Big 12 Contenders Slip While Middle Tier Shows Improvement in Holiday Events

Posted by Brian Goodman on December 3rd, 2013

The conclusion of last week’s barrage of holiday tournaments is as good a checkpoint as any to take stock of the Big 12. Overall, it wasn’t a good week for the conference, as its membership failed to pick up a single exempt-event crown despite some great opportunities. The league’s heavyweight contenders sputtered out while teams in the conference’s mid-pack seemed to come away with the biggest boosts going forward. There’s a lot to go over, so let’s take a look at the week that was.

Kansas - The Jayhawks had a frustrating time in the Battle 4 Atlantis, as they failed to make the championship round of the event. Kansas hit some timely shots as it came back against Villanova in the semifinals, but the Jayhawks were done in by a Ryan Arcidiacano three in the final minute. They left the island with a pair of wins, but victories over Wake Forest and UTEP weren’t what Bill Self was counting on as the highlights of the trip; and lukewarm performances by Andrew Wiggins will only fuel the skeptics even though his overall numbers are still very good. The Jayhawks have a high ceiling, but they’re still a ways from reaching it. Kansas buried just 10 three-pointers over three games in the tournament, or, put another way, as many as Chaminade’s Christophe Varidel canned on Monday night alone. The Jayhawks are also allowing far more two-point buckets than even the flimsiest of Bill Self’s defenses have let up. It doesn’t help that KU’s defensive rebounding fell back to earth after an otherworldly start in that category. It isn’t time to panic in Lawrence, but it doesn’t get any easier as Kansas will square off with even higher-profile teams (including Florida and Georgetown) before conference play tips off in January.

Michael Cobbins (right) and Oklahoma State had a rough week in Orlando. (Phelan M. Ebenhack/AP)

Michael Cobbins (right) and Oklahoma State had a tough week in Orlando. (Phelan M. Ebenhack/AP)

Oklahoma State - The Old Spice Classic was one long wake-up call for the Cowboys, a team that hadn’t been seriously tested coming into the event. Sunday’s loss to Memphis, underscored by Marcus Smart‘s inauspicious night, is still fresh in everyone’s mind, but it’s worth pointing out that Oklahoma State had trouble in the first two rounds as well. The Cowboys struggled to put Purdue away, giving up 58 second-half points to the Boilermakers, and on Saturday they had to hold on for dear life against Butler while both teams lit their final possessions on fire. Like their biggest challengers to the Big 12 title, Oklahoma State came home with a pair of wins, but they didn’t do much to inspire confidence going forward.

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Pitt’s Bruising Toughness on Display at Legends Classic

Posted by Bennet Hayes on November 26th, 2013

Bennet Hayes is an RTC correspondent. He filed this report after Monday night’s Pittsburgh vs. Texas Tech game from the Legends Classic.

Texas Tech has a long ways to go before becoming a complete basketball team, but that doesn’t mean that the Red Raiders couldn’t have offered Pittsburgh its first real challenge of the season on Monday night. After all, when you begin the campaign with a quartet of opponents (Savannah State, Howard, Lehigh and Fresno State) sporting a combined 4-16 record versus D-I competition, any foe with a power conference membership may be enough to constitute a challenge. But any hope of a taut battle was quickly erased, as Pittsburgh used a 34-8 first half run to power themselves to a 23-point halftime lead, ending this Legends Classic semifinal before it ever really began. It was a dominant show of strength from a program quite accustomed to delivering them, but is this Panther team capable of conjuring up the echoes of past glory? Wins over Big-12 also-rans won’t answer that question in isolation, but Jamie Dixon seems to believe this Pitt team, as bruising and tough as so many of those that came before them, may have the talent and chemistry to do just that.

