Big 12 Morning Five: 12.09.11 Edition

Posted by dnspewak on December 9th, 2011

  1. The realignment talk had subsided for awhile, but it’s back– in a big way. The Big East is expanding, and that has major implications for the rest of college sports. With regards to the Big 12, the Big East’s expansion could force West Virginia to leave after the 2011-12 season. By all accounts, it does appear that the Mountaineers will join the league next season anyway, but these added teams in the Big East may just make it that much easier of a decision.
  2. Missouri and Kansas will face each other in Columbia for the final time (until the series is revived, at least) on February 4 at Mizzou Arena. And while that’s a ways down the road, Missouri’s pick-up for those tickets began at 7 AM this morning. There’s only a limited amount of tickets available– even for students who purchased tickets in the summer, since basketball games aren’t guaranteed– so students began lining up at 5 PM last night in tents. The forecast calls for highs in the upper-20s in Columbia this morning, so hopefully everybody has got layers on.
  3. Back to the basketball court: Kansas faces Ohio State in a marquee match-up this Saturday, and Bill Self‘s team needs to start clicking on the offensive end. That’s an understatement: Self even said “our offense sucks… We are the worst passing team I have ever seen.” Interesting stuff from a coach known for offensive efficiency. The improvement may depend on the play of Tyshawn Taylor, the point guard who turned the ball over 11 times in a close loss to Duke in the Maui Invitational. However because Taylor will most likely eventually come around and Thomas Robinson is a fabulous anchor in the post we suspect that Self’s tune will probably change by February.
  4. Missouri may be undefeated right now, but it’s not the only team in the area that is having success. Saint Louis, of course, entered the top-25 earlier this year by winning the 76 Classic in California, and Illinois is also undefeated. Although the Illini haven’t looked quite as good as Missouri has, it still appears the annual Braggin’ Rights game at Scottrade Center will be a dandy. If only Missouri and Illinois would play Saint Louis… but that’s a story for another day.
  5. Although Missouri looks like a new favorite to win the Big 12 after its hot start, Baylor was a preseason favorite based purely on its talent level. Scott Drew‘s frontcourt depth is ridiculous, as it is stacked with potential NBA Draft picks to the point that Drew has potential NBA contributors riding the bench. But his team had all sorts of talent last year and still crashed and burned. So what’s different this year? For one, the point guard play should improve with Pierre Jackson as Lacedarius Dunn‘s gunner mentality was a bit of a burden on this team last year. Baylor has looked fine during the first month of the season, and it owns a few solid wins over San Diego State and Northwestern. Still, the challenge begins when Big 12 play kicks off in January.
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NBA Draft Thoughts From a College Perspective

Posted by rtmsf on June 27th, 2011

The NBA Draft has come and gone with one of the most boring evenings in its televised history.  Maybe it was the arena setting, maybe it was the lack of marquee names, maybe it was the fact that none of the draftees wore anything particularly ridiculous, but the league’s capstone summer event was so uninspiring that even Bill Simmons’ usually-hilarious draft diary felt trite and mailed in.  Still, the draft represents to every major college basketball player the culmination of a lifelong dream to hear one’s name called by David Stern, and it’s worth a quick reflection on how things went last Thursday for many of the players we’ve been watching and tracking for years.

The 1-and-Dones Did Well in This Year's Draft (AP)

The 1-and-Dones.  Generally speaking, the NBA Draft went well for the seven 1-and-done players who declared after their freshman season.  Excluding Enes Kanter, who never played a minute at Kentucky, from the discussion, six of the seven players who left school after one season were drafted, and five of those went in the first round.  Duke’s Kyrie Irving, Texas’ Tristan Thompson and Cory Joseph, Kentucky’s Brandon Knight, and Tennessee’s Tobias Harris were chosen in the first thirty selections, while Kansas’ Josh Selby was taken in the next thirty picks.  The lone holdout was Illinois’ Jereme Richmond, a player who clearly had a much higher opinion of himself than did NBA general managers (although if you listen to his uncle, delusions of grandeur may extend beyond Richmond to his extended family).  Whether any of the others are “ready” for the NBA is an irrelevant notion in this day and age, but seeing Thompson jumping up to the #4 selection despite not being able to shoot the ball, and Joseph going at #29 despite averaging only 10.4 PPG as a “scorer” has us raising our eyebrows. 

Sneaking Into the First Round... Not Exactly.  We heard time and time again in April that the impetus behind numerous marginal players deciding to enter the NBA Draft this year was because players like Harrison Barnes, Jared Sullinger, Perry Jones and Terrence Jones were not coming out.  The logic was that their staying in school opened up more first round spots for lesser talents, a statement certainly true in theory but in no way a sane justification for a dozen additional players to declare for the draft.  Four doesn’t equal twelve the last time we checked.  Interestingly, three of the four beneficiaries to earn guaranteed first round money were college seniors: Purdue’s JaJuan Johnson, Cleveland State’s Norris Cole, and Marquette’s Jimmy Butler (Texas freshman Cory Joseph was the fourth player to benefit).  As for the players who came out early in an attempt to sneak into the first round of this year’s weaker draft, it didn’t really work out for them.  We’re looking at second rounders like Shelvin Mack (Butler), Jordan Williams (Maryland), Trey Thompkins (Georgia), Darius Morris (Michigan), Malcolm Lee (UCLA), Travis Leslie (Georgia), DeAndre Liggins (Kentucky), and Isaiah Thomas (Washington), as well as undrafted guys like Scotty Hopson (Tennessee), Jeremy Green (Stanford), Terrence Jennings (Louisville), Greg Smith (Fresno State) and Carleton Scott (Notre Dame).  What’s going to be awesome is in future years when underclassmen have roughly two weeks to gauge their draft prospects before having to commit to the draft or heading back to school — we’re sure this will result in nothing but great decisions.

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Conference Report Card: Big 12

Posted by Brian Goodman on April 25th, 2011


 

 

Brian Goodman is an RTC editor and contributor.

