Big 12 M5: 11.21.14 Edition

Posted by Nate Kotisso on November 21st, 2014

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  1. Texas sputtered to start the 2K Sports Classic and found themselves down six at the break. They went into locker room and proceeded to dominate the Hawkeyes in the second half 47-27 and won the game by 14. Perhaps the biggest headline to emerge from this is the status of sophomore point guard Isaiah Taylor who injured his left wrist late in the game. UT should take this injury seriously even if it is a minor one. Any time Taylor misses would be harmful to a team that has had its offensive woes. Rick Barnes told ESPN after the game that he asked Taylor “if I would kiss it to make it feel better, and he said it would. And I kissed it but I don’t guess it worked.” This brings up another important point: Kissing boo-boo’s heal when a mother is doing the kissing. Boo-boo kissing is a fruitless endeavor for fathers and/or Division I coaches. (Division II coaches? Maybe.) I don’t have much data supporting this hypothesis but I’m pretty sure it’s foolproof.
  2. West Virginia-George Mason was one of those games Thursday where I had to do a double take on its final score because the deficit was large. Yes, the Mountaineers beat the Patriots by 26 points. You could have missed the game, looked at the final stats and concluded that the Patriots made this loss greater than it should have been. The Patriots turned the ball over 24 times compared to WVU’s 12 and missed 16 of their 32 free throws. This isn’t to say that George Mason would have won the game (they wouldn’t have) but I am saying they did more things to hurt themselves than to help. Kudos to the ‘Eers for capitalizing on their mistakes and for also getting back to winning games Huggy’s way (11 more offensive rebounds than GMU). A great thing about these tournaments is that we’ll get a better frame of reference of teams’ long-term success afterwards. The deeper WVU advances, the more serious I’ll take them as an at-large bid.
  3. So…are we gonna talk about Oklahoma’s massive collapse at Creighton on Wednesday night? When Ryan Spangler hit a three to bump the Sooner lead to 18 early in the second half, Creighton called timeout and I turned the game off. It was remarkable to see the Sooners start the way they did in a notoriously loud building like the Qwest Center is. But Creighton came out of the timeout and upped their defensive pressure on the Sooners. Soon, the game began to swing in the Bluejays’ favor. Oklahoma won’t see a crowd like this one until it plays Kansas and Iowa State in conference action. At least there’s time enough time between now and then to fix those problems.
  4. The Lawrence Journal-World’s post-mortem of Tuesday’s Kentucky-Kansas points out one very big advantage for the Wildcats: Kentucky was bigger. It’s an obvious point Tom Keegan makes but the Wildcats are going to have the best frontcourt in the game every time it steps on a basketball floor. The closest resemblance to a Kentucky team in the Big 12 is Texas but I don’t think size poses much of a problem across the league. Most teams aren’t Texas and don’t have the size that the Longhorns possess. I wouldn’t freak out too much, Kansas fans.
  5. Two future neutral-court fields were announced on Thursday. The 2015 edition of the Charleston Classic’s headliner will be the reigning ACC champion Virginia but otherwise doesn’t generate much interest. The rest of the field is made up of Oklahoma State from the Big 12, Ole Miss, Bradley, George Mason, Towson, Long Beach State and Seton Hall. Meanwhile, the 2015 Puerto Rico Tip-Off will bring in Texas Tech, Miami, Mississippi State, Butler, Missouri State, Utah, Minnesota and Temple. The possibilities for games here are more intriguing than Charleston. Utah and Miami appear to be likely NCAA Tournament teams this season, Fran Dunphy and Temple usually put good teams together and the potential for a Tubby Smith vs his old school match-up will turn a few heads. This will be a good field.
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Big 12 M5: Still Awake For the Marathon Edition

