NCAA Eligibility Issue Shelves Kansas’ Cliff Alexander: Impacts

Posted by Brian Goodman on February 28th, 2015

All season long, the play of Kansas forward Cliff Alexander has been a divisive topic among hoopheads. His tempo-based stats paint the picture of a dynamic, impactful big man on a team that has struggled to find a solution on both ends, yet he’s been benched for mental lapses and early foul trouble that indicaes a tough-love approach from Bill Self. Wherever you fall on that spectrum, it’s tough to argue that Alexander’s presence would have been helpful for Kansas in today’s match-up against a big Texas team, but the Jayhawks were dealt a blow when the NCAA reportedly brought a potential eligibility issue to Kansas’ attention, essentially forcing the team to bench the freshman for today’s game against the Longhorns.

The oft-criticized Cliff Alexander played well against Texas last month, but will sit out today's game against the Longhorns. (AP Photo/Michael Thomas)

The oft-criticized Cliff Alexander played well against Texas last month, but will sit out today’s rematch. (AP Photo/Michael Thomas)

In the short term, the Jayhawks are likely to miss Alexander against a team that thrives on its rebounding and shot-blocking ability. While Landen Lucas and Jamari Traylor have received the lion’s share of minutes alongside Perry Ellis, they could be overpowered against Texas’ vaunted front line. It’s certainly worth pointing out that in the first match-up between these teams on January 24, Alexander posted perhaps his best line of the season (15 points, nine rebounds and zero turnovers in 27 minutes) while Traylor scored just two points and grabbed four rebounds in 20 minutes and Lucas didn’t see any action. While it remains a fool’s errand to bet against the Jayhawks in Allen Fieldhouse, Lucas, Traylor and seldom-used Hunter Mickelson will have to step up in order to neutralize Texas’ frontcourt attack.

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Big 12 M5: 02.20.15 Edition

Posted by Brian Goodman on February 20th, 2015

morning5_big12

  1. Kansas coach Bill Self revealed on Thursday that big man Cliff Alexander has been banged up, but that nagging back and chest problems shouldn’t keep him from playing at a high level as the Jayhawks enter the home stretch. While Alexander has started the last few games, Self has felt more comfortable with the more experienced Landen Lucas for most of the game and the redshirt freshman affirmed his coach’s faith with solid production against Baylor and West Virginia. How Self manages his frontcourt rotation is likely to continue to be newsworthy tomorrow when the Jayhawks square off against TCU.
  2. Burnt Orange Nation has a thorough preview of the best match-up of the weekend, which pits Texas against visiting Iowa State. The Cyclones, known for converting most every close shot they get, will face a Texas frontcourt that has improved since struggling in December and January. Despite a disappointing campaign to this point, there isn’t much reason to fret over the Longhorns’ chances of making the NCAA Tournament quite yet, but a loss would spark a heightened level of debate, so a win would definitely keep their heads above water.
  3. Meanwhile, the Cyclones, who had struggled on the road before beating Oklahoma State earlier in the week, will try to keep the good vibes going. With five games remaining to make up one game on conference-leading Kansas, history is still in Iowa State’s sights. They will need some help, but any help they get will be moot if they don’t take care of business themselves. As for Iowa State’s gameplan, the Longhorns have the ninth-best transition defense in the country according to hoop-math.comso if Fred Hoiberg’s team is going to pull off another upset, it will probably have to be on the efficiency of its half-court offense.
  4. Thursday afternoon saw craziness ensue during the NBA trade deadline, and there were a couple interesting developments for former Big 12 standouts. The headline-grabber is a mini-reunion of the memorable 2006-07 Texas Longhorns with D.J. Augustin and Kevin Durant once again joining forces as Augustin was dealt from the Pistons to Durant’s Thunder. On a less pleasant note, former Jayhawk Thomas Robinson, who has struggled to find a permanent home at the next level, is on the move again after he was dealt from the Trail Blazers to the Nuggets. Robinson has already reportedly agreed to a buyout with Denver, though, so it looks like he’ll be on the move again as he searches for a role more befitting of a former #5 overall draft pick.
  5. Lastly, it’s been a very up-and-down month for Oklahoma State, which rode a wave of stellar victories before running into bumps in the road against TCU and Iowa State. Refusing to let the inconsistent play be a source of frustration, the Cowboy blog Pistols Firing brought some levity to the situation with some good old-fashioned satire at the expense of the team’s coaching staff. The post re-imagines coach Travis Ford as a “Breakfast Club”-type principal with assistant coach James Dickey playing the good cop role. It’s definitely worth a read.
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Big 12 M5: 02.18.15 Edition

