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 Weekend Preview

Posted by Brian Goodman on February 13th, 2015

As we move into mid-February, the dust in the Big 12 race may finally be starting to settle. Kansas at the head of the pack isn’t anything new, but recent games have brought us a little more clarity behind them after several weeks of volatility. Oklahoma has built a sliver of separation on Iowa State and Baylor while West Virginia‘s backloaded schedule looks like it’s starting to catch up to them. Of course, we’d be remiss if we didn’t mention Oklahoma State, which has done more in the last week to change its NCAA Tournament status than perhaps any other team in the country. Weekend #7 of conference play should continue to provide resolution, but you never know when things will get chaotic again.

Wayne Selden (left) and Brannen Greene (center) have made a living torching Big 12 opponents from deep. (Jamie Squire/Getty)

Is a reliable back-to-the-basket threat really that important when Wayne Selden (left) and Brannen Greene (center) are torching all comers from deep? (Jamie Squire/Getty)

  • Baylor at Kansas (1:00 ET) – Bill Self wants his team to shoot fewer threes, but the data suggests that it shouldn’t as Kansas ranks seventh in the country in three-point percentage (40.9%). In addition, the Jayhawks make post scoring look like pulling teeth at times, so a game against Baylor’s zone should dictate more long-range bombing. Also of note here is the development that Cliff Alexander will start consecutive games for the first time all season, so keep an eye on how he responds to the challenge of keeping the glass-eating Rico Gathers off the boards.
  • West Virginia at Iowa State (4:00 ET) – Losers of two of their last three, the Mountaineers are about to enter a scheduling gauntlet that starts tomorrow at less than full strength — sophomore Brandon Watkins availability is in question after he sprained his MCL against Kansas State. Iowa State is in a little bit of a rut themselves lately, having also lost two of their last three games. As welcome an addition as Jameel McKay has been for the Cyclones, their recent efforts on defense have been horrific, so perhaps a home game against the league’s seventh-ranked will cure what ails them.

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Big 12 M5: 02.11.15 Edition

Posted by Nate Kotisso on February 11th, 2015

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  1. We now have repeat winners representing this week’s Big 12 Player and Newcomer of the Week. Baylor’s Rico Gathers takes Player of the Week after sharing the honor with K-State’s Nino Williams two weeks ago. It’s hard to deny the award to a guy who averaged 15.5 points and 17 rebounds in wins over TCU and West Virginia but that’s exactly what Gathers accomplished for the Bears. Oklahoma State’s Anthony Hickey wins his second Newcomer of the Week award after taking home the honors for the week of December 15. Hickey’s 15 points in a win at Texas and 15 more vs Kansas were instrumental in the Cowboys’ climb up the Big 12 ladder. Better make room in your trophy cases, fellas.
  2. Is Travis Ford the Big 12’s Coach of the Year thus far? ESPN’s Myron Medcalf thinks so and makes a compelling argument for the Oklahoma State coach. When you have the week the Cowboys have had sweeping the regular season series from Texas, a double-digit comeback victory versus Kansas and taking care of the also-streaking Baylor Bears, a question like this is bound to pop up. We have to remember that today is only February 11. Chaos has been commonplace nearly everywhere in the Big 12 except for the very top of the league and with six games to go, it’d be silly to expect the status quo to remain the status quo. We have to also remember that the only anxious people in Stillwater is, well, everyone because they’ve tasted fleeting success under Ford before only to see season after season end in disappointment. Who knows, maybe this is the year the Cowboys finish stronger than they usually do and Medcalf’s case makes a lot of sense. But at the same time, we wouldn’t be having this conversation seven days ago. Life can come at you fast.
  3. Down two of their top four scorers in Manhattan, Texas and coach Rick Barnes needed a spark. As Chris Hummer of Horns247 notes, Barnes went with a three-guard starting lineup for the first time all season and it worked out beautifully. With Javan Felix and Jonathan Holmes‘ statuses still up in the air as of now, this experiment by Barnes would be worth trying out again. The trio of Isaiah Taylor, Demarcus Holland and Kendal Yancy, spacing on offense was as good as it has been all year long. Taylor was at his best, keeping the K-State defense off balance by driving and finding teammates. At 4-6 in conference play, it could be time to tinker with the lineup even if Felix and Holmes are ready to go. The Longhorns may not have much time to right the ship completely before the Big 12 Tournament but they must turn it around to ensure a spot in the NCAA Tournament.
  4. The Lubbock Avalanche-Journal came out with a list of the 20 best players in the Big 12 earlier this week. In a league as talented as this one, you can’t possibly find 20 credible names without leaving some good ones off the list but there are a couple (Kenny Chery, Jonathan Holmes). As for the rankings themselves, I’d have some guys higher (Nash, Forte) and some lower (Spangler) but it’s not half bad. I’m curious to know what the thinking was by putting Kyan Anderson on the list. I’m all for showing TCU love whenever it warrants it but they haven’t done a lot of winning since the calendar turned to 2015. If you replace Anderson with Marcus Foster, who has been up and down for K-State, I wouldn’t see much change in the overall quality in the rankings. Then again, it’s just a list so whatever.
  5. Now at 12-12 on the season, Kansas State has now found itself playing the spoiler role. The Wildcats could throw a monkey wrench in the Big 12 race as they face West Virginia tonight and five other teams in the hunt for the NCAA Tournament — Oklahoma, Baylor, Kansas, Iowa State and Texas — before season’s end. A lot of said monkey wrench throwing depends on whether or not Marcus Foster and Malek Harris are taken off suspension in time for tonight’s game (sources told Kansas.com that they’d be both out vs West Virginia). This is the reality that Bruce Weber and his team must face.
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What’s the Matter With Texas?