Posted by Nate Kotisso on November 18th, 2014

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  1. Ah yes, it’s that wonderful time of the year when the Los Angeles Athletic Club releases its annual preseason top 50 for the Wooden Award. We’ll have more on this later this morning, but the Big 12 is well-represented with 10 players making the list. As important as the organization wants us to think the Wooden Award is, it really doesn’t mean all that much to college basketball fans and it means even less to those who start watching games in March. Also, why is a preseason list being released during the regular season? Doesn’t that defeat the purpose of the whole thing? Last year’s preseason list didn’t have Nick Johnson, Tyler Ennis, Nik Stauskas or Casey Prather on it, but lo and behold, there they were, announced as four of the Wooden Award finalists in March. Yesterday, our Chris Stone summed up this lunacy quite clearly in fewer than 140 characters. The solution: Throw out the preseason list and stick with announcing the 15 finalists in March. It’ll save us all a lot of grief.
  2. The NCAA announced the sites and hosts for its early and regional rounds of the NCAA Tournament from 2016-18, and the Big 12 Conference will serve as an official host in each of those years. In 2016, Oklahoma City’s Chesapeake Energy Arena will be home to first and second round games; in 2017, Kansas City is welcomed back to NCAA Tournament duties as the Sprint Center hosts the Midwest Regional; in 2018, Dallas’ American Airlines Center will be the home of first and second round match-ups. This doesn’t even include Iowa State hosting a site for 2016 first and second round games in nearby Des Moines. The last early or regional round hosted by a Big 12 school or the conference itself was in 2013, but now we’ll be getting three years in a row within the league’s footprint beginning in 2016. Season ticket holders, rejoice.
  3. Baylor made quick work of McNeese State in its season opener on Friday night, 80-39. The Bears’ two transfers, Deng Deng and Lester Medford, made instant impacts for their team, combining for 29 points on the night. But buried in the story, or the last sentence of this recap, is the news that Taurean Prince was suspended and did not play due to a violation of team rules. Outside of that, that’s all anyone seems to know. Whatever it is, the Waco media should probably look into it further.
  4. With West Virginia’s 2-0 start to the season, Bob Huggins has moved into 15th place on the all-time wins list in Division I men’s basketball history. Many think that this will be a bounce-back year for Huggins and West Virginia basketball, and after reviewing the Mountaineers’ numbers in their first two games, it might just be. West Virginia has shot the ball 66 more times than the opposition, scored 51 points off of 44 turnovers, and have 35 more rebounds. Granted, their competition level wasn’t very high with games against Monmouth and Lafayette, but those are similar to characteristics of past West Virginia teams that were regular participants in the NCAA Tournament. They’ve got to start somewhere.
  5. Kansas State also improved to 2-0 on the season with a nice win against UMKC on Monday. While that’s all fine and dandy, we must have another look at Brandon Bolden‘s blocked shot of Southern Utah’s John Marshall from over the weekend. It’s made its way around the web over the past few days and we at Rush The Court sincerely apologize for not commenting on this sooner. The block was so clean that it was dirty. Marshall took a spill on the floor afterward and Bolden leers at him, perhaps disappointed that he had to do Marshall like that. Go ahead, watch it a few hundred more times and create your own exposition of the play. It’s more fun that way.
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Big 12 M5: Halloween Edition (Boo!)

