Big 12 M5: 02.18.15 Edition

Posted by Brian Goodman on February 18th, 2015

morning5_big12

  1. The road has not been kind to Iowa State in Big 12 play this season. The Cylcones are just 1-4 away from Hilton Coliseum and are about to embark on a stretch where three of their next four games will be in opponents’ gyms. As Travis Hines writes, should the Cyclones fall behind in tonight’s game against Oklahoma State, the key will be to stay loose and avoid the mindset of needing to make up the entire deficit in one play. Fred Hoiberg’s team should also feel some ease in the fact that their porous defense doesn’t figure to be a large issue against the Cowboys, a team that ranks seventh in the conference in offensive efficiency.
  2. On the other sideline, the Cowboys will look to play with the chip on their shoulder that was missing in Saturday’s loss to TCU. Facing Iowa State, Oklahoma State’s attack will have to be much more potent than the 0.89 points per possession it posted against the Horned Frogs. The hot stretch that propelled the Pokes to three straight wins over ranked teams has the team safely on the right side of the bubble, but another two or three wins in the regular season would do a lot to remove any remaining pressure.
  3. Kansas coach Bill Self‘s handling of Cliff Alexander has been a lightning rod for discussion all season, but the fervor on both sides reached a new point when Alexander played just six minutes (and none in the second half) in Kansas’ loss to West Virginia on Monday night. According to the Topeka Capital-Journal‘s Jesse Newell, the Jayhawks had their worst night on the defensive glass since 2009, and it stands to reason that the blue-chip Alexander, despite his shortcomings, could have helped significantly in that department. In a one-point game, it’s tough to isolate the outcome to any one decision, but regardless of what you think of Alexander’s pro prospects, it’s tough to see Kansas making a deep postseason run without him playing a significant role, and in order to do that, he needs reps.
  4. After spending a week and a half beating up on the lower third of the conference, Texas took a tough loss to Oklahoma in Norman Tuesday night. Myles Turner continued his stellar play, posting 16 points and 10 rebounds off the bench to go along with six blocks, but rough shooting nights from Isaiah Taylor (1-of-10) and Jonathan Holmes (2-of-9) made it challenging for the Longhorns to pull off the upset (though it was within reach). I still maintain that Texas’ NCAA Tournament hopes aren’t in any serious jeopardy, but their inability to beat good teams away from Austin (their only conference road wins have come against Texas Tech, TCU and Kansas State) doesn’t bode well for their postseason future.
  5. In the only other Big 12 action last night, Baylor edged Texas Tech by five in Lubbock to get back above .500 in league play. On a night when the Bears’ offense looked otherwise listless, Taurean Prince provided a spark with 18 first half points on his way to 22 overall. Kenny Chery recovered from a horrendous shooting night, closing out the game with four clutch free throws to seal the win.
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Big 12 Power Rankings: College Basketball’s Most Boring Conference? Edition

Posted by Nate Kotisso on February 17th, 2015

We’ve heard from fans and pundits alike this season that the Big 12 is the best conference in college basketball. SB Nation’s Mike Rutherford decided to do some homework on that discussion and released some findings in a piece he published on Monday afternoon. Before you get out your pitchforks and torches, though, Rutherford brings some strong evidence to suggest that maybe the conference is not all it’s cracked up to be. He samples the seven teams that have been ranked in the AP Top 25 during conference play — Kansas, Iowa State, Oklahoma, Baylor, Texas, West Virginia and Oklahoma State — and averaged out each team’s win/loss margin whenever a match-up between two ranked opponents occurred. For instance, in the eight games where a ranked Oklahoma team has faced a ranked Big 12 opponent, the Sooners’ combined average margin of victory (or defeat) was 14.6 points per game.

Is the Big 12 as difficult as the pollsters make it out to be? (Big 12 Conference)

Is the Big 12 as difficult as the pollsters make it out to be?