Posted by Chris Stone on January 14th, 2015

Texas entered the season as a widely-acknowledged potential challenger to Kansas’ streak of 10 straight conference championships. The Longhorns returned most of its talent from an NCAA Round of 32 team, including sophomore rising star Isaiah Taylor and senior Jonathan Holmes, both of whom were expected to integrate with elite recruit Myles Turner to make the jump to national contention. Although Taylor was sidelined with a wrist injury early in the season, Rick Barnes’ team appeared to be living up to those expectations. Texas used its stifling defense (still ranked 23rd nationally) to handle most of its opponents with ease, their lone losses coming at home to Stanford in overtime and on the road at Kentucky where the Longhorns played the Wildcats even for much of the game. Flash forward to conference play and Texas now sits 1-2 in the Big 12 with a non-competitive road loss to Oklahoma State and a 21-point blowout defeat to Oklahoma at home. What’s the matter with Texas?

Texas is now 1-2 in Big 12 play. Is it time for concern?  (Eric Gay/Associated Press)

Texas is now 1-2 in Big 12 play. Is it time for concern? (Eric Gay/Associated Press)

  1. The schedule is getting tougher. According to Ken Pomeroy’s rankings, Texas played the 181st-best (worst?) non-conference schedule of 351 teams in college basketball. With three games in conference play added, the Longhorns’ strength of schedule rises to become the 74th-toughest. This is what you’d expect to happen when the Big 12 appears to be one of the toughest conferences of the last 15 years. The Big 12 lists six teams other than Texas among Pomeroy’s top 50, which may not be good news for the struggling Longhorns. Texas is now 2-4 against top 50 teams with early wins over Iowa and Connecticut followed by losses to Kentucky, Stanford, Oklahoma State and Oklahoma. Read the rest of this entry »
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Big 12 M5: 01.12.15 Edition

