Big 12 M5: 11.13.13 Edition

Posted by Brian Goodman on November 13th, 2013

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  1. West Virginia‘s lack of depth came back to bite them Tuesday afternoon as Virginia Tech overcame a 17-point deficit to top the MountaineersJuwan Staten played 39 minutes despite a ghastly 3-of-12 shooting day and fellow guard Eron Harris was allowed to log 38 minutes of his own while going 4-of-17 from the field. Five of the nine players that saw the floor for Bob Huggins tallied at least four fouls, compounding WVU’s issues. Despite having a future Hall Of Famer on its sideline, West Virginia could be facing a long winter for the second straight year. This will likely go down as a “bad loss” in the tournament committee’s mind, and there aren’t many opportunities on the Mountaineers’ non-conference schedule for Huggins’ team to neutralize Tuesday’s effort.
  2. When we laid out a possible road to redemption for Rick Barnes and Texas last month, we didn’t foresee South Alabama giving the Longhorns a scare. Boy, were we wrong to overlook Brad Stevens’ protege, Matthew Graves. His Jaguars raced out to a 15-6 lead and almost handed Texas one of its worst losses under its beleaguered coach, but the Longhorns dug out of a 14-point halftime deficit thanks to big second halves from Jonathan Holmes and Isaiah Taylor and went on to dispose of the Jaguars. 
  3. Another Big 12 team that is probably thankful that the Champions Classic received all the attention Tuesday is TCU, which dropped a stunner to Longwood in Fort Worth last night. Trent Johnson‘s team continues to fight the injury bug and had four players sidelined for this one, but that’s no excuse for a team playing a squad that is only in its second season of  Division-I conference affiliation. Those hoping for a quick rebuild will probably need to adjust their expectations if they haven’t already.
  4. Former Ohio State walk-on Mark Titus, who contributes for Grantland, released his Big 12 outlook yesterday, and like most things Titus writes, it’s an interesting read. From his entertaining superlatives (“Best Senior With A Slim Chance At An NBA Career”) to his ruminations on whether Kansas extends its streak of conference titles, we definitely recommend you take a look.
  5. This time of year, the competition has to be taken into account, but Iowa State put forth a promising defensive effort against Texas A&M-Corpus Christi Tuesday night. The Cyclones held the Islanders to 28.6% shooting from the floor and rebounded 76.9% of their misses. The biggest question surrounding Fred Hoiberg’s team is whether they will defend well enough to support its outstanding offensive potential. A bigger test looms Sunday, when Michigan pays a visit to Hilton Coliseum.
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Big 12 M5: 11.12.13 Edition

Posted by Brian Goodman on November 12th, 2013

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  1. Tonight’s Champions Classic match-up between Kansas and Duke features two of college basketball’s top programs, coaches and freshmen, but there’s another battle going on between the two schools that won’t be decided until later this week. Jahlil Okafor and Tyus Jones will announce their collegiate choices Friday afternoon, according to a tweet from Okafor. The Jayhawks and Blue Devils have long been discussed as the top two competitors for the long-rumored packaged deal, and while the chase hasn’t been the public roller coaster that some recruiting stories can be, it looks like we’ll finally have some resolution.
  2. Yesterday, we touched on Naz Long‘s coming-out party Sunday afternoon in which he went off for 27 points against UNC Wilmington. The performance has the Des Moines Register’s Randy Peterson wondering if Long could see more playing time when Melvin Ejim returns. It’s important to note that Long and Ejim don’t play the same position, but finding enough minutes to go around is always a good problem to have, especially in November. After all, Long is no stranger to playing alongside major talent — his AAU teammates included Andrew Wiggins and Anthony Bennett.
  3. For the second straight game, Oklahoma guard Buddy Hield posted a career-high in the scoring column, making his presence felt by dropping 23 points on North Texas last night. Hield is now averaging 21 points per game, and he still has a long way to go, but if Hield and the Sooners keep this up, they could lead the Sooners to another NCAA Tournament bid.
  4. West Virginia head coach Bob Huggins believes he’ll need every ounce of production he can get out of point guard Juwan Staten. After a rash of defections saw five transfers leave the Mountaineers (on top of three graduating players) over the summer, West Virginia is looking awfully thin. Staten played all 40 minutes of Friday’s season-opening win over St. Mary’s, and it will be interesting to see if he can be Huggins’ Iron Man in Morgantown like Kevin Jones and Da’Sean Butler before him.
  5. The question of who emerges alongside Michael Cobbins to produce defensively in Oklahoma State‘s frontcourt won’t be solved in the Cowboys’ first two games, but head coach Travis Ford hopes to have a clearer idea after tonight‘s game against Utah Valley State in Stillwater. Sophomore Kamari Murphy will be available after missing the season opener with a mild shoulder injury and is one candidate that Ford hopes will make the leap.
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Yes, College Basketball Season is Finally Here