Rutherford then calculated the other average margins (accurate as of tip-off of the Kansas-West Virginia game) — Iowa State (7.9 PPG), Kansas (8.4), Baylor (10.4), Oklahoma State (12.0), Texas (17.4) and West Virginia (17.8) — and then argues that the scoring margins should be a lot closer that they actually are (aggregate scoring margin: 12.6 PPG). In this context, Rutherford is right. Big 12 basketball can be quite boring. But is that the fault of the teams? Some of it is, but the pollsters deserve the lion’s share of it. Many AP pollsters who don’t primarily cover college basketball sometimes paste together their Top 25s by skimming over how teams did the previous week. While that is clearly an important factor to consider, there are others at play too, such as performances earlier in the season or the severity of some losses. Case in point: Oklahoma was ranked #16 in the AP poll during the week of January 5 but the Sooners would go on to lose four of their next five games. In the January 26 poll released three weeks afterward, Oklahoma dropped from #16 to #24. Often a team that loses twice in a week is poised to completely fall out of the rankings, but the pollsters only punished the Sooners by eight spots following such a rough stretch. Another example is Texas, a team that dropped six of eight games at an early point in league play, falling from #10 to #25 in the AP poll over four weeks. Rankings are ultimately an exercise in aggregating how different people view the world around them, and speaking of which, here’s this week’s Big 12 Power Rankings.

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RTC Weekly Primer: UNC-Duke, No. 1 Seeds, and a Tight Bubble

Posted by Henry Bushnell on February 17th, 2015

They say time flies when you’re having fun, so by the transitive property, they might as well say time flies during college basketball season. But seriously, this season seems to have sped by. Maybe it’s just me. Maybe it’s because a busy schedule has eaten up my down time. Maybe it’s something subconscious. But I genuinely feel like conference play just started and yet we’re already approaching March. The logical explanation for that? Maybe it’s because the overarching narratives of the season have been in constant flux. Or — another way of putting it — maybe it’s because Selection Sunday is just 25 days away and we really only know one thing: Kentucky is good. Really good. After that, everything is tight — tight with two heavily enunciated ‘t’s. According to ESPN’s Joe Lunardi, eight teams have a 25 percent or greater chance at a No. 1 seed, but only Kentucky’s odds surpass 60 percent. And moving down the hierarchy, there’s just so much additional uncertainty. There’s been a definitive top eight for over a month now, and nobody below that threshold appears too intent on breaking into it. Teams like Iowa State and North Carolina have invariably followed up big wins with baffling losses, and teams like Utah and Louisville simply haven’t separated themselves in a meaningful way. Even further down the Top 25, the bubble is nothing more than a mess. But that’s the case every year. And even as all-encompassing as it is right now, there are bound to be teams that stage late surges to put themselves in contention. There are also bound to be teams that spin out of control in the other direction. To put it succinctly… there is bound to be madness. That might as well be a slogan for college hoops in general, but especially this year.

The Only Thing We Know For Certain is that Kentucky is Really Good (USA Today Images)

The Only Thing We Know For Certain is that Kentucky is Really Good (USA Today Images)

One for the Money

North Carolina at Duke | Wednesday, 9:00 PM EST, ESPN

No matter which team you root for, no matter where you live, there’s only one game this week that is must-watch television. And even if Dickie V. won’t be on the call, you have to tune in for the first of two battles between North Carolina and Duke. When you think of college sports, almost all of the notions of amateur athletics are embodied by the Tobacco Road rivalry. Games are played with passion and intensity. They are played with unrelenting pressure and in front of hostile crowds. They are played enveloped by the shadows of history, in front of legends and ghosts of years past. They are laden with folklore and religiously maintained traditions. They turn the otherwise forgotten into heroes and the otherwise successful into villains. The Duke-Carolina games are as singularly powerful as nearly any regular season game in any sport, and this year’s annual rite of passage begins Wednesday night.

