Big 12 M5: 02.25.15 Edition

Posted by Chris Stone on February 25th, 2015

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

Posted by Chris Stone on February 18th, 2015

College basketball fans across the country debate which conference is the best every season. That conversation has mostly centered on two leagues this year. If you’re more interested in teams that are likely to make deep runs in March, then your choice will probably be the ACC with the likes of Virginia, Duke, Louisville and Notre Dame at the top of the standings. From a viewpoint of quality of depth of a league, however, nearly every available metric shows that the Big 12 is tops. Ken Pomeroy’s system focused on efficiency ranks this year’s Big 12 as the best conference since the Big Ten of four years ago (when 7 of 11 teams received NCAA Tournament bids). The league has already posted the highest non-conference winning percentage of any conference in a decade and currently has only one team (Texas Tech) with an under .500 overall record.

Georges Niang highlights the Big 12's selections on the Wooden Award Late Season Top 20 list. (Nirmalendu Majumdar)

Georges Niang highlights the Big 12’s selections on the Wooden Award Late Season Top 20 list. (Nirmalendu Majumdar)

The Big 12’s incredible season has correspondingly been driven by a number of individuals who are receiving national recognition on the various late season award lists. While the front-runners for the Wooden Award — given annually to the country’s best player — are Wisconsin’s Frank Kaminsky, Duke’s Jahlil Okafor, and Notre Dame’s Jerian Grant, the Big 12 put three players of its own on the Late Season Top 20 list. Oklahoma’s Buddy Hield has proven to be one of the conference’s best scorers, averaging 17.2 points per game while shooting 43.5 percent from the field. West Virginia’s Juwan Staten recently found his way back into the national conversation with a dazzling spin move to upset Kansas on Big Monday. Iowa State’s Georges Niang leads the Cyclones in scoring while also averaging 5.4 rebounds and 3.4 assists per game.

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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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Musings on the Mountaineers: Just How Good is West Virginia?

Posted by Chris Stone on February 13th, 2015

West Virginia has been one of this season’s biggest surprises in college basketball. Picked by the league’s coaches to finish in a tie for sixth in the Big 12, the Mountaineers are currently 7-4 and tied for third. Head coach Bob Huggins has fundamentally transformed the team’s playing style by adopting a high-pressure defense that aims to turn opponents over before they can set up their half-court offense. “We knew we could get teams to play different,” West Virginia assistant Larry Harrison recently told Bleacher Report. “Our goal is to get them out of their half-court offense. That’s what the goal was.”

The Mountaineers have opened the eyes of opponents with their up tempo play.

The Mountaineers have opened the eyes of opponents with their uptempo play this season.

The strategy has been successful. West Virginia leads the Big 12 in defensive turnover percentage, causing a turnover on 27.5 percent of its opponents’ possessions. Its high-paced, trapping defense has helped create steals on 14.5 percent of possessions in league play. Freshman Jevon Carter – an unranked, three-star recruit — has been a revelation, ranking 10th nationally in steal percentage by creating a turnover on 5.0 percent of possessions. Turnovers are an important part of keeping teams out of their half-court offenses and they’re necessary to West Virginia’s success. Because of it, the Mountaineers have the fourth-best defense in the Big 12 (allowing 98.8 points per 100 possessions) despite only having the league’s ninth-best defensive effective field goal percentage.