Posted by Nate Kotisso on October 31st, 2014

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  1. TCU made some recruiting news earlier in the week as 2015 recruit Jalon Miller gave his verbal commitment to the Horned Frogs on Sunday. Miller, a 6’8″ four-star small forward (according to ESPN) from Seagonville High School in the Dallas area, is the first pledge in that class for head coach Trent Johnson. Getting a verbal from Miller is huge for Johnson on two levels: 1) Miller is a pretty good player; and 2) Miller saying ‘yes’ to TCU sends a message to other top prospects in the Metroplex that the Horned Frogs are to be taken seriously in recruiting. Think about it: Talented players are pledging to schools like TCU and SMU. Welcome to 2014.
  2. For two seasons at Baylor, Isaiah Austin and Cory Jefferson were together a lot on and off the basketball floor. When Austin announced to the world that Marfan’s Syndrome would end his NBA career before it had a chance to begin, Jefferson decided to make sure that he and his college teammate would always be on the floor together. Jefferson, of course, was the final pick in June’s NBA Draft, eventually made the Nets’ final roster, and contributed eight points and two rebounds in his NBA debut Tuesday with Austin in attendance. This might be the best non-LeBron story of NBA’s opening week.
  3. Oklahoma guard Isaiah Cousins was in his hometown of Mount Vernon, New York, in late May when he was shot in the shoulder. Miraculously, Cousins was fully participating in practice less than a month later. Cousins opened up on his experience for the first time since everything went down, saying that doctors decided to leave the bullet in his shoulder simply because it’s lodged in between his shoulders and can’t really move. Opposing coaches will now be forced to add “superhero” to Cousins’ scouting report. You’d be foolish not to.
  4. West Virginia might be the most fascinating team in the Big 12 this season. Since arriving in the conference, they’ve been a big disappointment, and my wandering mind has wondered about how much job security Bob Huggins has. He’s done a lot of winning and he’s a native son in Morgantown, but how much will it take athletic director Oliver Luck to consider making a change at the top of his men’s basketball program? Fortunately for everyone involved, that’s probably not a decision that will need to be made. Huggins has perhaps his most talented team since joining the Big 12 and can put those matters to bed with a run to the NCAA Tournament in 2014-15.
  5. Bill Self and his some of his coaching staff did a very cool thing for Kansas students on Thursday. Self went to the Underground, an on-campus food court, and bought lunch for everybody there. Eventually, word got around campus through social media and students flocked because there was free food. There isn’t much Self has to do win the favor of the students because of all the winning he’s been able to do on the floor. But now, even the few Kansas students who don’t watch Jayhawks basketball can’t find beef with him because, dude, he just bought y’all lunch.
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Ranking the Big 12’s 2015 Big Monday Games

Posted by Nate Kotisso on August 12th, 2014

ESPN and the Big 12 Conference released the schedule for their 2015 Big Monday slate of games on Monday afternoon with a small twist. On March 2, 2015, the last Big Monday of the regular season, ESPN will select between two Big 12 games to put in its 9:00 PM time slot. The two options will be Baylor-Texas and Oklahoma-Iowa State, with the less interesting game airing on ESPNU. Most of the usual conference suspects are featured in this year’s slate, including Kansas, Oklahoma and Iowa State, each of which can make up to four appearances. Texas will make up to three Monday games while Baylor, Kansas State and West Virginia will each be on once at the most.

FINALLY SOME HOOPS STUFF TO TALK ABOUT (Big 12 Conference)

FINALLY SOME HOOPS STUFF TO TALK ABOUT (Big 12 Conference)

Now to some numbers. The 2013 version of this schedule featured eight conference members, which included three games involving West Virginia, leading to forgettable match-ups against Kansas, Texas and Kansas State. Consequently, last year’s Big Monday schedule was tightened to just six teams and ESPN/Big 12 is following a similar format for 2015. Also worthy of note: Baylor, a Sweet Sixteen team just five months ago, finds itself with just one *maybe* Big Monday date against the Longhorns. Meanwhile, Kansas State boasts Marcus Foster, one of the most exciting point guards in America, and somehow gets only one game. Another NCAA Tournament team from 2014, Oklahoma State, was left off the schedule altogether.

The only thing left to do now is to hopelessly rank each game from worst to best. This will almost assuredly be used against me in the future. Enjoy it, Internet!

8. Kansas at West Virginia on February 16, 2015

Outlook: All respect to the Mountaineers fans out there, but I can’t figure out why West Virginia made it on the schedule. They finished one game above the .500 mark at 17-16 last year, and two of their top three scorers in 2013-14 — Eron Harris (17.2 PPG) and Terry Henderson (11.7) — decided to transfer to Michigan State and NC State, respectively. Juwan Staten is the only name you might recognize but WVU will have to count on guys who played sparingly last season or are waiting to become eligible. But you’ll watch this game anyway. You’ll tune in either to see Cliff Alexander and Kelly Oubre fly around the court or to hear the TV announcer say, “Here comes Billydee Williams, checking in for the Mountaineers!” (I fall into the latter category.)

