Big 12 Bubble Watch: Giving It The Ol’ College Try Edition

Posted by Nate Kotisso on February 5th, 2016

Today is the first Friday in February, which means March is approaching as quickly as bubble discussion is intensifying. So lets frame the Big 12’s bubble situation as it stands now. Thankfully, the Big 12 isn’t the most complicated conference in this respect. We aren’t talking about a league like the ACC, where the second and tenth place teams are separated by just 2.5 games. In any case, the Big 12’s true bubble teams are down to four after West Virginia, who is currently tied for first in the conference, all but locked up its tournament spot by taking down Iowa State this week at Hilton Coliseum. The other three teams considered locks for the NCAA Tournament are obvious ones: the aforementioned Cyclones, Kansas and Oklahoma.

Now it’s time to dive into the four teams who have the best shot at snagging those coveted at-large bids. What have they done so far? What must they do in the future? Should you eat more of a balanced diet? Two of these questions will be answered on this edition of Big 12 Bubble Watch. (RPI numbers via NCAA.com; SOS via CBSSports.com; Kenpom via Kenpom.com). Numbers are as of February 4.

You won’t need to watch out for Lucille. She already has an eye on the Big 12 bubble picture.

You won’t need to watch out for Lucille. She already has an eye on the Big 12 bubble picture.

Probably In

Baylor: 17-5 (6-3); RPI: 26, SOS: 43, Kenpom: 29

Analysis: There was a 30 for 30 on a great Bears team last night (er, somebody’s Bears) but this year’s team is just kinda plain. They’re vanilla. A likable flavor with likable qualities. Lester Medford has dished out 75 assists compared to 25 turnovers in the last 10 games. Rico Gathers Sr. is a man with “Sr.” in his name and continues to dole out punishment to anyone who has to guard him. Taurean Prince is still a prospect NBA executives are drooling over. So what’s missing? The Bears’ lone win against a sure-fire tournament team came on the road at Iowa State, which is obviously nice. Outside of that, Baylor’s other wins are fairly hollow. Fortunately, they’ve got nine games to go and a golden opportunity at another good road win when they travel to West Virginia tomorrow. There is very little to worry about right now in Waco.

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Big 12 M5: Weekend Preview Edition

Posted by Kendall Kaut on January 8th, 2016

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  1. Iowa State hosts Baylor on Saturday as the Cyclones hope to defeat the only team that won a Big 12 game in Hilton Coliseum last season. The Bears, however, enter the game 0-3 on the road this season. One way Scott Drew’s team was able to win in Ames a year ago was on the strength of its shooting, but Taurean Prince will have to return to his road form of last season because he’s only shooting 25 percent away from Waco. Iowa State may now be down to a seven-man rotation, but the Cyclones have been able to survive so far in large part because of the lowest defensive free throw rate in the country. If Deonte Burton continues to play so well — the transfer is averaging 11.0 points in just 18 minutes per game — the Cyclones will have a great chance at a top-three finish in the Big 12 race.
  2. Texas Tech has been the surprise of the season thus far, but it will have a huge task ahead on Saturday in Lubbock. Fresh off a triple-overtime win against Oklahoma, Kansas will be looking to avoid a letdown. The Red Raiders played Iowa State close on Wednesday night, but struggled to stop Matt Thomas late in the game. That challenge will be heightened against a Kansas team that ranks second nationally in three-point offense at 45.7 percent. In his third season with the Red Raiders, Tubby Smith seems to have made a leap with this team (#6 RPI; #39 KenPom). If they can pull off the upset, it could be a really nice Selection Sunday two months from now.
  3. After a legendary 46-point, eight-rebound, seven-assist performance from Buddy Hield against Kansas, the Sooners will host Kansas State on Saturday. The Wildcats have been much better than many expected this season, but because of scheduling and some bad luck they are staring down an 0-3 start in league play. Bruce Weber’s team managed to beat Oklahoma twice last season, which should prevent the Sooners from overlooking them.
  4. West Virginia can start 3-0 in Big 12 play with a win over Oklahoma State on Saturday. The Mountaineers’ vaunted press has put the team second nationally in three-point defense and first in opponents’ turnover percentage. With games coming against Kansas and Oklahoma next week, West Virginia’s schedule will ramp up soon, which is why it’s so important to win the games in which you’re favored. In contrast, Oklahoma State has been killed by the recent news that Phil Forte is probably out for the season, but Jawun Evans has shown how special the Cowboys’ backcourt can be a year from now. Evans had nine assists against Baylor and got to the line 10 times against TCU.
  5. Life has been difficult without big man Cameron Ridley, but Texas can get to 2-1 in Big 12 play with a win at TCU on Saturday. Javan Felix‘s 48 percent shooting from three-point range and Isaiah Taylor‘s average of 26.0 points per game in the first two Big 12 games give the Longhorns hope. With Trent Johnson at the helm and an investment in upgraded facilities, the future appears bright at TCU. However, TCU’s offense ranks 236th in KenPom, and with road trips to Baylor and Kansas next week, a loss to the ‘Horns could put the Horned Frogs at major risk of starting 0-5 in Big 12 play.
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Big 12 M5: 12.28.15 Edition