Lamar Patterson's Career Night (23 Points) Helped Undefeated Pittsburgh Surge To A 76-53 Victory Over Texas Tech

Lamar Patterson’s Career Night (23 Points) Helped Undefeated Pittsburgh Surge To A 76-53 Victory Over Texas Tech

Pitt’s 23-point victory was achieved despite an unusual Panther failing: Its opponent grabbed more rebounds than the men in blue and gold. Jamie Dixon’s teams have classically been downright fearsome on the offensive boards – their offensive rebounding percentage has been among the nation’s five best in four of the past five seasons – but the physical identity that Dixon breeds impacts the backboards at both ends. Dixon admitted that “rebounding hurt us tonight,” but the scoreboard showed that little else did. Pitt continued its early season display of offensive efficiency by making more threes (10) than lost turnovers (eight), along the way to making 16 of 21 free throw attempts. Dixon said after the game that he had felt like Pitt’s offense had been ahead of their defense all season long. With all due respect to a stellar Panthers effort on the defensive end (it took a late barrage of Texas Tech made field goals to lift their field goal percentage to just 39 percent for the evening), crisp ball movement and a career day from emerging leader Lamar Patterson (23 points on 8-of-13 shooting) certainly substantiated Dixon’s claim. The offensive precision is a great sign for Pitt. Dixon can turn a good defensive team into an elite one with his coaching; It’s far harder for him, or any coach, to turn an average shooting team into an excellent one.

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Big 12 M5: 11.06.13 Edition

Posted by Nate Kotisso on November 6th, 2013

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  1. Today is November 6 which means it’s time for… bracketology? CBSSports.com’s Jerry Palm believes it is and his first bracket only has four Big 12 teams safely into the field of 68, with another team in the ‘first four out’ category. If there’s one thing to look forward to, it’s next week’s Champions Classic, where the four number one seeds — Kentucky, Kansas, Michigan State and Duke, according to Palm — will play each other in Chicago. It should be noted that there are some new bracketing measures that will go into effect this year. Due to conference realignment, the selection committee will allow teams from the same conference to meet in rounds earlier than the regional finals. Previously, the committee only allowed this situation in the event that a conference received nine or more bids to the NCAA Tournament (see: Big East in 2011 and 2012). Sadly, that’s an advantage the Big 12 never had a chance to experience.
  2. Oklahoma lost a lot of the talent that brought it back to NCAAs last season for the first time since 2009. To replace the Sooners’ front line of Romero Osby and Andrew Fitzgerald will be transfers Ryan Spangler and D.J. Bennett. The Oklahoman tells us the story of  their commitments to Oklahoma on the same day and their workouts together while they waited to become eligible. Spangler is projected to be a starter while Bennett appears to be a good option for significant minutes off the bench. To have such good chemistry already built between the big men has to be a good thing for Lon Kruger.
  3. Oh look, Fred Hoiberg just snagged another transfer with the commitment of ex-Indian Hills Community College forward Jameel McKay on Tuesday night. McKay had previously committed to Buzz Williams and Marquette but came to the realization in October that their style of play wasn’t particularly conducive to his talents. McKay was a two-time junior college All-American, averaging 18.1 points, 10.6 rebounds, and two blocks per game during his sophomore campaign. He’ll enroll at Iowa State for the spring semester and become eligible to play in December, but expect that the Cyclones will apply for a waiver so that he could play immediately.
  4. Can Tubby Smith save Texas Tech? That’s the question CollegeBasketballTalk asks about the Red Raiders program. The case made in the article is that Smith may not be an interesting character like Bob Knight or Billy Gillispie were, but he’s a man who gets results. He took Georgia and Tulsa to Sweet Sixteens, Kentucky to a National Championship, and even though he may have suffered a misguided firing at Minnesota, he took the Gophers into the round of 32 for the first time in a non-sanctioned year since 1990. Is he Tech’s sexiest hire yet? You tell me.
  5. Lost in the shuffle of West Virginia‘s exhibition win Monday night was an inappropriate moment featuring a Fairmont State player on its bench. (WARNING: A NSFW photo with a Fairmont State player giving the “double birds” will appear. Click at your own risk.) According to The Big Lead, they believe the player to be Martins Abele, a Lithuanian center who fouled out at the time of the photo, and in a moment of frustration, took it out on the home student section. Fairmont State athletic director Tim McNeeley said that Abele will be disciplined for his act but decided not to go into specific details as to how or when.
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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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Big Ten Coaches on the Not-So-Hot Seat, Part I

