Feast Week Mission Briefing: Oklahoma State in the Old Spice Classic

Posted by Brian Goodman on November 27th, 2013

With Feast Week already in high gear, we’re outlining the roads ahead for prominent Big 12 teams involved in neutral site events this week.

What They’ve Done So Far: With a 5-0 record and the top spot in the KenPom rankings, the Cowboys are off to a hot start this season and the whole country is anxious to see how long they keep it up. Travis Ford‘s team has shown that not only should it contend with Kansas at the top of the Big 12, but it has a place in the national title conversation as well. The Cowboys have destroyed all comers, transforming their games into must-see television programming with Vine-friendly moments left and right. Do-everything NPOY candidate Marcus Smart is quieting the doubts people had about his shooting, and his teammates have been outstanding, particularly from deep. Four Cowboys have attempted at least 10 threes on the year, and all four are shooting 35 percent or better from distance. That’s a deadly level of firepower that few teams in the country can match. In the paint, Brian WilliamsMichael Cobbins and Kamari Murphy have all pitched in to clean up the glass, clearing up Oklahoma State’s biggest incoming question heading into the season.

Marcus Smart and the Cowboys look to keep rolling in Orlando after their resounding win over Memphis last week. (SI.com)

Marcus Smart and the Cowboys look to keep rolling in Orlando after their resounding win over Memphis last week. (SI.com)

First Round Preview: Oklahoma State begins the bracketed portion of the Old Spice Classic against Purdue on Thanksgiving. The Boilermakers have a perfect 4-0 record, but they haven’t played anyone of consequence, and squeakers against Northern Kentucky and Rider – both at home – unsurprisingly haven’t led to anyone jumping on their bandwagon. Ronnie Johnson and Terone Johnson are the team’s leading scorers, but at just 13.8 and 13.0 points per game, respectively, they don’t do anything that exactly strikes fear into the hearts of their opponents. Purdue’s offense is struggling from deep, hitting 31.1 percent of its shots from three, although they are shooting well inside the arc. Defensively, Matt Painter‘s team is still trying to rediscover the days of the late 2000s, when the Boilermakers locked down anyone they faced. However, poor defensive rebounding and an inability to regularly force turnovers continues to leave them searching for answers.  There’s no doubt that they’ll be motivated to take down one of the top programs in college basketball this season, but in what should be an up-and-down affair, the Cowboys should handle the Boilermakers rather easily.

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Forgotten Sophomore Marcus Smart Reminds Everyone He’s Still Around

Posted by Eli Linton on November 20th, 2013

Eli Linton is an RTC correspondent. He filed this report after last night’s game between Oklahoma State and Memphis in Stillwater. 

After what we have seen on display early this season from an outstanding freshman class led by Andrew Wiggins, Julius Randle, and Jabari Parker, Marcus Smart went into Gallagher-Iba Arena on Tuesday night as the forgotten sophomore, but he left as arguably the best and most complete player in the nation. No.7 Oklahoma State sent a message to the rest of the college basketball world, dismantling No.11 Memphis, 101-80, behind a first half explosion from Smart, who turned in the best performance of the season so far. The game that was supposed to be a showdown between two very talented backcourts ended up instead as a showcase of Smart as a superstar talent, and left everyone wondering just how far this Oklahoma State team can go this season.

Smart Was Sensational on Tuesday Night (SI.com)

Smart Was Sensational on Tuesday Night (SI.com)

In just 16 first half minutes, Smart unleashed 26 points on 8-of-16 shooting. Memphis, by comparison, scored 32 points in the entire half and went 11-of-31 from the field. The greatest stretch of dominance from Smart happened during a two-minute window in the first half, when he scored 12 points on four straight possessions. He finished with a career-high 39 points, five steals, four rebounds, and four assists. “When he scores like that, he could be the best player in college basketball,” said Memphis coach Josh Pastner after the loss. “There is a reason why he was a first-team All-American. Tonight he was tremendous.”

