Big 12 M5: 02.10.16 Edition

Posted by Brian Goodman on February 10th, 2016

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  1. Kansas is back in first place in the Big 12 after a 75-65 win over West Virginia that pushed the Jayhawks into a three-way tie with the Mountaineers and Oklahoma in the standings. Perry Ellis led the team with 21 points, but Kansas also found help in the form of a cold shooting night from the Mountaineers. After a pair of uncharacteristically good outings where West Virginia shot a robust 44 percent from long range, regression reared its ugly head to the tune of a frosty 5-of-20 clip last night in Lawrence. Bob Huggins’ team also clearly missed the presence of suspended forward Jonathan Holton, from whose absence Jayhawks’ center Landen Lucas greatly benefited. The junior had a huge game on the glass, pulling down a career-high 16 rebounds while limiting second chances for the nation’s best offensive rebounding team. Up next for Kansas is another highly important game against Oklahoma in Norman on Saturday.
  2. Kansas State‘s journey back to the bubble will continue tonight when the Wildcats host Baylor in Bramlage ColiseumBruce Weber’s team lacks the shooters to extend Baylor’s zone and has struggled mightily with turnovers all season, but the Wildcats have shown they can set up teammates (57.9 percent of their field goals in Big 12 play come on assists) and convert during good possessions. Those skills will be important this evening, particularly if the defensive rebounding expertise of Rico Gathers and Johnathan Motley renders second chances tough to find. On the other side, Baylor needs a quality road win in addition to its early January win at Iowa State to bolster its resume.
  3. The only other Big 12 action tonight pits Iowa State against Texas Tech in Lubbock, where the Cyclones will hope to find their focus. Iowa State will be without suspended center Jameel McKay for the second consecutive game, but his absence may not matter as much since the Red Raiders’ best rim-protector, Norense Odiase, will also sit with a broken foot. The Cyclones are playing on the road for the third time in their last four games, but they’ve reeled off three straight Big 12 victories away from Hilton Coliseum and will be favored to add to that streak this evening.
  4. The emergence of Texas as a legitimate contender over the last few weeks is one of the conference’s biggest stories. Its recent performance caught the attention of Washington Post writer Matthew Giles, who takes a deep look at Texas’ expedited turnaround. We dove into the subject ourselves here on the microsite last week, and Giles echoes many of our sentiments around the Longhorns’ performance. In particular, he notes the tremendous value that Prince Ibeh has provided in the wake of Cameron Ridley‘s broken foot, as well as the contributions of Texas’ revamped guard play. The Longhorns have several tough road games ahead but they’ve been a virtual lock for an at-large bid since the beginning of February, a milestone few prognosticators saw coming upon Smart’s hiring last April.
  5. Oklahoma State‘s season hit a nadir in Fort Worth on Monday night when the Cowboys were embarrassed by TCU to fall into last place in the Big 12. While the Pokes have faced many hurdles in the form of injuries this season, it didn’t seem possible that they could find themselves in such a position. Travis Ford‘s team has plenty of time to climb out of the basement of the league standings, but that’s a pretty low bar to clear for a coach who is likely to find himself on the hot seat in March.
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Big 12 Power Rankings: West Virginia Is Finally Here Edition

Posted by Nate Kotisso on February 5th, 2016

West Virginia is a basketball team. A very solid basketball team, in fact. A team whose hallmark is to press the life out of opponents. A team that scores easy baskets off turnovers. A team that makes its fans cringe when it clangs jump shots off odd parts of the backboard. The Mountaineers started 4-0 in Big 12 play playing the good ol’ West Virginia way before losing back-to-back games at Oklahoma and at home to Texas. In the four games since those defeats, it appears that we’re seeing a different West Virginia team. Not only have the Mountaineers gone 3-1 in that span, but their three-point shooting has improved (35 percent in their last four games; 31 percent for the year) as well as their free-throw percentage (73.4 percent in their last four games; 66 percent for the year). Tuesday night’s win at Iowa State marked the first time a team other than Baylor or Kansas has defeated Iowa State in Ames since the start of the 2012-13 season. Bob Huggins‘ team now finds itself in a first-place tie with Oklahoma with nine games still to play. The Mountaineers are very good and they can no longer be ignored.

