It’s no secret that Kansas has struggled to contain driving guards like Jaysean Tate and Jawun Evans in recent games, and it might not get any easier tomorrow as the Jayhawks welcome Isaiah Taylor and Texas to Allen Fieldhouse. While Texas is merely average when it comes to finishing at the rim, it’s still worth wondering if Taylor, JavanFelix, and KerwinRoach will test Kansas’ ability to stop penetration early. Saturday’s matchup in Lawrence will also mark Shaka Smart‘s first game against Kansas since that fateful day in San Antonio, so it’s also natural to think about whether both coaches will be a little more amped up than usual for this one.
Two of the Big 12’s three most efficient offenses square off tomorrow when Oklahoma pays a visit to first-place Baylor. While the Bears currently sit alone atop the Big 12 standings, there’s still some skepticism of their record due to their relative lack of marquee wins and the fact that they have had close calls against two of the league’s worst teams. One of the great things about the Big 12’s perennial depth is that there are always opportunities to make statements, and the Bears will have a big shot to quiet their doubters with a win over a top-five team.
Luke Winn of SI.com released his weekly Power Rankings (stay tuned for ours), and his insight into Oklahoma has to do with the performance of the frontcourt core of Ryan Spangler and Kadeem Lattin. The Sooners’ efficiency takes a dive when Spangler and Lattin don’t share the floor, but Spangler has played a whopping 88.6 percent of available minutes in conference play, so effectively, the concerns for Lon Kruger are finding ways to keep Lattin in games and finding the right lineup for those times when the sophomore big man needs to catch a breather.
Oklahoma State is flying high after its big win over Kansas, which prompted Tulsa World columnist Darnell Mayberry to compile a list of Travis Ford‘s ten biggest wins in Stillwater. While the Pokes have mostly been an afterthought since the departure of Marcus Smart, one doesn’t have to dig too deep to find some truly impressive wins in Ford’s eight seasons at the helm.
It’s tough enough to win on the road, but it’s even tougher when the home team makes 52.4 percent of its three-pointers. Kansas learned this fact in its 86-67 loss to Oklahoma State in Stillwater Tuesday night, but this was more than just a fluky shooting performance from the Pokes. Oklahoma State outscored Kansas in the paint 22-12 and outrebounded them 38-31, marking the upset as a true team effort. Freshman Jawun Evans continued his quest for conference Freshman Of The Year Honors, turning in his third straight solid performance with 22 points, six rebounds and eight assists to lead the Cowboys. The highly-touted recruit on the other side, Cheick Diallo, made his first career start, but was part of the largely ineffective Jayhawk back line. The victory marked the Cowboys’ third consecutive home win over Bill Self’s team, whose struggles continue to leave the door open for a team like Oklahoma or West Virginia to end their Big 12 title streak.
To that point, the 4-1 Mountaineers will look to avoid falling back into a tie with Kansas and Oklahoma tonight when they host Texas. As successful as West Virginia has been with its pressure defense, you’d be hard-pressed to find someone who’s more familiar with that style of play than Longhorn coach Shaka Smart. We all know about Smart’s success with VCU, but on top of that, he actually consulted West Virginia during last season’s NCAA Tournament when the Mountaineers prepped for their Round of 32 tilt against Maryland (which they won 69-59). West Virginia is favored by a comfortable 12 points tonight, but Texas’ stingy offense, which currently sports the Big 12’s lowest turnover percentage in league play, could make this one closer than Vegas thinks.
Don’t look now, but the roller coaster that is Baylor basketball is on the rise entering tonight’s home game against Kansas State. While the Bears aren’t typically mentioned among the squads with a shot at ending Kansas’ regular season conference title streak (nor should they be, necessarily), they’re tied with West Virginia for first place thanks to some excellent recent shooting and its great rebounding, which has been consistent all season. Meanwhile, Bruce Weber‘s team is still looking for dependability on the offensive end, especially when it comes to shooting. They’ll carry a frosty 47.3 percent team eFG% into the Ferrell Center tonight.