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Big 12 M5: 11.12.13 Edition

Posted by Brian Goodman on November 12th, 2013

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  1. Tonight’s Champions Classic match-up between Kansas and Duke features two of college basketball’s top programs, coaches and freshmen, but there’s another battle going on between the two schools that won’t be decided until later this week. Jahlil Okafor and Tyus Jones will announce their collegiate choices Friday afternoon, according to a tweet from Okafor. The Jayhawks and Blue Devils have long been discussed as the top two competitors for the long-rumored packaged deal, and while the chase hasn’t been the public roller coaster that some recruiting stories can be, it looks like we’ll finally have some resolution.
  2. Yesterday, we touched on Naz Long‘s coming-out party Sunday afternoon in which he went off for 27 points against UNC Wilmington. The performance has the Des Moines Register’s Randy Peterson wondering if Long could see more playing time when Melvin Ejim returns. It’s important to note that Long and Ejim don’t play the same position, but finding enough minutes to go around is always a good problem to have, especially in November. After all, Long is no stranger to playing alongside major talent — his AAU teammates included Andrew Wiggins and Anthony Bennett.
  3. For the second straight game, Oklahoma guard Buddy Hield posted a career-high in the scoring column, making his presence felt by dropping 23 points on North Texas last night. Hield is now averaging 21 points per game, and he still has a long way to go, but if Hield and the Sooners keep this up, they could lead the Sooners to another NCAA Tournament bid.
  4. West Virginia head coach Bob Huggins believes he’ll need every ounce of production he can get out of point guard Juwan Staten. After a rash of defections saw five transfers leave the Mountaineers (on top of three graduating players) over the summer, West Virginia is looking awfully thin. Staten played all 40 minutes of Friday’s season-opening win over St. Mary’s, and it will be interesting to see if he can be Huggins’ Iron Man in Morgantown like Kevin Jones and Da’Sean Butler before him.
  5. The question of who emerges alongside Michael Cobbins to produce defensively in Oklahoma State‘s frontcourt won’t be solved in the Cowboys’ first two games, but head coach Travis Ford hopes to have a clearer idea after tonight‘s game against Utah Valley State in Stillwater. Sophomore Kamari Murphy will be available after missing the season opener with a mild shoulder injury and is one candidate that Ford hopes will make the leap.
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Yes, College Basketball Season is Finally Here

Posted by Taylor Erickson on November 8th, 2013

College hoops fans everywhere, rejoice. Like Harry and Lloyd finally arriving in Aspen, we’re therrre. The anticipation for college basketball season has been building for the past several months, and we can finally take a deep breath and revel in the fact that the official start has arrived. Gone are the days of exhibition games and the abundance of preseason lists and rankings and speculation. Instead, they’re replaced by games that really count, and storylines that actually matter. Your weekends are about to get a lot more intriguing, and your weeknights a lot less boring. From Ames to Austin, Lubbock to Morgantown, and everywhere in between, the Big 12 is chock full of headlines bound to whet your appetite for action on the hardwood. So kick back, relax, and hear us out with a plethora of reasons on why you should be giddy with excitement for another rendition of college basketball.

The Sprint Center will once again host the Big 12 Tournament in March.

The Sprint Center will once again host the Big 12 Tournament in March.

  • For Kansas State fans, it’s a packed house − the Octagon of Doom − and Sandstorm pumping through the PA system so violently you can’t hear yourself think. And the thought of Bruce Weber pulling a purple blazer out of the wardrobe, similar to the orange one he donned at Illinois. Can Shane Southwell become “the man” in Manhattan?  We’ll have to wait and see.
  • In Fort Worth, the reminder of one of the biggest upsets in recent college basketball history has you clamoring for an encore performance again this year. An influx of new talent, and Trent Johnson at the helm provides reason to believe the Horned Frogs can make some noise in the Big 12.
  • Whether it’s a track suit on game day or a letter sweater on media day, there’s no doubt Bob Huggins in comfortable in his own skin. You can bet though, that experiencing his first losing record in nearly 30 years was anything but comforting. The West Virginia head coach is determined to turn things around this year in Morgantown. Is there enough talent this go-round to make the Mountaineers relevant in conference play? Read the rest of this entry »
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Big 12 Team Preview: Oklahoma State Cowboys

Posted by Brian Goodman on November 7th, 2013

This week, the Big 12 microsite will finish previewing each of the league’s 10 teams. Today: Oklahoma State.

Where We Left Off: After a crushing loss to an under-seeded Oregon team in the NCAA Tournament, Marcus Smart made the pain go away for OSU fans, shocking Stillwater and the rest of the college basketball world by announcing his return for the 2013-14 season. That news briefly led prognosticators to peg the Cowboys as the most realistic challenger to dethrone Kansas atop the standings, but then Andrew Wiggins committed to the Jayhawks. Now, not only do we have a bona fide conference race, but a POY race too. The product is a scenario where each team’s destiny, whether you’re talking about the conference title race or the bigger picture of the NCAA Tournament, could very well hinge on how their respective stars perform.