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Big 12 M5: 03.05.14 Edition

Posted by Nate Kotisso on March 5th, 2014

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  1. Through the first 16 games conference play, Baylor amazingly played themselves out of and back into contention for a spot in the NCAA Tournament. Now it appears their at-large candidacy is all but sewn up by beating Iowa State 74-61 on Senior Night in Waco. Fittingly, Baylor seniors Brady Heslip (18 points, 5-for-8 from three) and Cory Jefferson (21 points, seven boards and two blocks) led the way and helped the Bears improve to 8-9 in the Big 12. How’s this for patterns: Baylor has made every even-numbered tournament year since 2008. Why mess with happy?
  2. On the heels of Senior Night, the Waco Tribune dove in to the story of fifth-year senior Cory Jefferson. It might sound hard to believe but Jefferson was a freshman on the 2010 Elite Eight team with guys like LaceDarius Dunn (!!) and Tweety Carter (!!!). You can tell Jefferson is a patient guy: he was willing to redshirt his sophomore season, stay on the team despite playing ten minutes per game in 2011-12 and then decided to put the NBA on hold to complete his college career in 2013. Now with a likely tournament bid and potential NBA career nearing, Jefferson is reaping the benefits of making the decision to stay in Waco.
  3. BREAKING: Bill Self is happy about something for once. The Kansas coach is looking forward to tonight’s Senior Night festivities when his Jayhawks take on Texas Tech in Lawrence. KU plans to honor Tarik Black, Justin Wesley and Niko Roberts and here Self is quite vivid about his feelings for these players. For whatever reason, folks have negatively chimed in about the team not properly “celebrating” the program’s tenth straight Big 12 title last week. At least on this night, something worth celebrating will be celebrated. Congrats to the Jayhawk seniors.
  4. Quietly, Oklahoma is after some valuable real estate on the final week of the regular season. The Sooners sit in second at 10-6 in the Big 12, tied with Texas but OU owns the tiebreak over UT by virtue of their season sweep. They will host West Virginia tonight and wrap-up the schedule against winless TCU on Saturday. It’s amazing to think that the coaches picked Oklahoma to tie for fifth in the preseason poll with Kansas State but are now on the verge of finishing right behind Kansas. It would mark the first time that had happened since Blake Griffin’s sophomore season in 2009. It’s looking more and more like Lon Kruger emerging as the favorite for conference COY.
  5. It’s now or never time for West Virginia. What WVU need to show the NCAA Selection Committee in the next ten days is that a) they can win games consistently, b) win games against quality opponents and c) win games against quality opponents away from home. They’ll get a chance to do all three starting in Norman tonight, Kansas at home Saturday and during next week’s Big 12 Tournament in Kansas City. But all of that starts with the type of effort the team gets from leading scorer Eron Harris. Harris is a statistical oddity for a team’s top scorer: the Mountaineers are a surprising 3-7 when Harris scores 20 or more and just 2-4 in Big 12 games. Simply put WVU will need all hands to squeeze in an eighth Big 12 squad into the Big Dance.
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Big 12 M5: 03.04.14 Edition