Posted by Brian Goodman on January 12th, 2015

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  1. Saturday marked the first of what will be many wild weekends in the Big 12, as home teams actually had a losing record (2-3) in the day’s five match-ups. Perhaps the most interesting development about the conference so far is that with Texas and Oklahoma both suffering surprising losses, we may already be moving onto Iowa State as the team with the best chance to end Kansas’ stranglehold on the league (at least for now), as the Cyclones are already the only other undefeated team left in conference play. The frenetic movement near the top of the conference speaks to just how competitive it is and how important it will be for the contenders to beat the teams they’re supposed to beat in order to keep pace.
  2. We started off talking about the race to join Kansas at the top because the Jayhawks are unblemished through the first week of Big 12 play, and they could be getting even better. Bill Self’s team dismantled Texas Tech 86-54, and the most important takeaway was the return of Devonte’ Graham. The freshman isn’t fully healed from the toe injury that sidelined him for the previous month, but it was easy to see how much pressure his return took off the shoulders of Frank Mason, who Self could rarely afford to rest during the Jayhawks’ most competitive games. While the Red Raiders were hardly a threat on Saturday, a healthy Graham will allow Kansas do some things on both sides of the ball that they didn’t have the flexibility to do over the last few weeks.
  3. On Friday, I mentioned that Kansas State needed to start stringing together some quality wins to get back in the hunt for an at-large bid, and lo and behold, they knocked off Oklahoma in Norman thanks to a pair of clutch shots by Marcus Foster. In addition to the sophomore’s heroics, the Wildcats got the kind of rebounding performance and ball control that earned them a share of the 2013 conference title, and they received the contributions from Stephen Hurt (15 points and eight rebounds) and Justin Edwards (nine points, nine rebounds and two blocks) that Bruce Weber was counting on when he brought them to Manhattan. The Wildcats are 2-1 in league play with four of their next five games coming at home, which is about as big a break as a team can catch in a conference this deep. Kansas State has their work cut out for them, but don’t write them off just yet.
  4. For the second straight game, the story of Iowa State was its bench. Abdel Nader had a career night against West Virginia’s high-pressure attack, leading his team with 19 points to go with seven rebounds. The Cyclones’ usual contributors were riddled by foul trouble, which, combined with the game’s fast pace, created an opportunity for Nader to come in and make an impact. As a team, Iowa State still isn’t where they should be offensively, but to their credit, they’ve won a pair of close games despite that shortcoming. Still, with games at Baylor and a huge Hilton Coliseum tilt against Kansas this week, they need to get back to where we’re used to seeing them.
  5. Texas’ offensive struggles continued as they shot just 35 percent on twos in a 69-58 loss at Oklahoma State. The Longhorns just never got into a rhythm and were flustered by the Cowboys’ 52.9 percent performance from beyond the arc. Jonathan Holmes has looked uncharacteristically lost over the last few outings, and Isaiah Taylor had a rough day as well. If there’s any solace Longhorns fans can take, it’s that Myles Turner finally looked like he belonged against a legit opponent. The blue-chip freshman put up 18 points, including a perfect 4-of-4 mark from distance and swatted five shots. A 1-2 mark in conference play isn’t the death knell that it’s been in previous years, but suddenly, Texas’ resume isn’t looking so hot for a team once considered to be among the nation’s best.
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Big 12 Weekend Look-Ahead