Year In Review

Before the start of the season, pollsters bought into Kansas State as the sexy pick to take the Big 12 in 2011 on the heels of an Elite Eight appearance in 2010. The Big 12 was not overly impressive in non-conference play, as the Wildcats fell hard to Duke in a de facto home game in Kansas City, and Missouri did the same against Georgetown in one of the more thrilling matchups of the early season.

As league play began, the preseason #3 Wildcats disappointed, starting 2-5, and the usual stalwarts of the Big 12, Kansas and Texas, rose to the top. After topping the Jayhawks at Allen Fieldhouse in January, the Longhorns looked to be in the driver’s seat, especially after Kansas was blindsided at Bramlage Coliseum to give Texas a two-game lead. However, Rick Barnes‘ team suffered another late-season collapse, going 2-3 to finish the regular season while the Jayhawks dusted off the competition to pull ahead to take their seventh straight conference crown.

Elsewhere in the conference, the Wildcats bounced back to end the season in third place. The middle of the conference wasn’t settled until the latter stages of the season with Missouri falling lat and Texas A&MColorado and Nebraska treading water. Baylor underachieved, given the talented personnel in Waco, and Oklahoma State never really looked in sync. OklahomaTexas Tech and Iowa State all had awful seasons to finish at the bottom of the standings.

In the conference tournament final, Kansas played its best basketball of the season, topping Texas to gain some revenge entering the Big Dance. Colorado was snubbed on Selection Sunday despite beating Kansas State three times, but the Big 12 still managed to get five teams into the NCAA Tournament. However, only the Jayhawks made it out of opening weekend alive, and they fell short of expectations as they lost to Shaka Smart and the Rams’ reign of BCS destruction.

KU's front line of Thomas Robinson (left) and the Morris twins evolved into a strength, and the Jayhawks struggled most when they weren't utilized on offense. (AP/Jamie Squire)

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Morning Five: 03.10.11 Edition

Posted by nvr1983 on March 10th, 2011

  1. The ending of the St. John’s-Rutgers game has created quite a bit of controversy and within an hour the Big East had already issued a statement that the officials made a mistake on the last play when Justin Brownlee stepped out of bounds with 1.7 seconds left. As Stewart Mandel points out that was just one of several missed calls that went St. John’s way. Even though though the Rutgers coaching staff appeared to be taking the high road after the game we would expect quite a bit of discussion between the school and the Big East over the next week about the officiating during the game.
  2. When the NCAA announced its punishment for UConn last month Jim Calhoun was initially quite vocal about his displeasure with the decision although he later took a step back and agreed that ultimately he was responsible for the actions of his program. Despite that admission there were a handful of media members who wondered whether Calhoun would appeal his 3-game Big East suspension. Yesterday, Calhoun finally announced that he would accept the suspension and would not be appealing. Frankly it was probably the best move for Calhoun and UConn as many have stated that it was a relatively light punishment (ignoring the potential effect on his legacy) and an appeal would only distract the team as they head into the NCAA Tournament with what should be a fairly high seed.
  3. Coming into this season most people expected the college career of Perry Jones to be relatively short. It turns out that it might be a few weeks shorter than expected as Jones was suspended prior to the team’s game against Oklahoma for taking “impermissible benefits” related to loans his mother was given while Jones was still in high school. Baylor has stated that they plan to appeal the NCAA’s ruling, but even if they get him back it will most likely be for a NIT game as they lost by 17 to the Sooners yesterday and have lost 5 of their last 6 games to close the regular season. Although Jones was a solid contributor the team’s season will likely be considered a failure as Scott Drew was unable to lead the Bears back to the NCAA Tournament after losing to eventual champion Duke last year in the Elite 8 and returning the majority of the starting line-up including LaceDarius Dunn.
  4. Mississippi State has been very protective of Renardo Sidney since his infamous brawl in the stands in Maui in December, but he finally opened up in an interview with a local newspaper where he expressed some regret for his behavior and admitted that he needed to get in better shape stating that in high school his playing weight was nearly 60 pounds lighter than where he presently is. While we have heard countless analysts talk about how bad his attitude is we have yet to hear a single one question his ability. If (and it is a big if) Sidney gets his head on straight there is no doubt that he could be a huge force for the Bulldogs and would almost certainly be a top 5 or 10 pick if he were able to put together a solid season next year and stayed out of trouble.
  5. We are nearing the end of the regular season which means one thing–award lists. Ok, it means a lot of things (most of them more important than award lists). CNNSI announced their awards yesterday and we are having a hard time arguing with any of their selections. We are sure that some people will argue that a few of the guys in the honorable mention section should be a little higher, but we’re having a hard time seeing any huge omissions.

 

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Set Your Tivo: 03.05.11

Posted by Brian Otskey on March 5th, 2011

***** – quit your job and divorce your wife if that’s what it takes to watch this game live
**** – best watched live, but if you must, tivo and watch it tonight as soon as you get home
*** – set your tivo but make sure you watch it later
** – set your tivo but we’ll forgive you if it stays in the queue until 2013
* – don’t waste bandwidth (yours or the tivo’s) of any kind on this game

Brian Otskey is an RTC contributor.

The final Saturday of the regular season is also the best of the year. Epic would be one way to describe the schedule today. Bids will be clinched, bubbles will burst and conference titles will be decided. All rankings from RTC and all times Eastern.

#2 Kansas @ #21 Missouri in progress on CBS (****)

It's Title Time (Again) For Markieff and KU, Though We Don't Expect the Tigers To Go Quietly

The Jayhawks can clinch the Big 12 title with a win here or a Texas loss at Baylor this evening. Through Texas’ surge and preseason projections brandishing Kansas State and Baylor, we learned one thing in this conference in 2010-11: the conference title goes through Lawrence until proven otherwise. Missouri will be in the NCAA Tournament win or lose, but a win here would really improve their seeding and give them confidence heading into the postseason. The Tigers are a different team at home and should give KU all they’ve have in front of their raucous crowd and a national television audience, looking to complete their home slate undefeated. Kansas will need to protect the ball and dominate in the paint and on the glass in order to win on the road. Missouri’s preference for a quick pace means rebounding is a vulnerability, and the Morris twins should be able to pull down a lot of missed shots assuming they stay out of foul trouble.

