Missouri did not play well in a win over Texas Tech on Saturday. It does not take a basketball genius to figure that out. The Tigers did not shoot well, and they could not pull away from the Big 12’s most inept team. Had the Red Raiders not turned the ball over so many times, they may have actually taken the game to the wire. Still, Missouri is looking on the bright side after picking up the victory. If the Tigers play like this tonight at Texas or next weekend against Kansas, they will get blown out of the building. But against an inferior opponent, Missouri took care of business. Forgive and forget, Frank Haith, and move on to the next one.
Before Saturday, Iowa State had made steady progress as a program for the past three months. But it lacked that defining, concrete moment– you know, that win that would transform the culture and help boost the Cyclones’ NCAA Tournament resume. Then, Kansas happened. The Cyclones knocked off fifth-ranked Kansas to earn their first signature victory, a moment which coach Fred Hoiberg marked as the return of “Hilton Magic.” It’s a major victory for Iowa State’s NCAA hopes, but as Hoiberg mentioned, it won’t mean a thing if his team does not take care of business from here on out. For now, though, Iowa State can bask in its most significant victory over Hoiberg’s tenure.
Steven Pledger is back. The Oklahoma guard burst onto the scene in November and December, but opposing Big 12 defenses had done a better job of slowing him down. Then, Pledger scored 30 in a win at Kansas State this weekend, scoring 18 in the first half as he led Oklahoma to just its second league road win in 23 tries. If Pledger continues to star, maybe Lon Kruger‘s team can make a bit of a turnaround here. The Sooners don’t have a terrific resume, but they do own two victories over Kansas State and have the advantage of Kruger’s experience and pedigree.
Texas A&M did not get off to a good start in Big 12 play, but it is showing signs of life lately. On Saturday, it was the reserves that boosted a win against Oklahoma State. Dealing with injuries to two starters, the Aggies needed one walk-on in particular to save the day. Alex Baird grabbed four rebounds and dished out three assists in 21 minutes of playing time despite appearing in only eight previous games during his career. Billy Kennedy even said, “It was one of my better wins,” which is high praise from someone who won a lot of important games at Murray State.
On a similar note, one Texas Tech walk-on made a big splash this weekend, even in a loss to Missouri. Frustrated with his starters, coach Billy Gillispie put Luke Adamsin the game early in the first half, even though he had played only five minutes in the team’s most recent game against Kansas State. Adams knocked down a few of his first attempts from the field, though, and Gillispie stuck with him. In all, Adams played a career-high 36 minutes, scoring eight points with two assists and two rebounds. Adams, an interesting story because he was born deaf and wears cochlear implants, also stands at just 5-foot-9 and hardly looks like he fits in on the basketball court. Still, he found a way to make an impact, rewarding his coach for all of the playing time.
This Weekend’s Lede. In the season’s first non-football weekend (if you were watching the Pro Bowl, sorry, we can’t help you), we were left with a bunch of ho-hum games this weekend, but that doesn’t mean that they were unimportant. As of right now, there are approximately 60-70 teams that have a realistic shot at putting a run together the rest of the season to earn one of those elusive 37 at-large bids for the NCAA Tournament. Right now, it’s easier to find teams that don’t deserve an at-large than those that do, but that will probably change as teams separate themselves over the next six weeks. For the time being, here’s what we experienced this weekend…
Your Watercooler Moment. Iowa State RTCs Kansas.
In one of the more predictable situations of a hot team playing great basketball facing a hungry, up-and-coming team needing a statement win in its own building, Iowa State took it to Kansas in the last few minutes of their Saturday matchup, resulting in a major RTC and one of the biggest wins in recent Cyclones basketball history. The Mayor suffered an avalanche of criticism for his lack of coaching experience upon his hire two offseasons ago, but sporting a 5-3 Big 12 record and looking every bit the part of an at-large NCAA team for the first time since 2005, it now appears that it is he who will have the last laugh. The other takeaway from this game is that NPOY candidate Thomas Robinson may have met his Kryptonite, at least at the college level, in the form of ISU’s Royce White. The beastly Cyclone big man outplayed Robinson in both of their matchups this season (18/9/5 assts vs. 13/7 yesterday; 18/17/4 assts vs. 11/14/3 blks two weeks ago), and that’s not an easy task to perform. For our money we’d love to see a Round Three in March in Kansas City at the Big 12 Tournament.
