Big 12 M5: 01.28.15 Edition

Posted by Chris Stone on January 28th, 2015

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  1. Texas once again struggled on Monday in an 89-86 loss at Iowa State. The Longhorns trailed by double digits for the majority of the game, but mounted a furious second half comeback that included hitting 10 three-pointers. The story of the game, though, was the failure of the Longhorns’ zone defense. Iowa State led by 11 at the end of the first half by using Georges Niang at the free throw line to consistently break down the zone. Texas has a massive front line, but when their bigs are slow in rotation, it creates open looks for opponents at the rim. Although the zone was effective in non-conference play, Big 12 opponents are scoring 100.9 points per 100 possessions against the Longhorns so far.
  2. TCU has only won a single conference game at this point in the season, but that hasn’t stopped opposing coaches from taking notice of the Horned Frogs’ improvements. Ahead of their matchup on Wednesday, Kansas coach Bill Self said, “We know this will be a much different team than we’ve seen in the last couple of years.” The numbers say he’s right. Jesse Newell of The Topeka Capital-Journal pointed out that TCU is the only team in the top 50 of Ken Pomeroy’s efficiency ratings this year that ranked outside of the top 200 last season. The Horned Frogs’ 24th ranked adjusted defensive efficiency is a major factor in their improvement.
  3. One major criticism of college basketball this season has been the slow pace of games. Rush the Court’s Andrew Murawa wrote this fine piece on the subject recently. Tuesday night’s game between West Virginia and Kansas State did very little to silence the critics. The Mountaineers won a two-and-a-half hour marathon 65-59. The game featured 45 turnovers, 54 fouls, and 64 free throws. Bob Huggins called it “beautiful,” but reactions on Twitter painted a different picture. It took 14 minutes to finish the final 1:07 of the game. Perhaps it’s time for those in charge to listen to some of Andrew’s proposals.
  4. Oklahoma State picked up a big win over Baylor on Tuesday night. The Cowboys are fighting for a spot in the NCAA Tournament, and big man Michael Cobbins will be an integral piece of the puzzle. Although Cobbins only scored six points against Baylor, he grabbed 11 rebounds as Oklahoma State held the Bears below their conference average for offensive boards in the victory. Cowboys’ head coach Travis Ford is hopeful, saying, “We’re waiting for him to really hit his stride, and I think he has it in him and he will at some point.” Cobbins can provide Oklahoma State with an inside presence that they otherwise lack, so his continued improvement after returning from last season’s injury is something worth following.
  5. One final, somber note. Tuesday marked the anniversary of the January 27, 2001 plane crash that killed two members of Oklahoma State men’s basketball team, six members of the team’s traveling party, the pilot, and co-pilot. The team wore pregame shirts honoring those who lost their lives and Gallagher-Iba held a moment of silence prior to Tuesday’s game. The Cowboys’ athletic department spent the day remembering the victims of the accident. Consider this this author’s attempt to humbly do the same. Remember the 10.
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Big 12 Power Rankings: Bill Self is Smarter Than Me/You/Us Edition

Posted by Nate Kotisso on January 27th, 2015

Time to dust off a familiar narrative: Kansas is in control of the Big 12. The narrative doesn’t require much dusting off, really. The Jayhawks have won a share of the Big 12 regular season title in each of the last 10 seasons. Maybe the narrative needs a gentle wipe with a dry napkin. Or light tap-tap-taps with a clean towel. But it all starts at the top with Bill Self, the mastermind behind the operation. He’s certainly lauded in Lawrence and around the country as one of the top coaches but this season, Self has received criticism from some fans who question how he sends messages to his players. He, like few coaches do, has a good read on every player on his roster. Perry Ellis, the team’s current leading scorer, was inconsistent for much of the season. In advance of his team’s showdown with Iowa State, Self said that Ellis needed to be more aggressive and “believe that he’s the best player on the floor every night.” In the three games since, Ellis is averaging 16.3 points, eight rebounds and shooting 19-of-37 from the floor.

This is what a coach can get away with when you dominate the Big 12 like Bill Self has done at Kansas. (Denny Medley/USA Today Sports)

This is what a coach can get away with when he dominates the Big 12 like Bill Self has done at Kansas. (Denny Medley/USA Today Sports)

In the Iowa State loss, fans didn’t understand why Self sat freshman Cliff Alexander for the final 14 minutes-plus of the second half. Self explained his reasoning for the move was Alexander’s lack of motor on a couple of plays early in the second half. In an important game with Big 12 title implications, it’s understandable for fans to wonder why that had to be done and at that particular time. But Self has no problem benching players if they’re not giving the effort he requires (see: Andrew Wiggins). In the two games since, Alexander recorded a double-double including a career-high in rebounds against Oklahoma (13) and scored a career-high 15 in a road win at Texas. Another season, another chance for Self to prove his worth as a future Hall of Fame coach. He’d have to stay away from videoboards, though. I think the Hall of Fame frowns on videoboard abuse.