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Big 12 Weekend Preview

Posted by Brian Goodman on February 13th, 2015

As we move into mid-February, the dust in the Big 12 race may finally be starting to settle. Kansas at the head of the pack isn’t anything new, but recent games have brought us a little more clarity behind them after several weeks of volatility. Oklahoma has built a sliver of separation on Iowa State and Baylor while West Virginia‘s backloaded schedule looks like it’s starting to catch up to them. Of course, we’d be remiss if we didn’t mention Oklahoma State, which has done more in the last week to change its NCAA Tournament status than perhaps any other team in the country. Weekend #7 of conference play should continue to provide resolution, but you never know when things will get chaotic again.

Wayne Selden (left) and Brannen Greene (center) have made a living torching Big 12 opponents from deep. (Jamie Squire/Getty)

Is a reliable back-to-the-basket threat really that important when Wayne Selden (left) and Brannen Greene (center) are torching all comers from deep? (Jamie Squire/Getty)

  • Baylor at Kansas (1:00 ET) – Bill Self wants his team to shoot fewer threes, but the data suggests that it shouldn’t as Kansas ranks seventh in the country in three-point percentage (40.9%). In addition, the Jayhawks make post scoring look like pulling teeth at times, so a game against Baylor’s zone should dictate more long-range bombing. Also of note here is the development that Cliff Alexander will start consecutive games for the first time all season, so keep an eye on how he responds to the challenge of keeping the glass-eating Rico Gathers off the boards.
  • West Virginia at Iowa State (4:00 ET) – Losers of two of their last three, the Mountaineers are about to enter a scheduling gauntlet that starts tomorrow at less than full strength — sophomore Brandon Watkins availability is in question after he sprained his MCL against Kansas State. Iowa State is in a little bit of a rut themselves lately, having also lost two of their last three games. As welcome an addition as Jameel McKay has been for the Cyclones, their recent efforts on defense have been horrific, so perhaps a home game against the league’s seventh-ranked will cure what ails them.

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Big 12 M5: 02.11.15 Edition

Posted by Nate Kotisso on February 11th, 2015

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  1. We now have repeat winners representing this week’s Big 12 Player and Newcomer of the Week. Baylor’s Rico Gathers takes Player of the Week after sharing the honor with K-State’s Nino Williams two weeks ago. It’s hard to deny the award to a guy who averaged 15.5 points and 17 rebounds in wins over TCU and West Virginia but that’s exactly what Gathers accomplished for the Bears. Oklahoma State’s Anthony Hickey wins his second Newcomer of the Week award after taking home the honors for the week of December 15. Hickey’s 15 points in a win at Texas and 15 more vs Kansas were instrumental in the Cowboys’ climb up the Big 12 ladder. Better make room in your trophy cases, fellas.
  2. Is Travis Ford the Big 12’s Coach of the Year thus far? ESPN’s Myron Medcalf thinks so and makes a compelling argument for the Oklahoma State coach. When you have the week the Cowboys have had sweeping the regular season series from Texas, a double-digit comeback victory versus Kansas and taking care of the also-streaking Baylor Bears, a question like this is bound to pop up. We have to remember that today is only February 11. Chaos has been commonplace nearly everywhere in the Big 12 except for the very top of the league and with six games to go, it’d be silly to expect the status quo to remain the status quo. We have to also remember that the only anxious people in Stillwater is, well, everyone because they’ve tasted fleeting success under Ford before only to see season after season end in disappointment. Who knows, maybe this is the year the Cowboys finish stronger than they usually do and Medcalf’s case makes a lot of sense. But at the same time, we wouldn’t be having this conversation seven days ago. Life can come at you fast.
  3. Down two of their top four scorers in Manhattan, Texas and coach Rick Barnes needed a spark. As Chris Hummer of Horns247 notes, Barnes went with a three-guard starting lineup for the first time all season and it worked out beautifully. With Javan Felix and Jonathan Holmes‘ statuses still up in the air as of now, this experiment by Barnes would be worth trying out again. The trio of Isaiah Taylor, Demarcus Holland and Kendal Yancy, spacing on offense was as good as it has been all year long. Taylor was at his best, keeping the K-State defense off balance by driving and finding teammates. At 4-6 in conference play, it could be time to tinker with the lineup even if Felix and Holmes are ready to go. The Longhorns may not have much time to right the ship completely before the Big 12 Tournament but they must turn it around to ensure a spot in the NCAA Tournament.
  4. The Lubbock Avalanche-Journal came out with a list of the 20 best players in the Big 12 earlier this week. In a league as talented as this one, you can’t possibly find 20 credible names without leaving some good ones off the list but there are a couple (Kenny Chery, Jonathan Holmes). As for the rankings themselves, I’d have some guys higher (Nash, Forte) and some lower (Spangler) but it’s not half bad. I’m curious to know what the thinking was by putting Kyan Anderson on the list. I’m all for showing TCU love whenever it warrants it but they haven’t done a lot of winning since the calendar turned to 2015. If you replace Anderson with Marcus Foster, who has been up and down for K-State, I wouldn’t see much change in the overall quality in the rankings. Then again, it’s just a list so whatever.
  5. Now at 12-12 on the season, Kansas State has now found itself playing the spoiler role. The Wildcats could throw a monkey wrench in the Big 12 race as they face West Virginia tonight and five other teams in the hunt for the NCAA Tournament — Oklahoma, Baylor, Kansas, Iowa State and Texas — before season’s end. A lot of said monkey wrench throwing depends on whether or not Marcus Foster and Malek Harris are taken off suspension in time for tonight’s game (sources told Kansas.com that they’d be both out vs West Virginia). This is the reality that Bruce Weber and his team must face.
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Big 12 Power Rankings: Oklahoma, Where Wins Come Sweeping Down the Plains Edition

