit the Friars. First, it was announced that point guard Johnnie Lacy and center Russ Permenter would be transferring out of the program. Then, a couple days later, Lacy and freshman center James Still were charged with felony assault, leading to Still’s eventual dismissal. A month later, the bright spot in the Friar program was extinguished when leading scorer and rebounder Jamine “Greedy” Peterson was kicked off the team. About a week later, assistant coach Pat Skerry left to head to Big East rival Pitt, and in the process, severely hurt Providence’s recruiting with incoming 2010 recruit Joseph Young announcing that he would be staying closer to his Houston home for college. After Davis lost some face in refusing to allow Young out of his scholarship for a time, he was eventually released and allowed to enroll at the University of Houston. Next, 2011 commit Naadir Tharpe announced that he was withdrawing his commitment to the Friars and opening back up his recruitment. And finally, for good measure, Kadeem Batts suffered a disorderly conduct charge in July. In short, it was a miserable offseason.

But, in the face of all of that turmoil, the Friars are off to an 11-2 start to this season. Yes, they’ve dropped games to La Salle and Boston College, and for every win over a Rhode Island and an Alabama, there’s a win over Central Connecticut and Prairie View A&M, but at least Coach Davis has not allowed the negative momentum of the offseason to boil over into a disastrous 2010-11 campaign. Senior wing Marshon Brooks has developed into a versatile threat (22.9 PPG, 8.7 RPG, 2.3 APG, 1.8 SPG, 1.5 BPG, 2.0 3PG) and a team leader, while sophomores Vincent Council and Bilal Dixon are each developing into serious Big East-level talents. Council is among the top ten point guards in the nation in assists, with seven per game (he had 16 in a game against Brown), while Dixon has been killing the boards on both ends, to the tune of 9.7 rebounds per night (more than three of those on the offensive glass), and adding almost three blocked shots a night. While much more serious competition awaits the Friars come Big East play, Davis has focused on tightening things up on the defensive end where PC ranked in the bottom 100 teams in Division I last year in defensive efficiency; now PC ranks in the top 100. There is certainly a ways to go for this Friar team, and the talent level  is still such that any dream of a run to an upper-division Big East finish should be tempered with, you know, sanity, but Davis has taken what was a disastrous offseason and settled things down in Providence to the point where the program is no longer in freefall and is playing up to their talent level. There are sure to be plenty of losses (and losing streaks) in conference play, but expect the Friars to beat a team or two that they have no business beating, and to be competitive on a regular basis.

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Checking in on… the Big 12

Posted by Brian Goodman on December 20th, 2010

Owen Kemp of Rock Chalk Talk and SB Nation Kansas City is the RTC Correspondent for the Big 12 Conference.