Five More Weekend Storylines.
The Goaltend That Wasn’t. With Syracuse up two in the closing seconds of a hard-fought game with West Virginia on Saturday, the Mountaineers’ Truck Bryant fired up this wayward shot from the outside:
After losing ground in the Big 12 title race by losing to Kansas and Missouri in the span of five days last week, Baylor got back to the basics on Tuesday night in a 77-65 win at Oklahoma. This didn’t look like the same team that lost the rebounding battle in its two previous games, and it didn’t look like the team that showed serious several defensive deficiencies. Instead, the Bears outlasted a pesky Sooner squad by refocusing and playing tougher basketball. Early in the game, Perry Jones looked like a completely different player as he brought more aggression and assertiveness against a decent group of bigs. Thanks to Pierre Jackson‘s penetration skills, Jones got a lot of high-percentage looks and converted nine of 15 field goal attempts on the way to a double-double (21 points, 12 rebounds). That’s the key for Baylor: Great guard play, team ball movement and a big game from Jones.
Scott Drew's Team Rebounded in a Big Way On Tuesday
This was a vintage performance from Baylor offensively, but Scott Drew‘s team’s new commitment to defense and the boards Tuesday night made all the difference. And that’s why any talk of a Baylor collapse this season is unfounded, even after two losses to the league’s best teams last week. Oklahoma’s lack of scorers and three-point shooters kept it from pulling the upset, but the Sooners’ tough night from the perimeter had a lot to do with Baylor’s defense. The Bears’ guards forced Steven Pledger to settle for a lot of threes, and they got a little lucky when Andrew Fitzgerald missed several gimmes in the first half. Romero Osby did his work on the boards, but he’s one of the better individual rebounders in the conference. Otherwise, as a team, Baylor did a better job limiting Oklahoma’s damage on the boards with a +4 margin overall.
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.
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.
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.
Texas A&M wing Khris Middletondid 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.
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.
Steve Fetch is the RTC correspondent for the Big 12. You can also find his musings online at Rock Chalk Talk or on Twitter @fetch9.
The Week That Was
Bears Dropped At Home: Baylor’s Big 12 title hopes took a huge hit this week, losing at Kansas and at home to Missouri. Though they are just two games back of leader Kansas and play both the Jayhawks and Tigers again, their Big 12 title odds are down to just 3.8% according to teamrankings.com and some questions probably need to be asked of Scott Drew. Baylor settled for jumpers time and time again against Missouri and let the Tigers rebound nearly half of their misses; inexcusable numbers for a team with the size that Baylor has.
Frank Martin Hands Down Punishment: Kansas State’s big front line took a hit this past week when they suspended junior Jordan Henriquezindefinitely. Henriquez wasn’t a big offensive threat, averaging 7.1 points per game in under 20 minutes per game, but he was very good on the glass at 11.9%, which ranked third on the team, and was their best defensive rebounder as well. With the Wildcats ranking seventh in Big 12 play in defensive rebounding, Henriquez’s absence will be felt.
What Can Brown To For You?: Last week, I highlighted the good side of J’Covan Brown, so this week the bad: Brown helped Texas come back from an 18-point deficit againstKansas over the weekend, but proceeded to shoot them out of the game, making only four of the 18 two-point shots he took on Saturday. Myck Kabongo had a rough game and the Horns lack someone other than Brown who can create his own shot so it’s understandable that he’d shoot that much, but he did them no favors this weekend.