Posted by Chris Stone on December 28th, 2015

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  1. On Christmas Day, Oklahoma defeated Harvard to win the Diamond Head Classic in Honolulu. The Sooners were led by senior Buddy Hield, who scored 34 points on 11-of-14 shooting from the field. It was the senior’s fourth 30-point game of the season and only the latest addition to his National Player of the Year portfolio. To say Hield’s season has been impressive would be quite an understatement. He is currently using 31 percent of Oklahoma’s possessions and scoring 24.9 points per game while performing even more efficiently than he did a year ago. Hield finished last season with an effective field goal percentage of 50.5 percent; he’s at 62.4 percent this year. On pace for a 50/50/90 season, it’s no wonder Hield is a legitimate NPOY contender.
  2. Hield isn’t the only Big 12 player in the NPOY race. After last week’s 24 points and 10 rebounds in a true road win over Cincinnati, Iowa State’s Georges Niang is also in that picture. As Travis Hines of the Ames Tribune points out, Niang is posting career high numbers nearly across the board for one of the country’s top teams, and he’ll have even more opportunities to showcase his skills on the national stage against the toughest conference in the nation come January.
  3. After a poor performance in Baylor’s 80-61 loss to Texas A&M, senior Taurean Prince bounced back with a huge game in the Bears’ subsequent 85-70 victory over New Mexico State. Prince hung 34 points on the Aggies in the win, but most importantly, he needed just 19 shots to get there. After a wildly efficient campaign last year, Prince’s efficiency numbers this season have lagged largely due to a subpar performance inside the three-point arc. Prince is shooting nearly seven percent worse on two-point shots this season. Thus, his 10-for-15 shooting on two-pointers against New Mexico State is a welcome sight for Baylor fans looking for the senior to find his groove.
  4. After a limited slate of college basketball games during the recent holidays, things will get back to normal this week. Nine of the ten Big 12 teams have games remaining ahead of the start of conference play on Saturday. The league’s headliner will likely come on Tuesday night when Connecticut travels to Austin to face Texas. Shaka Smart’s Longhorns have already collected one resume-building win (an 84-82 thrilling victory against North Carolina) at the Erwin Center this season. The key to the game will likely be Texas’ ability to limit the Huskies’ two-point offense. Connecticut ranks eighth nationally in two-point percentage and has scored 57 percent of their points inside the arc. The Longhorns, though, figure to be up to the task. They’ve allowed opponents to shoot just 40.5 percent on two-point shots this season.
  5. In the most recent iteration of his power rankings, Sports Illustrated’s Luke Winn pointed out that college basketball lacks truly elite teams this season. But that hasn’t stopped the Big 12 as a whole from putting together an impressive year. Oklahoma and Kansas currently occupy the top two spots in the KenPom ratings and the league is once again ranked as his toughest conference based on adjusted offensive and defensive efficiency ratings. In fact, if the Big 12 holds, the league’s .8342 rating will be the highest achieved by any conference since the Big Ten turned the trick in 2012-13.
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Big 12 Power Rankings: We Don’t Know Anything Edition