Posted by Alex Moscoso (@AlexPMoscoso) on October 29th, 2013

It’s that time of the year when fans get their usual dose of preseason predictions. One of the usual mechanisms in this onslaught is the “Coaches on the Hot Seat” list where writers identify those coaches whose job status relies on the success of their upcoming season. Each preseason in the Big Ten, previously successful coaches routinely find themselves on this list and almost never escape it. The conference is widely considered to have the best head coaches of any league which makes wins tough to come by. This competition leads to very good coaches experiencing disappointing seasons, finding themselves on the hot seat, and then eventually being fired. Last year, it was Tubby Smith at Minnesota who found himself without a job in April.  A national championship-winning coach at Kentucky, Smith led the Golden Gophers to their first NCAA Tournament win in 16 years (and, actually, longer since the NCAA vacated the 1996-97 season after charging Minnesota with academic fraud). The year before that, it was Bruce Weber at Illinois standing in the unemployment line. A former National Coach of the Year and NCAA Tournament runner-up, Weber won 100 more games than he lost over a nine-year stint. And there are others. All this goes to show that in this league, being a talented head coach might get you in the door, but it won’t save you from the hot seat.

Relax, Coach Crean.  You many have lost two NBA lottery picks.  But you're not going anywhere.

Relax, Coach Crean. You may have lost two NBA lottery picks. But you’re not going anywhere.

This year is a little different.  Barring any unforeseen scandals, there seems to be no Big Ten coaches who are in immediate danger of losing their jobs. So here at the RTC Big Ten microsite, we have instead decided to look at the coaches around the league and examine their current situations: Why are they not in danger of having to endure a sad and uncomfortable final press conference at the end of the year? In the interest of brevity, we will not review the likes of Tom Izzo, John Beilein, Thad Matta or Bo Ryan. Their current situations can be summed up in these words: They are awesome at coaching college basketball and aren’t going anywhere anytime soon.  For the rest of the Big Ten’s eight coaches, things are a little more nuanced. Here’s why:

John Groce (Illinois): I listed in a previous post Groce’s accomplishments from last year. Those include a trip to the round of 32 of the NCAA Tournament from a roster that had all but given up the year before. But more importantly, Groce has secured quite a bit of outstanding talent for the future of his program. A bevy of promising transfers and recruits are set to join the Illini this year and next. His program is in a position to start challenging for Big Ten titles as early as 2014-15, and if Groce can land a commitment from Top 10 recruit Cliff Alexander next month, Illini fans can start dreaming even bigger. He’s in good shape.

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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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Where 2013-14 Happens: Reason #25 We Love College Basketball

Posted by rtmsf on October 23rd, 2013

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Here we go… headfirst into another season heralded by our 2013-14 edition of Thirty Reasons We Love College Basketball, our annual compendium of YouTube clips from the previous season completely guaranteed to make you wish games were starting tonight. For the next three weeks, you’ll get two hits of excitement each weekday. We’ve captured what we believe were the most compelling moments from last season, some of which will bring back goosebumps and others of which will leave you shaking your head in astonishment. To see the entire released series so far, click here.

#25 – Where Let It Loose, Coach Happens.

We also encourage you to re-visit the entire archive of this feature from the 2008-092009-10, 2010-112011-12, and 2012-13 preseasons.

 

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The RTC Interview Series: Big 12 Preview with Fran Fraschilla and Jason King, Part II

Posted by Walker Carey on October 23rd, 2013

Rush The Court is back with another edition of One on One: An Interview Series, which we will bring you periodically throughout the offseason. If you have any specific interview requests or want us to interview you, shoot us an email at rushthecourt@yahoo.com.

With the college basketball season nearly upon us, we thought it would be a good idea to gather some expert opinions on the nation’s major college basketball conferences. As part of our national preview of the Big 12, RTC Correspondent Walker Carey recently had the pleasure of speaking to two Big 12 experts in ESPN Big 12 analyst, Fran Fraschilla, and ESPN.com college basketball writer, Jason King.  (Ed. note – we spoke to each individual separately, but for the sake of expediency, combining their answers into a round table format made the most sense.)

*Make sure to start with Part I of the Big 12 Preview, published on Tuesday.

RTC: Oklahoma lost its three leading scorers from last season’s NCAA Tournament team. Where will the Sooners go to for their scoring in Lon Kruger’s third season in Norman?