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Set Your Tivo: 02.26-02.27

Posted by Brian Otskey on February 25th, 2011

***** – quit your job and divorce your wife if that’s what it takes to watch this game live
**** – best watched live, but if you must, tivo and watch it tonight as soon as you get home
*** – set your tivo but make sure you watch it later
** – set your tivo but we’ll forgive you if it stays in the queue until 2013
* – don’t waste bandwidth (yours or the tivo’s) of any kind on this game

Brian Otskey is an RTC contributor.

We are now only about two weeks away from Selection Sunday. Teams are locking up bids and others are hurting their chances down the stretch. It’s another big weekend in the college hoops world, headlined by a top ten battle in the Mountain West. All rankings from RTC and all times Eastern.

#20 Syracuse @ #11 Georgetown – 12 pm Saturday on CBS (****)

Coach Thompson and the Hoyas Will Likely Be Without Their Most Important Player on Saturday

The Orange will look to avenge another home defeat by winning on the road, this time in Washington, D.C. Here’s a quirky fact for you: Syracuse has lost to all three of its repeat opponents (Georgetown, Villanova and Seton Hall) at the Carrier Dome but a win on Saturday would give them wins in the home buildings of all three teams. That has become more likely in this one, after Chris Wright broke his hand in Wednesday’s loss to Cincinnati. As a talented senior point guard, Wright is Georgetown’s most indispensible player. He doesn’t wow you with his shooting but he passes the ball well and does an excellent job of running John Thompson III’s complex offensive sets.

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Checking in on… the Big 12

Posted by Brian Goodman on February 14th, 2011

Owen Kemp of Rock Chalk Talk and SB Nation Kansas City is the RTC Correspondent for the Big 12 Conference.

A Look Back

  • This week’s Big 12 play kicked off with a Big Monday matchup between Kansas and Missouri as part of ESPN’s Rivalry Week.  The Tigers and Jayhawks both entered the Monday night matchup ranked in the top 25 with Kansas checking in at #2 and the Tigers at #20.  As has been the case over the past few meetings between these two programs at Allen Fieldhouse, it was all Kansas in a game that saw plenty of offense and a final score of 103-86.
  • Wednesday night, Texas handled another Big 12 opponent with ease, beating Oklahoma by 16, while Nebraska gave Baylor all they could handle before the Bears would secure a four-point win and position themselves for a tournament bid.   In Boulder, the Colorado Buffaloes played with a lead for much of the game before losing by three in overtime to Mark Turgeon’s Texas A&M Aggies.  With the win, Turgeon gets the best of former teammate Tad Boyle in the first and last meeting between the two coaches as Big 12 foes.
  • Saturday paved the way for the Big 12 to have the #1 and #2 teams in the country following Ohio State’s loss to Wisconsin and both Kansas and Texas made their case.  The Jayhawks continued a hot stretch offensively in a dismantling of the Iowa State Cyclones while Texas fought off an upset bid by Baylor to win by nine and end a four-game losing streak to the in-state rival.
  • Missouri got back on track with a big win over Oklahoma at home.  The Tigers continue to look like a completely different team in Columbia than they are on the road.  The Aggies won their second close one this week on the road with a late win over Pat Knight’s Texas Tech squad.
  • Doc Sadler and Nebraska kept their slim postseason hopes alive with a win over Oklahoma State in Lincoln.  Both teams now sit at 4-6.  The other two teams in the conversation for a potential sixth Big 12 bid are Colorado and Kansas State.  The Wildcats made a last-second three pointer that was later determined to come after the buzzer, giving the Buffaloes a late win in the game in Boulder despite seeing very little in the way of production from star Alec Burks.

Power Rankings

Quick Disclaimer: Power rankings are not meant to be a poll.  They are meant to reflect who is playing the best basketball at a given time.

  1. Texas (22-3, 10-0) – Texas continues to cruise and the Longhorns have their eyes on an undefeated conference run.
  2. Kansas (24-1, 9-1) – Kansas remains on a hot stretch on the offensive end and might find themselves playing with the #1 ranking this week.
  3. Baylor (16-8, 6-5) – Baylor looks to be developing of late and with all that talent, they have a chance to be dangerous. It’s still a work in progress but a good showing against Texas in Austin helps the argument for the Bears.
  4. Texas A&M (19-5, 6-4) – A&M gets two tight wins on the road and turns the momentum back in the right direction heading down the stretch.
  5. Missouri (19-6, 5-5) – New week, same story.  The Tigers can’t win on the road.  The schedule becomes a little more forgiving over the next few games, and it might be a good opportunity for the Tigers to get that first road win and make a push for a first-day bye at the Big 12 tourney.
  6. Colorado (16-10, 5-6) – Colorado takes A&M to overtime and gets a nice win over Kansas State.  Right now they have an ever-so-slight edge in the race for sixth in the conference, which might also signal the last bid for the conference come NCAA Tournament time.
  7. Nebraska (16-8, 4-6) – The Huskers are a sleeper team in the four-way race for #6 and they currently hold wins over two of the other three teams, with victories over Colorado and Oklahoma State.
  8. Kansas State (16-9, 4-6) After a LONG week off, the Wildcats lose to Colorado in a heartbreaker on the road.  Rumors ran wild as to the status of senior Curtis Kelly, and the year that was supposed to be special is truly on the brink.  A big opportunity comes on Monday with Kansas coming to town.
  9. Oklahoma State (16-8, 4-6) The Cowboys dropped their only game on the week and have a bit of inner turmoil with some off-court issues.  It will be interesting to see how well Travis Ford can hold things together.
  10. Oklahoma (12-12, 4-6) – The Sooners lose to the Longhorns and the Tigers; no shame in that.  Jeff Capel has done better than expected but OU isn’t there yet.
  11. Texas Tech (11-14, 3-7) – Another almost for the Red Raiders as they take A&M to the wire but can’t squeak out a win.
  12. Iowa State (14-11, 1-9) – No depth and it’s finally caught up.  Fred Hoiberg’s team never quits, but they just don’t have the horses to keep up this season.