Posted by Nate Kotisso on December 10th, 2015

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)

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)

Power Rankings

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 »

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Baylor’s Man-to-Man Defense a New Wrinkle With Promise

Posted by Kendall Kaut on December 8th, 2015

Baylor scored its biggest victory of the young season on Sunday night, beating Vanderbilt, 69-67. The Bears played to a key strength against the Commodores, forcing 17 turnovers in an effort that has propelled Scott Drew‘s team all the way to seventh nationally in turnovers forced per 100 possessions. But Baylor wasn’t proficient in every area on the defensive end, as Vanderbilt made 10 of their 21 relatively clean looks from three-point range. Moving forward, Baylor’s focus should be to design a defense that still allows it to play to its strength in forcing turnovers but avoids giving opponents open opportunities from three-point range. Drew is sure to switch between zone and man to find the perfect amount of each strategy, but a full-time man-to-man approach may be most likely to maximize turnovers while also defending the perimeter.

Rico Gathers and Baylor pulled off the victory Sunday against Vanderbilt. (Cooper Neill – Getty Images Sport)

Rico Gathers’ And The Bears Snuck By Vandy On Sunday. (Cooper Neill – Getty Images Sport)

Baylor has primarily been a zone team over the last seven years. Drew’s current defense of choice is a 1-3-1 zone that is usually anchored by one of the country’s best rebounders in Rico Gathers. After a rough start against Oregon in Eugene three weeks ago, Baylor switched to man-to-man and nearly came back and won. In four home blowouts of less talented teams, Baylor stuck with the man-to-man. On Sunday, the Bears mixed defenses against Vanderbilt, switching from zone to man as part of a strategy that included alternating looks on the first eight possessions.

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Big 12 M5: 12.07.15 Edition

Posted by Nate Kotisso on December 7th, 2015

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  1. It’s the Monday following the announcement of this year’s College Football Playoff participants so it must be time to talk Big 12 expansion again, right? Unlike last year, however, the league might be forced to expand sooner rather than later. It was expecting a motion to deregulate conference championship games in football to pass next month, but the Big Ten has stepped in with a “last-minute amendment” that might hurt the 10-team conference’s chances of hosting such a game in 2016. Big 12 Commissioner Bob Bowlsby said he wouldn’t want to be forced to expand the league but admitted that it “could end up that way.” Expansion in football would directly affect basketball, of course, possibly enhancing or diluting the product depending on which direction it goes.
  2. Baylor football had a rough go of things on Saturday, but the men’s basketball team turned those fortunes around Sunday night against #16 Vanderbilt. The Commodores went on a 17-0 run early in the second half to go up 10 but the Bears stormed back to tie the game at 52 with 8:40 to play. From then on, both teams traded body blows in what became a 40-minute basketball masterpiece that Baylor won, 69-67. Taurean Prince scored 30 points in front of over 30 NBA scouts and we all watched Lester Medford (15 points on 6-of-12 shooting) make big shot after big shot to nail it down for the Bears. This appears to be a strong profile-building win for Baylor.
  3. Darker days are approaching for Oklahoma State, if they aren’t here already. After losing at home to Tulsa for the first time since 1985, the Cowboys fell even lower on Saturday as they lost to Missouri State (1-5 record, ranked 239th on Kenpom), 64-63. It was Missouri State’s first win against a Division I opponent this season. For the Cowboys, this marked the first time they have dropped two consecutive non-conference home games since, you guessed it, 1985. Meanwhile, Oklahoma State is still without top scorer Phil Forte indefinitely as Travis Ford has said that his status could be “day to day, week to week” or “month to month.” And the Sugar Bowl won’t be for another three-and-a-half weeks, huh? Yikes.
  4. Oklahoma will take on Villanova tonight in a highly-anticipated top 10 showdown between potential Final Four teams. The game will of course be played at Pearl Harbor in Hawaii on the 74th anniversary of Japan’s infamous attack on the United States that thrust the country into World War II. Head coach Lon Kruger spoke on the significance of their visit to Hawaii as an opportunity for his players to learn more about an important part of America’s history.
  5. Despite dealing with eligibility concerns with two players and an early transfer, Texas Tech head coach Tubby Smith has been forced to shorten his rotation in two ways: personnel and height. It seems to have worked thus far. The Red Raiders are 5-1 on the young season with their only loss coming against a Utah team they hung with for much of that game. Zach Smith and Norense Odiase have emerged as the two stalwarts down low while guard Keenan Evans has made strides as a scorer in his second season. The danger with a short rotation is when those players reach a point somewhere in conference play when they run out of gas and start putting forth weaker efforts. That’s something Smith will have to keep an eye on as the season progresses.
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Baylor’s Battle With Vanderbilt a Chance to Show Bears Belong