Posted by Brian Goodman on February 18th, 2015

morning5_big12

  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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Big 12 Power Rankings: Oklahoma, Where Wins Come Sweeping Down the Plains Edition

Posted by Nate Kotisso on February 9th, 2015

The regular season can be a long, drawn out-proposition. Around 12 to 15 games are typically played during the pre-conference season, and even though it’s impossible to survey each team correctly, people like us try it anyway to avoid doing something else that’s actually mind-numbing. Case in point with Oklahoma. While some prognosticators pegged them as an early darkhorse to make the Final Four, no one told Creighton about that as the Bluejays beat the Sooners by two points in their second game of the season (RPI: #130). Lon Kruger’s team made up for that defeat by winning two of three out in its trip to the Bahamas, including a key neutral-court victory over a much-improved Butler team (RPI: #18). December resulted in another hiccup, though, with the Sooners losing to a ranked Washington group on a neutral court. The Huskies had started the year 11-0 with several nice victories before losing nine of their next 12 games. Now that loss is looking a lot more iffy (RPI: #80).

Don't be shy. Give it a try. (SoonerSports.com)

Don’t be shy. Give it a try. (SoonerSports.com)

Thank goodness for conference play, right? Every team welcomes the chance to start all over again. After beating Baylor and Texas by a combined 31 points to tip off Big 12 play, bad Oklahoma paid a return visit. Starting with a crushing home loss in the final seconds of overtime to Kansas State, the Sooners would move on to lose four of their next five contests. But in recent weeks, it now appears that good Oklahoma is back in action with a four-game winning streak. Through the ups and downs has been a talented crop of players but perhaps the best of this group is Big 12 Player of the Year candidate Buddy Hield. His game was far more perimeter-oriented last year, but Hield has become a dangerous offensive weapon from anywhere on the floor this season. So given all of these ups and downs, the Sooners are poise to leap into sole possession of second place in the Big 12 and become the newest challenger to Kansas’ throne. But they have to win tonight.

Power Rankings

  1. Kansas — 3 points (All voted 1st). Comment: “The Jayhawks control their own destiny despite Saturday’s loss in Stillwater, but the allocation of minutes across their frontcourt continues to baffle me. Cliff Alexander played 16 minutes and was fantastic around the rim while Jamari Traylor set a new career high in turnovers (six) in his 23 minutes of action. Meanwhile, Landen Lucas contributed a forgettable two rebounds and no points in 12 minutes.” – Brian Goodman (@BSGoodman)
  2. Iowa State — 7 points (Chris & Nate — 2nd, Brian — 3rd) Comment: “The Cyclones blasted Texas Tech 75-38 this week, as Jameel McKay found his way into the starting lineup due to Bryce Dejean-Jones’ tardiness. After finishing with 17 points and nine rebounds, McKay might be proving himself worthy of a permanent spot.” – Chris Stone (@cstonehoops) Read the rest of this entry »
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Big 12 M5: 02.06.15 Edition