Posted by Brian Goodman on January 9th, 2015

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

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

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

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

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Big 12 M5: 01.05.15 Edition

Posted by Chris Stone on January 5th, 2015

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  1. Big 12 conference play got under way over the weekend and the biggest story line was the return of point guard Isaiah Taylor to the Texas lineup in the Longhorns 70-61 victory over Texas Tech. Taylor had missed the last 10 games with a wrist injury. He was rusty on the offensive end, hitting only two of his ten field goal attempts, but his defense proved impactful. The sophomore recorded four steals in the game as Texas forced the Red Raiders to turn the ball over on 22.4 percent of their possessions. Texas has one of the best defenses in the country, but has been unable to create turnovers in Taylor’s absence. His return should provide the Longhorns with an even more effective defensive scheme in league play.
  2. In their final non-conference game, Iowa State fell 64-60 to unranked South Carolina at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn on Saturday. The Cyclones are shooting 34.5 percent from behind the arc this season, but connected on only one of 18 attempts against the Gamecocks in Brooklyn. Given that Fred Hoiberg’s squad is shooting 40 percent of their field goal attempts from behind the three-point line, that’s not a recipe for success in Big 12 play. As Randy Peterson of The Des-Moines Register pointed out, Iowa State may be able to survive against the bottom of the league with their “B-games,” but in order to compete for a conference championship, the Cyclones must knock down their three-pointers and match the physicality of the other top teams in the Big 12.
  3. Baylor entered conference play as one of the more intriguing teams in the Big 12. Despite losing three of their four leading scorers from last season, the Bears have found themselves ranked highly in Ken Pomeroy’s efficiency ratings, but Baylor lost their conference opener on Saturday to Oklahoma, 73-63. The Sooners were able to shoot 8-for-22 from behind the three-point line in the win. Bears’ wing Taurean Prince noted after the game, “We did a poor job of limiting their 3s. We have to do a better job of closing out defensively on the perimeter. We missed some defensive assignments and made some bone-headed plays that we normally make.” Closing down the three-point line will be an important component of Baylor’s defense in the near future. The Bears take on a Kansas team that is shooting 39.2 percent from behind the arc on Wednesday night.
  4. Speaking of Kansas, the Jayhawks closed out their non-conference slate with a 76-61 victory over UNLV on Sunday afternoon. Kansas was paced by point guard Frank Mason who finished with 18 points, seven assists, four rebounds, and four steals in the win. During the Jayhawks’ loss to Temple, NBC Sports‘ Rob Dauster called Mason a “mid major PG,” but the sophomore has been much better than that. Since their loss to Kentucky, Mason is providing the Jayhawks with 12.9 points, 4.9 assists, 4.3 rebounds, and 1.8 steals per game. The sophomore is giving Bill Self his best point guard play since Sherron Collins was in Lawrence. Self will need Mason to continue to play at such a high level if Kansas is to compete for an 11th straight Big 12 title.
  5. Finally, Bleacher Report’s Jason King created a bit of a stir amongst Big 12 fans on Twitter Sunday night when he proclaimed that he’s not buying the league as the best conference in America. King is a graduate of Baylor and was a longtime writer for The Kansas City Star, so he’s certainly familiar with the Big 12. However, the numbers tell a different story than the one King is crafting. KenPom’s efficiency ratings suggest that the Big 12 is tops and it’s not particularly close. The gap between the Big 12 and King’s favored conference, the ACC, is larger than the gap between the ACC and the fifth ranked conference, the SEC. The Big 12 looks poised to send over half of the league’s teams to the NCAA Tournament for the second season in a row. Despite King’s claims about the top tier of the ACC, the Big 12 remains the best conference in America.
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Morning Five: 01.05.15 Edition