Bob Huggins has won 711 games as a Division I coach. I feel like we don't say that enough. (Associated Press)

Bob Huggins has won 711 games as a Division I coach. We don’t say that enough. (AP)

  1. Oklahoma — 3 points (All voted 1st). Comment: “With most of the focus understandably on Buddy Hield’s National Player of the Year campaign, the evolution of junior guard Jordan Woodard — arguably the most improved player in the country this season — hasn’t received the attention it deserves. Having shed his responsibilities as the primary ball-handler, Woodard’s turnover rate has declined eight percent while maintaining his assist rate. It’s also opened up his own offensive game. Woodard is shooting 51 percent from deep and has already made 51 threes, more than he made in his first two seasons combined. Every good superhero needs a sidekick, and Woodard is filling that role nicely.” – Chris Stone (@cstonehoops)
  2. West Virginia — 6 points (All voted 2nd). Comment: Jonathan Holton‘s loss was Devin Williams‘ gain, at least in Monday’s win at Hilton Coliseum. Williams has been terrific all season long, but the absence of Holton — the Mountaineers’ second-leading rebounder behind Williams — due to a violation of team rules indirectly led to Williams pulling down a career-high 18 rebounds in the big win in Ames. – Brian Goodman (@bsgoodman) Read the rest of this entry »
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Six Takeaways From the Big 12/SEC Challenge

Posted by Andrew Gripshover on February 1st, 2016

The Big 12 backed up its best league in college basketball label on Saturday with a 7-3 victory over the SEC to clinch a third straight Big 12/SEC Challenge victory. While there were a number of close games, all of the Big 12 home teams held serve and, of the three road losses, one was in overtime and the other was a back-and-forth affair until the final few minutes. The interesting takeaway from the event is its timing during the last weekend in January — stuck in the midst of conference play, it represents more than an early season measuring stick but it’s not quite the postseason either. Here’s a look at some of the fallout for several of the participating teams.

Kentucky and Kansas Played a Classic in Lawrence Saturday Night (USA Today Images)

Kentucky and Kansas Played a Classic in Lawrence Saturday Night (USA Today Images)

  • Kansas and Kentucky’s Seeding Implications. First of all, let’s do this on campus every second and third year. It was a refreshing break for this overtime matchup to take place outside of the sanitized Champions Classic in mid-November and it completely delivered. Everyone already knows the Wayne Selden (33 points on 12-of-20 shooting) and Tyler Ulis (26 points, eight assists, but two key turnovers down the stretch) angles, so let’s look at this from a bracketing perspective. Kansas will stay in the #1 seed hunt (its resume is shockingly identical to that of Iowa) but with Oklahoma currently profiling as the top overall seed, the Jayhawks will likely need to beat out the Sooners for one or both of the Big 12 titles. Kentucky remains somewhere between its dominant #1 seed and middling bubble team years, but they’ve been trending more in the direction of the former than the latter over the last couple of weeks. John Calipari won’t care about that after leading for most of the second half of Saturday night’s game, but his team couldn’t hold on down the stretch of regulation nor withstand foul trouble in the extra session.