A Look Ahead

  • The week in the Big 12 kicks off with Kansas heading to Manhattan for a Big Monday matchup against Kansas State.  The Wildcats will be hungry for revenge after a recent blowout in Lawrence and the Jayhawks might head into this one as the top ranked team in the nation.
  • A rare set of Tuesday games keeps things going with Texas Tech heading on the road to face Missouri and Baylor playing a mid-year cupcake against Wayland Baptist.
  • If the Jayhawks aren’t number one, it could be the Texas Longhorns who carry that title.  Texas tips off Wednesday night at home against Oklahoma State, while Iowa State heads to College Station and the Cornhuskers look for another resume-building win on the road at Oklahoma.
  • Saturday sees all 12 teams in action once again and it’s a weekend that could provide some separation at the six spot.  Colorado has to travel to Lawrence while Nebraska hosts Texas.  A&M goes on the road to Oklahoma State while Kansas State hosts Oklahoma.  Again, OSU, KSU, Nebraska and Colorado could all by vying for a final NCAA bid and all four will be tested on Saturday.
  • Rounding out the action on Saturday is a trip by the Missouri Tigers into Ames, where they’ll look to get their first conference road win against the last place Cyclones.  If the Tigers can’t pull off a win in Hilton, they might have to start concerning themselves a little more with postseason seeding.   The last game on the day is between Texas Tech and Baylor in Waco, as the Bears look to further cement that #3 spot in the conference.

Player of the Year Watch

Power Ranking Style and Based on Conference Play

  1. Jordan Hamilton – (17.8 PPG, 8.5 RPG): Hamilton keeps plugging along on a great Texas team in the hunt for an undefeated conference season and a #1 seed come tourney time.
  2. Marcus Morris, Kansas – (18.7 PPG, 8 RPG): Morris and Kansas are hot right now, playing lights-out on the offensive end.  The Jayhawks could soon be the #1 team in the nation and Morris is a big reason why.
  3. Alec Burks, Colorado – (20.2, PPG, 7.9 RPG): Burks had an off night against Kansas State but Colorado pulled off a win anyway securing the season sweep of the Wildcats and keeping the Buffalo postseason hopes alive.
  4. LaceDarius Dunn – (18.7 PPG): Dunn is starting to assert himself and Baylor is playing better.  The Bears sit in the top 4 of the conference and are starting to look more like a tournament lock than a team lost.
  5. Jacob Pullen, Kansas State – (18.9 PPG, 3.5 APG): Pullen keeps fighting, but the Wildcats are facing the very real possibility of an NIT bid come March.
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Set Your Tivo: 02.11-02.13

Posted by Brian Otskey on February 11th, 2011

***** – quit your job and divorce your wife if that’s what it takes to watch this game live
**** – best watched live, but if you must, tivo and watch it tonight as soon as you get home
*** – set your tivo but make sure you watch it later
** – set your tivo but we’ll forgive you if it stays in the queue until 2013
* – don’t waste bandwidth (yours or the tivo’s) of any kind on this game

Brian Otskey is an RTC contributor.

So many games, so little time to talk about them. Here are the biggest games of the weekend and why you should pay attention to them. Fair warning: it’s a long list. All rankings from RTC and all times Eastern.

#12 Syracuse @ #19 Louisville – 12 pm Saturday on ESPN (****)

The Cards Need Knowles To Catch Fire Over the Angry Syracuse Zone

With Rakeem Buckles and Gorgui Dieng practicing again for Louisville, the Cardinals are starting to get some of their depth back. Their status for this game is unknown but there’s a chance at least one of them will play. The Cardinals beat Syracuse twice last season and they’ll look to do it again in what is an important separation game for both teams. Only one game in the loss column separates third and eleventh place in the Big East with both of these teams in the thick of that jumbled mess.

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Checking in on… the Big 12

Posted by Brian Goodman on February 4th, 2011

Brian Goodman is an RTC editor. Owen Kemp, the RTC correspondent for the Big 12, will return on Monday.

A Look Back

  • It’s been a season full of surprises around college basketball, and the Big 12 is no different. There are surprises on both sides of the spectrum, but the possibility of sending merely four teams to the Big Dance looms large here in early February. On the disappointing side, Frank Martin looks like he’s losing his team, which was ranked third in the country to start the season. Forward Freddy Asprilla, recently reported as leaving the team to play in the professional ranks in his native Colombia, citing a need to take care of his family, wound up at Canisius, which is even farther from Colombia than Manhattan. Making matters worse, fellow big man Wally Judge, once a can’t-miss recruit, left the team last week.
  • The Baylor Bears have also underperformed, and could join Kansas State in the bubble watch if Scott Drew can’t turn his recruiting prowess into quality wins in a hurry. Losses to KSU, Iowa State and Oklahoma have marred the Bears’ postseason prospects, but there are still chances for Perry Jones and company to regroup.
  • Missouri, hopeful to challenge the Jayhawks and Wildcats in November, already have four conference losses to their name after dropping Wednesday’s tilt in snowy Stillwater. Aside from a big rivalry game against Kansas in Lawrence on Monday, though, the toughest of the Tigers’ schedule seems to be behind them, with their remaining road games coming against Iowa State, Kansas State and Nebraska.
  • Things aren’t all bad, though. Oklahoma, a laughingstock after losing to Chaminade in the Maui Invitational, have reeled off four straight wins, and lo and behold, they sit tied for third with Texas A&M at present. Texas and Kansas remain the cream of the crop in the Big 12, with the Longhorns absolutely rolling through conference play with nary a threat, largely thanks to their defense, which has allowed a measly 53.4 points per game through seven conference bouts. The Jayhawks continue to play with heavy hearts in the wake of the death of Thomas Robinson‘s mother, Lisa. With their lone loss coming against Texas after a long night of grieving and consoling, the Jayhawk faithful are hoping for a shot at redemption against the Longhorns in the Big 12 Tournament, and are taking care of business in the meantime.