Posted by nvr1983 on January 5th, 2015

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  1. The biggest news in college basketball this weekend came from the sidelines as Cincinnati announced that Mick Cronin would not coach the rest of the season and serve in an advisory role while dealing with what has been described as a non-life-threatening arterial dissection. Cronin has been out since finding out about the condition on December 19. While it appears that Cronin expects to return to his sideline duties at some point, but in the interim associate head coach Larry Davis will serve as the head coach. At Butler, they removed the interim title from Chris Holtmann and made him the head coach officially replacing Brandon Miller, who took a medical leave of absence just prior to the start of the season. Very little information about Miller’s condition has been released, but we wish him the best in recovering from whatever he is dealing with. Holtmann has lead the Bulldogs to an 11-4 record this season and appears to have the program headed in the right direction after a disastrous first season following Brad Stevens’ departure.
  2. While the coaching announcements stole the headlines there were also quite a few major developments involving significant players. The biggest news comes out of St. John’s where sophomore guard Rysheed Jordan (14 points per game) is taking an indefinite leave of absence to deal with “personal and family matter” although some reports indicate that it might be related to disciplinary issues. At Stanford, freshman Reid Travis (7.5 points and a team-leading 6.9 rebounds per game) will be out indefinitely with a stress fracture. At Virginia TechJoey van Zegeren (9.8 points and a team-leading 5.3 rebounds per game) was suspended indefinitely apparently as the result of an incident (or incidents) at practice. As for Dayton, nothing seems to be going right for the Flyers this season with the latest misfortune coming in to the form of point guard Ryan Bass having to miss the rest of the season due to concussion-related symptoms following a concussion in an early November practice.
  3. It might have been a rough week for the SEC in college football, but things are starting to look a little bit better for the conference in basketball. We all know about Kentucky and Florida even if the latter has been awful this season, but we will have to start keeping an eye on LSU starting next year. The Tigers, who already have the consensus #1 player in the class (Ben Simmons) coming in, appear to have added another five-star guard to their backcourt with Antonio Blakeney‘s commitment to LSU. You may remember Blakeney as the recruit who committed to Louisville before backing out soon after in a move that some recruiting analysts publicly claimed was driven by shoe companies (Blakeney plays for a Nike AAU team; Louisville is an adidas school). If that was in fact the reason for Blakeney backing out of his Louisville commitment then LSU fans can feel safe. If not, they might not want to get too excited quite yet.
  4. Texas got a big boost this weekend with the return of point guard Isaiah Taylor, who had been out the past six weeks after breaking his left wrist. Taylor, who had been averaging 15 points and 3 assists per game this season before his injury, had 8 points, 4 steals, and 2 assists, but also showed his rust with 6 turnovers. Although Texas managed to go 8-2 without Taylor, they clearly were not the same team without him as evidenced by their losses to Kentucky and Stanford. With Taylor back in the mix, the Longhorns might be the favorites in the Big 12 and should be a Final Four threat.
  5. As you may have noticed this has been a rough year for Kobe Bryant, who is climbing up the all-time NBA scoring list while being on a losing team and setting all kinds of new standards for inefficiency. That didn’t stop Bryant from opining on the state of basketball in American and laying the blame on AAU programs and the culture around them. While we agree with many of Kobe’s comments, we don’t see him offering many solutions outside of scrapping it for a European-style club system, which we are certain wouldn’t fly in the US with the established interests. Mike DeCourcy, who has never been known to mince words, also went after Kobe pointing out that for all the shortcomings of the American system we still manage to produce the best basketball in the world by far.
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Big 12 Conference Catch-Up: Kansas, Texas and Iowa State

Posted by Brian Goodman & Chris Stone on January 2nd, 2015

As the Big 12 schools conclude their non-conference schedules, it’s a great time to catch up on where the league’s 10 teams stand entering conference play. Once again, Kansas has navigated an arduous schedule, but enough questions remain that we can at least consider the possibility that another team wins the conference. The Jayhawks’ closest challengers are a Texas team that has kept pace despite losing one of the best point guards in the country for an extended period of time, while Iowa State has another high-powered team with a newly-eligible big man who Cyclones fans hope will provide a needed lift on defense.

Kansas (via Chris Stone)

  • Key wins: at Georgetown, Utah (in Kansas City)
  • Key losses: Kentucky (in Indianapolis), at Temple
With two good outings recently, the game finally appears to be slowing down for Kelly Oubre, and that could be bad news for the rest of the Big 12. (Jamie Squire/Getty Images)

With two good outings recently, is the game finally slowing down for hyped Kansas freshman Kelly Oubre? (Jamie Squire/Getty Images)