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Big 12 M5: 01.25.16 Edition

Posted by Nate Kotisso on January 25th, 2016

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  1. Kansas is struggling a bit right now. I don’t think that’s a large statement to make. Traveling to traditionally noisy road environments (West Virginia, Oklahoma State) only to come away with losses isn’t the biggest deal but when an undermanned-yet-solid Texas team had a real chance of pulling the upset at home, there might be something more to this recent rough patch. Accordingly, Bill Self tinkered with his lineup and rotation on Saturday after tinkering with it Tuesday against the Cowboys. Still, it wouldn’t be the end of the world if they dropped another road contest to a really good Iowa State team later tonight but I’d like to think Kansas fans would sound the alarms if they laid another egg.
  2. Speaking of the Cyclones, Iowa State will host Kansas tonight in a match-up that has become the Big 12’s premier tussle over the past four years. As a line of tents wrap around Hilton ColiseumSteve Prohm has finally been able to build trust and encouragement with his veteran-laden team. It’s more intimidating than it is easy when you think about it. A situation where the players are good, have a years-long way of doing things and then all of a sudden, a new guy is hired from the outside. The players weren’t likely to revolt or be outright disrespectful to Prohm but there did remain a possibility that, while they knew he was successful at his previous stop, Cyclone players could have ran things they way were accustomed to for years under Fred Hoiberg. At last, the coach and his players are mentally one. The implications of this fact now radiate throughout the Big 12.
  3. My main complaint, well the nation’s main complaint, with West Virginia is that they shoot the ball like a 30-second shot isn’t sufficient for their kind of offense. And then a game like Saturday’s comes along. The Mountaineers were already shooting 48.9 percent from the field and 38.8 percent from the perimeter and still trailed Texas Tech by four with under a minute to go. Then, the (TarikPhillip-ing occurred. The junior guard owned the last minute of play when he nailed a three-pointer, converted an old-fashioned three point play, made a dunk and tacked on two of his final three steals on the day. Most bench players don’t get that much activity playing 20 minutes and Phillip did all that — and still finished with 20 points. Because of his effort, West Virginia maintained their four-way tie for first place in the Big 12.
  4. Texas Tech was feisty in their home loss to West Virginia despite learning that sophomore big man Norense Odiase broke his fourth metatarsal bone in his right foot following Tech’s win over TCU and will be in a cast for the next three weeks according to Tubby Smith. Odiase had been growing as a more consistent low-post threat while also adding a jump shot to his arsenal. He was averaging 9 points and 4.4 rebounds in just 19.5 minutes per game. With Oklahoma, Texas and Iowa State as Tech’s three of their next five games, a presence like Odiase’s will be sorely missed in games that will determine their worthiness of an at-large berth.
  5. As Oklahoma‘s dream season rolls on, the athletics department announced late last week one of its faces of the program is coming home. On March 1, Blake Griffin will ride into Norman, as the Sooners take on Baylor, where his No. 23 jersey will be retired. March 1 will almost assuredly be even more emotional as the jersey ceremony coincides with Senior Night where Sooner fans will say goodbye to Buddy Hield, Isaiah Cousins, Ryan Spangler and the rest of the senior class. I have a strange feeling the Lloyd Noble Center will be filled to capacity that night.
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Big 12 M5: 01.18.16 Edition