Posted by Brian Goodman on February 6th, 2015

morning5_big12

  1. Texas‘ overtime loss to Oklahoma State on Wednesday dropped the Longhorns to a disappointing 3-6 in conference play and ignited some talk of the possibility of the Longhorns missing the NCAA Tournament for the second time in three years. I’m here to tell you that that chatter is very premature. While Texas doesn’t have any business being this bad with its formidable blend of talent and experience, it’s way too early to be bringing the Horns into the bubble conversation. They still own wins over Iowa at Madison Square Garden and UConn in Storrs, as well as a home win over West Virginia. On the other side of the ledger, their losses, while numerous, aren’t particularly egregious for their resume — every team they’ve lost to is currently ranked in the RPI top 35. Lastly, as is always the case with these kinds of conversations, in order to leave Texas out of the Big Dance, you have to find a team with a better resume, and the bubble right now is just too soft to make a convincing argument for the Longhorns to be left on the outside. There’s no doubt Texas has fallen well short of expectations, but they aren’t in any danger of missing the Tournament – yet. If they lose two or more of their next three games (at Kansas State, at home against TCU and Texas Tech), then we can talk.
  2. It’s been an up-and-down few years for Oklahoma State, so when a season highlight presents itself, I don’t have any problem if its fanbase wants to milk it for all its worth. Kyle Porter of Pistols Firing dissects Le’Bryan Nash’s rim-shaking throwdown from Wednesday night in great detail, all the way from how the play developed to the always-fun bench reactions and Travis Ford getting greedy and lobbying for a foul call. Looking around the conference, there isn’t a player who is more important to his team’s postseason chances than Nash is to the Cowboys due to his high usage and ability to create plays for himself, so when a play of his goes viral, it’s definitely worth passing along.
  3. Luke Winn’s power rankings at SI.com are always a great read, and this week’s edition includes an interesting blurb about Cliff Alexander‘s presence on the interior. We’ve talked before about Alexander’s offensive rawness in the post, but Winn illuminates how much Alexander lags behind his peers in this department. Jahlil Okafor, Myles Turner and Karl-Anthony Towns have all been considerably more productive on the blocks, but in fairness to Alexander, the other three players are taller and should be expected to post better numbers. Alexander has the potential to develop a true back-to-the-basket game over time, however, so we’ll see what the second half of conference play and the postseason brings out of the freshman.
  4. Tomorrow’s match-up between Baylor and West Virginia is one of the more interesting games of the weekend. A Baylor win would pull the Bears even with West Virginia, allowing them to keep a sliver of hope in ultimately catching Kansas in the league standings. The Mountaineers’ press will look to speed up Baylor’s deliberate tempo, which is currently ranked 300th in the country with an average possession length of 19.7 seconds. Additionally, neither team shoots particularly well, but both rank in the top five nationally in offensive rebounding. Unless Baylor gets white-hot from beyond the arc (as they can get sometimes), you can expect the winner of this one to be determined by second-chance points.
  5. We’ll wrap up by giving Oklahoma credit for fielding the conference’s most efficient defensive unit in the first half of Big 12 play. Kansas has owned that title in each of the last three full seasons and nine of the last 10, so while there’s still a lot of basketball to be played, it says a lot about the progress Lon Kruger‘s team has made from last year’s shaky defensive performance. Buddy Hield has slightly improved his steals rate from 2.4% last year to 2.6% this year while committing just 1.8 fouls per game in conference play. Those marks would be impressive for any player, but it’s especially noteworthy for Hield because of the high workload he’s asked to shoulder (he’s averaging 34 minutes per game in Big 12 play). The Sooners have held their last three opponents to an average of 48 points per game and could be a decent bet to do the same when they face TCU in Fort Worth tomorrow.
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Kansas’ Frontcourt Management Remains a Concern

Posted by Brian Goodman on January 30th, 2015

Last weekend’s win at Texas gave Kansas some daylight in the Big 12 standings, and, as I discussed on Monday, that little bit of separation may be all it needs to bring home an 11th straight Big 12 title. While the Jayhawks still have three games remaining against what are currently their two closest challengers (West Virginia and Iowa State), they are the clear favorite now that they have built a one-game lead. Expectations in Lawrence, however, don’t end with winning the conference; a deep run in the NCAA Tournament is part of the deal, too. Despite Kansas’ talented rotation and clear improvement over the last few weeks, there’s reason to be concerned with how Bill Self has handled his frontcourt and its ultimate impact on the Jayhawks’ long-term ceiling.

Bill Self (USA Today Images)

Bill Self’s Frontcourt Rotations Have Been Curious (USA Today Images)

That questionable management reared its ugly head in Wednesday’s 64-61 victory over TCU. The game started favorably for Kansas. Sensing a mismatch in the post, Kansas called Perry Ellis‘ number and the junior delivered on the team’s first two possessions, scoring the Jayhawks’ first five points. When Ellis quickly picked up two personal fouls within the game’s first two minutes, though, Self pulled his second-leading scorer and leading rebounder for the rest of the half. The move was confounding not only because Ellis entered the game averaging 16.3 points per contest over his last three outings, but also because he’s been by far the least foul-prone of Kansas’ four regular big men this season, according to KenPom’s data.

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Big 12 Power Rankings: Bill Self is Smarter Than Me/You/Us Edition

Posted by Nate Kotisso on January 27th, 2015

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

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

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

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

Power Rankings

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

Big 12 Video/GIF of the Week 

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

https://vine.co/v/OTHm0XWX15p

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

Five Big 12 Games You Better Watch This Week

  1. Tuesday: West Virginia at Kansas State (6:00 PM CT, ESPN2)
  2. Tuesday: Baylor at Oklahoma State (8:00 PM CT, ESPNEWS)
  3. Wednesday: Kansas at TCU (8:00 PM CT, ESPNU)
  4. Saturday: Kansas State at Kansas (1:00 PM CT, ESPN)
  5. Saturday: Texas at Baylor (5:00 PM CT, ESPN2)
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Steady Improvement Puts Kansas in Big 12 Driver’s Seat Again

Posted by Brian Goodman on January 26th, 2015

For all the chaos and cannibalization taking place in the Big 12 this season, the top of the conference sure is in a familiar state after three weeks of play. With a 75-62 win that was as complete a performance as we’ve seen from Kansas all year long — and timed with Texas Tech’s upset of Iowa State — the Jayhawks on Saturday swung the odds of an 11th straight Big 12 title solidly back to their side. Bill Self’s teams always seem to make a significant leap around the holiday break, and this year’s group appears no different. In fact, you could take it one step further and argue that the Jayhawks have noticeably improved just in the last week since losing to Iowa State at Hilton Coliseum.