It’s very easy to watch Kansas’s blowout losses to Kentucky and Temple and write off the Jayhawks as a Big 12 title contender. To do so, however, would ignore the rest of their resume. Kansas has five wins over teams ranked in the top 50 of KenPom’s efficiency rankings; Only Kentucky can match that total. Sophomore Frank Mason is providing Bill Self with his best point guard play since Sherron Collins left Lawrence five years ago. Mason is averaging 11.9 points, 3.8 rebounds, and 4.0 assists per game. Freshman Kelly Oubre is finally emerging as the potential lottery pick he was billed as before the season, having scored 20 points in two of the last three games. Still, those two losses linger. Kentucky dominated the Jayhawks in Indianapolis. Temple rocked Kansas at the Wells Fargo Center. The typical refrain surrounding Kansas has been to trust in Bill Self, the man who has won 10 straight conference titles, but Self is still tinkering with his starting lineup while trying to play through a frontcourt that has struggled to score inside. Kansas is shooting just 52.3 percent on shots at the rim, a number that is nearly 15 percent worse than last season’s mark, according to data from hoop-math.com. In particular, junior Perry Ellis has seen his shooting percentage decline by over 10 percent as he’s had a difficult time scoring against the size of teams like Kentucky, Georgetown, and Utah. The Jayhawks have their limitations and the losses to Kentucky and Temple showcased them. They’ve also had their triumphs that suggest an ability to compete for another Big 12 championship. Much depends on the consistency of Mason, the continued emergence of Oubre, and the play of bigs like Ellis and Cliff Alexander, but to write off Kansas is to also write off Self’s history and the quality of their non-conference resume. Big 12 coaches won’t make that mistake, and you shouldn’t, either.

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Big 12 M5: New Year’s Eve Edition

Posted by Brian Goodman on December 31st, 2014

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  1. Figuring out how best to utilize his team’s athleticism has been one of Kansas head coach Bill Self‘s biggest challenges this season, but he made a concerted effort to allow his Jayhawks to push the pace in transition during a 78-62 win over Kent State last night. After mustering just 18 points in the paint against Temple last week, Kansas scored 44 from that area on Tuesday. The adjustment (dare we call it a tweak?) also led to Cliff Alexander becoming more active, and as a result, more productive than we’ve seen in recent weeks. Kelly Oubre also continued his stellar play with four three-pointers on his way to a second 20-point performance in three games. The lefty finally appears to have a solid grip on one of the wing spots, which is a big step in the team’s development. The Jayhawks host UNLV in their final non-league game on Saturday before Big 12 play revs up, so it will be interesting to see if they keep the new look.
  2. Oklahoma State spent the first six weeks of the season putting together a decent resume with wins over Tulsa and Memphis away from Gallagher-Iba Arena, but they nearly negated that good will in a close call against Missouri in Kansas City last night. Up three with eight seconds remaining in regulation, Travis Ford instructed his team to foul in order to prevent Missouri from attempting a game-tying three, but they didn’t catch the Tigers in time and Tramaine Isbell sank a three-pointer at the buzzer to send the game to overtime. Faced with the same scenario in the closing seconds of the extra period, Oklahoma State successfully fouled Johnathan Williams to send him to the line for a pair of free throws, but the Cowboys failed to rebound the intentional miss on the back end. Luckily, DeAngelo Hall missed a close look at the buzzer and Oklahoma State escaped with the victory. We’ll have more on the Cowboys later today, but it looks like they’ll be involved in more than their fair share of close finishes this season, which means their NCAA Tournament fate could lie in the hands of a whistle here or a lucky bounce there.
  3. To this point, Baylor hasn’t been a very good shooting team, instead deriving a lot of their offense from second-chance points, but in their final tune-up before Big 12 play, the Bears got hot to the tune of a 68.8 percent shooting performance in the second half en route to a 92-51 drubbing of Norfolk State. Royce O’Neale led Baylor with 23 points on just nine shots thanks to a 5-of-6 effort from beyond the arc and Rico Gathers notched his sixth double-double of the season with 13 points and 11 rebounds. There isn’t much to take away from a beatdown over Norfolk State, but if Baylor can find a way to keep up a more consistent level of shooting in conference play, they likely won’t have to scramble in late February to make the NCAA Tournament the way they’ve had to in recent years.
  4. In their last game of the non-conference season, West Virginia overcame a sloppy first half filled with turnovers and fouls and turned their game against Virginia Tech into an 82-51 rout. The Mountaineers locked down the Hokies during a huge run during which Buzz Williams’ team scored just four points over a span of 10 minutes and 23 seconds. West Virginia wraps up non-league play with a 12-1 record and they’re far and away the most improved team in the Big 12, featuring an exciting defense and a potent (if sometimes unorganized) offense led by one of the best all-around players in the conference, Juwan Staten.
  5. On Monday afternoon, Texas struggled but ultimately pulled away in a 66-55 win over Rice. The most troubling sign for the Longhorns was that 6’7″ Rice junior Seth Gearhart gave Texas’ vaunted frontcourt a lot of trouble. Myles Turner received his first start of the year, with Rick Barnes sending Cameron Ridley to the bench, and while the blue-chip freshman continues to show exceptional promise, his identity on this team is still a question mark. For someone who can be an absolute force inside, Turner floats to the perimeter an awful lot on offense as well as on defense, and it’s kept him from being a more effective player. If that issue can be remedied and Isaiah Taylor can return to the team without skipping a beat, there won’t be anything keeping the Longhorns from making a run at Kansas at the top of the standings.
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Big 12 M5: 12.29.14 Edition