Kim English, Phil Pressey and Ricardo Ratliffe Brimmed With Confidence As They Toppled Baylor On Saturday. (Tony Gutierrez/AP)
Kansas (16-3, 6-0): On the one-year anniversary of his mother’s death, Thomas Robinson turned in a very good performance with 17 points and nine rebounds to keep the Jayhawks unbeaten in Big 12 play. After the game, he had the early frontrunner for heartbreaking quote of the year, saying: “No disrespect intended, but that’s something I have to live with every day… For the media, it’s an anniversary.” Robinson’s main focus this year has been to take care of his little sister, Jayla, and with him projected to be a high lottery pick, that certainly looks to be a goal that can be accomplished, but even if not, a scholarship fund has reached roughly $300,000 in donations from fans. Read the rest of this entry »
Missouri earned the most important win of its season by knocking off Baylor on Saturday, and it did so by playing harder and tougher than the Bears. The Tigers, who won the rebounding battle despite having only two scholarship forwards on the roster, may have benefited from a reading assignment coach Frank Haith insisted on. Haith made the players read an essay about toughness from Jay Bilas from 2009. It appeared to pay off, according to Kim English. “Size doesn’t matter… Everything evens out in basketball. Height limits speed.” MU improved to 18-1 and now sits a game behind Kansas in the Big 12. The Tigers still need to play at Lawrence in late February, but they’ve already taken road trips to the rest of the teams in the upper half of the league. This league could come down to the final Border War series this year — imagine that.
To this day, it’s hard to forget Mike Gundy‘s tirade at Oklahoma State in defense of a quarterback. Remember? He’s a man, he’s 40, and so on. Well, Travis Ford didn’t live up to that speech in OSU lore this weekend, but he made a similar plea for the critics to lay off senior guard Keiton Page. Page shot just 4-17 from the field, but Ford didn’t care. “This kid is giving it everything he’s got and he can’t even walk the next day. I do not think he gets the respect that he deserves on that court. I just don’t get it; I don’t get it… Keiton Page is phenomenal.” Ford says Page’s production is limited because of the way defenses key in on him, and he’s got a point. But clearly, Ford believes that Page is more important to this program than his shooting percentages would suggest.
Ben McLemore pleaded not guilty to a minor in possession of alcohol charge, which he received back in November. It’s a small offense, but it became an issue when the Kansas freshman missed his court date in December. McLemore is ineligible to play this year, but he apparently did not tell his coaching staff or teammates about the original alcohol charge. He’ll now appear in court again in March. Bill Self says the matter will be handled “internally” — and you know what that means.
Staying with Kansas, you’re probably familiar with the story of Thomas Robinson. College Gameday ran a piece about his tragic situation on Saturday, and various media outlets have told his story after he lost his grandmother, grandfather and mother in the span of a month during the 2010-11 season. Here’s another perspective on Robinson, as told by the Kansas City Star. No matter who you root for, it’s impossible not to pull for Robinson on a personal level. No person should ever have to suffer that kind of loss in such a short period of time.
Lon Kruger is still trying to figure out his Oklahoma team. During this process, Kruger has adapted as a defensive coach, using a zone more frequently with the Sooners this season. Apparently, it’s working. Ever the tactician, Kruger has used it as a change of pace for his normal man-to-man look, and his players have seemed to take a liking to it. “It’s been good for us,” forward Romero Osby said. Guard Steven Pledger said the same thing, mentioning that any defense works as long as you put effort into it. “It doesn’t matter whether it’s man or zone, you have to be active and play hard.”
For the second time in less than a week, all eyes will be on the Big 12. Missouri and Baylor, both ranked in the top-five, will square off in Waco on Saturday afternoon in college basketball’s prime matchup. Elsewhere, Oklahoma will look to win its third straight game as it heads to College Station, while Kansas will renew its rivalry with Texas in Austin.