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Big 12 M5: 02.13.15 Edition

Posted by Nate Kotisso on February 13th, 2015

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  1. Last summer, Kansas assistant Jerrance Howard pled guilty to a charge of unlawful possession of marijuana in Peoria, Illinois. According to the Peoria Journal Star, Howard was ordered to pay nearly $1,200 in fines and legal fees and was placed under court supervision for six months. Somewhat coincidentally, the six-month court supervision period ends today and head coach Bill Self claims he did not have knowledge of the situation until Wednesday. Self responded by suspending Howard from team activities for two weeks, but this is pretty much a non-story. Howard had a lapse in judgment, a sentence was handed down, and it was served. Let’s all move on.
  2. TCU coach Trent Johnson announced yesterday that junior guard Charles Hill Jr. has been suspended indefinitely for “conduct unbecoming of a TCU men’s basketball player.” Hill has appeared in 14 games this season, averaging 2.6 points and 1.2 rebounds in a little over five minutes per game of action. As Frogs O’ War points out, Hill sent out a tweet following TCU’s 66-43 loss to Texas that may or may not have to do with his suspension. We probably won’t hear what he did to warrant punishment but kudos to Johnson, though, for working in “unbecoming” into a suspension announcement. Coaches and athletic departments typically reuse the same suspension statement ad nauseam. Finally, I feel smarter after reading one of these things!
  3. In West Virginia’s recent win over Kansas State, Mountaineers sophomore forward Brandon Watkins sprained the medial collateral ligament (MCL) in his left knee while having his best game of the season (14 points and nine rebounds in 17 minutes). Watkins is listed as day-to-day and therefore has a chance to suit up for the team’s massive road contest with Iowa State on Saturday. I hope he is well enough to play because heaven knows the ‘Eers haven’t had a good win since throttling Oklahoma a month ago.
  4. On Thursday, SI’s Luke Winn published the interweb’s most intelligent power rankings for your consumption. Seven Big 12 teams are ranked in the top 24 teams on his list, with Oklahoma making a seven-spot jump from last week, the sharpest increase of any team among his top 16. Winn asks whether the Sooners are the national title contender that we aren’t talking about, and it’s a valid question. They’ve played fantastic basketball lately but have still suffered a handful of head-scratching losses (Creighton, Washington, Kansas State at home and at West Virginia). I want to believe in the Sooners, I do, but I’m not totally confident in Lon Kruger’s team getting to the second weekend of the NCAA Tournament, much less Final Four weekend.
  5. West Virginia guard Juwan Staten was named as a finalist for the Lowe’s Senior CLASS Award on Thursday. Staten is just one of ten players in Division I to earn this distinction, given to the senior with “notable achievements in four areas of excellence: community, classroom, character and competition.” Staten is the Big 12’s lone representative. The Big East had three (D’Angelo Harrison – St. John’s; Matt Stainbrook – Xavier; Alex Barlow – Butler); the Big Ten had two (D.J. Newbill – Penn State; Frank Kaminsky – Wisconsin); the West Coast Conference had two (Kevin Pangos – Gonzaga; Tyler Haws – Brigham Young); while the Ohio Valley (Reece Chamberlain – Belmont) and Pac-12 (Chasson Randle – Stanford) conferences each had one representative per league.
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Handicapping the Wooden Award Finalists

Posted by Bennet Hayes on January 21st, 2015

The Wooden Award released its midseason top 25 list last week. College basketball’s top individual honor will likely go to a player named on that list, but there’s still time for others (attention: Wichita State’s Fred VanVleet, Virginia’s Malcolm Brogdon and Syracuse’s Rakeem Christmas) to work their way into the picture. However, it’s also true that the field of real contenders for the award is thinning as we near February and March. RTC handicaps the race for the Wooden…

Jahlil Okafor, Duke. Odds To Win = 3/2.

Any national Player of the Year discussion must begin with Duke’s freshman sensation. Okafor’s averages of 18.6 points, 8.9 rebounds and 1.6 blocks per game begin to explain his value to the Blue Devils, but the impact of his presence runs much deeper than that. His steadiness (double-figure points in every game this season) has stabilized a Duke attack that was far more reliant on the three-point shot a season ago, while his unselfishness has helped the Duke guards find space on the perimeter. The presumptive top pick in next June’s NBA Draft has looked like the best player in college basketball from opening night, but an April coronation as the National Player of the Year will surely depend on Duke’s success. Balance has fueled the rise of other national title contenders (Kentucky and Virginia most notable among them), but there is no question that Okafor will continue to lead the Duke charge. Pole position has been well-earned: This is Okafor’s award to lose.

At The Midway Point Of The Season, Duke Freshman Jahlil Okafor Is The Frontrunner To Win The Wooden Award. (Photo Credit: Getty Images)

At The Midway Point Of The Season, Duke Freshman Jahlil Okafor Is The Frontrunner To Win The Wooden Award. (Getty)

Frank Kaminsky, Wisconsin. Odds To Win = 5/2.

