Big 12 Takes Three on the Chin, But Today is a New Day

Posted by Brian Goodman on March 20th, 2015

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Well, that could’ve gone better.

 

In the Big 12’s latest opportunity to reverse its NCAA Tournament fortunes, the conference fell flat on its face, losing all three of its games on Thursday. Were this the regular season or the conference tournament, I’d say that Baylor and Iowa State both losing by a single point shouldn’t be huge a cause for concern, and analytically, that remains true. If the Bears and Cyclones played their games again today and every day after that, they’d come out on top in an overwhelming number of those games. But it’s a different game this time of year where variance trumps all, and this was the end of the road for two teams that, at minimum, were expected to make it through the weekend. The same can’t be said for Texas, but that’s only a reflection of the Longhorns’ massive letdown of a campaign.

Three favorites, three losses, all in time for Happy Hour.

The Cyclones knew going into Thursday’s game against UAB that they could no longer afford to fall into double-digit deficits if they wanted to survive. They lived up to one end of the bargain, as the biggest hole they faced was just three points. But that doesn’t (and shouldn’t) take away from the fact that the Blazers didn’t have much business hanging around with the Big 12 Tournament champs, let alone knocking them off. UAB has a tall, athletic lineup, but the Cyclones outscored the Blazers 36-32 in the paint. Instead, Iowa State’s undoing came down to poor rebounding and relying too heavily on jumpers, shots that head coach Fred Hoiberg has become famous for despising. More than one-third of their attempts were jump shots, and star forward Georges Niang was most responsible in that department, attempting 10 jumpers and connecting on just two. Read the rest of this entry »

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Rushed Reactions: #14 Georgia State 57, #3 Baylor 56

Posted by Matt Patton on March 19th, 2015

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Rush the Court will be providing wall-to-wall coverage of each of the NCAA Tournament from each of the 13 sites this year. Follow our NCAA Tourney specific Twitter accounts at @RTCeastregion, @RTCMWregion,@RTCsouthregion and @RTCwestregion.

Three Key Takeaways.

  1. Baylor’s length was too much for RJ Hunter. Until it wasn’t. The Bears played their trademark 1-3-1 zone and it really bothered Hunter on the wing. He finished the first half with just two points, having taken way too many shots from 30 feet. Hunter and Ryan Harrow were Georgia State’s best players this year and the Panthers really needed him to have a good game with Harrow on the shelf. Then with under three minutes left and the team down 12 points, Hunter magically found his mojo. He scored 12 of the team’s last 13 points and Baylor didn’t score once over the same stretch.
  2. Turnovers, turnovers, turnovers. The Panthers looked really good when they attacked Baylor in transition and off the dribble. They did a really good job of using aggressive defense to take momentum at both the beginning and the very end of the second half. Baylor finished with 21 turnovers on the afternoon. At least four or five of those were right under Georgia State’s basket. Many were stupid, errant passes, but some were forced by a very effective Panthers’ press. And some just looked like a team that started feeling the heat of a team coming on strong in the last two minutes. People will blame Kenny Chery for the missed free throw at the end of the game, but Baylor went 11-of-13 from the charity stripe for the game. Afterward, Ron Hunter talked about how good Georgia State’s press has been down the stretch this season.
  3. Taurean Prince was the player of 35 minutes of the game. He looked unstoppable. He finished with 18 points and 15 boards on only nine shots (including a desperation heave at the buzzer). Georgia State just didn’t have an answer for him but he didn’t get the ball enough the last five minutes of the game. Part of that was Baylor didn’t have many clean possessions down the stretch, but part of it was a lack of strategy to do so as well.