Posted by Nate Kotisso on February 9th, 2015

The regular season can be a long, drawn out-proposition. Around 12 to 15 games are typically played during the pre-conference season, and even though it’s impossible to survey each team correctly, people like us try it anyway to avoid doing something else that’s actually mind-numbing. Case in point with Oklahoma. While some prognosticators pegged them as an early darkhorse to make the Final Four, no one told Creighton about that as the Bluejays beat the Sooners by two points in their second game of the season (RPI: #130). Lon Kruger’s team made up for that defeat by winning two of three out in its trip to the Bahamas, including a key neutral-court victory over a much-improved Butler team (RPI: #18). December resulted in another hiccup, though, with the Sooners losing to a ranked Washington group on a neutral court. The Huskies had started the year 11-0 with several nice victories before losing nine of their next 12 games. Now that loss is looking a lot more iffy (RPI: #80).

Don't be shy. Give it a try. (SoonerSports.com)

Don’t be shy. Give it a try. (SoonerSports.com)

Thank goodness for conference play, right? Every team welcomes the chance to start all over again. After beating Baylor and Texas by a combined 31 points to tip off Big 12 play, bad Oklahoma paid a return visit. Starting with a crushing home loss in the final seconds of overtime to Kansas State, the Sooners would move on to lose four of their next five contests. But in recent weeks, it now appears that good Oklahoma is back in action with a four-game winning streak. Through the ups and downs has been a talented crop of players but perhaps the best of this group is Big 12 Player of the Year candidate Buddy Hield. His game was far more perimeter-oriented last year, but Hield has become a dangerous offensive weapon from anywhere on the floor this season. So given all of these ups and downs, the Sooners are poise to leap into sole possession of second place in the Big 12 and become the newest challenger to Kansas’ throne. But they have to win tonight.

Power Rankings

  1. Kansas — 3 points (All voted 1st). Comment: “The Jayhawks control their own destiny despite Saturday’s loss in Stillwater, but the allocation of minutes across their frontcourt continues to baffle me. Cliff Alexander played 16 minutes and was fantastic around the rim while Jamari Traylor set a new career high in turnovers (six) in his 23 minutes of action. Meanwhile, Landen Lucas contributed a forgettable two rebounds and no points in 12 minutes.” – Brian Goodman (@BSGoodman)
  2. Iowa State — 7 points (Chris & Nate — 2nd, Brian — 3rd) Comment: “The Cyclones blasted Texas Tech 75-38 this week, as Jameel McKay found his way into the starting lineup due to Bryce Dejean-Jones’ tardiness. After finishing with 17 points and nine rebounds, McKay might be proving himself worthy of a permanent spot.” – Chris Stone (@cstonehoops) Read the rest of this entry »
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RTC Rewind: Celebrating the Life of a Legend, Duke-Kentucky, Arizona’s #1 Seed Hit…