A Look Back

  • Finals week for most schools and that means a slow week in the Big 12.  For the most part, the conference sat idle from Sunday to Friday with a few non-conference cupcake tune-ups played here and there.
  • Saturday however, signaled a return to basketball with ten games and several intriguing matchups throughout the league.  Kansas State played in the only battle between ranked teams as the Wildcats took on Florida as part of the Orange Bowl Classic in Frank Martin’s hometown of Miami.  Unfortunately, the homecoming didn’t turn out the way Martin would have hoped with both teams playing an ugly brand of basketball and the Wildcats never put things together, scoring just 44 points in a 13-point loss to Billy Donovan’s Gators.
  • Another Big 12 contender, the Baylor Bears, struggled as well in their first game against any form of true competition.  The Bears took on the Gonzaga Bulldogs as part of The Showcase in Dallas.  The Bulldogs sit 6-5 with four losses to top 25 opponents, but were able to pull away from the #9 Bears  behind a 7-9 free throw shooting effort down the stretch.  The loss was the first on the season for the Bears and exposed some of the vulnerabilities that were expected for a new look Baylor squad with plenty of talent but an assortment of new faces.
  • The Texas Longhorns further solidified their top 25 ranking by heading on the road to a neutral site game that was hardly neutral when they played the North Carolina Tar Heels in Greensboro.  In a great game from start to finish, the Longhorns would receive a boost from freshman Cory Joseph, who stepped up and knocked down the game-winning basket with just 1.4 seconds left on the clock.  The game is another notch on the belt of a young Longhorn squad that has looked solid against good competition throughout the non-conference schedule.
  • Another true freshman stole the show in Lawrence with the much-anticipated debut of Josh Selby in a Kansas Jayhawk uniform.  The Jayhawks squared off against a USC team fresh off a win over fellow Big 12 team Texas.  The Trojans added a guard to their lineup themselves, as transfer Jio Fontan entered the lineup for the first time all year and helped the Trojans take the game down to the wire.  In the end, it was Selby knocking down a three pointer with just 26 seconds on the clock to go ahead by one and secure the Jayhawks’ 65th straight win in Allen Fieldhouse.
  • Another team emerging in the contender category would be the Texas A&M Aggies.  The Aggies took on the Arkansas Razorbacks as part of the The Showcase in Dallas and in a game that would feature a bench clearing brawl and extra five minutes of overtime, sophomore forward Khris Middleton would score 31 points and lead the Aggies to a nine-point win.  Mark Turgeon has the Aggies playing a tough brand of basketball and A&M more and more looks to have the weapons to compete with anyone in the league.
  • Elsewhere, Missouri would win a pair of games in impressive fashion against a pair of tune-up opponents.  Oklahoma State continues to position themselves as a middle-tier team with a very real shot at being the fifth, sixth or even seventh tournament team in the Big 12.  This is the role that many thought Colorado might fill, but the Cowboys seem to be better than expected.
  • Speaking of Colorado, the Buffaloes would improve their record with two easy wins as the group in Boulder continues to improve and find themselves as a team.  Iowa State would continue their run through the preseason extending their overall record to 10-2 as Scott Christopherson continues to fire at will.  While the troubles in Lubbock and Norman show no sign of letting up.
  • The news in Lincoln was good on the court with a win over Eastern Washington on Saturday, however Doc Sadler continues to struggle in keeping the talent happy, as Christian Standhardinger is the fourth player from the 2009 recruiting class to leave the Cornuskers.
  • At this point the Big 12 is what it always seems to be in mid December.  The contenders are separating themselves with big wins and marquee games against better competition.  The pretenders and bottom half of the conference is padding the win loss column in hopes that they can hang on for a bubble birth come March.

Power Rankings

  1. Kansas (10-0) – The Jayhawks moved to 10-0 in a nailbiter against the USC Trojans.  The good news is the Jayhawks were not the only team in the conference to look sluggish after a long break and Josh Selby at face value looks like a player that can help some of the Jayhawk offensive weaknesses in a hurry.
  2. Texas A&M (10-1) – A&M has gone from a team that was surprising to a team that has some serious talent developing.   Khris Middleton, Nathan Walkup and David Loubeau are a trio of forwards that are physical, talented and leading the way from a scoring standpoint for Mark Turgeon.  This may prove to be too high for the Aggies as the season goes on, but in the world of what-have-you-done-for-me-lately power rankings, they look as good as anyone in the South.
  3. Missouri Tigers (10-1) – The Tigers weren’t tested in two fairly sizeable wins, but they are disposing teams in the manner you’d expect from a good team.  Mike Anderson’s team set a school record with a 116-point output on Saturday and they look like a group beginning to hit their stride.  This week’s Bragging Rights game against Illinois will be a great measuring stick to gauge improvement since the early loss to Georgetown.
  4. Texas (9-2) – Rick Barnes and Texas have an argument for a higher spot without question.  They’ve played a challenging schedule, for the most part they’ve played well, and they have a real opportunity to be a very difficult matchup as the players become comfortable in their roles.  A big opportunity this week for Texas comes in the form of a game against Tom Izzo and Michigan State.
  5. Kansas State (9-2) – Something just doesn’t seem right in Manhattan right now.  The Wildcats are still one of the toughest defensive teams in the conference and they’re going to make you earn every point, but on the offensive end, it isn’t clicking.  Curtis Kelly hasn’t stepped up to the level expected and Jacob Pullen is doing well, but it’s difficult for him to completely carry the team when he’s the focus of every opposing defense.  It’s hard to believe Frank Martin won’t get things going, but for now the Wildcats haven’t played to the level expected.
  6. Oklahoma State (10-1) – The Cowboys moved to 10-1 this week but they still lack a statement win.  The good news for Cowboy fans is that different players are stepping up at different times and they‘re beating teams in different ways.  They’re likely the seventh-best team in the conference in terms of talent, but they could cause some trouble in a wide open South.
  7. Baylor (7-1) – Everyone has been waiting for the Bears to play someone and in the first attempt to do that, they fell to Gonzaga in what was basically a home game.  Gonzaga was due for a win, but they still don’t look like the top 15 Bulldog squad that was expected this season and they managed to handle the Bears even with Steven Gray hobbled from back spasms.
  8. Iowa State (10-2) – Scott Christopherson continues to have a green light and the Cyclones continue to win.  Still there isn’t much in the way of competition against which to truly judge Iowa State.   With three relatively soft games remaining in the non-conference docket, it’s possible Iowa State could enter conference play with 13 wins already under their belt, yet still sit ill-prepared for the gauntlet that awaits in Kansas, Kansas State and Missouri in the North.
  9. Colorado (7-3) – Two games, two easy opponents, two comfortable wins.  Colorado was a team with high expectations early, but they fell flat and haven’t done enough to restore hope.  A solid opponent awaits this week in New Mexico and a chance for Tad Boyle to restore some of the lost faith.
  10. Nebraska (9-2) – Nebraska sits at 9-2, which is a good record.  Typically, they don’t do much to test themselves early, but the win over USC looks better and better every day.  This is still a team that doesn’t jump off the page, but they very well could battle Colorado and Iowa State for fourth in the North.  Still, at this point, it’s hard to see much that justifies the nod.
  11. Oklahoma (5-6) – After a two-game uptick, the Sooners fell to a decent Big East team in Cincinnati.  It’s enough to give them the edge over Tech for now, but it’s still not pretty in Norman.  Statistically speaking, they do very little that could be considered a strength, unless of course you want to give them credit for mediocre shooting.
  12. Texas Tech (5-6) – Texas Tech is on a three-game skid with the last two coming against mid-major talent.  Tech had the offensive talent returning, but they needed to improve defensively and on the boards.  Neither of those things have happened.