Power Rankings

1. Texas (19-3, 7-0) – A combination of focus, team defense and a brutal non-con slate has shaped the Longhorns to an unblemished 7-0 conference mark. Jordan Hamilton continues to make his claim for Big 12 Player of the Year by averaging 18.4 points per contest over his last five. Luke Winn has a convincing take this week on how Texas has made things look easy on the defensive end.

2. Kansas (21-1, 6-1) – The close losses to teams the Jayhawks should have handled more easily could be a thing of the past, based on the events of this week. Kansas completely dismantled their in-state counterparts, handling the Wildcats with ease on Saturday in front of former Jayhawk great Wayne Simien, who had his jersey retired at halftime. Tuesday, Bill Self got a small monkey off his back by winning in Lubbock after three straight losses on Texas Tech’s home court since he took the helm in 2003. The Morris twins have continued their high-efficiency styles of play, and their lone weakness of interior defense has been boosted almost to the point of becoming a strength, with Thomas Robinson pouring in two straight 17/9 performances.

3. Texas A&M (17-4, 4-3) – When a team like the Aggies, sitting in third place, fails to crack 50 points in consecutive contests, you start to wonder just how good the conference really is. In fairness, the Aggies had the unenviable experience of having to play the Longhorns twice in two weeks, so their current stretch of having lost three of four is a little deceiving. They boast the conference’s second-best defense in terms of points allowed, but Khris Middleton can’t do it all on his own when it comes to scoring. A steady supporting cast is important if Mark Turgeon‘s crew wants to make noise in the top half.

4. Missouri (17-5, 4-3) – This is where things get really murky, and the difference between a system like power rankings and the more objective (and authoritative) conference standings is apparent. Does anyone in the conference want fourth place? Colorado’s lost to Baylor and Missouri, Baylor and Oklahoma have already split with one another, the Sooners have fattened up on the bottom rung of the conference, and Missouri fell to Oklahoma State this week, remaining winless on the road in conference play. Distinguishing the 4-7 spots at this point is nearly a futile exercise, but perhaps Missouri can make a statement about that with a big rivalry game coming up on Monday against KU.

5. Oklahoma (12-9, 4-3) – Give credit where it’s due to Jeff Capel‘s charges, but hold off judgement until they come out of this stretch: Saturday’s Bedlam battle against Oklahoma State in Stillwater, playing host to Texas on Wednesday, and taking to Columbia in a fight at Mizzou Arena.  Steven Pledger had a career performance against the Cyclones last Saturday, pouring in 38 points in 44 minutes on 12-20 shooting, including 7-13 from long range.

6. Baylor (14-7, 4-4) – With their own Big Three in LaceDarius Dunn (20.7 PPG, 42.7% 3FG), Perry Jones (14.1 PPG, 57.1% FG, 7.0 RPG) and Quincy Acy (13.0 PPG, 7.7 RPG), the Bears can be entertaining to watch (especially Acy’s dunk reel), but head coach Scott Drew’s passive scheduling methods could come back to cost his team a tournament bid; If anyone knows how a mid-February break from conference play with non-D-I Wayland Baptist on the 15th will help Baylor get ready for March, let me know. It would also be helpful if Drew picked a defensive style and stuck to it.

7. Colorado (15-8, 4-4) – Colorado’s twosome of Alec Burks and Cory Higgins almost topped the Bears this week before falling four points short. They took their angst out on the helpless Cyclones, winning 95-69, so the Buffs’ up-and-down season continues. If Colorado can sweep Missouri this weekend with a road win (they already beat the Tigers at home), I’ll be impressed. I’ll be more impressed if they don’t go on to lose three in a row, because once you think you have Tad Boyle‘s crew pegged, they turn around and completely change your mind.

8. Kansas State (15-8, 3-5) – There’s only so much yelling and screaming that Frank Martin can do before his players become desensitized and the environment becomes inhibitory, and that might be the case here. Between Jacob Pullen‘s comments about refusing to play if the Wildcats find themselves in the NIT field (a growing possibility) and the various defections and NCAA rules violations, distractions have also been eminent. It’s not all on the coaching though, as Curtis Kelly has been disappointing, though his 16-point performance in Wednesday’s big win over Nebraska could be a sign of a leaf turned over.

9. Nebraska (15-6, 3-4) – The Cornhuskers’ stout defense may be coming back down to Earth, and the offense has also let the team down over the last week. Nebraska has shown flashes that it can be good (such as a win over Texas A&M and a double-digit lead at Allen Fieldhouse that was eventually surrendered), but they can’t get it all together.

10. Oklahoma State (15-7, 3-5) – Breaking a 1-5 stretch with a win over Missouri is a big breath of fresh air for the Cowboys. Sometimes, it’s good to have a diverse scoring attack, but in OSU’s case, it could be more indicative of the lack of a reliable playmaker. Marshall Moses, Keiton Page, and J.P. Olukemi have taken turns leading the ‘Pokes in scoring the last three games, but all three have also pulled vanishing acts this season.

11. Texas Tech (11-12, 3-5) – The Red Raiders had a nice three-game spurt with wins over Nebraska, Iowa State and Oklahoma State, but crashed in a Groundhog Day blowout loss to the Jayhawks. Kansas went inside with ease and had no problems whatsoever, and even Kansas reserve Brady Morningstar was in double figures in the first half. Pat Knight may want to have a copy of the Geneva Convention at the ready when his team ventures to Austin on Saturday.

12. Iowa State (14-9, 1-7) – The Cyclones have fallen off a cliff, Wile E. Coyote-style, and we’re still waiting for the little “poof” that finally signals an impact. Fred Hoiberg‘s squad has allowed at least 82 points in each of their last five games, all losses.