Travis Ford has all the pieces he needs to make a serious run at Kansas. (Getty)

Travis Ford has all the pieces he needs to make a serious run at Kansas in the standings. (Getty)

Positives: Smart may be the heart and soul of Travis Ford‘s team, but Oklahoma State wouldn’t be a Final Four contender without a very good supporting cast. It isn’t without flaws (more on that in a bit), but there may not be a team in the country that can match Oklahoma State’s backcourt tandem of Smart and Markel Brown. While the former is a surefire lottery pick, the latter has improved every season he’s been on campus. He can still destroy a rim as ferociously as he did in his earlier years, but he’s upped his stroke from the free throw line as well as beyond the arc while lowering his turnover rate despite more possessions every season. There isn’t much more you could want from a four-year player. Phil Forte gives the Cowboys a one-dimensional but very capable long distance bomber, and junior wing Le’Bryan Nash is a refined three-point stroke away from being a total match-up nightmare.

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Big 12 M5: 11.04.13 Edition

Posted by Nate Kotisso on November 4th, 2013

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  1. Kansas State took down Pittsburg State 75-54 in exhibition action on Friday night. The only problem was the Wildcats were hobbled in doing so. Bruce Weber said earlier in the week that guards Will Spradling (0 pts) and Shane Southwell (10/5 asts) as well as forward Nino Williams (13/13) were all battling injuries despite playing more than 20 minutes apiece. Thomas Gipson, who is expected to be more of a force on the offensive end, did not play either due to an unspecified injury. Another headline came from the three freshmen thrown into the action. Point guard Marcus Foster turned in 13 points, five rebounds and four dimes, while fellow Texan Wesley Iwundu scored 10 points in 17 minutes, and Nigel Johnson poured in 15 and nine boards in Gipson’s place. While it’s important to get your starters as healthy before the season tips off, it’s nice to know you have options down low and in the backcourt if you’re a K-State fan.
  2. News came down late last week that Melvin Ejim would be out several weeks with a hyperextended knee and bone bruise. But Ejim is hoping he can return to the floor sooner than expected. “I don’t think it’s going to take as long. Hopefully it doesn’t take as long,” he told the Ames Tribune. “It’d be the best if I took a couple weeks, and I could play right away, but we’ve still got to be smart and it’s something if I do play on it and it’s not properly healed, it’s potentially something that could hurt me down the line.” Smart is right. Adrian Peterson certainly set a precedent for athletes and how much time they can take to rehabilitate their injuries. And sure, Ejim’s feeling pressure to be rushed back considering 60 percent of Iowa State’s starting lineup wasn’t there a year ago. It’s also not a bad thing to go the Derrick Rose route and make sure your mind and body are in sync with each other before returning to action. Get well, Mel.
  3. They’ve got a shiny new top 10 ranking and lofty expectations at the national level, but believe it or not, Oklahoma State won’t be talking about a national championship this season. According to the Tulsa World, Travis Ford had his players study up on the six Cowboy teams that previously made it to Final Fours for a team dinner weeks ago. “We wanted them to learn about the tradition but also the championship-type teams,” Ford said. “We’ve talked a lot about trying to get to that point, trying to get our guys throughout the summer and a little bit of preseason thinking in terms of trying to motivate them to win a championship. Once the night was over, I told our guys, ‘Now we’re done talking about it.’ I don’t want to talk any more about it. I don’t want to pinhole it.” Interesting approach from a man who hasn’t done a whole lot in his time in Stillwater; but hey, the more Big 12 teams at the 2014 Final Four in Dallas, the better.
  4. TCU had its own exhibition game on Friday night and they were able to come away with a 81-74 over Arkansas-Fort Smith. Karviar Shepherd, the top prospect from the Horned Frogs’ 2013 recruiting class, shined with a 16-point, 10-rebound outing. After missing the 2013 portion of last season, senior Jarvis Ray scored 18 to lead all scorers. TCU is slated to tip off its season Friday against crosstown and old Southwest Conference rivals, SMU. Let’s hope that Trent Johnson will have a healthy roster to work with in 2013-14.
  5. The mother of Texas Tech head coach Tubby Smith passed away last week. According to the Lubbock Avalanche-Journal and later confirmed by the school’s athletic department, Parthenia Smith died late Wednesday. She was 92. Tubby’s father, Guffrie, passed away just before the start of the 2009 basketball season at 88. It’ll be tough to concentrate on coaching this week, but our thoughts and prayers go out to Tubby and his family through this trying time.
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The Big 12, Halloween Style