Posted by Taylor Erickson on November 8th, 2013

College hoops fans everywhere, rejoice. Like Harry and Lloyd finally arriving in Aspen, we’re therrre. The anticipation for college basketball season has been building for the past several months, and we can finally take a deep breath and revel in the fact that the official start has arrived. Gone are the days of exhibition games and the abundance of preseason lists and rankings and speculation. Instead, they’re replaced by games that really count, and storylines that actually matter. Your weekends are about to get a lot more intriguing, and your weeknights a lot less boring. From Ames to Austin, Lubbock to Morgantown, and everywhere in between, the Big 12 is chock full of headlines bound to whet your appetite for action on the hardwood. So kick back, relax, and hear us out with a plethora of reasons on why you should be giddy with excitement for another rendition of college basketball.

The Sprint Center will once again host the Big 12 Tournament in March.

The Sprint Center will once again host the Big 12 Tournament in March.

  • For Kansas State fans, it’s a packed house − the Octagon of Doom − and Sandstorm pumping through the PA system so violently you can’t hear yourself think. And the thought of Bruce Weber pulling a purple blazer out of the wardrobe, similar to the orange one he donned at Illinois. Can Shane Southwell become “the man” in Manhattan?  We’ll have to wait and see.
  • In Fort Worth, the reminder of one of the biggest upsets in recent college basketball history has you clamoring for an encore performance again this year. An influx of new talent, and Trent Johnson at the helm provides reason to believe the Horned Frogs can make some noise in the Big 12.
  • Whether it’s a track suit on game day or a letter sweater on media day, there’s no doubt Bob Huggins in comfortable in his own skin. You can bet though, that experiencing his first losing record in nearly 30 years was anything but comforting. The West Virginia head coach is determined to turn things around this year in Morgantown. Is there enough talent this go-round to make the Mountaineers relevant in conference play? Read the rest of this entry »
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Big 12 M5: 11.05.13 Edition

