Big 12 Morning Five: 01.24.12 Edition

Posted by dnspewak on January 24th, 2012

  1. Hello, USA Today: Missouri has earned some national headlines with its #2 ranking this week, the highest the program has appeared in the polls in about a decade. You are already familiar with the story, but USA Today breaks down the situation for the rest of America’s casual sports fans. After rehashing the off-season saga of Mike Anderson and Frank Haith and the injury to Laurence Bowers, it’s incredible the Tigers have taken the nation by storm like this. Now, they will need to top it off by defeating Kansas and winning the Big 12 in its final season in the league.
  2. Finishing above .500 in college basketball is not necessarily an accomplishment, especially for a Big 12 team with several guarantee games on the non-conference schedule. But Oklahoma State has still finished with a winning record for 23 seasons, and that streak is in jeopardy this year. At 9-9, Travis Ford has five freshmen and only eight scholarship players. With two transfers and a knee injury to J.P. Olukemi, it’s understandable that Ford may have a down year. With big-time recruits coming in, though, there won’t be any excuses in 2012-13.
  3. Tyrus McGee is the forgotten newcomer for Iowa State, but the league honored him by naming him Big 12 Rookie of the Week. McGee is quietly providing Iowa State a hot hand from the perimeter. The junior college transfer is shooting 46% from three and has scored 17 and 20 points in his last two respective games. Oh, and he hit a combined 11 three-pointers in those two games. Not too bad for a guy who plays in the shadows of Royce White, Scott Christopherson, and Chris Allen among others.
  4. Texas A&M wing Khris Middleton did not play last night against Kansas after suffering a knee injury over the weekend. Middleton did miss several games in non-conference play with a knee injury, but this incident does not seem all that serious. Coach Billy Kennedy says he will probably be back soon, and he certainly needs him. Middleton is by far the top offensive option on a team that has struggled to score all season.
  5. Oklahoma is probably the most interesting team in this league right now. Lon Kruger‘s team isn’t dead yet, but it needs to shore up a few things in order to become a contender. The end of the article focuses on Steven Pledger and Cameron Clark in particular. Pledger is Oklahoma’s leading scorer, as he’s having a breakout season. Teams have figured him out a bit during Big 12 play, but this writer urges Kruger to keep feeding Pledger the ball. And Clark, who’s sort of an enigma after a promising freshman season, has started coming off the bench recently. As the article mentions, “If Clark ever reaches his full potential it could take the Sooners to another level.” For Kruger, that will have to happen sooner rather than later.
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ATB: On Buzzer Beaters, Murray State’s Road Test, and Indiana’s Legitimacy…

Posted by rtmsf on January 19th, 2012

Tonight’s Lede. What. A. Night. The beauty of college basketball is that you can never quite predict when you’re going to luck into a great evening of hoops. Sometimes you look at the schedule and figure you’ll be riveted to your seat on the couch all night, only to be disappointed with a bunch of blowouts. Tonight the slate didn’t look terribly compelling other than a couple of games, and yet the buzzer-beaters, excitement and even an RTC or two kept pouring in. Let’s jump into a wild and wacky Wednesday night of action…

It Was a Special Night in Lincoln (J. Hannah/LJS)

Your Watercooler Moment. Buzzer, Buzzer, Toil and Trouble. There were a number of last-second shots to win games tonight around the country, and while only one of them involved a ranked team losing, that doesn’t make them any less interesting.

  • Hilton Magic. It didn’t carry quite the same weight as Iowa State’s RTF football victory over then-#2 Oklahoma State back in November, but the Cyclones’ basketball comeback resulting in Scott Christopherson’s banked three at the buzzer was no less compelling. The reaction of the Cowboy players after the ball drops through the net tells the story, but more on OSU’s meltdown a little later in this post. For now, just enjoy the dagger from 25 feet.

  • Kilpatrick Courage. After UConn’s Shabazz Napier drilled a long three with 9.5 seconds remaining to tie the game, Cincinnati’s Sean Kilpatrick calmly dribbled up the right side of the court, crossed over right to left to create some space, and sunk an equally long three to give UC the lead (and the ballgame) with 2.5 seconds remaining.

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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


  • 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.


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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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