Posted by Taylor Erickson on October 31st, 2013

Ah, yes, the Halloween holiday is finally upon us. A time of the year when we all seem to be submerged in any type of pumpkin thing we can get our hands on. When most of the country is knee-deep in football season, except at schools like Kansas and Iowa State which have already thrown in the towel and turned the page to basketball. It’s the one time each year adults are allowed to rekindle the flame from childhood and dress themselves in literally anything you can imagine. In the spirit of this festive holiday, let’s take a look around the Big 12, Halloween style.

Trick:  Don’t fall for it, not even for a second. On Wednesday, The Sporting News released a slideshow of college basketball players in costumes they sported as kids many years ago. Scrolling through, you come across a young Brady Heslip, dressed as what would appear to be a lizard of some sort, and yes, he’s even rocking that great head of hair. While a juvenile Heslip appears awfully innocent, make no mistake about it, the grown-up version has a deadly stroke from behind the arc that consistently pains Big 12 foes.

Brady Heslip appears innocent, but will make you pay from behind the arc.

A young, innocent Brady Heslip, now deadly behind the arc. (Sporting News/Heslip family photo)

Treat:  Look at any national college basketball preview, and you’re bound to repeatedly see the names Andrew Wiggins and Marcus Smart. Those of us in the Big 12 will be treated (pun intended) to at least two match-ups between these college superstars, once on January 18 at Allen Fieldhouse, and again on March 1 at Gallagher-Iba Arena. There’s been no shortage of words between the two this preseason, along with head coaches Bill Self and Travis Ford, further magnifying what should be two absolute epic meetings between these schools in Big 12 play. Kansas fans were haunted during the latter half of the 2012-13 season by images of Smart back-flipping his way across James Naismith Court after the Cowboys pulled off the upset in Lawrence.  Here’s to hoping this year will provide plenty of new fireworks.

Trick:  If you’re familiar with the Big 12, chances are that you decided last season that West Virginia’s Mountaineer mascot stakes claim to the “best beard in the Big 12″ award. Make no mistake about it, his facial hair is Duck Dynasty-worthy, but a member of Kansas’ cheer squad is throwing a challenge flag in the direction of Morgantown. Don’t know what I’m referring to? Without further ado, we present you with KU’s yell leader, Cedric, or as he’s quickly become known among the KU fanbase, Thor (pictured below), who made his debut during the Jayhawks’ exhibition game on Tuesday night. We could go into further explanation, but the picture really speaks for itself.