CBS Sports’ Gary Parrish spent some time learning how Iowa State head coach Steve Prohm has managed during Prohm’s up-and-down debut season in Ames. The progression of Iowa State’s campaign to this point has been a little wilder than most expected. Prohm faced some tough criticism after the team’s 1-3 start to conference play, but wins over Kansas State and Oklahoma have put him and the team back on track. While Prohm knew the fierce expectations of the job going in, he’s learning firsthand that following a local icon with a team built to win now is no easy task when it comes to pleasing a die-hard fanbase.
CJ Moore of Bleacher Reporttook an in-depth look at the rise in the number of one-and-done players entering the NBA Draft and wonders if the 2016 Draft (along with other factors, including but not limited to the NCAA’s recent extension of the declaration window) could turn the tide back towards more players returning to school. While age is still a key factor in the minds of evaluators, at least one pro scout told Moore that there’s still some good value in being able to project a player with four years of college experience under his belt (like Buddy Hield), as opposed to raw freshmen who may have higher upsides but also bring with them a wider swath of possible outcomes.
After two straight losses in which Iowa State gave up more than 90 points, the Cyclones picked up a 76-63 road win over Kansas State on Saturday. The lower point total was the product of both the Wildcats’ slower pace of play and a change in Steve Prohm‘s philosophy. After a slow start to conference play, Prohm explained that the Cyclones need to manage games in a way that limits the time they spend on defense. His theory is that Iowa State is so good on offense that the Cyclones would be better off spending a bit more of the game with the ball in their hands. The key, though, will still be for Iowa State to slow down opposing offenses. The Cyclones currently rank 114th in adjusted defensive efficiency–a stat which accounts for the quality of opponent and pace of play–and will be put to the test when Oklahoma comes to Ames tonight.
Speaking of the Sooners, their 70-68 victory over West Virginia reopened the Big 12 race as four teams now sit at 4-1 in the conference. More importantly, though, the win may be a boon for the confidence of sophomore Khadeem Lattin. After missing the front end of a one-and-one that would have given Oklahoma a victory in Allen Fieldhouse two weeks ago, Lattin scored the game-winning bucket against the Mountaineers on a tip-in. “It was like a redemption,” Lattin told the media.
Meanwhile at Allen Fieldhouse, Kansas bounced back from their loss in Morgantown on Tuesday with a 70-63 win over TCU. The Jayhawks’ two freshman big men, Carlton Bragg and Cheick Diallo, both got extended looks against the Horned Frogs. Bragg scored 10 points and grabbed four rebounds in 16 minutes, but it was Diallo’s performance that turned heads. After being featured only sparingly so far this year, Diallo played a season-high 21 minutes against TCU. His nine points, nine rebounds, and five blocks gave fans a taste of what Diallo can offer Kansas going forward. The improvement of the Jayhawks’ two freshman will be a critical component come March and it’s the reason Kansas is viewed as the title contender with the most upside going forward.
Baylor‘sLester Medford continues to come up big in key moments for the Bears. The senior point guard delivered a huge second half in Baylor’s win over Vanderbilt earlier this season, and on Saturday, he knocked down the game-winning three-pointer against Texas Tech. While most of the focus has been on Kansas, Oklahoma, and West Virginia, the Bears victory quietly pushed them into a four-way tie for first in the Big 12.
The year 2016 is right around the corner and along with it comes Big 12 conference play, as the league gets underway with six games on January 2. Although we know that only a fraction of people ultimately keep their New Year’s resolutions, we figured it wouldn’t hurt to come up with a few challenges for teams in the Big 12 once the ball drops tomorrow night. This is part one of a two-part series.