Star of the Game: RJ Hunter was perfect in the last three minutes. Down 12 with 2:40 left and Hunter going to the line, Georgia State looked beyond dead. To that point he had logged only one field goal (a layup in the first half) and looked totally outmatched against Baylor’s size and length. Then he drew a foul (a late whistle from Jamie Luckie) and got his swagger back. When Hunter got a steal and layup with 1:22 left, it suddenly felt like a game. Ryann Green also deserves a lot credit for keeping Georgia State within reach for the first three quarters of the game. While Hunter was ice cold, Green went 3-of-6 from beyond the arc. In the end, though, it was Hunter who put the team on his back and led his team straight into One Shining Moment.

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NCAA Game Analysis: Second Round, Thursday Afternoon

Posted by RTC Staff on March 19th, 2015

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And here we are. For those of us who grew up from around 1985 to 2001, the mathebracketal beauty of a 64-team field is what the NCAA Tournament is all about. Today and tomorrow are a mixture of so many highs and lows that it’s impossible to keep track of it all. We won’t be able to do that, but we can at least get you ready. Here’s a preview on each of today’s afternoon games. Enjoy the Madness.

#3 Notre Dame vs. #14 Northeastern – Midwest Region Second Round (at Pittsburgh, PA) – 12:15 PM EST on CBS.

All-American Jerian Grant Starts Things Off Today (USA Today Sports)

All-American Jerian Grant Starts Things Off Today (USA Today Sports)

Notre Dame enters NCAA Tournament play fresh off a thrilling run to the ACC Tournament title. Waiting for the Irish in Pittsburgh is Northeastern. The Huskies enter the tournament after winning three games in three days to take home the CAA Tournament crown and earn its first tournament bid since 1991. Bill Coen’s squad is led into action by senior forward Scott Eatherton, who leads the team in both points per game (14.6) and rebounds per game (6.4). Northeastern also has some talent at the guard position with junior point guard David Walker, who scores 13.4 points and dishes out 3.5 assists per contest. While the Huskies do have talent, they do not have enough to stop the Notre Dame offensive attack. Seniors Jerian Grant and Pat Connaughton lead the way for the Irish, who are second in the country in field goal percentage at 51 percent. Grant and Connaughton have gotten it done for Mike Brey’s squad all season, but the Irish appear to be even more lethal now due to the emergence of sophomore guards Demetrius Jackson and Steve Vasturia. Notre Dame has had its fair share of bad luck in the NCAA Tournament, but that should not be case Thursday afternoon. Expect the Irish to  ride their explosive offense to a comfortable victory.

The RTC Certified Pick: Notre Dame.

#3 Iowa State vs. #14 UAB – South Region Second Round (at Louisville, KY) – 12:40 PM ET on truTV.

Iowa State and UAB commence South region action Thursday afternoon. Fred Hoiberg’s team underwent their annual roster overhaul last summer, but the end result – a team whose fast-paced, hyper-efficient offense leads to wins – saw no change. Iowa State’s national offensive efficiency rankings the last three seasons, including their current mark: 6th, 6th, and 7th. UAB’s primary task has to be slowing down the tempo and effectiveness of that Cyclone attack, a pursuit in which the Blazers are unlikely to be effective. There is little in the statistical profile that suggests they have the extra gear needed to keep pace with Iowa State, whose 15-6 Big 12 mark was about as it good as it got in the Big 12 this season. UAB was not the Conference USA regular season champion (Louisiana Tech was), but the Blazers gloomy Tournament outlook is a subtle reminder of how far their league has fallen. Sending one team to the Tournament, and on the #14 seed line, would have been unthinkable three years ago. It’s the unfortunate reality of 2015, however, and it should get only more uncomfortable after Thursday, when Iowa State will likely to dispatch an overmatched UAB team from the Tournament field.

The RTC Certified Pick: Iowa State.