Posted by Nate Kotisso on November 5th, 2013

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  1. On Monday the Associated Press released its All-America team and the only player who received a unanimous selection was Marcus Smart of Oklahoma StateKansas superfrosh Andrew Wiggins was also named to the team, along with Creighton’s Doug McDermott, Louisville’s Russ Smith and Michigan’s Mitch McGary. I’m afraid people who don’t follow college hoops might get the wrong idea based on this preseason All-America team. They might look at the list and think, ‘Gee whiz, that Big 12 is really stacked this season,’ when the reality is that teams ranked below the top three face a multitude of questions marks. I guess the upside is that they will be tricked into watching more Big 12 basketball than they normally would. That doesn’t sound too bad, right?
  2. No Ejim, no problem for Iowa State in its exhibition win on Monday night. The Cyclones throttled Augustana (SD) by a score of 90-68 as DeAndre Kane picked up the double-double duties in the absence of Melvin Ejim. Kane shot a crisp 6-of-8 from the field for 19 points while grabbing 10 rebounds. Matt Thomas, one of the team’s two four-star freshman recruits, nailed 3-of-4 from three-point range and piled up 16 points. Sophomore Georges Niang struggled from the floor in missing 10 shots, including all four three-pointers, while managing to score 10, grab seven boards, and dish out a team-high six assists. You’re encouraged by the offensive output if you’re Fred Hoiberg but still, he’d prefer to have a healthy Ejim out there just like the rest of us.
  3. In slightly less encouraging exhibition newsOklahoma trailed at the half, 41-38, in its game against Oklahoma Christian but managed to win going away, 88-76. Sophomore guard Buddy Hield has battled foot problems dating back to late last season but appeared to be in full health, scoring 19 of his 29 points in the Sooners’ second half comeback. Freshman Jordan Woodard scored 17 points while also dropping six dimes and pulling down five rebounds. The team OU struggled with is a Division I member of the National Christian College Athletic Association (NCCAA for short). That’s right. Imagine what would happen if the Sooners played an actual member of the NCAA. Who do they play in their first game? Alabama? On Friday? Oh… that’s not good.
  4. While coaches around the country continue to voice displeasure with the way referees will call fouls this season, there is one coach out there who might not have that big of a beef with it. That man might be Bob Huggins, who coached his Mountaineers to an 89-70 exhibition win over Fairmont State on Monday night. WVU made 37 of its 54 free throw attempts, and last year’s leading scorer Eron Harris hit 15 of them to help him reach 30 points for the game. But don’t let the 89 points fool you: The Mountaineers were able to make 20-of-49 field goal attempts so it appears their shooting problem from last season might creep up again. WVU’s 54 free throws combined with Fairmont State’s 28 gave us 82 total. In an exhibition game. You would have to be a special kind of person to sit through a game like that.
  5. Texas made news on the recruiting trail Monday with junior college power forward Obinna Oleka committing to the Longhorns. Brad Winton of JucoRecruiting.com reported the State College of Florida prospect chose Texas over Charlotte, Old Dominion, Southern Miss and South Florida. I know talent can come from anywhere, but I didn’t think I’d see a day where a name brand like Texas would be getting players who would otherwise go to places like Old Dominion or South Florida. Are the days of chasing talent that Kentucky, Florida or Kansas also want long gone for the Longhorns? Odd times in Austin for sure.
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Big 12 Team Preview: West Virginia Mountaineers

Posted by Nate Kotisso on November 4th, 2013

This week, the Big 12 microsite will finish previewing each of the league’s 10 teams. Today: West Virginia. 

Where We Left Off: We left off with a year West Virginia hadn’t experienced since legendary coach Gale Catlett’s 8-20 nightmare of a season in 2001-02. While last season’s edition of the Mountaineers won 13 games overall, it felt like eight games considering the success the program had achieved over the past decade. Kevin Jones and Darryl “Truck” Bryant, two integral pieces of the school’s run to the Final Four in 2010, graduated after the 2011-12 season and it seemed their leadership on the court left as well. The responsibility of team leaders fell on the broad shoulders of upperclassmen Deniz Kilicli and Aaric Murray, but their combined struggles on and off the floor set an ominous tone for a team that couldn’t seem to straighten themselves out. The .462 winning percentage in 2012-13 was the worst ever at the Division I level for WVU alumnus Bob Huggins.

I'm sure Bob Huggins would like to smile a bit more in 2013-14. (AP Photo/Orlin Wagner)

I’m sure Bob Huggins would like to smile a bit more in 2013-14. (AP Photo/Orlin Wagner)

Positives: One big problem for WVU last season was scoring, but three of the team’s top five scorers are back for another season. Eron Harris was a precocious freshman who didn’t see consistent playing time until conference play, but when he did play he took advantage of the opportunity, leading the team in scoring at a modest 9.8 points per game. The pressure will be on the sophomore Harris to become this year’s go-to scorer. Terry Henderson is back for his sophomore season as well after developing into a threat from behind the arc last season (40%). More will also be asked of Juwan Staten, who transferred over from Dayton last season and now assumes the responsibility as the team’s starting point guard and defensive leader. Another positive is for Bob Huggins to start fresh this season. The leaders of the team are mostly sophomores and juniors, and if you’re a guy with the pedigree of Huggins, you’ve got to feel better about your team winning more than 13 games this time around.