Posted by Nate Kotisso on March 4th, 2014

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  1. Senior Night did not disappoint the Oklahoma State faithful on Monday. The Cowboys added another RPI top-50 win, defeating Kansas State 77-61 in Stillwater. Markel Brown had a stat-sheet stuffer kind of night with 15 points, five rebounds, five assists, three steals and two blocks. Fellow “senior” Marcus Smart scored 16 of his 18 points in the second half. This comes roughly 48 hours after Smart poured in 20 in the final 20 minutes of Saturday’s win against Kansas. Despite Gallagher-Iba Arena’s full capacity being 13,611, the estimated attendance for last night’s game was just 9,500. And that was with the help of OSU students getting in free with student IDs. Come on, y’all could have done better than that.
  2. Smart’s big second half against the Jayhawks propelled the Pokes to a huge win Saturday and now his third Big 12 POTW award of the season. We also can’t argue with Smart’s performance versus TCU last Monday, nailing five threes on his way to 17 points. With the year Iowa State’s DeAndre Kane is also having, it feels like he’s taking some kind of hardware every week. Kane averaged 20.5 points, 9.5 rebounds and 4.5 rebounds per game to win Big 12 NOTW while recording his sixth double-double of the season in a win over West Virginia. This marks the sixth week in which Kane has won player or newcomer of the week honors this season. I hope we can see both these guys play professionally.
  3. We have an update in our continuing coverage of Backgate 2014: Kansas coach Bill Self announced that center Joel Embiid will not play in the last two regular season games as he rests a back injury he re-aggravated in Saturday’s loss to Oklahoma State. Self said an MRI was done on Embiid’s lower back and the staff came to the conclusion that “rest is the best remedy.” They plan on evaluating Embiid again before the Big 12 Tournament, and are open to sitting him longer if he’s still feeling tightness, but Self doesn’t see it getting to that point. Now we’ll likely get a look at senior Tarik Black, whose starting spot was taken by Embiid earlier in the season. Let’s see if he’s got any more Mozgov dunks left in him.
  4. It’s been a nice comeback season for Rick Barnes and Texas basketball but since a 9-3 start in Big 12 play, the Horns have dropped three of their last four games. Granted, all of those were roadies against likely NCAA Tournament teams but it’s not exactly encouraging if you weren’t competitive in two of those games. “I thought our guards were too tentative,” Barnes said. Even with the emergence of sophomore Cameron Ridley as a consistent contributor, Barnes expected more from his guards. “I told those guys [the guards], you should be out there playing H-O-R-S-E, because everyone is guarding him.” Barnes knows that this is just one of the many speed bumps you reach when you’re coaching an inexperienced yet hungry basketball team. Mistakes will be made but so will the corrections.
  5. It seemed like the bubble talk around West Virginia has cooled in the last 10 days or so but the West Virginia Gazette is still holding out hope for an at-large bid. The reality is the Big 12 likely has six teams that make good cases for at-larges and may have seven if Baylor takes care of business this week. Despite an 8-8 conference record, WVU lacks quality road wins in Big 12 play; have a mix of missed opportunities in non-conference play (vs. Gonzaga, Wisconsin, at Missouri); bad losses (at Virginia Tech, vs. Purdue) and not-so-hot computer numbers (RPI: #89, SOS: #55). An eighth bid from West Virginia probably won’t come unless the Mountaineers were to win out this week and make it to the final of the Big 12 championship game. But hey, stranger things have happened…
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Who Won The Week? Louisville, Marcus Smart, Michigan and The Citadel…

Posted by Kenny Ocker (@kennyocker) on February 28th, 2014

wonweekWho Won the Week? is a regular column that outlines and discusses three winners and losers from the previous week of hoops. The author of this column is Kenny Ocker (@KennyOcker), a Spokane-based sportswriter best known for his willingness to drive (or bike!) anywhere to watch a basketball game.

We’ve got more to get to here than usual, so we’ve got a special extended-yet-abbreviated edition of WWTW on tap today.

WINNER: Louisville

Russ Smith won Louisville's game over Cincinnati on Saturday with a late jumper. (AP)

Russ Smith won Louisville’s game over Cincinnati on Saturday with a late jumper. (AP)

Your defending national champions – remember them? – are rolling at just the right time in the season. They went into Cincinnati and handed the Bearcats their first home loss of the season Saturday, 58-57, with a Russ Smith dagger – remember him? – then followed that up by blowing out woebegone Temple 88-66 on Thursday.

Sophomore Cardinals forward Montrezl Harrell thrived this past week, as he has since the dismissal of Chane Behanan, scoring 21 points in both games. Going forward, the Cardinals have games left at Memphis and SMU, followed by a home game against Connecticut. Though they’re tied with Cincinnati at the top of the American and on a seven-game winning streak, we’ll know much more about Louisville by the time the conference tournament rolls around.

(Related winners: Smith; Harrell. Related losers: Cincinnati, which squandered its chance at an outright AAC championship by losing at home; Temple, which had its first 20-loss season in school history thanks to Louisville.)

LOSER: Saint Louis

The Billikens, which had been one of America’s last four teams undefeated in conference, took one of the most befuddling losses of the whole season, falling 71-64 on Thursday to a Duquesne team that had won four Atlantic 10 games in Jim Ferry’s two seasons in Pittsburgh. What had been one of the nation’s top 10 shooting defenses gave up an effective field goal rate of 50.7 percent, including 14-0f-18 shooting and 7-of-9 three-pointers by Dukes guards Micah Mason and Jerry Jones. And against one of the nation’s 10 worst defenses vs. three-point shooting, Saint Louis only made 4-of-23 shots from beyond the arc. The Billikens have a top-five defense nationally according to KenPom.com, but their offense ranks 169th in efficiency. Then again, defense wins championships, right?