GAME OF THE WEEKEND
Missouri at Baylor, Saturday, 1:05 p.m. CT (ESPN)
Baylor Will Look to Celebrate Again When it Hosts Missouri(AP/C. Riedel)
The Ferrell Center will host two top five opponents for the first time on Saturday, and it’s not a stretch to say this may be the most important home game in Baylor history. Now in his ninth season, it’s amazing that Scott Drew has built a program prestigious enough to play a game with this kind of national attention. His Bears have not lost at home this season, and Missouri’s only loss came on the road at Kansas State. The Tigers quieted the critics a bit by winning at Iowa State, but they did not look comfortable in Manhattan and fell out of contention in that game immediately. Kansas State’s physical bigs held Ricardo Ratliffe to just one field goal attempt, forcing him into foul trouble and taking him out of the game entirely. And here’s the bad news for Missouri: The Bears’ big men are even more athletically intimidating. Ratliffe and Steve Moore are the only two scholarship forwards on this Missouri roster, but they’ll have to somehow deal with Perry Jones, Quincy Miller and Quincy Acy, not to mention players like Cory Jefferson and Anthony Jones off the bench. If you’re counting, that’s five players taller than 6’7”, and most of them can dunk like they’re playing with a Fisher Price basket. The Tigers simply cannot compete with that kind of size. Perhaps we’ll see a lot of 2-3 zone out of Frank Haith, something he’s not opposed to doing. In fact, Missouri has zoned opponents on many occasions this season, and it’s been effective at times. The problem is, Baylor has the guards this year to deal with any kind of defense. Brady Heslip can burn teams who pay too much attention to the paint, and Pierre Jackson has changed the entire dynamic of this team with his ballhandling, penetration and passing skills. If Heslip can knock down some shots and Baylor dominates the paint, this game could be over by halftime. However, the Bears have trouble holding on to the ball sometimes, and they also did not play very well defensively in a loss to Kansas on Monday. Also, while Missouri may not have played very well in Manhattan, Waco is hardly the same environment. Yes, it’s an enormous game this weekeend. The crowd will not be weak, not by any means. But they don’t make many places like Bramlage Coliseum, and MU has never played well there. It won in Ames, and it should not be taken lightly on the road at the Ferrell Center.
The key individual matchup is… Missouri’s guards against Baylor’s forwards. Missouri is mismatched with every single team it plays. That’s just what happens when you start four guards. Against Baylor, though, that mismatched is magnified. The Bears start Jones, Acy and Miller on the frontline, and they almost always have three bigs on the floor at the same time. Missouri rarely even has both Ratliffe and Moore in the game at the same time. In fact, it’s be physically impossible for the Tigers to play three forwards unless they inserted walk-on Andy Rosburg or former football player Andrew Jones, and that’s not going to happen. But Missouri has compensated all year for this lack of size. On Saturday, it’ll be especially important for Marcus Denmon to try to take advantage of his favorable matchup with his quickness. It’s also important for the Tigers to rebound well as a team and make up for their lack of size with extra effort and energy on the boards.
Surprise! Kansas is the only undefeated team remaining in the Big 12 and has already defeated one of its main rivals for the league title (Baylor) at home. That leaves Kansas in a strong position in the conference right now, although it’s still too early to hang any banners. The Jayhawks still need to travel to Waco, Columbia, Manhattan, and Ames, but Bill Self’s teams have traditionally played well on the road. As even Self has admitted, though, this year’s team is not a vintage Kansas team, so it will be interesting to keep an eye on how this team fares. After seven years of either sharing or winning the Big 12 outright though you have to give the Jayhawks the benefit of the doubt here. It’s unlikely this team, which still features a Wooden Award front-runner in Thomas Robinson, will fall apart on tough road environments.
Sometimes, it’s nice to have a little fun with All-Conference teams. Commentator Mitch Holthus put together several different teams, all of which had nothing to do with basketball. We don’t have any arguments with most of his picks, but where is Ricardo Ratliffe on the WWE team? He’s as chiseled as it gets in the Big 12. And with regards to that coaching card game, let’s try to find a spot for Fred Hoiberg. Just to liven things up a bit.