NegativesAnd yet as I make that point about the underclassmen, that could be his team’s eventual undoing. There isn’t a single senior listed on the roster and two of the five juniors are JuCo transfers. How will this young core deal with adversity? While Murray and Kilicli may have disappointed in their WVU careers, at least they were somewhat intimidating forces in the interior. Their departures leaves a gap that could be filled with an unknown commodity in JuCo transfer Jonathan Holton. He had solid numbers as a freshman at Rhode Island, averaging 10.2 points and 8.1 rebounds, followed by 17.5 points and 14.1 rebounds per game while shooting 39.6% from three-point range at Palm Beach State Community College (FL) last season. But that sure is a lot to expect from one guy needing to replace the production of two players.

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The Big 12, Halloween Style

Posted by Taylor Erickson on October 31st, 2013

Ah, yes, the Halloween holiday is finally upon us. A time of the year when we all seem to be submerged in any type of pumpkin thing we can get our hands on. When most of the country is knee-deep in football season, except at schools like Kansas and Iowa State which have already thrown in the towel and turned the page to basketball. It’s the one time each year adults are allowed to rekindle the flame from childhood and dress themselves in literally anything you can imagine. In the spirit of this festive holiday, let’s take a look around the Big 12, Halloween style.

Trick:  Don’t fall for it, not even for a second. On Wednesday, The Sporting News released a slideshow of college basketball players in costumes they sported as kids many years ago. Scrolling through, you come across a young Brady Heslip, dressed as what would appear to be a lizard of some sort, and yes, he’s even rocking that great head of hair. While a juvenile Heslip appears awfully innocent, make no mistake about it, the grown-up version has a deadly stroke from behind the arc that consistently pains Big 12 foes.

Brady Heslip appears innocent, but will make you pay from behind the arc.

A young, innocent Brady Heslip, now deadly behind the arc. (Sporting News/Heslip family photo)

Treat:  Look at any national college basketball preview, and you’re bound to repeatedly see the names Andrew Wiggins and Marcus Smart. Those of us in the Big 12 will be treated (pun intended) to at least two match-ups between these college superstars, once on January 18 at Allen Fieldhouse, and again on March 1 at Gallagher-Iba Arena. There’s been no shortage of words between the two this preseason, along with head coaches Bill Self and Travis Ford, further magnifying what should be two absolute epic meetings between these schools in Big 12 play. Kansas fans were haunted during the latter half of the 2012-13 season by images of Smart back-flipping his way across James Naismith Court after the Cowboys pulled off the upset in Lawrence.  Here’s to hoping this year will provide plenty of new fireworks.

Trick:  If you’re familiar with the Big 12, chances are that you decided last season that West Virginia’s Mountaineer mascot stakes claim to the “best beard in the Big 12″ award. Make no mistake about it, his facial hair is Duck Dynasty-worthy, but a member of Kansas’ cheer squad is throwing a challenge flag in the direction of Morgantown. Don’t know what I’m referring to? Without further ado, we present you with KU’s yell leader, Cedric, or as he’s quickly become known among the KU fanbase, Thor (pictured below), who made his debut during the Jayhawks’ exhibition game on Tuesday night. We could go into further explanation, but the picture really speaks for itself.