A Look Ahead

Before Rivalry Week, there’s an intriguing set of games around the conference on Saturday. Colorado will hit the road to Missouri, where we might see that 4-7 knot get somewhat untangled. In a battle of Big 12 train wrecks looking to regroup, Iowa State will play host to the Wildcats. At the top of the conference, Kansas and Texas get what look to be a couple softballs against Nebraska and Texas Tech, respectively, but the Jayhawks will be on watch after the ‘Huskers put a small scare into them a few weeks ago.

Other action around the league includes Baylor taking on Texas A&M, and the Gallagher-Iba half of the Bedlam Series between the Sooners and Cowboys.

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ATB: Notre Dame Sets Pitt on Fire With Its Burn Offense

Posted by rtmsf on January 25th, 2011

The Lede.  On paper it didn’t appear to be much of a Big Monday, but Notre Dame’s visit to Pittsburgh tonight changed all that.  The lesson from the last eight days in the Big East might just be that nobody is safe in this exceptional basketball conference.

Hansbrough and Co. Silenced the Oakland Zoo Tonight (PPG/M. Freed)

Your Watercooler MomentNotre Dame Burns Pitt.  Perhaps Notre Dame caught the Pitt Panthers in a post-celebratory Steelers hangover tonight, or perhaps the Irish are just a very good team that has had the Panthers’ number the last two seasons.  Whatever the case, Notre Dame’s win this evening at the Peterson Events Center, a venue where Pittsburgh has only lost eleven games over the last nine years, is the kind of win that can catapult a team to great things.  Pitt, ranked #2 in the AP poll and #3 in the RTC poll that came out earlier today, was stymied by the same offensive strategy the Irish employed last season on its way to two wins versus the Panthers.  Notre Dame calls it the “burn,” as it is designed to slow down the Panther attack and force its defense to play 35 full seconds and respond accordingly.  It almost sounds counterintuitive, right — slow down Pitt and force them to defend?  Yet this year’s version of Panthers are actually an incredibly efficient offensive team (#1 according to Pomeroy), and while defense and rebounding are always a Jamie Dixon staple, the best way to defeat Pitt this year is to limit their offensive possessions.  The fewer they have, the less opportunities they’ll have to score.  Notre Dame slowed the pace down to an unrelenting crawl, ultimately topping out at a Division I season-low of 48 possessions (for context, an average Wisconsin game has 58 possessions, or ten more than tonight’s molasses-induced game at Pitt).  The game’s slow tempo and Notre Dame’s patience never allowed Pitt to ignite a major run that would set the Oakland Zoo on fire, so that in the last nine minutes of the game the margin was close enough for Ben Hansbrough to do his work off the bounce (13 of his 19 points in that period).  Psycho-T’s little brother utilized simple ball-screens to come off for several open jumpers and forays to the rim for easy layups down the stretch.  Pitt couldn’t seem to figure it out, and as a result, the Panthers lost for only the second time in 53 games at home (but its third in a row to ND).  Carleton Scott’s timely three-point shooting throughout the game (5-6) was also instrumental for in  the big upset.  With the win, the Irish, who have already lost road games in the Big East to Syracuse, St. John’s, and Marquette, may want to consider running the burn more often — with four winnable games on the immediate horizon, Mike Brey’s team could be sitting at a strong 10-3 going into the last dash of the Big East schedule.  No matter how the rest of the season turns out for Mike Brey, this was a season-defining win the Irish should be proud of.  Now that both Pitt and Kansas’ long home court winning streaks have come to an end this season, is Duke next?  The Devils host dangerous BC at home Thursday night.

Tonight’s Quick Hits...

  • Did Kansas State Save Its Season? Well, it’s a start.  What we do know is that if Frank Martin’s team couldn’t see the gigantic eight-ball in front of them coming into tonight, then they had some serious 3D shades on.  A loss tonight would have dropped K-State to 1-5 in the Big 12 with a trip to Lawrence pending next weekend.  This was as close to a must-win as we’ve seen this season for a team at this point in the year.  The game tonight was ugly, boring and in many ways comical in the two teams’ ineptitude, but it was a key win for Kansas State regardless.  Who knows, maybe now the Wildcats will start putting things together, but the truth is that this team has every earmark of a season-long disappointment rather than a late bloomer.
  • Charles Jenkins Rallies Hofstra.  When you’re the best player in the CAA, as Charles Jenkins is, you’re going to have some games where you’re asked to carry your team to a victory where your team otherwise wouldn’t have had a chance.  With sixteen minutes remaining and Hofstra down fourteen points tonight in Hempstead, Jenkins turned on his scoring abilities and dropped seventeen points in a variety of ways to bring his team back, sending the game to overtime at 79-all.  He then scored six more of his team’s thirteen in the overtime period to lock up a key win that keeps the Pride in a tie for first place in the CAA with VCU at 8-1.  Jenkins 35/3/5 assts/2 stls wasn’t his most impressive performance of the season — he dropped 40/5/6 assts on Binghamton in December — but it was right on cue tonight.  Jenkins is having a phenomenal year — 24/4/5 APG while shooting 56% overall and 45% from distance — we really hope that he finds his way into the NCAA Tournament so that some first round BCS opponent will sweat bullets trying to figure him out.

and Misses.

  • And Lots of Them.  As in misses.  Tonight in the craptacular second half of the Big Monday slate in Manhattan, preseason All-American guards Jacob Pullen and LaceDarius Dunn combined to brick their way to 8-30 from the field and 5-15 from three.  Their poor performances tonight are indicative of the struggles that both teams have had with the burden of big-time expectations this year.  Baylor is still seeking its first quality win of the 2010-11 season while K-State is hoping those Washington State and Virginia Tech wins back in the first few weeks of the season wear well into the late winter.

Tweet of the Night.  Couldn’t have said it better ourselves.

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Set Your Tivo: 01.24.11

Posted by Brian Otskey on January 24th, 2011

***** – quit your job and divorce your wife if that’s what it takes to watch this game live
**** – best watched live, but if you must, tivo and watch it tonight as soon as you get home
*** – set your tivo but make sure you watch it later
** – set your tivo but we’ll forgive you if it stays in the queue until 2013
* – don’t waste bandwidth (yours or the tivo’s) of any kind on this game

Brian Otskey is an RTC contributor.