A Look Ahead

  • This week’s Big 12 slate takes place on Tuesday and Wednesday before a long holiday weekend.  All 12 teams play between the two nights with Kansas State kicking things off in a tough contest taking place at the Sprint Center in Kansas City.  In the Wildcats’ third game in Kansas City this year, K-State will play host to another ranked opponent in the UNLV Runnin’ Rebels.  Coming off the loss in Miami, the Wildcats and their fans will be anxious to see if the offense can get back on track.
  • Another game to watch in the conference on Tuesday will pit the Oklahoma State Cowboys against Stanford in Stillwater.  The Cardinal hasn’t been particularly impressive, but it is a name opponent from a name conference and a chance to learn a little more about the Cowboys.
  • Wednesday night is a big night if you’re a Big 12 basketball fan.  The highlight of the night will likely take place in St. Louis, as the Missouri Tigers square off against the Illinois Fighting Illini in a matchup of two top 25 teams.  The game lost a little luster when the Illini fell flat against Illinois-Chicago this weekend, a loss that will drop them from top 15 status, but it’s a big game and a heated rivalry nonetheless.
  • The game just prior to Missouri and Illinois on ESPN2 will be another big opportunity for the Big 12, as Texas heads back out on the road for a big game against Michigan State.  The game is another example of the bold scheduling approach taken by Rick Barnes and a big time opportunity for the Longhorns to reassert themselves on the national stage.
  • Rounding out the night will be Kansas heading to Berkeley for a road game against a Pac-10 opponent.  The Jayhawks have had their struggles against the Pac-10 conference this year but have managed to slip by every challenger.
  • Another good one to keep an eye on will be New Mexico in Boulder against the Buffaloes. This is a game that Tad Boyle needs to start rebuilding some of the confidence and excitement that was lost after the stumble out of the gates in the early season.

Stats, Quotes and other Notables

  • 21 Points on 5-8 Shooting from three – Debut line for Kansas freshman Josh Selby.
  • 11 points in 11 minutes – The offensive drought that ultimately doomed the Kansas State Wildcats against the Florida Gators.
  • 4-22 from three – Just one example of the mediocrity taking place on the offensive end for the Oklahoma Sooners.
  • 7 Players Scoring in Double Figures - The Missouri Tigers are balanced, they showed that against Central Arkansas with this impressive stat.
  • “We were sleepwalking, [The scuffle] seemed like it really changed the game for us.” – Texas A&M head coach Mark Turgeon talks about his team coming to life after a rare bench-clearing scuffle at mid court against Arkansas.