Lon Kruger

Lon Kruger Faces a Transition Year at Oklahoma

Fraschilla: Oklahoma is one of the youngest teams in the conference. It is likely to start a freshman and three sophomores. I think if there is one guy who will be able to pick up the scoring slack, it is going to be sophomore Buddy Hield. He showed flashes of brilliance last year. He has a scorer’s mentality and can be very versatile. People are forgetting that Ryan Spangler, a transfer from Gonzaga, is now eligible and the last time he was on the court he produced a very solid performance in Gonzaga’s 2012 NCAA Tournament win over West Virginia. He will be underrated for about a third of the season before people realize he will be one of the best big men in the Big 12. This is a young Sooner team that still might be a year away, but I still expect it to compete for a spot in the postseason.

King: I think it is going to be a transition year for Oklahoma. I do not think people appreciated just how good players like Romero Osby, Steven Pledger, and Andrew Fitzgerald were for this team. Those were really good players – especially Osby — and I was glad to see that he got drafted because he was one of the best players in the league. The problem Oklahoma is facing now is that they are not bringing in guys who can replace those departures right off the bat. There are some young guys, but that production just will not be the same. A lot of pressure is going to be placed on the backcourt of Buddy Hield and Je’lon Hornbeak to produce. I do not know if Oklahoma is going to have enough to return to the NCAA Tournament. It might be one of those seasons where you go through some bumps and get guys some experience, so the program will be back where you want it to be next season. The one thing Oklahoma definitely has going for it is that is as well-coached as anyone in the league. Lon Kruger has proven time and time again that he can get it done as well as any coach in this league. Due to that, you can expect Oklahoma to win some games that they are not expected to win this season. I just do not expect the Sooners to win those game consistently enough. This could be a tough season in Norman.

RTC: West Virginia had a nightmare debut season in the league. The Mountaineers experienced a bit of a roster overhaul in the offseason, as Deniz Kilicli exhausted his eligibility and Jabarie Hinds and Aaric Murray transferred. Do you believe some of those losses are addition by subtraction and what are reasonable expectations for Bob Huggins’ team in its second year in the league?

Fraschilla: I do not think it was an addition by subtraction situation for West Virginia because those guys still played major roles for the team at certain times. I believe there is a solid nucleus there that can definitely play better than it did last year. Sophomores Terry Henderson and Eron Harris are guys who showed at certain points last year that they can put the ball in the basket. The key for the team this season is going to be Juwan Staten, the junior transfer from Dayton. Staten did not hit a three last season in his first season on the floor for the Mountaineers. If Henderson, Harris, and Staten can improve their play, I think West Virginia can compete for a postseason berth. I do expect the team chemistry to be much better this year and guys to be more in tune with what Bob Huggins wants.

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The RTC Interview Series: Big 12 Preview with Fran Fraschilla and Jason King, Part I

Posted by Walker Carey on October 22nd, 2013

Rush The Court is back with another edition of One on One: An Interview Series, which we will bring you periodically throughout the offseason. If you have any specific interview requests or want us to interview you, shoot us an email at rushthecourt@yahoo.com.

With the college basketball season nearly upon us, we thought it would be a good idea to gather some expert opinions on the nation’s major college basketball conferences. As part of our national preview of the Big 12, RTC Correspondent Walker Carey recently had the pleasure of speaking to two Big 12 experts in ESPN Big 12 analyst, Fran Fraschilla, and ESPN.com college basketball writer, Jason King.  (Ed. note – we spoke to each individual separately, but for the sake of expediency, combining their answers into a round table format made the most sense.)

Big 12 Experts Fran Fraschilla and Jason King Share Their Thoughts With Us This Preseason

Big 12 Experts Fran Fraschilla and Jason King Share Their Thoughts With Us This Preseason

Rush the Court: The major storyline in the Big 12 this season will be what Andrew Wiggins does on the court for Kansas. What do you expect out of Wiggins in what figures to be his only season in Lawrence?

Fran Fraschilla: I think Andrew Wiggins is obviously an incredible addition. I am not sure if he is the alpha dog that people are expecting. He is a great teammate, an incredible athlete, and if anyone can get the most out of him in one year, it will be Bill Self. At times, he will take over games, and at other times, he will be content to stay in the background and let Wayne Selden, Perry Ellis, and others dominate the ball.

