Big 12 Weekend Preview: Conference Flirting With History

Posted by Brian Goodman on March 7th, 2014

Even without a clear national title contender beyond Kansas, it’s impossible to deny that this season has been hugely successful for the Big 12. No matter what you value, the conference has it.

  • Top-shelf NBA Draft talent (Andrew Wiggins, Joel Embiid, Marcus Smart)
  • Fantastic upperclassmen (Melvin Ejim, Markel Brown, Juwan Staten, Cory Jefferson, Cameron Clark)
  • Impact transfers (DeAndre Kane, Ryan Spangler, Tarik Black)
  • Coaches who have done remarkable jobs getting their teams to buy in (Bill SelfRick BarnesFred Hoiberg and Lon Kruger)
The Big 12 is trending towards history, and we're not talking about Kansas' vice grip on the crown. (John Rieger/USA Today Sports)

The Big 12 is trending towards history, and we’re not talking about Kansas’ vice grip on the crown. (John Rieger/USA Today Sports)

That’s not to say that the season hasn’t had its low points (Marcus Smart getting popped for three games after shoving a fan; West Virginia shooting itself in the foot with early season losses; TCU’s continued struggle to make any discernible noise), but all in all, it’s been a fantastic year for the Big 12. The most impressive thing about the conference, however, doesn’t have as much to do with the here and now as it does with what could be on Selection Sunday: A league record-tying seven NCAA Tournament bids.

At the beginning of the season, most prognosticators pegged the Big 12 as a five-bid league. Granted, at the time, Oklahoma State and Baylor weren’t believed to be the teams that would need wins at the end of the regular season to earn bids, but that’s how things have shaken out as Kansas State, Texas and Oklahoma have overachieved as the Cowboys and Bears struggled. But with Travis Ford and Scott Drew’s teams now clicking again, the odds of the conference squeezing not five, not six, but seven teams into the NCAA Tournament, are rising. If seven bids come to pass, it would tie a league record set in 2010, but if we’re nitpicking, seven bids in 2014 would be even more impressive than seven bids in 2010, and I’ll explain why.

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Bill Self’s 10th Consecutive Big 12 Title as Predictable as It Is Impressive

Posted by Kory Carpenter (@Kory_Carpenter) on February 25th, 2014

Every season, Kansas players exit the huddle with the same phrase: “Big 12 champs.” For the last decade, the chant has worked. Last night the Jayhawks clinched a share of their 10th consecutive Big 12 regular season championship with an 83-75 home win over Oklahoma. And yet, a feat that shouldn’t surprise anyone who follows college basketball is still somewhat surprising. Bill Self — who now has more Big 12 titles than losses at Allen Fieldhouse — has done well in every conference in which he has coached. He finished third in Conference USA during his first year at Tulsa prior to winning back-to-back titles there and moving up to Illinois. In Champaign, he won two Big Ten titles in three seasons before heading west to Lawrence. He then finished second in his first Big 12 season at Kansas and has won a share of the league title every year since.

Kansas has dominated their conference like no major team has in decades. (Nick Krug, Lawrence-Journal World)

Kansas has dominated their conference like no major team has in decades. (Nick Krug, Lawrence-Journal World)

Self reflected on the accomplishment last night after the win.“To get a piece of it or win it outright 10 years in a row means we’ve had a lot of good players come through here.” And he is right. But this run hasn’t been your garden variety roll-the-ball-out and dominate with better players like John Wooden’s UCLA dynasties of old. Self has won the Big 12 in just about every way imaginable. The 2008 National Championship team had four NBA draft picks in the rotation. The 2011-12 Final Four squad had former walk-on Conner Teahan as its sixth man. In 2006-07, he won the league with the nation’s best defense and 26th best offense (according to KenPom.com). This year the defense is ranked 27th but his offense is fifth (averaging nearly 80 points per game).