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How the Big 12 Can Change the Conversation

Posted by Brian Goodman on March 18th, 2015

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While the Big 12 went wire to wire this season as the top conference in America, according to KenPom and the RPI, its postseason results over the last decade continue to cast a shadow over the league’s legitimacy. Since 2005, the Big 12 is tied for fourth in NCAA Tournament wins, tied for fifth in Sweet Sixteen appearances and tied for fourth in Final Four berths. In the last 10 years, 17 Big 12 teams have underperformed relative to their seeds compared with just 12 teams that have overperformed. Although the season-long metrics are more reliable from an analytical perspective than chaotic NCAA Tournament results, the postseason is valued more heavily when it comes to both bar room debates and television contracts. Fortunately for the conference this season, it propelled seven teams into the Big Dance, so there are plenty of opportunities to quiet the skeptics. Here’s how each of those teams can help the conference flip the script.

Fred Hoiberg's Cyclones have a chance to save the Big 12 from more postseason criticism. (Eric Gay/AP).

The Mayor can rescue the Big 12 from years of tournament disappointment with a run to Indianapolis. (Eric Gay/AP)

  • Iowa State: Fred Hoiberg has turned the Iowa State program around and then some in his five years running the team, but the time is ripe for him to raise the status even higher by adding a trip to the Final Four — which would be Iowa State’s first since 1944 — to his already-impressive resume. The Cyclones are among the hottest teams in the country but they’ll need to keep up their hot shooting and not rely on their proven ability to mount comebacks in order to capitalize on the good favor they’ve curried.
  • Kansas: The Jayhawks limp into the Big Dance with Perry EllisLanden Lucas and Frank Mason at less than 100 percent. If that weren’t bad enough, they’re planning to be without Cliff Alexander and have notched just three wins in their last eight games away from Allen Fieldhouse (and one of those road wins was in Lubbock). Oh, and they received by far the worst Tournament draw of any #2 seed, facing a potential Elite Eight game against juggernaut Kentucky. As terrific a coach as Bill Self is, the odds of him extracting a 2012 type of run to the championship game from this team are long. A ride to the regional final would be impressive, though, especially if the Jayhawks can knock off local rival Wichita State in the process.
  • Oklahoma: The Sooners have been snake-bitten in the Lon Kruger years, assuming the role of first round upset victim in their last two NCAA Tournament appearances. While Oklahoma needs to get over that hump, this team is Kruger’s best one yet so the expectations don’t stop at simply winning one game. A pilgrimage to the Sweet Sixteen would give Kruger the distinction of taking four different programs that deep, but Oklahoma’s excellent defense and Buddy Hield‘s scoring ability make the Sooners a threat to play even deeper, possibly slaying two monsters in Virginia and Villanova on the way there.

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NCAA Tournament Instareaction: Big 12 Teams

Posted by Brian Goodman, Chris Stone & Nate Kotisso on March 16th, 2015

For the second consecutive season, the Big 12 sent seven teams to the Big Dance. Before considering those schools’ seedings, let’s first acknowledge that sending 70 percent of the conference’s membership is an outstanding achievement and that assessment will surely be echoed by its leadership, coaches and players over the coming days. Additionally, top-four seeds went to four teams – Kansas, Iowa State, Oklahoma and Baylor – more than any other conference except the ACC, which yielded five, but also has nine teams that didn’t crack the field at all. Skeptics of the Big 12 will point out that the most talented teams in the conference (Kansas and Texas) haven’t lived up to expectations, and another team expected to return to the NCAA Tournament in Kansas State fell completely flat. Those criticisms can be countered, though, with success stories in Baylor and West Virginia, who weren’t taken seriously as NCAA Tournament teams until after the calendar turned to 2015. Here’s our early outlook at the seven Big 12 teams in this year’s field.

Kansas (Chris Stone)

Just how far can a healthy Perry Ellis carry the Jayhawks?

Just how far can a healthy Perry Ellis carry the Jayhawks?