Posted by Henry Bushnell on February 9th, 2015

One thousand. Two weeks ago, this column and many more around the country led with that number. Duke head coach Mike Krzyzewski had just become the first men’s college basketball coach to reach the 1,000-win plateau on an historic Sunday at Madison Square Garden, and in the aftermath, Coach K and that number were the talk of the sports world.

The Basketball World Paused on Sunday to Honor Dean Smith's Passing (USA Today Images)

The Basketball World Paused on Sunday to Honor Dean Smith’s Passing. (USA Today Images)

Today we celebrate another ACC legend. But we do so for a different reason, and in a different tenor. We’ll get to the basketball soon enough, but as you’ve probably heard by now, legendary North Carolina coach Dean Smith — a former rival of Krzyzewski’s — passed away on Saturday. He was 83. Since the news broke Sunday morning, messages extolling Smith’s many virtues have come from far and wide. They’ve come from former players and adversaries, columnists and commentators, even from the President of the United States. Many of us have mourned college basketball’s loss, but even more have celebrated a life that so special to so many people. And that’s what this should be: a celebration.

Like Krzyzewski, Smith was obviously an outstanding basketball coach. He was innovative, sharp and bold — and, without question, driven by his competitiveness. He too set a number of records while at the helm in Chapel Hill, but those accomplishments are only the subtext to the discussion. That’s because Smith wasn’t defined by his numbers, as good as they were. Ask anybody who knew the man, and they’ll tell you the same thing: Dean Smith was defined by the way in which he impacted the lives of others. He was defined by stories of grace, loyalty and sincerity. Smith coached before my time. But it’s through those stories that I have gotten to know him, and it is those stories that allow everybody — well beyond the entire college hoops community — to recognize how truly wonderful a man he was. I can’t relate those anecdotes myself, but others — like ESPN‘s Dana O’Neil and The Washington Post‘s John Feinstein — have. And they’re beautiful.