After a thrilling Saturday, the attention turns back to the Big East and Big 12 on ESPN’s Big Monday. Can Notre Dame pick up a much needed road win? Will either Baylor or Kansas State save their season (at least temporarily) with a win? All rankings from RTC and all times eastern.

#16 Notre Dame @ #5 Pittsburgh – 7 pm on ESPN (****)

The big story in this game will be whether or not Notre Dame can make a statement by finally picking up a road win. The Fighting Irish are 0-3 in true road games this season, but they did win the Old Spice Classic on a neutral floor back in November. Winning at the Petersen Events Center in Pittsburgh is about as difficult as it gets, a place where the Panthers have lost only 11 times since the building opened at the start of the 2002-03 season. Notre Dame has some momentum having won two straight in South Bend, including a nice comeback win against Marquette on Saturday. As for Pittsburgh, they have won nine straight games and built a resume that would earn a #1 seed in the NCAA Tournament if the season ended today.

Dixon Has His Panthers On Track To Earn a #1 Seed

Read the rest of this entry »

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Checking in on… the Big 12

Posted by Brian Goodman on January 17th, 2011

Owen Kemp of Rock Chalk Talk and SB Nation Kansas City is the RTC correspondent for the Big 12 Conference.

A Look Back

  • The theme to the week in the Big 12 was “nothing comes easy”.  Headed into the season fresh off the league’s best showing in its history, the common thought was that many teams would be taking a step back.  That belief could probably be argued both ways at this point, but one thing is certain and that’s the fact that teams one through ten in this league can compete.
  • If a prediction were made today on what the final weeks of the season would hold, it would be twofold.  First, the battle for the league title; in years past, two losses this early on might have been a fairly damaging blow.  This year, there are two potential league contenders sitting at two losses (Missouri, Kansas State).
  • The second prediction for the final weeks is that there will be a dogfight for the final Big 12 spot in the NCAA Tournament.  Colorado, Oklahoma State, Baylor, Iowa State and even Nebraska have all had their moments, but you won’t see all of these teams representing the league and so the battle resumes.
  • Looking back at the week, the team with the best story right now might actually be the Colorado Buffaloes.  After an early upset victory over Missouri at home, the Buffs went on the road and pulled off back-to-back wins over Top 25 opponents with a win over Kansas State before returning home and grabbing what could prove to be a very important victory over the Oklahoma State Cowboys.  Colorado now sits at 3-0 in the league, and at 14-4 overall, Tad Boyle might find his team sitting near or even in the Top 25.
  • While Colorado was the story of the week, the game of the week took place Saturday in College Station.  Mike Anderson’s Missouri Tigers traveled to College Station to face the Aggies, and from the start, they were in attack mode.  Two newcomers to the conference, Phil Pressey and Ricardo Ratliffe, emerged as major players for the Tigers and for much of the game, these two teams were back and forth.  Late in regulation, Khris Middleton was able to get to the free throw line and secure overtime, where the Aggies would win by a narrow two-point margin in what was one of the early season battles between contenders in the league.  Right now, Mark Turgeon could have the inside track on coach of the year honors in the conference.
  • Elsewhere, the Kansas Jayhawks continue to flirt with a loss, as they escaped with a narrow victory in Ames against the Cyclones and an even closer win at home against the Nebraska Cornhuskers.  Neither win instills a tremendous amount of confidence, but both are wins and Marcus Morris is finding a way to carry his team when they need him, scoring 49 points and grabbing 25 rebounds in the two games.
  • After one full week of league competition, A&M, Colorado, Kansas and Texas all sit on top with undefeated records.  Baylor sits at 2-1 with the one loss coming to an Iowa State team that continues to show a lot of grit and great cohesiveness in Fred Hoiberg’s first year.  And just beyond Baylor, there are five teams sitting with two losses, including Missouri and Kansas State, who were and should still be viewed as contenders in a very balanced league.

Power Rankings

*Power rankings reflect who is playing the best basketball at a given time.

  1. Kansas (17-0, 2-0) – Plain and simple, the Jayhawks didn’t look great this week, but they are still undefeated and Marcus Morris is coming on strong just as he did a year ago.  What Kansas does that many teams don’t is win those tough games on the road.  Until someone else does that consistently or Kansas quits doing that, the Jayhawks will continue to be at or near the top of the league.
  2. Texas A&M (16-1, 3-0) – A&M dominated one game and managed a hard fought victory in another.  The Aggies do it with their size, they do it with experience and they have a player in Khris Middleton that can take control of a game.
  3. Texas (14-3, 2-0) – Texas  had a fairly soft start to conference play with games against Texas Tech and Oklahoma.  The Longhorns handled business with ease, but we learn a lot more in the next week as Rick Barnes and his Texas squad take on A&M and Kansas in a matter of days.
  4. Colorado (14-4, 3-0) – WOW.  That’s all you can say about what Colorado has done early, and yes, a big part of that is their history.  This isn’t a team or program that wins games like this, a road win over a ranked opponent and a big comeback at home over a pesky OSU team.  They sit 3-0 and are well-positioned to make a play at the NCAA Tournament.  Now it’s a matter of how much damage they can do on the way.  Buffs fans have January 25 circled and a final home game against the Jayhawks as a fellow Big 12 school.
  5. Missouri (15-3, 1-2) – Missouri played well against the Huskers at home and then put a big-time scare into the Aggies in College Station.  Fewer mistakes down the stretch and the Tigers manage a win.  As it stands, they have the players emerging with Phil Pressey and Ricardo Ratliffe taking control, and now they just need to get a few marquee wins to get the ball rolling.  After that, the sky is the limit; this is up there with Mike Anderson’s best teams.
  6. Baylor (12-4, 2-1) – Baylor remains a tale of two teams.  They are a group with great athleticism and big time talent, but they also manage to lose in Ames and struggle to score.  What’s the real Baylor?  That’s the question.
  7. Kansas State (13-5, 1-2) – K-State loses a home game to Colorado, loses a starter to the pros and then manages a pretty impressive 30+ point win, albeit against Texas Tech.  The Red Raiders might be just what the doctor ordered to get things back on track, but the Wildcats will get a chance to prove it as they enter a brutal week with a road game against Missouri and then a matchup with the Aggies in College Station.
  8. Oklahoma State (13-4, 1-2) Oklahoma State didn’t have a great week, but it certainly wasn’t an easy one on the schedule.  When you look at these next three it’s tough to say who deserves to be on top, but for now, the Cowboys still have the best in of the three, at least on paper.
  9. Nebraska (13-4, 1-2) – The Huskers have the head to head against the Cyclones and took the Jayhawks to the brink in Allen Fieldhouse.  That’s good enough for the nod at 9.   
  10. Iowa State (14-4, 1-2 Big 12) – Big win on Saturday evening against Baylor in Hilton.  The Cyclones are a team that is overachieving because of solid leadership from their coach and their upperclassmen.  They have a chance to do some damage and the Baylor game helps this team regain some confidence.  
  11. Oklahoma (8-9, 0-3 Big 12) – The only thing saving the Sooners from the bottom is that none of their losses came to the tune of a 30+ point scoring margin.  Anyone else looking forward to Tuesday’s must see matchup between OU and Tech in Norman?
  12. Texas Tech (8-10, 0-3 Big 12) – Lucky for Pat Knight, he’s coaching in Lubbock.  It’s a football school, a football state and even with those things playing in his favor, he’s likely coaching on borrowed time.    