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Big 12 Week In Review and Look Ahead: Don’t Mistake League’s Competitiveness For Superiority

Posted by Brian Goodman on February 21st, 2014

The Big 12 may be one of the most competitive conferences in the country, but this week hasn’t been the most glowing endorsement for the league’s case as the best conference in the country. Monday’s game between Baylor and Oklahoma State was supposed to be a battle of teams in the top half of the conference (if we go by preseason expectations), but instead was a fight for ninth place that only went to overtime because of a sequence that was, well, very fitting of a ninth-place battle:

The next day, Texas squared off against Iowa State in a game with major implications for the Longhorns’ Big 12 title chances, but they were able to lead only within the first five minutes. While Texas kept the game interesting with a run early in the second half, the Cyclones pulled away to hold serve at home.

Meanwhile, 925 miles south, Kansas needed another miracle from Andrew Wiggins at the end of regulation to get past a salty but mediocre Texas Tech team in Lubbock:

The only other game this week saw Kansas State quietly beat TCU by 12. The Wildcats’ two best players, Marcus Foster and Thomas Gipson, paired up for 29 points, 14 rebounds and six assists, but they also combined to shoot 34.6 percent from the floor and turned the ball over nine times. As a team, Kansas State had a staggering 18 turnovers at home against the worst power conference team in the country, needing a second half run to get away for good.

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Big 12 M5: 02.21.14 Edition

Posted by Kory Carpenter on February 21st, 2014

morning5_big12

  1. Gary Parrish over at CBSSports.com has a good piece about coaches on the hot seat and Oklahoma State coach Travis Ford is rightfully mentioned. Ford’s job might have been saved after Marcus Smart decided to return for his junior season, but Smart’s implosion and the Cowboy’s fall from grace might leave Ford in the unemployment line.
  2. ESPN’s bracketologist Joe Lunardi updated his lates bracket yesterday and the Big 12 had several representatives. Kansas led the way as a #2 seed in the Midwest region, followed by Iowa State as a #4, Oklahoma and Texas as #6′s, and Kansas State as a #7. The Jayhawks probably have the easiest path with Wichita State as their #1, but don’t count out Texas in this bracket. The Longhorns would have a size advantage over every potential opponent until the Elite Eight.
  3. It shouldn’t surprise anyone, but Joel Embiid is about to break the freshman block record at Kansas. The 7’0” center from Cameroon is one block shy of the school’s freshman record of 63 blocks set by Eric Chenowith in the 1997-98 season. Embiid transformed from a two- or three-year project into the projected No. 1 pick in this summer’s NBA draft, in large part to his ability to block shots.
  4. Here’s another good article regarding the return of Marcus Smart, this time by Sports Illustrated writer Brian Hamilton. “The jeopardy of missing the NCAA Tournament altogether is very real,” writes Hamilton. And he is write. The Cowboys were struggling before Smart’s suspension and they face an uphill battle when he returns this weekend.
  5. Iowa State is preparing to face lowly TCU tomorrow and head coach Fred Hoiberg had trouble finding bad clips to show his team from their win against Texas on Monday. Understandable. The Cyclones knocked off the Longhorns 85-76 and will probably be the second most dangerous Big 12 team in the NCAA Tournament.
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Iowa State Rides Stars In Win Over Texas

Posted by Brian Goodman on February 19th, 2014

In the weekly Big 12 coaches teleconference on Monday, Texas head coach Rick Barnes emphasized his team’s chemistry and his players’ focus on the current mission at hand (rather than looking to the next level) as the reason for the Longhorns’ improved play this season. Coming into Tuesday night’s game at Iowa State, Texas was just one game behind Kansas in the loss column in the Big 12 standings, with Barnes’ preseason hot seat having cooled significantly.

Melvin Ejim Dominated Texas Last Night

Melvin Ejim Dominated Texas Last Night (Austin American-Statesman)

Iowa State is another team that prides itself on making its pieces fit together well rather than relying on future lottery picks. While opinions of mock drafts are certainly worth your scrutiny, it’s also worth pointing out that the first round of DraftExpress.com‘s latest mock draft doesn’t include a single player from either Texas or Iowa State. But yet, here’s where we are: Both teams are challenging for a top-three finish in the Big 12. Earlier this season, Texas knocked off four ranked teams in a row; and Iowa State trails only Kansas in top-50 RPI wins. With NCAA Tournament bids now down to a matter of formality for both teams, how could we not have been in for an entertaining battle between the Longhorns and Cyclones on Tuesday night?