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Big 12 M5: 02.06.15 Edition

Posted by Brian Goodman on February 6th, 2015

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  1. Texas‘ overtime loss to Oklahoma State on Wednesday dropped the Longhorns to a disappointing 3-6 in conference play and ignited some talk of the possibility of the Longhorns missing the NCAA Tournament for the second time in three years. I’m here to tell you that that chatter is very premature. While Texas doesn’t have any business being this bad with its formidable blend of talent and experience, it’s way too early to be bringing the Horns into the bubble conversation. They still own wins over Iowa at Madison Square Garden and UConn in Storrs, as well as a home win over West Virginia. On the other side of the ledger, their losses, while numerous, aren’t particularly egregious for their resume — every team they’ve lost to is currently ranked in the RPI top 35. Lastly, as is always the case with these kinds of conversations, in order to leave Texas out of the Big Dance, you have to find a team with a better resume, and the bubble right now is just too soft to make a convincing argument for the Longhorns to be left on the outside. There’s no doubt Texas has fallen well short of expectations, but they aren’t in any danger of missing the Tournament – yet. If they lose two or more of their next three games (at Kansas State, at home against TCU and Texas Tech), then we can talk.
  2. It’s been an up-and-down few years for Oklahoma State, so when a season highlight presents itself, I don’t have any problem if its fanbase wants to milk it for all its worth. Kyle Porter of Pistols Firing dissects Le’Bryan Nash’s rim-shaking throwdown from Wednesday night in great detail, all the way from how the play developed to the always-fun bench reactions and Travis Ford getting greedy and lobbying for a foul call. Looking around the conference, there isn’t a player who is more important to his team’s postseason chances than Nash is to the Cowboys due to his high usage and ability to create plays for himself, so when a play of his goes viral, it’s definitely worth passing along.
  3. Luke Winn’s power rankings at SI.com are always a great read, and this week’s edition includes an interesting blurb about Cliff Alexander‘s presence on the interior. We’ve talked before about Alexander’s offensive rawness in the post, but Winn illuminates how much Alexander lags behind his peers in this department. Jahlil Okafor, Myles Turner and Karl-Anthony Towns have all been considerably more productive on the blocks, but in fairness to Alexander, the other three players are taller and should be expected to post better numbers. Alexander has the potential to develop a true back-to-the-basket game over time, however, so we’ll see what the second half of conference play and the postseason brings out of the freshman.
  4. Tomorrow’s match-up between Baylor and West Virginia is one of the more interesting games of the weekend. A Baylor win would pull the Bears even with West Virginia, allowing them to keep a sliver of hope in ultimately catching Kansas in the league standings. The Mountaineers’ press will look to speed up Baylor’s deliberate tempo, which is currently ranked 300th in the country with an average possession length of 19.7 seconds. Additionally, neither team shoots particularly well, but both rank in the top five nationally in offensive rebounding. Unless Baylor gets white-hot from beyond the arc (as they can get sometimes), you can expect the winner of this one to be determined by second-chance points.
  5. We’ll wrap up by giving Oklahoma credit for fielding the conference’s most efficient defensive unit in the first half of Big 12 play. Kansas has owned that title in each of the last three full seasons and nine of the last 10, so while there’s still a lot of basketball to be played, it says a lot about the progress Lon Kruger‘s team has made from last year’s shaky defensive performance. Buddy Hield has slightly improved his steals rate from 2.4% last year to 2.6% this year while committing just 1.8 fouls per game in conference play. Those marks would be impressive for any player, but it’s especially noteworthy for Hield because of the high workload he’s asked to shoulder (he’s averaging 34 minutes per game in Big 12 play). The Sooners have held their last three opponents to an average of 48 points per game and could be a decent bet to do the same when they face TCU in Fort Worth tomorrow.
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RTC Weekly Primer: At Long Last, It’s Basketball Season

Posted by Henry Bushnell on February 3rd, 2015

It’s basketball season. At long last, it’s basketball season. It’s a shame that the general sports-loving public takes so long to realize that’s the case, but regardless of their failures and inadequacies, it’s time to look ahead. Football is finally and definitively over, and it’s time for the roundball and the hardwood floor to take center stage on the American sports landscape. The Super Bowl was awesome — one of the greatest of all-time, and a phenomenal advertisement for the competitiveness of the NFL — but as always, it was a bit anti-climactic. After two weeks of buildup, it’s all over; and just like that, there is a major void on the sports scene.

There's No Better Environment That Those in College Basketball (USA Sports Images)

There’s No Better Environment That Those in College Basketball (USA Sports Images)

College basketball must fill that void. For the dedicated fans, it undoubtedly will. But a frequently posed question in recent years has been whether college basketball has become a “niche sport”? According to a recent Harris poll, the game has indeed declined in popularity. Currently only three percent of American sports fans identify college hoops as their go-to game — down from five percent in 2011, and 10 percent in 1989 — and only a seismic shift in popularity could see the sport return to its peak levels in the 1980s and 1990s. Does that matter? For those who attach themselves to the overall health and growth of the game, yeah, it does. But at least in the short run from now until April 6, no poll will inhibit the joy we derive from the on-court action of college basketball. “Niche” can be viewed as a demeaning word when it is used in this context, but niche is fine so long as it can produce compelling games like Duke-Virginia in Charlottesville on Saturday and atmospheres like Kansas-Iowa State in Allen Fieldhouse last night.