Posted by Chris Stone on January 18th, 2016

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  1. After two straight losses in which Iowa State gave up more than 90 points, the Cyclones picked up a 76-63 road win over Kansas State on Saturday. The lower point total was the product of both the Wildcats’ slower pace of play and a change in Steve Prohm‘s philosophy. After a slow start to conference play, Prohm explained that the Cyclones need to manage games in a way that limits the time they spend on defense. His theory is that Iowa State is so good on offense that the Cyclones would be better off spending a bit more of the game with the ball in their hands. The key, though, will still be for Iowa State to slow down opposing offenses. The Cyclones currently rank 114th in adjusted defensive efficiency–a stat which accounts for the quality of opponent and pace of play–and will be put to the test when Oklahoma comes to Ames tonight.
  2. Speaking of the Sooners, their 70-68 victory over West Virginia reopened the Big 12 race as four teams now sit at 4-1 in the conference. More importantly, though, the win may be a boon for the confidence of sophomore Khadeem Lattin. After missing the front end of a one-and-one that would have given Oklahoma a victory in Allen Fieldhouse two weeks ago, Lattin scored the game-winning bucket against the Mountaineers on a tip-in. “It was like a redemption,” Lattin told the media.
  3. Meanwhile at Allen Fieldhouse, Kansas bounced back from their loss in Morgantown on Tuesday with a 70-63 win over TCU. The Jayhawks’ two freshman big men, Carlton Bragg and Cheick Diallo, both got extended looks against the Horned Frogs. Bragg scored 10 points and grabbed four rebounds in 16 minutes, but it was Diallo’s performance that turned heads. After being featured only sparingly so far this year, Diallo played a season-high 21 minutes against TCU. His nine points, nine rebounds, and five blocks gave fans a taste of what Diallo can offer Kansas going forward. The improvement of the Jayhawks’ two freshman will be a critical component come March and it’s the reason Kansas is viewed as the title contender with the most upside going forward.
  4. Baylor‘s Lester Medford continues to come up big in key moments for the Bears. The senior point guard delivered a huge second half in Baylor’s win over Vanderbilt earlier this season, and on Saturday, he knocked down the game-winning three-pointer against Texas Tech. While most of the focus has been on Kansas, Oklahoma, and West Virginia, the Bears victory quietly pushed them into a four-way tie for first in the Big 12.
  5. Our final note comes from the recruiting world. Last week, four-star center Udoka Azubuike declared his intention to announce his college choice at the Hoop Hall Classic this weekend. Azubuike, who is choosing between Florida State, Kansas, and North Carolina, appeared to be leaning towards the ‘Noles, but by Sunday rumors were swirling that Florida State was out of the picture altogether. As Kansas and North Carolina picked up predictions in 247Sports’ Crystal Ball, Azubuike’s guardian announced that the high school senior would be pushing back his decision. Just the latest in a long line of strange recruiting stories, it looks like this recruiting battle will continue for a while longer.
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Big 12 M5: 01.11.16 Edition

Posted by Brian Goodman on January 11th, 2016

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  1. It wasn’t pretty, but Kansas bested Texas Tech 69-59 in Lubbock Saturday night to move to 3-0 in conference play. The key stretch for the Jayhawks came late in the second half. Up by just two points, the Jayhawks used three-pointers by Wayne Selden and Frank Mason to power an 11-4 run from which the Red Raiders couldn’t recover. Tubby Smith’s team was also done in by a rare poor night at the stripe: The Red Raiders, who shoot 72.2 percent at the line, hit just 9-of-19 free throws. It would have been nice for Texas Tech to post a big win to show just how improved they are from a couple seasons ago, but they’ll have plenty of other chances.
  2. West Virginia made easy work of Oklahoma State with a 77-60 win in Morgantown, setting up a matchup of 3-0 teams when the Jayhawks visit WVU Coliseum tomorrow night. Mountaineer senior Jonathan Holton had one of the best games of his career, scoring 15 points to go with nine rebounds, three assists, two steals and zero turnovers. The Cowboys weren’t expected to be very competitive in Morgantown, but with home games against Oklahoma and Kansas and road games at Texas and Kansas State coming up, things in Stillwater are likely to get worse before they get better.
  3. One of the key takeaways from last week’s classic between Oklahoma and Kansas was the importance of the league’s contenders winning their home games. Apparently, Iowa State missed the message, because they were dropped by Baylor at home on Saturday afternoon. Bears forward Johnathan Motley came up huge with a career-high 27 points and 13 rebounds against the Cyclones’ porous interior defense, but he wasn’t the only one who had a big day. Taurean Prince had a double-double (18 points and ten rebounds) and Lester Medford had a surgically efficient 16 point, 11 assist night, all without a single turnover. Iowa State is by no means done in the Big 12 race, but three of their next four games come on the road, with the only home game in that stretch coming against Oklahoma. The Cyclones definitely have their work cut out for them.
  4. Oklahoma bounced back from its tough loss at Kansas with a comfortable home win over Kansas StateBuddy Hield had another outstanding game, notching his third 30-plus point game in his last four outings and his sixth such performance this season. Oh, and he also had eight rebounds, five assists, two blocks and a pair of steals. His games are quickly becoming must-watch programming, and your next shot to see him do his thing comes Wednesday night when the Sooners take on intra-state rivals Oklahoma State on ESPNU.
  5. Jeff Haley of Burnt Orange Nation took a deep analytical dive into Texas’ rocky start under Shaka Smart, which may have hit a low point over the weekend with a loss at TCU. One particularly interesting point has to do with Smart’s deployment of the trademark press that connected him to every big coaching vacancy over the last few years. While the Longhorns don’t press very often, its lack of efficiency on the other end significantly reduces its margin for error when it tries to force turnovers in the backcourt. The logic there is that good teams will be able to beat the press and get easy looks, which in turn only makes the offense’s job more of a challenge than it already is. The piece is definitely worth your while.
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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: 01.06.16 Edition