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Big 12 M5: 10.29.13 Edition

Posted by Taylor Erickson on October 29th, 2013

morning5_big12

  1. In the last few weeks leading up to the tip-off of the college basketball season, it seems like every media outlet universally decides to release as many meaningless preseason lists as possible. Despite how little weight these opinions actually carry, we love to read them anyway. On Monday, CBSSports.com posted a rundown of the top 30 players poised for a breakout season that featured Big 12 players Perry Ellis (#2), Thomas Gipson (#9), and Naadir Tharpe (#10). While there’s plenty of room for debate as to whom else from the Big 12 should have been included on this list, it’s clear that these three individuals will need to perform well this season for their respective teams to fulfill expectations. At Kansas, Tharpe will be the leader of the team at the point guard position, and despite the talents of Andrew Wiggins and Wayne Selden surrounding him, we wouldn’t be surprised to see Ellis lead the Jayhawks in scoring. In Manhattan, Gipson will pair with Shane Southwell to anchor Bruce Weber’s team.
  2. Ask anyone around the country who the best player in the Big 12 is this season, and you’ll probably receive a split vote between Marcus Smart and Andrew Wiggins.  Monday, NBCSports.com recognized Smart as its preseason Player of the Year, and joining Smart on the All American first team was fellow Big 12 rival, Andrew Wiggins. There’s been no shortage of words this preseason directed at Wiggins by both Smart and his head coach Travis Ford that have set up one of the most anticipated conference match-ups as there has been in recent memory. We will certainly enjoy the first two and a half months of the season, but the first meeting between these two teams on January 18 in Lawrence can’t come soon enough.
  3. As if the first two preseason lists we discussed weren’t enough, Gary Parrish at CBSSports.com posted an article discussing coaches on the hot seat as the season gets underway, and to no surprise, Texas’ Rick Barnes was featured. Although Barnes has made the NCAA Tournament 14 times in 15 years in Austin, the days of Kevin Durant, T.J. Ford, and D.J. Augustine are but a distant memory he once enjoyed with the Longhorns. Couple the lack of recent success with the fact that Texas has missed out on several recent high profile recruits from the Lone Star state – Julius Randle and Emmanuel Mudiay, to name a couple – and there’s no wonder Barnes’ job security seems to be in serious question. Given the facilities and alumni support at Texas, many consider the basketball program a sleeping giant waiting to erupt with the right fit at head coach.
  4. We discussed on Monday how Oklahoma head coach Lon Kruger would be relying on Cameron Clark to bring leadership to this team this season, and because Halloween is on Thursday we figured any opportunity we had to use the name “Kruger” this week would be fitting (although the two are spelled differently, you get the point). This time, the Oklahoma head coach was featured at the school’s media day explaining how his trio of sophomore guards – Isaiah Cousins, Buddy Hield and Je’lon Hornbeak – would be looked upon to use the experience they gained during their freshman campaign to play a vital role in the Oklahoma system this season. Although the Sooners are replacing several outstanding scorers from last season, the goal will be to follow up last season’s success with a return trip to the NCAA Tournament.
  5. In a press conference yesterday, Kansas head coach Bill Self explained how his lineup appears to be taking shape. Anticipated starters Naadir Tharpe, Wayne Selden, Andrew Wiggins, Perry Ellis and Tarik Black are joined by Joel Embiid, Andrew White III, and Jamari Traylor, all of whom appear to be poised for significant minutes this season. In customary Self fashion, the lineup will fluctuate throughout the season, but the biggest battle in the first few exhibition games appears to be for the backup point guard position to Tharpe.  Both Frank Mason and Connor Frankamp were highly touted guards in Self’s latest recruiting class, and each will be important in spelling Tharpe at points throughout the season. Mason may be the more natural point guard of the two, while Frankamp is regarded as one of the best shooters in this year’s incoming class.
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Big 12 M5: 10.28.13 Edition

Posted by Taylor Erickson on October 28th, 2013

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  1. When former Memphis transfer and current Kansas Jayhawk Tarik Black began his search for a school to set up camp with for his final year of college, Bill Self recognized Black as an opportunity to provide leadership and toughness to his very young Kansas team. What Black received in exchange was a summer-long date with KU strength coach Andrea Hudy, who helped him tone up, which in turn has helped improve both his jumping ability and quickness. Black has been active in early practices this season, giving up his body for loose balls and setting an example for some of KU’s youngsters. While many of Self’s freshmen have garnered the media’s attention, Black might be just as important in providing physicality to a Kansas frontcourt that otherwise would lack toughness.
  2. The new college basketball rule changes have created quite a buzz in the last few weeks, impacting the way Kansas State guard Will Spradling thinks about playing defense. K-State head coach Bruce Weber said that after taking a charge in practice, Spradling will go back and review film to determine if the call would hold in live action. In addition to the new emphasis on the charge rule, defenders will be unable to “hand check” an offensive player in an effort to clean up the game this season, although many believe the rule changes will instead result in more free throw attempts. After teams tip off the season in exhibition play this week, we have a feeling Spradling won’t be the only one reviewing his defensive approach.
  3. Oklahoma State kicked off its exhibition schedule with an 80-70 win on Sunday against Campbellsville, an NAIA opponent from Kentucky, and it appears Travis Ford was underwhelmed with the effort, to say the least. In his post-game comments, Ford stated that after great practices the first two weeks of the season, his team has been lackluster during the last week and Sunday’s performance mirrored that stagnation. We know Marcus Smart’s team certainly has the ability to win big time games like it did in Lawrence last season, but to have a realistic shot to win a conference title, sustained focus night in and night out in the Big 12 is crucial.
  4. Lon Kruger’s team enters the 2013-14 season with the difficult task of not only replacing the scoring from former players Romero Osby and Amath M’Baye, among others, but also filling the leadership void left by last year’s group. Enter Cameron Clark, who recently spoke about having a conversation with Osby, who told Clark to work hard and lead by example. Clark’s teammate Buddy Hield has noticed a difference in his demeanor this year, and said that while Clark is not overly vocal, when he talks his teammates tend to listen. It will be interesting to see if Clark’s leadership can help Oklahoma stay in the upper echelon of Big 12 teams this season.
  5. The biggest complaint surrounding Bruce Weber’s tenure at Illinois was his inability to sustain consistent success after making the NCAA championship game with players recruited by Bill Self. After experiencing tremendous success in his first season at Kansas State, many wonder if Weber can learn from his previous experience to keep his team among the league’s elite.  On Saturday night, Weber received a verbal commitment from 6’5″ combo guard Tre Harris, who currently attends Fishburne Military Academy in Virginia. Harris is considered a good shooter and will pair with fellow 2014 commitment Stephen Harris to bring viable scoring threats to the Wildcats next season.
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Looking at the Big 12 Non-Conference Tourney Slate