Frank Haith would also have an interesting story to tell at that card game if Holthus selected him. You are probably sick of reading the Frank Haith reclamation stories, but it has been awhile since we have posted one. And this article is particularly well-written, weaving his days at Miami along with the scandal and the controversial hiring at Missouri. If the Tigers keep winning, you will be reading a lot more of these pieces especially from the national media. Haith is an underdog, and that is something America will never have enough of.
Oklahoma did not begin Big 12 play with a bang, but it could actually take control of fifth place in the Big 12 with a win this weekend at Texas A&M. It’s a winnable game for the Sooners, who have won two straight league games after an 0-3 start. It’s only a matter of time before Lon Kruger works his magic, and there’s no reason this team can’t sneak into at least the NIT. Steven Pledger is learning to deal with the pressure of expectations, according to the article, and Andrew Fitzgerald and Romero Osby can cause a lot of problems for Big 12 teams when they play well. Kruger’s program will only continue to improve given time, but his first team isn’t a pushover by any means.
And staying with the Sooners, sophomore Cameron Clark is embracing his new role as a reserve. Clark seemed like a definite starter heading into the season, but Kruger’s decision to bring him off the bench has helped his game. Clark scored 10 points in 14 minutes against Kansas State and added 10 against Texas Tech. That’s the sign of a mature player. Clark probably did not expect to lose his starting role, but he’s responding well to his coach’s decision whether he likes it or not. One day, Clark will probably find his way back into the starting lineup. For now, though, OU will be just fine if he keeps up this kind of production.
Steve Fetch is the RTC correspondent for the Big 12. You can also find his musings online at Rock Chalk Talk or on Twitter @fetch9.
The Week That Was
Missouri played a relatively soft non-conference schedule, and got dominated in a tough road environment losing by 16 at Kansas State. All year long people, questioned whether the Tigers had the toughness inside to be one of the elite teams in the country. In Manhattan they grabbed only 21% of their available offensive rebounds and allowed the Wildcats an offensive rebounding rate north of 40%. What’s more, 6’3” Marcus Denmon was the team’s leading rebounder in the game.
Lon Kruger’s Oklahoma Sooners sprinted out to a 10-2 record outside of league play, but reality set in a bit for the Sooners as Big 12 play started, losing 87-49 at Missouri and 72-61 at home against Kansas. Oklahoma is getting 18 points per game from Steven Pledger but only have two other players scoring over 8.5 per contest. They are also struggling defensively, allowing just under a point per possession this year against a fairly soft schedule.
The Big 12 has been much better than expected this year as they are ranked second according to the Pomeroy rankings. The Big 12 has five teams in the top 30, which is second only to the Big 10 who has 6. Even the Big East, with 16 teams, has only five. It has been the five teams (Kansas, Missouri, Baylor, Kansas State, and Texas) that I expected to carry the load, but it nonetheless has been impressive what the Big 12 has done this year.
McGruder & The Wildcats Took Down The Tigers After Losing At Allen Fieldhouse. (AP)
Baylor (15-0, 2-0): Baylor almost suffered a potential Big 12 title-killing defeat this weekend, beating Texas Tech by only 13 on Saturday, pulling away late. The Bears turned it over 14 times in a 64 possession game, which is right in line with their season average. If their turnover rate, which ranks 235th nationally, doesn’t improve, I can’t see them competing for the Big 12 title, especially because their quality of competition will increase.
Kansas (12-3, 2-0): The Jayhawks jumped out to a big lead against rival Kansas State and, though it got close in the second half, they managed to win by 18 points, a win that looked even better after what Kansas State did to Missouri. Thomas Robinson continues to be fantastic, with a 15/14 effort against the Wildcats, but the Jayhawks’ best player has been someone most fans haven’t heard much from. More on him later. Read the rest of this entry »
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:
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.
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
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 »