Kaminsky nabbed the national spotlight last March with a show-stopping regional final performance against Arizona. He has not given it up since. ‘Frank the Tank’ is grabbing more rebounds (8.2 RPG this season), blocking more shots (1.8 BPG) and even handing out more assists (2.4 APG) than he did a year ago. The Wisconsin center has been outstanding all season, but his value to the Badgers may have been best exhibited in a 40 minute stint on the bench. As their star sat out with a concussion on January 11, Wisconsin fell to Rutgers in one of the most shocking results of the season. The loss showed just how important the versatile center has become for Bo Ryan’s team. A balanced Badgers’ lineup may pose some threat to Kaminsky’s Wooden Award chances, but that surrounding talent is also what’s made the his team legitimate national title contenders. And as Wisconsin chases that elusive championship, its versatile big man is making a serious push for the most prestigious of individual accolades.

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Big 12 M5: 01.16.15 Edition

Posted by Brian Goodman on January 16th, 2015

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  1. C.J. Moore of Bleacher Report wrote a great in-depth profile of Iowa State junior Georges Niang centered on how the big man developed the handles and arsenal that have made him a leader for the Cyclones. The new, slimmed-down version of Niang has been even more productive than last year’s and has been the central figure of Iowa State’s efficient offense. It was especially interesting to learn that Royce White, Iowa State’s last “hybrid,” was the one who pushed hardest for Fred Hoiberg to recruit Niang, whose “old man” game will be tested tomorrow night against an improving Kansas defense.
  2. Travis Ford‘s lengthy contract has drawn ire in recent years, but after a 12-4 start and a top-30 placement in the RPI, he isn’t sweating his job security. The Cowboys may not be in position to climb into the race among Kansas, Iowa State and West Virginia, but they’re more of a factor than they were anticipated, and they arguably have a better team than last year despite having less talent. As Jenni Carlson writes, Ford is in the midst of perhaps his best coaching job since he arrived on campus, and a lot of it is due to improved chemistry and a heightened belief in the greater good, particularly with Brian Williams and Kamari Murphy having transferred out.
  3. Bill Self spoke candidly about the struggles of Perry Ellis, which came to a head Tuesday when the junior had four early turnovers, leading to a prompt benching. Self suspects that the problem for Ellis is mental, as he still believes Ellis can be the Jayhawks’ go-to guy. Observers may counter that Frank Mason and Cliff Alexander fit that role better right now, and I agree, but in either case, it’s tough to picture Kansas making a deep run in March without Ellis playing a big part.
  4. The Wooden Award Midseason Top 25 List was released Thursday, and it included three of the Big 12’s best: Juwan Staten of West Virginia, Buddy Hield of Oklahoma and the aforementioned Niang. Oddly enough, the two leading scorers in the Big 12, Le’Bryan Nash and Phil Forte, were omitted.  It will take big second halves for Staten, Hield and Niang to rise into the elite tier that currently includes Jahlil Okafor, Frank Kaminsky, Delon Wright and Justin Anderson (in my opinion), but it’s always nice to see them get some recognition.
  5. The contrasting personnel of the athletic, fast-paced Mountaineers and the bulky, lengthy Longhorns will make for an interesting battle in Austin tomorrow. Texas is off to a slow start in conference play, but while they’re still formidable, it would be tough to imagine them getting back into the conference race with Kansas and Iowa State with a loss, which would run their conference record to 1-3. Isaiah Taylor has played a few games for Texas since coming back from a wrist injury, but his return hasn’t ignited the team as it was expected. On the other side of the ball, West Virginia will try to speed up Texas’ tempo with constant pressure, hoping that it will be another game before Taylor breaks out again.
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Big 12 M5: 01.14.15 Edition