  • Seed: #2 Midwest
  • Quick First Round Preview: Kansas drew the WAC’s automatic bid winner, New Mexico State (23-10, 13-1 WAC), in its opening game, and the Aggies are the 88th-best team in the country, according to Ken Pomeroy’s efficiency rankings. To put that into some perspective, Big 12 foe Kansas State finished the season ranked 81st. NMSU features a balanced offensive attack with four players averaging double-figures. Defensively, the Aggies will look to run Kansas off the three-point line with their strong (seventh nationally) three-point defense, which has allowed opponents to hit just 29.5 percent of their attempts from behind the arc on the season. It’s a tough matchup, but the Jayhawks should get through.
  • Intriguing Potential Future Matchup: This one seems rather obvious. While Wichita State won’t get the home-and-home that coach Gregg Marshall has campaigned for, the Shockers will finally have their chance at their in-state foe if the Jayhawks get past New Mexico State and they take care of business against Indiana. The contest would pit two of the game’s best coaching minds against one another and allow the state of Kansas to settle who the better team is this season once and for all.
  • Final Word: Kansas drew undoubtedly the toughest region. According to KenPom, the Jayhawks’ road to the Final Four includes the highest-ranked #15 seed in New Mexico State, the top #7 seed in Wichita State, the second-best #3 seed in Notre Dame, and the overall #1 seed, Kentucky. The Jayhawks will need to return to their January form when they started Big 12 play 9-0 with a healthy Perry Ellis to pull off a Final Four run.

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Rushed Reactions: #9 Kansas 62, #16 Baylor 52

Posted by Brian Goodman on March 13th, 2015

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Here are some key takeaways from Kansas’ 62-52 semifinal win over Baylor in another game marked by shaky offense but highlighted by the return of Perry Ellis and a breakout effort from Wayne Selden.

Kansas (USA Today Images)

Kansas Comfortably Moved On to the Championship Game Tonight (USA Today Images)

  1. Perry Ellis showed his rust but found ways to be productive: Sporting a surplus of padding that would make Barry Bonds nod in great approval, Ellis showed some lingering signs of the knee sprain he suffered two weeks ago but he was still effective in contributing 11 points and six rebounds. It wasn’t the most efficient outing for the junior, but by hitting a three-pointer shortly after the opening tip, his return appeared to set the tone for the night. Ellis was confident in his shot, but as Baylor struggled to put points on the board, he could stay in the flow of the offense without taking many risks. In the second half, the Jayhawks maintained a big enough lead to allow head coach Bill Self to be cautious with his all-conference player, sitting him for the last 7:50 of action.
  2. Baylor’s three-point shooting failed them. The Bears have been a very good three-point shooting team all year, helping their offense stay above water in spite of making two-point shots look like a trip to the dentist. It seemed as though Kansas transmitted their three-point struggles to the Bears on Friday night, as they made just one of 10 tries from deep in the first half and finished the game an ugly 4-of-22 from distance. While head coach Scott Drew has had a fantastic year on the sideline, his fanilure to coax a positive adjustment from his team against a vulnerable Kansas frontcourt may have cost the Bears this game and and an appearance in the Big 12 Tournament final for the third time in the last four years.
  3. Wayne Selden broke out with a huge second half. When Wayne Selden arrived in Lawrence a year and a half ago, he was seen by many as a one-and-done type of talent. Between injuries and significant struggles on the court, however, the sophomore has had a tough time consistently producing. Tonight was a different story, as he stepped up with 16 second half points on his way to 20 overall to go along with a team-high eight rebounds against Baylor’s physical front line. The Massachusetts native was active all night, which couldn’t always be said for his career to this point. Effectiveness from Kansas’ backcourt can be difficult to find this year, so if Selden can continue produce, only good things can come of it.

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Rushed Reactions: #16 Baylor 80, #18 West Virginia 70

Posted by Greg Mitchell on March 12th, 2015

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Here are some key takeaways from Baylor’s 80-70 Big 12 quarterfinal win over a West Virginia team that was still without Juwan Staten and Gary Browne.

Rico Gathers had 15 points, nine rebounds and two powerful second-half dunks in Baylor's win over West Virginia (West Virginia Metro News).