Posted by Brian Goodman on January 6th, 2016

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  1. We already offered two reflections on Monday night’s thriller between Oklahoma and Kansas, but if you’re still looking for a fix , Jason King of Bleacher Report wrote a very good article that captured Buddy Hield‘s demeanor in the heat of the battle as well as in defeat. In addition to some anecdotes about Hield’s commitment to improving his game, King relates a story that Bill Self had recruited the Bahamian star out of nearby Sunrise Christian Academy in Wichita and had even set him up for an unofficial visit. The current NPOY candidate, however, canceled his trip to Lawrence after committing to the Sooners. This piece is definitely worth your time.
  2. Kansas State‘s surprising start after last season’s faceplant was one of the better Big 12 stories of the first two months of the season, but the Wildcats are now 0-2 in conference play after losing to Texas in Austin. This was an ugly game where both teams shot less than 40 percent from the floor, culminating with Kansas State freshman Barry Brown missing consecutive three-pointers on the team’s final possession to seal the victory for Texas. Barring an upset at Oklahoma on Saturday, Bruce Weber’s team is staring down the barrel of an 0-3 start to conference play, but while Big 12 play presents resume opportunities on a regular basis, that kind of start will be incredibly difficult to overcome for a rebuilding team like the Wildcats. Meanwhile, after facing three straight top-60 KenPom opponents, Texas shouldn’t have many issues when it travels to TCU this weekend.
  3. The only other action Tuesday night saw Baylor handle Oklahoma State by 17 points in Waco, and the biggest takeaway from this game was the Bears’ complete annihilation of the Cowboys on the glass. Baylor hauled in a whopping 44 rebounds — Rico Gathers snagged 17 boards by himself — while Oklahoma State corralled just 18. Gathers also hit a huge personal milestone as he became the first Bear ever to reach 1,000 rebounds, which is an amazing feat when you consider that he didn’t even average 20 minutes per game until his junior year. Gathers has seen all the ups and downs that a four-year career at Baylor can offer, but between his consistency on the court and his commitment to being a good dad away from it, he seems to an all-around good guy to root for.
  4. On the season’s 54th day, Texas Tech will finally play its first true road game as the Red Raiders play Iowa State in Ames tonight. The team’s resurgence has been a nice storyline this season, as their lone blemish to this point is a neutral court loss to Utah. Still, without a top 50 KenPom win, its NCAA Tournament resume lacks heft. That could change soon, though, as they’ll play at Hilton Coliseum, host Kansas and play at Kansas State over the next week. Devaugntagh Williams, Toddrick Gotcher and Norense Odiase look like a dependable core, but the Red Raiders will be put to the test in one of the conference’s toughest environments against a team looking to get back on track.
  5. Perhaps feeling the weight from the fallout of SMU’s academic scandal, one of the central figures in the story, Keith Frazier, has left the Mustang program. According to his prep coach, it sounds like the junior guard from Dallas simply wants to be able to breathe a little, which is understandable. At this point, you’re probably wondering why we’d bring that news up in this space, and the the reason is because Texas Tech was a runner-up for Frazier’s services coming out of high school and, while this is purely speculative (he’s still enrolled at SMU even though he isn’t with the team), could be a destination if he opts to transfer. One of the main reasons Frazier gave for backing off the Red Raiders back in 2013 was because they hired Tubby Smith over then-interim coach Chris Walker, though, so it may not be meant to be, but if you’re Texas Tech and Frazier leaves SMU for good, what’s the harm in calling to see if he’d be interested?
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Big 12 M5: New Year’s Day Edition