Power Rankings

  1. Kansas — 3 points (All voted 1st). Comment: “Our Brian Goodman nailed KU’s gradual rise back into the driver’s seat (with bonus “Candy Shop” mention). They’re the number one team in the latest RPI in the number one ranked RPI conference with the strongest non-conference schedule among Big Five teams according to KenPom. Yes, they are in good shape. Thanks for asking!” – Nate Kotisso (@natekotisso)
  2. Iowa State — 6 points (All voted 2nd). Comment: “Last night’s win was closer than it should have been, but a bounce-back effort from the Texas Tech debacle keeps the Cyclones in second for another week. We’ll find out if they’re out of their offensive slump for good over their next two games when they take on TCU and Kansas, a pair of teams currently in the top half of the conference in defensive efficiency during Big 12 play.” – Brian Goodman (@BSGoodman)
  3. West Virginia — 11 points (Chris — 3rd, Brian & Nate — 4th) Comment: “The Mountaineers are an interesting case. They’ve got the worst effective defensive field goal percentage in the league, but they’re turning opponents over on 27 percent of their possessions. This week, they managed to hold serve at home by beating TCU in overtime.” – Chris Stone (@cstonehoops)
  4. Kansas State — 12 points (Nate — 3rd, Chris — 4th, Brian — 5th) Comment: “Although the Wildcats lost at Iowa State, they picked up a nice home win against Oklahoma State on Saturday. Bruce Weber’s team continues to improve their resume for March, but we’ll get a better sense of where his squad stands after games against West Virginia and Kansas this week.” – CS
  5. Texas — 16 points (Brian — 3rd, Chris — 6th, Nate — 7th) Comment: “If they were able to pull off the comeback shocker in Ames last night, they’re definitely in my personal top five. Beyond that, they blew a big opportunity by failing to beat Kansas in Austin on Saturday. Here was a team that most saw as the biggest challenger to Kansas to start the year but now are nearing the halfway point in league play with a sub .500 record.” – NK
  6. Baylor — 17 points (Chris & Nate — 5th, Brian — 7th) Comment: “Last Saturday, the Bears did something no Big 12 team has been able to do: Contain Buddy Hield. Five days after bringing the Sooners back from the dead against Kansas, Hield was held without a three-pointer for the first time all season on his way to a frustrating 6-17 outing and five turnovers. Kudos, Baylor defense.” – BG
  7. Oklahoma — 19 points (Brian & Nate — 6th, Chris — 7th) Comment: “Somehow, the Sooners maintained an AP top 25 ranking this week despite losing four of their last five. It will be interesting to see what Lon Kruger does with Isaiah Cousins who injured his wrist in Saturday’s game against Baylor. X-rays were negative and he is day-to-day but the OU coach should be careful about rushing an important piece back especially when they’re losing.” – NK
  8. Oklahoma State — 24 points (All voted 8th). Comment: “Although the Cowboys have the best defensive efficiency numbers in Big 12 play, they’re just 3-4 so far. They’ve got two big home games this week against Baylor and Oklahoma.” – CS
  9. TCU — 27 points (All voted 9th). Comment: “No longer a laughingstock, Trent Johnson’s team is playing hard and keeping things competitive to the point where they’re only one-point underdogs in Wednesday’s game against Kansas.” – BG
  10. Texas Tech — 30 points (All voted 10th). Comment: “Texas Tech is making a habit of winning games against teams they have no business beating. It happened again Saturday as the last-place Red Raiders beat the-then first-place Iowa State Cyclones in Lubbock. Next up on their schedule is a road game at Oklahoma on Wednesday night. TTU’s last road conference win was — you guessed it — Oklahoma last season.” – NK

Big 12 Video/GIF of the Week 

In a world where conference games have been sullied by realignment, it was nice to see two fans from two fan bases come together for absolute nonsense on national television. While there was a break in the action of Texas-Iowa State last night, ESPN went to a liveshot of Brent Musburger and Fran Fraschilla doing their thing. Behind them, a fan wearing an Iowa State logo (on the left) and a Texas fan (on the right, presumably) tried to have a little fun while they were on camera. (h/t Erin Sorensen)

https://vine.co/v/OTHm0XWX15p

This Vine leaves us with so many questions. Why is the Iowa State fan flashing Hook ‘em Horns? Why are they all of a sudden fist-bumping? Did these guys properly map out a plan of what they’ll do when they’re on camera? Of course they didn’t. That’s why this is great. Go Big 12, indeed.

Five Big 12 Games You Better Watch This Week

  1. Tuesday: West Virginia at Kansas State (6:00 PM CT, ESPN2)
  2. Tuesday: Baylor at Oklahoma State (8:00 PM CT, ESPNEWS)
  3. Wednesday: Kansas at TCU (8:00 PM CT, ESPNU)
  4. Saturday: Kansas State at Kansas (1:00 PM CT, ESPN)
  5. Saturday: Texas at Baylor (5:00 PM CT, ESPN2)
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Big 12 Weekend Look-Ahead

Posted by Brian Goodman on January 9th, 2015

It’s a full Saturday in the Big 12 this weekend, with five games on the schedule spaced throughout the day. Let’s take a look at each, digging into what’s on the line during conference play’s second weekend.

