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

Untitled

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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RTC Top 25: Week Fifteen

Posted by Walker Carey on March 2nd, 2015

The penultimate weekend of the college basketball regular season gave #1 Kentucky, #2 Virginia, #4 Villanova, #5 Arizona, #6 Wisconsin, and #9 Wichita State an opportunity to either a guaranteed a share of a conference title or the outright crown. Kentucky moved its record to 29-0 and earned the SEC regular season title on Saturday with a dominating 17-point home victory over #21 Arkansas. Virginia guaranteed itself at least a share of the ACC title with a Saturday matinee victory over Virginia Tech in Charlottesville. The Cavaliers will attempt to win the title outright for the second straight year, hitting the road this week for games at both Syracuse and #16 Louisville. Villanova rebounded from a seven-point halftime deficit at Xavier to earn its 10th consecutive win and clinch the outright Big East title for the second consecutive year. Arizona earned itself at least a share of the Pac-12 crown with one of the most impressive road victories of the season. The Wildcats went to #10 Utah and scored a thrilling 63-57 triumph on Saturday evening. Wisconsin wrapped up a share of the Big Ten title Sunday — aided tremendously by National Player of the Year candidate Frank Kaminsky’s season-high 31 points — with a home victory over Michigan State. Finally, Wichita State showed Saturday afternoon that it is still the class of the Missouri Valley with a 74-60 home win over #13 Northern Iowa. With just one week to go in the regular season, it will be intriguing to see if Virginia, Arizona, and Wisconsin can become the outright champions of their leagues as well as what will happen in the crazy Big 12 race.

This week’s Quick N’ Dirty after the jump…

rtc25 w15

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Big 12 M5: 02.27.15 Edition

Posted by Chris Stone on February 27th, 2015

morning5_big12

  1. And just like that Kansas is back in the driver’s seat as the favorite to win an 11th straight Big 12 championship. The situation looked a bit bleak for the Jayhawks following their recent 70-63 loss to Kansas State, but Baylor’s 79-70 win over Iowa State on Wednesday night put Kansas ahead again. A win would have drawn the Cyclones even with Kansas in the standings, but a barrage of second half threes from the Bears sealed the Cyclones’ fate. “We didn’t talk about any championships that were there,” Iowa State coach Fred Hoiberg said. “The guys understand it. They read it. But it’s just going out there taking care of today, and obviously we didn’t get that accomplished.”
  2. Wednesday marked the first win ever in Ames for Baylor, and the big road victory should help the Bears immensely with seeding in the upcoming NCAA Tournament. A lock for an at-large bid, this year will mark the first time that Baylor has made consecutive trips to March Madness in school history. Much of the Bears’ recent success should be attributed to Scott Drew. The 12th-year head coach of the Bears takes a great deal of criticism from the college basketball community, but he has molded a roster that was picked to finish sixth in the Big 12 into a Top 25 team with high postseason expectations. Drew rightfully appears to be the clear front-runner for Big 12 Coach of the Year at this point in the season.
  3. Drew’s biggest competitor in the race for Coach of the Year comes from West Virginia’s Bob Huggins. The Mountaineers were also picked to finish sixth in the Big 12 preseason poll but have utilized a change in playing style to now sit just one game behind Kansas in the standings. After getting blasted by Baylor in Morgantown, West Virginia will seek revenge on the Bears in Waco this weekend. If the Mountaineers pull of the win, we could have a new name leading the Big 12 Coach of the Year race come Monday.
  4. A day after the Jayhawks’ loss at Kansas State, Kansas junior Perry Ellis and sophomore Wayne Selden called a players-only meeting back in Lawrence. There was no trip to Henry T’s like back in 2008, but Ellis and Selden took the opportunity to emphasize the importance of winning another Big 12 championship. Sporting a 3-3 record in its last six games, Kansas is engaged in some soul-searching ahead of March this season. “We got to figure out what’s wrong,” sophomore Brannen Greene said. With three remaining contests against teams ranked in Ken Pomeroy’s top 25, the Jayhawks will need to figure it out quick, starting with a reeling but dangerous Texas squad on Saturday.
  5. Finally, while much of Twitter was abuzz yesterday attempting to determine the colors of this dress (hint: it’s white and gold), Adidas was drawing its usual ire for releasing its latest line of jerseys. With Baylor having switched to Nike this season, Kansas remains the only Big 12 team to receive an stylistic update, which the Jayhawks are likely wear for at least one game in the Big 12 Tournament. Baylor received its new look last week, and its tempered color scheme will likely disappoint fans of their glowing highlighter look.
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Big 12 M5: 02.25.15 Edition