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

Posted by Walker Carey on October 23rd, 2013

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

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

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

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

Lon Kruger

Lon Kruger Faces a Transition Year at Oklahoma

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

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

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

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

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

Posted by Walker Carey on October 22nd, 2013

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Big 12 M5: 10.21.13 Edition

Posted by Kory Carpenter on October 21st, 2013

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  1. Gary Parrish over at CBSSports.com gave us his top 30 big men coming into the season, and the Big 12 was well represented with five players making the list. In order, they are: #8 Isaiah Austin (Baylor), #9 Joel Embiid (Kansas), #11 Cory Jefferson (Baylor), #22 Melvin Ejim (Iowa State), and #29 Georges Niang (Iowa State). Creighton’s Doug McDermott and Kentucky’s Julius Randle topped the list, both of whom are hard to argue against even though Randle is a true, untested freshman. As for Iowa State, if Ejim and Niang play as well as Parrish thinks they can play this season, the Cyclones could contend near the top of the Big 12 standings.
  2. It is surprising that a group of talented, young basketball players don’t want to get out and run in transition, but that appears to be what Bill Self is battling with his team so far this season. “I think this could be the quickest team we’ve had to get up and down the court,” Self told the Lawrence Journal-World‘s Gary Bedore Saturday. “But we’ve got to do it every possession.” Self is right, especially with the way he coaches defense. Kansas teams are known for their outstanding defense, and a team that wants to play fast can convert turnovers into points in a flash. The Jayhawks have as many athletes and as much depth as nearly anyone in the country this season, and with a young team that could take some time to master the offense, getting into transition on a regular basis for easy buckets could be exactly what they need early on.
  3. Oklahoma State guard Marcus Smart isn’t shying away from his decision to return for his sophomore year, bypassing the NBA and the chance to be a top-5 pick last summer. “A lot of people say I turned (a big opportunity) down, but I didn’t turn down anything,” Smart told the Oklahoman‘s Gina Mizell on Friday. “I just pushed it to the side.” Smart spoke after Oklahoma State’s annual “Homecoming and Hoops” Midnight Madness event, highlighted in part by a video montage that was projected onto the Gallagher-Iba court. Smart said the Cowboys have a chance to make history this season in Stillwater, and he is right.
  4. Not only does Texas Athletic Director DeLoss Dodds know his school has a basketball team, he is actually concerned about the state of said basketball team. No, really. ”I worry more about basketball,” Dodds told Sports Illustrated‘s Pete Thamel last week. “If I were going to pick one [program] to worry more about, I worry more about basketball.” Dodds has announced his retirement for next August, so it’s hard to see him firing head coach Rick Barnes and making a new hire on his way out the door, but with a new boss coming to town next fall, Barnes’ days in Austin could be numbered.
  5. Not unlike Bill Self’s wishes, West Virginia head coach Bob Huggins wants his team to start running. Huggins, however, wants his guys to run because they’ve been so busy teaching and learning this season that actually playing the game has been secondary at times. ”It’s just that with all those new guys we’re doing so much teaching that we haven’t had a chance to run up and down,” Huggins said after Friday’s Midnight Madness, officially named the “Gold-Blue Debut.” The Mountaineers return only five players from last year and will have a steep learning curve this season regardless of how much running they do.
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Big 12 M5: 10.15.13 Edition