Posted by Brian Goodman on January 14th, 2015

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  1. Kansas beat Oklahoma State last night in a messy, foul-plagued affair in Allen Fieldhouse, running its conference record to a clean 3-0. The Cowboys started off fast, but a scuffle between the two teams injected some fire into the game, and while not all of Oklahoma State’s struggles can be traced back to the incident, they didn’t look the same for the remainder of the night. The Cowboys came into the game ranked ninth in the country in defensive free throw rate, but sent the Jayhawks parading to the free throw line 46 times. On defense, the key for Kansas was shuffling their defensive assignment on Phil Forte so frequently that he had to be subbed out twice due to cramps from running through so many screens against fresh legs in hopes of getting open looks. For Kansas, the win sets up a huge meeting with Iowa State on Saturday at Hilton Coliseum, an environment the Jayhawks have found anything but comfortable in recent years.
  2. While Kansas has been able to win in spite of it, Perry Ellis‘ disappointing performance this season has been the elephant in the room. The junior played well enough last year to earn a spot on the preseason All-Big 12 team, and while he’s had his moments, he hasn’t made the leap on either end of the court. He’s regressed on defense and his inconsistent shooting has been frustrating to the point where it now sticks out among his peers. Of the six forwards and centers from the 2012 McDonald’s All-American class who are still in college and not sitting out the season with injuries, Ellis ranks dead last in effective field goal percentage at 44.2 percent. The next-closest player is Texas’ Cameron Ridley at 52.4 percent. As with all stats, you have to consider the context, which in this case includes Kansas’ tough non-league schedule, their hyper-competitive conference and the absence of a consistent big man who can draw enough defense away from Ellis to allow him to operate. It’s also fair to point out that the Jayhawks would have more than two losses without Ellis, but the fact remains that he’s looked lost way more than he should for someone with as much experience as he has (Tuesday marked his 53rd career start). As someone who was rightfully expected to help lead the Jayhawks to their 11th straight conference title, there’s still time for Ellis to right the ship — he plays in the same program that developed the Morris twins and Thomas Robinson into first round draft picks, after all — but his production to this point has been very disconcerting.
  3. West Virginia used its unique brand of havoc to give Oklahoma their second straight loss as they hammered the Sooners by 21 points in Morgantown. The Mountaineers sped the Sooners’ offense up, forcing 22 turnovers, which is the one more than the number of shots Oklahoma made from the field. The win gives West Virginia by far its best victory of the season, and with their next four games coming against Texas, TCU, Kansas State and Texas Tech, they have a great opportunity to string even more wins together to keep pace at the top of the conference. What should scare those four teams the most is that the Mountaineers only got four points from Juwan Staten last night, though he did dish out eight assists against just one turnover.
  4. While they weren’t in action last night, it’s worth taking a deeper look at Kansas State‘s chances to get back to the NCAA Tournament. While they still don’t look very good in a vacuum, the relative lack of opportunities for the teams they’ll likely be compared to by the selection committee could give them an edge. A .500 trip through conference play, provided the Wildcats don’t get stung by TCU and Texas Tech (they’ve already taken care of TCU once), could be enough to put them in position to only need a single win in the Big 12 Tournament. Obviously, there’s plenty of room for improvement and we’re still eight weeks away from Selection Sunday, but whether the Wildcats make up the grounded needed to get back to the dance will be an interesting storyline.
  5. Iowa State faces an important game on the road against Baylor tonight, and while the Cyclones will have their hands full with the Bears’ overpowering interior, the lack of a traditional backup point guard could give them some trouble as well. As Travis Hines writes, Monte Morris has had to shoulder a big workload this year, and head coach Fred Hoiberg hasn’t been comfortable putting Clayton Custer into pressure situations. Until that changes, look for Georges Niang to continue to initiate offense when Morris needs to take a breather , but the emergence of another option to help conserve his minutes would serve the Cyclones well in the long term.
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RTC Weekly Primer: An Ode to the Big 12

Posted by Henry Bushnell on January 6th, 2015

Money talks. It’s an unavoidable and unfortunate truth. In almost any facet of life, money is persuasive. Whether indirectly or directly, visibly or otherwise, it influences the decisions we make, creates irresistible motives, and causes things to happen that are otherwise undesirable. It’s an unparalleled force. A few years ago, the Big 12 was a victim of the almighty dollar’s faculties. It succumbed to money’s authority. Between 2010-13, while the league went about its business playing collegiate sports in the midsection of America, it was relentlessly under siege. Driven by economic motives, the SEC, Big Ten and Pac-12 ravaged it, pilfering four of its 12 members and rearranging the landscape of college sports. During this period of extreme uncertainty, there were thoughts of dissolution. There appeared to be a significant chance that the Big 12 would soon cease to exist. At the very least, it had been weakened as it’s BCS brethren had beefed up. These were times filled with worry; with concern; with fear.