Posted by Chris Stone on February 25th, 2015

morning5_big12

  1. The latest turn in the court rushing saga that followed Kansas State’s win over Kansas on Monday came when Kansas State student Nathan Power issued an apology in the Wildcats’ student newspaper, The Collegian. Power admitted to being the individual who was identified for running into Jamari Traylor in the aftermath of the Wildcats’ win, but did not directly apologize to the Kansas forward for his actions. Instead, he opted to apologize for not being “careful of the people [he] was around,” while breaking the “Wildcat way” and disrespecting “the KU basketball team — Jamari Traylor in particular.” Perhaps Power cannot explicitly apologize for running into Traylor because of legal reasons, but he certainly appeared to thrust himself into the Kansas player on Monday night. I suspect this won’t be the last we hear about this incident.
  2. Lost in the court-rushing shuffle was the impressive performance put on by the Wildcats in Bramlage Coliseum, as sophomore Nigel Johnson led the way with 20 points on 8-of-11 shooting in the 70-63 win. Johnson entered the game shooting under 30 percent from behind the three-point arc for his college career, but he knocked down four three-pointers (in five attempts) against Kansas. The Wildcats will likely still need a miracle to find their way into the NCAA Tournament, but that was irrelevant to head coach Bruce Weber on Monday. “After last week this is a huge win for our guys,” Weber said. “I just asked them to forget about what happened before and not worry about what’s going to happen in the future; just worry about today and the moment.”
  3. It’s been a good week for West Virginia. Senior guard Juwan Staten was named the Big 12 Player of the Week thanks to his big role in wins against Kansas and Oklahoma State last week. The Mountaineers followed up those victories with a 71-64 win over Texas on Tuesday night in Morgantown, putting them just one game back of Kansas in the Big 12 standings with a trip to Lawrence looming.
  4. Earlier this week, Burnt Orange Nation’s Cody Daniel called for Texas senior Jonathan Holmes to lead the late-season revival of the Longhorns. Unfortunately for everyone, after knocking down a pair of three-pointers in the first half against West Virginia, Holmes was ejected from the game for elbowing the Mountaineers’ Devin Williams. Although the Longhorns managed to make the game interesting down the stretch, the absence of Holmes from the lineup loomed large for a Texas team that is fighting to stay in the NCAA Tournament picture. Rick Barnes will need his senior leader to step up in the team’s final three games of the regular season just to stay on the right side of the bubble.
  5. The next big game in a long line of big games in the Big 12 this season comes tonight when Baylor travels north to face Iowa State in Ames. The Cyclones are now just a half-game back from Kansas in the conference standings, and a win would pull them even with the Jayhawks. Iowa State plays its two toughest remaining opponents in Hilton Coliseum, but that won’t make their remaining schedule any easier, says Randy Peterson of The Des Moines Register. Baylor will attempt to slow the pace against the Cyclones and use its zone defense to force Iowa State to knock down outside shots. If the Cyclones succeed, we’ll be in for a very exciting finish to the Big 12 regular season.
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RTC Weekly Primer: Who Can Make a Run in March?