Kansas: To give Devonte Graham the praise he deserves
Devonte Graham has brought a number of positive changes to Kansas. (Charles Riedel/The Associated Press)
Iowa State: To find rest and relaxation for the Cyclones’ rotation
Naz Mitrou-Long’s recovery from hip surgery hit the Cyclones hard. With Deonte Burton becoming eligible at semester, it looked like Iowa State was set to have a quality eight man rotation heading into conference play. Now that Mitrou-Long’s season is over, coach Steve Prohm has made it clear that he intends to stick with a seven man rotation for the remainder of the season. Iowa State ranks 347th in percentage of bench minutes played with just 21.4 percent of available minutes coming off the bench. Last season, Wisconsin reached the Final Four with similar numbers, so the limited rotation doesn’t rule out a trip to Houston for the Cyclones, but they’ll need all the rest and relaxation they can get on the way there. Read the rest of this entry »
Kansas State had chemistry problems all season long a year ago as the Wildcats stumbled to a miserable 15-17 record. The offseason then brought a multitude of departures that only further weakened a fan base’s confidence in head coach Bruce Weber. This season, however, with 10 newcomers — including seven freshmen — Weber’s team has already given Texas A&M and North Carolina difficult games. The Wildcats also beat Georgia, a better-than-average SEC team, on the road. So who are these Wildcats?
You might be surprised to hear that Bruce Weber has the Kansas State Wildcats off to an 8-2 start. (Scott Sewell/USA TODAY Sports)
Justin Edwards and Wesley Iwundu are the two highest scoring returnees, but it’s freshmen like last year’s Kansas Mr. Basketball Dean Wade (11.3 PPG, 5.8 RPG) and Kamau Stokes (9.1 PPG, 3.5 APG) who have led the Wildcats to a 9-2 record thus far. Is it too early to call them a good team? Probably. Still, it’s encouraging to see the Wildcats hang around with teams that are clearly better than them. Kansas State likely isn’t at the point of beating good teams just yet, but the Wildcats also aren’t nearly as far away as we expected them to be before the season began. Let’s see how they fared in our latest power rankings.
1. Oklahoma (tie) — 6 points (Chris & Nate — 1st, Brian & Kendall — 2nd). Comment: “The Sooners still own the Big 12’s best win according to KenPom, a 23-point drubbing of Villanova on a neutral floor. They also have the country’s fifth-best defense. Sophomore Khadeem Lattin has helped fill the void left by the departure of TaShawn Thomas. His production on the defensive end, where he’s grabbed nearly 20.0 percent of the available rebounds and blocked 8.6 percent of the opposing shots, has been his biggest contribution.” – Chris Stone (@cstonehoops)
1. Kansas (tie) — 6 points (Brian & Kendall — 1st, Chris & Nate — 2nd). Comment: “Wayne Selden‘s development has fueled Kansas’ shot at winning a national title. Although Selden can’t shoot 54.0 percent from three-point range all season, he has also increased his field goal percentage at the rim by 10 percent from last season.” – Kendall Kaut (@kkaut)
3. Iowa State — 12 points (All voted 3rd). Comment: “Yes, the Cyclones did not lose their first game until falling to Northern Iowa in Des Moines last week, but their imperfections have been noticeable for a little while now. They struggled to beat a clearly inferior Colorado team. They trailed by 20 at home to Iowa before coming all the way back to win that one in dramatic fashion. Now they’ve lost both a game and a major shotmaker in Naz Mitrou-Long for the season while they slowly work Deonte Burton into the rotation. So, naturally, they then go out and nip Cincinnati at the wire on the road.” – Nate Kotisso (@natekotisso)
The Kansas offense is humming, thanks in large part to its dual point guard lineup, posits Jon Rothstein of CBS Sports.With a more traditional lineup last season, the Jayhawks really struggled to find a balanced attack, particularly when Wayne Selden and Kelly Oubre had down nights. With Frank Mason and Devonte Graham at the controls this season, though, the Jayhawks are flying. They aren’t immune to the occasional slump as we saw in the first half of last weekend’s win over Oregon State, but we’ve seen enough to know that they’re going to bring it more often than not.
A tip of the cap goes to Texas Tech for their 79-67 win over South Dakota State. Senior Toddrick Gotcher led the way with 17 points including 3-of-6 shooting from distance to go along with five boards. The Red Raiders lost the rebounding battle, but overcame it thanks to ten steals and just nine turnovers on offense. The win is significant for Texas Tech because coming into the game, the Jackrabbits were ranked higher in KenPom than schools like Georgetown, Syracuse, Providence and Saint Mary’s. Tubby Smith‘s team had been on the hunt for a marquee win after missing their chance against Utah last month, so it was nice to see them pick one up Wednesday night. They still don’t project to contend for an NCAA Tournament bid, but significant improvement on last season’s measly three conference wins is a goal that should be within sight.
