Big 12 M5: 01.28.15 Edition

Posted by Chris Stone on January 28th, 2015

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  1. Texas once again struggled on Monday in an 89-86 loss at Iowa State. The Longhorns trailed by double digits for the majority of the game, but mounted a furious second half comeback that included hitting 10 three-pointers. The story of the game, though, was the failure of the Longhorns’ zone defense. Iowa State led by 11 at the end of the first half by using Georges Niang at the free throw line to consistently break down the zone. Texas has a massive front line, but when their bigs are slow in rotation, it creates open looks for opponents at the rim. Although the zone was effective in non-conference play, Big 12 opponents are scoring 100.9 points per 100 possessions against the Longhorns so far.
  2. TCU has only won a single conference game at this point in the season, but that hasn’t stopped opposing coaches from taking notice of the Horned Frogs’ improvements. Ahead of their matchup on Wednesday, Kansas coach Bill Self said, “We know this will be a much different team than we’ve seen in the last couple of years.” The numbers say he’s right. Jesse Newell of The Topeka Capital-Journal pointed out that TCU is the only team in the top 50 of Ken Pomeroy’s efficiency ratings this year that ranked outside of the top 200 last season. The Horned Frogs’ 24th ranked adjusted defensive efficiency is a major factor in their improvement.
  3. One major criticism of college basketball this season has been the slow pace of games. Rush the Court’s Andrew Murawa wrote this fine piece on the subject recently. Tuesday night’s game between West Virginia and Kansas State did very little to silence the critics. The Mountaineers won a two-and-a-half hour marathon 65-59. The game featured 45 turnovers, 54 fouls, and 64 free throws. Bob Huggins called it “beautiful,” but reactions on Twitter painted a different picture. It took 14 minutes to finish the final 1:07 of the game. Perhaps it’s time for those in charge to listen to some of Andrew’s proposals.
  4. Oklahoma State picked up a big win over Baylor on Tuesday night. The Cowboys are fighting for a spot in the NCAA Tournament, and big man Michael Cobbins will be an integral piece of the puzzle. Although Cobbins only scored six points against Baylor, he grabbed 11 rebounds as Oklahoma State held the Bears below their conference average for offensive boards in the victory. Cowboys’ head coach Travis Ford is hopeful, saying, “We’re waiting for him to really hit his stride, and I think he has it in him and he will at some point.” Cobbins can provide Oklahoma State with an inside presence that they otherwise lack, so his continued improvement after returning from last season’s injury is something worth following.
  5. One final, somber note. Tuesday marked the anniversary of the January 27, 2001 plane crash that killed two members of Oklahoma State men’s basketball team, six members of the team’s traveling party, the pilot, and co-pilot. The team wore pregame shirts honoring those who lost their lives and Gallagher-Iba held a moment of silence prior to Tuesday’s game. The Cowboys’ athletic department spent the day remembering the victims of the accident. Consider this this author’s attempt to humbly do the same. Remember the 10.
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Big 12 Power Rankings: Bill Self is Smarter Than Me/You/Us Edition

Posted by Nate Kotisso on January 27th, 2015

Time to dust off a familiar narrative: Kansas is in control of the Big 12. The narrative doesn’t require much dusting off, really. The Jayhawks have won a share of the Big 12 regular season title in each of the last 10 seasons. Maybe the narrative needs a gentle wipe with a dry napkin. Or light tap-tap-taps with a clean towel. But it all starts at the top with Bill Self, the mastermind behind the operation. He’s certainly lauded in Lawrence and around the country as one of the top coaches but this season, Self has received criticism from some fans who question how he sends messages to his players. He, like few coaches do, has a good read on every player on his roster. Perry Ellis, the team’s current leading scorer, was inconsistent for much of the season. In advance of his team’s showdown with Iowa State, Self said that Ellis needed to be more aggressive and “believe that he’s the best player on the floor every night.” In the three games since, Ellis is averaging 16.3 points, eight rebounds and shooting 19-of-37 from the floor.

This is what a coach can get away with when you dominate the Big 12 like Bill Self has done at Kansas. (Denny Medley/USA Today Sports)

This is what a coach can get away with when he dominates the Big 12 like Bill Self has done at Kansas. (Denny Medley/USA Today Sports)

In the Iowa State loss, fans didn’t understand why Self sat freshman Cliff Alexander for the final 14 minutes-plus of the second half. Self explained his reasoning for the move was Alexander’s lack of motor on a couple of plays early in the second half. In an important game with Big 12 title implications, it’s understandable for fans to wonder why that had to be done and at that particular time. But Self has no problem benching players if they’re not giving the effort he requires (see: Andrew Wiggins). In the two games since, Alexander recorded a double-double including a career-high in rebounds against Oklahoma (13) and scored a career-high 15 in a road win at Texas. Another season, another chance for Self to prove his worth as a future Hall of Fame coach. He’d have to stay away from videoboards, though. I think the Hall of Fame frowns on videoboard abuse.