  • Iowa State at West Virginia (8:00 ET) – The last time the Cyclones met the Mountaineers in Morgantown, an otherwise disappointing West Virginia team blew the doors off of Iowa State with a 25-point win. In the closing minutes, if you recall, Dustin Hogue let emotions get the best of him as he karate-kicked Nathan Adrian, causing former Mountaineer Eron Harris to respond by punching Monte’ Morris in the neck. This year, Bob Huggins’ team is fueled by a more controlled brand of chaos (not that scuffles like last year’s were regular occurrences), and it just so happens that Iowa State is in a mini-funk, having scored just 0.86 points per possession over its last two games. West Virginia has already brushed off Texas Tech and TCU, so this will mark the reinvented Mountaineers’ first game against a Big 12 team on their level both in overall effectiveness and pace. The best game of the day should make for a fun nightcap.
Bryce Dejean-Jones will try to dig Iowa State out of an offensive slump Saturday. (Cyclones.com)

Bryce Dejean-Jones will try to dig Iowa State out of an offensive slump Saturday. (Cyclones.com)

  • Texas at Oklahoma State (5:00 ET) – The Longhorns are talented and cohesive enough this season that Monday’s drubbing by Oklahoma should probably just be chalked up as a fluke, but it did underscore some questions about Rick Barnes’ roster. Isaiah Taylor is getting re-acclimated to the team (and vice versa) after returning from his wrist injury, and while the frontcourt is very deep it is also penetrable, at least until Myles Turner becomes a stronger defensive presence in the low post. I wrote in last week’s conference catch-up that Oklahoma State didn’t make much progress in its non-conference slate, but the Cowboys have since easily handled Kansas State at home and limited Iowa State’s offense at Hilton Coliseum (despite a loss). It’s therefore safe to stay that they’ve taken some steps in the right direction. Will they keep it up and notch what would be — to this point — their best win of the season? Tune in Saturday evening to find out.
  • Kansas State at Oklahoma (7:00 ET) – After a brief stay, Marcus Foster is out of Bruce Weber’s doghouse and it couldn’t come at a more important time. A win at Oklahoma, while impressive, wouldn’t undo all the harm the Wildcats have brought on themselves so far, but they need to get moving if they want to get back in the picture for an at-large bid. Wednesday’s win over TCU started a stretch when five of their next seven games will be played at home, so there will be plenty of opportunities to start making waves before desperation hits. Meanwhile, Oklahoma has clearly surged ahead of Texas as the top challenger to end Kansas’ reign of dominance with a decisive win over the Longhorns on Monday, so this is a game they should win decisively if they’re the dark horse Final Four contender some are claiming.

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Big 12 M5: 01.09.15 Edition

Posted by Chris Stone on January 9th, 2015

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  1. Kansas defeated Baylor by a single point in Waco on Wednesday night. The loss makes the Bears 0-2 in conference play, but their upcoming schedule at TCU, at home vs. Iowa State, and at Kansas State will give them an opportunity to pick up some wins. Baylor controlled the tempo as they have done all season, and the result was a game that featured only 52 possessions. While Baylor’s 17 offensive rebounds played a role in lowering the official possessions count, the low number also reflects a Big 12 trend this season. The conference ranks 21st in Ken Pomeroy’s adjusted tempo statistic, which measures the pace of play for a league’s teams, and puts the league behind the oft-maligned, plodding Big Ten. It’s time for college hoops officials to rethink the length of the shot clock in order to increase the number of possessions in a game and make it more exciting for the fans.
  2. Baylor and Kansas also shed light on another absurd college basketball rule – the block/charge call. With 3:06 remaining in the first half, Baylor’s Johnathan Motley unleashed the best dunk I have ever seen in person with a ferocious one-handed slam over the Jayhawks’ Jamari Traylor. Bears’ fans immediately broke into a frenzy without noticing that the official under the basket had simultaneously called the move a charge. Kansas’ Evan Manning even called it from the bench. The call took away what was the highlight of the night, and with the way the game finished, also ended up costing Baylor two points that could have made a difference in the game’s outcome. College basketball is meant to be fun and the block/charge call steals some of that from the fans. It’s time for a change.
  3. Also on Wednesday night, Kansas State picked up its first win of the conference season with a 58-53 victory over TCU. For Wildcats fans, that win will hopefully mark a turning point for sophomore guard Marcus Foster. After scoring only two points in 38 minutes in the prior two games, Foster exploded for 23 points on 5-of-11 shooting against the Horned Frogs. Bruce Weber may have finally lit the fire that he was looking for from Foster, which may help Kansas State rebound from its poor non-conference record with some wins during Big 12 play.
  4. It seems college basketball is back in the state of Oklahoma, as hoops competes against football for the time and attention of many Oklahomans during non-conference play and early in the new year. Berry Tramel of The Oklahoman argues that Oklahoma and Oklahoma State are making a case to the state’s residents to invest in basketball a bit earlier than usual. It’s hard to disagree with him. The Sooners defeated Baylor at home in their Big 12 opener and then picked up a huge road win against one of the league’s favorites, Texas, in their second game. And although the Cowboys lost at Iowa State on Tuesday, they had a chance to tie or win on the game’s final possession. Quality college hoops is definitely back in the Sooner State and it’s time for Oklahomans to start paying attention.
  5. The debate over the nation’s best conference rages on, with most people siding with either the Big 12 or the ACC for one reason or another. Either way, there’s no doubt that the Big 12 is going to provide viewers with a number of fantastic games this season. There have already been a number of one-possession games during conference play, and with six teams ranked in the Top 25, there are surely more to come. Our own Brian Goodman put it in perspective on Wednesday morning when he tweeted that there is at least one game between two of those six teams on 24 of the 34 days remaining on the Big 12 schedule. It’s a great time to be a Big 12 hoops fan.
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Big 12 M5: 01.07.15 Edition