The Big 12 May Have Lost the Football Wars This Year, But It is Killing the Basketball Side (USA Today Images)

The Big 12 May Have Lost the Football Wars This Year, But It is Killing the Basketball Side (USA Today Images)

Several years later, with all of that uncertainty now in the rear view mirror, money seems somewhat irrelevant. It still talks, and the economic side of Big 12 sports might not be as lucrative as that of the Big Ten or SEC. But money doesn’t automatically result in good basketball. And in 2014-15, while the Big Ten and SEC are crammed with mediocrity, the conference that once looked in serious danger is thriving. Seven of the 10 conference teams currently rank in KenPom’s Top 25, while only eight from the Big Ten, Pac-12 and SEC collectively make the cut. In an age where money increasingly steps to the forefront of any discussions on college sports, there remains a majestic purity about this sport. And as conference play gets underway in the Big 12, that purity will be as enjoyable and as evident as ever. It’ll also produce night after night of high-quality basketball.

Three for the Money

Kansas at Baylor | Wednesday, 9:00 p.m. EST, ESPNU

Where else to start but with the Big 12? As will be the case many times this year, there are multiple mouth-watering match-ups in conference play, but any game that involves Kansas still draws extra attention. It’s an annual tradition around this time of year to pose the question, “Is this the year that somebody finally unseats Kansas atop the Big 12?” But this year, such an inquiry might just have a little more merit to it. Baylor isn’t necessarily one of the teams that could knock the Jayhawks from their perch — that responsibility should fall to Oklahoma, Texas and Iowa State. But the Bears are an outstanding example of the depth of the league. Picked sixth in the Big 12 preseason poll, Scott Drew’s squad has been steadily improving this season. Led by a physically imposing front line that pounds the offensive glass as well as anybody in the country, Baylor won’t be an easy out for anybody. And especially not for a Kansas team that, despite only two losses and several good wins, hasn’t looked vintage. It is important to note that we’ve seen the stage set like this before only to have the Jayhawks hit their stride in early February and run away from the pack. But the backcourt of Frank Mason and Wayne Selden is a far cry from what Self has had in Lawrence over the years. The interesting match-up here, however, is down low, where Kansas’ forwards, specifically Cliff Alexander, will have to brandish their Big 12 title winning credentials and show some requisite toughness.

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Big 12 Conference Catch-Up: West Virginia and Oklahoma

Posted by Nate Kotisso on January 1st, 2015

As the Big 12 schools near the completion of their non-conference schedules this week, it’s a great time to catch up on where the league’s 10 teams stand entering conference play. Surely, this would be the year West Virginia becomes a factor in Big 12 hierarchy and they look like a serious one to this point. Meanwhile, Oklahoma has had a few hiccups in non-conference play but there is reason for optimism as the new pieces begin to settle into their roles. The Conference Catch-Up rolls on today with our last Catch-Up coming up tomorrow.

West Virginia

  • Key Wins: UConn, NC State
  • Bad Losses: None
Senior Juwan Staten had led the Mountaineers to a 12-1 start heading into Big 12 play. (Getty Images)

Senior Juwan Staten has led the Mountaineers to a 12-1 start heading into Big 12 play. (Getty Images)