Cliff Alexander and the Jayhawks are ahead of the pack after a big win in Austin and some help from Texas Tech. (KUSports.com/Nick Krug)

Cliff Alexander and the Jayhawks are ahead of the pack after a big win in Austin and some help from Texas Tech. (KUSports.com/Nick Krug)

After getting benched for a lack of hustle, Cliff Alexander has burst forward with activity, averaging 14 points and 11 rebounds per game in last week’s outings on his way to Big 12 Newcomer Of The Week honors. He still doesn’t have much of a post arsenal, but he makes up for it with outstanding strength and athleticism. In Austin, he got the best of fellow blue-chipper Myles Turner, outworking him for rebounds and slipping by him for close looks. Alexander’s motor was on display on one defensive trip in particular, when he successfully keeping Turner out of the low post, making the big freshman receive the ball just off the elbow and forcing a bad shot.

Alexander’s frontcourt teammate, Perry Ellis, is also coming back around. Ellis had been benched two weeks ago after committing four early turnovers against Oklahoma State, exacerbating the limitations that made him a target of criticism both to Kansas fans and more objective observers. In the three games since, he’s averaged 16.3 points and eight rebounds per contest with just three total turnovers. Ellis’ turnaround has come predominantly from getting the ball in better spots and improved execution in his footwork near the basket. He may not be the classic Kansas power forward who can back down his man from 15 feet in, but his face-up game over the last two weeks has been effective enough to maintain his status as a weapon.

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Big 12 M5: 01.26.15 Edition

Posted by Chris Stone on January 26th, 2015

morning5_big12

  1. Coming into the season, Texas looked like the team that would finally end Kansas’ streak of 10 straight Big 12 titles. The Longhorns’ roster combines NBA talent like Myles Turner with hardened veterans like Jonathan Holmes, but in the teams’ first meeting on Saturday, Kansas bullied the Longhorns in a 75-62 win at the Erwin Center. Rustin Dodd of The Kansas City Star called it, “Kansas’ most complete victory in a season-long hunt for an unprecedented 11th straight Big 12 title.” The Jayhawks only turned the ball over three times in the entire game; Cliff Alexander (15 points and nine rebounds) was the best player on the floor; and Jamari Traylor made the best play Bill Self’s seen in his time at Kansas. Perhaps we all made a mistake in underestimating the Jayhawks.
  2. The most surprising game of the weekend happened in Lubbock where Texas Tech knocked off Iowa State, 78-73. The Red Raiders entered the contest as the only team without a win in the Big 12 and had spent most of the conference season looking like they’d finish that way, but a hot start allowed them to jump out to big lead against the Cyclones. Now, the calls for change are coming. Jameel McKay has been a revelation for Fred Hoiberg, and his energy levels are causing some to wonder whether he should be inserted into the starting lineup. It’s a reasonable consideration given McKay’s play, but the timing makes this feel like a bit of an overreaction. McKay is a very good player and perhaps he deserves a chance to start, but basing those decisions off of one loss doesn’t seem like the Hoiberg way.
  3. After a rough ride during their non-conference schedule, Kansas State now sits just a half game back of the top spot in the Big 12 standings after a 63-53 win over Oklahoma State. The Wildcats have been playing much better defense in conference play, as Bruce Weber’s squad currently has the fourth best defensive efficiency rating in the Big 12. Phil Forte spoke of Kansas State’s aggressiveness and physicality saying, “Any time you play K-State, you know you’re playing against one of the best defensive teams not just in the league but in the country.” We should get a better sense of where the Wildcats stand in relation to the rest of the league this week when they take on West Virginia and Kansas.
  4. Oklahoma is now just 3-4 in Big 12 play after losing at Baylor on Saturday, having now lost four of their last five including their two most recent games. Although Oklahoma’s defense has slipped in league play — now allowing 100.4 points per 100 possessions — it’s not time to panic just yet. The Sooners played a good non-conference schedule and picked up some nice wins before Big 12 play began. They have also played their conference road games at Texas, West Virginia, Kansas, and Baylor already, and have yet to play a game against either Texas Tech or TCU. Oklahoma will surely find its way into the NCAA Tournament and Lon Kruger’s team has the talent to make a run once it gets there.
  5. Tonight gives us another fantastic matchup in the Big 12 as Texas travels to Ames to take on Iowa State. Both teams are coming off of a loss and will need a win to stay in the race for the regular season title. It’s a fantastic contrast of styles with the Cyclones’ high tempo offense and the Longhorns’ stout defense anchored by their massive front line. Be sure to tune into ESPN at 9:00 PM ET to catch the action — just another loaded week of games in the best basketball conference in America this season.
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Big 12 Saturday Preview