Posted by Brian Goodman on October 15th, 2013

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  1. The Sporting News’ Mike DeCourcy became the latest national writer to go in-depth with Andrew Wigginsthough he also got some interesting quotes from Bill Self and Wiggins’ teammate, Perry Ellis. All three continued to downplay the non-stop hype surrounding the freshman phenom, citing his still-nascent sense of aggression, his transition from an interior player to more of an all-around threat, and the relatively low likelihood of him stuffing a stat sheet the way Carmelo Anthony, Kevin Durant and Michael Beasley did before him. Our guess is that their efforts won’t stop opposing coaches from making him a focus of their game plans, nor will it keep the national media from putting him under a microscope, but in just a few weeks, Wiggins will finally have the chance to let his game speak for itself.
  2. Kansas State will likely take a step back this season after two key players graduated, and a third, Angel Rodriguez, opted to transfer. Those departures will put pressure not only on seniors Shane Southwell and Will Spradling, but also on newcomers Marcus Foster and Wesley Iwandu. KSU’s student paper, The Collegian, caught a glimpse of the new-look Wildcats during a scrimmage Monday afternoon and came away impressed by Foster and Iwandu. We have to apply the official RTC disclaimer regarding putting excessive stock into practices, but if the Wildcats’ five-man freshmen class develops faster than anticipated, it will greatly help KSU’s chances of staying competitive with the top four teams in the conference.
  3. It’s common knowledge that the head coaching situation at Texas is one of the shakiest in the Big 12 (and maybe in the country), but the lack of stability is about a lot more than simply Rick Barnes‘ recent trend of disappointing seasons and whiffs on the recruiting trail. The entire administration will be in a state of flux following the retirement of athletic director DeLoss Dodds, and university leaders understand the onus is on them to take a calculated approach in finding the next AD. We understand that football always drives the bus when it comes to big decisions in college athletics, but we’re looking forward to the day when the Longhorns return to a state of perennial contention on the hardwood. Texas simply has too many resources to struggle for as long as it has, so hopefully it isn’t too long before the Frank Erwin Center is buzzing again, regardless of who is at the controls.
  4. Yesterday, we talked about the transition of Iowa State from a transfer-laden team to one of home-grown talent, but one of its most important players this season will once again be a newcomerDeAndre Kane, formerly of Marshall. The fifth-year point guard filled up the scoring column for three seasons with the Thundering Herd, though not always efficiently. After a rift emerged between he and head coach Tom Herrion, the two sides parted ways over the summer and Kane ended up in Ames. Whether Kane benefits from the change of scenery or reverts to his frustrating style of play could play a huge role in deciding the Cyclones’ fate in the Big 12 race in 2013-14.
  5. Bob Hertzel of The Exponent Telegram (WV) spoke with West Virginia head coach Bob Huggins about a few storylines surrounding the Mountaineers this preseason, including their schedule, personnel and shooting environments as they get ready for their second trip through the Big 12. The most interesting nugget from the piece is Huggins appearing to doubt himself in lining up a tough schedule for his team, which is thin on experience as well as depth, especially down low. Non-conference tilts against Gonzaga, Missouri, Purdue and either Saint Louis or Wisconsin pepper the Mountaineers’ slate, so the margin of error will be razor thin as West Virginia looks to return to the Big Dance after a surprising one-year layoff.
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AAC M5: 10.14.13 Edition