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Big 12 Power Rankings: Texas Tech Relishing Spoiler Role Edition

Posted by Nate Kotisso on February 17th, 2014

We’re nine days removed from The Shove Heard ‘Round the World but if you look close enough, something good did come out of that. With help from Tech’s athletic department, Red Raider fans sold out United Spirit Arena that night and stormed the floor as their Red Raiders scored an upset win over the Cowboys but they didn’t stop there. Last Wednesday night saw Tech go stormin’ into Norman and shock Oklahoma on their home floor. On Saturday they made things close at Iowa State before the Cyclones pulled away late, winning by six. But what does it all mean? It means opponents can’t pencil in Tech as a win anymore. TTU’s five conference wins are already the most since the 2010-11 season, the last of Pat Knight’s tenure. With Tubby Smith’s hiring making him the fourth Texas Tech coach in as many seasons, it must be swell for Red Raider fans knowing their program is finally moving in the right direction. And now our rankings:

Tubby Smith has guided the Red Raiders to five conference wins, the most since 2010-11. (Justin Hayworth/Associated Press)

Tubby Smith has guided the Red Raiders to five conference wins, the most since the 2010-11 season. (Justin Hayworth/Associated Press)

1. Kansas — 4 points (previous: 1st; All voted KU first)

Comment: “Kansas better be careful this week. They’ll have Texas coming into Lawrence for the rematch on Saturday but the Jayhawks can’t overlook those pesky Red Raiders on the road tomorrow. Classic trap game.” – Nate Kotisso (@natekotisso)

2. Texas — 8 points (previous: 2nd; All voted UT second)

Comment: “The Longhorns outscored the Cowboys and Mountaineers by a staggering 0.26 points per possession. However, both games were at home. Texas now stares down a stretch of three roadies in four games, and the locations couldn’t be any less desirable for them: Allen Fieldhouse, Hilton Coliseum and the Lloyd Noble Center.” – Brian Goodman (@BSGoodman)

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Big 12 Power Rankings: Implosion in Stillwater Edition

Posted by Nate Kotisso on February 10th, 2014

How was your weekend?

Because it wasn’t such a great one for anyone affiliated with Oklahoma State’s men’s basketball program. Marcus Smart’s three-game suspension was handed down on Sunday, meaning the potential lottery pick will be unavailable in a crucial contest Tuesday at Texas followed by grudge matches against Oklahoma and Baylor. Lost in all the Marcus Smart-Jeff Orr confrontation talk and ESPN’s redundant wall-to-wall coverage of it is the future of Cowboys’ head coach Travis Ford. It wouldn’t surprise me if he were a nervous wreck with all the pressure — lofty preseason expectations; the injury of a key inside player; dismissal of another guy; and now this. Ford seemed to get choked up during his press conference on Sunday while defending his star guard’s character, but that isn’t the only reason he almost lost it in front of the assembled media. He knows that his job is in jeopardy. And that’s a hard thing to swallow as a coach — knowing that you are expected to win now and things aren’t working out in your favor. Our weekly Big 12 power rankings continue on, regardless.

Travis Ford and Marcus Smart share the weight of a basketball program on their shoulders. (Tori Eichberger/AP Photo)

Travis Ford and Marcus Smart share the weight of a basketball program on their shoulders. (Tori Eichberger/AP Photo)

1. Kansas — 4 points (previous: 1st; Brian, Kory, Nate & Taylor-1st)

Comment: “The Jayhawks weren’t going to go undefeated in the Big 12 and they’ll likely lose at least one more game. But with a two-game lead on Texas with eight games to go, their 10th consecutive conference title is almost in the bag.” – Kory Carpenter (@Kory_Carpenter)

2. Texas — 8 points (previous: 2nd; Brian, Kory, Nate & Taylor-2nd)

Comment: “Similar to the way Texas manhandled Kansas last weekend, it wasn’t surprising that the Longhorns lost but it was surprising to see just how badly Kansas State took it to them.  Home games this week against a struggling Oklahoma State team and West Virginia are big before road trips to Ames and Lawrence next week.” – Taylor Erickson (@tc_erickson)