Three for the Money

  • West Virginia at Oklahoma | Tuesday, 8:00 PM EST, ESPN2. After an explosive Big Monday of important (if not competitive) games, it’s a rather slow work week in the world of college hoops. But before we jump ahead to the weekend’s action, let’s not lose sight of this one on Tuesday night in Norman. It’s time to focus on the season that West Virginia is putting together. All of a sudden, the Mountaineers at 6-2 appear to be the biggest threat to Kansas in the Big 12 race. Bob Huggins has done a spectacular job in rebuilding this team after a couple of down years. He has possibly the conference’s best player in senior Juwan Staten but his true value with this year’s group has been molding them into a new identity featuring pressure defense all over the floor. Four West Virginia players rank among the nation’s top 100 in steal percentage, and the team prides itself on turning opponents over and getting out in transition. Tonight’s game could go either way. Oklahoma could get sucked into West Virginia’s traps and come out on the wrong end of a helter-skelter contest; or the Sooners could constantly be in attack mode, using the fast tempo and a raucous home crowd to play right into their hands.

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Big 12 M5: 02.03.15 Edition

Posted by Brian Goodman on February 3rd, 2015

morning5_big12

  1. Kansas again has a stranglehold on the Big 12 race at the turn, but Bill Self’s defense is getting the job done in a slightly different manner than usual. One of the themes of this year’s team has been the lack of a classic rim-protector in the mold of Joel Embiid or Jeff Withey, but despite that fact, the Jayhawks have maintained a strong shot-blocking presence. Thanks to a collective effort from Cliff Alexander, Jamari Traylor and even Wayne Selden, the Jayhawks rank 37th nationally in block percentage. That mark is a departure from the top-20 groups of recent years, but for a team that rarely plays anyone taller than 6’8″ across the front line, it is impressive.
  2. After dropping a Big Monday game last night and potentially losing its only realistic shot at wresting away the conference crown from the Jayhawks, Iowa State has some reflecting to do. While winning in Allen Fieldhouse is without question one of the toughest tasks in college sports, the Cyclones will need to do a better job of holding onto the ball and diversifying their offense. Georges Niang is a terrific player, but he plays too big of an offensive role for a team that also boasts capable talents like Naz Long, Bryce Dejean-Jones and Dustin Hogue.
  3. Texas currently sits at a disappointing 3-5 in the Big 12, and since there are 18 games on the league’s schedule, the Longhorns are guaranteed to finish the first half of conference play with a losing record. As Jeff Haley of Burnt Orange Nation details, the main reason behind Texas’ struggles has been the poor play of the Longhorns’ defense. Haley correctly notes that, despite employing a zone defense for most of Big 12 play, Texas still allows way too many close shots. Correspondingly, opponents are also hitting 36.4 percent of their threes, but while vulnerability from distance is one of the risks of playing zone, it doesn’t make things any less frustrating for Rick Barnes. It was especially discouraging to see Texas in a zone on Saturday against an exceptional offensive rebounding and three-point shooting team in Baylor — in other words, the ideal zone-buster. Changing Texas’ defensive philosophy won’t transform the Longhorns into a top 10 team — they also struggle with ball-screen and transition defense — but it can definitely help them right the ship in time for a postseason run.
  4. If Texas’ struggles at the halfway point have been the league’s most disappointing result, the most impressive has to be the 6-2 start of West Virginia, thanks in large part to the leadership of Juwan Staten and Devin Williams. According to head coach Bob Huggins, the duo are responsible for getting the program back on track after the team had missed the NCAA Tournament in consecutive seasons for the first time in 15 years. It’s worth noting that the Mountaineers’ schedule has been heavily front-loaded by Big 12 standards — they’ve already played all four of their meetings against Texas Tech and TCU — but for the time being, West Virginia still has an outside shot of catching the Jayhawks, a concept completely unfathomable coming into the season.
  5. Ken Corbitt of The Topeka Capital-Journal writes that the classic Bill Parcells adage holds true when it comes to 5-4 Kansas State: “You are what your record says you are.” It’s tough to argue otherwise. The Wildcats’ conference season has been somewhat interesting with the stories of Marcus Foster‘s benching and the team rebounding nicely from a nightmarish trip through non-conference play, but all in all, Kansas State seems to define mediocrity this season. Better consistency is the goal for the second half of league action, but with four of the Wildcats’ next six meetings coming away from Bramlage Coliseum, that will be tough to realize.
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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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