Posted by Chris Stone on December 6th, 2015

Baylor has jumped out to one of the more interesting starts in college basketball. The Bears entered the season solidly ranked in the Top 25 but now voters aren’t sure what to make of them. They smashed a solid Stephen F. Austin team by 42 points on opening night before falling short in a true road game against Oregon in their second contest. Since then, Baylor has recorded four blowout home victories over the softest stretch of its non-conference schedule but Scott Drew’s squad has another chance to prove itself against Vanderbilt tonight in Waco. This game, sprouting out of the two teams’ meeting in the 2014 Big 12/SEC Challenge, represents an opportunity for the Bears to pick up their first non-conference win over a ranked opponent since defeating Kentucky in 2013-14. A win here would establish the Bears as a league contender alongside Kansas, Oklahoma and Iowa State.

Rico Gathers and Baylor can establish themselves in the Big 12 race with a win over Vanderbilt. (Cooper Neill – Getty Images Sport)

Rico Gathers and Baylor can establish themselves in the Big 12 race with a win over Vanderbilt. (Cooper Neill – Getty Images Sport)

Vanderbilt, a team that should challenge Kentucky for the SEC title, will quite literally be a big test for Baylor, as the Commodores are anchored by seven-footers Luke Kornet and Damian Jones. Although the Bears boast one of college basketball’s best rebounders in Rico Gathers, the senior big man has rarely faced the kind of size he’ll see tonight. To date, Gathers and fellow forward Johnathan Motley have helped Baylor collect 42.2 percent of their own misses, a mark that ranks sixth best nationally. If Kornet and James can succeed in keeping the Bears off the offensive glass, Baylor could be in for a difficult night that has to rely on forcing turnovers and its half-court offense.