Power Rankings

  1. Kansas — 3 points (All voted 1st). Comment: “Our Brian Goodman nailed KU’s gradual rise back into the driver’s seat (with bonus “Candy Shop” mention). They’re the number one team in the latest RPI in the number one ranked RPI conference with the strongest non-conference schedule among Big Five teams according to KenPom. Yes, they are in good shape. Thanks for asking!” – Nate Kotisso (@natekotisso)
  2. Iowa State — 6 points (All voted 2nd). Comment: “Last night’s win was closer than it should have been, but a bounce-back effort from the Texas Tech debacle keeps the Cyclones in second for another week. We’ll find out if they’re out of their offensive slump for good over their next two games when they take on TCU and Kansas, a pair of teams currently in the top half of the conference in defensive efficiency during Big 12 play.” – Brian Goodman (@BSGoodman)
  3. West Virginia — 11 points (Chris — 3rd, Brian & Nate — 4th) Comment: “The Mountaineers are an interesting case. They’ve got the worst effective defensive field goal percentage in the league, but they’re turning opponents over on 27 percent of their possessions. This week, they managed to hold serve at home by beating TCU in overtime.” – Chris Stone (@cstonehoops)
  4. Kansas State — 12 points (Nate — 3rd, Chris — 4th, Brian — 5th) Comment: “Although the Wildcats lost at Iowa State, they picked up a nice home win against Oklahoma State on Saturday. Bruce Weber’s team continues to improve their resume for March, but we’ll get a better sense of where his squad stands after games against West Virginia and Kansas this week.” – CS
  5. Texas — 16 points (Brian — 3rd, Chris — 6th, Nate — 7th) Comment: “If they were able to pull off the comeback shocker in Ames last night, they’re definitely in my personal top five. Beyond that, they blew a big opportunity by failing to beat Kansas in Austin on Saturday. Here was a team that most saw as the biggest challenger to Kansas to start the year but now are nearing the halfway point in league play with a sub .500 record.” – NK
  6. Baylor — 17 points (Chris & Nate — 5th, Brian — 7th) Comment: “Last Saturday, the Bears did something no Big 12 team has been able to do: Contain Buddy Hield. Five days after bringing the Sooners back from the dead against Kansas, Hield was held without a three-pointer for the first time all season on his way to a frustrating 6-17 outing and five turnovers. Kudos, Baylor defense.” – BG
  7. Oklahoma — 19 points (Brian & Nate — 6th, Chris — 7th) Comment: “Somehow, the Sooners maintained an AP top 25 ranking this week despite losing four of their last five. It will be interesting to see what Lon Kruger does with Isaiah Cousins who injured his wrist in Saturday’s game against Baylor. X-rays were negative and he is day-to-day but the OU coach should be careful about rushing an important piece back especially when they’re losing.” – NK
  8. Oklahoma State — 24 points (All voted 8th). Comment: “Although the Cowboys have the best defensive efficiency numbers in Big 12 play, they’re just 3-4 so far. They’ve got two big home games this week against Baylor and Oklahoma.” – CS
  9. TCU — 27 points (All voted 9th). Comment: “No longer a laughingstock, Trent Johnson’s team is playing hard and keeping things competitive to the point where they’re only one-point underdogs in Wednesday’s game against Kansas.” – BG
  10. Texas Tech — 30 points (All voted 10th). Comment: “Texas Tech is making a habit of winning games against teams they have no business beating. It happened again Saturday as the last-place Red Raiders beat the-then first-place Iowa State Cyclones in Lubbock. Next up on their schedule is a road game at Oklahoma on Wednesday night. TTU’s last road conference win was — you guessed it — Oklahoma last season.” – NK

Big 12 Video/GIF of the Week 

In a world where conference games have been sullied by realignment, it was nice to see two fans from two fan bases come together for absolute nonsense on national television. While there was a break in the action of Texas-Iowa State last night, ESPN went to a liveshot of Brent Musburger and Fran Fraschilla doing their thing. Behind them, a fan wearing an Iowa State logo (on the left) and a Texas fan (on the right, presumably) tried to have a little fun while they were on camera. (h/t Erin Sorensen)

https://vine.co/v/OTHm0XWX15p

This Vine leaves us with so many questions. Why is the Iowa State fan flashing Hook ‘em Horns? Why are they all of a sudden fist-bumping? Did these guys properly map out a plan of what they’ll do when they’re on camera? Of course they didn’t. That’s why this is great. Go Big 12, indeed.

Five Big 12 Games You Better Watch This Week

  1. Tuesday: West Virginia at Kansas State (6:00 PM CT, ESPN2)
  2. Tuesday: Baylor at Oklahoma State (8:00 PM CT, ESPNEWS)
  3. Wednesday: Kansas at TCU (8:00 PM CT, ESPNU)
  4. Saturday: Kansas State at Kansas (1:00 PM CT, ESPN)
  5. Saturday: Texas at Baylor (5:00 PM CT, ESPN2)
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Handicapping the Wooden Award Finalists

Posted by Bennet Hayes on January 21st, 2015

The Wooden Award released its midseason top 25 list last week. College basketball’s top individual honor will likely go to a player named on that list, but there’s still time for others (attention: Wichita State’s Fred VanVleet, Virginia’s Malcolm Brogdon and Syracuse’s Rakeem Christmas) to work their way into the picture. However, it’s also true that the field of real contenders for the award is thinning as we near February and March. RTC handicaps the race for the Wooden…

Jahlil Okafor, Duke. Odds To Win = 3/2.