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Big 12 M5: 02.18.14 Edition

Posted by Kory Carpenter on February 18th, 2014

morning5_big12

  1. With a healthy Joel Embiid in the lineup, Kansas is a national title contender. Without their 7’0” freshman center from Cameroon, however, the Jayhawks would be fortunate to make the Elite Eight. Embiid has become the most important player on Bill Self’s team this season. So when a few nagging injuries finally caught up with him in last week’s loss to Kansas State, it was wise of Self to sit his big man against TCU on Saturday. He looks to be back in the lineup for tonight’s game versus Texas Tech, so it’s safe to say that his recent knee and back problems were nothing a little time off couldn’t fix. At least that’s what Jayhawks fans everywhere are hoping.
  2. As Ken Corbitt points out here, Bruce Weber doesn’t generally like to foul when down three points late in the game. And whether he was a proponent of that strategy or not, Corbitt correctly points out that Kansas State’s double-overtime loss Saturday to Baylor wasn’t a good time to foul anyway. Baylor was down three but shot the ball too soon for Kansas State to foul. The Bears kept grabbing offensive rebounds, though, and in the confusion, Brady Heslip ended up with the ball and drained a three-pointer to send the game to its first overtime. If you’re going to foul, its best to do so with under six seconds remaining. There is no game-planning strategy available for an early three-point attempt followed by multiple offensive rebounds and a kick-out three.
  3. If you watched last night’s Baylor vs. Oklahoma State game on ESPN, you might recall that they showed a Big 12 Tournament bracket if the season had ended today. Last night’s opponents would be the #8/#9 match-up while Texas Tech – yes, Texas Tech — would be the No. 7 seed. The Red Raiders are currently 5-7 in league play and KenPom has the team as just five-point underdogs tonight against Kansas. A lot of that has to do with two people: head coach Tubby Smith and senior forward Jaye Crockett. Smith admits that he felt the need to win Crockett over after he was hired last year. It seems to have worked, as Texas Tech sits at 13-12 overall and should manage to win enough games to play in some sort of postseason tournament next month.
  4. Speaking of Baylor and Oklahoma State, last night’s game prompted both teams to appear on CBSSports.com’s most recent “Poppin’ Bubbles” segment. As Jeff Borzello points out, Baylor now has five top-50 wins this season and is riding a three-game winning streak. The Bears are 17-9 and could realistically get to 20 wins if we include the Big 12 Tournament. Oklahoma State, on the other hand, has lost seven straight games with and without Marcus Smart in the lineup. They have two winnable games coming up against Texas Tech and TCU, but end the season against Kansas, Kansas State and Iowa State. The Cowboys might be NIT-bound.
  5. Like every other Big 12 team has experienced at some point, Oklahoma is entering a brutal stretch of games, beginning this weekend. The Sooners will face Kansas State, travel to Kansas and play host to Texas in a span of eight days. At 19-7 overall, the Sooners look to be on the right side of the NCAA Tournament bubble, but a late-season losing streak (no matter how much the committee claims recent performances don’t carry more weight) could hurt their chances next month. They end the season at TCU, but the aforementioned trio of games followed by West Virginia should keep Sooners fans on their toes for now.
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Big 12 M5: 02.14.14 Edition