Jason King: I think the expectations that have been placed on Andrew Wiggins are unfair. I think the hype surrounding him has gotten out of control. He very well might be the best player in the country, but comparing him to LeBron James is just too much. LeBron James was an alpha male coming out of high school. He was a big, strong, mean, aggressive guy. I believe Andrew Wiggins is a different type of player. I went to Kansas practice the other night and right now, his head is still spinning. He is still trying to adjust and learn the system. I think he is a special player, but he is a guy that may only average 13 or 14 points a night because he is playing with so many other very talented players. I think he will be just fine. It is just that so many people are expecting him to go in right away and score 20-22 points a night; and that probably is just not going to happen. We will still see plenty of highlights from him throughout the season and he will likely end up being one of the two or three best players in the country when all is said and done.

RTC: Focusing less on Wiggins and more on Kansas as a whole, what are realistic expectations for a very talented but young Jayhawks squad?

Fraschilla: Kansas certainly has the potential to get to the Final Four in Dallas and have a chance to win it all. Just like every other top team though, Kansas certainly has some deficiencies. Based on the talent level, the versatility of a lot of their players, and the proven leadership of Bill Self, I think Kansas is going to make a strong argument on the court that it is a team that can get to Dallas for the Final Four.

King: I think Kansas should win its 10th straight league title and anything less than that will be a disappointment. I think winning nine straight titles in a league like the Big 12 in this day and age with all the one-and-dones is very, very impressive. I believe no team in a major conference has done that since John Wooden’s days when I believe UCLA won 13 in a row. Winning the league title is expectation number one. I think the potential for this team is limitless. However, this is going to be a different kind of Kansas team. I think Kansas fans are so used to the Jayhawks just going out there and dominating mostly everyone from the start of the season to the finish. This is a team that won 31 games last year. I think this year, you might see it stumble a little bit more early on and drop some games early on that they would probably win in recent years. The non-conference schedule is the most difficult in America and it is the hardest I have ever seen Kansas play. Besides having to play Duke, you have the Battle 4 Atlantis, you have games at Colorado and at Florida, you have home games against Georgetown and San Diego State, and you have New Mexico at the Sprint Center in Kansas City. I just think with this hard of a schedule and so many young players adjusting to the college level that there might be some setbacks early on. Bill Self is such a great coach that he will have these guys playing their best basketball and the right time of the year, which is mid-January and on.

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Big 12 M5: 10.16.13 Edition

Posted by Brian Goodman on October 16th, 2013

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  1. Bill Self was one of a few coaches to comment on the new emphasis that will be placed on hand-checking by on-ball defenders this season. According to a report from ESPN‘s Jeff Goodman, NCAA officials contend that the spirit of the rule change is to increase scoring and make games flow more smoothly, but opinions among head coaches regarding the impact are mixed. Some, like Louisville head coach Rick Pitino, carry an attitude of guarded optimism, but Self is concerned that the new rules will lead to an excessive number of trips to the foul line rather than better shots in the flow of a given team’s offense. There will inevitably be an adjustment period for all teams (and officials), just as there was when the charge circle was added two seasons ago, and we’ll definitely keep an eye on how teams adapt from November through March.
  2. Texas Tech head coach Tubby Smith was mentioned among College Basketball Talk‘s Rob Dauster’s list of losers in last year’s coaching carousel. Simply not being Billy Gillispie will put Smith in good graces among some Red Raider fans for a short time, but the challenges of the job — a relative lack of winning tradition and the absence of success in the NBA Draft, just to name two — give us pause as to whether Texas Tech can rise from the ashes under its seasoned leader. This was a perplexing hire from day one, as we expected the Red Raiders to go with someone who was more of an up-and-comer rather than an established coaching veteran. Either way, it will be a tough row to hoe in Lubbock for the foreseeable future.
  3. CBSSports.com‘s crack team of college hoops contributors released its annual list of the nation’s top 100 players, and how the Big 12 fared depends on where you put the most stock. For instance, Andrew Wiggins and Marcus Smart top the list, but you have to look 22 spots down from them to find the next Big 12 player, Baylor center Isaiah Austin. Overall, the Big 12 landed 10 players on the top 100, but we see some potential big-time risers in Joel Embiid (#28), Markel Brown (#52), and Melvin Ejim (#72).
  4. A thorough piece from Bleacher Report‘s Jared Zwerling reports that once Andrew Wiggins turns pro next spring, he could fetch a shoe deal valued as high as $180 million. After reading the story, there are plenty of angles worth examining: what the speculative value of Andrew Wiggins to a shoe company at this very moment says about the one-and-done rule and the concept of amateurism; how Wiggins can possibly handle all of the attention and pressure to succeed; and what head coach Bill Self  needs to do to keep he and his teammates focused as the Jayhawks aim for a 10th consecutive league title.
  5. Oklahoma State held its annual media day festivities on Monday, and it will definitely be interesting to see how the Cowboys hold up to league championship aspirations for the first time in 10 years. The aforementioned link is chock full of quotes from several players as well as head coach Travis Ford, and while nothing was said that was too far out of the ordinary, you do get the sense that the team’s chemistry could be off the charts all season long. If the Cowboys are used to playing with one another in January while Kansas is still trying to figure out how to make its pieces fit, that could be just the edge OSU needs to unseat the nine-time defending Big 12 champions.
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2013-14 RTC Class Schedule: Arizona Wildcats