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Big 12 M5: 11.25.15 Edition

Posted by Chris Stone on November 25th, 2015

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  1. Iowa State handled Chattanooga on Monday night, 83-63, in its final tuneup before heading off to the Emerald Coast Classic. Once again the Cyclones received limited contributions from their bench, but that won’t matter much as long as their starters are putting up impressive numbers. Jameel McKay grabbed 17 rebounds while Naz Mitrou-Long continued his recovery from hip surgery this summer by knocking down six of his nine three-point attempts. “My shot’s been really coming together,” Mitrou-Long told Ames Tribune writer Travis Hines, “I’ve been able to get in the gym more and it just feels really good right now.” Now, the focus shifts to Florida where the Cyclones will face Virginia Tech on Friday with a potential revenge game against UAB lined up for the tournament final. “We know who we want,” Georges Niang said, “but we’ll handle Tech first.”
  2. Oklahoma picked up their third win of the season on Tuesday night with a 96-63 thrashing of Incarnate Word. Senior guard Buddy Hield scored 22 points on 12 shots which dropped his scoring average to 25.3 points per game this season. Hield is on pace to outdo his junior campaign’s offensive performance. Our unanimous Big 12 Player of the Year Selection, Hield has so far been relied upon to be even more of a scoring option for the Sooners now that TaShawn Thomas is no longer around. Despite the added load, Hield’s efficiency numbers are up. While he likely won’t maintain his 58 percent 3-point shooting, Hield should put together another great offensive season in a slightly larger role.
  3. Kansas advanced to the final of the Maui Invitational with a 92-73 victory over UCLA on Tuesday. Outside of their on fire 3-point shooting, the Jayhawks have showcased impressive ball movement on offense in Hawaii. Kansas entered Tuesday’s contest having assisted on 68 percent of their makes this season and that didn’t shown signs of slowing down against the Bruins. 19 of the Jayhawks’ 32 field goal makes were assisted against UCLA. Kansas’ offense will face a stiffer test when they take on Vanderbilt and their top 20 defense in the final on Wednesday.
  4. In another late Tuesday contest, Kansas State fell to North Carolina in the finals of the CBE Hall of Fame Classic, 80-70. The Wildcats, powered by a breakout performance from freshman Kamau Stokes, led for much of the game, but couldn’t close out one of the country’s preseason national title favorites. Still, Bruce Weber’s Kansas State squad has been much more impressive than expected after the team’s mass exodus during the offseason. Boasting a top 30 defense according to KenPom, the Wildcats won’t make for an easy out during Big 12 play this season.
  5. Baylor is predicted to have one of the best frontcourts in the country this season and they showed why in a 100-61 demolition of Savannah State. Taurean Prince, Rico Gathers, and Johnathan Motley combined to score 57 points and grab 24 rebounds in the win. The play of the Bears’ big men will be important for a team that’s still searching for answers at the point guard spot after losing Kenny Chery in the offseason.
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Big 12 Preseason Superlatives and Predictions

Posted by Brian Goodman on November 12th, 2015

We noted a few times during the offseason that this year in the Big 12 will have a different tenor than the last few. There won’t be nearly as much attention on the one-and-done players because they aren’t around this year. Oklahoma and Iowa State will again be the token threats to end Kansas‘ long reign atop the conference standings, and the middle of the pack will again be better than the middle of the pack of every other conference. At the end of the day, experienced leaders will carry the Big 12 this season. This conference probably won’t be as wild as it’s been recently, but it’s still going to be a lot of fun, especially with two new head coaches stepping into plum jobs.

Below we will run down our preseason Big 12 superlatives and predictions, as voted upon by our four-man team.

B12Team

Player Of The Year

  • Brian Goodman: Buddy Hield (Oklahoma) – It’s really tough to do this when Georges Niang plays in the same conference, but I have to go with Hield. Both players can light it up from anywhere, but Hield has embraced defense in a way that Niang hasn’t. Hield also turned the ball over significantly less often than Niang while consuming a similar percentage of his team’s possessions, and it’s a good bet that he’ll be able to do so again. Lastly, despite Steve Prohm’s insistence that he won’t change much about the way Niang is used, I still need to see evidence on the court that Prohm will maximize his senior’s unique cocktail of impressive skill combined with not-as-impressive physical abilities. That may not be completely fair to Niang, nor do I think he’ll be a completely different player in the post-Hoiberg era, but when the other candidate has as many credentials as Hield carries, it tips the scales.
Buddy Hield is the microsite's consensus pick for Big 12 Player Of The Year. (David K Purdy/Getty Images)

Buddy Hield is the microsite’s consensus pick for Big 12 Player Of The Year. (David K Purdy/Getty Images)