Rico Gathers had 15 points, nine rebounds and two powerful second-half dunks in Baylor’s win over West Virginia (West Virginia Metro News).

  1. Selection Sunday Impacts. Baylor should be poised for a happy Selection Sunday. The Bracket Matrix, which aggregates NCAA Tournament projections from across all corners of the web, had the Bears as a solid #3 seed going into the game. The win against a good West Virginia team, even without Staten, should keep them from falling off that line. That’ll especially be the case if fellow #3 seed (or better) hopefuls Iowa State and Oklahoma fall in games later today. This could also set the Bears up for a spot in the South regional in Houston.  Regardless of seed, this year will mark the first time in program history that Baylor will make back-to-back NCAA Tournament appearances, which is somewhat surprising considering the success Scott Drew has enjoyed over the last decade in Waco.
  2. Bears Bench Deepens. Ish Wainwright may have earned himself more playing time the rest of the way. Early foul trouble in the first half forced Drew to play the little-used forward heavy minutes and the junior did not disappoint. He ended up with seven points and six rebounds and did a good job battling the Mountaineers’ physical frontcourt. It was an undeniably good day for the local native who got the most playing time he has received in a single game since early February. Drew has not utilized an incredibly deep rotation this year — often giving only six players significant minutes — so it’s a great sign that Wainwright has proven he can contribute on a big stage.
  3. Undermanned Mountaineers. West Virginia needs Staten and Browne back. That’s not exactly a groundbreaking thought but the effect of their absences played out in real time today against the Bears. The Mountaineers benefited from some hot shooting from deep for much of the game — including four threes and 18 points from Jaysean Paige — but they didn’t score a field goal over the last six minutes when Staten would have been most useful. Jevon Carter and Daxter Miles had two costly back-to-back turnovers with under four minutes left that Baylor used to build a multi-possession lead it would not relinquish. Having Staten and Browne in those pressure situations instead of two freshmen may have made a difference in this quarterfinal matchup. On the other hand, Carter and Miles had an opportunity to learn from the increased playing time and those mistakes, with an opportunity to apply it next weekend when the games matter even more.

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Five Key Storylines Entering the Big 12 Tournament

Posted by Brian Goodman on March 11th, 2015

The Big 12 Tournament gets under way tonight at the Sprint Center in Kansas City with #8 Kansas State taking on #9 TCU followed by #7 Texas battling #10 Texas Tech. Five teams appear safely into the NCAA Tournament along with two other hopefuls, but the determination of how many bids the league will ultimately get is just one of several storylines to keep an eye on this week. Here are five others.

  1. Hobbled Kansas – The Jayhawks enter the week with the conference tournament’s top seed, but injuries to Wayne Selden and Perry Ellis (who sat out the team’s regular season finale) mean the team is playing at less than 100 percent. Cliff Alexander‘s NCAA case is also moving slowly and Bill Self is already planning as if he won’t return. Because of the strength of the teams the Jayhawks will be playing in Kansas City, it’s tough to picture Kansas falling to anything worse than a #3 seed in the NCAA Tournament. It’s also fairly certain that no matter what happens there, Kansas will only have to travel three hours to Omaha for the opening weekend. The 11-time Big 12 champions could certainly be in a worse position, but it will be interesting to see how the team adjusts to those personnel issues.

    Will the Cyclones repeat as Big 12 Tournament champs?

    Will the Cyclones repeat as Big 12 Tournament champs?