The only other action from the Big 12 saw Baylor take down non-D-I foe Hardin-Simmons 104-59 in the first regular season college game ever played at Fort Hood in Texas. Johnathan Motley, whose name can be seen peppering NBA Draft boards, paced the Bears with 23 points. Hardin-Simmons didn’t offer much in the way of competition, but it was still reassuring for Baylor’s chances to see Lester Medford play well, as he finished with 13 assists against two turnovers in just 18 minutes of action. Then again, pretty much everyone for Baylor had a good night handling the ball as they piled up 40 assists on 45 made baskets and committed just 15 turnovers as a team. Next up for Motley, Medford and the Bears is a big road game at Texas A&M on Saturday.
TCU‘s administration opened up the newly-renovated Schollmaier Arena (formerly Daniel-Meyer Coliseum) to the media for tours in advance of the facility’s grand re-opening this weekend, and it’s a huge step up from the previous accommodations which were, to be kind, lacking. In addition to some of the standbys of renovated arenas like widened concourses and new bathrooms and concession stands, the Horned Frogs’ new digs include posh circular locker rooms, a brand-new video board, a club with floor-to-ceiling TVs and an area where boosters can watch postgame press conferences through a glass wall. Pretty swanky if you ask us. The Horned Frogs christen their made-over home Sunday against Abilene Christian.
We discussed the loss of Iowa State sharpshooter Naz Mitrou-Long yesterday, but CBSSports.com took a closer look at what his absence means for transfer Deonte Burton, who is set to make his Cyclones debut on Saturday. Burton arrived in Ames from Marquette, where he had a reputation as a rim-rocking attacker, but Steve Prohm may need a more diverse array of contributions from the 6’3″ guard if Burton is to help Hallice Cooke and Matt Thomas shoulder Mitrou-Long’s production.
Iowa State announced yesterday that Naz Mitrou-Long will sit out the remainder of the season to recover from offseason hip surgery. His loss will put pressure on the Cyclones’ already tight rotation as they head into Big 12 play. Mitrou-Long, a senior starter averaging 12.0 points per game, is reportedly experiencing pain in both of his hips and will apply for a medical redshirt to play next season.
Iowa State will have to move on without Naz Long this season. (Getty)
Losing a player of Mitrou-Long’s caliber is never easy. His 30 percent mark from three-point range in the eight games in which he played this season is a career-low (his average is 39.5 percent), so it’s reasonable to conclude that his hip ailment has played a significant role in this season’s dip. Iowa State’s already-short rotation will immediately feel the pressure of his absence as the competition only gets stiffer from here. The Cyclones have yet to play a true road game and are looking down the barrel of two tough upcoming matchups against Northern Iowa (in Des Moines) and a trip to Cincinnati right as they lose their sharpshooter. Long’s knowledge of his teammates’ tendencies, such as those of GeorgesNiang and Monte’Morris, will be tough to replace as well. Read the rest of this entry »
Last week I wrote about Oklahoma’s defensive transformation powering its rise up the college basketball rankings. This week, we may be seeing something similar happening in Ames, as Iowa State now ranks 21st in adjusted defensive efficiency after the Cyclones ranked 71st in the statistic a season ago. While the team has clearly improved on the defensive end under new head coach Steve Prohm, its performance in last night’s 83-82 win over Iowa begged the question on whether the defense has really turned the corner. The Cyclones this season continue to limit free throw attempts and shots at the rim (and did so again versus Iowa on Thursday), so what’s made them better?
Steve Prohm brought an emphasis on defense to Iowa State. Will it work?