3. Iowa State — 13 points (previous: 3rd; Brian, Nate & Taylor-3rd, Kory-4th)

Comment: “Lost in the shuffle of everything Marcus Smart was Melvin Ejim’s career day against TCU. I’m just going to leave this shot chart of his here.” (h/t to CBSSports.com) – Brian Goodman (@BSGoodman)

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Who Won the Week? Two Undefeated Teams, But Certainly Not The Third…

Posted by Kenny Ocker (@KennyOcker) on February 7th, 2014

wonweek

Who Won the Week? is a regular column that outlines and discusses three winners and losers from the previous week of hoops. The author of this column is Kenny Ocker (@KennyOcker), a Spokane-based sportswriter best known for his willingness to drive (or bike!) anywhere to watch a basketball game.

WINNER: Wichita State

Cleanthony Early was outstanding for the Shockers. (AP)

Cleanthony Early was outstanding this week for the Shockers. (AP)

The nation’s winningest team cleared its toughest conference hurdle Wednesday night in defeating Indiana State in Terre Haute, led by senior forward Cleanthony Early’s 19 points. From here on, the Shockers have better than 50 percent odds to go undefeated in the regular season, according to KenPom.com, and about 35 percent odds to make it to the NCAA Tournament unblemished. Wichita State’s reign over the Missouri Valley has been so strong this year that only two teams – Missouri State and Indiana State – have even finished within 10 points of them. Tomorrow’s game at Northern Iowa is the toughest remaining tilt for the Shockers, which also sandblasted Evansville 81-67 last Saturday.

(Related winners: Gregg Marshall, whose stock will never be higher, even if he never wants to leave; the Missouri Valley, which is certain to get some more NCAA Tournament win shares, even without Creighton in the conference. Related losers: Indiana State, the MVC”s second-best team, which probably has to win Arch Madness to make the NCAAs; Evansville, perpetually anonymous in purple.)

LOSER: Arizona

Of the triumvirate of teams that came into last weekend undefeated, only two came out unscathed. Unfortunately for the Wildcats, they weren’t one of them. Their road trip to California, the toughest game left on their schedule at that point, turned out to be undone by a last-second jumper from Golden Bears’ guard Justin Cobbs over center Kaleb Tarczewski, giving Cal a 60-58 win. That news was bad enough, but worse was what came after — that sophomore forward Brandon Ashley, a starter, had broken his foot during the game and would be out for the season. In Thursday’s 67-65 win over Oregon, Arizona looked disjointed offensively and saw star freshman Aaron Gordon injure his leg in a game in which he made just 2-of-11 free throws. The Wildcats actually trailed the disintegrating Ducks with just 90 seconds left before point guard T.J. McConnell made a three-pointer that gave them the lead for good. Sean Miller only played seven players, even accounting for Gordon’s injury, and its lack of depth could be problematic should more injuries arise or should fouls accumulate. It’s a shame to see this happen because a full-strength Arizona team looked to be head and shoulders above all but a few others around the country.