Posted by Taylor Erickson on October 24th, 2013

As the 2013-14 season of college basketball rapidly approaches, along with it comes a plethora of non-conference tournaments in exotic locations all over the map.  From Maui to New York, Anchorage to Puerto Rico, and everywhere in-between, the slate of early season match-ups provide an outstanding opportunity to usher in the new year in college basketball.  Big 12 schools will be in on the act, supplying us with our first real glimpse of what we can expect throughout the season. Let’s take a look at these non-conference contests.

Baylor – Maui Invitational, Maui, Hawaii, November 25-27:  Baylor will head to Maui for what is usually one of the higher profile and entertaining tournaments in the non-conference portion of college basketball.  Scott Drew‘s team will square off with tournament host Chaminade on November 25 as the Bears will try to avoid being the second team from Texas in as many years to fall to the Silverswords (Chaminade knocked off Texas in 2012 by a score of 86-73). Provided Baylor can handle Chaminade, a match-up with a beatable Gonzaga team likely awaits with a showdown against preseason top 10 Syracuse looming.  The battle of zone defenses between ‘Cuse and the Bears would be entertaining, as would Isaiah Austin showing off his range against any holes in Jim Boeheim’s defense.

Baylor Will Be Soaking Up the Sun in Maui this November

Baylor Will Be Soaking Up the Sun in Maui this November

Kansas State – Puerto Rico Tip-Off, Bayamon Puerto Rico, November 21, 22, 24:  The Wildcats wet their feet in Puerto Rico against a deep tournament field with the likes of Michigan, Georgetown, Florida State, and VCU, to name a few.  A quarterfinal match-up against Charlotte on November 21 sits ahead for Bruce Weber’s squad, and a win sets up a potential showdown with Georgetown. While Kansas State enters this season with slightly watered-down expectations after losing Rodney McGruder and Angel Rodriguez from a year ago, a win against the Hoyas could provide the ‘Cats up with a chance to make some noise against Michigan in the finals. Thomas Gipson and Mitch McGary battling down low will certainly not lack for physicality.  Not only would a good showing in Puerto Rico boost K-State’s outlook on the season, but could help enhance the pipeline of Puerto Rican talent to Manhattan that Frank Martin developed during his time with the Wildcats.

Oklahoma – Coaches vs. Cancer Classic, Brooklyn, New York, November 22-23:  Oklahoma kicks off the semifinal round of the Coaches vs. Cancer Classic against Seton Hall at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn on November 22. As we mentioned last week in our Big 12 preseason rankings breakdown, Oklahoma enters the 2013-14 season without 68.7 percent of their scoring from last season with the departure of standouts Romero Osby and Steven Pledger, among others. If Lon Kruger’s group can get by Seton Hall in the semifinal round, a match-up with heavyweight and consensus top five Michigan State awaits in the championship round. The combination of Gary Harris and Adreian Payne will be as good of an inside-out duo as Oklahoma will see for the remainder of the season.