Coming into the year, Prohm’s stated goal was to improve the defense in three key areas: transition, defensive rebounding, and three-point defense. “It starts with transition defense,” Prohm told the Ames Tribune back in October. Taking away easy baskets is a great way to make your defense better, and the Cyclones have had a bit more success in that area this season. While opponents are still attempting nearly the same percentage of their shots in transition, they are shooting about five percent worse on those attempts, according to hoop-math.com. The Cyclones have also found success keeping opponents’ off the offensive glass. Iowa State ranks 22nd nationally in defensive rebounding percentage, up from 106th last season. Opponents are snagging about six percent fewer misses this season. While Prohm has emphasized the role his guards can play in defensive rebounding, it’s actually been Jameel McKay (19.2 percent to 22.3 percent) and Georges Niang (15.2 to 17.1) who have seen their defensive rebounding percentages rise. Finally, Prohm wants his team to play an aggressive defensive style that includes running teams off the three-point line, but so far the ‘Clones have failed to do that. Teams are attempting 37.8 percent of their shots from behind the arc against Iowa State, up from 34.3 percent last season. That hasn’t come back to hurt them, though, because opponents are shooting just 29.3 percent from deep against Iowa State in 2015-16.
I was a participant in one of the most dubious court-rushings of all time. Nothing says “We’re on top of the college basketball world!” quite like taking to the floor in celebration of not going winless in the conference season. In my defense, I was a freshman at the time. Two years – and seemingly a world – removed from an Elite Eight berth, Oregon had only bit players and overhyped freshmen on hand in 2008-09, and that motley crew led the Webfoots to a cool 14-game losing streak to start the Pac-10 season. All was not well in Eugene. On top of the terrible season, rumor had it that venerable McArthur Court was in its final year. (A series of missed timetables kept society from the Rorschach-blotted court of Matthew Knight Arena for another season and a half, however). But when Stanford rolled into town on February 21, Oregon’s defense showed up for the only time that season. Thirty-nine minutes and change later, a whiteboard was held up in the student section that read “We’re storming the court.” And that’s what we did.
After the 68-60 Ducks win, the Pit Crew leaped over the row of courtside chairs and headed to center court, pregame-giveaway Ping-Pong balls in tow, and mobbed the Fox Sports Net cameras. Nearly six years later, this remains one of my paramount memories of college basketball – the other involves some heckling of former Washington State forward Deangelo Casto, but you had to be there – and of college. I can recount my experience from that game better than I can recount pretty much anything I learned in a freshman year class – the only thing I had to look up was the date. Consequential game or not, this is the experience students have when they rush the court after a team’s big win (as they define it at the time). To curtail it would leave these exuberant celebrations, these spontaneous releases of positive energy, on the sidelines, with students feeling less like a part of the college basketball experience, to which they are vital. (Disagree? Look at how many times rushed courts end up on highlight reels; how many frames of crying students show up during the NCAA Tournament; how much value there is to playing at home.) Read the rest of this entry »
Welcome to what is certain to be an exciting and perplexing year of our Big 12 Power Rankings. Most of the fun found in doing weekly power rankings is to watch the progression of each team from December to March. The other fun part is being given the license to be dead wrong in December because conference play hasn’t yet started. Since we’re less than a month away from league play, join us as we are free to drive off of the road with our rankings and crash into as many mailboxes before our front bumper is no longer a front bumper. Remember to buckle up.
We’re not sure what Oklahoma coach Lon Kruger is telling his players at this moment. It’s likely he is sharing something basketball related here but I wouldn’t rule out Kruger explaining to him the lyrics of “Coconut” by Harry Nilsson. (CBS Sports)
1. Kansas (tie) — 6 points (Brian & Kendall — 1st, Chris & Nate — 2nd). Comment: “Bill Self‘s best teams have been known for their intensity and defensive toughness, but this might be the best offensive team he’s ever had in Lawrence. The Jayhawks are shooting a white-hot 47.2 percent from three, mostly without the help of Brannen Greene, whose five-game suspension just ended.” – Brian Goodman (@BSGoodman)
1. Oklahoma (tie) — 6 points (Chris & Nate — 1st, Brian & Kendall — 2nd). Comment: “The Sooners absolutely demolished the Big East’s best team in a convincing 78-55 win over Villanova. Meanwhile, Buddy Hield is taking more shots and knocking them down at a more efficient clip than last season. Barring a major slip up, Oklahoma should enter Big 12 play still undefeated.” – Chris Stone (@cstonehoops) Read the rest of this entry »