Posted by Chris Stone on January 7th, 2015

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  1. Texas fell to Oklahoma in its Big 12 home opener on Monday night, and the 21-point margin of defeat was unexpectedly large, causing both head coach Rick Barnes and his players to afterward challenge the team’s effort and pride. Effort and pride may certainly have played a part in the defeat, but the loss to Oklahoma may be symptomatic of a larger problem for a Longhorns squad that shot just 30.o percent from the field. Texas hasn’t shown an ability to score at an elite level this season, posting an adjusted offensive efficiency of 106.0 that ranks 61st nationally, according to KenPom. Part of the problem? According to Barnes, the players can’t remember their plays. “I don’t even know if we can be a good offensive team or not,” Barnes said. “We can’t even remember the play half the time.” That responsibility, of course, falls on the head coach who will need to give his players some mnemonic devices or other forms of memory training in order to make a deep run in March.
  2. While Texas struggled, Oklahoma continues to improve. Lon Kruger pulled off what may turn out to be the most important transfer move in the Big 12 this year with the addition of senior TaShawn Thomas. He has provided the Sooners with a legitimate inside threat and is becoming an increasingly important part of the Oklahoma offense. He finished with 12 points and 11 rebounds against the Longhorns, which marks the sixth time in the last seven games that he has scored in double figures. Although the transfer wasn’t very efficient in getting his numbers, the fact that he attempted 17 shots in the game suggests that he’s becoming a robust option inside. Thomas also came through with an early contender for best dunk during conference play with a big finish on a couple of Texas bigs, resulting in a fantastic bench celebration from the Sooners’ reserves.
  3. Kansas will open its Big 12 season tonight on the road at Baylor, and while the Jayhawks have won at least a share of the last 10 Big 12 regular season titles, the odds seem somewhat stacked against them this year. Ken Pomeroy’s conference predictions currently project Texas, Oklahoma, and West Virginia to finish ahead of Kansas in the league standings this season. The biggest worry for head coach Bill Self at this point is the Jayhawks’ defense. Self’s teams have always prided themselves on being one of the better defensive teams in the conference and country, but Kansas is entering league play with a field goal percentage defense that ranks eighth among Big 12 teams. That number will need to improve in order for Kansas to win an 11th straight Big 12 championship in what is shaping up to be the most competitive league in the country.
  4. In what is a bit of an odd arrangement, TCU is playing its home games this season at Wilkerson-Greines, which is an off-campus athletic facility owned by the Fort Worth school district. Daniel-Meyer Coliseum, the usual home of the Horned Frogs, is currently undergoing renovations. On Monday, TCU head coach Trent Johnson defended his team from critics who have suggested that the change of venue is the reason behind the Horned Frogs’ improved defense. “The rim is 10 feet,” Johnson said, “The only advantage we have, if any, is that if we come out and play extremely hard and rebound. It creates an advantage against certain teams regardless of where you play or when you play.” The Horned Frogs have the sixth-best field goal percentage defense in the country, allowing opponents to shoot only 34.7 percent on the season. If Johnson’s guys are able to keep that up, they’ll be able to pick up a great number more conference wins than last season.
  5. Oklahoma State’s Phil Forte was named the conference’s player of the week after scoring 41 points on 14-of-24 shooting in the Cowboys’ wins over Missouri and Kansas State. Forte has always been a knock-down outside shooter for Travis Ford’s squad, but his offensive role has increased so that he is finishing five percent more of the Cowboys’ possessions and his 17.3 points per game is tied with teammate Le’Bryan Nash for the Big 12 lead. If Oklahoma State is to make it back to the NCAA Tournament this season, Forte must continue to exhibit a high level of play over the next couple months of action.
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RTC Rewind: Virginia Survives, Others Not So Lucky…