Any national Player of the Year discussion must begin with Duke’s freshman sensation. Okafor’s averages of 18.6 points, 8.9 rebounds and 1.6 blocks per game begin to explain his value to the Blue Devils, but the impact of his presence runs much deeper than that. His steadiness (double-figure points in every game this season) has stabilized a Duke attack that was far more reliant on the three-point shot a season ago, while his unselfishness has helped the Duke guards find space on the perimeter. The presumptive top pick in next June’s NBA Draft has looked like the best player in college basketball from opening night, but an April coronation as the National Player of the Year will surely depend on Duke’s success. Balance has fueled the rise of other national title contenders (Kentucky and Virginia most notable among them), but there is no question that Okafor will continue to lead the Duke charge. Pole position has been well-earned: This is Okafor’s award to lose.

At The Midway Point Of The Season, Duke Freshman Jahlil Okafor Is The Frontrunner To Win The Wooden Award. (Photo Credit: Getty Images)

At The Midway Point Of The Season, Duke Freshman Jahlil Okafor Is The Frontrunner To Win The Wooden Award. (Getty)

Frank Kaminsky, Wisconsin. Odds To Win = 5/2.

Kaminsky nabbed the national spotlight last March with a show-stopping regional final performance against Arizona. He has not given it up since. ‘Frank the Tank’ is grabbing more rebounds (8.2 RPG this season), blocking more shots (1.8 BPG) and even handing out more assists (2.4 APG) than he did a year ago. The Wisconsin center has been outstanding all season, but his value to the Badgers may have been best exhibited in a 40 minute stint on the bench. As their star sat out with a concussion on January 11, Wisconsin fell to Rutgers in one of the most shocking results of the season. The loss showed just how important the versatile center has become for Bo Ryan’s team. A balanced Badgers’ lineup may pose some threat to Kaminsky’s Wooden Award chances, but that surrounding talent is also what’s made the his team legitimate national title contenders. And as Wisconsin chases that elusive championship, its versatile big man is making a serious push for the most prestigious of individual accolades.

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Big 12 M5: 01.16.15 Edition

Posted by Brian Goodman on January 16th, 2015

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  1. C.J. Moore of Bleacher Report wrote a great in-depth profile of Iowa State junior Georges Niang centered on how the big man developed the handles and arsenal that have made him a leader for the Cyclones. The new, slimmed-down version of Niang has been even more productive than last year’s and has been the central figure of Iowa State’s efficient offense. It was especially interesting to learn that Royce White, Iowa State’s last “hybrid,” was the one who pushed hardest for Fred Hoiberg to recruit Niang, whose “old man” game will be tested tomorrow night against an improving Kansas defense.
  2. Travis Ford‘s lengthy contract has drawn ire in recent years, but after a 12-4 start and a top-30 placement in the RPI, he isn’t sweating his job security. The Cowboys may not be in position to climb into the race among Kansas, Iowa State and West Virginia, but they’re more of a factor than they were anticipated, and they arguably have a better team than last year despite having less talent. As Jenni Carlson writes, Ford is in the midst of perhaps his best coaching job since he arrived on campus, and a lot of it is due to improved chemistry and a heightened belief in the greater good, particularly with Brian Williams and Kamari Murphy having transferred out.
  3. Bill Self spoke candidly about the struggles of Perry Ellis, which came to a head Tuesday when the junior had four early turnovers, leading to a prompt benching. Self suspects that the problem for Ellis is mental, as he still believes Ellis can be the Jayhawks’ go-to guy. Observers may counter that Frank Mason and Cliff Alexander fit that role better right now, and I agree, but in either case, it’s tough to picture Kansas making a deep run in March without Ellis playing a big part.
  4. The Wooden Award Midseason Top 25 List was released Thursday, and it included three of the Big 12’s best: Juwan Staten of West Virginia, Buddy Hield of Oklahoma and the aforementioned Niang. Oddly enough, the two leading scorers in the Big 12, Le’Bryan Nash and Phil Forte, were omitted.  It will take big second halves for Staten, Hield and Niang to rise into the elite tier that currently includes Jahlil Okafor, Frank Kaminsky, Delon Wright and Justin Anderson (in my opinion), but it’s always nice to see them get some recognition.
  5. The contrasting personnel of the athletic, fast-paced Mountaineers and the bulky, lengthy Longhorns will make for an interesting battle in Austin tomorrow. Texas is off to a slow start in conference play, but while they’re still formidable, it would be tough to imagine them getting back into the conference race with Kansas and Iowa State with a loss, which would run their conference record to 1-3. Isaiah Taylor has played a few games for Texas since coming back from a wrist injury, but his return hasn’t ignited the team as it was expected. On the other side of the ball, West Virginia will try to speed up Texas’ tempo with constant pressure, hoping that it will be another game before Taylor breaks out again.
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Big 12 M5: 01.14.15 Edition