Posted by Brian Goodman on December 29th, 2014

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  1. In one of the worst late-game collapses you’ll see this season, Kansas State gacked up a four-point lead over the final 3.8 seconds to lose a stunner on Sunday to Texas Southern. The madness started when Wildcats guard Jevon Thomas fouled Tonnie Collier on a three-point attempt. Collier buried the first two tries, and, after a Kansas State timeout, intentionally missed the third, which was corralled and put back by Texas Southern forward Chris Thomas to tie the game at 56 with 0.9 seconds remaining. On the ensuing inbounds pass, the Wildcats threw the ball out of bounds along the sideline to give Texas Southern one last possession under its own basket. On that play, Madarious Gibbs found Jason Carter rolling to the hoop, and Carter buried a short jumper to give the Tigers the improbable win in regulation. There was some doubt as to whether the clock operator started time correctly on the final play, but with the help of review and a stopwatch, the shocking game-winner was upheld. The home loss means trouble for the Wildcats, who now have very little to show for their non-league slate. While the conference schedule will certainly afford them plenty of good opportunities, they’ll have to outperform what we’ve seen so far in order to make it to the NCAA Tournament for a sixth straight year.
  2. After an impressive run of success over the season’s first five weeks, the Big 12 somewhat regressed last week. On top of Kansas State dropping a game it had no business losing, and Kansas getting pounded by Temple,Texas lost a home game to Stanford and Texas Tech lost a neutral court battle to Houston. The Longhorns and the Cardinal were close throughout their Tuesday night game, but Rick Barnes’ team was done in by a disappointing showing on the defensive glass and a spotty 31.6 percent performance beyond the arc. Home losses are always tough to stomach, but the Longhorns can take some solace in the possibility of Isaiah Taylor returning to play for Texas’ Big 12 opener on January 3.
  3. After a holiday respite, Bill Self finally reviewed film from the Jayhawks’ brutal 25-point loss to Temple and came away with some insights that weren’t terribly different from what we saw as the upset played out last Monday. Kansas’ defense certainly isn’t as bad as the results in Philadelphia suggested, but it’s beyond apparent that these aren’t the usual Jayhawks who lock down the perimeter and have an NBA-level enforcer to alter every shot within five feet of the basket. Kansas has two more tune-ups before conference play gears up, and fortunately, both are at Allen Fieldhouse, where the Jayhawks have lost just one non-conference game since 2007.
  4. The Waco Tribune named former Baylor star Isaiah Austin its Sportsman of the Year for his contributions and perseverance following his diagnosis of Marfan Syndrome just days before last June’s NBA Draft. Austin is currently in Waco completing his business degree, after which point he has an open job offer from the NBA. Recently, NBA Live 2K15 unveiled a feature that made Austin playable in the popular video game and has had many other honors bestowed upon him, so he’s getting plenty of love, but this is just one more well-deserved accolade for the likable seven-footer.
  5. Iowa State is in the home stretch of an 11-day break between games, which is as good an opportunity as any to take stock of the Cyclones. As Travis Hines of the Ames Tribune writes, the program is riding an unprecedented wave of success, and the best may still be yet to come. Among other metrics, the Cyclones have been ranked in the AP Poll for 25 consecutive weeks, which is a team record, and the Iowa State faithful have packed both Hilton Coliseum and the Big 12 Tournament in Kansas City at unforeseen clips over the past few seasons. On the recruiting trail, Fred Hoiberg is making Iowa State a destination school, which has only made the team’s success more sustainable in the long run. There will always be the looming possibility of The Mayor returning to the NBA in some capacity, but until that happens, there’s plenty for Cyclones fans to enjoy.
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Big 12 M5: 12.10.14 Edition