Posted by Henry Bushnell on January 5th, 2015

Last Tuesday, in the first Weekly Primer of conference play this season, I wrote the following: “The beginning of conference play is important, not just because attention ratchets up and the momentous games come in droves, but because these first few weeks are full of realizations. This is when we start to get a true feel for individual teams.” A little later on, I concluded the paragraph with this: “We’ll learn a lot these next few weeks. Or at the very least, we’ll think we have.” With one week in the books – for some, two games; for others, one game; for still others, none – it’s time to start making decisions. What do we think we know? Which 2-0 conference starts are flukes? Which upsets are signs of bigger and better things to come? Which conference races are starting to take shape? Which are still complete crapshoots? These are the types of questions to consider.

Headliner: Virginia 89, Miami 80 (2OT)

Virginia Got All It Wanted from Miami, But Had the Last Laugh on Saturday (USA Today Images)

Virginia Got All It Wanted from Miami, But Had the Last Laugh on Saturday (USA Today Images)

Virginia is still undefeated… but barely. After controlling much of Saturday’s contest at Miami, Virginia’s usually-stout defense was carved up late, and the Cavs eventually needed a clutch Justin Anderson three to stave off their first loss of the season. But while this was a game that should have been more comfortable for the defending ACC champions, this shouldn’t reflect negatively on them. In fact, it further drives home the point that Virginia isn’t just a defensive juggernaut. The Cavaliers can score, too, which is what makes them a top-five team in the country. But what originally looked like smooth sailing for Tony Bennett’s team turned into a perfect example of just how hard it is to go unbeaten in college basketball. Virginia escaped in Coral Gables, but the alarm bells that were sounding during overtime once again alerted the nation that anything can happen in conference play. Miami entered Saturday’s game having lost three of its last five contests by double figures, including a 28-point defeat to Eastern Kentucky. But when conference foes meet, they are generally in the same ballpark athletically. That means all it takes is an outstanding performance here, a subpar one there, sprinkled with a little underdog luck, and an upset is brewing. Louisville almost proved that point as well late Sunday at Wake Forest. Virginia and Duke are both really good teams, but neither will run the table. Kentucky might be a different story in the SEC, but the ACC is just too murderous this season.

And then there were three…

While Virginia scraped by Miami, Saturday wasn’t nearly as kind to three of the six remaining undefeated teams. For Colorado State and TCU, that’s probably no surprise. TCU had feasted on the nation’s weakest schedule, and the Horned Frogs are still a bubble outsider until they show they can win games in the Big 12. Colorado State had won an unsustainably high number of close games, and a trip to New Mexico proved to be its tipping point. The big name that fell over the weekend, though, was Villanova. The Wildcats traveled to Seton Hall on Saturday, but their lack of a true go-to scorer — the generally reliable Ryan Arcidiacono was dreadful — did them in. As a result, Villanova far too often settled for three-pointers outside of the natural flow of its offense, and, as other teams with similar makeups can attest – I’m looking at you, Iowa State – that is a recipe for an upset. Villanova can’t change the composition of its lineup, and that’s why the Wildcats will remain a step or two below the top tier of teams nationally.

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Big 12 Conference Catch-Up: Texas Tech, TCU & Kansas State

Posted by Chris Stone on December 30th, 2014

As the Big 12 schools near the completion of their non-conference schedules this week, it’s a great time to catch up on where the league’s 10 teams stand entering conference play. At this point, the bottom of the league appears likely to include Texas Tech, TCU and Kansas State, in some order or another. We’ll begin our Conference Catch-Up series with those three teams, and roll out the remainder during the rest of this week.

Texas Tech

  • Key Wins: None
  • Bad Losses: Houston
Junior college transfer Devaugntah Williams has made a big impact for the Red Raiders. (Texas Tech Athletics)

Junior college transfer Devaugntah Williams has made a big impact for the Red Raiders. (Texas Tech Athletics)

Texas Tech was predicted to finish in last place in the Big 12 according to the preseason coaches poll, and the Red Raiders’ non-conference play has not changed that perception. Tubby Smith’s team managed to notch a win against Auburn and played LSU to overtime in its second game of the season, but Texas Tech has lost two of its last three games and is limping into Big 12 play. After losing four of their five leading scorers from a year ago, the team’s offense has predictably failed to impress. They currently rank 221st in the country in adjusted offensive efficiency, according to KenPom, and that number makes them the worst offensive team in the Big 12 by far — over 140 spots below TCU. Junior college transfer Devaugntah Williams has been a bright spot, leading the Red Raiders in scoring at 11.4 points per contest, and the team’s defensive numbers suggest perhaps it may be able to slow the tempo and play some Big 12 teams closely. Their 10-3 record, however, is largely the product of a weak non-conference schedule, and therefore expectations for the Red Raiders should remain muted. Tubby Smith is still in the process of rebuilding this program and his team is one of the youngest in the country; it’s likely to take a few more years before Texas Tech is ready to realistically compete in the Big 12.