Posted by Henry Bushnell on February 24th, 2015

It happens every year. Every single year. Okay, that might be a bit of an exaggeration, but more often than not, there comes a time in a college basketball season when the entire hoops world witnesses the birth of something. It can begin with a bang; but it can also begin innocuously. It can occur in plain sight; but it can also be the tree in the middle of a deserted forest. This birth, of course, is the preliminary stage of a postseason run. And the run, of course, is the one that in a few weeks time will be the talk of college basketball. Back in 2011, it was Shelvin Mack, Brad Stevens and Butler. In 2012, it was Lorenzo Brown and NC State. In 2013, it was very nearly Marshall Henderson and Ole Miss. A season ago, it was Jordan McRae and the upstart Tennessee Volunteers. NCAA Tournament runs usually don’t just appear out of thin air. Typically, there’s a backstory. In 2015, the time has come for those backstories to develop. Next month’s headlines will start formulating themselves right now.

Most Every Team is Looking For Its Butler Moment (USA Today Images)

Most Every Team is Looking For Its Butler Moment (USA Today Images)

Who will those headlines be written about this year? Who will be the team that sees everything come together at the right time? Who will be that team? It’s time to start considering some possibilities:

  • Georgetown – The Hoyas aren’t exactly in the same category as the Butlers and Ole Misses of years past, but they seem to be flying somewhat under the radar. Georgetown has the pieces to make a run. The Hoyas are a top-20 defensive team, boast an occasionally dominant post presence in senior center Josh Smith, and have a guard in D’Vauntes Smith-Rivera who can take over a game. After getting smoked by Villanova a couple weeks ago, they’ve now won three straight and have the week off to prepare for St. John’s in Madison Square Garden on Saturday. That’s the kind of win that could propel the Hoyas to a #4 or #5 seed and their first Sweet Sixteen (or better) run since 2007.
  • Indiana – Another team that is solidly in the NCAA Tournament, the Hoosiers certainly will never be considered a Cinderella story. But most projections have them as a #8 or #9 seed right now, meaning they aren’t being discussed as a legitimate contender either. This team has notable flaws in its personnel and it has a coach who many have questioned in recent years. But it’s also arguably got the most lethal backcourt in the country — just the type of thing that can carry a team on a surprising journey through March. The Hoosiers, which have struggled on the road but have been dynamite at home, travel to Northwestern on Wednesday night before a two-game home swing featuring Iowa and Michigan State. It’s really the perfect slate to build some March momentum.

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Big 12 Power Rankings: The Texas Basketball Massacre Edition

Posted by Nate Kotisso on February 23rd, 2015

This was supposed to be the season. Like, THE season. The season Texas began ranked in the top 10 of the Associated Press preseason poll. The season it would dethrone Kansas from the perch overlooking the rest of the Big 12. And more importantly, this was supposed to be the season — with eight rotation players returning and a blue-chipper entering — where it was destined for a run to NCAA Tournament’s second weekend, and perhaps beyond. Instead, the Longhorns sit at 17-10 overall with a meager 6-8 mark in Big 12 play. The general consensus from bracketologists, bubble-watchers and fans alike is that Texas, while starting trouble in the face over the next few weeks, is still safely in the field.

The problem with Texas' nosedive is a lot of little problems: from inconsistent play to coach Rick Barnes. (Troy Taormina/USA Today Sports Images)

The problem with Texas’ nosedive is a lot of little problems: from inconsistent play to coach Rick Barnes and beyond. (Troy Taormina/USA Today Sports Images)