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Big 12 M5: 02.06.14 Edition

Posted by Nate Kotisso on February 6th, 2014

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  1. Last night was the zillionth reason why winning a road game in the Big 12 is a you-know-what. Oklahoma arrived at WVU Coliseum to face West Virginia about 90 minutes before tip-off due to winter weather and still managed to stay in the game. The Mountaineers held the lead for much of the game but a three-point play from Ryan Spangler gave the Sooners a one-point advantage with 1:38 left. That’s when Eron Harris started making all the three-pointers: one that sent the game to overtime with 20.2 seconds left, and two more to put the game away for good. The Mountaineers now have wins against Baylor (losing luster), Kansas State and the Sooners in their last three games. But as we all know, the NCAA Tournament won’t be played at your home arena. A win at Kansas on Saturday would really send a message.
  2. Kansas center Joel Embiid said after its win at Baylor that he is “strongly considering” returning to campus for his sophomore season. The obvious part about this story is how much of this is a non-story. This is as pointless as reporters asking players whether they’re leaving for the NBA mere minutes after their season just ended. But I totally get why ESPN’s Jeff Goodman asked Embiid about his future: He’s gotta write about something, and Lord knows nobody else is asking the question to likely draft picks in early February. Goodman has already cornered the market for the answer from the potential top pick in this June’s draft. Game recognize game, Jeffrey.
  3. Marcus Smart was considered a consensus lottery pick in the 2013 NBA Draft but elected to return to Oklahoma State for his sophomore season. In addition to a possible injury as a downside to coming back to school, Smart’s game is being scouted, analyzed and criticized more than ever before. NBCSports.com’s Rob Dauster brings forth several compelling points about Smart’s poor decision-making at times and how a lack of awareness when it comes to his own strengths and weaknesses can hurt his team’s prospects this season. Beyond that, it could also hurt how NBA teams evaluate him when they’re deciding whether to make him their point guard of the future.
  4. CBSSports.com sat down with Texas head coach Rick Barnes this week and discussed his team’s surprising season, the new athletic director and some other things. One topic of conversation was center Cameron Ridley, who would get my vote for Big 12 Most Improved Player of the Year, if such an award existed. He was a player who was a project in every sense of the word and didn’t really have a set of skills when he stepped onto campus for the first time. Ridley was always an intimidating defender, but now he’s a better finisher around the rim and has vastly improved his conditioning (he has already played more minutes at this point in the season than all of 2012-13). Buzz Williams who?
  5. Former Baylor guard Pierre Jackson was drafted in the second round of last year’s NBA Draft but was subsequently cut from the New Orleans Pelicans in training camp. So now Jackson is venting all of his frustration of being cut on to the entire D-League. On Tuesday night, the Idaho Stampede guard dropped a ridiculous 58 points on 33 shots, grabbed six rebounds and dished out eight assists in a win over the Texas Legends. Jackson is also leading the D-League in points per game (30.2) so far. It’s only a matter time before an NBA team is wise enough to bring him up to the big time.
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Big 12 Power Rankings: West Virginia Back? Edition

Posted by Nate Kotisso on February 4th, 2014

Rewind to October 2011 when it was announced that West Virginia would become one of the Big 12’s newest members. Within the scope of college basketball, at least, it seemed like a home run addition to the Big 12. The Mountaineers were just a year removed from a Big East Tournament title and an appearance in the Final Four. Unfortunately the Mountaineers’ first season in the Big 12 was less than spectacular. In fact, Bob Huggins lost more games in 2012-13 than he had in any other year as head coach. But could WVU’s recent stretch of success be the breakthrough the program has waited for? Huggins’ team currently stands at 5-4 in the conference, with wins at Baylor and Kansas State in its back pocket and the second half of league play sitting before them. With Kansas, Oklahoma, Iowa State (twice), Texas, and Baylor next up on the schedule, we’ll see how serious this team’s at-large chances are. Below are this week’s rankings. If you disagree with us, let us know.

WVU's Juwan Staten just won Big 12 Player of the Week. He now joins the million other big time PGs in the Big 12. (Cooper Neill/Getty Images)

WVU’s Juwan Staten just won Big 12 Player of the Week. He now joins the million other big time PGs in the Big 12. (Cooper Neill/Getty Images)

1. Kansas — 3 points (previous: 1st; Brian, Nate & Taylor-1st)

Comment: “No one expected Kansas to run the table in the Big 12, but the effort at Texas on Saturday was a little concerning. As Bill Self said on Monday, the important thing is to not let one loss turn into two or three.” – Taylor Erickson (@tc_erickson)

2. Texas — 6 points (previous: 3rd; Brian, Nate & Taylor-2nd)

Comment: “While Rick Barnes is rightfully getting a boatload of attention for going from the hot seat to NCOY consideration, he wouldn’t be able to make that journey without vast improvements from Cameron Ridley and Jonathan Holmes, who were two keys to the Longhorns’ upset over Kansas. Texas was the only team that could match up well against Kansas’ size, and they executed about as well as Barnes could have asked.” – Brian Goodman (@BSGoodman) Read the rest of this entry »

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