When you’ve had the success and longevity that Bob Huggins has had in coaching, there are very few things left to prove. Perhaps rebuilding his alma mater into a contender in a new league was something worth going after and Huggins appears to have done that. It was hard to expect such a quick start from the Mountaineers in 2014-15 considering two of their top three scorers from last season (Eron Harris and Terry Henderson) transferred out of Morgantown. With them gone, this has undoubtedly become Juwan Staten‘s team. The Preseason Big 12 Player of the Year Staten leads his team in scoring (15.9) and assists (4.3) despite playing on average seven minutes fewer than he did last year. The last triumph most remember WVU having on the national landscape was their Final Four season in 2009-10. What made that team such a difficult matchup for most were their versatile wing players. Guys like Da’Sean Butler, Devin Ebanks and Kevin Jones carried a lot of responsibility on a team that only used a seven-man rotation. Butler, Ebanks and Jones were all 6’7″ or taller, could score, rebound in bunches and committed to defending on a team that finished 23rd in the country in adjusted defense according to KenPom. The difficulty with this year’s team is their ability to wear down opponents due to Huggins’ pressure defense armed with a rotation that rolls ten guys deep. At this point, KenPom has WVU sporting a similar adjusted defense rating as 2009-10 (22nd) despite the Mountaineers averaging 13 steals a game, seven more than the 2009-10 team. In KenPom’s metrics, West Virginia is ranked No. 1 in the country in turnover percentage and steal percentage. More steals and turnovers have led to more easy buckets on the other end of the floor. West Virginia breezed through an average non-conference schedule with one minor speed bump in the form of a 74-73 home loss to a solid LSU team. The big question going into conference play is how long can they keep up their defensive pace against much tougher opponents? It’s one thing to post big numbers against VMI, Northern Kentucky or Marshall and another to do the same to Kansas, Texas or Iowa State.

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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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A Month Into the Season: Six Big 12 Revelations

Posted by Brian Goodman on December 10th, 2014

Nearly a month into the season, the Big 12 has enjoyed a standout non-conference campaign with several wins over Power Five opponents. For the most part, the conference’s best teams are living up to their hype, while the middle-tier teams are showing signs of  fulfilling their potential as well. While all eyes are on the title race between Kansas and Texas, here are six other storylines you might be missing.

Bryce Dejean-Jones has turned into a hyper-efficient shooter under Fred Hoiberg (sorry, UNLV fans). (AP/Charlie Neibergall)

Bryce Dejean-Jones has turned into a hyper-efficient scorer under Fred Hoiberg (sorry, UNLV fans). (AP/Charlie Neibergall)

  1. Bryce Dejean-Jones could be Fred Hoiberg’s best transfer yet. The Mayor has taken many a flawed transfer and turned him into an All-Big 12 selection. On its own this isn’t exactly a revelation, but you probably didn’t expect Bryce Dejean-Jones to be such a white-hot scorer. Through seven games, he’s shooting 56.8 percent from the floor, 41.7 percent from the three-point line and 89.7 percent from the free throw stripe. He’s also pitching in on the glass, corralling 6.9 rebounds per game. As if that isn’t scary enough for the rest of the Big 12, Dejean-Jones is the second option in the Cyclones’ offense, as Georges Niang hasn’t had any trouble picking up where he left off after getting hurt in last season’s NCAA Tournament. Dejean-Jones’ latest excellent performance came against UMKC on Tuesday night, as he put up 22 points on 9-of-12 shooting, including a 2-of-4 effort from beyond the arc.
  2. We need to be patient with Myles Turner. It’s tempting to look at Texas freshman Myles Turner’s numbers on the year (11.4 points, 6.9 rebounds and 2.9 blocks per game) and conclude that he’s coming along just fine, but if you dig deeper into his games against high-major competition, he hasn’t been nearly that good — averaging just 5.8 points, 5.5 rebounds and 1.8 blocks in games against Iowa, Cal, UConn and Kentucky. This is by no means a knock on the heralded freshman, who was a late bloomer on the recruiting circuit, but it’s become clear that when it comes to legitimate competition, Turner is going to need some time to develop into the rangy, efficient scorer who can lift Texas over Kansas in the Big 12 standings. He’s still in the process of realizing how good he can be, and with Texas’ surplus of big men on the roster, Rick Barnes is still figuring out how to best utilize his young phenom. On the plus side, you’ll be treated to a show if you have the means to watch any of the Longhorns’ next three games (vs. Texas State, Lipscomb and Long Beach State), as Turner hasn’t had any trouble showing off his tools and production against inferior competition. Read the rest of this entry »
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