Player of the Year Watch (No Specific Order)

  • Jacob Pullen – (16.3 PPG, 3.8 APG, 40% FG) Even: Pullen is doing everything he can, but the loss of Denis Clemente is clearly being felt.  From a numbers standpoint, Pullen is maintaining pace, but the Wildcats are looking like a team slightly lost offensively.
  • Marcus Morris – (16.3 PPG, 6.3 RPG, 62% FG) Even: Morris wasn’t great against USC, but he got a lift with the addition of Josh Selby. Morris still looks like a player that can sometimes score at will, it’s just a matter of getting the team chemistry back where it needs to be.
  • Alec Burks – (20.3 PPG, 51% FG) Even: Burks is slowly becoming a smarter player on the offensive end and his efforts on the defensive end aren’t going unnoticed.  Statistically it’s pretty much the same player, but he’s improving day to day.
  • Jordan Hamilton – (19.4 PPG, 7.2 RPG) Even: Texas could be turning a corner.  The players around him are doing more, but Hamilton is still the most explosive option for the Longhorns.
  • LaceDarius Dunn – (21.4 PPG, 4.4 RPG, 2.6, 2.2 SPG, 48% FG) Trending Up: Baylor loses to Gonzaga, but Dunn is looking like one of the more complete and impactful players for his team.
  • Marcus Denmon – (16.8 PPG, 1.9 SPG, 51% 3P%) Trending Up: He continues to be the best player on a VERY deep team.  Denmon is turning into the leader for the Tigers and he seems like a player that has even more to give.
  • Scott Christopherson – (16.5 PPG, 55% 3P%) New**: Christopherson’s chances are probably slim unless he can somehow lead the Cyclones to a surprisingly successful season and a top 3 finish in the North.  Still, he’s a player whose early-season efforts deserve a mention and he’ll be a thorn in everyone’s side in conference play.
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Checking in on… the Big 12

Posted by Brian Goodman on December 13th, 2010

Owen Kemp of Rock Chalk Talk and SB Nation Kansas City is the RTC Correspondent for the Big 12 Conference.

A Look Back

  • The run of non-conference tune-ups continues around the league, with teams facing a smattering of lower tier programs as is customary for this time of year. Still, an increasing number of compelling matchups are developing.  In-state rivalries, top-25 matchups, overtime excitement and a statement game all make an appearance in this week’s look back.  The first big game of the week in the Big 12 came as part of the Jimmy V Classic in Madison Square Garden.  Kansas and Memphis took to the court as top 15 opponents, but at the end of the day, a Memphis team that is very young looked very young and Kansas walked away with the win in its first matchup with a ranked opponent.  It was a game that was expected to kick off a great week of Big 12 basketball, but the majority of the excitement ended up kicking off a day later.
  • On Wednesday, the Big 12 slate featured six games. Texas Tech’s struggles continued with a loss to TCU, the same TCU that would get throttled by Nebraska later in the week.  The seat in Lubbock could be getting very hot for Pat Knight.  The Red Raiders sit 5-5 and it’s not looking like expectations will be met.  In Colorado, the Buffaloes played in-state rival Colorado State.  As in many rivalries, the game was a back and forth overtime thriller.  Tad Boyle and Colorado continue to look like a team beginning to find themselves and the win in overtime was a good test for CU.  On that same night, Vanderbilt took a trip to Columbia and battled Missouri into their second overtime contest of the year.  Marcus Denmon continues to make a name for himself in the early going. He was instrumental in the second half of the contest after a very slow start.  In classic Missouri fashion, the game ultimately ended on a Denmon steal that led to a layup on the other end with only seconds remaining.
  • In a rare Friday night contest, the Iowa State Cyclones went into Iowa City and took a game from Iowa.  The win moves the Cyclones to 8-2 and further legitimizes the team as a potential surprise success story in coach Fred Hoiberg’s first year.  Junior guard Scott Christopherson led the charge with 30 points and is looking like one of the most improved players in the league early.
  • Saturday saw eight teams in action and the Big 12 finished the day with eight wins.  The big one on the day took place in College Station, where Mark Turgeon and the Aggies made a statement with a win over #22 Washington as part of the Big 12/Pac-10 Hardwood Series.  The Aggies have looked better than expected in the early going, and this game more than solidified the team as a tournament player and further speaks to the job that Turgeon is doing at Texas A&M.
  • Late Sunday, it was announced that Wally Judge will be out of action indefinitely for Kansas State, with Frank Martin citing personal reasons. His absence does nothing to quell the inconsistencies in the Wildcats’ frontcourt.