To his credit, Rick Barnes is the only Big 12 coach other than Bill Self who consistently schedules a difficult non-conference schedule. This season’s slate of games looked rough in August but doesn’t seem all that impressive six months later. Four of Texas’ five toughest opponents (not including Kentucky, because Kentucky) were Iowa, California, Connecticut and Stanford. The Hawkeyes and Bears are no strangers to playing in the NCAA Tournament; Stanford went to the Sweet Sixteen just last year; and Connecticut, of course, is 10 months removed from cutting down the nets in Arlington. Unfortunately for Texas, the win over Iowa now means that the Longhorns have a win against another bubble team instead of a resume-enhancer; beating Cal doesn’t help them with their postseason aspirations; a win over UConn is questionable at best, and a loss to fellow bubble resident Stanford at home doesn’t help things. The conference schedule isn’t much better. Texas has only beaten one team (West Virginia) that is likely to reach the NCAA Tournament. The perception of this team could have easily been improved in a strong conference where every team plays each other twice, but possible sweeps of TCU, Texas Tech and Kansas State do not exactly scream great resume. With road tilts still to come at West Virginia and Kansas followed by home dates with Baylor and Kansas State, the Horns would have to find a way to finish 3-1 by splitting their road games and sweeping the last two in order to get themselves safely into the NCAA Tournament. Otherwise, Texas won’t make it to the finish line. What a disappointment.

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RTC Top 25: Week Fourteen

Posted by Walker Carey on February 23rd, 2015

Former Big East rivals #16 West Virginia and #18 Louisville probably turned in the most eventful week in college basketball. The Mountaineers jumped eight spots this week after earning victories against two ranked opponents, beginning on Monday when senior guard Juwan Staten made a layup with four seconds remaining to give his team a one-point home triumph over #8 Kansas. Bob Huggins’ squad followed that up on Saturday when it grabbed a nice 10-point win at Oklahoma State. Those two Big 12 wins moved West Virginia’s conference record to 9-5, which at this point still gives the Mountaineeers a glimmer of hope in the Big 12 race. While West Virginia’s week had a great week, Louisville experienced something of a media circus that concluded with the dismissal of one of its key players. First, news broke Tuesday evening that senior guard Chris Jones was suspended indefinitely and would not be with the team for Wednesday’s game at Syracuse. Predictably, Louisville blew a second half lead at the Carrier Dome and lost to the Orange by 10 points. Jones was then reinstated on Thursday for Saturday’s home game versus Miami (FL), a game in which Louisville overcame a 10-point halftime deficit on its way to a much-needed two-point win. Just when it seemed like things were returning to normal for Rick Pitino’s program, the school then announced on Sunday afternoon that Jones had been formally dismissed from the program. The Cardinals now have the unenviable task of finishing the balance of the regular season and the postseason without their senior point guard and one of their best offensive threats. College basketball is often where the unexpected happens, and that was certainly on display at Louisville last week.

This week’s Quick N’ Dirty Analysis after the jump…

rtc25 02.23.15

Quick N’ Dirty Analysis.