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Big 12 M5: 10.23.13 Edition

Posted by Kory Carpenter on October 23rd, 2013

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  1. Maybe it was because of the comments that Marcus Smart made about Andrew Wiggins, maybe it was because he actually believed it, or maybe it was because he was just trying to quell any war of words that may have been brewing, but Oklahoma State head coach Travis Ford had nothing but  praise for Kansas heading into the season, and he was not shy about claiming the Jayhawks are still the team to beat, even with Marcus Smart leading the Cowboys this year.  “Winning a Big 12 Championship is something that we strive to do. It’s something we talk about, but we fully grasp that Kansas is still a team to beat.”
  2. One team that has flown under the radar this pre-season has been Kansas State, who had a disappointing exit in last season’s NCAA Tournament after losing to #13 seed La Salle in the Round of 64. As Blair Kerkhoff of The Kansas City Star points out here, the last six years of Kansas State basketball have had a go-to guy heading into the season, from Michael Beasley to Jacob Pullen to Rodney McGruder. Now, 6’7″ senior wing Shane Southwell thinks he can be the next guy to star for the Wildcats. He averaged 8.4 points last season and needs to bump that number up into double digits to make Kansas State competitive in the top-heavy Big 12 this season.
  3. Speaking of the top-heavy Big 12, maybe you have heard that there is a pretty good team practicing in Lawrence. Kansas coach Bill Self is no stranger to talent or expectations, and this team has as much of both as any team he has coached in his career, especially after Andrew Wiggins announced his plans to play at Kansas this year before bolting for the NBA. Self is quick to squash the comparisons to all-time greats, but admits he has a once-a-decade (or better) talent on his hands. “He’s not LeBron,” He told Rustin Dodd of the Kansas City Star. “He’s not Durant. He’s not Wilt. He’s Andrew. And Andrew will impact our college game and our program in a huge, huge, huge way.”
  4. It’s clearly a 2-team race at the top of the Big 12 this season, but it appears to be wide open after that. With the departures of Amath M’Baye, Romero Osby, and Sam Grooms, senior forward Cameron Clark has slowly become a leader for the Sooners and head coach Lon Kruger. “Everbody listens to him,” sophomore Buddy Hield told Ryan Aber of The Oklahoman at Big 12 Media Day yesterday. “When he’s got something to say, everybody shuts up.”
  5. With scoring on the decline, the NCAA has been trying to alter little things here and there to fix things recently, and this season’s new emphasis on hand-checking could do just that. It might take a while for teams to adjust, however. “We’ve had two scrimmages where we’ve had Big 12 refs,” Iowa State coach Fred Hoiberg told The Des Moines Register‘s Randy Peterson. “In one of our scrimmages, we were in the double bonus at the 10-minute mark.” Eventually, the new rules should bring forth cleaner games and more offense, and everyone should love that. But November and December could give us slow, drawn-out whistlefests as teams try to adjust.
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The Five Big 12 Players and Coaches Under the Most Pressure This Season

Posted by Kory Carpenter on October 21st, 2013

With a new season comes new expectations across the Big 12. And pressure. Some coaches and players will be under more scrutiny than others as the season tips off next month, but more than a few will be dealing with it all season. Let’s take a look at the five people facing the most pressure in the Big 12 this year:

Rick Barnes

Rick Barnes' Seat is the Warmest in the Big 12

Rick Barnes’ Seat is the Warmest in the Big 12

When you type ‘Rick Barnes’ into a Google search, the first suggestion is ‘hot seat.’ That’s not a good sign for the 15-year head coach of the Texas Longhorns. Barnes is an interesting case because he coaches at a school with the facilities and recruiting advantages of a top 15 program but the expectations of a Missouri Valley school, it seems. He has brought in plenty of talent to Austin, including Wooden Award winners T.J. Ford and Kevin Durant. Ford and Barnes led the Longhorns to the 2003 Final Four, but that was now over a decade ago. Since then, Barnes has been to two Elite Eights and advanced past the first weekend only one other time. In the last five seasons, he has won as many NCAA Tournament games (two) as Florida Gulf-Coast. That’s not a good look for someone with the advantages Barnes has at his disposal at Texas. And with the transfer of would-be returning scorer Shelden McClellan as well as the head-scratching departure of sophomore Myck Kabongo (who subsequently went undrafted over the summer), Barnes does not appear to have the roster capable of silencing any critics.

Marcus Smart

Last season Smart averaged 15.4 PPG, 5.8 RPG, and 4.2 APG while earning Big 12 Player of the Year honors as a true freshman. He was also expected to be a top-five selection in the NBA Draft, so it shocked most of us when he decided to return to Oklahoma State for his sophomore season. Earlier this week, however, he told John Helsley and Gina Mizell of The Oklahoman that re-fracturing his wrist in the NCAA Tournament loss to Oregon kept him from dribbling a ball until May, making him a bit uneasy about entering the NBA at less than 100 percent. With motives like that, it makes his decision to return less surprising and more logical, thus taking some pressure off the 6’4″ guard. But being expected to duplicate his fantastic freshman campaign won’t be easy.

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