  2. Iowa State Looks to Protect Its Crown – The Cyclones had a solid season but it had to be at least slightly disappointing to fail to match Kansas in the league standings with a team that finally had a legitimate rim-protector and a strong returning core. All is not lost, though, as Fred Hoiberg’s team has an excellent chance to repeat as Big 12 Tournament champs. With three wins this week, it can become the first team to do so since Kansas pulled the trick in 2011 and the first non-Self team to pull it off since Oklahoma State in 2005. The Iowa State faithful turned out at the Sprint Center in huge numbers last year, so while Oklahoma is probably the second-best team in the Big 12, the ideal atmosphere would be a championship game pitting the Cyclones and Jayhawks. Read the rest of this entry »
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Championship Week Primer: Bid-Stealers and Teams to Watch

Posted by Henry Bushnell on March 10th, 2015

Championship Week is upon us. And while some mid-majors have already locked up their spots in the Big Dance, it’s time for the major conference tournaments to get under way. Here’s a brief look at each of those upcoming tournaments with a description of one team in each that is primed to use the postseason as the catalyst for a run and one potential bid-stealer.

AAC

SMU is Flying Under the Radar Somewhat (USA Today Images)

SMU is Somewhat Flying Under the Radar (USA Today Images)

  • Team to Watch: SMU – This one might seem obvious as SMU is the top seed and the best team in the conference. But such is the state of the AAC that the Mustangs are really the only team with a shot to make some noise in March. Temple is an NCAA Tournament team but isn’t anything special, and the same could be said for Cincinnati and Tulsa, if either cracks the field of 68.
  • Potential Bid-Stealer: UConn – Hey, we’ve certainly seen the Huskies get hot before. There haven’t been many indications that Kevin Ollie’s team can put together a run, but its draw is favorable — SMU is on the opposite side of the bracket — so a Sunday date with the Mustangs with an NCAA Tournament bid on the line is a distinct possibility.

ACC

  • Team to Watch: North Carolina – The Tar Heels have amazingly lost six of their last 10 games en route to a fifth-place finish in the ACC. But since an ugly loss to NC State a couple weeks ago, they’ve looked decent and are capable of exploding at any time. North Carolina has elite athleticism and a guard in Marcus Paige who is one of college basketball’s best when he’s locked in. The Heels — playing in front of the always-friendly Greensboro crowd — should be favored against Louisville in the quarterfinals before meeting a Virginia team that could still be at less than full strength.
  • Potential Bid-Stealer: Miami – Miami isn’t a bid-stealer, per se, because the Hurricanes don’t have to win the ACC Tournament to earn entry into the Dance. They probably only need two victories but they’ve been given an intriguing road as the #6 seed. Provided the Hurricanes win their Wednesday game against Wake Forest or Virginia Tech, Notre Dame and then potentially Duke await. Miami has already gone toe-to-toe with both this year in their buildings, and even beat Duke at Cameron. If Jim Larranaga’s team were to pull off those two upsets, anything could happen in the championship game.

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Big 12 Season Superlatives, Part I: First Team, POY & COY

Posted by Brian Goodman on March 9th, 2015

This year’s Big 12 Conference will go down as one of the most memorable seasons in recent memory. Kansas held on to the championship belt despite fielding what most of its fans would admit was not Bill Self’s most talented team. The Jayhawks withstood challenges from a revolving door of contenders who were capable of outstanding performances at their best and mind-numbing displays at their worst. Over the course of the next couple of days, we’ll look back on the league’s best efforts, both on the floor and on the sidelines. Today: our RTC All-Big 12 Team followed by our POY and COY.

All-Big 12 First Team

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Player of the Year

  • Brian Goodman: Perry Ellis, Kansas – Somewhere along the line it became popular to criticize Perry Ellis for what he wasn’t than to accept him for what he was (I’m not afraid to admit that I was equally guilty of it). Ellis’ pro potential at age 21 is still a big question mark and his lack of any real back-to-the-basket game makes him very different than many of the terrific big men who preceded him in Lawrence, but none of that matters here. Ellis was the best all-around player in the Big 12 this season due to his craftiness inside, his range out to the three-point line (where he shot 37.5 percent in 40 attempts) and his very good rebounding. The junior also had to shoulder a bigger workload due to the inconsistent play of frontcourt teammates Cliff Alexander, Jamari Traylor and Landen Lucas.
Perry Ellis outpaced a slew of worthy candidates to take RTC Big 12 POY honors.