Posted by Brian Goodman on February 14th, 2014

morning5_big12

  1. Media members are currently gathered in Indianapolis for the annual mock selection process, and while the seeding component won’t be finished until later today, the field was finalized Thursday night and it contained six Big 12 teams: Kansas, Texas, Iowa State, Kansas State, Oklahoma and Oklahoma State. The results aren’t too surprising, but it’s important to note that the process doesn’t project any results from the remainder of the season (aside from assuming current first-place teams will win their automatic bids). With that in mind, West Virginia and Baylor may have something to say about it before all is said and done, and it’s not hard to picture Oklahoma State tumbling out of the picture.
  2. With the Cowboys floundering, the contributors of Oklahoma State blog Pistols Firing called a roundtable meeting. The main points of discussion were the employment status of Travis Ford, what might constitute a breaking point for athletic director Mike Holder, and the idea of luring CBS Sports‘ Doug Gottlieb away from the microphone and onto the sideline should Holder decide to move on (it’s not as farfetched as it sounds to the casual college hoops fan, but it’s still a dream). The complicating issue is that Ford’s contract, which runs through the 2018-19 season, is heavily back-loaded, and a buyout just doesn’t sound feasible at this point.
  3. While Kansas State would be in the NCAA Tournament’s field of 68 if the season ended today, the Wildcats have fallen short of their maximum potential. Head coach Bruce Weber believes that if his team could just get its two best scorers other than Marcus Foster going at the same time, the Wildcats’ postseason prospects would be much more secure. The peaks and valleys of Shane Southwell and Will Spradling‘s seasons have coincided with one another, and with seven games remaining in the regular season (including four on the road), the Wildcats don’t have much time to get both clicking simultaneously.
  4. Contrary to popular belief, there’s measurable interest in college hoops in the state of TexasDallas Morning News writer Kevin Sherrington took some time to give his takes in a chat on Wednesday, and he provided some interesting insights about the Lone Star State’s teams. It’s nice to see that Texas Tech‘s improvement in the first year under Tubby Smith hasn’t gone unnoticed outside of this website, and with the Longhorns and possibly Baylor in the NCAA Tournament picture (plus Big 12 outsiders SMU), we should continue to see some great stories emerge from the great state of Texas.
  5. Lastly, there are a couple of minor but noteworthy updates out of Lawrence. Kansas center Joel Embiid is feeling better, and Jayhawks fans can exhale after an MRI revealed no structural damage stemming from his recent health problems. His status for Saturday’s game against TCU remains up in the air, though. On another note, Self removed all doubt when it came to the status of forward Jamari Traylor, who was held out of Monday’s game against Kansas State for disciplinary reasons. Self indicated that the sophomore will play on Saturday, ushering in his return to the rotation. Those items won’t take Naadir Tharpe and Wayne Selden’s defensive issues out from under the microscope, but they should help Kansas fans breathe a little easier.
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Morning Five: 02.13.14 Edition

Posted by nvr1983 on February 13th, 2014

morning5

  1. After legal haggling between the school, state, and the new AAC, Rutgers has agreed to pay $11.5 million as an exit fee to leave the AAC and join the Big Ten. The sum might seem fairly small compared to the numbers thrown around for other schools attempting to leave a conference, but it is worth noting that Rutgers had already announced its intention to join the Big Ten even before the AAC played its first game. We hope that other schools and conferences can reach relatively quick compromises as well, but realize that might be hoping for a little too much. At the very least these legal battles should not interfere with the school’s ability to compete.
  2. Speaking of conference realignment there is still one team that remains independent: New Jersey Institute of Technology. Unlike Notre Dame in football, which benefits from its ridiculous NBC contract and even more ridiculous BCS (or whatever they are calling it today) exemption, NJIT wants to join a conference. The school, which was once the laughing stock of Division I for its long losing streak has gained some measure of respectability in recent years so we would not be surprised to see a mid- to lower-tier conference in the Northeast or Mid-Atlantic region add the school fairly soon.
  3. Normally Ken Pomeroy focuses his work on topics that might seem a little esoteric to the casual fan, but his latest post on how important home-court advantage is should be accessible to most fans even if the degree might strike them as a bit far. Pomeroy frames the post around Syracuse and Wichita State (the last two undefeated teams). Most observers would probably say that Syracuse is the better team and has played a tougher schedule. Pomeroy is not going to try to argue with that point, but thinks it is important to point out just how important home/road games are in determining how difficult games are. Of course, one can argue with Pomeroy’s win probabilities (we are not even going to try to get into the mathematics involved in coming up with those numbers), but it is an important point to consider as Selection Sunday draws near.
  4. Duke‘s more well-known men’s basketball team might not have been able to make the arduous trek to play North Carolina yesterday leading to the game being postponed until next week. The student managers for the two schools were able to meet for their game and the administrators at the two schools probably wish that they had not. Over the years there have been several (relatively) memorable moments in the game, but this year’s moment–a fight between the managers of the two schools–is one that the administration at both schools would prefer we all forget. The fight (all we have is a grainy video clip) might draw headlines, but should not be that much of a surprise for anybody who played intramural sports, which are often more violent than actual NCAA games.
  5. We might be ambivalent about the neutral sites for many of the early-season match-ups, but we love seeing teams play who might otherwise not agree to play at an opposing arena. Michigan State athletic director Mark Hollis has been the driving force behind many of these events and his latest idea–creating a barnstorming tour in 2018–is one of the more unique ones that he has come up with. The four schools–Florida, Michigan State, North Carolina, and Texas–would play in New York City, Chicago, and Los Angeles then get a home game against an opponent that has not been determined yet. While the idea sounds a little crazy the schools have apparently signed off and we do not see any of the huge issues that we saw with his plan to have multiple games going on at the same time so we do not see why this event would not happen.
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Rush The Weekend: West Virginia Enters a Crucial Stretch