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Big 12 M5: 02.18.15 Edition

Posted by Brian Goodman on February 18th, 2015

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  1. The road has not been kind to Iowa State in Big 12 play this season. The Cylcones are just 1-4 away from Hilton Coliseum and are about to embark on a stretch where three of their next four games will be in opponents’ gyms. As Travis Hines writes, should the Cyclones fall behind in tonight’s game against Oklahoma State, the key will be to stay loose and avoid the mindset of needing to make up the entire deficit in one play. Fred Hoiberg’s team should also feel some ease in the fact that their porous defense doesn’t figure to be a large issue against the Cowboys, a team that ranks seventh in the conference in offensive efficiency.
  2. On the other sideline, the Cowboys will look to play with the chip on their shoulder that was missing in Saturday’s loss to TCU. Facing Iowa State, Oklahoma State’s attack will have to be much more potent than the 0.89 points per possession it posted against the Horned Frogs. The hot stretch that propelled the Pokes to three straight wins over ranked teams has the team safely on the right side of the bubble, but another two or three wins in the regular season would do a lot to remove any remaining pressure.
  3. Kansas coach Bill Self‘s handling of Cliff Alexander has been a lightning rod for discussion all season, but the fervor on both sides reached a new point when Alexander played just six minutes (and none in the second half) in Kansas’ loss to West Virginia on Monday night. According to the Topeka Capital-Journal‘s Jesse Newell, the Jayhawks had their worst night on the defensive glass since 2009, and it stands to reason that the blue-chip Alexander, despite his shortcomings, could have helped significantly in that department. In a one-point game, it’s tough to isolate the outcome to any one decision, but regardless of what you think of Alexander’s pro prospects, it’s tough to see Kansas making a deep postseason run without him playing a significant role, and in order to do that, he needs reps.
  4. After spending a week and a half beating up on the lower third of the conference, Texas took a tough loss to Oklahoma in Norman Tuesday night. Myles Turner continued his stellar play, posting 16 points and 10 rebounds off the bench to go along with six blocks, but rough shooting nights from Isaiah Taylor (1-of-10) and Jonathan Holmes (2-of-9) made it challenging for the Longhorns to pull off the upset (though it was within reach). I still maintain that Texas’ NCAA Tournament hopes aren’t in any serious jeopardy, but their inability to beat good teams away from Austin (their only conference road wins have come against Texas Tech, TCU and Kansas State) doesn’t bode well for their postseason future.
  5. In the only other Big 12 action last night, Baylor edged Texas Tech by five in Lubbock to get back above .500 in league play. On a night when the Bears’ offense looked otherwise listless, Taurean Prince provided a spark with 18 first half points on his way to 22 overall. Kenny Chery recovered from a horrendous shooting night, closing out the game with four clutch free throws to seal the win.
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Big 12 Power Rankings: College Basketball’s Most Boring Conference? Edition

Posted by Nate Kotisso on February 17th, 2015

We’ve heard from fans and pundits alike this season that the Big 12 is the best conference in college basketball. SB Nation’s Mike Rutherford decided to do some homework on that discussion and released some findings in a piece he published on Monday afternoon. Before you get out your pitchforks and torches, though, Rutherford brings some strong evidence to suggest that maybe the conference is not all it’s cracked up to be. He samples the seven teams that have been ranked in the AP Top 25 during conference play — Kansas, Iowa State, Oklahoma, Baylor, Texas, West Virginia and Oklahoma State — and averaged out each team’s win/loss margin whenever a match-up between two ranked opponents occurred. For instance, in the eight games where a ranked Oklahoma team has faced a ranked Big 12 opponent, the Sooners’ combined average margin of victory (or defeat) was 14.6 points per game.

Is the Big 12 as difficult as the pollsters make it out to be? (Big 12 Conference)

Is the Big 12 as difficult as the pollsters make it out to be?

Rutherford then calculated the other average margins (accurate as of tip-off of the Kansas-West Virginia game) — Iowa State (7.9 PPG), Kansas (8.4), Baylor (10.4), Oklahoma State (12.0), Texas (17.4) and West Virginia (17.8) — and then argues that the scoring margins should be a lot closer that they actually are (aggregate scoring margin: 12.6 PPG). In this context, Rutherford is right. Big 12 basketball can be quite boring. But is that the fault of the teams? Some of it is, but the pollsters deserve the lion’s share of it. Many AP pollsters who don’t primarily cover college basketball sometimes paste together their Top 25s by skimming over how teams did the previous week. While that is clearly an important factor to consider, there are others at play too, such as performances earlier in the season or the severity of some losses. Case in point: Oklahoma was ranked #16 in the AP poll during the week of January 5 but the Sooners would go on to lose four of their next five games. In the January 26 poll released three weeks afterward, Oklahoma dropped from #16 to #24. Often a team that loses twice in a week is poised to completely fall out of the rankings, but the pollsters only punished the Sooners by eight spots following such a rough stretch. Another example is Texas, a team that dropped six of eight games at an early point in league play, falling from #10 to #25 in the AP poll over four weeks. Rankings are ultimately an exercise in aggregating how different people view the world around them, and speaking of which, here’s this week’s Big 12 Power Rankings.

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