Perry Ellis outpaced a slew of worthy candidates to take RTC Big 12 POY honors. (AP)

  • Nate Kotisso: Buddy Hield, Oklahoma – If you were in a lab and your goal was to come up with the perfect basketball player, you’d have a laundry list of things to consider. He would have to be someone who can shoot the lights out, can get to the rim, will lead by example and become the classic “first to practice, last to leave” guy. Oklahoma’s Buddy Hield has been the most machine-like player in the Big 12 this season. He’s scored in double figures in all but three games on the season, and more often than not, you’ll get a premium effort from the junior wing.
  • Chris Stone: Perry Ellis, Kansas – Ellis is the most important player on the best team in the conference. While Buddy Hield has been a more impressive scorer in conference play, the gap between Hield (22.1 PPG) and Ellis (20.6 PPG) isn’t large when adjusted for efficiency. Ellis also ranks among the Big 12’s top 10 in defensive rebounding and top 20 in block percentage. While Kansas played well against Oklahoma on Saturday, it’s tough to imagine the Jayhawks making any sort of deep run in March without their star big man in the lineup.

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Big 12 M5: 03.06.15 Edition

Posted by Brian Goodman on March 6th, 2015

morning5_big12

  1. Late last night, Yahoo! Sports’ Pat Forde reported that the NCAA is investigating Kansas big man Cliff Alexander for ties to an agent and possible impermissible benefits received by his family. Alexander has sat out Kansas’ last two games in the interests of protecting his eligibility while the NCAA works with Alexander to resolve the matter. Aside from the nature of the possible benefits, the big question is how long Alexander will continue to be sidelined. According to Forde’s sources, the freshman has hired an attorney, a move which, while may be advisable for Alexander, is reportedly slowing the investigative process. As we’ve said ever since news of the investigation first broke last Saturday, Alexander’s availability is important if Kansas is to make a deep postseason run, but while the team would prefer to get a resolution soon, you just never know with the NCAA.
  2. The legend of Baylor big man Rico Gathers continues to grow. Gathers is a focal point in two national stories that have dropped recently. The first is a terrific piece by CBSSports.com‘s Matt Norlander chronicling his experience (along with those of other players) balancing the grueling demands of NCAA competition with the challenges and blessings of fatherhood. The second is an in-depth look by Bleacher Report‘s Jason King that touches on Gathers’ fantastic season to this point, his outstanding athleticism and the attention he’s drawn as a potential NFL prospect. Both are well worth your time. While there has been no shortage of storylines in the Big 12 this season, Gathers’ emergence into the national spotlight has been one of the year’s highlights, with his play crucial in keeping the Bears relevant in the face of significant roster turnover. The odds are that Gathers will be around for another season, but the sooner you appreciate everything he brings to the table both on and off the court, the longer you’ll have to enjoy it.
  3. Ames Tribune beat writer Travis Hines emptied out his Iowa State mailbag, providing some great insight into the state of the Cyclone program as the team gears up for the postseason. While some have been quick to label Iowa State as fraudulent due to their inability to pass Kansas in the Big 12 standings with a roster that had the chance to do it, fans (or rather, fans whose questions Hines took a crack at answering) seem pretty optimistic, with many of their inquiries focusing on the Cyclones’ tournament ceiling, their chances of landing big recruit Cheick Diallo and the makeup of next year’s team. The Iowa State faithful brought a huge contingency to Kansas City for the Big 12 Tournament last season, so with another strong team this March, you can expect a similar level of support next week.
  4. Between widespread transfers and the appeal of the NBA, it’s become increasingly rare for a player to stay at one school for all four years, argues Ryan Aber of The Oklahoman. As such, Senior Day festivities don’t always carry the weight they once did, even in the case of Oklahoma, which has three players — James Fraschilla, D.J. Bennett and TaShawn Thomas — set to play their final home game tomorrow against Kansas. Of the trio, only Fraschilla, a walk-on, played all four years in Norman, as Bennett was a juco transfer and Thomas only came aboard this fall after spending his first three years with Houston. Whatever the case may be, Fraschilla, Bennett and Thomas should be extremely proud of what they’ve accomplished.
  5. While the Big 12 champion has been determined, a whopping seven of the other nine spots are still in question entering the final weekend. If you’re into seeding scenarios, Aber did the grunt work for all of us just prior to Wednesday’s Oklahoma State-TCU game. The Sooners and Cyclones could finish anywhere between second and fourth, Baylor can finish anywhere between second and fifth, West Virginia can finish in either fourth or fifth, Oklahoma State will finish either sixth or seventh, Kansas State can finish anywhere between sixth and eighth, and Texas will end the regular season in either seventh or eighth place. If you’ve watched even a half of Big 12 action, you know that predicting how everything will shake out is a fruitless exercise, so our advice is to just sit back and watch the madness unfold. We’re going to get four more weeks of it anyway.
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Big 12 M5: 03.04.15 Edition