Posted by Brian Goodman on December 10th, 2014

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  1. On Monday’s Big 12 coaches’ teleconference, the idea of pushing the start of the regular season to mid-December or even January in light of poor attendance in early season match-ups picked up some steam, at least among some of the conferences’ coaches. This silly notion seems to come up a few times every year, and each time, it’s shot down by the basic economics of the sport’s biggest media deal. Specifically, the NCAA’s TV partners (especially CBS and Turner) are reliant on hundreds of hours of valuable postseason coverage to fill their March and early April calendars. Despite some grievances by coaches and certain members of the media, a big part of the beauty of college basketball is that it has an untouchable stranglehold on three-plus weeks of the American sports calendar. While it can definitely be frustrating to see intriguing non-league match-ups shoved aside in the national spotlight in favor of football coverage, it would be nonsensical to reposition the season to force its crown jewel to compete with the NBA and NHL Playoffs.
  2. Texas is still the leading contender to unseat Kansas at the top of the Big 12 standings, but if you think a healthy Isaiah Taylor is all that’s missing, you need to study up. Big man Cameron Ridley‘s contributions have been lacking as of late, according to Jeff Haley of Burnt Orange Nation. Haley took a close look at both data and film on the junior center and concluded that a surprising number of turnovers, limited results on the offensive glass and the absence of a face-up move when positioned outside the lane, have held him back. Texas has been very good even with teams neutralizing Ridley, so if he can break out, the Longhorns could be on their way to bigger and better things than a moral victory against Kentucky.
  3. Bill Self maintains that Jamari Traylor‘s arrest and subsequent suspension will be a learning experience for Kansas as it prepares for tonight’s tilt against Josh Smith and Georgetown. As Big 12 microsite contributor Chris Stone noted on MondayCliff AlexanderLanden Lucas and potentially Hunter Mickelson figure to absorb Traylor’s minutes, which means it’s very likely that Kansas won’t be in any worse position than if Traylor had been available. The Jayhawks have won the last two battles against Smith’s teams (against Georgetown in Allen Fieldhouse last season and against his UCLA team in Lawrence in 2010), so they’ll look to continue that success at the Verizon Center.
  4. Bryce Dejean-Jones had a reputation as a wildcard in his time with UNLV. It was tough to tell when he was going to put up an efficient 15- or 20-point game and when he would go ice cold on his way to a less impressive output. With Iowa State, however, Dejean-Jones is enjoying tremendous success thanks to a trademark of Fred Hoiberg‘s offense: The abandonment of the long two-pointer. Travis Hines of The Ames Tribune has an interesting interview with the transfer guard in which he details the benefits of his newfound shooting tendencies. We’ll have more on Dejean-Jones’ emergence later today in our Big 12 revelations after the first month of the season piece.
  5. One under-the-radar team to watch out for in the Big 12 is the Baylor Bears, which handled Texas A&M Tuesday night at the Ferrell Center. Baylor’s frontcourt was the story, as they shut out an SEC team on the offensive glass, a feat which hadn’t been done in 19 years. Johnathan Motley paced the Bears’ attack with career highs of 22 points and 11 boards. Scott Drew‘s team now possesses three wins against SEC teams (the others being road wins over South Carolina and Vanderbilt), and are quietly looking more formidable than many expected.
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