Posted by Chris Stone on January 1st, 2016

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  1. West Virginia closed out its non-conference schedule with an 88-63 road win over Virginia Tech on Wednesday night. The Mountaineers were led by sophomore guard Jevon Carter who finished with 18 points. With Juwan Staten’s graduation, Carter has played a much larger offensive roll this season. He’s scoring 13.0 points per game and has improved his outside shot in 2015-16. Already a pesky defender, Carter could be positioning himself for an All-Big 12 type season.
  2. Monte Morris continues to impress. His 10-point, 11-assist, zero-turnover performance in Iowa State’s 104-84 win over Coppin State is Morris’ latest quality outing. While Morris isn’t leading the NCAA in assist-to-turnover ratio for a third straight season (that honor belongs to Pitt’s James Robinson), he is still averaging nearly six assists per turnover. His impressive distribution is keeping teammates on their toes. “Just get to an open area,” Georges Niang told the media after the Cyclones’ win, “because I know he’s going to zing one past someone’s head and hopefully it doesn’t hit me in the face and it hits me in the hands.”
  3. Big 12 play begins Saturday and as usual the five game slate offers up some interesting matchups. There are two games between top 25 teams to open the conference season. Baylor will travel to Lawrence for an opening day contest against Kansas. While the Bears have a nice home win against Vanderbilt on their resume, they failed to pick up other quality wins during non-conference play. They’ll need to find a few resume builders over the remainder of the season if they want a high seed in the NCAA Tournament and there would be no better place to start than with an upset of the Jayhawks in Allen Fieldhouse.
  4. The other Top 25 matchup on the schedule pits Iowa State against Oklahoma in Norman. The big question is whether or not the Cyclones will be able to generate enough defensive stops. Iowa State is giving up 81.3 points per game over their last three contests and opponents are now converting 35.7 percent of their threes against the Cyclones. That may not bode well against the Sooners who are shooting 46.2 percent from behind the arc this season. If both Oklahoma and Kansas pull of the victories as expected, we could be treated to a matchup between #1 and #2 in Lawrence on Big Monday.
  5. The remainder of the Big 12 slate pits Texas Tech against Texas, West Virginia against Kansas State, and Oklahoma State against TCU. The Red Raiders are looking for their first win versus the Longhorns since 2014. Meanwhile, the Mountaineers will be looking to start off conference play with a road win after going 4-5 away from home in the Big 12 last season. The battle between the Cowboys and the Horned Frogs will give both teams an opportunity to pick up what may be one of their few Big 12 wins this season.
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Big 12 New Year’s Resolutions, Part II

Posted by Brian Goodman on December 31st, 2015

With 2016 mere hours away, it’s time for Big 12 teams to make some resolutions. We covered Kansas, Iowa State, Texas, Kansas State and TCU yesterday; here’s what the Sooners, Mountaineers, Bears, Red Raiders and Cowboys need to resolve in the coming year.