A Look Ahead

  • This week, the Big 12 is the main event as ESPN’s Big Monday kicks off with a quadruple-header starting in the middle of the afternoon.  First up will be a marquee matchup between two teams very much in need of a win.  Missouri and Kansas State both sit at 1-2 and whoever drops this one in Columbia will most certainly have an uphill climb when it comes to winning the league.
  • The second matchup is the late game with Kansas heading to Waco to take on the Baylor Bears.  These might be the two most athletic teams in the league, but while Kansas has managed to find some team chemistry, Baylor hasn’t been consistent at all.  The Bears will be looking to get a statement win on the season and the fans in Waco should step up to the plate for Kansas.  It’s a big early season game for both squads and whoever wins this one takes a big step forward.
  • Wednesday sees another pair of games that are important for different reasons.  Both contests tip at 9 EST with one on ESPN2 and the other on ESPNU.  The marquee matchup is going to be the Aggies of Texas A&M heading into Austin for a game against the Longhorns.  Early season games certainly don’t break your season, but they can go a long way toward making it and this one gives the winner a leg up in the South.  The other contest is between a pair of two loss teams and a pair of teams that could be battling down the stretch in the bubble watch.  Iowa State heads in this matchup for a game against the Cowboys.  The Cyclones are coming off a big win at home and the Cowboys are looking to get back on track after two straight losses.
  • All of that brings us to Saturday, which has become must-see television.  The early games include Colorado on the road in Norman to take on the Sooners and Kansas State, entering a brutal stretch, on the road at A&M.  What happens during the week will help shape the importance of the matchup between the Wildcats and the Aggies, but on paper it’s a big time battle in the Big 12.
  • The afternoon games include Oklahoma State heading to Waco for a game against Baylor.  The other is the one and only matchup between Texas and Kansas this year, the two teams many are picking as the frontrunners in the conference.  This one takes place in Lawrence, where Texas takes its turn at snapping the Jayhawks hefty home game winning streak.  Over the years, the battle between these two teams has been huge in terms of the league and this year doesn’t look to be any different.
  • Finally, the late games and the Huskers on the road against a struggling Texas Tech and Missouri hosting a pesky Iowa State Cyclone team in Columbia. The Big 12 is in full swing, and at the moment, there are very few games that aren’t worth a look.  The league is wide open, tournament spots are wide open and right now there are 8-10 teams in this league that are in a dogfight for conference titles and postseason spots.

Player of the Year Watch

Power Ranking Style and Based on Conference Play

  1. Marcus Morris, Kansas – (24.5 PPG, 12 RPG, 71% FG): Morris carried the Jayhawks in crunch time through to tight ball games this week and currently leads the league in points and rebounds, while ranking second in field goal percentage and offensive rebounds.
  2. Alec Burks, Colorado – (22.7 PPG, 8.7 RPG): Burks is the reason that Colorado is looking like a conference contender right now.  The sophomore guard ranks 2nd in the league in scoring and third in terms of rebounding.  The rebounding is key, because that is an area that was viewed as a potential weakness for the Buffs headed into the season.
  3. Jacob Pullen, Kansas State – (22.7 PPG, 4.3 APG): If K-State is going to rally and make a move this season, it’s going to take Jacob Pullen at his best.  So far through two games he’s stepped it up.  Now he has to carry his team through a tough week with two top 25 opponents.
  4. Diante Garrett, Iowa State – (20.3 PPG, 6.33 APG): Garrett is the point guard and leader of an Iowa State team that has exceeded expectations early on this season.  His 20.3 PPG ranks third in the conference while his 6.3 assists makes him the league leader.
  5. Marcus Denmon, Missouri – (20 PPG, 48% 3FG): Denmon was brilliant in non conference play and a 27 point career high effort against Nebraska helps carry that momentum into conference play.  The Tigers sit 1-2, Denmon will be a big part of turning the tide the right way in Columbia.
  6. LaceDarius Dunn, Baylor – (18.7 PP, 12 three-pointers in conference play): Right now, Dunn is still the leader for the Bears, but his numbers are starting to dip as Perry Jones furthers his emergence as the premier player for Baylor.
  7. Khris Middleton, Texas A&M – (17.7 PPG, 3 SPG, 58% FG): Middleton carried the Aggies in a big overtime win against Missouri early in the year and leads the league in steals per game.  His versatility creates mismatches on the court and he has the chance to make himself a contender for the POY and his team a contender for the league title.
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