Posted by Brian Goodman on January 14th, 2015

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  1. Kansas beat Oklahoma State last night in a messy, foul-plagued affair in Allen Fieldhouse, running its conference record to a clean 3-0. The Cowboys started off fast, but a scuffle between the two teams injected some fire into the game, and while not all of Oklahoma State’s struggles can be traced back to the incident, they didn’t look the same for the remainder of the night. The Cowboys came into the game ranked ninth in the country in defensive free throw rate, but sent the Jayhawks parading to the free throw line 46 times. On defense, the key for Kansas was shuffling their defensive assignment on Phil Forte so frequently that he had to be subbed out twice due to cramps from running through so many screens against fresh legs in hopes of getting open looks. For Kansas, the win sets up a huge meeting with Iowa State on Saturday at Hilton Coliseum, an environment the Jayhawks have found anything but comfortable in recent years.
  2. While Kansas has been able to win in spite of it, Perry Ellis‘ disappointing performance this season has been the elephant in the room. The junior played well enough last year to earn a spot on the preseason All-Big 12 team, and while he’s had his moments, he hasn’t made the leap on either end of the court. He’s regressed on defense and his inconsistent shooting has been frustrating to the point where it now sticks out among his peers. Of the six forwards and centers from the 2012 McDonald’s All-American class who are still in college and not sitting out the season with injuries, Ellis ranks dead last in effective field goal percentage at 44.2 percent. The next-closest player is Texas’ Cameron Ridley at 52.4 percent. As with all stats, you have to consider the context, which in this case includes Kansas’ tough non-league schedule, their hyper-competitive conference and the absence of a consistent big man who can draw enough defense away from Ellis to allow him to operate. It’s also fair to point out that the Jayhawks would have more than two losses without Ellis, but the fact remains that he’s looked lost way more than he should for someone with as much experience as he has (Tuesday marked his 53rd career start). As someone who was rightfully expected to help lead the Jayhawks to their 11th straight conference title, there’s still time for Ellis to right the ship — he plays in the same program that developed the Morris twins and Thomas Robinson into first round draft picks, after all — but his production to this point has been very disconcerting.
  3. West Virginia used its unique brand of havoc to give Oklahoma their second straight loss as they hammered the Sooners by 21 points in Morgantown. The Mountaineers sped the Sooners’ offense up, forcing 22 turnovers, which is the one more than the number of shots Oklahoma made from the field. The win gives West Virginia by far its best victory of the season, and with their next four games coming against Texas, TCU, Kansas State and Texas Tech, they have a great opportunity to string even more wins together to keep pace at the top of the conference. What should scare those four teams the most is that the Mountaineers only got four points from Juwan Staten last night, though he did dish out eight assists against just one turnover.
  4. While they weren’t in action last night, it’s worth taking a deeper look at Kansas State‘s chances to get back to the NCAA Tournament. While they still don’t look very good in a vacuum, the relative lack of opportunities for the teams they’ll likely be compared to by the selection committee could give them an edge. A .500 trip through conference play, provided the Wildcats don’t get stung by TCU and Texas Tech (they’ve already taken care of TCU once), could be enough to put them in position to only need a single win in the Big 12 Tournament. Obviously, there’s plenty of room for improvement and we’re still eight weeks away from Selection Sunday, but whether the Wildcats make up the grounded needed to get back to the dance will be an interesting storyline.
  5. Iowa State faces an important game on the road against Baylor tonight, and while the Cyclones will have their hands full with the Bears’ overpowering interior, the lack of a traditional backup point guard could give them some trouble as well. As Travis Hines writes, Monte Morris has had to shoulder a big workload this year, and head coach Fred Hoiberg hasn’t been comfortable putting Clayton Custer into pressure situations. Until that changes, look for Georges Niang to continue to initiate offense when Morris needs to take a breather , but the emergence of another option to help conserve his minutes would serve the Cyclones well in the long term.
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Big 12 Weekend Look-Ahead

Posted by Brian Goodman on January 9th, 2015

It’s a full Saturday in the Big 12 this weekend, with five games on the schedule spaced throughout the day. Let’s take a look at each, digging into what’s on the line during conference play’s second weekend.

  • Iowa State at West Virginia (8:00 ET) – The last time the Cyclones met the Mountaineers in Morgantown, an otherwise disappointing West Virginia team blew the doors off of Iowa State with a 25-point win. In the closing minutes, if you recall, Dustin Hogue let emotions get the best of him as he karate-kicked Nathan Adrian, causing former Mountaineer Eron Harris to respond by punching Monte’ Morris in the neck. This year, Bob Huggins’ team is fueled by a more controlled brand of chaos (not that scuffles like last year’s were regular occurrences), and it just so happens that Iowa State is in a mini-funk, having scored just 0.86 points per possession over its last two games. West Virginia has already brushed off Texas Tech and TCU, so this will mark the reinvented Mountaineers’ first game against a Big 12 team on their level both in overall effectiveness and pace. The best game of the day should make for a fun nightcap.
Bryce Dejean-Jones will try to dig Iowa State out of an offensive slump Saturday. (Cyclones.com)

Bryce Dejean-Jones will try to dig Iowa State out of an offensive slump Saturday. (Cyclones.com)