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RTC Weekly Primer: The Wait is Over, Conference Season is Here…

Posted by Henry Bushnell on December 30th, 2014

The wait is over. The wait is finally over. For a month and a half now, college basketball has kept us intermittently engrossed. There have been glimpses of the beauty, sniffs of the joy. But beginning today, we get to dive in. We get the full dosage. We get to bask in all the glory. The beginning of conference play is important, not just because attention ratchets up and the momentous games come in droves, but because these first few weeks are full of realizations. This is when we start to get a true feel for individual teams. This is when preseason “underrated” statements are validated and gaudy records against weak competition are exposed. It’s too early to make sweeping judgments about conferences as wholes, but at last, the balance of power within those leagues will start to reveal itself. We’ll learn a lot these next few weeks. Or at the very least, we’ll think we have. And right now, that’s good enough.

Three for the Money

We’re actually going to bypass this section for now because there aren’t many single games that stand out this week. There are no clashes between conference heavyweights. In fact, there are only a couple of contests between two ranked teams. Instead, this week is about collections of games. It’s about the Big Ten tip-off event on Tuesday. It’s about the quintet of Big East games on Wednesday. It’s about the first full west coast Friday night in the Pac-12. And it’s about a jam-packed Saturday all across the nation.

A Juicy Big Ten Triple-header

Maryland Begins Its Opening Big Ten Season Today (USA Today Images)

Maryland Begins Its Opening Big Ten Season Today (USA Today Images)

The two worst teams in the league, Northwestern and Rutgers, actually get things started today at Noon, but we can pretend that game isn’t happening. The real curtain-raiser is the afternoon tripleheader on ESPN2. First, Iowa travels to Columbus to take on Ohio State in a rematch of last year’s upset of the then-No. 3 Buckeyes. Without Roy Devyn Marble in the lineup, though, the Hawkeyes aren’t the same team they were a year ago, more closely resembling the team that closed last season on a 1-7 slide. They lack consistent scoring punch in the backcourt, and that could mean trouble against an Ohio State team of which perimeter defense is a legitimate strength. KenPom only gives the Hawkeyes a 19 percent chance to enter Value City Arena and get a win.

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Big 12 M5: 12.18.2014 Edition

Posted by Brian Goodman on December 19th, 2014

morning5_big12

  1.  Iowa State‘s defense will get a lift this weekend from transfer Jameel McKay, who is finally eligible after transferring from Marquette and sitting out the last two semesters. A 6’9″ forward, McKay possesses a 7’4″ wingspan, which should come in handy for a Cyclone team that’s currently dead last in the conference in blocks percentage and offensive rebound percentage. Prior to his short stint with the Golden Eagles, McKay played alongside Cyclone forward Dustin Hogue at Indian Hills Community College. According to Fred Hoiberg, McKay will come off the bench, but even as a secondary member of Iowa State’s rotation, McKay’s ability to alter shots and preserve possessions with his offensive rebounding should give the Cyclones’ attack a new dimension.
  2. Perhaps the biggest name to hit the transfer market recently is former Duke forward Semi Ojeleye, who is now getting the full-court press from Kansas State. There are two major connections between Ojeleye and the Wildcat program: He hails from Ottawa (Kan.), which is just 80 miles from Manhattan, and his brother, Victor Ojeleye, was a walk-on from 2008 to 2012. There’s just one issue for Kansas State – They don’t have a scholarship available. The Wildcats inked three high school commits from the 2015 class to prepare for the loss of Thomas Gipson, Nino Williams and outgoing transfer Jack Karapetyan. Sometimes, these things have a way of working themselves out, but since Ojeleye and his AAU coach have also received inquiries from the likes of Wisconsin, Kansas and Wichita State, something would have to develop quickly for him to end up a Wildcat.
  3. Everyone is still getting used to the idea of TCU being a competitive team, including its local media. The Horned Frogs are one of just nine undefeated teams left in Division I, but they’ve partially arrived at that point by way of easy scheduling by head coach Trent Johnson. Still, these are games that previous TCU teams were losing, so credit is due. Their chances of making the NCAA Tournament will boil down to how they fare in conference play, and in that regard, their backs will be against the wall as they were in their first two seasons of Big 12 membership, but even this level of relevance can be nothing but a good thing for the conference.
  4. While Kansas‘ offensive struggles are a touch misplaced (they currently rank 14th in the country in adjusted offense), they could stand to improve, and as the Lawrence Journal-World‘s Tom Keegan writes, freshman big man Cliff Alexander could be the answer, or at least an answer as the Jayhawks look to get better over Winter Break. Alexander can be foul-prone, but it’s been frustrating to also see his minutes limited by Bill Self’s preference towards experience even though guys like Jamari Traylor and Landen Lucas are less talented. We’re anticipating Alexander to get more chances with Kansas’ non-con schedule softening up as it nears its end, but it’s up to him to make the most of those opportunities.
  5. The Big 12 roars into the weekend on an absolute tear, having won its last 22 games by an average of 19.6 points. While some of the conference’s opponents in that time never stood a chance to be competitive, the streak also includes some impressive road wins over power conferences and victories over solid mid-major teams, too. There are three big threats tomorrow, though: Maryland pays a visit to Oklahoma State; A Washington team on the rise which will square off against Oklahoma in Las Vegas tomorrow, and a solid NC State team will take a crack at West Virginia at Madison Square Garden. Given the strength of the conference, everyone else should have no trouble taking care of business.
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And Then There Were 10: A Look at the Remaining Unbeatens