Power Rankings

  1. Kansas (9-0) -  All week, Kansas coach Bill Self has not been particularly pleased with his team’s performance.  The knock on the Jayhawks is that they don’t know how to put teams away.  Despite all that, they’re winning games by wide margins and doing so while playing at less than their potential. Christmas will come early for Jayhawk fans, when stud recruit Josh Selby becomes fully eligible at the end of the week against USC.
  2. Texas A&M (9-1) – A&M has been answering the bell in the early going.  This week’s win against Washington made a statement that they are a team to be reckoned with in the Big 12 South. Khris Middleton and David Loubeau are leading the way, with perimeter contributions from Nathan Walkup.
  3. Kansas State (9-1) – Kansas State seems like a team struggling to live up to their preseason hype just a bit.  They’re a talented group, Frank Martin has proven his abilities as a coach, but they just haven’t quite clicked on a night in night out basis.  The loss of Denis Clemente might be the source of some of the problems, but it’s a long season and it’s a group that works too hard not to eventually find the answer.
  4. Missouri Tigers (8-1) – Missouri continues to play in some of the more exciting games of the early season.  After coming up short against Georgetown, the Tigers met Vanderbilt in an overtime contest that the Tigers would win by three.  Probably the biggest news in Columbia is the emergence of two leaders, Marcus Denmon in the backcourt and Ricardo Ratliffe in the frontcourt.  These two have the ability to lead Missouri to a conference title, but it’s still a work in progress.
  5. Baylor (6-0) – The Bears took an entire week off.  They currently sit as the only team to have played fewer than nine games in the nonconference and Scott Drew has done very little to challenge his team.  Struggling Gonzaga pays a visit to Dallas at the end of the week, where Baylor will look to score a win in the alumni stronghold.
  6. Texas (7-2) – The loss to USC has raised questions and scaled back expectations a bit in Austin. This week, a big win over a cupcake opponent and just a week from now, the Longhorns get an opportunity to make a statement with games against North Carolina and Michigan State.  That stretch of games a year ago signaled the beginning of the infamous slide.
  7. Oklahoma State (9-1) – The Cowboys continue to cruise through the non-conference and they are a team that has the makeup to compete with the other Big 12 South players.  Travis Ford has things going in Stillwater and Marshall Moses is playing like a man possessed, more than doubling his production from a season ago.
  8. Iowa State (8-2) – Fred Hoiberg is getting it done in Ames.  The team moves to a surprising 8-2 after wins against Southeast Missouri, Iowa and Texas Southern.  Scott Christopherson is third in the country in triples made (35), sporting a fiery 59.3% clip from deep. Freshman Melvin Ejim is proving to be a difference-maker early for the Cyclones.
  9. Colorado (5-3) – Colorado won in overtime against in state rival Colorado State.  The concern is that the bigs for Colorado State had a field day.  The Buffaloes have the horses in the backcourt, but on the interior, they have a lot to prove.
  10. Nebraska (8-2) – Another week, another two wins for Doc Sadler and the Cornhuskers.  The 11-man rotation in Lincoln is starting to turn a few into believers, but have been light on notable wins.  This is a team that can probably compete in the middle tier of the conference, but they lack a go-to player (different players have lead the team in scoring in each of the Huskers’ last five games) and the overall talent to get over the hump.
  11. Texas Tech (5-5) – At this point, about the only thing keeping Tech above Oklahoma is that they’ve at least been competitive in losing.  It will be interesting to see if Pat Knight can keep his team on board or if as the seat gets hotter, is this a team that packs it in.
  12. Oklahoma (5-5) –  Two wins this week, which was a much-needed change following a five-game skid dating back to the week before Thanksgiving.  This is still a team with a fragile psyche, but one positive is the emergence of Andrew Fitzgerald as a team leader in the frontcourt.  A year ago, Fitzgerald was a minor role player, but he now plays more than 30 minutes a game and leads the team in both scoring and rebounding.