  • Texas at Oklahoma State (5:00 ET) – The Longhorns are talented and cohesive enough this season that Monday’s drubbing by Oklahoma should probably just be chalked up as a fluke, but it did underscore some questions about Rick Barnes’ roster. Isaiah Taylor is getting re-acclimated to the team (and vice versa) after returning from his wrist injury, and while the frontcourt is very deep it is also penetrable, at least until Myles Turner becomes a stronger defensive presence in the low post. I wrote in last week’s conference catch-up that Oklahoma State didn’t make much progress in its non-conference slate, but the Cowboys have since easily handled Kansas State at home and limited Iowa State’s offense at Hilton Coliseum (despite a loss). It’s therefore safe to stay that they’ve taken some steps in the right direction. Will they keep it up and notch what would be — to this point — their best win of the season? Tune in Saturday evening to find out.
  • Kansas State at Oklahoma (7:00 ET) – After a brief stay, Marcus Foster is out of Bruce Weber’s doghouse and it couldn’t come at a more important time. A win at Oklahoma, while impressive, wouldn’t undo all the harm the Wildcats have brought on themselves so far, but they need to get moving if they want to get back in the picture for an at-large bid. Wednesday’s win over TCU started a stretch when five of their next seven games will be played at home, so there will be plenty of opportunities to start making waves before desperation hits. Meanwhile, Oklahoma has clearly surged ahead of Texas as the top challenger to end Kansas’ reign of dominance with a decisive win over the Longhorns on Monday, so this is a game they should win decisively if they’re the dark horse Final Four contender some are claiming.

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Big 12 M5: New Year’s Eve Edition

Posted by Brian Goodman on December 31st, 2014

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  1. Figuring out how best to utilize his team’s athleticism has been one of Kansas head coach Bill Self‘s biggest challenges this season, but he made a concerted effort to allow his Jayhawks to push the pace in transition during a 78-62 win over Kent State last night. After mustering just 18 points in the paint against Temple last week, Kansas scored 44 from that area on Tuesday. The adjustment (dare we call it a tweak?) also led to Cliff Alexander becoming more active, and as a result, more productive than we’ve seen in recent weeks. Kelly Oubre also continued his stellar play with four three-pointers on his way to a second 20-point performance in three games. The lefty finally appears to have a solid grip on one of the wing spots, which is a big step in the team’s development. The Jayhawks host UNLV in their final non-league game on Saturday before Big 12 play revs up, so it will be interesting to see if they keep the new look.
  2. Oklahoma State spent the first six weeks of the season putting together a decent resume with wins over Tulsa and Memphis away from Gallagher-Iba Arena, but they nearly negated that good will in a close call against Missouri in Kansas City last night. Up three with eight seconds remaining in regulation, Travis Ford instructed his team to foul in order to prevent Missouri from attempting a game-tying three, but they didn’t catch the Tigers in time and Tramaine Isbell sank a three-pointer at the buzzer to send the game to overtime. Faced with the same scenario in the closing seconds of the extra period, Oklahoma State successfully fouled Johnathan Williams to send him to the line for a pair of free throws, but the Cowboys failed to rebound the intentional miss on the back end. Luckily, DeAngelo Hall missed a close look at the buzzer and Oklahoma State escaped with the victory. We’ll have more on the Cowboys later today, but it looks like they’ll be involved in more than their fair share of close finishes this season, which means their NCAA Tournament fate could lie in the hands of a whistle here or a lucky bounce there.
  3. To this point, Baylor hasn’t been a very good shooting team, instead deriving a lot of their offense from second-chance points, but in their final tune-up before Big 12 play, the Bears got hot to the tune of a 68.8 percent shooting performance in the second half en route to a 92-51 drubbing of Norfolk State. Royce O’Neale led Baylor with 23 points on just nine shots thanks to a 5-of-6 effort from beyond the arc and Rico Gathers notched his sixth double-double of the season with 13 points and 11 rebounds. There isn’t much to take away from a beatdown over Norfolk State, but if Baylor can find a way to keep up a more consistent level of shooting in conference play, they likely won’t have to scramble in late February to make the NCAA Tournament the way they’ve had to in recent years.
  4. In their last game of the non-conference season, West Virginia overcame a sloppy first half filled with turnovers and fouls and turned their game against Virginia Tech into an 82-51 rout. The Mountaineers locked down the Hokies during a huge run during which Buzz Williams’ team scored just four points over a span of 10 minutes and 23 seconds. West Virginia wraps up non-league play with a 12-1 record and they’re far and away the most improved team in the Big 12, featuring an exciting defense and a potent (if sometimes unorganized) offense led by one of the best all-around players in the conference, Juwan Staten.
  5. On Monday afternoon, Texas struggled but ultimately pulled away in a 66-55 win over Rice. The most troubling sign for the Longhorns was that 6’7″ Rice junior Seth Gearhart gave Texas’ vaunted frontcourt a lot of trouble. Myles Turner received his first start of the year, with Rick Barnes sending Cameron Ridley to the bench, and while the blue-chip freshman continues to show exceptional promise, his identity on this team is still a question mark. For someone who can be an absolute force inside, Turner floats to the perimeter an awful lot on offense as well as on defense, and it’s kept him from being a more effective player. If that issue can be remedied and Isaiah Taylor can return to the team without skipping a beat, there won’t be anything keeping the Longhorns from making a run at Kansas at the top of the standings.
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Big 12 M5: 12.18.2014 Edition