Oklahoma – Dethrone Kansas and earn a No. 1 seed

Note to Buddy Hield and Oklahoma: If you come at the king, you best not miss. (David K Purdy/Getty Images)

Buddy Hield and Oklahoma are ready to give Kansas their best shot. (David K Purdy/Getty Images)

Before we go any further, it should be clarified that this is a resolution for undefeated Oklahoma, not a prediction on our end. Kansas is, will and should be predicted to win the Big 12 until someone else does it, but that being said, what’s the point of making a resolution if it isn’t a challenge? Buddy Hield is getting the NPOY momentum he deserves thanks to his scorching 51.5/52.9/90.0 accuracy rates from the field, three-point range and free-throw line, but his teammates deserve some attention as well. Ryan Spangler is averaging a double-double; Jordan Woodard has games where he gets even hotter than Hield and Isaiah Cousins has transitioned admirably into the point guard role. While it’d be silly to predict an undefeated run through the Big 12 with the conference being as deep as it is, the trick for the Sooners is to sustain that strong performance all the way through March and do what Kevin Durant, Blake Griffin, Marcus Smart and Fred Hoiberg couldn’t.

West Virginia – Become better road warriors

The Mountaineers are off to a slightly surprising 10-1 start despite the loss of Juwan Staten and the new style of officiating that in theory, should hold pressing, physical teams like West Virginia back. The next challenge for Bob Huggins‘ team is to avoid the road struggles that kept it in the second tier of the Big 12 a year ago. Last season, the Mountaineers won zero road games against the top six teams in the Big 12, with especially painful losses at Kansas and Baylor. Those struggles away from WVU Coliseum limited the Mountaineers’ seeding in the NCAA Tournament, indirectly leading to the Kentucky loss that cannot be accurately described without invoking some pretty horrific imagery. As of now, there’s a clear line between Kansas, Oklahoma, Iowa State and the rest of the league, but while it looks unrealistic to expect WVU to join the conference’s elite, improved results away from Morgantown will cement an increased standing in the league — and in March. Read the rest of this entry »

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Big 12 M5: 12.30.15 Edition

Posted by Chris Stone on December 30th, 2015

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  1. There will be very few easy games in the Big 12 this season. One of the criticisms of the conference last year was that the bottom of the league wasn’t very good. That should change in 2015-16. On Tuesday, Texas Tech picked up their fourth win over a team ranked in the top 100 on KenPom with an 85-70 victory over Richmond. The Red Raiders lone non-conference loss came against a quality Utah team. Tech is predicted to finish 8-10 in the league which would be the school’s best mark under head coach Tubby Smith. The Red Raiders also have a chance to pick up a road win against Arkansas in the Big 12/SEC Challenge. If things fall in their favor, they could find themselves with a shot at their first NCAA Tournament birth since 2007.
  2. Kansas State will also contribute to a deeper Big 12 in 2015-16. With a dominating 75-47 win over Saint Louis on Tuesday, the Wildcats pushed their non-conference record to 10-2. Kansas State’s calling card has been its defense and that was no different in the win over the Billikens. Saint Louis scored a meager 0.67 points per possession in Manhattan. While the Wildcats don’t have the same quality wins that Texas Tech has, a few upsets in Big 12 play could push them onto the bubble come March.
  3. Texas announced that senior center Cameron Ridley will be out 8-10 weeks due to a fracture in his left foot. In the Longhorns’ first game without Ridley, Texas fell 71-66 to Connecticut in Austin. Ridley’s absence was felt on both ends of the floor. The Huskies outscored Texas 40-28 in the paint on Tuesday. Ridley’s replacement, Prince Ibeh, played just 18 minutes and picked up his fourth foul with nearly nine minutes remaining. Without Ibeh or Ridley on the floor, opponents will be able to challenge the Longhorns inside and UConn did so successfully. Forced to rely on a more perimeter oriented attack, Texas floundered. The Longhorns shot 39 percent from the field and 6-of-23 from three-point range. How Shaka Smart adapts to Ridley’s absence early in conference play will be crucial to Texas’ Big 12 success.
  4. Kansas beat UC Irvine, 78-53, to close out its non-conference schedule, but for the second season in a row the story out of Lawrence is becoming the playing time of a highly touted freshman. Cheick Diallo is averaging only 11.2 minutes per game so far and played just six minutes against the Anteaters. Bill Self told the media afterwards that he thinks “our experienced guys are playing better.” While that may be true at the moment, there’s no doubt that Diallo has a higher upside than just about anyone in the Jayhawks’ frontcourt rotation. Allowing Diallo to develop now could benefit Kansas in March, but with Baylor and Oklahoma on tap to open Big 12 play, it seems unlikely the freshman will be seeing significant playing time in the near future.
  5. There are two Big 12 games remaining ahead of the start of conference play on Saturday. Iowa State should cruise against Coppin State tonight, but West Virginia has a much more interesting matchup. The Mountaineers will play their first true road game of the season when they travel to Blacksburg, VA to face Virginia Tech. West Virginia is favored in the contest, but road games are always tricky. Whatever the result, the experience in a hostile environment should prove useful as the Mountaineers open their Big 12 schedule with road trips to Kansas State and TCU.
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Big 12 M5: 12.23.15 Edition