Posted by Brian Goodman on January 24th, 2015

This weekend’s slate of Big 12 action isn’t quite as loaded as last week’s in terms of games expected to have a significant impact on the league race, but with the conference being arguably the best one in the country, that’s all relative. The biggest match-up on Saturday’s schedule features league favorite Kansas traveling to Austin to take on the Longhorns, who are looking to reassert themselves in the conference race. 

Oklahoma State at Kansas State (12:00 EST) – The 3-3 Cowboys have a win over Texas in their back pocket, but on the whole, their resume isn’t particularly impressive. If the NCAA Tournament started today, they would almost certainly be in, but a rough go of it on the road has prevented Travis Ford’s team from compiling a stronger case for seeding. They’ll look to reverse their fortunes when they shoot for just their second true road win of the season (the first being a convincing victory over a mediocre Memphis team) with an early afternoon tilt in Manhattan. The Wildcats, meanwhile, are still trying to prove their worth as a potential NCAA Tournament team, and a big component of that equation is holding serve on their home court against competitive teams. The battle between Marcus Foster and Phil Forte should be a fun one, and whether Nino Williams (20 points per game in his last two contests) continues to emerge as a dependable complement to Foster could play a decisive role. Prediction: Kansas State 66, Oklahoma State 63.

Everyone is Waiting on Kansas State to Regress (USA Today Images)

Everyone is Waiting on Kansas State to Regress (USA Today Images)

TCU at West Virginia (2:00 EST) – It’s still crazy to believe that after missing the NCAA Tournament in consecutive seasons, the Mountaineers are just a few bounces away from 16-1. Their offense hasn’t been pretty, with sub-200 rankings in both two-point shooting and three-point shooting, but it’s still been one of the most effective units in the country thanks to an aversion to turnovers. Of course, there’s also West Virginia’s stifling pressure defense, which has created barrels of extra possessions for Bob Huggins’ team. They’ll look to speed up a TCU offense that is much more deliberate at 62 possessions per game, so the Horned Frogs will have very small margin of error as they try to get their second league win. Prediction: West Virginia 70, TCU 59.

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Four Key Takeaways From a Wild Night In Lawrence

Posted by Brian Goodman on January 20th, 2015

It was a tale of two halves last night in Lawrence, as Kansas hit nine first half threes to sprint out to a commanding 51-32 halftime lead against Oklahoma, only to watch it disappear as the Sooners stormed back to take a four-point lead before collapsing at the end. Let’s consider four key takeaways from a game of several crazy swings.

Kansas and Oklahoma Took It Hard at Each Other Last Night (USA Today Images)

Kansas and Oklahoma Took It Hard at Each Other Last Night (USA Today Images)

  • Fiery start fuels Kansas’ first halfKelly Oubre got things going by connecting on a pair of early threes and the Jayhawks refused to let up on their way to 51 first half points. Although Oklahoma remained close for the first five minutes, Kansas would register a 16-0 perimeter barrage with nearly everyone contributing. This team is built to fire away from deep, but Bill Self has tried in vain to establish an inside presence even though he doesn’t have a true back-to-the-basket big man (however, Cliff Alexander may be developing into one, as we’ll discuss separately below). While Kansas’ scorching first half is a statistical outlier, it underscores the fact that the Jayhawks are at their best when they utilize their outside shooting prowess.
  • Don’t overlook Buddy Hield in the Big 12 POY race: This conference is filled with scorers from Marcus Foster to Phil Forte to Georges Niang, but the Sooners’ Buddy Hield may be the best of the bunch. His 26 points were a game-high and he’s now shooting a superb 60.5 percent on twos in league action in spite of his 6’4″ frame, along with a 44 percent clip from deep in Big 12 play. Hield isn’t without his warts, though, as he tends to rush shots (especially in transition) and he could stand to share the ball a little more often with talented and effective teammates like Isaiah Cousins and Ryan Spangler. Still, the junior is an undeniable star, as evidenced not only by his huge game in arguably the most intimidating environment in college basketball, but his play all season to date.

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