Posted by Brian Goodman on December 19th, 2014

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  1.  Iowa State‘s defense will get a lift this weekend from transfer Jameel McKay, who is finally eligible after transferring from Marquette and sitting out the last two semesters. A 6’9″ forward, McKay possesses a 7’4″ wingspan, which should come in handy for a Cyclone team that’s currently dead last in the conference in blocks percentage and offensive rebound percentage. Prior to his short stint with the Golden Eagles, McKay played alongside Cyclone forward Dustin Hogue at Indian Hills Community College. According to Fred Hoiberg, McKay will come off the bench, but even as a secondary member of Iowa State’s rotation, McKay’s ability to alter shots and preserve possessions with his offensive rebounding should give the Cyclones’ attack a new dimension.
  2. Perhaps the biggest name to hit the transfer market recently is former Duke forward Semi Ojeleye, who is now getting the full-court press from Kansas State. There are two major connections between Ojeleye and the Wildcat program: He hails from Ottawa (Kan.), which is just 80 miles from Manhattan, and his brother, Victor Ojeleye, was a walk-on from 2008 to 2012. There’s just one issue for Kansas State – They don’t have a scholarship available. The Wildcats inked three high school commits from the 2015 class to prepare for the loss of Thomas Gipson, Nino Williams and outgoing transfer Jack Karapetyan. Sometimes, these things have a way of working themselves out, but since Ojeleye and his AAU coach have also received inquiries from the likes of Wisconsin, Kansas and Wichita State, something would have to develop quickly for him to end up a Wildcat.
  3. Everyone is still getting used to the idea of TCU being a competitive team, including its local media. The Horned Frogs are one of just nine undefeated teams left in Division I, but they’ve partially arrived at that point by way of easy scheduling by head coach Trent Johnson. Still, these are games that previous TCU teams were losing, so credit is due. Their chances of making the NCAA Tournament will boil down to how they fare in conference play, and in that regard, their backs will be against the wall as they were in their first two seasons of Big 12 membership, but even this level of relevance can be nothing but a good thing for the conference.
  4. While Kansas‘ offensive struggles are a touch misplaced (they currently rank 14th in the country in adjusted offense), they could stand to improve, and as the Lawrence Journal-World‘s Tom Keegan writes, freshman big man Cliff Alexander could be the answer, or at least an answer as the Jayhawks look to get better over Winter Break. Alexander can be foul-prone, but it’s been frustrating to also see his minutes limited by Bill Self’s preference towards experience even though guys like Jamari Traylor and Landen Lucas are less talented. We’re anticipating Alexander to get more chances with Kansas’ non-con schedule softening up as it nears its end, but it’s up to him to make the most of those opportunities.
  5. The Big 12 roars into the weekend on an absolute tear, having won its last 22 games by an average of 19.6 points. While some of the conference’s opponents in that time never stood a chance to be competitive, the streak also includes some impressive road wins over power conferences and victories over solid mid-major teams, too. There are three big threats tomorrow, though: Maryland pays a visit to Oklahoma State; A Washington team on the rise which will square off against Oklahoma in Las Vegas tomorrow, and a solid NC State team will take a crack at West Virginia at Madison Square Garden. Given the strength of the conference, everyone else should have no trouble taking care of business.
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Big 12 M5: 12.17.14 Edition