  • Kendall Kaut: Hield – He’s the reigning Big 12 Player of the Year and plays on the team that I think is most likely to challenge Kansas for the Big 12 title. Although he’ll miss the presence of TaShawn Thomas, Oklahoma returns most of the talent around him, which should free Hield to continue creating. His three-point shooting keeps Oklahoma in games where it should be getting blown out and gives the Sooners an ability to come back from a deficit. And until someone in this league shows otherwise, he’ll stay #1 for me.
  • Nate Kotisso: Hield – This seems like a lazy pick for conference Player of the Year, but this is a case where it doesn’t pay to get cute. Unlike me, Buddy Hield is the furthest thing from lazy; rather, he’s interested in making Oklahoma and himself a lot better this season. The senior guard is likely working on his game at this very moment, but then again, does anyone truly know when he takes time off to do other humanly functions, like, eat? This probably means winning this award again with his sights set on leading the Sooners to Houston in early April.
  • Chris Stone: Hield – While playing the third-most minutes and having the second-highest usage rate in the Big 12 last season, Hield was still the league’s third-most efficient scorer. The senior is everything you could want in an offensive player and he’s a capable defender who averaged nearly two steals per game as well. Without TaShawn Thomas around, Hield should be responsible for even more of Oklahoma’s scoring load, which is enough to make me think he’ll go back-to-back in the Player of the Year race. My dark horse for the award is Baylor’s Taurean Prince, who had better efficiency numbers last season but played far fewer minutes than Hield. If he can hold up in an increased role with a less effective point guard, Prince could take the award.

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Big 12 Preview: Baylor’s Burning Question

Posted by Nate Kotisso on November 5th, 2015

This team preview is part of the RTC Big 12 microsite’s preseason coverage.

Burning Question: Will Baylor find consistent point guard play without Kenny Chery?

Rico Gathers made two free throws to give the Bears a 12-point lead with under three minutes to go in regulation. Baylor had finally built some separation from a pesky Georgia State squad after trading punches for much of the second half. It looked like this #3 seed — the conference’s other #3 seed, Iowa State, was already heading home — was going to advance to the Round of 32. Everything from that point happened so fast. R.J. Hunter scored 12 of Georgia State’s last 13 points, capped off by an insane three from an insane distance that gave us all a reason to remember Ron Hunter’s name forever.

Baylor's Lester Medford will be the replacement for Kenny Chery at point guard. (Cooper Neill/Getty Images North America)

Baylor’s Lester Medford will be the team’s new starting point guard. (Cooper Neill/Getty Images North America)

But that’s over and done with; this is a new season. Baylor returns a large portion of its rotation even though the loss of its veteran leadership — Royce O’Neale and Kenny Chery were first and second in minutes played on the team last season — looms large. O’Neale’s size and brilliance from the perimeter will be missed, but perhaps the biggest question mark on this year’s team will be in replacing Chery at the point guard position. While turnovers often plagued the two-year starter, Chery averaged 5.6 assists per game in 35 Big 12 contests. His replacement must be as steady at the controls as he was.

Without even looking at Scott Drew‘s roster, you could make a reasonable assumption that his frontcourt will be long, rebound, block shots and make basketball no fun for anyone who dares to enter the paint. Along with the senior Gathers, Johnathan Motley appears poised for a huge sophomore campaign. You knew him as a rebounder and last year’s leader in blocked shots, but the 6’9″ jumping jack is quickly becoming a reliable offensive player as well. In three international games over the summer in Canada, Motley averaged 20.6 points per game as his NBA Draft status continues to rise. Taurean Prince‘s star is also expected to shine brighter than ever during his senior season. In addition to leading Baylor in scoring, draft evaluators salivate over Prince’s wingspan (6’11.5″), his ability to shoot (39.5 percent three-point shooter in 2014-15), defend multiple positions, run the floor and crash the glass (8.5 rebounds per 40 minutes last season). DraftExpress lists Prince as a late first round pick in this June’s draft. He’s the NBA wing of the future, today.