Posted by BHayes on September 26th, 2013

Bennet Hayes is an RTC columnist. He can be reached @HoopsTraveler. Periodically throughout the preseason, RTC will take an in-depth look at the schedules of some of the more prominent teams in college basketball.

Sean Miller’s fifth season in Tuscon could easily turn out to be his best. Despite the graduation of key seniors Solomon Hill (a first round pick in the 2013 NBA Draft), Mark Lyons, and Kevin Parrom – in addition to the surprising departure of freshman Grant Jerrett to the professional ranks, Miller has assembled the most talented roster that Arizona has seen in quite some time. A solid Pac-12 conference and challenging non-conference schedule will challenge the Cats’, but a nice blend of returnees and newcomers should give the man at the helm ample leeway to steer this storied program deep into March.

Nick Johnson will be asked to do more -- both on and off the court -- for this young but talented Wildcat team

Nick Johnson will be asked to do more — both on and off the court — for this young but talented Wildcat team

  • Team Outlook: This will be a new-look Arizona team, as last year’s squad was built around departed seniors Lyons and Hill. Some familiar faces will be back and poised to fill leadership roles this time around, with junior Nick Johnson (11.5 PPG, 3.2 APG, 1.9 SPG) most prominent among them. The athletic two-guard shot the ball better from three-point range as a sophomore (39% after 32% as a freshman), and should also serve as the Cats’ best perimeter defender in 2013-14. Sophomores Kaleb Tarczewski (6.6 PPG, 6.1 RPG, 22.2 MPG) and Brandon Ashley (7.5 PPG, 5.3 RPG, 20.5 MPG) return to anchor the frontcourt, with each likely seeing a slight minutes increase, despite the arrival of a duo of freshman studs in the same frontcourt. Both Aaron Gordon and Rondae Hollis-Jefferson were McDonald’s All-Americans last spring, and immense immediate contributions from both freshmen would surprise no one. Gordon especially shapes up as a good candidate for a jump to the NBA after a season of stardom in Tuscon, as he is currently projected as a Top-20 pick in the 2014 draft on NBADraft.net. Gordon’s production will be one of the keys to this Wildcat season, but he may not be Sean Miller’s most important player. Duquesne transfer T.J. McConnell (11.4 PPG, 5.5 APG, 2.8 SPG in 2011-12) will be filling Lyons’ shoes and running the show in Tucson this season. McConnell was an efficient lead guard in the Atlantic-10 and should quickly acclimate to the Pac-12, but the absence of proven ball-handlers elsewhere on the roster means his transition has to be a smooth one for Arizona to be successful. He will be a welcomed change-of-pace for teammates used to the shoot-first Lyons dominating the ball, and his steal % of 4.7 (12th best in the nation in 2012) is ample indication of a dedication to both ends. The talented youngsters around him will keep expectations low for McConnell individually, but don’t be shocked if he emerges as the leader of this club. Read the rest of this entry »
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Morning Five: 08.21.13 Edition