Posted by Brian Goodman on December 17th, 2014

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  1. We lead with a thorough analysis from Bleacher Report‘s CJ Moore on how the mock draft culture impacts its key stakeholders from NBA prospects and their families to college coaches to pro scouts to the work of people such as ESPN’s Chad Ford and DraftExpress‘ Jonathan Givony. We recommend you read the entire article, which is couched in Kelly Oubre‘s scenario with Kansas, because Moore does a fantastic job of seeking out the most relevant angles, but it’s especially interesting to hear how head coach Bill Self feels about the mock draft dynamic; Some of his objections are valid, even though they can also be interpreted as self-serving. Ultimately, I think Givony’s response that it’s up to each individual to form their own opinion and that it’s not right for coaches to conflate one person’s thoughts with the community’s as a whole is fair as well.
  2. West Virginia‘s struggles in its first two seasons of Big 12 membership dimmed the national spotlight on the Mountaineers, which was unfortunate for many reasons. Of course, I wanted to see West Virginia be as competitive in their new home as they were in the Big East, but lower on the list, their diminished relevance provided fewer opportunities for a good-old-fashioned Bob Huggins rant to make the rounds. That ended Monday night and into Tuesday, though, when the 61-year-old vet sounded off on his radio show after Marshall head coach Dan D’Antoni accused him of being “afraid” to play the Thundering Herd twice a year (D’Antoni’s comments were sparked by a close loss to the Mountaineers on Sunday). Huggins is right to be incensed at D’Antoni’s comments both as one of the most fearless head coaches in the game and as the leader of a West Virginia program that has much more to lose than they have to gain by repeatedly playing a mediocre team like Marshall. It isn’t very often that we see coaches react so emotionally and honestly, so when the opportunity presents itself, it’s definitely worth checking out.
  3. Every season, there’s a handful of players you swore have been in college forever. This season, that hypothetical roster includes guys like Oklahoma State forward Le’Bryan Nash, who was a highly-touted recruit expected to not be long for college, but is nonetheless still at it in Stillwater. Despite being the only top-15 recruit from the high school Class of 2011 still in college, Nash is at peace with his position as the leader of a talented Cowboy squad. In speaking to CBSSports.com‘s Gary Parrish, Nash admitted that he has flirted with declaring for the NBA Draft each offseason since his arrival. According to head coach Travis Ford, Nash chose to return for his senior season so he could take ownership of the Cowboys. So far, the decision has worked out for all parties involved, as Nash is currently the second-leading scorer in the Big 12 with an efficient 17.7 points per game on 11 shots per contest. There’s no doubt that his presence has given Oklahoma State someone to rally around and lead them to a bounceback season. Staying on campus for all four years isn’t what Nash had in mind, but to his credit, he’s adapted well, so it’s tough not to find yourself rooting for him.
  4. In a game that was never really a game, Oklahoma trounced in-state foe Oral Roberts 85-53 in front of a light home crowd. The Golden Eagles were simply no match for the Sooners’ attack, which was able to put up a high scoring total despite getting only three points from the free throw line. Buddy Hield led Oklahoma with 16 points, while Ryan Spangler dominated the glass and Jordan Woodard had eight assists — in other words, the Sooners stuck to their blueprint, though in fairness, Oral Roberts was playing its third game in four days. We may not have learned much about the Sooners in this one, but Saturday’s matchup against Washington in neutral Las Vegas should be more revealing.
  5. On a minor note, the end of the semester has come, and that means certain players concluding that their current schools aren’t doing the trick for them. To that end, we learned yesterday that former Texas guard Damarcus Croaker and former Iowa State guard Sherron Dorsey-Walker will look for new homes. Croaker, a two-guard, averaged 9.5 minutes per game this season, but failed to see any court time in the Longhorns’ biggest games. He’s looking to transfer closer to his native Orlando so he can be with his young son. Dorsey-Walker, most notably, was Fred Hoiberg’s first redshirt player, but struggled to gain a foothold in the Cyclone rotation in each of his two eligible seasons. With a more talented guard in Oregon State transfer Hallice Cook set to play next season, the writing appeared to be on the wall. Dorsey-Walker may have been an afterthought in Iowa State’s rotation, but had offers from Michigan and Indiana (among others) as a recruit, so it will be interesting to see who takes him in.
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RTC Weekly Primer: Don’t Sleep on Mid-December Games

Posted by Henry Bushnell on December 16th, 2014

Every Monday (sometimes Tuesday), Henry Bushnell will provide a look ahead at the week to come. He’ll discuss the week’s top storylines, preview the three most prominent and compelling games, put a giant or two on upset alert, and decide which teams are in desperate need of a big week.

It’s a cold, dark Monday night in December. The holiday scent is in the air. Subpar football unwillingly seeps out of a TV. Winter threatens to envelop us – if it hasn’t already done so. On this cold, dark Monday night in December, college basketball doesn’t really matter. Or at least it seems like it doesn’t. The Monday evening slate is tinged with irrelevance. Duke sleepwalks over Elon, and not many take note. The sport still lurks in the distance. Lenses are still out of focus.

Exam Weeks Around the Nation Building Young Minds

Exam Weeks Around the Nation Building Young Minds

But this, my friends, is a time as important as any in college basketball. When the final weekend of February rolls around, we’ll be scrutinizing teams inside and out, but December matters too. Just ask a team like Cal, which barely missed out on the NCAA Tournament a year ago. Analysts rued their March losses to Arizona State and Utah, but how about that December loss to UC Santa Barbara? That hurt too. Or ask Southern Miss, which built up a solid résumé, but was left to wonder what might have been if it hadn’t slipped up against Western Kentucky during the week before Christmas. On that same day, December 18, 2013, NC State toppled Tennessee. The Wolfpack made the field as one of the last four teams in. That’s not a coincidence.

Don’t ignore this week. Even with those lenses somewhat out of focus, the results will come into plain sight soon enough. It doesn’t matter how you win; your performance doesn’t have to be aesthetic. Just get the job done. Statements can be made. They will not be forgotten.

Three for the Money

North Carolina vs. Ohio State | Saturday, 1:00 PM, CBS

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A Month Into the Season: Six Big 12 Revelations

Posted by Brian Goodman on December 10th, 2014

Nearly a month into the season, the Big 12 has enjoyed a standout non-conference campaign with several wins over Power Five opponents. For the most part, the conference’s best teams are living up to their hype, while the middle-tier teams are showing signs of  fulfilling their potential as well. While all eyes are on the title race between Kansas and Texas, here are six other storylines you might be missing.