Posted by Henry Bushnell on December 12th, 2014

We are exactly four weeks – four eventful and enthralling weeks – into the 2014-15 college basketball season. And while at times the non-conference season can get a bit monotonous, this time around it’s been anything but. Most of the top teams have challenged themselves, and we’ve already had several marquee match-ups that gave us a telling look at some squads that we assume will be contenders come March. As far as the hunt for a perfect season goes, there have already been significant casualties. Wichita State’s 35-game regular season winning streak was shot down in overtime by Utah. Top 10 teams Wisconsin and Kansas fell to Duke and Kentucky, respectively, in two titanic clashes. A strong Gonzaga team also came up just short against Arizona, which is easily the best team the Zags will play all season.

Ten teams now retain unblemished résumés through the first 28 days of action. And whereas in many seasons there are multiple mid-majors who feast on weak teams and get through the first month without a loss, that’s not the case this year. Two of the 10 come from non-power conferences, but neither is a fluke – both are decent bets for an at-large bid come March (if they don’t win their conference tournaments, of course). And only one of the 10 might be considered a total fluke. Let’s now take a look at these 10 teams, their remaining schedules, the biggest threats to their unbeaten records, and their chances to progress into January, February and beyond, unscathed.

Note: teams listed in order of KenPom probability of an undefeated regular season as of December 11, 2014.

Given Kentucky's Talent, Coaching and Conference, the Wildcats Easily Have the Best Shot to go Unbeaten (credit: USA Today)

Given Kentucky’s Talent, Coaching and Conference, the Wildcats Easily Have the Best Shot to Go Unbeaten (credit: USA Today)

  1. Kentucky (10-0) | Probability of perfect regular season: 4.6%

“Kentucky” and “undefeated” have been appearing in the same sentence a lot ever since the Wildcats demolished Kansas in Indianapolis in mid-November, and the Wildcats are by far the most likely team to accomplish the feat. KenPom’s model in fact probably undersells their chances. The biggest potential impediment to the notion might actually be the three-game stretch that begins this weekend in Lexington with a visit from North Carolina. Kentucky then plays UCLA in Chicago next weekend followed by a true road game at Louisville. The third of those three games is particularly tough, but John Calipari will have a week ahead of time to prepare for his team’s biggest rivalry game. And with the SEC down this year – like, waaaaay down – if Kentucky can get through these next three, the possibility of an unbeaten regular season is quite real. A February 7 trip to Florida could present a challenge if the Gators correct some of their current issues, but other than that, the toughest other conference games are either at Georgia, at LSU or at South Carolina. I’d put Kentucky’s chances to run the table somewhere around 15 percent.

  1. Duke (8-0) | Probability of perfect regular season: 1.1%

Read the rest of this entry »

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A Month Into the Season: Six Big 12 Revelations

Posted by Brian Goodman on December 10th, 2014

Nearly a month into the season, the Big 12 has enjoyed a standout non-conference campaign with several wins over Power Five opponents. For the most part, the conference’s best teams are living up to their hype, while the middle-tier teams are showing signs of  fulfilling their potential as well. While all eyes are on the title race between Kansas and Texas, here are six other storylines you might be missing.

Bryce Dejean-Jones has turned into a hyper-efficient shooter under Fred Hoiberg (sorry, UNLV fans). (AP/Charlie Neibergall)

Bryce Dejean-Jones has turned into a hyper-efficient scorer under Fred Hoiberg (sorry, UNLV fans). (AP/Charlie Neibergall)