A Look Ahead

  • A very slow week in the league as is often the case when students are in the middle of finals.  The light at the end of the tunnel does exist however, and it comes in the form of a ten-game schedule next Saturday.
  • Kansas State heads to Florida in a Power Six matchup to highlights the day.  Frank Martin has taken steps in the early going to challenge his basketball team, and this is another game that will help develop the toughness that Martin and the Wildcats take such pride in.
  • Two other matchups that had a little more fanfare a few weeks ago include Baylor taking on Gonzaga in Dallas and Texas heading to North Carolina to battle the Heels in Greensboro.  To start the season, Gonzaga and UNC were top 15 teams.  Both have struggled and fallen off.   This will still be one of Baylor’s biggest early season tests and for Texas, it represents an opportunity to make a few more believers as they sit almost a year removed from the beginning of last season’s collapse.
  • The biggest story on Saturday has to be the debut of top ranked freshman Josh Selby in Lawrence when the Jayhawks take on the USC Trojans.  The Jayhawks have been a pretty good team in the early going and all eyes will be on KU to see how the team dynamic changes with the addition of Selby.

Stats, Quotes and Other Notables

  • “To all the fans that jump on and off the bandwagon who think we suck, go cheer for somebody down the road then” – Jacob Pullen, calling out Kansas State fans who are expressing frustration over some of the early-season growing pains.
  • 5.8 Seconds.  – Time left on the clock when Marcus Denmon came up with a steal and a game-clinching layup to beat Vanderbilt in overtime.
  • 27-20 – The Big 12’s all time record in the Big 12/Pac-10 Hardwood series which concluded its final year on Saturday.
  • 7-12 -  Scott Christopherson’s three point field goal line from Friday nights win over ISU in-state rival Iowa.

Player of the Year Watch

  • Jacob Pullen – (16.3 PPG, 4 APG, 40% FG) Even.  Pullen called out a fanbase and seems to have a little fire in his belly.  Keep an eye on his upcoming games, a focused senior leader can be a very good thing.
  • Marcus Morris – (16.9 PPG, 6.2 RPG, 64% FG) Even.  Morris added five assists, two blocks and two steals to his versatile array of production this week when the Jayhawks took on Memphis. A knee injury sustained against Colorado State gave fans a scare, but he later returned.
  • Alec Burks – (20.5 PPG, 48% FG) Even.  Burks had a big game in a win over Colorado State.  If he can improve his numbers from behind the arc, he’s got the rest of his game going well enough to be a problem for just about anyone.
  • Jordan Hamilton – (20 PPG, 7.0 RPG) Trending down.  Other Longhorns are stepping up to the plate and the big numbers that were coming early have leveled off a bit as the team has settled in.
  • LaceDarius Dunn – (22.7 PPG, 4.3 RPG, 3.3 APG, 53% FG) Even.  No change, no games.  Baylor sat idle all week.
  • Marcus Denmon – (16.4 PPG, 1.7 SPG, 51% 3P%) Even.  Denmon was the man of the hour in the Tigers win over Vanderbilt.  19 second half points and a late steal to secure the win just a day after his cousin was shot and killed in Kansas City.
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ATB: More Pac-10 Foolishness