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Top 5 Big 12 Matchups For 2015-16

Posted by Brian Goodman on August 21st, 2015

While we’re getting closer to the start of the season, Opening Night is still about three months away. That’s a long way out. On Thursday, however, we were given a taste of what the 2015-16 season will offer as the Big 12 released its conference schedule. As we’ve already touched on several times, the Big 12 won’t be stocked with the same caliber of one-and-done talent that we’ve seen in recent years, but it should make up for that shortfall with a boatload of experienced and productive upperclassmen, so on pretty much any given night, you’ll be able to tune in and see established college stars doing their thing. Add that to the heated rivalries and the infusion of coaching brought on by the additions of Steve Prohm and Shaka Smart and it’s easy to see that we’ll be in for another thrilling season. Here are the top five battles worth circling on the calendar for 2016.

After coming just short of unseating Kansas in 2015, Iowa State will take another crack at the Jayhawks in 2016. (AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall)

The 2016 Big 12 slate is headlined by the next chapter in the fierce rivalry between Kansas and Iowa State.                        (AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall)

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Rushed Reactions: #14 Georgia State 57, #3 Baylor 56

Posted by Matt Patton on March 19th, 2015

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Rush the Court will be providing wall-to-wall coverage of each of the NCAA Tournament from each of the 13 sites this year. Follow our NCAA Tourney specific Twitter accounts at @RTCeastregion, @RTCMWregion,@RTCsouthregion and @RTCwestregion.

Three Key Takeaways.

  1. Baylor’s length was too much for RJ Hunter. Until it wasn’t. The Bears played their trademark 1-3-1 zone and it really bothered Hunter on the wing. He finished the first half with just two points, having taken way too many shots from 30 feet. Hunter and Ryan Harrow were Georgia State’s best players this year and the Panthers really needed him to have a good game with Harrow on the shelf. Then with under three minutes left and the team down 12 points, Hunter magically found his mojo. He scored 12 of the team’s last 13 points and Baylor didn’t score once over the same stretch.
  2. Turnovers, turnovers, turnovers. The Panthers looked really good when they attacked Baylor in transition and off the dribble. They did a really good job of using aggressive defense to take momentum at both the beginning and the very end of the second half. Baylor finished with 21 turnovers on the afternoon. At least four or five of those were right under Georgia State’s basket. Many were stupid, errant passes, but some were forced by a very effective Panthers’ press. And some just looked like a team that started feeling the heat of a team coming on strong in the last two minutes. People will blame Kenny Chery for the missed free throw at the end of the game, but Baylor went 11-of-13 from the charity stripe for the game. Afterward, Ron Hunter talked about how good Georgia State’s press has been down the stretch this season.
  3. Taurean Prince was the player of 35 minutes of the game. He looked unstoppable. He finished with 18 points and 15 boards on only nine shots (including a desperation heave at the buzzer). Georgia State just didn’t have an answer for him but he didn’t get the ball enough the last five minutes of the game. Part of that was Baylor didn’t have many clean possessions down the stretch, but part of it was a lack of strategy to do so as well.

Star of the Game: RJ Hunter was perfect in the last three minutes. Down 12 with 2:40 left and Hunter going to the line, Georgia State looked beyond dead. To that point he had logged only one field goal (a layup in the first half) and looked totally outmatched against Baylor’s size and length. Then he drew a foul (a late whistle from Jamie Luckie) and got his swagger back. When Hunter got a steal and layup with 1:22 left, it suddenly felt like a game. Ryann Green also deserves a lot credit for keeping Georgia State within reach for the first three quarters of the game. While Hunter was ice cold, Green went 3-of-6 from beyond the arc. In the end, though, it was Hunter who put the team on his back and led his team straight into One Shining Moment.

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