Posted by rtmsf on August 21st, 2013

morning5

  1. It’s never too early — repeating, never too early — to begin talk of undefeated seasons. After all, all 350 Division 1 basketball schools are unbeaten in August, and September, and even October. A fair number will make it through November unscathed, but by the time we hit the new year, roughly a dozen or fewer will be standing. To make it to February without a blemish is rare indeed, while standing with a zero in the L column at the start of March is just short of impossible. Still, it makes for fun speculation no matter the time of year, and with the release of Kentucky‘s 2013-14 schedule on Tuesday, the chatter has already become rampant on the likelihood of John Calipari’s team running the table. The marketing guru himself uses the opportunity to “chase perfection” in his pitch to elite recruits, and he’s certainly got enough raw talent on board next year to at least entertain the question. Of course, dozens of more experienced and talented teams than next year’s Wildcats have proven unable to win every game on the schedule, so you’ll forgive us if we, along with a few other veteran watchers of the sport such as TSN’s Mike DeCourcy, collectively roll our eyes at the very notion (DeCourcy gives five reasons why UK won’t do it). Not only will UK not go unbeaten next season, it says here that they’d best be served by losing a couple before heading into March Madness — the last team to lose fewer than two games en route to a national title were those same legendary 1976 Indiana Hoosiers.
  2. Sticking around the Bluegrass State, the UK Athletics Hall of Fame announced its 2013 incoming class on Tuesday, and one of the names on the list makes you wonder whether enough time and water under the bridge has passed for Kentucky fans to again embrace one of their five national championship coaches, Tubby Smith. When Smith alighted north for Minnesota in 2007, the attitude among the majority of Wildcat faithful was one of good riddance. Smith’s recruiting struggles had manifested in a series of disappointing seasons in the mid-2000s, and while the head coach was almost universally liked and respected as a person, he had unquestionably worn out his welcome in Lexington. A harrowing subsequent two years with Billy Gillispie led to the John Calipari era and all the riches that followed, but six years of (mostly) success isn’t really all that long to heal old wounds. It will be interesting to hear the partisan crowd’s response to the announcements at the school’s football game versus Florida during induction weekend on September 28 — will they cheer Smith for his accomplishments (one national title and a boatload of SEC championships); will they boo him for his lack of recruiting and postseason failures (several first weekend NCAA defeats); or will they politely applaud him, in much the same way that a crowd respectfully recognizes an academic speaker at a conference? We shall see.
  3. A somewhat weird story came out of Austin yesterday, in that returning Texas forward and leading scorer Ioannis Papapetrou has decided to leave school to sign a contract with a European professional team. The deal is reported for approximately $2 million over a five-year period, which, no disrespect to UT-Austin, is still quite a bit more in monetary value than the great state university can provide. Where this puts Rick Barnes’ team for next season, and by extension, his program, is in quite a quandary. Despite a strong number of elite recruits who have passed through Texas in the past five years, the program only has two NCAA wins to show for it. Furthermore, last year’s CBI squad that finished with an overall losing record of 16-18 has been completely gutted. Three other players transferred and/or left for pro contracts, and with an annual contract for Barnes ranking among the titans in the sport, you have to wonder how long the leash is that he will have this season with such a young, inexperienced squad.
  4. It seems like every summer some key player gets injured during a team’s international trip and this year is no exception as TCU rising star Devonta Abron tore his Achilles tendon and will miss the entire upcoming season. Abron averaged 7.4 PPG and 5.9 RPG for Trent Johnson’s moribund team last season, but the future appeared bright for the rising junior who had developed into a nicely efficient player around the rim. The Big 12 is tough enough for a program like the Horned Frogs; they certainly could have used some better news as they move into their second full season as a member of a major conference basketball league.
  5. Speaking of international summer trips, let’s finish this one with an odd what-comes-around-goes-around story involving the Iowa Hawkeyes and a long lost but very divisive footnote to its hardwood past. While on a five-game tour of France, former Hawkeye Pierre Pierce (where else would he be with a name like Pierre?) showed up as an opponent on a French professional team, and somewhat unbelievably, hit the game-winning shot against his old school in overtime. If you’re new to the story, Pierce got into quite a bit of trouble involving allegations of sexual misconduct while at Iowa from 2002-05 (ultimately getting tossed from the team and serving nearly a year in prison), and the impassioned defense of his star player by then-head coach Steve Alford still upsets more than a few people around the sport. Alford in fact had to answer questions about it again upon taking the UCLA job this past spring. Still, the serendipity of Pierce getting his own shining moment against his old school a decade later from pure unadulterated happenstance is simply astonishing. Whether Hawkeye Nation appreciated the pure comedy of it, we’ll have to let you be the judge of that one.
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