Bryce Dejean-Jones has turned into a hyper-efficient shooter under Fred Hoiberg (sorry, UNLV fans). (AP/Charlie Neibergall)

Bryce Dejean-Jones has turned into a hyper-efficient scorer under Fred Hoiberg (sorry, UNLV fans). (AP/Charlie Neibergall)

  1. Bryce Dejean-Jones could be Fred Hoiberg’s best transfer yet. The Mayor has taken many a flawed transfer and turned him into an All-Big 12 selection. On its own this isn’t exactly a revelation, but you probably didn’t expect Bryce Dejean-Jones to be such a white-hot scorer. Through seven games, he’s shooting 56.8 percent from the floor, 41.7 percent from the three-point line and 89.7 percent from the free throw stripe. He’s also pitching in on the glass, corralling 6.9 rebounds per game. As if that isn’t scary enough for the rest of the Big 12, Dejean-Jones is the second option in the Cyclones’ offense, as Georges Niang hasn’t had any trouble picking up where he left off after getting hurt in last season’s NCAA Tournament. Dejean-Jones’ latest excellent performance came against UMKC on Tuesday night, as he put up 22 points on 9-of-12 shooting, including a 2-of-4 effort from beyond the arc.
  2. We need to be patient with Myles Turner. It’s tempting to look at Texas freshman Myles Turner’s numbers on the year (11.4 points, 6.9 rebounds and 2.9 blocks per game) and conclude that he’s coming along just fine, but if you dig deeper into his games against high-major competition, he hasn’t been nearly that good — averaging just 5.8 points, 5.5 rebounds and 1.8 blocks in games against Iowa, Cal, UConn and Kentucky. This is by no means a knock on the heralded freshman, who was a late bloomer on the recruiting circuit, but it’s become clear that when it comes to legitimate competition, Turner is going to need some time to develop into the rangy, efficient scorer who can lift Texas over Kansas in the Big 12 standings. He’s still in the process of realizing how good he can be, and with Texas’ surplus of big men on the roster, Rick Barnes is still figuring out how to best utilize his young phenom. On the plus side, you’ll be treated to a show if you have the means to watch any of the Longhorns’ next three games (vs. Texas State, Lipscomb and Long Beach State), as Turner hasn’t had any trouble showing off his tools and production against inferior competition. Read the rest of this entry »
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Big 12 M5: 12.05.14 Edition

Posted by Kory Carpenter on December 5th, 2014

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  1. The Naismith Trophy Top 50 watch list was released on Wednesday, and the Big 12 had nine players make the cut. They are: Kansas’ Cliff Alexander, Wayne Selden and Perry Ellis, Kansas State’s Marcus Foster, Oklahoma’s Buddy Hield, Iowa State’s Georges Niang, West Virginia’s Juwan Staten, and Texas’ Isaiah Taylor and Myles Turner. Some of these guys have better chances of winning the trophy than others; for example, it’s hard to imagine Selden or Hield doing so after poor shooting starts this season, but the freshman Turner could very well win this award. Turner is seventh in the nation in block percentage (16%) and has blocked at least five shots in three games already. Ellis hasn’t been too bad, either, as the senior is averaging 15.3 PPG and 7.0 RPG and ranks eighth on Ken Pomeroy’s National Player of the Year watch list.
  2. Gary Parrish over at CSBSports.com updated his Top 25 (And One) yesterday (like he does every morning) and Kansas (#8) and Texas (#9) each jumped up a spot in his daily rankings. West Virginia (#18) and Oklahoma (#19) were the other two Big 12 schools on his list, but all this will change soon. Kansas takes on Florida tonight in Allen Fieldhouse; Texas takes on No. 1 Kentucky in Lexington; and West Virginia lost at home to LSU last night. Oklahoma should take care of Missouri tonight in Norman, and Kansas will probably win a close one against the Gators. Texas is the team I’m most intrigued about, though — if the Longhorns play Kentucky close or somehow manage to win the game, they might be reasonably considered the favorites to win the Big 12 this season.
  3. Will the Big 12 win the SEC/Big 12 Challenge? ESPN‘s Andy Katz thinks so, and he doesn’t think it will be close. Texas Tech started things off with an ugly 46-44 win over Auburn on Wednesday night, and the Big 12 went 3-1 last night: TCU beat Ole Miss; Baylor beat Vanderbilt; and Iowa State beat Arkansas. LSU was the lone SEC school to pick up a win after beating West Virginia in Morgantown. Things pick up tonight, with the elite programs battling it out. I think Kansas and Oklahoma help improve the Big 12’s lead while Kentucky beats Texas by 10 points.
  4. There was always a distinct possibility that Iowa State would run Arkansas out of the gym last night. The Razorbacks play as quickly as almost anybody (12th in the country in adjusted tempo) and rely on turnovers via their full-court press to fuel their offense. If that doesn’t happen, though, a team like Iowa State can thrive. That’s exactly what happened as the Cyclones dropped 95 points on the Hawgs in a 95-77 win. Bryce Dejean-Jones and Georges Niang combined for 53 points in one of the fastest games of the season, and the Cyclones improved to 5-1.
  5. Last night was definitely a big setback for a rising West Virginia team. The Mountaineers came into their meeting with LSU undefeated, were up five points at halftime, and led by as many as 14 points in the second half. However, a layup by Josh Gray with 7.3 seconds left gave the Tigers the 74-73 win. West Virginia was ranked #16 going into the game but they will probably drop significantly next week as a result. Depending on what happens with LSU, this could end up being a costly loss for the Mountaineers down the road. LSU’s best win before last night came against UMass earlier this week, and they have already dropped games to Old Dominion and Clemson.

 

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