Posted by Brian Goodman on March 4th, 2015

morning5_big12

  1. Tuesday night was the coronation of Kansas as Big 12 champions for the 11th consecutive season as the Jayhawks erased an 18-point deficit to outlast West Virginia in overtime at Allen Fieldhouse. Terrible rebounding and rushed offense due to the Mountaineer press put Kansas in an early hole, and a sprained knee that sidelined Perry Ellis for slightly more than half the game compounded the Jayhawks’ troubles, but as per Big 12 bylaws, the finish was about as thrilling as it could get. Kansas chipped away throughout the second half, with big plays by Frank Mason on offense and Jamari Traylor on both ends ultimately putting them over the top in what Bill Self called his “best win at Allen Fieldhouse.”
  2. While the Jayhawks have the Big 12 title in their trophy case, there’s some cause for concern regarding Ellis’ status. Following Tuesday’s win, Self said that Ellis would be “a longshot” for Saturday’s regular season finale against Oklahoma in Norman, but that a return for next week’s conference tournament in Kansas City seemed reasonable. Ellis has been Kansas’ most valuable player over the last few weeks, and without Cliff Alexander, the team will continue to lean on him as long as he can play. Without much to gain by playing their standout junior on Saturday, it would probably be in Kansas’ best interests to play it slow .
  3. Earlier in the week, Texas kept its NCAA Tournament hopes alive by beating Baylor in Austin. The game was marred by a scuffle that led to seven ejections of players for leaving their team’s benches, but Jeff Haley of Burnt Orange Nation provides a detailed review of how the Longhorns’ ball screen defense put the Bears on their heels. Texas’ perimeter defense had been about as disappointing as its interior defense has been dominant, but for one night, that changed. There’s still work to be done for Rick Barnes‘ team, as the search for a Tournament bid continues Saturday against Kansas State.
  4. Following Texas’ win but before Kansas’ clincher, Iowa State stormed back from a 20-point deficit at Hilton Coliseum to beat Oklahoma. The tide turned early in the second half when Sooner guard Isaiah Cousins picked up a quick technical for taunting, and the free throws that followed ignited a run of 22 unanswered points by Fred Hoiberg‘s squad. Iowa State’s insane home court advantage is one of its biggest assets, but the Cyclones have been a very different team outside of Ames. Their focus will again be tested on the road when they wrap up the regular season at TCU.
  5. The storm of meaningful action rolls on tonight when TCU travels to Oklahoma State to face a Cowboys team in dire need of getting back on track. If the Pokes, losers of four straight, were to drop another game tonight, they would have some serious work to do in Kansas City, though probably not quite as much as Kansas State or Texas faces. There should be no shortage of motivation at Gallagher-Iba Arena tonight, but at the very least, one would think that the Cowboys would want to send seniors Le’Bryan NashMichael Cobbins and Anthony Hickey out with a bang.
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