Posted by rtmsf on November 18th, 2010

Your Watercooler Moment.  The Pac-10 is once again finding new ways to embarrass itself.  After what was arguably the league’s worst basketball season in decades in 2009-10, it seemed as if the western teams had perhaps turned a corner with a few more NCAA-caliber teams this year including the mothership program, UCLA.  Coming into Tuesday night, the league had managed to avoid the embarrassingly ugly losses that had plagued it in the pre-conference last year.  Then, Arizona State laid a foul 76-62 egg at the Pit versus New Mexico.  Ok, that’s not terrible — even though ASU is a team that you can reasonably expect Herb Sendek to have competing for an NCAA berth, the Lobos are talented and very tough to beat at home.  But tonight’s games once again exposed just how soft the underbelly of this league may be.  First, USC got obliterated by Rider (yes, Rider) at home, 77-57.  Think about that for a minute and wonder how on earth such a successful athletic program could lose a home basketball game to Rider.  By twenty points!  Then, in a game reminiscent of last year by winner and loser only, Oregon State traveled to Seattle and lost to the Redhawks again, this time 83-80.  At least it wasn’t by 51 points this time around, but a loss to an Independent is still unacceptable for a team in a  league with the resources that the Pac-10 has available.  There will be a point in the very near future where Pac-10 coaches will need to realize that talking about NBA Draft losses in 2008 and 2009 no longer hold water, and that if they want to cease being held up as the national hoops laughingstock, then they need to recruit players who will be leaving early in 2012 and 2013.  The same old excuses for these kinds of non-conference losses are getting tiresome.  (aside: word-up to Cameron Dollar and his Seattle program — considering its lack of league affiliation and transition to D1, he’s doing a great job there).

Approval Rating Also Dropping (S-T/J. Bates)

Tonight’s Quick Hits

  • Kemba Walker’s 42.  The UConn point guard put his team on his back with 42/8/3 assts in a performance that makes you wonder why he hasn’t been able to put it all together yet in his career.  He blew his old career-high of 29 out of the water, and even hit four threes on the night, a total he’s only reached one other time as a Husky.  It worries us a little bit that Walker seems to be the entire offense, but he might just be good enough to win a few games on his own this year.
  • Tobias Harris.  In a game that UT probably would have lost a week ago, the Vols gutted through a very tough game against Missouri State despite losing the battle of the boards and only hitting 64% from the line.  Tobias Harris is quietly putting together an impressive start to the season, going for 16/7 on 60% shooting in UT’s first three games.  He may not get tested Wednesday night by VCU’s front line in the PNIT semis, but either UCLA (Nelson, Smith, Honeycutt) or Villanova (Yarou, Pena) will be a formidable challenge for the 6’8 rookie.
  • Tim Abromaitis.  The Notre Dame forward had a near triple-double (21/10/7 assts) tonight in a blowout win against Chicago State.  Between he and Ben Hansbrough, the Irish are capable of putting some points on the board.
  • Perfect Game.  Iowa State’s Scott Christopherson put up thirteen shots tonight and all thirteen hit the bottom of the net (11-11 FG, 2-2 FT for 29 pts).  This guy has been all over the place this season.  In his first game, he went 1-10 from the floor for five points; in the next game he was 6-11 for fifteen points; tonight he threw a perfect game.  We’re not sure what he has in mind for the next game, but we’re pretty sure it will be nothing like the previous one.
  • Ole Miss & Nick Williams.  The Indiana transfer dropped 21/6 in his second game back in action against Murray State tonight, but what was more impressive was the relative ease with which the Rebels handled the NCAA-worthy Racers.  Even though the game looked like it was shot in daguerrotype in front of about twelve fans, Ole Miss looked like a much stronger team.

and Misses.

  • Memphis.  Josh Pastner has proven he can recruit with anybody in the game.  The question now is whether he can coach at that same elite level.  As exhibited by the continuing problems and ultimate dismissal of Jelan Kendrick last weekend, coaching talent often has just as much to do with managing egos as it does drawing up plays.  When we hear a player like star freshman Will Barton (22/8/3 stls) say that he relishes “when things are falling apart or we’re losing” so that he can “take over the game,” we wonder if there are more problems on the horizon.  Memphis fell behind to Northwestern State midway through the second half before pulling away and winning 94-79 tonight.
  • The Mountain Broadcast Production Quality for the BYU-Utah State Game.  See TOTD, below.
  • Alcorn State.  Down 42 points at the half (59-17) is just unacceptable, we don’t care who you’re playing.  Purdue is good, but they’re not the Lakers.
  • Letdown, Much? Two days after a program-defining win against local rival Georgia Tech, Kennesaw State turned around and dropped its first game of the season to Chattanooga, 73-69.  Of course, avoiding letdowns like this is part of the maturation process.
  • Air Force.  The Falcons may have hit a new low with its overtime loss tonight to Colorado… College, 60-57.  As in, the Division III team, not the Buffaloes featuring two all-Big 12 players.

Dunk of the Night.  This was the Sportscenter top play of the night, so we were able to find a clip of it…  Marquette’s Darius-Johnson Odom says hello.

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