Posted by Brian Goodman on February 7th, 2014

There’s been no shortage of intrigue in the Big 12 this season. Whether you want to discuss Kansas’ future lottery picks and national title hopes, Texas’ resurrection, Baylor’s free-fall, Oklahoma State’s dive, or the resilience of Iowa State, you don’t have to look very far to find any of the nation’s biggest stories in college hoops; you could just look at this conference. But if all of those plot lines aren’t enough for you, yet another Big 12 team could muscle itself into the fray this weekend: the West Virginia Mountaineers.

Can Juwan Staten lead the Mountaineers back into tournament discussion? (AP Photo/Andrew Ferguson)

Will Juwan Staten lead the Mountaineers back into tournament discussion? (Andrew Ferguson/AP)

When Bob Huggins’ team wrapped up non-conference play back on December 29, it had very little to write home about. A handful of wins over bad teams kept them afloat, but there was no NCAA Tournament resume to speak of because of losses to the only relevant teams on their slate (Wisconsin, Missouri, Gonzaga, Purdue and Virginia Tech). Those defeats put them on the ropes earlier than many expected, and to boot, they dropped four of those games by seven points or less. When the calendar turned, they had a resume that was considerably worse than their statistical profile, which is something that you don’t see very often.

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RTC Top 25: Week Twelve

Posted by Walker Carey on February 3rd, 2014

This past week of college basketball was highlighted by a plethora of upsets – especially over the weekend when we saw six top 10 teams fall victim to the upset bug. Starting at the top, previously unbeaten and top-ranked Arizona suffered its first setback of the season Saturday evening when it was bested on the road by California. Previously 4th-ranked Kansas was also a road victim earlier in the day, as the Jayhawks were thoroughly outmanned in a defeat at the hands of Texas. Previously 6th-ranked Michigan State, a team that is suffering through well-documented injury issues, started its week off with a bang by winning in overtime at Iowa. But that victory proved to be the Spartans’ only positive tally of the week, as they fell to unranked Georgetown on Saturday in a non-conference game played at Madison Square Garden. Previously 7th-ranked Michigan entered Sunday’s game at Indiana as one of the hottest teams in America — the Wolverines had won 10 consecutive games and sat atop the Big Ten standings with an 8-0 record. None of that mattered in Bloomington though, as John Beilein’s team struggled offensively throughout a 63-52 defeat. Previously 9th-ranked Oklahoma State suffered what was probably the most puzzling loss of the week, as the Cowboys were bested at home on Saturday by a Baylor team that had lost six of its last seven games prior to Saturday. With February now in full swing, there is really not much that can be considered unexpected – especially with how this season has played out thus far – so you should expect even more shocking upsets moving forward as teams jockey for March position. The quick n’ dirty analysis of this week’s poll is after the jump.