  1. Bryce Dejean-Jones could be Fred Hoiberg’s best transfer yet. The Mayor has taken many a flawed transfer and turned him into an All-Big 12 selection. On its own this isn’t exactly a revelation, but you probably didn’t expect Bryce Dejean-Jones to be such a white-hot scorer. Through seven games, he’s shooting 56.8 percent from the floor, 41.7 percent from the three-point line and 89.7 percent from the free throw stripe. He’s also pitching in on the glass, corralling 6.9 rebounds per game. As if that isn’t scary enough for the rest of the Big 12, Dejean-Jones is the second option in the Cyclones’ offense, as Georges Niang hasn’t had any trouble picking up where he left off after getting hurt in last season’s NCAA Tournament. Dejean-Jones’ latest excellent performance came against UMKC on Tuesday night, as he put up 22 points on 9-of-12 shooting, including a 2-of-4 effort from beyond the arc.
  2. We need to be patient with Myles Turner. It’s tempting to look at Texas freshman Myles Turner’s numbers on the year (11.4 points, 6.9 rebounds and 2.9 blocks per game) and conclude that he’s coming along just fine, but if you dig deeper into his games against high-major competition, he hasn’t been nearly that good — averaging just 5.8 points, 5.5 rebounds and 1.8 blocks in games against Iowa, Cal, UConn and Kentucky. This is by no means a knock on the heralded freshman, who was a late bloomer on the recruiting circuit, but it’s become clear that when it comes to legitimate competition, Turner is going to need some time to develop into the rangy, efficient scorer who can lift Texas over Kansas in the Big 12 standings. He’s still in the process of realizing how good he can be, and with Texas’ surplus of big men on the roster, Rick Barnes is still figuring out how to best utilize his young phenom. On the plus side, you’ll be treated to a show if you have the means to watch any of the Longhorns’ next three games (vs. Texas State, Lipscomb and Long Beach State), as Turner hasn’t had any trouble showing off his tools and production against inferior competition. Read the rest of this entry »
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Big 12 M5: 12.08.14 Edition

Posted by Brian Goodman on December 8th, 2014

morning5_big12

  1. Early Sunday morning, Kansas forward Jamari Traylor was arrested for interfering with the duties of a police officer as authorities responded to an incident at a Lawrence bar. While Traylor wasn’t a highly-regarded recruit when he arrived on campus, he hasn’t developed all that much and it should be noted that he has a history of less-than-great behavior. Still, with two games this week against prominent big men in Georgetown’s Joshua Smith and Utah’s Jakob Poeltl, this is an especially inopportune time to get into trouble. If Bill Self decides to hand Traylor a suspension, Landen Lucas and Hunter Mickelson figure to be the most likely candidates to absorb his minutes, although Self may simply give a bigger workload to Cliff Alexander after the freshman logged an impressive game against Florida on Friday.
  2. Speaking of that Florida win, it wouldn’t have been possible without sophomore Wayne Selden snapping out of his season-long scoring funk. Rustin Dodd of The Kansas City Star thoroughly breaks down the myriad ways in which he turned the tables against the Gators, whether it was by attacking the rim or hitting his jumpers. As mentioned in the point above, the road doesn’t get easier for Kansas anytime soon, so it will be interesting to see if Selden can keep things rolling offensively.
  3. While Oklahoma has had a nice start to the season, the Sooners haven’t looked like the team many expected in the early going (us included). Last season’s potent offense wasn’t all there, but the defense appeared to be much improved. On Friday night, however, Oklahoma’s attack was much more balanced as they blew out a bad Missouri team at the Lloyd Noble Center. The Sooners have this week off for exams, but they have an interesting road test on tap Saturday, when they travel to play a Tulsa team that beat the same Creighton squad that dropped Oklahoma a few weeks ago.
  4. Through the first few weeks of the season, the Big 12 has gotten off to a great start (more on that in a minute), but if any team has been a disappointment, it’s been Kansas State. The Wildcats already have four losses, including one to Long Beach State and two others to average Pittsburgh and Tennessee squads. It’s worth pointing out that some of the team’s struggles have come under tough circumstances: The loss to the Panthers came in the consolation bracket of the Maui Invitational, when both teams were running on fumes and playing for the third straight day; and Saturday’s game against Tennessee wouldn’t have been scheduled at all had it not been fueled by ESPN’s presentation of the Big 12/SEC challenge. That’s not to excuse Kansas State’s lackluster body of work – those games are part of the deal of being in a big conference – but context always helps. The results are the results, though, so with their biggest non-conference tests now behind them, it will be important for Bruce Weber‘s team to maximize a Big 12 slate filled with opportunity to build a reasonable case for an at-large bid.
  5. Due to final exams, the slate is quiet this week, though road games for Kansas and Iowa State (at Georgetown and Iowa, respectively) will breathe some life into the schedule. That said, it’s a good time to evaluate the conference as a whole, and the Big 12 looks terrific through three and a half weeks. The conference has wins over Michigan State, UConn and Arkansas, with two of those wins coming away from campus. Additionally, the league has no truly inexcusable losses, and while that may not sound like much at first blush, it’s more than the other power conferences around the country can say. The Big 12’s success is also evident in the computer ratings, as seven of the conference’s ten teams rank in KenPom’s top 27, and five rank in Sagarin’s top 20. For the unlikely cherry on top, perennial doormat TCU will probably be undefeated when conference play revs up next month. Of course, it’s silly to expect the Horned Frogs to carry those results very far into conference play, but it is a sign that there will be very few off nights in the Big 12, which has a clear edge in the national picture over the bloated ACC and Big Ten.
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