Posted by Will Tucker on October 14th, 2013

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  1. One year after a postseason ban prevented his team from participating in the Big East and NCAA Tournaments, Kevin Ollie reports that his UConn team scored a perfect Academic Progress Score (APR) in the 2012-13 season. “We learned from our mistakes and we are going forward,” Ollie stressed, adding, “you want to create an environment that’s conducive for these kids to learn.” Junior Ryan Boatright and senior Shabazz Napier seem to have assumed primary leadership roles on a team that is expected to compete for an NCAA Tournament berth this season, after accumulating APR scores of 978 and 947 in the 2010-11 and 2011-12 seasons, respectively. “Nobody wants to run for somebody else not going to class,” said Boatright, “so we definitely make sure everybody goes to class and does their work.”
  2. While the American Athletic Conference lacks several high-profile vestiges of the Big East (RIP), Cincinnati Coach Mick Cronin believes the sea change will serve the Bearcats as well as similar changes have in the past. Cronin pointed out that the 14 regular-season UC games scheduled to appear on the ESPN family of networks this season is the most of his tenure, and noted, “Coach Huggins built this program with a bigger fish in a smaller pond mentality.” In light of the forthcoming loss of rival Louisville from the conference schedule, Cronin said he was already working to “get some bigger name non-league games at home” in 2014-15. The eighth-year head coach said he was trying to keep the Cardinals on the schedule as a non-conference opponent, which would obviously be a treat for fans of either long-time nemesis.
  3. Addressing summer rumors at Louisville media day, Cardinals guard Kevin Ware said that he first heard a report that he’d been kicked off of the team from his sister. “She was like, ‘You got kicked off the team?’ I woke up — first thing in the morning — and had to ask, what are you talking about? All those rumors and things like that are false. I’m still here.” The junior guard and his teammates reiterated that he had remained a member of the team throughout the offseason, and Ware attributed the rumor to a Kentucky blog, noting, “I wouldn’t say they started it for sure, but that’s the only thing I can think of. Just the whole U of L-UK thing.”
  4. Newly-hired Memphis assistant coach Robert Kirby gave all of us a major dose of perspective last week when he donated a kidney to his 57-year-old sister, who was suffering from renal failure and in danger of losing her life. Kirby was the only one of 12 siblings determined to be an eligible match for the operation, and they had lost their mother to a similar condition in 1996 after she refused to explore the possibility of a kidney donation from any of her children. His sister, Virginia Kirk, reportedly showed signs of improvement almost immediately, and the first-year Tigers assistant hopes to return to practice in the coming weeks.
  5. After a difficult year that saw the firing of basketball coach Mike Rice and the resignation of athletic director Tim Pernetti, Rutgers President Robert Barchi made a laudable gesture when he announced last week that he would donate his $90,000 bonus toward his school’s scholarship fund. Citing “a year of fiscal restraint” in which Rutgers is “asking our faculty, students and staff to do more with less,” Barchi wrote to the Board of Governors that he and his wife intended to donate the performance-based reward toward student aid. In addition to multiple recent controversies within the athletic department, The (Newark) Star-Ledger reports that Barchi was encouraged over the summer by several state lawmakers to step down from the boards of two private companies that engage in business with the university.
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Five More Additions to ESPN’s College Basketball Bucket List

Posted by BHayes on August 26th, 2013

Bennet Hayes is an RTC columnist. He can be reached @HoopsTraveler.

Last week ESPN released a “college bucket list”: a compilation of must-see stops in the world of college athletics. Naturally, the bulk of the list consisted of requisite college football and basketball experiences. The hoops portion contains visits to a number of storied hardwoods — Cameron Indoor, Allen Fieldhouse, and Rupp Arena, among others. We certainly can’t find any issue with any of ESPN’s 10 listed selections, but to round out the list, we can think of a few more pilgrimages that college basketball fans simply have to make in their lifetimes. Consider these five the appetizers to go along with the entrees that ESPN already listed.

Vegas in March is Like Nothing Else

Vegas in March is Like Nothing Else

Spend the First Weekend Of NCAA Tournament At a Vegas Sports Book (Las Vegas, NV) – It’s a marriage made in heaven: the most exciting, frenzied weekend of American sport paired with a manic city loaded with the most prime of sports viewing stations – a Las Vegas sports book. It may sound strange, but gambling is entirely optional for this Vegas trip. No place better captures the emotional pendulum of the NCAA Tournament’s first weekend than a packed sports book, and every college hoops fan – even those not inclined to wagering money on the games – should take in March’s first dose of Madness from Sin City at least once.

Attend a Game at the Kennel (Spokane, WA) – The Cinderella phenomenon has long been a crucial piece of college basketball lore, and no program is more synonymous with the role than the Gonzaga Bulldogs. As “mid-major” schools like Butler, Creighton, and VCU continue to cultivate programs that look built to last, it’s important to remember that it was the Zags who first drafted the blueprint. They are “America’s Team” to some but Spokane’s team to all, and the rabid support of their school and city has quickly made the Kennel one of the most feared home courts in all the land. Don’t be fooled — if you make the trip out to Eastern Washington you will not find the tradition of a Kentucky or a Kansas waiting there for you. But what you will find is a city, a program, and a team that, in the most populist of senses, embodies what college basketball is all about.

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