Posted by Brian Goodman on December 23rd, 2015

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  1. In its first true road game of the season, Kansas exacted revenge on a rare home loss handed to them by San Diego State two years ago with a comfortable 70-57 win in Viejas Arena. The Jayhawks made a point to run a lot of their action through Perry Ellis, who exploited the Aztecs’ lack of skilled big men on his way to a game-high 20 points. The late-night tilt also included engaged efforts from Jamari Traylor and Brannen Greene, who skied for rebounds and found other ways to get involved without having to score. The reigning Big 12 champs will now get a break until next Tuesday, when the Jayhawks welcome UC Irvine and 7’6″ Mamadou Ndiaye to Allen Fieldhouse.
  2. Oklahoma continues to run roughshod over all comers, as the Sooners demolished Washington State in their Diamond Head Classic opener on Tuesday night. Buddy Hield was incredible in this game, going for 25 points including 5-of-8 shooting from three. The game was actually close into the early stages of the second half, but a 17-0 Sooners run quickly removed all doubt about the outcome. More importantly, Oklahoma’s cushion allowed Lon Kruger to pull Hield with around 12 minutes left to rest his star, knowing that another game looms today against local favorite Hawai’i.
  3. There was another thrilling finish involving Iowa State last night, as the Cyclones edged Cincinnati by two points on the road thanks to a clutch three-pointer from Abdel Nader. Steve Prohm leaned heavily on his experienced core, with Nader, Georges Niang and Monte’ Morris combining for 51 points and 19 rebounds in this game. The win represented vintage Iowa State relentlessness, with Cincinnati seemingly taking control with a late four-point lead, only to watch as the Cyclones held them to a single point the rest of the way. Prohm also received a nice jolt of offense from newcomer Deonte’ Burton in just his second game of the season, as the transfer guard contributed 12 points off the bench. From a resume standpoint, last night’s victory somewhat neutralizes last weekend’s tough loss to Northern Iowa, but the team’s lack of depth will likely remain a sticking point through league play.
  4. In another impressive result last night, Texas Tech knocked early-season darling Arkansas-Little Rock from the ranks of the undefeated with a 65-53 victory at United Supermarkets Arena in Lubbock. The Red Raiders didn’t get their usual steady play from Devaugntagh Williams, instead leaning on a double-double of 12 points and 12 rebounds from Zach Smith. They still have to prove that they can win some games on the road, but Texas Tech has a strong case as the most-improved team in the Big 12 through the first month of the season and is a decent bet to pull a couple stunners after the calendar flips.
  5. Another contender for the title of most improved team, Kansas State, disposed of South Dakota in workmanlike fashion with a 63-49 win last night at Bramlage Coliseum. Freshman Barry Brown led all scorers with 15 points, but the most impressive element of the win was the Wildcats’ outstanding effort on the glass. Bruce Weber‘s team waxed the Fighting Hawks on the boards, collecting 47.6 percent of their own misses and 77.8 percent of North Dakota’s. With only struggling Saint Louis remaining on their non-conference slate, the Wildcats have a strong chance to enter league play with just two losses, something it hasn’t done since the 2012-13 season.
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