rtc25 02.03.14

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Saturday Preview: Entering February, Stakes Are Raised

Posted by Bennet Hayes on February 1st, 2014

Hello February! College hoops welcomes you into 2014’s second month with a mouth-watering slate of action. You may be sold at “Duke-Syracuse,” but there will be plenty of games that don’t set Carrier Dome attendance records worth watching. That’s not to say that your college basketball fan credentials will be confiscated if you aren’t settling in to your couch for some ACC on ESPN action at 6:30 PM ET today – because they will be – but here are some other storylines to watch on the first day of February.

Perfection Will Be Tested

All Three Unbeatens Are In Action Saturday. With Visitors From Durham In Town, C.J. Fair And Syracuse Look To Be The Most Vulnerable Of The Trio.

All Three Unbeatens Are In Action Saturday. With Visitors From Durham In Town, C.J. Fair And Syracuse Look To Be The Most Vulnerable Of The Trio.

For the first time since 1976, there are three teams 20-0 or better in college basketball, and all three are in action on Saturday. Wichita State shouldn’t have any issues with Evansville (3-6 in the MVC) at The Roundhouse (3:00 PM ET, ESPNU), but both Arizona and Syracuse face serious threats to their dreams of perfection. The Wildcats visit Berkeley to take on a Cal team (10:30 PM ET, P12 Nets) which had been undefeated at home up until Wednesday, when Arizona State squeezed out an overtime win over the Bears. If Mike Montgomery’s team is to add the signature victory of all signature victories to its resume, they will need senior Richard Solomon to have a big game against that impressive Arizona frontcourt. All the way across the country, Duke would be well-served to find a way to match up with the impressive frontcourt of their undefeated opponent. The Blue Devils are not a great rebounding team, but in their game with Syracuse (6:30 PM ET, ESPN), keeping the Orange (ninth nationally in OR%) off the offensive glass will be imperative for Coach K’s squad. On the other end, look for Jabari Parker to get plenty of touches out of the high post. A record crowd is expected at the Carrier Dome for this one, which obviously sounds like good news for Syracuse. Maybe not, though. The last time there was an attendance record set at the dome (last February, versus Georgetown), a do-it-all 6’8” forward named Otto Porter torched the Orange for 33 points and eight rebounds in a lopsided victory for the visitors. Can Parker induce a little déjà vu on Saturday, and end Syracuse’s perfect season while he’s at it?

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Big 12 Saturday Preview

Posted by Kory Carpenter on February 1st, 2014

All 10 Big 12 teams are in action today, but we’re going to look at the three games with conference championship and NCAA Tournament implications. We’ll start with the nine-time defending conference champs, who travel to Austin.

Kansas (16-4, 7-0) at Texas (16-4, 5-2), 3:00 P.M. CST, ESPN

Oklahoma State Used a Strong Second Half to Beat Texas

Texas Hopes to Avoid a Foul Situation on Saturday

Try finding anyone who thought today’s game between Kansas and Texas would mean so much in the Big 12 regular season race. The Longhorns are the most surprising team in the conference this season and, barring a late-season meltdown, will make the NCAA Tournament after missing out last season. Kansas is looking to lock up their 10th Big 12 regular season title in a row with a win. It won’t be official, but a win would give the Jayhawks at least a three-game lead on everyone else with 10 games left. Not to mention 5 games remaining against TCU, West Virginia, and Texas Tech. It will be a story of offense vs defense as Kansas comes into the game with the #4 offense on kenpom.com while Texas is #20 in defense. The Longhorns are only three-point underdogs in this one and have been playing great lately, winning five straight. They’ve also been off since last Saturday, so expect them to be fresh and make this one close. Don’t be surprised if they hand Kansas its first conference loss today.

Oklahoma (17-4, 6-2) at Iowa State (15-4, 3-4) 3:00 P.M. CST, ESPN3

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